Alice Bag, who fronted first-wave LA punk band The Bags and appeared in Penelope Spheerisʻ eye-opening 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, adapted to modernity by blogging and writing about her band, ensuring the pioneering POC outfit would not be omitted from history.
“I wish that there was a whole other documentary that was focused on the bands that had a lot of women in them or people of color or queers making quirky music with synthesizers or banging on a water jug” she stated in The Milwaukee Record from 2018. “All the crazy creative elements of the early punk scene have not been adequately documented. A bit of our work was, but not nearly as much as we had done, which is regrettable. If you were in on the first wave, you might have escaped notice. If you came in a little later, there was enough popularity and mainstream attention that you might be better remembered than somebody who was actually a pioneer.”
Decades later, some representative balance is finally being foregrounded: Bag along with Bikini Kill, Circle Jerks, Carbonas, Pansy Division, Bleached, and Plastic Bertrand are the first round of artists announced for the 11th installment of Burger Boogaloo. The annual music festival, held in Oakland’s Mosswood Park, July 11th & 12th of 2020, will again be hosted by cult film director and self-named “Pope of Trash” John Waters. It definitely more queer, woman, and people-of-color fronted than most such long-standing festivals.
In past years the event has featured spirited performances from DEVO, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Shannon and The Clams, The Dead Boys and Iggy Pop. That tradition of rad entertainment for a sea of goths and rockabilly constituents resumes with Bikini Kill making their first Bay Area performance in over 25 years, Circle Jerks’ and Carbonas’ first show in 10 years and the Bay Area début of Plastic Bertrand.
That first wave of artists also includes Flipper, The Fevers, The Younger Lovers, Panty Raid, and Midnite Snaxxx. Further line-up announcements will be released in January and February 2020.
When the South London artist Kamaal Williams, aka Henry Wu, comes to 1015 Folsom on Fri/13 (with Jazzy Jeff as part of the Motown on Mondays 10th anniversary), expect his DJ set to showcase various international peers that have propelled his career as a jazz musician and electronic music producer.
His acumen for uncommon musicality and skilfulness is beyond par. Tapped to curate the 70th installment of the DJ-Kicks series, he distills a liberal assembling of house, broken beat, jungle, soul, hip-hop, and of course jazz. Reading like a non-stop bullet train, the release sets up how the London underground dance movement, over the past decade, informed the current resurgence of jazz by a younger generation weaned on rattling bass bins.
These 29 songs, delivered in a David Mancuso-selector style most of the time (one record right after the other), fit and feed one another in a way that moves minds and hearts first, then asses. As stated in the liner notes, “although not traditionally mixed or predictably sequenced, this unique standout set has a high level of narrative and coherence, linking styles like a family treeʻ.ʻ By selecting Williams and his “Wu-Funk”, the folks at the !K7 label assure us again, their intent is to showcase authentic inventiveness, pushing Spotify metrics and regurgitated algorithms into the trash.
Kamaal‘s inspired work in the studio and live arena has influenced a whole new generation of like-minded musicians, who‘ve helped make London one of the most musically exciting cities in the world. The Yussef Kamaal album ‘Black Focus’ was one of the most talked-about records of 2016, keeping the vinyl pressings hard to get. The follow-up, The Return, came on Williams’ own new Black Focus label and took his band global, making it onto many Best Of 2018 lists.
From earlier in the DJ-Kicks series this year, Laurel Halo’s mix maneuvered through fierce arpeggios, ruff bass lines, space-age micro-house, and machine-like landscapes, damn near shuffling musical microclimates like a card shark elbow greasing a three-card molly hustle. Giving us the audio tour of Berlin nightlife at peak 5 am bustle. In July, Peggy Gou, the first South Korean aoman to DJ at Berlin’s techno institution Berghain, put together a real loose and comprehensive across-the-board mix: disco, house, techno, and electro, from 90 to 150 BPM, that plopped us dead center in her living room, sipping a good red, putting that smoke in the air.
But Williams is on a different undertaking.
“The main aim of this mix for me was to give praise and pay my dues to the forefathers, the originators London’s underground scene. From the likes of Dego, Seiji and Steve Spacek, through to contemporaries like K15, Tenderlonious or myself, it’s about connecting the lineage and giving respect to the creators—those undervalued heroes of this British dance landscape who deserve more recognition today.”
The opening track “Sometimes”, a spiritual edit bourne out of Gospel music sets the standard for what is to come. And itʻs quite lofty. Produced by Budgie, an influential member of the production team behind Kanye Westʻs Jesus Is King, he keeps the vocals running quick, never displacing their sincerity.
From the “run dem tings” drums of “Spaced Invader” by Lord Tusk into the 20-year-old jungle bedlam called “Buggin Out” by Seiji, to the comedown stillness of “Hey There” by Steve Spacek, featuring an 18-year-old Thundercat playing bass. It leads us into the squiggle vision funk of “Speed Metal Jesus” by Max Greif, matched next to the always identifiable KaidiTatham and his broken beat jazz-funk, mined out of the vast well of the African diaspora. “Two Tens Madam” from 2016, gives us that insight into Williams’ multi-hyphenate journey as musician and producer connecting the two worlds of electronic and live.
If the early 1990s are regarded as the golden age of European techno, a theory recently put forth by British electronic music royalty Kirk Degiorgio, for San Francisco in the late 90ʻs, the soundtrack reverberating-from underground parties, converted warehouses, Full Moon gatherings, grimy punk-rock clubs and “daytime pizza joints that morphed into night-time rave caves” was drum and bass.
UK artist Goldie (performing alongside STAMINA! residents Jamal and SF legend Method-One at1015 Folsom Thu/12) became the day one avatar for this movement in the US circa 1995. That trademark gold grill, definitive grimace, charming presence….. With other pioneers of that era-LTJ Bukem, Grooverider, Roni Size, Jumping Jack Frost, you had to preface the introduction with “this new music called Drum and Bass.” Goldie somehow fused all of his interests—breakdancing, graffiti art aka bombing, breakbeat techno, hip-hop, trip-hop, jungle, and soul-into accessible alchemy.
Inner City Life, a 1995 global anthem, featured the soaring, existential vocals from British songster Diane Charlemagne, enmeshed with granular rhythmic accents and gully bass lines that emoted freedom. This universal concept dragged electronic music into the normcore zeitgeist. So you could just play it. And ffolkes got it.
Back in the day Phunkateck, True Intent, Sister SF, and PBS were some of the DJ crews at the forefront SFʻs drum and bass movement, evangelizing the sub-genre. Darkstep, techstep, atmospheric, liquid funk, ambient, and drumfunk all took up residence, spearheading this music. While not mainstream, it infiltrated. The sound painted the corners of culture in the City. Informing the direction of fashion, gear and art spaces. Entertaining Tech 1.0 happy hour networking events and making a space in the Bullet Proof Boat Party game, it created a dialogue among house, hip-hop, R&B, techno, electro even post-punk DJs.
Somehow those influencers heard their respective musical voice beneath the largest grumble of the bass bins.
The Top, a tiny bar on Haight Street, now called Underground SF, with its small dance floor in back, and the party Eklektic, were the micro-communities, selected temples for worship, that eventually pushed the music to larger venues such as Justice League (now the Independent), 1015 Folsom, and 550 Barneveld, now called Space 550.
These embryonic tent poles, where local talent played beside international artists, fostered connectivity. For a stretch, the city hosted at least six drum and bass parties a week, so these local DJ crews would fly talent out, on Ramen budgets, from the UK knowing there would be plenty of opportunities for artists such as Paradox, Jumping Jack Frost, LTJ Bukem and such to pick up more gigs. Seeing Roni Size pull massive rewinds at The Top, after-hours possibly, beat any larger venue performance.
SF took that UK breakbeat creation, splintered up the sensibility and smoked it out with hydroponic open-minded idealism. As with all golden eras, gentrification, the corporate cash grab disguised as change, is what comes next. DJ’s turned to tech-house, garage, broken-beat, dub-step, and grime… Soon a bass music movement took off in LA at The Low-End Theory party, and brought us many of today’s biggest US dance music artists.
Goldie’s full-length début, 1995’s Timeless, remains his career statement, as well as one of the few jungle releases to reach a broad audience outside of the underground. SF’s d’n’b underground legends will surely turn out when he takes to the decks.
“Home’s so far away,” goes the first line of Low Roar’s new record ross. Right now, that would mean Warsaw, where Low Roar mastermind Ryan Karazija resides as a home base for his regular tours around Europe. But before the long journey that took him to Poland through Iceland—with stops along the way for four full-length albums and several memorable musical appearances in the hit video game Death Stranding—Karazija was frontman of Audrye Sessions, the Oakland band that was a fixture of the Bay Area indie rock scene in the 2000s.
“It’s where I grew up, it’s where I spent a huge part of my life,” says the 37-year-old of the Bay Area. “But I don’t miss the cost of living, and I don’t think I would’ve ever ended up doing the project the way I’m doing it if I’d stuck around.”
Karazija was born in Santa Clara and raised in San Jose. He started playing guitar around age 15 or 16 and “somehow got into the singing part,” which seems like an awfully modest statement if you’ve heard his vocals. Audrye Sessions formed in 2002 and lasted until 2010, releasing an EP and an album and playing with fellow local indie rockers like Please Do Not Fight and Finish Ticket.
Low Roar released its first, self-titled record in 2011 after Karazija moved to Reykjavík to live with his now-ex-wife and her son. He recorded it at his kitchen table on his laptop with only minimal equipment, but Karazija was satisfied with the result, and it garnered strong reviews upon release.
“I never felt comfortable handing one of the Audrye Sessions CDs [to someone] and saying ‘this is mine’,” he says. “[Low Roar] was the first time when I felt like I was handing someone something I was proud of, and that’s happened with every single one of these records.”
Low Roar was compared incessantly to other acts who supposedly evoke the glacial sweep of Iceland—Sigur Rós, Múm, Björk, etc. Karazija bristles in interviews whenever the connection is made between his music and Iceland; he prefers his music, including ross., to be interpreted more subjectively.
“They have to go and listen to it and find out for themselves,” he says of his listeners. “Even I guess I don’t know what it’s about. It can be up to interpretation.”
What can be said for certain about ross. is that it’s his shortest album, just 42 minutes as opposed to the hour-plus monoliths of before, and boasts some of his more stripped-down arrangements. But it’s no less expansive than his prior three records, summoning walls of sound behind the gentle pitter-patter of a drum machine or the strum of an acoustic guitar.
Karazija’s voice is at once friendly and unearthly, inscrutable and intimate, in the vein of great indie-rock vocalists like Thom Yorke, Justin Vernon, Liz Harris, or, yes, Sigur Rós’s Jónsi. It’s striking music, the kind of thing that could stop you in your tracks at a record store—which is exactly what happened to Hideo Kojima.
During a stop in Reykjavík, the Japanese video-game auteur behind the Metal Gear Solid series heard Low Roar’s music while shopping for records. He knew right away he had the right music for his new project Death Stranding. 22 Low Roar songs were ultimately licensed for the game; “I’ll Keep Coming” was used in the baffling 2016 trailer Kojima revealed at the E3 gaming conference and is something of the game’s official theme song.
“[I got] a call from Sony, ‘we wanna use your music,’ they didn’t tell me what for,” says Karazija. “I didn’t hear about it until the trailer came out. I was watching a Warriors game with my mom and I started getting these text messages from my gamer friends. Next day I was driving down to L.A. to have dinner with [Kojima].”
Karazija wasn’t much aware of the scale of Death Stranding, which has been one of the most anticipated events in gaming for the last three years. The last system he owned was an Xbox he bought when he was 23, and he claims The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the only video game he’s played through.
Actually playing Death Stranding is low on Karazija’s list of priorities, especially as he’s in the midst of a solo European tour. If new fans discover his music through the game, he welcomes them. After all, it gives people a reference point other than Iceland.
When Brand New Heavies burst on the scene in the late ’80s appropriating fashion and funk music cues from the 60ʻs, they were part of a retro-future soul awakening leaping from Britain that projected to the world numerous shades of Black culture. Between Neneh Cherry, Caron Wheeler, Soul II Soul, and Lisa Stansfield, this drum machine version of soul took up space on the radio and MTV. Brand New Heavies, a live band with real musicians donning vintage vines, drew a smoldering type of romanticism. But Authenticity provided the sizzle.
Like a wristwatch, keeping both East and West coast time, the Heavies informed early ’90s music, including Hip-Hop, from the groove centric position of ’70s swag. Coming together in 2013 as members of BNH, band founder Jan Kincaid and vocalist Dawn Joseph instantly clicked and began writing new songs within a week of the first meeting. Calling themselves MF Robots, a subtle reference to today’s generic musical landscape, the duo left the Heavies to pursue their burgeoning partnership, which has already shown instant connectedness and spark in a brief span of time.
Kincaid and Joseph, who are currently putting the finishing touches to their untitled new album for BBE Records, decided to cover the venerable 1974 soul stomper “Finders Keepers” by Chairmen of The Board.
Music For Robots, the duo’s debut album from 2018, was packed with 14 tracks of dance-friendly tunes that slightly missed the indelible mark of an acid jazz mystique.
But this time around “Keepers” moves with great jostling energy, trademark foot-stomping and pushed tempo, and accentuated horn lines pushing the rolling funk momentum. It’s a return to an identifiable sound, born out of a specified musical DNA made by retro-standards established 30-plus years ago. This updated version smoothes out the horn attack, sands down the edges of the grooves, and keeps all the definitive wonk of the percolating clavinet keyboard runs intact. The unapologetically ’70s-sounding arrangement draws on horn powered groups from a previous era, and moves past cult definition.
For years, Marc Barrite built out his Dave Aju alias, a wordplay nom de plum for a San Francisco techno night in the early oughts, into a much-admired experimental dance floor model. Before Low-End Theory in Los Angeles, just after Drum and Bass ran through SF for a healthy stretch, Ajuʻs early arrangements, supported from jump by Parisian label Circus Company, established a template for West Coast experimental dance-floor compositions. Front-loaded with tree trunk bass, Detroit inspired techno meets electronic-funk, whiz-bang atmospherics, and vocals sped down or slowed up to deliver George Clinton-isms via processed voice. Once ʻthose joints” started making noise on the warehouse circuit and local Sunset parties, things got different.
Aju’s played DJ sets at famed Sonar and MUTEK festivals, Panorama Bar, Fabric, the fabulously divey Attic in SF (RIP), Housepitality Party, KONTROL, a little BBQ in McLaren Park every spring called “The Mo-Daddy Invitational”, and Gilles Peterson BBC WorldWide show. It makes no difference. The scene or status of the venue is immaterial. From Pete Rock to Pépé Braddock, Jimi Hendrix to Marcel Vogel, Caribou to CAN, Minnie Ripperton to Moodyman, the goal remains simple. Move bodies with soulful non-obvious ideas. Listen, dude was so deep in the hustle bag that for years his SF voice message literally asked: “press one for Marc and two for Dave”.
But what would you expect from a kid who raised by a Bay Area Jazz musician, Joe Barrite, an early peer of Pharoah Sanders? That aptitude, to flourish in the left-field edges, canʻt be taught. Finding success in the abstract quadrants of the global house scene was inescapable.
But sometimes simplicity breeds the most clarity.
After making three concept albums over the course of eleven years by way of found sounds and manipulated samples, with various EPʻs in between, fluctuating between gritty minimal techno and oddball house, with just a skosh of abstract bump in the middle on tastemaker labels from Mathew Herbert and Marcel Vogel … it was time for a change.
Barrite’s 2012 “Heirlooms” was a dedication to the passing of his father, comprised of Joe Barriteʻs archived work, and received an 8.0 rating from Pitchfork upon release. He chose to return to synths and drum machines for his fourth long-player.
So after spending five years in the techno capital of Berlin, the San Francisco native came back to California with a reset pass. TXLAX is his first album produced 100 percent in the Los Angeles sun. On first listen, it’s impossible to miss the sounds of nature. The appearance of birds, waves crashing on a beach, many sensations associated with air and sky, leap to the front of the 31-minute, eight-song project. Loaded from tip to tail with deep house cuts and future funk darts, there is a rhythm of stillness at work here.
We caught up with the producer.
48 HILLSHey, whatʻs up Marc? The last time we chatted about projects it was the Off Weed or Sane EP from last year. Can you catch us up on the past year leading up to releasing TXLAX?
DAVE AJU Yes, that’s right! Kind of a perfect segue actually, as that EP took place as I was back-and-forth and then packing to leave Berlin, its title is a cheeky phonetic twist on saying goodbye in German, and TXLAX is the first work I have done 100% in LA since moving here full-time. A lot of the cultural immersion I dove head-first into like a desert oasis after the previous five years abroad. Taco trucks, reggaeton and trap blasting from car stereos, godsend music stations like KCRW and Dublab, the ever-shining sun and the Pacific Ocean, of course, loom large over the album’s influences. Along with the evolving of personal relationships, learning how deep the LA underground DJ scene and heads really get, and a stark reminder of the hustle needed to pay those Cali bills and prices. The past year I’ve started finding a bit more balance between navigating the fickle gig and club scene Stateside, working more in the studio on other peoples’ projects, doing mixdowns, etc., and teaching the youth over at Musician’s Institute in Hollywood to give back in a way and pay it forward.
48 HILLSThat makes sense. Good on ya. I hope those kids know how lucky they are to have an upstart educator. It’s funny as I’ve heard this new project in different phases. I told you earlier, as someone who has listened to your music along in DJ booths, dancefloors, “Clubbing In Spain” podcasts etc, TXLAX sounds completely different. Not old SF Dave AJU or recent Berlin incarnations. It’s a new third rail of growth. Do you sense a difference in the sound?
DAVE AJU Yeah, I definitely sense a step forward or away from some of my past work with this one as well. Part of that is simply technical—everything else, especially the three previous LPs were made using microphone recorded found sounds and or wildly flipped samples, where this one is using a more familiar sonic palette in some classic synths and drum machines. A lot of current dance music seems obsessed with the old boxes again, so I wanted to take a crack at it, but do my best to keep my own aesthetic and not just imitate the ancestors who first mined that same gear. But the other change I assume is also a natural progression toward a more relaxed delivery. I enjoy chilling on the couch taking in a whole album or mix with eyes closed as much as I do being in the booth or the throngs of bubbling over club scene these days—guess the vibe kinda splits that difference a lil bit too?
48 HILLSThat couch talk sounds like Alland Byallo these days. As you know he put out a beautiful EP, Rule of Thirds during autumn this year. And our other Berlin brethren AYBEE with his “Donʻt Fear The Sound” from The Astral Walkers project with Lars Bartkuhn. Another stunner. And now with your TXLAX—everybody is getting better, deeper with their personal sound. It is almost like you are all collectively just starting to hit peak strides with careers, that began SF/OAK based, then went to Berlin, showing no sign of creatively drying up. I wonder if you could speak to that. On my end, it is nice to see friends still doing it and doing it well, to quote LL Cool J.
DAVE AJU Yeah, Byallo and AYBEE are the super homies and kindred spirits of the Cali-Berlin junction for sure. All of our paths indeed first crossed in SF, but my Mom was originally from LA and my Dad was from Oakland, so we connect on that as well. They’re always making inspired art of various shades, I’m proud to call them peers, just like yourself my man. And it’s funny you mention LL, I just had one of my students at Musicians Institute come up to me after a class on golden era hip-hop that Cool James doesn’t seem to get the same level of props as many of his pioneering peers do; the dude was hard as hell or steel and the ladies loved him, literally.
48 HILLSSpeaking of the students and younger ones. As we have this 13-year conversation on-going about jazz, Alice and John Coltrane, and how they both keep influencing what’s next from the popular to the underground, 4/4 based music, hip-hop, and experimental. How do you feel about the jazz revival, UK and US sides of the coin?
DAVE AJU The newfound excitement I see younger generations having for jazz now is great! Whether it took Kendrick’s leanings on To Pimp A Butterfly to get there or not is not what’s important, that 20-somethings are buying tickets to sold-out Kamasi Washington shows, Robert Glasper, and Esperanza Spalding as well, is inspiring. I see and hear the revivalist scene kettles in South London, Melbourne, and LA whistling on the stove and it’s beautiful. In the case of the former two hotspots, of course, Gilles Peterson is always the patron don and pushing some great new acts via comps and shows like Nubya Garcia, 30/70 and their creative offshoots. Here in LA, we’re blessed with Art Don’t Sleep’s exceptional Jazz Is Dead movement, which of course quasi-ironically promotes some of the best jazz shows I’ve ever seen. It definitely does more than their part in turning younger heads to the roots of the form. At both the Gary Bartz and Azymuth shows, produced by Art Donʻt Sleep, I fell somewhere in the middle age group, which certainly wasn’t the case with say, SF Jazz Fest 10 years ago. I’ve been listening to a lot of classics again lately due to their diligence, and of course, I was recently teaching the roots of Be-Bop. Watching the kids get as into Dizzy Gillespie sing Salt Peanuts as they are a new Skrillex mix feels very hopeful for the future.
48 HILLSOn Ryan Porter’s The Optimist from 2018, which features The West Coast Get Down, you hear this openness to bring samplers, drum machines anything to the jazz table. Porter really nailed home the point there is enough room for everyone to eat. Which also supports a Miles Davis quote that sticks today. “You gotta play where the ears are at”. That’s the type of energy this new wave brings to jazz on all fronts. It’s beautiful.
DAVE AJU Nice nice, that’s the one. Gilles, speaking of the jazz patron don, picked up on from jump and has supported as well.
48 HILLSWhen did the concept of the airplane for TXLAX come about?
DAVE AJU Before I had fully committed to moving back home from Berlin, for about the last six months I was going back and forth a lot. I mean. A LOT. One month in and out give or take, attempting a long-distance relationship of sorts. So the track “TXLAX” was first written about that – I wanted it to evoke the feeling you get staring out a window seat on a long flight, yearning to get to where you’re headed. As well as have the sonic footprint of the two cities, or my take on them at least. The rest of the album followed suit and was built around the same image and idea, and then solidified with the last move.
48 HILLSLemme tell ya. “Yulia” off your record. There is something extra special resonating with it. Kudos to you on just letting that mood just stay, hang and build. How did that track come about?
DAVE AJU “Yulia” is a very special piece for me on a number of levels. Starting from the least obvious, it actually went through two-plus years of iterations and was technically the first track of the set developed, ie. shouts out to v19.3, etc. Second, it is a direct dedication, tying back in with the Coltrane legacy. “Naima” is quite possibly my favorite piece of music ever made, I always felt there was nothing greater than to write a song directly to your partner publicly. It’s a suitable closer for the album because the woman it’s a tribute to was one of the main motivations for me to return to the West Coast. I won’t get into soppy rom-com personal details here but it’s been a pretty special ride so far.
Facilitators of Noise Pop, the annual independent music festival that takes place in San Francisco the week of February 24th-March 1st, just announced their second wave of performers. LA rock duo Best Coast, Arizona hip-hop trio Injury Reserve; Australian electronic duo Bag Raiders; Stockholm-based DJ/producer Kornél Kovács; acclaimed singer-songwriter Josh Rouse, who will be performing solo, and Philadelphia punk rock outfit Mannequin Pussy top the list.
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 chose a more diverse base of artists than in years past. Booking Raphael Saadiq, Maya Jane Coles, Suzi Analogue, Helado Negro, 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 announcement 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 Allstars, among many others.
Here are some artists from Noise Pop’s second wave you’d do well to catch:
Los Angeles based rock duo Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno of Best Coast tease their long-awaited return in 2020 with their new track, “For the First Time.” The song is laced with their signature surf rock sound combined with an added feeling of 80s nostalgia. They are still “completing work” on the new album, Always Tomorrow, slated to release sometime in 2020.
SHIGETO LIVE ENSEMBLE
Zach Saginaw, who records under the name Shigeto, is not one of those cash-grabbers. In four meticulously produced tracks on his Weighted EP from 2018, Saginaw continues down the categories-be-dammed ideology trail, and bestows an ambitious reading on how breakbeat, house music in its sexy and lounge vines, along with a sleaze-so-good electro joint, all come from the core gesture of movement. Catching his Ensemble Live is a good look by and for you.
Jamila Woods, the formidable 29-year-old multi-talented artist from Chicago, first came into the national spotlight by way of a Chance The Rapper affiliation in 2016, then via her own hype from the impressive début HEAVN the following year. LEGACY! LEGACY!, the unflinching sophomore release by the Brown University graduate, bears a title worthy of being shouted from museum rooftops, outdoor amphitheaters, and packed University classrooms, and lands a gut-punch of directness in under an hour. It’s a proclamation, mood and non-stop charter that enforces fact: Creation of art is the first act of resistance.
Violinist, singer, songwriter, and producer Sudan Archives contains multitudes. She first emerged as an avant-garde violinist who channeled her playing through loop pedals. But she’s also much more than that: lovelorn songwriter, powerful vocal performer, and experimental beatmaker. She’s captivated audiences at festivals around the world with her hybrid sound, playing at Coachella and Pitchfork Midwinter. On her latest release Athena the Ohio-born, Los Angeles-based artist, Brittney Parks, fuses beats with glowed up R&B and fiddling inspired by Sudanese and Ghanaian traditions.
Philadelphia punk rock outfit Mannequin Pussy whose recently released album Patience was met with glowing reviews and considered “one of the best punk rock records of the year”, covers all ground. From deeply melodic, anthemic pop-punk to straight-up, blistering chaos, this is THE forward-moving shark.
Bisi is more than a stage name for the 29-year-old Nigerian singer-songwriter who’s called San Francisco home for the last decade. It’s also a career strategy.
“Bisi means to birth more,” the singer, born Adebisi Obateru, told 48 Hills. “I think about it like a cactus. You only need to cut a piece of it and plant it and that basically replicates and creates the whole plant. I’m like that.“
In other words, every single by the Lagos-born world-fusion artist, who got his start performing on the streets of San Francisco before teaming up with his Bisi & The Moonwalker bandmate Joshua Smith, helped to lay the groundwork for his long-anticipated debut solo album, expected to drop early next year.
Each of Bisi’s existing tracks — “Remember San Francisco,” “Not Today,” “Love’s Infection,” “Home,” and “Every Night” — exudes the softness of Bob Marley, the rhythmic energy of Michael Jackson, and the colorful poetry, rap, and storytelling of seminal Nigerian singer Lagbaja.
Bisi’s heartfelt lyrics are a testament to the freedom that the singer-songwriter, who came of age amid Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha‘s oppressive military regime, has felt to express himself — after moving to the US at 17 to study at American River College outside of Sacramento and later at San Francisco State University.
I spoke to Bisi — who’s set to perform with The Moonwalker at PianoFight on Wed/27 and under his DJ moniker AfroBisi at the next installment of his monthly dance party at Little Baobab early next month — about the inspiration behind his locally inspired hit, why his heart’s in San Francisco, and how he maintains a connection to his native Nigeria from almost eight thousand miles away.
48 HILLSHow did growing up in Nigeria influence the artist that you are today?
BISI I grew up in Nigeria at a time when we couldn’t talk about what was going on during the military regime of Sani Abacha. But when I moved to the US, I realized how much music was a tool to get the message across and the power of music to change the status quo and continue to speak to the status quo in a way that I can bring people together to make a change.
48 HILLSWhen did you start making music?
BISI I started in late 2011. That semester I was very involved with the International Education Exchange Council. That summer, doing a road trip from San Francisco to New York, there was a lot of songwriting and jam sessions going on with the music committee. Being nostalgic about all those experiences, when I moved to a place in the Outer Richmond, we had enough rooms to where the idea of having a studio was getting exciting, so this rough idea started out of that.
48 HILLSYour love letter to The City by the Bay, “Remember San Francisco” seems to be inspired by warm memories of your early experiences here. Can you tell me about them?
BISI It’s the culmination of that experience and that energy of when I first moved to San Francisco. We ran the International Education Exchange Council and met all these unique people. We had a Thursday night social where we curated experiences for all our members, whether it was to eat somewhere or support a concert venue. So it was a new space for all of us. We’re in a new city and we’re exploring the city together and going to different places. But ultimately it was the joy of experiencing a new city together that was nostalgic for all of us.
48 HILLSWhat’s your relationship like with Nigeria today?
BISI I’m still connected to that place. It’s my community and I do whatever I can to give back and support musicians there, too. It’s harder for them there, so when I worked for Notes for Notes, we did some work sending some gear back to help set up a few studios there. So I’m always looking for opportunities to help and support people there.
48 HILLSWhat’s coming up next for you?
BISI I’m about to release an album and I’m excited about all the new music that I have lined up to release in the next few months leading up to the album.
I’m really excited to work with [Director of Photography] Nate Gold on a film based on another film that really touched me as a kid, which told the story of creation from the Yoruba people. It’s the story of Shango, the god of fire. I want to change it to a love story because he falls in love with the shape-shifting goddess of rain, Oshun.
So I’m really excited to make this film to my next album because I’m bringing this story of the Yoruba people to the West. A lot of people growing up in Nigeria watched this film and it was an attempt to tell a truly Yoruba story. It was the first time we had our own superhero, where I felt, ‘Wow, that is so cool — the god of fire.’ So I thought about that this year and got really excited to co-create that film and bring a little bit more of my culture to people that know me and my music.
BISI AND THE MOONWALKER Wed/27 5:30 pm, $10 PianoFight, SF. More info here.
With “Jaime”, a fearless debut solo album from Brittany Howard (appearing Fri/22 at the Fillmore, SF), the incendiary lead singer of Alabama Shakes, there is such an extreme energy convergence taking place: from the funk blues, discussing her relationship with GOD, pushed through hot mics via powerhouse pipes.
Apocalyptic rants of togetherness over space jazz beep fusion landscapes, with Robert Glasper raising those frequencies on keys, clapping back at the “right in your face” racism, still going strong in 2019. The search for connectedness via queer-leaning love songs, emotionally available to everybody who yearns to love or be loved, dipped in that Curtis Mayfield gospel sweet delivery system.
People. Howard almost called the record Black Björk.
Striking out on her own to write and produce a record that comes from the perspective of a queer, mixed-race woman, born to a black father and white mother in the same city as the founder of neo-Nazi message board Stormfront and a former Grand Wizard in the Klan, was the only choice. Jaime, named in memoriam after Howard’s sister, who died at 13 after being diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer, is a soul record built for and by our turbulent times, seeking humanity.
Boisterous, noisy, and unpleasant in stretches, this is not designed for your boondoggle of a Spotify playlist made for sipping 7am green juice. We need the colonic, a soundtrack for the soul of nation falling apart or coming together. These sound palettes, from Prince-informed sheen, Sharon Jones’ gravitational pull, and DʻAngelo mood funk, reach past the retro-soul niceness of Alabama Shakes 2012 Boys & Girls and stretches further out than 2015ʻs Grammy-winning Sound & Color.
Packing the fuck-you presence of her rock group Thunderbitch and the alt-moves of her country adjacent band Bermuda Triangle, Jaime is Howardʻs most realized musical patchwork to be housed on one project. Folks not experienced with living life in the margins may have difficulty. Before recording in Topanga CA, she took several trips across the country. While passing through Wyoming and Oregon, she caught the racism vapors all around her, triggered by how casually the open carry gun laws were practiced.
On the opener “History Repeats” a kick drum boom squares us off, with a snare building up over it running directly into a picking guitar minimal funkscapade where Howard slides into Prince vocal ease with: “I just don’t want to be back in this place again, I mean, I done cried a little, Tried a little, failed a little, I don’t wanna do it again.”
Those vapors get frenetic emergency broadcast system vibes, theremin frequencies, and full square free jazz fusion thwack bumpification on the call to arms of “13 Century Metal.”
Proclaimed from some type of loudspeaker squawk box, delivered with the tone of a Black elder stateswoman: “We are brothers and sisters, each and every one, I promise to love my enemy, and never become that which is not God, I dedicate my spirit in the service, Of what is good and fair and righteous, Every day I am alive, I am given opportunities to become that which I admire most of others, I am nonviolent, I am a master student and my spirit, Will never be stomped out.”
All underfoot of some type of Weather Report breakbeat expanse, riding hard. Fearless in every way, Jaime is that valiant soul record mirroring America.
Art is based on the inability to predict how it will be received. Sometimes as a DJ you get tired of breaking fools’ ankles. Kumail Hamid did. So after spending his early years delving into textural lo-fi electronic and ambient music, sharing the stage along the likes of Shigeto, Four Tet, DJ Koze, and Teebs—including a guest slot at the 2018 Dimensions Festival in Croatia—it was time for the musician, producer, and DJ from Mumbai, India, to hit reset.
Exchanging ambient for illbient, Yasmin his half-hour beat tape of sorts, with weary R&B feels, is a nine-song mood-board of lush voicing and explorations beyond just beat-making. It sees tempoʻs regulated to hook-driven slow jam speed. With music, at times, that sets you up for some type of silk-shirt, rub-you-down sitch. The lyrics, the ones you can decipher, question what’s real and imaginary. Fully dopamine paced on some glowed-up psych-groove type expanse, with many tasteful production salutes to DʻAngelo, Kumail gets the humidity correct.
This is a celestial radio show, captured on cassette, where the host has gone rogue, filling his air time with instrumental slow darts that get stuck in your ear. Instead of sleep appearing, itʻs the woozy bump supplying comfort. Comprising random 80ʻs r&b ideas matched up against modern neo-soul and experimental hip-hop, Kumail uses his real-life struggles with insomnia and trepidation to find the pace. Transforming those countless nights of being isolated in a room in Bombay, India, while recording this project, those yips get fed into the patchwork.
A chance record digging trek in Istanbul inspired much of the project. Discovering 1980ʻs Japanese funk, vivid gospel, bright disco, and twisted bass music from the LA underground set a unique path. New ideas bring contradictory feels and rules, so in honor of the project, Kumail dedicated two years studying music, sharpening his piano chops, lending his ear to new arrangements and employing different production techniques.
With the first track, “It Ain’t In My Head”, a packed two minutes of dribbling bass and looped vocals, sets us up. ‘Cause next track “Kkwy,” takes us directly to Questlove snare hits circa 2000, caramel chords, and horn lines. “For youuu” makes the quiet storm, connect the dots parade, oh-so-self-aware. Those wind currents blow imaginary music video white curtains, helping Kumail find the right place to spread his voice over the tastefully inserted vinyl crackles.
“Same Shit,” featuring Los Angeles singer and rapper Pink Siifu, marks a bounce moment, a major change in Kumail’s trajectory as a producer. But it’s “All U Know” where we get the closest to something that bumps along. It’s a head nod directive for sure, with silvery hummed lyrics, vibrating over the bass drum like Yoda over the Force, we get that needed energy push.