T O B O R E ONE MOR ISSUE 11 - AUTUMN â€˜12
+ Beth Jeans
Ken Bruen Akintola Hanif Le Galaxie Rob Salkowitz The Sanctuaries RawDeal Rick James Adrian Tomine Cry Monster Cry Pablo Nouvelle
Life. Culture. Style. Images clockwise from top left: Max Factor at Nina Ricci, runway show Spring 2011, photo by Yannis Vlamos; Daisy Lowe for Biba at House of Fraser, photo by Ellen Von Unwerth; Emmet Kirwan by Trevor Hart; The Naked and Famous, â€˜Passive Me, Aggressive Youâ€™ on Somewhat Damaged label; Kid Karate by Trevor Hart.
ONE MORE ROBOT 02 Editor’s Letter 03. Featured Contributors 04. Back to Fashion By Niamh Hynes 06. Pablo Nouvelle: Discovering the soul of hip-hop By Simon Mee 08. I Was A Teenage Prog Nerd By Joe Tangari 10. The Future of ‘Geek’: Interview with Rob Salkowitz By Elaine Burke 12. Northern Star: Interview with Beth Jeans Houghton By Trisha Doyle 18. The Real Deal: Interview with RawDeal By Dean Van Nguyen 24. New York Stories: Interview with Adrian Tomine By Sam Weiss 28. Power to the Peerless: Interview with Chuck D By David Ma 36. The Innter Sanctum: Interview with The Sanctuaries By Nadene Ryan 40. Hard Boiled: Interview with Ken Bruen By Michael A. Gonzales 44. Conquering the Universe: Interview with Le Galaxie By Karen Lawler 48. Hy Society: Interview with Akintola Hanif By Colm Gorey 52. Two Brothers: Interview with Cry Monster Cry By Jonathan Keane 54. Bustin’ Out: Interview with Rick James By Charlie Braxton 59. Critics 64. A music mid-life crisEs By Simon Mee
ON THE COVER
Public Enemy #1 Chuck D
Letter from the Editor
One More Robot is three years old now and, while we’ve come a long way in terms of our look, quality of content, and audience, we still practise the same ethos we laid down before a pen was ever lifted. We set out to be an alternative to the hype and gossip so prevalent in pop culture journalism and to provide a more analytical view of this deep, multi-faceted world we all guzzle daily. In our pursuit of highquality cultural criticism, long-form essays have primarily been our weapon of choice as they give our writers the space and freedom both to express themselves and to really drive at the issues they’re covering. As a result, we’ve only run a small number of interview features over the years, but that’s not to say we’ve got anything against them. When done correctly, interview features provide good insight into the minds of those who create the art and media we consume, and allow us to see the personalities of those we rate and follow. Of those we love and hate. With this in mind, I put it to our writers to come up with a wide variety of noteworthy people with a voice and ethos of their own that would appeal to our readership. ‘The Interview Issue’ compiles conversations with musicians, artists, photographers, filmmakers and authors, all of whom I personally stand behind as having voices worth hearing in their respective fields. None of these interviews took place at press junkets. None were tampered with by PR executives eager to protect their clients. There were just our writers, conversing with someone they had an interest in and eager to achieve a deeper understanding of their character and their art. From Chuck D, frontman of legendary political rap group Public Enemy, veteran crime author Ken Bruen, and established New Yorker cartoonist Adrian Tomine, to emerging entertainment entrepreneur RawDeal, and super-talented young musician Beth Jeans Houghton, our subjects span a wide variety of age groups, countries of origin and are at very different points in their careers. There is surely something here for everyone, and I commend our team not only for the work the written work they’ve done, but for the persistence required to choose an interview subject and then make the feature happen. There are many highlights, but I would like to pick out Charlie Braxton’s interview with influential funk legend Rick James for special mention. Speaking shortly before James’s death in 2004, Charlie extracted a lengthy, in-depth conversation from the man about his life in music. It’s a hugely enjoyable and fascinating insight into a talented artist who has unfairly become best known as the brash, cocaine-fuelled oddball portrayed by Dave Chappelle in his famous comedy skit. I hope you enjoy the issue as much as I enjoyed putting it together --Dean Van Nguyen
Founder / Editor Dean Van Nguyen Contributing Editors Elaine Burke, Michael A. Gonzales Sub Editor Kirsty Tobin Contributing Writers Charlie Braxton, Jamieson Cox, Trisha Doyle, Colm Gorey, Niamh Hynes, Jonathan Keane, Karen Lawler, David Ma, Simon Mee, B. Michael Payne, Jason Robinson, Nadene Ryan, Joe Tangari, Sam Weiss Photography and Illustrations Maurice Glennon, Niamh Hynes, Louise Butler Sherlock, Joe Tangari, freedigitalphotos.net Design and Layout Maurice Glennon, Dean Van Nguyen Distribution Manager Barry Kenna Publisher Pardue Media Group Contact firstname.lastname@example.org ISSN 2009-342X Published and printed in Dublin, Ireland. Unauthorised duplication without prior consent is prohibited.
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Featured Contributors Colm Gorey
Currently grinding his gears in the world of contract publishing, Colm Gorey is new to the world of being a freelance journalist and is already in bad need of a dose of WD-40. When he’s not quoting The Simpsons or doing impromtu Arnie impressions, he is wondering whether they still make that shampoo he likes. His style has often been referred to as ‘gonzo’, whether it be delving into the world of online gaming in our previous issue, or his profilic work documenting the Dublin Fire Brigade for Firecall magazine.
David Ma has written for various print and online publications including The Source, Egotripland, Wax Poetics, XLR8R, San Jose Mercury News, URB, Soul Culture, and Pitchfork. His audioblog – nerdtorious. com – covers tangents of hip-hop, funk, soul, psych and older records, often through exclusive, in-depth interviews, audio uploads taken from vinyl, and guest posts from artists, writers, rhythm-addicts and friends. He writes from the Bay Area.
A rose that grew from a pot of dirt, or dirt that rose from a lot of girth? Either way, stylus-toting heliophobe Elaine Burke is a journalistic gem. Talent, stealth, valour – just some of the skills Burke longs to add to her repertoire. An integral part of the One More Robot team since coming on board last year, she juggles her work as a staff journalist for technology website SiliconRepublic.com with her passion for cookery at Chez Sweeney in Maryland.
Our new Sub Editor Kirsty Tobin has profoundly unhinged zeal for correcting other people’s English, and has been known to terrify small children and full-grown magazine editors. It has become a near crippling trait, as she now spends her life proof-reading every single thing that’s put in front of her. She became involved with One More Robot through the usual avenues of drudge work and casual slavery. Nothing has changed. Cork-based, she spends her time watching and writing about TV, and calling it work.
With creative writing and music being her two passions in life, Nadene made a beeline for Dublin city after finishing university because, she says, the music scene is “On Fire!” Originally from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, she studied Journalism ‘up the road’ in UL. A freelance writer and English teacher, she has contributed to Hot Press, The Nenagh Guardian, ThePaddy.ie, The Marketplace, The Limerick Leader, and maintains her own music blog at nadeneryan.tumblr.com. Aside from writing about music, her main areas of interest are in arts, entertainment and lifestyle. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Back to Fashion The 2009 film The September Issue took viewers behind the scenes at Vogue’s New York office, documenting the creation of their largest-ever issue and leaving many to wonder where the hype surrounding the all-important September issue of the magazine originates. By Niamh Hynes As the number of fashion collections with accompanying shows grows to an all-time high, it seems incredible that there remains a standout season. However, while Haute Couture and Cruise Collections still give us a jolt of sartorial serotonin – filling an otherwise chasmal fashion hiatus between autumn and spring – September remains the enduring milestone of the fashion calendar. Each year, the world’s major fashion magazines endure vicious competition for the cover and content of their September issue. And with good reason. The amount of importance placed on the fashion tomes published for this 04
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month leaves the March issue, with its new spring/summer collections, in the shade. It seems as though every year the catwalks for the autumn/winter collections, which will be showcased in the September issues of the world’s largest fashion magazines, become more attentiongrabbing, the clothes more elaborate and, overall, the entire production more theatrical. The 2009 film The September Issue drew attention to the importance of the month (in fashion terms) to a much wider audience than before and left many wondering: why is September the most influential month in the fashion calendar?
A glance back at the most noteworthy shows of this season proves that nothing one can imagine is beyond the realms of possibility for a designer with the financial backing of a major couturier, and this is never more important than in the autumn/winter shows. Earlier this year, The Grand Palais in Paris played host to Chanel’s backdrop of kryptonitestyle crystals, while gazelle-like beauties navigated their way past McQ’s tree-lined forest for its first London show. Models cycled down the catwalk in platforms at Vivienne Westwood in an ode to the designer herself, who can frequently be spotted biking around London. Burberry once again streamed its autumn/winter collection, this time live to Hyde Park in London, sending mannequins stomping down the runway holding umbrellas before a literally thunderous finale in which the heavens opened and rain poured down on the catwalk, with an enthralled pack of fashionistas seated below. The real showstopper however – and probably one of the most spectacular fashion shows ever held – was Louis Vuitton. The creative brainchild of designer Marc Jacobs, a chillinducing opening sequence commenced in total darkness, punctuated only by the hot flash of camera bulbs from the end of the runway. An accompanying screeching, hissing sound preluded the lights being raised to reveal, chugging slowly down the track, a steam engine train of Louis Vuitton-clad ‘passengers’ who then disembarked to showcase the newest collection, with porters following a pace behind with their bags. It was a show sure to keep the front row editors talking; those ultimately deciding the content of their most important magazine of the year. September is merely the catalyst for the worldwide exposition of months of painstaking planning, meticulous examination and careful compilation of the trends befitting the biggest magazine editions of the year. The September Issue cast new light on the pandemonium and the pressure on those behind the scenes who are part of the creative process involved in bringing Vogue’s own September issue to life. It depicted creative genius Grace Coddington being pushed to the limits of her patience by
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
the editorial force of Anna Wintour, who was faced with the unenviable task of putting together the 840 page edition that was the September 2007 issue. The film featured Vogue’s then publisher Tom Florio revealing to a room full of press the pre-economic crash, record breaking news that it would be the biggest ever edition in the 117-year history of the magazine. Featuring Sienna Miller on the cover, it weighed an almost bag-breaking 5lbs. And, while economic restraint and the occupy movement don’t really seem to go handin-hand with high fashion, this year’s issue was another record-breaker, stretching out to a massive 916 pages. It’s possible that part of the reason for the excitement surrounding September fashion is the fact their autumn/winter fashion weeks take place in February during a time when we’re still shivering and finding it quite difficult to fathom the bare legs and high hemlines demanded by the spring/summer collections. In September, editors are presented with a gluttony of new trends they could reasonably incorporate into their wardrobe immediately; that initial excitement will be accompanied by months of advance preparation for the season when, six months later, the coveted becomes the consumable. The draw of cold-weather fashion cannot be ignored either. There is something so elegant, so understated, so chic about the winter coats, the boots, the gloves, the knits, the dresses and skirts; admittedly even more so after the summer months of witnessing a hot-pants revolution. Evening dressing takes on a whole new importance for autumn/winter as the Christmas season approaches. On the simplest level we will require more clothes – for more varied situations – during this time. The trends established in September will influence the spring/summer collections that follow, making it the uncontended beginning of the fashion year. In keeping with this, major magazines do not limit their content simply to the collections and the fashion we will be wearing this autumn, but also introduces us to the upand-coming models and designers to watch in the following 12 months, not to mention the books to read, films to see, gallery
“The 2009 film The September Issue cast new light on the pandemonium and the pressure behind the scenes on those who are part of the creative process involved in bringing the American Vogue September issue to life.”
exhibitions to view and destinations to visit on our future travels. September has, for many people, and in many ways, much more powerful associations with the new than the beginning of the calendar year in January – going back to school or university, we have a fresh start and, traditionally, buy a new set of clothes. There is a sort of liberation in the difference and, in tapping into this, the fashion industry is recognising the value of presenting consumers with a new aesthetic, a different feeling, and a mood at variance with that which has come before. As Anna Wintour put it herself in The September Issue “Fashion’s not about looking back. It’s always about looking forward.” Perhaps many of us unwittingly take comfort in the seismic fashion shift September brings, turning annually and in great numbers to the magazines that present the new season so neatly and so desirably – ensuring it endures as the chief juncture of the fashion year. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Pablo Nouvelle: Discovering the soul of hip-hop By Simon Mee After releasing two impressive singles this year, musician and filmmaker Pablo Nouvelle talks about uncovering soul music, the influence of cinema on his work, and taking the next step.
The girl slowly awakes on a couch. Dishevelled, she walks past scores of empty bottles – remnants from the night before. Crisp guitar notes, vocal samples and tight beats start to filter in as the camera gradually pans out, revealing a bare, almost skeletal room. So begins the stylish video to ‘Is it OK’, the debut single of Swiss musician and filmmaker Pablo Nouvelle, aka Fabio Friedli. It is a fitting introduction to music that defies categorisation. With Friedli’s music, like the girl, you simply don’t know where you are. His compositions reside in the no man’s land found between the contours of genres, carefully blending fragments of modern soul, pop and dance music. The fact that Friedli’s music is so hard to pin down almost lends an otherworldly quality to it. ‘You Do Me Wrong’, Pablo Nouvelle’s second single released in late July, only strengthened this impression. Subdued and enigmatic, it slowly builds layers around a vocal sample taken from Marvin Gaye’s 1965 classic ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’. The track is easily one of the more compelling releases so far this year. Given the maturity and strength of the song, it is perhaps surprising to learn how new Friedli is to the music business. He has yet to release a debut album. Born in the small city of Bern, Friedli grew up surrounded by music, taking to the piano at a young age. But it was his love of hip-hop that convinced him that music would play a significant role in his life. After a spell producing hip-hop beats, Friedli’s curiosity led him to the discovery of soul. “Hip-hop was the music I grew up [to] – maybe the first genre that I committed 06
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myself to,” says Friedli, “but it took me a while to discover what was actually behind those hip hop samples. It was like discovering a whole new world, full of wonderful singers, dirty drums and soulful melodies.” Stumbling upon soul music, for Friedli, “was like looking behind the curtain of hip-hop and understanding where it all came from. That changed my life.” Friedli’s sound today is influenced by artists such as Radiohead, John Frusciante, The XX and Gil Scott-Heron. To date, two singles have been released, with a third soon to follow. A debut album is in the works, although Friedli is still searching for the right label to put his music out into the world. Interestingly, Friedli fuses his knowledge of filmmaking into the creation of his music – indeed, his alter ego ‘Pablo Nouvelle’ is an homage to the French architect Jean Nouvel and the Nouvelle Vague films of the 1960s. Upon quitting his studies in architecture in 2006, Friedli ventured into animation, eventually winning a number of awards at international film festivals for his short work Bon Voyage. It is that cinematic development of the story, the creation of characters – in addition to the rhythm and feel for cinema – that Friedli tries to incorporate into his music. “I often try to have my music sounding like a particular scene in a film or the particular emotion I felt when I read a certain book,” says Friedli, “but, to be honest, at the end it’s the tone that makes the music. “I work often with samples. It is quite obvious that I am heavily influenced by certain genres of music and also love to show and interpret it in my way.”
I Was A Teenage Prog Nerd One music obsessive outlines his long-standing love affair with the progressive rock genre. By Joe Tangari
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In 1994, at 14, I started caring about music. I mean really caring. I hadn’t ever touched an instrument in a meaningful way and suddenly I was asking for a bass guitar for my birthday. I had owned country music cassettes when I was 12 and 13, and I was obsessed with ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic as a child, but I had never listened the way I was listening then – trying to figure out what was going on in there, and how the musicians got that sound. The exact point at which I started caring is not obscure in my memory. In fact, it’s crystal clear. It was the moment I first heard Pink Floyd’s ‘High Hopes’ on the radio. You remember ‘High Hopes’, right? It was the closing song on The Division Bell, the band’s last studio album. The one with the bell and the piano that locked into a rhythm together.
I got a cassette copy of that album, spending days craning into the speaker, listening to the way the bell carried through the song and completed the chord progression. Not that I had any idea what a chord progression was at the time. A year later, I was well on my way to being a true record collector, with little shelving units proliferating across my bedroom. On those shelving units were CDs by Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Kansas, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, ELP and Electric Light Orchestra, and LPs by Yes, Caravan, Chicago Transit Authority, Focus, Genesis, Nektar and The Moody Blues. I’d go to school the day after Dave Matthews Band played in nearby Hartford, Connecticut, and I’d be the only one there not wearing a Dave Matthews Band t-shirt. I’d never heard Dave Matthews Band. I had no idea
“I’d sift through piles of old music magazines, in places that sold them, looking for articles that mentioned things I already liked and make lists of the things the writers compared them to.” what was in the top 40. I was living in a Roger Dean painting and the landscape was spectacular. What was it that drew me to this music? Certainly there was no social benefit to it – apart from Pink Floyd, none of this stuff was remotely popular or perceived as cool at my school. That may have been a big part of the draw, actually. Progressive rock was a private world that I had to myself. A place I could go when I got home. Where my petty teenage problems could be put aside in favour of mystical journeys that took up a whole LP side. I didn’t want music that reminded me of how miserable life could feel. I wanted to go somewhere else and whether it was a cybernetic dystopia or a surreal English countryside didn’t matter. More than anything, that kind of escape from the humdrum was what progressive rock offered to me. The ambition of the music and the faith the musicians placed in their ideas, however simplistic or misguided they might have been, was inspiring to me. I didn’t particularly value the level of musicianship it took to play this music – except, perhaps, for when I’d try to learn a song like ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ and find it much more difficult than I’d expected – but the skill these musicians brought to bear on their songs was key to making those ideas work, and I started to question the value some of my friends placed on untrained or sloppy musicianship. In the mid-nineties it was work to learn about this music because it had been banished critically, and classic rock radio provided only a skim across the very top. I’d sift through piles of old music magazines, in places that sold them, looking for articles that mentioned things
I already liked and make lists of the things the writers compared them to. By mid1996, I was going into the paltry selection of record stores near the small town I grew up in with a long list of artists written in my own tiny handwriting. I searched for Strawbs and Can but couldn’t find them. I stumbled across Soft Machine’s fifth album at an electronics store and bought it immediately. I bought those Caravan and Nektar LPs at a public radio record sale because they had long songs on them, and long songs were like a little flag waving for progressive rock. In 1996, Rhino released a five-disc boxed set called Supernatural Fairytales: The Progressive Rock Era, complete with a Roger Dean painting on the box, and I saved up for a few months to buy it. It featured songs by some bands I already knew. Yes, ELP, Traffic and The Moody Blues were well-ensconced on my shelves, but it opened my eyes to the fact that this was a much bigger world than I’d ever thought possible. Suddenly, I was off in search of albums by Renaissance, Roxy Music, Van der Graaf Generator and Ash Ra Tempel – some of which I wouldn’t find until I moved to Boston for college. The set also delved into bands from continental Europe, like France’s Ange and Lard Free, Italy’s Premiata Forneria Marconi, Germany’s Amon Düül II and Faust, and Sweden’s Samla Mammas Manna. I got a little panicked that I’d never track all this stuff down. That panic seems quaint now. The Internet has enabled me to track down virtually anything I want, from a runof-the-mill Jethro Tull studio album to bootlegs collecting dozens of live performances of the German symphonic
prog band Grobschnitt’s ‘Solar Musik Suite’. There are communities like Prog Archives where I can go and learn more about this stuff. I’m no longer a lone warrior on the edge of time. I’m part of an army. And I’m proud to be part of that army. As I discovered punk and hip-hop and funk and soul and jazz and pre-war blues and indie rock in college, progressive rock became less of an obsession and more just one more thing I listened to, but my affection never waned for those musicians who had so confidently set out to dethrone the three-minute pop single and redefine what pop music could be. People looking at prog through the historical lens of punk can easily forget that progressive rock, at the beginning, was a challenge to the established norm – at least as much as punk itself would be in 1977. The pop music industry had lived on the 45 for two decades when Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Genesis and Yes rose from the psychedelic underground in the wake of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and embraced the album as their medium of choice. When Keith Emerson and the Nice injected European classical influences into their music, it was a direct challenge to the orthodoxy of rock‘n’roll, which looked decidedly toward America for influence. As part of ELP, Emerson, of course, became the establishment a mere halfdecade later as his band sold out 18,000seat venues with ease, and the ambition of the music came to be viewed with suspicion as excess and hubris. With time comes perspective though, and prog is being slowly written back in to rock history. Frankly, it’s overdue. This is the music that got me through my teens, and I have no idea what I’d be today without it. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
and people sort of look at it in the rearview mirror as they would with disco or the Spice Girls or something like that and say, ‘What were we thinking? And why were we dressed like that?’” It has happened before, and it could happen again.
REVENGE OF THE NERDS
The Future of ‘Geek’ Author Rob Salkowitz has closely observed how Comic-Con and the geek world it embodies influence global pop culture. By Elaine Burke ‘Futurist’ sounds like the profession of a character from a comic book but, in these days of fast-moving trends and companies trying to keep up with them, it’s a genuine job title; one that belongs to Rob Salkowitz, author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture. Salkowitz has been attending Comic-Con with his wife since 1997, not just as a fan but as a business analyst trying to find out how cultural trends are transforming old business models. There are many comic book conventions, but we’re talking about the big one here: Comic-Con International, held every year in San Diego. Over time, Salkowitz has seen it grow into a giant pop culture singularity swallowing up comic books, Hollywood, TV, video games and everything in between. If there’s any doubt that comic book 10
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heroes have become a cornerstone of pop culture, a glance at the summer box office takings puts paid to that. But we don’t need proof. This is nothing out of the ordinary. “It’s sort of part of the cultural furniture, the idea that The Avengers movie makes a billion and a half dollars worldwide, and The Dark Knight Rises – that these are routinely the highest grossing movies doesn’t move the needle. People expect that,” says Salkowitz. But there are questions; the concerns of the purists. “Is that a permanent, sustainable part of our culture now? Has that bridge been crossed and has geek culture become irreversibly mainstream?” Salkowtiz wonders. “Or is this a sort of an oscillation that in a few years, maybe – for reasons that nobody can predict or entirely control – it goes back to being a subculture
In Salkowitz’s crystal ball, the scenario where geek culture comes back to the geeks could be more challenging for business, but also more artistically and culturally rewarding. In fact, he sees this happening already with the success of independent production and distribution coming from surprising sources. “You hear these stories every day,” he says and then asks me if I’ve heard of Axe Cop. I’m ignorant but intrigued. “So, this guy is a professional comics artist and he has a much younger brother who’s like five years old,” Salkowitz begins. “He was home for Christmas playing with his brother, and his brother was telling these stories about this character he invented called Axe Cop who was a highway patrolman who kills monsters with an axe. The [illustrator] was looking for new work to do in his portfolio and he said, ‘You know, this is a better script than I’ve gotten from most of my writer friends. I’m just gonna draw this’.” And so, Ethan Nicolle, the illustrator, captured his little brother Malachai’s imagination in a web comic that he posted to Facebook. “In the time between when he got on the aeroplane to leave the family gathering and when he landed, this had gone viral,” continues Salkowitz. “‘Axe Cop’ became a top 100 Google search term and it became one of the most popular web comics overnight.” As quickly as the popularity surge that brought it to public attention, Axe Cop was picked up by Dark Horse Comics and a graphic novel and animated series are already in the works. “It went from literally the mind of a five-year-old kid into the mass media machine that quickly,” says Salkowitz with a mix of awe and admiration. Salkowitz also remembers when everyone got a Kindle Fire for Christmas and went online to download some comics
to read on their shiny new toy. “They went to the Amazon store and the No 1-selling digital download graphic novel over the holiday season was called How to be a Super Villain. It wasn’t Watchmen, it wasn’t The Walking Dead, it wasn’t The Avengers – it wasn’t any of the usual suspects. It was this book called How to be a Super Villain, which was self-published by a person named Rachel Yu who is 14 years old. And this was her third book.” When a teenage girl is outselling powerhouses like DC Comics and Marvel, and veteran creators like Robert Kirkman, you know that something terribly exciting is occurring. “It’s a whole new world,” says Salkowitz. “It’s not only gonna be Rachel Yu in the United States, or Ethan Nicolle, or any of these people. It could be somebody in India, or in Latin America, or in Ireland, or wherever. The barriers to access are gone.”
FROM GEEK TO CHIC
Just like the creators are changing, so too is the fanbase. It’s not like the typified ‘geek’ – a myopic male with bad skin that hardly leaves his bedroom – is the only fan we associate with comic book culture, but, like all stereotypes, the image is persistent. To break down these assumptions, we see events such as GeekGirlCon, which recently took place in Salkowitz’s hometown of Seattle. Even for a forward-thinker with his finger on the pulse, this event was an eye-opener. “This is the future of fandom,” he announces. “As a futurist putting on my business analyst hat and looking: the audience for this stuff is not the 40-year-old geek sitting in his basement any more; it’s not male-oriented nerd culture. It’s much broader, it’s much more international, it’s much more diverse in the things to be nerdish about, and it’s much more plugged into knowledge economy and engineering and science and those sorts of things.” GeekGirlCon 2012 celebrated everything there was to nerd culture, beyond the confines of comic books and sci-fi movies. There were rocket scientists, roller derby girls, software designers and Quidditch players. (Yes, that’s right, with broomsticks and everything.) And, despite the title, the event wasn’t ‘girls only’, merely a geek-
centred programme that completely defied the notion that all participants would be pasty-faced boys in Star Wars T-shirts.
IN THE HANDS OF THE FANS
New voices – teenage girls and five-yearold boys – are coming to the fore, but at the same time that this is happening, we’re also seeing unprecedented consolidation of media channels at the top end. “Certainly one future of pop culture involves letting a thousand flowers bloom from all over the place, and letting all of these dissident voices and crazy, wacky new ideas get heard; but another future is that this is all being decided in committee rooms by brand managers and by teams of transmedia producers that are engineering this experience in a very top-down way and trying to consolidate all of these audiences around their product, around their channels,” opines Salkowitz. So what’s it going to be? There’s billions of dollars backing the big guys, but the little guys are still making an impact thanks to the democratisation of distribution heralded by the Internet. Which will define the flavour of global pop culture in the next 10 years? More than likely, it will be whoever has the fans on their side as even the big-shot Hollywood execs are out courting the fans at Comic-Con hoping for a thumbs up. “And that’s what makes fans different from consumers,” declares Salkowitz. “Fans are educated and engaged and passionate, and they feel themselves to be the co-owners of these properties along with the creators and to have an equal say in how they’re gonna be developed and how they’re gonna be brought to market.” But while a thumbs down from Hall H (the largest room at Comic-Con with a massive 6,500 seats) can be a death knell for a project, that doesn’t mean a positive reaction guarantees success. “It’s a complicated relationship between what the fans like and what the mainstream audience likes. Not everybody has the deft touch to get that right,” explains Salkowitz. “It, among other things, proves the extraordinary talent of somebody like Joss Whedon,” he adds, referring to Whedon’s work writing and directing The Avengers – a production that Salkowitz believed to be
“fraught with peril”. “It looked to me like it could very easily have been a ridiculous fiasco – just an embarrassment. And the script is not gonna win any awards,” he remarks. “Yet [Whedon] managed to get just enough of the nerd cred for everybody to be cheering at all the little Easter eggs that he put in there, and also have the mass audience not rolling their eyes and saying, ‘Ugh, I’ve had it with these superhero movies.’” Very few people have this kind of skill, and pleasing the hardcore geeks and general public simultaneously is never going to be easy. “As long as Hollywood and the mass media is in marriage with the fan community, as demonstrated at Comic-Con, it’s always gonna be tricky, and that’s good. Because if it ever becomes a simple formula, then all of what is great about comics and everything that we love about them – as quirky and individual and personal as those creative visions are – starts to go away and it starts to become engineered, and it becomes a money machine,” says Salkowitz, who wants the geeks to continue making it hard for the mainstream media. “Even as big as Comic-Con has gotten, and as well exposed and as sophisticated as the brand people have gotten about managing that, they still can’t quite get it right. And I hope they never do.” Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Northern Star Geordie singer-songwriter Beth Jeans Houghton talks about dealing with critics, her fear of the folk label, and why sheâ€™ll be making records until she dies. By Trisha Doyle
eth Jeans Houghton has been beguiling the music press and enchanting audiences with engaging live performances and an idiosyncratic body of work. Having begun her career as an acoustic songbird, she’s quickly evolved into a writer of lush, pop soundscapes and band leader, all culminating in her fine first full length album, Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, released earlier this year. Still, it’s not been an easy road for the still only 22-year-old. The album was frought with delays. She has struggled to shake the folk tag and unfair comparisons with other female singer-songwriters, while rumours of a relationship with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis has led to an interest in her personal life. Speaking over the phone, I caught up with Houghton shortly before her recent Dublin gig in Whelan’s (“I really like Irish people in general. They’re good fun,” she beems) and she reflected on what’s already been an eventful career. Have you been touring long? We’ve been touring on and off for the past couple of years. The record came out last February and we’ve been touring that since, but we were touring before that because the record was delayed, so we filled in that time doing shows. I saw something quite sweet about the tour that you’re doing for homeless charities. Can you tell us a little more about it? We’re going to do hand-drawn pictures and give them in exchange for canned food or clothing and take it to the local homeless shelter. We’re doing it at each stop. Initially we were working with Shelter [a charity that works with homeless people in the UK], but now they can’t do it so we’re going to do it ourselves. The homeless thing, for me, it’s a nice one to do it for. A lot of the time it’s not their choice they’re homeless. They’ve just had bad shit happen. Let’s talk a little about your influences – what did you listen to when you were 14
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growing up? I grew up listening to my parents’ vinyl record collection, which was sixties and seventies pop, psychedelic and garage. That’s what I’ve constantly been into it since I was a kid. I like a lot of old music. I don’t listen to a lot of new music, which I probably should. Are there any particular records that you always go back to? I really like Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. I like the weirder stuff. And anything that’s powerful, like Patti Smith. If you see her on stage, she’s so powerful. You talk about Patti Smith’s stage presence and you’ve been noted for your own on stage presence, particularly your banter with the crowd. Have you drawn from artists like her? It just came naturally. The first few shows I was scared shitless and I felt like throwing up. It’s a lot easier having The Hooves of Destiny because we’ve all known each other for around 10 years. We just do on stage what we do at home, so it’s like being on tour with family. It makes it a lot easier. We also really like audience participation – for people to dance and join in. So it’s like a sharing experience instead of people just coming to see us play. We want to see them as well. Sometimes it’s difficult if they just stand around with their pints looking
“My new housemate admitted the other day he had said on Twitter that our band was overrated before he’d even listened to the music”
moody. But more and more people are getting what we’re trying to do. Another thing I’ve read about you was that early in your career you were on stage with Devendra Banhart? Did that kick off an urge to be on stage? That was ages ago. I was 17 at [Welsh folk music festival] Green Man. I just did it because I really liked his music and I knew he asked people up to play songs. I was really nervous. It wasn’t so much to be in front of that many people, it was more just for the experience. But it is important to put yourself out there if you feel that’s
what you want to do. People shouldn’t listen to criticism or whatever. With creativity, it’s all opinion – there’s no right or wrong in what you’re doing. I think if someone lets a comment get to them, and that makes them not put their stuff out there or change it, that’s a real shame. For every one person that doesn’t like it, there’s someone who does. How do you deal with criticism? I ignore it. I don’t read reviews, I don’t read YouTube comments. I used to but I’ve stopped. Some people write stuff down because they’re angry or bored. For Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
instance, my new housemate admitted the other day he had said on Twitter that our band was overrated before he’d even listened to the music and apologised for it. There are so many people like that – someone says something nasty about a band and someone else just agrees, but they’ve never even given them a chance. So I’ve learned not to take it too seriously or take it to heart. Some people are dicks. That’s their problem, not mine. Where do The Hooves of Destiny fit in? How does the band dynamic work? I write the songs, so I write the lyrics, the three-chord trick and top-line melody. I used to be more controlling about it on the first record. I used to tell people what I wanted them to play. Some of the bits they would come up with themselves, like the guitar riff on ‘Atlas’ was written by my guitarist Blazey. Now I’ve sort of loosened the reins a bit. In my heart I’m very controlling over it because I have these ideas and I want it to be perfect. I used to be like “ahhh” if someone was trying to put something on the song. They’re great musicians and they come up with really good stuff and I’m learning to learn to let them have more of their stuff on the songs. I feel like I’ve learned a lot doing that. The songs don’t always end up exactly how I’ve envisioned them, they’re usually better.
with them. I was reluctant to do it but we’ve played together since and picked up new members along the way. One of the things everyone talks about is your style. Do you think that’s one of the problems with being a female artist, that is always ends up being about what you look like and what you wear? Yes. For a while we stopped wearing fancy dress costumes because we realised a lot of people were just focusing on what we looked like, which is a shame when you put so much effort into the music. What we wear is just what we wear anyway. We’ve started dressing up again because we realised it doesn’t really matter once we have fun when we do it. It’s a difficult one. It would be nice for people to focus on what we’ve worked hard on, which is the music. But that’s not our problem. One of the things you have to get used to as a new artist is endless comparisons. Laura Marling has been touted around, as well as Nico and Kate Bush. Do you get bored being boxed off? Hearing the same sorts of comparisons? I think it’s funny the comparisons are always women. I know I’m a girl but I didn’t really grow up listening to too many female musicians. I was listening to the guys from the seventies.
How did you all end up playing together? I was playing solo from 16 and then I met Dav [Shiel] and Rory [Gibson] who are the rhythm section and we started playing as a three piece. Then we had a guy called Fin [MacAskill] who came in and played violin, but he had to go and be a surgeon, so we got [Ed] Blazey. We also have a keyboard player called Calum [Howard]. I’ve known Blazey since I was nine, and Gav and Rory for a very long time, so we’re like a family.
Who would you like to be compared to? I wouldn’t compare myself to anyone. I really can’t think of anyone. Let me ask my band mates [confers with the Hooves of Destiny]. Beck? Yeah, I like that. I much prefer that to Laura Marling! Many people ask what genre we are and I always prefer if they just make up their mind. We always get different answers from different people. I think it would be a shame if we said it was one thing and they didn’t listen to it because of that but actually it sounded like something else.
So when did you decide to form the band? Originally I didn’t want a band. I was dead against it. My manager at the time suggested that I get Gav and Rory to play a show with me because he was in a band
The one label I’ve seen everywhere is the folk label, which I don’t know if I entirely agree with. How do you feel about that as a label for your music? Are you sick of it? I’m so sick of it! And I’m glad you don’t
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entirely agree with it. I can understand that when I first started out it was just me and an acoustic guitar, but I didn’t like the music I was making then because it didn’t sound how I wanted. There were softer parts to the songs but I wouldn’t call it folk. There’s going to be nothing like folk on the second record. What is the second album going to be like? Have you started work on it yet? It’s mostly written so we’re hoping to record it soon and get it out next year. Is it a lot different from Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose? Massively different. A lot heavier. The last record was more cinematic with strings. If you can imagine the last record being more of a movie soundtrack, the next one will be more like a road trip soundtrack. Ben Hillier [critically-acclaimed producer of Blur’s Think Tank] worked on the first album. Will he be working on the second album? Or do you have a different
“Many people ask what genre we are and I always prefer if they just make up their mind.” I have a say in that, if I don’t like it, I’ll try to change something or I won’t put it out. But I was confident because my brother is a pretty good artist, so he did really well on those. I didn’t have time to make a video, so I got my friend Juan in LA to make the video for ‘Atlas’. I didn’t actually know the concept for the video or what it was going to be until he sent me it. All of my friends from LA are in it, so it was nice to see that. I like friends to do it more than people I don’t know. We have so many creative friends to get involved before we pay a professional. Their ideas are just as good. producer lined up? We have a different guy who will hopefully help produce it. I may end up co-producing. Ben has just had a kid but I really want to work with him again. It was a really nice experience. He’s a good guy. I haven’t really found anyone I clicked that well creatively with before. I have complete confidence working with him. But because this record is so different work it’ll be nice to work with someone else, then go back to Ben later. Co-producing – is that something you’d like to do more of? You mentioned about being in control. Is that part of it? I would eventually love to be able to produce my own music but I don’t have the technical skills as yet. If I were to coproduce, I’d need a really good engineer to produce the technical stuff. It’s definitely something I’d love to learn. You’re a Newcastle lass but you’ve mentioned before that you wouldn’t move to London. Why is LA on the
cards? What’s the attraction? What’s the vibe in LA that you won’t get to London? We’re planning to move to LA, hopefully in November. I used to think I didn’t like London because it was so big but LA’s like five times bigger or more. The streets are very wide and everything is spread out more. I find that London’s quite crushed in and cluttered. Everyone is relatively unhappy, but everyone is relatively happy in LA. The weather’s better and the pace of life is more relaxed. And it’s a lot easier to eat healthier. Even the fast food is really healthy. It’s a nice way of life. You can go to the mountains or the beach. The music is really good and people are supportive of each other. In London, music is more of a competitive sport. Your videos have gotten a lot of attention. How involved have you been in creating them? I did the original one for ‘Dodecahedron’, which was a road trip I did from LA to Texas . Then my brother did the videos for ‘Sweet Tooth Bird’ and ‘Lilliput’. Obviously
You’ve gotten loads of good press, been on Jools Holland and playlisted on BBC radio. When did you think, “Yes, I’ve made it” or “Yes, I’m really getting there”? I don’t think there ever really was a point. Basically, my aim in all of this is to make a record in LA, get it out there and live in LA. It was so lovely to be asked to do Jools Holland but I think we’re happiest when we’re playing to an audience who are enjoying it. People will look at the bigger things we’ve done and think, ‘Oh that must’ve been cool,’ but actually, it’s not nearly as cool as having people come and dance on the stage at the end of the show. It’s far more gratifying to have real people being into the music than however many people watching a TV show they’d be watching anyway. I feel like I want to be making records ‘til I die. If you come and see me when I take my last breath, I’ll have felt like I’ve done something then. But right now, I feel we’re just at the beginning of something. Hopefully it’s not the end. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
The Real Deal On his self-produced records, rapper RawDeal achieves a level of musicianship matched only by his entreprenuerial spirit. By Dean Van Nguyen
ntrepreneurial spirit and hiphop go hand in hand. Some of the genre’s biggest stars have driven themselves to the highest peaks of pop music by cutting music on their own self-made labels, with Jay-Z, P Diddy, Lil Wayne, Dr Dre and an infinite amount of others all boasting the letters ‘CEO’ on their curriculum vitae. South London’s RawDeal (often stylised as RAwDeAl) brings that character to UK hip-hop. Starting his career as a battle rapper, he’s evolved into a producer, visual artist and, now, the head of Raw’s House – his own label. Established in the humble surroundings of his box room, Raw’s fledgling empire now encompasses graphic design and filmmaking, and is home to multiple other artists. In fact, Raw rarely does what’s obvious. Growing up at a time when garage and grime music in the UK capital were peaking in terms of both quality and popularity, his sound draws instead from sixties girl groups, smoky Southern blue and neck-snapping Mississippi rap, all of which is showcased on his album The Depth of My Heart. Can you tell me about Raw’s House? Did you set that up yourself? I set up a whole new studio in my house a few years ago. Literally, it was just like a little mixer, a cheap microphone, I downloaded a crap version of CoolEdit Adobe Edition, and I started just doing mixtapes at home. And then basically, a couple of my boys, they’d just come over and I’d start working on their mixtapes. And then eventually everyone was just, like, “Aww yeah, we’re going to Raw’s house”. And then more and more people came – rappers from the UK scene who are out now ended up making mixtapes at my house. As time progressed I thought, “You know what? Everyone’s calling it Raw’s house, let me just make this a thing,” [laughs]. So I decided to turn it into a label so I could push my own music, basically. I was aware how it was in the industry and, y’know, I’m not really trying to beg, knocking on labels’ doors trying to get a deal or what not, so I might as well be 20
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my own distributor because you can do it online now. So I decided to make it a company and it’s expanded from there because, as well as making it my own label that I can push out my own music, I’ve then got my rappers I’ve worked with before, my artists, I’ve taken on some singers. The first music video I did – ‘Don’t Pity Me’ – I got the models for it. I’ve now got Raw’s House models, I’ve got make-up artists, I’ve got camera crews and, y’know, I’ve got this whole thing this year that’s really going to blow up. It seems to be that there’s a lot I want to do and it’s getting bigger and bigger all the time, more and more stuff that I’m doing. So what I’m hoping to do is turn Raw’s House into an established name in the music industry. I want to change the landscape of music in terms of music production, and the visuals too. I’m not really too keen on what’s going on at the minute in the UK in terms of visuals. I find a lot of it is pretty much, most guys get some girls randomly, there’s no effort put into it. I’m trying to do something more creative. I want to make a difference and do music that’s a bit more positive. A lot of it is pretty negative I find, which is ok if there’s a balance, but I don’t think there’s enough music that makes you feel good. The whole going down the independent route, was there anybody that influenced you to say “I want to do this myself” rather than knocking on label’s doors, as you said? Well it was a combination of reading about my idols I guess, like Jay-Z. About how he did it. Reading about P Diddy as well. How he kind of just worked the label, got the contacts, made himself known; they were inspiring. At the same time, I’m kind of fed up of asking people, “yeah yeah, look at this” or “see this” or “hear this” or whatever when I feel like I can do it myself. In terms of music production, I was like, “D’you know what? I couldn’t find it so I did it myself”. Graphics I was like, “D’you know what? I don’t need graphic companies, I can do that myself”. Distribution? “I don’t need you to put it online. I can do it myself.” So I’m sitting
here thinking, “D’you know what? I can pretty much do what a label does, so why do I need them? I’m just going do my thing, so if I make it, I did it”. Do you think that’s something that, with the Internet now, is very accessible? The Internet, I feel, there’s positive and negative about it. On one hand, I think it’s great that you can find your own fan base. If you work hard enough, you can make something, put it up, and it’s accessible to the entire world. That’s great. But on the other hand, it also means that you have more competition with other artists that might not be on your level or as professional, and it kind of oversaturated everything to the point where you are trying to get a fan base and they’ve heard 300 rappers that week. You have to try that extra bit harder to stand out. Obviously, you can’t sell any music, but that’s not really something I’m looking to do primarily. I’m primarily looking to get my fan base, to make sure I sell tickets to shows. Can you tell me a bit about the The Depth of My Heart? Was this an album made up of individual tracks or did you set out to achieve any particular sound? I didn’t actually decide I was going to make it until this year. The thing is, I had some of those tracks two years ago. Basically, I was in my other flat and I was just trying to make something different. I didn’t have an album in mind, I just wanted to try to do something that would separate me from all the other rappers, so I locked myself in the studio and I kind of stopped listening to hip-hop. I didn’t want to be influenced by what was going on. So a few of those tracks were made a few years ago and what happened was I actually lost some of those tracks, because one day I had my hard drive and it tipped over, literally 5cm – it wasn’t a dramatic fall or anything – and it crashed. All the songs were gone. I had to remake these tracks from scratch. I had to re-find the samples, redo the drums, redo everything. I must have had this manager who wanted to manage me, well, last year,
and I made this rock hip-hop tune and he wanted me to put that as my first song, and I wasn’t really seeing it. It was cool, but I was thinking, “Well can I perform this everywhere, like to kids and adults?” and I was like, “Well, no”. So I went back in the studio and I was like, “Ok, I need to find a commercial sound that I like”. Then I came up with ‘Don’t Pity Me’, which is the sixties tune. For some reason I sampled this tune, I was trying, actually, to make a slow tune. But I just put in the sample and it turned it into this [danceable] beat, and I had it for a while. I didn’t do anything with it until one day I was like, “Oh, let me try something” and then B-Star – an artist I had met through another artist – was in the studio and I was like, “You know, let’s try something”. We played the tune and people were feeling it like crazy. I remember one time playing it in my studio real loud and there were some kids playing outside. When the song finished they came and they knocked on the wall from outside and they were like, “Play it again! Play it again!” And it was like, “Wow man, that’s something special right there.” I’ve never had that reaction before. I was thinking, “Ok, maybe I can try as my base of something to build on. Maybe this can be my thing.” I was listening to Northern Soul and all these sixties tunes and all these different tunes. I just thought, “I’m liking where I’m going with this because it’s different and its fun”. One thing that really strikes me – you talk about your home studio and your hard drives, and it all sounds all very small scale. But the album sounds expensively produced. ‘Brown Diamonds’, for instance, really reminds me of ‘I Know’ off [Jay-Z’s album] American Gangster. How did you 22
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achieve that really expansive sound on such a low budget? Low budget is an understatement. In all honesty, I produced this whole album in a box room, y’know? A box room that, when I moved into my flat, was brown with red carpet and something horrible, so I had to like rip up the carpet, paint it and stuff. Literally, I just spent days, week, months mixing one track because, before a few years ago, I thought everything sounded great. But when I listen back I’m like “Oh my god, that was awful”. When I make a track, I’ll make it and
then I go away from it and I come back to it and mix it again, then I go away, mix it again, y’know? It’s like, I’m listening to it on my iPod, I’ll go to a shop like Dixons or Currys and just listen to it on all the different headphones in the store and I’ll play it on the hi-fis in the store. I’ll do crazy things like I’ll have YouTube on and I might pick a song that I like, like a Jay-Z song, and then I’ll play my song in the background with the video on mute to see if the song sounds like it’s a smash. I do things like that, and it takes me ages sometimes to perfect it. Like ‘Pull The
“Low budget is an understatement. In all honesty, I produced this whole album in a box room.” to ‘DOA’ by Jay-Z and I also listened to this Slaughterhouse tune too – I can’t remember the name of it but I was feeling rebellious. I felt like I should say something about something I disliked. At that time in the UK and in America, people were changing their style. The trend came where everyone was wearing skinny jeans. I related that to music as well because it was the kind of thing where people always seem to jump on a bandwagon. At that time as well, all the UK artists, if there’s a certain type of music that’s successful, all the artists do it. They’re doing it now; they’re trying to jump on the Ibiza, house music style now. It’s like, whatever is hot, they want to do it, and I’m saying, “You know what? It’s not always about following fashion. Stop it. Do your own thing”. If you do house music, that’s your thing and if you feel it, then cool. But don’t do it just because. Like skinny jeans, guys just started wearing them and wearing see-through glasses, carrying rucksacks with nothing in them, because it was the thing to do at the time. So that song to me is about not following fashion.
Trigger’ took me a few months to get it how it is now. I’ve got like 100 different versions of every single track, until I get to the point [when I say to myself], “You know what, stop! Right now it’s cool”. Once I feel it, then I’ll just go with. But to answer your question, it’s just hours trying to make it professional. I wanted to ask you about that one song, ‘Skinny Jeans are For Girls’. What inspired you to write that? [Laughs] Well, you know what, I wrote that at the time when I was listening
Yeah, because your styling in your videos, photography and all that, is very retro. What inspired that? I just think it’s really cool, y’know? I think I’m very anti-popular. When I watch music videos, everything is so new and crisp. The street artists in the UK, they’re all using digital cameras now. Every shoot I’ve been invited to, they’re using the same cameras, so everything looks very much the same, and I’m thinking its all well and good but I want to do something that separates me from all the sameness. I shot ‘Skinny Jeans’ on my iPhone, using an app that I got that makes things look old, and I didn’t have to pay loads of money for it. I didn’t have to buy an expensive camera
and stuff. I was just like, “Let me give myself a style”. It’s like when I’m watching a Quentin Tarantino film, I know it’s a Quentin Tarentino film because of the style. I want that same kind of recognition, y’know? To me, I just find vintage really, really cool. I love the vibe of it, the feel of it. I just love the way it looks, the sound, the clothes. Even the sixties girls. The way they did their hair, their dressing and stuff, I just find it really, really cool. And I think it just suits me when I’m in that zone. You’re just a couple of years younger than me and I remember South London growing up, when UK garage and grime were massive. But that doesn’t seem to have influenced your music in any way... No it hasn’t at all. I could appreciate it, but it was never me. I remember everybody being on it, and I liked a few songs, but I wouldn’t feel like rhyming to it. I’d have a cousin or someone be like, “Jump on the mic and spit to this beat, it’s garage” or whatever. And I’m like, “Well, I don’t really want to because I don’t want to sound like how you guys are spitting”. It wasn’t really my thing. In a way, it worked against me because, at that time, I felt like, “Everybody’s doing this, I kind of don’t want to do that”. I’d rather be left behind than be left out. I just kind of wanted to do my own thing. I’ve never been into grime. For the most part I find the genre quite negative, like, because it turned into grime and it went a bit ‘stabby’ and ‘murder-y’ and too much about bravado and too much about who’s the baddest and who shot this and who sells this drugs and I didn’t really want any part of that. So I kind of just moved away from that really, and I’m still like that as well. I’ve friends now doing the garage stuff and I like it, but I don’t like it for me. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
New York Stories As a cartoonist and illustrator for The New Yorker and creator of his own comicbook series, Optic Nerve, Adrian Tomine has forged one of the most singular careers in the industry. By Sam Weiss While his might not be quite a household name, Adrian Tomine’s work is immediately recognisable. The cartoonist/ illustrator’s thick, calculated lines, subtle use of colour and understated yet poignant figures have graced magazine covers, band posters and more than half a dozen of his collections. Tomine got his start writing and drawing raw, black and white ‘mini-comics’ while a high school student in Sacremento, California. Those works became the Optic Nerve series, later collected as 32 Stories: The Complete Optic Nerve Mini-Comics, Sleepwalk and Other 24
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Stories, Summer Blonde and Shortcomings. Today, Tomine, 38, lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter and still produces Optic Nerve and other works, including Scenes From an Impending Marriage. He has also worked as an editor on Japanese comics veteran Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Good-Bye and The Push Man and Other Stories. Tomine’s newest work is New York Drawings (due out November 1st from Faber and Faber), a book of his illustrations, comics and covers for The New Yorker and various other previously uncollected works.
Your work has been printed on the cover of The New Yorker and in comics anthologies, but your career started as a high schooler making Xeroxed minicomics. When and how did you start trying to make your work available to others? For whatever reason I was always interested in the idea of publishing. I enjoyed drawing comics as a kid, but even at an early age I was imagining that work going out into the world somehow. That probably sounds a little sad, actually. But I think it was those early, Xeroxed issues of
Optic Nerve that were my first attempts at thrusting my work onto the world, and that was when I was around 16. When did people start discovering your comics and when did making comics become a career? I was lucky to find a few sympathetic comic shops in Sacramento that were willing to put those mini-comics on their shelves. They didn’t sell very well, but it was a start. I also had a lot of help in those early days from professional cartoonists like Peter Bagge and Chester Brown who very kindly recommended my amateur comics in the pages of their professional comics. As for comics becoming a career, I’m not sure that’s happened yet. I’ve always supplemented my income by doing illustration work, and that continues to this day. But I was able to make a meager living by doing a combination of those two things when I graduated from college, so I was spared the ordeal of seeking a real job. You’re part of a relatively new and rapidly changing medium. What do you think comics can do that literature and visual art on their own cannot? I’ve been asked this question a lot and the truth is I don’t think I’m qualified to really make the claim that the comics medium is somehow superior to other forms of art. It just happens to be the one I’m best at, so I’ve stuck with it. How has the medium and its surrounding culture changed since you started? At least in North America, there’s been basically a seismic shift in terms of how comics are viewed and valued in society, and that’s happened probably within the last 10 or 15 years. It’s still weird to me how well-regarded comics are now, at least compared to how it was for most of my life. In works like Scenes From an Impending Marriage, you pay tribute to newspaper cartoons by experimenting with various styles and layouts. What brought that on? My first exposure to cartooning was the
paperback collections of the Peanuts comic strip, and those are still among my favorite works in the medium. I’ve always had an appreciation for comic strips, but when I was younger, the format seemed too limiting to me, both in terms of content and size. But after having complete free reign in the world of comic books for a number of years, some of those limitations or constraints became somehow appealing to me. Also, there are just certain stories or ideas (like the examples you mentioned) that seem perfectly suited to that kind of punchline-oriented form, so I don’t see any reason to resist it. You’ve also worked on a couple of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s books. What is your relationship with the Japanese comics tradition? Even though I come from a Japanese background, I’m sad to say that I’m like a lot of Americans in terms of my ignorance regarding foreign cartooning. I’m certainly limited by the fact that I can’t read Japanese (or any language other than English). There’s a handful of Japanese cartoonists – Tatsumi being one of them, obviously – that appeal to me very much, but there’s also a lot of stuff that’s completely alienating or unappealing to me. I’m sure there’s great stuff that I just haven’t been exposed to yet, so I’m always keeping an eye out for that. What comics were you particularly into when you were younger and what’s your relationship with those works now? When I was very young, I was a big fan of just the worst Marvel and DC junk that I could get at the local grocery store. But when I was about 12, I discovered underground or alternative comics like Love and Rockets, Weirdo and Raw, and those completely changed my view of what comics could be. As you might expect, I’m still an ardent fan of those alternative comics, and I don’t even have a guilty nostalgia for the superhero stuff. Outside of the comics world, what authors are, and have been, the most important to you? When I was in high school, I started discovering writers like Raymond Carver
and Tobias Wolff, and that led me to people like John Cheever, Andre Dubus and Richard Yates. I’ve read pretty much everything by Philip Roth, so that’s probably affected me in various ways – certainly when I was working on Shortcomings. I’m a big fan of Flannery O’Connor and Nabokov, but I’m painfully aware that a lot of that stuff is over my head. What about visual artists? Do filmmakers count? I’m afraid I’m not very knowledgable about the world of fine art, but films by people like Mike Leigh, Yasujiro Ozu, Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick have been very important to me. Do you read many comics these days? Are there any newer artists that you particularly admire? Aside from when I was a very young superhero fan, there’s never been a time where I felt like there was an overabundance of comics I wanted to buy or read. There’s usually something I’m very excited about every few months or so, but it’s not enough to keep me going to the comic store on a weekly basis. In terms of newer artists, there’s a guy named Jonathan Bennett who’s probably my favorite of the bunch. He’s kind of under the radar in that his work is mostly scattered across anthologies, mini-comics and magazines, but he’s terrific. I think if he ever puts out a proper book, people will really love it. I saw you speak on a panel with Craig Thompson and Anders Nilsen last year, and I got the impression that you at least know your contemporaries. What kind of community is there among writers of comics and graphic novels and when, if ever, did you feel a part of it? One of the luckiest breaks in my life is the fact that I’ve somehow become friends with a lot of my cartooning idols. We’re all spread out across the continent, but I feel like there’s a small group of people who will always be friends and inspirations to me. Over the years you’ve gone from the raw, sketchy mini-comics of the high Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
school you to the more polished, literary and mature work you do now, but, for the most part, you’ve kept it all under the Optic Nerve name. What kind of significance do you see in keeping so much of your work under that heading, and does it ever feel like a burden to have your high school mini-comics be so connected to your newer work? There was a time where I felt tied to the Optic Nerve title, like it was a brand name that I had to stick with. But now that regular comic books have been largely eclipsed by ‘graphic novels’, I’m actually obligated to come up with a new title for each book I put out. I still release work under the Optic Nerve title in that same old format, but it all gets republished eventually under a more appropriate title. What do you think when you look back on those early mini-comics? Let’s just say I haven’t quite reached the point where I can look at them with fondness or any kind of admiration. I understand that some people enjoy them on a certain level, and I’m grateful for that, but it’s not the work I’m proudest of. Your early issues pretty clearly go back and forth between autobiographical stories and stories about other people. What role does autobiography play in your work these days? I don’t think autobiography is something I’ll ever entirely escape. Almost any time I set out to write an entirely fictional story, I eventually – sometimes years later – see how my subconcious still managed to work my own personal concerns or experiences into the story. In the introduction to 32 Stories, you mention that you never would have starting writing Optic Nerve if you’d had a good time in high school. Does unhappiness or angst still fuel your work? I meant that more in terms of having nothing to distract me from sitting in a room and learning how to draw comics – for example, a social life. But after working on comics for all these years, I don’t believe that, for me at least, there’s a direct correlation between the tone of a story 26
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and the situation in which it was created. If anything, I feel like having a happy life and a good work environment allows me to go deeper into feelings, sometimes plumbing much darker material than I’d have the strength to deal with under different circumstances. Do you find the process of making art to be cathartic or therapeutic at all? Before I got married and had a kid, making comics was pretty much the main thing that made day-to-day life meaningful and worthwhile. I don’t know if that counts as cathartic or therapeutic, but it’s obviously significant. And, even now, it’s still kind of terrifying to me when I finish up a bunch of projects and I’m uncertain about what I’m doing next. It’s probably indicative of deep psychological issues, but I can’t bear the idea of not having an almost insurmountable amount of work to tackle. Does working as an at least semiautobiographical writer impact the way you move through life at all? Probably not as much as it does for other artists like Joe Sacco, I’d imagine. But one thing that comes to mind is that the old “this will be good material someday” line of thought has been very useful to me during difficult, or even just annoying, times. In that introduction, you also mention that you were trying to “accurately transcribe true experiences in a humourous tone”. Is that still a goal of yours? In very concrete terms, it’s a modest goal, and it was a useful way to learn the mechanics of cartooning. For someone who’s just starting out, it can be almost impossible to do something as simple as clearly conveying a humorous anecdote. So having a goal as simple as that was a crucial step towards some of the more ambitious things I’ve tried since then. What is your actual, physical writing and drawing process like, and has modern technology changed it much? I don’t want to bore your readers with the minutiae of my process, but I will say that I’ve tried many different approaches,
haven’t found the perfect one that I want to settle on, and the end results aren’t ever as wildly different as I expect. Something like Shortcomings was very carefully planned out in advance, and Scenes from an Impending Marriage was completely improvised. In terms of equipment, there’s been minor changes over the years – mostly due to the declining quality in paper and art supplies in general – but I still use a pretty old-fashioned set of tools. Modern technology has made things a little more controllable and safer in that I can scan my own artwork and email it, rather than sending the original pages to the printer like I used to. Besides being an author of comics and graphic novels, you’ve had a pretty impressive career as an illustrator. How separate does that work feel? They feel like almost completely different jobs to me at this point. When I’m working on my comics, I have no editorial input, I work at my own pace, and I’m using the images mainly in service of the story. When I’m doing an illustration, I often work in collaboration with an art director, I’m on a deadline, and I will put much more care and time into making the image look nice. I actually like bouncing back and forth between the two, and I feel like I take little things that I learned from one project to the next. Would you ever consider doing a traditional, non-visual book? I wouldn’t rule it out, if only because I’m jealous of how portable prose authors are. Just grab your notebook or laptop and go anywhere. I’m really at the mercy of my drawing tools, my studio space – physical stuff, essentially – and sometimes it seems appealing to work in a creative form that basically exists entirely in the reader’s mind. Ben Tanaka, the protagonist of Shortcomings, has some pretty strong negative feelings about Californians moving to New York City. How do you feel about your own transplantation and how has it impacted your work? There are very few things that I’m as vehement about as Ben Tanaka is!
“Before I got married and had a kid, making comics was pretty much the main thing that made day-to-day life meaningful and worthwhile.” But the bare-bones version is that I looked up the magazine’s address in the phone book and dropped off a portfolio with the receptionist. And I’m grateful for every illustration job that’s come my way, but there was certainly an extra significance when The New Yorker called me for the first time.
Obviously the dialogue in Shortcomings had to come from somewhere, but just because I’m able to imagine a character saying something, that doesn’t necessarily mean that dialogue reflects my own opinions. I don’t feel like I can be objective about my move to New York because it’s intrinsically tied in with my marriage and the birth of my daughter, and those are the two things that bring me the most happiness, by a mile. I get asked about this a lot, like, “Where do you feel at home?” And the truth is, I’ve never really felt 100 per cent at home anywhere! When I’m in New York, I feel like a California transplant. When I go back to California, I feel like a visiting
New Yorker. And to answer your question, I think that this weird feeling of constant, low-grade dislocation has informed a lot of my work, including New York Drawings. I have a feeling that lifelong New Yorkers will instantly peg it as the work of an outsider, and I’m okay with that.
You’ve contributed some of the magazine’s most recognisable and most discussed covers of the last several years. I still hear people talk about the Amazon delivery one [from June 9th and 16th, 2008], for example. Have you felt the effects of that increase in visibility at all? It’s definitely easier to explain to your girlfriend’s parents that you draw covers for The New Yorker than to say “I draw alternative comic books”. The funny thing is how wildly different people’s interpretations of those covers can be. I’ve actually heard a rumour that someone from Amazon bought a bunch of prints of that cover, almost like it was symbolic of their triumph over real book stores or something.
New York Drawings is largely a collection of your illustrations for The New Yorker. How did your relationship with the magazine start? I’m always hesitant to describe how I started working for The New Yorker, because it runs the risk of sounding disengenuous or, worse, like I’m bragging.
What plans do you have as far as comics, graphic novels, or collections? I’ll be out promoting New York Drawings for a little while, and then I’ll resume work on my long-gestating next book. It’s still a long ways from completion, but it will eventually be a collection of short stories, all in colour. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Power of the
peerless Itâ€™s been three decades since the formation of influential hip-hop group Public Enemy, and their primary spokeman Chuck D is as dedicated to positive political and social change as ever. By David Ma
“Get me the hell away from this TV, all this news and views are beneath me,” Chuck D once famously said – or shouted, rather – on ‘Burn Hollywood Burn’, a track from Public Enemy’s 1990 juggernaut, Fear of a Black Planet. Themes of race and media, and criticisms of power structures and those who run them resound as loudly now as they did over 20 years ago. PE’s approach has always been two-pronged: The Bomb Squad’s intricate, bombastic beats paired with Chuck’s professorial tirades. The formula’s aesthetic made for songs unlike any others, and their impact on the mainstream was huge. ‘Fight The Power’, a song used in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing wasn’t just loud and anthemic, it was also named the Best Single of 1989 by The Village Voice. No prior rap group sounded remotely like them and none after matched their blistering song dynamics. And the framework behind it stems from their stimulus – and one of the strongest voices in recorded music – Mr Chuck D. “I make no predictions because truth is stranger than fiction,” Chuck says, when asked about the upcoming US presidential elections. He was also quick to correct me when referring to Obama by only his surname. “Look, before we go on, he should be addressed as President Obama, not just Obama. It’s just common respect our president deserves.” He’s a natural orator, compelling while placing terse inflections to get his point across. This is why Chuck, through the years, has risen past the role of MC or rap-group frontman. Even the cleanest MC wears thin the moment their delivery or subject matter gets old. And yet Chuck was never a technical maestro. He’s not in the same class as a Pharoahe Monch or Big L or even Nas – nor are they in his. Based solely on content and voice, Chuck’s in a peerless rap category. One where profound ideas are shoved into short, aggressive lines. One where only his voice can match the most ferocious of The Bomb Squad’s beats. I spoke with Chuck after the 2008 US presidential elections in what turned out to be a reflective, almost joyous talk that basked in the post-election glow. We spoke again on the eve of this year’s presidential elections. It’s 2012 and Chuck isn’t a veteran rapper trying to restore fanfare. He’s remains as focused as PE’s famous logo, addressing elitist policies that hurt populist agendas. Most importantly – then and now – he’s a modern mind who pulls no punches. Here’s our talk on recent politics, veering a bit into some rap history, concluding with Chuck’s thoughts on how his multi-faceted legacy should be defined. Last time we spoke was after the 2008 election. What are your thoughts going in to this year’s election and how does Mitt Romney strike you? I think Mitt Romney is the perfect prototype of what Republicans need and what they want. Four years ago I felt that he’d be their guy this time around. For them, he’s perfect to run against Obama and likely reminds his party of great older times. You know, when only tall, handsome white men ran the country [laughs]. You still travel around the world and continuously within the US too. I read about you lecturing at universities and playing music festivals, keeping very busy. Just as someone who’s so well traveled, what changes are most noticeable? What’s stayed the same? The world is at a state where people are now starting to be judged slightly more by their insides than their outsides. That’s really a good thing that you can kind of feel and see. Now, I’m not saying by much, 30
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or anything has drastically happened, but Obama’s presidency has definitely helped push that more in the right direction. The world hasn’t changed, because so many contributions from Obama and elsewhere still doesn’t challenge the new world order. It makes you realise how the presidential seat is. If you try to be the good guy, you’re gonna have a very hard go at it. If you come out like a bad guy, you’ll fit right in [laughs]. You're outspoken in your support for President Obama. But what specific issues would you have liked to have seen addressed more aggressively? Healthcare and homelessness are big situations. And also, a little bit more of fitting in with the rest of the planet. By that I mean America is still behind the rest of the planet in terms of social accountability and social freedoms. That needs to be worked on for a country that claims to be so progressive and so international. Of course the economy is
certainly important but we’re in a world of stress and bad food. And we have monopolies that fight to continue their rule. And in a world like that, the first thing to go in individuals is health. And how he tackles these monopolies is, I think, gonna be the biggest issue. Which PE songs do you think are still relevant these days in terms of current issues and the state of politics? ‘Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos’ is a song that comes to mind. It was originally about the military industrial complex and all the criticisms and issues are addressed and answered in that one song. ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’ is the other one. There’s more hype believers than ever in this age and in this world. We have information coming at so many people from so many people and I don’t think information is being deciphered properly. And ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’ carries with it the main message of challenging information – to not listen blindly.
“The world is at a state where people are now starting to be judged slightly more by their insides than their outsides.”
What directions do you think the country will sway towards if Romney wins? Do you envisions drastic changes if Obama wins? All that has unfolded thus far has been some creepy shit. Obama knows that he has to fight to make change. I think he knew that coming in. But he was hit with reality and the gridlock of government. I think if he wins re-election, he’s going to forge more power to cement his legacy down. He’ll also be more leery of the opposition – especially now, since both sides seem to be at their worst. What grade would you give the President and why? I’d give him a ‘B’ for effort. I’d give him an ‘A’ otherwise, but a lot of his efforts thus far have been a bit thin. I mean, surely his efforts have been tough to carry out. He had to work harder in order to achieve his position as president and to achieve a greater international standing around the world, seemingly. I think it’s like a good driver in a bad car that is forced to stay on a road that leads to the destruction of so many things around the world. Give us some examples. Well, it’s lead to the decapitation of North Africa for example. But again, this is
something that has been going on way before he was elected. He must make choices where to fight. He can’t just focus strictly on Africa, for example, or he’d be fighting all damn day. You want him to fight for causes and issues of the people but you don’t want him to fight governments all the time either – and by governments, I mean fight politicians. You’ve been on the lecture circuit for a while now, traveling to universities home and abroad to speak to younger folks. What’s the main message you try to get across to college-aged kids? Pay attention to the world around you. Paying attention is the cheapest price to pay. I mean, on every little thing. There’s so much encroaching human beings from the same old vantage points that we must be on top of our game and be in control of our own souls. What’s most striking to you now when you visit universities? Your wife is a professor as well. What kinds of adjustments has she perhaps made to her own pedagogy? What hits me is how generations change so much in just three years. It’s a different generation every time. And the academic design also changes so much.
It’s a revelation every time, man. I think as a society there’s a need to look into this and how to adapt to certain things that are given to young people through corporations. For example, the last three or so years have been a smart phone revolution. So how does that figure into the classroom and academia as a whole? My wife’s classrooms change so quickly. You now have a room of 200 students with smartphones stuck to their foreheads and they also all use it as a social connect. People aren’t really using computers to maximise their own workload or advancement – they all use it predominantly as social tools. It’s not necessarily all negative but it certainly changes the entire landscape. Your lectures obviously cover themes and ideas heard in your music. Did you always set out to make songs with messages in them? I never set out to make music. It was just something I decided to do at a certain point in my life. Rap music came along and I was also coming of age with it as a black male in America. If it weren’t for hip-hop, what other platforms or outlet would you have used to get your ideas across? I wouldn’t have touched music if it weren’t for hip-hop or rap music. I would be a graphic artist and express myself and whatever messages I had through visuals. I was a very controversial student for many different reasons in college. I did a lot of graphic work and a lot of the stuff I put out got me in trouble [laughs]. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
“Hip-hop is my military and I’m a serviceman. I’m here to provide service to my genre and its participants.” Of all the PE’s albums, which would you prefer college kids to hear in full? The new record, Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp. There’s probably not any record out these days that is as honest or talks about all our issues in a way only PE does. Plus it’s new and current. Speaking of new and current, a track of yours from a few years ago (‘Harder Than You Think’) has been receiving major play and is in rotation all over England. How’d that happen? Yeah it has. But no thanks to radio or video. The record was released in 2007 and was basically a record that bragged about how we’re the oldest souls of the rap game. We’ve been at it for 20 years. And the song ‘Harder Than You Think’ is one of our favorite stage tracks, meaning it’s one of our favorites to perform live. The music supervisor for the Paralympics heard it and used it for their campaign and I suppose people are really into it. So it was a similar situation like our song ‘Fight the Power’ that Spike Lee used in Do The Right Thing. It goes to show you that it’s all about exposure that keeps records alive. Do you follow current music? Do you follow what’s typically on the radio? I do but not many. Or it’s more I don’t actively follow what’s out. But I’m in the music industry so by way of that I’m still very in-tuned. The thing is, there’s just so many poor, stupid-ass records that people hear and it’s all due to their large budgets. That’s it. It’s that simple. Let’s shift gears and touch on PE’s history a bit. You said you never really intended making music until hip-hop came around. Who were you listening to at that time that perhaps inspired your career choice? 34
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Back then you didn’t have to look far to find inspirational cats. Big Daddy Kane, NWA, Ice-T, Stetsasonic and Geto Boys were all out there and all my favorite contemporaries. We were all in it and all just having fun. What younger listeners don’t see, which I think is very obvious, is that rap music used to try to differentiate itself from one another. All those artists I mentioned are comfortable in the direction they eventually took their music. Everyone was trying to stand out from the crowd. Now, everyone desires to be similar because they’re bound by their contractual obligations to sell and sell more, to keep a career afloat and all the perks that go along with it. Back then, it was a struggle to be different. Which acts did you looked up to at that time that stood out and that perhaps helped shape your own approach? It was the Run DMC era. So they were kings. They were our heroes along with Doug E. Fresh, Whodini, and Eric B and Rakim. To us, these guys transformed rap music. So much has been made of your lyrics and the interplay between you and Flava Flav. But what about production? What were the different roles of The Bomb Squad members and what was the studio process like? Well we all had different roles in order to define the sonic sound we were looking for. We all had the same initial role: find the main sample, find the vocal samples, find this, find that, and make them all into one cohesive strip of music. Who do you think may have had the most important role or, in other words, most difficult task in the studio? Hank Shocklee’s ability to have such a great ear to make our mix is something
that I think shines through even today. Hank had to put all these sounds and ideas we threw at him together. That was his function and that itself is a science. Everyone else contributed to the potlike stew. But he had to take a galaxy of contributions and make it into cohesive audio. What other producers or overall productions did you listen to back then and perhaps influenced The Bomb Squad techniques and sound? Dr Dre is one. As of 1988, he had so much more knowledge of records than anyone else. Plus he invented methods like the 808 bass-kick sustain. He was technically solid as well as unbelievably knowledgeable. Marley Marl is another production hero. He was basically a one-man production team. I’d say those two were my production heroes and I’m still fans of their work. They happen to be great singlehanded producers but they really inspired production teams like The Bomb Squad. How do you think the music of this era we’re speaking on has aged? What about it do you think keeps it from simply being washed over by time? Well, how many times can a person write the same song over and over again? All these artists were ahead of the curve then and remained artists who grew, who were comfortable in their own skin and it shows. For instance, you write a song when you’re 21 about school or young age or whatever that’s goes on as a youth. Then you turn 31. Can you write the same song? You have to go back into your own skin. And artists who are comfortable in their own skin can keep making songs. It’s 2012 and you’re still rapping, still an activist, still lecturing at schools. You’re frequently asked to comment on political issues and have become somewhat of a spokesman for rap when issues arise. You represent your business and label. You’re also a family man. Many years from now, how would you like your legacy to be defined? As a cat who’s straight up. Hip-hop is my military and I’m a serviceman. I’m here to provide service to my genre and its participants.
The Inner Sanctum New York band The Sanctuaries have just released their second record this year. Not Guilty is an EP of remixes from the groupâ€™s debut album, Annette, along with some sparkly new material. In the wake of the release, lead singer David Stern talked about Lou Reed, keeping the poetry of song writing alive, the music-saturated New York scene, and gets a lesson on the origins of My Bloody Valentine. By Nadene Ryan
David Stern is a chilled-out character, nothing at all like his name might suggest. With long hair and a charming New York drone, The Sanctuaries’ front man is a deep thinker with a mellow vibe. He reflects on each question before he answers, giving the impression that he’s not in a hurry to go anywhere. Starting off, I test his knowledge of Irish music by naming some bands. “I love My Bloody Valentine, who doesn’t? But I always thought they were British!” After clearing up that minor detail, and establishing a common chord, it’s time to find out more about one of New York’s best-kept secrets. The Sanctuaries are an indie rock band with pop and folk elements and a definite sixties influence present in their sound. Tracks like ‘Soft Crime’, ‘Brief Encounter’ and ‘House of Noise’ capture Lou Reed’s poetic and gritty New York style and, in questioning the comparison, it’s clear that Reed is an artist Stern is most definitely a fan of. “Absolutely. Lou Reed is the perfect
songwriter in my opinion,” he beams. “I don’t use the word poetry in the realm of rock‘n’roll, but his lyrics are rock‘n’roll poetry! The thing that draws me to his music more than anything is his delivery. You won’t find another singer who pulls it off as well as he does. He isn’t the greatest singer, but his music is barebones – that’s what makes him the quintessential embodiment of rock music.” Stern adores music and has a great affection for the written word. At a time when music appears to be getting increasingly electro-experimental, he wants to preserve the classic rock formula with a focus on lyrics. “It’s like people don’t write songs anymore, just grooves and sing on top of them. I play chords, not riffs or grooves, so I have to be a songwriter. I don’t know how to play any other way. My favourite music has always involved good songwriting. Harry Nilsson is my favourite person ever. That’s straight-forward music. We don’t sound like him at all but that’s
the kind of music I like to listen to.” The Sanctuaries are comprised of Stern (vocals and guitar), Brian Indig (drums), Alex Northup (keys), and Matt Stauffer (bass) – a line-up that has only been together since last December. “We played our first live gig at Christmas,” explains Stern. “Our current bass player and keys player aren’t the ones playing on the album or the EP, so to hear the songs live through their lens really gives them a new spin. I think it sounds really awesome now.” Stern and Indig met when both were college students in Upstate New York. “We played in a couple of different bands,” says Stern. “One was an all-girl group doing fifties and sixties love songs. So that’s how we started forging our musical relationship. Then, when we got to the city, we started The Sanctuaries.” Having set up shop in Brooklyn, the band are hoping to make music their fulltime venture. At the moment, however, they all balance practice with working
regular jobs. “[Music] is not really paying the bills, and NYC is expensive to live in, so we’re all supplementing ourselves with day jobs and other boring things,” says Stern. And getting established isn’t easy, especially in a place where there seems to be another ‘next big thing’ every week. So how does a band stand out from the crowd in a city as engulfing as NYC? “No one’s really interested in listening to you online unless you play live for them first so we’ve been trying to play as much as possible.” Saying that, it must be exciting to be surrounded by so much music all of the time, with ideas brimming and blossoming in such a creative space. “It’s always buzzing, but whether it’s good depends on your personal definition of it. There’s a great music scene but because it’s so great it can be kind of terrible sometimes. What I mean is there are so many good bands in NY and there are so many terrible bands, and it’s hard to sift through all that and find what’s good. It’s also hard on the good bands. We played a show with Delicate Steve, who are big in the States right now, and it wasn’t as well-attended as we thought it was going to be. That’s because on any given night, there are 20 shows that are all A-level shows, you know what I mean? It’s really good. It just has its pros and cons.” Is ‘less is more’ really better when it comes to music then, or should artists be encouraging as much creativity and as many outlets for music as possible? In times like these, when everyone’s finding it difficult to get by, finding a means of expression must have become less of a hobby and more of a necessity for many. But how can you separate the good from the bad? “For us it comes down to doing something that’s in line with our contemporaries but is also an updated sound of what I know to be old and good,” says Stern. “There isn’t a strong contingent of underground music with a big focus on songwriting right now. I like to be part of a band that’s at the forefront of this wave with their sound and vision. For example, [it’s different from] what The Darkness did – which was just being a glam metal throwback band. It’s not just what you’re referencing, but also the way you’re referencing it. How tongue in cheek is it? 38
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How authentic is it? What’s the sentiment behind what you’re trying to revisit? These things factor into why you’d be relevant and what people think of you.” With these things in mind, it must be difficult to go about the task of songwriting; being sure that what you’re saying is relevant, while still holding on to elements of the past and putting it forward in a modern way that’s true to today’s world. “My own personal process to song writing varies,” Stern explains. “Sometimes it will start with a lyric, sometimes with the music, and sometimes I have those two things separately and I fit them together. There isn’t one set way. All the songs on the EP that aren’t remixes were each written in two hours.” The EP in question, Not Guilty – which was released on August 28th – is an impressive offering with eight remixed songs from the band’s also recently released debut album Annette, plus three new tracks. The remixed tracks represent collaborations with famous friends and other noteworthy Brookyln-based musicians. “We thought it would be great to have people we really respect contribute and remix our tracks,” says Stern. “Felicia Douglas from the band Ava Luna did the track ‘Brief Encounter’. That band is amazing. We’re big fans.” The ability to release two records in a year is an unusual occurrence, particularly for a relatively new indie band. “I guess it does seem kind of soon but maybe it’s because, nowadays, bands take three to four years to make albums. I don’t like comparing anyone to The Beatles but they would come out with two full-length albums a year. We’re not as prolific as they are – no one is, really – but we just had this material ready for a while so we decided to put it out and start the next chapter.” To coincide with the EP release, the band decided to make a music video and had so much fun with it that it became a mini-series entitled ‘Cooking with Mom’, with black and white footage of meals being prepared step by step. “Basically, with no time or budget, I took a camera home and my mom was making dinner – the idea just popped into my head,” remembers Stern. “I’ve never been a fan of
performance videos; bands ‘looking cool’ while playing their track. So I recorded her cooking for one song and had so much fun with it that we decided to make two more videos. There’s really nothing to it. It was just hangin’ out watching my mom cook!” Filmed and edited by Stern, he calls the project his directorial debut. It has an old-fashioned feel which compliments their music perfectly. “I can definitely say that was a complete coincidence,” he laughs. But music remains the singer’s first love, and it’s on stage where he feels most at home. “It’s really interesting; the
dichotomy of playing live versus recording. When you record an album and someone hears your music, that’s hopefully what you’re going to be remembered by, so being in the studio is way more stressful because there’s that added pressure. I like the creative process of both, but lately I’ve been having a lot more fun playing live.” So what can an audience expect at a Sanctuaries live show? “A lot of weird facial gestures and a lot of jumping around. Actually, this is something about the Brooklyn music scene which isn’t always my favourite thing
“I play chords, not riffs or grooves, so I have to be a songwriter. I don’t know how to play any other way.”
and it’s these bands that act ‘too cool for school’ and very aloof on-stage. I think it’s important to look like you’re having fun because if the band’s not having fun, how can the audience have fun? I think we create a good atmosphere but I don’t know if that’s true because I’ve never seen us!” With a hectic year in the studio behind them as well as lots of gigging and the holding down of full-time jobs, the guys don’t have time to make big tour plans just yet. “We want to see how the EP goes, and we already have a second album written. That’ll be the next thing we’ll focus on.” Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Hard Boiled Crime novelist and Galway native Ken Bruen has written a body of work that has travelled across the world. By Michael A. Gonzales Ilustration by Maurice Glennon
As a fan of pulp fiction, who became a textual junkie in the 1980s when Black Lizard editor Barry Gifford began reissuing the gritty novels of Jim Thompson and David Goodis, I am a true fan of ‘mean streets’ stories. Living Stateside as a New York City boy, those two writers – along with my sepia-skinned hero, Chester Himes – appealed to my sense of dread and danger as I manoeuvred through my own hardboiled Harlem blocks. 20 years after acquiring an appetite for pulp fiction (a screaming monkey on my back that must be fed constantly) I stumbled, in 2004, upon a newjack writer who totally blew me away, and his name was Ken Bruen. To this day, I’m not sure what made me pick up The Guards but, after reading the first few pages about ex-copper Jack Taylor – a native of Galway like his creator – I knew I had to own this book. While the depressing story was solid, it was Bruen’s brutally poetic style, along with more than a few taps of humour, which really had an effect on me. “The first thing that gripped me about Ken’s writing was the language,” says scribe Jason Starr, a friend of Bruen’s as well as frequent 40
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collaborator. A Brooklyn crime (Twisted City) and comic book (Punisher Max) writer, he and Bruen met in Greenwich Village before a book party in the early 2000s. “His writing was like nothing I’ve encountered before or since. He can do tough and lyrical in the same sentence better than anyone. And the style. I have always been into minimalism and I was amazed how he could say so much in so few words. No writer does this better than Bruen.” After I finished The Guards, I bought a few more copies and gave them to my friends. Though it was marketed in America as Bruen’s debut, I soon discovered that he had been writing for years and began backtracking like a crack head who thought he lost a rock blocks away. Within the next few weeks, I’d read Rilke on Black (1996) and The Hackman Blues (1997), all the time knowing that Ken Bruen would soon be joining my shortlist of favourite crime writers. In the last few years, Bruen’s work has been adapted to film – London Boulevard (2010) and Blitz (2011), for example – but that hasn’t stopped the prolific wordsmith
from continuing to deliver knockout novels. Writing great fiction with a pulp twist, Ken Bruen has become essential. When I go to visit my mother at the retirement home in Baltimore, the library is filled with crime fiction: everything from cozies to Ian Rankin and old Alfred Hitchcock magazines. What do you think makes crime fiction so appealing to readers from 17 to 70? Dark times. It has been shown that in recession, crime fiction becomes more popular. An avenue of escape and, too, I think, a way to vent, albeit through the characters of fiction. And, just maybe, at least there seems to be some reckoning, some justice, resolution in crime novels, unlike real life. How did you first start reading crime fiction? I came across a batch of pulp magazines as a teenager and thus, early, was exposed to that whole genre of hard boiled fiction and pulp, which was a major influence. Describing your minimalist style to a friend, I told her, “Bruen says more
“Literary fiction gets away with being boring as it’s in that rarefied field, but trust me, if a crime novel is boring, it’s curtains.”
than most crime writers, but with fewer words”. While I realise developing a style is not something that happens overnight, can you discuss how you your own sparse, poetic style formed? How much editing goes into the process? I used to write a lot of poetry. Bad poetry, as I live in a country rampant with hundreds of dire poets. It did instill in me the essence of brevity, and the outline of a page is vital to me – I can see how the words look and the shape as I write and, thus, the style began to evolve from that. I wrote mainly the way I wanted to be able to read. Living in a country that is famous for being long-winded, I wanted to cut to the chase. Still do.
collaborations with writers Jason Starr and Reed Farrel Coleman. Though you obviously enjoy working this way, what is the process like in terms of plotting, characters and constructing chapters? Is everything done by email or are there many phone conversations as well? It’s a blast! Plus, you only have to do half the work. We wrote the books through email. Jason and I would write alternate chapters and found a new voice with me taking the American tone and Jason did the Irish. We never had one fight, disagreement or whatever, which is quite remarkable. With Reed, it was simply [that] I wrote the first 90 pages, sent it to Reed and said ‘Go for it!’ He sure did, and wonderfully.
I know that writer, and legendary pulp novelist, David Goodis is one of your favourites. Both of you have that certain haunting quality in your works. What was the first Goodis novel that you read and what made you want to read more? The serialisation of Dark Passage. Just turned my whole way of thinking on its head. It was as if I instantly ‘Got it!’ and had a thirst, ravenous, to get all I could by this writer.
The first book of yours I read was The Guards, which was being marketed in the States as your first novel. Why did it take so long for your books to be published in America? Do you remember some of the comments from editors or publishing houses? Just didn’t happen and I never thought a novel about a PI in the west of Ireland would give me a shot in the US. My English series was seen to be too ‘London’ for the US so it was amazing when the The Guards got a chance.
Over the years, you’ve done 42
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In the eyes of most genre fans, the line between crime fiction and certain literary fiction is a thin one, but if I say Chester Himes is a better writer than Ernest Hemingway, then I might get beat up by my old English teachers. What is your stance on the literary vs. genre-fiction debate? Boils down to the writing – some of the crime writing of, say, James Sallis, Daniel Woodrell, Tom Wright, David Corbett, Craig McDonald is equal to any of the so-called literary crew. Literary fiction gets away with being boring as it’s in that rarefied field, but trust me, if a crime novel is boring, it’s curtains. The debate continues, as it is yet another opportunity for the literary mafia to revel in superiority. Crime fiction can be the shameful cousin in the back. It’s no coincidence that literary writers who have crossed over describe it as slumming. Jesus wept! Have you ever been hit with an umbrella by an old woman who can’t believe all the coke Jack Taylor sniffs and the terrible things he says about the Catholic Church? Two things: a bookstore window with Priest on display was broken, and a woman spat in my face on the main street calling me a
heretic. I guess she didn’t much like the book. All of your work has a sense of paranoia – as though anything can happen at any time, and it usually does. When I first started reading your work, it made me feel like I did when I was a kid watching Hitchcock movies or reading Kafka in high school. Can you talk about that paranoia? I always had a sense of dread; a feeling that shit was coming and soon and to me and, alas, I was right. Being uncertain in an age of uncertainty is par for my course. I felt that if I dropped my alertness, I’d be caught – though by whom and why varied from country to country. So I decided to take my craziness, harness it, and try to make it sing through fiction. What writers are you currently reading? Whose music are you digging? I’m reading Tom Wright, Andrew Vachss, Fred Vargas, Craig McDonald, [and] Neil Strauss and his stunning interviews. A
whole slew of terrific new writers from Northern Ireland. I’m listening to The Pogues as they prepare for their 30th Anniversary concert in Paris. One of my favourites of your early novels was Rilke on Black, I think because the Lisa character was my kind of crazy. Can you talk a little about writing a kidnapping novel? Was there a model that you based this book on? I always liked the idea of a kidnapping that went horribly wrong in terms of the captors being driven crazy by the kidnapee. I had this notion in my head of the kidnappers screaming ‘Jesus, why couldn’t we just have robbed a bank?!’ In the last decade or so, there have been some great crime comic books, like Sin City, Stray Bullets, 100 Bullets and Criminal. Does that format interest you? Are there any Bruen comics in the works? Are there any comic book artists you’d like to work with? Phil Parks is a wonderful illustrator, so I’d go with him. I didn’t have that culture
of comics and, mainly, couldn’t afford them, so the radio was the prime source of reference when I was growing up. Jason Starr wrote a superb one titled The Chill so it would be Jason as co-author if I went that direction, but no plans to do so as the current comics seem so brilliant. What are you currently working on? Are there going to be any more adaptations? I’m working on a TV series and the tenth and final Taylor novel, titled c-33. With the exception of a few contemporary American writers, including Jason Starr, many of my favourite crime-fiction authors are Irish, Welsh or English, because I find their books creepier and more atmospheric. Do you feel there is a difference? It’s, I think, coming from such different claustrophobic countries – with dire weather, rain, [and] depression – as opposed to the apparent vision of a wide-open US. The sheer darkness of the weather leaks over the European work.
starr on Bruen Prolific novelist and regular Bruen co-conspirator Jason Starr talks about the connection the two authors share. What was the first Ken Bruen book that you read? The Hackman Blues. I was in the UK on a book tour and my publisher said to me, “You have to read Bruen”. So I read Hackman and I thought, “Who is this lunatic?” I haven’t stopped reading him since. Was it suggested or did you pick it up cold? I picked it up cold. It was before he started the Jack Taylor series. Now when someone asks me where to start with Bruen, I say The Guards. Tell me about your first meeting with Ken. I met him on the street in Greenwich Village in Manhattan before a book party. We’d arranged to put up for some ‘brewskies’, as Ken put it. When we met it was like we’d
know each other forever. Instant friends. Can you talk a little about your friendship? Do you talk often or share rough manuscripts? We usually just correspond over email or see each other on book tours, The last time, on a book tour for our book Slide in Germany, was one of the best times of my life. Just like our first meeting, if there is a gap where we haven’t seen in each other in a while, we pick up where we left off. If I could only find a relationship with a woman that worked this well.
We had a crazy beer-fueled idea that because we got along so well in person we should write books together. Brilliant logic, right? Well, then Charles Ardai at Hard Case Books asked for a book from us. I had rough draft of a manuscript in a drawer and Ken and I used it as a basis for Bust. The co-writing was easier than I’d imagined. I think it worked so well because, although our styles are different, we have similar visions in that we don’t want things to work out well for our characters. We are amazed we have written three books as it has been pure pleasure and the writing takes place in a blur.
You’ve written three novels together for Hard Case Books. How did that collaboration begin? What was the process and how long did it take.
Any final thoughts on your friend Ken? Meeting Ken and our friendship has been the highlight of my crime-writing career. None of the awards or anything else compares.
Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Conquering The Universe
Dance music may have taken a beating after recent violence marred a largescale gig in the Phoenix Park, but Le Galaxie lead singer Michael Le Galaxie is determined to bring the fun back to the genre. By Karen Lawler
In addition to impressing music fans and critics alike with the release of their debut album Laserdisc Nights 2 in 2011, Dublin-based four piece Le Galaxie have built a reputation on their high-energy live performances. Early support slots with bands like The Presets, Brakes, I’m From Barcelona, and New Young Pony Club, as well as appearances at major festivals like Electric Picnic and Forbidden Fruit, have helped to increase their growing fan base and, with inspirations including eighties’ synth pop, electronica and distorted guitars all influencing their material, they have created a unique signature sound. With a new EP out, and on the back of his genre of choice receiving outrageously negative headlines following violence at a large-scale show, lead singer Michael Le Galaxie chats about performing live, looking like a weirdo, and why the new EP is his favourite thing the band has ever done. On the new EP, Fade to Forever, you have begun to experiment with different sounds – the use of female vocalists, for example. Was that with the intention of creating a more commercial sound or to appeal to a wider audience? No, it’s more just a case of when you’ve written a few songs and you realise that a woman’s voice would sound better…a lot better. Those songs existed with male vocals but, when they got to it, it occurred to us that we could try this out and, once we heard it, we knew it would be part of the sound. We were like, “Oh yeah, that works”. Once we had done it, we couldn’t go back. How has the sound of this release developed in comparison to previous projects? It has developed in that the beats on the EP have gone a bit more retro. We decided to delve head first into a pop, eighties thing. That’s kind of something that we really love and we listen to a lot, so [we] decided [to] throw in all the ideas that we had and to stray a little bit away from the electro side of things and more towards the melodic, eighties’ pop sound. Not that it’s how we’re going to be defining our sound from now on but, sonically, it’s probably our favourite work we’ve done. It’s just something that we wanted to try out, really, and we hoped people liked it, which they bizarrely have. You once described the songs on the EP as “Five solid gold, dancefloor tear46
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jerkers”… We classify our songs as being in the dance genre, but they do have a lot of emotions going on in them somehow. It could be the sounds we use, the chords we use, but they seem to have a big beating heart in the middle of them and I think people really respond to that live as well. You can go to a gig and listen to a rock band play 45 minutes of songs, but you can also go to a gig and dance and feel really good. But when you super charge it with emotions, you get a euphoria thing going on. It creeps in on people and they suddenly realise they’re having a really good time, rather [than] just having a good time at a pop concert The video for ‘Love System’ features the band wearing masks. You also wear them during live performances. Why is that? I wish I had an answer for you! [In the video], obviously, the masks are from that movie Point Break from the early nineties. For us, we kind of wanted to do something weird. It was to throw people a little bit. When we’re on stage, a lot of the time we’re hopping up and down dancing. It was meant to creep people out a little but in a good way. So people will be like, “Who are these fucking weirdos?” A lot of the time, when we play in the UK, we play to a lot of strangers. Even if you look at our Twitter and Facebook after Forbidden Fruit, I would say that we won over a lot of new fans that day. So we wanted to make a first impression on people.
On previous releases like Laserdisc Nights 2 and We Bleed the Blood of Androids, you use samples from Sci-fi movies. Does your use of samples directly inspire the music? Initially, when we started recording the album, it was a big part of it. We really wanted a vocal you can feel and samples have that way of placing it in a time and place. I think now we’ve sonically learned to do that. But there are no samples on the new EP. Also, samples are great live. They give energy, like if you hear a booming voice over the PA or [see] a movie clip. It just adds colour for us. Some songs originally had samples and then we took them out because we thought the song was strong enough. It adds an extra dimension. For ‘Nightcrawler’ on the EP, we kind of wanted Laura’s voice to sound like it could have been sampled. Because it had the one phrase repeated over and over again, it could have the feel of an old, sampled house record. After the violent stabbings that took place during the Swedish House Mafia gig, how do you think this will affect live outdoor events? I’ve been to those types of gigs before and there is an atmosphere of intimidation and aggression that should require a firmer response and more police presence. Audiences just spark, you know? In terms of how it will affect us? Not really – our sets are too fucking happy. The people that come to our shows, there’s not an angry bone in their bodies. I think there’s no doubt that there was a pre-existing atmosphere of real aggression at that gig, which is to do with the people that were there. It’s certainly not the music. The music is the music. I’m not a fan of Swedish House Mafia, but if people want to see them they must be doing something right. I certainly wouldn’t point any fingers at the promoters. They can only put on what they think is going to be a really popular show and get the punters to come. Following the incident, some media reports suggested that this type of violence and drug abuse was linked to dance music itself. How do you feel about that?
I did actually read that and I was dismayed at the lack of research. It was one of the stupidest comments, to condemn something that you don’t understand... It was an obscenely stupid thing for that guy to say. I know who it was too. Still, with a thriving electronic scene developing in Dublin over the last few years, it’s an exciting time for the genre. It’s massive. You have bands like us, Ships, and I Am The Cosmos, to the laptop boys Toby Carr and Moths. The amount of Irish acts there are now, it’s mental. I remember years ago thinking I was being choked to death – not literally – by fucking singer-songwriters. It seemed that is what everybody wanted. I was craving for something else. I was listening to Four Tet thinking why can’t someone in this fucking country do that. Now my cup runneth over with acts. Bands like I Am The Cosmos and Not Squares are bands that can go on after
midnight. Over here, there’s this weird feeling that the rock band is over by 11.30 and then put a DJ afterwards but bands like us and them and Not Squares can go on after 1am and entertain the crowd. What’s on your iPod at the moment? I’ve kind of had my fill of indie, and I say that as someone who has 10 years of indie behind them. It doesn’t excite me anymore. I was talking to my girlfriend about this and I was saying “What’s the matter with me? This part of my brain is dead”. None of it appeals to me anymore in the way that it used to. I certainly appreciate musically what some bands are doing but it’s not on my iPod. On my iPod, I’m listening to a lot of French stuff and ambient music. Even some weird synth soundtracks from the seventies and eighties. That definitely influenced the EP. That and early eighties pop like Sparks and Depeche Mode.
With notable performances at some major festivals, and a positive response to the new EP, momentum seems to be increasing for Le Galaxie. What’s the ultimate ambition for the band? We’re kind of a baby steps band. Initially, it was to fill a venue in Ireland, and then it was to release an album. Then it was to get out of Ireland and do festivals, and that’s happened so the plan is to go across the water to the UK later on this year and hit the club nights and play up and down the country for a while and see if they respond to us just as well as they have to us over here. One thing we have in our favour is playing to strangers seems to work really well for us, probably because we don’t look self conscious. I actually think we look a bit stupid sometimes. We have this abandon that people seem to latch on to. When we’re on stage it’s not contrived. We can’t help ourselves really. The music sounds better with us. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Hy Society Brooklyn-born photographer and documentarian Akintola Hanif has seen his reputation as the eyes and ears of the marginalised people across New Jersey grow. For the last year he has worked on the production of the magazine Hycide to highlight these subcultures. By Colm Gorey A great photograph is not determined by how far you travel for it or how difficult it is to obtain, but whether or not it is the best visual telling of a story. For photographer, filmmaker and founder of Hycide magazine, Akintola Hanif, the people that have surrounded him from an early age are the storyline to his work. Since buying his first SLR camera at the age of 28, Hanif has walked the streets of his neighbourhood to document his people and the subcultures they form. Even while finding the beauty in it, Hanif has seen some of the more tragic sides of life in the poor, ethnic communities around him. While filming Bity – an on-going project on the people of the Arcadian Gardens neighbourhood in New Jersey – one of the leading figures in the documentary, Luis Rivera Jnr, was shot and killed in the crossfire of gang violence. To this day, the tragedy still has an enormous impact on his thinking.
So how did you become involved with photography? I’m originally from Brooklyn Heights, which is an upper-middle class, mostly white neighbourhood. When I was nine years old I moved to a much more underprivileged neighbourhood. From when I was nine to 20, I was able to appreciate the haves and have-nots and the people who were a reflection of myself but didn’t have the opportunities that I had. My father was a painter and my mother was an herbologist so I was very much exposed to the arts and culture and was very conscious of the black community at a young age. [Photography] really started when I was 28 and I wasn’t doing much with myself. I was hustlin’ and not really living up to my potential, but I was encouraged by these two kids I knew to go back to school and do a visual communications programme. After I finished that, I then took my first
photography course and it was doing that that I then realised it was my real passion. I originally wanted to do design and animation before that but that was just too tedious for me. When I finished, I immediately bought an SLR camera and took part in an apprenticeship. When I look back at my childhood, I had, maybe 20 photo albums from when I was a kid as I was always taking photos of me and my friends, so it was a natural evolution. Who do you see as your inspirations? My first inspiration as a photographer was [photographer, director and writer] Gordon Parks. Back when I was in school, a girlfriend of mine showed me his documentary Half Past Autumn, which went through his life-story. I watched it, then I rented it, and then I finally bought it. I just watched it over and over again as I was really moved by it, so I would try to do my own version to just really speak for Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
I usually see something that kinda touches my heart. A lot of time it’s suffering or the pain I see in people’s faces and then sometimes it’s a pretty face or an outfit, swag or a style. The magical thing...that can vary depending on the person. I feel like we all possess magic and we go in and out of it. Catch it on a good day and you can be totally magnetic – that could draw me to a person. I think sometime as photographers we take too much credit. We say we made this image or we say our sight is so much better or profound. Sometimes it is, but often it’s just how great our subjects are or how visually intriguing they are that makes our pictures great. A lot more of that credit should go to the subjects. When I see the innate beauty, I don’t really think about it but I just know this is it.
the have-nots. All my work is done from my heart. I then have my mentors. God, my brothers, vision and Jamel Shabbaz [photographer with over 30 years experience and Creative Consultant on Hycide]. I also admire two fellow photographers, Ernie Panniciolli and Joe Conzo – those guys are probably the most similar to me through books and film. Those last three guys I named have been 50
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walking me through this crusade. What do you see as a great photograph? Is there ‘that little thing’ that you look out for? People ask me this question and, I have to say, I don’t think I look for ‘that little thing’. I look for what moves my heart, as my heart knows better than my eye. I’ll see something but it’s not like I always see this magical thing that does it for my eye.
n 2003, having spent much of his childhood there visiting family, Hanif was moved to make Bity, an on-going documentary project that highlights the lives of the people in Arcadian Gardens, New Jersey. During this time, the city planners were in the process of tearing down the projects that housed them. When Hanif went out to film, he met an 18-year-old called Luis Rivera Jnr who instantly shone as the star of the documentary. Tragically, his life was cut short as he got caught in the middle of a gang shoot-out. Speaking to Hanif, it still sits firmly in his memory as a reason why his work highlighting the poor and neglected is important: “He [Rivera Jnr] used to steal cars, but that was the extent of his criminal life. I asked him why he does it and he said he steals cars for the same reason white boys bungee jump – for the adrenaline rush. Because there’s nothing else here so he would just drive around joyriding. After that I just really felt it was my duty to tell the stories of the marginalised and the feared, the neglected and misunderstood who have been stigmatised through lack of understanding. The beautiful people who aren’t accepted in the larger world. I found they still possessed these more humane characteristics than the more successful people I was exposed to because they
“I usually see something that kinda touches my heart. A lot of time it’s suffering or the pain I see in people’s faces and then sometimes it’s a pretty face or an outfit, swag or a style.”
showed love, compassion and loyalty. I don’t see any of that in the fine art or corporate world.” In 2011 you founded Hycide magazine. How did it come about and what did you want to achieve with it? At that time, I had a publicist and a woman who did my website. I had finished working on the documentary and we said ‘We need to do a magazine’. I knew straight away that the magazine should be called Hycide. This was an old slang word which I made into my rap name. I looked up the name’s origins and changed it to base it off the prefix hebrew word, hy [meaning noble or exalted], and the Latin word cide [killing/killer]. In 2008, after my documentary Moral Panic, I met a woman from the local newspaper, the Newark Star-Ledger, Carrie Stetler. She wrote the story of the film in the paper and, soon after, called me up. She knew I worked for a school for at-risk youths called Youthbuild Newark and she asked me if they were hiring. She had also said she loved my work and said if I needed anything done she would help and do it for free, so I got her an interview and she got the job. We started working closer together as she was the Director of Communications at Youthbuild. I told her I had the idea of doing this magazine. I had the name and concept and subjects so she said “Let’s do it”. She’s a seasoned journalist with 20 years at the newspaper so me and her came up with the idea and I
began picking subjects off the streets who would be perfect for Hycide. We started interviewing people and then brought in another friend of mine, Fayemi Shakur, who was writing for Essence and The Source and a few well-known publications. I told her what we were planning and she said she’d love to help. They became managing editors and I brought Jamel in to become creative consultant. Fayemi knew a very well-known journalist [and One More Robot contributor], Michael Gonzalez, who writes for The Telegraph and a few other magazines. She told him what we were doing and he was really feeling it and decided to come on as a contributing writer and the team was built. You work with the Youthbuild Newark school which helps lower-income youths finish their secondary education and go on to greater things. Does it influence your photography work? I’m the resident documentarian there so essentially I document everything they do within that programme. That turns into very inter-personal relationships with the population and, because of it, a lot of them turn into my Hycide subjects and then I’m able to visit their neighbourhoods and find other Hycide subjects. The most important and beautiful thing that I do there is that I’m able to share all that I am and what I’ve been exposed to with the young people there. They keep me sharp, hip and young, and I keep them privy and as exposed as possible to the things they don’t see in
their own communities. It’s a real giveand-take between me and them – their knowledge, my wisdom and vice versa. That’s more valuable to me than anything. Even though one would think that wouldn’t go into Hycide and my career, it makes me a well-rounded and humble individual and I think that enfuses into my work. They mean everything to me, even more than my professional life. I was so thankful to Youthbuild’s founder, Robert Clarke. He really helped me in shaping my career to date. When I started working in Youthbuild in 2004, I had just walked in there and said to him, “Hey, I saw these kids coming from different neighbourhoods and I just want to take some pictures”. I was going to do this for free as they were my people but he said ‘No let’s break bread’. And I’ve been there ever since and I’m happy to have had the opportunity. He started as a student and worked his way up. Now he’s going further working with the New York public schools. To see him come from a kid from the ‘hood who was getting in trouble and hustling in his early life and being a student in Youthbuild Boston and [being] incarcerated, to coming to where he is now. Youthbuild is one of the biggest programmes in the nation and for him making that transition was really inspirational to me. He gave me a chance for people to see my work and opened up a lot of opportunities for me and, because he was a student himself, we still relate on that level as well. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Two Brothers Jamie Martin and his brother Richie funnel a lifetime of musical experience into their folk duo Cry Monster Cry. By Jonathan Keane They say the bond between siblings is nighon unbreakable, with an emotional and intangible connection that two strangers – or even good friends – who have simply met somewhere along the line could never hope to duplicate. That bond is evident in the ebullient folk rock of Cry Monster Cry, a Dublin-based duo consisting of brothers Jamie and Richie Martin. The siblings’ acoustic sound could only be described as honest. This honesty and, sometimes, solemn grace and charm, is palpable in the songs of their debut EP, The Fallen. Cry Monster Cry’s music is beautifully simple. The brothers, equipped merely with acoustic guitars, may have that ‘stripped down’ sound – a cliché overused when referring to folk music – but it’s still one that’s warm and inviting. Their sound boasts countless alluring melodies, and the effort and care put into each composition is apparent. And yet, despite the fact that the brothers seem musically to be a natural fit, the formative days of Cry Monster Cry were, in some ways, an accident. “We always played music together in the house,” recalls Jamie, speaking down the phone from a windy pier in Howth on a sunny Sunday evening. “We never wrote music or anything. My brother was in a few bands but I’d never been in a band before. When the last [band] broke up, we decided to give it a go, writing songs.” It seemed like a natural confluence of events. Even their parents were musical – particularly their mother, who played violin. “When we were younger, our parents used to play a lot of music for us,” says Jamie. “When we went on trips, we’d 52
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listen to a load of music in the car.” While both are guitarists now, the brothers’ first forays into learning instruments at an early age saw Jamie take on the piano and Richie the violin. It was only in the years to come, as the two became more and more involved with music, that they found their love for guitars. “We grew up listening to everything and playing everything. When we were younger, we always went to gigs. I was sneaking into friends’ gigs when I was 13 and 14. We’d listen to Thin Lizzy and we’d do covers of anything. The music we’re playing at the moment, I suppose, just comes naturally to us.” Jamie notes the folk-driven direction he and his brother have taken musically: “We didn’t set out to be a folk band, we just started writing these songs and that’s what came naturally. It was just a matter of writing songs, it wasn’t too serious.” Perhaps it would be fair to say that Cry Monster Cry has never become too ‘serious’ in the strict meaning of the word but, as the months progressed for the two, it certainly became more deliberate and determined. It was around mid-2010 that the duo, which would later become known as Cry Monster Cry, began to take form. Really coming into themselves in 2011 in terms of writing and recording, the brothers Martin made their presence known with The Fallen EP, recorded with producer Keith Lawless in Studio 2, Malahide. A short and concise effort, the EP, if anything, laid down the duo’s intentions for the future. Plenty of positive press followed, much to their
pleasant surprised. Yet Cry Monster Cry were not content to rest of their earlywon laurels, and the duo has made many changes since, particularly to their live show. “It’s been really interesting because we started the band as just a two-piece,” says Jamie. “When we played gigs before the EP it was just the two guitarists. That was it. It was great but, when we recorded the EP, we did 90 per cent of the instruments ourselves, but obviously we wanted to play them live. We recruited some of our friends who are fantastic musicians”. This saw Cry Monster Cry expand to a five-piece with bass and drums, added to the fold for the full live-band experience, and Studio 2’s
Keith Lawless manning the keys. “It’s been really good because it’s evolved into something more than just the two of us,” he adds, “and sometimes for gigs we have a violin player and viola player. It can vary between five and seven.” With so many changes occurring and more live shows on the horizon – including an Irish tour and by the time you read this, an appearance at the Spirit Folk Festival – Cry Monster Cry now have one main objective in mind… Returning to Studio 2 in Malahide, Jamie and Richie have tentative plans for what will eventually emerge as their first, as yet untitled, full-length album. Much
like prior to the creation of the EP, the album has no solid plans just yet, with the brothers opting to let things just… happen. “We go in with an idea and kind of create sketches of what we want to do. We’re never 100 per cent certain of how it’s going to turn out,” says Jamie. Such a method can be risky but different strokes, as they say. While some bands and musicians feel more comfortable entering the studio with compositions complete, creases ironed out and music ready to commit to tape, Cry Monster Cry’s modus operandi is much more freestyle and, in a sense, carefree. They like to allow ideas and concepts to flourish and light bulbs to spark on the spot.
“It’s an interesting process because we go with an idea and, in the studio, we have to evolve it,” explains Jamie. “I’d say most bands have a song fully realised and then go into the studio and lay it down.” He succinctly sums up the band’s approach, describing it as “a natural feel for us”. The recurring description is ‘natural’ and, at this stage, Cry Monster Cry find themselves in something of a state of déjà vu. Much like The Fallen, the band isn’t changing any of its methods for the album and is simply letting the path plan itself and should the sound of the album replicate that of the EP it will most certainly be something to bear witness to. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Bustin’ Out! In a previously unpublished interview, funk legend Rick James spoke in lenght about growing up, his body of work, and a life in music. By Charlie Braxton Illustrations by Louise Butler Sherlock Ok, I know what you’re thinking. Of all of the hot-ass artists out there to interview for this issue why did I decide to go back to my archives and publish an old unreleased interview of Rick James? Well, aside from the fact that I am kind of nostalgic like that, Rick James is probably one of the most influential musicians in hip-hop. Although the seventies R&B icon is best known among seventies babies for his smash hits like ‘Mary Jane’ – the funky ethereal ode to Marijuana – and his raunchy magnum opus ‘Superfreak’, his music managed to constantly resurface throughout the eighties and nineties, recapturing the public’s ear thanks to hip-hop artists like MC Hammer, T-Pain, Chamillionaire, Coolio, Brandy, Big Daddy Kane and Ashanti. All of these artists, plus a litany of others, have drawn from James’s musical catalogue whenever they were looking for the perfect beat to sonically re-contextualise into a hit. By the late eighties, Rick James had fallen on hard times, falling victim to the white, powdered demon known as cocaine. The nineties brought even more troubles when James was convicted of assaulting a woman while under the influence of crack. For that, he served a three-year prison sentence before being paroled in 1996. The following year, James released his comeback LP, Urban Rapsody, and began touring in support of it, but a subsequent heart attack put everything on hold. By the time the new millennium had rolled around, Rick James was all but forgotten – until, that is, comedians Charlie Murphy and Dave Chappelle begin doing a series of comedic sketches based loosely on Murphy’s memories of his encounters with 54
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James in the eighties. Those skits, which included guest appearances by James himself, would become wildly popular and serve to introduce the old school legend to a whole new generation of fans who probably weren’t even born when he released his first record. Chappelle’s hilarious portrayal of the punk-funk star as a haughty, obnoxious coke-head who went around insulting friends (including Murphy and his more famous brother, Eddie), objectifying women, destroying personal property and arrogantly dismissing his behaviour with the now famous line, “I’m Rick James, bitch!” But, on a warm afternoon in the middle of May, 2004 – just months before his demise – the Rick James I met was quite different. Warm, friendly, open and, most of all, stone cold sober, Rick and I sat down and talked about his early life, his music, the reissue of his magnum opus Street Songs and his plans for the future.
Tell us what it was like for you growing up in Buffalo, New York? Well, we grew up rather poor. My mother raised eight kids pretty much by herself. She was alone in Buffalo. She ran numbers for the crime wave. And she supported us all. There was a lot of poverty because we were living in the ghetto. We moved from project to project until we finally moved into a real-live home. It was rough. My mother passed away about four years ago, but she left us all with [a] great legacy. She had a lot of strength. And, like I said, growing up together was hard but she managed and she overcame taking care of
eight kids by herself. I understand that you grew up listening to a lot of jazz. Yeah, I think that was my first introduction to music. My mother was a dancer with the Catherine Dunham Dancers in Harlem. And she also danced at the Cotton Club in Harlem. She loved music and she loved jazz. She knew a lot of musicians and she would take me around to the clubs in Buffalo. At that time we had a large club scene going on. The oldest people that I can remember hearing were Billie Holiday, Dakota Stanton, Della Reese, Diana Washington, Sarah Vaughn and people like that. I was impressed by Billy Eckstine, John Coltrane, [and] Miles [Davis]. So jazz really inspired me when I was young. You started out playing drums? Yeah, I was a drummer. I used to beat on everything in the house when I was young. So my mom decided that she was going to get me some drums. And that was really the first instrument I’ve ever played. Philly Joe Jones, as a matter of fact, was a friend of my mother. Whenever he’d come to town he’d stay with us and he would teach me things on the drums. I thought the world of him so the first thing that I thought was ‘Well, I gotta be a drummer’. I really enjoyed it. I was good at it. But it was such a back-up instrument. It didn’t sing to me. It didn’t really talk to me in the way that I wanted to hear [so] I changed instruments. I think I left drums and started taking up trombone. I had heard JJ Johnson and Kai Winding and those cats and I said ‘Yeah, let me try trombone’. So I
played trombone for a while. And I always sang a little bit because my older sister turned me on to all these rhythm and blues [artists] – The Drifters, Sam Cooke, Frankie Lymon [and The Teenagers] and all these people. So your love of jazz explains the complex horn arrangements in your music? Exactly. I’ve always been really into horns. I guess it all goes back to listening to Lester Young and Coltrane and Bird, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, and Bird and MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet). It goes back to listening to Horace Silver, Kai Winding, and JJ Johnson. So when I put my horn section together for my band and the album Come Get It! you hear a lot of horns. I also hear elements of classical music in some of your stuff, particularly in songs like ‘Jefferson Ball’ on the Bustin’ Out of L7 and Glow LPs. Yeah. Well, I love classical music also. I remember when I was in school when they used to take the entire ghetto in the low-income area on a bus to see operas and the symphony in Buffalo. And I remember loving that. I don’t know, man, it’s something about all of those instruments... the violins and the symphonies just really touch me. So yes, I have a strong classical background. I love Vivaldi and Beethoven and all that stuff. I’m totally into that. I think classical music kinda cools the spirit, ya know? Like hearing Miles… Sketches of Spain? Exactly. So how did you make the transition from trombone to bass? Well, I never really had [training on bass]. The only real kinda lessons I ever really had were trombone lessons and music theory. I took drums too – drums, theory and harmony. When I went to Canada, and me and Neil Young played together, I was playing harmonica and acoustic guitar and stuff like that. So bass was just something that I got into when I went back to Buffalo. It’s just something I played around with, and
decided to get into it. Every instrument that I’ve played is something I learned on my own. I’m very simplistic when it comes to all of them. I’m no virtuoso on any of them. I play well enough to write, I play well enough to put music together or to play on my stuff or on albums. Well, as a bass player you have given us some classic bass lines. I mean look at ‘Superfreak’. In the old days I wrote a lot of songs off bass. And I think that the ones that I wrote off bass you can almost tell. ‘Superfreak’, ‘Give It To Me Baby’… [those songs] have a certain ambience that you can feel that this song was written on bass. My [bass] lines are very simple because I think that music should be simple. Simplicity has always been my strongest point. Let’s go back to Canada for a minute. What brought you there? Well, in the late sixties, when I was out of school and they were going to send me
to war in Vietnam, I was playing conga drums for an African culture centre. There was [a] very large dance troop there that I played behind. And we used to tour. We were very good. We had a lot of dancers from Africa. We used [to] tour and I was really into that. It was a part of me when I was growing up. I was very Afrocentric. So I started playing with them and they told me that a good way not to get drafted and stay with the cultural centre was to join the Navy Reserve. What I didn’t know was that would keep me out of going to Vietnam, but if you missed so many meetings they would send you to Vietnam. I missed a lot of meetings because I really didn’t give a shit about the Navy or anything else to do with the military. And I wasn’t going to Vietnam to kill anybody. So I missed meetings and they put me on active duty. They were going to ship me to Vietnam. And while I was in Rochester on stop-over I decided fuck this and went to Canada. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Tell us about working with Neil Young? When I was in Canada, I went to the Village with less than $25 in my pocket and I ended up jamming with this rock group. Well, later on that band turned out to be the Minor Birds. It had two people in it from the original Steppenwolf and Neil Young and Bruce Palmer from the Buffalo Springfield – who later turned into Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – were in it. So that’s how that happened. And when I gave myself up [to the authorities], the Minor Birds became very famous in Canada. Did you all record anything? We did an album, me and Neil. What happened was our manager told Motown that I was AWOL, so I had to give myself up because they wouldn’t release anything until I had finished with that. I gave myself up to the FBI and to the Navy. I was locked up; institutionalised for it. Neil and Bruce sold all of the equipment and went away to 56
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“I didn’t want to be on Motown because I didn’t think that they were the company for me. I thought this stuff was too cutting edge for them.” California and formed Buffalo Springfield, the other two formed Steppenwolf and that’s how that happened. The rest is history. I understand that you all got a deal with Motown. How did you get that? The manager that we had got it. He went
to Detroit, to Motown, which was the hip record company at that time. He talked Berry Gordy into signing us. At the time, he was looking for an integrated rock group and we were them. There was nothing out there that was an integrated rock group. And we were dong rock‘n’roll and funk and rhythm & blues. Ok, let’s talk about your first record as a solo artist, Come Get It! At the time you were recording it did you have any idea that it was going to as popular as it was? No, I had no idea. I had been living in Europe before I did that record. I was kind of like a vagabond musician playing all over Paris, London and Sweden. So is that where you were first exposed to early punk rock? Yeah. I had been over there studying European culture. I mean, I’m down with black culture. I was already down with
my shit. So I had to learn more about [European Culture], you know what I mean? I really loved classical music. So being in Europe really gave me a chance to really learn their culture. And all that sort of came out in what I’m about now. When I did Come Get It! in ‘78, I had just come back from Europe after being there stranded and running around broke and trying to survive. And I finally came back home to my mother in Buffalo. I was just tired of roaming you know? I mean I had been to Canada, to Europe and back to Canada. And I was really kind of tired of everything. And I was still broke and angry, you know? I wrote Come Get It! basically at my mother’s house. I kind of wanted to do a [rock] album, but disco was happening at the time. And I didn’t really want to do disco music, so when I wrote ‘You and I’ I had just separated from my first wife. I was saddened by the whole relationship because that was like my first real love. I wrote all these songs about her and our relationship. When I wrote ‘Hollywood’ I was staying at my mother’s house and I was telling my mother that I was going to Hollywood to be a big star and all that. So that ‘Hollywood’ song was really prophetic because it winded up being what happened. I recorded it at a little studio and after I did it I took it to California to try to get a record deal. I was on the elevator where all of these record companies were and when I got off I ran into Jeffrey Bowen. He was managing, and married to, Bonnie Pointer at the time. And I remembered him at Motown. He was one of the ones who was kind of looking out for us at the time. He said, ‘What are you doing?’ I told him, ‘Well, I got an album. I’ve grown up some because back then I was a kid. I’ve grown and I’ve evolved’. He said, ‘Well, let me take it and make a deal for you. Let me play it for some people at Motown’. I said, ‘Motown is not going to like this’. Plus, in my mind, I didn’t want to be on Motown because I didn’t think that they were the company for me. I thought this stuff was too cutting edge for them. Finally, I said, ‘Ok, you can give it to them, but Motown ain’t gon’ like this anyway’. So he took it and that night he called me and said that he had played it for Suzanne de Passe and some others and they wanted to do a deal immediately.
Were you shocked? I was very shocked. I said, ‘What kind of game is going on here?’ because it was really unlike anything that Motown ever really had. And I was glad about that because I didn’t want it to be conventional. I wanted the edge. I wanted the rock thing. I wanted the funk thing. I wanted to integrate them both together, ya know? At the time you were really one of the few who was really out there in popular Black music who integrating rock, funk and R&B, with the exception of Parlament/Funkadelic. Yeah, but Parlament/Funkadelic was really more on the funk tip. And they were staying on the funk tip. They weren’t really moving away from that, you know? Although they did add rock guitar they weren’t really moving away from that, ya know? So I felt that I had this little pocket that I didn’t have nobody to really share it with. Were you surprised at the reception that received among black folks? I was very surprised. I thought that the album might do well enough to for me to make another one. Did I believe in my first album as much as I should have? No, I didn’t believe in it because I was so dissatisfied at the time. I was working with so many people, having so many let downs, that I just consequently was just ready for another let down. I had mentally prepared myself for failure. Motown… although they said that they believed in it, they only pressed about 30,000 copies of the single ‘You and I’. So when ‘You and I’ came out that summer and Atlanta jumped on it and exploded it, the next week they were asking for 250,000 records and Motown didn’t have them, so obviously they didn’t believe in it like they said they did either. It was a shock to them. It was a record that they released and they didn’t even fucking promote. They just released it and this jock named Scotty down in Atlanta jumped on it and next thing I know there a fire going on. There’s a storm going on and I’m right in the eye of it. That’s how it all began. From there on, every album I released went platinum and every single went gold. And I had always said to myself that if I ever busted through the door and made it,
I was never going to have that door closed on me again. And I was going to help other acts. I was going to build acts. So when I broke through the door the first thing I did was I discovered Teena Marie. Is it true that you discovered her singing in a studio in Motown? She was singing in a little room – one of the office rooms in the Motown building. And I happened to walk by it and here I hear this girl singing. I hear this voice I’ve never heard before. I open the door and it’s this little white girl singing and playing piano. It fucking shocked the shit outta me. She said her name was Teena and blah blah and I said, ‘Well, I wish you luck’ and I left. I got a call later from her manager Winnie – who is no longer with us, god rest her – asking me did I wanna produce Tina’s album. I said I would love to. That’s how that happened. I wrote ‘Sucker for Love’ and I wrote her album Wild and Peaceful and [I wrote] ‘Taboo’. I helped her put together some of her compositions and a bunch of stuff. And that was great because that was all a part of the plan of trying to extend what I was trying to do. Another one of my favourite projects that you produced was The Stone City Band’s first album. Yeah, exactly. I had cut two albums on my band, The Stone City Band. Those albums always did pretty good. I mean they never really did as well as I would have wanted them to do. But I understood Motown. See, Motown was getting so crossed up in how to promote me and deal with me. They didn’t know how to deal with me, let alone my band. But those Stone City Bands are some of my favourite albums. Why? Because I got a chance to do jazz, Latin shit and everything. I really got a chance to go crazy with that album. You’re credited with inventing a brand of funk known as punk-funk. Many writers have tried to explain it. Could you tell us in your own words exactly what it is and how you came up with this music? Alright. Well, number one, I never wanted to be considered a funk artist. I felt that it was too one-sided and one-dimensional. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
I do much more. I mean, I’m down with classical, South African music and Brazilian music and sitar [East Indian] music. I really mastered all of these things. And I always said if I ever had a band I’m going to touch on and expound upon all those [forms of] music, no matter what it took. So calling me a funk artist – I used to dislike that so much, especially when I first started. I mean, if you listen to one of my albums you’re going to hear classical things, you’re going to hear some African things, or maybe you’ll hear some Indian things with the sitar. You might even hear some country and western type things and some rock‘n’roll type thing, because I have a rock‘n’roll background. I love rock‘n’roll. I wanted to expand the boundaries of R&B. I was really tired of R&B sounding the same. I think Sly [Stone] taught me that. I think that James Brown taught me just unadulterated, ugly ass, stank, doo doo funk. And Sly taught me that you can do something else with this funk. But, really, my recipe was just to explore and innovate all of the music and all of the knowledge that I had. I always wanted to integrate everything into music. I think that it’s important for black music to always, always grow. We are the original exponents of rock‘n’roll, jazz and blues. And we’ve always taken it to another level. So that’s what I always wanted to do. To take it to another level and show people that, yeah, we can be rock and rollers, we can be classical musicians, we can do blues, we can do everything. Because we started it all and we can finish it all. I had a very arrogant attitude when it came to music because I wanted to show that, yeah, there was room in R&B for us to do everything. You were one of the few black artists in the seventies who crossed over to the pop charts without having to change or alter their sound, at a time when the industry demanded that Black artist tone themselves down. You managed to… Cross over on Black terms? Exactly. Yeah. And that is something that we’ve always been really, really proud of because we were selling out stadiums and doing two and three nights at the Forum in LA 58
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and two or three night in the Philadelphia Coliseum and all that shit. Because one thing we said at the beginning of our careers was that we was not going to conform; we were not going to cop out just to have white people there, just to have a white audience. And it was great because we never had to do that. And we never did. ‘Give it to Me Baby’, we didn’t have to do that. We didn’t do it with Bustin’ out of L7, we didn’t do it with Glow. We didn’t do it with any album that we did. I’m not putting white music down or white people down – we were just saying ‘Hey, we are going to stand up for what we believe in’. And we were not going to go ‘doo wop diddie biddie’ just because we had to sell a record. Speaking of records, Street Songs is considered one of the great records in contemporary black music. How does that make you feel? To be honest, I don’t really think about it because God always keeps me humble, even when I was acting up and going nuts. Everybody always tells me how important Streets Songs is to black music. And I really thank them for that. I thank God for that. And I think that’s a wonderful thing, but I always want to be moving on. I always want to do something better than Street Songs, ya know? My concept is ‘Hey, yeah, Street Songs is fine, Bustin’ Out… and the Mary Jane Girls and all that is fine, but let’s do something else. Let’s do something better, something greater. Let’s pray for another level’, ya know what I mean? And I hate that legend talk because it always makes me sound like I’m dead. Oh, you’re very much alive and still funking! Yes! Ok, I know that you’re currently promoting the deluxe box set of Street Songs, but what other stuff are you working on? Well I’m working on an album that’s going to shock people. It’s going to be a real shocker! Hopefully that’ll be coming out in the New Year, hopefully. I’m working with my daughter Tye on a new project. She’s doing a rap album. I am very proud
of that album. I’m also working on an artist named Rain, a white artist – she sings, raps and dances. We gonna take Britney Spears outta here with her! I’m doing that and I’m finishing up a book, Confessions of a Super Freak. We’re going to turn that into a movie. And I’m hoping to go on tour if my physical self can stand up. So, as you can see, I have a lot of irons in the fire! Speaking of rap, your records have been sampled by quite a few rappers. Hammer made a huge hit off ‘Superfreak’ when he sampled it for ‘U Can’t Touch This’. Number one rap hit of all time. How do you feel about other artists sampling your music? That makes me feel really good. I wish that young musicians would learn to play music, but it’s only because the government has taken musical instruments out of the public schools [that they don’t]. But I’m very happy that God has blessed me with that talent. I love what Silk has done with ‘Ebony Eyes’. I absolutely love it! I like what Mary J. Blige has done. She’s sampled ‘All Night Long’ I think, like, twice and got a platinum record off of it. And I love what she’s done with my song. So there are a lot of people that I really love what they do. And then there’s some people that I think that they are sloppy and they are just doing it. Some people do it from the heart, some people do it from the soul and some people do it for the pocket. It’s keeps me living nice. So it’s like a double edge sword. On one hand I wish that they would learn to play instruments and write some original stuff but, hey, I’m not mad that they sample my stuff. Is there anything that you’d like to say to say to the new generation that will be digging into your music? I’d just like to say to the young folks don’t be so closed minded, and go back into the old school, man. Check out the Ohio Players and Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix, the Impressions and Curtis Mayfield and Rick James and so on. Go into the old school because, if you don’t know your history, you damn sho’ won’t know where you’re going.
Critics David Byrne & st Vincent Love This Giant (4AD/Todo Mundo)
It’s a tedious intellectual endeavor to consider Love This Giant, the collaborative album by St Vincent and David Byrne. Why did they make an album together? Is it a cover for their being seen together last year at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner? Regardless, you could say that there’s just too much collaboration these days. Between rappers literally phoning it in and one-off guest spots that are more about branding than musicianship, it seems like a risky proposition to take any big ticket collaboration too seriously. (Looking at you, Panda Bear.) Listening to the album itself helpfully obviates a lot of the more tedious ‘But what does it mean?’ types of questions. Even though Love This Giant is by no means a lightweight or insubstantial album, it’s also far from ponderous or deep. There is a lot going on. For instance, bleeps and bloops, the worn saw ‘angular’ guitars, the odd string arrangement, and lots of brass permutate in just about every song. ‘The Forest Awakes’ sounds like a stochastically determined arrangement from the future that just happens to have St Vincent’s trademark declarative lines issuing from it. The next song, ‘I Should Watch TV’, achieves a similar effect, just this time with the characteristically tumblingthen-falling vocal delivery of David Byrne. Much of the album. while quite busy, doesn’t seem to accomplish much beyond achieving a stylish posture and a brisk, cool sound – nor does it seem to attempt more than that. I asked my girlfriend what she thought of ‘Optimist’, and she said, “I like it!” and then I asked her what she thought of the lyrics, and she said, “Oh I was just enjoying it on a musical level”, and that seems about right. For the record, coming three quarters of the way through the album, ‘Optimist’ is one of the more literal-minded songs on the album. St Vincent, calling herself “the optimist of 30th Street”, chronicles the happy, dazed, underpaid days of her indie ingenue days. She has “drinks on Condé Nast” and espies Vivian Girls on the Upper East Side. “How it is is how it ought to be”, she concludes. That’s a useful line to describe the entire album. When the collaboration between Byrne and St Vincent was announced, the
sky seemed to be the limit, creativity-wise. In execution, it sounds sort of exactly like what you’d expect: St. Vincent brings the brisk, structured aspect of the tracks to the fore while Byrne swans around vocally and makes sure there’s plenty of euphoric saxophone. Overall, Byrne’s work recalls that mp3 that was going around a while back of him covering Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ – it’s a big, wet, full-bodied splash of pop. So what I’m saying is, though the album is technically ambitious in imagination and execution, it’s also entirely contained within one’s limited conception of each artist’s
capabilities. There is not a disappointing bar or note to be found in Love This Giant, but it’s also not revelatory about either artist. Byrne, of course, is a mercurial performer, with a world-pop-jazz streak a mile wide. And St Vincent is an architectonic wunderkind of guitar rock. Together they sound just like that. Love This Giant is a good album made by two great artists. If you’re disappointed that it’s not totally transcendent and loaded with meaning, then you’d miss that fact. If the idea never occurred to you, then all you’re left with is a wonderful, lovable album – not quite a giant, but no small feat either. --B. Michael Payne Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Critics | Music
Jessie Ware Devotion (PMR/Island)
Jessie Ware’s slow ascent from the UK art school musical-farm system to legitimate pop star candidacy began to accelerate last year when she made prominent cameo appearances on singles by buzzy British electronic artists like SBTRKT and Joker. November saw the release of her debut single ‘Strangest Feeling’, and, four months later, the exquisite ‘Running’ inspired a cavalcade of hype-filled articles tagging Ware as an artist to watch. ‘Running’ was ultimately revealed to be the lead single from Ware’s debut record, Devotion. Smart pop fans the world over began waiting with bated breath for an answer to this most important of questions: would the rest of Devotion live up to their new, lofty expectations? The album’s 11 tracks are evenly distributed over two tiers: stylish, endlessly catchy, pop-R&B cuts, and stylish, slightly 62
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less-catchy, pop-R&B mood pieces that serve to flesh out the album and operate as minor variations on Ware’s chosen mode of soulful pop music. These mood pieces have their moments – the stutter-step synth that opens ‘Swan Song’ and the aching vocal marking penultimate ballad ‘Taking in Water’ – but the album’s real meat lies in its handful of world-beating singles. ‘Wildest Moments’ is spacious yet anthemic, as if Ware and her co-conspirators were challenged to write a tune for the Olympic closing ceremonies with the least adornment and pomp possible. This is followed immediately by a very different sort of single in the guise of ‘Running’, which marries typically louche sonic flourishes like purple-tinged guitar and a Bailey’s-smooth vocal take with urgent, propulsive percussion and lyrics. The one-two punch of ‘Sweet Talk’ and ‘110%’ revitalises Devotion’s back end. The former contrasts the dewy, effervescent tone of Rhodes piano with emotionally fraught lyrics detailing the wrong end of a relationship’s power dynamic, while the latter is airy and light, but strong; a carbonfiber soufflé of a song held together by a
steely, mannered Ware vocal and a gorgeous breakdown. The thread that links every track on Devotion is Ware’s remarkably malleable vocal talent, evident in the hors d’oeuvres plate of adjectives found above: aching, Bailey’ssmooth, steely, mannered. Her most admirable quality might be her restraint – she’s never caught reaching for a note she can’t quite nail or a gigantic payoff she can’t deliver. Ware sings with the cool wisdom and control of someone who has spent plenty of time honing their craft and investigating every nook and cranny of their own voice. Every song on Devotion makes use of the same palette of sterile blues and greys, but Ware’s subtle variations on the theme keep the album from feeling staid or repetitive. Ultimately, Devotion is successful both as a vehicle for several tremendous singles and as an album-length exploration of smart, seductive pop, R&B, and soul. Pop enthusiasts can breathe easy knowing that the pre-release hype has been justified, and that there’s plenty to stay excited about. Remember, this is only Jessie Ware’s first record. --Jamieson Cox
Critics | Music
A$AP Mob Lord$ Never Worry (Polo Grounds/RCA)
Joe McKee Burning Boy (Dot Dash)
Joe McKee grew up in the Darling Hills, south of Perth, Western Australia – a highland region of scorched forest. He moved to Perth, and it was in that isolated city that he and three friends formed Snowman, one of the best, most overlooked bands of the last 10 years. His time in the band took him halfway around the world. After establishing itself with two albums of wild and inventive rock that drew from metal, surf, industrial, psych, synth-pop and other genres, Snowman moved to London and recorded its excellent final album, Absence, before splitting amicably when the rhythm section had a child and moved to Iceland. McKee went back to the hills to make his first solo album, and the change is immediate and thorough. The apocalyptic aggression of the last two Snowman albums is completely absent, replaced with a quiet intensity and sparse sonic palette that are strangely evocative of the ragged, arid woodland where the album was recorded. With drums present only rarely, McKee creates arrangements for his songs that are essentially ambient pop. His guitar sometimes plays patterns to move things along but, mostly, he’s happy to take his time and allow the song to unfold as he sings it. The album actually opens quite lushly, with a swirl of alien, ghostly strings that rattles around like
the echo of a forgotten song in an abandoned ballroom. Even some long-ago laughter seeps in as a sound effect just before the orchestra staggers out of tune to end the song. Similarly, otherworldly soundscapes rise out of other songs. ‘Flightless Bird’ is haunted by a creaky array of strings, piano and distant drums that waltz away as McKee sings through a haze of reverb. The song’s title is one of a few that evoke images of the recording locale, which is home to emus. ‘An Open Mine’, one of only three songs to feature a straight drumbeat at any point, refers to the quarries that liberally dot the landscape – its iridescent accompaniment is reminiscent of Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs, if you stripped that album to its barest essentials. In among all those spooky backing arrangements, the ghost of Snowman flits in and out of several songs. The drumbeat that carries the coda of the title track combines with the soundscape to create an unsettling feeling similar to a dialed-down Absence, while “A Double Life” is the only song that raises the volume significantly, knocking around McKee’s softly delivered vocal with thundering drum interjections. Burning Boy is perhaps not the first thing a fan of Snowman might have expected from that band’s guitarist. The gentleness and ethereality of the music are almost jarring at first but, as you sink deeper into McKee’s world, you can begin to feel the weight of the air between him and the rest of the world as he records out in the hills. It’s heavy air, thick with ghosts and memories, but inviting all the same. --Joe Tangari
A$AP Rocky struck critical gold last year with LiveLoveA$AP, a groundbreaking redefinition of New York hip-hop. Over a series of lush, sonic soundscapes, the young Harlem rapper addressed social decay and the alternate lifestyles so often derided in hip-hop with a hardened viewpoint that gave him credibility across the board. Like so many new-age rap stars, Rocky has a crew and, on this latest mixtape Lord$ Never Worry, the sizable A$AP Mob try to piggy-back on his success. It’s a familiar formula these days – sending one member out to strike first before quickly following with a collective of affiliates. Tyler, the Creator’s success was something of a path-find for Odd Future, while Kendrick Lamar’s breakthrough shone a new spotlight on the talented members of Black Hippy. But while Tyler and Lamar lead crews boasting significant firepower, the A$AP Mob is made up of unremarkable rappers, none of whom are truly able to stand out and make an impression on the tape. Never do they live up to Rocky’s captivating flow (the best example here being opener ‘Thuggin Noise’) and, at times, their rhymes come off as shoddy and amateurish. A$AP Ferg, for example, is hideously clunky on ‘Word’, ‘Gotham City’ and ‘Choppas on Deck’. Elsewhere, A$AP Ant is given a harsh dressing down on ‘Coke and White Bitches: Chapter 2’, murdered by superior guest MCs Danny Brown and Gunplay. A$AP Mob were all childhood friends, and the likelihood of multiple talents coming together at such a young age is remote (there are examples of it happening in hip-hop history, but not many). Rocky is clearly the one with star quality, and he’d do well not to stifle his development by investing too much time in these side projects. --Dean Van Nguyen Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Critics | Music
The xx Coexist (Young Turks)
The xx must have undergone some serious heartache over the last three years. On their sophomore album, the London three-piece turns the gloom way up, with just enough electronic savvy to temper the angst. Coexist is ostensibly an album of love songs, but perhaps ‘torch songs’ is more accurate. Over its 14 tracks Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim trade weepy verses on ballad after ballad of unrequited love. Lyrically, there’s sometimes a sweetness and hope, with tracks like opener and single ‘Angels’ coming to the conclusion that “The end is unknown/But I think I’m ready/As long as you’re with me.” Sonically, though, the verge-of-tears crooning of Madley Croft and the tortured hooks of Sim take their toll on 62
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Coexist. Lucky for them, however, the third xx, Jamie Smith (aka Jamie xx), comes through with a keen, innovative eye for production. If Coexist’s vocals and lyricism are sometimes tryingly gloomy and overdramatic, the finesse and restraint of its instrumentals keep things grounded. On their almost-self-titled 2009 debut, the xx showed the world that they could write killer pop hooks. On Coexist they avoid a sophomore slump by showing that they don’t have to rely on that. On xx, they were an indie pop unit with electronic sensibilities; here, there are three distinct voices – two pop and one electronic. Rather than retreading old ground, the trio opts to explore just how far they can go giving their electronic instrumentals their own, equal voice. At times – on ‘Sunset’ for example – the pieces fit together perfectly, with Smith’s feeling like an equally coherent third voice. As Madley Croft sings “When I see you again/I’ll know not to expect,” the track suddenly fades
to an atmospheric fog and all the elements complement each other and form something bigger. Again, on the next track, ‘Missing’, Sim’s vocals and Smith’s instrumentals form a perfect duet, with the former singing of his heart “beating in a different way” as the latter thumps a staccato heartbeat. At other times, though, Coexist gets clunky. On ‘Chained’ the vocals and instrumentals feel almost like two separate songs. While they come together at times, the rainy, cyclical beat is separated from the talk of biding and wasting time. Without the appropriate accompaniment, the vocals falls into histrionic territory, making for a long three minutes. The backing track remains a captivating piece but, unable to balance the rest, it ultimately fails. If it’s not always the most immediately pleasant half-hour, Coexist mostly succeeds as an artistic endeavor. The xx boldly add an electronic voice to this pop trio and the result, while often clumsy, is sometimes a transcendent success. --Sam Weiss
Critics | Film
Philip K. Dick at the movies Hollywood’s chequered history in adapting works of one science fiction’s great writers. By Jason Robinson Unlike Alan Moore, another celebrated writer of science fiction who has come to disown much of cinema’s rendering of his work, Philip K. Dick did not live long enough to see most of his literary creations make it to the big screen. Dick died in 1982, the very year that the most celebrated cinematic treatment of his writing emerged, Blade Runner. Based on his novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Dick was initially cautious regarding the proposed film – especially in light of his problems with a number of the script treatments preceding the final creation. Yet, despite differences over their respective visions, it appeared Dick was firmly behind Ridley Scott’s project, stating shortly before his death that “My life and creative work are justified and completed by Blade Runner…it is going to be one hell of a commercial success. It will prove invincible”. Blade Runner has, in many respects, gone on to prove Dick correct. It was a critical success that ranks as one of the finest achievements of Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford’s respective careers. Much of the more recent output based on Dick’s work, however, has failed to live up to its potential, and with the remake of 1990 Paul Verhoven classic Total Recall recently released (this time starring Colin Farrell and directed by Len Wiseman), now seems like a good time to cast an eye back over Philip K. Dick’s creations on the silver screen.
A cinematic classic, and a treatment that Dick supported, it proved to be the benchmark for all future Dick treatments. Voted the greatest science fiction movie of all time in a 2009 poll, it has often proved a difficult (if impossible) act for future writers and directors to follow. Issues of identity and existentialism that littered Dick’s work are all to be found here, as well as the role of technology and visions of futuristic metropolises, proving a template for all future science fiction movies.
Paul Verhoven’s 1990 treatment of a Dick short story, the first Total Recall adaptation was bloody, violent and probably one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest hours. As to be expected, the acting is not the attraction here (Sharon Stone and others don’t fare much better than Arnie), but this fastpaced action film encapsulates a lot of the key themes in Dick’s work, if bludgeoned
Colin Farrell in Total Recall.
somewhat by Verhoven’s frentically-paced direction.
Based on Dick’s short story The Minority Report, Spielberg’s treatment was a solid, if unspectacular, adaptation. Set in a world where crimes were prevented before they even occurred, the themes of Government control and the power of corporations emerged once more, and the idea of free will, a repeated trope of Dick’s stories, was paramount.
Ben Affleck’s questionable acting aside, Paycheck wastes the talents of Uma Thurman and John Woo, who must have thought that this treatment would garner him some more of his much deserved success of the 1990s with the likes of Face/Off. However, in the creeping trend of turning Dick’s stories into conventional action movies more often than not fails, with Verhoven’s gritty Total Recall proving the exception to the rule.
The Adjustment Bureau
On hearing that Matt Damon called President Obama’s performance in office disappointing, the President hit back at the White House Correspondents Dinner: “Well, Matt, I just saw The Adjustment Bureau, so...right back atcha, buddy”. Stale and stunted, the movie
proved one of Damon’s poorer choices in recent years and a disappointing rendering of Dick’s short story The Adjustment Team. A solid premise is wasted in clumsy storytelling, with George Nolfi’s foray from writing into directing proving problematic throughout. Emily Blunt and Damon are both credible but let down by a poor adaptation of an otherwise intriguing plot.
The Man in the High Castle
The Man in the High Castle is one of Dick’s classic works. The novel looks at an alternative world order where the Nazis did not lose World War II and the world has been carved into spheres of the Axis Powers. Set in 1962, the United States is ruled by the Nazis and the Japanese. Currently the text is being adapted into a four-part mini-series for the BBC, which is to be executive produced by Ridley Scott.
Blade Runner Sequel
This past summer, Scott revealed he is planning a sequel to his celebrated Blade Runner, this time with a female protagonist (although Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard, may appear in a small role). After the disappointing Alien prequel of sorts, Prometheus, viewers must be hoping lightning strikes twice for Scott’s latest attempt to re-engage with his back catalogue and Dick’s most celebrated on-screen adaptation. Issue 11 - Autumn ’12
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
a Music mid-life Crises Are you getting to the point where everything starts to sound identical? Are you bored of new music? Then join the gang. By Simon Mee It begins at 25. Perhaps it is the realisation that your life isn’t turning out the way you hoped it would. Perhaps it’s the grinding nine to five job that is slowly destroying your soul. Perhaps it’s the discovery that your dickhead boss likes the same bands as you, and that you’re now a dickhead by proxy. Or maybe it was the gradual realisation that The Libertines, a band you grew up with, ripped off The Clash and got rich on somebody else’s talent? Or that Interpol stole Joy Division’s sound while adding the sole innovation of shit lyrics? Or that every folk song you now hear sounds exactly like, well, that last fucking folk song you heard. Oh, it begins at 25 alright. Everything starts to sound the same. What happened to the passion for the bands we grew up with? I mean, the ones we really adored. The b-sides, the bootleg records, the illfitting band T-shirts bought from Temple 64
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Bar shops that reeked of weed… Where did the feeling go? For me it was The Smashing Pumpkins. When I was a teenager, Billy Corgan was my god. Now older, wiser, and slightly deaf in the right ear, I see ‘1979’ for what it really is – a New Order song rip-off. A fucking New Order song with flying toilet rolls in the music video. I once believed in those toilet rolls. So, too, did my dickhead boss. Now look at us. My youth effectively died the day Zeitgeist (cough, Shitegeist) was released back in 2007. I blame that crap book of poetry Billy Corgan wrote. Everything kind of fell by the wayside after that. Keeping up-to-date with new music? I don’t bother these days. I just languidly flick through the music magazine or casually scroll down the webpage. One eye is on the article, the other is usually on the microwave timer. It’s 9pm on a weekday.
I’m tired, hungry and, on the way home, I saw Tesco had a special offer for fiveminute meals. My stubble tends to get in the way of the food. I should probably shave more often. To be honest, you know things aren’t looking up when the last band you went crazy about was The National. A band, I might add, that releases album after album about what a mid-life crisis sounds like. The lead-singer Matt Berninger? A nice guy. But he looks depressed. Very depressed. A music mid-life crisis is like being stuck in an elevator with the same song playing over and over again. And the elevator is going down. But perhaps it’s just another notch on the life post. Something that we all have to go through. Like the first time you buy furniture in Ikea. Or when you hit 36 and suddenly find yourself subscribing to Uncut magazine. You just have to grind your teeth and get through it. My one piece of advice, though? Avoid Zeitgeist by The Smashing Pumkpins. It’s really that bad.
Psychonavigation Vital Force Waves On Canvas
'Into The Northsea' perfectly combines elements of ambient & classical sounds with vocals by respected artists such as Louise Rutkowski (This Mortal Coil, Craig Armstrong, 4AD), Ian Masters (Pale Saints, 4AD) & Pieter Nooten (Xymox, Michael Brook, 4AD) Deluxe CD & Double 12" gatefold vinyl (Designed by Vaughan Oliver) [July 2012]
Rival Ace Debut single from the hotly tipped South African MC. Produced by Evo Canevo. Essential listening for fans of intelligent underground Hip-Hop Digital Download [July 2012]
Published on Dec 9, 2012
Chuck D, Beth Jeans Houghton, Ken Bruen, Rick James, Le Galaxie and many more feature in One More Robot Issue 11: The Interview Issue.