Posted on

Solving Shaky Knees 2018’s 10 Biggest Scheduling Conflicts


There’s a reason why we slotted Shaky Knees into our Big Four Shuffle discussion earlier this year. At just six years young, the Atlanta, Georgia, festival has already earned a reputation as one of the premiere east coast music events. Since its inception, founder Tim Sweetwood and his partners at C3 Presents have managed to put together bills that would sell out festivals with twice the capacity of the various ATL parks Shaky has called home. When you’re this good at putting together a lineup, however, you’re left with an enviable problem: conflicts. Though Shaky Knees’ footprint in Central Park should be small enough to theoretically catch competing acts if you’re willing to sacrifice a few minutes of music, you’ll inevitably have to make some tough decisions.

Well, we’re going to help you with that. It’s true that nearly every space in the 2018 Shaky Knees schedule poses some sort of conflict, but we can’t decide all your druthers for you. So we’ve taken a look at 10 of the biggest time-slot clashes and made our very educated, carefully considered choices. Hey, at least you won’t have to skip any of the headliners.

__________________________________________________________

Jimmy Eat World vs. Waxahatchee

Shaky Knees Vs.Photos by Philip Cosores and David Brendan Hall

Friday 4:00 PM — It’s strange to think of two bands being so different yet still being such a heartbreaking conflict. On the one hand is Jimmy Eat World, an emo rock band that probably still gets too many people going, “They’re still around?” On the other is Waxahatchee, an indie project whose last three albums were easily one of their years’ best. Both deliver strong-as-steel live shows, and both have the repertoire to put together a setlist without lulls.

Our Pick: Look, call us nostalgic if you want, but Jimmy’s catalog is severely underrated, and we’ll be singing along to way more than “The Middle” when we catch this set.

__________________________________________________________

Courtney Barnett vs. Marlon Williams

Shaky Knees Vs.Photos by Philip Cosores and Ben Kaye

Friday 5:00 PM — Australasia is having a moment. Kiwi and Aussie artists are breaking out right and left, and somehow Shaky Knees has two of the best lined up right next to each other. Courtney Barnett we all know about at this point, and that’s why we’re so excited about her forthcoming Tell Me How You Really Feel. Marlon Williams may not be as well known yet stateside, but his recent Make Way for Love is already one of the most stirring efforts of the year. Shredding rock versus alt-country crooning — which do you choose?

Our Pick: In the early evening on the first night of a festival, you’re looking for a jolt of energy to bring you into the nighttime. Williams will be a treat, no doubt, but we’re going to hear some of Barnett’s new tunes instead.

__________________________________________________________

Japandroids vs. Fleet Foxes

Shaky Knees Vs.Photos by Ben Kaye and Philip Cosores

Friday 8:00 PM — We’re not sure there’s going to be an excess of crossover between Fleet Foxes’ pastoral folk and Japandroids’ two-man noise rock. Still, both bands are indie favorites, and they both just returned from fairly long absences last year. Making the decision even more troublesome is that both new records are really freaking good. I mean, which one did you like better?

Our Pick: Fleet Foxes would be a better transition out of David Byrne (who plays beforehand), but Japandroids is going to be a better transition into Jack White (who plays afterwards). Frankly, we’ve been bored by Fleet Foxes before, so we’re going with the rockers.

__________________________________________________________

The Sherlocks vs. Sun Seeker

Shaky Knees Vs.

Saturday 12:45 PM — Over the last few years, we’ve given exclusive spotlights to both these young bands. The Sherlocks are four Sheffield boys who trade in the hooky type of alternative that has long made Britrock a scene in and of itself. They’ve already gained quite a bit of popularity over the last two years in their home country, and it’s nice to see them getting some US festival real estate. Sun Seeker, meanwhile, put out their debut EP, Biddeford, on Third Man Records last year. That sort of signing should be just about all you need to know about this Nashville cosmic folk quartet.

Our Pick: An early afternoon set with the Sun Seekers is surely going to be a great way to start your day, but the rarity and excitement of The Sherlocks is going to pull us over to the Peachtree stage.

__________________________________________________________

Charly Bliss vs. Greta Van Fleet

Shaky Knees Vs.Photos by Ben Kaye and Michael Lavine

Saturday 3:45 PM — This one might come down to how you like your rock: Pop punk or bluesy? Greta van Fleet and Charly Bliss had huge coming outs in 2017, with the former giving a new spark to hard rock and the latter putting out one of the most electrifying power pop debuts in years. And their placement in a mid-afternoon slot is perfect for those seeking a shot in the arm as we approach the halfway mark of day two.

Our Pick: Gah, this one’s really tough. Frankly, the thing tipping it in Greta van Fleet’s favor is simply that we haven’t seen them live before. We won’t blame you in the slightest for going to get Blissed out.

__________________________________________________________

Andrew W.K. vs. Manchester Orchestra

Shaky Knees Vs.Photos by Philip Cosores and Killian Young

Saturday 6:30 PM — Two artists with incredible staying power for very different reasons line up on opposite stages at dinner time on Saturday. Manchester Orchestra is known for keeping diehard fans rapt with their melodic, heartfelt art rock and frontman Andy Hull’s captivating, dynamic vocals. Andrew W.K. is known for … well, for partying. And partying hard. It’s not a stretch to say that ManO is going to have a crowd more ready for sing-alongs while W.K. will have people waiting for “those songs,” but that doesn’t mean the rest of his set isn’t going to be a hella good time.

Our Pick: Which is why we’re going to catch Andrew W.K.’s sure-to-be sweaty show. His new album, You’re Not Alone, may finally be the worthy successor to I Get Wet we didn’t know we were waiting for, and dammit this dude is just fun as hell.

__________________________________________________________

Cake vs. Matt and Kim

Shaky Knees Vs.Matt and Kim photo by Cathy Poulton

Saturday 6:30 PM — This might seem like semi-strange scheduling as you try to transition from bands like The War on Drugs to Queens of the Stone Age, but it’s actually kind of genius. Those two acts are heavy — for very different reasons, mind you — so having a bit of carefree joy to break it up should be a welcome respite. You can get that either with ’90s and oughts staple Cake or party dance-pop duo Matt and Kim. In a way, you sort of know what you’re getting with either, so it could depend on if you’re feeling like a familiar sing-along or a confetti cannon party.

Our Pick: This could all change based on exhaustion levels as we head into the day two headliners, but our thought is go where the party is, and that’s Matt and Kim.

__________________________________________________________

Frankie Rose vs. The Wild Reeds

Shaky Knees Vs.​​The Wild Reeds photo by Ben Kaye

Sunday 12:30 PM — Look, we all know how day threes can be, but these two acts are worth the early rise. The Wild Reeds are that perfect bridge between indie folk and rock, demonstrating just how explosive the former sound can really get. Frankie Rose is one of the most under-heralded stalwarts of indie pop’s various subgenres, and her latest solo effort, Cage Tropical, is gorgeous. It’s hard picking between two of the most talented female-fronted artists on the bill, but it’s too early to be spreading yourself across the entire site, so you’re gonna have to choose.

Our Pick: Like we said, getting in on an early Sunday set can be trying, so we’re going with the biggest aural caffeine boost being offered: The Wild Reeds.

__________________________________________________________

Alvvays vs. Post Animal

Shaky Knees Vs.​​Alvvays photo by ​Philip Cosores

Sunday 2:45 PM — First thing’s first: You’re probably not going to see Steve Harrington at the Post Animal set. Actor/guitarist Joe Keery doesn’t tour with the band, so let’s just move on. What you will get is one of the most exciting new psych rock acts around — and that’s noteworthy considering how rare a true psych band breaks big. For a different kind of psychedelic kick, you could catch Toronto shoegaze dreamers Alvvays. Either way, you’re going to be awash in some wavvy guitar licks and comforting mid-afternoon jams.

Our Pick: It’s always nice to catch a band on the come-up, which in this case is Post Animal. Their debut, When I Think of You in a Castle, is pretty dope and definitely worth skipping a more established act to see how it translates to the stage.

__________________________________________________________

The Voidz vs. Tenacious D

Shaky Knees Vs.​​Photos by Robert Altman and Ben Kaye

Sunday 7:30 PM — It’s hard not to look at this as Jack Black vs. Julian Casablancas. They’re both just such big names that seeing either of them onstage is going to be memorable. But Tenacious D and The Voidz should be considered as more than just their frontmen. It might be as straightforward as weighing comedy hard rock and experimental rock; either one might plainly not be your bag. Maybe it comes down to how good of a spot you want for The National (Tenacious D will be closer over on the Piedmont stage). For us, it comes down to one thing…

Our Pick: They are the D, they are the D, they are the D! Come on, man. Tenacious D is a show and a face melting one at that. Can’t miss.



Source link

Posted on

Solving Shaky Knees 2018’s 10 Biggest Scheduling Conflicts


There’s a reason why we slotted Shaky Knees into our Big Four Shuffle discussion earlier this year. At just six years young, the Atlanta, Georgia, festival has already earned a reputation as one of the premiere east coast music events. Since its inception, founder Tim Sweetwood and his partners at C3 Presents have managed to put together bills that would sell out festivals with twice the capacity of the various ATL parks Shaky has called home. When you’re this good at putting together a lineup, however, you’re left with an enviable problem: conflicts. Though Shaky Knees’ footprint in Central Park should be small enough to theoretically catch competing acts if you’re willing to sacrifice a few minutes of music, you’ll inevitably have to make some tough decisions.

Well, we’re going to help you with that. It’s true that nearly every space in the 2018 Shaky Knees schedule poses some sort of conflict, but we can’t decide all your druthers for you. So we’ve taken a look at 10 of the biggest time-slot clashes and made our very educated, carefully considered choices. Hey, at least you won’t have to skip any of the headliners.

__________________________________________________________

Jimmy Eat World vs. Waxahatchee

Shaky Knees Vs.Photos by Philip Cosores and David Brendan Hall

Friday 4:00 PM — It’s strange to think of two bands being so different yet still being such a heartbreaking conflict. On the one hand is Jimmy Eat World, an emo rock band that probably still gets too many people going, “They’re still around?” On the other is Waxahatchee, an indie project whose last three albums were easily one of their years’ best. Both deliver strong-as-steel live shows, and both have the repertoire to put together a setlist without lulls.

Our Pick: Look, call us nostalgic if you want, but Jimmy’s catalog is severely underrated, and we’ll be singing along to way more than “The Middle” when we catch this set.

__________________________________________________________

Courtney Barnett vs. Marlon Williams

Shaky Knees Vs.Photos by Philip Cosores and Ben Kaye

Friday 5:00 PM — Australasia is having a moment. Kiwi and Aussie artists are breaking out right and left, and somehow Shaky Knees has two of the best lined up right next to each other. Courtney Barnett we all know about at this point, and that’s why we’re so excited about her forthcoming Tell Me How You Really Feel. Marlon Williams may not be as well known yet stateside, but his recent Make Way for Love is already one of the most stirring efforts of the year. Shredding rock versus alt-country crooning — which do you choose?

Our Pick: In the early evening on the first night of a festival, you’re looking for a jolt of energy to bring you into the nighttime. Williams will be a treat, no doubt, but we’re going to hear some of Barnett’s new tunes instead.

__________________________________________________________

Japandroids vs. Fleet Foxes

Shaky Knees Vs.Photos by Ben Kaye and Philip Cosores

Friday 8:00 PM — We’re not sure there’s going to be an excess of crossover between Fleet Foxes’ pastoral folk and Japandroids’ two-man noise rock. Still, both bands are indie favorites, and they both just returned from fairly long absences last year. Making the decision even more troublesome is that both new records are really freaking good. I mean, which one did you like better?

Our Pick: Fleet Foxes would be a better transition out of David Byrne (who plays beforehand), but Japandroids is going to be a better transition into Jack White (who plays afterwards). Frankly, we’ve been bored by Fleet Foxes before, so we’re going with the rockers.

__________________________________________________________

The Sherlocks vs. Sun Seeker

Shaky Knees Vs.

Saturday 12:45 PM — Over the last few years, we’ve given exclusive spotlights to both these young bands. The Sherlocks are four Sheffield boys who trade in the hooky type of alternative that has long made Britrock a scene in and of itself. They’ve already gained quite a bit of popularity over the last two years in their home country, and it’s nice to see them getting some US festival real estate. Sun Seeker, meanwhile, put out their debut EP, Biddeford, on Third Man Records last year. That sort of signing should be just about all you need to know about this Nashville cosmic folk quartet.

Our Pick: An early afternoon set with the Sun Seekers is surely going to be a great way to start your day, but the rarity and excitement of The Sherlocks is going to pull us over to the Peachtree stage.

__________________________________________________________

Charly Bliss vs. Greta Van Fleet

Shaky Knees Vs.Photos by Ben Kaye and Michael Lavine

Saturday 3:45 PM — This one might come down to how you like your rock: Pop punk or bluesy? Greta van Fleet and Charly Bliss had huge coming outs in 2017, with the former giving a new spark to hard rock and the latter putting out one of the most electrifying power pop debuts in years. And their placement in a mid-afternoon slot is perfect for those seeking a shot in the arm as we approach the halfway mark of day two.

Our Pick: Gah, this one’s really tough. Frankly, the thing tipping it in Greta van Fleet’s favor is simply that we haven’t seen them live before. We won’t blame you in the slightest for going to get Blissed out.

__________________________________________________________

Andrew W.K. vs. Manchester Orchestra

Shaky Knees Vs.Photos by Philip Cosores and Killian Young

Saturday 6:30 PM — Two artists with incredible staying power for very different reasons line up on opposite stages at dinner time on Saturday. Manchester Orchestra is known for keeping diehard fans rapt with their melodic, heartfelt art rock and frontman Andy Hull’s captivating, dynamic vocals. Andrew W.K. is known for … well, for partying. And partying hard. It’s not a stretch to say that ManO is going to have a crowd more ready for sing-alongs while W.K. will have people waiting for “those songs,” but that doesn’t mean the rest of his set isn’t going to be a hella good time.

Our Pick: Which is why we’re going to catch Andrew W.K.’s sure-to-be sweaty show. His new album, You’re Not Alone, may finally be the worthy successor to I Get Wet we didn’t know we were waiting for, and dammit this dude is just fun as hell.

__________________________________________________________

Cake vs. Matt and Kim

Shaky Knees Vs.Matt and Kim photo by Cathy Poulton

Saturday 6:30 PM — This might seem like semi-strange scheduling as you try to transition from bands like The War on Drugs to Queens of the Stone Age, but it’s actually kind of genius. Those two acts are heavy — for very different reasons, mind you — so having a bit of carefree joy to break it up should be a welcome respite. You can get that either with ’90s and oughts staple Cake or party dance-pop duo Matt and Kim. In a way, you sort of know what you’re getting with either, so it could depend on if you’re feeling like a familiar sing-along or a confetti cannon party.

Our Pick: This could all change based on exhaustion levels as we head into the day two headliners, but our thought is go where the party is, and that’s Matt and Kim.

__________________________________________________________

Frankie Rose vs. The Wild Reeds

Shaky Knees Vs.​​The Wild Reeds photo by Ben Kaye

Sunday 12:30 PM — Look, we all know how day threes can be, but these two acts are worth the early rise. The Wild Reeds are that perfect bridge between indie folk and rock, demonstrating just how explosive the former sound can really get. Frankie Rose is one of the most under-heralded stalwarts of indie pop’s various subgenres, and her latest solo effort, Cage Tropical, is gorgeous. It’s hard picking between two of the most talented female-fronted artists on the bill, but it’s too early to be spreading yourself across the entire site, so you’re gonna have to choose.

Our Pick: Like we said, getting in on an early Sunday set can be trying, so we’re going with the biggest aural caffeine boost being offered: The Wild Reeds.

__________________________________________________________

Alvvays vs. Post Animal

Shaky Knees Vs.​​Alvvays photo by ​Philip Cosores

Sunday 2:45 PM — First thing’s first: You’re probably not going to see Steve Harrington at the Post Animal set. Actor/guitarist Joe Keery doesn’t tour with the band, so let’s just move on. What you will get is one of the most exciting new psych rock acts around — and that’s noteworthy considering how rare a true psych band breaks big. For a different kind of psychedelic kick, you could catch Toronto shoegaze dreamers Alvvays. Either way, you’re going to be awash in some wavvy guitar licks and comforting mid-afternoon jams.

Our Pick: It’s always nice to catch a band on the come-up, which in this case is Post Animal. Their debut, When I Think of You in a Castle, is pretty dope and definitely worth skipping a more established act to see how it translates to the stage.

__________________________________________________________

The Voidz vs. Tenacious D

Shaky Knees Vs.​​Photos by Robert Altman and Ben Kaye

Sunday 7:30 PM — It’s hard not to look at this as Jack Black vs. Julian Casablancas. They’re both just such big names that seeing either of them onstage is going to be memorable. But Tenacious D and The Voidz should be considered as more than just their frontmen. It might be as straightforward as weighing comedy hard rock and experimental rock; either one might plainly not be your bag. Maybe it comes down to how good of a spot you want for The National (Tenacious D will be closer over on the Piedmont stage). For us, it comes down to one thing…

Our Pick: They are the D, they are the D, they are the D! Come on, man. Tenacious D is a show and a face melting one at that. Can’t miss.



Source link

Posted on

Goodbye for Now: Farewell Tours Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up to Be


On April 2nd, 2011, James Murphy and his bandmates brought the tenure of one of the most adored bands of the 2000s to a close. Not only did Murphy shut the door on LCD Soundsystem, but he chose to do so in wild, garish fashion. The farewell show at Madison Square Garden ran a Springsteen-like four hours in length, not including the four pre-shows that preceded it at Terminal 5. The entire spectacle was captured in the form of a documentary with appearances from the likes of Chuck Klosterman and Donald Glover. Aziz Ansari was there crowd surfing. This wasn’t a concert; it was a celebration. Murphy sought a farewell that lived up to the hype and stratospheric adulation that LCD Soundsystem’s work arguably deserved. This was The Last Waltz upgraded for the new millennium.

Instead, Murphy regrouped LCD Soundsystem just six years later for 2017’s American Dream. The record was expectedly top notch, proving that Murphy’s ear for irascibly catchy dance punk had only gotten better with age. Add a successful run of theater and arena shows to the mix, and the reunion circle was complete.

Still, something feels off about the band’s return, as successful as it has been. It’s anything but uncommon for bands to break up only to reunite, but wasn’t there a distinct air of finality to LCD’s outsized ride off into the sunset? The band’s final show, after all, was very clearly billed as just that. It was one last chance to see one of the most culturally and critically celebrated bands of the past decade … forever. But when the band started recording again in 2015 and playing reunion shows a year later, they effectively undid the special event they’d very deliberately created just a few years prior.

Some fans were understandably upset at news of a new album. There were those that attended the Madison Square Garden show who took to Twitter to ask that they be refunded the cost of their tickets while others suggested that a free download of the record should be presented to those fans who can prove they were at the farewell gig. Was it all an act? Did fans unknowingly shell out top dollar for a gimmick? Murphy was surprisingly upfront in his answer to The New York Times in August, saying that the idea for a farewell show was born out of concerns about low ticket sales.

“My theory was, if I make it our last show, we’ll sell it out in two weeks,” he said. “It wasn’t a total lark, but it was a bit larky.”

Murphy is hardly the first artist the exploit the farewell show/tour for the cash grab that it can be. Few in popular music have been as opportunistic as KISS, who launched a year-long farewell jaunt in March 2000 only to reneg on their retirement to embark on 12 tours since. Garth Brooks cashed in on his public announcement in 2000 that he was retiring from touring, but he eventually found his way back to playing in 2005, including a blockbuster five-night run at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and later an extended residency in Las Vegas. Cher also made a home for herself onstage in Vegas, just six years after her three-month farewell tour in 2002.

Black Sabbath netted $85 million on its farewell tour, which fittingly wrapped in the band’s hometown of Birmingham in February 2017. But Ozzy Osbourne still saw some wiggle room for a second goodbye, this time as a solo act. Ozzy announced last month that he will hit the road for the “No More Tours 2” Tour for 20 dates from April to October. But even by the Prince of Darkness’ own admission, the tour isn’t a farewell in the truest sense.

“I’m still going to be doing gigs, but I’m not going on tour for six months at a time anymore,” he told Rolling Stone last month. “I’d like to spend some time at home.”

These few examples alone are enough to cast some credible skepticism on the integrity of shows and tours billed as last hurrahs. Some artists knowingly go into a farewell show or tour on shaky moral ground while others maybe simply have a change of heart. After all, regular folks come out of retirement everyday, so why should our musical heroes be any different? However you look at it, “farewell” feels like too finite a word for something that’s repeatedly proven so easy to go back on. In most cases, when talk of retirement comes up, we’re talking about artists with serious skin in the game, acts with decades of high-profile success to their credit. Looked at in that light, it’s easy to see how we’re not talking about someone’s work, but more aptly their lives. When you’ve made your name and reputation on a stage for three, four, or five decades, walking away is easier said than done, even if the idea of stopping sounds good or, better yet, feels right.

With a recent rash of farewell tour announcements from the likes of Elton John, Paul Simon, and Joan Baez, it feels like an opportune time to think about what fans might be walking into. Simon, who announced his 31-date “Homeward Bound” trek through the US and UK in February, has already sold out two shows at the Hollywood Bowl and a third in Amsterdam. Verified resale tickets through Ticketmaster run as high as $5,833 for a balcony seat (that’s not a typo) and $2,200 for a floor seat at the TD Garden in Boston. Elton John’s “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” Tour is also commanding some steep prices, with floor seats topping out at $1,581 at one of his upcoming Madison Square Garden shows in October. Baez’s ticket prices look incredibly modest by comparison. Even still, an orchestra seat for her show at the Verizon Hall-Kimmel Center in Philadelphia on September 26th as of this writing will cost you $282. It’s also worth noting that these prices do not include fees commonly associated with Ticketmaster events.

[Read: So, This Is What Retirement Looks Like for Rock Stars]

Between the hefty ticket prices and the farewell tour’s anything-but-spotless track record, fans angling to attend these shows would be wise to proceed with caution. At the same time, though, it’s easier to look at these upcoming tours as a safer bet than some of the farewell jaunts that have preceded them. Unlike Garth Brooks, who was a laughable 38 years old when he announced his ill-fated retirement 18 years ago, Simon, Baez, and John are a median age of 74. They’ve logged some incredible miles, both literally on the road and figuratively in the studio, so the thought of them walking away is hardly stunning. Simon and John both cited a desire to spend more time with their families as the rationale behind their respective farewells, which is a good enough reason for any musician to decide to walk away from a life of layovers, bus rides, and hotels.

But what these farewells don’t account for is how someone will feel 5, 10, or 15 years down the road. Simon, for one, has already left the door open for, as he described on Twitter, “the occasional performance in a (hopefully) acoustically pristine hall,” with proceeds going to charity. The lesson here is to read between the lines. Simon’s upcoming trek is a farewell tour, not a vow to hang up his guitar for good. Baez, meanwhile, admitted to Billboard earlier this month that she’s already anticipating the withdrawals that are sure to come from leaving a life of touring behind.

“That I will miss,” she said of touring. “My travelling family.”

In the end, it’s difficult for fans to tell what they’re going to get with these farewells. Sometimes they’re an opportunity to watch lightening get caught in a bottle one last time, and other times they fail to live up to their billing. Some will say it doesn’t really matter. After all, if you’re a die-hard Elton John fan, aren’t there worse things than having the opportunity to see the legend in action again? I don’t know, but maybe try asking the guy who bought the $1,500 seat.



Source link

Posted on

True Stories: How David Byrne Learned to Stop Worrying and Love America


David Byrne is all about cautious optimism these days. Recently, that’s taken the form of an interactive lecture series entitled “Reasons to be Cheerful,” in which Byrne catalogs and champions examples of public policy triumphs large and small from communities around the world. It’s also led to American Utopia, Byrne’s first solo record in 14 years and his artistic reaction to the political and existential fears that radiate daily from the Trump Administration.  

In addition to highlighting stories of Paris’ groundbreaking bike-share system, Portugal’s successful drug-decriminalization policies, and investments in clean energy happening in a deep-red Texas suburb, the project also stands as the latest involving one of Byrne’s longest-standing fascinations: how to make America (and the lives of Americans) better.


Byrne’s transformation into pop music’s hippest cultural-critic-cum-philosophy-professor wasn’t a given. As Rob Tannenbaum of The New York Times noted in a recent feature, “At the start of his career, when Mr. Byrne was the singer in Talking Heads, fans turned to him for alienation, not hope.

Breakthrough records like Talking Heads: 77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food introduced listeners to a very different Byrne, one whose eccentric delivery, autobiographical elusiveness, and obsession with the mundanities of everyday life, allowed him to slip into the role of the bewildered outsider, one who found himself equal parts frustrated and fascinated by the customs of the world where he loved to visit but didn’t want to live.

The songs that made Byrne and the Talking Heads famous during these years dealt directly with this disorientation; their most famous single is anchored by Byrne literally asking, “How did I get here?” On those early records, everything was a possible threat: love was an impossible riddle (“I’m Not in Love”), paradise was a boring trick (“Heaven”), and the comforts of modern society led nowhere but brain death (“Don’t Worry About the Government”). Redemption, when it came at all, did so through art and self-expression, and other people’s problems were theirs alone to solve (“No Compassion”).

However, that kind of paranoid post-punk Byrne wouldn’t remain an impartial (and overly anxious) observer for long. By the mid-’80s, his artistic and lyrical concerns would undergo an evolution and expansion that still informs his work today. As we approach Byrne’s latest reckoning with American culture, it feels important to revisit the place where that reckoning began in earnest.

Perhaps the best document to capture the turning point in Byrne’s innate sense of apartness isn’t an album but a film. Released in 1986, True Stories took Byrne from New York to Texas for his first foray in moviemaking. Taking cues from Errol Morris’ oddball documentary Vernon, Florida, the film explores the inner lives and outer quirks of residents from the fictional town of Virgil, where microchip manufacturer Vericorp is king and the sesquicentennial “Celebration of Specialness” is imminent.

As the film’s nameless narrator and tour guide (as well as its writer and director), Byrne blows into town in a red Chrysler convertible and soon finds himself palling around with all sorts of weirdos, from a woman who refuses to leave her bed and her voodoo-practicing butler to Louis Fyne, a Vericorp employee so desperate to find a wife that he records a television commercial complete with hotline number. In between these meetups, viewers are treated to interludes inspired by the mundane settings of high capitalism; everyday people stage an absurdist mall fashion show set to the haunting “Dream Operator”, a field sobriety test turns into a balletic movement piece, and a nameless security guard sings an operatic solo to no one on the half-built stage he’s tasked with protecting.

Had True Stories been made by Byrne in the ’70s, its promo inspiration (in, what else, an interview with himself, Byrne described his movie as “a project with songs based on true stories from tabloid newspapers” and “60 Minutes on acid”) might’ve resulted in another scathing takedown of quotidian suburban living. After all, this was the same guy who, on More Songs About Buildings and Food standout “The Big Country”, reacted to the everyday goings-on of flyover country with a dismissive “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.

Eight years later, things were different. Far from being a backhanded compliment, the film’s “Celebration of Specialness” actually feels like, well, a celebration. True Stories goes out of its way to express the (sometimes conflicted) positives at the heart of even the most nondescript town. There are rich inner lives inside each of the Vericorp drones (especially Fyne, whose quest for love is played out with circus-bear sympathy by John Goodman). The mall combines the town square with air conditioning. The prefab metal buildings that line the outskirts of town represent economic growth rather than unchecked sprawl. “Who can say it isn’t beautiful?” Byrne asks over a shot of an unfinished subdivision, thinking more of the lives about to unfold in each empty room rather than the cul-de-sacs on the edge of scrubland.

Most of these cues come from Byrne’s narrator who, instead of collapsing from the tension of being an outsider, replaces ironic distance or jaded worry with curious acceptance. He may not believe that “economics has become a spiritual thing” or that freeways are “the cathedrals of our time,” but he can understand the people who do.  

True Stories was a polarizing part of the Talking Heads canon from the beginning. Critics were wary of this newfound sincerity; though Roger Ebert praised the film for its “wonderment” and “bold attempt to paint a bizarre American landscape,” others, like New York Magazines David Denby, dismissed it for its “bland, floating facetiousness.The soundtrack bombed, too; originally intended to feature songs as they were performed by the movie’s actors, the record instead delivered (allegedly) more bankable Talking Heads versions that found the once-transcendent band, as Ira Robbins of Trouser Press put it, “slumming in the mundane world of tunesmiths and working musicians.

With the benefits of hindsight, it’s safe to say that the critical and commercial legacies of True Stories matter less than what it reveals about Byrne’s subsequent artistic and academic work. The movie (and accompanying record and book) signaled the final end of frustration, cynicism, and isolation as the dominant motifs of Byrne’s work. In their place, we find the codification of the themes and concerns that would continually reoccur over the course of the next 32 years: the search for meaning outside oneself (1994’s “Angels”), the belief in the possibility of connection between two people (2008’s Eno collaboration “Strange Overtones”), and the continued assertion that, for all of its faults, America is actually worth it (1997’s “Miss America”).

Perhaps most importantly, True Stories also marks the full emergence of Byrne’s ability to approach frightening existential questions on both a geological and subatomic scale. The film opens with a history lesson, in which Byrne traces the lifespan of the land that is now Texas from the time of the dinosaurs to the decimation of the native Americans to the oil and technology booms of the 20th century. The film’s closing sequence bookends this scene-setting with “City of Dreams”, in which Byrne recaps the same history with an implied caution: We’re only here for the middle of the story. Texas is temporary. Cherish it, before you go the way of the stegosaurus yourself.

In his 1986 review of the True Stories album, SPIN critic Chris Carroll identified these new mellower concerns as Byrne “aging happily” and “coming to terms with the things that made you angry just a few years ago.” Whether he’s mitigating the pain of a dissolving relationship by breaking things down to their constituent parts (2004’s elegiac “Glass, Concrete, and Stone”) or putting listeners at peace with their (infinitesimally small) place in the universe (1997’s “Finite=Alright”), Byrne finds comfort through perspective and, as Ebert said, a whole lot of wonderment. He captures those sentiments best on his newest single (“Everybody’s Coming to My House”): “We’re only tourists in this life/ Only tourists but the view is nice.

These ideas, and the songs they would inspire, helped Byrne transition from the jittery loner of his band’s earliest record into what he is now: an almost-spiritual guide offering solace and navigation through the isolation and despair of life as we live it. No wonder he named the town Virgil.

Of course, like any artistic evolution, this switch in perspective wasn’t without its downsides. It made Byrne’s work more open-handed and accessible, but also less urgent. Its concerns with mitigating interior dread and finding joy in the everyday also operate from a position of relative privilege and, for many facing far more tangible threats to their existence, don’t always feel like a priority.

However. In a political climate where uncertainty is the rule and not the exception, it’s still comforting to know that David Byrne is out there somewhere, riding his bike and dreaming up new ways to help us understand ourselves.

Some days, that’s the only reason to be cheerful that we need.



Source link

Posted on

She Loves Me, Not My Music


This column originally ran February 2016. We’re reposting it in time for Valentine’s Day.

Music, Movies & Moods is a monthly free-form column in which Matt Melis explores the cracks between where art and daily life meet.

COS_Music_Movies_Moods (2)One of my favorite scenes in film history takes place in Rick’s Café Américain. Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa requests the saloon’s piano player, Sam, at her table. “It’s been a long time,” she tells him. “Yes, ma’am,” he says cautiously, trying to stare straight ahead at his sheet music. “A lot of water under the bridge.” After asking about Humphrey Bogart’s Rick and getting little response from his musical confidant, she eases into a coaxing smile: “Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake … Play ‘As Time Goes By.’”

As a music writer, it’s difficult not to love the moment that follows. Sitting in a soft glow, Ilsa’s glance lowers in recognition of those first notes. Eyes moist and lips slowly parting, it’s clear that she’s suddenly someplace far away from inescapable Casablanca, a river of fond and painful memories from a lifetime ago flowing through her mind as Sam plinks and sings. Songs have that power to transport us – to unpack the heart’s forgotten or neglected cargo and, in doing so, take us back to places we thought ourselves unlikely to ever revisit. Rick may forbid Sam from playing “As Time Goes By” at the café, but he and Ilsa will always share that song, no matter how many gin joints they walk into or planes out of town they climb aboard. After all, it’s their song.

Last fall, after rewatching Casablanca, I took a walk with my fiancée through my Chicago neighborhood, a light fog fittingly lingering over the sidewalks after an evening rain. “What’s our ‘As Time Goes By’?” I asked, sinking into an over-the-top, nasally Bogey, like Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam. She looked at me confused; she’d never seen Casablanca. “Our song,” I clarified. “What’s our song?” We paused in front of a small family bakery for a moment before she said, “I think it’s that Alanis Morissette one, right?” She hummed it to me, just like Ilsa does for Sam – nothing. We had to look it up online when we got back to my apartment: “Head Over Feet.” “Why is that our song?” I asked. Neither of us knew.

Of course, if you have to ask what your song is, you don’t have one – not a real song anyway. Not an “As Time Goes By”. And it’s not as though you can agree upon one and apply it retroactively. Again, not if you want to be like Rick and Ilsa. It needs to be something you hear early on – maybe while on one of those first few dates – a song you played again and again and fell in love with as you fell in love. Not having a song of our own bothered me. More than a decade of memories together, but no melodic cue, no musical time capsule, no chance to ever whisper, “Listen, they’re playing our song” and whisk each other away to a dance floor we’d never be near anyway because neither of us dances. How does a music critic find his Ilsa but not his “As Time Goes By”?

The answer is depressingly simple. As alike as we are, as in love as we’ve been, we absolutely loathe each other’s music. We’re a pop-culture Oscar and Felix.

A decade ago, if you asked me to tell you about myself, you were liable to leave my company with your arms straining beneath a stack of books pinned under your chin, a few records tucked beneath each arm, and a list of films to check out in your pocket. Like so many men (and maybe women) my age, I spent a great deal of my dating days as an indirect disciple of Rob Gordon’s relationship philosophy from High Fidelity: “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like. Books, records, films, these things matter. Call me shallow; it’s the fucking truth.” And that made sense to me then. A relationship wasn’t just about two people coming together; it was about re-alphabetizing and merging complementary record collections, two like-minded movie libraries filling each other’s gaps, and finding someone else’s margin notes after reaching for a novel from a much larger bookcase. That’s how I pictured it — the Paris we’d always have.

Looking back, maybe Rob offers a useful motto for pop-culture junkies seeking compatibility. Then again, maybe it’s more a buffer — a way to put yourself out there without as much risk. She didn’t reject me; she rejected my record collection … bitch. Either way, early dates with me, including those with my fiancée, were all about informal vetting, especially on movie nights. She lacked the endurance for the Back to the Future trilogy date, gave me suspicious looks throughout The Rocky Horror Picture Show (fair enough), and I didn’t even bother making her cringe through Stop Making Sense. Crucial pop-culture boxes kept going unchecked, but a relationship began all the same. Still, it was clear early on that we like none of the same things, especially when it comes to music.

We started from the same place — listened to and were spoon-fed the same alt-rock radio growing up — but diverged drastically from there. Me into an obsession with singer-songwriters and just about every ’80s DIY band titling the chapters of Our Band Could Be Your Life. She into a world of J-Rock, visual kei, and bands where all the males wear guyliner. I analyze lyrics; she tries to block them out altogether. I’m the guy who wears the band’s t-shirt to the show; I don’t think she even owns a t-shirt. A few weeks ago, we split an Uber late at night, and “Wonderwall” came on the radio. We both sang along to it — me doing my most obnoxious, drunken Liam sneer and her translating to Japanese on the fly. It was like two kids hearing “Jingle Bells” and singing two different dirty playground versions.

We’ve tried over the years to merge our disparate musical worlds. She politely sat through a Bob Dylan show. I sat in the parents’ balcony at an Escape the Fate concert, at least a decade older than any non-parent there. When traveling through Chicago on business several summers ago, I bought day passes to Lollapalooza, so she could see X Japan play one of their first US shows ever; we only stayed for that one set. And on more than one occasion, she’s endured a romantic gesture being undercut by the sensual sounds of Tom Waits growling like Cookie Monster in the background. I’m not proud of that one.

We bought tickets to see Muse at the United Center last month. It’s one of her favorite bands, and she had never seen them live before. She wore a dress, equal parts Gothic Lolita and Hot Topic school girl punk, and contacts that changed her eyes from darkest brown to sea green. I wore jeans, a plaid button-down, and a patchwork beard that made me look like a poor man’s lumberjack. The concert began: band members ran the length of the arena, seizure-inducing visuals burst non-stop, and even a drone (fashioned from one of those remote-control blimps you see at sporting events) floated overhead. By any measure, it’s the last type of concert I’d want to be stuck at.

But something happened early on in the set. I looked over at my usually reserved fiancée, mouthing every lyric, pumping her fist, and even breaking out the air drums during a couple of songs. She’s a woman run ragged by both the stresses of being a doctor and having a traditional Indian family who can’t understand why she’s marrying a man who is neither Indian nor a doctor — or at least a lawyer if she wanted to slum it. As I watched her escape into that music, I thought about our future. There would be more Muse shows like this one and many nights where she’d chase a Pixar movie with one of her cold-case murder programs. But, in fairness, there would also be more of those Back to the Future marathons and probably even a Stop Making Sense date. For some, love may be about sitting next to someone who loves the same music and movies; for us, it’s just about sitting next to each other, no matter what might be playing. Besides, as I’m learning, when you sit next to Ilsa, the music doesn’t matter all that much.

Maybe one day we’ll find ourselves in a café in 1940’s French Morocco — me in a white jacket and black bow tie, her with artificial green eyes and a punk rock dress — and the piano player will ask if we have a request. I’ll just say, “Play it, Sam.” And should he play an Alanis Morissette song that I don’t even remember, that will do well enough. It won’t be Rick and Ilsa’s Paris, but it’ll be all ours.

In other words, here’s looking at you, kid. She still hasn’t seen Casablanca, but I think she’ll understand.

casablanca She Loves Me, Not My Music

~

Happy Valentine’s Day from Consequence of Sound.



Source link

Posted on

Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller


Photo by David Brendan Hall

Festivals are changing. When Coachella released their lineup on January 2nd — their earliest release to date — the news was met with a collective yawn. In fact, an “I’m Underwhelmed” thread in the festival’s sub-Reddit received nearly as many up-votes as the lineup announcement itself. And naturally, other major lineup announcements that followed didn’t fare much better.

As industry gatekeepers like LiveNation and AEG continue to snatch up one major festival after another, the once-thrilling concept of traveling far and wide for these experiences is becoming more and more passé. After all, why should anyone trek across the country to see a flock of performers they can likely catch closer to home?

The solution for festival goers is simple: think smaller.

Boutique festivals are becoming increasingly thrilling amid today’s vapid festival climate. By providing a thoughtful alternative, they’ve begun to satisfy a seasoned music vet’s desire for something extraordinary and something risky. While their long-term future is always uncertain, their commitment to a singular identity is key to their success.

jf cp desertdaze 2017 0309 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by Jaime Fernández

Desert Daze, for instance, has carved themselves out a niche in the festival sphere by cultivating an experience around the Joshua Tree’s trip-inducing visual aesthetic. Each turn is host to a new burning-man-esque art exhibition, and the festival’s signature programming gives life to the location’s supernatural aura — though, not without its share of struggles.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher to have a unique lineup,” says Desert Daze founder Phil Pirrone. “Look, I’m in a band, too, so I get it. It’s almost impossible to make money as a touring musician. I get where agents are coming from. I get the mad dash for cash. But, it does make it increasingly difficult to have a unique lineup when you’re in Southern California.”

Like many festivals of its size, Desert Daze jostles with a number of larger festivals in close proximity for big gets. Pirrone competes with So-Cal-based, Goldenvoice-produced festivals Coachella, FYF Festival and Arroyo Seco for bookings. “I have real envy for festivals that are in a market where they’re the only festival,” he says. “You’re not always going to get the dream lineup together because there’s so much competition. You basically have to have a lot of backup plans.”

As Prionne suggests, artists have become increasingly reliant on major festivals such as Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Agents are in a rat race to secure their clients the best possible billings at the most possible festivals.

Adding fuel to the fire, festivals are, now more than ever, willing to offer up the same headliners as their competition in order to move units. Multifest deals mean talent is often contracted for a cheaper booking price to play a string of festivals. Remember Chance the Rapper’s whopping 11 appearances at American music festivals in 2017? This year’s festival darling? Eminem. These instances aren’t simply coincidence but, rather, the deliberate efforts of production companies working the best deals possible.

jf cp desertdaze 2017 0111 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by Jaime Fernández

From a business perspective, such programming is sound logic. Music festivals are high-risk ventures, and things can turn south quickly. Sasquatch Festival, for instance, had its attendance drop by 50 percent in 2016. That same year, Bonnaroo’s attendance dipped by a reported 45 percent compared to its peak in 2011. It makes sense that those with a controlling stake would want to play it safe.

Other fests like Pemberton, Karoondi, Summerset, and Mysteryland have met similar fates in recent years, and, especially considering the bad taste the Fyre Festival left in the mouths of investors, independent festivals often disappear faster than they emerge. An Austin staple, Sound on Sound Festival (formerly Fun Fun Fun) was cancelled this year, with organizers citing “several recent roadblocks outside of [their] control.”

Such failures have caused companies like Live Nation and AEG, as well as investors, to constrict their business models. With the signature touchstones of festival culture falling out of existence, promoters have begun to think twice about experimental bookings in their top lines. The result? Different permutations of the same product.

As we’ve seen this year with Eminem, The Killers, and Jack White fronting a plethora of festival bills, promoters are more than wary about who they offer as headliners. As they become larger and competition threatens to cripple them, festivals have undergone a loss of identity: no longer can one guess a festival by its headliners alone.

jf cp desertdaze 2017 0352 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by Jaime Fernández

Organizers are flailing to find a solution to the festival problem. But if industry executives continue to treat our cultural gatherings like dollar-churning machines, little room is left for innovation, and we’ll likely continue to see more of the same. Still, boutique festivals like Desert Daze stick to their mission, despite the overwhelming threat of saturation bumping them out of the market.

“In an oversaturated world, we still somehow found a little nook,” Pirrone says. Last year, he hosted the likes of Spiritualized, Velvet Underground founder John Cale, doom metal trio Sleep, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s only festival performance supporting their collaborative album, and the king of punk himself, Iggy Pop, who headlined the festival.

Such programming feels urgent, even unmissable, and for hardcore music fans, the lineup demands attendance in cult-like fashion. This is an itch that boutique festivals have begun to scratch, however, satisfying the avant-garde live niche once occupied by Coachella — and Desert Daze is hardly alone.

Elsewhere, a number of boutique festivals have disrupted the status quo with engaging interactive exhibits. Houston’s Day For Night does exactly that, fostering a rare curatorial experience that weaves visual and sensory exhibits into the festival’s programming. For 2017’s installment, art curator Alex Czetwertynski showcased more 15 large-scale visual installations and hundreds of hours worth of digital programming.

dayfornight2017 day3 davidbrendanhall 02 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by David Brendan Hall

“Festivals themselves are done,” says Day for Night founder Omar Afra, who believes that curation is pertinent to the attendee’s experience. “We’re on the precipice of seeing this model become antiquated, right? [Even though] many festivals are still working within a festival construct, it’s the experience that’s changing, and that’s where the focus is. You can’t say, ‘We’re an art and music festival’ if we put a giant dragonfly in the middle of our stages and say, ‘Look, it’s art.’ When you say you’re an art festival, you have to fucking mean it and put the love and the time behind it, because people can tell the difference.”

Day for Night’s emphasis on visuals is a huge diversion from traditional festival model. Dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into visual production is a tremendous risk yet few exhibit the level of curatorial excellence that Day for Night touts each year. Whether it’s showcasing the mathematical glitch-work from Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda or the “attack of epilepsy” from light pioneer Matthew Pioneer, the festival proves that thematic identities can work as a festival model.

“You can’t imitate other people, and you can’t imitate yourself,” says Afra. “That’s probably the worst thing you could do!” The question, though, is whether or not emerging festivals will continue to pave their own paths, or will they fall prey to industry homogenization.

dayfornight2017 day1 davidbrendanhall 04 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by David Brendan Hall

The idea of discovering new and emerging artists is another avenue for festival organizers to explore, though also not without its share of risks. Austin’s own South by Southwest pioneered the concept in 1987, and since then, several other music conferences have followed. Driven by proprietary algorithms, Emerge’s Rehan Choudhry wants to provide a forward-thinking curatorial conference featuring the highest tier of next generation talent.

“We’re looking to create an entirely new category of experience.” Choudhry eagerly tells us. “There are a lot of traditional festivals out there. The first thing we want to do is avoid having to chase the same talent based on touring availability, and who’s decided to do festivals this year like everybody else is.”

Emerge’s programming features a plethora of artists that haven’t quite reached mainstream recognition. The concept behind the festival is geared towards showcasing names that music listeners and promoters will more readily recognize and adopt 18 to 24 months from now. “We’re very forward thinking and that’s for our musicians, our speakers, partners etc.” says Choudhry. “What I like about it is that it promotes discovery.”

But discovery comes at a cost. “It’s definitely more difficult to do,” Choudhry admits. “[It’s] more difficult to sell tickets like that. More difficult for the attendee to be able to sift through it.” This is opposed to the typical contextualization of festival lineups, where wide-eyed readers are lured in by massive stars at in large-scale fonts.

emerge Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Such an experience sheds light on festivalgoers’ contextualization of lineup announcements in terms of font size. Coachella largely pioneered this process with their one-of-a-kind poster: a cultural statement about the current state of music that now largely determines the future asking price for tour musicians. The massive text is eye catching and does well to sell thousands of tickets in less than a few hours.

“The [usual festival] hierarchy allows for a very simple decision-making process,” says Choudhry. “You look at the top line and ultimately you’re making your decision based on location timeframe and the top three lines. Is this something you want to invest in or not?”

Scanning the font hierarchy on Coachella’s lineup is simple: gawk at the big names and move on from there. But what happens when a festival gets rid of font hierarchy altogether and focuses on crafting their experience around discovery? Choudhry discusses the potential pitfalls related to programming a festival like Emerge.

“Here are a bunch of names I may or may not recognize” he says, citing the synthesis between algorithmic data and human curatorial-judgement as the basis for a new festival-conference hybrid. “That’s all part of the process, but it all starts with, ‘How are you selecting the artists?’ What we did was, we put together a 25-person curator committee.” By involving executives from talent agencies and music industry insiders, including those from Spotify, Choudhry argues, “We have the upper echelon of talent to perform.”

 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Whether it’s SXSW or Emerge, those attending a music conference are traditonally seeking out something more than the flavor of the week, and when the emphasis is placed on discovery rather than hype, it opens the floodgates to programming that was previously thought to be reserved for local music venues and dive bars. Festivals like Emerge are hoping that seasoned festivalgoers are willing to pay for that full experience.

Even so, the festival experience will always be defined by the lens of perception. As David Byrne points out in his 2012 book, How Music Works, context — read: the creative production behind a festival — shapes our experience of the music itself. “Music resonates in so many parts of the brain that we can’t conceive of it being an isolated thing” he says. “It’s whom you were with, how old you were, and what was happening that day.”

Perhaps this explains why some festivals have started to put so much emphasis on the cohesive community fostered by their events. One such festival is Eaux Claires Festival in Wisconsin, which is curated by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner. “Each iteration of Eaux Claires has been a unique journey, unlike the festival that preceded it” says Michael Brown, Creative Director for the festival.

sign 04 lior phillips Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by Lior Phillips

Doing away with festival lineup hierarchy is one thing, but what happens when a curatorial festival gets rid of a lineup announcement altogether, focusing solely on their interactive community? “This year is no different,” Brown says, “as we’re currently participating in one of the most radical concepts in the music festival industry: presenting a festival with no marketed lineup.”

The decision not to market the festival’s lineup is an interesting, albeit risky, concept to say the least, but it’s an opportunity for artists and fans to all exist on the same plane. Again, most festival organizers would call it business suicide, but Brown is confident that Eaux Claires’ unique, immersive experience alone will continue to advance the festival.

“We’re pushing Eaux Claires in this direction because we want our audience and our artists to live together in the moment and willingly participate in something special” he says. “We want, for one weekend in the year, that folks stop being concerned with the popularized ‘fashion’ of music and be more concerned with its creative pursuits.”

moms kiosk lior phillips Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by Lior Phillips

The dynamic festival is nestled in the serene, wooded community of Eaux Claires, where Vernon grew up, and it’s a fitting backdrop for the festival’s programming. Vernon, Dessner, and Brown have set out to evoke a sense of spiritual belonging throughout the festival.

“We want people to put value on life experience and living in the moment,” says Brown. “We want people, if just for one weekend, to willingly be a part of a community that openly embraces artistic failure as much as it embraces artistic success.”

By placing more emphasis on the experience itself than the names on the bill, Eaux Claires flies in the face of standard festival business strategy over the last two decades, but it’s that purpose that brings a whole new meaning for the music festival model. Such a model might be more successful than previously thought, too, seeing how The Wausau Daily Herald reports that Eaux Claires attendance surpassed 20,000 in 2017.

boniver eauxclaires 6 by graham tolbert e1437407573418 Size Doesn’t Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller

Photo by Graham Tolbert

It’s clear that the festival industry is due for an overhaul, but it’s uncertain how such a shift will manifest throughout our nation’s cultural gatherings. As the focal points of music festivals shift towards more thematically programmed, extracurricular, and immersive experiences, the general public’s contextualization of festivals will shift dramatically. After all, music festivals are one of the biggest cultural touchstones of the 21st century.

As Choudhry explains, “In the last five years, we’ve seen the festival industry consolidate at an incredible rate, with two to three major players buying up independent events across the country. Each time this happens, you also see the pipeline of innovation constrict dramatically. The reason? Innovation typically takes place in smaller, more nimble organizations.”

Whether it’s immersive technology and virtual reality exhibitionism, expansive visual art installations, a unique set and setting, or an off-kilter programming scheme, the emergence of a new class of festivals is imminent. So long as music fans are vocal and innovators continue to test their luck with new and exciting festival models, fans will always have something to look forward to come lineup season.

They just have to be willing to squint.



Source link

Posted on

Why the EMERGE Music and Impact Conference is the Antidote to Festival Fatigue


Perhaps the only effort more herculean than staging a music festival is rescheduling one. To change the dates is to call into question the availability of talent, venues, vendors, and, of course, attendees. The prospect of again finding a weekend that aligns those stars again is a dim one, a dull needle in a gargantuan haystack.

But Mike Henry wasn’t thinking of any of that when he and the rest of producing company A Beautiful Perspective decided to postpone Las Vegas’ inaugural EMERGE Music and Impact Conference, which was slated to unfold on in mid-November of 2017. On October 1st, just a month before it was set to debut, a gunman opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest music festival, leaving 58 people dead and 851 injured.

“It was the only decision to make,” Henry, who serves as the talent buyer for the festival, says of EMERGE’s postponement. “At the time, what was most important was that we focus on being good neighbors to our community.”

On one of the original dates, Henry and his team staged a benefit concert with White Reaper, Mondo Cozmo, and other scheduled EMERGE artists that raised funds for those affected by the tragedy. “That was a time where Vegas needed to focus on healing. It was amazing to see the community come together and lift itself up.”

Today, EMERGE announced that the festival will now take place in Las Vegas on April 6-8th, and also shared 60 of the artists you can catch at the myriad venues collaborating with the festival. Some you might recognize from the initial lineup shared last summer, while others are new. Henry estimates that they were able to secure roughly half of the artists they initially sought, including Chicago rapper Sir the Baptist, Chicano lo-fi artist Cuco, country-folk outfit Gold Star, and the grimy rockers of L.A.’s Starcrawler. New to the fold is DIY punk veteran Jeff Rosenstock, folk rocker Waxahatchee (who will be playing a solo acoustic set), and Americana star Hurray for the Riff Raff, among several others.

While scheduling played into most conflicts, Henry notes that some artists had simply outgrown the festival. Songwriter K.Flay, for instance, has seen her profile rise considerably over the last year. “When we booked her, almost a year ago, she played a little 300-cap here in Las Vegas. Now, she’s got two Grammy nominations and is packing 1,500 people at Brooklyn Bowl on a Tuesday night. She’s graduated out of the emerging category.”

Losing an artist like K.Flay might be a bummer for EMERGE, but it’s also a demonstration of just how on point their approach to curation is. Their raison d’etre, after all, is discovery. Here, you won’t find the artists headlining other major festivals; rather, EMERGE exists to offer stages to the bands typically relegated to small fonts.

“When you’re booking a giant festival, you need to put 30,000 people in one place at one time,” he says, noting that the reason we keep seeing the same artists headlining the big box festivals every year is because, well, it sorta has to be that way. “There’s a limited number of artists in any given year that can draw those kinds of numbers. We’re not trying to fill a football field. You’re going to get to see these artists in cool, intimate showrooms.”

To ensure they were finding the right artists, they had to “intentionally rewrite the entire curation model.” When I spoke to Henry last year, he and A Beautiful Perspective CEO Rehan Choudhry broke down just how they did that. A proprietary algorithm is involved, as is a collaboration with producing partner Spotify. Behind it all, however, is a “curation panel” of roughly 25 people featuring the likes of The Killers, Spoon’s Britt Daniel, MTV alum Matt Pinfield, and legendary record producer Rob Cavallo, among others.

The entire process was revisited when planning, though Henry notes it was obviously less involved since they still had their original data. Some artists who weren’t available for the fall festival were available for the spring festival, while others crept onto his radar in the intervening months.

“The good news is I couldn’t be more psyched about the lineup,” he says. “I think it’s, in many ways, even better and more interesting than the first. Doing it the second time, i guess that’s the silver lining.”

Similarly, Henry says the need to reschedule the festival allowed them to make the kinds of changes and tweaks an organizer would typically apply to a sophomore outing. “We were able to apply stuff we learned from how we were interacting with our audience, what we were learning from our ticket buyers, our artists, the venues,” he says. “It’s almost like being a second year event; we just had to skip the fun part where all the bands played.”

One benefit, for example, is that Henry and his team were able to sharpen their vision for the kind of acts they want for the festival. He says that, in addition to booking acts that wield a social and cultural impact, EMERGE was also looking for artists who are influencing the ways in which music is being written and released in our modern age. He mentions YouTube pop star Poppy, who’s been added to the lineup, as someone who represents the new ways in which artists are engaging with their audiences. Hurray for the Riff Raff is another example, as her innovative approach to protest music has become increasingly relevant in today’s culture.

On a more logistical side, EMERGE is aiming to increase accessibility on this outing by lowering ticket prices and offering individual tickets to each of the festival’s showcases. They’re also embracing a tighter lineup, with the number of artists decreasing from 100 to 75. This is to accommodate the tight turnaround, obviously, but also to maintain the festival’s commitment to intricate curation.

Because what you’ll find at EMERGE isn’t just a series of concerts with bands that share similar sounds. One of its most groundbreaking innovations is in the way that that curation model extends also to the content of its showcases. While the bands playing these showcases might differ in terms of genre, they’ll be united by common themes that are articulated by a series of speakers that punctuate the acts.

Curating these speakers is Lisa Shufro, EMERGE’s Impact Curator, who notes that, despite there a greater emphasis on ideas and impact at major festivals, there’s a marked division between the speakers expressing those ideas and the music itself. “There needs to be a place where music and ideas are celebrated as equal partners and not separate showcases,” she says. “I don’t think that the music world can just pretend any longer that ideas and culture and music and community are not all closely related. It’s not about choosing between entertainment or substance—we can have both in an enjoyable way.”

Shufro hit similar obstacles to Henry in regards to the speaker series, with the rescheduled date meaning speakers like Way and Henry Rollins were no longer available for the Spring event. But she cites a number of new names she’s brought into the fold, including podcaster Dylan Marron, who works to forge connections with those who troll him on social media on his Conversations With People Who Hate Me, and Saudi Arabian singer Rotana, who will be discussing both her Muslim faith and the sects of Islam who don’t recognize her right to sing.

She also notes that there will be several speakers who, like Rotana, will also be performing at the festival. Lower Dens’ Jana Hunter is one, as is Grandson, who Shufro says will be discussing the state of protest in the social media age.

“Other festivals would have the music and speakers on two separate tracks,” Shufro says. “We’re saying there’s a strong overlap.”

(Read: Lower Dens’ Jana Hunter: Come Right In)

With social media, streaming, and the democratization of the news, it’s easier and easier to insulate oneself in both the realms of art and ideas. “How do we escape the echo chamber?” she asks. “It’s harder and harder to listen to voices you haven’t heard, whether those voices are musical or they’re about ideas.”

The answer, they believe, is through curation. “The fundamental piece here is that EMERGE is 100 percent focused on discovery,” Henry says. “In every aspect, from the event design to the presentations and shows you’re gonna see onstage to what happens when you walk from venue to venue.”

Shufro believes that, should EMERGE prove successful, that they’ll have demonstrated “a very convincing model” for the next evolution in the festival landscape. Because it is changing; where it will end up, however, is still up in the air.



Source link

Posted on

Net Neutrality Will Seriously Fuck Over Independent Music


Back in December, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality. It wasn’t exactly a surprise; many commentators predicted that the commission, comprised of a 3-2 Republican majority, would overturn the hard-fought Title II neutrality rules that were put in place in 2015. The vote went through as expected, and it felt like a devastating blow; the online world had spent the previous weeks breathlessly campaigning against the repeal, touting doomsday visions of the post-neutral net.

Amid the panic of public discourse, it’s important to remember that the fight for neutrality isn’t new, and it’s certainly not over yet. While the stretch leading up to December’s decision saw a ramped-up deluge of conversations on net neutrality, the issue has been forwarded by musicians and music industry personnel for over a decade.

In 2007, the Future of Music Coalition helmed their Rock the Net campaign, which partnered with artists like Pearl Jam, R.E.M., and Ted Leo, to defend net neutrality. (Leo is still advocating loudly today.) Proponents for net neutrality existed before Rock the Net, but the campaign forwarded new concerns. Their opposition was formidable, thanks to the sway and spotlight those artists lent to the issue, but also because the movement evinced a broader, unconsidered truth: a fair and neutral Internet was vital for musicians.

If that maxim is true for the likes of Eddie Vedder, then it’s true for independent labels and the artists they represent. A neutral Internet is a baseline necessity for an already-institutionally disadvantaged musical demographic. The neutral web maintains a structure that, while not unequivocally neutral, per se, affords relatively similar access to major labels and their rosters and independents and their signees.

net neutrality header Net Neutrality Will Seriously Fuck Over Independent Music

That’s an oversimplification, but the fact is a neutral Internet means that whether you’re visiting Warner’s website or the online merch store for an obscure tape label, they’ll both load at the same speed. If net neutrality’s Title II protections are repealed, that might not be the case, and the implications of that imbalance could be disastrous for independent labels and the artists they support.

Kevin Erickson is the national organizing director for the Future of Music Coalition. He fears that without net neutrality, the music industry will be slanted more explicitly towards the financial and ideological biases of Internet service providers [ISPs] like Comcast and Verizon, who would become discretionary “gatekeepers” between online content and the public.

“What we want is for digital services to compete to better serve the needs of artists and music listeners,” Erickson says. The governing fear is that, without net neutrality, ISPs could squeeze or accelerate speeds based on financial and ideological preference, meaning music providers would be incentivized to pay ISPs for better speeds while others suffer slow connections. “If digital services are forced instead to compete to better meet the needs of ISPs, the consumers lose out, and the artists lose out in terms of their ability to make their own choices.”

Andrew Sullivan, IT director for Seattle’s Sub Pop Records, thinks the full gravity of net neutrality has suffered from what he calls “bad marketing.” “Net neutrality isn’t exactly a flashy phrase,” he says, noting there are barriers to cognition around what is essentially an issue of equality. “It’s a kind of technological discussion, which I think rules a lot of people out from understanding it.”

future of music coalition logo Net Neutrality Will Seriously Fuck Over Independent Music

Erickson accentuates the problem of obfuscating language. He explains that opponents of neutrality have taken advantage of the confusion by packaging anti-neutrality policy to appear as if it supports it. “You see that from Comcast taking out ads saying that they support ‘the open Internet,’” he says. “The most recent one is [Rep.] Marsha Blackburn’s ‘Open Internet Preservation Act.’ It’s really an anti-net neutrality bill pretending to be a pro-net neutrality bill.”

Given the stakes, clarity on the issue is essential.

The neutral net provides, in some capacities, a “level playing field” between all competitors. Erickson notes that the indiscriminate structure has facilitated crucial connections between artists and communities, especially ones that are underserved by corporate media: “[Independent artists and labels] have been able to build their own channels of communication, and underpinning that [is] the idea that the Internet works the same for everybody.”

At first, that approach served independent labels and bands well. Internet 2.0 platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram provided avenues that were accessible and, for a time, free, allowing bands to develop new and open lines of communication with fans. Mike Park, who operates Californian punk label Asian Man Records, notes that the spread of non-traditional routes for dissemination allowed a sense of agency and choice for artists. “You don’t even have to be on a record label,” he says. “I tell bands all the time to just put out their records themselves.”

amrlogo original Net Neutrality Will Seriously Fuck Over Independent Music

But that strategy only works if they have the same access to audiences as everyone else. Eventually, these services started monetizing their communications, pricing out less economically advantaged artists. Sullivan considers Facebook an essential tool for music promotion, and he’s tracked the effects of the platform’s change on his label.

“In 2012, we were able to have an audience of, say, 100,000 who liked Sub Pop [on Facebook],” he says. “We would send out a message, and it would reach all of those people. That was what we were accustomed to.” Facebook, then, was neutral; they didn’t restrict what posts people saw, so if Sub Pop made a status update, it would show up in everyone’s News Feed. Now, things are different.

“They made a change that said, ‘We’re going to throttle the amount of people your messages go to. We’re going to make it so if you want to reach more people, you have to pay more,’” Sullivan explains. It was a significant change for Sub Pop’s marketing. “We’d invested a lot in the infrastructure of being able to promote to people on Facebook.” If net neutrality is repealed, Sullivan worries that the same effect will happen across the web. “We’re weakening an already quiet signal.”

Angela Lin, a marketing and project manager with Los Angeles-based independent label Stones Throw, notes that even in the realm of neutrality, advertising on social media is costly, creating a world where “whoever has the deeper pocket” gets seen more. While major labels can afford the added cost, extra advertising and placement fees across various platforms could be the straws that break the indie camel’s back.

screen shot 2018 01 25 at 11 45 04 pm Net Neutrality Will Seriously Fuck Over Independent Music

“Independent labels thrive on being creative with a shoestring budget,” she explains. Repealing neutrality would be a function of accelerationism. “It could create two worlds on social media: one for big artists, labels, and business, and a dark age for those who can’t keep up.”

Erickson explains that service providers could actively widen that gulf with a spread of preferential deals and paid incentives. He likens it to the effects of payola on radio: “We’ve seen the way that commercial radio, which was once a very vibrant and localized medium that allowed for the flourishing of regional sounds, has moved more towards platforms that elevate the voices that already have a lot of influence, rather than the needs of the community. We’ve seen what payola looks like offline, and it’s not going to be any better online.” He notes that platforms like Spotify, which is already structured to privilege paid content, are emblematic of the possible imbalance that could characterize the entire web.

To demonstrate the dangerous dynamic of paid preferential treatment, Sullivan iterates the circumstances surrounding the deal that Netflix struck with Comcast in early 2014. Upon realizing the amount of traffic that Netflix customers provided, Comcast decided to negotiate to make the online stream platform pay them for access. When Netflix refused, Comcast throttled their Internet speeds until movies and shows were virtually unwatchable. Netflix soon acquiesced, agreeing to pay Comcast. Sullivan sees a not-so-distant parallel with streaming music, in which songs become unlistenable if labels and artists don’t pay ISPs for premium speeds.

The ancillary effects of barriers to access erected in a pay-to-play system manifest in many ways. Park notes that if speeds for his label’s Limited Run webstore are throttled, that could adversely impact sales. “If the store is slow for people to load, that could be a problem,” he says, emphasizing the importance of Internet speed for users. Uploading music to digital vendors is another concern. “What if that takes forever?” Park worries, adding: “It already takes forever to upload that stuff.”

1200px sub pop svg Net Neutrality Will Seriously Fuck Over Independent Music

Sullivan observes that attendance at shows could also decline if algorithms prevent web-posted tour dates from showing up on people’s social media. “If you can’t reach the fans in the city to promote your tour, then there might be 15 fewer people there. For a band that’s maybe making $200 a night, that’s a big deal.” The gravity of that is compounded by the substantial role that touring plays in the success of a modern independent band. Park says bluntly, “The only way you can survive is you gotta tour.”

For most independent label owners, these fears are nothing new. Net neutrality is just the latest feature of imbalance in the industry. Joe Steinhardt runs New Jersey’s Don Giovanni records, which he co-founded with Zach Gajewski. Steinhardt, a communications professor at Michigan State University, emphasizes that the idea of a neutral Internet being a “great equalizer” for independent labels is fallacious.

“Even on a neutral Internet, things were never fair for independent labels,” he says. “We couldn’t compete fairly. Since we couldn’t compete fairly on a neutral Internet, I don’t think things are going to actually change that much for independent labels on a non-neutral Internet.”

Steinhardt is still an advocate for a neutral Internet, though: “From a social standpoint, [the repeal] is terrible as far as freedom and culture and increasing dominance of multinational corporations.” But he also points out the sometimes-duplicitous nature of the net neutrality campaign; companies like Facebook and Google have provided vast chunks of funding for pro-neutrality efforts, and Steinhardt sees it as less than benevolent.

streaming Net Neutrality Will Seriously Fuck Over Independent Music

“A neutral web benefits companies like Facebook and Amazon and Google,” he explains, “and that’s why those companies are sinking a ton of money [into fighting for it]. [Neutral Internet] means more power to Spotify, more power to Apple, and those are all the companies that have been partnering with major labels to crowd out independent labels the whole time anyway. It’s not David vs. Goliath. It’s Goliath vs. Goliath, and the Davids of the world are gonna get fucked either way.”

Steinhardt is adamant that for concrete institutional change to happen, music consumers have to become active and conspicuous participants in listening and consumption habits, rather than passive recipients.

“Fans have to realize they’re getting the illusion of choice,” he says, stating that streaming platforms, curated by corporations, limit freedom of choice. Statistics highlight that claim; it’s estimated that just three labels control 80% of the American music industry. That fact is doubly concerning given their social and political ambivalence. “Fans have to realize that and stop using this stuff.”

There are more than just financial considerations at play. The ideological implications of an increasingly centralized and homogenous presentation of art are complex and multiplicitous, but it can be squarely claimed that less choice and access would likely undermine artistic freedom and limit voices. This too is rooted in the economic concerns of a repeal; the stark class lines along which the industry is drawn would be further stratified.

unnamed Net Neutrality Will Seriously Fuck Over Independent Music

Erickson notes that independent labels are crucial in elevating critical, alternative, and countercultural music. Those elements are rarely tailored for or aligned with corporate interest; in fact, they’re often the opposite.

“Both in terms of the diversity of expression that they bring to the marketplace, and the scale at which they operate, the independent label community is so crucial to the health and sustainability of the music industry,” he says. “The content [independent labels] are putting out in the world is less likely to meet the needs of corporate advertisers and what’s likely to be attractive to big corporate partners.”

Despite the spread of threats posed by the potential repeal, Erickson isn’t fretting over worst-case scenarios. He’s confident that Congress, employing the Congressional Review Act, can overturn the FCC’s decision.

“We expected to lose [the FCC] vote,” he says, seeing the issue more as a back-and-forth struggle as opposed to a static decision, positing neutrality as analogous to the industry itself. “There’s something sort of structurally similar between the way that musicians’ careers are oriented to think about the long-game approach and the way that policy change and organizing works. To get to where we are on net neutrality, we had to lose several times before we won … in 2015. And then when you win, the story’s still not over, because you have to fight and defend that win.

“The amount of progress I’ve seen on this issue gives me a lot of hope for our ability to make progress on a whole range of issues that affect musicians and their lives.”

net neutrality protest joseph gruber 2 Net Neutrality Will Seriously Fuck Over Independent Music

For those looking to participate in the fight for net neutrality, Erickson and Sullivan both suggest calling your representatives in Congress.

“It’s an appropriate time to be doing that. We’re going to have to hold policy makers accountable,” Erickson says. Even now, Democrats are close to forcing a floor vote on the issue. Sullivan says coordinated efforts with Washington’s state government have seen measured success, even though the state’s decisions are still at the mercy of federal rule.

Erickson’s optimism isn’t necessarily shared by independent label employees and artists who, even on a neutral net, face innumerable challenges to stay above water. Of thriving in a future with or without neutrality, Sullivan says simply, “I definitely have hope for survival. Thriving is relative.” Steinhardt remarks that even if the net stays neutral, “[independent labels] are still going to be dealing with all the same problems.”

When prompted on how to help independent labels and artists, Sullivan, Lin, Park, and Steinhardt echo a similar chorus: go see bands when they come to town. “Put in the effort. Go out to shows. Support labels directly. Support the artist offline,” implores Lin. Sullivan adds to the imperative: “When you’re there, buy their record and their shirt. Pay for the music and pay to see the band, because then you’re putting your money where your mouth is.”



Source link

Posted on

We Won’t Get Fooled Again: Staying Alert in the Post-Weinstein Era


I’ve watched Louis C.K. since I was in high school. He’s always come across to me as an amiable guy with an edge: the family man on Lucky Louie, the loveable oaf on Louie, the relatable misanthrope in his stand-up specials. I liked his self-effacing humor. He was the kind of guy who subtly boasted the privilege that made me want to be a guy: the wiggle room to “let yourself go” a little without being looked at differently than your fit peers, the assurance that people will laugh and nod at your disgusting habits.

This sort of male privilege envy also found my penchant for male-led indie and emo bands — the kind that cursed at and pined after women in the same breath. My internalized misogyny masked itself as a love for angst-driven music and black comedy, but I was too invested to realize it. Watching them was like inhabiting a different, easier body.

Hearing the sexual assault allegations against some of my former idols stirred a strange reaction. Stories outing various public figures were released by the hour after over 80 women came forward with claims against Harvey Weinstein, citing instances of rape, assault, and harassment. The litany of horrors about my favorite comic, my favorite bands, and Weinstein left me distraught — over the victims they made to feel powerless and the entertainment-hungry system (myself included) that enabled them. How had I overlooked this? But also, did this mean there wouldn’t be another season of Louie? A wave of disgust quickly washed away that selfish concern. But, as ashamed as I was of that thought, it didn’t surprise me, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in it.

 We Wont Get Fooled Again: Staying Alert in the Post Weinstein Era

Entertainment is a certain kind of brainwashing. It placates and conditions us to artificial realities and standards — misguided morals don’t seem to carry weight when viewed through a television screen. However, when we accept harmful content as reality and no longer contain it within entertainment, we give power to those ideas and their purveyors. In a world that seems to grow darker by the day, there’s little room for entertainment without evaluation.

Looking back, I can recall warning signs. There’s one scene in Louie that sticks out to me the most. He comes home to Pamela Adlon, who’s asleep on his couch. Laying with her back to Louie, she tells him not to “jerk off.” This remark is almost haunting now. Adlon is friends with C.K. in real life and a writer on Louie, so I can’t help but wonder if she knew something and, in keeping with the show’s semi-raunchy fashion, treated it like a joke. In the episode, Louie holds Pamela down and tries to kiss her. When she begrudgingly accepts the kiss and leaves, he throws a celebratory fist pump. It’s a distressing scene, made even worse by the brazen attitude it was met with, passed off as Louis C.K.’s signature dark humor.

But blaring hints to C.K.’s misconduct go farther back and beyond the screen. In 2012, Gawker came out with an article titled “Which Beloved Comedian Likes to Force Female Comics to Watch Him Jerk Off?” Spoiler: it’s Louis C.K. Three years later, Gawker further substantiated the piece with “Louis C.K. Will Call You Up to Talk About His Alleged Sexual Misconduct”, sharing the story of a fan who called out C.K. via e-mail and actually got a response. He wanted to know what the fan had heard and left the conversation open-ended. That same year, Death and Taxes posted the article “Did Jen Kirkman out Louis C.K.’s gross behavior on her podcast last month?”. Somehow, all of this flew under my radar.

Hints and rumors decrying my favorite band circulated with as much prevalence, but were buried further beneath the surface. Brand New’s frontman, Jesse Lacey, had always been understood as a scumbag. He oozed a devil-may-care attitude that people didn’t really question. Like a good portion of the male-dominated punk/emo scene, Brand New’s work had a misogynistic air flowing through it. But recent allegations against Lacey revealed him as more than an obnoxious “bad boy”; chilling confessions from victims exposed him as a criminal, one who had physically harassed minors and solicited them for explicit photos.

brand new1 We Wont Get Fooled Again: Staying Alert in the Post Weinstein Era

In her essay that followed these allegations, “Unraveling the Sexism of Emo’s Third Wave”, Jenn Pelly soberly points out that “…there is a correlation between misogynist art, the young people who make it, and the younger people who consume it. That is not a radical idea, and it strikes me now as dubious that any longtime Brand New fan would be completely shocked by these allegations.” She’s right — my understanding of Lacey after reading the vivid accusations reveals itself as a darkened and intensified version of my prior, shrouded assumptions. I used to justify Lacey’s severe demeanor and destructive words as brooding, raw emotion, but his lyrics read more clearly now: instances of manipulation framed as desperate desire.

Pelly refers to the song “Me vs. Madonna vs. Elvis” from their breakout album, Deja Entendu, as “the song that appears when you Google ‘Brand New date rape song.’” The chorus goes, “I will lie awake/ Lie for fun and fake the way I hold you/ Let you fall for every empty word I say,” which isn’t even the worst of it. “My tongue will taste of gin and malicious intent … A sober, straight face gets you out of your clothes.” I remember screaming this song as if it were an anthem when I would see them in concert, elbowing my way to the front of a male-dominated crowd that assumed my inferiority (the fact that we were all singing about it probably didn’t help my case). The layers that Pelly referred to (“misogynist art, the young people who make it, and the younger people who consume it”) were laid out in front of me — my oblivion was in good company. It was like we were all conned into some sort of emo pyramid scheme, and Jesse Lacey was the sleazy CEO. Still, my devotion to the band continued through my adolescence and into my young adult life.

Lacey was dethroned in my mind — from an emo icon to a sick man — the minute I heard what he had done. But the fact that years of rumors, questionable lyrics, and blatant headlines were met with silence suggests that Lacey and Louis C.K. (and most notably, Harvey Weinstein) were somehow seen as “normal” men. Understanding them as typical, flawed men in light of their crimes and transgressions indicate a disturbing string of correlations— that “normal” people are capable of such detriment and that this harmful disregard for women and our idolization of men in power is so ingrained in society that instead of being surprised by their actions, we deduced their “normalcy.”

I think we’ve come to accept a brand of highbrow misogyny, purely because it’s what we’ve been given for so long. A system of men in power and women catering to their status exists around the entertainment industry and within the entertainment itself. And this male-first model is just as pervasive in regular life. The sexual harassment stories we’ve recently become familiar with are those involving moguls and public figures, but there are countless stories of sexual abuse that don’t make the news. Every female-identifying friend I know has encountered some degree of sexual harassment, and most of them haven’t felt comfortable enough to speak out publicly.

person of year 2017 time magazine cover1 We Wont Get Fooled Again: Staying Alert in the Post Weinstein Era

I feel that we are, however, on the cusp of progress — those who have been afraid to out their abusers, famous or otherwise, are being validated. The #MeToo movement has encouraged conversations about sexual assault among friends and family, or at least the ones you connect with on social media. Further championing this endeavor are the women who are finally revealing the horrible secrets of systemic sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill and in the current White House. That said, there are still people who deny and belittle victims, and there are those who don’t fully grasp the severity and ubiquity of the issue. Alongside them are the fans who shrug off the misogyny peddled by their favorite bands and stars. This is where I stood for years, in a state of naïve, indulgent fandom.

Having watched the power dynamics of punk and pop culture unfold, it’s clear that we need to drastically shift what we accept as entertainment and where we place our attention. In order to move forward, we must deal with the underlying causes. The outpouring of stories suggests that male privilege — whether in the sphere of entertainment, politics, or everyday life — is the foundation of sexual misconduct. Veteran journalist Kim Masters had spent years trying to out Weinstein, but the producer’s cultural cachet threatened anyone who might take him on; victims were afraid to speak out, journalists lacked concrete evidence, and members of Weinstein’s camp worked to protect him at any cost.

In a piece for The Hollywood Reporter, Masters asserts, “Until women are properly represented in front of and behind the cameras and in executive offices — and the statistics are grim — Hollywood won’t truly cure itself of this particular sickness.” On the receiving end of the Hollywood machine, it’s just as necessary for fans like me to recognize our role in facilitating its corruption. I won’t be revisiting my Brand New phase, nor will I be streaming Louie reruns. I won’t need to; these men will remain in the back of my head, urging me to notice the signs and listen to whispers that surround figures in power. I will instead look for artists that respect me and continue to use my writing to analyze the social impacts of music and entertainment. Progress can’t exist inside a vacuum; we must find ways to poke holes and let the light in.



Source link

Posted on

Rookie of the Year Brockhampton Makes Boy Bands Cool Again


In theory, an end-of-summer boy band concert might be the closest place a fandom gets to finding utopia.

School-night curfews and general real-world responsibilities are temporarily off the table. Scrutiny by older siblings, friends, or co-workers is a distant evil. The immediate population around you are basically like-minded friends you haven’t met yet. As soon as the house lights dim, you’re allowed to sing (or gutturally scream) your truth as much as you like. Yet, for Brockhampton fans, the mark of a true boy band blowout is not measured in full-throated hysteria, but in how well you can benignly insult its band members.

The chants started meekly at Brockhampton’s first tour through Boston this past September. Between sets, a few kids towards the front started yelling “fix your teeth,” a callback to de facto band leader Kevin Abstract’s dental insecurities on “Star”. Within minutes, a new, louder chant swept the entire floor of the nearly 600-capicity venue: “FUCK YOUR SHOES.”

A woeful outsider to the fandom, I frantically started Googling combinations of “brockhampton fuck your shoes.” Across their two albums and mixtape, there’s not a single lyric describing a hatred of shoes, nor in any translations of their video intros featuring Roberto – Brockhampton’s webmaster and official Spanish-speaking announcer. In a last-ditch effort, I checked Twitter and found my answer: the band signed one of Abstract’s shoes backstage and planned on throwing it into the crowd. The chant had only begun dying down, but Abstract already had a response. “they just started a fuck your shoes chant,” he tweeted, “so nvm boston ima give em to someone who deserve em. smh.”

The saga of Abstract’s shoes arced in under 10 minutes. A group next to me started passing around the rapper’s most recent tweet, laughing like Kevin was just another friend that would get a high five for playing along once he got off stage. Once Abstract and the rest of Brockhampton arrived onstage, the crowd heel-turned towards a traditionally adoring fandom, though there wasn’t much convincing needed to go along with the band’s self-proclaimed “Southside One Direction” status.

Brockhampton’s draw is fairly straightforward: They’re a 14-piece boy band – a title they not only started, but have actively championed since – of rappers and creatives looking to upend traditional release cycles and pop star standards before they implode in a blaze of sheer productivity (more on that later…)

brockhampton empire Rookie of the Year Brockhampton Makes Boy Bands Cool Again

Any skeptics of Brockhampton’s rightful space in the boy band canon are welcome to check out their extensive (and perennially sold-out) merch store. With each reaction video sizing up Abstract’s unflinching verses about being openly gay against rap’s social politics, there are twice as many self-directed music videos from the Brockhampton camp reminding fans how much they care about outside opinions. And while any less-than-perfect album review would shake a young band to its core, they’ve taken one of their most high-profile reviews and made it into a t-shirt.

Maybe it’s just easier to explain Brockhampton’s rise to the fringes of alt-pop stardom in the fandom’s voice: When a band and its output are this compelling, fuck the reviews, fuck the thinkpieces, and, while we’re at it, fuck your shoes, too. Brockhampton is not your traditional boy band, but they’re sure as hell the one that 2017 desperately needed.

***

“Just imagine a group of kids moving together for one goal, one big goal.”

Kevin Abstract’s disembodied voice is cinematically narrating shots of his bandmates lounging across couches and floors, dimly lit by the glow of their laptop screens. “They move into a house, this big house, and they just create all day long,” Abstract continues. “They make all their dreams come true. That’s their goal, to make every single dream come true … imagine that. That’s what Brockhampton is.”

For likeminded peers, it’s also possibly the new American Dream. Replace the small-business-owner motif with a Soundcloud rapper, find your associates through a Kanye West fan forum, move to the West Coast together, and use your Spotify streams and YouTube views as metrics for success. Considering the fact that Tyler, The Creator’s couch-hopping performance on Jimmy Fallon is now an iconic piece of ancient Internet history for a population of DIY artists in their late teens/early twenties (which, in the case of Brockhampton, is its entirety), a 14-piece boy band of rappers and creatives seemed not only possible, but mainstream accessible. The reason Brockhampton are our Rookies of the Year rests in the sheer ambition of their Saturation trilogy, a set of albums that puts to bed the notion that artists have to choose between quality and quantity.

Trading out Texas for California in the wake of their All-American Trash mixtape, Brockhampton’s biggest hurdle on the first Saturation album was a rather traditional one: cementing some kind of group identity. Aside from Abstract, who already had two blogbuzzed solo albums, and singer-producer bearface’s occasional appearances on Majestic Casual, Brockhampton’s lineup remained in varying states of localized recognition going into 2017. Comparisons to Odd Future’s similarly ambitious, but overstuffed roster trailed them in comment sections, which June’s Saturation only helped by partially leaning into.

“HEAT” opens Saturation in a gratuitous blaze of violence, a blown-out bass heralding rapper Ameer Vann’s lurid observations mid-robbery (sample verse: “I love to watch ’em squirm, I love when bitches bleed/ If she’s sucking on the barrel, you can’t hear her scream/ So kiss the fucking carpet, this aggravated larson”). It’s brash, grotesque, over-the-top, and pretty much any other adjective Odd Future would’ve gravitated towards in their heyday. But, ultimately, it’s a red herring in defining Saturation. “GOLD” and “STAR”, arguably the band’s breakout singles, fulfill that role far more effectively. Over a minimalist, hiccuping beat, “GOLD” exudes superstar bravado without leaving the confines of their southern Californian neighborhood. The video features the band comically strutting down the street in wigs and costumes, dancing in the back of a strobe-lit UHaul like a Be Kind Rewind-style sweding of Missy Elliott’s “Supa Dupa Fly”. It’s Brockhampton’s DIY approach at its most wholesome, but also the first time Matt Champion’s smirking verses, JOBA’s warped, Timberlakean vocals, Merlyn Wood’s Young Thug-esque ad-libs, and Abstract’s earworm hooks began to congeal into the full boy band package.

“STAR”, meanwhile, is a mood board of pop culture worship. Vann, who casts himself as both “the black Tom Hanks” and “Secret Agent Cody Banks,” is as confident boasting about his fledging pop stardom as he is discussing the hard-earned path it took to get there. Dom McLennon, arguably one of the group’s more unsung talents, joyously throws out comparisons to Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead, Hannibal Lector, Molly Shannon, and both Tobey McGuire and Seabiscuit. It’s the kind of anthem that immediately becomes a band’s live calling card – currently, “STAR” gets played at every Brockhampton show roughly five times on average – but it’s also the essence of why Saturation works so well. It’s reputation-building without losing itself in self-seriousness, joking with a need for validation under the surface, and radio-worthy without losing the slight surface marks of bedroom production.

That’s what makes Saturation II such an anomaly. Released a mere 80 days after its predecessor, Saturation II’s turn-around time could have easily been the only thing worth noting about it. Thankfully, it’s not … if Saturation was Brockhampton’s sleeper hit, Saturation II is its blockbuster sequel, super-sizing the original’s formula without losing the original’s appeal.

“GUMMY” opens the second Saturation in the middle of a crime again, but where “HEAT” felt stifled by who could come up with the most gruesome line, “GUMMY” is a pure, Ocean’s 11-style team effort. Abstract, Wood, Vann, McLennon, and Champion take turns building off each other’s anxieties over reputation, fame, racism, and privilege while employing an absurdly infectious g-funk synth line. In part, the immediacy of a track like “GUMMY” is a testament to the group’s producers as well as its star performers.

“You gotta be a team player and adjust your role accordingly,” in-house producer Romil Hemnani offered in a rare interview from his bedroom studio. “Production should be there for [the artist]… it should bring out the best in the artist.”

Fittingly, Steve Jobs’ biography sits under Hemnani’s nightstand next to a copy of Pharrell Williams’ Places and Spaces I’ve Been, both imitable success stories for Saturation II. Apple’s aesthetic-minded mass production fits the Saturation trilogy at large, but N.E.R.D’s massively catchy interpolations between rap, rock, and pop outrun any other influence on Saturation II. “SWEET”, in particular, graduates with high honors from N.E.R.D.’s off-kilter school of hit-making. Abstract eerily channels Pharrell on the hook as McLennon’s heady verses make unusual bedfellows with Wood’s staccato bursts of energy. Vann’s easygoing braggadocio is deliriously incongruent with JOBA’s chaotic half-sung, half-rapped origin story, but “SWEET” rides on the power of friendship uniting its misfit cast.

The album’s moments of pure, early ‘00s radio-weaned euphoria (“JELLO”, “SWAMP”) and its introspective final act, concluding with “SUMMER” — the requisite Brockhampton album outro featuring bearface’s pristine pop star vocals over a soft rock guitar solo — make for a sprawling patchwork, but virtually every stitch is compelling in its ambition. Still, any conversation on Saturation II will inevitably end on “JUNKY”.

If we’ll allow one final Odd Future allusion, the video for “JUNKY” may very well be Kevin Abstract’s “Yonkers” moment. A sepia-toned ballet practices idly behind Abstract as he stares down the camera, unleashing a torrent of trauma from his closeted, Texan upbringing over horror score string plucks. It’s the kind of harrowing clip that demands immediate replays, partially to process the candor Abstract’s delivering, partially to process its visual singularity.

“So I’ma get head from a nigga right here and they can come and cut my hand off and my legs off and I’ma still be a boss ’til my head gone, yeah,” Abstract concludes, fearlessly addressing both his homophobic tormentors back in Texas and the threat of homophobia looming taller around every corner of Trump’s America. It’s an impossible verse to follow, but Abstract’s bandmates make a valiant effort. Vann’s drug cocktail for combating paranoid thoughts, Wood’s recollections of dropping out of school, Champion’s takedown of rape culture, and McLennon’s rapid-fire outro bring out some of each member’s strongest verses, but the success of “JUNKY” is not in any member besting anyone else. If anything, it serves as Brockhampton’s greatest unifying moment, giving each member a platform for their vastly different struggles while allowing the floor for Abstract’s most vital verses to stand front and center.

***

The sole scrap of information to prove Saturation III actually exists is a forcibly announced release date. Hours after uploading the final single from Saturation II, III’s “first single” arrived in the form of “Follow”, Brockhampton’s most self-deprecating banger with Abstract gleefully boasting about his “hella low” credit score. Taking a page from Pablo-era Kanye’s methodical rewrites, “Follow” quickly relegated itself to an unofficial list of B-sides feverishly tended to by die-hard fans. Alleged album art cropped up on band members’ Twitter feeds, only to be shot down weeks later. The myriad singles and videos that lead up to Saturation II suddenly dried up ahead of III. Press, meanwhile, remains firmly at arm’s length as interest in the band continues growing; their first-ever group interview with MTV News remains their only full press appearance to date (a request for comment on this story was politely declined.)

After days of baiting fans with cryptic tweets teasing something on December 1st, Brockhampton finally caved. Call it the exhaustion after saturation, call it a brilliant (or obnoxious) deceit that even tricked a few of its members, but the release date announcement ended up agitating more than sating: “December 15th, the last studio album by Brockhampton.”

To make a 90-day wait between albums feel like an eternity and still find a way to keep a press cycle interesting on a third album is a feat, but at what cost? In the wake of Lil Peep’s tragic death in November, rap’s defiantly rising class of Internet-beloved genre polyglots feels like it’s in danger of fading before it could see its influence unfold. And sure, while it’s bordering on overkill to say Brockhampton changed what it means to be a boy band, they’ve certainly made some lasting renovations to the model.

“I wanted it to be a boy band because I just wanted to re-define what that meant,” Abstract concluded in a piece with Ray-Ban last year. “I wanted people to look at this group of kids from different cultures, just sit back and accept the term that we throw on ourselves.”

Whether it’s sold-out shows across America in the dying days of summer, making videos for one-off singles with friends in someone’s driveway, or boldly trying to cross out every last teenage dream left on their lists, Brockhampton’s output in 2017 brought new levels of DIY influence, diversity, and inclusivity to the earnest, self-contained universe of a boy band fandom.



Source link