Sunday, November 22, 2009


well. Mexico has been a revelation. In a good way. Massive massive thanks to master R. Guzman of Static Discos/Nimbo for two blazing shows, in Mexico City & Cholula. More on that soon.

but first - Boston Area Peoples, come out on Tuesday!

Tuesday November 24, 2009
The Milky Way Lounge
The Brewery Complex
284 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain
(new location)

sometimes the best things come together at the last moment. join us for Abundance. three of our favorite DJs come back home for the holidays and we win. Queer Collab comes together to set it off.

Presented by:
Truth Serum
Wasted Youth Sound
Queer Collab find us on facebook

Monday, November 16, 2009

Global Bass Sessions mix

The party was a delight. You can see how freakin happy the crowd was here:

and they were organized enough to record my set, which I put up here for your listening & downloading pleasure:
Ripley courtesy of the Slayers' Club

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's been a good year so far..

 Not yet december, but I've been thinking about the various places I've played this year. Maybe it's because I'm getting ready for my gig this Thursday at Terenga Global Bass Sessions

What a range of people, climates, continents!

Kingston Jamaica, while I was living there - several gigs at Club Fiction's Brand New Machine party, and at Temple Hall Estate.

San Francisco -  gigs with Redline, Eclectic Company (big up DJ Tones!), then off to
New York to play Bless UP! radio, and headline Dub War NYC (w/ Mike Slott & FaltyDL woo!) and NY Tropical (alongside the mighty Maga Bo)

Boston, with the almighty Beat Research crew

Back to San Francisco for the Night Kitchen to be the perfect bouncing bridge between the jukemaster DJ Slugo and breakcore madman Baseck.

Australian tour (which I have to finish posting pictures of): Headlining the showcase of the Electrofringe music festival, playing at Scuba Tank in Brisbane, at Roxanne Parlour in Melbourne, and Dirty Shirlows in Sydney.
Back to SF again, played Otherworld's Halloween party (what a scene) and preparing for the Global Bass Sessions.

then I'm off to Mexico City, to play courtesy of the NIMBO crew, and also in Cholula, with the miraculous Wayne&wax. Yes! gigs in Mexico, finally heading a little bit south. Hopefully South America will come next. But before that:

London for the rest of the year.. whew! the ride doesnt end, though I've got more lined up for 2010 so watch this space.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

interjection - gig Nov 12


a lot of things happened, very quickly, since I got back from Australia. Still processing, and then new projects in the works, including a 1-month trip to London beginning Nov 30 (holla, uk peoples!)

There's still one chance to see me play in the Bay: Terenga Global Bass Sessions on November 12

Little Baobab 3388 19th St @ Mission
This is a great party at one of the best clubs in the city. People run to the dancefloor and refuse to leave, all the residents are hot-as-hell djs and their guests are selected from the local, national and international crews that bring it without limit. So I'm honored to be a part of it, and I've been saving up some tunes for the occasion. come out & show love. Further updates on my travels to follow but it might be thin around these parts for a few days still.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Melbourne pt. 1, & Babylon (betcha didn't know that was in Australia)

Only two short sweet days in Melbourne, but I think I pretty much made the most of it. Big thanks to Unsoundbwoy first, and The Sockmonster/Foundation Stepper, plus the one like the BassBin Laden for the links in the first place.

Flew groggy-style Thursday morning out of Brisbane, with the help of one of the Sound Summit (Newcastle) organizers, who is based in Brisbane and was generous enough to get me to the airport at 6am. Whew! After fumbling my way through various buses and trains, was kindly shepherded towards really tasty coffee in the Fitzroy area, which, apologies to the OZ Nationalists among you, looked a lot like the Prenslauer Berg/Friedrichshain area of Berlin. Trams, cafes, boutiques, scruffy hipsters, hippie scruffsters, sleek boys with chin scruffs, etc etc.

My hosts had quite the advertising campaign:

 Luckily I didn't have a gig that night, instead it was pretty luxurious: we had a chill(ish) dinner with Foundation Stepper and his amazing partner and their kid at this Moroccan soup restaurant. They kept bringing food out, and I thought we'd never get through it all but it was so damn tasty. Especially this dish with almonds and toasted bread and garlic and yogurt and stuff, so savory and chewy and good. And then we hung out & listened to music, and then watched Babylon, which I had heard about but never seen, about the dub music and Jamaican scene in London in the late 70s. The film was really good.

STarring members of Aswad, plus Jah Shaka and other London-Jamaican luminaries. The picture above is from a super fascinating "making of" piece where they interviewed lots of the folks involved in it, courtesy of BBC channel 4 here. Interesting facts - The screenwriter also wrote Quadrophenia, and the filmmaker worked with one of my favorite Brit filmmakers Ken Loach, and the producer also worked on TIME BANDITS one of the funniest movies ever, wow.

I've since learned there was a bit of a controversy about the dynamic of the soundclash in the context of Jah Shaka in London at that time - the interview suggests that Shaka at least didn't see his system as participating in a contest in the way the film builds it up: One of the two strains of tension in the film is the buildup to a clash between the Lion system affiliated with our (anti)hero, and Shaka's system. My experience in Jamaica more recently was that soundclashes between dancehall crews are at least sometimes that competitive, but maybe it was different with dub? or in London, or just w/r/t Shaka? Also it's entirely possible that outsiders latch on to the competitive narrative more than people at the time? Or that Jamaicans build up the competitive aspect to make it seem more dramatic to outsiders? The interview with Shaka also suggests that he doesn't like the competitive aspect of soundclashes, and so his desire to minimize that aspect of them may be normative rather than descriptive. In the end it sounds a bit like those battles over the definition of hip-hop where you have on one side "hip-hop is the good, positive stuff and the bad stuff isn't hip-hop" and the other side you have "hip-hop is bad and nasty and real music is something else" and then you have the people who say "hip-hop is complicated and hwatever calls itself hip-hop is at least engaging with the hip-hop tradition in some way." Okay so you probably can tell where I stand on this, but hey, I'm an ethnographer that shoulda been your first clue..
Anyone involved in dub in London in the 70s or 80s want to chime in here (oh please let such a person read this blog)? Or anywhere? were dub soundclashes more or less about competition?
(Also, if you are not talking from first-hand experience, whose testimony are you relying on and what do you think their stance would be on whether competition is good or not? my god I am a huge nerd)

Anyway the other controversy is less interesting, basically some folks objected to the violence portrayed in the movie, particularly that the main character ends up being violent himself, which those folks seem to read as the film itself endorsing violence. I think it's pretty clear that the film shows the futility of violence and its tendency to lead to further violence, but it also shows how hard it is to escape violence when you are trapped in a violent and dehumanizing system. Interestingly, the film predates the Brixton riots of 1981.. but it prefigures them pretty explicitly.

There are apparently some licensing disputes over uses of music in the film as well. Big surprise there.

While in Melbourne I also got a bit of a graffitti tour, which was awesome. the prevalence of street art, graff and wheatpaste. This also kept me thinking of Berlin, particularly the alley in Mitte where Haus Schwartzenberg bleibt (right? still?)




Tuesday, October 13, 2009


In Brisbane, the Dank Morass crew seemed pretty much musical family. The rows of gorgeous posters on Walrii's wall represented nearly everyone Surya Dub has hosted in the past two years:  FlyLo, the Bug & Warrior Queen, more in that vein. The family vibe continued with several large, home-cooked meals and some lively conversation. Lest you think we dj crews are all philistines, I'll share that topics included the relative merits of Tolstoy vs. Dostoevsky, cooking tips, and high-minded issues in global politics.

But we were all there for the music and after a nice stroll round town on Wednesday I headed to the gig in a nice little venue not really in the center of town - Club 320, in Spring Hill. The Scuba Tank parties are, I think, a collaboration between White Rhino and Dank Morass, and are free wednesday night events in a smallish venue with a solid sound system. The walls are brick, the lighting dim, the bar lines one side and there's a raised wooden dancefloor opposite the DJ table. People were trickling in by 9pm, and by the time I went on there was a nice crowd of people. What I liked was that once again people came in and a good percentage went straight to the dancefloor as if that was their main goal of the evening. Warms my heart! It seemed like a crowd of men and women in their early to mid 20s, unless I'm super-mistaken? Pretty good mix, gender-wise, mostly white folks (as I shouldn't be surprised), pretty unpretentious crew overall, a good, happy weeknight party!

Everyone played nice eclectic warm sets - Arku's skimming the housier side of things, Danck and Walrii bringing that dosed & dreamy breaky sounds in the Brainfeeder sort of style mixed with some dilla-esque hip-hop. Walrii worked the breaks into some turntablism but without losing the musicality. It's all licked with bass and skitters, and people sway and bump in increasing numbers as the dim room fills. I start out chillish but pick it up and take the crowd through a range of dubby and dreamy styles, with a little crunch for contrast. Something about the warmth of the room draws me into dubby 2-step which does bring out some cheers from the crowd, but in generally I feel the love anyway as people dance without stopping till the end of the night.

I'm really sad I forgot to take pictures during the party. I took some pix of Brisbane, which was lovely, but somehow I forgot the gig pics! I'm not good at remembering that, but some will show up for other gig reports.

Earlier that day I had given a talk about my research to students in the music department at Queensland University of Technology. It was a great chance to develop my talks that incorporate more music-playing, and it really felt more like a dj performance. One thing about people under 25 (which I venture most of the TINA talk attenders were not) is that when they start losing interest or getting distracted it's really obvious - you gotta change up the scene quick or you lose them. Luckily I had music lined up to play, and funny bits to talk about, and it was all the more pleasing to explain something, then play the music and watch people laugh in recognition of what I was just talking about. Also, i should maybe play "This is why I'm hot" as the intro to all of my talks, maybe as I walk in, it's a nice intro tune as people file in and I make my entrance...

Monday, October 05, 2009

wow. hooray.

ATTN Melbourne people who asked me about where I'm playing there: Friday Oct 9 at Roxanne Lounge see info here
 (Sydneyites should know that I'm playing Dirty Shirlows in Marrickville Oct 10.)
and of course it's Brisbane this Wednesday the 7th for Scuba Tank at the 320 club.

First round of events in Newcastle are over. It went really fast, too fast of course. But it was an unqualified awesome success of a weekend. For which I must thank the organizers of Electrofringe, Sound Summit and This Is Not Art.

The small, somewhat depressed former coal/steel town of Newcastle hosts this art fest every year. It reminded me a lot of PopMontreal plus a lot more electronic music represented. A great DIY spirit, but on a larger scale than I would have thought possible. An art fest, music fest, music conference, zine fest, writers fest, and lots of other stuff all rolled into one, taking up 5 days and with guests from all over Australia and beyond, in the case of a lucky crew (including me). The whole place appeared overrun with various strains of artist folk, from the circus/bodypaint/stilts crew to blackclad beardy diy punx, fabulous vixens in waisted dresses heels and fascinators slugging rum from a brown bag bottle,  lean youth in neon colors and missing-piece haircuts tilting down the streets in crews of 2 or 3.. I was glad to catch a pretty wide range of events, and meet some pretty fabulous people. Everyone was very warm, very talented, and really fun to talk to.  Pure delight basically!

Both panels I was on went quite well, and I tried something new with my talk by integrating a lot of music-playing into my story. I think this is the way forward, although I definitely need a better way to do slides and music than Powerpoint, whose interface for playing music while talking is simply horrible. But the cool thing was I crammed a lot of information in there, but I didn't seem to lose anyone! People seemed really into it, and asked great questions... some new ideas came out of it for a lot of us I think, which is always a win.

And i had the honor of playing the showcase on Saturday night, after Melbourne heroes Bum Creek, and before breakcore legend Toecutter. It was the perfect setup, because before me it was high-energy but more performance-oriented than danceable, and after me was storming explosive breakcore pop hilarity, so I had a nice sonic and energy trajectory to ride.. and ride we all did. The crowd basically went nuts, people danced like maniacs, there was an ocean of cheers raaaahhhh and Toecutter actually had a bit of a task to get people to settle down and turn towards the stage again.

so thanks go out eternally to the crew for making it all happen. the tech cats were delightful, the woman who initially invited me served me homemade vegan pancakes on the first day, the sound system was boooming, the gabba aerobics team kicked ass, i got to play an after party by teaching myself how to use a new dj software and djing off a USB drive on the fly.. good times.

now, Brisbane! hello!

Monday, September 28, 2009

What's been going on in the Bay in a hot minute

I've had a fantastic couple of weeks in the Bay Area, especially as the San Fran Summer is in full effect - come October it will be beach time again, at least from 12pm-4pm before the fog rolls in.

One of the highlights was chilling with the Dutty Artz & Que Bajo?! crew, especially Geko Jones and Uproot Andy. Quality gents, both. Deep and broad musical selection, with emphasis on the "musical." That's a risky term, probably linked in my mind with melody (is that ethnocentric?) or something. Maybe I would set their "musical" against my "visceral-conceptual"? I don't know, but anyway I find them pretty inspiring. If they are hitting your town -which is pretty likely given their insane tour schedule- don't sleep. Literally, don't sleep, just dance all night.

I was lucky enough to rock out with them in NY a couple times, and then they hit San Francisco to play Chief Boima's amazing party at Little Baobab. Now that was a truly great event! Seemed like people started dancing the minute they came in the door,* none of that hanging around the edges waiting to get drunk enough to feel okay on the dancefloor, people were right out there and stayed out there.

And then I had more great luck - I got to spin with DJ Dub-U (doing a pretty hilariously fun tag team), opening up for the mighty DJ Slugo. Recap of that to follow shortly. Suffice to say that you Bay Area peoples need to get over yourselves and come out earlier to the Li Po lounge because every aspect of that night was amazing but the first half was too empty and the music was indeed utterly bangin. But by the time Slugo hit the decks the crowd was going nuts. You shoulda seen it. I wouldn't say there was much Jukin (clearly, in the Bay, we need more internet videos to instruct us, although Mr Slugo's awesome lady did her best to show us how to work it out.)

*Actually one aspect of that reminded me of my gig at Eclectic Company. There was a gang of people at the bar who started dancing as soon as the music came on, and more joined them when I started djing, which was gratifying.. but it was clear their priority was to dance, as much as possible. I was playing bouncy hipop and glitch and dancehall remixes and suchlike, and I thought they didn't seem like club music people but it might be worth taking it up to club music tempo --after all who doesn't want to bounce to bmore? But it became clear that they were mystified by the speed and the music. What was adorable was that they didn't leave the dancefloor. They kinda bounced their knees, and looked around, as if asking each other how to dance to this, and sorta waiting in the hopes they would get the hang of it or the music would change. But they didn't leave! That really warmed my heart - they were more interested in dancing than in being experts on the music, or even being familiar with it. In the end I sorta relented, let go of my hope to play stuff at club music tempo and brought it back down to a more hiphop tempo and they immediately started jumpin.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

ripley goes to oz!!

I'm soon to be off again. Farther afield than I've ever been. Yes, it's time for
ripley's first ever Australian Tour!

I am super excited to report that beginning with a lovely email from the Sound SummitElectrofringe festival/conference (which are somehow related to the This Is Not Art festival), I have been able to line up a small tour and a short series of talks in Australia starting two weeks from now. Please spread the word, and come say hi if you are in Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane or Melbourne.

  • Friday Oct 2 - radio show on FBI Radio

  • Saturday Oct 3-  This Is Not Art showcase Cambridge Hotel (789 Hunter St.) $15
    DJ Ripley (US), The Vivian Girls (US), ILIOS (GR), Bum Creek (Melb), Free Choice Duo (Melb), Ivan Lisyak Crab Smasher, 10k Freemen (Bris).
    I think I play last at this one, so pace yourself!

  • Sunday Oct 4 -I'm on a panel discussion and then I give a presentation about my research in JA.
  • Wednesday Oct 7 - A talk at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), subject TBA
  • Also, djing at  Scuba Tank courtsey of the Dank Morass crew
  • Friday Oct 9 - Omelette and Bass Bin Laden present a kickass show at Roxanne Parlour with Vibesquad, Spoonbill, Unsoundbwoy and Wanklerotaryengine plus Dj Shredder. For more details visit http://
  • Saturday Oct 10 at Dirty Shirlows, Marrickville, New South Wales
    with Svelt, as part of something that sounds oddly hilarious called "sketch the rhyme"

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Upgrade issues..

The UpgradeNY event went really well. Very high quality scene over there - good questions from the audience and I think we neither of us (Karl Fogel nor I ) pontificated too much.

It was livestreamed, but I think it's been recorded in video even, and perhaps that will go up at the website for the gallery space. I will post about that as I learn more. I'd be curious to see it because I gave a 10 minute talk about issues which may both connect and separate the Jamaican music scene's dynamics around copyirght law and the dynamics of the open-source software movement.

Some interesting points that came out:
I suggested that repetition, reference, citation and familiarity are all methods of building and maintaining community & social connection (which is necessary for the scene to function). What they amount to is shared culture - that is, the things that are repeated are or become part of shared culture. So we talked a bit about whether there was shared culture in the open-source software scene, and whether it mattered whether there was or not. Several audience members talked about their experiences with this as well. Short version - Karl said that open source as a movement came from US and Western Europe first and tends to have a libertarian-ish culture and some specific practices, and as the movement included more programmers from elsewhere, there did indeed come to some clashes.

A couple audience members said that the clashes were sometimes dealt with (or rather, avoided) through projects where people who had similar norms worked together.

One interesting example discussed here (which also might be an example of something else), was the practice in open-source scenes where mistakes in one's code can and ought to be publicly criticized. Karl said that people joining the scene from outside the US (he mentioned India) felt threatened by that public criticism --which he sort of framed as a cultural response. But he also mentioned that some of those people felt threatened because they (in India) worried that their bosses might see criticism of their coding and devalue their work. This suggests to me that the larger cultural context matters too - one's employers or others around you have to understand the practice (so, Google probably doesn't punish its employees for having code criticized publicly) - is that culture or corporate culture, or both? Can they change?

But it's also an issue of material positions and what's at stake. Karl also made this point in another contexts, that one's feelings about property rights and ownership probably depend partly on whether you are really on the brink of survival, or instead are living comfortably. I think this is spot-on and not addressed enough.

I suggested that alongside how property ownership can matter psychologically and materially in terms of feeling secure in one's livelihood, it also relates to identity. Especially when you are talking about music and creative works. One's identity may be extremely likely to be tied up in creative work (also given the way identity and culture mutually build each other). This may matter especially when one comes from a place where one's identity is consistently devalued, which Jamaicans may feel in relation to other parts of the world, or poor Jamaicans may feel in relation to the colonial story, and the way systematically exploited & oppressed people feel (and ARE) devalued culturally in relation to dominant cultural narratives and images. Anyway even though I am critical of property rights defined economically, I can see how identity and control of self can be defended, in some ways, by using property language. I just worry about what else is included in that language as it is currently defined.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Today! Brooklyn!

09/03/2009 - 7:30pm
09/03/2009 - 11:00pm

Thursday, September 3, 7:30pm

The Change You Want To See Gallery is pleased to host another installment of the Upgrade! NY series on open source as it relates to activism and creative practice. This month we'll explore how changes in technology and social convention affect music, software, and culture in general.

We'll start the evening with a conversation between scholar and DJ Larisa Mann, and developer and open source advocate Karl Fogel. Their discussion will examine how Jamaican music has developed in the absence of an effective copyright regime, how technological and social conditions affect the music and musicians, and how this compares to the open source movement of today.

Afterward stick around for a party and DJ set by Larisa Mann (aka DJ Ripley). Ripley was voted "Best Dance DJ of 2008" by the readers of the SF Bay Guardian.

Not in NY? Tune in to a live stream of the discussion at 7:30pm EST at

Larisa Mann is a PhD Candidate in Jurisprudence and Social Policy at UC Berkeley Law School, and resident DJ at SuryaDub, San Francisco. She researches the social implications of intellectual property rules, the legal implications of actual creative practices, and explores the implications of networked life (day-to-day reality permeated by networked technology) for our concepts of rights.

Karl Fogel is an open source software developer and writer who works for Canonical, Ltd, the company behind Ubuntu, helping with the open-source Launchpad collaboration platform, as well as, a California-based non-profit that promotes public understanding of the history and effects of copyright, and encourages the development of distribution systems suitable for a networked world in which the cost of sharing information has gone to zero.

Upgrade! NY is co-produced by Eyebeam and Not An Alternative.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

THank you, New York & Boston (gig wrap-up post)

It's been an epic week or so..

I hit New York running, coming straight from the airport (after a plaintive wait for lost luggage) to Halcyon record store to play instore for the Bless Up radio show (big up the host LionDub). We sweltered in there, at the end of a long narrow room, in the NY heat. Kotchy, FaltyDL, Geko Jones and Incyde all rocked the decks in their own inimitable styles and I closed out the evening..I was afraid I'd short out the mixer by dripping sweat on it, but luckily we all survived. Saw some friendly faces, and staggered stickily home to the place I'm apartment-sitting, to drink ice water in my underwear.

The next day was the doublehitter, but first I needed to practice, and after minor and heat-addled (sense a theme?) confusion on the subway I found my way out to Studio Geko for some conversation and some good musical messing about. Later, rolled to Glasslands, where I wimped out and huddled in front of the overworked air conditioner upstairs until it was time for my set.

Lamin and Geko Jones laid down the early set, ranging all over the map, shaking the audience out of their chitchat and getting people bubbling, and I came on with the more global side of my breaky steppy tunes, including this kind of clappy latin-sounding dubstep stuff that makes an odd kind of sense: Emvee's "Nocturnal," Untold's remix of Ramadanman's "Revenue," mixed with ravier crunchier sounds of Shlachthofbronx, 2step like El-B's "Cuba," plus Daniel Haaksman, Ku Bo, and several of DJ Cs new instrumentals which are AMAZING. Unfortunately I had to leave just as Maga Bo was preparing to step up, Rhiannon was drumming and singing onstage while Geko tossed beats to the crowd from the decks.. I packed up my gear and ran through the rain (hello rain!) to a car to get to Manhattan.

Dub War is at Love, which everyone will tell you has a bababoooming sound system. It does. As I came in, slipping down the stairs with the rain, I could hear the dreamy offkilter sounds from the main room. From the DJ booth, there was a sea of smiling faces turned towards us, clearly the Ableton dj set washing over them was to their liking. I just remember the mix of a lovely chunky dreamy tune with the Toasty classic "the knowledge" in a way that spun both tunes into something storming yet delicately balanced. Such inspiring sounds, and my impression was that the crowd was happy, into it, but also ready for things to drop harder, so I got up and gave it to them.

What a totally fun set - I guess I would call it "chipdubcrunkraggajukestep" - there was a Britney Spears remix in there (nice to see the Dub Warriors getting down to things they might not have thought they would get down to), some Chrissy Murderbot burners, Dj C's "Du Ting" riddim (on which NOBODY should sleep), more Schlachthofbronx, Taal Mala, Akira Kiteshi, Cardopusher, my new favorite supercrunch dubstep producer Gizmode, Robot Koch, Badxman, and DJ Remi, DJ Deeon plus Dj Donna Summer as part of an extended rave/juke/dubstep crossover moment with a high point of female voice repping the uh female anatomy (a K-swift sample I believe).

Overall while I didn't avoid the wobble basslines, I cut them with chiptunes-influenced bleeps and crunchy sounds that gave the music more shape, more punch, and more dynamic range. What I like about those sounds is that they are more stark and add more silence & pause on the dancfloor, they add dramatic tension, make the music more percussive. They open out the space by defining the high-end with clean-bleeps and making the low end ragged and glitched out. And then I also dropped some of my favorite vocal dubstep tracks like Sarantis (featuring Honey Brown)'s "Fall in Love" plus some classic and new 2step from El-B, Sully, and Garage Dubs..

Recovering from Dub War (and the small friendly afterparty) took me through the weekend, and on Monday I hopped the Bolt Bus (with Dj Pandaia) to Boston to play Beat Research. Small and friendly is the baseline for getting this fantastic gig. The Enormous Room contradicts itself sizewise, but the quality of people and music there is truly huge. As usual, lots of Toneburst heads came out (my Boston area history runs deep), plus many dear and beloved friends old and new. There was dancing, there was talking & catching up, there were cool visual projections.

Cheers to DJ Pace and DJ Flack who also played great music that caused heads to turn and toes to tap. The venue felt too warm and cozy for me to want to drop the ferocious aggro bass, but it's perfect for classic 2step, baltimore, funk carioca, DJ Flack's own productions, Fauna, dunkelbunt, and more horn-sprinkled, ska-influenced steppers.

And now I'm back in NYC. One more confirmed gig coming up, this one with a slightly different flavor.
September 3, I'm speaking at UpgradeNY as part of a conversation with Karl Fogel on Jamaican music-making and the open source software movement.. and then I'm djing afterwards! That's all happening at The Change You Want to See - 84 Havemeyer Street, Brooklyn, NY, and it's early, starting at 6:30 pm and the whole thing done by 11, I think. The conversation is definitely supposed to include the audience, so come out and make it interesting and then stay and dance!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

new gigs added!

Lots of things in the works. Still seeking Jamaicans in New York to interview.

New gig - Thursday August 20th, I'm playing an in-store at Halcyon with Incyde, from 6-9pm. This brings it all nearly full circle for me since I played a the old Halcyon in its old location years back. But now they are in Dumbo, still holding down the music side (although less cafe-esque than they were). I think they are near enough to some fancydancy chocolate to keep my blood sugar up. Looking forward to a chiller space in which to lay down some wackier wooshier sounds.

And it looks like something will happen in September at Eyebeam NYC, I may give a talk or be part of a cool panel discussion, and then DJ later (although they seem a bit short of actual dj equipment, get in touch if you want to help make the gig happen properly)

August 20, 2009.
In-store at Halcyon, 57 Pearl Street, dumbo, brooklyn
with Incyde

August 21st, 2009.
Midnight-ish - I will open for the ill-ustrious Maga Bo, at NY Tropical 9, Glasslands, Williamsburg. See poster below for details

2:30am - A late set at Dub War, at Love, in the West Village. And the lineup is ILL: Mike Slott, FaltyDL, Kotchy and Incyde. See poster below. RSVP here

August 24th - Ripley at Beat Research, The Enormous Room, Cambridge, MA. Courtesy of DJs Flack, Pace, and Wayne&wax.

then back to NYC

September 3 - Something's likely up at Eyebeam, an Upgrade NY Event? watch this space..



Sunday, August 09, 2009

More gigs in NY

It's all piling up in the best way as I head to the East Coast.

By the way, I'm looking to get in touch with anyone Jamaican involved in music, since my research (on Jamaican musical practice and attitudes about ownership, control, access and quality in music) is the main reason to go to NY, so feel free to link me if you or anyone you know will be in NY August 22-Sept 10 and has time for an interview.

but the big news is I am playing DUB WAR NYC!

Very happy about this.
The fun part is that it's lining up so tightly - I'm playing 2 gigs in one night. Crazy times.

August 21st, 2009.
On the earlier side:
I will open for the ill-ustrious Maga Bo, at NY Tropical, Glasslands, Williamsburg. There doesn't seem to be a ton of promotion for this yet, but I'm sure it's gonna be great, Bo is incredible and will bring global heat for the booty and the feet.

On the later side:
I will do an after-2am set at Dub War, at Love, in the West Village. And the lineup is ILL: Mike Slott, FaltyDL, Kotchy and Incyde.. holy moly this is gonna be outta controlly

so you have two chances to catch me, or we can share a cab from one to the other and party till late early!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Terry Lynn and the Tastemakers

Although I didn't conduct the main interview, I did get to chat with Terry Lynn, piggybacking on Mad B's fascinating conversation after I was done taking pictures.*


Terry Lynn is in an interesting place, coming from this small, historically rough area that is also so rich in talent both artistic and sporting. She has set her sights on rather a different scene than the local dancehall one. Although that is where she began, hanging around King Jammy's in her neighborhood of Waterhouse

(the studio was closed when we walked by, but this is a shot of the under-construction 0r never-constructed part of it.. on the left outside the frame and underneath the unfinished but there is an actual building in use. This btw is a common scene in Jamaica - half-finished buildings with rebar rusting in the air.)

but going on, before much local commercial success, to link up with international dance music producers like Phred and Diplo and the Mad Decent/bloggy club music scene. She is featured on the Major Lazer album (which I have heard on much heavier rotation in SF parties than in Kingston - no surprise of course), and more dance tunes left and right these days.

She is, I think, pinning her hopes on the tastemakers of the underground and blog-based dance music scene. This is an interesting move, because there isn't a lot of money in the electronic music scene compared to, say, the commercial industry of hip-hop.. but there is maybe a different kind of fan loyalty (although also music-critic on-to-the-next-ness), and also a different kind of artistic credibility. It's interesting especially given the general attitude I found in Jamaica towards 'underground' ness.. Which I may have over-emphasized in my last post on the subject.

The other side of it is that many Jamaican artists are so focused on promotion that they will work with nearly anyone, for free or whatever, if there is hope of exposure, they don't necessarily differentiate between underground and commercial at all.

And true, as much as underground folks like to position themselves (ourselves) as anti-commercial and counterculture, there may be less difference than we suppose, or the difference may not matter in the way we think it does. Nobody could deny that the underground is also a major source of inspiration and creativity for commercial music- judiciously sifted and recast for broader ears. And that may not be all bad - I like Britney Spears' "Toxic (" as a dance tune, and appreciate its layers of club-music/bhangra/surf/beats & breaks both for its fun sonic references and for the overall slink and bounce.

Also, in a way, (problematically) substituting 'foreign' for 'underground,' that's what happened with Bob Marley all the way back, his album retracked and re-arranged to please a broader, more rock-oriented audience. Was that wrong or right? And yes, I do mean in terms of Marley getting paid (and kick-starting the major foreign nonjamaican market for reggae), as well as artistic merit. Check Birdseed's thoughts on this dynamic as well - mostly hinted at in the phrase "discursive agenda."

There is a tradition, and perhaps a recent upsurge of vocalists seeking out tastemakers in countercultural or underground scenes (Jahdan, 77klash, Warrior Queen). It makes me happy because I often like the music more - and especially the combination of vocalists like these and production styles from dubstep, garage, jungle: darker, breakier sounds.

Some interesting questions, though. As this interview makes clear, the preoccupations of foreign and local audiences may be different. From a marketing perspective, there are lots of reasons artists make choices about what to sing about and how to sing it. But I'm also interested in how people battle over what is authentic -or to use a less loaded term than the dreadful 'authentic' - I'm interested in the dynamics of collaboration across culture and economics. What do differences audiences (and producers) want to hear from an artist? What do they pay for? Who are producers making music for? And how does that affect choices in music-making?

Less abstractly, but perhaps a crux of the matter - I wonder how long these collaborations can actually support the featured vocalists, especially those coming from such disparate backgrounds to the producers. The pressures on someone coming from so far away to mess with a world that assumes pretty different baselines for survival.. well they seem quite high.

Although it's often asserted to be so, I wonder if people actually do behave more ethically in underground scenes? My experience is that they do. I have the massive luxury of pretty much only working with people I actually like & respect. Then again, if I had to pay my rent from DJing, I don't know if I could continue that. And coming from Jamaica, where money is short and the need is intense, people may not have the space to pick and choose as much as I do. Still, exposure can lead, even indirectly, to getting paid.

Lynn may have picked especially well in terms of the Major Lazer and blog/club music posse. On the cultural side, non-Jamaicans are certainly not concerned with being 'tainted' by the 'low' aspects of Jamaican pop music. I.e. the Jamaican moral panic about oversexualized lyrics nd dancing is absent from foreign clubbers' embrace of Jamaican pop, or celebrated, or fetishized. Check Major Lazer's latest video for an example of that, and I can vouch for every one of those dance moves existing at dances I went to. So whether that is especially authentic or just especially popular, it is not getting dissed by foreign audiences. (Although American racism is just different from Jamaican classism, so there may be an element of choosing between fetishizing black sexuality vs. denigrating it.. but that's a whole other can-o-worms.) Parenthetical skipped lightly over, I can again vouch for Major Lazer's focus on what is actually popular in a lot of Kingston and Jamaica. And clearly they are reworking it for a different audience as well, sonically and visually.

And it does seem possible that here the tastemakers can make some money at the same time. Lynn might benefit from that, although I wonder whether she will as much as the people who she links with who are more embedded in the first-world economy. But maybe it doesn't matter as whether they benefit equally as long as she feels done right by?

Interestingly, Phred and phreemusic are connected to the critical copyright scene. Check their manifesto here. He's got some great future-thinking going on, although everything is a gamble these days, it warms my heart to see someone trying to link critical approaches to copyright with artists in the third world in an ethical way. And there is an exposure issue here too, since many people in the critical copyright/CC world focus on the license rather than the quality of the music, they are building rich networks of (often rich) people, that are sadly thin on good music. Part of my research goal is to learn how to forge links between what working artists really want and the broader range of legal and extralegal and social choices available to them in & outside of copyright law. Phred & Terry are going ahead with this experiment already, so big up!

*Full set of photos from the interview up here, courtesy of Mad B's (also check out her amazing shots from Colombia where she is now working. Note her vastly superior photography skills as well).

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

sound around town

One of the most obvious and dramatic aspects of living in Kingston is the prevalence of music. You hear it everywhere in the city, all hours of the day and night. It's present in in your ears because nearly every business, car, and bus station has the radio on, guys selling stuff on the sidewalk have a boombox or stereo, the church next door is having a service or the revivalists are circling under a tree and singing..

But its presence is felt visually and in your bones and belly, because huge towers of speakers loom over many landscapes. They line Hellshire beach, kicking off with 70s soul and R&B and occasional rocksteady around 11am on Sunday, and hotting up to dancehall and newer R&B by the afternoon and evening. And, even more dramatically, they stand tall in the poorest neighborhoods, like Waterhouse, home of the incredible Terry Lynn, as well as the recent Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser, King Jammy's studio, and of course hundreds more people, living in cement brick houses, zinc-paneled shacks, and everything in between. (Check this great sports illustrated article, cached here, about Fraser and Waterhouse.) You're walking down the street, and up ahead you see this:


waiting for the sun to set, the soundman to set up the CD players, the local shops to roll up their windows to sell drinks and snacks and the drum chicken guys, peanut and candy vendors with huge boat-shaped stacks of treats balanced on their heads


and other freelance folks to roll up and start selling. By midnight the scene will buzz with dancing, flossing, flirting, drinking, eating and smoking, as folks come out of their houses. The more famous dances like Boasy Tuesday are famous outside their neighborhoods, but if you drive around any night of the week by 11pm or midnight, you're liable to come across a street dance within half a mile or so of anyplace you start in central or downtown Kingston.

So this day in January, right after I first arrived in Kingston from Oakland, I was walking through Waterhouse taking pictures of my friend Maddy's interview (for The World) with Terry Lynn, when I got some great shots of the speaker towers:


It's striking, when you are walking or driving through the city, and these tarp-wrapped vast & trunkless legs of speakers straddle roads and gullies, promising earthshaking bass weekly, free of charge. Nobody troubles the speakers, seemingly, except the threat of rain and dust which is, I guess, why the tarps wrap them in the day. They do cause the mighty some concern, if not despair - as street dances are constantly under challenge from noise complaints (the police now actually enforcing noise complaints, a change in recent years), and also the source of moral panic since the dirtiest lyrics and dancing are generated by and aimed at these venues.

Street dances are not spontaneous or uncontrolled, of course. Neighborhoods have powers-that-be, whether it is legal or extralegal, who must be supporting or even profiting from the dances. If it isn't Members of Parliament (which class allegiance/horror of poor people music can work against) then who steps up? My favorite euphemism is "area leader" or "community leader" which refers to the local don or head gangster --- but which does often genuinely mean community leader as well since the local gang may be the most organized institution in the neighborhood and one that doesn't shy away from associating with the music and practices that upper classes often bemoan as morally degenerate. I'm not sure who pays for the speakers though, that's one question I need to ask -who owns them, and what does ownership mean, in this context? I don't think the towers are always standing around all week - but these were up at noon when we walked by, so who puts them up, when, and if they are taken down, where do they go?

*Full set of photos from that interview up here, courtsey of Mad B (also check out her amazing shots from Colombia where she is now working. Note her vastly superior photography skills as well).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

upcoming gigs and hops

Re-connecting to the Bay Area has been pretty much pretty fun. Had a quick hop to Los Angeles as well. But now I'm looking at another few weeks here before I go on the road again, partly for research purposes, touching down here and there in North America and beyond..

So, I'm now looking to connect with Jamaicans involved with music in New York (I'll be there August 21-Sept 10), in Toronto (I'll be there late October-early november), and in London (I'll be there in December).

In between, I am also hopping a surprising number of places. I have some gigs lined up already, and some surprises to come. To begin with:

August 7th --> Festival - a huuuuuge party at The Bordello in Oakland. I'm playing early (10-11pm) which means I get to run around and enjoy the rest of the party afterwards. This one's $20 bucks but you get an amazing location and a really impressive lineup. Dj Eva Lee and the Redline crew have really pulled out all the stops and pulled an amazing crew together, big up!!

August 21st --> Ny Tropical. Glasslands, Brooklyn. I'm super-honored and excited to get up at this party, which has been going great guns for the Dutty Artz crew. Expect bass. Fertile sounds. and heat. Also cheap! $5 before 11, $8 after. Not sure of the full lineup yet but you can't complain with folks like Geko Jones, Lamin, Uproot Andy, Taliesin, Matt Shadetek, and DJ /Rupture on call..

August 24th --> Beat Research. Enormous Room, Cambridge MA. Love these guys. coming home to my peeps and beats. Big shoutout to new papa (x2!!) Dj Flack, and continuing papa (x2) Wayne&wax, as well as Dj pace, and other good people in attendance and on deck. Free!

Friday, July 10, 2009

first pass at dancing isht in JA

I hadn't gotten around to posting videos from Boasy Tuesday. But now I will. I have a lot of thoughts kicking around about the importance of dancers in the scene.. here's a first pass to get started with.

If you've been checking out especially the men's fashion at the street dances, there are a lot of interesting choices: things like plucked eyebrows,


makeup, skin bleaching, extremely tight pants, lots of accessories including bows


cravats scarves and enormous chains, and elaborate hairdos involving braids and bright un"natural" colors.


Until recently, I don't think these choices were common for men in Jamaica. They were more associated with women. Especially since overall I haven't heard people recognize any difference between messing with gender and messing with sexuality (or between being transgender vs. being gay), many folks here say the fashion "looks gay."

NOTE, for any newcomers: It is IMPOSSIBLE to know what anyone's actual sexual practices are from looking at their clothing. People choose what to wear based on what it means to them, but there is no way to tell what it means to them without reading their minds, or asking them, and also understanding exactly where they come from. Fashion moves so fast that styles from one year have a completely different meaning a few years later - for many people, denim jeans were workwear that showed you were poor or low-class, but now denim jeans can be a symbol of wealth (if they are the right kind), or dreadlocks had a very different meaning in Jamaica 20 years ago compared to now. So braids and hair dye's meaning is hard to parse. And now, because styles move back and forth overseas, due to internet access, cable TV, and video, the meaning of people's fashion choices are even more complicated - are they dressed to connect themselves to an image they saw on TV (which might have come from the UK or the Republic of Congo or Japan), or to evoke an image from up the street?

So what I am talking about hear is NOT about the dancers' personal lives, what they are doing at home or what they are thinking or who they have sex with. It is about how people are talking about dancers, and what the dancers' choices seem to mean in the larger context of Jamaican society.

So another fact about many of the popular dances (the ones with names), as you will see below, is that except for daggering, they are mostly men dancing in groups with each other. So, both the fashion and the dancing appears to bring up anxiety in Jamaica and elsewhere, especially about the dancers' sexuality.

Once again, I'm talking about anxiety by OTHER people, I'm not talking about how the dancers see themselves or what they are actually like. I'm talking about public discussions about dancers. These discussions are very interesting.

I've heard it on the radio, read newspaper articles, and heard many people in upper and lower-class scenes talk about it. And the anxiety and criticism is performed publicly at the dances themselves. While Boasy Tuesday is one of the hottest dances in Kingston, and its hotness is due to the dancers there, the DJ at Boasy regularly goes on extended rants, often without music, about how "man nuh dance with man" (men [should] not dance with another man), and there are a slew of songs out right now about that, with lots of lyrics about how the proper way to dance is in a man-woman pair.

Elephant Man, who is a major promoter of these fashions (although it's hard to say whether he is a leader or follower of the dancers' fashions),

(note the keffiyehs worn several creative ways in the video!)

Elephant Man is as usual a total genius at coming up with a new song and associated dance every week, mostly of the non-partner variety, but also simultaneously coming out with songs about partner dancing, including a ska song. Interestingly, many DJs and radio announcers and older Jamaicans hearken back to Ska as a music and dancing scene were people were properly paired off in couples.

Also interesting: I have heard many people in Jamaica hearken back to Ska as an era when things were not as lewd. This may seem so nowadays, but memory maybe glosses over a lot of the era. As Dennis Howard points out, "slack" (sexual) lyrics have always been around, and certainly if you look at the commentary on Ska at the time, the powers that be didn't think of it as sweet and peaceful music but as disturbing, sexual and lowclass. And it's not like times have changed so much, Prince Buster's "wreck a pum pum" sounds kinda dirty anytime, once you know what pum pum is..

but enough chat for now, later I will push more on these issues (including the possible decline of DJs and dubplates and the rise of dancers as a creative force in JA -- ideas here developed in more detail as part of a fascinating presentation at the Caribbean Studies Association annual meeting by Josh Chamberlain of UWI's Cultural Studies graduate program/Soul Of The Lion, as well as other people I spoke with-- and also my thoughts on the political & social implications of Jamaica having homegrown performers who are gender-bending and sexuality-challenging, who are also "cool" and have "street cred.")

anyway enjoy!!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Back in SF. Two gigs this week!

I'm freezing in San Francisco's clammy, windy summer, having become a delicate tropical flower over the past 6 months.

But I can't complain, I'm in the Mission district, full of some proper cal-mex food. Don't think my posts on Jamaica (or pictures --and I do have video too--) are over.

Also on the subject of future posts: Friday night, my first full night back in SF, I went to a party which kicked off further thoughts on the whole Major Lazer thing. I saw a dubstep/lazerbass/future blap party with my awesome homies Lazer Sword, Annasia, Sam Supa, Bogle & Dials (and No New York), at which someone played a Major Lazer tune.. While dancing, sweating, and saying hi to old friends, I was also inspired to think a bit more about who was there, where it was, and how people responded to the music, as compared to where I spent the last few months. So that is forthcoming.

But in real world, physical-experience-type news, I must announce I have two gigs this week! Gig #1 in Oakland, #2 in San Francisco!

In Oakland, at Descendants United the creation of Chief Boima and Aebl Dee, on Thursday, July 9. RSVP here or on facebook

And on Friday, July 10th:

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Final Boasy

Of course I'm too busy running around (and checking my email apparently) to write an introspective wrap-up post now. Preparing for my farewell party on Wickie-Wackie beach, packing etc..

But I did take the time to go to Boasy Tuesday one last time. It was totally worth the lack of sleep. They've moved, due to noise complaints, and are no longer in the street. Now it happens in a shopping plaza parking lot. At first I was suspicious of the new venue. It's still free, though, and by 3am it was so utterly hopping (with no signs of stopping) that I gotta say it's still the best party in Kingston.

Here are some highlights, and you can check out my flickr set as well



disconcerting tattoo, kinda?





Wednesday, June 24, 2009

music = eat a food

It's cosmic. Or rather, it's timing - lots of people are apparently coming across Bruno Natal's lovely documentary Dub Echoes. (I think the first half is as close to perfect as I could imagine). And Rupture (from Word the Cat) reminded me today of a clip I had forgotten.

This is very similar to what many musicians I have spoken to here in Jamaica have said. Including the mention of church, often (though not always).

It may seem far-fetched to some, but when we are talking about places of extreme poverty.. when music's power to heal and feed is ONLY understood in terms of royalties, or even in terms of its money-generating ability more broadly.. we lose something important about its power, its meaning, and its value for the people who make it. If music is medicine or food, then what rights do we have to access it? This conversation can be depressing in the privatized US, but in places where rights to access medicine and food have been more supported by governments, maybe we can take this discussion a bit further?

Also, placing music in the church context makes me think about musical connections to larger concerns of the soul, and visions of music as not the product of individuals alone. Old territory for some (concerned with the political implications of "scenius" vs. "genius") - it's true that focusing on group creativity can serve to disempower individuals in the system. But I don't want to concede all to a system that focuses on individuals alone, this in itself destroys something valuable (if risky) about communities, movements, scenes, subcultures.. Especially when the people involved in music-making, members of these scenes, use this language I don't want to kick it aside.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Are we down with the underground? Major Lazer in context

As much as Jamaican music is beloved by underground party people around the world, I don’t see Jamaican dancehall fans seeing themselves as underground party people or counterculture in the way those terms signify in the US. I have seen the term “underground” used here, but I’m not sure what it is used to mean, but it usually doesn’t seem to mean “not striving for top-40 success, material accumulation and wealth.”

Not to say that dancehall doesn’t overlap with ghetto-based, poor-people-based authenticity –uptown is definitely considered ‘less dancehall’ even by uptown people. Uptown meaning wealthy (there really is almost no middle income here, you are either poor or quite rich, although in a place where at least outside the city food falls off trees, poor doesn’t mean exactly what I’m used to it meaning).

Anyway, my experience has been that most folks in music here see mainstream success as the goal, and many respect pop stars and pop music on the basis of its commercial success. Not that they don’t talk about musical quality – but something being “commercial” is a compliment in itself.*

This means that everything that is not dancehall, reggae, and R&B, is super niche audience, and most people don’t much dance or respond to it (this includes dub, sadly). But niche doesn’t mean underground like I’m used to the term being used in the US and Europe. Most folks I know outside Jamaica use underground in the sense of resisting mainstream culture, and often with an anti-capitalist or anti-commercial attitude. There’s something going on here that relates to Birdseed’s mention of counterpublic vs. counterculture, maybe? But in a weird way… Niche non-dancehall tends to correlate with uptown, and with “cosmopolitan (but well-off).”

I don’t know for sure how the Major Lazer scene is framing themselves, but it seems like there is a sort of counter-culture vibe going. Maybe I’m wrong, and “we want to be top-40 mall music” is part of the plan? It doesn’t seem like it exactly. I get the sense that they want at least enough ties to resistance or underground scenes to stay “cool” in the eyes of tastemakers.. which again in the US is quite a different thing than in Jamaica. There’s definitely a ghetto-authenticity-“street-cred”-seeking vibe too, which I’ll address more below.

Anyway, as my own djing crosses more over into Major Lazer/Diplo style these days (although from the even less commercial side, from breakcore, jungle, dubstep, glitch, and dub). From the first time I played in JA I thought that big crowds, or especially street dances and audiences in JA would not be likely to get it – or if audiences did get into what I was doing, it would be in a different way than it was intended.

This has been true for me = I have dj’d here in Kingston, but for audiences and crowds quite different than those I play for in San Francisco, in the US generally or in Europe. Anything not reggae, or not seen as Jamaican, and not pop, is understood as “alternative” and becomes at least partlyt a marker of uptown, cosmopolitan people. A simple visual – the parking lot outside the club I play here are dominated by shiny Range Rovers, Prados, and even Escalades (and in Jamaica, a third-world country, there’s a 100% tax on cars.. so they are twice what they cost in the US which sets the owners even farther away from the poor majority and any concept of ‘middle class”). Compared to where I play elsewhere where it’s bikes, old Japanese imports, a veggie bus or two, 2 and 4-door sedans, and the occasional Scion.

So a few months ago I heard from a friend that Diplo wanted to play in Jamaica and wanted to get onto the decks at a real street dance. I wouldn’t have advised that. Necessarily. Unless they are super thick-skinned and don’t mind pissing off a crowd. Perhaps if they could bring their own dancers and hype crew and MCs, people who will raise the energy level (and be part of the audience), that could attract interest.

But I think the crowds here are mostly not interested in pushing boundaries musically – at least not without serious attention to the local conventions of dancehall djing – people want specific tunes, in a specific order – for example, a big R&B/hiphop tune from the US, followed by the Jamaican versions over the same riddim, peaking with the biggest Jamaican version. This was one of the things that got a wheel-up at the Major Lazer show. But it’s not anything you don’t get from any decent dancehall soundsystem any night of the week.

Still, it’s a nice moment in any Jamaican dancehall party I’ve been to. I think it’s a rush of local pride –taking the riddim/instrumental of a big tune from foreign and doing Jamaican vocals on it. I think people are excited to hear their language –patois- and their issues/experiences associated with a globally famous instrumental. The instrumental definitely matters – as far as I can tell it has to be one that’s already big on the pop charts – but it’s not just vocalists riding on the coat-tails of Americans. For one thing, many of those Americans are doing the same thing but more covertly, or without expecting American audiences to recognize their sources. For another, I do think there’s an element of “answering” or taking over the pop tune and making it Jamaican. Something people get a rush out of.

However, as a DJ concern, again, it’s not new music per se that makes an audience here happy –dancehall audiences appear to happily listen to, and demand, the same songs every week, even the same song several times in a night. The songs change, but pretty slowly by my estimation – Mr. Vegas’ “I am Blessed” has been big here since I came in January, as has Mavado’s “So Special” and of course the almighty “Ramping Shop” and a slew of other daggering tunes (RDX’s “Bend Over” etc), and lots of Elephant Man’s dancing tunes, especially “Sweep.”

The point being, if you don’t include that stuff, people don’t get into it much at most mainstream events. Even at the uptown “alternative” events, most people don’t really dance except to dancehall. They dance a lot less than at downtown events anyway. But overall, even when I’ve gotten nods and smiles and compliments on my djing, it never translates into dancing except for a very few people (some of whom are gay --but also uptown and cosmopolitan-- speaking of subcultures or counterpublics). So I’m not surprised at the reception of the show last week. And I’m not now, given what I have learned, surprised that the place that has been most welcoming to me musically has been the artsy, uptown, alternative crowd.

For whom, by the way, I am djing, as well as everyone else who can afford the cover, tomorrow night at club FICTION, in Marketplace, Kingston Jamaica. And Thursday I will accompany an art opening at Olympia Arts Center, in front of U-Tech on Hope Road…

* People do criticize lyrical content, and commercialism gets mixed up in that sometimes. People imply or say outright that bad content is done for the money, where real art is done for the message. But this is all mixed up with commercialism of distribution – Payola is apparently a huge problem, so radio djs and other promoters of the music get paid to play music. So this means people talk more about how if only we could get the bad content out of the way (that is being put forward by people for some bad reason like being paid for it), then the good stuff would have commercial success ‘naturally’ because it is better.

Monday, June 22, 2009

more street fashion (at the mall too)

Ran into this couple as I came through the mall at Sovereign Center for iced coffee and internet.


I asked if he was a dancer. He said he was a dancer and a singer too. And then...


and some time earlier I interviewed this artist/DJ: Iyara, part of the Alliance crew, at Payday music

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nobility, bloodlines, identity in Jamaica

I just read the most amazing piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has been doing a mind-blowing series of pieces on the Civil War. they are all amazing, but this one is simply the best thing I have read in years.

one particular passage, however, hit me hard for another reason - it sparked a set of thoughts I have been kicking around while trying to understand what it means to be in a country where race relations are shaped by colonialism rather than by slavery (setting aside the colonization that destroyed so much of Native American culture, which was a different kind that I'm even LESS equipped to think about, unfortunately). Anyway I had been thinking about how racism, colorism, and class work here -it's so, so, so, so different than I see it in the US, many of my missteps with people have arisen from my misreading of these things. But I also had a growing discomfort with the way many black Jamaicans frame their resistance to it.

Here's the exceprt from Coates (which I take off from.. the rest of it is focused somewhat elsewhere, and is, again, amazing, as are the comments):

When I was young I believed, like a lot of us at that time, that my people had been kidnapped out of Africa by malicious racist whites. Said whites then turned and subjugated and colonized the cradle of all men. It was a comforting thought which placed me and mine at the center of a grand heroic odyssey. We were deposed kings and queens robbed of our rightful throne by acquisitive merchants of human flesh. By that measures we were not victims, but deposed nobles--in fact and in spirit.

I don't propose that blacks are alone in our myth-making, or in our desire to ennoble ourselves. But given the power dynamics of this society, we're the ones who can afford the comforts of myth the least. This is doubly true for those of us who are curious about the broader world. By the time I came to Howard University, I was beginning the painful process of breaking away from the "oppression as nobility" formula. But the clincher was sitting in my Black Diaspora I class and learning that the theory of white kidnappers was not merely myth--but, on the whole, impossible because disease (Tse-Tse fly maybe?) kept most whites from penetrating beyond the coasts until the 19th century.

A few years later I read (like many of you, no doubt) Guns, Germs and Steel and was, again, heartbroken. Here was a book with no use for nobility, but concerned with two categories--winners and losers. And I was the progeny of the losing team. I was not cheated of anything. I had simply lost.

This was heart-breaking, in the existential sense. What was I, if not noble? What was the cosmic justice at work that put me here, that made me second? Slowly, by that line of questioning, I came to understand that there really was no cosmic justice, that I should just be happy to be alive. Moreover the truth--Harriet Tubman and Ida Wells--was sustenance enough.

I'm especially thinking about Coates' discussion of the need to, and problem with, focusing on being descended from "Kings, Queens, and Nobles" as one reclaims a certain kind of black identity.

I'm pretty much anti-hereditary nobility and monarchy and against that kind of social hierarchy, and have spent much of my life studying people who have never had access to (through marriage, birth, or membership) that kind of power. I am also the granddaughter of farmers or peasants, on both sides (immigrant jews on one side, poor Texan dairy farmers for a coupla hundred years and Europe before that), as well as having been raised by working-class radical academics.

Wherever my worldview comes from, I have often been a bit weirded out by the royalist language many use in Jamaica, including but not limited to Rastafarians. I spoke with a descendant of the Maroons, who (as did others I spoke with) emphasized his connections with royal families in Ghana and elsewhere. Rastas call each other King and Queen, and Empress and My Lord. In one way it's impressive, it's grand, it feels dignified and powerful. I understand that people who were systematically denied dignity, and still are, in terms of social power in Jamaica today, want to claim markers of dignity.

But seriously, the focus on royalty and nobility makes me cranky. What's so bad about being descended from a farmer? It seems like rather than taking the King=dignity, not-king=worthless framework as a given, and just reversing who is the king, is missing the point.

does this have any connection to music and music-making? Well, in some ways..
I see a lot of Rastas, for example, who are perfectly happy with the government ban on dirty dancehall music on the radio, while they had in the past decried government bans on reggae. They are happy to support the power of the government to dictate acceptable music, so long as acceptability fits their definition. There is an authoritarian strain here that I can't fully get on board with. Some people I have talked to say this is a newer development in Rasta politics, and I'd like to know more..

I'm not sure but it's possible that the dancehall culture is not as caught up in this.. I don't find it mapping so well onto this quest for royalty/nobility. It seems more a scramble for capitalist-style success, in which the concept of dignity is a bit hard for me to spot. Not sure what to make of that either..

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Major Lazer in Kingston

On Friday, I was sitting outside on campus where I can get some free wireless, and I checked my Facebook page, which is how I keep up with my friends at home. But this time I saw something happening here in Kingston, that I hadn’t heard about. One of my Facebook friends (check how these connections work) the wife of a guy I had been introduced to (via email) by an entertainment lawyer friend of mine in SF –she runs a website about events in Jamaica, and she posted the following information:
Major Lazer was launching their tour right here at Quad, the biggest club in Kingston, tonight!

I called the guy, hoping he and his wife and some other people were going, and he said yes.. and offered to pick me up on the way to the club. Woo! He came by at midnight or so and off we went.

We got there around 12:45 or so. I was on the guest list, which eases my passage past the security guards who gave me shit about wearing sneakers last time. Heading through the entryway, a jazz club called “Christopher’s” is on the ground floor, to our left. The crowd here is older and/or wealthier/more conservative looking than elsewhere in the club. The main stairway leads up past the jazz bar to the main floor. This floor takes up the entire building, but is broken up by the shaft of the central staircase (which is enclosed, and the kind of staircase where the stairs go around a central square opening that is open all the way down). This means that althogh the space has a big capacity, it's impossible to see more than about 1/3 of the room at any one time and thats when you stand in a corner, the space is broken up by the central staircase. There are bars around the outside walls, the DJ booth is at on end on the outside wall, and there’s a dancefloor in front. The ceiling is oddly low, every area is irregular-shaped, with islands breaking up the dancefloor into a smaller space, and a serious air-conditioner blasted chill air onto us from above. The sound system is pretty huge, and pretty clean. I’d looooove to play on it sometime. I’ve been through here a few times before. I’ve always been impressed with their weekend DJs, although the crowd is nowhere near as lively as Boassi, the guests have never blown my mind. And these guests?

The Major Lazer crew I recognized as they trickled in. Diplo and Switch and Terry Lynn showed up in the DJ booth, I saw them through the glass, her big sunglasses reflecting back the light. A bit later a couple of other people I assumer were MCs collected back there as well and I hoped they would all get on the mic at some point. Diplo came on the decks maybe an hour or more later.

The order of his sets gets a bit mixed up in my mind. But I think he started by playing a mix of familiar (from the Jamaican scene) stuff, i.e. dancehall and hip-hop/R&B. It wasn’t too adventurous, but certainly no worse than what I’ve heard elsewhere.

Then there was a moment where he had an MC come up. This was where the crowd livened up the most. The MC was dressed in “african” style clothes, colorful Batik-patterned long tunic and trousers and a tall cap, and wraparound shades. His rapping had a distinct accented-english style. It was Prince Zimboo, whose way of rapping the Gleaner helpfully calls a "deep African accent" (!), and he made some funny dirty jokes and the crowd responded well, with cheers and gunhands and such. He is already known in Jamaica especially for his presence on the famous Black Chiney mixtapes (hah more racialized performance - they're out of Miami but they are Jamaicans of partly chinese descent popular in Jamaica). His second big cheer came from a phrase off of one of those mixtapes - he calls himself the "Punanny Macguyver." (hee)

The fact that he is not actually African but is a sort of “African-face” performer weirds me out and is worth a post in itself – anyone else want to take a crack at that? Looks like the backstory is even less cool, but not so unusual. Lots of people really get into stereotypes here (of everyone including Jamaicans – the most popular comedienne right now wears blackface and plays a ‘low-class’ Jamaican who mispronounces words and is loud and dresses inappropriately –this SLAYS’EM in the aisles). And Jamaicans are perfectly capable of saying horrifically racist things about Africans. But I digress.

I recall a set of clubbier remix tunes, Baltimore club and house music, mixed in with Kid Cudi’s “day n night” (which is pop/r&b’s sonic excursion into club sounds)—this is something I might have done, trying to get the crowd into the clubby vibe and getting them to realize it’s not so different from music they already like. Except I kinda hate that song so it would have been hard for me to play it even for such a sensible purpose.

Next he played a set of dubplates by big names in dancehall. This seems like going for something familiar to dancehall fans, after the unfamiliar music played before. However, my companion, a longtime Jamaican music industry guy said they weren’t even the hottest dubplates, either not the biggest artists or not the biggest songs. I can’t say I know enough to judge that, I only remember one by Konshens, who is pretty big, but no Vybez Kartel I think. But the crowd didn’t really seem that into it. I thought it might be that dubplates in themselves aren't that big for this kind of crowd. My impression is that dubplates (special versions of a tune re-sung by the artist who is known for singing it ---or by someone who SOUNDS like that artist—but dropping the name of the DJ in the song) are more important in soundclash competitions between rival djs/sound systems, or in the street dances where artists really get street cred. Then again, several scholars of dubplates I know suggest that dubplates are losing importance more generally in JA. Whatever the cause, nobody seemed that impressed here.

Quad is considered a more uptown scene, it has an entrance fee of 800/1000 Jamaican (around 10-12 bucks), which is pretty high for Kingston and the inside is white and shiny and gleaming, at least the counters. The crowd is definitely more conservative or boringly dressed than at street dances, in a way that I have come to associate with an uptown crowd. People look pretty healthy – good skin, good teeth, physically pretty fit. Guys in polo shirts or t-shirts and short or shaved hair, girls in tight dresses with not a lot of jewelry and not-too-complicated hairstyles, or somewhat conservative jeans and tight tops. High heels popular (the club’s “no sneakers on women” rule is apparently followed, by most), but there are plenty of women in flip-flops too. Maybe I would call it at least partly a college crowd. More hard shoes on the men than a college crowd in Boston where I grew up, but Boston is a buncha schlubs basically.. “upscale and college” maybe?

People didn’t dance much to the housier/clubbier stuff (except for me and one guy in a white button-down shirt and a shaved head). When that stuff came up people calmed down into standing around and bouncing a bit and chatting. Except for my fellow dancer, who was black, the only people I actually saw cheering any of the clubbier tunes were white or very lightskinned (I was in front of the dj booth while these tracks were played, and I was dancing but most people just watched me or the other guy).

Overall, the crowd was not particularly enthused, at peak moments more folks busting out and dancing (maybe up to 50% of the crowd I could see, more of that on the central dancefloor), or ladies here and there bending over and rubbing their butts back against the groins of their male partners (this move is sort of catlike and questing in a way –sending the butt backwards against a guy and then making kind of a scrubbing motion- and it’s kind of funny because sometimes the men just stand there at get scrubbed). I saw a few guys who looked more like dancers but they never busted out any moves where I could see it. Things heated up a bit during the regular-dancehall set. Their biggest response of cheers and gun-hands-in-the-air, other than to Prince Zimboo, were when Diplo played the big tunes –tunes currently big in every club and dance in Jamaica – in the expected sequence: Big R&B track, then Big Jamaican vocal on the same riddim, for example.

They people actually started thinning out by 3 (which is by no means when things stop at Quad). The place had gotten pretty packed but after that initial peak nobody seemed to be really into it, although they didn’t seem exactly hostile.

My take on it? Well, I was surprised to hear about the gig in the first place. Definitely impressed that Quad took on an adventurous booking, and unimpressed by the lack of initiative, energy and responsiveness from Major Lazer/Diplo. The dancehall stuff I could have heard anywhere in Kingston, the dubplates were probably expensive but not really impressing the crowd, and the club stuff did not connect for most people there although they didn't run completely away. It was ok, but not earthshaking. I’ll fess up, we left before the end, but the crowd had left the dancefloor already and I couldn’t see anything dramatic on the horizon that would have changed the scene.

If I had been part of Major Lazer – here’s what I would have done: Since the crowd really responded to the MCs, whatever my initial plan had been, I would have asked the slew of interesting MCs behind me (like Terry Lynn!) to work with me to make a live show, freestyle, more high energy, even winging it a bit just to throw some energy back at the crowd. People would have at least respected and enjoyed them putting on a show and committing a lot of energy to it. I’ve noticed that over and over again at Jamaican shows – when someone really gives it 100%, even if the audience doesn’t really like the music, they usually respect someone for trying. But this performance was lackadaisical to watch, and not that thrilling to listen to on a number of fronts, so it felt pretty flat.

This is getting long, so I’ll save my big-picture comments for the next post.