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Mission Trips rallies a strange Southern legacy 

Magicicada's Chris White rallies a strange Southern legacy

MISSIONARY MAN: Chris White wants to highlight experimental artists.

Aleister White

MISSIONARY MAN: Chris White wants to highlight experimental artists.

On a humid Saturday night in Shreveport, La., last October, Chris White stood in a dark and cavernous room. His face was bathed in subtle hues of blue, red, and yellow from the glowing buttons on the MPC and samplers over which he hovered with quiet intensity. In this massive space — one of the first automated municipal waterworks in the South — White unleashed a deafening ambiance laced with organic and industrial textures.

White's one-man experimental music act, Magicicada, had been invited to perform at the McNeill Street Pumping Station New Music Festival, a weekend-long DIY gathering dedicated to Southern avant-garde and experimental music. It was there, amid performances by like-minded artists such as pro skateboarder-turned-drone master Duane Pitre, Homer Flynn of the Residents, and noise/drone sax man Diamond Terrifier, that he had an epiphany.

"It was one of those moments where I thought, 'Why isn't this happening in Atlanta?'" White says. "The vibe of that festival couldn't have happened anywhere else. But it was a successful and self-reliant gathering of artists — outsiders who were genuinely excited about the music. They had used their surroundings and what they had at-hand to create this unique festival that was focused on experimental music, and there weren't a bunch of logos from corporate sponsors plastered on everything, tainting this really cool experience."

Three months after the New Music Fest, White unveiled Mission Trips, a self-run record label intended to channel the same excitement, dedication, organization, and support for experimental music that he'd witnessed while performing in Shreveport. The festival's smooth execution helped cement an idea that had been taking shape in the back of his mind for nearly four years. Mission Trips was designed to serve as both a cultural curator and documentarian, stamping in time the South's rich experimental, avant-garde, and noise music scenes from an Atlanta perspective. Launching a new music label in 2014 isn't exactly a lucrative business venture to undertake, especially one that's focused on experimental music. But for White, the value of archiving the fringe musical elements he sees going unnoticed year after year is beyond measure.

"The motivating factors for the music industry as a whole are way outside of my interests," White says. "In fact, they give me a lot of anxiety when I start to think about music as commodity or pushing units. As a 40-year-old father of three with a day job I am probably the last person who should be starting a label. But if I am able to make the money back along with some profit on each release, I can reinvest it back into the label and keep this going."

The name, Mission Trips, was born late one night in 2010, after a show in Birmingham, Ala. White was there with his former band 1thousand Holy Shards. After the set, deep in the midst of what he calls a "reality-enhanced evening of conversational word play," their talk took a strange twist. White and his bandmates Jason Pratt and Nathan Brown started talking about their respective upbringings. All three of them had been raised in strict Southern Baptist households. They began riffing on the notion of the mission trips they used to take with their church groups when they were kids, and how the same practices could be applied to spreading the good word of their own music to people far and wide.

When he made it back home to Atlanta the following day, White purchased the website name MissionTripsInternational.com. The seeds were planted, and some ideas were being kicked around, but White took his time and allowed the pieces to fall into place on their own.

ALABAMA WILDMAN: Improv guitarist Davey Williams takes pause. - COURTESY MISSION TRIPS
  • Courtesy Mission Trips
  • ALABAMA WILDMAN: Improv guitarist Davey Williams takes pause.

A few years later, on a return trip to play a Magicicada show in Birmingham, White shared the stage with free improvisational guitarist Davey Williams. Since the early '70s, Williams has carved out a place for himself in the Southeast as a seminal figure in the musical landscape, working with everyone from Ikue Mori of New York's pioneering No Wave act DNA to trombonist Jim Staley and Chattanooga, Tenn.'s Shaking Ray Levis. Despite so much underground history, it was the first time that White had heard Williams' name, much less witnessed his ecstatic stage presence and naturally chaotic style as a guitarist. "I was shocked that I did not know this guy or his history," White says. "At that point I realized not only did I want to do a label for up-and-coming artists, I wanted to honor and highlight some of these folks that had been doing their thing years before any of us were even born."

In the meantime, White was also regularly performing at shows and improvising alongside the members of Faun and a Pan Flute. "Their enthusiasm for exploration and their commitment to their project was inspiring, and it reminded me why I got into music in the first place," White says.

FAMILY AFFAIR: Faun and a Pan Flute released a self-titled LP in June via Mission Trips. - COURTESY MISSION TRIPS
  • Courtesy Mission Trips
  • FAMILY AFFAIR: Faun and a Pan Flute released a self-titled LP in June via Mission Trips.
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