Vibin' and Tribin': STS9 Land at Wakarusa Festival

Article by: Matthew Cremer|@Cremerica

Thu June 04, 2015 | 00:00 AM

Y’see, Sound Tribe Sector 9 has never been about the individual. Seventeen years and eleven albums in, the group has transcended into scions of a living, breathing culture that’s way larger than any one human. STS9 is a mission. No, maybe it’s a higher purpose loaded with interstellar space sauce crammed into a Merkaba BLT sandwich. Or maybe even an infinite dimension embedded within a wormhole somewhere out in the nether regions of the multi-verse being beamed back down to Planet Earth through the whatever various instruments the livetronic legends are holding in their hands.

That’s why when longtime bassist David Murphy left the group last year after almost two decades manning the strings, it caused a ripple in the atmosphere, sure, but the group pressed forth on their greater mission by adding Alana Rocklin, bassist of 1320 Records-affiliated act Sub-ID.

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Photo by Cremerica

Murph’s were big space boots to fill, but Rocklin’s knows her way around the galaxy. The longtime Chicagoan holds a degree in Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation from the University of Michigan and has toured with Jim James of My Morning Jacket in addition to helming her own Sub-ID project, but accolades and big names were all secondary concerns for the group.

“From day one we consciously wanted everything to be focused on music,” Rocklin says. “If you noticed, we didn't have some big announcement that I was in the band. I just walked onstage and that's how we did it. And it was intentional in that we never wanted people to focus on anything but what we were doing musically.”

Less than three months since her on-stage debut, Rocklin fits the tribe like a glove. “It was really important to me that I lived up to the standard that I felt the music deserved,” she says. “Of course as a fan myself I wanted the fans to feel that too.

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Photo by Cremerica

They do. We do. And it’s mutual. “I LOVE the fans,” Rocklin gushes. “I couldn't feel more embraced and more loved by them. I think it's amazing how entrenched they are in the details of what we do. I think it's beautiful. But there's a positive and negative side to that. You have people that are going to be scrutinizing every little thing or comparing me to Murphy. Of course I’m aware of that and accept it. I'm not trying to replace anybody. I'm trying to do what I do and bring that into a group atmosphere.”

Oh, we almost forgot to mention. Alana Rocklin is a woman. Surprise! Some people have taken major note of it, but last we checked the Fest300 Guide on Human Anatomy, fingertips don’t have genders. “I’ve never in my life thought about being a female musician––ever,” Rocklin says. “I owe that to my parents because I don't think they ever informed me it was a different thing. It never even occurred to me. I can't wait for the day when people stop looking at me like a female musician. It's funny because so many people will say to me, "Oh my gosh, you're so great for a girl." It's like, "Uhhhh YEAH!"

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Photo by Cremerica

In many ways, this brings Rocklin full circle in a story that began over twenty years ago in Chicago. “It's amazing how STS9 has influenced so many people,” she says. “I think that's why Brian and I with Sub-ID immediately gravitated towards them so long ago, because of this thing we both had for combining electronic elements and live elements. That notion was very new back then in the late '90's. But now almost everybody does that in some way. There are a lot of bands who do that even without realizing it. So I definitely think that STS9 were pioneers in that realm without trying. It wasn't their intention at the time. They were just following their art and their muse.”

This weekend, thousands and thousands will follow their own muse, STS9 themselves, to Wakarusa Festival in Ozark, Arkansas. It’s been a welcome home for the band and the members are returning with their most grand stage production to date. Forget all the pretty strobes and big explosions, though. The brightest new light on stage will be a person, maybe wearing a fedora, definitely with calloused fingertips, named Alana and make no doubt about it, she's keeping the STS9 vibe alive: "I really think the main thing is that fans want to see us exploring. They want to see us having fun. They want to see us being true to our art and our music. And I think when we do that, it's all positive in my opinion."