All Ears

New Music: DJ Josey Rebelle tells a rarely celebrated story

Josey Rebelle. Photo by Lou Jasmine

DJ Josey Rebelle, a Black woman born in the North London neighborhood of Tottenham where she still lives today, uses her records to speak to, not at, Black electronic music culture on both sides of the Atlantic. She’s from a generation of kids who grew up on estates (the equivalent of the projects in the US) building sound systems, attending raves, and loving the jungle genre, and this era shows through in her selections. Her reputation took off into legend through sets at the legendary Shoreditch basement club Plastic People.

Now Rebelle’s one of Britain’s most esteemed DJs—her BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix was voted the best of 2019 by listeners—and her style embodies the yin and yang of Afrofuturism. Championing Jamaica-derived soundsystem culture and UK warehouse raves, her connectivity to those roots goes beyond personal. That affection gets conveyed when she’s dealing out: broadcasting the nasty sped-up blues of marginalized folks. Between radio and club DJing, she tells a rarely celebrated story.

“It wasn’t even about mixing, it was about hearing music. Someone could mix gospel into techno and it would make sense. That’s what being a ‘selector’ is really about” she told DJ Mag in February, about how it felt to embrace music in a space with like-minded folk, coming from all different backgrounds.

“Being around people like that at Plastic People was really important to me because straight away I could see myself in it. I realized I could play it all.”

Josey in Space, her 20-song, one-hour compilation—the second installment of the Beats in Space curated mix series—celebrates US house and techno history along with UK soulful bass, breaks, and beyond.

From jump, she establishes that transitions will be what they need to be, in order to serve the moment.
Home cooking. Amplified. She could be putting this together in her living room, or deep in the dark of her residency at the Pickle Factory in Hackney where her marathon kitchen-sink sets, often sell out.

Allowing “Dub” by DJ Marcelle, the first song in, to just disintegrate like ash, casually frittering away into the walking-on-the-moon dub-electronic blues of “What’s The Plan” by rRoxymore, is a genius unforced execution. As for the selections? All encoded communication pieces tied together by peaks and valleys in the mix. Not cookie-cutter, publicity pushed, hot joints that fizzle out after a month being released.

Photo by Lou Jasmine

Nope. We get proof of this later on from serious bass-bin drone on the minimal breaks warbler “Sunrise 777” by Nubian Mindz circa 2000, stepped-up bleary-eyed gold in “Glitch Bitch” from Loraine James, which parlays directly into the great hang and balmy gusher, “Route II Romeos” by Shy One. Rebelle is weaving through history and culture by way of those crates.

There’s a tricky R&B dripped rework of Uschi Classen and Robert Owens’ “Only in Your Eyes” from 2002 by Nwachukwu that just glides like vintage Jordan, never hitting the ground. Owens’s voice, forever angelic, with the ultra-fine broken-beat strain gives way to the metropolitan glow of 2001’s tech-house classic “Avenues” by Ohio’s Titonton Duvante. He puts that thriftstore-bought keyboard and drum machine through their paces, resulting in the 19-year-old track hitting stronger than any whitewashed blog-house rip off ever could.

“Been rinsing Fotomachine’s ‘BBoy’ in my sets for a couple of months now,” Rebelle stated in a March 17 social media post, prefacing an emotional center of the mix. The track is an overflowing mood—optimism and elation by way of expansive synths, acid basslines, bubble gum keyboard play, and tripped up breakbeats—that sees Rebelle bubble-wrap The Culture, place it on spaceships and keep it pushing, seeking refuge in the nebula. By letting the entire cut run on the mix, those subtle acknowledgments towards Derrick May, gently asking listeners ‘what do you know about Deeeeetroit’—these textures cut through patios and colloquiums. Shooting retro-future hope into the collective psyche.

Unlike top-flight presenters on other DJ series, who dart through 29 tracks in 60 minutes, applying a bullet train mentality to your earbuds, flossing “here are my tricks” aesthetics, Rebelle wants you to absorb it all. Letting the records go a bit longer in the mix-a smattering of house, techno, breaks, jazz, soul, and related electronic music-get to properly enunciate their blues.

“Josey urges you to listen closely to the story, to feel the energetic shifts in style, sound, speed, mix; up, down, rough and smooth,” the liner notes correctly outline. By letting those pieces of vinyl speak their talk, this medley of polyrhythms and frequencies, causing sheer rave euphoria in some glorious stretches, forms one global electronic sound, borne out of the African diaspora.

In Chuck Johnson’s ambient ‘Rain Shadow,’ a sound of high desert ecology

Chuck Johnson

Oakland-based guitarist Chuck Johnson was never in the same room as his collaborators, the Portland duo Golden Retriever, during the making of their new album Rain Shadow. Given how fluidly the sounds on the record weave and snake around each other, this fact is nothing short of inspirational. It’s a guidebook on how to make a great ambient album during quarantine.

But Rain Shadow and its trans-West Coast recording process predate the coronavirus pandemic by almost two years. The longtime friends and frequent tourmates began recording in summer 2018, and had the record finished and mixed by summer of last year. Though they went in with no real concept, they eventually settled on a “high-desert ecology” theme, represented by a marvelous stone-golem cover courtesy of Portland artist Blair Saxon-Hill.

Johnson plays pedal steel guitar, an instrument he’s been exploring more and more on recent records after making his name with acoustic guitar instrumentals inspired by John Fahey’s American Primitive style. Golden Retriever performed on their usual instruments: Jonathan Sielaff on bass clarinet, Matt Carlson on synth. The artists took turns both starting and mixing the tracks on Rain Shadow, with the mixer usually being the one to decide when a track was finished.

We caught up with Johnson to ask a few questions about Rain Shadow, the process of working remotely, and the West Coast landscapes that inspired the record’s title and artwork.

48 HILLS Why did you decide to record the album remotely versus in person?

CHUCK JOHNSON It just made sense to each of us. Jonathan and Matt were working from their own individual studios, rather than together which is how they usually work. We sort of formed a trio instead of Golden Retriever doing their thing and me adding to that. So it just made sense for us to pass around the tracks and add our own parts as individuals.

48H How did the tracks come together?

CJ There’s four tracks, and I can’t remember who started which one. The pieces I started were mostly loops of the pedal steel. I would send that to them, and whichever one wanted to respond first would record their take. Then whoever was third had both of those tracks to play around with.

It ended up that a lot of the composition happened in the mixing. The person who did the mixing wasn’t just setting the levels on each individual’s part. They also did quite bit of editing those basic tracks into forms and structures. There are a lot of passages where we’re responding to each other, almost like improvisation, but the overall forms were very much put together in the studio after the fact.

Golden Retriever

48H How did the “high desert” theme develop?

CJ We started off responding to sounds, so there wasn’t that much of a concept going in. But these tracks took on these really long forms, so they were kind of like monolithic slabs. Then that imagery started to come to mind. High desert tends to have a lot of vegetation and flora and fauna. There’s high desert ecology where [Golden Retriever is] in Oregon as well as in California. So it’s a landscape that we’re familiar with, and it’s easy to put names and images to the music within that framework.

48H Is this your first time making a record remotely?

CJ I would say it is. I’ve done things where people ask me to play on a track on their record, which it just makes sense for me to do from my studio anyway. I played on Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s record [Tracing Back the Radiance] from the last few months, and I played on Andrew Tuttle’s record [Alexandra] that just came out on Room40.

Marielle [V. Jakobsons, who records with Johnson as Saariselka] and I, even though we live in the same house, we kind of work the same way. She would add her part in her studio, and then I would add my part in my studio and then we would mix together. We were in the same house and we could give each other very quick feedback, but we weren’t playing tracks in the studio at the same time.

48H Did you have any plans to perform this material before the live industry shut down?

CJ Yeah, we had shows set up in the Northwest this July. We had a show in Seattle and one in Portland. It was going to be Golden Retriever, then Saariselka, then a collaborative set. But I don’t know to what degree would we would’ve followed the forms as they are on the record. It would be more of a live improvisation. Those shows were postponed to the fall. Hopefully they’ll actually happen, but who knows.

Out of the crate: 6 vinyl re-issues that are pretty damn dope

Before everybody got stuck in the house with their family—spouses, housemates, cats, dogs, hamsters, and rando dude on couch—and became thankful for all the weird food at hand and way-way back of the pantry treats (marinated artichokes and croutons: It’s now a thing), well, we were beholden to the digital. In those BC before COVID times, online music platforms ruled our daily lives. From the commute on, due to lack of time, we were at their behest.

In March the planet slowed down. Animals started wandering down deserted streets, all over the world, proclaiming in their squeals and barks, “Damn howʻd yʻall humans fuck it up this time.” Everybody, reclaiming their fever dream memories of being a chef (when actually it was more like a fry cook for two) put on a good 15lbs, perfecting that homemade wings recipe.

It became clear. Again. Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Itunes, Google Play, and all the digital oligarchs NEVER will present music as sumptuous as vinyl. Sure their sound is created for an interactive listening experience. But it’s the physical media experience that uses all the advantages of paused time. Trip and take in that artwork. Study the musicians. Meditate on the producers, engineers, lyricists. Whipser with that whisk of the needle. As anyone who writes about music will tell you (AHEM) liner notes are a gift from on high.

So here are some vinyl reissues to bring you closer to your new best friend, the turntable. Wanna pass me those wings first?

KLEEER, INTIMATE CONNECTION (Real Gone Music)
Kleeer was a New York-based funk band that placed a dozen singles on the Billboard R&B chart from 1979 through 1985. (Their “Tonight” formed the basis of 2Pac’s 1995 smash “California Love.”) The outfit went through several incarnations: A funk and disco act called The Jam Band, a hard rock ensemble named Pipeline, and then back to a studio disco band as the highly collectible Universal Robot Band, under the legendary Greg Carmichael-Patrick Adams-Leroy Burgess production team. After all that, they struck out on their own as Kleeer in 1979, recording a half-dozen well-regarded albums for Atlantic. Intimate Connection from 1984 strings together synth programming by Eumir Deodato, working lockstep alongside drum programming to set your daily commute by. That low-end rumble, working simpatico with that Members Only jacket and Casio G-Shock watch, sets up that Stranger Things-type prism. More info here.

FANNY, FANNY (Real Gone Music)
Founded by Ol’ Blue Eyes originally, Reprise Records in the ’70s built a fortress of progressive artists who didn’t take any shit. Frank Zappa, Richard Pryor, The Meters, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young—these were the punk agitators before punk was actually a genre. Feel me?

The 1970 début album on that label by Fanny was seen at the time as a publicity stunt. For the first time at this level of attention, a group of women—sisters June and Jean Millington, Alice De Bohr, and Nickey Barclay—wrote and sang their own songs, played their own instruments and, perhaps most importantly, rocked it beyond a doubt, just as hard as any male band out there. Cause they had to.

And, as the first all-female band signed to a major label these four women became perhaps LA’s biggest ‘buzz band,’ landing repeated bookings at the Whisky-a-Go-Go with a who’s who of rock’s glitterati in attendance. Cited as heroes by the likes of Joan Jett and Courtney Love, Fanny does NOT sound like a tryout. Oh no. With the organ testifying, funky-ass bass moves, guitars screeching, and drums pushing that double-time backbeat, these Godmothers of Chick Rock are bringing the damn revolution. More info here.

THE ELECTRIC PRUNES, RELEASE OF AN OATH (Real Gone Music)
During a rare live performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2004, the composer David Axelrod remarked that he had paid for the night’s 26-piece orchestra with the royalties from Dr. Dre’s The Next Episode, which repurposed his 1967 track “The Edge.” The Electric Prunes made four fantastic albums for the Reprise label in the space of two years. 1968’s Release of an Oath saw Axelrod break up the original band as a producer. Lining up his hired guns, aka The Wrecking Crew, in the persons of guitarists Howard Roberts and Lou Morrell, bassist Carol Kaye, keyboardist Don Randi, and drummer Earl Palmer. His stately command of fusing rock, jazz, funk, and orchestral music—a touch he crafted for soul singer Lou Rawls and jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley—makes this version of the Prunes sound ultramodern and vanguard all at once. But hey, don’t go by me. Trust Dr. Dre. More info here.

52ND STREET, “LOOK INTO MY EYES/EXPRESS” (Be With Records)
When Manchester-based Factory Records decided to sign their first soul act, 52nd Street in 1982, it paid incalculable dividends. The band of Tony Henry on guitar and vocals, bass player Derek Johnson, drummer Tony Thompson, lead vocalist Beverley McDonald and John Dennison on keyboards were put in the studio with A Certain Ratio drummer Donald Johnson producing the sessions—and a certain Bernard Sumner, founder of Joy Division and New Order, on additional keys. As a result, the boogie friendly ‘Look Into My Eyes’ with brit funk bass accents and the disco-jazz scatter frenzy of ‘Express’ that sees a Fender Rhodes worked until oblivion, gave this trailblazing indie-label depth and much-needed color. The tracks would go on to be evangelized as staples in Frankie Knuckles DJ sets.

As Tony Henry, founder of Factory records lays out, the collaboration left an impact on Sumner. Refer to “Blue Monday” by New Order in ’86 as proof. “This worked out quite well for us in the band but even better for New Order and Factory Records, as Sumner studied grooves, rhythms, and how to write and construct funk and dance music from 52nd Street and producer Donald Johnson.” More info here.

OLIVER NELSON, SKULL SESSION (Tidal Waves)
After you assure yourself no micro-dosing took place in your house today, gaze upon the cover art for ‘Skull Session’ by Oliver Nelson—knowing some type of acid-fried mischievousness will be emanating from that turned-on cranium. The titular lead single of this 1975 work worms along, combining big band jazz moves with elements of rock, electrified funk (with the Moog & ARP), and whatever else happened to be in the studio. No matter the genre, Nelson’s exacting touch for arrangements remains locked-on. From swing band jazz, bossa nova, and shiny disco arrangements, Nelson shines with an encyclopedic approach to jazz, showcasing the origins and pointing to where it should go. It’s a beast of a record. More info here.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, PACIFIC BREEZE 2: JAPANESE CITY POP, AOR & BOOGIE 1972-1986 (Light in the Attic)
Artists like Benny Sings and DJ anu have recently evangelized the sound of the 1980’s bubble-era of East Asian music, a combo of ease and wonder. Japanese City Pop, a blurry genre consisting of an “amalgam of AOR, R&B, jazz fusion, funk, boogie, and disco,” keeps a soft-focus laissez-faire attitude at a chug-a-lug stride.

With Pacific Breeze 2: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1972-1986, Light In The Attic unearths more hard to find tracks that build up the genre. Again, this is the first time they have been officially released outside of their home country. From the proto-City Pop funk of Bread & Butter and Eiichi Ohtaki to the crate-digger favorites Eri Ohno and Piper, that pastel cover artwork gets well-represented with emblazoned “Miami Vice”-type flourishes. That’s right. Those synths get a Jane Fonda aerobic workout on “Vibration(Love Celebration) by Kimiko Kasai. These artists and songs gained popularity in recent years thanks to Vaporwave, the meme-genre that heavily samples Japanese City Pop to create its particular aesthetic. Thanks, YouTube. More info here.

Rediscovering the fantastic music of Akiko Yano

Few forms of exhilaration quite match that of discovering a vital artist who is in fact deep within their story, having created a rich and varied body of work for many decades. So it is for me with Akiko Yano.

Over the past year or so, the gem specialist label WeWantSounds has reissued four albums from early in Yano’s career: her groovy, rangy, flowing, trailblazing, and genre-crossing trans-national 1976 debut Japanese Girl; 1977’s psychedelic, chill, colorful, relaxedly assured, slinky and funky Iroha Ni Konpeitu; the sleek, zestful, dynamic, and joyous synth-propelled 14-course 1980 epic audio banquet Gohan Ga Dekitayo (my favorite); and 1981’s playful, percolating, twisty, exploratory, by turns quiet and frenzied but always downright masterful Tadaima. Another deluxe vinyl release is in the works.

The overly easy English-speaking line on Yano’s music is that she’s the Japanese Kate Bush, but that comparison shortchanges the incredible style variety of her music to date, and the sheer volume of her output. Also, much as I admire the woman behind Hounds of Love, her eccentric genius has often arrived in the wake of Yano’s, whether it be the way the aggressive percussion of Yano’s track “Rose Garden” foreshadows the rhythmic ingenuity of Bush’s The Dreaming, how Yano’s at times quirkily animalistic approach to vocals precedes Bush’s, Yano’s use of a song-suite format, or even the funny detail that Yano posed in a red jumpsuit with an inflatable dolphin—hoisting it above her shoulders—before Bush was photographed wearing the same color and riding one.

Forty-four years since she first began releasing music, Yano is still a vital artist producing a wide range of sounds. In the 21st century’s teen years alone, she has performed breathtaking jazz piano recitals of her work to date while also recording of-the-moment digital electronic albums with new young artists such as Seiho and Tofubeats. One example is 2015’s album Welcome to Jupiter, and another is the manically elated 2014 video below this paragraph:

I caught up with Yano via phone amid the current COVID lockdown climate, and she was inquisitive about the shelter in place distinctions between San Francisco and New York (“No barbershops and salons?”) before laughing and observing, “A lot of people are having these issues. We’re in the same boat.”

48 HILLS Could you tell me a little bit about being drawn to the piano at such a young age? I wondered also how you’ve felt your relationship to the instrument has changed over time.

AKIKO YANO Oh, good question. I started to play piano at the age of three and ever since then, I’ve never, ever had a bitter feeling to my piano. The piano has been my friend—probably the best friend. I always feel easy and comfortable with it. The best parts haven’t changed a bit.

48 HILLS What was it like to drop out of school and move to Tokyo to become a musician? Did you have your family’s support?

AKIKO YANO I was raised in Aomori in the northern part of Japan. Going to high school in Tokyo, I did that with my grandparents. My parents have always been supportive. They know me very well, and knew that music, making music, was the only thing their daughter could do. Whatever I asked for, like funding, they always sent me money.

In order to get into the musical scene in Tokyo, I had to give up the high school education, and my parents didn’t oppose.

48 HILLS With Japanese Girl, what was it like to work with Little Feat, and to take charge of a group of musicians on your first solo album? Were there specific challenges?

AKIKO YANO I was young, in my twenties, and I’d never been in America, and I didn’t speak English at all. But playing with Little Feat was natural. That shows how young I was. It worked. They were so generous to play with this girl from Tokyo out of nowhere. But when we started to play together, everything united. Everybody felt good.

48 HILLS With your second album Iroha Ni Konpeitu, of course I have to ask about the cover. You were inspired by an Issey Miyake commercial? Did you put together the cover photo with the outfit and the dolphin? On Twitter, I even saw that there was a fan who recreated it.

AKIKO YANO [Laughs] I saw that — that was good. The cover photo was the designer’s idea, and I thought it was pretty cool. Back then, the designer Issey Miyake and the photographer Bishin Jumonji, they were like a team, they worked together.

48 HILLS You produced the record on your own. Did that feel like a major step?

AKIKO YANO Well, I produced much of the first record with my then-husband [Makoto Yano]. By this time it was only natural that I do it. It was sort of effortless. I was still young.

48 HILLS You have such excellence in so many different genres—piano-based pop, synth pop and rock, funk, more recital-based piano, jazz. When you sit down to write, do you have a clear idea from the beginning genre-wise about what’s going to happen with a song?

AKIKO YANO Good question. Once I start writing, the whole sound of the work, the idea of the arrangements and which instruments I will use, or what kind of beat the song needs, it automatically comes with the composition. Of course, it depends on what kind of music I am [working] in at the time.

48 HILLS Do you have favorite synths? I know you’ve worked with the Fender Rhodes and the Moog over time, and now digital programming. 

Akiko Yano. Photo: Midi Inc.

AKIKO YANO To be honest with you, I was into operating the machines, or the gears [of the] keyboards when the time was analog. The digital age—I’m not crazy about that. I still can do it, but it’s better to have someone who knows better than me, and to work with him or her is a lot faster. I’m not sure about the gear right now.

My all-time favorites are the Minimoog and the [Roland] Juno [-106].

48 HILLS You toured with Yellow Magic Orchestra and then Gohan Ga Dekitayo came out. Again, I wondered what the differences were for you in being a member of the band and taking the reins and making a solo record. For example, the version of “Tong Poo” on Gohan Ga Dekitayo is extremely different from the YMO version.

AKIKO YANO Back then [during the recording of the album], there were some members of Yellow Magic Orchestra and some guitarists. We were like a team. Sometimes I am the leader of the band and I give my composition, and the next day we do it like Yellow Magic Orchestra. There were no barriers or gaps in between. That’s the key, the quality of the musicianship. They all were, and still are, good.

48 HILLS What was the experience like of being on Soul Train with Yellow Magic Orchestra?

AKIKO YANO [Laughs] It was fun. Of course I knew the show, and I was so excited to see Don Cornelius in person.

48 HILLS He’s an icon.

AKIKO YANO We didn’t play live, it was pure fun.

48 HILLS Tadaima is a fan favorite among your albums. Is it one of your favorites, and what do you love about it?

AKIKO YANO Tadaima contains my biggest hit, “Harusaki Kobeni,” so a lot of people know the record. Of course, back then it had an A-side and B-side. On the A-side I did a lot of experiments. On the B-side, the record company didn’t like it because it was very, very personal to set the music [of the song suite “Taiyo No Onara”] to a children’s poem. It was unusual for a hit album, but I really wanted to do that back then. It contains a lot of sides of me.

48 HILLS Have you listened anew to the albums the label WeWantSounds has recently reissued, and have you heard from newer fans who are only now discovering them?

AKIKO YANO It was totally a surprise to me that someone has dug music of my past. I’d never thought about that. But once I listened back to the material, the albums are so good, and I feel so proud of them!

48 HILLS They’re fantastic.

AKIKO YANO Thank you! It’s nice to see young people be happy to hear my music for the very first time. It’s quite an experience.

48 HILLS Charlie Haden is a musician and composer I greatly admire. What was it like to work with him?

AKIKO YANO He’s kind of an icon for me too. He’s very down to earth, and yet sort of…  his vision and his thought and mind was always to make a better world. At the same time, he was the father of triplets, his daughters. Back then he had a little conflict with his wife, but he never hid his weakness. He didn’t have an attitude like, “Hey, I can do that, I’m Charlie Haden.” He had no attitude. I miss him so much.

48 HILLS What do you love about living in New York City and when did you move there?

AKIKO YANO My husband then was Ryuichi Sakamoto, and he had more work in Europe and America. He was into film music, so at first we tried to move to Los Angeles. But I really love jazz music, so I sort of manipulated him and we moved to New York. I succeeded. At the same time, he loves New York too.

48 HILLS I know you regularly play shows at Joe’s Pub in New York.

AKIKO YANO Yes. There was a cancellation of our [upcoming] show in June. That sucks.

Akiko Yano in the 1970s. Photo: Midi Inc.

48 HILLS This is sort of a curious side question, but do you know the music of Blossom Dearie?

AKIKO YANO Actually, I started to listen to her music about 10 years ago. A friend showed me her records, and I really liked them.

48 HILLS I thought of her partly in relation to some of the solo piano work you’ve done. There’s one track from a 2012 live performance on YouTube. It’s an eight-minute cover of a rock song, and I think the translation of the title is “The Wonderful Days.” 

AKIKO YANO It’s a song by the Japanese rock band Unicorn. When you listen to the original, you might not recognize it.

48 HILLS It’s utterly different. I love that performance by you. It’s a favorite.

AKIKO YANO You do? That’s my favorite too.

48 HILLS You’ve written about ramen in 1984’s “Ramen Tabetai” and of course there’s Gohan ga Dekitayo (aka Dinner’s Ready), so I want to ask about the role of food in your songwriting.

AKIKO YANO Yes [laughs]. Some people are of the same mind.

To me, food is, obviously, essential. When it comes to pop music, food is not the priority, it’s always love and sex. But in a dire situation you don’t need to love somebody—if you don’t eat, you die. From that point of view, food and eating are more essential than being in love.

48 HILLS The next WeWantSounds release is likely to be Ai Ga Nakucha Ne. Did you have favorite recordings by Japan and David Sylvian, and what was it like to record that album?

AKIKO YANO It’s a unique record sound-wise. The group Japan was really unique. They were good boys. Also, David, I’d thought he was not reachable or approachable, but when you talk with him, he’s down to earth. Back then he and Ryuichi Sakamoto were very close. We didn’t have any problem to play together.

48 HILLS Later, on the 1986 synth pop album Touge no Wagaya, you have a song titled “David.” 

AKIKO YANO Actually, there’s no relation. Basically it’s a song about King David in the Bible. When you read in the Bible about the experiences that King David had, it’s so interesting and action-packed, it’s like a movie. I liked his personality, so I made a song.

48 HILLS What do you love about jazz as a genre of music?

AKIKO YANO As a matter of fact, playing whatever I want [that’s] not in the chart, improvisational, that was my music since I was three years old. I always play improvisation.

48 HILLS I can hear that within your pop structures.

AKIKO YANO To listen to or play jazz is maybe the most comfortable to me.

48 HILLS You’ve recently put out a new album, Asteroid and Butterfly. It’s another departure.

AKIKO YANO Currently I am in a project of Hiromitsu Agatsuma and he’s an amazing Tsugaru-jamisen player, and we made an album together. I think this is music you’ve never heard. It’s based on the minyō, Japanese folklore songs, but when we play together it’s totally different. This is the path I’d like to go down deeper. We were supposed to tour with this project in June, but unfortunately it was all canceled.

48 HILLS Do you still play music every day, is it like a practice for you, or do you sometimes take a break from it?

AKIKO YANO I try to practice every day, whether it’s 20 or 30 minutes. It’s muscle memory. If you don’t play it, you see it. It’s like being an athlete.

48 HILLS Is that where the writing comes from, or is it separate?

AKIKO YANO Writing is a more artistic thing, a very unique time and unique reason—and unique passion.

Streaming for Shorter: Epic all-star benefit for jazz great comes online

Wayne Shorter. Photo by Robert Ascroft

In the 25-year stretch from 1977-2002, saxophonist Wayne Shorter—described by The New York Times as “probably jazz’s greatest living small-group composer and a contender for the greatest living improviser”—appeared on 10 Joni Mitchell albums and solo on Steely Dan’s Aja, all the while upholding his incredible progressive jazz legacy, one of the most storied the business. Shorter and Austrian-born keyboardist Joe Zawinul, both graduates of Miles Davis’s electronic bands, co-founded Weather Report to further explore the amalgam of rock and jazz.

Heavy Weather, their popular magnum opus album, backed-up with the animated force of bassist Jaco Pastorius, captured all the best looks fusion could ultimately be. The searing Afro-Cuban rhythms in  “Palladium,” with smashed-right acoustic-electronic jazz melodies riding on top, made this triple-headed beast of a tune sound both conventional and academic, zigzagging with a swing for almost five minutes. The modern and contemporary intermixture remains a common theme in jazz even today.

Scheduled to perform with his quartet over three nights at SFJAZZ’s Miner Auditorium in January of 2019, Shorter took ill, which led to the performance being scratched. A new plan cam about, masterminded by piano legend and Wayne’s best friend Herbie Hancock: a tribute and benefit for Wayne’s medical expenses, with an all-star roster of jazz greats and musical “family” that included Herbie, Terence Blanchard, Kamasi  Washington, Terrace Martin, Branford Marsalis, assembled over three nights to perform classic compositions by the 11-time GRAMMY winner, 1998 NEA Jazz Master, and 2018 Kennedy Center Honoree.

Different lineups of musicians performed each night, all anchored by Wayne’s longtime quartet members: pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade. Each of these concerts will be broadcast for the first time during this exclusive Fridays At Five three-part series at SFJAZZ.org.

The new weekly online membership program launched in the face of the COVID crisis to support SFJAZZ’s ongoing operations and artists in anticipation of reopening. The program is supported by a
$5 monthly/$60 yearly membership. Direct support of artists is provided via a “tip jar” that is available prior, during, and after the broadcast that is split 50/50 between artist and SFJAZZ. For these four concerts, 100% of the “tip jar” proceeds will go to Wayne Shorter for needed medical expenses.

Broadcast dates:
Friday, May 22 | 5 PM w/ Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin
Friday, June 26 | 5 PM w/ Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, Terrace Martin
Friday, July 31 | 5 PM w/ Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard

The first performance, this Fri/22 features tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington and saxophonist-keyboardist Terrace Martin, two of the leading figures on the explosive Los Angeles scene, exploring modern and contemporary takes on jazz through hip-hop and electronic music, loosely grouped as the West Coast Get Down collective.

A young veteran of work with Gerald Wilson, George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Flying Lotus, and Chaka Khan, Washington made an impactful statement with his aptly named 2015 3-CD Brainfeeder Records debut The Epic, which earned Best of Year accolades from the hip-hop, pop and jazz press, Album of the Year in the DownBeat Critics Poll, and a worldwide audience as one of the most notable crossover jazz artists in decades. His follow-up, Heaven and Earth, was released in 2018.

Along with Washington, Martin is one of the prime movers behind hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar’s multiple GRAMMY-winning 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly. Described by Okayplayer as “the new age Quincy Jones,” Martin has worked extensively as producer and performer and released six full-length albums. Most recently, Martin released They Call Me Disco, a six-song collaborative EP with Chicago Emcee Ric Wilson, and has been part of Herbie Hancock’s working band, producing his upcoming album.

Vetiver perform 5/21 in support of the Chapel via Noise Pop’s No Place Like Home online show series

NOISE POP NO PLACE LIKE HOME
In other music streaming benefit news: Noise Pop continues its free live-streaming series, aptly titled “No Place Like Home” this week. It’s a virtual benefit for the Bay Area independent live music community, and the headlining performers throughout include some longtime favorites. Tune in Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-8 pm to catch sets, conversation, and other hijinks from local artists highlighting a favorite local venue.

This week’s performers are Josiah Johnson and Lauren O’Connell on 5/19 in partnership with Starline Social Club. Then on 5/21 Fruit Bats and Vetiver in partnership with The Chapel. The streams are free to watch and donations from each event, $20 is the suggestion, will be shared by the venue, artists, and Noise Pop.

Follow the Noise Pop event page on Facebook for upcoming shows, and watch on their Twitch and YouTube channels.

These events are being held in partnership with independent music artists and venues to raise funds for those heavily affected by COVID-19, and promote awareness of their vital cultural contributions. All funds raised will be split among the co-promoting venue, artists, and Noise Pop’s Staff Relief Fund.

His marathon rap for COVID relief broke the Guinness World Record

When George Watsky turned 33, his roommate looked him in the eye and told him it would be the best year of his life. Then coronavirus happened. 

But aside from having to cancel his tour, his 33rd year hasn’t been as bad as it could’ve been. The San Francisco-born rapper, who performs mononymously as Watsky, is roomed up in LA with his manager Jeff O’Neill and his girlfriend Amber Giles, who records as Mija and produces some of his beats. 

And he’s just set a Guinness Book of World Records-verified world record for the longest continuous rap performance after freestyling for no less than 33 hours, 33 minutes, and 33 seconds.

It’s more than seven hours longer than the previous official record, a 26-hour marathon by Pablo Alvarez of LA group Good Bison, and two hours longer than a January attempt by Philadephia rapper Frzy that wasn’t officially verified by Guinness.

“I know at some point someone will break this record,” says Watsky. “I wanted to give the attempt personal meaning that could never be taken away from me.” The 33-hour, 33-minute, 33-second duration reflects both his age and his interest in the number three, which he calls “the number of storytelling—beginnings, middles and ends.”

The videos are alternately inspiring and exhausting. Decked in Giants swag, untamed quarantine locks barely held back by a black beanie, the rapper freestyles with either enthusiasm or puppet-like limpness depending on which hour you tune into (it varies wildly). Fans who donated to Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, a charity benefitting musicians affected by COVID, got a shout-out in song; the effort raised $147,000.

Per Guinness regulations, the rapper could take one five-minute break per hour. He chose to consolidate that time into two longer breaks, which he used to eat and shower.

“We didn’t want to just set the record, we wanted to do it by putting on a good show,” he says. “I thought it would be a lot cooler if I really was rapping uninterrupted for as long as possible. That’s what I would’ve wanted to see. So my goal was to go in well-prepared and relaxed, and rap without taking a break until I absolutely had to.”

Watsky. Photo by Mike Squires

The preparation took nearly as long as the freestyle itself. “I tried to get two really good nights of sleep beforehand. On the day of the attempt I got to bed at midnight, woke up at eight, took a nice shower, stretched, had a big breakfast, and there was some… digestive preparation…”

When the rapper needed to use the restroom, he simply clipped a microphone to his shirt and kept on rapping in the can. There were a few moments during the marathon where his voice, adorned with slightly more reverb and accompanied by a faint trickle, was the only sign of him on the livestream. 

Aside from the physical demands of staying awake for such an ungodly amount of time, the marathon was risky to Watsky’s health for another reason: he has epilepsy, and a seizure was a strong likelihood throughout the ordeal.  

“The most difficult hours were the ones right before the final hour,” he says. “A seizure in front of the whole Internet was not the punctuation mark I wanted to put on a super-successful marathon. In some of those late moments, I thought if I went any further downhill I might have to pull the plug before my personal goal.”

Yet he persevered, and he describes the final hour as the most satisfying. Some of his best rapping can be found as the clock counts down its final minutes, and joy and relief come through more strongly than fatigue. “When I caught my final wind and I knew I was home free, it was just a joyous experience.”

Watsky has the benefit of working in hip-hop, perhaps the most uncomplicated genre of music to make during quarantine constraints; rather than hiring a band or booking a studio, all you really need to do to make a great song is pull up a folder of beats and drop a verse. He’s staying productive, with a planned trilogy (threes again) of nine-song albums in the wings. And with literal days of raw material to work with, he’ll have no shortage of inspiration.

“In 33 hours I pretty much rapped an autobiography,” he says. “But I think what I will really take from this going forward is emotional energy. I really learned a lot about myself and about how to tap into joy, positive energy, draw reserves of strength from your friends and community.”

Yet his most vivid memory from all of this? “Peeing with a microphone pinned to my shirt.”

New Music: From Roy Ayers, vibes sovereign, a lost 1977 jam

Roy Ayers

While it’s proper to acknowledge the current global ballyhoo of a Tik-Tok (if you will) generation of acolytes newfound obsession in jazz, let’s be clear. This is not the first time a hybrid of America’s classical music, with contemporary accents, snuck up into the cultural zeitgeist.

Once Miles Davis, back in the day, understood that playing a stadium gig, filled with longhaired youths, financially beat out a week’s worth of gigs in a dusty jazz club repeat playing Kind of Blue every damn night, he changed his band, clothes, and the music. Again. Upon receiving the check for his 1969 landmark fusion album ‘Bitches Brew”—a career lane-changer melding electric acid rock textures with deep pocket funk, which sold more copies than any other jazz album in history at that time—he remarked with a smile, “I feel like a thief.”

Roy Ayers, the LA-raised vibes sovereign, who was bestowed with a set of mallets by the foremost master of the instrument Lionel Hampton at age five, has constructed several mini-career lane changes by pushing the edges of jazz forward since the ’70s. Forming the group Ubiquity, which literally means the fact of being everywhere, allowed him to pursue all the connections that jazz has to soul, R&B, funk, and disco. Connectivity that later in the ’90s would give him proper credit as being the godfather of neo-soul, house, acid-jazz, and a canon that provided the building sample blocks for the boom-bap era of hip-hop.

“Running Away” the breakout disco hit from his 1977 album Lifeline, an unrelenting danceable intermixture of jazz and funk, by Roy Ayers Ubiquity, fueled the record peaking on the Billboard 200 album chart at No. 77. Ayers’s third-highest showing on there to date, behind 1976’s “Everybody Loves The Sunshine,” which peaked at No. 51, and 1978’s “Let’s Do It,” which hit No. 33. Notably, Lifeline lasted the longest of any of his albums on the Billboard 200, ultimately enjoying a twenty-five-week run.

Loaded with multi-vocal conversations in flight, Ayers vibraphone work hustling in a 4/4 tempo, muted organ phrasing, and percussive attack enhanced by guitar picking, “Running Away” was and still is a bombastic, gallant groove. Dapped-up by the younger generations—Ayers’ discography has served as an extensive sample source for numerous artists including N.W.A. and Kendrick Lamar—”Running Away” eventually garnered hits for A Tribe Called Quest, Common, and Big Daddy Kane by way of sampling.

Discovered among the 1977 acclaimed Roy Ayers “Virgin Ubiquity” studio session tapes is a rich jazz reminder: “Reaching The Highest Pleasure,” a previously unreleased gem capturing Ayers and his band perfecting a straight-ahead jazz moment. Clocking in just under six minutes, it allows Ayers to feature those mallets at a refined pace. Floating in one stretch, and tingling in another, without a second of dance floor scheming. Following a steadfast bassline and methodical pattern circling in, the studious moment references earlier works, prior to the bankability of disco.

A Soccer Mommy top 10: counting down the bedroom indie phenom

Soccer Mommy. Photo by Parri Thomas for The Line of Best Fit

Johnny Ray Huston offers a chronological—and with her latest release Color Theory, chromatic—guide to Nashville singer-songwriter Soccer Mommy‘s releases, from Bandcamp self-expression to the majors.

1. Songs for the Recently Sad, 2015
The bedroom is a private space, where dreams form, and sometimes, where they become real. Certainly this is true in the realm of rock music, and more specifically indie rock —there, the bedroom is a workspace, where lo-fi recordings take form and become real, soundtracking the mind of a listener who may or may not be in a bedroom herself. So it is with the Bandcamp-set wise juvenilia of Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy. Clocking in at a perfect 18 minutes, the teenage tracks of tears that make up Songs for the Recently Sad evoke K Records releases and Liz Phair’s Girly Sound cassettes in their unadorned purity. From the get-go, 17-year-old Allison has a kinship with special moments from the ‘90s, and a flair for male portraiture. The opening track “Jacob” is one such snapshot, with an active desire less crude than Phair’s and more attuned to boyish beauty.

 

2. Songs From My Bedroom, 2015
The technique is rudimentary in comparison to what’s to come, but a fuzzed-out highlight here is “Molly Ringwald,” with its subtly seething observation “Lovely, she looks straight out the movies with her red hair/Like the girl they loved back in the ‘80s/I wish she would go back there.” It performs a trick similar to Bikini Kill’s “Tony Randall,” making pop culture serve a first-person story of frustrated female desire.

3. Songs From My Bedroom Pt. 2, 2016
Allison has a facility for striking intro lines, and the one in “You Won’t Leave” is no exception. “He only loves you when he’s high,” she observes to a friend who’s settling for some boy’s scraps. The sound is still shambling, the production near nonexistent, but the first of several musical shifts forward is on the horizon.

4. For Young Hearts, 2016
First, the arresting cover photo: Allison looks just like a young Dana Scully. (She’s a fan of The X-Files.). Here, her writerly talent for bringing hard-to-reach wild boys up close is in full effect — you can taste their lips and see the confused looks in their eyes. She also deploys evocative motifs: A dad’s baseball cap shows up in two songs, while the title “Skinned Knees” is one example of bloody knee-and-knuckle imagery that has dotted her lyrics from her earliest recordings through today.

The album slowly builds to a stellar three-song finale. On “Blood Honey,” where she effortlessly uses palpable in a rhyme, Allison is a seductress pulling the floor out from under a tricky guy. “Grown” is perhaps the darkest and most vivid male portrait of her career to date — like watching someone fall apart in slow motion from the corner of an eye. “Everybody’s asking about my future plans/I’m still trying to get into your pants,” Allison admits at one point, but there’s genuine heartbreak in her rendering of a boy who —dodging beers and fears, leaving parties early alone — robs himself of teenage joy by acting old before his time. But it’s the closer, “Switzerland,” that is Soccer Mommy’s first purely sublime song. Its stark, instantly arresting lead-off admission — “I don’t even know who I am” —gives way to a sly and tender finger-picked ballad in which growing old together is the ultimate goal of coupledom. The nation in the title functions as a site of romantic fantasy and escape, but it also has real-life roots: Allison was born in Switzerland before her family relocated to Nashville, Tennessee.

5. Collection, 2017
One thing that distinguishes Soccer Mommy from the hordes of ‘90s-sounding artists is that if they existed back then they’d be just as special. Part of the reason is Allison’s unique grab bag of references —she’s equally influenced by Slowdive, Sleater-Kinney and the Dixie Chicks. Hinging on the divide between when a woman claims her agency and when she’s being selfish, the lead-off track here, “Allison,” doesn’t just evoke the songwriter’s last name, it also almost echoes the title of a well-known Slowdive track. On “Try,” there’s a bluesy back-and-forth between her voice and the main guitar lick, and a sound that reflects the nascent stage of a new band formation. “Death by Chocolate” contains hints of the high-school romance Allison will explore more assuredly in her more full-bodied studio recordings. Throughout, she hones a poeticism and set of motifs so plain, direct, honest and conversationally natural that they’re easy to miss.

6. Clean, 2018
What album contains two of the best rock singles of the 21st century’s teenage years? The answer is Clean. Beginning with an epic wide-screen intro that’s pure Slowdive and closing with a pitch drop that Dinosaur Jr. might envy, “Cool” is a bop that crams a whole lot into its three minutes. Allison observes high school coolness from just outside with a mix of awe and wry analysis, creating distant characters when her voice her isn’t dancing down the steps of the title word with intuitively catchy ease. Flipping the sentiment of “I Wanna Be Your Dog” in a Phair-like manner to a guitar riff that’s equal parts Pylon and Nirvana, “Your Dog” (as in I don’t want to be) might even be better, with Allison unspooling one effective pet metaphor after another. “Forehand kisses break my knees and leave me crawling back to you,” she sings.

 

Casually delivered animal imagery is all over the first three songs. With its hollow-bodied sound, “Still Clean” inaugurates the album’s rich banquet of guitar tones, as Allison chronicles nearly being consumed twice by a vividly rendered type: the pseudo-boyfriend who turns into a predator each summer. Not for the first time, she creates an image of a victor picking the remains of a victim out of bloody teeth. Whether she’s grazing up against glorious riffs and producer Gabe Wax’s stereo hand claps and kick drums (“Skin”), giving listeners a female version of Big Star (“Last Girl”), forlornly wanting more from love that it can give (“Flaw”), or turning to astrology as a last resort (“Scorpio Rising”), Allison takes to the recording studio like a true natural. She discovers her charisma, and the effect is exhilarating. Her voice was already there, but now she’s expressing its full potential.

PS: Something to puzzle over—the names of Soccer Mommy and Lindsay Jordan’s band Snail Mail don’t just have retro associations, they also share the same initials. In fact, both artists, generational peers, identify the sadomasochism that may be inherent in love, and fight to establish strong identities and adult autonomy in relation to it.

7. “Henry”/“I’m On Fire,” 2018
Using the studio to redo and tease out a track from For Younger Hearts, the A-side is another of Allison’s precise male portraits, this time of a guy “too gone/to open up” who drives “all the good girls bad with that evil smile of his.” The chorus summarizes the full paradox of the bad boy archetype: “He won’t ever love the way I did/But everybody’s falling hard for him.” Really, though, this 7” single might as well be “Henry”/“Bruce,” since the B-side’s cover of a Springsteen classic adds another layer to the original, diffidently different from the Chromatics’ spotlight on the creepy incestuousness of the lyric. Allison’s vocal is almost as deadpan, but it merges with her guitar to create the languor of a mid-afternoon fantasy on a hot day.

8. Color Theory, blue section, 2020
During “Wildflowers,” the final track on Clean, Allison compares a just-lost lover to “a child running for nothing.” On “Bloodstream,” the opening track of follow-up Color Theory, she remembers running through her yard as child, and hydrangeas soon bloom into the picture. The injury imagery from earlier in her songwriting returns in more traumatic form: a red river pouring from her knuckles into the sink, and ribbons running down from her bare knees. But this song goes deeper than surface wounds. “I know it’s waiting there, swimming through my bloodstream/And it’s gonna come for me,” Allison sings, identifying a theme of mental unease that runs through the album from start to finish. Yes, with the bravery of youth, the 22-year-old, by now a music biz veteran, has a made a pop record that’s overtly about severe depression and bipolar disorder.

The most flagrantly pop track is “Circle the Drain,” this time about how malaise can rear its head even during seemingly happy, normal times. Whereas “Bloodstream” evokes early Radiohead with its hard, scraping edges, here Allison is going for an Avril Lavigne glossy platinum effect, though the layer upon layer of production effects, from bubbling liquidity and fiddle-like guitar riffs to a vivid deployment of the kick drum, are too characterful in their musicianship for Billboard top 10 status. It’s no accident that Allison uses thin throat tones rather than chest vocals as her voice keens upward then crawls back inside disconsolately — the song occupies troubled head space to a degree that denies bodily concerns.

Starting raw on acoustic guitar, “Royal Screw Up” brings us back to the bedroom realm from which Allison’s songwriting began, but with greater writerly sophistication. Caught up or just plain caught in a video game, she begins as a princess waiting to be rescued by a man in armor, but after a glimpse in the mirror — another of the album’s touchstones — ends up a dragon holding herself captive. Each crushing moment at the close of one verse bleeds into the beginning of the next, and in a chilling final touch, dry applause greets her realization that inner lack of control puppeteers her miserable destiny.

The coldly appreciative audience at the end of that song turns into an oblivious, talkative one throughout the painfully personal  “Night Swimming” — Gabe Wax’s production conjures the all-too-familiar atmosphere of an acoustic performer attempting a quiet ballad as a loud crowd ignores her. This sense of futility seeps into the lyric as Allison strings together a series of rhymes. “Standing in the living room, talking at you staring at your phone/It’d a cold I’ve known,” she quietly notes at one point. It’s the second song in a row that moves from coupledom to a stark rendering of solitude.

9. Color Theory, yellow section, 2020
For a song about depression bleeding into paralyzing paranoia, “Crawling in My Skin” is deceptively lovely on the surface. Its spiraling, layered figure-eight melodies would do vintage Johnny Marr proud. But by the second time the chorus rolls around, all those lovely figure-eights have become a swarm of frantic sixteenths, crowding around the singer, growing ever more oppressive and disorienting. Jeering her. In their wake, a rhythm tick-tocks with cruel relentlessness. A tough and talented person wrote this song, with its oblique nod to the Ramones’ desire to be sedated. Oh, it’s “just” a pop song. But listen close enough and the experience is harrowing.

It’s the lead-up to Color Theory’s most ambitious track, “Yellow is the Color of Her Eyes.” Jaundice isn’t a metaphor but literal as Allison tracks degrees of pain in relation to a loved one’s encroaching death. A Slowdive influence is most apparent in the initial faraway, sky-straining guitar sound here, which gives way to a seemingly upbeat carousel of Sundays-like melody as the lyric confronts one of the album’s sub themes: lies told to one’s self. Next, Allison evokes the loneliness of an ocean view from a plane — water, often a marker of melancholy in the album’s world of words, here becomes one of mortality. About five minutes in, the song transforms a second and third time, as a solitary and lonely guitar line gives way to groaning glam rock. Utterly unsentimental, the result is a fatal reverse lullaby, sung from daughter to mother.

From this epic track, Color Theory shifts to the knowingly ephemeral and fleeting “Up the Walls,” which trips and falls upon the vast distances that remain within romantic intimacy, the ceaseless demands of love.

10. Color Theory, gray section, 2020
The Lucy of “Lucy” is short for Lucifer, an attractive black leather rebel with feathered hair leading Allison into the darkness of depression and, perhaps, addiction. The song’s sound is huge, as a spiraling, blocky riff is taunted by descending notes. Throughout, Allison’s lyric maintains a perfect cadence. She fights to reject the devil’s advances even as the guitars coil snake-like around her voice.

Performed solo, “Stain” is the closest Allison has come to the bluntness of a riot grrrl confessional. As in “Lucy,” she fights off a malevolent suitor, but this time he’s rapacious, ignoring what she has to say and exerting physical dominance. This is possibly the only Soccer Mommy song to contain the word hate.

The flowers of Clean’s last track and Color Theory’s opener return on the album closer “Gray Light.” But this time they’re shriveled, as Allison charts a sense of wonder and worry about her own mortality in relation to her mother’s. A tape effect fast-forwards or violently rewinds before a sharp and sudden ending.

Apparently Color Theory isn’t even worthy of an 8.0 rating from Pitchfork, whose reviewer criticizes the album’s three-part structure without engaging its overt subject, let alone the substantial craft of its interlocking metaphors and themes. So, as this list reaches a final number 10, I’ll come out and say it: It may nor rate a perfect score, but this is my favorite album so far this year. In fact, harnessing the full power of the band she’s assembled to face hard subject matter and forge an uncompromisingly colder sound, Allison has sharpened her vision. It’s 2020, and it’s 20/20.

New Music: Fred P invites you to ‘Enter the DanceFloor’

Fred P

Last year the Queens-born, Berlin-based House music producer Fred Peterkin (often known as Fred P) rebooted his Black Jazz Consortium alias to deliver Evolution of Light, an album heavily influenced by the music and culture of South America. On the three-record long-player, Peterkin rewired Latin and Brazilian music through his own unique lens—acute chord progressions linking modal pathways of connectedness between jazz, house, funk, and techno.

“I’m a ’70s kid, so I’m used to the album format,” he told DJ MAG in 2013. “I was a huge Isley Brothers fan and every year they would come out with a new album, so when I think of a project, it’s in album terms.” The project lined up influences as sub-genres of soul, executed with a certain feel using acoustic and electric guitars, masterful bass playing, vocal scat-singing, exquisite piano chords, and heavy kick drums in service to Brazilian jazz-funk culture bearers.

So the straightforward “Enter The Dancefloor,” Fred P’s second take through DJ Cassy’s Kwench Records imprint, gets the New York artist back to the uptempo swelter of New Jersey Garage in four heavy and unapologetically spiritual, ripe-for-these-times sanctuary darts. A direct sojourn back to the sweat equity that breeds unification. Strangers at the beginning of an evening turn into brothers and sisters in sound when those 6am light come on. Remember that?

Ever the diligent producer, Peterkin has cultivated artistry for over two decades, seeing his first release pressed up on wax in 2007. Since then, a run of quality albums, EPs, and singles under his own name, Black Jazz Consortium, and FP-Oner has fashioned his ethos into that of a globetrotting entertainer. (He’s always a sure crowded bet whenever he spins in the Bay.) Gilles Peterson booked him for 2020’s We Out Here Fest in the UK, sharing billing with Archie Shepp, Ezra Collective, and Underground Resistance. That expressive, distinguished sound—featured with reputable labels Mule Musiq, Secretsundaze, !K7 Records and Rekids, as well as his own imprints Soul People Music and Perpetual Sound—speaks that talk.

So the lead track “Enter The Dancefloor’ performs its directive. Setting the table with vocals, mellow strings being stroked, high-test kick drum, color chords, female voices gathering strength from the foot-stomping bass. Sure, come on in. “Vibes” and “Feel,” the third and fourth tracks, add-on to the night. Straight jacking in the highest form, carrying out the demands of a loopy wandering bass aided by stunting keys, lace up your trainers.

“In The Mood” tho….that delivers the cultural bang.

Peterkin designates this moment to unleash the EP’s sermon. Deftly sampling two different speakers, the late rock n roll originator Little Richard and synthesizer innovator Bob Moog, identified by contrasting cadences, who approach the philosophy of community—one from book analysis and the other from peacocking preacher training—the bulletin comes abruptly clear. Collectivism has always been and remains conjoined with The Drum. Peterkin constructs, through harmony, a world we need now.

New Music: 5 transporting mixes to get you through

Ash Lauryn, photo by Modou Jallow

An effective mix incorporates obvious and hazy ideas, all at once, put together in the most artful way. Maybe it’s for that living room yoga class for one, the weightlifting session you’ve keenly hooked up in the garage, or the new normal of daytime drinking that half of the country has adopted. You know, just to calm the nerves a bit. No judgment Holmes. We get it.

Listen, you need a soundtrack. So if you are a passionate music fan who seeks to discover new artists or somebody who likes to chase down a story through songs… We’ve selected five mixes from Bay Area DJs and global tastemakers who finely cover drum & bass, house, city pop, funky-folk trips, and multi-genre goodness. Let’s GO!

PROFESSOR BRIAN OBLIVION, “AUTUMN SKIES”
“This was meant to be a seasonal mix when I first came up with the concept, but I find myself coming back to it when it’s subtle melancholic mood fits the moment. Great for times of inner reflection, or a quiet romantic afternoon.” -Professor Brian Oblivion

Gotta love it when an artist Zags. Really buys into the notion of doing something unexpected in hopes of attaining a dissimilar set of skills. I was familiar with Professor Brian Oblivion, the San Francisco based hip-hop producer, whose beats provided tracks for Homeboy Sandman and other top-tier emcees. “Dissertation: Volume 1,” his 2015 hard-hitting funk collage of an album, captures that bump-and-grit feel over 22 boisterous moments.

But “Autumn Skies,” his all-vinyl mixtape, free on Bandcamp, sees the producer flexing a different muscle. This mostly tranquil affair, packed with oddball funk waves, global soul, ambient, jazz, and folk treasures keeps that third eye wide. From the folksy dispatch “Jenny” by Heaven & Earth to the uplifted jazz of “Would You Believe In Me” from Jon Lucien, and stoner soul classic “St. Elmo’s Fire” via Michael Franks somewhere between… POB shared some thoughts on the psyche dream-mix with us almost two years after putting it up on Bandcamp.

“It had been over a year since I heard it last and then recently on about the third or fourth day of shelter in place when my emotions were getting a bit scattered, I decided to put it on to bring myself back to a calm space. At an hour and 30 minutes, it’s a bit of a commitment but for those that have really taken the time to sit with it and listen, the response has been great. People have told me that they enjoy the mood of the mix and that it’s transported them to a different space. That, to me is the greatest compliment as it’s what I try to do as a DJ and especially when putting together a mixtape. I put an equal emphasis on song selection and mood as I do to the track order and transitions. It all comes together to paint a picture for the listener.”

“When I’m checking for mixes by other DJs, I love to hear music I’m not familiar with. I’m always looking to discover something new to me and expand my tastes. Whatever the genre, I enjoy when DJs bring music to a mix that they truly love because it is reflected in how well it comes across. I also appreciate DJs that dig a bit deeper for tunes. They don’t necessarily have to be ultra-rare, but songs that are interesting and not just obvious choices we’ve all heard before. But anytime a DJ brings personal passion to a mix you can hear it, and those are the ones I find myself going back to again and again.”

ASH LAURYN, “LIVE AT CLUB QUARANTÄNE”
Ash Lauryn’s 90 min DJ set from the Resident Advisor x Club Quarantäne 36 hour virtual party gets us back to that 3:30am sweat only certain knobtwisters can administer. The Atlanta-based, Detroit-raised multi-hyphenate, one of America’s hottest new house music dispatchers, comes from the tradition of bringing others through the door she’s walking through. “About 90 percent of the music I play is Black American music, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she told Resident Advisor in 2019.

Underground & Black, the name of her NTS show, as well as her refreshingly honest blog on the triumphs and travails of navigating the dance music world as a Black woman, keeps folks connected as to how this once outliers’ “space” functions now on a global level.

But her mix—funky, jacking, and all about the rhythm for its entirety—not only moves in the same way as Detroiter Marcellus Pittman‘s mixes do, it illuminates the way for the next generation of DJs, carving up a dance floor with fresh takes. Live at Club Quarantäne shelters us all in that new funk.

DJ anu

anu, “IN FOCUS: TATSURO YAMASHITA”
London-based DJ and illustrator Anu Ambasna puts listeners at ease with two gleaming hours of Tatsuro Yamashita vibes. Yamashita is referred to as the “king” of City Pop—this mix appropriately comprises selections from AOR, soft rock, R&B, funk, and boogie. The City Pop genre, which peaked in popularity during the ’80s in Japan, was associated at the time with new emerging technologies, such as the Walkman, cars with built-in cassette decks and FM stereos, and various electronic musical instruments.

In Japan, the tag referred to “music made by city people, for city people,”—primarily involving artists that refused to embrace Japanese influences, opting for American radio styles. Since the 2010s, City Pop has gained an international online following as well as becoming a touchstone for the sample-based microgenres known as vaporwave and future funk.

anu, who holds down shows on NTS radio and BBC Asian Network connects those dots and provides a comfort score that pairs with daytime libations.

DJ DELON, “YEAR OF SOUL VOL. 2 MIX”
DJ Delon aka Alain Grissette started spinning in 1997 as a musical outlet to complement his role as band booker at Jupiter in Berkeley. Focusing his sound primarily on downtempo and drum & bass, Delon is “required listening,” a staple in the Bay Area DJ community. Being asked to sit in along with him at his back patio sessions has become a rite of passage for many up-and-coming DJs throughout Oakland and San Francisco.

His Year of Soul Vol. 2 mix delivers electronic music, drum & bass here, with tactful harmonies and luxuriant bass bin tones. It’s often difficult to tell where one track ends and the next begins. That testament—a focused appreciation of sound—makes this head-nod situation a mood you don’t want to get away from.

ONCE & FUTURE BAND/BBC 6 GUEST MIX
Clocking in just under 23 ticks, Oakland’s own Once & Future Band put together in 2017 a trip the light funktastic collage of sounds and artists that could easily be found at your local thrift store.

Proving you don’t need that smoke to make THEE hot mix. Listen, from Pete Rock and CL Smooth to solo McCartney, Jan Hammer Group to Colonel Abrams, with Patrice Rushen someplace in the middle—this mix stays vast, non-committal, and packed to the gills with several ‘holy shit’ moments. It’s a kitchen-sink approach, high from sippin’ on lean, that never disappoints. So put some smoke in the air and let’s get to it!