Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Since Drag City has finally let my captive family go free, I can now state on the internet that I listened to the new Joanna Newsom record and wrote about it here. Now, can I break free from its charms and seeming endlessness? is a whole other question.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Through a confluence of events (like being out of holiday debt), I've had some sweet art pieces enter the house recently. The first is this art print from the Animal Collective Crack Box set from last year, an eye-popping piece of work from illustrator Jon Vermilyea. The box set, lovingly rendered by the Catsup Plate imprint and quite astounding, still never quite did the art justice, so it's nice to have this one up in all of its glory. And unbelievably (considering the Animal Collective fan base), a few of these beauties remain.

Another piece that I recently acquired is an edition of a 1970 collage from Swedish pop artist Öyvind Fahlström. Ever since happening upon Fahlström's work at the Centre Pompidou in 2000 and at a massive MACBA retrospective later on in my European travles, I've been obsessed with the man's playful/ serious works, be they comic book cut-ups (from Marvel to R. Crumb) or a game board unpacking the CIA meddling in Southern Cone politics or head-swimming India ink paintings. A truly under-appreciated artist.

Perhaps the piece I'm most proud of is this painting by one of my oldest and dearest friends. It somehow combines a disco dancefloor stratosphere with DJ booth and religious icon imagery (the chalice) while executing the work with a color theory (about how CMYK reproduction reduces a truly billion color life experience to only three hues) that totally works. It's an honor to be able to have this piece in the home.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

DMCA beta

"Was it something I said?"

For some reason, a warning appeared in my email that a two year-old beta blog post had "offending content" and was promptly removed from the web. Still can't figure out what the problem is, but I hope it's this quote from an interview with Miles Davis from 1968, which remains my favorite film criticism ever:
I have a funny feeling all day after I've seen a movie with the same white problems. You know, full of girls with long hair and where everybody's having a lot of have white people dancing and having a good time, and they don't show any Negroes or what negro feelings are, or any Chinese people, just white girls dancing, with their hair going and going...I figure if the white people keep on showing us their problems on television like they're doing, then we will be able to tell their problems by their facial expressions pretty soon, 'cause they're running out.
And figure I should follow it up with a quote from painter David Hockney, also about the movies (though perhaps less offensive?):
The idea that outer space is over there and we're not part of it is silly. We're already journeying throughout the universe. It's like how I can never get into space movies, because they always seem to me to be about transport and nothing else.

Vince Aletti Talk Tonight

Discophiles, blonde models, and cokeheads, unite!
Saturday evening, I'll be chatting with former Voice critic and New Yorker writer Vince Aletti about his crucial tome The Disco Files1973-1978: New York's Underground, Week by Week (which I unpacked here) and the history of disco as part of the ongoing Unsound Festival. It starts at 6:30 and is at the Wyoming Building (5 East 3rd St.).

Monday, February 08, 2010

Yeasayer Interview

So I recently had a feature on Yeasayer appear on the magazine racks, only to realize that Anand Wilder and Ira Wolf Tuton roles were swapped in my piece. Ooooft. My apologies to Mr. Wilder for the mix-up.
Anyhow, back on a sleety gray day, I climbed into Yeasayer's tour van and chatted with them about a then-recent, woefully argued New York Magazine (non)think piece about how everybody wants to be like Dave Longstreth and why articles about Brooklyn's music scene always miss what truly ties bands like Animal Collective, DP, Yeasayer, MGMT, et al. together. Not that we figured it out either, but so it goes...

You guys had a similar experience, did you not, getting grouped into some bigger Zeitgeist piece about “Brooklyn” for the NY Times, trying to tie it all together. 

Chris: It was Dragons of Zynth, Dirty Projectors, us, MGMT.

So what is the fallacy in grouping everyone together? What is the perceived connection versus the true connection?

Chris: No one has done it eloquently, unfortunately. They are talking about music being made in the same place by people who they perceive as being a giant group of buddies. But it’s never like: “These are the sonic elements or these are the aesthetics that tie these things together.” It’s vague homilies thrown around, but nothing concrete.

It’s always grouped by the most tactile thing critics can grab onto: records, but nothing beyond that.

Ira: That’s just the bane of music-writing. Music-writing has to put this collective together and create this movement. It makes it more interesting to read about.
Chris: It’s not inaccurate because all those people are friendly. But it’s not like we’re of the same mindset when it comes to making stuff. Or perhaps we are and we just don’t know. Maybe that’s up to some writer for them to sum up.

What logically connects everyone then?

Chris: All those people, depending on who we are talking about... it’s at an interesting point in time where you have these musicians who are equally interested in pop hits as they are in really left field stuff. I bet on all those peoples iPods you would find the new Beyoncé single and then…the Suicide record.

Or Ethiopiques.

Chris: Yeah. I think that is mostly because of the way that information is getting around these days. So everyone is embracing pop structure but also trying to shake it up a little bit and do their own thing in their own way and not have any pressure to conform. Obviously, Dirty Projectors don’t have any pressure to conform or fit in or write a hit. They just happen to have catchy parts because they’re amazing songwriters. They don’t have a major pressuring them. Grizzly Bear have Motown style songs, but no one is telling them how to do it.
Ira: I also think that although a lot of people in the music industry perceive that they’re going through “this transition” I think for all of us, the transition has already happened. We started to exist professionally with very different expectations and different understandings of the way our music is going to get out into the ether. We’re reliant on the internet and blogs (all these bands are) but it’s not so much geared towards major record sales.
Chris: (to me) What do you think is a unifying theme to these bands? You think there is one?

For me it’s the omnivorous appetite of listening.

Chris: I’d agree with that.

I was recently in Finland and I found that the bands I was hearing were really only listening to other indie rock bands, which is one stage removed. Whereas I think the most successful and striking bands here don’t necessarily listen to other bands but rather diverse things: African music, dancehall, hip-hop, disco, weird stuff. They’re not listening to what Pitchfork is trumpeting.

Ira: A lot of these bands are still trying to maintain pop sensibilities in some way. I see it as people trying to create a new pop lexicon, no matter how much they sound alike. Being inundated with sources and trying to make sense of it now. There’s a new jump-off point.

There’s a collage aspect as well. Your saturation level is so high that you just grab at whatever is closest at hand and reconstitute it through your own set of lenses.

Chris: It’s internet culture of music. That is the driving technological force. The iPod dictates the music, just as the electric guitar did, or the drumkit did for other generations. If you’re really trying to make music and engage in a dialogue with technology, which I think music always has –whether its turntables or synthesizers or multi-tracking—now we’re dealing with the technology of the internet and MySpace and the iPod shuffle. The longform record-making album is still cool but it's an antiquated art form. I think of the two-hour film at the cinema is antiquated as well, but I still want to do it. The way technology informs music is huge. We’re witnessing over the last decade crazy technological advances that shape a lot of the music.
In terms of you approaching the pop lexicon then, how do you think of it?

Chris: I can get super-psyched about a Fabolous song (sings one) and think that’s a great melody but I don’t necessarily want to make hip-hop. But then I can relate that Fabolous melody to a weird melody in a dancehall song (a Mavado song) and then take it even further and relate it to weird 60s stuff like the Zombies and it’s based on that sort of idea. When we’re recording music, we’re listening to almost anything. “Put on James Taylor!” “Oh, no!” “But I like it.” And then put on this, put on Chaka Khan. It’s about all that culture coming to an apex and how can you put it together.

Ira: There’s a lot of music today, especially dancehall and R&B, there’s some real forward production. There’s this Ne-Yo thing, where is voiceover is whatever, but the production is very forward thinking. The same with dancehall stuff that’s going on right now. Those forms of music get written off as not as progressive whereas what we’re doing gets written as being really progressive just because we’re supposed to just be white guys banging on guitars. What people hear when they hear us…the genre-fication of dancehall.

It’s tough to keep up and keep processing that stuff.

Ira: I find those sources and those production techniques, those genres are really embracing what we were discussing earlier, the advances of recording techniques and exploring electronic tones and accepting the digitalization of music.

Chris: They don’t play with song structure as much as we do, although we get mis-labeled as being more proggy than we actually are. Underneath all the bullshit, we’re still verse-chorus verse-chorus.

Ira: I took the “prog” label that our songs should be shorter.

Chris: We’re not in 7/4.
What changed in your approach to making Odd Blood?

Ira: That’s what it was. Making everything more concise and shorter. Making our transitions tighter, tightening up our arrangements, having our tones be more pointed.

Chris: Listening to different stuff and wanting to explore more territory. We were thinking about it. Wow, Tusk. Everyone was listening to that record. A lot of chimeringue stuff, African stuff. Nigeria! Zimbabwe! South African psychedelia. And then the early 2000s stuff, band after band after band that was ripping off Joy Division. Anglophile 70s obsessiveness. We went “Kinda want to write some pretty music now.” That was cool, but we want harmonies. I remember seeing Grizzly Bear and loving their harmonies. DP and the way Dave’s playing guitars. Or seeing SpankRock and loving his beats and his performance. We still felt like we could occupy some niche.

Ira: We recorded that first album waaaaay before it first came out.

Chris: Todd P. wasn’t booking us. It wasn’t like noisy rock for warehouse spots. Dan Deacon didn’t like us, so we couldn’t play warehouse shows in Baltimore. We had nowhere to play. We can’t keep playing Death by Audio. Because they never asked us. No one was beating on our door. On the new record, we were finding new things to be excited about and didn’t need to harp on the same ideas. A lot of bands perfect their thing. On the new record, I thought about my favorite stuff: trip-hop, DJ Shadow, Portishead, dancehall, Vybez Cartel. Let’s get excited again and still do pop and singing and push every sound into a weird direction.

Ira: We’d get the same questions about influences and say: Cyndi Lauper, Black Moon. Just embracing the short form.

Lyrically, what were you thinking about?

Chris: “Ambling Alp” is about a boxer. It’s a jock jam, machismo 40s boxing culture. My grandfather was a boxer and I was intrigued by boxing names. I’d watch documentaries about Joe Louis, historical champions. One song is about Ira being annoyed by family reunions. It’s about uncomfortable social context, intersocial politics thrown into a jarring beat. We made more of a body record. We wanted to activate subs. It’ll bang the shit out of subs in your car. Let’s run everything through a sub-generator. Let’s put more bass!

Ira: I was so psyched when I took home our first master. My stereo works well, but every time, it couldn’t get past the first bass drop. It’d just start skipping.

Chris: The first song is about ‘shadow life,’ a scientific theory about life that is evolving that is totally foreign to how we understand life to evolve on earth, with oxygen and water. There’s life they found in arsenic pools, weird bacteria in poisonous lakes. Or The Brood. A lot of stuff is influenced by movies.

Did you see Where the Wild Things Are?

Chris: I didn’t like it. I thought the soundtrack was horrendous, painful. It was like walking into Urban Outfitters. It was beautifully shot. I was bored. I thought it was adventurous, but it was numbingly childlike. I was surprised they let him make that. That was the first time I went to an auteur vision and thought “Maybe the studio should’ve stepped in.”

What would Odd Blood be as a movie?

Chris: It’d be the sequel to Blade Runner.

Really? It seems brighter than that.

Ira: Rutger Hauer is dead.

Chris: And Harrison Ford lives happily ever after with Sean Young! Sounds bright to me.

True. How different is the studio experience this time around? 

Ira: It was very different.

Chris: The first was in my basement, moldy and gross. This time we recorded in upstate New York, rented a house and just built a temporary studio. The Black Crowes were doing around the corner from us. Beach House recorded up there. The house belonged to the drummer for Peter Gabriel. He was also the drummer for Tears for Fears.

Ira: We just kept discovering gold and platinum records throughout the house.

Chris: In the basement he had all his old 70s-80s gears, great Prophecy synths, all his drums and mics.

Is it more live?

Chris: We’re always post. Play and jam it out. Tweak and decay that shit. 

Ira: Pile it up and strip it away.

Chris: It's're building a house and knocking it down over and over again until it's the right house. Maybe that's a problem?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

tim sweeney interview

As WNYU's Beats in Space program neared its 500th episode, I got the chance to hang out with Tim Sweeney a few nights, once when Neurotic Drum Band spun a set (in-between showing me photos of their kids on their iPhones) and again when the legendary Juan Atkins was in the studio (he didn't show me his mobile device). In-between, we chatted at a Japanese restaurant about a few things, including the self-perpetuating ghost of New York nightlife around the world and how he chose the name for his influential radio show:

So Tim, tell me about New York nightlife.
Whenever I travel, wherever I go, people ask about New York nightlife scene. "The legendary nightlife." Where they should go? What clubs? I’m always telling them the same thing: your city has more going on than ours does.

Is it odd to you, that NYC is in that state?
Yeah. It feels so weird. When people are asking me, it’s because there’s a lot of music stuff going on, but club life is not here. People really do have their impression of what New York is, what it looks like. They’ve already seen it from TV. They are expecting Paradise Garage or Twilo or some huge amazing parties. And they get here and they can’t find it.

Did you get your chops from DJing in bars? Or more from the radio show?
That’s how I met the DFA guys, I was doing nights at Plant Bar every week in the early 2000s. I did my own party at APT every Friday. Once I started getting more gigs abroad, now I focus on that. I would like to play here, but I don’t know where to play now. I’ve been trying to think of where to do my tenth anniversary party. I’ve planned it everywhere else but here in New York, I don’t know. Nothing feels perfect.

What made you want to DJ?
I learned to DJ back in high school. My older brother got me into it. He was three years older and started listening to electronic music.

Who struck you the most?
Probably Aphex Twin, early Warp, those Artificial Intelligence compilations on Warp, the Black Dog Bytes album. I can still listen to that. Those were gateways.
I went to NYU to study music, I was a music technology major. The show was right away. I had actually between 10th-11th grade, I came to NYC one summer and ended up DJing on WNYU and knew about it, how it worked. After that, when I knew I was going there, I emailed the DJ station and asked to start a show. It’s all student-run, so it takes awhile, but I got the show running right away. When I started, it was 800 AM, it basically only broadcasted to the dormitories.

Was Beats in Space the original name?
Yeah. I would probably change it now. I was into space (laughs).

I think of the Muppets.
I think that’s a better story.

Print the myth.
Just print the myth. That sounds better that way. Now it’s ten years, so there’s no changing it.

What was your vision of BiS when you started?
It was basically the same thing. I had a lot less guests. Even now, people don’t really hang out there. Mostly it’s just me in there. Now I have an intern, so it’s a little different. It’s always been this place for me to go and do my thing, by myself and just play music and hopefully have people like it. And then have guests on the show.

Who was your first guest?
My first guest was DJ Food from Ninja Tune. I saw they were playing NYC and I emailed the label and I say: “Hey, I do a radio show on a New York station. Do you want to come in and be a guest?” There’s really no other radio station in the US that is so free-form in that regard. Most people are up for it. We don’t subscribe to Arbitron so I never know how many listeners there are. It’s always amazing to get calls from taxi drivers, people in prison, Morgan Geist. I love the live radio aspect of it but the response is way bigger online around the world, with people listening, that it is in New York. More people listen online than live. On the BBC, there are shows that have that kind of audience listening live, but not here.

Do you have a model in mind for the show?
I admire Electrified Mojo in Detroit. You’re not limited soundwise. It is a person behind it and he plays whatever he wants, turning people onto what you’re into. It can be weird or more mainstream, you’re just pushing good music. When I worked for Steinski, he had tapes of shows on WFMU. He spent hours putting together these radio shows, cut’n’paste style. It was really interesting just listening to these tapes. He had an early answering machine and would give out the number and have people call in to leave their answers.

What did your old Plant Bar/ BiS sets used to consist of?
I used to play a lot of trip-hop. And one day Luke said, “oh, you should meet our producer. We call him Trip-hop Tim.” Tim Goldsworthy. I was a big fan of Mo’ Wax and UNKLE so I knew Tim’s work well. And one night meeting Tim and I just said I was a big fan and asked if they needed help in the studio. Tim just said “yeah.” Galkin hadn’t even officially started there yet. Those first two records, the Le Tigre remix. I convinced James to play some bassline on “Losing My Edge.” That’s my claim to fame.

As the show grew, when did it reach a tipping point for you? When did it feel big?
The time I felt most like “wow, people are out there” was when I premiered this Carl Craig remix for DFA on the show and no one had heard it. I talked over it and the response was so crazy. People were making mp3s of it even with talking over it.
Election night was great. Doug Lee and Justin Vandervolgen and Lovefingers came in. All three of them were super-wasted, all coming from a celebratory tequila party. Luckily, they recorded their mix beforehand. Live, it would’ve been a disaster. We were doing a play-by-play, checking the exit polls and we would put on the mic and start cheering. It was really fun.
Brennan Green and Mike Simonetti have been on the show the most. Lovefingers is up there, Horse Meat Disco, Optimo, all those guys have been on multiple times.

Who are you dying to get on the show?
A lot of the Detroit guys; they’re always so tough. Juan Atkins I hope will happen. I’d love to get Jeff Mills to do an old-school set, I’d love to get Derrick May on. At some point, I’d like to have David Mancuso on. For him I would do it there, but I don’t like doing live shows. I had DJ Nori on with an excerpt from his 30-hour mix. I want it to be special for the radio. I want guests to have the radio show in their mind when they do the mix, because it changes the trajectory; it’s not for a club. But the Loft is amazing. How people dance there, it’s amazing. Seeing people expressing themselves like that, so appreciative of the music…it’s amazing. When you see that, you get a glimpse of what New York was once like.

Did you ever think you’d get to 500 shows?
I loved doing radio from the beginning. I didn’t see myself stopping once school was over. One way or another, I was going to keep doing radio. I like doing it. There’s always a little bit of tension, as it is a student-run station. I still have to take continuing education classes to be a student. I pay to do the radio show. My fourth degree is going really well, coming up on the fifth one. 
But there aren’t many options out there. There’s WFMU, you have to start out on the Sunday night graveyard for six months and then maybe they give you something. But you aren’t set there either. WNYU is that really works for me. If I get kicked off, I don’t know what I’d do. I can do it online, but I like being in New York doing a live radio show. The idea that a guy in a taxi or someone from Riker’s Island is going to call you up exhilarates. 

Monday, February 01, 2010


"In America, hardly anybody goes walking. They drive around in cars or they sit outside the house in rocking chairs. If you go walking in the country, people look at you." So speaks one of Peter Handke's characters in Short Letter, Long Farewell, a book I have tucked into my bag as we walk around San Diego in one of the few instances of sun. San Diego feels strangely halted in its architecture, especially around North Park. All the buildings could serve as backdrop for Back to the Future. Being a pedestrian becomes a running joke as well (er, walking joke), as cars never look for you crossing and you meet no one on the sidewalks.

We do take a car for a trip to Balboa Park and its Old Cactus Garden. There's already been a year's worth of rain in one afternoon, and the cacti respond with big alien blooms. Bulbous-trunked trees that sharpen to a point fifty feet up; tall, twisted gangly things with Phyllis Diller fronds, all orange and gold; blue flowers and stubby cacti. It makes perfect sense when a friend informs us that this is the region that Dr. Seuss grew up in. Suddenly, those uncanny landscapes of his seem not otherworldly at all, but rather, the markers of home. Sun on us, the moment conjures another quote from the Handke book, wherein the unnamed narrator suddenly tracks down famed western director John Ford.

"When the sun shines through and plays in the leaves, I forget that," said John Ford. "I also forget myself and my existence. Then I wish that nothing would ever change, that the leaves would go on moving forever, that the oranges would never be picked and everything would stay just the way it is."