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Fringe Fest Experimental Block: Musicians Aim To Make Oxford Weird Again

Dylan Van Zile performs at the Powerhouse. Photo by Walter Lyle

The Annual Art-er Limits Oxford Fringe Fest hosted its “Experimental Block” on Thursday night at the Powerhouse in Oxford. The show featured Oxford local musicians Dylan Van Zile, Ben Ricketts, and Cleveland musician Curtis Lehr.

The Fringe Fest is an annual festival that centers around arts, music, and theatre. A lot of the events feature diverse talents and performances—creative works that most people may consider to be “on the fringes.”

Dylan Van Zile sitting outside the Powerhouse. Photo by Walter Lyle

The Experimental Block is set aside for musicians with a different type of musical style. Each musician has vastly different music, but it all falls under the “experimental” umbrella. Van Zile has been involved in a number of different projects, including his Noise Orchestra, his own solo project, and the Holy Ghost Electric Show. Having played every Fringe Fest so far, Van Zile has found it to be a special place for his music.

“Fringe Fest was the first place that really allowed me to delve into weird, experimental music,” Van Zile said. “This is the only place where I can really let my art go out.”

Dylan Van Zile performs at the Powerhouse. Photo by Walter Lyle

Van Zile is proud of the fact that he was banned from playing at the Blind Pig due to the volume, and got cut short at the Round Table one time—he said that people across the Square could hear it.

“I don’t really care what people think of it, I’m going to still make what I want,” he said. “The thing about Fringe Fest is it allows me to do the weird [stuff] that I love to do. It’s something that I don’t get to do a whole lot in this state.”

Ben Ricketts sits outside the Powerhouse. Photo by Walter Lyle

Joining Van Zile at the experimental block was local musician Ben Ricketts. Ricketts has been an active musician in Oxford for a few years now, and has played most every venue in town. His music can best be described as “experimental pop.” Always a solo performance, Ricketts utilizes his voice, his guitar, and a plethora of pedals and loops to make his solo performance sound like a full band. He has a large following in Oxford and loves to introduce audiences to his different style.

“It’s about presenting the left-field side of Oxford,” Ricketts said. “I think Mississippi should be known for weirder things. We need to celebrate it more.”

Concert-goers watch the Experimental Block. Photo by Walter Lyle

According to Ricketts, the overall response to the Fringe Fest over the past four years has been positive. He’s noticed that people who don’t usually hang out together are meeting each other and talking to new people. He also loves the authenticity at shows like this; everyone who’s there wants to be there, even if it’s not a huge crowd.

“As long as there are people connecting with music that way, it’s ok to have small shows,” Ricketts said.

Curtis Lehr sits across from the Powerhouse before the show. Photo by Walter Lyle

Finishing off the bill at the Experimental Block was Cleveland, MS native Curtis Lehr. Lehr describes their music as “live, hardware-based techno.” When asked what genres it includes, they said it involves “acid, breakbeat, noise, big beat, IDM, electro, and hard-vapor.” They never bring a laptop to a show or sample anyone else’s tracks.

“I basically bring a vintage techno studio with me on stage,” Lehr said. “It’s 200 pounds of raw techno power on a folding table. It’s back breaking. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Curtis Lehr and Carlie Kincaid sit at the merchandise tables during the Experimental Block. Photo by Walter Lyle

Identifying as transgender, Lehr says that they have gotten booked less in Mississippi. Because of this, they have been branching out in booking shows in other states and going on tours. Lehr says that the Oxford Fringe Fest is still a place where their music can be accepted and enjoyed. Lehr says that it’s good for people to come to shows that are more diverse.

“I like exposing people to more different music,” Lehr said. “Most people around here end up making a ‘dad-rock’ type band, and that’s not really pushing boundaries.”

The Experimental Block at the Powerhouse. Photo by Walter Lyle

All three musicians agreed that the Experimental Block of the Fringe Fest is a great way to let the Oxford community know that weird things still exist and should be celebrated. Both Ricketts and Van Zile said that it’s about “letting the weird left-field leaning musicians have a voice.”

The Art-er Limits Fringe Festival is going on all weekend. More information and a full schedule of events can be found here: https://oxfordarts.com/events/fringe

Walter Lyle is the social media editor of HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at walter.lyle@hottytoddy.com

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