Celebrating psych-rock

26 bands combine to make unique experience at Deep Heaven Now 4

Deep Heaven Now organizer Jinsen Liu has signed up the Vandelles and other bands for this year’s event. Deep Heaven Now organizer Jinsen Liu has signed up the Vandelles and other bands for this year’s event.
By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / July 29, 2011

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As Jinsen Liu knows from experience, when you’re dealing with hazy clouds of feedback, fog machines, and even a would-be rock star ego or two, occasionally things can go awry.

We’re not talking about 28 Degrees Taurus, Liu’s own shoegazing psychedelic band from Boston, and the mayhem it unleashes onstage. We’re referring to Liu’s stewardship of the sprawling biannual Deep Heaven Now psych-rock festivals, which showcase a mix of mostly Massachusetts rock bands (plus a handful of groups from around the United States) with an adventurous streak. These are musicians who love wrenching oceanic waves of distortion and spacey noise from their instruments, and for whom My Bloody Valentine - not the Beatles - serves as a blueprint.

“It’s a great little community that we’ve got here,’’ Liu says over afternoon drinks at an Allston bar. “The pool of local talent in Boston is deep enough so that this sort of thing can be done here [twice a year]. And it’s small but big enough so that you have that sense of community. You don’t feel lost, like you are in New York City or LA or Chicago.’’

Still, there can be trouble even in the closest of communities, and that’s what transpired this past April, during the third installment of the Deep Heaven Now series. Liu remembers it as “an administrative disaster.’’

“There was Sunshine Factory [a band from Alabama] setting off a smoke alarm with their fog machine, so that one entire side of the stage was shut down,’’ Liu recalls with a wince. “And there was a Baltimore band who drove 10 hours and didn’t like the drum set I got them. So they turned around and drove back, and it left an open hour [in the performance schedule]. There were a lot of things that went wrong.’’

But Liu remains undeterred. That band from Baltimore has not been invited back to play the latest installment of Deep Heaven Now, a two-day, 26-band blowout that continues the legacy of the original Deep Heaven psychedelic music events held in and around Boston during the 1990s. Deep Heaven Now 4 is scheduled for Aug. 5-6 at both P.A.’s Lounge and Precinct in Somerville’s Union Square, with staggered set times to accommodate attendees ambitious enough to sample every band. Additionally, Liu has made available (as a free download at an outstanding compilation featuring most of the bands performing on the weekend bill.

Liu prides himself on having “eyes everywhere’’ in this thriving underground universe, and reaches for a dog-eared spiral-bound notebook scribbled with notes in pencil on band lineups and set times. “I am the dark lord of the psych-shoegazer scene; I see all and hear all,’’ Liu says with a grin, only half-kidding. “If it’s worthwhile, it gets back to me.’’

Judging by the crammed schedule for the festival, quite a bit of worthwhile music has reached Liu’s ears. He consults his notebook over a fresh Bloody Mary and rattles off observations about a few of the bands scheduled to perform: At the top of Liu’s personal list of new favorites is the New Highway Hymnal, a young group. “They’re barely even 20 years old and the best thing I’ve seen since the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club,’’ he says. “I remember seeing them and they did a classic Jesus and Mary Chain-style set: 30 minutes, fast, distorted, smashed their guitars at the end. This is their first year, and they’ll be great. You’ll be hearing from them.’’

Another hot prospect is Hi Tiger, a sensuous-sounding outfit from Portland, Maine, that Liu calls “the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.’’ A new experimental noise trio from Boston, Of the Sun, should also be a highlight. “I had never heard anything quite like their demo,’’ Liu declares. And what of Gospel Gossip, a reverb-drenched group from Minneapolis? Liu simply calls it “one of the best bands in America right now.’’ Gospel Gossip first performed at the second Deep Heaven Now installment held last year. “They were amazing,’’ Liu says.

As for what ties the bands, and the festival, together? There really is no single formula or definition of what makes a Deep Heaven artist, says Liu. “It was always an ambient-psych-shoegaze fest at its core,’’ he explains. “But in terms of broadening the circle and the definition of what that entails, the Deep Heaven Now label, to me, means bands that are progressive and experimental-minded.’’

Only one strict rule applies, he says: no fog machines.

Jonathan Perry can be reached at

DEEP HEAVEN NOW 4 At: P.A.’s Lounge, and Precinct, Somerville, Aug. 5-6. For event details, go to www.face