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In the Octopus Project’s Garden

In the Octopus Project’s Garden (photo)

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“The last three months of our lives have been devoted to this night,” said Yvonne Lambert, dressed resplendently in a bustier-meets-Wild West parlor dress. She stood behind her keyboard on a circular stage positioned under a giant rectangular tent in the parking lot of Whole Foods. Surrounding her and her three tie-wearing bandmates, collectively an instrumental rock band from Austin called the Octopus Project, were a couple hundred curiosity-seekers gathered last Friday night for show one of a two-show spectacle.

Surrounding them were eight speakers blasting a cacophony of sounds, and above that eight screens transmitting all sorts of psychedelia: rocks piling up in supermarket aisles, animal headshots, cartoon planets, random patterns, the view of a snake slithering through grass, cityscapes, atom signs, pink Grimace-looking figures wearing mirrored masks like those found on the front of astronauts’ helmets, and, in the final scene, a pair of girls in matching blond wigs who could have been David Lynch characters.

And surrounding all that, buoying the entire operation with euphoria, was the Octopus Project’s music, a glorious waterfall of humming circuitry. You are now in “Hexadecagon,” an imaginative example of not only the convergence of music and cinema that’s representative of SXSW, but also the free, open-to-the-public scene built around the fringes of official festival showcases, in this case with visual stimulation in the vein of the Merry Pranksters’ Acid Tests and auditory aspiration on par with the Flaming Lips’ “Zaireeka” album.

03222010_wileywiggins.jpg“It’s either a 16-sided shape,” Wiley Wiggins said in an interview a week before the performance, “or a really crazy, giant tent.” Wiley’s an actor/multimedia man who first leaped onto the pop culture radar by playing Mitch Kramer in Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused.” He was enlisted by fellow Austinite Josh Lambert, husband to Yvonne and a multi-instrumentalist who shares duties on drums, guitar and keys with Toto Miranda and Ryan Figg.

The band tasked Wiley with designing and broadcasting eight simultaneous videos at once live from his computer. “Each song has its own weird theme,” Wiley said of the vignettes. So while what might have looked and sounded like improvisation under that tent was really an orchestrated affair. And to hear the Octopus Project talk about the mechanics of it can make you feel clueless.

“Think of it like choreography for sounds,” Miranda said of the eight-speaker configuration and the possibilities therein. “Whether it’s clockwise, counterclockwise, bouncing from one side to the other — we’re just trying to think of as many different ways to have a sound move.” The Octopus Project also were able to manipulate the video through their audio using a MIDI and effects software called VDMX. “Like, a hi-hat hit will trigger images of some guys dancing around,” Josh said.

But all of that was lost on the crowd, who basked in the operatic melisma of Yvonne’s theremin, an instrument played by moving your hands in the air around it, like a conductor. The hour-long show had two-minute intervals of silence between songs to allow the computers and instruments to synch up. Josh said some of the songs will end up on the band’s next album. To see him watch it all play out was quite a sight — he spent stretches on the drums just staring at the underside of the tent with a smile that couldn’t have been wiped off with a full bottle of Windex.

03212010_octopusproject4.jpgBut things weren’t always so free and easy. The band knew it needed help if it was going to break its annual tradition of playing Emo’s for SXSW, without compromising the ambition inherent in a tireless creativity made manifest in its historically elaborate, costume- and prop-filled live shows. The Octopus Project needed corporate sponsorship. They contacted Whole Foods.

“It was the first time we’ve ever had to go into a boardroom and give a pitch,” Yvonne said. “But they said, ‘yes,’ like, within two hours. We were all pretty excited but there was also kind of this holy crap moment, where we were like, we actually have to do this.”

[Additional photos courtesy of Wiley Wiggins and Knoxy of]

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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