Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Few Good Reasons Not to Move to Williamsburg...

By Alexander Billet

Back in the day, I was punk. I wore spiked hair and torn jeans; t-shirts with Dead Kennedys on them and other images that got me suspended; combat boots, chains, leather, and I tried to put silver studs into anything that stood still. There was no doubt about it, I was one punk-rock motherfucker, and my look was down pat! But in those days, the clothes merely reflected an inner state of mind--one of perpetual rebellion, of rejection of the status quo and proving to everyone that it was possible to be something else than what authority said I had to be. For me, punk rock was my introduction to being a radical.

Then Blink-182 came along. Then Good Charlotte. Then New Found Glory. Overnight, punk became "cool," like it had twenty years before. And just like then, it was absorbed into the system. Made safe for consumption. I saw the end was near when Hot Topic locations popped up in every mall and shopping center. All of a sudden the hard work that had gone into my look and my individuality was dashed away. Now, any twelve year old kid could pick up a chain or pair of boots (most likely made in sweatshops halfway around the world). It was still a form of rebellion, yes, but that corporate America had pitched in signified that it was a rebellion they were comfortable with. In the end, it just defeated the purpose.

But god forbid you should ever tell that to a hipster.

There is much in the hipster culture I enjoy. Some of the clothes are clever. I even enjoy much of the music, which sounds so much more like rock n' roll than anything has in a while. But there is something disturbing to me in the hipster scene, and it lurks behind every note the White Stripes play and every stitch of clothing you can buy at Urban Outfitters: It is the most willfullly apathetic subculture I have ever encountered.

I have hung with a lot of different crowds in my time. Dig deep enough and you can find thriving scenes of Rastas and rude boys, punks and skins, mods and street-corner-MCs. And for the longest time I was convinced that there had to be more to this hipster craze. Unfortunately, no.

Before going on, it is worth pointing out that it is getting harder and harder for any subculture to really stand on its own before being co-opted. It shows us something very poignant, and teaches us a lesson about how this system works. Rebellion is cool, and that's true for every generation. It's also very, very dangerous. After all, if working people are to find some kind of dignity outside of the pigeonholes society lays out for you (especially if you are a person of color), then you might start trying to find other ways of doing so. And if you do that, who's to say you won't start questioning every damn value and bit of conventional wisdom we're taught? From marriage to patriotism to capitalism. The beatniks figured it out. So did the 60s counterculture. Beboppers and swing-kids in the 30s knew it, and the punks had it in spades.

Normally, record companies simply find a way to market the new sound and style and then it's back to business as usual. But hipsterism never really posed a threat in the first place. While hippies at least tried to build a new society after they "opted out," hipsters seem to not be so bothered. It is a culture built around the concept of shoegazing. The closest you'll see a hipster come to building anything is bothering to scoop the extra foam off his latte.

It's also worth saying that, to its credit, the movement puts a premium on intelligence. Maybe it's just the large amount of college age hipsters, but there are undeniably many smart and articulate people who would adhere to hipsterism. But it is an intelligence which it academic at best. Stuck in a world of Derrida-inspired ambiguity, the modus operandi of a hipster isn't to shake things up or challenge like so many other cultures of the past, but rather to sit on the outside and comment; to provide ironic insight and snide elitism for any situation. He may read the newspapers every day, probably thinks the war in Iraq is bullshit, but the farthest he'll get is blaming all the "rednecks" who voted for Bush before changing the subject

In many ways, they reflect a paradox, an oxymoronic despair in today's society. They have shown that you don't need to wear a suit to be smart. Like the Ginsbergs and Joplins before them, they have proven that the kid in t-shirt and jeans, which so many more of us can relate to, can be smart without completely selling out. They are smart enough to see that there's something wrong with society, but, like most people, don't really think they can make a difference, and so decide to ride it out.

It's this kind of paradox that can only come out of this kind of time; a time when there is plenty of dissatisfaction with society, but not yet any organized movement to take it on. The beboppers and zoots were part of the fight against Jim Crow and to free the Scottsboro Boys, the hippies and counterculture were stopping a war, and punk came along when the British working class were digging their heels in against recession in poverty. Regardless of how politically conscious any of them were (and many of them were very much so), they were all aware of how much it meant to do what they did. To consciously reject a society that treated you like dogs was an inherently radical act. In other words, they did it to reclaim a sense of self-worth, of dignity and pride in their own uniqueness and creativity. In the absence of a movement, the hipsters embody the only other logical outcome: separation and despair.

Hipsterism, it needs to be said, has that same potential, but is squandering it. It is a rebellion, yes, but a rebellion of defeat and cynicism. It is the ultimate "opt-out": opting out of it all so much that you stop caring. In a way, all that does is let the war mongers, the bigots and the fatcats get away with it. In a time of unending war, racist scapegoating and the lowest wages in forty years, our discontent is high, and has shown brilliant signs of life recently. Building that kind of movement will change the whole face of not just politics, but how we view our own lifestyle and our own power as human beings. And everything we interact with, from our work to our music, will change too.

In other words, when we fight back, the biggest thing we change is ourselves, and our culture will be obliged to follow along.

Even the hipsters...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Ode to the RIAA

Hilarious! -AB

From the New York Times

By David Pogue

Ever since I phased out my career as a Broadway arranger and conductor, I’ve tried to keep my toe in the showbiz world in my own peculiar way: I write new, tech-industry lyrics to old melodies.

Here’s my very latest. It’s a special tribute to the R.I.A.A., the Recording Industry Association of America - the organization of the record companies who’ve decided to fight music piracy by filing lawsuits. It goes to the tune of the Village People song “Y.M.C.A.” Ready? Cue the disco drums!


Young man,
You were surfing along,
And then, young man,
You downloaded a song,
And then, dumb man,
Copied it to your ‘Pod,
Then a phone call came to tell you:

You’ve just been sued by the R.I.A.A.!
You’ve just been sued by the R.I.A.A.!
Their attorneys say, you committed a crime,
And there’d better not be a next time!

They’ve lost their minds at the R.I.A.A.!
Justice is blind at the R.I.A.A….
“You’re depriving the bands! You are learning to steal,
You can’t do whatever you feel!”

Know what?
They’re a lawsuit machine.
They say so what
If you’re only thirteen?
And you know what?
They were equally mean
To an 80-year-old grandma!

Sales have dropped every year,
They’re not greedy-
They’re just quaking with fear,
Yes, indeedy-
What if their end is near,
And we download all our music?

They’d all freak out at the R.I.A.A.-
No plastic discs from the R.I.A.A.!
What a way to make friends! It’s a plan that can’t fail:
Haul your customers off to jail!

And who’ll be next for the R.I.A.A.?
What else is vexing the R.I.A.A.?
Maybe whistling a tune? Maybe humming along?
Maybe mocking them in a song-!

(The sound of jackboots bursting into the room…handcuffs…muffled cries…a columnist being dragged away… repeat and fade.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

"There's a Need to Be Hopeful": The Radical Beats of Radio 4

By Alexander Billet

Published on MRZine

It's a rare thing to find a group of musicians who are willing to stick to their guns like Radio 4 has. Independently minded, with an eclectic sound and lyrics that eloquently call for radical social change, they have spent the better part of a decade carving out a niche for themselves.

Not an easy thing to do. Today's record companies and music journalists are constantly looking for an "angle" ("how can we sell this?") with musicians, and any band with a unique sound or social message can find itself at odds with the industry. Radio 4 has both. And yet they have weathered pigeonholing from the industry surprisingly well. They are often described as "post-punk," but their sound goes beyond the boundaries defined by the New Wave movement of the 80s. Reggae, Afrobeat, house and dance music all find their way into their style. The result is an energetic and irresistibly catchy sound that has gained attention in the "indie-rock" scene, though it is better described as "Danceable Punk."

Hailing from Brooklyn, their second album, Gotham! (considered by many to be their breakout), was released right on the heels of September 11th. The group had long been concerned with trends in New York City like gentrification, poverty, and police brutality. But in the aftermath of 9/11, songs like "Calling All Enthusiasts" and "Save Your City" struck a chord with listeners who identified with their call for resistance. Their third album, Stealing of a Nation was released right before the 2004 elections and put down in many reviews as "too negative" for its honest view of the world. Their most recent full-length album Enemies Like This and new single "Packing Things Up on the Scene" show that they are experimenting with new sounds and subtler messages, but without backing down one bit. I had the chance to talk to front man Anthony Roman a few days before the group stopped by to play a show at DC's Rock n' Roll Hotel last month.

AB: What was the reason for Radio 4 getting together?

AR: Well, the idea was musical first. The idea was to try and play music that was rhythmic and had a danceable groove to it, some different things than what we had been hearing. We always write the music first, but once we started writing that, the idea of what to do lyrically came up. And, you know, it just seemed that more socially relevant lyrics fit the music better than maybe lyrics about personal issues. Also, we felt that ground was being covered. Because that whole indie rock thing was -- even with artists that we really liked, like Elliot Smith -- kind of down and introverted. And people like Beck and Pavement, they were maybe a bit too ironic for us. So, we wanted to do something that had something to say about the social climate in America.

AB: You mention the social climate in America in general, but have your songs also been about your own take on the situation in New York City in particular?

AR: To a certain extent they were. Once we started to leave New York, once we started to leave America and go tour and travel the world, we started to broaden our horizons with what we were writing about. But at the point of Gotham! we really had only done a couple tours, so I didn't feel like we were very worldly. And there was a lot happening in New York at that point. We felt like New York was starting to change and really continues to change. And that's something that we were not necessarily happy about. This is pre-9/11, we weren't talking about anything to do with that. We were talking about what was happening internally with Giuliani and people like that. You know, we had always felt like people came to New York because it was artist-friendly, and people -- whether they were musicians or filmmakers or painters or authors, whatever -- they came to New York because they would see it as a very cultural place where you could create. We felt like . . . you know there was always this financial center, but it was becoming just about that. And we felt like it was losing some of its identity because of it. We're fans of all the things that came to New York, whether it was the Velvet Underground, or Jim Jarmusch, or John Cassavetes, all those independent-spirited artists that made their way in New York. We felt like, "Hmm, could John Cassavetes or Jim Jarmusch come to New York now and have a loft and make films?"

AB: You mentioned Gotham! earlier, and that was my first exposure to you, so I want to come back to that. Another one of the things I have always liked about you guys is that you have this "indie rock," "post-punk" base, but you also incorporate a lot of other styles into it like Afro-beat and reggae. Could you explain that a little bit more?

AR: Well, to begin with, it's got to be something we are interested in musically. We can't just do it because it's "multicultural." It's got to be a type of music we like and enjoy playing and fits into what we do. Reggae and Afro-beat have always been big influences because they're rhythmic and they're repetitive and they're political, and those are three things that I always look for in music. Dance music is also rhythmic and repetitive but it doesn't say much lyrically. So those are the three types of music, outside of punk rock, I'm most excited about. And they all share that kind of revolving, repetitive beat with the vocal on top and groove of the bass line. I like that kind of thing. And whether it's slow like in a reggae way or in a house way or an Afro-beat way, all those elements have figured into our music. But one of the things that always excited us about bands like the Talking Heads and The Clash was the fact that they would bring in these other elements and mix them in with these contemporary sounds like punk rock or rock music. I think that's important because, one, it's important to play different kinds of music. I would never want to be just a "ska band," or a "punk band." I want to be more than that. And, two, I think it's important because it exposes people to music that maybe they wouldn't be interested in otherwise. And I think some people like the DFA [record label] have enabled people to enjoy and understand dance music more than they ever would have without them. Somebody who writes for some kind of magazine or website maybe wouldn't care about LCD Soundsystem's influences but certainly would pick up on what they're doing. That's a good thing about The Clash, or that's why I like them anyway.

AB: The Gotham! album came out right after 9/11. How much of that was written before 9/11?

AR: All of it was written before 9/11.

AB: How did you find what the album had to say resonating with post-9/11 New York City?

AR: That was the thing. Some of the songs like "Save Your City" or "Start a Fire" all of a sudden had a different meaning. It was frightening to us, but I think what ended up on the record came out at the right time. And it all kind of connected for a lot of people. We were just being honest about what we felt; we didn't know these events were going to take place the way they did. It's a strange scenario, but the record became more important to us, and I think to other people, because it was talking about New York and the changes that needed to occur in New York.

AB: Was that the reason why Gotham! was the first album that gained you so much attention?

AR: It was that. I think it was timing, I think it was that people were starting to open up to danceable punk rock music being played again. The UK was very receptive to it, and that filters back into the States. It was a variety of things. I think The Strokes, for whatever people want to say, pro or con, opened the door for everyone. The door's still open of course.

AB: My favorite song off the album, and you probably hear this a lot, is "Calling All Enthusiasts." With the US driving to war right after 9/11, what did that song have to say that people needed to hear?

AR: It was a call to arms for people who were willing to resist. To put themselves in opposition. You know, "I'm really sorry but we need to start resisting," that was the idea behind it. And I just felt like a lot of people were just going with the flow and being apathetic, and it was time to stand up and say, "Look, this isn't working." And that's happened now, five years later, but it has happened. That's the thing with movements or anything in America; whether you're a rock band or a politician, to get the country to hear your message is probably one of the trickiest things you'll ever do because of the sheer size of America. It's really hard to make an impact, no matter what you're doing. It's much easier to go to, say, England and get everybody listening to you. That's what I've found from music. So I think it takes a long time for the meaning of what you're saying to get to people. I think they hear it a lot before they start paying attention to it. But it's changed now, and it's put us in a better place. And if it takes five years, or if it takes, whatever, twenty years, it takes what it takes. If the Democrats would have had some more charismatic leaders, it might have pushed things forward a little quicker. But, it is what it is.

AB: Now, after the release of Gotham! a lot of writers started comparing Radio 4 to other bands such as Gang of Four and especially The Clash because of your open politics. What do you say to those comparisons?

AR: Well, there's not really much I can do about it. Stealing of a Nation in some bigger publications got criticized for being negative, and being a bit too blatantly political. The idea of The Clash is something that we've connected with, and if people compare us to that, then there's really not much I can do about it. I wish they would less. But, you know, I guess it's not the worst thing. It's kind of weird with The Clash, because they were so successful that it's almost like, if you do anything that's reggae, then it's like, "Okay you sound like The Clash." If you do anything that's political, it's like, "Oh, they're like The Clash." If you do anything that's punk, it's like, "Oh, they're like The Clash." If you do anything that's even starting to get into that funky kind of disco stuff, like they started to do later in their career, people say, "They sound like The Clash." If you mix hip-hop into it, you get, "Oh, that's like The Clash." The Clash covered a lot of ground! Anything that almost anybody does can sound like them, especially if you come at it from a certain angle like we do where it's political. I remember Rage Against The Machine was always getting compared to them, but these two bands sound nothing alike! It's just the idea that they were political. People were saying, "Oh, they're like The Clash." Well, not really. It's just that they have something to say. If someone's acoustic and political, it's like, "Oh, it's acoustic Clash." You know, everything kind of comes back to The Clash. So they're a hard band to escape comparison to. Now, we're not going to do something folky or psychedelic just to avoid Clash comparisons. But I do think it's about how most music journalism is incredibly lazy. The decisions have been made beforehand. And, there's not much you can do about that. A bad review, you can deal with it. When people turn things personal, that's when we get kind of like, "Hmmm, well, I don't know why they went there." We've gotten really bad reviews and we've gotten really good reviews. I've seen both sides of it and it hasn't really changed my life much. You've still got to do what you've got to do, and touring's a drag, and America's foreign policy still sucks. People almost think, "Ooh, you got a good review," like my life is set. Or, "Oh, wow, you got a bad review," well, let me go kill myself. No. One will make you smile for a few minutes and one will put you in a bad mood for a few minutes. Beyond that, it's not really that big of a deal.

AB: You mentioned some of the laziness of a lot of music journalists. Do you think that the comparisons to The Clash come from an attempt to write off any political acts?

AR: Yeah. I think that there are certain publications that don't have an interest in bands being political. But I think that there are a certain people who have just been waiting for indie rock to return. And there was a little period there around '02 to '04, when I felt like the music we were doing and those of our contemporaries were really kind of taking over the indie circuit. We were really making an impact. And now I feel like it's returned back to this sound that we were reacting against. In a sense they won, because it's back to this kind of mindset that just doesn't do enough for me. If the movement's just going to be about introspective songwriters, and journalists are just talking about their record collections and their reviews, and everything becomes so self-involved, then . . . I don't know. That's not what I want out of music, or a show, or anything. I think that there needs to be some sort of a connection between people. I mean, there's a place for everything, but that's just become the dominant thing. Like when I'm flipping through some of the indie-type shows, whether it's [MTV indie music show] "Subterranean," or there's one called "New York Noise," it's almost like indie-rock is king again. But I find it really dull, to be honest with you, and it doesn't have anything that I'm looking for. It doesn't have enough of the spirit of say, punk rock. Punk rock wasn't always supposed to be so self-involved. There was always this rhythmic thing and a connection between people. I don't want them to jump up and down and beat each other up, but at least there was some type of movement. Because in a sense it's a political statement; I was really excited when people were dancing at shows and now I just feel like it's returned to . . . I don't know.

AB: In between Gotham! and Stealing of a Nation your band released a lot of material. There was a live album, a handful of EP's and singles. What was the reasoning behind this?

AR: The reason is that we had material! We just recorded over the summer and put out two new songs as B-side to our single. Whether it's a remix or a new song, we're always trying to put stuff out there. I mean, I always thought that if you're a musician you're supposed to make music! Actually, a lot of the stuff that came out between Gotham! and Nation was older stuff that was already sitting around. We were in a weird process: our first guitar player was starting to lose interest -- that was a very unproductive period for us in a lot of ways. We kind of made it look like we were being productive. You know, if we sit in a room together, we can definitely create songs -- that doesn't take a whole lot of time. I believe in that tradition that a band will put out a record every year. I like that approach. But that's also not just the fault of the bands, that's also that fault of the record companies who want to you put out a record every two years and things like that. You can't blame them for everything.

AB: Well, I remember I was living in London when Stealing of a Nation came out and there was a lot of promotion for that album.

AR: Yeah, there was this idea that it was going to be this "big album." So the record company went to radio with two or three songs and when it didn't really happen it was just sort of like, "Okay, we're not really that kind of band." I remember sitting in a restaurant in London, and they were like, "We went to radio with 'Absolute Affirmation' and 'Party Crashers' and neither one hit, so we're not sure what we're gonna do," and we said, "What do you mean?" We were never the kind of band that got played on the radio. So what are we gonna do? We're gonna go tour 'til we're tired and we're gonna go make another record. That has nothing to do with it. And we split from that record company after all that. Because it was obvious that they had spent so much money promoting the band that when things weren't flying on the radio they were acting like, "Uh-oh, we better stop chasing this money by spending more money." It was just one of those things that you get into that you don't want to get into. Also the record wasn't received really, really well. But, then again, some of our biggest successes have been from songs from that record, so it's hard to say.

AB: Well, this was a record called Stealing of a Nation coming out right before the 2004 elections. Was that meant to be provocative in that sense?

AR: Yeah. We were just reading the paper in the studio and songs were coming out. We were very inspired by what was going on. And like I said, some people felt it was negative, and that annoyed them. We weren't trying to be negative, we were just trying to be realistic.

AB: That negative label really does seem to come out of nowhere, because on every record I've listened to with you guys there is a refreshing element of positivism, as opposed to a lot of political bands that are very cynical. Why do you see a need for that?

AR: I always thought we were doing that, which is why when people were saying, "Oh, it's so negative," I was like, "Really?" And I would say this album [Enemies Like This] has a lot of positive things on it. I do think that there is a need to be hopeful. You've got to go through your day being hopeful. You know, a lot of the attitude was like, "I'm moving to Canada," and things like that, and that's not how you deal with things. You stay and you work it out. That's what it seems like to me. That wouldn't work for us.

AB: Enemies Like This, though still political, is much subtler, andhas a lot less sloganeering as you call it. What made you want to move in that direction?

AR: Well, we just felt that ground had already been covered. Seems to me it's just as political as ever, though.

AB: Absolutely. Now that the album is recorded and you've been on tour with it, do you have any favorite songs off of it?

AR: I tend to like the stuff that sounds the least like things we've done in the past. "All in Control" is a little weird sounding to me, so I like that. I like "Everything's in Question," I like "The Grass Is Greener." Just things that I think go in a different direction. The B-side that we just recorded for "Packing Things Up" is called "Pretty Good Lie," and I'm really happy with how that came out. I think that's one of the better Radio 4 songs. I tend to like things that sound the least like us, but I don't know if that means they're the best songs.

AB: You mentioned on the website that "All in Control" has this cool MIA-like beat to it.

AR: MIA's someone I really like. She's saying things, and she's doing some interesting music.

AB: Was there a significance to releasing the most recent single ("Packing Things Up on the Scene")?

AR: No. That was the record company's choice. The video's very political, though. I'm really happy about that. It seems to make a pretty interesting statement about things. Like I said, the b-sides I'm really happy with. The song's been around for a while, so, to me, it's just another song off the record. But I was really into the video and the B-side. It wasn't a specific timing thing, like in the past where we've put out singles because we thought they should come out at a specific time. This just came out because the record company wanted us to do another single. There is a message to it. The idea behind it is: how could the youth of today look at the people who are supposed to be the leaders and have any sense of a moral foundation? Because corruption is so accepted that people can embezzle money and be back on TV in six months. Where do you find your role models? I guess that's where the song goes.

AB: You just finished a tour of Europe. Did you notice any difference between the way people react to you over here and there?

AR: Well, we've been there so many times, so it's not like anything that goes on over there is really anything new to us. But my wife came to Spain and France. And I think she was definitely surprised by the amount of energy and excitement people put into a show there, whereas they don't really do that here. People don't seem to get as excited about live music in the States as they do overseas. At least regarding our band. There's a whole festival culture out there, where people will sleep out for a whole weekend just for music. That doesn't really exist over here.

AB: With the most recent elections, people have obviously rejected the Bush agenda; the war, the corruption, the Bush version of a "prosperous economy." People's expectations have been raised. Do you see a role for political musicians to play in whatever social change may be coming?

AR: Well, I think a lot of musicians trying to open people's eyes over the last couple years has helped. I think of people like Bruce Springsteen and what they did. And I always bring up Green Day. A lot of people make fun of Green Day, but they're the band that's getting through to twelve and fourteen year old kids. They're the band that's getting to people when they're at an impressionable age and letting them know what's wrong with this country. I feel like if musicians want to take on the responsibility then they should, but they shouldn't feel like they need to. They're not world leaders, they're just people that write songs. And they have to write songs about what they want to write about.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Rage Against the Machine Reunion!

As of now, it's just a one-off, but there's talk of a full tour and album. Who else remembers them shutting down the stock exchange with "Sleep Now in the Fire?" Brilliant! -AB

From Mtv.com

In addition to its always eclectic, star-studded lineup, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has established a reputation for frequently landing the hotly sought return of a major indie-rock figurehead. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, this year's major coup is a reunion of thrashing political rockers Rage Against the Machine, who have not played together for seven years. The band is expected to get together for a one-off headlining show at the eighth edition of the three-day festival, which they last played in 1999.

Also reportedly joining Rage on the bill are Coachella veterans the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who headlined in 2003, as well as Björk, who played in 2002. Though organizers have not officially announced a lineup for the festival, which runs from April 27-29 in Indio, California, the Times reported that other bands expected to perform include the Arcade Fire, Interpol, the Roots, the Decemberists, Arctic Monkeys, Sonic Youth, Kings of Leon, Willie Nelson, Air and a reunited Crowded House. Three-day passes for the fest will run about $250, with tickets going on sale Saturday.

In the history of unlikely reunions that have launched on the stages at Coachella — among them Detroit garage-punk icons the Stooges and modern-rock godheads the Pixies — the reported reunion of Rage is among the least expected.

The group splintered in 2000 (see "Zack Leaves Rage Against The Machine"), with guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk joining former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell in the group Audioslave while vocalist/rapper Zack de la Rocha all but disappeared from the music scene. Though de la Rocha has sporadically appeared at public events and recorded songs with DJ Shadow, Saul Williams and Blackalicious, his long-rumored solo album has yet to surface and he has made few public statements since the dissolution of Rage.

Friday, January 19, 2007

And to Think I Didn't Know...

Really quickly: I had no idea that Bad Brains had a new album coming out this year! May 7th will see Build a Nation, Bad Brains' first proper album in ten years being released. Produced by Adam Yauch, it's a "return to their hardcore glory days." Nice!

One of the greatest punk bands, they practically invented hardcore! It will be great to hear what they've come up with after ten long years. Look for a review on this blog when it comes out! -AB

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Musician and Producer Speaks Out Against Police Brutality

It's hard to say with a straight face anymore that the NYPD are here to "protect and serve" anyone except the rich. KaShaun's friend was gunned down by them, and he's speaking out both in his music and his actions. -AB

From Socialist Worker

KaShaun/“Son of Man” is a music producer and artist, and childhood friend of the NYPD’s first shooting victim since Sean Bell was killed--19-year-old Timur Person, who was gunned down in a building lobby on December 13. KaShaun talked to Socialist Worker about the latest shooting and the struggle against police violence.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

HOW DID you know Timur Person?

His Mother raised me as a child. I was always over there. I didn’t go to high school with Timur because he was younger. His brother and I went to school together. We were real tight, but Timur was always with us, too.

He got a bullet in his heart--four shots in the chest. They killed him in the same building we grew up in. The police are saying that there was some kind of tussle, and they ran inside the building and grabbed him. The officer says he felt the gun press against his stomach, so he told the officers to shoot.

I heard several stories. I’m trying to piece it together myself and find out the truth. When I first watched the news, they said that he drew a gun out on them. Then they changed the story that he had the gun pressed against the officer’s stomach, and they said that the officer was on him and felt it. So there’s a lot of stories coming out in the media.

Timur was a good kid. He wasn’t really about getting into trouble, the way that they say he was. Police are trained to subdue an individual. Their job is not to take a life, but to subdue someone and take them into custody.

I’m not sure if he had a gun. If he did have a gun, there’s a lot of stuff going on in this neighborhood. He’s not out there shooting people. But there are a lot of people out here--gang members, drug dealers--so a lot of people out here feel like they have to protect themselves.

If he had a gun, it was for protection, not to go out here running crazy. Like I said, he was a good kid. He wasn’t about violence.

YOU WORKED with your uncle, the CEO of Putting God First Productions, in making music about police brutality. How did you get started?

My Uncle Lee started a documentary about Kenneth “Mango” Mason, who was killed in our neighborhood in November. We went into the neighborhood with a camera to try to get the story. But when they see you with cameras, some people are suspicious.

I’m a producer and an artist, so we produced a track in light of what Lee was doing. It was in the spirit of the times. After I did the song, Sean Bell got killed in Queens. Then another kid in the neighborhood got shot, but didn’t die. That’s when we thought, this is getting out of control.

So we decided to do a video for the soundtrack--to give people something to look at and bring some kind of solution. That’s how we got started with the single “The Police in the Community.”

I remember on December 13, I was walking the streets and just had a feeling like I was shot or something, and the next morning, I found out that another man died. Then they mentioned on TV that it was a 19 year old. I kept watching, and then they said that it was Timur Person, so I rewound the footage from the TV and watched it again.

When we were working on the soundtrack, it was one thing, but when Timur got killed, it got very personal. I felt like I have to do something do more to change this world and this situation.

What we’re trying to do is bring some kind of solution. We don’t want it to get to a point where there will be an all-out war between the police and the community. We want to figure out some way to bring peace. At the end of the day, we just want peace.

IN THE song, you say that the police are part of a “wicked system.” Why do you say that?

The reason I said that is that the police have authority, but they’re abusing it--it’s being used for wickedness.

The mentality of the injustice system now is “shoot first, and shoot to kill.” I can understand if you’re shooting back, but that wasn’t the case--you weren’t shot at! If you’re shot at, you have no choice, but these individuals aren’t shooting at the police or even pointing a gun at them.

During this entire season, since November, there’s not a single situation where someone was pointing a gun or shooting at the police, but they’re shooting at us!

WHAT ARE the police doing in your neighborhood?

The minorities are targeted. They’re getting stopped by police and harassed on a regular basis: “Let me see this, let me see that.” But our rights say that they have to have some kind of probable cause. Officers in my building were asking me why I was there, in my own building, and asked to see my ID!

They try to set people up for arrest. You’re a target. They’re like predators, and they say, “Let’s go get this guy.” They roll up on them and search them, but why are they doing that? They just picked them out of a crowd. A lot of times they didn’t get a call or anything--they’re just searching for something they can use.

The police are supposed to be the protectors of a community, not trying to bring about a situation or making something occur.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Notes of Resistance: Ten Musical Reasons to be Cheerful in 2007

By Alexander Billet
Also published at Dissident Voice and Znet

"When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake." -Plato

A friend of mine told me recently how intensely unexcited he was by the bands out there. When I asked why, he said “they’re not doing anything different. It’s like they’re being given this blueprint by MTV or the record labels and being told what to do. Yeah, some of it’s good, but there’s no emotion, no honesty.”

He may be right. There are plenty of artists on the radio who can make you tap your foot and sing along. But when was the last time you really felt empowered by a song? When was the last time that a singer or musician or lyricist really truly related to you; cut through all the alienation and dissatisfaction and made you feel, well… human? A song doesn’t need to be a manifesto to make you think you can change the world. But it does need to have more than just a good beat and okay hooks.

Maybe it’s just endemic at a time when people are getting scammed all around. After all, when thieves in high places can slash wages but give away billions to an unpopular war, people simply feel in their bones that they’re getting a raw deal. And if politicians don’t listen to us unless we force them, why should record executives?

After talking to my friend, I was determined to find some sign of life in music. If Rock, Motown and Punk could all encapsulate the rebellious spirit of the sixties and seventies, then surely there has to be something for us today. 2006 was the year when voters showed their anger against the war in Iraq, when Israel was exposed as a crude colonial state by Lebanese resistance, and when millions took to the streets in solidarity with immigrant workers. Hardly Paris ’68, but the anger is palpable, and who knows when it will blow?

Likewise, the floodgates of music itself have been opened just wide enough for some really amazing changes. Say what you will about the artists, but the raw back-to-basics sound of “indie-rock” and the consciousness of “alternative hip-hop” have both been on the rise recently. What does this mean? That music, like everything else, is on the verge of change.

So, dear readers, if you are straight-up sick of what is being delivered to us by both the politicians and the smug jockeys on MTV, then these are the ten albums you should watch for in 2007. Some of these artists are big names, some are barely known at all, but what unites them is that all of them have something to say and say it damn well.

1. Ozomatli—Don’t Mess With the Dragon
LA’s harbingers of the best mix of rock, worldbeat and hip-hop since the word “fusion” was uttered, will be releasing Don’t Mess With the Dragon in March. Throughout the years, Ozo has taken their infectiously groovy live shows to strike pickets and anti-war benefits, and toured the world with the diverse group of acts. They have also made a name for themselves without compromising their sound or their politics. This album promises to be a portrait of the diversity of their hometown. “Los Angeles is a microcosm of the world,” says percussionist Jiro Yamaguchi. “You can drive through this city and hear music and experience cultures from all over the world. That’s who we are.”

2. Steve Earle—Untitled
The “hardcore troubadour,” will also be returning this year with a follow-up to 2004’s The Revolution Starts Now. Though little is known about the album, we do know that Earle has gained our admiration (as well as the hatred of the right wing of the country music establishment) for his unapologetic opposition to war in Iraq, the death penalty and anyone and anything that puts profit over people. For my money, it doesn’t get much better than “Copperhead Road,” his send-up of the war on drugs. But let’s see if he can top it!

3. Sage Francis—Human the Death Dance
The best politically minded MC to come out of Providence, Rhode Island since—well… ever!—is working on this album for a May release. “Makeshift Patriot,” was the most intelligent musical opposition to war in the aftermath of 9/11. Most radio stations refused to play the single, but it gained massive underground popularity, signifying how desperate people were for an alternative to jingoism and war. And he hasn’t backed down since. 2005’s A Healthy Distrust saw his smart and passionate lyrical style climbing to even greater heights. He’s on a roll. Human the Death Dance will be an important album.

4. Son Volt—The Search
2005’s Okemah and the Melody of Riot saw these trailblazers holding up country’s rebellious and radical side like few others can. “The words of Woody Guthrie ringing in my head” seemed to sum up that album quite well. This release will see the band with an unusually diverse sound, bringing in guitar pedal loops and horn sections. Front man Jay Farrar has always worn his heart on his sleeve in his lyrics, as could be seen in songs like “Endless War” and “Bandages & Scars.” And though Son Volt’s sound may be changing, Farrar’s sense of justice and hope hasn’t. This album promises to deliver big-time!

5. The (International) Noise Conspiracy—Untitled
Hard rocking garage punk with open communist politics—need I say more? T(I)NC is Sweden’s best musical export since lead-singer Dennis Lyxzen’s last band, Refused, called it quits in the late nineties. Armed Love from 2004 was the group’s best so far, especially on the tracks “A Small Demand” and “Let’s Make History.” Not much info is available yet, but the new release is planned for early spring; and if it is even half of Armed Love, then we’re in for a Stones-meets-Clash blast of radical rock n’ roll that’s just perfect for storming the barricades!

6. The Good The Band and The Queen—S/T
The term “supergroup” leaves a bad taste in a lot of mouths, but this is a band worthy of the term. Members include former Blur frontman and Gorillaz guru Damon Albarn, guitarist for The Verve Simon Tong, drummer Tony Allen (best known for his work with Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti’s band) and Clash bassist Paul Simonon. The two singles released from the album promise great things. Downbeat Brit-rock with extra soul and a twist of psychedelia, with achingly personal lyrics about living in a mad, mad world. This debut might prove to be just as great as this band’s line-up suggests.

7. Talib Kweli—Ear Drum
Though the lines between “underground” and “mainstream” hip-hop have been blurred over the past couple years, there are still those who successfully strive to maintain the underground values of creativity and consciousness. At the forefront of these artists is Talib Kweli, whose new album is scheduled to hit stores sometime this month. While his outspoken views remain untempered (check out the first single “Listen” on his website) this album will see Kweli enriching his already unique sound with influential MCs like KRS-One, reggae artist Sizzla and R&B talent Musiq. Kweli has turned many heads with his albums in the past, and this one will keep ‘em turning.

8. Wynton Marsalis—From the Plantation to the Penitentiary
This jazz legend (and there are so few left) has a lot to say on his March 2007 release. “It’s been in my mind for a while,” he says regarding the album. “Every decade I like to do one piece that has that kind of social involvement with American culture.” The title, From the Plantation to the Penitentiary, says it all. The songs will take on consumer culture, 60s radicals who have sold out, and America’s handling of Katrina. That such an established voice in jazz can dare to speak out says volumes about the time we live in.

9. Radiohead--Untitled
Indie-purists may scoff at their success, but a group that can be so massively popular and yet so openly experimental with their music is truly rare, and a thing to behold. The five boys from Oxfordshire, England have eschewed expectation and challenged musical boundaries on almost every album in the past fifteen years, and with little regard for MTV or mainstream radio. Both their sound and their lyrics have captured perfectly the feeling of severe alienation and soullessness in alienating and soulless times (a feeling we are all familiar with). And though they deny that 2003’s Hail to the Thief was a reference to Bush, their actions over the past few years (from lending their voices to debt relief, to touring without corporate advertising) may signify a deepening radicalization. A few songs off the album have been played in front of audiences, but the only thing we know to expect off this next album will be the refreshingly unexpected.

10. Johnny Cash—American VI
The Man in Black hasn’t faded one bit since his death three years ago. And rightfully so. It goes without saying that Johnny was one of the original rebels in modern music. The above artists and any other musician with half a soul owes him a great deal. His past releases for Rick Rubin’s American Recordings saw him bring his own unique and haunting voice to songs by the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Bob Marley, Moby and Tom Waits, as well as including a few originals. Despite the albums being mostly cover songs, nobody who has listened to them can deny that they are signature Cash. Though his once strong voice is wispy and cracked on these albums, his talent for making us feel what he sings remains unmatched. All the hype makes it easy to forget that his rebellion wasn’t just for show. Cash always stood on the side of “the poor and the beaten down.” Whether it was in “Folsom Prison Blues,” or even his version of “Desperado,” his sense of compassion and solidarity is something that can never be erased, and is guaranteed to be heard in every note on this album, which will be one of the highlights of 2007.