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!