Friday, April 25, 2008

radio freedom

FreeFM, the radio station inside Tower Street Penitentiary, the largest men's prison in Kingston, Jamaica, has an internet presence. Last summer, I was in Kingston for a couple of months, alongside Christina and some cool techs who came out for a week from the Antenna Alliance, helping with that project and the recording studio that was set up there (with smaller ones in South Camp, the lower-security prison and a very rudimentary one at Fort Augusta, the women's prison). Working in the prisons gave me an interesting perspective on Jamaica, but even more so on the role and nature of law and law enforcement in places where power imbalances are as extreme as they can be.

I don't know if the program schedule (available on the website for the group that organized the project, Students Expressing Truth- click SET FM, the old name, and look for the program guide) is still accurate, but the talk radio shows are especially interesting, and the music is I think what you would find popular anywhere in Jamaica.

One of my favorite memories of Tower Street was my first time walking into the SET room (having crossed the open yards of the prison center, a slightly nervous-making experience), to find a group of men sitting around a table piled high with newspapers, marking them up and making notes, and the station manager stomping around like J. Jonah Jameson tearing his hair out because the news wasn't ready yet and they had to go live soon. The atmosphere was just like any newsroom in college radio that I'd been in.

One example of a common difficulty in that world is that the inmates - even those who have special and theoretically blanket approval for access to the papers - get their newspapers on sufferance of the guards. If anyone of the guards feels like flexing, he can not provide a newspaper, and then the radio news doesn't happen. Everything is contingent, on power, on the weather, and on where things are physically. When I was there, much of what we spent our time doing is figuring out how and where to run the cable from the SET room to the only internet connection in the prison. People had some ingenious ideas, but there were numerous technical, physical and organizational difficulties. I'm glad to see they have been resolved. Praise to SET (the inmates) and to the forward thinking Commissioner Reese for this achievement.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

SuryaDub this Saturday

Special Guests featuring:
Dub Gabriel (Azra Records, Brooklyn) Enough bass-powered propulsion here to keep most nu dubheads amused for hours” says Wire Magazine. Dub Gabriel has been pushing the boundaries of the New York electronic scene for over 10 years. His legendary Brooklyn Massive Warehouse parties kicked-off in the late 90s and since then he has played alongside the likes of Public Enemy, P-Funk All Stars, Dr. Israel, Francois K., Kode 9, and Jazzanova among others. Touring regularly all over Europe and recently headlining a series of shows in Beijing, China, DG continues to build up a loyal and eclectic worldwide cult following that counts many revolutionaries, mystics, musicians and celebrities in its ranks. Catch Dub Gabriel's debut at Surya Dub this month hot off a massive opening set for the legendary Meat Beat Manifesto!

Ribotto (Low Pro Lounge, Symbios) Originally from Northwestern Ontario and by way of Toronto and LA he found his way to the Bay. Relentless studio efforts have resulted in the publishing and distribution of 10 releases and collaborating with collectives like LowPro Lounge, Symbiosis Events, and Yuri's Night, his stage show has taken on many permutations. This month at Surya Dub he will perform a live P.A. sets integrating sequenced loops combined with improvised instrumental action. Unafraid to explore and pioneer new sonic territories, the shows are tailored to the occasion, so whether its blues/triphop, minimal tech house, or ragga and dub, spectators can expect a unique sonic experience.

Advance (Blend, Organalogue) A veteran of deejaying for over 15 years, Advance has rocked dancefloors in the Bay Area since 2000 and has played international events from Japan to Venezuela. As a successful DJ and Producer of Dubstep and Drum & Bass, his tracks get regular use from talents such as Juju, Joe Nice, Digital K, Loefah, & Kid Kameleon. His tracks have also been featured on Future Breaks FM, Grimewave FM, and SubFM. This month he lays down a blazin reggae dancehall sets so as his motto states: "“Run To Town, and Tell The People!"

Sub Hz Den
Dubstep, Dread Bass Breaks & D'n'B, Ragga
Special Guests
Dub Gabriel
(Azra Records, Brooklyn)

Ribotto (Low Pro Lounge, Symbios)

Plus Residents:
Maneesh the Twister (Surya Dub, Dhamaal, Dub Mission – Best Club DJ SF Guardian) & Ripley (havoc sound, Surya Dub), Kid Kameleon (xlr8r, Surya Dub), Kush Arora (live Dubwize set - KAP, Surya Dub)
Visuals by CONTACT
(Surya Dub)

Inna Yard
Reggae, Dancehall, Bhangra, Global Beats
Special Guest Advance (Blend, Organalogue)
Plus Residents
Ross Hogg & DJ Neta (Ital Selection Hi-Fi, Surya Dub), and Jimmy Love (Non Stop Bhangra, Surya Dub), DJ Amar Electric vardo, Surya Dub)

Club Six
Saturday, April 26, 2008
60 6th St b/w Mission & Market
$5 b4 10:30 promo at /$10 door
10:00pm-3:00am | 21 + | 415.863.1221 - FRIEND US!

Friday, April 18, 2008

one Jamaican's perspective on gender, house music

Dj Fflood, one of the djs I respect most, in that bedrock, soul-of-the-music and damn-hard-working-dj kind of way, has started a blog, and one of his first posts is about Jamaica, gender and house music. As a Jamaican man who lived and dj'ed in New york City during the great house music era, his experience sounds fascinating and I hope we'll hear some stories form that time, as well as the insights he brings.

check it out here

On one small point he makes, about masculinity in JA, I can only say my experience supports this. At least in the parts of Jamaica I was in, the gender box seemed fairly narrowly defined, and also (I note his comment on the campiness of some black comedians) oddly campy but layered with heavy denial, and kept denied on pain of violence. The flamboyance of much of the men's fashion is at odds with many American gender performances of masculinity, but it's all underscored with serious policing of what is and isn't appropriate behavior for men.

That's the sad, serious underpinning of the also-hilarious "badman commandments" that Gabriel of Heatwave summed up for Woofah: it is to laugh, but in reality it's because you dare not cry --some of these things can suddenly become triggers for actual attack, where everyone suddenly decides that drink X or clothing style Z means you are gay. Factor in that artists can shoot for a hit with an anti-gay song since people who fear being marked as gay (or otherwise bad) feel more obligated to support that song, and you get a string of songs that make up more and more outlandish shit.

It was worst and most obvious in the men's prison I volunteered in, where, for example, if an inmate picked up a bottle of water that someone else had dropped and drank out of it, that marked them as gay. (I'm not sure what it meant if a guard did that, but guards certainly tolerated all of these rules and their punishments too) Gay meant "bad" but it also meant specifically gay in a couple of ways - one was that you were a legitimate target of violence and social ostracism, the second, particularly horrible repercussion, was that gayness eradicated the already shaky vision of "consent" in the sexual lexicon - if you permit one person IN THEORY access to your body, that means you have de facto permitted anyone. (although not perhaps as common, this is true outside prison, outside Jamaica, and especially true for women - this second fact is actually considered a condition of being female, but that's another rant)

Ayway, outside the prison as well, men spent an awful lot of time talking about the markers of what made a man, and demonstrating the proper qualifications. Those demonstrations often affected women, because they often involved treating women in a particular way. One of the sadder aspects of my experience in the prisons was the insights from the inmates at the women's prison. It also affects the shape of family relations and children's sense of self and connection with others, as these women testified. Corroborated by some of the people who were in the organization I was with, they talked about how fathers did not feel free to show affection and support for their children, especially their sons.

the sad subtext to this (possibly fictionalized) Overheard in New York: "thugs don't make bears"

While I'm usually extremely resistant to psychological explanations for systemic problems (suspicious of psychology in general), I did start to wonder about how that particular shape of emotional relationships affects how people work together and what kind of institutions they build. It seemed to derail a lot of energy into something that didn't produce a lot of good.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ripley in Boston Area April 11-12

TWO GIGS this weekend, y'all - Friday AND Saturday!

Gig One: an all-out no-holds-barred dance party with DJ C (!!!!) and the amazing DJ Flack, at the Milky Way. BOUNCEMENT is the name of the party, and you really should not miss it. It's only $5 before 11pm, and only $7 after, and there's delicious pizza upstairs at Bella Luna so you have no excuse to stay away. All my Boston-Area peeps come out and dance it up!

bouncement 3!!! April 11 2008

Gig Two: a Benefit for 826 Boston (which I didn't even know existed) a branch of the great 826 organization I know as 826 Valencia. It's a nonprofit "dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write." Their programs are free and very comprehensive (field trips, workshop, all kinds of stuff) and are supported by these hilarious "stores" - the one in SF is Pirate themed - you can buy eye patches, root around in sand for buried treasure, play with lard, etc etc. The one in Boston is Bigfoot-themed.

So I am djing at The North American Symposium on Sasquatch Research. I can't wait to put this on my CV.

it's a benefit event so the price tag is high ish. But you do get a lot of entertaining events, a subscription to GOOD magazine and FREE DRINKS: The fun starts at 6pm:

# 6:00 – 7:00 Symposium Check-in & Cocktails
# 7:00 – 7:15 Mammalologist Eugene Mirman
# 7:15 – 7:45 “Does Sasquatch exist?” panel (incl. Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman)
# 7:45 – 7:50 Giant Crab Wrestling
# 7:45 – 8:00 Yeti Researcher Author, Josh Bearman
# 8:00 – 8:05 Leech Ballet
# 8:05 – 8:25 Author Jim Shepard
# 8:30 – 9:00 Product Demonstrations & Bigfoot Films
# 9:00 – 10:00 DJ Set & Dancing

A fuller description of the event is here:
and you can subscribe/RSVP here:

Monday, April 07, 2008

Write the FCC Today! Support local radio

One of the great tragedies in this country is the death of local radio and the dominance of corporate programming. We've never had a pirate radio tradition here like there has been in London (something that has had a huge effect on the development of intense, specific london-based music). College radio has picked up some of the slack as far as support local music and local culture. But they too are pathetically few and under the gun. There needs to be more local, community-based radio. It's depressing how much the FCC has changed, forcing cultural and community priorities to submit to national (and international) market forces and huge media conglomerates. But the FCC is still somewhat responsive to public comment -so NOW'S YOUR CHANCE!


The window to support better radio closes at midnight tonight!
You can help create more independent, local stations and tune out the cookie-cutter corporate programming that has dominated the dial for decades. But to get more local radio, we need you to act now.

Tell the FCC: Local Radio Matters.

LPFM stations are community driven and locally oriented, providing news and information often ignored by mainstream radio -- information crucial to healthy communities and a vibrant democracy.

The Federal Communications Commission is weighing a set of rules that could open the nation's airwaves to hundreds of new LPFM radio stations. These rules will determine whether our airwaves will be reserved for local operators or used for "translators" that simply relay commercial programming from far-off places.

The FCC needs to know that our airwaves must be set aside for local stations and the vital information, news, music, and cultural activities that they provide.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

sonic histories and futures

Check a few posts down for news on next weekend in Boston. I'm so happy to be part of the Bouncement series.. It's great to see how people who were so involved in my musical life 10 years ago (and helped incubate my dj style) are still linked to me, whether socially, musically, or otherwise.

And it's also a good feeling when an organization I feel so kindly to, both for being a practical, decent, and useful social activist group and have being completely entertaining, is drawn into my musical-social orbit as well.

It makes me feel like I'm doing the right thing, when people and places that I want to be connected to, end up crossing my path (or me theirs) naturally.

Tonight I'm heading out to see Caspa and Rusko at Full Melt, with two of my favorite MCs there as well - Zulu and Collage (big up!) - gonna bounce in the dubstep while the windows shake like Jelly, and head out back for Surya Dub compatriot Kush Arora in the garden. Last time I was there one of the audience was a big ol bald white dude in a sharp grey suit with a huge live snake around his shoulders - I can only hope he adds his flavor to the scene this time around, lets me know I am in San Francisco, you know?

if you're curious as to what I've been listening to recently, btw, you can check out my lastfm page for what I hear from my laptop. Doesn't reflect my mp3 player or vinyl sounds, but it haz a flavor.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

not a gig report

This blog has become more news and less thinking. A side effect of school picking up steam --I'm writing and thinking all day and it's hard to do it all over again on a page when I get home.

I also realized I haven't felt like thinking or talking much about what I do as a DJ, because it's the one thing I don't need to analyze, when all day I spend analyzing this and that (and defending it in all the different disciplines I quest through).

But I thought it might be good to share some of the things I'm thinking about.
Starting with a paper I'm writing for a seminar I'm in. It's a legal seminar so it's tied to making a specific legal proposal based in some empirical observation and analysis (which in itself rather daring since evidence is not a huge basis for legal theory), and I'm focusing on the value of unrecorded music, especially improvised music (that is not recorded either in sheet music or during the performance). So the questions start out:
  • are there features of improvising and improvisatory performance that have social value beyond their memory or any possible recording? Improvisations are works and actions, but is there anything about the ACT of improvising that is important?
When I DJ, sometimes I feel like I am helping a kind of social being come into existence (if that doesn't sound too too pretentious --why I don't like to talk about it too much) - but when people from different scenes and backgrounds become physically linked through music, dancing themselves but also dancing a group, and dancing through the music, and when the musical references overlap the familiar and the unfamiliar, layering associations of us and them, and the dancers are up for it and excited about it.. for a minute sometimes it feels bigger than the club night. No, it's more than an ex-raver talking. Its not world-changing in itself, but it's more than escape. Or its an escape from certain assumptions (about what you like, about what you are like, or about what you think someone else likes/is like) that is necessary for you to realize you had them. all of that connects to the importance some scholars put on improvisatory music and its social value.

I'm not sure if I'm improvising when I dj, except that I do think I make some of the choices improvisers talk about, while djing. But the argument for improvisation is a springboard for making a kind of argument about social value that is hard to make in standard copyright law discussions, so I've got to dig a bit deeper into it.
    • If improv has some social values, how does that value exist across different kinds of improvising? (for example, I've just read a lot of free-jazz theorists talking about improvising as modeling a kind of social interaction that is spontaneous, collaborative, and even democratic, that leaves room for dissension and interaction. How does that work in non-free-jazz music improv -like maybe bluegrass? or is it true for improv comedy or improv dance? is it all performance?
    • What are the conditions under which that positive social value happens or is likely to happen?
  • Since copyright law to some extent can affect the conditions under which these practices happen, how does it facilitate, harm, limit or alter that social value (especially under changing conditions, like new technology)? Should we reshape copyright in some way to allow more of that social goodness?
    • for example, we have limitations on copyright and other laws when works are used for educational purposes - sometimes explicitly (as in the special exception for film professors who want to make clips of films for demonstration purposes) or implicitly (as part of a fair use defense).
    • Should we have a limitation on copyright enforceability in other sites of musical improvisation?
      • underlying this, of course, is how relevant is copyright law, and who feels its effects since they are clearly not felt equally everywhere. But that's beyond the scope of the assignment, which, being in a law school, assumes law is relevant.
It's all part of my quest to focus copyright law discussions on social questions, and not just individual incentive questions. Well, that's the inward-looking project, looking into the legal scholar world I partly inhabit these days, and its particular requirements and styles of argument, trying to force them into new shapes...

whew. that's probably enough for now.

here's a cute picture of my cat.