Mixed Media

Live Review: Detour Festival, Los Angeles

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 3:52 PM EDT

Say you're the LA Weekly, and you like the Coachella music festival a lot, and you want to throw a slightly smaller, edgier version of the multi-stage concert. Where could you have it that's even more deserted than a polo field in the middle of nowhere? Why, downtown Los Angeles on a weekend, of course. And so, Saturday saw the streets around LA's City Hall fill with hipsters and music, and me with a camera.

Scissors for LeftyFirst, I stumbled across the Bay Area's Scissors for Lefty, who seem to have painted themselves gold for the occasion. It's still pretty early in the afternoon and with the crowds still a bit thin, that seems like a lot of effort. But the band are putting just as much energy into their performance, and like a quirkier, buzzier Strokes, they're livening up the early arrivals.

Cool KidsOver at the main stage, Chicago's Cool Kids are testing the limits of the sound system with some bass-heavy '80s-inflected beats. With their cardigans and Beastie Boys references, they're not only a throwback to a kinder, gentler era of hip-hop, but perhaps approach a new level of MIA-style cultural (re-) appropriation. Who knows. Either way, the duo are themselves evidencing a new fashion trend: the return of day-glo. Everywhere I turn, kids are wearing fluorescent-colored sunglasses, pink and yellow baseball caps, a traffic-cone-orange dress. If only I'd kept my pink Culture Club T-shirt…

Shout out LoudsSweden's Shout Out Louds are doing anything but over at the side stage; when the bassist grabs castanets, you have no problem hearing them. Their bright, upbeat tunes are tempered by lead singer Adan Olenius, whose Robert Smith-style laments over lost love start to seem a little too self-indulgent, and I begin to sympathize with whoever dumped him. But "The Comeback," off their 2005 album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, is a great tune, even if it's lamenting lost love.

AutoluxI hear Mexican disco-punkers Kinky make a noisy entrance down the street, but I'm sticking around for Autolux (right). With the stage standing right next to the Morphosis-designed CalTrans building, it's an unlikely opportunity to see two of LA's great modernist projects at the same time, and the band acknowledge this by dedicating a song to the structure. But most of the time they stick to the music, and while the guitar fuzz brings easy comparison's to My Bloody Valentine, the 'Lux seem more interested in bending and twisting the notes than flooding them in distortion. It's an experimental set, even for them, and they seem off their game a little.

RaveonettesPerry Farrell is helping his new band, Satellite Party, cover Jane's Addiction songs over on the main stage, but I'm on my way to see The Raveonettes (left), who end up being my heroes of the festival. Stuck on the smallest stage, and in front of a minuscule but enthusiastic crowd, the Danish duo (accompanied by a tom-and-snare drummer) knock every song out of the park. Their reverb-y rock is definitely retro, but like the White Stripes, they use the restrictive palette and genre conventions to great effect, and songs like "That Great Love Sound" reach a kind of epic grandeur. The crowd, such as it is, goes nuts.

mojo-photo-dt-teddybears.jpgSwedish big-beat combo Teddybears are super late arriving on the main stage, but this is where everybody is, and when the band emerge in their bear heads, the cheers are deafening. "Different Sound" and "Cobrastyle," with their reggae-style toasting, are crowd-pleasers, but the drummer seems to be having trouble keeping time with the drum machine, and besides, Justice are about to start on the side stage.

mojo-photo-dt-justice.jpgIt's the biggest crowd of the day for the French techno duo, but that's still not saying much; there's probably only a couple thousand people here at best. But with glowsticks at the ready, there's a kind of techno fever sweeping the crowd, and as the lights go down, people are rushing madly towards the stage, screaming how much they love Justice. Weird. The duo open their DJ set with the fanfare from "Also Sprach Zarathustra," blending it into their bass-heavy hit "Let There Be Light," and people are dancing with such abandon I'm being knocked off my feet. But when the set swerves into cheeky references to early rave music, the crowd seems underwhelmed. Los Angeles experienced the excesses of rave culture a little more intensely than Paris, I think, and a track like "Short D*** Man" (that in France might be considered a "lost classic") is just played out in LA. But people stick around, and cheer the set's every transition.

Sadly, prior DJ commitments pulled me away from Detour before Bloc Party's headlining set, but as I walked back to my hotel, brief echoes of their music would bounce off the buildings and find me. People were lined up for some fancy club, a taco stand was doing brisk business, and the air, a comfy 70-ish degrees as always, was sweet with the promise of another Saturday night in LA.

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Friday? Sigh, Music News Day

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 3:07 PM EDT

The Wu

  • The Wu-Tang Clan announce they've cleared the first-ever legal Beatles sample, and then get shot down by, well, everyone, since it turns out the track actually "reinterprets" the sample, which makes this what we call a "cover." But the song's still great.
  • Arcade Fire pull a Radiohead, as it were: the band have launched a cryptic website, beonlineb.com, that announces something interesting will happen on October 6th. Hey, that's tomorrow! Rumors are swirling that it's a Neon Bible remix album of some sort ("beonlineb" is an anagram of "neon bible"), possibly involving tour mate James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.
  • The Sex Pistols may record new material in the wake of their live reunion tour. The band will play seven dates in the UK as well as a special radio show in Los Angeles, and are reissuing "God Save the Queen" on Monday.
  • A federal jury has found a Minnesota woman guilty of copyright infringement for using online music sharing services and fined her $222,000. Wired's "Threat Level" blog has the list of the 24 tracks that each cost Jammie Thomas over $9,000; it includes Vanessa Williams, Goo Goo Dolls and Richard Marx.
  • Le Concorde, Ready For Zach Braff

    | Thu Oct. 4, 2007 8:47 PM EDT
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    Visions of teen flicks with happy endings dance in my head when I listen to Le Concorde's EP, Suite. The lyrics are sweet and romantic, and the songs have titles like "I Want You Back" and "Lullaby for Dollface." This is music for someone who just broke up with their boyfriend or girlfriend, you know, at the junior high prom.

    In fact, the music is perfectly suited for a soundtrack to a romantic comedy. I can just see the montage now, of a new, young, and happy couple going on their first string of dates together, while Le Concord's "Break You Like a Promise" is playing in the background. "Lullaby for Dollface" could easily have been featured in Zach Braff's uber sentimental Garden State soundtrack in place of that wispy Iron and Wine song, "Such Great Heights."

    Le Concorde's music earned the band enough credibility to headline a 2005 CMJ (College Music Journal) showcase performance. Their website fills you in on lots of personal details (Honestly, it was more than I needed to know) about founding member Stephen Becker's journey (earning a PhD, getting a divorce) toward making "Suite." Becker describes the music as "a love—approaching obsession—with the finest details of the sonic sculpture."

    New (-ish) Music: Siouxsie - Mantaray

    | Thu Oct. 4, 2007 5:28 PM EDT

    mojo-photo-siouxsie.jpgWas it really almost 30 years ago that Siouxsie & the Banshees, along with their buddies in The Cure, defined what it means to be goth? Just imagine: if they had decided to wear orange instead of black, how different the club scene would be today. Fashion choices aside, the Banshees, like Blondie, always seemed subsumed under the sheer force of their singer's personality, and their music naturally evolved towards pop, with the success of "Peek-a-boo" the greatest evidence of that transformation. But even that was 20 years ago. Does Ms. Sioux survive the transformation into a one-name persona?

    Well, thankfully, her voice is as unique and captivating as ever. Check out "About to Happen," where she struts and teases her way over a beat somewhere between the retro-rock of Wolfmother and the glammy electro of Goldfrapp: "Tension mounts / about to blow." "Here Comes That Day," with its trumpets and loping beat, could be straight out of the Mark Ronson/Amy Winehouse school of updated R&B, but in Siouxsie's hands, it takes on a kind of vampy, cabaret-style appeal. That cabaret sound emerges full force by track 5, "If It Doesn't Kill You," where you can almost see the well-dressed patrons in a smoky lounge, drinking martinis as Siouxsie drapes herself over a piano.

    Mostly, though, the sound is definitely current, but still idiosyncratic: it never tries too hard, and despite Siouxsie's longtime absence from music, there's nothing desperate about Mantaray. There's also nothing that urgent; if you never cared about Siouxsie and the Banshees, you probably won't discover yourself falling in love with Siouxsie now. It's the way of the world: a solo record, 30 years after your band helped ignite a whole movement, will probably be a more sedate, professional affair. But if that's a given (and considering how embarrassing these late-career "returns" can be), Mantaray is often very good, both as a tribute to Siouxsie the image, and as a purely enjoyable listen.

    Mantaray is out now on Decca.
    MP3s: "Here Comes That Day," "Into a Swan," and "If It Doesn't Kill You" from Nine Bullets

    Video: "Into a Swan"

    "Here Comes That Day" live on "Erasercuts"

    Chart Beat: iTunes' Top Ten Singles

    | Wed Oct. 3, 2007 9:34 PM EDT

    BritneyAnd now, we turn with the usual trepidation towards those thermometers up the wazoo of our nation's zeitgeist: music sales charts. What are we buying, how sick are we? Let's take a look at today's iTunes top ten songs, and for added multimedia enjoyment, open up your iTunes program and listen to the 30-second excerpts of each song. It's 1/6 of a song, for free!

    1. Britney Spears – "Gimme More"
    Well, as I've said before, there are good things about this song, but none of those things involve Britney Spears. The track's climb to #1 seems to be evidence of some sort of scientific breakthrough: no matter how far an American celebrity dives down to the quantum level of supposedly career-ending debasement, the axiom of "no publicity is bad publicity" still holds true. It's a unified field theory of celebutards!

    2. Soulja Boy – "Crank That"
    Still hanging around near the top of the charts, I still believe this is a hit only because of the "youuuuu!" part. It's not bad, there's just so little going on: some inoffensive steel drum noodling and a car-commercial-style orchestral stab. But people sure like saying "youuuu!" along with it.

    3. Kanye West – "Stronger"
    Mr. West apparently not greatly damaged nor greatly assisted by his goofball SNL performance; still a great song.

    4. Feist – "1234"
    Does everyone at Apple touch themselves when this kind of thing happens? "Look, we put Feist in our commercial and turned the song into a hit! Our power is unlimited! We are so pretty, so very very pretty!" Well, I resisted Feist's charms to no avail: I now love this song.

    5. Timbaland – "Apologize" (feat. OneRepublic)
    One of the three tracks on Timbo's new album to feature alt-rock dudes in an ill-advised crossover attempt, this isn't even the worst of them. It's still pretty terrible though: a maudlin emo ballad laid awkwardly over a D-level Timbaland beat. You apologize.

    More Reggae Concerts Cancelled After Gay Rights Groups Protest

    | Wed Oct. 3, 2007 5:33 PM EDT

    Elephant ManThe controversy over anti-gay lyrics in reggae music continues: performances by Sizzla and Elephant Man in Toronto have been cancelled following an outcry from Canadian organizations who came together under the "Stop Murder Music" flag. Police had already intended to monitor the concerts for "hate speech," but then promoters pulled the plug on the events, scheduled for September 28 and October 6th.

    Stop Murder Music Canada founder Akim Larcher told the Toronto Star that the reggae stars "shouldn't have been allowed to get visas to perform in the country… it's not about censorship or artistic freedom. That stops when hate propaganda is involved."

    We've covered the controversy over anti-gay lyrics in reggae music here before, as well as the current kerfuffle over sexist and generally nasty language in American hip-hop. While I'm inclined to side with artists, since offense and shock has always been a part of art's power, is there a qualitative difference between calling for the murder of "batty boys" and calling women "hos"? Why do white artists seem to get a free pass, with the whole "I'm singing in character" defense? And when does exercising your right to free speech by protesting another's speech interfere with their right to, um, speak? Answers to all these questions coming up tonight at 11.

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    Wild Style Turns 25

    | Wed Oct. 3, 2007 5:04 PM EDT

    Wild StyleIt's been nearly 25 years since the movie Wild Style brought New York's burgeoning hip-hop culture to a wider audience (and blew this little Nebraska boy's mind). Now, director Charlie Ahearn has compiled a book of photographs and stories about the creation of the now-legendary film. Called, appropriately, Wild Style: The Sampler, the book features luminaries like Fab 5 Freddy and shots of their early graffiti work; check out a gallery of pictures from the book at The Guardian.

    It's kind of crazy to see all these pictures from 1983; the colorful style, nutty short-shorts and skinny ties could not be more hot right now. Where can I get a Fab 5 Freddy baseball cap?!

    Anyway, here's a clip from the original movie. Look at Grandmaster Flash go, and in the kitchen no less. As hard as I've tried, I've never been able to do that thing where you go back and forth between two records, creating a one-measure loop; it's still awe-inspiring to watch.

    Listen to Bruce Springsteen's Magic Online

    | Wed Oct. 3, 2007 3:56 PM EDT

    BruceBruce Springsteen's new album is getting some good reviews (5 stars from Rolling Stone, "A" from Entertainment Weekly); I put its Magnetic Fields-reminiscent "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" in my Top Ten on Monday, but I couldn't find a good online sample for you to listen to. Now New York's Q104.3 has posted a stream of the entire album on their Web site here. Thanks, New York's Classic Rock! One more quote: The Guardian says Bruce is "a bulwark of artistic vision in a culture obsessed with youth." Wait, are you calling him old?!

    Mellencamp Sings the News

    | Tue Oct. 2, 2007 10:20 PM EDT
    mellencamp.gif

    With a career making songs about the working class and rural America, country/folk/pop singer John (Cougar) Mellencamp has similarities to Woody Guthrie, a guy who, in 1941 was singing for Dust Bowl refugees. Mellencamp even received the 2003 Woody Guthrie Award for "exemplifying the ideals" of the man. In his newest song, "Jena," Mellencamp appears to be embodying his hero's ideals again.

    "Jena" is a quiet, restrained folk song written about the Jena 6, a group of six black teenagers that were arrested in December after an attack on a white student in Jena, La. Racial tensions have since flared.

    The song is one of nearly 20 that Mellencamp recorded in August for a new album with T Bone Burnett that currently has no title, no label, and no release date, according to his publicist. But Bay Area folks might get lucky and hear "Jena" performed live this week when Mellencamp sits in with Burnett at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

    A Huffington Post blogger suggests that Mellencamp take his politics to the next level and run for governor of his home state of Indiana. Um, I'm thinking Woody Guthrie would say stick with the guitar, sir.

    Tuesday's a Bruising Music News Day

    | Tue Oct. 2, 2007 2:18 PM EDT

    Common

  • Artists expressing solidarity with the so-called "Jena 6" include Common (above), Mos Def, MC Lyte, Talib Kweli and Pharoahe Monch. The rappers joined the call for a classroom walk-out yesterday in support of the six black students charged with second-degree murder after a fight stemming from a racial conflict at Jena High School in Louisiana. See Mother Jones' coverage of, well, having mixed feelings over the whole Jena thing here.
  • Radiohead's Web site slows to a crawl after fans start pre-orders of the band's new album, In Rainbows. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood wrote a kind-of apology on the site, saying it was "busier than they expected," I guess referring to the rest of the band, but not himself, is he pulling an "I-told-you-so" here? Incidentally, the Billboard story refers to the magazine's "Buzz" chart that measures, er, blog popularity. I didn't know they had a chart for that. More "High School Musical" posts coming right up.
  • The Police were honored with the Order of Arts and Letters at a ceremony in Paris on Monday. French Culture Minister Christine Albanel presented the high honor to the band, saying she expressed "France's full admiration and recognition." Sting, replying in French, said "we are very happy to be among your knights." That's right, he replied in French. Gotta love that guy.
  • Ugh. In the saddest development yet in a pretty sad story, Britney Spears has lost custody of her kids in a hearing Monday. Kevin Federline will take care of Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1, "until further order of the court." Is this even music-related in any way?