When the Expo 86 World’s Fair premiered in Vancouver, B.C., it included a kitschy exhibit called “The Great Hall of Ramses II.” Fairgoers could Indiana Jones their way through a dimly lit temple maze modeled after the tombs of ancient Egypt.
Perhaps it was here that Capitol Hill boutique founder Joel Leshefka decided on the name Cairo for his gallery space and venue. According to the space’s current curator, James Scheall, it’s definitely where the name Expo came from, Cairo’s annual arts and music festival. The festival’s first incarnation, in 2008, was, like the fair, simply Expo 86. Now we’ve arrived at Expo 91.
Unfortunately there won’t be any temple mazes—but, lucky for us, there will be pretty much everything else: Performance art from feminist punk singers. Avant-garde cellists. A band called “Weed” (more on it later).
All in all, more than 30 visual artists and musicians will squeeze into Cairo’s cozy confines to get art-blasted with goodness from what the boutique calls “the underbelly of the musical space needle.”
“When we put Expo together, we try to stay on the forefront of what’s happening in our community. What’s new? What’s interesting?” says Scheall, who helped curate this year’s event. “I also like to look for people who are not only really good at what they’re doing in whatever style it is, but also really pushing the boundaries of that style.”
Boundary-pushers abound on Scheall’s bill for the four-night affair. Black Hat, the project of Nelson Bean and one of the standouts on Friday’s electronic-music night, makes meditative, whirring drone music that sounds like a washer, a dryer, and a microwave got together to do yoga: clangorous, metallic, but also strangely soothing. “He takes a really interesting approach to making electronic music that on one hand is really dark, but also has this beauty and serenity to it that differs depending on when you catch him performing,” Scheall says.
Saturday is what Cairo is calling the festival’s “shred-ful pop/rock” night. Help Yourself Records labelmates Childbirth and Wimps will rev things up by shambling out power chords and yelping about prank sex and the futility of napping.
But as shredders go, no one made me throw up the devil horns last year more than Vancouver, B.C.’s Weed, which also plays on Saturday. Deserve, the band’s debut LP, was one of my absolute favorite records of 2013—a lo-fi shred sesh of blown-out guitars and triumphant melodies that should soundtrack the next X Games broadcast.
Sunday, billed as the “avant” night, will feature Lori Goldston’s first Cairo performance. Goldston is a local legend, lending her otherworldly string skills to the music of everyone from Nirvana to Earth to David Byrne. Her eponymous 7-inch from last fall features majestic, guttural cello drones that sound as if they are bellowing out from the loamy soil of the Northwest.
But the great thing about Cairo is that it’s a venue and an art space. Expo 91’s opening night on Thursday will feature a laundry list of some of the city’s most interesting artists joining together for "THESE ARE THE THINGS I COULD DO WITHOUT," a show about things they could do away with in their lives. CMRTYZ, a local collective, are the folks behind all those Xeroxed, melty show posters you’ve been seeing around town for bands like Grave Babies, Rose Windows, and MTNS. They were also commissioned to design a shirt for Austin Psych Fest, which they obliged by placing a cut-out of a woman wearing Spirograph glasses in the middle of a sea of thick cartoon haze. Julie Alpert’s art looks like a torrent of colorful quilts getting blown out of a volcano. JD Banke has a painting that informs you to simultaneously “Fuck Off/Don’t Fuck Off.”
Expletive-rich dualities aside, make sure you aren’t a fuck-off and forget to check out Expo 91 this weekend. The only valid excuse for missing it? Getting lost in Ramses II’s temple maze. Cairo, 507 E. Mercer St.; see templeofcairo.com for full lineup. 6 p.m. $7 per night. All ages. Thurs., Jan. 9–Sun., Jan. 12.