Boooo! Spooky! Hey! Halloween!
Let's cut right to the MP3. This week it comes from a guy, Phil Boyd, who used to sometimes dress up as a giant squid when he performed. That's almost topical, right? His current solo project is Hidden Twin, and his latest EP (on Machine Age Records) sounds more like the squid thing than the first couple of Hidden Twin records. Still with me? Phil's also the voice of Modey Lemon, and TMEye.
The track we're offering up for your downloading pleasure? "Endangered Birds."
PS: If you Google hidden twin, the first result you get is titled: "Twin Pregnancy FAQ - Can There Be a Hidden Twin?"
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The legendary(?) Pittsburgh country band The Four Roses is releasing a new album ... and breaking up. Don't worry; the break-up is built into the release: It's titled Goodbye! We're The Four Roses. Fortunately for us, out ahead of their last show on Saturday, the 29th, at Hambone's, they've offered us the cranky and tongue-in-cheek (aren't all of their songs?) "Another Song 'Bout Texas."
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As announced today by Opus One Productions, the weekend of Nov. 11-13 will feature three benefit shows at the Braddock Carnegie Library. Friday night, Andrew Bird headlines, with Kurt Vile in support. Saturday night, it's Built to Spill with Atlas Sound. And Sunday, The Hold Steady and Titus Andronicus. Each night is $25; tickets available via Showclix. The shows benefit "community based projects inside Braddock," according to the announcement. Sure to sell out in, like, five minutes, right?
An artist I was excited to see listed on the CMJ schedule is Elle Varner. The Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter's music was introduced to me during my most recent visit to NYC, only a few months ago. Traveling with the staff and youth of the Hip-Hop On L.O.C.K. Project, we were welcomed on a tour of J. Records where we were amongst the first to hear Ms. Varner's debut single, "Only Wanna Give It To You," featuring J. Cole. She has since released a colorful music video that also incorporates a Cinderella shoe-themed plot. With her powerful singing voice and unexpected rapping ability, Varner embodies talent that hasn't been seen in the public eye since the glory days of Lauryn Hill. Varner performs Tuesday at Arlene's Grocery (7:00 p.m.).
Also performing Tuesday are Pittsburgh-bred indie-duo 1, 2, 3. The group, comprised of Nic Snyder and Josh Sickels, plays their first of a few CMJ sets at the Brooklyn Bowl for the LIVE4EVER Media Party (7:10 PM). In June, 1, 2, 3 released their debut album, New Heaven, preceded a national tour that included shows in several East Coast and Midwest cities. And for those arriving for the weekend of the CMJ Music Marathon, 1, 2, 3 will be performing on Saturday night at the Knitting Factory (9:10 PM).
On Wednesday afternoon, as is with many of the afternoons, there are an overwhelming amount of intriguing panels. For the sake of your time and acknowledging this publication, I will only mention one. The "Producing Killer Videos on a YouTube Budget" will be moderated by Pittsburgh film and music video make Ian Wolfson, of Rex Arrow Films. Founded in 2007, Rex Arrow Films has most notably been credited with a long list of video production work for Mac Miller. The particular panel takes place at NYU Kimmel Center – Room 905/907 (3:30 PM).
Also on this day, Perry High School graduate Nikki Jean takes the stage. Since last performing in Pittsburgh in September 2010, Jean released her album, Pennies In A Jar, which includes the hit song "Million Star Motel," featuring Black Thought and Lupe Fiasco. The singer-songwriter's album has songs co-written by Bob Dylan, Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Carly Simon, and several others. Jean will be performing at S.O.B.'s (8:30 PM).
Rhyme Calisthenics: The Official MC Competition, founded in Pittsburgh, continues making strides with a showcase at CMJ. SYNERGY x FREE LVE host the event at the Hiro Ballroom, Thursday night (7:00 PM), which also features art displays and music performances by King Fantastic and ASAP Rocky, among others. Different from past Rhyme Cal competitions, the night's showcase will be a one-on-one challenge that includes three rounds of wheel-spinning action. Pittsburgh native and Rhyme Cal champion Real Deal faces off against New York native and D.C. Rhyme Cal champion Jess Jamez. The event is sure to entertain the audience with a performance unlike anything they've seen before.
Entering the weekend, one of the most renowned music groups to call Pittsburgh home, Rusted Root, performs Friday night at Le Poisson Rouge (8:30 PM). The folk-rock jam-band is an elder of the 1,000-plus performing artists of the CMJ Music Marathon. Rusted Root became famous with the hit song, "Send Me On My Way," from their debut album, When I Woke Up, released in 1994. Although they haven't released a collective album since the '90's, they have continued touring; this stop for CMJ in NYC is one of several along the East Coast, closing with a performance on the Gateway Clipper Majestic in Pittsburgh on Oct. 28.
And so we've reached the closing night of the CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival, Saturday, Oct. 22. As I previously stated, Pittsburgh indie rock duo 1, 2, 3 will be performing on this night, which means that every night of the marathon Pittsburgh will be represented by a featured performer. However, those that have followed my writing know that, although I'm open and interested to all genres of music, hip hop is what raised me. Looking over the final schedule for the week of events, I approached the bottom of the listings before my eyes finally popped out of my head. On Saturday (11:00 PM) at the Music Hall of Williamsburg is a Jam Session with Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, Jean Grae, and Buckshot. These four highly acclaimed hip-hop MC's will be performing with a band, and to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised to see several other prominent artists find their way to the stage during this showcase. This looks to be an incredible way to end an exciting week overflowing with artists on the brink of success, whether mainstream, underground, major label, or independent.
This week's MP3 Monday features a track from Lucid Music, the local hip-hop trio. The new single, "All Day All Night," features some sweet old-school soul samples and breakbeats. Download it here and enjoy!
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Soon after landing in Atlanta, it was evident that the weekend ahead would be one of great personal progression. I made the journey to attend the A3C Hip-Hop Festival, a three-day series of performances and panel discussions all held at The Masquerade, a large complex located minutes from downtown that featured several indoor and outdoor stages. Minutes after arriving at the hotel I was in the lobby chatting it up with legendary hip-hop DJ Evil Dee. After checking in and dropping luggage off in the room, I was off to the venue.
Day one was heavy on performances and networking. The large, open complex was only beginning to welcome the hundreds of artists, press, and fans. With relatively everybody there for a common cause – the love of hip-hop and the music business – communication was simple. "Hi. How are you? Where you from? What are you involved with? How can we help one another?" It seemed like a mixed crowd of first-, second-, and third-time attendees, with people traveling from across the nation -- an online media site owner from Seattle was geographically the furthest traveler that I met.
The early performances were a mix of DJs, underground MCs and lesser known artists. An artist I was referred to prior to leaving the hotel was Marz Lovejoy, a 20-year-old MC from California. Coincidentally, a new friend -- first name Amariee -- crossed paths with Lovejoy and made an introduction. During our brief discussion, Lovejoy mentioned that one of her favorite performances she’s had was about a year ago at Pittsburgh’s Shadow Lounge, opening for fellow California rap group Pac Div. Soon after I met her, it was her time to shine. Less than halfway through her first song, the petite and soft-spoken image of Lovejoy left my mind as she worked her way around the stage performing several body-moving electro-hip hop tunes.
As the night progressed, Pittsburgh’s own Varsity Squad (MCs Beedie and Jon Quest with DJ Drastik) were set to take the stage following the iStandard Producer’s Showcase, an event that has recently enlisted Pittsburgh/Philly producer Premise to their show production staff. After the stage manager fumbled through helping Drastik connect the turntables, the crew’s performance began. Following an Outkast instrumental intro, Beedie and Jon Quest were ready to showcase their skills. Having performed at last year’s event as well, they were noticeably comfortable and confident in their ability to engage the crowd. They certainly made an impact with the 8-minute set that they earned, with audience hands waving and Beedie throwing shirts to the growing crowd. It would’ve been nice to have seen them rock for a few more songs – having seen them in Pittsburgh several times rocking 20+ minute sets to great reactions. However, that would be a trend throughout the festival. With more than 200 performers, only a select few were given more than 12-minute sets.
One of the best showcases of the festival was that of hip-hop website HipHopDX, which featured a combination of up-and-coming artists such as JYoung the General from Detroit and vets like former Rocafella Records MC Freeway. JYoung’s interaction with the audience guided a dope performance that showcased his charisma and impressive MCing abilities. Soon after, New York wordsmith Homeboy Sandman picked up where JYoung left off. With the large room comfortably full, he had people jumping up and down, arms waving side-to-side. His performance was so dope that I bought his album – on vinyl!
Day two featured personally intriguing panel discussions with successful music businessmen and women. The first was moderated by Wendy Day of the Rap Coalition, and dealt with building the infrastructure you need to succeed. Role players of the team included an A & R agent, artist manager, publicist, finance manager, and new media generator. Together the panel talked about the importance of finding each individual player to form your team and how each person dedicating themselves to their specific role can lead the business on a successful path.
The second night closed with Stay Productive, featuring Atlanta-based producers Count Bass D, Illastrate, DT, AmDex, Floyd the Locsmif, Dr. Conspiracy, and Baka. One by one they showcased their beats, while collectively being on stage with their individual sound machines. One of my favorite artists over the past decade or more has been Count Bass D. He took the stage wearing a cape of sorts, and was easily the most energetic of the bunch, often turning volume levels down to scream and yell.
Day three was the closing day of the festival. It was also a day that included three MCs with Pittsburgh backgrounds. RayDawn has been a factor for several years on the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene, and he had two performances on this day. Despite a technical difficulty opening his second set, he didn’t miss a beat. He performed his new single, "Heir," and finished with an acapella. When I entered the room at the beginning of his set it was nearly empty, and as I turned around at the end, I came to notice the room more than half full. His imprint was felt.
Taking to two of the other five stages were members of the Fab 5 Entertainment crew, which was founded in Pittsburgh. Detroit MC Young Scolla attended college in Pittsburgh and represented on an outside stage. His calls to the crowd of "We the RLES (pronounced realest, and an acronym for Real Life Entourage Shit) in this bitch," got the crowd response with a chanting "Wassup." His rendition of Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s classic hip-hop track "T.R.O.Y." received the best reaction, reflecting the overall atmosphere of the festival. Soon after Scolla’s performance, on an inside stage, fellow Fab 5 and RLES representative Devin Miles began his set. Devin hails from Pittsburgh and is currently a student at Duquesne University. A protégé of the Fab 5 team that played a role in the early success of Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, Devin is a rising star. In his Diamond Supply t-shirt, backed by a hype man and DJ, Devin controlled the crowd performing verses from several head-nodding tracks.
The weekend festival was finalized with a performance by hip-hop pioneer Big Daddy Kane. After performing classic tracks, including "Set It Off," "I Get the Job Done," and "Another Victory," Kane brought out a special guest: former Juice Crew mate MC Shan. Shan, who has been something of a forgotten MC, performed his classic tune "The Bridge," a dedication to his hometown of Queensbridge, NY. Kane concluded his set with his top single, "Ain’t No Half Steppin’."
As the premier festival for hip-hop music, A3C is a must for any aspiring artist, press, or business. A relatively unlimited amount of opportunities to speak with up-and-coming and veteran professionals are made available throughout the three day festival. The festival has grown tremendously since its debut seven years ago, and it is without a doubt continuing to climb the ladder to become a greater entity in the foundation of hip-hop.
A waxing gibbous moon began rising over East Liberty to the ethereal echo of Ford & Lopatin bouncing around the concrete outer-shells lining Broad Street for the final day of the VIA festival. The crowd was on the sparse side as people were still trickling in, bracing themselves for an event that wouldn't end until 6 a.m., marathon music consumption. Those present for the first handful of acts - locals Centipede E'st and Raw Blow and Brooklyn resident Laurel Halo -- stood entranced by the visuals of Spencer Longo, or scattered the lot in clusters joined together by conversation.
While local DJ (Adam) Cucitroa played moombah beats during the interlude, the stage was transitioned for Peanut Butter Wolf, hip-hop historian and former label-mate to DJ Shadow. He's a producer but came to the craft by way of DJing, particularly sets deep with hip-hop that stretch back to the beginnings of the sound. His set at VIA offered that very schoolin'-the-younguns vibe as he chaotically wove music videos together. Seemingly no rhyme or reason to his pattern of track choices; further analysis did glean some cohesion.
There were three-to-four song patches that stacked old reggae videos, Jamaican dancehall with rude bwoy chanting, and U.S. originators who borrowed those sounds to make militant gangster rap ripe with political and social urgency. He played Musical Youth's "Pass the Dutchie," Biggie Smalls' "Juicy," and Tyler the Creator's disturbing video for "Yonkers." While most may have been expecting a dance party, PB Wolf was giving a lecture like Pop Up Video minus the bubble captions. The highlight of his set happened when he invited the little tykes who had been dancing non-stop (all of VIA), in their little Steeler jerseys, on to the stage to get down for the whole crowd. PB Wolf admitted a soft spot for the Black & Gold that developed at the age of 9; his set was a dream come full circle.
Local prog rock heroes Zombi blew minds with their conceptual rock-electronic soundscapes paired with the ever-epic visuals of Vade. Austra, yet another hotly anticipated live act, began their set after darkness finally blanketed the evening allowing for Goat Helper's visuals to truly impact the performance. They played the majority of their debut album, "Feel it Break," one spiritually driven pop-dance track after another. Austra's performance was really made marvelous by the vocal teamwork more than anything else. Led by Katie Stelmanis and twin backup vocalists Sari and Romy Lightman, the trio of female voices refreshed ears with angelic and bird-like stylings, a welcome combo after the dark raw-rockness of Zombi.
The final main-stage performance, the most didactic and politically aware presence at VIA, was Detroit techno band Underground Resistance presenting Interstellar Fugitives. Their set was an experience to be remembered as the militancy of their message actually charged the crowd to dance with that much more purpose. Punctuated by the spoken word message of Cornelius Harris, the crew offered hard hitting beats that played with tropes in hip-hop, drum 'n' bass, and tech-funk. Harris spoke not of blatant race and socio-economic politics as one might have anticipated, but of a need to break away from mainstream music bullshit. He waxed angrily poetic on the mind control of radio stations and the need to counter absolute takeover by the media. High-octane, with full crowd captivation, Harris did a call and response that asked for a communal roar of "I am...UR...we will...resist."
The afterparty that ensued, a celebration of local techno collective Humanaut's sixth birthday, provided another line on the VIA-directed linkage between past and present. Moving from the very American sounding UR, Humanaut took us to a more European sound with the modern-day techno producer/DJs Sutekh, Donato Dozzy and Nuel. The festival ended on a tag-teaming set between Italian pals Nuel and Dozzy and driven by the beats alone, a small crowd of dedicated dancers continued to move until 6 a.m.
Glistening with professionalism, good sound and good taste, VIA pulled off their little-festival-that-could yet again. It has grown in a lot of ways and has room for more growth. The event has certainly proven itself to be a bastion of music in Pittsburgh. VIA is in constant flux and built solidly around the philosophy of interconnection with the artists who were influenced by the city on their individual journeys to creation; forward-thinking music for a city that's slowly becoming more forward-thinking itself.
Hey! Howdy! Good day!
It's Monday, and FFW>> die-hards know that means a visit from the MP3 fairy. This week's track comes from the local band Donora. A few weeks ago, we told you about their latest, Boyfriends, Girlfriends. It's available everywhere now (like on iTunes); check out the track "The Untouchables," which you can download for free right here!
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Day two of VIA was set up Friday on Broad Street in East Liberty, a place lined with empty buildings and infinite potential. Video screens flickered inside of multiple buildings while the main performance area was filled with festival-goers and lit up with the constant presence of quality video art.
The early evening began with D.C. residents Protect U. They're sound was psychedelic, trance-y and, yes, very pretty. You could hear the babel of Detroit techno and Chicago house veiled in their DIY punk roots. That may sound like an odd combination, but it was simply electronic music, a product of the fragmented influences. It was pastiche, montage, a blend of influences that made up some energetic and undulating combinations of beats and pulsating rhythms. Aurora Halal's visuals accomplished the VIA goal of ocular and aural interconnectedness as it draped the space in blended hues and pushed the sounds further into the field of psychedelia.
Until Extreme Animals, visuals functioned as beautiful reveries that floated in the background and on the sidewall of the performance space. Not to say that they didn't work in tandem with the paired artist; VIA’s curatorial team made sure that that was never a lost factor. But the video art of Extreme Animals (a full-fledged a/v set) was a tapestry of pop culture commentary, an experience aside from the languid, otherworldly coded creations of some of the other visuals. It was humorous, shocking, schizophrenic and oh-so hard to look away from. They spliced YouTube clips into montages of brightly colored iconography that overlapped and collapsed into a pool of WTF. While the screen pumped out mind-bending exgesis, the guys, Jacob Ciocci and David Wightman, wove heavy metal guitar shredding with junk electronic beats.
Extreme Animals punctuated VIA's tendency toward smarty-pants electronic music with the brash yet charming humor of a couple of pop culture players. For anyone who says VIA’s bookings were pretentious and overly abstract, Extreme Animals is proof positive that the festival really isn’t taking itself too seriously. No subject was off limits and their bold humor was hit home with the last image left on the screen, that of a flaming copy of Harry Potter. Sounds grim, but context was everything and the crowd laughed and danced with touchés to their off-the-wall sense of humor.
A shuffle in the lineup as a result of Toy Selectah falling ill led to RVNG Intl. affiliates Pink Skull to be pushed up to a slot before after-hours. The time slot mattered little as the legendary indie-punk-dance influencers would've had an attentive crowd no matter what. They are another one of those difficult-to-define outfits that blends live instrumentation with synths and other electronic beat machines. While electronics were present, they weren't always at the forefront of their sound. In the essence of true live rock music they entered into discordant sections with touches of somber ambiance. The drone of the synths gave way to that very familiar sound of a straight drum-kick to high-hat cymbal clash. Certain parts of their set begged for that very rock-concert cliché of holding your lighter in the air. A. Bill Miller's visuals riffed on the splintered musical inspiration that drew from indie rock, deep drum 'n' bass and punk rock roots. His visual rendition of Pink Skull’s electroclash came across as scenic urban landscapes meshed with pixilated eye trick color blocks.
They were followed by a sound almost totally contrary, Light Asylum, brash, industrial and lyrically in-your-face. Comprised of Brooklyners Bruno Caviello and Shannon Funchess, who were both wearing Austra t-shirts (props to the electronic songbird featured Saturday), Light Asylum pummeled the crowd with an incessant concordance of booming beats and fluttering synths. Funchess' stage presence was really the most captivating aspect of their performance. She held the mic and sang her oft-indiscernible lyrics with an angst that fused with the throbbing strobes and pulsating bass. While her words didn't always come across with clarity, the wrath that they collectively emitted did enough to pick up where clarity was lacking.
The entire look of the stage -- two industrial-sized fans backed by surging yellow-tinged lights clouded up with smoke -- set the scene for whatever it was that Funchess was sing-yelling about. Thunder Horse Video was responsible for the atmosphere that, in a lot of ways, made Light Asylum's performance.
More strobe lights and yet more aggressive beat patterns followed Light Asylum's demanding performance with the "King of the MPC", beatmaking phenom Araabmuzik. The crowd was at its peak for his set, and as a Pitchfork darling and dominating force on blogs the Internet over, his reception was expected though his performance was actually quite shocking. As soon as he took his place behind MPC, everyone pushed forward so as to see his hands more closely. He played with an anger that his album Electric Dream steers totally clear of. With the exception of "Streetz Tonight," the first single off the album, his whole set seemed to be improvised. He worked sections of hip hop-inspired, beat constructed melodies in with sections that led him into pure show-off mode. If it weren't for the camera positioned behind him allowing a live stream of his dexterous fingers to project onto the three screens on the wall, we all might've gotten bored.
The afterparty let the night fizzle into the bravado of ravishing techno production offered by RVNG Intl artists Blondes and Tim Sweeney. Come 4-something in the morning, a crowd who didn’t want to stop dancing continued to stay locked in front of the stage, unwilling to go home and rest up for the excitement of day 3.
The VIA festival kicked off with a heady bang last night at the Rex Theater on the South Side. The inside was packed to capacity while the outside bustled with staunch music lovers taking quick smoke breaks. The entire atmosphere was thick with excited anticipation.
Hailing from London, Walls opened up the evening accompanied by the video art of Pittsburgh-based Matt Wellins. Also on the bill, with a 3D visual set, was Michigan trio Wolf Eyes, accompanied by New York based visual artist Daniel Iglesia.
FaltyDL took the stage and subtly commanded the crowd to dance. Not that they weren’t already dancing, but the transition of live band into dude-behind-laptop might’ve thrown some people. It was nothing like a straight-up dance music event where all you see are arms in the air and hear the whoops and hollers of people really excited to hear tracks they had only previously heard on their headphones. This crowd was different, diverse and very much there to take all kinds of new sounds in.
Four Tet was one of the biggest names that VIA offered this year. His music is respected and loved by many yet, in a conversation that dwells mostly on the interwebs, has a lot of fans questioning his translation to a live PA performance. Last night, along with visual duo Abstract Birds, those doubts were put to rest.
His set never sat comfortably between the peaks of tech-restlessness and the valleys of house ambiance. It bubbled with old-school UK garage - a bow to the culture that groomed his dance floor demolishing sound. While he was moving back and forth between old garage and his own modern renditions of dance music in constant conversation with history, he wasn't afraid to mess with the tempo, proof positive of his mastery on the live PA set-up. Driving the pit to a convulsive frenzy that slowly lurched its way back to the outskirts of the Rex, he cranked the bpm and then slowed it back down until everyone moved like zombie robots. The flavor of the beats followed into a darker moodier pocket of the set. He switched emotions up as if sounds and moods were watercolor paints.
The crowd was hooked on every single one of his moves. He stopped to take a sip of water and look out into the crowd, the Rex responded with those whoops and hollers that I mentioned lacking in the beginning. Yes, we cheered when he drank his water. A slow clap enveloped the room and moved across the Rex like a wave at a sporting event while Four Tet smoothly introduced some noise, then some rock. A minimal atmospheric build became boom-boom-bass, computer glitch and mathy rhythms.
The visuals for his set were actually just as heady as the music. Abstract Birds (Pedro Mari and Natan Sinigaglia) takes the music and syncs all graphic movements to the beats. Four Tet worked with Mari and Sinigaglia beforehand and subsequently played his set practiced and precise like a classically trained musician.
Unlike the visuals attendees experienced from Thunder Horse Video the night of the kickoff party – mostly Brenmar’s twitter handle and his name in a graphic font reminiscent of a screen saver from the early '00s – the art on the screens behind Four Tet was mesmerizing. They embodied the idea of one form of creativity channeling another. The images were poetic and song-like in their own right. Graphic movements matched up with the din of Four Tet's knob turning and were precise and elegiac, flowing and symbolic. They captured the slippery moods of the music and kept time with morphing geometric figures. It was simply amazing.
Finally, after a lot of adjusting to make way for another live, multi-instrumental band, Battles took the stage. They too were one of the more hotly anticipated acts on VIA’s lineup this year as they represent the VIA spirit of bringing back former Pittsburgh residents and giving them a stage and a crowd full of excited music-heads. Formerly of the band Don Cabellero, Ian Williams brought the VIA story full circle.
Battles' flavor last night was a bit mathy and constructed, but then they burst into segments that were pure pop rock. It's the mix that makes them so fascinating. They satisfied every one of my youthful rebellious-rock cravings and every one of my more adventurous desires for straight noise. While rock 'n' roll was at the forefront of their set, it edged into territory that was dance inducing, poppy, and noisy. Slipping between sounds was accomplished with the same effortlessness of a DJ using a crossfader, and they did so on live instruments.
Before their last song, Dave Konopka took the mic and charmingly quoted Sting: "If you love something, you set it free." He thanked VIA for allowing one of Pittsburgh's sons, Ian Williams to return to his city and do what he does best. It was a representation of a feeling that a lot of creatives glean from Pittsburgh, the need to take the inspired spirit and move on to a bigger place. The guys of Battles recognized that and it was bittersweet and beautiful, so very VIA.