Music and nightlife

New Music: Transcendental dancing with Eris Drew’s ‘Fluids of Emotion’

Eris Drew

The first nanoseconds of an Eris Drew song or mixtape resemble the work of a maestro dramaturge. Everything—sound scratches, cutting in vocals, record manipulations over a breakbeat most times—happens at the front. Drew disdains giving warnings, it’s her way of saying, “Screw the algorithmic vanilla shit going on in corporatized tech and house music today.”

So get ready to be flushed into action. Utilizing turntable-only techniques such as doubles tricks and hot mixing, her lingual stamp rolls out in real-time. No need for a sophomoric normcore drop. Go grab a Coke with a turkey sando and run that intro back.

“It is as much about how I don’t use my samplers” Drew recently told Attack Magazine. “I don’t time stretch, use splicers, or “fix” the timing issues in my rhythm samples. I want the groove to be loose, like hip hop and the most vibrant hardcore tunes I love. So I keep the drummer’s timing and let the pitch change as I speed up and slow down the samples. To get my timing right I usually beat match the record to my song by hand, just like I would DJing live, and then hit record on my sampler. This way, even if I sample a square house beat it still isn’t perfectly on the grid.”

2019’s bomb-ass “Eris Drew’s mixtape Raving Disco Breaks Vol. 1” introduced this breakcore artist to a greater audience. Drew, the loving partner of DJ and producer Octo Octa, wove a blunt, strong narrative of embodiment, defiance and cultural transcendence on that mix. (They’ll both be performing at the T4T LUV NRG party, Fri/14 at Public Works)  Mixing disco house with broken beats, dropping Miami Bass jams with boogie keys, and blending rave tunes with diva vocals? Listen, that funk. The after-hours lock-in feel remained un-cut. Drew put it all on Front Street.

It’s a ginormous, witchy, earth-quaking seduction of a vibe she calls “Motherbeat.” Arriving at her consciousness while she was being driven home from a party, high on LSD in 1994, this is a rapturous divine feminine energy and ancient healing force. Captured in 120 minutes of dunking on your millennial “meh” approach to mixes.

Fluids of Emotion,” the three-song debut solo release, recorded at Eris Drew’s parents’ home in Chicago and mixed in the Interdimensional Laboratories in Detroit, stays relentlessly committed to that hallucinogenic spirit of rave and love while providing the moment-to-moment vitality of true breakcore. Loose, unquantized studio techniques make these songs—unlooped snippets of physical media—vibrant creations that have a soul and pulse.

“Instead of trying to innovate with new plug-ins and other technology, my approach is to make each song about something real and particular’ stated Drew during an interview earlier this year. “That is something which sets my songs apart from a lot of the hardcore and rave dance tracks which influence them. Think about the energy and intensity of hardcore and rave more than the individual sounds. Make your maniac hardcore out of anything you want, just like the originators did before you.”

Within the first 10 seconds of single “Fluids,” her pocket of sound gets to work: vinyl wrinkles, scratches, vocal shards, and 808 drops all ride on a carpet of warm keys. Tempo mircotensions move about, vocal instructions bark, but it’s the turntablism that actually speaks. With the closer “So Much Love to Give,” we get a piece of upbeat hustle that fluctuates between house and breakbeat. It’s the sweet spot Drew and Octo Octa have been reclaiming for the past couple of years, swimming upstream, past the trends, distilling groove and mysticism.

“Transcendental Access Point” uses 4/4 identity and trippy melodies to deliver a vocal remembrance of someones first time smoking a “very special joint” laced with a little DMT,  taking in a harpsichord concert, where each note was “moving and dancing with an apparent individual and collective will.”
As mentioned in the liner notes, this debut is “proto-rave ecstasy music” in the most rawest, beautiful form.

T4T LUV NRG WITH ERIS DREW AND OCTO OCTA
Fri/14, 9:30pm-3:30am, $25
Public Works, SF
Tickets and more info here

New Music: Bells Rang’s synth-rock makes a California Wave

Christopher Drellow of Bells Rang

What is “California Wave”? According to the Bells Rang, a local electronic rock group whose self-titled EP drops Fri/14, it’s a sound that’s perfect for blasting poolside in your survival bunker. Odd grouping seems to be the thing. With four songs clocking in at just under 30 minutes, the EP smacks of David Lynchian dramatics, quirky vocoder charm, and shadowy, crisp meter. This release ties together their taste for motoring rhythms and knobby synth work inspired by bands like NEU! and Suicide with the spectral mood of Dario Argento flick.

Band members Christopher Drellow, Andrew Livingston and Damon Magana spent months in cabins and rehearsal studios, using that isolation, honing their dark sparkle before tracking the result. “We would use every tool at our disposal: drum machines, synthesizers, guitars, consumables and exhaustion,” quipped Drellow. “We tried to stick to this idea of California Wave. If a song didn’t feel like whatever that means, we’d drop it.” While analog synth gets the preference, the EP shifts between West Coast psyche and goth groove, with simmering fervor lurking just beneath the surface.

There is no doubt Bells Rang would have enjoyed a fair shot at success in their own city, 30 years ago. Don’t get it twisted, their mope-core dream pop with post-punk accents deserves to be processed in the loneliest corner of Amado’s on February 15, at the release party. (The band also plays March 19 at DNA Lounge.) They’ve definitely got the music, the buzz, and the hazy new genre thing going for them.

*****

But can SF bands rise up and conquer the world like they used to, with support systems eroding on every front? Lacking the proper number of spaces to rehearse, record, and play, many 2020 bands can barely scrape together a tour of SF neighborhood dives to perform in. The City’s tech-obsessed, ‘disruptor culture’ has gutted the public arts, opting to cash billion-dollar real-estate deals instead. This is stale news, but we’re still just feeling the effects. Legendary groups like The Tubes and The Units, who started their keyboard-driven success in SF warehouse spaces and went on to international fame, would not stand a chance today.

With the announcement last week that John Vanderslice’s analog recording studio Tiny Telephone was closing its San Francisco location due to “the rising cost of running a small business in a city knocked out of economic whack,” according to The San Francisco Chronicle, the city loses a crucial resource. Located at 1458 A San Bruno Ave, Tiny Telephone began in a quiet corner of San Francisco’s Mission District in 1997, providing a homey, affordable space for local musicians and visiting ones to make records. (Bells Rang was recorded in Drellow’s home studio, increasingly the only pricey option for SF bands.)

Adding to this downer news cycle, the long-running Mission District club Amnesia announced earlier this year it also would-be closing, ceasing operations indefinitely on Feb. 29. The snug live music venue has been a neighborhood bar-gathering space for over 100 years. Before 853 Valencia was Amnesia it was the Chameleon, a dive punk-rock bar that booked local and international talent, simultaneously.

According to KQED, Amnesia’s closure follows the recent shut down of SoMa dance club Mezzanine, which held its last show on New Year’s Eve after 17 years in business. The owners of Mezzanine’s Jessie Street building plan to convert it into office spaces and increase the rent by 600 percent—in 2018, one of the building’s owners told KQED, by way of explanation, “It’s just economics.” Also in 2018, underground rock club the Hemlock Tavern shut its doors to make room for new development.

While it’s promising that venues like Amado’s (formerly Viracocha) and DNA Lounge are hanging on, we’re losing live venues and resources faster than new ones are coming along. Go support your local talent, before “economics” kill the show.

BELLS RANG
Sat/15, $10-$12
Amado’s, SF
Tickets and more info here

Spend Valentine’s in an indie Village of Love

Berkeley's Spellling plays Village of Love

Listen up, San Francisco…..This year Valentines’ Day doesn’t have to be filled with the normcore angst of hunting down chocolates, bidding for pre-wrapped roses, fighting through “Bros” in the lot of Whole Foods on Franklin, mean-mugging each other for that last parking spot.

YO! Get off the narcotic and sidestep that vanilla way.

Anybody coming downwind from a deceased relationship views February 14 as nothing but the cash grab of a Christmas it is for Hallmark. Michelle Cable, Panache Booking owner, peeped game 12 years ago and started hosting Valentine’s Day parties in New York City to conquer the isolation that often comes with this peculiar anniversary that can razzle folks who are single.

This year, whether coupled up or flying solo, San Franciscans can take part for the first time in Panache’s annual Village of Love Valentine’s Day Benefit, Fri/14 at Rickshaw Stop. Bonus: It’s packed with local bands and benefits Planned Parenthood.

“Valentine’s Day is a holiday that’s mainly promoted via romance and love, which also means sex,” says Cable. “So why not support a charity that’s all about safe sex and education?” Village of Love Benefit Concerts in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Detroit in 2019 raised almost $40,000 for the nonprofit organization that is currently under attack from the current Presidential Administration. Panache—a company owned and staffed by women—supports Planned Parenthood because its employees have personal connections to the charitable resource and the work it does providing health services to people across the country.

Performers scheduled for the Bay Area event include Sugar Candy Mountain, Glitter Wizard, Zelma Stone, Pat Thomas. Tono Drima (solo), Healing Potpourri, Mae Powell, Tanukichan, Nopes, and DJ sets from the mighty Chulita Vinyl Club DJs.

“Planned Parenthood is a really important organization for everyone out there who does not have access to health insurance, but especially younger women,” Cable said. “When I was younger, it was an organization that was near and dear to my heart, as it was a place where I could go to get educated on birth control or being sexually active without any judgment.”

In addition to San Francisco, Panache will also host benefit concerts at New York City’s TV Eye, Chicago’s Lincoln Hall, and Miami’s Gramps.

VILLAGE OF LOVE
Fri/14, 8pm, $20
Rickshaw Stop, SF. 
More info here

Noise Pop’s latest round showcases newcomers

Earlier this month Noise Pop, the annual independent music festival that takes place in San Francisco the week of February 24-March 1, announced its fourth wave of performers. With the exception of Washed Out, who will be performing a DJ set at California Academy of Sciences on February 20, this group of announced artists is performing in a supporting role.

But let’s be very clear, that’s not a comment on their talent. In the same respect that Noise Pop has purposely booked its most diverse roster of artists in its history, the festival maintained and doubled down on how vast the talent bench runs. Many festivals book names, few promote future stars. That’s what we have here.

Established in 1993 with just one over-capacity show at the former Kennel Club on Divisadero Street (now the Independent), Noise Pop has featured early career performances by The White Stripes, Modest Mouse, Joanna Newsom, The Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie, Grimes, and more.

As shown by the first wave of announced performers in October, promoters have opened the fest up to more diverse offerings. Booking Raphael Saadiq, Maya Jane Coles, Suzi Analogue, Sudan Archives, Jamila Woods, and Shigeto Live Ensemble, among the two dozen acts named, supports the idea of reaching a broader audience beyond indie rock aficionados. It’s a slate that smacks of Mutek SF, perhaps catering to a similar demographic. The weeklong festival, held at various venues throughout the Bay Area, are selling early bird badges now, priced from $129 to $850.

Other artists in the first wave announcements include San Francisco-based rock n’ roll band The Stone Foxes, Latinx avant-pop artist Helado Negro, Canadian house producer Jacques Greene, indie-pop band Lower Dens, and soul-jazz group The Greyboy All-stars, among many others.

Here are some artists from Noise Pop’s fourth wave you’d do well to catch:

KILLS BIRDS
Los Angeles based outfit Kills Birds received a magnanimous co-sign from an indie rock queen before they had track ONE played for the public. Upon first listen to the band’s 2017 song “Worthy Girl” Kim Gordon proclaimed it “hot as fuck” and gave the band permission to make that proclamation public. That’s the type of swag sammich that could derail any up and coming pedestrian band.

Kills Birds, who maintain an edge with the promise of ripping your fucking head off within nanoseconds, used the compliment to just come harder. Kim Gordon. Never lie.

According to its website, the band started as a secret project between vocalist Nina Ljeti and guitarist Jacob Loeb and Kills Birds evolved into a band when bass player Fielder Thomas and drummer Bosh Rothman joined in 2017. Shortly after, the band began performing around Los Angeles. With Nina’s urgent and raw stage presence and Jacob’s feral guitar melodies, anchored by Bosh and Fielder’s monstrous drums and bass, the band quickly generated buzz for their thrilling and unpredictable live performances. In 2018, they recorded their debut album with Justin Raisen in only eight hours, to capture the magnetism that their live shows are known for. So go see them already, fool.

And the addition of goats running around in the Jesus Did video, what a flex, is the weird/dope move a band operating on this frequency is more than capable of.

WASHED OUT
Earnest Weatherly Greene Jr’s breakthrough meta-feels jam from 2011 “Feel It All Around” was far more than opening audio wallpaper for the “aging-hipster” sketch comedy show “Portlandia.”

Just listen and immediately youʻll get around to it. Washed Out remains an audio/visual chameleon, a millennial  “Beck” type who surprises folks on the regular who  wind up shrugging in disbelief with
“I didn’t know dude was carrying that card” type aplomb.

Mister Mellow from 2017, a debut record for the influential Stonesthrow imprint, run and owned by LA’s Peanut Butter Wolf, saw the multi-instrumentalist make deep runs in 4/4 musical directions like a vet.
The track “Get Lost”, produced by Greene and mixed by Cole MGN, is partly wanting to be house/part exquisite sampling sleight of hand. It maintains a lush and expansive veneer while his typical altered and distorted vocal delivery style, one generally found in dream-pop, moves about the tinkling of bells and soaring/descending atmospherics.

The accompanying video, directed by psychedelic animator Harvey Benschoter with single artwork done by Braulio Amado, is an eye-popping collection of people and objects that seem to be lifted from glossy 1980’s magazine advertisements. From cutting to and fro and zooming in and out, these images not only come to life…They remain in constant absurdist motion.

With this type of cleverness at work, catching his DJ set February 20 at California Academy of Sciences should be a priority.

VICTORIA CANAL
When I stumbled across the video “Drama (Live on a Wurly [aka Wurlitzer]) “from Victoria Canal I got immediately drawn in by the minimal presentation of a song I had never heard before. It’s like a postcard from a friend you never met. The hopscotch word placement from this young musician just phrasing outline shapes to this mysterious song, kept me stuck.

I’m a sucker for some keys now.

The interplay with the onset film crew……Way beyond fetching. And then, at a snail’s pace, the camera pans. I realize that Victoria Canal, the LA-based Spanish-American singer-songwriter, who is bisexual, was born without her right forearm. Blown away, Fam.

The singer-songwriter—who lived in Germany, China, Japan, Dubai and Spain before settling in the US—told the Huffington Post late last year, her global upbringing has influenced her music as much as her disability and sexuality have. At the same time, she’s also conscious of the fact that mainstream pop has been slow to spotlight both LGBTQartists and artists with disabilities.

“I’ve always seen [my identity] as a unique opportunity, really,” Canal said. “I used to shy away from the word [‘disabled’] and all the things it implied. But as I’ve grown up and lived a few more years, I’ve met a community of people who embody strength. ‘Disabled,’ to me, actually has a totally different connotation. To me, it means strong or resilient, determined, hopeful.”

TRÉ BURT
A singer-songwriter and Americana artist from Sacramento—and recent signee to John Prine’s Oh Boy label—Tré Burt makes you immediately stop what you are doing, get real quiet, and take in the quiet magic that appears when he lets that creaky voice do its duty as a master storyteller. Burt, who credits much of his music career being created by happenstance encounters, the kind of stuff you see in movies but rarely experienced in life, reflects that unrehearsed serendipity through his ever-evocative vocal intonation.

ANGELICA GARCIA
Angelica Garcia grew up in a musical and multigenerational home, filled with ranchera music always playing. With Mexican and Salvadoran roots in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles, Garcia’s music is a “mental scrapbook” of her journey for listeners, and for herself, conveying the feeling of being split between two identities. If “It Don’t Hinder Me’ from her most recent release Cha Cha Palace out on Spacebomb Records, is an indication of the fierce vocal presence she’s capable of, Lorde and Billie Ellish need to be put on notice.

NOISE POP Festival runs February 24-March 1 at various San Francisco venues. More info here.

Comedian Moshe Kasher’s ‘Crowd Surfing’ album mortifies, delights

Packing 10 tales of embarrassing scenarios involving everyday people caught in tawdry situations, Crowd Surfing, the new comedy album from Oakland native Moshe Kasher sees the self-proclaimed “Phil Donahue of the Internet Age”—some of you may need to google that reference—extract mortifying tales from an eager crowd in Washington DC. (Kasher performs Fri/24 at Sketchfest, the day the album is released.)

His verbose, digital comedic speed in this fully crowd-driven project propels the record to operate like a semi-concept album. Kasher tosses out the antiquated “Who are you and what do you do for a living” line of tomfoolery. Shit immediately gets weird.

Just how “Dirt McGirt”?

Letʻs see. One tale involves a woman who accidentally breaks off a vibrator in her boyfriends’ butt: Sheʻs not built for ass-play. Another involves a couples’ first date which leads to performing 69, and the woman, er, releasing on his chest. Without consent…. or toilet paper.

Kasher is multitasking, like a Boss. Working blue, picking out freaks, keeping the crowd engaged and the stories bizarre. His penchant for coming across relatable, a hat-tip to idols—Patrice OʻNeal, Paula Poundstone and Don Rickles—nets the risqué boudoir experiences. It’s a major flex.

Forever upholding the multi-hyphenate moniker, Kasher is an acclaimed author, host of several podcasts and stoker of alt-right ire with his now-defunct Comedy Central series “Problematic with Moshe Kasher.” Heʻs written and produced for the television shows Another Period, Wet Hot American Summer, Little America, and the upcoming Betty on HBO, and appeared as an actor on Portlandia, The League, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

But this project right here reverses the idea that crowd-work should be regarded as a sub-par skill, or a move executed to kill time during a set. Rather it should be an essential tool in every stand-upʻs repertoire.

Kasher learned from artists who raised this interplay to transcendent solo standards. Sometimes it’s the only thing that can right the ship if all other aspects of the set keep hitting the toilet. New bits need constant work to hit right and stand-by bits often hit their expiration dates quicker than expected.

You don’t want to get caught out there.

When its cooking, similar to a baseball game, everything important is happening inside this portal. Exterior measurements of time donʻt count. Kasher, who grew up in North Oakland’s Temescal and Piedmont Avenue neighborhoods and started his stand-up career at the Luggage Store in San Francisco, walks side by side with his audience for the entire hour here. Showing his vulnerability, in the most comedic way, along with the storytellers.

Akin to seeing Black Thought of The Roots do a 10-minute freestyle, crowd-work can be jazz too.
Kasher, however, delivers us erupting punk-rock. The material is perfection, just sometimes, Moshe, who is a funny professional podcaster and comedian, needs to shut the eff up and let the people tell the story before he goes in for the satiric dissection.

Chicken before the egg, Dawg.

New Music: Werkha strikes dance floor gold with ‘The Rigour’

Werkha

Widespread critical acclaim on releases from Yazmin Lacey, Kaidi Tatham, and Children of Zeus made underground and mainstream heads around the world acknowledge First Word Records in 2018. For 16 years this London-based imprint has steadily provided an IRL version of where urban music is at. If that means bass-heavy beats meet jazz, soul, and hip-hop in the most austere British club culture way, then that’s what’s up. Talent changes trends. Ask First Word. That’s how they became named Label of the Year by the highly influential Gilles Peterson Worldwide Awards in 2019.

Tom Leah records and performs under the moniker Werkha and hails from Manchester originally. After releasing his début EP back in 2012, he followed it up with a series of records for Brighton-imprint Tru Thoughts, including an album in 2015, Colours Of A Red Brick Raft, and co-writing/producing Bryony Jarman-Pinto’s début album in 2019.

Leah has rounded out his many-sided blend of electronics, broken beat, soul and jazz into The Rigour. Ever the consummate keyboard player, his début on First Word epitomizes quality British club music. This tight and loose red cupper of a house party is produced with careful signs that Werkha is quite comfortable getting his fingers innit, constantly refining his craft. No matter the context, grooves move without regurgitated duplication.

All five tracks hit on point, with sole identity. DJs know, some EPs will pack on throwaways to fill things out. On The Rigour, not one bammer track resides in the lot. More than just a new school futuristic bruk producer ( you can hear sprinkles of those West London seeds planted by Dego, Kaidi Tatham, IG Culture and so on), he’s established himself as an in-demand working musician, producer, remixer and arranger who retains a firm grasp on numerous sub-genres of dance music.

From deep house swing, forward-mashing boogie or hip-hop presentation that evokes a head-nod procedural, this is know-how coming from a revisionist jazz perspective. Being plucked to tour with Bonobo at age 22—while receiving praise from Peterson early—fueled his drive.

Werkha’s 2014 hit “Lapwing” displayed great promise. Rearranged sax tones, gurgled bass lines, assorted guitar chords, lyrical Fender Rhodes stretches and chopped up vocal patterns made this a heavyweight jam…That hit someplace between James Blake dance productions and early Sam Shepard aka Floating Points compositions.

Dope… but not singular. Even the charming “Yoga Teacher Gone Rogue” music video could not take attention away from the similarities.

Fast-forward to “Generation X”—the bouncy opener to The Rigour—and it seems Leahʻs concentration is on energy first, dance floor second. The synth attack remains plentiful, bass tones land like space ships and kick drum snare combos stay present in your middle ear. Flush with strings from Simran Singh, joy becomes the movement. “The Key” a disco smasher according to Leah, has proper cowbell, “low-slung head-nodding funkʻ and proper Emcee accompaniment from Berry Blacc.

Both “Swing Thru” and “In Sunny Gʻ give a proper neck-snapping from the bass-weight, but “Favourite Corner” a humid bag of swag, cracks on with accented guitar licks, ephemeral strings, and punched-up breakbeats designed for two-stepping all nite long.

Such a playful listen. Hear more Werkha here.

Midge Ure, titan of New Wave, will take your questions now

Midge Ure

Midge Ure is willingly doing the two things that most performers dread on his upcoming US tour, which kicks off in the Bay Area this week, Wed/15 at Yoshi’s.

The former Ultravox frontman, Visage and Thin Lizzy member, and Band Aid, Live Aid, and Live 8 co-producer will take questions and song requests from audience members.

“I think it’s been instigated by social media,” Ure told 48 Hills. “Prior to that, people who wanted to know something about you had to read it in a magazine. Social media has broken down that barrier, so the logical conclusion is that you can — if you’re brave or stupid enough — get in front of an audience and open yourself up to questions or musical requests. There’s an intimacy about that that the audience will like.”

Aside from audience interaction, the raw and revealing “Songs, Questions & Answers Tour” will feature acoustic versions of the Grammy and Brit Award-winning Scottish musician’s most indelible tracks from his 40-year career, many of which are found on his recent 32-track Soundtrack 1978-2019 CD/DVD collection.

US fans will surely recognize such ‘80s synthpop staples as “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes”  and “Vienna” with Ultravox, “Fade to Grey” with Visage and , as well as Ure’s solo single “Dear G-d.”

I spoke to Ure about his new greatest-hits collection, upcoming tour, and the upsides and downsides to being vulnerable.

48 HILLS Soundtrack is not only the soundtrack to your career but also the soundtrack to many of your fans’ lives. What does the title mean to you?

MIDGE URE We all have soundtracks to our lives. Every significant moment we have is peppered by a specific piece of music. When I thought about what I wanted to do on this album, I wasn’t interested in the greatest hits. I wanted to handpick a journey through my life in song and songwriting because your songwriting changes as you get older and you get more proficient at it.

You have a wider subject range as you grow older, so I wanted to put something together that encapsulates both my life of songwriting and recording but reflective of the fact that each and every one of us has a different soundtrack than everyone else.

48 HILLS You’ve played your songs acoustically before on 2017’s Orchestrated and are now embarking on an acoustic tour. How does that change the songs, especially the ones that were originally synth-based?

MIDGE URE I think there’s an element of when an audience hears anyone performing a stripped-down version of a song, they still hear the original arrangements in their heads.

For anyone who doesn’t already know the song, you better have written a song that stands the test of time and stands the test of being able to be stripped down to that extent that you can perform something on a piano or guitar and it still stands up.

48 HILLS You’re promising an increased intimacy with the question-and-answer portion of your show. But what’s in it for you?

MIDGE URE It makes for a different show every night. There’s a security in having a setlist, of course, but there’s also a repetitiveness to playing the same songs in the same order every night because that’s what you’ve routined with your band.

When you don’t have a band, you can change as often as you want. But it also means that I have to be on my toes in order to be able to do this and have to be fairly confident that if I attempt to play something that I think I know, it doesn’t go horribly wrong.

48 HILLS Does the transparency that fans are demanding from their favorite artists today detract from their rockstar mystique?

MIDGE URE I think it opens up the world a little bit more. The days of barriers and walls and barbed wire and absolute secrecy are gone. People like to see that you’re real, human, and have flaws as they do and you get depressed and elated and fed up and tired of politics and people — all of that stuff.

We’re all made of the same substance and suffer from the same problems. We all become elated by the same types of things, so why would you pretend to be something different or better than the people sitting in the audience? So I think the time is right to drop the facade and see the real person.

48 HILLS You’ve been in so many bands. If you could reunite just one, which would it be?

MIDGE URE Good question. It would be Ultravox. Ultravox was the band. Everything prior to that was an apprenticeship, as I worked my way toward Ultravox.

48 HILLS You’ve said that the Russell Mulcahy-directed “Passing Strangers” video set the template for all videos to follow. For kids today, who grew up on YouTube, can you explain the importance of that video and what makes it still stand up today?

MIDGE URE At that time, people were talking about “Bohemian Rhapsody” and some of the other early pop promos going around, which were all shot on video — all squeaky clean and electronic. But there was no quality to them.

When we decided to do “Passing Strangers,” we set parameters that we wanted to follow through into future videos. So instead of shooting on video, we shot on 16MM film, which gave it a grainy movie quality. We cropped the screen top and bottom to make it Cinemascope and we went from color to black and white and did the entire film noir thing like shadows on walls and made it a very European-looking thing.

We used the same director, Russell Mulcahy, for “Vienna” and just translated all the parameters into the “Vienna” video — the same feel and atmospherics that worked well with the music. When we put out a video, viewers around the world would see something that was absolutely Ultravox. We cared about our image, which didn’t tend to happen with other artists, who just handed their music to their label who then just farmed it out to directors who just came back with their visions of what it was all about.

48 HILLS Two years after the release of “Vienna,” you recorded a brilliant cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” which you recently re-recorded for your Soundtrack album. With Bowie’s birthday and deathiversary this week, he’s been on a lot of fans’ minds. How have you coped with his passing?

MIDGE URE I was devastated when I heard the news because it was a weird generational thing. Bowie was only maybe a handful of years older than I was when he died. But it’s that weird thing that when you’re young, someone that much older than you seems like an adult because they’re much more grown-up. But as you get on in life, that gap between your ages disappears.

But in my mind, I was still the 15-year-old kid, who fell in love with Bowie and his music. That never changes, that fandom, that idolizing someone as talented as him, so you don’t expect people like that, that you respect and admire to that extent to die. It was too soon. It just wasn’t right. It makes us more in touch with our own mortality because he was one of those guys who was going to go on forever. It’s just not right when it’s someone from your generation.

48 HILLS I noticed that Eurythmics just reunited for a show for the first time in years. Who are the other bands from your generation that you would love to see back together?

MIDGE URE I never saw Talk Talk, so that would have been an amazing thing. I was fortunate enough to see Kate Bush doing her first shows in London in the late ‘70s and see her at the Hammersmith [Apollo] in 2014, so I’d love to see her again, sitting at the piano and singing for me.

48 HILLS Most people have only scratched the surface of all the amazing music from the ’80s. Who do you think are some of the most underrated bands from that decade?

MIDGE URE Japan. I can see why Japan had a hard time becoming successful in America because you kind of had to work at Japan. They weren’t what you’d call radio-friendly for the American airwaves. Very similar to Ultravox, they were played on college radio and some of the new wave radio stations, but they never cracked mainstream radio.

48 HILLS If I had to describe your music in a phrase, it would be “heart on your sleeve.” What are the pros and cons of being so vulnerable in this way?

MIDGE URE I tend to think that that’s what songs should be about. I shouldn’t have to sit down and invent a scenario or create a world that I don’t inhabit in order to write a song. I write a piece of music and sometimes I find it very difficult to let the piece of music go out into the big wild world because you’re right, I do wear my heart on my sleeve and it’s not always comfortable doing that.

I’ve written songs about depression, alcoholism, and not knowing what to do next because if I write something that’s real, true, and honest, I firmly believe that someone somewhere will connect with that song because they’re going through exactly what I am talking about. That’s what makes it worth it.

MIDGE URE (ULTRAVOX) ACOUSTIC DUO
Wed/15 8pm, $24-$59
Yoshi’s, Oakland.
More info here.

Micky Dolenz on Monkeemania, Sketchfest, and the band’s enduring appeal

Micky Dolenz. Photo by dis COMPANY

Even with 75 million records sold and 12 Top 40 singles under their belts, The Monkees haven’t yet been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But founding member Micky Dolenz told 48 Hills he doesn’t care.

“As I’ve said before, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is like a private club,” says Dolenz, 74, who appears along with band mate Michael Nesmith at the SF Sketchfest Tribute to The Monkees on Sunday. “You’re either invited or you’re not.”

It was almost 55 years ago that Dolenz was selected from among 400 applicants for a spot on a new TV show about a Beatles-inspired rock quartet called The Monkees.

Dolenz and his fellow TV bandmates Michael Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones soon became musical superstars thanks to the success of their eponymous show and no. 1 singles “Last Train To Clarksville,” “I’m A Believer,” and “Daydream Believer,” and an initial tour that featured rock legend Jimi Hendrix as an opener.

Since splitting up in the early ‘70s, The Monkees members have reunited for tours, two new albums including 2016’s Good Times, and a TV special. In 1986, the band achieved “Monkeemania” once again after their classic show made waves again — this time in syndication — and their first new track in years, “That Was Then, This Is Now,” hit the Top 20.

In the wake of Davy Jones’s death in 2012 and Peter Tork’s passing in 2019, Dolenz and Nesmith (who continue to perform as The Monkees) are celebrating the release of their first live album as a duo on April 3 with a companion tour hitting San Jose Civic Auditorium on April 8.

Dolenz opened up about returning to Sketchfest for the second year, his favorite Monkees memories, the group’s legacy, and how he’s coped with the loss of ”the brothers [he] never had.“

48 HILLS What do you hope to accomplish at your Sketchfest event? Why is now the perfect time for a tribute?

MICKY DOLENZ I did Sketchfest last year and had a terrific time. It’ll be a good dialogue with Mike as we’re going to tour this April.

48 HILLS What are your funnest memories with The Monkees from the show or the road?

MICKY DOLENZ We worked with some terrific actors and directors, including James Frawley who passed last year. And, we had some terrific songwriters: Neil Sedaka, Boyce & Hart, Carole King, and Neil Diamond. We were blessed for their contributions.

48 HILLS What are your favorite songs to perform with The Monkees?

MICKY DOLENZ That’s a hard question, but definitely the ones I sing lead on. But, in total, it’s just great music.

48 HILLS What is The Monkees’ legacy?

MICKY DOLENZ I think the fact that the impact is still being felt and appreciated. We have people from ages eight to 80 at the shows and that’s a tremendous compliment.

48 HILLS The Monkees were early adopters of Moog synthesizers and many argue that the band pioneered the music video and even set the template for the future boy band movement.

MICKY DOLENZ I definitely would agree with that. The videos and the shows were innovative for their time and are still making an impact.

48 HILLS Do The Monkees get the credit they deserve? Why or why not?

MICKY DOLENZ I’ll leave that to others to answer.

48 HILLS How have you coped with the passing of Davy Jones and Peter Tork?

MICKY DOLENZ By remembering the good times and the camaraderie. They were the brothers I never had.

48 HILLS What can you tell me about the upcoming tour and the band’s first live album as a duo?

MICKY DOLENZ The live album is from the first Mike & Micky tour last year, where we had the chance to perform some deep cuts. The shows were tremendous with a great band.

SF SKETCHFEST TRIBUTE TO THE MONKEES: A CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL NESMITH & MICKY DOLENZ
Sun/12 4pm, $40-$50
Marines’ Memorial Theatre, SF.
More info here.

LA producer Elusive steps into a fidgety ‘Ambient Void’

Elusive

For his 20-plus year career and the latter part of this decade, Elusivethe Los Angeles based producer—has remained steadfast about that work.

Making music with like-minded creatives who understand experimentation keeps the future close. By stretching out his musical base of collaborators and working beyond the hardware/software aspect of his electronic music landscape, an eclectic sonic reach dips into adjacent areas where hip-hop, fusion, soul, and jazz share space… Grinding out those beat tapes and EPs which feature percussive outlines, moody diagrams and odd time signatures has fed Aaron Koslow’s choices to elicit a forward-leaning type of arrangement.

A production output that dates back to the late ’90s, making beats on analog gear and Akai MPC for collaborations with Abstract Rude and Myka 9 from Freestyle Fellowship prepped his work for the future. Alpha Pup became his recording label home following inspiring sets at LA’s Low-End Theory club night circa 2010.

Since he’s moved about projects that involve live jazz instrumentation-pieced together at various studios across Los Angeles-to solo projects based out of the chop shop of dicing samples and tapping out new pathways from the mighty boom of Elvin Jones drum.

Afterthoughts, his 23-track fleshed out watercolor, that acutely pointed out where modal and digitized sounds work together best, from September, a front and back-loaded pastiche of various colors and voices moving through fidgety bump topography. It featured LA vocal progressives Nite Jewel, Jimetta Rose, Natasha Agrama, Mali Hayes, Nikeita Crichlow, and Olivia Hale. The voices of these women, exquisite musicians in their own right, balanced out the project with a harmonized definition. Making it the closest Kozlow has ever come to producing a neo-soul release.

So, true to form, Ambient Void, his most current release, pivots back to beat tape programming.
Like a boxer readying to shed weight, getting back into the gym, Elusive uses these 17 tracks (not one over three minutes) to focus on hand-eye coördination. Pound that body bag. Switch up combinations. Tighten that jab.

And he does.

Besides “In The Clouds,” a welcoming lead-off replete with ideas reminiscent of Fusion Swing from 2017,
Ambient Void crackles along in newfound beat composition. From the double-time, woodblock cadence at the top of “Level Up” to the warbled crab stumble wonk of “Avoid”, these rhythmic ideas, revised sideways experiments, presents a whole other style of knock.

Not quite the auditory comfort food Mndsgns dealt out on “Snaxx,” his “trying to be cerebral—feeling psychedelic”, beat tape from this summer or the sleep-deprived illbient weary R&B feels of “Yasmin,” from Kumail this fall.

Nope, Koslow IS havin’ it all. Doling out the tripped-up 4/4 meter on tracks like “Get 2 Clappin” and “Space Disco.” No sleeping tryptophan material here. Packed with a healthy dose of vocal “yeahhhhs” tossed in for swag emphasis, we head-bobbing. Even when the tempo drops a bit low on “Chocolat Crossaint” or double-times on “Love Handles,” flush atmospherics with cascading synths, vinyl crackles, and fussy circuit board ephemera makes the session, whichever one you are having, proper.

Review: Hanukkah with the Klezmatics? You bet your latkes.

On December 22, The Klezmatics celebrated the first night of Hanukkah at the SFJAZZ  but—unfortunately for San Franciscans—unlike the oil in the Macabees’ lamp, they didn’t stay for eight days. Their sold-out show, “A Happy Joyous Hanukkah”, lasted one night only.

But that one night shone brightly with superb musicianship, soaring spirits, and plenty of heymish Yiddishe stories.

The Grammy-winning ensemble provided an eclectic mix of klezmer music—from the traditional Ale Brider to Woody Guthrie’s version of Hanukkah songs to elegant, complex instrumentals incorporating not only Eastern European folk tunes, but jazz, country and Latin motifs.

The Hanukkah theme ran through most of the selections, and even those songs contained surprises.  Fiddler Lisa Gutkin explained that they had combed through Guthrie’s archives and found his unpublished poetry—handwritten on wrapping paper and the backs of envelopes—that they set to music. Guthrie, she explained, lived longer in Brooklyn than anywhere else and his mother-in-law was the Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt.

Vocalist Lorin Sklamberg announced wryly that Guthrie’s version of Hanukkah symbols might sound unusual to the Jews in the audience. They then proceeded to play—with just a touch of irony—Hanukkah Bells and Hanukkah Tree!

The Klezmatics

“[The Klezmatics] can rank among the greatest bands on the planet.” -Time Out New York ⁣⁣⁣⁣Read SFJAZZ Staff Writer Richard Scheinin’s interview with The Klezmatics ahead of their performance at SFJAZZ on SUN, DEC 22: https://www.sfjazz.org/onthecorner/

Posted by SFJAZZ on Monday, December 9, 2019

The group’s Grammy was for the CD Wonder Wheel, which also featured previously unsung Guthrie poetry. (Guthrie’s Jewish songs were the result of a special connection with his mother-in-law Aliza Greenblatt, a well-known Yiddish poet.) The New York-based Klezmatics have been together for 30 years, have collaborated with many artists including violinist Itzhak Perlman and playwright Tony Kushner, and performed in more than 20 countries. They have released 11 albums, including the exquisitely-named Jews With Horns.

The dynamic Frank London, who always seemed to be playing both the trumpet and keyboard at the same time, explained the origin of one of the more traditional selections Zol shoyn kumen di geule (The Salvation Shall Come Soon). “It’s a combination prayer and drinking song.” If we sing loud enough, he sang, the “Messiah will wake from his slumber when he hears our song of prayer.”

Percussionist Richie Barshay played an astonishing drum solo: Without a word he got the audience clapping along to his complex, syncopated rhythms. Barshay also made use of a pair of bongos for Do the Latke Flip-Flip, a song inspired by the 1960s Barry Sisters’ combination of Yiddish music and Latin beats. Gutkin’s composition, Spin Dreydl Spin was inspired by listening to the rhythmic clicking of the dryer—“too many buttons,” she quipped—in the laundromat when she was stuck trying to write a tune.

The origin of the word “klezmer” is from the Hebrew, kley zmir, or “vessel of song” which denoted the actual musical instruments.  In Europe “a klezmer” came to mean a musician. The klezmorim traveled throughout the countryside playing at weddings and holiday celebrations, adapting and adopting local musical genres. During the period of massive Eastern European immigration to the U.S., the term came to be applied to whatever the immigrant musicians played.

When some listeners complain that contemporary groups are not really playing klezmer, they forget that the main tradition of the music is eclecticism. The klezmer music that arrived on these shores was a snapshot of what had been created at that moment in time. And with their Guthrie lyrics, Latin beats, and laundromat-inspired rhythms, the Klezmatics now follow—or rather lead—that tradition!

The three original members of the group are London, the full-throated Sklamberg, and Paul Morrissett, who plays bass and the traditional tsimbil. All of the musicians perform with other groups and as soloists.  Fiddler Gutkin and clarinetist Matt Derriau performed on Broadway in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Indecent by Paula Vogel. They are in great demand and have a dizzying schedule. In fact, the morning after their SFJazz show, London led two klezmer workshops across the country at the Yiddish New York Festival!

One of the most moving songs of the evening was Hanukkah’s Flame, with words by Guthrie, set to music by London. “If your lifelong heavy load brings you down my path and down my road, my light of Hanukkah shines your way…  Hanukkah candle dances warm to help you weather your heavy storm. I’ll send my beam to light your dream.”

The musicians may have flown home, but their music will light our way for eight days, and many more.