On Tuesday, March 15, Insects vs. Robots took the stage at Ojai’s magical Deer Lodge, taking everyone within the walls of the cabin-like venue on a sonic journey. After a dreamy opening set by folk electronic jam band Radio Skies, Insects vs. Robots assumed the stage amid projections of warped claymation film clips. Their set began with Micah Nelson, free-flowing, untamed son of Willie Nelson, inducting the crowd into a communal musical tour by raising his arms to the ceiling and inviting the audience to “make sound,” which is precisely what the full house at the Deer Lodge did.
Insects vs. Robots is a five piece self-proclaimed “psychedelic freak-folk-rock space-punk gnome-orchestra” hailing from Venice Beach whose members play everything from the electric guitar to the violin to the charango (a small Andean lute); the band has shared stages with the likes of Neil Young and Jack White.
The band delivered a high energy yet trance-like performance, that was somewhere between dream and reality, a theme that can be found within much of their music, particularly their most recent album Stupid Dreams. Opening the set with their song “Ole Lukoje,” frontman Nelson sang with eyes shut, “Am I awake I just don’t know. Are my thoughts just chemicals.” The song itself references a Danish fairy tale about the Sandman who controls children’s dreams, and it carries heavy undertones of a series of dualities, illusion vs. reality, subconscious vs. conscious — insects vs. robots? Their music presents a complex range of contrasts, with swelling, haunting violin solos set against a backdrop of extraterrestrial organized distortion. It is clear that Insects vs. Robots pays little head to established musical norms or boundaries, and is no stranger to the communion of seemingly unusual elements.
Throughout the night, their dynamic compositions and technical instrumentalism carried the crowd through distinct chapters of intricate songs. Amidst dense, escalating grooves, Insects vs. Robots had half the audience blissfully and frenetically dancing, while the other half watched on in captivated fascination as the band moved effortlessly through labyrinthine arrangements.
The evening’s show was a true testament to Ojai’s growing music scene, and was an impressive and substantial turnout for a Tuesday night. For first-timers at the Deer Lodge — a venue of mahogany wood walls on which taxidermy deer antlers hang — was the ideal setting for Insects Vs. Robots’ otherworldly music. The Lodge seemed to be charged with a unique kind of energy born from the cosmic sounds of the band, and was a veritable hub of action on a not-so-typical weekday evening. In the yellow light under an elk antler chandelier, an enraptured audience member yelled, “Insects vs. Robots, who wins!?” to which violinist Nikita Sorokin replied with a definitive, “Ah, that is the ancient question.”