There’s a 24-hour bodega—remember those—in the video for “Meticulous Bird” from 2017 by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, which would fare better if it kept regular hours and groceries. Thao Nguyen, who fronts this Oakland-based group, dances like a recalled robot, ties her hair around a sliced lemon and shoots a hole in a bag of rice with an invisible arrow. All while a blinking fish, who refuse to die, keeps coming across her way in the night. Itʻs an epic couple of minutes where creativity leaps off every turnt shelf. But quite distant from Thaoʻs next grand production.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt normalcy all over the globe, this contemporary artist snatched artistic opportunity from the jaws of despair. With the group set to film a music video for their new single, “Phenom,” in Los Angeles (where Nguyen currently resides) in late March, plans for the shoot got scrapped once the statewide shelter-in-place order was declared. Nguyen’s manager suggested they shoot an alternative using the suddenly very popular video conferencing platform Zoom. By Wednesday, March 25, Thao had digitally convened with her team for what would serve as the video’s only pre-production meeting.
Directed by Erin Murray, who produced visuals for Charli XCX and Ed Sheeran, and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux (PUP, Calpurnia) and produced by Victoria Fayad (Moby), the video features Nguyen performing “Phenom” from home while a rotating supporting cast performs choreographed routines in personal Zoom windows. Spliced together on March 29 over the course of nine hours, the video, a work of optimism and complexity during a pessimistic time, was cut and released to the public within 48 hours. The video is a phenom in itself, transcending any gimmickry a simple description of the process would suggest. Nguyen had this to say about the track in a statement:
“‘Phenom’ is a direct descendant of the song ‘Meticulous Bird’ from my previous album, A Man Alive. I wrote it late last year. I was reading Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin and channeling other worlds, a sort of post-apocalyptic utopia wherein time collapses and generations of the true leaders and the scorched of the earth come back and rule, wherein the earth itself comes back and brings to bear. I was and am always in deep awe of the fierce and focused throughout history who have worked and organized at the front lines, calling bullshit and protecting vulnerable life. They are the real phenoms and we are strong from their strength. The first seed of this song was that guitar riff that is layered over and over at the end. ‘Phenom’ is at the edge of mania with the miscarriage of truth and justice and power, but believes in a more virtuous time and place in the distance.
Thao herself has been grinding away for a decade, churning out distinctive rhythms, dead cold funky beats with truth to power lyrics floating over the top. In May, she’ll release Temple, her fifth full-length album as That & the Get Down Stay Down, the follow-up to 2016’s A Man Alive. It’s the first album she’s self-produced, along with bandmate Adam Thompson.
“I have divided myself into so many selves. I am nervous but hopeful that in belonging to myself, I can still belong to my family, and my Vietnamese community, especially the elders,” she said in a press release about the album. “I believe that shame has made my work more general when I’ve always wanted to be specific. This record is about me finally being specific. If you listen to my music, I want you to know who you are dealing with.”
The forthcoming 11th annual Burger Boogaloo festival, held in Oakland’s Mosswood Park and originally planned for July 11 and 12 has been rescheduled for Halloween weekend due to the unprecedented circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic. According to organizers, the festival’s lineup will remain the same and even include more artists ike Shannon Shaw, Hammered Satin, and The Rubinoos. All previously purchased tickets will be honored for the new dates.
“A virus may scare the punk rock world out of Oakland in July but we’ll scare it right back on Halloween weekendʻ said John Waters, Burger Boogaloo host and iconic filmmaker. “Trick or treat, we can’t be beat! Burger Boogaloo2020: a Monster Mash to top them all!”
Punk legend Alice Bag, along with Bikini Kill, Circle Jerks, Carbonas, Bleached, Plastic Bertrand and San Francisco queercore band Pansy Division were the first round of artists announced for this year’s edition. 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.
MUTEK San Francisco, the US outpost of the critically acclaimed experimental music festival series, scheduled for May 2-5, is presently considering new festival dates in the fall according to facilitators. (The lineup may change a well.) Sprawling across several (now shuttered) venues, the festival also showcases art and innovative technology. For a decimated scene, it may be a strengthening tonic. “As more and more festivals become mere money-making ventures, MUTEK has consistently stayed true to its purpose of providing a platform for creatives outside the mainstream,” says its website.
BottleRock Napa Valley music and wine festival, originally set to take place on May 22-24, will be moved to October 2-4. (Itʻs now the same weekend as this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival held in San Franciscoʻs Golden Gate Park.) Several of the BottleRock festival’s previously announced acts will appear at the rescheduled dates, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Nicks, Dave Matthews Band, Miley Cyrus, Khalid, Anderson. Paak & The Free Nationals, and Zedd. Details on the rest of the lineup will be revealed at a later date.
“We made this decision with the safety and best interests of our fans, musicians, partners, employees, and community being paramount,” BottleRock festival organizers said in a statement. “We are committed to putting on the festival to not only share great music and the incredible Napa Valley hospitality but because it’s vitally important to the livelihood of all those who make BottleRock Napa Valley the festival it is.” Tickets for BottleRock’s postponed weekend will be honored for the rescheduled dates. Further information on exchanges and refunds will be detailed in the next few weeks at the website.
Released just a couple of weeks after the spring equinox, Issac Aesiliʻs sophomore release unfurls before a turbulent planet with the elegant poise of jejune lilies budding for the first time.
Hidden Truths (Bastard Jazz) was recorded with New Zealand’s top-tier groove masters, including in-demand feature vocalists Ladi6 and Rachel Fraser. Aesili, Lord Echo bandmember and world-renowned musician on both trumpet and percussion, takes us through a good-good-feeling digital soul journey, that squiggles its way through jazz, funk, R&B, and house music with self-assured aplomb.
Donʻt count on me to tell you his production aesthetic fuses Afro and Latin styles with hip-hop and electronic music. Let your ears do the heaving lifting. “Realms”—a killer dance floor lil-bit-o-everything slab five songs in, is the first real sign that weʻve got a stand-out project on our hands. As with the work of New Zealand contemporary Julien Dyne (Teal from 2018 still bumps), we get 808 programming and live drumming fused into one cohesive entity. A champion sound with the majestic swing. Itʻs lined up with keen execution merging techno, house, and low slung bass tones, converting this five-minute number into a must repeat choon fer days. And that breakdown in the middle? Filthy.
Over the course of the past three years Aesili, Māori producer and creative force behind acts Funkommunity, Sorceress, and Karlmarx, designed a record that fits squarely between the commute to the club and the fine in-home listening we’ll all be doing for a while. Backyard-ready for the social distancing dance party (everybody hold tight to your own red cup, please) this album never gives a sense of overreaching while traversing through various feels. From the wintry J Dilla swing on the instrumental opener “Mirror,” things go click and bump over tinny loops setting the terrain for antiquated trumpet calls, smoothing things out.
“Steps,” a 7-minute workout, the climax of the record, is yet another blueprint displaying the shrewdness Aesilli has in designing grand dance tunes that never feel “too extra.” It starts out economical with voice, hand-drumming, and Rhodes organ colors and by the end we are rolling, awash in plush synths, expanded bass-lines and soaring vocal enhancements. There is a sensation of a simplified Fred P-type of arrangement at work here, that allows so many varying access points for the uninitiated. Hidden Truths further indicates New Zealand remains a fertile region making electronic compositions that hit fresh and emote clearly.
As Broken Horse, an enduring San Francisco band that calls its oeuvre Western Doom Noir, erupted into tuning instruments at its Rite Spot comeback show on Saturday, March 7th, a congregation of greying hipsters assembled.
This was the day after Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s had announced that larger venues, such as the War Memorial Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall, would be closed for all public events, but that smaller spots could stay open. Listen, right when those guitar-tech exercises got “string noisey” irksome, a throng of younger-looking attendees spilled out, popping fingers from their ears as they hit the street.
As for those old heads? The ones who probably lived in the rough-and-nasty SOMA district of the late ’80s and the tense Mission district of the early ’90s? They moved in closer, identifying that brashness—a welcoming drone—that comes along with living in a city, as their long-lost sonic hearth, enjoying the communal warmth of having their old Mission dive bar back. (The Rite Spot had just reopened after a run-in with the Entertainment Commission.)
“So I guess I tuned up,” joked Alex Oropeza, who founded the band in Tuscon, Arizona circa 1986. “Hopefully, this will sound OK.”
Oropeza steered the four-piece outfit through a collection of retooled southwestward-type blues, with Bill Cuevas on bass, Joe Goldring on lead guitar, and Warren Huegel on drums. For an hour and change they marshalled along twangy Dick Dale-tinged, gothlike country-surf-jazz numbers, a sort of David Lynchian concept album. For the 30 or so patrons in attendance, including revered San Francisco songwriter and musician Paula Frazier, it was an eerie soundtrack to a world teetering slightly, but not yet fully, into panic. Oropezaʻs fetching arrangements, executed with veteran self-assuredness from the band, rendered an ominous tone that patrons applauded, but nobody really wanted to discuss.
At 12:01 am Tuesday, March 17, 10 days later, that dread became fact. San Francisco, along with five other counties began “shelter in place” orders, weeks ahead of the rest of the continental United States, directing everyone to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible. A desperate, yet necessary move to curb the rapid spread of COVID across the Bay Area. The arts community braced itself for a devastating hook.
“My guitarist’s European tour got canceled, a big bummer for them, as they work all year for a few months of fun in the spotlight,” Oropeza told me about the current crisis. “So instead, we thought we’d take the opportunity and go into the studio to finish our record, then all non-essential businesses got shut down. So recording was a bust too”.
With at least 3.3 million US workers losing their jobs within a week due to the COVID shutdown, this global pandemic has invaded every bit of society thought possible. San Francisco has always had the type of arts community that could insulate societal blows, but the past four weeks have taken a ruinous toll on the people who give temporary but well-needed distractions in times of crisis. Those important converters of energy, life-force providers, are just as much at risk as anyone else. Possibly more. Constant construction of high-rise condos that nobody can afford does not boost tourism nor the creative potential for new residents. Culture does.
“Music venues had really taken a hard hit in SF for the last 10 years, with no second-tier places to play” Oropeza said. “Finally over the last year, it started picking up again with live music gaining momentum. Now they’re all closed and reaching out with GoFundMes to support their staff.”
Bay Area shoegaze and dream-pop four-piece Seablite was finishing the video for “High-Rise Mannequins,” the title track of its recent EP released by Emotional Response and Spanish label Meritorio Records, when the current shelter-in-place order was issued. Suddenly the video’s theme became all too real. Intercut with scenes of the bands’ live performances at UC Theatre and Rickshaw Stop, were shots of a headphone-wearing mannequin, schlep-rocking through an abandoned cityscape.
“It feels weird to watch this now that the entire world is on pandemic lockdown and we’re not sure we can really even go to our practice space in the near future,” read a statement from the band. “But we hope it brings a smile to your face and a reminder that good times are still out there, somewhere in the future.”
Scheduled to play the Valley Fever Festival and go out on a DIY tour with The Umbrellas, Seablite are now are quarantined like most bands. Individually, they are working on demos and graphic design projects, doodling new song ideas, re-creating family recipes to think on easier times, searching for jobs at cemeteries or funeral homes, and working on jangle-pop solo records.
Oakland’s’ own Once & Future Band, a pop group whose range of influences includes ’60s and ’70s arrangements, ’80s R&B, ’90s hip hop, jazz fusion, experimental electronic music, and a ton of other sounds, released a video for the song “Freaks” a couple of weeks back from their upcoming LP Deleted Scenes, out on Castle Face Records April 10th. Facing the hard reality of dropping an album, without any type of shows to support it, led the prog-rock outfit to think about recording new material.
“We were hoping to have this time as a band to work on new music and record more since we won’t be on the road, but from now on, we don’t have access to our studio and I don’t have access to my drums for the foreseeable future” stated band drummer Raj Ojha. “However, I know everyone’s working on music on their own, that’s just what we do, and I’m grateful that I was able to take some equipment home before the shelter in place order, so I can work on some mixing jobs and work on other music that doesn’t require my drums.”
So how are indie musicians surviving? Brooklyn-based magazine Left Bank hosted a virtual music festival via YouTube, that ran 12 hours a day, March 17-22. Called Left Bank Live, it featured artists from around the world broadcasting from their bedrooms. Rather than charging fans for digital entry, the magazine encouraged listeners to tip the musicians they enjoy using Venmo. Left Bank Media founder Kristyn Potter told the Guardian that given the international spread of bands and fans, this was the simplest way to get artists paid without “potentially breaking any international money laws.”
As for the inspiration for the event: “To be honest, I was working with an artist friend on a way to Livestream a set of his from New Jersey and I was like ‘wait a minute what if we just did this for a bunch of artists.’ It was Thursday night and I texted a few of my music friends, made a story on Instagram to gauge whether there was an interest or if artists would even sign up, and by Friday we had like 50 artists confirmed and a potential sponsor interested. It happened VERY fast” Potter explained via email to 48hills.
These innovations come when the need is well beyond healthy, and according to Potter, itʻs gonna continue.
“I think that people are just trying to be creative and engage with their audiences through this time. I also think that if you aren’t live streaming or doing virtual concerts, someone else will and it’s still important for artists to keep up as much face time with their fans as possible,” Potter said. “That coupled with the fact that everyone is at home.”
By the time Jimi Hendrix and his Band of Gypsys—released on Capitol Records March 25, 1970—came together for their two-night performance at the Fillmore East on New Years 1970, with Billy Cox on bass and Buddy Miles on drums, the Seattle-born polymath had dropped the gunslinger antics. Along with The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Playing guitar behind his back, between his legs, making it look as if he were playing it with his teeth… These performance hacks were learned out on the R&B chitlin’ circuit, backing up Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, in Hendrix’s lean-eating, primary fame stage of the early 1960s. That trick bag landed him opening slots for The Monkees when he started his rock ascension.
But in 1969, things turned volatile, different. There was an extra heaviness in the cultural zeitgeist. Vietnam. The Black Panthers. Protest. Civil Rights. Old society collapsing like Voltron into the music, driving the aesthetic. That shuffling for dinner shit became immediately played. Moldy in fact… Anything resembling some ʻUncle Tomʻ coonery got cancelled.
Hendrix was sweating. Under pressure from his manager and record company to record a follow-up to the 1968 crossover psychedelic-rock epic Electric Ladyland, he was also required to produce an album’s worth of new material for Capitol Records to satisfy a contract dispute with a former manager. His pop veneer didnʻt serve the evolving “jamming experiments” he had cooking on the horizon. Cox and Miles galvanized Jimi’s embrace of the R&B tradition. Merging it all with a blues root, it produced unparalleled rhythmic stability. One that was lacking before.
On the quintessential funk-rock model “Who Knows,” Hendrix guitar solo-boogies vertically, not horizontally, between Coxʻs low-end corkscrew patterns on bass and Miles’ snare-blasting, foot-innit, timekeeping. Who knew generations later that thickness, this type of bump, would be chopped and sampled for a new music form called hip-hop. Credit Digital Underground (probably Shock G to be specific) for being stealthy in choosing that sample for the groove on 1990ʻs “The Way We Swing.”
But praise the originators, the ancestors, for making folks in the 70s unconsciously snap their damn necks in unison to the big brother beat this trio carved out. Sure, the wild-style solo features on “Power To Love” is Jimi deep in his bag, but it’s all complementary to the in-the-pocket, nimble and quick, bass lines Cox just continually lays down. Itʻs the rock, and an electrified version of jazz legend Ron Carter that just canʻt do any wrong.
“Machine Gun” a career exclamation point, where Hendrix dedicates the song “to all the soldiers that are fighting in Chicago and Milwaukee and New York, oh yes, and all the soldiers fighting in Vietnam”, is an ode to the unrest happening overseas, in the “official” war, and as much about the late 1960s race riots, giving way to blood running down the streets in this country.
The performance gives vivid transparency of war and its foul stench, employing percussive uses of the guitar never heard before. Mirroring the John Coltrane “sheets of sound” approach on Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue,” it followed up the political statement of Hendrixʻs “chopped and screwed” version of the national anthem” at Woodstock.
These evolving musical directions, with no specific landing points or limits, were far from pop moves. But producer Chas Chandler was gone. Hendrix was free to delve into his R&B and funk influences. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was dead. A new rhythm section, where the bass and drum were sympatico and hitting, complementing the psychedelic stuff so much that Davis commented, “it freed Jimi from the constraints of the Experience.”
Hendrix rebuilt himself. Stretching his repertoire into a type of swing. Executing it on stage, standing still. And then moving on from us.
“We’re living in the present, and there are pressing issues that are happening to us personally,” stated bassist Luke Stewart of the free-jazz outfit Irreversible Entanglements during a rare interview with ShadowProof a couple of years back. “And those are things that need to be addressed. And are going to be addressed naturally, especially in an improvisational context, where it’s based on our life experiences and our perspectives and activities that we’re involved in.”
This free jazz combustible outfit, made up of members from Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York, met during a Musicians Against Police Brutality concert in 2015 protesting the murder of Akai Gurley by an NYPD officer. Fast-forward to 2017, the International Anthem label and New Jersey punk label Don Giovanni jointly released their self-titled début album.
Fortified by MC/poet Camae Ayewa, aka Moor Mother, saxophonist Keir Neuringer, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Tcheser Holmes these musicians gave flight to Ayewaʻs words-filled with bang-up agitation and seething anguish-via shuttering bass patterns, thundering ornate percussion accents, and call to arms horn charts.
In return, her lyrics frame the tempo of a world gone deceitful. This punk-rocking application to jazz, with cut /bleed precision, fluctuates in timbre over the course of five pummeling tracks, making Who Sent You?, the bands’ second release, a timely soundtrack alerting US of the hellscape Covid-19 has unleashed unto Mother Earth.
Which in fact has caused the cancelation this bands tour of Italy London, Athens, Oslo, Tampere, Helsinki, and Chicago. Bad for the group. Worse for the world, which misses out on the live raising black and brown fists in solidarity against the ineffectual old pale male guard, that not only allowed this Global Pandemic shit to take place, but let the super-wealthy profit from it.
Does anybody want a cheap Carnival Cruise ship? I know of one in Oakland. Asking for an Oligarch.
Remember, Katrina, displacing the heart of New Orléans, hard-working black and brown folk, while the same type of constituency gave way to Casinos being built on graves of the disenfranchised. Blocking the natives from returning en masse.
As explained in the liner notes: “this album functions as a heat-sealed care package for the modern Afrofuturist’s pre-flight machinations.”
Ayewaʻs narrative—beginning with her intense first muttering, “Stay onnit,” from opener “The Code Noir/Amina”—gets into your essence immediately… Amiri Barakaʻs overt rebellion fertilized throughout. The jarring, stop and go musical accompaniments moves wildly. It’s a Fellini soundtrack on meth. Between the Ornette Coleman avant-free-funk mode and dead-on Sun Ra (RIP Danny Ray Thompson) cosmic theatrics, these young players prove early on, theyʻre operating within a context. Extending a tradition.
Uneasiness, brought on by Black trauma, commands the narrative of Who Sent You?, giving insight into how it feels to take up space in America, with dark pigmentation, always making you a suspect, awaiting the next attack from either the wide-awake right-wing conservatives AND the unconscious million-dollar home owning liberals, perpetually blinded by their Silicon Valley opulence.
Also on “The Code Noir/Amina,” Moor Mother, expressing the frustration of this daily race-chess-hopscotch game we play, observing the lines of gentrification closing in, asks “At what point do we stand up?” After taking a pause and reloading that sentiment with rage, she follows with “At what point do we give a shit?”
We got a couple of months of self-distancing to answer that.
Veteran San Francisco based psychedelic soul outfit Monophonics seem to be going through a “thing.”
Their latest record Itʻs Only Us (Colemine Records) with the first three song titles “Chances,” “Suffocating,” and the seven-minute escapade of strings “Last One Standing,” indicate a weighty collective psyche. Thots give way to expanded arrangements reaching beyond their high and tight ’60s retro-soul resume. These eight songs, totalling under 40 minutes, smack of the experimental phases by Marvin Gaye, Issac Hayes, and even The Four Tops during the heavier vibe of the early ’70s when soul got open.
Showcasing their own confidence in execution, the Monophonics want you to know these icons of the genre are their inspiration. You canʻt miss how much “Last One Standing” is an ode to Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.” But Monophonics have their own style of get down, their own version of hustle.
That flex, being pushed further into their own bag by the greats, is the growth this project is built upon.Peep the consciousness-expanding country twang of “Suffocating” (a slow banger of a ballad) enhanced by lap steel and strings. It gives this Bay Area group a beguiling elder statesman swag that escaped previous efforts.
But the writing was on the wall…
Lead singer Kelly Finnigan, who released his solo project The Tales People Tell on Colemine Records in 2019, made a drum-heavy, distorted and fuzzy soul record that relied laboriously on woolly textures, complex horn charts, and knotty arrangements. Listen… somehow dude put together drum hits Pete Rock would steal while blowing out vocals Durando and Anderson.Paak would get jelly over. Serious. Dead-ass in fact. Finnegan wrote, produced and played 10 different instruments throughout that record. His complex hustle and attention to detail continue on with “Itʻs Only Us”.
This collective band expression reflects what they see as the current direction in the world. Putting forth a hopeful theme of humanity that weaves about the project, striving to speak to a range of listeners. They claim it’s a message of unity, strength, resilience, and acceptance. But listen…It’s just a heavier slab of soul that incorporates the Mellotron and Moog synthesizer. Another 70ʻs vibe component. Add that to an already stellar horn line, deep in the pocket bass playing and drum strokes that never freeze, whew. That Monophonics trademark sound gets boosted through far-out textures evoking head-nod procedural everywhere.
In the updated, rebooted, race and gender-swapped HULU 10-part series HighFidelity, adapted from the 1995 Nick Hornby classic novel (made into a hit movie in 2000), Rob, our lead character, is still stubborn. Here, Zoë Kravitz updates the “Brooklyn record store owner on a quest to exorcise past failed relationships via classic rock mixtape” protagonist character with laid-back persnicketyness. Far cooler and easier on the eyes than the Hollywood movie’s John Cusack, Rob (short for Robin this time) approaches during awkward situations with millennial passive-aggressive stealth.
In the most self-actualized role (That Big Little Lies mope-a-dope sentimentality gets no props here) she’s had a chance to shine in, Kravitz proves with each Fruity Pebbles monologue that she can own this series. But her perfect jibe with the record nerd surroundings sells us on the entire project. Breaking the fourth wall, talking into the camera, in her office at the record store, while explaining that “all white dudes love Weezer,” a rare black and white poster of Prince hangs just above her braids, along with a Grace Jones “Nightclubbing” LP, that slim cigarette still extended from Jones’ lips, positioned just to the left of our protagonist’s chiseled cheekbone.
Her words fade as you line-up with the camera positioning. Heaviness lingers. These touches keep the story different. Rewarding.
Donʻt trip, though: When needed, Kravitz proves her Rob, a former DJ of the curmudgeonly strain, can flex at being a slight prick. But she’s doing something with those eyes, blinking, looking away and snapping back for non-verbal conveyance. Allowing this character to be more open to the idea of warmth. Still in need of turning around her own cluttered messy personal life but, unlike with Cusackʻs dundering emotional oaf, folks are not rooting against Kravitz. And thatʻs the attraction this time around. HULU is not an acronym for stupid… Better ask somebody…
I mean, who does not want to kick-it with cool ass Zoe/Rob over the course five hours, cruising around BK in Hawaiian leisure shirts, long brown leather coat, and jeans? Lighting fools up on how Fleetwood Macʻs Tusk is better than Rumours. Yeah, that type of record snark, nerdy, self-righteous, goes down just seven minutes into the first episode. The series is adapted by Sarah Kucserka and Veronica West, the award-winning writers of “Ugly Betty,” who punch-up references, stretching the old mixtape idea to connect with a Spotify culture where “bummer dude” playlists and jokes about Ariel Pink and Sufjan Steven take-up residence. But clutter, whether interior, psychological, or just running rampant throughout your rent-controlled apartment, remains the enemy of Rob.
The action centers around Rob revisiting her most recent exes, counted down like a Casey Kasem chart update, and reviewing the highs and lows. Kravitz, an executive producer here, grand-daughter of actress Roxie Roker (Helen Willis of “The Jeffersons”) and, yes, daughter of Lenny and Lisa Bonet, leads the charge at her “Championship Vinyl” record store, in a very gentrified but still Black, Brown, and beige adjacent, hipster-populated section of Brooklyn-Crown Heights. Rob and employees Simon (David H. Holmes), who is another of Rob’s top-five exes—he came out of the closet while they were dating—and Cherise (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) shame patrons for Shazaming songs played in the shop versus asking any one member of the opinionated staff. These characters, more reality-based than Jack Black and Todd Louiso in the movie, make this record store the central living room you definitely are swinging by after work, just for the sick burns.
Robʻs internal playlist ping-pongs from ESG during sex and Frank Zappa for adolescent memories to Nick Drake when meandering the streets and classic SF soul sensation Dorando when mentioning her one big love hang-up, the one she built a life with: Mac, played with international chic by Kingsley Ben-Adir. That personal baggage makes her disintegrate for a year. Nailing another universal truth. Stubbornness and obsession are things we’re all capable of stepping in. From there, Kravitz spins it into character gold.
Yuvi Hawkin, the Tel Aviv-based producer who records using the moniker Rejoicer, chops up and filters a confluence of styles ranging from neo-fusion jazz, experimental beats, world music accents, and classical music orchestration. By way of his Raw Tapes Label, Hawkins is a big reason for the increased interest in Israel’s modern beat movement. Energy Dreams his Stones Throw debut from 2018, had him proclaim, “There’s a huge music world in my head that I hadn’t expressed or explained, and I decided to try to tap into that world of sounds.” That project most definitely got and stayed different, but lacked a “heat rock” type push. It was dope, but the uncooked non-fleshed-out arrangements barely held up.
Spiritual Sleaze, his follow-up to Energy Dreams, sees the producer cake up on new textures he explored on his EP Heavy Smoke from 2019. Putting some meat on that bone, adopting more of a downtempo sound, grounding all that instinctual atmospheric ephemera to notes and chords, applying bass lines that glide over tracks, showcasing a variety of rhythmic accompaniment. Hawkins is hazy no more. These are fully-realized beat centric movements.
Influenced by close physical proximity to despair—he lives 50 miles from the brutal occupation of Gaza—yoga and meditation play a strong role in the pursuit of his creative process. But any spiritual practice comes insulated with grim reality, just an hour driving distance away.
Citing a rando bag of influences—Sun Ra and Aphex Twin, Steve Reich and Dabrye, Alchemist and Arvo Pärt, Eric Satie and Wu-Tang Clan, Ebo Taylor and Scientist—he’s transformed previous beat scene scarcity into low-key fusiony bops that jut out energetic technicolor progression. The push-pull between breathy, ambient sounds and improvisational riffs give this project solemn identity. Earlier projects came off just a bit vapid, Spiritual Sleaze got grills. Sliding from downtempo grit, through half-time signatures to 4/4 uptempo hustle, wide-sweeping ranges in textures carry this project forward into uncharted terrain for Hawkins.
“Earth Talk” feat Sam Wilkes staples downtempo footing beneath outer space temperatures. Dreamy, hallucinatory vibes persist with the standout “My Beans” feat Keren Dun. That wormhole bass line, real low-slung beats, and sparse accompaniment signal that our producer has achieved the wisdom of stillness.
Even the surprise “turn up” of “Third Eye Jungle Run” procures an out of nowhere bump and hustle 3-minute jam, percolating along, using taut strings and punchy swag. These constant choices to move in several opposite directions keeps everything fresh and fast.
Facilitators of Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival know the key to running a successful week-long bill of shows throughout the Bay Area, which extended this year to Santa Cruz and Sacramento, is quite similar to maintaining a long-standing intimate relationship.
You got to keep it Fresh… Baby.
And that’s how it felt all over, February 24-March 1. The 2020 line-up packed the most diverse bill of acts, over 70 local, in the 28-year history of the fest. It felt like the experimental, techno-oriented SF Mutek let its presence be known—and Noise Pop refused to be dunked on by the upstart festival. That’s good. Booking Shigeto, Mary Jane Coles, Washed Out, Jamilla Woods, Sudan Archives, and a host of others represent modernity challenging normcore. New forms of electronic music and leftfield artistry keep pushing the middle towards unexplored genre territory and out of the Vanilla ghetto. Thatʻs growth.
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. Itʻs the one thing this festival has consistently made its bones on: presenting tomorrow’s stars, today. Consistency outruns trends, by a mile, and Noise Pop still knows how to pick em.
From the blistering punk-rock discharge of trio Sarchasm, who blew doors off at their Bender’s Happy Hour performance Thursday, February 27. Matching swift anxiety with Beatles-inspired clarity, the alternative Berkeley punk band—eagerly awaiting the next System of a Down project—may just rumble up to Green Day status in the future.
To the all-woman Brooklyn based project called Habibi—the brainchild of Detroit natives Rahill Jamalifard and Lenny Lynch—who added Erin Campbell on bass and Karen Isabel on drums in 2011. Itʻs a hard flex of Iggy Pop and Suzi Quatro posture. Punk frame of mind with Motown harmonies. They are a mood, for sure. At their headline performance at Bottom of The Hill this Saturday, February 29, high-energy ’60s style garage rock emanated from their set, dominated by simple, catchy songs.
Helado Negro—the performing moniker of Roberto Carlos Lange—played to a full-capacity, multi-diverse, sold-out show at Great American Music Hall on the third night of the festival. Heʻs a celestial entity. An amalgam of acoustic and electronic music, with lingering ambient components. A mostly young, brown, queer, and gay crowd hung onto every finite gesture, every hand movement through his fully mushroomed afro, with the smoky blue light outlining his frame.
“Were gonna play the record we put out last year” was greeted to billows of cheering fans just waiting to be serenaded by the man they came to be swooned by. As soon as the mellow groove of “Please Wonʻt Please” arrived, varying couples toasted drinks with one another, privately kissed their partners admiringly on the cheek, and Lange turned the sold-out crowd into one giant cuddle puddle. Randomly asking a waitress how her night was going for the show nobody could get a ticket to, “The crowd is OK. Very nice people. Ainʻt nobody drinking. But they are really nice.”
Yet it was his opening acts that gave the surprise. Angelica Garcia, handpicked by Helado Negro to open for him, 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.
She opened her set by looping her voice into all the components needed for a song. Percussion. Harmony. Rhythm. As she delivered the lyrics, the hand gestures and energy propelled the crowd to shrieks of elation. In the first two minutes of her performance audience members immediately started pulling her up on their phones and nodding in agreement about this young ingenue—whose song “Jicama” was President Obamaʻs 2019 favorite song of the year—catching fire.
Tré Burt, the Sacramento/SF based artist—and recent signee to John Prine’s Oh Boy label—came on the stage very nonchalant, with a raspy voice and bewildered-sounding way making statements like “Iʻm winging it up here” and “Whoʻs in love?” His songs came off melodic, while the strumming on his acoustic guitar, not so much percussive, but blues-oriented. Still, 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.
And then… by sneak attack… while waiting to see Imperial Teen at The Chapel Saturday night, Seablite a San Francisco four-piece band, loaded to the gills with fuzz, reverb, delay and songs whose lyrics fade in and out like a sugar rush that never crashes, stole the entire show. This 8pm opening act, in a crisp 35 minutes, maneuvered jangle-pop sensations and bubbly effervescent whimsy, overtaking The Chapel. The 65 people in attendance got a good look at what’s coming around the corner. “They did the same thing opening for Ladytron a while back” shouted the bands’ merch person ever so jubilantly in my ear. “Seablite is the shit,” she happily announced while bouncing back to sell more vinyl records by the local band. Indeed they are.
Closing down the Saturday night with a Midnite Pop-up show at Cafe Du Nord was a special appearance by Richard Quitevis aka DJ QBert the award-winning Filipino-American Turntablist and composer.
DEEANDROID and Lady Fingaz, supporting on the bill, running a fierce B2B session with high-flying cuts, scratches, drops, and finesse opened and at one point actually challenged to steal the show. Once on, QBert initially teased “Iʻm DJ Bathroom Break” and then proceeded to run through tricks, beats, and drops that kept the attendee’s eyes fiercely planted on the ones and twoʻs until closing.
While some luminaries do shows to showcase some of the fire that made them famous, this performance, made it very clear, quickly: Q-Bert has not collected one speck of dust in that trick bag. It was a “RUN COME TEST” set, that left his legacy intact without the tiniest imperfection.