The Riff - October 2007

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?
  • Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things 10/01/07

    | Tue Oct. 2, 2007 12:52 AM EDT

    Bruce10. Bruce Springsteen – "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" (from Magic, out 10/02 on Columbia) (Listen to excerpts and compare to the Magnetic Fields at Vulture here)
    Don't get me wrong, I think Bruce is great (especially Nebraska, since I'm from that state, go Huskers). But when I heard people were accusing Mr. Springsteen of stealing from my fave New York cabaret/experimental popsters The Magnetic Fields, I had to investigate. Turns out, yes, he's definitely doing a Stephen Merritt, and it's eerie, and actually pretty good. Over a simple violin melody and strummed guitar, Mr. Born-in-the-USA gets dramatic: listen to him hit that note on the line, "lovers they walk byyyyy." The day Merritt and Springsteen duet, no price is too high for that ticket.

    Klaxons9. Klaxons, Live at the Fillmore, Friday 9/28/07
    I do not get this whole "new rave" thing that people throw at Klaxons. They're not even rave at all! There's a keyboard in like three of their songs! But people insisted on bringing glowsticks to this show and whipping them around on strings like I remember from 1993. Not that I did that even then. There was even a crazy guy dressed up like a dalmation-man or something, with giant-soled shoes. Anyway, the band. They were pretty good (despite the half-empty venue), but much more in the spirit of punk rock than rave: edgy, raw, intense… okay maybe it was kind of rave-y. Bleep bleep!

    mojo-photo-dub4.jpg8. Various Artists – DJ Dub-4 – "September '07 Mix" (grab an mp3 at mashit)
    More genre-melting DJ mixes, this time focusing on "Kuduro," an Angolan dance music, mixed with more typical dancehall and breaks. The generally foreign-language lyrics make this a slightly edgier set than most, but with the syncopated bass drum keeping things from getting too mental, it's more easy to listen to than you'd think.

    Matt7. Matt Hite – "Me & You & Yazoo" (Cassie vs. Yaz vs. The Art of Noise) (grab an mp3 here)
    Oh, the cutthroat world of mashuppery! I've been wanting to put something together with "Situation" for a while and then fellow-SFer Matt beats me to it with this near-perfect combo. I'm not familiar with the Cassie song, but I can't imagine it's any better than this: a silky-smooth mashup that's both funkier and easier to listen to than the Yaz classic.

    mojo-photo-ironandwinesmall.JPG6. Iron and Wine – "White Tooth Man"
    (from The Shepherd's Dog on Sub Pop)
    It's hard to pick my favorite song on this album, but right now the weird Fleetwood Mac-via-India vibe of this track is grabbing me. Is there a vaguely political bent under the trippy music? There's lyrics like these: "We all got sick on a strip club meal / While the statehouse was fryin' all the witches again." Hmm.

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    The Fake Web Site As Promotional Tool

    | Mon Oct. 1, 2007 8:24 PM EDT

    Buy n Large

    In this day and age, with cynical tweens skimming past ads on their Tivos, it's tougher than ever to come up with advertising that actually reaches the target consumer. Not surprisingly, movies and TV shows are at the forefront of a kind of viral internet promotion that's almost an extension of the creative work itself: the fake Web site for a fictional organization. ABC's "Lost" was one of the first to try this out, creating a site for The Hanso Foundation as part of the show's mythology; the site's calming turquoise palette and new age-y music struck a perfectly creepy tone.

    Now, two upcoming films have created fake company sites, with varying degrees of creative success: first of all, the highly-anticipated "Cloverfield" project (from "Lost" producer J. J. Abrams) which may or may not be a new Godzilla movie, has spawned a website for the Tagruato Corporation, a deep-sea drilling concern whose subsidiaries include, bafflingly, the Slusho! drink company, or as they put it, "Slusho! brand happy drink is a icy cool beverage… [that] contains a "special ingredient" that customers can't get enough of." Hmm, what could this have to do with Godzilla? Even though the movie's hand-held trailer (watch it below) was pretty awesome, I'm not obsessed enough with this to really understand what's going on here.

    Trailer for "Cloverfield" ("1-18-08")

    A little more entertaining for the casual fan is Pixar's fake site for its upcoming robot movie, "WALL-E". The film is set some time in the future, and a single corporation apparently builds and owns just about everything. The company is called, awesomely, "Buy n Large," and its Web site is hours of fun. From the perfectly-calibrated corporate-speak ("…by visiting the Buy n Large web site you instantaneously relinquish all claims against the Buy n Large corporation…") to the "World News" stories about floating cities and ads for the mood-altering drug "Xanadou" ("effortlessly feel like you've just purchased that once-in-a-lifetime item!"), the site is both a stand-alone parody of corporate America and an intriguing teaser for the movie. There's a couple places you might want to call David Foster Wallace ("Buy n Large to brand direction 'North'") but the story on "Pix-Vue" Animation Studio's new "4-D" film is priceless. And I totally need that laundry robot and the 1,000,000-zettabyte hard drive, like, right now. Considering the movie looks like another cutesy romp with big-eyed creatures on some sort of quest, this site might be the best part of the whole deal.

    The First Radio One DJ: Yeah, Baby, Yeah

    | Mon Oct. 1, 2007 6:14 PM EDT

    Tony Blackburn

    I know some of my recent posts have been a bit anglophilic, but anyone interested in the history of radio (or the swingin' 60s) will enjoy this. BBC Radio One is celebrating its 40-year anniversary, and while I've already mentioned my annoyance at their lily-white "legends" schedule, the shows themselves have been fascinating: Fatboy Slim's reminiscences included the story about getting sued by his heroes in The Clash when he pilfered the "Guns of Brixton" bassline for his first #1 hit, "Dub Be Good To Me" (under the name Beats International). Remember that one?

    Good times. Anyway, today's Daily Mail features a personal history from Radio One's first morning show host, Tony Blackburn, detailing his experiences as a DJ whose celebrity eclipsed many of the stars whose records he was playing:

    The opportunities to let this go to your head were manifold. There was an endless stream of record pluggers eager to wine and dine you, invitations galore, flattery from all sides - and a generous supply of women ready to throw themselves at you. Even at the height of my fame, though, I was well aware that my Mr Nice image - complete with catchy jingles and corny jokes - wasn't going down well with everyone. At the Radio One Roadshows, there would be a bit of ribbing from the more drunken elements of the crowd - and it was never very pleasant to hear the occasional chorus of "Tony Blackburn is a w*****" from a few blokes at the back.

    I guess he means "wanker" there. Or, um, "wookie"? Anyway, Blackburn's commercial style was anathema to John Peel, Radio One's champion of the underground, and the two were enemies from the start:

    Our strained relationship was a perfect metaphor for what was happening in the pop world. John was on the side of the long-haired, the drop-outs, the students - all those who regarded the three-minute pop single as a blot on the face of culture. I was the happy-go-lucky dispenser of the kind of song that an audience only had to hear once before rushing out to buy it. Fortunately, I've never given two hoots about street cred. If I'm being perfectly honest, I'd say that seeing Bobby Vee perform was far more enjoyable than watching The Beatles in their prime.

    Bobby who? While Blackburn still seems to carry some resentment for not being as canonized as the late John Peel (and I have to admit I'd probably take Peely's side in the argument), on the whole he looks back at his wild times with a bemused "how did this happen to me" attitude. It's kind of like reading about a flesh-and-blood Austin Powers.


    SNL Samples Aphex Twin Without Asking?

    | Mon Oct. 1, 2007 4:33 PM EDT

    The Drukqs Don't Work
    While I was out and about and missed "Saturday Night Live"'s season premier, there were a couple items of note; first, Kanye's odd musical appearance (more on that here), and second, the "Iran So Far" digital short. This is Andy Samberg's deal, once again proving that just as he continues to be nearly unwatchable as a live performer on the show, he knocks every one of these pre-recorded pieces out of the park. It's a fair trade-off. This "Iran" piece riffed on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent remark at Columbia that there are no gays in Iran, with Samberg professing his love for the Iranian president, and in a most definitely gay way. With cameos by Maroon 5's Adam Levine and Jake Gyllenhaal, the track could go on to be another internet hit like "Lazy Sunday," but NBC seems to be holding back. Copies of the clip have been removed from YouTube, but you can't watch it on NBC's site either; clicking on the video brings up an error. What could be the problem?

    Well, it turns out Samberg might have gotten a little too sample-happy. It turns out that the delicate piano melody that forms the basis of the tune was taken directly from an Aphex Twin song, "Avril 14th," off the 2001 album drukqs, and it appears they didn't have clearance for it. Oops. You can just imagine the stern talking-to Lorne Michaels probably gave Samberg this morning. "Andy, I just got a very angry phone call from Warp Records, would you know anything about that?" "Sorrrryyy..." The Daily Swarm is reporting that an "SNL source" says they're working on getting all the right clearances, and hopefully then you'll be able to watch it without guilt on NBC's site. But until then, I found a link they haven't shut down yet. I have to say, I get a little verklempt hearing the cheers after the line, "I know you said there's no gays in Iran, but you're in New York now baby."

    Radiohead to Release New Album in Ten Days!

    | Mon Oct. 1, 2007 2:49 PM EDT

    Radiohead - In Rainbows

    Well now I feel bad, since I'd been complaining about how cryptic they were being. Radiohead have announced they will be releasing their new album, In Rainbows, in ten days. Rumors had been swirling about the band's upcoming material in recent days, with coded messages on their official site leading some to look for a March, 2008 release of a new album. Radiohead left EMI in 2005, so their next move had been the topic of great speculation. Thus this announcement has come as a major shock, with Pitchfork headlining their article, "NEW RADIOHEAD ALBUM AAAAAAAHHH!!!"

    The unexpectedness of the announcement may be the least unusual thing about the release, which is breaking with many record industry conventions. First of all, the album will be available for the first two months after its release only as a digital download from the band's website; second, and most interestingly, fans will be able to "name their own price" for the purchase. A disclaimer on the checkout screen reads, "It's up to you." Agh! Pressure!

    The band will also sell In Rainbows on traditional CDs and double vinyl, just not immediately; the CDs will begin shipping in early December. Billboard has a tracklisting.

    [update] For an interesting take on In Rainbows UK Telegraph blogger Shane Richmond has a piece called "How Radiohead Killed the Record Labels." His point is mostly that while Radiohead isn't doing anything that new here, it's still a big deal because, well, Radiohead is a big deal:

    None of the things Radiohead are doing with this is unique. All of them have been developed and used by other artists for quite some time. But this is Radiohead. When one of the world's biggest bands does something like this, it will get noticed and it will start people thinking. ...Record labels survived for years on the value they added to the process. They made it possible for bands to make records and get them into the stores and then used their marketing weight to get those records played on the radio and featured in magazines. In the process they made enormous profits by overcharging fans and underpaying artists. ...[But] they no longer add any value to the process. In fact, they act as a barrier between fans and musicians. It's time to move them out of the way and Radiohead have just showed us how.

    Well! All praise be to Radiohead! The album's popularity is assured, but the question remains on how all this will work out; the website has already crashed once due to overwhelming traffic. Any problems with delivering the mp3s (or the actual CDs) could be looked at as a warning for any band trying to imitate Radiohead's move. We'll see in ten days...

    [update #2] As news emerges that no advance copies of In Rainbows will be sent to the press, British music weekly NME has taken it upon themselves to match up the album's tracklisting with YouTubed live footage of the band, and they've found clips of almost every one of the songs. Whether they're completely accurate, it's hard to be sure, but if you can't wait ten days for your Radiohead experience, check the videos out here.