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

Posted on

Double Dap-Dipping: What’s Next for Daptone Records

After more than 100 records, a Grammy nomination and multiple documentaries, Daptone Records is as unassuming as ever. The brown, two-story building housing the label’s studio and HQ has few hints of the soulful sounds created in its interior, save for the faint remnants of a vigil for the late Charles Bradley on the front stoop. Inside, boxes of a soon-to-ship Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings record — the band’s final studio album – line the first floor hallway on the way to the recording studio. Upstairs, six people are taking calls, hopping in and out for lunch at the market down the street, and settling back in after a quick tour in California.

The House of Soul hasn’t missed a beat. The indie label that rocketed soul and funk music back into popular consciousness with expert analog production, a family of incredibly tight musicians, and incendiary live shows is about to enter a new era.

daptonestudios Double Dap Dipping: Whats Next for Daptone Records

“Right now we have more records in the pipeline than we’ve ever had,” says Daptone co-founder and Dap-Kings saxophonist Neal Sugarman. Soul of a Woman, Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings’ seventh studio record, was released today and will precede a slew of new Daptone offerings in the first half of 2018. The third record from British group The James Hunter Six, Whatever It Takes, will be released in January followed by a big band/mambo album from Orquesta Akokan and a new record from Canadian singer Michael Rault in March. A fifth album from afrobeat-metal group The Budos Band is also in the works, along with new tunes from The Womack Sisters, the Sha La Das, and more.

Daptone could churn out fire soul, funk, rock, and other records into eternity, but for all the excitement, tragedy is never far from the conversation. In the past year and a half, the label has lost four artists — the great Sharon Jones, who passed away on November 16, 2016; visceral soul singer Charles Bradley, who died from cancer on Sept. 27 of this year; pianist and bandleader Cliff Driver of The Gospel Queens; and singer Dan Klein of The Frightnrs, both in 2016. The latter was just 34 years old.

“It’s a lot of sadness dealing with the loss of everybody. These are people who were in with us day to day,” says Gabe Roth a.k.a Bosco Mann, Daptone’s co-founder, producer, and Dap-Kings bassist. “Now that we’re on this campaign for the new Sharon record, it’s not something you get away from. You’re just surrounded by it constantly. All you’re talking about is Sharon and how much you miss her and how great she was. But the general morale at label is very good and strong.”

In the years following the death of its biggest stars, the musician-owned label is diving headlong into pressing soulful tunes from outside the Daptone family while a changing of the guard continues to breathe new life into the Bushwick, Brooklyn, studio.

“What seems to be happening naturally is, at one time, most of the records were based on this group of musicians … and the singers that played with them,” Sugarman says, pointing to The Dap-Kings, Budos, Menahan Street Band, The Mighty Imperials, and The Sugarman 3. “Now there’s not that much in the can that connects with The Dap-Kings at this point, this year anyway, of releases.”


Many of Daptone’s first 50 records featured Sugarman, Roth, rhythm guitarist/emcee Binky Griptite or guitarist Tom Brenneck, most of whom all have their own projects such as Dunham Records or The Binky Griptite Orchestra. Yet the younger generation of Daptone musicians, such as those who backed Charles Bradley as The Extraordinaires, are now without a patriarch.

11 11 sharon jones event Double Dap Dipping: Whats Next for Daptone Records

“You have a bunch of guys that were really dependent on the road and on touring to make a living,” Roth says, adding that those younger working musicians continue to develop new projects. “Those guys are all hustling now trying to figure out other things.”

Production Manager and drummer Mikey Post, who’s been with the label for 10 years and straddles the line between new and old guard of Daptone family players, says the musicians’ dedication to keeping things moving is admirable.

“I love coming to work every day, and the office doesn’t feel any different. When we come [to the office], it’s still Daptone,” Post says. “It’s obviously a bummer and different, but after the initial shock, it’s like: ‘Ok, we have to keep going for the folks who passed away. Just because they’re gone doesn’t mean their history and legacy is gone. It’s our responsibility to keep that going.’”

Throughout the various illnesses and losses, Daptone has managed to keep its artists in the public eye with a number of animated videos, a recently released dub version of the immensely popular Frightnrs album Nothing More to Say, and the eventual release of a live record from a 2014 multi-show, full-family run at The Apollo. Roth recalls the painful process of planning releases and tours while Sharon and Charles were sick, noting the struggle between wanting to respect his friends and run a successful business. “We had whole tours in Australia canceled because a promoter got cold feet,” while Sharon was battling cancer, he says.

Yet, Daptone didn’t operate with a contingency plan despite working with older headlining artists.

“Think of all the pop singers who show up and are the biggest thing in the world and you don’t hear about them a couple years later,” Roth says. “Sharon had a career that lasted almost 20 years, even though she started kinda late and was an underdog and ended up getting cancer and dying. I think the age thing is not something we had to deal in; we tried to stay above that and make that music.”

Sugarman and Roth never had great ambitions of musical success or thought they’d own a popular record label that would re-define a genre. Daptone simply evolved as a way to put out the music they loved playing.

“It’s weird, when things are happening you think they’re gonna go on forever. We were never thinking that we’d be in tour busses traveling the world; it was just a gig at a time,” Sugarman says, leaning back in a chair in Daptone’s combination kitchen-merch storage space. “When we were making records back then, I thought: ‘Oh, this is cute.’ I never thought it’d be my life career owning a record label.”

sharon jones soul of a woman Double Dap Dipping: Whats Next for Daptone Records

Although Daptone has long been a recording home for artists not on the label (including Amy Winehouse, whose 2006 platinum record, Back to Black , featured The Dap-Kings as the backing band), a new infusion of producers and artists will be the bulk of the label’s output in coming months. 2018’s lineup features everything from mambo to rockin’ doo-wop, reiterating Daptone’s vision of soulful music that evokes a ‘60s or ‘70s feel without compromising quality. But Daptone’s production mentality is really steeped in punk ethos – they’ll record whatever they want, regardless of genre, because it feels good with the ultimate goal of quality over quantity.

“It’s exciting for me to do these different kinds of records. Although they’re different kinds of things, on some level they all work the same way. I think it has to do with the production and philosophy of the people making these records and the honesty and talent,” Roth says from his home in California.

New work is also expected from existing artists on the label such as Antibalas and Menahan Street Band. Following the inclinations and musical histories of some of the younger staff members, Daptone’s rock imprint, Wick, will have more releases from the Ar-Kaics, another album from The Mystery Lights, and potentially a record from The Jay Vons, Mikey Post’s band.

“Much like Daptone, I think we’ll take our time with it,” Sugarman says of Wick. “Right now I think people recognize it as a subsidiary of Daptone, and hopefully it’ll have its own brand eventually.”

Although everyone at Daptone is looking forward, there’s still a huge sense of loss and a lot of unknowns for the old guard of musicians.

“It’s hard to think that we’re not gonna play this music,” Sugarman, who had just returned from a small tour with The Sugarman 3, says of Soul of a Woman. “It’s hard to know what’s gonna happen with the band. I’d like to think that we can go on. There’s tons of people who are like, ‘You can back up this person and that person,’ and we always felt like it’s too early. But also, who’s better than Sharon?”

Playing behind the exuberant, fiery singer who emulated both Tina Turner and James Brown “was like instant gratification,” Sugarman says.  “You never had to fight for it. We had this repertoire that was burning right out of the gate.”

Because Jones was either sick or recovering and the band continued to tour heavily, there was a bit of urgency in recording Soul of a Woman. The album sounds big, full of uptempo rhythm and blues highs you could imagine Sharon dancing to and bombastic Wall of Sound-esque ballads. While a fitting capstone for a vivacious performer, it was also a very difficult album to finish.

“It is cathartic, but for me personally it’s a very hard record. Every step of the way, whether it’s the artwork or the bios or the interviews, there’s a little bit of pain in all of it,” Roth says, adding that he mixed most of the album after Sharon passed away. “It sounds good to do it for her and ourselves. If it wouldn’t have come out, it would have really been gut-wrenching. It’s kind of delivering on a promise to Sharon to get her voice out and delivering on a promise to her fans.”

There’s no stopping the soul train, and everyone at Daptone has high hopes for the future of soul and funk music. As vinyl record sales increase and streaming officially becomes the new norm, Sugarman says he feels less stressed about the label’s financial trajectory. Streaming services and documentaries like Miss Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley: Soul of America make Daptone’s sounds easily accessible to a wide audience, offering a constant stream of listeners and new fans that will cement the label’s catalog while propelling them into the future.

“We’re at this place now where the foundation is solid, and we just have to keep building up,” Sugarman says, noting that the label is now playing the long game. “We don’t need to have the new hot stuff; we just need to bang out like one great fucking classic record a year, and with what we have in the can, that helps to keep breath blowing through this house. We don’t need the help of some major label.”

The past 10-plus years have seen a soulful revolution, due in great part to the efforts of Daptone, and have resulted in an explosion of bands and labels such as Colemine Records that are dedicated to the genre.

“People will say, ‘Oh, so Daptone’s over?’ And it’s like, ‘No, we still love this stuff.’ Those records are still around. It’s a tragedy and we’re all heartbroken that we lost our friends but we’re still gonna make records and do what we can,” Post says.

Even if the genre becomes less popular, soul and funk will survive without Daptone’s marquee acts because soul music extends beyond genre.

“Soulful music is where you hear someone’s soul coming through, making records that strip away all the bullshit,” Roth says. “When you look at The Frightnrs record or The Como Mamas or the [Orquesta] Akokan record, as different as they may seem academically, the feeling you get is really common – musicians doing stuff at the top of their craft using whatever’s at their fingertips. Using harmonies and voices to move you rhythmically, vocally, and sturdy you spiritually.”

Source link

Posted on

How 1977 Broke All the Rules and Changed Music Forever

David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison, and Chris Frantz could have called their debut record anything. But even with a world of potential titles at their disposal, the Talking Heads opted to matter-of-factly name their first record after the year it was conceived.

The art rock icons might have been going for an understated title with Talking Heads: 77, but over time it’s one that’s come to say plenty about just how diverse and exciting 1977 was for music. The record’s high-strung cross-pollination of funk, art punk, dance, and what would later become known as indie rock held a mirror up to a time marked by boundless musical innovation on a host of fronts. Punk was still hitting its stride as new wave, the still-burgeoning genre’s more pop-savvy sibling, started taking shape. Electronic music was in its exciting infancy. Elsewhere, bands and artists of all stripes were making music that refused to fall into categorical line. The carefully boxed-in walls that for so long confined popular music were crumbling, making room for new sounds and ideas that continue to inspire and influence the music we listen to today.

This isn’t to say that 1977 represented a complete break from tradition into uncharted musical waters. A list of the year’s chart-topping singles reads like an infomercial selling you all the biggest ’70s hits on one compact disc. The sounds of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” filled every dance club while other period mainstays like Andy Gibb, Barry Manilow, Fleetwood Mac, and KC and the Sunshine Band also boasted songs that loomed large on the charts. But 1977’s lasting influence has little to do with what was happening on the surface and a lot more to do with what wasn’t. More than a decade after the pioneering work of bands like The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, The MC5, The New York Dolls, The Sonics, The 13th Floor Elevators, and countless others, louder, weirder, and artier strains of music had finally started to bubble up to the mainstream from the underground.

Punk rock led the way. In the musical equivalent to the Big Bang Theory, the genre’s crude simplicity left everything before it in the past and either directly or indirectly influenced almost all of the guitar rock that came after it. Just three years after forming in Forest Hills, Queens, Ramones released not one, but two punk landmarks with Leave Home and Rocket to Russia. Both sound virtually identical to one another, which is understandable for two records released 10 months apart. But together, they make for two of the most surprisingly influential records of the last 40 years. While bands like Foreigner, Toto, and Kansas were noodling away at overindulgent arena rock, Ramones distilled rock and roll down to its simplistic core. Picking up where their iconic self-titled debut left off, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia further retooled ’60s bubble gum pop by adding souped-up tempos, power chords, and bozo lyrics about boy-girl drama and teenage despondency. What’s more, they sounded great from a technical standpoint, thanks to Tommy Ramone and Tony Bongiovi’s polished but powerful production.

Ramones hit the world with arguably the year’s two best punk records, but they weren’t the only game in town. Their Sire label mates The Dead Boys, New York transplants from the understated rock haven of Cleveland, delivered one of the best punk debuts of all time with Young, Loud, and Snotty. While Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy had an endearing charm and wayward innocence to them, The Dead Boys, led by hard-living frontman Stiv Bators, imbibed in a more street-tough breed of American punk. “I don’t need anyone/ Don’t need no mom and dad,” Bators croaks on Young, Loud, and Snotty’s legendary opening track, “Sonic Reducer”. The debut bristles with sneering conviction, and there’s hardly room for a false note anywhere on the record’s 10 tracks, beneath the raw energy of which lay plenty of insane hooks (“What Love Is”, originally recorded by legendary Cleveland proto punks Rocket from the Tombs, most recently surfaced thanks to fictionalized rockers the Nasty Bits on HBO’s short-lived drama Vinyl).

Punk had officially made its mark on American soil in 1977, but the genre’s growing influence overseas in England has proven equally influential. The genre offered bands the perfect forum for railing against growing unemployment and other social ills plaguing the UK in the late ’70s. The Clash were hardly the first band to use music as a tool for social commentary, but the band’s white-hot debut might be the best example of rock and roll as a medium for protest. With tracks like “London Burning”, “White Riot”, and “Career Opportunities”, The Clash augmented its pissed-off message with punk fire power. If Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie before them took a more subtle, lyrical approach to getting their message across, The Clash proved how effective punk rock’s volume and fury could be in helping double-down on the dissent.

The Clash were earnest in their approach to flaunting authority, but the same could hardly be said about the Sex Pistols. With the help and marketing savvy of manager Malcolm McLaren, the Pistols became the poster children for punk rock’s anti-authoritarian insolence. The band admittedly relied far more on gimmickry and image than many of their peers (Sid Vicious may be a punk icon, but it’s no secret he could barely play bass), but that fact takes nothing away from the band’s 1977 debut. In 34 sneering minutes, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols takes dead aim at the Crown (the Pistols infamously trolled the Queen’s Jubilee by playing “God Save the Queen” on a riverboat ride along the Thames River) while the record’s plighted themes of class war and social disenfranchisement spoke to a frustrated, marginalized generation. The Pistols didn’t survive long enough for a proper follow-up, which only makes Bollocks all the more impressive. In one record and 11 songs, the band helped define not only the sound of punk rock, but also its attitude and image. In doing so, they also helped solidify the genre as a legitimate force in popular music.

If the intensity of The Clash and Sex Pistols occasionally felt a little like all work and no play, Buzzcocks and The Damned brought some levity to the mix. The four-track EP Spiral Scratch, which the Buzzcocks self-released on their own New Hormones label in January 1977, arrived just over a year ahead of the band’s first proper full-length. But the band’s fiery mix of hooks, melodies, and punk energy was already well in place, making the EP one of the earliest entries in what would become pop punk. The aptly titled Damned Damned Damned, meanwhile, brought a campy, cartoonish sensibility to punk that refused to take itself too seriously. Dave Vanian has steered The Damned through numerous lineups and musical changes over the past four decades, but the proto goth band’s first record remains its most enduring sonic strike.

Others in punk’s first wave were pushing a little more deliberately against the genre’s walls. Back in New York, Television wisely took its time crafting Marquee Moon. The effort that went into it is evident: the record’s complex, jazz-like arrangements, the interlocking guitar work between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, and Billy Ficca’s flare for expansive drum fills. Marquee Moon is the punk record that refused to be defined by punk, a bookish, stylishly ambitious affair that further reinforced punk’s aversion to rules (somewhere future members of Sonic Youth were taking close notes). Former Television members also got in on experimenting with punk’s boundaries. Ten months after Marquee Moon’s February 1977 release, Richard Hell graced the world with Blank Generation. With assistance from his backing band, the Voidoids, Hell, always more poet at heart than a musician, took his love of Velvet Underground, The Beatles, The Stooges, the Stones, and others and wrapped it into his own warped formula. In England, Wire compressed the Ramones’ simple song constructs into sub-two-minute art punk blasts on Pink Flag, a record whose influence found its way over time to bands as diverse as the The Minutemen, REM, and Blur, to name a few.

New wave also began to emerge as a further evolution from punk. In England, Stiff Records released the debut from an up-and-coming songwriting maverick named Elvis Costello. After years spent gigging in and around London and Liverpool to little fanfare, My Aim Is True, released in July 1977, introduced the world to one of pop music’s great sophisticates. Costello channeled punk rock’s anger to settle personal scores, and by year’s end Rolling Stone crowned it the best record of the year. Beyond the music, the record’s cover art had a lot to say about the state of music in 1977 by itself. “Elvis Is King” the lettering read across the backdrop of a bespectacled Costello posing for the camera. With Elvis Presley’s death just one month later, it’s hard not to look at the cover in retrospect with some measure of cosmic significance.

Stiff also released New Boots and Panties!!!, the debut record from Ian Dury and what would become his backing band, the Blockheads. Like Costello, Dury’s music was born out of the UK’s growing pub rock scene, and his debut mashed funk, early American rock and roll, dance, and pop music into its own distinct concoction. In another indication of audiences’ willingness to take a flier on new music, the record became a hit in spite of, or perhaps because of, its deliberately being left of center. Singles “Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick”, “Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 3”, and “What a Waste” each made their mark on the UK singles chart. Elsewhere, Graham Parker released the equally raw and diverse-sounding Stick to Me, marking his first collaboration with his long-running backing band, The Rumour. The Jam also brought some sass and style to the yet-to-be-titled new wave movement. In the City, the mod punks’ debut, owed as much to the likes of The Who, The Kinks, and The Creation as it did the shearing guitar chords on its surface.

While 1977 gave rise to a host of fresh new musical faces, it also was the year that some old dogs tried their hands at some new tricks. Iggy Pop resurfaced with not one, but two records in The Idiot and Lust for Life. Just two years prior, Pop was in the grips of a crippling heroin dependency that also led him to spend time in a mental institution. With the help of David Bowie, The Idiot gave Pop a new creative lease. The record marks an almost jarring departure from the hedonistic proto punk charge he once led with The Stooges, giving in to the artier, more experimental direction Bowie was moving him in. The Star Man also ran herd on Lust for Life, which brought Pop’s garage rock bona fides back into clearer focus.

Bowie’s collaborations with Iggy gave the former Stooge frontman a much needed creative and personal boost, but he used much of that same inspiration for himself on Low. The record was the latest in what would be a career-spanning series of musical evolutions for Bowie, and it’s arguably one of his best. Co-produced with Tony Visconti and Brian Eno, Low playfully dives into avant pop, especially the minimalist electronic and ambient music Eno had already begun experimenting with in his post-Roxy Music efforts. The record also owes a debt of influence to Kraftwerk. Formed in 1969 in Dusseldorf as part of Germany’s growing experimental rock scene, the band, led by Florian Schnieder and Ralf Hutter, began flirting increasingly with synthesizers and electronic music by the early ’70s. Kraftwerk’s first grand musical statement came with the minimalist Autobahn in 1974, but it was the release of Trans-Europe Express three years later that exposed electronic music’s pop potential. The record’s influence on dance and electronic music is obvious, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Just a few short years later, Afrika Bambaataa used the record’s title track as the centerpiece of “Planet Rock”, one of the earliest entries into the hip-hop cannon. Back in New York, Martin Rev and Alan Vega were also among the earliest adopters of electronic music. The duo dropped Suicide’s seminal electro-punk debut, which menacingly foreshadowed the emergence of dance music, electronica, new wave, and alternative music coming just around the bend.

Not all of the year’s groundbreaking musical innovations drew power from ugly, underground impulses, however. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were at the peak of their proggy, jazz-pop powers when Steely Dan released Aja in September of 1977. Boasting the contributions of close to 40 musicians, the record is the rare complex pop record that wasn’t commercially done in by its own sense of adventure. Fagen and Becker went all in, with all but two of the record’s seven tracks clocking in at more than five minutes. But millions of listeners went along with them for the ride on the strength of singles “Deacon Blues”, “Peg” and “Josie”. And while the songs on Aja still stand as achievements by themselves, the record also continues to stand up as a model of expert production. Steely Dan was always first and foremost a studio band (the band retired from touring in 1974 before reuniting years later), and Aja represents the apex of the band’s commitment to production value.

It’s been four decades, but the music of 1977 hardly feels that old. Maybe that’s because subsequent generations of musicians and fans have refused to let it grow stale. Giorgio Moroder’s From Here to Eternity still sounds relevant, thanks in no small part to Daft Punk’s not-so-subtle genre homage Random Access Memories in 2013. It’s just as easy to see how Radiohead’s Kid A or LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver might have inspired a new generation of fans to find their way back to Kraftwerk or how the success of Green Day, Rancid, and countless others have helped keep Ramones and The Clash in vogue over the years. Music only lives in the past to the extent that fans, bands, and critics let it. To that end, the greatest complement that can be paid to the musical year that was 1977 is that we’ve cared enough to keep it vital.

Source link

Posted on

We Are Never Getting Back Together: How Avoiding a Reunion Can Secure a Band’s Legacy

Photo by Paul Natkin

Grant Hart’s death from cancer last week at the age of 56 sent waves of eulogy through the internet, all of it completely deserved. As half of the creative engine behind Hüsker Dü, he was a guy whose music broke rank with hardcore punk’s do’s and don’ts. He and Bob Mould brought melody into the genre’s angry world of thunderous chords and machine-gun tempos. In doing so, he helped pry open the door for generations of bands that have followed in the legendary power trio’s wake.

An unavoidable feeling of loss has hung over fans’, peers’, and critics’ tributes in recent days and not just over the drummer’s passing. Many who weren’t fortunate enough to catch the Hüskers in their glorious ’80s heyday also saw a loss of opportunity. Right up until Hart’s death, fans clutched onto some hope, however small, of a reunion between Hart, Mould, and bassist Greg Norton. There have been close calls, none more so than Mould and Hart’s civil-yet-frosty onstage collaboration at a tribute concert for late Soul Asylum bass guitarist Karl Mueller in 2004. Even much more innocuous happenings spurred reunion buzz. When the band launched a website to help sell Hüsker Dü shirts and merchandise a few years back, fans and critics waited in eager anticipation for an official announcement that never came.

“I literally had to put up a Facebook post like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, everybody, slow down,’” Norton told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. “We’re just trying to sell some T-shirts here.”

the replacement 02 eric pamies We Are Never Getting Back Together: How Avoiding a Reunion Can Secure a Bands Legacy

Photo by Eric Pamies

The anticipation bordering on expectation of a Hüskers reunion was understandable, especially in a time where the benefits of reuniting have lured even the least likely of bands out of mothballs. In just the past four years, for example, fans have leaped at the chance to watch the likes of Outkast, The Misfits, Jawbreaker, Sleater-Kinney, The Afghan Wigs, Blur, Drive Like Jehu, Rocket from the Crypt, and even The Replacements take the stage again after extended layoffs. If Danzig can get over his long-standing beef with his former band mates and the ever-reclusive Paul Westerberg can be enticed into jumping back on the Mats bandwagon, then it stands to reason that no band is immune to the reunion bug.

But the Hüskers and a small number of other in-demand reunion prospects have resisted, and there’s an argument to be made for why they’ve been smart in doing so. As is often said, absence makes the heart grow fonder. To that end, some bands have managed to significantly strengthen their brands by shying away from reunion offers. When it comes to protecting a legacy, reputation, or body of work, there is something to be said for going out on a high note and leaving things where they are.

Not that saying no is easy. For those acts in the fortunate position to be able to reunite on the biggest of stages, the benefits are obvious. The money, by all accounts, is too good for many to turn down. Andre 3000 and Big Boi have since admitted that the decision to reunite Outkast in 2014 was motivated largely by money. MinnPost, meanwhile, reported that a Replacements reunion show at Midway Stadium in September 2014 generated $700,000 in revenue (portions of that went to pay for production costs and the show’s opening acts).

rocketfromthecrypt schuering riot2013 dsc 6408 We Are Never Getting Back Together: How Avoiding a Reunion Can Secure a Bands Legacy

Photo by Katie Schuering

Reunions also offer many bands well-deserved ego boosts. A well-hyped and publicized reunion can win cult heroes and critical darlings the mainstream attention and validation they’ve long been shorted. Just ask John Reis, who once scoured at the thought of band reunions before ultimately reuniting with three of them: Drive Like Jehu, Rocket from the Crypt, and the Hot Snakes. As he told LA Record in March 2014, the demand for Rocket to reform eventually became too much for the band to ignore.

“It got to the point where it felt stupid to say no because we always wanted people to like us, and here are people saying they want to see us play,” he said. “To say no just seemed ridiculous. That was basically it in a nutshell.”

The rewards that come with band life often don’t match the amount of work that goes into it, so it’s hard to begrudge anyone for jumping at the greater benefits a reunion can offer. But if we’re looking at reunions from the standpoint of legacy, there’s often much more to be lost than gained. Perhaps no one band better exemplifies this than the Pixies. The iconic indie outfit is as deserving as anyone of a reunion, but theirs has been undeniably spotty. There have been good shows and others where the band has seemed positively disengaged. Indie Cindy, the band’s first post-breakup studio effort, was a mixed bag. Last year’s Head Carrier, meanwhile, better represented the return to form that fans had been waiting for. The band has also gone through its share of stability issues since reuniting. After Kim Deal’s departure in 2013, the band quickly hired and dismissed The Muffs’ Kim Shattuck before eventually settling on Paz Lenchantin from A Perfect Circle to handle bass duties. Now 14 years into their second life, The Pixies’ renaissance hasn’t exactly been a failure, but it’s hardly lived up to expectations, either. All the time and energy that’s gone into trying to build upon the band’s legend still falls a distant second to yesteryear classics like Doolittle and Surfer Rosa.

pixies davidbrendanhall 04 We Are Never Getting Back Together: How Avoiding a Reunion Can Secure a Bands Legacy

Photo by David Brendan Hall

That raises another sticky point about reunions. While the goal is to bring yesterday’s great bands into the present, reunions are inherently driven by an attempt to recapture the past. This puts a lot of reformed bands in a tricky situation, especially those who are trying to overcome the loss or departure of their original members. The Replacements lit the world on fire in 2013 when it was announced they would reunite at that year’s Riot Fest. But as great as it was to watch Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson bring the band’s beloved catalog of heart-stomped bar rockers back to life (and it was great), it was hard to shake this nagging feeling that it still wasn’t quite the real thing. Josh Freeze is the definition of a punk rock renaissance man, and his history drumming for Westerberg goes back some 25 years. What’s more, he’s a much better drummer than Chris Mars, who opted out of reuniting with his former band mates. Still, it was Mars, not Freeze, who manned the kit on classics like Let It Be and Tim. Dave Minehan also ably filled his role as the band’s second guitarist. But there is no replacement for the late Bob Stinson.

Even the best reunions can’t fully avoid the trappings of nostalgia. Dinosaur Jr. has emerged as something of a gold standard for band reunions, having put out four records since resurfacing in 2005 that surprisingly hold their own against its classic catalog. Even still, fans don’t go to see J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph to hear them play cuts from Beyond or Farm. Not that they don’t like them, they’re just not the draw. They want “Freak Scene”, “The Lung”, and “Feel the Pain.” Blur also made their much-anticipated reunion worth everyone’s while, but it’s still hard not to think of 2015’s The Magic Whip as “the reunion record.” The lesson here is that most bands get one shot at building a legacy. Everything that happens after a band’s initial run is almost unavoidably bound to be measured against the past.

dinosaurjr schuering riot2013 dsc 4573 We Are Never Getting Back Together: How Avoiding a Reunion Can Secure a Bands Legacy

Photo by Katie Schuering

And for some bands, the past just isn’t a place worth revisiting. Put Hüsker Dü right up at the top of that list. As creatively fruitful as the trio’s nine-year run was, the Hüsker years were turbulent ones for its members by most accounts. Between the well-documented drug and alcohol abuse and the personal infighting between Mould and Hart that lingered right up until the latter’s death, it’s not surprising that the Hüskers never entertained the idea of jaunting down memory lane, not seriously at least. It could also be argued that there were creative reasons behind the band’s disinterest in reuniting. For as forward-thinking an act as Hüsker Dü, diving 30-plus years back into the past doesn’t seem like something that’s in its members’ DNA.

We can selfishly lament not being able to see Mould, Hart, and Norton take the stage together one last time. But if there’s ever been a band less in need of a reunion, it’s Hüsker Dü. The trio might have fallen apart under ugly circumstances in 1988, but in its wake, it left the world with six stellar records and an amazing live reputation. A reunion at best would only reaffirm what much of us already know: that this band was special, meaningful. At worst, it would only smudge an otherwise immaculate musical legacy.

the smiths We Are Never Getting Back Together: How Avoiding a Reunion Can Secure a Bands Legacy

With a Hüskers reunion out of the running, that leaves The Smiths as arguably the premier reunion act that’s so far gotten away from festival organizers. Never say never, as the saying goes. Even Jawbreaker eventually took the reunion bait, after all. But it’s almost 100 percent safe to say at this point that The Smiths will in fact never reunite. It’s hard enough to get Morrissey to commit to his own dates these days, much less what would likely go down as the most buzz-worthy reunion get of all time. And yet, saying “no” has thus far done absolutely nothing to dull the Manchester icons’ luster. If anything, it’s done the exact opposite. Rumors of the band turning down a $5 million offer from Coachella organizers to reunite have only added to the band’s iconoclastic legend. As previously stated, some bands only have everything to lose by reuniting. The Smiths have grown over the years to become one of the single-most deified bands since The Beatles. In 2002, NME even went a step further, calling them even more influential than The Fab Four. Those are the kind of accolades and hero worship you just can’t put a price tag on. How can you risk messing with that?

The chance to see Hüsker Dü again is gone, and the odds of seeing a Smiths, Talking Heads, or R.E.M. reunion seem almost as grim. We’ll just have to learn to accept them for what they are now. Perfect.

Source link

Posted on

Ted Leo and Amanda Palmer Explain Why We Need Net Neutrality

Among the many political controversies demanding your attention in recent months, the words “net neutrality” might not seem like the most thrilling. But they could make a massive impact on every musician covered by this site, not to mention your very ability to read the site.

After the appointment of Ajit Pai as the head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the net neutrality battlefield is facing perhaps its toughest challenges to date. The outcome of his policies (in line with President Donald Trump) could lead to massive changes in the way that artists operate in the industry and listeners get music. And while the topic remains a mystery for many, outlets like Battle For the Net and the Future of Music Coalition are doing everything they can to educate people and change that.

The beauty of Our Internet is that it’s a vast and wide-open landscape that allows sites to grow without any borders limiting their reach. This brings us into the fertile ground of net neutrality. For the uninitiated, net neutrality is the concept that Internet service providers (ISPs) and governments should not be able to regulate the flow of data, especially as it relates to discriminating and charging differently by user, content, website, or other factors.

Pai plans on rolling back the Obama administration’s rules, aiming to uphold that neutrality, which could conceivably allow ISPs to essentially separate the Internet into two separate tiers. One where websites are charged extra fees for faster load speeds, among other preferential treatments, and one where they would also be able slow down the websites of competitors, block disagreeable or offensive content, and impose data limits on users.

Net neutrality prevents broadband providers from granting a bounty of perks and rewards — or rather, preferential treatment to online content they benefit from in the end. Imagine Comcast giving a leg up to a music streaming site on the pure basis that they can afford to pay for that leg up. Everyone else would be stuck looking up at the “competition.”

It’s problematic on all fronts. You’re reading this because we’re talking about network neutrality, the laws that monster companies must follow in order to manage their offerings fairly. But honestly, this issue is about fat, bloated corporate power that could, and quite certainly will, affect our music industry. For decades, musicians faced their own feudalistic structures: the major label system. As such, it should be no surprise that they have risen as particularly prominent commenters on net neutrality.

amanda palmer Ted Leo and Amanda Palmer Explain Why We Need Net Neutrality

“I really dislike the idea of massive corporations like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T having the largest thrones at the Internet table,” says Amanda Palmer. The singer-songwriter has been a vocal proponent of net neutrality, and has also struck out on her own musically rather than remaining under the control and strictures of labels. “It reminds me of the major label system, where you have a few huge bullies deciding what was going to dominate the airwaves. If you keep going with that metaphor: you can’t just have a few channels, it’s bad for the ecosystem of art and commerce. There has to be another way to get information and music, the way there had to be college radio and indie record shops to fight the corporate stranglehold of commercial radio.”

Much like college radio, artists have found outlets, audiences, and expression thanks to a wide-open internet. For some, open access to the Internet meant discovery. Consider OK Go’s videos spreading like wildfire across YouTube, or Bobby Shmurda getting a record deal off of Vine, or Nicki Minaj getting discovered on MySpace. A vast variety of artists have found ways to reach audiences in new ways, but without net neutrality, none of that would be possible. In hindsight, they might not have been able to afford to pay for the bandwidth to upload the videos or songs, and fans may not have been able to have the data available to download the music.

Both Palmer and indie rock mainstay Ted Leo have been signatories of statements released by the Future of Music Coalition, and have found ways outside of the label structure to interact directly with their fans and release new music, the former through Patreon and the latter through Kickstarter. But this too could be threatened by a lack of net neutrality, only able to use a certain amount of data or at certain speeds.

ted leo the hanged man album new 2017 Ted Leo and Amanda Palmer Explain Why We Need Net Neutrality

“I’ve been cranking along trying to make it happen, using the Internet every step of the way: to set up the Kickstarter, to talk to people pledging, to send files for mastering and pressing, to send artwork back and forth, to redo my own website and set up a pre-sale,” Leo explains. “The campaign did well, but I went into it flat broke! I have no way of saying for sure how it would’ve affected me if I’d have been operating at a data stream disadvantage, but I can imagine any number of ways it might’ve limited my ability to complete the work and get it out there in a timely way that is accessible. I don’t think Comcast should be putting it’s finger on the scale in that decision process, though.”

Not to mention that these are indie artists of some prominence; completely unknown artists have their own struggles to reach even that amount of potential Internet access.

“I’ve been working on my relationship with my fans for enough years that they’re willing to go off the grid with me, and most new artists don’t necessarily have that power,” Palmer says. An up-and-coming band might want to work on their album by sending tracks over email, but without the financial backing of, say, a major label, that might not be an option if their Internet speeds are throttled to a point that sharing large files would be impossible.

Evan Greer, campaign director for net neutrality nonprofit Fight for the Future, worries about these potential concerns from a musician’s standpoint. Greer toured the country full time for a decade as a singer-songwriter, slowly scraping together enough of a living to buy an apartment and raise a family through door donations and selling CD-Rs. She eventually began uploading songs to the Internet and gained attention throughout the DIY, punk, and queer activist scenes.

“As a political musician, the Internet gave me a platform to speak without fear of retribution from a label or management,” Greer says. “It gave me artistic freedom and a way to connect with people who love my music.”

As a queer/transgender artist expressing herself through music, Greer sees net neutrality as not only essential to her livelihood, but as a deeply personal issue. “It’s what keeps the Internet open as a platform for alternative and marginalized voices,” she says. “For independent musicians, it’s our lifeblood. None of us can afford to pay extra fees to companies like Comcast (or to companies like Soundcloud, who could be forced to pay Comcast, and then pass those costs on to us) in order to share our music and art with the world.”

The free and open Internet has had a massively democratizing effect on the music industry, she explains, and has offered a platform for artists who have long been left out or ignored. “It’s starting to chip away at the white male dominance of the music scene,” she says. “If we lose net neutrality, we don’t just lose fun cat videos, we will lose so much art, creativity, passion, activism, innovation, and information that we all desperately need.”

Palmer notes that the expectation of that open, available Internet has become almost second nature. “Most of us take the Internet and the way it’s built and functions for granted,” she says. And while that’s a major challenge for organizations like Battle for the Net to face in terms of educating the public, it’s also a clear sign of the assumption of the Internet as a necessity.

“Services like Twitter and Facebook have jumped their initial missions and landed in the world in a way that functions as a public service,” Leo explains. “They’re private companies, but they’ve become de facto modern public squares. Forget about musicians for a minute — what about children doing schoolwork or anyone seeking access to information? When the ISPs are able to determine who has access and how that information flows, we’re prone to wind up with an ever more bifurcated society. This goes beyond simply the ability to potentially have to pay more for a quality standard of internet access. The current administration has already directed our border controls to probe our own citizens’ social media history upon their attempt to reenter the country on US passports. If directed, all kinds of content could be stifled under a system that allows internet tiers and controls of this sort.”

Those with money would theoretically have the ability to control conversations and shape narratives. The Internet may feel like a long-established necessity, but in many ways, it’s still the Wild West. To showcase the impact of where that might lead, Palmer utilizes the evolution of the Pony Express as a metaphor. “Imagine if the US Postal Service decided to only send certain letters,” she says. “Imagine if the US Postal Service decided to only send the letters of rich corporations? Imagine if the US Postal Service decided to not even inform the letter-senders of what might happen to their letter? We wouldn’t take that lying down. We’d freak out. And that’s exactly what should be happening now. People should be freaking out.”

And some people are freaking out. Today, Battle for the Net leads an Internet-wide Day of Action to protest the FCC’s proposed plan to destroy net neutrality and “give big cable companies control over what we see and do online.” A massive list of websites have agreed to join forces — including yours truly — in posting a message explaining the situation and calling for visitors to click-through and send a letter of protest. Netflix, Twitter, Amazon, and Reddit are all participating, as are prominent media sites like Spotify, Vimeo, and Soundcloud.

The fact that so many businesses have joined together to protest showcases what Leo calls a fundamental misunderstanding of freedom and capitalism. “Regulation ensuring a level playing field for all should be the thing that fosters the ‘market-based solution’ that those who wish to roll back net-neutrality seek,” he explains. “By stifling access to this realm of information exchange and commerce, you kill competition and a merit-based society by ensuring that only those already at the top wind up in a prime position to have their voices heard.”

Going forward, Leo and Palmer both have succinct but powerful messages regarding net neutrality:

“I’d share the same message as for those who should be fighting against the new healthcare bill: read up on it, understand what’s at stake, call your reps like every other citizen, and talk to each other,” Leo offers.

“It really fucks with artists’ heads and forces them to make clickbait of their own messaging,” Palmer reflects. “For instance, if I pair a European tour announcement with a cute photo of my baby, it’ll get 10 times the reach. But that’s fucking terrible. What artist wants to have to make that decision? If net neutrality goes away, we can’t even begin to imagine the sort of acrobatics that we will have to do to reach one another — and it really shouldn’t be that way.”

For these and many other reasons, it’s clear that those affected are concerned for a future without net neutrality — and even more clear that “those affected” would be anyone hoping to connect to the Internet in the future.

screen shot 2017 07 12 at 10 02 48 am Ted Leo and Amanda Palmer Explain Why We Need Net Neutrality

Source link