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).