No Words/No Thoughts
Texture Magazine’s guide to Pop Montreal 2010
(one week after it happened)
by Jesse Locke
Gobble Gobble [photo: Steve Louie]
This year, Pop Montreal messed up my life in the best possible way. As I sit here typing, it’s now five days after Big Freedia closed out the fest with a rump jiggling party of epic proportions, and I’m still having a hard time returning to any semblance of a regular work schedule. When you start your day listening to Van Dyke Parks wax poetic at a songwriting symposium and end it grooving out to psychedelic guitar solos from North Mali’s Khaira Arby, it’s easy to imagine how life can start to feel surreal. Do that for five days and nights in a row with next to no shut-eye, and everything gets flipped.
I missed Liars and Women, which apparently killed, but did speak on a panel about hobby labels with some smart people, ate a pulled pork sandwich while bobbing along to Blue Hawaii, and felt the roof of the Phonopolis basement fall on my head while rocking the eff out to Long, Long, Long.
The artists I caught, in chronological order:
Gobble Gobble (x3), The Ether, The Friendly Dimension, Mahala Rai Banda, Play Guitar, Cousins, Van Dyke Parks, Baby Eagle, Shotgun Jimmie, Dog Day, The Zsofia Zambo big band, Arrington de Dionyso’s Malaikat dan Singa (x2), The Pop Winds, Grimes, Khaira Arby, Hunter-Gatherer, Long, Long, Long, Baby Dee, Swans, CFCF, Babe Rainbow, Postcards, the Tonetta tribute thing, Father Murphy (x2), The Youjsh, Silly Kissers, Special Noise, Grimes and d’eon playing a trippy soundtrack to The Cabinet of Dr. Calgari, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, The Luyas, Buke and Gass, Deerhoof, Blue Hawaii, O the Fool, Holy Sons, Scout Niblett, Big Freedia
And some notes, non-chron:
-I had a good idea Swans were going to slay, but this show grabbed my expectations by the lapels and punched them in the face until their noise was mashed potatoes. Loudest, angriest and definitely the most merciless act of the fest. Following a throat-lumping but also weirdly funny opening set from Current 93 alum Baby Dee, Michael Gira and his motley crew launched into an absolutely monstrous version of the already nine-minute opening song “No Words/No Thoughts” from this year’s comeback album My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky. First onstage was a behemoth named Thor (we spied his artist pass during an Akron/Family set at SXSW a few years back) who has clearly decided to live up to his namesake with a flowing mane of hair, banging away on tubular bells with a pair of hammers. From here, the guitars swelled like Beelzebub himself rising up from the netherworld, while Gira launched into the first of many skin-crawling tirades in his signature foghorn. Double drums, No Wave slide guitar and even a set-list stretching as far back as 1987’s Children of God — the only thing missing was Jarboe. If you weren’t wearing earplugs, my condolences to your hearing. A few facebook statuses from fellow musicians the morning after:
Brett Wagg of Campaign For Infinity/The Pink Noise/Ultrathin:
best band I have ever seen, I will keep on saying it until I stop being amazed
Ryan Allen of Cold Warps:
I could feel my insides moving when I saw this. (with a link to “Sex, God, Sex”)
AT LEAST IF I GET HIT BY A CAR TOMORROW I'LL HAVE SEEN SWANS LIVE
Play Guitar [photo: Steve Louie]
-In a recent email conversation with new Texture contributor Jessica Faulds (look for her cheeky feature on female drummers next issue) we came to the conclusion that “Halifax bands are the best bands.” This fact was cemented at the Youth Club Records showcase, and though I sadly had to skip out during Bad Vibrations to catch massive gypsy troupe Mahalai Rai Banda (these guys make Gogol Bordello look like total poseurs, mannn), still managed to have my face melted. Two-piece noise rock band The Ether — joined by some guy who is apparently a former member but here just lit candles, played a bit of clarinet and draped various items of clothing on top of himself (later saw him doing the same thing during the Pop Winds set at Rialto, wtf?) — kicked things into gear with violent fury. Inside the tiny constraints of Cagibi, The Ether’s ear-bleeding squallor made me think of David Lynch’s description of watching Inland Empire in a theatre: IMPOSSIBLE TO ESCAPE.
-Are Play Guitar underrated? I think these Maritime expats are easily one of the best bands in Montreal, and here their herky-jerky jangle was in top form. Amidst multiple instrument switches and selections from the usual array of covers (Talking Heads, Television, Television Personalities and other artists without T names), axe-man Jackson McIntosh took lead vocals for standout jam/quasi-theme song “Don’t Be A Cow” from their new Scotch Tapes cassingle, Rated PG. Bassist Kerry Landry held down the mama heartbeat, while Simmons brothers Christian (vocals, guitar) and Jef (drums, bass, vocals) were as charismatic as they come, bouncing around like hopped-up beanpoles with mustaches.
-Special Noise, on the other hand, are bona-fide beloved. And they deserve all the hosannas. In this math-pop duo formation, Play Guitar’s Jef Simmons switched over to finger-tap guitar duty, while drummer Greg Napier laid down some of the sickest calculations this side of Greg Saunier (plus they scrappily covered a Deerhoof song, to boot). Bart Records’/Stalwart Sons’ Kevin Stebner once called them “the sons of North of America,” and that’s not too far off.
Long, Long, Long [photo: Jesse Locke]
-As for the previously mentioned Phonopolis basement cave-in fiasco… it wasn’t actually that bad. A few chunks of plaster and dust clouds fell on some people, but all were left relatively unscathed. Worries ran high that Gobble Gobble would blow the roof off even further during their set directly after the accident, but again, all was well. With their fever-pitched dual guitar skronk skree, Long, Long, Long themselves were the highlight of a series of sets in the smallish space below the Mile End record boutique, blasting through winner after winner from their self-titled cassette and Shorts EP. Look for an upcoming 99 Sevens 7” to continue these wunderkinds’ hit factory streak.
-The programming at Phonopolis proved to be equally consistent, from the syrupy New Romantic pop of Silly Kissers to twang, slack and laughs (respectively) from the Halifax triumvirate of Baby Eagle, Dog Day and good ol’ Shotgun Jimmie. Italy’s Father Murphy deserve a special shout out for bringing the mood down to darkness (imprisoning me, all that I see, absolute horror) with their bleak and minimal death rock. Meanwhile, in terms of pure pleasure, it’s hard to beat the heart-racing klezmer jazz of The Youjsh. Smiles were beamed all around, from the six band members to the packed basement crowd.
Arrington de Dionyso [photo: Joni Sadler]
-CFCF and Babe Rainbow’s chopped ‘n’ screwed party was a blast (and a perfect palate cleanser following Swans), but after a sizzurp-paced spell, we decided to head to the infamous Silver Door for a second helping of Arrington de Dionyso’s Mailakat dan Singa. As predicted last issue, the wild and wooly Olympia, Washington three-piece put on one hell of a show. While his drummer thumped away and the bassist snaked out hypnotic one-note rhythms, di Dionyso throat-sang like a bullfrog while doing yoga poses, squealed away on a guitar with no strap and laid down a bit of this on his bass clarinet. In other words: mind-blowing awesome crazy shit.
-My panelmate Sean Michaels from Said the Gramophone wrote some wonderful words about Khaira Arby, so please just read them here.
Deerhoof [photos: Steve Louie]
-On top of some unbelievably delicious tacos, the late night shows at Espace Reunion offered numerous musical highlights. Deerhoof threw down with typical aplomb, as cherub-like singer Satomi Matsuzaki and spastic drummer Greg Saunier sandwiched two of the world’s most ear-pleasing guitarists. The setlist was a touch too reliant on newer material and the audience got a bit goonish at times, but it’s impossible to leave a set from these San Franciscan animals without a massive grin.
-Gobble Gobble, weary after three previous festival sets and about a billion on the road before that, still managed a High NRG performance, and the crowd ate it up like a kid with a bowl full of gummy worms. At this point, their carnivalistic glitch-pop spectacle has been honed to a science, but it’s no less impressive in its current state of machine-like precision. As godhead Cecil Frena directs the show from a table full of circuit-bent kids’ toys, his three tutu-sporting accomplices bash out beats on junk percussion, shovels and helmets, dance like the starved contestants of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and cavort throughout the crowd. At Espace Reunion, there was a circle pit, loads of audience participation and a killer cover of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” to close it all out.
-There aren’t many acts that can successfully follow Gobble Gobble, but Big Freedia pulled it off. Minutes after the denim-bejeweled New Orleans bounce diva took the stage with DJ Rusty Lazer and her tattooed booty shake dancer, the room was transformed into a sweaty grind fest. It might be a touch obvious to quote the immortal Funkadelic with the title of their second album Free Your Mind...And Your Ass Will Follow, and anyway, Freedia inspired the opposite effect. Maybe Whodini would be a better name to drop, as all inhibitions are indeed thrown out the window while channeling your inner backyard betty. If there’s a wilder way to finish a festival than rubbing up against friends and strangers to music that sounds like a combination of Three Six Mafia, Spank Rock and 2 Live Crew (minus the misogyny), I can’t think of it.
By the throat
Arrington de Dionyso explores the fringes
of fourth world mysticism
by Jesse Locke
For the past 15 years, Arrington de Dionyso has been exorcising his daemons as the shamanic, bass clarinet-wielding frontman of Old Time Relijun. Following the release of eight full-length albums culminating in the ‘Lost Light’ trilogy — Lost Light (2003), 2012 (2005) and Catharsis in Crisis (2007), all on K Records — he’s now put the beast to bed and spawned a new creature named Malaikat dan Singa. Much like his past project, the band’s eponymous debut bridges the gap between Beeheartian blurt, Contortions deconstruction and Dionyso’s own style of throat singing to create trance inducing avant-rock, except this time the lyrics are sung entirely in Indonesian. In advance of Malaikat dan Singa’s upcoming appearance at POP Montreal 2010, we tracked him down for a spirited interview.
Texture: I read that you learned Indonesian and wrote these songs to impress a girl. Is that true? Can you share the story?
Arrington de Dionyso: Sure, I guess I’ll try and start at the beginning. First, I met a woman who is an American but used to be a missionary working in Malang. It was a romantic relationship, but also a deeply spiritual one. I had found a bit of a muse, you might say. As a surprise for her, I spent three months teaching myself the language and wrote the songs on the album. I used quotations from William Blake and from The Zohar, which is a book of Jewish mysticism, as a kind of a springboard towards free association. A lot of the songs are illustrating what we might call the erotic tension between the immediate and the eternal. Imagine an erotic relationship between a single point in the universe and the rest of infinity. That’s a snapshot of what these songs are talking about; how our senses both divide us and return us to an inexpressible totality. Our senses can only experience one little bit at a time, yet we’re aware there’s so much more than what we can see in front of us.
What kinds of differences do you find singing in a non-native tongue?
The Indonesian language really lends itself well to this kind of thing. You can have long strings of rhyming words because of the way it uses prefixes and suffixes. It has a really nice rhythm to it, lots of rolling Rs, and lots of musical sounds. With lyrical delivery you can make the language sound either hard and aggressive or sweet and mellifluous, and then vary between passages.
I also understand you’ve worked with Vietnamese ethnomusicologist and throat singing expert Tran Quan Hai. Can you tell me a little bit about him?
He’s a very famous expert on throat singing and Jew’s harp, and is basically recognized as the world’s foremost expert on multiphonic singing techniques as practiced around the globe. I had a day off in Paris a few years ago, and was able to reach him, so we first went for dinner together and had a wonderful time. He has something called a spectrometer, which allows you to send any sound onto a computer screen and visually dissect it. You can see specifically what overtone frequencies you’re singing with. He’s actually developed a few of his own singing techniques that he shared with me as well. They’re kind of like throat singing, but shall we say more extreme?
You’ve also hosted your own workshops on ‘unleashing the voice in creative music’ in the past. Are those still ongoing?
These days, I only do them when I’m invited to. For a while I was making a go of advertising workshops with more regularity, but I felt like putting a lot of energy into that would end up compromising my performance schedule, touring and recording. When someone is willing to take the reigns, do the organizing, find the space and invite the people, then I’ll happily do them. Not everyone can learn how to do throat singing in just a couple of hours, but I give people an introduction to using their voice in a thoroughly embodied way. The voice is not just this wispy thing that falls out of our mouths, it’s something that’s rooted very deeply in our bodies, and also in our souls. A lot of people haven’t had a chance to explore the limits of what their voice can do, so my workshops serve as a kind of laboratory for that.
Have you seen or heard about the documentary Genghis Blues following blind American blues singer Paul Pena on his journey to Tuva to compete in a national throat singing competition?
Oh yeah, of course. That film actually comes up a lot just because there haven’t been any other documentaries on the subject to receive such wide distribution. I think it’s a great story, but the movie itself is done very poorly. They take something viscerally fascinating and turn it into… I wouldn’t call it a freak show, but it’s a little bit cheesy the way they have the whole thing edited together. The filmmakers make it seem more like a novelty than something anyone could actually do.
I know you’ve done a lot of hitchhiking and traveling over the years, so have you ever thought about making a pilgrimage to Tuva or entering contests?
It’s crossed my mind for sure, especially when I first started to get heavily involved in throat singing. I’ve met Tuvan singers and western singers who’ve gone to Tuva and studied there, but the more I think about it, it strikes me that kind of singing I’m interested in exploring is separate from any kind of traditional context. I don’t want to be bound by this idea that I’m practicing some kind of ancient technique specific to one culture. I’m using a part of my voice with sounds I discovered on my own when I was a child, and it wasn’t until later that I realized it was something coming from Mongolia and Siberia. Of course I was curious to learn about that and got very involved in studying it, but what I’m doing is very different. When Tuvan throat singers are giving a concert of these traditional songs, they’re singing about the landscape they’ve lived on for their entire lives, their horses or their herd animals. I don’t think that’s really relevant to my life or me in any direct way.
I read about a documentary that’s being made about you as well. Can you share anything about that project?
I’m actually working with a few different filmmakers. First is Vincent Moon who’s fairly well known for doing guerilla-style music documentaries with performers in non-concert, often very public settings. We took some footage of a Malaikat dan Singa performance in a train tunnel, and it was sort of a chilling experience. This train tunnel in Olympia was the location where a teenager was murdered 18 years ago, so it’s a very haunted place. At one point during the filming, we heard a whistle go off and grabbed all our instruments in a panic to run out into the light, only to realize that it was the five o’clock quitting time whistle at a factory down the street. It’s not an active tunnel, but we still thought the train was coming. One year from now, we’re also looking to bring the band to Indonesia with Vincent documenting the trip.
The other filmmaker I’m working with is Elisa Da Prato. She met me while she was doing some fascinating research on how the brain spontaneously creates music. It’s kind a system of mapping conciousness. She’s been working very closely with a neurological philosopher named Dan Lloyd, who’s been doing some really interesting things as well. Up to a certain point, this documentary had been following a neurological and philosophical path, and what she realized she’d been missing was a musician’s standpoint and experience. A lot of neurological research is focused on brains when they’re not working correctly or on things that are wrong, so I wanted to look at her data as finding a way to work with this new information that everywhere we go we’re spontaneously creating music inside our minds. She’s taken a lot of performance footage and some of that will eventually be used in this feature-length documentary on music and the brain, but we might do a separate documentary on the band as well.
Where else do you imagine that kind of research could be taken in the future?
I think there’s a lot of really fertile territory for a new era of collaboration between artists and scientists with some of this groundbreaking research being done on music and the brain. Imagine a computer application where you could listen to your own brain waves and then actually record the music you’re hearing inside your mind. It could even be used to learn how to play instruments. We could become better musicians based on a clearer understanding of how the brain uses memory.
Do you think dreams have soundtracks? What about comas?
Definitely, and I like to imagine it working in the opposite direction as well. Another big interest area of mine is the idea of music sending people into a trance state. There’s a very eccentric American conceptual artist and sometimes musical performer named Henry Flynt. He’s from the downtown New York scene with people like La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Tony Conrad and had done a lot of subjective research on the idea of hallucinogenic sound. Not necessarily music, but constructing a sound world that could be utilized to induce a psychedelic state of awareness, where the walls of what we perceived as reality were made to be more flexible. This involves a very deliberate use of certain microtonal waves, patterns and rhythms. I’ve read some of his writing on the matter and experienced some of his recordings, and am personally interested in applying some of those principles to a pop music context. People are just sort of expecting to go out to a concert and have a good time, but as an artist I’d like to provide something that’s more than just a performance of songs, something that brings you to a heightened state of awareness and challenges the way your perception structures reality. With this band, Malaikat dan Singa, we’re sort of approaching that. We definitely find a trance state in performance, and on more than a few occasions, I’ve felt it reach out to the audience.
Arrington de Dionyso's Malaikat dan Singa play Cabaret du Mile-End on Thursday, Sept. 30 with Mavo, The Peelies and Shonen Knife.
La Sala Rossa – Montreal, QC – August 29th, 2010
Words: Jesse Locke // Photos: Marki Sveen
There’s so much that could be said about the three members of Rangda — Sir Richard Bishop, Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano — that attempting to describe their previous projects in shorthand almost feels like doing them a disservice. Simply put, Bishop’s iconoclastic Sun City Girls and solo efforts, Chasny’s Six Organs of Admittance and Comets on Fire, or any of the groupings that include Corsano’s brain-bursting drumming skills (Flower-Corsano Duo, Flaherty/Corsano, Vampire Belt, Vampire Can’t, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Chris Corsano Band, etc.) are all worth getting lost in for fans of music from the stranger side of the tracks.
With CVs like these, early announcements of Rangda’s existence made the project sound like a sort of a bizarro world Traveling Wilburys. Happily, the band’s debut album, False Flag, released on Drag City back in May, more than lives up to the sum of its parts. Bishop and Chasny’s dueling guitars alternately sear and soar, with riffs ranging from in-the-red one-note drones (“Fist Family”) to spidery fretboard finger-stretchers (15-minute closer “Plain of Jars”). On the former, Corsano gets a chance to let his free-rock freak flag fly, while on other songs like “Bull Lore” he plays it (relatively) subdued, spinning tightly-coiled military snare rolls to accent the ominous and overdriven Spaghetti Western guitars.
For Rangda’s highly anticipated Montreal show, fellow psychedelic peddlers and Drag City signees Major Stars filled the opening slot. Walking into the venue mid-set was a bristling experience, to say the least, as the Massachusetts band’s M.O. seems to be cramming as many guitar solos into a song as possible while cranking their amps into ear bleeding country. From lead axeman Wayne Rogers’ Ramones-style leg-spread stance to wife Kate Biggar’s anguished facial expressions while shredding and singer Amanda Bristow’s leather pants stage struts, they came across like a cartoonish version of a rock band, plus finally inspired us to shell out for professional earplugs after the show.
Rangda hit the stage with a similar devil-possessed ferocity, expanding on the songs of False Flag with the kind of passionate live performancea one would expect from players of their stripe. As Chasny told Prefix Mag earlier this summer, “It's great to be in a band with guys that can not only hold their own end but yours too. It's a martini band, basically. I can just make myself a martini and let them go to town. Easy street, baby.” In other words, different songs and sections of the set allow one or more members to take the ball and run with it while the others happily lay back. “Fist Family”, for example, is Corsano’s time to shine. When he really gets going, wrists and sticks become blurs, rhythms and time signatures seem irrelevant, and he looks like a cook stirring invisible pots in fast forward.
At other times, it’s Bishop’s show, as the cool and composed traveler of four decades of ethno-musical exploration peels off into dizzying ramble after ramble. Sometimes peaceful, sometimes spastic but always hypnotic, he looks like he’s having the time of his life. Chasny, meanwhile, imbues the project with smears of guitar haze, gargantuan riffs and tuning changes that make a glorious sound of their own. Though Bishop’s amp threatened to sputter out mid-set, the trio still gave it their all, ending with an epic “Plain of Jars” before galloping back to rip into earsplitting album opener “Waldorf Hysteria” as a tongue-in-cheek two-minute encore.
According to the nine principals of a certain polarizing Montreal noise-rock band, ‘De-anchoring compositions by dispensing with a bass guitar allows AIDS Wolf to make rhythm, often muddled, confused, and obscured with polyrhythmicality, the central feature of its performances. Lacking a "mama heartbeat", in this way, pushes the band out of predictability and puts atonality on a pedestal.’ Rangda follow this rule as well, though they also mix expressive, cinematic melody into the skronk storm. Perhaps the most interesting element of this subterranean supertroupe is the way they start with frameworks of Southern Gothic psych-rock and improvise around them, spiraling outward in whatever directions they see fit.
Grimes sets Canada in her sights
by Jesse Locke
Under the evocative alias Grimes, Montreal’s Claire Boucher creates eerie and otherworldly electronic pop. Utilizing her own brand of obsessive bedroom recording techniques, the self-declared (and unjustly self-deprecating) non-instrumentalist piles subtly processed vocals over samples of violin, keyboards and softly shuffling rhythms. With her long OOP debut cassette, Geidi Primes — reimagining the name of a planet from Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune — she has gained deserved buzz, and now offers its songs for free download. On the eve of her first cross-country tour, where she's toting and performing a sophomore album that will see its official release in September, Texture rang up Boucher for a quick Q ‘n’ A.
*Note: Portions of this interview were used for a previous article in FFWD Weekly.
Texture: I read another interview where you said, ‘When I was 17 or 18, I was making really crappy music on a tape recorder, like wannabe classical music.’ What did you mean by that exactly? Orchestral arrangements? String settings on a keyboard?
Claire Boucher: I had the same synthesizer that I have now, but I guess I was obsessed with Chopin at the time. It was pretty pathetic, but I basically played keys really fast and then tried to memorize what I was playing so it sounded like complicated classical music. I would record it and layer things on top of each other using cassette tape. When I go back and listen to it now, it sounds like really generic and sort of sloppy piano music.
How did that lead into the music you make as Grimes? Have you played in bands before as well?
CB: I’ve occasionally tried making music with each other people, but unfortunately I don’t think I’m quite good enough to do that. Sometimes nowadays it works out, but I still don’t really know how to play any instruments. For my music, I make all the samples myself, but it takes hours and hours and millions of takes until I feel like I’ve played them right. I have the idea and I know how to do it, but I just don’t have the coordination. Usually, I’ll just play the same thing again and again until I get a good recording of it that’s in time, and then I can make a loop. All of the violin samples I use are probably 15 takes, because I’m really bad at the violin.
In almost everything I’ve read about you, it’s also mentioned that you’re a visual artist. I’ve seen a few pictures of your work and a scan of your tape cover, but still don’t really know much about it. I also read that you like to work with food colouring, is that true?
CB: I only worked with food colouring for about a month because I ran out of ink and was really broke at the time. You can get bulk food colouring for $3 or something. I don’t really do visual art anymore, though. I don’t really like it. It’s something I did for a long time, but it’s sort of like muscle memory. I’ve heard that people who are classically trained sometimes don’t enjoy playing music very much, and because I started drawing at such a young age I just stopped caring about it. It stopped being creative for me. I always draw the same thing — like a skull or something. They’re cool and visually appealing, but also just kind of shallow.
Along with a few Alberta expats like Braids, the Silly Kissers, Sean Nicholas Savage and your tourmates the Pop Winds, you’re on the roster of Montreal’s Arbutus Records. What’s it been like working with that label? Are you and the other artists as friendly and collaborative as it comes across?
CB: I’ve known Seb, who runs the record label, since I was 15. We all grew up in Vancouver together. I met the Silly Kissers, who are also on the label, a couple of years ago, and now we’re all basically best friends. Before Arbutus Records, there was a loft space in Montreal called Lab Synthese. It was run by Seb as well, and that’s where I played my first show and we would all play and hang out at the time. It got shut down by the police, so we just made it into the record label. I would rather be on Arbutus than any other label in the world, even if there’s no money. There’s no contract and I can just ask Seb when I want to do a project. I feel like I have a lot of say, there’s a lot of dialogue, and I like everyone on the label. I enjoy playing shows with them and going on tour with them, because they’re my friends. I would never want to go on tour alone, because I don’t have a car, I don’t drive and I’d be too afraid to visit big cities on my own.
How do you feel about the Montreal music community right now? What’s good about it and what’s bad about it?
CB: I like Montreal because it’s really DIY. Everyone moves here because it’s so cheap to live here, and they’re trying to work as little as possible just to make art. I like that people have the express purpose of creating something. One of the things I don’t like is that I feel it’s really pop oriented. There’s definitely a noise scene, but everyone in the noise scene thinks I’m some sort of pop person, but I don’t really fit into the pop crowd either. I don’t feel that akin to the music in Montreal, even though I really like it. I like the Vancouver music scene a lot more because I’m more of a fan of the bands out there, but it’s hard to say. For Montreal bands, I really like Tonstartssbandht, and Sean Savage and Raphi from Braids’ project Indiensoci. I feel like there’s a lot of good music here, a lot of venues and a lot of shows all the time, which I really like.
I also understand that you sometimes have a bad case of stage fright. Is this getting better at all, and how are you trying to overcome it?
CB: I was getting over it for a long time, but at the last show I played, I couldn’t even finish it because I got too nervous. I was really upset, but I’m better now. If the sound is bad, sometimes I freak out and can’t play, but that’s bad and I really have to stop doing that. As long as I don’t talk to people before the show, I’m usually OK. I don’t want to be rude, but sometimes if someone says something weird to me right before I go on stage it can really throw me off. I guess I just need to learn how to deal with different environments. After playing on the East Coast, my show did get a lot better just because I played so much.
Is this your first tour? Are you looking forward to traveling across Canada?
CB: This is my first tour to the West. I did a small tour of the Maritimes and played a show in Portland, but just one, so this is my first big tour. I’m from the West Coast, and I’ve seen the middle of Canada a lot in my life, but I’ll be happy to see it again, I think…
Anything special planned? New songs? Visual accompaniment?
CB: I only play new songs. Actually, I’ve never played songs from Geidi Primes live because I never learned how (laughs). I mostly just use a keyboard and a sampler and sing. I affect the vocals with either delay or reverb — whichever one is appropriate. I have a whole new album of songs which I’m performing and I’m bringing it on tour to sell as well, but it actually won’t be officially released until September
Finally, I just wanted to ask about the Dune reference in your album title. Are you a big fan of the book or sci-fi in general?
CB: Dune is one of my top three favourite book series. My other favourites are Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. During the recording of my album, I became sort of obsessed with the aesthetic of Dune, and I was also taking a lot of science classes at the time, so I tried to make an escapist dream world. I really like the language and words used in the book as well, and since I’ve read it like eight times, it really seemed like a good thing to title my album after. I really enjoy the David Lynch movie too, even thought it’s not really an accurate representation of the book. I know a lot of people that hate it, and I think David Lynch was kind of forced to make it, but that’s part of the reason why it’s so good. It’s such a half-assed attempt. The first half an hour is so good and they cover the first three chapters of the book, but then the rest of the movie is just a narrated montage. The costumes are insane, and getting Sting was a really good call. I had a huge crush on him when I was 11.
Assume Dance Position
Top 10 moments of the 2010 Calgary Folk Music Festival
by Jesse Locke
Man Man and Etran Finatawa [photo: Melanie Boisvert]
1. Axis of Conversation take it to the street
The scene: 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 24th at a workshop dubbed Word on the Street. Calgary’s experimental orch-pop collective Axis of Conversation shared the stage with smoky cocktail crooner Samantha Savage Smith and Vancouver’s gravel-voiced balladeer Dan Mangan. The show started off simple enough with the artists trading off songs and politely adding instrumental flourishes to each others’ tunes. Then, with 15 minutes left to go, AxiCon frontman Chris dela Torre announced that the next one would be a hip-hop number (“you know, ‘Word?’ ‘Street?’” he jokes sheepishly) before launching into the glitchy, sample-based banger “Dizzy and Drunk With Love.” The crowd didn’t know quite what to make of his Kaoss pad manipulations mixed with live drums and strings, but started tapping their toes all the same. As dela Torre spat rhymes about Sofia Coppola, minidiscs and long walks alone, the surprised morning audience was transported somewhere else altogether.
2. St. Vincent covers “These Days”
In the midst of a massively crowded stage shared with the spooky Timber Timbre, fired up Sunparlour Players and obnoxiously twee Library Voices, Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent) stood out like a mirage. Again playing off the workshop’s title, Insider Trading, Clark announced that she’d be playing a cover of a cover, reimagining Nico’s better-known take on the Jackson Brown classic. Draping her ethereal voice over a somehow even slower pace, Royal Tenenbaums flashbacks flew to mind and all kinds of beautiful happened.
Del Rey [photo: Frank Gasparik]
3. Del Rey rips it up
Dressed to kill and gripping her distinctive Dobro resonator guitar, Seattle’s Del Rey provided the standout performance of the workshop To the Victrolas Go the Spoils. Surrounded by fellow members of the Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Project, Annie Lou and Steve Pineo, the Americana-lovin’ lady let loose with a flurry of fingerpicks and rapid-fire chord changes. “I learned this song from a scratchy old 78,” she said, and indeed, listening to Rey tear it up felt like a time warp. A welcome return to the Calgary Folk Fest after her previous performance in the year 2000.
4. Dos Gringos Taco Stand serves it up
After originally devouring their wares at Sled Island 2008, I was incredibly excited to see that Dos Gringos had returned to this year’s Folk Fest. The traveling Tex-Mex purveyors don’t have a permanent location, rather preferring to pop up at festivals and other events like a long-lost friend. If you ever get the chance to munch on their delicious fish tacos, take my advice and dive right in.
Debashish Bhattacharya and Etran Finatawa
[photo: David Kenney]
5. Confused sound guy meets Konono No. 1
Arriving early on Sunday morning, we found a spot on the grass for the globe-spanning Blues Travelers workshop. From left to right, the small stage was packed with India’s lap slide guitar master Debashish Bhattacharya, Niger’s desert blues troupe Etran Finatawa, Mississippi southern rockers Hill Country Revue and the almighty Konono No. 1 from the Democratic Republic of Congo. All manner of unusual sounds filtered throughout the sound check, but it was the buzzing thumb piano of Konono founding member Papa Mingiedi Mawangu that most baffled the Folk Fest staff, as one poor sod announced over the P.A., “Whatever that is, can you please stop playing it?”
6. International all-ages dance party
As the Blues Travelers began to heat up, each of the four groups dug into grooves with instrumental additions from the wide variety of music makers and cultures represented onstage. From the top-speed tabla playing of Debashish Bhattacharya’s percussive partner to the finger-blurring solos of Hill Country Revue’s lead axeman — later picking up an ‘Electric Woogie’ washboard, running that through his wah-wah pedal and somehow sounding like a hillbilly version of “Hallogallo” — this workshop was quickly proving to be the most inspired team-up of the 2010 fest. However, when Konono No. 1 got their first chance to blast into self-described ‘trance music’, almost every single member of the audience was on their feet and shaking their tail feathers. For everyone from grandmas to kids to world music-loving dads and semi-jaded/faded twentysomethings like myself, Konono’s energetic polyrhythms made it impossible to stay still.
Man Man, Etran Finatawa, St. Vincent and DJ Logic
[photo: David Kenney]
7. Man Man gets freaky
One last workshop before making our way to the Sunday evening Mainstage. This time, Etran Finatawa — a project uniting Niger’s nomadic Wodaabe and Touareg tribes through the universal language of trippy guitars — is joined by St. Vincent (yes, we’re following her everywhere), slightly cheesy turntablist DJ Logic and Philly freak rockers Man Man. A loose, jammy vibe defines this gathering fittingly titled Mysteries of the Universe Unraveled, yet amongst the sprawl of sounds, Man Man’s vintage organ warbles and spacey synthesized twinkles swim to the front. Easily the strangest workshop we caught all weekend, and that’s saying something.
Konono No. 1 [photos: David Kenney]
8. Konono dance party No. 2
Sure, it was less surprising that the Congolese super troupe inspired another dance party after the surprise rave-up that had occurred Sunday morning, but seeing them spark up the Mainstage was still a clear highlight of this year’s festivities. Jamming to the beat of their three blown-out thumb pianists, Konono brought the party with hollered vocals, jiving dance moves, drums, whistles and other jimmy-rigged instruments. Difficult to tell exactly how long these three extended songs stretched, but the people’s feet didn’t stop moving throughout. From earth mamas to young folks to kids doing karate moves, everyone into the groovy had a blast.
St.Vincent [photo: Doug Callow]
9. St. Vincent keeps it weird
As the sun beamed down on Sunday night, Annie Clark and band took to the Mainstage for a long-awaited non-workshop set. Despite the fact that her chiming guitar was far too quiet in the mix, this performance was still a stunner. Highlights including an impassioned run-through of “Actor Out Of Work”, stripped-down cover of the Beatles’ “Dig A Pony” and quite possibly one of the first noise jams that a Folk Fest audience had ever heard. The crowd may not have appreciated Clark’s comment that Calgary was known as the Texas of Canada, but from a Tulsa, Oklahoma native who grew up in Dallas, it was surely meant as a compliment.
10. Roberta Flack sings “Killing Me Softly with His Song”
Midway through a swaggering soul revue, the Folk Fest’s final moment of Zen came when the 73-year old songstress belted out her signature 1973 hit. Yeah, The Fugees version is a killer in its own right, but nothing can touch hearing this tune from Flack’s golden pipes. Softly slayed.
Keep it on the download
Small shows and shout-a-longs highlight Sled Island 2010
by Jesse Locke
North of America [Photo: Tom Kerr]
In the month’s leading up to this year’s Sled Island, spirits were high that the 2010 festival would be the best Calgary has seen yet. Indeed, on top of the strongest official lineup to date, there were plenty of shows skirting outside the constraints of the program guide, spontaneous pancake breakfasts, and the sweaty, shouty, smiles-all-around living room set from Halifax math-rock luminaries North of America on Canada Day, providing the highlight of yet another killer Sled.
Jumping back a few days, the fest’s first standout came in the form of a last-minute performance from Women at Local 510, announced several hours before it began on the evening of Tuesday, June 29. After catching a lovable set from smoky folkie Honeybear at the Sled Island poster show, then heading to The Straw gallery for their sputtering sound-art installations, I unfortunately arrived too late for the opening sets from Women offshoots No Homo and Friendo. Happily, the headliners made up for this in spades with selected cuts from their upcoming album Public Strain, plus covers of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” and Brian Eno’s “Needle In The Camel’s Eye” that had the crowd in stitches.
Wednesday’s musical excursions started off with the pews of Central United packed to the hilt for Deerhoof’s Calgary debut. The San Francisco group has been a personal fave for years, and didn’t disappoint with a razor sharp showcase of their advanced pop moves. After opening with Apple O’s classic “Panda Panda Panda”, the quartet twitched and shouted through precise performances of crowd pleasers spread throughout their discography plus a surprise skewering of The Ramones’ “Pinhead”. From the band’s skronky guitarmonies to the spazzy imagination of drummer Greg Saunier and singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s high-pitched coos, Deerhoof remain in fine form.
Big Freedia’s booty-shaking back-up dancer and a stage invasion of grinders and shakers at the No. 1 Legion was all I heard about for the next 72 hours, but I unfortunately missed the spectacle after ending my night with a beer-soaked set from Sharp Ends. Again, these hometown hosers previewed a grip of new tunes from their as-yet-untitled upcoming full-length, all of which maintained their furious voodoo rock rep with a fresh set of fretboard freakouts.
Feral Children [Photo: Jay Allen]
Thursday afternoon marked the start of Texture Magazine and Weird Canada’s co-presented Shred Island afternoon showcases at Tubby Dog, both of which proved unexpected successes. Edmonton’s Dropping Out kicked off the proceedings with a set of anthemic pop-punk ditties of the most posi variety. Brotherly love at its finest. Next up was Lethbridge’s Fist City, the ripping new group featuring members of Endangered Ape and the New Danger Kids. On top of wicked hep guitar jags and the Life Without Buildings-style speak-shriek vocals of sisters Kirsten and Brittany Griffiths, the band earned bonus points for not faltering once in their feverish pace.
After a rowdy set from my reunited post-punk/No Wave project Mount Analogue, the real highlight of Shred Island day one came from Saskatoon psych-pop troupe Feral Children. Originally formed as the solo project of Ryan Scott Davidson but now expanded into a bona-fide band, their tripped-out epics merged slow-paced shoegaze grooves, 1990s jangle, stuttering beats and Davidson’s swoon-worthy Jeff Buckley-esque croons. Keep an ear and eye out for these kids.
Remember when the Mae Shi ruled (Terrorbird era), then kind of sucked (HLLYH era)? Now, they’ve ditched that second lead singer guy who always wore track jackets, and reinvented themselves for a third time as an equally spazzy synth-free trio called Signals. And they rule again! The band’s bangin' unofficial set I caught inside a living room was also preceded by an unidentified friend of the B-Lines rapping over instrumental versions of Nas’ “New York State of Mind” and Dr. Dre’s “Forgot About Dre” in impeccable fashion, especially when railing through the Eminem verses. Damn, his science is too tight!
Quintron and Miss Pussycat [Photo: Charles Gunn]
Up next was the Panache showcase at Broken City, starting with a barnburner from Quintron and Miss Pussycat. This was my first time catching the New Orleans duo’s gris gris gumbo garage rock in the flesh, and I got the bug in a big way. The less said about Be Your Own Pet offshoot Turbo Fruits the better, but thankfully Ty Segall was on hand to save the day with a set of half covers (the Misfits medley being the most memorable) and half catchy caveman stomping originals.
Chain and the Gang capped the night in predictably sassy fashion, and though they weren’t quite as life changing as the last time I caught them at Pop Montreal, this set still slayed. If I could dance and shout along to “Deathbed Confession” and “Interview with the Chain Gang” every weekend, I’d probably do it.
Cousins [Photo: Rico Moran]
My Friday began with a Brontosaurus-sized hangover, and if it wasn’t for Flemish Eye’s lavish pancake breakfast, I might have simply stayed in bed. Fortunately, their chocolate fountain (!), flapjacks and mojitos managed to overcome the previous night’s funk. It’s a good thing as well, because the same living room as the day before then played host to top-shelf sets from Calgary’s Stalwarts Sons, Brain Fever and a special Sled Island incarnation of Halifax’s Cousins featuring two stand-up drummers to accent Aaron Mangle’s infectious tunes.
As great as these bands were, nothing before or after could compare to North of America’s living room rager. Hearkening back to the band’s highly influential all-ages tour stops in Calgary several years earlier, this pitch-perfect set found the majority of the crowd populated by longtime fans, the majority of whom were incredibly excited to holler along to every word of every song. The band responded in turn with one of the most passionate performances I’ve had the pleasure to witness, nailing their mathematical change-ups and fist-pump inducing choruses with the ease of old friends.
After catching half of Built to Spill’s drifty guitar jams in the midst of a downpour on the Olympic Plaza mains stage, it was off to see North of America for a second time at the Distillery for a set that was nearly as strong and populated by almost exactly the same audience. Next, Drag City quartet Cave served as one of Sled 2010’s best surprises, as they welcomed Quintron to the stage for a series of increasingly hypnotic psych-rock bliss-outs, sounding like the stoned American version of Neu! Sadly, the same could be not be said for MOR performances from Unnatural Helpers, Turbo Fruits again (ugh) and a surprisingly tiresome Les Savy Fav.
Sans AIDS [Photo: Charles Gunn]
Saturday’s Shred Island showcase started off strong with a set from Edmonton’s JAZZ, fronted by none other than Weird Canada founder Aaron Levin. With energy unmatched by most, the band tore into their warped garage pop with song topics ranging from cowboys to summertime to crackhead car salesmen. Next up was Sans AIDS, the offshoot project of Peter Sagar from the Outdoor Miners, both of which are clear candidates for the best band in Alberta. From Sagar's sophisticated slacker pop songwriting to his shambling vocal delivery and achingly funny lyrics, this was one of the top five sets at Sled 2010, and easily the most charming.
Next, a fervent set of fans packed into every possible inch of Tubby Dog to catch the reunited Puberty, whose fuzzed out skuzz punk blasts had the crowd shouting along equally as loud. This was just a taste of the chaos to come with GOBBLE GOBBLE’s glitch-pop insanity, however, turning the hot dog shop into a Matrix cave rave complete with conga line and shirtless band members sporting Spock ears and tutus. Finally, The Famines sealed the deal with a predictably stylish performance, as the E-Town two-piece whipped their audience into a frenzied state yet again.
From here, it was off to the Bart Records showcase to catch Stalwart Sons, one of the most impressive newish bands in Alberta. Adding an ear-pleasing pop element to their heart-on-sleeve rock jags, it’s the Springsteenian sincerity of the project that really brings it home, on top of some seriously killer songs. Gyre, Spire and Spindle followed with their farewell performance, giving up one last goggling run-through the angular rave-ups of their debut album Nuggets. The band was on point, and the crowd lapped it up like puppies on an ice cream cone.
Fuck the Tundra [Photo: Tom Kerr]
Black Magic Pyramid conjured up blistering intensity with the heaviest set I saw all week, but the real standout of Saturday was Fuck the Tundra. The Bart Records showcase marked the Edmonton post-hardcore quartet’s final set as well, and they took the opportunity to seemingly blow the minds of everyone in the Marquee Room (or at least mine). Tossing out insanely technical dual guitar trade-offs at the speed of the Locust, drummer Corin Roddick matched the pair of axe-men move for move, as did the vocal-cord straining exultations of the band’s acrobatic frontman.
After this face-slaying, it was a difficult decision choosing between catching North of America for a third time or racing to the Republik for !!!, but at the last possible second, I chose the latter. This proved a wise move, as the mutant disco revivalists put on one of the most fun shows I saw all Sled. Layering elastic bass lines, chicken-scratch guitars and saxophone freak-outs over the feisty antics of frontman Nic Offer, the Brooklyn band provided the perfect ending to a fantastic fest.
Never break the chain
Ian Svenonius is still sassy, after all these years
by Jesse Locke
Swaggering gospel garage rock group Chain and the Gang is just the latest in a long stream of projects masterminded by the one and only Ian Svenonius, a pterodactyl-squawkin’ shaman with enough charisma to get a small village pregnant. Whether you know him from the Make-Up, Nation of Ulysses, lesser-remembered one-offs like Cupid Car Club or David Fancy, as Sassy Magazine’s 1991 “Sassiest Boy in America”, author of The Psychic Soviet or as host of the VBS TV show Soft Focus, it’s all seminal stuff. If you’re in Calgary for the Sled Island music festival this week, do yourself a favour and catch at least one of his sets. The man himself answered a few of our questions via email.
Texture: In your song “Interview with the Chain Gang,” you sing, ‘How do we describe our sound? Something we just found, yeah, we dug it up out of the ground.’ What was the original seed planted that grew into Chain and the Gang?
Ian Svenonius: I guess it implies a root, but we are not roots rockers. We are not especially fond of droopy wide brimmed hats and ponchos when caravanning through the Southwest. We also aren’t hung up on authenticity. We like potatoes, though, and music based on the potato. “Mashed Potatoes U.S.A.”, “Hot Potato” by Gene Chandler, and “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)” by Dee Dee Sharp, for example.
Was that song intended as a statement or piss-take on the monotony of most interviews you have to undertake as a musician?
No, it’s a celebration of the rock ‘n’ roll interview. Interviews are a big part of rock ‘n’ roll. The Beatles at the airport or Sly on Dick Cavett or Elvis on The Steve Allen Show. Where would rock ‘n’ roll be without the fiery and acerbic pronouncements of its progenitors?
Who’s been your favourite interview subject so far on Soft Focus?
Mike Watt was a good interview, but there were several good ones. Terry Hall, Billy Childish, Mick Collins, etc.
I understand Nation of Ulysses was known for extremely physical performances that resulted in you breaking your arm, legs and even skull. Do Chain and the Gang shows ever get that crazy?
Hopefully not. That sounds like a real drag actually!
Since at least as far back as the early 1990s, you’ve been highly verbal about your distaste towards mainstream rock and roll. Have things changed much since then? How do you feel about the music of 2010?
Gee, that is a really large subject; one I might not be qualified to answer. I do have a new record out with the group Felt Letters called 600,000 Bands, which attempts to address the largeness of the subject.
How do you feel about Canada, in comparison to the United States?
It's farther north, which probably has certain implications. It’s also a different country with a different history and a different culture, so that makes it different as well. It’s often colored differently on maps as well. In fact, I see almost no similarities. One thing is that Canadians are a sort of entertainment caste in the USA, perhaps.
What are the main problems you have with liberty? Since releasing Down With Liberty… Up With Chains, have you noticed any political shifts in the kids?
The kids are realizing that freedom is a trap, and they are vowing more and more, “I won't get caught!!”
What’s next for you? More Chain and the Gang? The long-awaited David Candy sophomore album? A Cupid Car Club reunion tour? The Psychic Soviet part 2? Something else entirely?
Making a film, a book, a record and running the Marine Corps marathon, naturally.
Chain and the Gang play Wednesday, June 30 at the Royal Canadian No. 1 Legion (Upstairs, 11 pm), Thursday, July 1 at the Republik Nightclub (3 pm) and again on Thursday, July 1 at Broken City (1 am).
Ben Frost and Tim Hecker team up against the monolith
Interview: Jesse Locke // Photos: Landon Speers
On the sporadically rainy afternoon before the evening of their shared bill at MUTEK 2010, we sat down for a candid interview and impromptu photo shoot with friends, collaborators and genre-blurring bad boys Ben Frost and Tim Hecker. Happy to share their opinions on whatever topics were shot their way, the result was a fiery tête-à-tête brimming with personality, profanity and charming sardonic wit. Right off the bat a tone was set with the duo’s answers to a first question of how they met, as Frost quipped, “It was an Internet dating site. I think it was called bears.com,” followed by Hecker without a pause, “I waxed for him.”
Texture: In the MUTEK panel discussion you both took part in this year, you were talking about the intersections between physical spaces and sound. Where do you feel like your styles of music or approaches to making it intersect?
Tim Hecker: Good question. Ben is, to quote someone else, ‘the queen of low frequency.’ Ben does bass. He’s fantastic on many frequencies, but he’s got great low end. I don’t think our music is similar enough that there’s much of an overlap, or something to make it redundant. It’s interesting. Instead of saying ‘no’ to things it’s better to say ‘yes’, so I came forward in the spirit of yeasaying, affirmation and hope.
Ben Frost: Someone else asked me about this just before, and I was thinking to myself as I said something stupid. You know that scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey with the monolith? All the monkeys are throwing shit at it, trying to climb it and trying to break it down. Every different monkey is going about fucking with the monolith in a totally different way. Some have bones, some have rocks, and some are just pounding it with their fists. That’s how I feel about us too. It’s the same monolith, but we’re just trying to break it down in different ways.
In the same panel, you also mentioned that people are predisposed to seek out overwhelming experiences. What overwhelms the both of you?
TH: I don’t have custom earplugs like Ben yet, so I get overwhelmed easily. I want them.
BF: Yeah, come on dude. You’ve got to get them. Then you can be louder! The last time I was overwhelmed was when I walked up to the mouth of a volcano in the south of Iceland. You can’t fuck with that. Then again, my hangover the other day was pretty overwhelming as well…
TH: I had a panic attack in the London underground about two weeks ago. We got stopped in between two stations where it was exceedingly hot, and there was no space where you could jump out and run. The train fits right in the tube perfectly, so it’s a complete death trap. That was a nightmare.
Do you derive inspiration from overwhelming experiences?
TH: Fuck no! Actually, sort of. I don’t know. I mainly get inspired when I do good work. That’s a magic dust feeling, but it’s a fleeting thing. Very rare.
BF: There was that genetic experiment being worked on recently where they were trying to find another way to cure cancer. One of the methods they developed was to use a protein in mice that made their skin glow in the dark, so that it could flag the cancer cells and only attack them. It would be so amazing if one day in the far, far away future every aspect of human beings could somehow have a genetic dye in it. For example, when Tim goes to the strip club and sees a stripper, then the album comes out six months later, there would be elements of that music seeded with the same brainwaves. Then you could trace the chain of cause and effect.
In experimental and electronic circles, there seem to be many artists who record or perform under multiple monikers, usually to differentiate between projects or perhaps just to confuse. You’ve both used pseudonyms in the past but for the most part have released music under your given names. How do you feel about this practice?
TH: I have friends who have something like eight different projects. They’d do drum & bass, then minimal techno, then deep house, then noise rock. That, to me, is mental, and that’s partly why I shed all that stuff, focused on one thing and totally honed it. Baring yourself and baring your name is also a kind of profound thing, where you remove the security or veneer of a moniker. You’re more exposed and you also take the flack if you do bad work. It’s on your soul, but I never look back with tears.
I enjoy when things are enigmatic and open to a million forms of possibility, like dolphins making love, or zombies hungry after a hundred years of famine. – Tim Hecker
BF: When I released that one record as School of Emotional Engineering, it was a terribly failed attempt at distancing myself from the music. I hated the fact that when I released Steel Wound, you would walk into a music store and see it in the Dance section. It wasn’t a rock and roll record, so people would just label it as electronic or whatever, in spite of the fact that the whole record was fucking guitars. In a weird way that was a knee-jerk reaction to that, and some kind of attempt on my part to have my music portrayed in a certain light. But ultimately, like Tim says, it all falls back on your shoulders. You should just stand behind what you’re doing.
How much stock do you put into naming songs, albums or other works?
TH: When I first started, the thing that was in vogue was the Autechre approach of complete random garbage, you know? That was almost a reaction against the poetry of naming things, so I went the opposite route, using flourishes of ridiculous titling. I’ve always liked that, as I think it’s a fun chance to construct a narrative where one doesn’t really exist. Yet, at the same time, I’m also super claustrophobic about putting context on things. I’d be the last person to put a huge interpretative essay in my liner notes, because I feel like that’s constraining and can narrow things down to a particular mode of interpretation. I enjoy when things are enigmatic and open to a million forms of possibility, like dolphins making love, or zombies hungry after a hundred years of famine.
BF: I put liner notes in my album Theory of Machines, so I knew you were trying to diss me, man! Those weren’t written by me, though, so that was just one person’s interpretation of my work. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything he said, but I had reached a point by the time that record came out where I was really just done with being thrown into this post-Warp label laptop hole. It’s a big fuckin’ hole, and really hard to crawl out of it for a lot of people, I think. I just didn’t want to be part of that. I agree with Tim in the sense that it is constraining, and I certainly haven’t included liner notes on anything since. However, I feel like they helped reset everything, and I have to say, things have been better and easier since. Inevitably it’s going to stray off somewhere else, but at least it put in the right space to begin with.
People are quite perceptive, even in spite of themselves. – Ben Frost
TH: Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll have a 400-page essay written on one of my albums. I think sometimes the work merits that, but more often, it’s merited with works that aren’t interesting on their own and need interpretation. Like, why am I listening to this boring piece of sound art of a toilet flushing? Maybe it’ll be the 16-page write-up that’ll illuminate the hermeneutical codes unleashed by these flushing sounds, which resonate with a certain theory or perception, or something.
BF: One thing I think about is the deplorable way that’s it almost become normal, expected or almost weird if you don’t walk into a gallery and read about the work before you look at it. I can remember very vividly going to the Tate Modern a few years back and being so infuriated to the point of actually having to leave because I just wanted to kill everyone. These people were walking into the Rothko room and reading the fucking plack on the wall before experiencing the art.
TH: Having said all that, galleries aren’t some unmediated, raw space where if you ignore the labels it offers more access to the space. What did Dan Graham say about museums? I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like, ‘They’re only good for meeting girls.’ The foyer is the only place he goes, because he can’t stand to experience art in those ways.
How do you feel about the role of the record label in 2010? Tim, you’ve had your music released by Kranky, which has somewhat of a recognizable sound outside of a few artists, while the rosters of the imprints you’re most closely associated with, Alien 8 and Bedroom Community, are both quite diverse. Do you think people still trust the curatorial skills of labels?
BF: Traditionally, the record label was the production end of a studio. You look at the classic examples like RCA, Parlophone or Decca, and those were simply physical spaces run by a producer. He went to a bar, met Aretha Franklin, found her some songs to song, recorded them, and thereby owned them. Then he bought a record press, and split the profits with Aretha. When you get into the sonic aspect of that, saying that a label had a ‘sound,’ it’s because it was the same fucking studio. Same microphones, same guy recording all the albums. That model is completely obliterated in 2010. Today, they’re basically just distribution points. It’s curatorial in the sense that 700 guys in their bedroom send the label demos and they decide which of those they’re going to put out. That’s how labels form their identity; it all has to do with the sifting of fodder. In that sense, Bedroom Community is interesting because it’s old school. You go to the studio, make a record and put it out, and it all happens in the same house. It’s interesting for me to hear about people hearing sonic similarities between Sam Amidon, Nico Muhly and me, because there aren’t any, really. You can sometimes just tell that it’s the same room or the same mics or the same piano. People are quite perceptive, even in spite of themselves.
Do you two have any plans to record together?
TH: We’ve talked about it. Who knows how these pieces will turn out, but it’s an open future. We might do something with this material if it works.
BF: We’re young and free, so it could easily turn out to be something completely different. Maybe we’ll just make gabbercore and move to Serbia.
Sisterhood of the traveling cutoffs
My trip to Halifax, the Obey Convention and outer space
by Jesse Locke
Mess Folk [photo: Pierre Richardson]
With a lineup bridging the gap between tried and true sounds and the outer limits of the avant-garde, the 2010 Obey Convention offered fitting motivation for my first visit to the Maritimes. Hopping in the minivan with four female friends, a cooler full of vegan snacks and some jean shorts, we quickly burned rubber from Quebec to Nova Scotia.
Though unfortunately arriving far too late on Thursday night to catch any music, several trusty compatriots described the performances from Zachary Fairbrother’s Buddha Box 2.0 guitar orchestra and Parisian instrument inventor Pierre Bastien as serious mind melds. Our first festival experiences came with a Friday early evening set from Halifax’s Chanteuse, combining eerie live violins with real-time tape loop manipulations. The results were a paranoid composition of near Stockhausenesque proportions, and an excellent surprise start to the weekend.
Chanteuse was followed by a 20-minute ambient guitar blissscape from Les Beyond, the first of many musical experiences over the next 48 hours to send my brain into alternate dimensions. Meditative, sombre and refreshingly clean, Erin Ward's hypnotic instrumentals had the whole room held in hushed reverence. The walls of the Lost and Found clothing and record store were also lined with the off-kilter doodles of Beau LaBute, providing fitting visual accompaniment for the tripped-out sounds filling the ad hoc venue.
Les Beyond [photo: Julie Matson]
From here we raced to the Bus Stop Theatre for the Weird Canada showcase, spotlighting the more outré sides of the festival’s programming. As it turned out, Divorce Records head honcho Darcy Spidle also opened the show with a performance as Chik White, teaming up with Bad Vibrations’ bassist and his Obey Convention right hand man Evan Cardwell for the freakiest use of the jaw harp since that one Old Time Relijun song (real heads know what I’m talking about).
Next was Chris D’eon, getting bodies bobbing with his blippy laptop electronics, spirit fingers and PLUR vocal mantras, plus premiering a new song that somehow sounded like both this and this. Gown and Ryan Kirk shared the stage for some ominous, off-kilter guitar moves, while Amen Dunes closed the show with a set of heartrending loner folk that had the whole crowd swooning.
Every act on the bill was a blast, but as far as I’m concerned, Friday’s Bus Stop show (and possibly even the whole festival) was stolen by Minnesota’s Paul Metzger. Employing his self-made, one-of-a-kind 23-string banjo to jaw-dropping effect, this performance leapt from nimble Fahey fingerwork to sitar-style ragas and surprisingly heavy riffs sometimes verging on the metallic. Hard to determine the man's exact age with his unbridled energy, but he’s been at this game since 1979 and is a true master of his singular medium.
For the third show of the night, we dashed to the legendary Khyber just in time for the Contortions-worshipping No Wave of Halifax’s Catbag. Free sax blowing, repetitive bass grooves, stand-up drums and one of the most ear-pleasing china cymbals I’ve ever heard turned it into a Lynchian nightmare with downtown cool. Up next was Duzheknew, stepping up their game significantly since the last time I saw them and throwing down a furious set that inspired both sing-a-longs and the first dance party of the fest. Style, charisma and catchy tunes to spare.
Homostupids [photo: Pierre Richardson]
Dirty Beaches had been an act I was looking forward to for weeks in advance of this trip, as his recent split with Omon Ra II is one of the year’s best releases thus far, in my humble opinion. Happily, Alex Zhang Hungtai didn’t disappoint with his dark and driving Suicide-influenced rockabilly plus a cover of the Stooges’ classic “No Fun.” Quite possibly the coolest human on earth now that Dennis Hopper has kicked the bucket. Slim Twig closed out the night with similar sounds augmented with banging hip-hop beats, live drums and pompadour swagger, ending the show on another high note.
Saturday started at a more leisurely pace with an eggs benedict brunch followed by fish and chips, setting us up for the evening’s festivities. First on the roster was the charming, hook-laden power pop of Cold Warps, which might eventually result in photos somewhere on the Internet of both myself and Weird Canada’s Aaron Levin dancing like mad men. Ottawa’s Holy Cobras turned the lights down both literally and figuratively with their drug-haze channeling of Hawkwind and the Velvets for another festival highlight. Finally, hometown heroes Dog Day topped it off with the kind of synthy ‘90s-inspired slacker pop that can’t help but make you happily reminisce.
Back to the Khyber, but not in time to catch grungy, all-girl troupe Meat Curtains unfortunately, though I did snag their shredding split tape with Pompoir. Montreal’s Ultrathin sparked an agro mosh pit with their riotous weirdo rock, which would only continue to escalate through sets from Cape Breton’s Mess Folk and came to a boiling point with Load Records’ Homostupids, who brought the thunder with smart-ass banter and blistering pigfuck. As the Cramps coined it, this is bad music for bad people.
U.S. Girls [photo: Erin Ward]
In the end, a solo set from Philadelphia’s Megan Remy (a.k.a. U.S. Girls) proved to be the most ‘punk’ performance of the whole festival, if the term can be defined as challenging expectations and expanding minds. Armed with a table full of effects pedals, tape players and her haunting voice, Remy once again sent all who could hack the eardrum-exploding sound levels into the groovy, smearing tape hiss and feedback over hallucinogenic pop, soulful R&B and doo wop of the Eno vintage.
Sadly, we had to race home early Sunday and missed the final day’s tunes from Play Guitar, Omon Ra II and Long Long Long (best current Halifax band, and that's sayin' something), but still had a jam-packed weekend full of new friends, new sounds and some of the most impressive festival programming I’ve ever experienced. Big ups to Divorce Records for putting it all together, and anyone and everyone who leant a place to crash, offered food to eat or slapped a cassette in my hand. See you next year!
We Are The World
Selections by Jesse Locke
1. Tonetta – “Grandma Knows Best”
While choosing my selections for this ‘contest’ — really just an excuse to ask our contributors to dig up the craziest music they’ve heard over the years — I wanted to include a healthy mix of Silly Weird and Serious Weird. Tonetta falls somewhere in between. Challenging Tanya Tagaq, the Nihilist Spasm Band and Istvan Kantor (see #7 below) as the strangest Canadian musician, the Torontonian is an endlessly prolific one-man funk machine. Masked, stripped down to his skivvies or rocking the guitar in his leather daddy best (and always surrounded by that damn neon diamond), he should find his way onto Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! any day now. You can even buy his LP!
2. Claudio Montuori the Birdman – “The Spider’s Blues”
On a completely different ‘outsider’ tip, I stumbled across this baddie while perusing the Street Musicians/Buskers thread on the hideously designed but endlessly interesting WTF Music. As it turns out, the so-called Birdman is actually Italian artist Claudio Montuori, and the fact that he has a MySpace is the real w.t.f. Here, his outfit, sound effects and jerry-rigged instruments send this ditty to the outer limits.
3. Karlheinz Stockhausen – “Gesang der Jünglinge (excerpt)”
It was a serious toss-up between this and the “Helicopter String Quartet” but I still give the German avant-garde composer’s 1955-’56 ‘space music’ piece a slight edge. “Gesang der Jünglinge” is an early example of elektronische Musik with a heavily edited recording of a young boy reading from the Book of Daniel, and was originally intended for five-channel sound, so obviously YouTube isn’t the best place to blast off from. Nonetheless, this excerpt still gives you an idea of the batshit experiments ol’ Karlheinz was up to.
4. Jessica Rylan – “We Are The World”
Whether jiving with the likes of C. Spencer Yeh, Consumer Electronics, Bill Nace and Chris Corsano or performing solo as Can’t, Boston’s Jessica Rylan is a current reigning Queen of Noise. Typical facets of her sound include creepy hushed vocals, squealing feedback and other gizmos gone haywire, but her approaches seem to be evolving with each passing release. Check the jarringly edited 2002 clip above for a perfect example of her awkwardly funny merging of electronic ear torture and Elaine Bennis spaz dancing.
5. HateBeak “Bird Bites Dog Cries”
Grindcore band fronted by a parrot. Next…
6. Sonny Sharrock – “Portrait of Linda in Three Colors, All Black”
While likely best remembered for his proto-Sonic Youth guitar squiggles and soundtracking Space Ghost Coast To Coast shortly before an untimely 1994 death, Free Jazz leviathan Sonny Sharrock kicked off his solo career with weirdness of an entirely different stripe. Like Albert Ayler’s Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe (also released in 1969), Sharrock’s debut LP, Black Woman, prominently features the far-out vocals of its creators’ then romantic partner. Closer “Portrait of Linda” starts off as relatively smooth sailing before the lady herself lets loose with a flurry of anguished ululations and orgasmic yelps. Were OOIIOO taking notes?
7. The Osmonds – “Crazy Horses”
Besides the fact that family bands almost always have an element of the bizarre, and just how hilarious those synth sounds, dance moves and bell bottoms are, the strangest thing about this song might be how I like it. Texture’s resident comic artist Mark Watson first hipped me to “Crazy Horses,” and I still want to start a tribute band with him of the same name.
8. Monty Cantsin? Amen! - “Illegal Alien”
According to his profile on the Canada Council website, Istvan Kantor’s work primarily focuses on fascism, file cabinets and S&M cyber-punk orgies. He’s probably best known for vandalizing modern art museums, and most notorious for throwing a vial of his own blood at a sculpture of Michael Jackson. Besides taking home a Governor Generals’ Award back in 2004, Kantor is also the skin-crawling creator of the 1993 album Noise Bible, released under the Neoist pseudonym Monty Cantsin. Click the link above and listen to the 14-minute opener, “Illegal Alien,” a harrowing clusterfuck of speech samples, megaphone manifestos and Industrial clamour. One could make the case that he’s Canada’s answer to Throbbing Gristle, except maybe even creepier.
9. BJ Snowden – “In Canada”
Alongside Beefheart, Syd Barrett and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Massachusetts school teacher and Berklee College of Music grad BJ Snowden was featured on the compilation Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. However, while she remains somewhat unsure of her placement alongside these other musical misfits, “In Canada” deserves its status as one of the strangest anthems to a nation ever written. Gotta love the floating mountie…
10. Wicked Witch – “Erratic Behaviour”
Right back to where we started, except 30 years earlier. Wicked Witch was an outsider funk project circa late ’70s to early ’80s masterminded by a man named Richard Simms from the D.C. area. Think Prince recording in a dungeon with a dash of Miles Davis’ On The Corner, pawnshop equipment and a pissed off Little Richard. Last year, EM Records did the world a serious solid by releasing the compilation album Chaos: 1978–86, worth seeking out for its cover art alone. Few outside of Tonetta have ever gotten this freaky.
My main DãMie
L.A.’s boogie funk ambassador parties like it’s 1989
by Jesse Locke
“Rather than the boom-bip, I want funk-clap in my diet.” Damon Riddick, the Los Angeles-based DJ/selector, musician and producer known as DãM-FunK, is waxing poetic on his favourite subject: boogie-funk. It’s the tag he uses to describe his own dreamy slow jams, deep cuts and rollerskate disco, pumping new blood into a genre born in the mid-1970s before coming to a glitzy boiling point in the ‘80s. Anyone lucky enough to live in the Culver City area can catch Riddick manning the decks for his weekly Funkmosphere nights every Monday at the Carbon club, while the rest of the world will have to be content with the two hours of music making up his double CD/five LP debut, Toeachizown, released last year on Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stones Throw Records. To kick off 2010, DãM-FunK is embarking on a colossal live tour with stops in Canada, the Austin, Texas SXSW festival and then off to Europe. We reached him at his home in West L.A.
Texture: What came first, your music or Funkmosphere?
DãM-FunK: My own music was first. I’ve been making music since I was a teen, and Funkmosphere came up about four years ago, in July of 2006. We’ve been it doing it every Monday since.
T: Is it usually a party? How’s Monday as a club night in L.A.?
DF: For a Monday, you can’t beat it. We’ve got great crowds, and a mixture of mellowness too. We play a real range of stuff. You can just chill at the bar listening to the music, and you don’t have to feel forced to be out there doin’ splits on the dance floor, know what I’m sayin’? It’s back and forth. Packed nights, medium nights, but every night is fantastic.
T: When did you start collecting vintage synths and drum machines?
DF: That started when I was in school too. Instead of spending my money on video games, I would buy instruments. I don’t know if you have this in Canada, but I always checked out this magazine called The Recycler and that’s where I started looking for stuff. I bought a Linn drum machine for $200, brought it back home on my moped and started getting down back in the day. Some of that original equipment was used on Toeachizown too. It’s a real experience, not just some fake shit.
T: Is there a crown jewel of your collection?
DF: My Roland Juno 60 is the crown jewel, for sure.
T: Thinking back on when you started getting into music, can you remember one album or song specifically that made you want to make jams of your own?
DF: Ever since I can remember, my moms and pops were always playing music, so I always into it. The first recollections I have of albums are Super Fly by Curtis Mayfield, Skin Tight by the Ohio Players and Barry White’s I’ve Got So Much To Give. Even Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Those albums were always in the household, and I would take them out and listen to them all the time. But then, when I actually wanted to make my own music, it was Prince.
T: Which Prince record was it, do you remember?
DF: This was around the time of 1999, though I’d been hearing him for a long time before that, just on in the background at my neighbour’s house. Hold on one second, OK? (Puts down the phone for 30 seconds) Damn, that was Peanut Butter Wolf on the other line! I had to get that. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the records that inspired me. Prince’s 1999, “Knee Deep” by Funkadelic — that particular song for sure — Todd Rungren… that was the stuff that inspired me to create my own sound. Those artists made me realize that I didn’t have to be exactly like the hip-hop cats that seemed to be in every single nook and cranny of existence that I was in. I could still do funk and stand out, you know what I’m sayin’? Even though I grew up in the golden age of hip-hop, listening to Marley Marl, Eric B and Rakim, all of that great stuff, I tended to lean towards funk. Still, I was affected by that stuff too.
T: Are you excited when people compare you to Prince?
DF: Oh yeah, I’m honoured and excited. That gives me a good feeling because I feel like I’m following in a tradition and an aesthetic. But I never bite Prince, that’s the key. Lots of groups outright bite him. Especially when he first came out, there were lots of groups that sounded identically like him. I just try to make a connection and a continuation. It’s not like I’m jumping on a bandwagon, and next week I’ll be doing dubstep. I’m on the funk tip, because of people like Slave, Steve Arrington, Prelude Records and D-Train. Those are the kinds of things that I like. Rather than the boom-bip, I want funk-clap in my diet of music. I like all styles, though.
T: In another interview for Pitchfork, you mentioned being a fan of Ariel Pink, which I thought was really cool because he’s so far removed from your world with a lot of his lo-fi home recordings, but there are some similarities in terms of songwriting too. What do you dig about him?
DF: I think he’s a fantastic artist. He really knows what he wants. That’s what I respect about him, and his music is fantastic. Those are the kinds of people I like to listen to, and I really like to get into new things. He’s formula-based, and I just like the way that now people are getting freer again. Rather than just straight-up punk, hip-hop or whatever, it can be a mixture of things while still standing up for a personal style or belief.
T: I think Animal Collective embodies that way of thinking perfectly, and you just remixed those guys too. How did that project come to be?
DF: That came up because I caught wind that those cats dug my stuff, and I dug their stuff, and they had decided to do a remix project and see what people could do with their stuff. When I turned in my track, I came to their gig at the Troubadour in L.A. and handed them a CD-R personally. I felt good about it because I studied them and wanted to respect the people who dug them. I didn’t want to turn a crazy remix with a bit of cheese just to say that I did it. I studied the track and tried to layer their vocals the right way, instead of just looping the hook and putting my gibberish on top. They told me later that they couldn’t stop playing it in their tour van, and I said ‘yeah yeah, I appreciate that…’ Not to say that I discounted what they said, but sometimes people just say stuff like that. Then they made it the A-side of a record, and I knew they weren’t bullshittin’! They really appreciated what I did, and that went a long way.
T: Do you have any other remix or production projects coming up?
DF: I’m doing some stuff with Joker and some collaborations with the Hyperdub label, and me and Nite Jewel are playing together on a record. There’s gonna be some pretty good things in 2010, but I’m taking my time and don’t want to spit too much talent right now, ‘cause people would expect that. The most exciting that I’m involved in, though, is an album I’m producing for one of my funk heroes: Steve Arrington from Slave. I’m doing a record with him for Stones Throw, and if you want to talk about a continuation of Modern Funk, that one’s gonna hit the streets and blow up. Wolf is a visionary, always respecting people that are really underrated in the game. You have to keep your eyes on anything he’s doing or touching.
T: How long have you been growing your hair?
DF: (laughs) Going back and forth man! I can rock a fade, go bald, but I’ve been doing that since high school — cutting it off and letting it grow again. Contrary to people’s belief, I don’t use any chemicals and it’s just a natural grade of hair. Of course we’ve all been touched by some different blood throughout our life spans on this planet, so we all have different grades of hair. People think I have a Jerry Curl or something, but that’s not what it is. I just like to do my thing, be me. It’s part of the funk.
T: I checked out the unplugged performance of “Steppin Into My Life” that you recorded for Valentine’s Day on the Stones Throw website. Can you see yourself recording more stuff stripped of electronics in the future?
DF: Sometime down the line, for sure. That was another idea from Wolf; he’s always coming up with innovative things. I’m glad it showed people that I’m not just the electric synthesizer guy and that I can play an instrument. That’s what lacking these days. We all have it in us, but people get lazy and their buddies tell them they can just program a beat. What if these cats who were just laying down beats actually learned some chords and started playing instruments again? It would be fantastic.
T: I’ve seen some laptop DJs that look like they’re onstage checking their emails. How wack is that?
DF: (laughs) It’s real wack. You don’t need to be doing backflips while you’re DJing, but I try to make show a bit more interesting because people pay money to get into the club and sometimes in Canada you even have to brave the cold to get there. People come to the show, and they don’t want to see somebody just looking mad.
DãM-FunK plays Thursday, March 4th at the Drake Hotel in Toronto, and Friday March 5 at Club Lambi in Montreal. For further tour info, go here.
Tunes from the Crypt (Bill Cosby Edition)
By Jesse Locke
Tunes from the Crypt is a new regular feature for Texture Magazine with a rotating cast of writers. Its aim is to unearth overlooked, forgotten or little-known musical artifacts, found in the dusty discount or used bins of record shops, your cool uncle’s attic, church bazaars, garage sales, so-called ‘alternative channels’ or simply hiding in plain view on the Internet.
1) Bill Cosby - Sings Hooray for the Salvation Army Band! (Warner Bros. Records, 1968)
Before digging into the hilarity of the music contained within this late ‘60s masterpiece, let’s all just pause and take note of the cover photo: Bill Cosby dressed like Fred Flintstone while sporting Groucho Marx’s mustache, glasses and cigar. Think that tobaccy was wacky, by chance?
Nonetheless, that’s nothing compared to what you’ll hear when you drop the needle, as old Bill’s vocal delivery on the opening number makes him sound much more rowdy and boozed up than just faded. Imagine “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as performed by the drunkest guy at the karaoke bar, except instead of a cheapo synthesized musical backdrop he’s fronting a tough-as-leather funk group. As it turns out, that’s actually the Watts 103rd Street Rhythym Band, a swaggering seven-piece any heads in the know will speak of in hushed tones. Dy-no-mite!
Throughout the remainder of Sings Hooray, these cats convoy Cosby through equally goofy covers of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Dyke and The Blazers’ “Funky Broadway” (here renamed “Funky North Philadelphia”) and the title track’s riffing on “Purple Haze.” There are a few moments of semi-soulful sincerity heard on the originals “Sunny” and “Ursulena,” but it’s really worth hearing for the silly stuff as much as the grooves, later sampled by the likes of Cypress Hill and the Ultramagnetic MCs.
2) Bill Cosby – Talks to Kids About Drugs (Uni Records, 1971)
If you’ve never actually listened to this one, it could seem like a somewhat reasonable decision for the Grammys to have awarded it ‘Best Recording for Children’ back in ‘72. That said, after you’ve heard even its first song, “Downers and Uppers”, which finds Cosby imitating the effects of the titular pills with woozy, slowed-down vocal FX and skronky sax/chipmunk bleats, respectively, it’s odd to imagine how anyone could have taken the album seriously, or even treated it as anything more than a cross-purposeful anti-drug gag of Tyrone Biggums proportions.
Yep, that’s right — this is an album of Cosby telling children that getting gone is no fun, while making it sound more fun than Saturday morning cartoons. “Dope Pusher” finds him dropping beat-poet science with lines like “now watch him walk away, ‘cause he can’t sell you his bag of agony and pain.” This is backed with On the Corner-style chicken-scratch guitar (natch) and a stupidly catchy chorus of kids’ voices belting out “I don’t need no bad drugs!”
Stranger still is “Captain Junkie”, the free-trumpet-driven tale of a dope fiend wobbling around town and dozing off in the park, coming across a little more Charlie Chaplin than Requiem for a Dream. This album is the original “Drugs Drugs Drugs”, a decade before.
3) Bill Cosby - Badfoot Brown & the Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band (Uni Records, 1971)
Easily the funkiest and most listenable of these three selections, Badfoot Brown & the Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band (a truly amazing album title if I’ve ever heard one) is Bill Cosby’s jazz odyssey. Released the same year as Talks to Kids About Drugs, it shows off a very different side of the comedian, here playing electric piano on two side-long instrumental space-outs.
With its cascading ivories, twitchy guitars and aggressive groove, side two’s 20-minute “Hybish Shybish” is definitely a banger, but it’s really all about the classic side one stunner “Martin’s Funeral” (later sampled by A Tribe Called Quest on the Midnight Marauders highlight “We Can Get Down”). Starting off slow and easy, the song soon settles into a laid back melody complete with tambourine, Art Ensemble of Chicago-style horns warbles and fleet-fingered guitar runs that make it sound not unlike the slinky workouts of Mulatu Astatke and company coming out of Ethiopia at around the same time (By the way, this might just be my favourite thing on YouTube). 40 years later, Badfoot Brown still sounds fresh.
Top 75 Davids, Davy/ies and Daves
By Jesse Locke
1. Foster Wallace
3. Bowie/Byrne (tie)
7. Gordon Green
19. Larry David
20. Super Dave Osborne
21. The David
26. This one too
28. Jones (the pirate)
29. Jones (the Monkee)
31. The one from the Bible who beat Goliath with a slingshot and then went on to be a totally badass king
38. After Dentist
43. The Star of
44. Copperfield (the novel - the magician didn’t make the cut)
45. Schwimmer/Spade (tie)
46. Lee Roth
51. LaChappelle (just for Rize)
56. Grohl (Nirvana era, first two Foo Fighters albums and then up to Songs for the Deaf – nowadays he seems like he might be a couche tard)
60. Koresh/Berkowitz (tie)
64. The car
65. The Hebrew font
67. Banner (the Incredible Hulk)
68. Banner (the rapper)
71. My grandpa
72. My great uncle
73. My cousin
74. My middle name
Tunes from the Crypt
By Jesse Locke
Tunes from the Crypt is a new regular feature for Texture Magazine with a rotating cast of writers. Its aim is to unearth forgotten, little-known or otherwise overlooked musical artifacts, found in the dusty discount or used bins of record shops, your cool uncle’s attic, church bazaars, garage sales, so-called ‘alternative channels’ or simply hiding in plain view on the Internet.
1. Various Artists – Rē Records Quarterly Vol. 1 No. 4 (Recommended Records, 1986)
From 1985 to 1997, Recommended Records founder, theorist and drummer Chris Cutler (member and collaborator of various weirdo music luminaries such as Henry Cow, Art Bears, News from Babel, Pere Ubu, Gong/Mothergong, The Residents, Zeena Parkins, and on and on…) published Rē Records Quarterly, a lovingly assembled LP compilation and magazine package. From Vol. 4 (1994) onwards, the LP was replaced with a CD and the publication awkwardly re-titled unFILEd: The RēR Sourcebook. As such, it is the original run until ’91 that remains the most cherished.
Besides its stylish ladybug cover art, this one primarily caught my eye in the “Exp., etc.” section at Cheap Thrills because its first side is largely devoted to Japanese ‘avant-chamber-pop’ group After Dinner, with live cuts recorded prior to the release of their classic album Paradise of Replica (1989). There’s also a song called “Раз, Два (1,2)” from Soviet New Wave band Strange Games that starts off side two with some wonky, low-rent Squeeze-style synths, cheeky poetry from Adrian Mitchell, Montreal’s Wondeur Brass and more.
The magazine is a real keeper too — live photos, lyrics and an article on the After Dinner concert sound-system, extensive features on the other artists featured on the LP, a gear-head approved article on the analogue vs. digital debate by writer Robert Mitchell, and possibly best of all, a hilariously pithy piece by the great Greil Marcus on the hypocrisy of superstar-studded charity recordings such as “We are the World.” From the design to the content (other Rē Records LPs would go on to include Robert Wyatt, This Heat and scores of others lost to time), these sets make me want to put on my grumpy old codger hat and say something like, “they sure don’t make ‘em like they used to!”
2. Chuck Lange – Jazz Wolf (North Sound, 1995)
This cassette tape was a recent blind buy from a Montreal Value Village, and I have to say, it was well worth my 50 cents. Magically enough, the music contained within is exactly what the title Jazz Wolf might lead you to expect: Red Shoe Diaries-style wallpaper Dad-jazz meanderings combined with field samples of wolf howls, chirping crickets and what sounds like caribou frolicking in a gurgling spring.
The entire concept behind this gem is so unbelievably Canadian that it makes me want to barf maple syrup, and it’s also hard to imaging just whom it might be marketed towards. Lumberjacks serenading their wives? From the liner notes: “Both wolves and jazz musicians indulge in self-expression. As you listen to the selections on Jazz Wolf, imagine a few howling wolves on one side of a stand of forest green pine trees and a couple of musicians playing saxophone and guitar on the other side. The notes of the two combos talk to one another, each pushing the other to reply with more soul…”
Is there a band called Jazz Wolf yet? If not, who wants to start it with me?
Believe it or not, MySpace can still be a pretty cool thing. On top of musicians utilizing it like a little black book to contact other artists, promoters or venues when booking a tour, it can also be used to simply listen to jams from awesome new bands like Lethbridge’s Fist City that don’t have official releases yet. Finally, there are also fan/tribute sites such as this one showcasing Brian Eno’s oft-bootlegged 1975 pre-Marquee Moon demos for legendary New York prog-punks Television.
These stripped-down run-throughs of “Venus de Milo,” “Friction” and the immortal title track (presented here in a shorter yet still hypnotic form) are all really cool to hear, but it’s this version of “Blank Generation” — featuring the snotty vocals of Richard Myers one month before he quit the band, changed his last name to Hell and became a legend in his own right — that’s a real revelation. On top of the needly guitars of dual axe-men Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, this “Blank Generation” also features the clattering fills of drummer Billy Ficca, sounding like a pair of hiking boots clunking around in a clothes dryer (in a good way).
Of course, it’s nigh-impossible to top Robert Quine’s tweaked proto-post-punk jags on the classic Voidoids version, but the early Television take is still a curio of the best kind.
Rock of Ages
My 10 favourite live music memories of the 2000s
By Jesse Locke
Before we begin: Yes, I’m well aware that the premise of this list is inherently flawed since, at age 25, I’ve only been going to shows for a few years longer than this decade anyway. And yes, seven out of these 10 took place between 2007 and today. But you know what? This is my website, so I can write about whatever I want. Hey, you, get offa my cloud, etc.
Rambling back to the business at hand, there are so many shows I could have included here but did not. For example: The Mountain Goats, Vashti Bunyan or either of the two times I’ve seen Bill Callahan. Black Dice. Black Moth Super Rainbow. Liars. Ô Paon. Evangelista. York Redoubt and Jon-Rae Fletcher in the same basement. Krang and Zebra Pulse in another. Countless sets from former and current Calgary favourites like Gaye Rage, The Ostrich, Funfuns, Thee Thems, Sharp Ends, The Sub-linguals, Women, Puberty, Braids, Azeda Booth, Free Nude Celebs, No More Shapes, Chad VanGaalen, Black Mold, Kris Ellestad, The Incandescence, Seizure Salad, Dallin Ursenbach, GreyScreen, Extra Happy Ghost, Beneath These Idle Tides, RDC and the whole 403 Noise crew, Friendo, Womb Baby and a bunch more it’d be way too long to mention.
I could have happily written about Yo La Tengo, Jamie Liddell or the Wolf Colonel singing Springsteen covers in the parking lot of the Carpenter’s Union Hall. Philip Glass with the Kronos Quartet. Hella with the Dillinger Escape Plan. Broadcast and the Jesus Lizard last month. Awesome Vancouver bands like Shearing Pinx, Twin Crystals, Modern Creatures, Ahna and Sex Negatives (never saw the Mutators before they broke up, boo hiss). Deerhoof, M.I.A. and the half set I caught from the re-formed Contortions. No nights were as wild as when Ladyhawk came to Calgary and everyone still lived there. AIDS Wolf are always brain-scrambling, and on a completely different tip, so are GOBBLE GOBBLE. Sadly, I’m still yet to see Lightning Bolt, David Bowie, Nick Cave, My Bloody Valentine, Sunn O))), Throbbing Gristle, MF Doom, Björk, Beyonce, Prince, Daft Punk, the Wu-Tang Clan or Chris Dane Owens, so they didn’t make the cut either. But enough of this blather — on with the list!
1) Boredoms - The Warehouse - Calgary, AB - June 30, 2007
Thinking back on all the shows I’ve made heroic pilgrimages to catch over the past decade, it seems somewhat odd that the best of them all took place in my former hometown. The good folks behind Sled Island will always deserve props for landing Japan’s Boredoms in the festival’s inaugural year, because this set sent me into the kind of eyes closed psychedelic hippie trance typically reserved for the other kind of warehouse ‘party’ that involves glow sticks, gobbling down pills like they were Swedish Berries and getting down with the Space Cats.
Anyway, it’s pretty tricky to try and put into words, but just one week before 77 BoaDrum, the band brought a smaller-scale but equally orgiastic event to Calgary. Packing the stage with three drums kits, Yamatsuka Eye bashing away at an insane-looking rack of guitar necks and screaming in his trademark “Acid Police” screech, Boredoms put on a clinic of stupidly complex percussion choreography that would have made even Chris Corsano’s pulse quicken. What comes after 99?
2) Joanna Newsom - Ukrainian Federation – Montreal, QC – Oct. 5, 2006
With its much-mocked love of LARPing, Montreal seemed like the perfect place to experience a performance from the high druid priestess Joanna Newsom and her epic Medieval tomes. One month before the release of Ys, the pixie-like musician floated onstage alone with her harp to perform a few of the album’s then brand-new stunners along with shorter songs from The Milk-Eyed Mender. As otherworldly as her music seems sometimes, Newsom brought herself down to earth and endeared herself to the audience even further by forgetting a few of her own lyrics, which is definitely understandable with such awe-inspiringly tongue-twisting prose. David Byrne couldn’t quite seem to make up his mind on the show, but to me it was the goosebump-inducer to end ‘em all.
3) Fun 100 - Mount Pleasant Community Centre - Vancouver, BC – Feb. 3, 2007
For the sake of full disclosure, I should mention that my former band Sudden Infant Dance Syndrome was also on this bill. However, while it’s always awesome rocking out to a community center full of sloppy drunk teenagers, the real story here started with those couche tards the Bad Amps (insert Shitty Beatles joke here) playing for far too long, resulting in the power being cut off during the first song of Fun 100’s final show thanks to a strictly enforced neighbourhood bylaw.
Fortunately, the band made the most of the situation, bashing away at their instruments despite the fact that their mics had been turned off, sparking a crazed sing-a-long with their hyper excited/pissed-off fans and finally bringing down the house with the triumphant finale of frontman Ryan Dyck smashing his keytar to pieces on the room’s rafters. All in all, it probably took less than half an hour until the cops cleared out the building, but what a way to go out.
4) Free Noise - University of London Union - London, England - May 3, 2007
I only recognized a few names on the bill at the time, but as it turns out, the lineup was staggering. The previously mentioned Chris Corsano was originally supposed to be there as well, but had to pass up a spot on the tour to back up the previously mentioned Björk, and who could say no to that? Suffice to say, I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I headed on my lonesome to the U of L campus, but ended up forever changed.
At the gig, any interactions I made with fellow weird music enthusiasts were largely made up of wisely appreciative nods at the lunacy we were witnessing/hearing onstage during the two improvised, nearly hour-long sets. The memories that stick with me are Evan Parker’s (pictured above) seemingly unending sax skronks, C. Spencer Yeh’s harpy-pitched violin squeals and Yellow Swans’ beehive of black electronic noise. Still, wildest of all were the sounds John Edwards was conjuring by scraping the body of his double bass, never mind the strings. I’d seen Wolf Eyes at Coachella three years previously and investigated a bit of this so-called ‘Noise’ business here and there, but this night cracked my mind wide open and I’ve never looked back. If only I’d had the cash to take better advantage of the likely once in a lifetime merch table…
5) Lil Wayne - The Saddledome - Calgary, AB – Jan. 22, 2009
Let’s start this one off with some real talk: 90% of rap shows suck. I’ve caught a handful of decent to great ones over the years from the likes of Ghostface Killah, Blackalicious, NerdX and the three times I’ve seen the Clipse, but for the most part these gigs are overrun with back-up posse members crowding the stage and drowning out the main MC, or way too much banter consisting of “y’all bought the new CD?”
Lil Wayne, on the other hand, put on one of the most entertaining concerts I’ve ever seen period; an amazingly over-the-top experience that included T-Pain riding a Segway (not to mention his own stage set-up with a circus tent, cellist and little-person booty dancer named Britney Spears), Weezy F Baby rapping so close to our seats that we could make out his face tats, and a mother fuckin’ flame-thrower. That’s right, Lil Wayne spitting fire into the face of the crowd like the Backdraft ride at Universal Studios. The part where he trucked out the artists from his label for a song each was a total snooozefest, but other than that, the jams ran free. There’s another story about this night involving jazz cigarettes and a racially profiling security guard, but I won’t get into it here.
6) Thurston Moore - The Mohawk - Austin, TX - March 14, 2008
The two times I’ve seen Sonic Youth (Osheaga Music Festival, Montreal, 2006 and McCarren Park Pool, Brooklyn, 2008) were both amazing, but for whatever reason, this is the set that seems the most special. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time:
“Following the near un-listenable solo acoustic set from J. Mascis (seriously, who told him that was a good idea?), Thurston Moore took to the Mohawk stage for my favorite set of SXSW 2008. Starting off some hypnotic performances of songs from his 2007 solo album Trees Outside The Academy with a goofy ‘check, check, check-a-roonie,’ he added to the spectacle of his unique guitar playing with a range of emotive facial expressions.
With the first of two encores, Moore and his band The New Wave Bandits covered the recently unearthed (and perfectly fitting) Velvet Underground rarity “I'm Not A Young Man Anymore.” The second encore started off with the song “Staring Statues” from 1995's Psychic Hearts, and ended up with Thurston and the front row of the audience teaming up to shred, whack and rip out his guitar strings. Hard to believe he's almost 50.”
7) Jaga Jazzist - Harbourfront Centre - Toronto, ON - July 9, 2004
This summer, I was living in Toronto (well, Etobicoke, if we’re going to get down to brass tacks), working as an intern at a skate mag, and was basically broke as a joke. It’s actually a bit of a bummer to think back on, but with my average bank balance of $0.00, I had to miss out on seeing Sonic Youth for the first time and spent most of my spare time shredding the mini-ramp in the backroom of my friendly neighbourhood skate shop.
Happily, I did make it down to this free concert at the Harbourfront Centre, though I was headed there to catch headliners Manitoba (before that dick Handsome Dick made them change their name to Caribou). To put it bluntly, the opening act was a revelation. Norway’s Jaga Jazzist are normally a 10-piece, but if memory serves me correctly this night found them swelling to more than twice that number as the blasted out some of the most meticulously orchestrated psychedelic freak-outs my impressionable mind had yet experienced. Dan Snaith and his bear-mask wearing band-mates put on a killer show too, but they’d already been blown out of the water.
8) Chain and The Gang - Club Lambi - Montreal, QC – Oct. 2, 2009
Up until this magical night, I had always thought I’d have to wait until they invented time machines to travel back and catch The Make-Up of Nation or Ulysses to witness Ian Svenonius in his element. But let me tell you — the man’s still got swagger! In the small, sweaty confines of Club Lambi, Ian S. put on a church service worth of call-and-response hollers with the crowd, fiery preacher gone wild dance moves, multiple suit changes and some righteous gospel garage rock rave-ups from his red hot band. Fever Ray might have had lasers and a bangin’ sound system on her side, but this was still the best show of Pop Montreal ’09. In fact, the Homosexuals were originally supposed to headline, which would have possibly pushed things over into ‘best show ever’ territory. Instead, it was followed by a DJ set from 7-inch madman Jonathan Toubin with Svenonius joining us down on the floor, which was pretty damn fun too. What's my stance? I like to dance. And smash things up when I get a chance!
9) Boris - Richards on Richards - Vancouver, BC - July 30, 2008
After a 12 hour drive from Calgary to Vancouver listening to Tim and Eric, it’d be a bit of an understatement to say our crew was feeling a little loopy when we finally rolled up to Dicks on Dicks. First on the bill was Lair of the Minotaur; a brutish metal group with 2/3 members sporting shaved heads with sideburns. Their only intelligible lyrics seemed to revolve around minotaurs (what else?), and their t-shirts were some of funniest/most terrifying things I’ve ever seen. Next up was Torche, a group that somehow managed to mix Soundgarden-style alt-rock with the face-melting fret-work of a guitarist who looked like Machete and not sound entirely terrible. Apparently he’s not in the band anymore, so they probably aren’t as good. Oh well.
All in all, these groups barely set the stage for Japan’s doom-drone dream-team, joined on this tour by Michio Kurihara, the guitarist of equally mind-expanding psych-rockers Ghost. There’s a reason Boris titled their 2003 album Amplifier Worship, and that’s because they WORSHIP AMPS. In other words, they like to play stupidly loud. With Kurihara peeling off one superhuman solo after another, making tantric love to his axe in ways Eric Clapton or Sting could never begin to imagine, the band reacted in turn with guitarist Wata sludge-riffing away, cartoonish drummer Atsuo headbanging while banging a gong and bassist Takeshi rarely opening her eyes throughout the storm und drang. I was sent into hyperspace, so what I’m still baffled by is how one of our friends fell asleep during the set.
10) Weezer - Stampede Corral - Calgary, AB - April 24, 2002
Before they became parodies of parodies of their former selves, it was still somewhat cool to call Weezer your favourite band. Ok, maybe ‘cool’ is the wrong word, but it wasn’t like wearing a Rush back patch on your jean jacket or something like that. Anyway, this was me at age 17, and the Weez had just made their ‘comeback’ the year previous with the release of the ‘Green’ album, a flawed but endearing collection of power-pop tunes that sounds like The Exploding Hearts compared to their current dreck. It’s somewhat embarrassing even including a concert at the Corral on this list, and being there for their first Calgary stop in ‘97 on the Pinkerton tour would at least be a tad more cred-worthy. Alas, this was my first time seeing a beloved band and I loved every second of it. I’m both cringing and laughing a little as I type these words, but when they closed the set with “Only In Dreams” and dropped confetti on the crowd, I might have even shed a few tears. You can stop reading now…
Prolific punk prog drummer Zach Hill keeps on raising the gnar bar.
By Jesse Locke
Keith Moon was a loon, but compared to Zach Hill, his drumming sounds like a Sunday walk in the park. Sacrilege? Maybe, and I’m not trying to pull a Launchpad McQuack and rewrite history, but if you’ve ever had a chance to witness the Sacramento stick-man in the flesh you’ll attest that his whirligig attack on the skins is — to use his own words — some next level stuff. While recently touring with Wavves (and completely overshadowing the simple scuzz pop tunes) and repping his latest electro-“pop” project CHLL PLL, Hill’s list of collaborations is as long as his Samson-like locks, and it continues to grow every year.
*FYI: Portions of this interview were used for a previous article in FFWD Weekly.
Texture: How old were you when you started playing the drums?
Zach Hill: I got a kit when I was 15, so it was around that time that I had the notion that I kind of understand how to play and decided it was what I ultimately wanted to do. Up until that point, I was really into visual art and skateboarding, but I just got more and more obsessed with the idea of playing drums. Prior to that, for some reason I didn’t understand the idea that anyone could make music. I don’t really know how to explain that! I was always into music and had been going to punk shows since I was 12 and all through junior high, but it wasn’t until a few years after that I started to try it myself.
I’ve read that you’re completely self-taught, is that true?
ZH: I’m self-taught in the sense that I’ve never taken a lesson or anything like that, but I consider going to shows and just being observant a form of being taught. So yeah, no, I’ve never had any direction other than just watching people play and try to understand what was happening.
That’s super cool, and I’m sure it’s what allowed you to create your style of playing. It’s a much more interesting path to take than just sitting in a room with some dude while he teaches you how to play Metallica songs.
ZH: Yeah yeah, it’s such a different kind of thing. I would go to shows and sit on the side watching the drummers super closely, then go home, listen to records, think about it and try to figure things out for myself. Then of course I started playing with friends.
That’s the best kind of education I think.
ZH: (Laughs) Yeah, for sure! I dropped out of high school right when I started playing as well, and just pretty much spent the majority of my days drumming when I wasn’t working jobs, washing dishes or something like that.
You’ve been involved in so many different projects over the last few years — everything from Marnie Stern and The Ladies to the Omar Rodriguez-Lopez stuff, Bygones, Diamond Watch Wrists and now Wavves and CHLL PLL. How do you decide which to take on, and find the time to balance it all out?
ZH: It’s not even really like I’m picking my projects necessarily, because there are just so many talented and amazing people all around the world that I just feel like it happens organically. Whenever any individual is interested in working on something collaboratively and I feel like it’ll educate me or I can add to what they’re doing, I get really excited about what things could turn out like. If I feel like it’ll challenge me or give me a different sort of energy, then I’m all up for trying it out and seeing what happens. It gets kind of blurry I guess! It’s not like I’m trying to play with every person on the planet, but I guess I’m just not afraid of playing with people outside of my element or comfort zone. A lot of people probably choose not to do that for a lot of reasons, but I think one of them is definitely fear. I just don’t have that, and I’m always excited about forming artistic relationships with a lot of different people.
You and Zach Nelson have had a lot of crisscrossing side projects over the years, but how did the idea for your newest CHLL PLL come to be? Did you go into it hoping to create something poppier or more electronic?
ZH: Musically, we didn’t have any kind of pre-conceived notions of what it would sound like. Because both of us have always been in fairly aggressive projects, we’d been joking around about just taking a chill pill. We were interested in writing fucked up pop songs about love and relationships, because that was a concept that neither of us had really gotten into before, and taking an almost Residents-inspired approach.
What was it like playing with Boredoms at ATP this September?
ZH: Oh man, amazing. Boredoms are one of my favorite bands of all time, so any chance to play with them goes beyond a musical experience, it’s pretty much next level stuff. For me, the times that I’ve played with that group have been high marks, not even just musically, but for my life and myself. It’s hard to put what those experiences are like into words; they’re just really special. We did the Solar Eclipse show this summer as well, and that was also incredible. I love them as people, and couldn’t really respect another group of people more.
I really dug your last solo album and thought it showed off a different side of your musical imagination, especially on “Necromancer,” the 30-minute duet with Marco Benevento. What do you have planned for the follow-up, Face Tat?
ZH: I’m on tour right now, but it’s in the process of being made, and I’m really excited about that too — anxious to finish it. I have a handful of things that are half-done right now, and plan on finishing the album in the beginning of next year so it can come out this time in 2010. I can’t really be specific as far as to what the sound of it will be at this point, but it’ll have the same vibe for sure. I definitely plan on doing another world tour as well, but I think this time I’ll definitely incorporate other people into whatever is being performed. I really enjoyed doing a four-month tour by myself, because it was something I’ve never done before, and I’m always into that. I learned a lot from that.
I know you’ve designed a lot of the covers for albums you’ve played on, that there was an exhibit of your art in 2006 and that you also released the book Masculine Drugs/Destroying Yourself Is Too Accessible a few years before that. Are you still making a lot of visual art these days?
ZH: When I’m at home I do for sure, but I wish I could get into it more these days. For me personally, I have this thing in my mind where I don’t feel like I can do things 110% if I’m dividing my time. I haven’t been as public with my visual art just because I don’t want to waste people’s time with something that was only half thought out. When I’m putting my full self into music, it’s hard to feel confident about my art. Sometime later in life I’d like to put a lot more effort into it, but as it goes now, I’m still obsessed and wrapped up with making sound. I just don’t have the time to give to art.
That’s fair; you’re in a million bands. There’s a new Hella album coming out next year too, right? Holy crap. Are you guys sticking to the approach of There’s No 666 In Outer Space with the larger band and Aaron Ross on vocals?
ZH: Actually no, it’ll be the first record with just Spencer [Seim] and me again for quite some time. Hella is an experimental band in the truest sense of the word. Since we started it up, we’ve had no interest in repeating ourselves and every record we’ve put out is an experiment. With every experience we’ve gained, even outside of music, we’ve come back to the table in a whole different headspace. So I don’t expect that it’ll sound like anything we’ve done before.http://www.myspace.com/zachhillmusic
Talk Normal talk broken-down blues, the creepy theatre of Bryan Ferry and translating simplicity into barreling surges of raw mayhem.
By Jesse Locke
Following in the Frankenstein footsteps of their No Wave forefathers and mothers, New York two-piece Talk Normal deconstruct rock ‘n’ roll using its own body parts, stripping the creature’s bloated mass down to its skeletal, atonal essentials. Using the building blocks of DNA/Sonic Youth-style guitar jags, tag-team vocals ranging from monotone to banshee (not Siouxsie) and a repetitive rhythmic thrust sometimes verging on tribal, Sarah Register and Andrya Ambro have carved out their own cave in the weirdo rock underground. With their debut full-length Sugarland set for an October release — including a twisted Roxy Music reimagining featuring longtime collaborator Richard Hoffman of Sightings — they’re excited to unleash their most fleshed-out and ferocious creation to date.
Texture: I’ve read that you two have been friends for years, and can imagine you in high school, skipping gym class and taking the principal’s car for a joy ride. How long exactly have you known each other, and how did you meet?
Sarah Register: Not high school quite, but there may have been some hijinks in college. We met 1999ish at NYU; our courses of study were vaguely swirling around each other. Ultimately Andrya started working in the music technology department, where I was assistant to the guy in charge. I staked out a mission to discover who this interesting intruder was. Many years of friendship later, Talk Normal emerged.
Did you play in other bands together (or separately) before this one?
SR: Andrya played in many bands. In NYC, of note: death.pool, Glen Olden and Antonius Block. Through a series of awesome events, I (later) also joined Antonius Block. After the eventual 'perpetual rest' that AB meandered into, Andrya and I spent a bit of time refining some mutual interests and started down a new path.
You’ve been continually (and I’d say accurately) compared to artists from the original No Wave era such as Lydia Lunch and DNA. Is that something that you aspired towards, or did it surprise you when you first heard the comparisons?
SR: It wasn't an aspiration, per se, but the minimalism (at times equalizing maximalism) and fierceness, among other things, appealed to both of us. Broken down structures, broken sounds, different forms, making noises naturally yet seemingly 'inappropriate' to the source... Initially we aspired to be a take on a broken-down blues band, a la Geeshie Wiley/Jessie Mae Hemphill. Simple is always interesting, though not always the end result, and also (as it would) the 'idea' is always evolving. Too hypocritical to stay still or try to be only one thing. Of course there are many potential influences.
Following your self-released demos and the Secret Cog EP, you’re now set to drop your debut full-length, Sugarland. How would you say it compares to the past material?
SR: It's a more realized studio representation than anything we've created so far. The challenge seems to be capturing the largeness we aspire to in live settings, and attempting to give a new/different life to that via recordings. This album spreads a fairly broad spectrum over the past two years. We are very proud to be presenting it in this fashion.
What was it like recording with Nicolas Vernhes at Rare Book Room? He’s got a pretty sweet CV, having worked with bands like Black Dice, the Dirty Projectors and even the Silver Jews.
SR: He's great. Just what the doctor ordered. A cool head full of plenty of wacky ideas and an open-mindedness toward off-the-beaten-path pursuits. Also always open to listen to our (oft-stubborn) thoughts/concerns and help us translate. A real music lover/enjoyer/maker. His intimacy with his studio is a delight to witness, and a palpable presence that he injects into the recording process.
The new album includes a re-worked version of your older song “River’s Edge” from the Coldest Beer In Town compilation released by Party Store Music. Why did you decide to dust that one off and bring it back to life again?
Andrya Ambro: Well, that song is a fave of ours. We had recorded the original version from the Coldest Beer comp ourselves but it never really felt true to how we perceived it live… like a barreling surge of raw mayhem! The Sugarland version comes a little closer to the song's inner core.
You’ve also included a cover of the Roxy Music classic “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” which really surprised me at first. Are you two big fans? Why that song specifically?
AA: Totally love Roxy Music, especially the first two albums. I had been watching a lot of Roxy videos earlier this year. 1. I want to be Bryan Ferry. 2. Made me totally want to further my initial pursuit of a woodwind instrument. Richard Hoffman (who plays on the track) nudged us a bit and eventually we pushed it forward. RE: “In Every Dream Home ....” it’s so poised and theatrical… and insane! The stillness which Ferry demands at the slow burning beginning is bold. And his delivery is so creepy. It also seemed like a good song for TN to rework — so much room to create our own playful arrangement and... who doesn't like inflatable dolls?
Do you have any other covers — glam rock or otherwise — in your repertoire?
AA: Yes! Otherwise. “Grinnin' In Your Face” off the Secret Cog EP is a Son House cover. [Ed’s note: I feel kind of dumb for not knowing that. It’s also been covered by Beck and… City and Colour, shudder...]
When I saw you live at SXSW earlier this summer, I thought it was super cool how you played a guitar as a percussive instrument on your drum kit, and decided to steal the idea. Was that your own invention, or did you pick it up somewhere else?
AA: No — Jorge DoCouto, of the now resting Antonius Block and the current Changing Holes, brought that forth. Good idea right? He threw that thing on my drum set and my brain was flipped. That's some wild and functional orchestration. When TN first started we were constantly trying to find ways to create more sound between the two of us. So the guitar ended up back on my drum set. We call her “The Beater.” With four strings, a loose neck and a busted pick-up, she's still kicking it after two plus years!
Back in March of last year, you sent out the following call over the Internet: “Seeking someone who loves to generate ‘noise’ via non-traditional machines or using traditional machines in a non-traditional manner. Props and odd objects acceptable. Good rhythm is a must. Ability to engage in the minimal is a must. Playing a woodwind instrument in an avant fashion is appreciated...or rather the desire to play a woodwind instrument in an avant fashion is more important :)” What came of that? Any interesting auditions?
AA: So many interesting “auditions,” or rather jams, with a slew of wonderful people. TN still remains Sarah and myself. However, people do occasionally join us on stage and recordings to break the routine, i.e. Richard Hoffman (bass), Vanessa Roworth (sax) and Dave Kadden (oboe). We are self-sufficient but do aspire to create in new ways, be they with other people or discovering a different process between the two of us.http://www.myspace.com/talknormaltalknormal
Candy kid rave on the scorched earth after the bomb drops
Edmonton’s Cecil Frena conjures the ghosts of the Neon Graveyard with bizarre-o pop solo project GOBBLE GOBBLE.
By Jesse Locke
Photo by Landon Speers
In everything he does, Cecil Frena chooses a decidedly off-kilter approach. To date, his musical CV includes a hyperactive buzz of activity with arty, agressive hardcore acts such as snic and Gift Eaters, alongside founding The Hydeaway All Ages Art Space, and stoking the fires of the local show-going community with his promotions collective Push Pins.
Now, the 25-year-old alchemist of awesome has revealed his latest project GOBBLE GOBBLE, a skewed and eerily emotional amalgam of video game bleeps, dreamy guitars, lo-fi noise, lush arrangements and otherworldly vocals (he calls it “flu pop”). Hitting the ground running, Frena has not only dropped his debut album Neon Graveyard — released on cassette tape through Red Deer’s Bart Records or available as a download — but is also embarking on a jam-packed cross-Canada tour this summer, bringing his bizarre-o dance party to a town near you. I tracked him down for a hard-hitting Q ‘n’ A.
Texture: Musically, you're probably best known for playing with more aggressive acts like Snic and Gift Eaters. Do you think GOBBLE GOBBLE will throw people for a loop?
Cecil Frena: I’m kind of aiming for this to be like riding the Ring of Fire at your local carnival, and the carny who is operating the machine is wearing sweatpants and has an erection that keeps brushing up against the machine’s knobs as he’s dancing to the ambient carnival music. So you keep spinning faster and faster, and you just start projectile vomiting, and you can’t stop.
How long have you been making weirdo pop music like this on your own? And when did you decide to assemble it together into the album, Neon Graveyard?
CF: The music arose pretty naturally out of the place I was living in downtown Edmonton, which is called the City Market Apartments. It is a government-subsidized artist living-space that falls right on the faultline between the most polished, monolithic skyrises and total, abject, apocalyptic urban devastation. My front door led to the endless bustle of business people, while my bedroom window faced the wasteland. I think I started making these songs about eight months ago... composing and producing them when I had spare time between shows, jobs, bands, etc. and was just sitting, looking out my window. The songs were all coming from the same place so it made sense to treat them as a single unit that was gradually being birthed.
You've also been working for the last little while at The Hydeaway all ages art space and running Push Pins, which puts on all ages indie, experimental and punk shows. How do you think this hands-on involvement in the Edmonton and Alberta music community may have affected or influenced your music making?
CF: Being a part of the collective that founds a venue, writing a song, producing a record, publishing a zine, putting out tapes, writing for arts weeklies, or putting on all ages shows are all just different sides of the same coin: if you want things to happen, you have to make it so. I understand in some places of the world it is chic to be DIY. In Edmonton, it’s mandatory. But it’s still a badge we wear with a certain measure of pride.
From my perspective, there is very little that can compare to the kind of catharsis that tiny all ages shows at their best can provide. Watching my incredibly talented friends from Edmonton and across Canada perform is endlessly inspiring. In terms of direct musical influence, I can’t say I’ve gleaned much from the acts I’ve worked with, but in terms of passion, community, and the drive to create, nothing can compare.
Do you have any other influences you’d care to mention, musical or otherwise?
CF: Moliere is a guiding influence for me – I learned from him that it is always important not to take yourself too seriously when saying something very serious. I am fortunate enough to share a birthday with J.L. Borges – the man of mazes and a definite influence. I think he and Alejandro Jodorowsky are deeply connected in their work, only Borges is the systematic architect – the librarian – while Jodorowsky is the mystical conjurer - the tarot card reader. Musically, I would have to say Carsten Nicolai – the man absolutely soars between extremes of minimalism and maximalism, and watching him perform is the closest I have ever been to an actual exorcism. He was practically ejaculating demons.
What exactly does “flu pop” mean?
CF: Flu pop just expresses anxious celebration: having a full-on candy kid rave on the scorched earth after the bomb drops. A plague is a time when everyone is united in the contemplation of their death. In the course of this process, people systematically isolate themselves from each other, but since they are all doing the same thing they are actually sharing something strange. Consider the queer homogeneity of the gas mask: everybody alone together. And of course the term has a few other valences that I really like too. Musicians love to make up descriptors for their music, but they usually don’t stick anyway, so enjoy “flu pop” while you can.
Your lyrics are quite evocative and abstract in places – mentioning things like pregnant ghosts, sacred dandruff and a sunburned heart. How do you approach writing things like this, and do you hope for people to try and uncover hidden metaphors and/or meanings?
CF: North American lyrical hardcore and its offshoots has shaped how I understand the place of lyrics: I think it’s exciting to be baffled by a lyric that is obfuscated by a scream or a texture or a tempo, and then to uncover it later, with or without the assistance of a lyric sheet, only to discover that it is a labyrinth all its own. That is at least one major difference between my approach and a lot of current “lo-fi” – while I enjoy the textures of noise for what they are, I’m also specifically interested in wrapping presents in fuzz.
There’s also an emotional undercurrent to your music despite the crazily upbeat nature of the songs and instrumentation, and you seem to return to the themes of death and dying throughout the album (making Neon Graveyard a really apt title). So… just how personally are the meanings behind these songs, and do you hope for people to feel something tugging at their heartstrings along with their hips?
CF: My whole life, I have had a fantasy where I dictate the events of my funeral, and transform it suddenly from a time of solemnity and mourning into a kind of celebratory, absurdist theater that forces laughter. Nietzsche talks about dancing on the void – Nichol would tell you to piss in the abyss. I hope more than anything that this record will be awkward and emotionally dissonant for people – in a good way, a cathartic dissonance.
So it is a conceptual record of sorts, though I hope it at least in part manages to avoid the usual pretension of that tradition. I know a bit inevitably creeps in – I mean, I just namechecked Nietzsche. But maybe imagine him wearing assless chaps.
On the topic of instrumentation, you’ve described your live setup as follows: “a stolen harmonica mic through a guitar amp, sidechaining, game boys, garbage percussion, circuit bent kids toys, live remixing, homemade instruments.” How will this all work live, and how much stuff will you be bringing on tour? How do you expect this music to be received in the smaller towns of Canada and the U.S.?
CF: Live, we try to do something very different from what I did on the record: bizarre-o dance party. Exuberance is the founding principle of the GOBBLE GOBBLE live set. For this tour, I will have a live band, and we’ve been carefully building our implements. A tree of garbage, a toy chest of circuit bent and monstrous toys, multi-generational Gameboys, hand-soldered monosynths, homemade noise makers, and I’ll be cutting things up and remixing live. We’re bringing the total spectacle out on the road with us. I think in small towns, this half-ton of kitsch will make even more sense.
Why have you decided not to release the album on CD, going with cassette and download only? Will there also be vinyl down the road?
CF: Pete Lyman mastered Neon Graveyard, and he contributed to it by running his tape machine into the red and adding his own distortion. Similarly, each individual tape will also contribute its own hiss and clip to the record. So I really just like the idea of the tape as an individualized, handmade relic, and I think it’s something worth having, while a CD is merely for ripping and tossing. I’m definitely looking to do vinyl down the road.
What other plans do you have for the future of GOBBLE GOBBLE?
CF: Stylish and decadent disease — in a word, consumption.
Top 12 oddball acts at the 2009 Austin, Texas fest
by Jesse Locke
Photos by Marki Sveen
1. Sun Araw
In his stunning set at the Not Not Fun showcase, Sun Araw’s mustachioed main-man Cameron Stallones (also a member of heavy psych worshippers Magic Lantern) offered forth three extended tropical drone bliss-outs. Bathed in Sunn O))) amp reverb and Farfisa organ warble, he magically froze time like Hiro Nakamura.
2. Mi Ami
Back in the ‘90s, Dischord-signed double bass guitar/drum-kit sporting, free-jazz loving quintet Black Eyes were one of the baddest-assed bands around. These days, members Jacob Long and Daniel Martin-McCormick have regrouped as two-thirds of the hyperactive, banshee squealing trio Mi Ami, and guess what? Almost equal bad assery, bah gawd. As one of the last acts signed to the sadly defunct Touch & Go, their debut LP Watersports is one of this year's early stand-outs.
Imagine Neil Young and Crazy Horse reborn as a group of guitar freak-out and psych-folk loving early 20-somethings with some of the catchiest campfire holler-a-longs this side of circa now Devendra, and you might have some idea of what to expect with Woods. Or maybe just Wooden Shjips with twang and falsetto? Either way, these shaggily-sideburned Californian wunderkinds are so damn winning it’s almost unfair.
4. Daniel Francis Doyle
Photo courtesy of Ben Aqua
The formula for this Texas-based one-man freak show savant is simple on paper, but jaw-droppingly impressive in execution. Step 1: Whip off some blistering riffage on electric guitar. Step 2: Snag said riffs on Line 6 delay pedal and allow to ring out. Step 3: Jump onto drum kit and make like Zach Hill. Step 4: Somehow miraculously manage to sing monotone motivational Gang Of Four-style slogans into a head-attached mic while still flailing like a whirligig, all while foot-tapping the delay pedal like another percussive instrument. Step 5: Splatter audience brains across floor and walls.
5. These Are Powers
Like M.I.A, Low and "I Feel Love" before them, Chicago/Brooklyn three-piece These Are Powers (featuring former Liars and n0 things member Pat Noecker on possibly the weirdest sounding bass guitar ever) offer a taste of the future. Describing their synth-drum and sample driven, mutant electro hip-hop hybrid is difficult in words that currently exist, so try these: GRAXX DRAZZLY WYBBB QUUUUVVV.
6/7. Azeda Booth/Women
This pair aren’t linked up because of stylistic similarities—both play guitars, that’s about all they share—but because they’re both from Calgary, and seriously slayed at this year’s SXSW. At the annual Friend Island day party, the Azeda boys performed cuts spanning their back catalog and brand spankin’ new Tubtrek EP. Stranger and more exciting still, front man Jordon Hossack traded in his trademark falsetto for some bona-fide croons, while fellow band members Morgan Greenwood and Marc Rimmer provided the shimmering soundscapes underneath.
Women, on the other hand, were one of the most hyped acts at this year’s fest, and for good reason. Following their non-stop tour action of the last few years, the quartet have now honed themselves into crystalline panthers of post-punk destruction. With newer tracks like “Diamond Boy” and their cover of Devo’s "Blockhead", they easily outshone the now tragically past their prime flowerpot-hatted fogies they paid tribute to.
Everyone and their dog has been barking about these Baltimoreans since the release of last year’s Ice Cream Spiritual, but hey, it’s basically impossible (and pointless) to find a fault in their stupidly fun sound. If you can’t get down with cascades of guitar, spasticus drumming and a cherub-like lead singer hopped up on Pixie Stix while spitting nonsense sound effects, then basically you don’t like music. Live, they make even more or possibly even less sense, depending on how you grok it.
9/10. Micachu/The Dirty Projectors
It would be impressive enough just to know that she’s been a musician since age four, has mastered multiple instruments such as the violin and viola in post-secondary, composed a classical epic for the London Philharmonic Orchestra and invented her own kind of guitar (“The Chu” - see photo above). However, the fact that 21-year-old cutie-pie Mica Levi takes these skills and cranks out stupidly catchy and undeniably British bizarre-o pop songs makes you want to pick her up, put her in your backpack and buy her some candy (or a pint). Performing at Emo’s Annex, Levi and her band The Shapes opened for Dave Longstreth's Dirty Projectors, who also ruled it with their fourth world weirdness and Mariah Carey impressions.
11. Talk Normal
With their awesome atonality, bored vox and guitar squawks, Brooklyn grrly girl No Wave duo Talk Normal conjure up the ghosts of James Chance, Lydia Lunch and Arto Lindsay, even though all three of them are still alive. Stick their Secret Cog EP in yr ear, it’s a real brainstormer.
12. Thee Oh Sees
Photo courtesy of Tomlab
Johnny Dwyer and Crispin Glover must share a few chromosomes, because they both get the exact same look of fired up insanity in their eyes and faces when they’re at the height of excitement. On album, Thee Oh Sees are a real cool time, but they still can't quite pound the nails into the coffin the same way Dwyer’s past projects Coachwhips and Pink and Brown used to. Live, however, it’s another story altogether. One about sloppy guitar shredding, spazzy rock ‘n’ roll and you leaving their show feeling like you just saw Thin Lizzy obliterate a backyard BBQ.