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Rights to Creative Expression in the Live Atmosphere

Last Monday, I finally had the joy of seeing the shoegaze powerhouse known as Whirr perform. Lately, they’ve been including some sort of industrial massive haunted house caliber efficient fog machines to their show, and was able to fill the Neighborhood Theatre with a fog as thick as pea soup* (*see Scooby Doo episode where they eat fog), to the point where the fire alarm was set off, the venue was evacuated and, yes, the fire department made a special guest appearance pushing the show back about an hour and a half while they had to air the venue out. For me, I loved every minute of it, almost to the point where if the show got cancelled, I couldn’t be mad, one moment I’m listening to their soundcheck while playing a70s arcade shooting game, the next the venue is evacuated because of Whirr. People unfamiliar with Whirr’s uncaring attitude, up’d and left the show as the fire trucks pulled up, but I’d have to say a majority of the crowd stayed and wanted Whirr to at least mildly re-fog the venue. Alas, the owners did not allow this, but Whirr pressed on and played mind-blowingly loud and incredible show. Moving on to the next day they continued on with fogging the Atlanta venue, The Drunken Unicorn, apparently the most brutally thick one yet to the point, where the bartenders couldn’t take orders or do anything, leading to the promoters sending immature and ridiculous Facebook messages about them being blacklisted from the Unicorn for doing something so inconsiderate, to Whirr’s response of being limited by them the entire night when it came to sound check, they couldn’t be as loud as their tour rider said they would, while they still performed fog and all (my friends there said it was incredible), the venue managers had the audacity to censor their performance, both visually and audibly. The issue in writing this goes to question, how we censor artists’  live expression, a form that can at times be more important than the music itself. I’ve seen countless bands whose music doesn’t interest me in the slightest, but if they throw a rad show, I have nothing but respect for them. Seemingly independent and punk venues are starting to lose what makes them interesting in ways like this, in his message to Whirr, the manager at the Unicorn kept citing how they lost money without referencing that the punk community by definition is an almost unsustainable model, bands on tour in the punk scene don’t profit that much relative to their time and effort, promoters in the DIY scene lose money almost every show, so why is it that now, venues trying to be punk are limiting what makes the atmosphere so unique. The Joyce Manor ripple of last year when the vocalist Berry, turned anti-stage diving in the middle of a show, causing bands and venues across the country to follow suit. Whirr getting blacklisted from venues for fogging the venue to the point of blindness, which is exactly what I want at a shoegaze show. Now if these limitations on expression occurs in seeming punk venues, I can’t imagine the limitations on bands playing larger House of Blueses, Fillmores or even venues. We’ll see how the rest of the year turns out with bands and venues butting heads over what they should and shouldn’t do, but as bands in the punk community continue to play larger and larger venues, I’m sure more limitations on their individual performances will be pressed upon them.

Where Is College Radio Going?

Because we’re at Davidson, I’m assuming that little to none of us have heard of our school’s radio station, WALT FM 1610, unless you’re friends with me and have seen my incessant updates trying to get people to hear me ramble about punk bands every Sunday night, speaking of which, tune in to Waka Flocka Flaming Lips tonight at 9!

While the WALT personnel generally don’t care or don’t want people listening to their shows, it is fascinating to me, while looking through the archives and finding old documents of how WALT used to function on campus. At this point we have very few DJs, especially regular DJs (so you should come get a show if you want), but looking through documents, even from 2005, pretty much every time slot from 9AM-1AM was booked with people doing anything from music oriented radio shows, talk shows about politics, sports updates and general call in music requests. There used to be concerts with actual artists sponsored by WALT at one point, it seems like it used to actually be something on campus, whereas now its just a select group of people who have wanted to be a part of college radio since before coming into Davidson. While this year seems to have been the worst for WALT considering our budget was stripped completely after hosting an unauthorized event last Frolics, hopefully at some point we can come back as being an events oriented group as I don’t see people tuning in to the radio station regularly in the near future. And really why should they? I mean if listening to music that you haven’t heard before, or trying to just listen to genre oriented playlists, the digital wave (.wav) of music gives you ample opportunities, you could just check a tag on Spotify, have friends send you albums online or just browse the obscurities that bandcamp and soundcloud have to offer. The college radio DJ has transformed from some sort of late night persona trying catering to a certain audience to Spotify premium members who compile large playlists with certain hash togs making discovery simple and effective, and convenient too. It’s that convenience which might be the most damaging to the college radio infrastructure, people no longer want to set aside an hour every week to tune in to their favorite shows or support their friends by listening and giving feedback, now people want a playlist to stream while they go on a run or walk to a certain location on campus to work, hell they could probably hear most of the music they’re interested in just by going to the Campus Summit location. As a DJ at WALT none of this really comes as surprising, especially at Davidson, we’re not really an music oriented school or exploratory in artistic media by a long shot. Which is where I see the future of college radio as playing a different role from just the studio, after attending Duke Coffeehouse’s Brickside Festival, including big names in the electronic scene such as Dan Deacon and Baths, which was cosponsored by Duke’s very own WXDU, I then attended the MacRock music festival in Virginia, a punk/indie/metal fest put on by the students at the radio station of James Madison University. I was blown away by the interest generated at each, the crowd being people who would never generally attend these events but because it was so outlandish for the schools and their generally unpopular radio stations to do something big like this, it ended up being wildly popular. WALT will probably never be able to bring in interesting acts no matter what strings I try to pull, but its great to see radio stations across college campuses (i.e. Brickside at Duke, Macrock at JMU, Nochella at Pomona, etc.) find innovative ways to generate student interest in music.

Unconditional Love: My Relationship with Death Grips

If you’re unfamiliar with Death Grips, they’re pretty much a perfect intersection of metal, electronic and rap. They’re debut album, Exmilitary is probably one of the most abrasive yet perfect things you’ll ever here. As any Death Grips fan will tell you, by becoming a fan, you’re only setting yourself up for heartbreak. And it’s true, very true. Upon the release last week of their final (maybe???) album jenny death that is the second album in a previously announced double LP, the powers that b, which is in so many ways a direct contrast to the surprise release of last year’s first section, niggas on the moon, featuring Bjork for some strange reason on every track. Anyway, jenny death defies all my expectations, I mean, I really don’t know what expectations you can have for an artist like Death Grips, but behind Kanye’s upcoming album this is going to be the best rap album of the year probably. The worst part about all of this is that, I don’t want to like this album, I really don’t. I don’t want anything more to do with Death Grips. They’ve broken mine and everyone else’s heart just too much. They haven’t performed a show for any of their last 3 albums, they booked a tour in 2013 where they decided not to show to any dates. They scheduled festival performances the next year followed by joining a tour with Nine Inch Nails and, I still can’t believe this, Soundgarden. I’ll never get over the fact that the Death Grips community truly believed that they’d go on an arena tour with Soundgarden, that baffles me. Right before this tour and these festival performances, the first of which, yours truly, bought a ticket to and made travel plans, bussing from Florida to Chicago, only to have them “break-up” a week before. That was it. After that, I swore off Death Grips, I revoked my fandom, I could no longer listen to them anymore, for once an artist’s hatred for their fans, finally worked. But then came jenny death, and I can’t help but forgive them, I mean it’s my fault really, I should’ve known they would never play that show, but I just wanted to believe. It feels like I’ve been in an emotionally abusive relationship for years with this band, only to come crawling back every time they say something new, I just can’t help myself. And now my relationship is at a more ambivalent point than ever with this group, they officially announced a tour, with dates that I will be flying out of my way for this summer to go see while I’m traveling. I don’t know what to expect, but after constant disappointment, I think just owning a ticket to see Death Grips is all that I want at this point, I mean even after all this, they’re just really cool. Professor Weinstein said “anyone who buys a ticket to that tour is an idiot” and I’ll admit it, I’m an idiot but I’m proud. jenny death rekindled my relationship with one of my favorite groups, which will inevitably disappoint me again, but that’s ok, it’s the cycle of Death Grips fandom.

Road Trip Sounds

It’s probably pretty safe to say that everyone who’s ever road-tripped has their own idiosyncrasies and traditions, whether it’s certain games with billboards followed by parents trying to get everyone to play the Quiet Game, which is really just a mildly polite way of telling your kids to shut up, or listening to certain albums or songs. I mean don’t get me wrong, Florida to North Carolina is barely a road trip, probably doesn’t even fall in the spectrum, it’s pretty much just a long trek across Southern highways that seem to have been under construction ever since their initial phasing, but I’ve noticed that I’ve formed habits throughout these drives home for breaks or whenever, and I’ve especially noticed the sound surrounding me constantly when I drive.

Firstly, I think pretty much everyone has a certain song or album that they constantly listen to while traveling or would choose to, I know whenever I fly, I have to listen to Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea but that’s just because I’m corny and lame. I’ve noticed these patterns for road trips though, with a few randoms I really have a certain formula for the music I listen to, and the more interesting part is that I have different patterns for driving there and driving back here. A few things stay consistent though, for some reason I always have to listen to these albums in sequential order: Rozwell Kid’s Unmacho, Snowing’s I Could Do Whatever I Wanted If I Wanted, and of course Weezer’s Pinkerton. I do this mainly because these are three of my favorite albums of all-time that I think of as a conceptual trilogy, with the first two being incredibly derivative of Pinkerton but offering more cues to their time period and scenes: 2012 lo-fi/bedroom rock and 2008 New England emo respectively. The other album I make sure to listen to is Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, in fact, I rarely ever listen to it outside of these long drives, mainly because I feel as if I listen to it anywhere else I’m doing myself a disservice, as I probably am not paying as much attention to it as I should be, and that subtle stream of consciousness necessary for driving allows me almost complete and utter focus (I reserve just enough attention on the road to make sure whoever I’m driving and myself are safe) to bring about new revelations and connections every time I listen to it. While driving into North Carolina, I always make sure to listen to Glocca Morra’s song “y’all boots hats? (die angry)” mainly because the lyrics include “carolina, I think I love you” and once again I’m corny. Whilst driving in the middle of Florida at night about an hour from home, with the smell of the nightly Florida rain coming through the vents or just the heat lightning striking across the sky I can’t help but listen to Outkast’s “Spottieottiedopalicious”, that song pretty much just became anthemic to driving late at night in Florida over Summer or coming back over the bridge from surfing just as the sun-sets, it’s so relaxing and calming and I can’t put my finger on why it’s so necessary for every trip down to the Sunshine State.

Other sounds are much more apparent, if you’ve ever taken a ride in my car (a teal 1994 BMW hatchback with a convertible roof that was ripped off by the previous owner and is now just a simple plexiglass covering screwed in and caulked around the edges) you can’t miss the roar of the high pitched whistling coming from my roof, it’s really something else and I can’t help but laugh every time someone new gets in my car. While it annoys pretty much everyone else in the car that rides with me, I’ve found it a source of comfort while driving, I can’t explain it but I equate it to the hum of the air-conditioning or a dishwasher, there’s just something about a background noise with very indistinct sounds and low frequencies that seems to soothe me. Coming back from Spring Break a few night’s ago, everyone who I was driving was asleep, as they should’ve been considering we got back here at 4 AM on a Sunday, but that sound was really crucial in keeping me up, not that it’s abrasive and you can’t sleep through it, but there’s just some quality of it that makes me comfortable and makes me want to drive, probably because it’s so unique to my car, and I’m pretty much the only person who can drive it considering it has a pseudo-roof, no first gear, an oil leak, and plenty of other little flaws that make it so fun. Well, now that I’ve digressed into a love letter to my car, I’ll leave you with wondering what sounds or activities you pride yourself in continuing throughout road trips.

Draft #1: Memory of a Sound

For some reason, pretension probably, I was very hesitant and late to the game when it came to Vampire Weekend, I really only became a fan of them in late 2012/early 2013. It seemed like were just icons of some sort of entry-level alternative teenage girl culture (which isn’t wrong by any means, take a look at the crowd in every Vampire Weekend show and it’s pretty evident) that I had no interest in concerning myself with. At the persistence of my friends whose artistic opinions I trust highly, I listened to Vampire Weekend’s self-titled album, which caused me to listen to it at least once a day for the next three months or so. This album became anthemic to me, particularly the closing track, “Walcott”, a song primarily devoted to leaving, a perfect audial representation of the end of something: the album, a place, a period of your life; this song alone has become integral in my life in transition this past year.

To give a little context, Walcott, was the character that vocalist Ezra Koenig performed in his high school amateur short film aptly titled, “Vampire Weekend”. In which a high schoool student, Walcott, must escape the rapidly increasing vampire population of Cape Cod. Escaping something that you must get away from, something possibly toxic to your well-being, leaving your hometown, Walcott and his escape from the vampire infested movie, becomes iconic even more than Ezra’s humorous personality, but the essence of what Vampire Weekend’s first album, and namely, “Walcott” comes to represent.

I skipped my second-to-last day of high school to drive 4 hours to Miami to see Vampire Weekend with a few friends, only to drive back the next day to go to school one last time, and then head to Tampa to a music festival, where, who else, but Vampire Weekend were playing. These three-days were probably 3 of my more formative experiences with this song, permanently engraining the concepts in my mind. A well-known trope of every Vampire Weekend show is to end it with “Walcott”, as both a signal to the audience to leave and a coping mechanism for them as well. Ezra hit me with a proverbial sack of bricks, as the incredibly surprising mosh pit broke out to this song, signalling a catharsis of emotional and physical proportions, I confronted the thought of high school ending, in a way I had never before, and I couldn’t have been happier. Don’t get me wrong, I loved high school, but there is nothing more relieving than knowing that you are finally out of that same circle of people, forced to interact and deal with the internal politics of social life in high school on the daily.

The second I got into the car after attending a graduation, I didn’t want to go to, it was an immediate, almost idiosyncratic response to hit play on “Walcott”, on my iPod. Driving away from a period of your life that you’re more than content with leaving behind, is a sensation that I’m wondering if I’ll experience again. While this was an ultimately joyous, occasion listening to the song, leaving, isn’t always the best or most clear cut feeling.

August 21st, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 5 AM, just to witness the sunrise over the ocean where I’ve spent more or less my entire life in, before leaving to the landlocked town of Davidson. A few hours later, I was alone entering I-95 blasting the euphonic movements of the string section and Rotsam’s piano in “Walcott” in a car on the verge of breaking down every moment of the ride, filled with everything I deemed worthy enough to bring with me, feeling more confused than ever over how I felt about actually leaving.

It’s pretty incredible the ways in which anthems used for specific actions can elicit a spectrum of feelings, such as the ways I’ve come to interact with “Walcott”. It seems only suiting that as I’ve typed this I’ve been chugging along down Vampire Weekend’s first album, reaching the song of topic, only just a moment ago as I attempt to end this in some smooth way. But this is all I’ve got:

P.S. This was tweeted the day of my graduation and is in no way a shameless plug for twitter followers. Screen shot 2015-02-15 at 4.56.51 PM

Should We Change the Soundscape of Mass Transit?

While still better than the DMV, I think we can all agree, whether from hearsay or experience, that the subway system of New York City is one of the most recognizably unpleasant aspects of urban life. The grating of the turnstiles, the incommunicable voice overs of the conductor, shouts, stampedes, the soundscape is riddled with cacophonous ringings as if it were a symphony intended to provide discomfort. As New Yorkers, or any subway traveler in any city really, continue with the drudgery of urban travel, we as bystanders or commuters must wonder the commutative abilities of changing the soundscape. James Murphy (vocalist and producer of LCD Soundsystem) has had this idea rattling around in his head for years and recently has simulated the sounds which he plans to create, with an online petition in support of it. Murphy claims that the soundscapes infrastructure is already built and able to be changed a bit so “why don’t we just make it a nice sound?” Imagine melodious comings and goings through the subway throughout the day, rather than the rickety grinding of old gears in the turnstile. While the alternative internet community appears to be in full support of the change, the subway system is being much more resistant, mirroring the brutality in the soundscape by saying that the “don’t really care”. In his defense, they shouldn’t. His resistance may not be a stoic skepticism of working art into the urban setting, but non-diegetic sounds that are more than the accustomed nature of things. James Murphy’s utopian perspective of creating a harmonious soundscape to hopefully promote a better outlook on the rigidity of the urban system, may be a little too idealistic. As mentioned in class Brian Eno’s “Ambient 1: Music for Airports”, while being inspired by and intended to create a more realistic soundscape to airports appeared to be too disorienting for the public, the reality it created was too unsettling. I fear this may be the case for Murphy’s subway renovations as well, Murphy’s support comes mainly from the creative youth population on the internet and assumedly that would be his support within the city as well, who would not be the main consumers of this noise as it would be the working class American population, long accustomed and expectant of the grinds and cacophony engrained in the subway structure. We never seem to predict how people will respond to diegetic and non-diegetic sounds, as in early film it was assumed that music without seeing a band in the setting of the narrative would be much to unsettling, to the point where in one film a man actually walks by in a secluded scene in the woods, playing a violin, which proved to me much more illogical than otherwise. While I applaud Murphy and support most of his sound endeavors (including his latest to use the data from World Series to create sounds), this seems to be too radical and possibly discomforting, while I’m all for integrating beauty and art into every aspect of urban life, it doesn’t seem like we are at the futuristic utopian point where this would be relevant, besides there’s something lovable in the trope of awful sounds in the subway system.

Here’s the video in which he discusses this project:

http://www.wsj.com/video/james-murphy-subway-sounds/67CC9E56-5F9C-4D1E-8C1F-57012B27EB74.html

D’Angelo Justifiably is the Black Messiah

Concerning our recent discussions over the political nature of rap and hip-hop, as well as its ability to communicate racial issues and concerns to the community, I would like to discuss recent examples, concerning the ways in hip-hop is addressing civil rights issues raised out of tragic events in Ferguson, New York and in cities across the country. At the end of a fairly uneventful year in music releases, the soulful yet mysterious phenom, D’Angelo, dropped a crucial album, Black Messiah. After the surprise release, within days of even announcing the albums existence, it was revealed that D’Angelo had rushed production on the album, spending sleepless nights preparing it for release in the year 2014, in wake of the tragedies seen in the black community across the country and the protest which ensued. D’Angelo, living his reclusive lifestyle (keep in mind this is his first album in 14 years), has not spoken publicly on the issue only stating that “the one way I do speak out is through music,” and that he felt the need “to speak out.” In this way not only can we attribute the assertions from Rose’s “Prophets of Rage” as showing how hip-hop plays a critical role in the black community’s communication of issues regarding authority in the states but also the ways in which Attali describes music as being a mirror for cultural activities, music is meant to lyricize emotions so deeply embedded in society, as to bring these ideas as a culmination on the forefront of our perception. The latter claim, can even be backed visually, as the album artwork depicts a photo of the annual Afropunk music festival, where participants raised their hands in a sign of protest of racial injustices in the world, bringing us back to the societal functions live hip-hop has to play in the community as well, serving as an opportunity to unite and inspire, having inspiring figures discuss modern events. The chorus of “The Charade” echoes the bitter truth of the state of affairs in legal court proceedings against black youths, as well as trials of their murderers, by stating that “all we wanted was a chance to talk, instead we all got outlined in chalk.” D’Angelo performed this song on Saturday Night Live last night accompanied by his band wearing shirts with the neo-Civil Rights movement mantras, “I Can’t Breathe”, regarding the lethal and illegal chokehold by a New York Police Officer on Eric Garner, and “Black Lives Matter”. Standing over a chalk outline of a body, a band brandishing neo-Civil Rights based attire and presenting gestures of the Civil Rights  Movements, such as the fist showing solidarity. D’Angelo may present a more passively poetic take on authoritative injustices but still registers the same political force as seen in the era of early 90s hip-hop.

WATCH his performance here: http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/saturday-night-live-jk-simmonsdangelo-214632

 

2015 In Review (So Far): Songs that Set the Pace for the Year

Stunning as it is, we’re three weeks into the year to the day and I’m already drowning in music releases. I’m pretty confident that 2015 will be the best year in music since 2013, which doesn’t seem like it but I find that to be a huge statement. 2013 was a week after week onslaught of music so incredible that I’m still catching up on as I rattle away on this keyboard. I’d like to keep this fairly simple and just highlight a few of 2015’s releases thus far that I think will be key down the road, and how the fairly uneventful release year of 2014 showed a few trends that will be highlighted this year with some highly anticipated releases. (more…)