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Ghost in the machine

Boulder's Communikey Festival of Electronic Arts takes post-rave culture into a semi-improvised future



What do ravers do when they grow up? They move beyond glow sticks and dance DJs, and embrace a more adventurous intersection of technology and art. They supplement the music with film, exhibits and education. They ditch the under-the-radar venues, and file for proper nonprofit status.

And if they're in Boulder, they create Communikey.

Now in its fourth year, the festival combines vibrantly international scope and a distinctly local vibe. For fans of electronic music's more experimental realms, this year features a dream lineup that ranges from the rarefied techno of Monolake and the decaying signals of William Basinski. Other highlights include Latinsizer (of the famed Nortec Collective), Spacetime Continuum and Atom TM.

These names would fill a party in London or San Francisco, and here they're augmented by a slate of local area artists. Regional talents include Attentat, Pillow Garden, Nathan Wheeler, DJ Ivy, Laura Goldhamer, and the Kevin Costner Suicide Pact.

And music is just the beginning. In partnership with ATLAS, the tech-innovation hub of the University of Colorado, Communikey is holding classes on sound design and screening experimental films. Other esoteric highlights include an exhibition of laminate Polish "soundcards" from the 1960s and '70s at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

According to Communikey's creative director Kate Lesta, it all began a decade ago out in the woods under a full moon.

"We all came from underground rave culture," Lesta says of the festival's founders. "I started throwing parties in Colorado in the late 1990s, and was involved in the rave scene and a lot of outdoor events. That's our roots: free outdoor parties at night in the woods. We'd go three or four hours outside the city to get away from people."

Today the festival is staffed entirely by volunteers: "One hundred percent," says Lesta, who by day is a talent buyer at the Boulder and Fox theaters. "It's an unusual location for a festival of this focus," she says of Boulder. "Ultimately what we are doing is exposing something to people who would never find it on their own, because the culture here is not urban culture, not about technology."

Carl Ritger, who performs experimental sound art as Radere, is coming from Philadelphia. "I'll be playing a semi-improvised set that pairs live guitar processing with elements pulled from my last few releases," he says. "I met Kate and several of their staff when they stopped through Philly last year. We've kept in touch, culminating in an invitation to perform."

Radere's mix of raw field recordings and advanced software is a rich organic-digital amalgam and also an appropriate metaphor for the Communikey journey from crunchy-rustic roots to its Internet-incubator present.

So, what's next for Communikey — what do ravers do after they've grown up? They build a permanent home.

"The organization will, in the not-so-distant future, look to having a permanent space," says Lesta, whose plans include "opening an artist residence center, a place where artists can do intensive work, anything from producing a record to developing an installation to making a film."

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