Thursday, January 26, 2006

Project Runway

Last night on Project Runway, Zulema, the angry black woman’s Wendy Pepper, ate the proverbial dust. The closet demon and purveyor of bare cellulite butts produced a garment we’ve all seen before—getting off at the wrong stop on the Bronx-bound 2, surrounded by hulking Jamaican mothers of many.

Equally bad—and perhaps worse—was Kara’s skid-marked cat suit. How long can her delectable accent save her? Santino, now a pussy-cat in his old age, pussy-footed around some average-looking graffiti, sewing up a skateboard punk’s maternity wear, complete with an asymmetrical handlebar top. Front-runner and professional inoffensive Daniel V (don’t get us wrong, he’s cute), surprised us all by drawing inspiration from Michael Kors’ corporate wasteland.

All this and far more from the “Inspiration” episode, one which relied upon advice from Michael Kors, a man who hasn’t so much as sniffed inspiration since Giuliani closed the bathhouses.

Catch it on repeat, every day of the week. What, Bravo have other programming? Ye of little faith.

Auf wiedersehen.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Adem; La Casa Encendida

For some time now I've been saving up for a good watch. That said, my cell phone gets no service in Spain, so like the sad drooping dish satellite image on my screen, I had lost my center. And the time of day.

Earlier that day I set out from the hostel a few hours early. I was ready to explore, and given the streets of Madrid, which from aerial look like tangled hair in your shower drain, I was ready to be romantically lost and found in a European city. And lost I got. I started out intending for the southern region of Lavapies and ended up on the western extreme at Palacio Real. I had a few hours before Adem began playing. Why worry about the time? Rock and roll.

Another appropriate question might be "Why Adem?" Their latest release, Homesongs came out about a year ago, to generally good reviews. They were a band to whom upon initial release I paid little attention. Nothing particular; not particularly my sound. I used to have intense screening processes to decide the fate of albums on my iPod (before the fateful day when I plugged it into the wrong machine and the entire intensely cultivated memory fell through my fingers forever), and Adem was always close to the cut. But each time I screened Homesongs for deletion (the security of my selections was air-tight) I found something I liked: an easy pastoral rhythm or a charming flourish on the bells.

Adem only succumbed last November, in a major overhaul too urgent for screening.

Why then did I travel 5000 miles to see Adem on my first night in Madrid? I opened the guidebook to the red section concerts and it was the only name I recognized.

It had been dark for a few hours when I showed up at La Casa Encidada, thoe grandeur whose high, arched doorway evokes an American firehouse. I was expecting a concert hall, so when I walked in and things were being sold other that the simple-to-say-in-Spanish "Ticket, uno," I observed the cashier for a few minutes before simply running past it downstairs. As no one objected, I assumed I was in the clear.

La Casa Encendida is a remarkable space—without any knowledge of Spanish, its funding and organization unknown, it seems quite magical. Two people stood at the entrance to a surprisingly dark corridor. I presumed they were looking for a ticket, so I did my best to look official and self-assured in my dad's ripped leather bomber jacket and brushed by them. No objections.

Inside was a surprisingly extensive exhibition, which I slowly discovered examined plagiarism in a number of mediums, including art, music and video. Particularly amusing was a montage of dated Spanish horror films, hysterical in their naivety and bearing eerie similarity well-loved American flicks…

After an unknown amount of time exploring the exhibition, a video center that featured desexualized pornography, and full classroom upstairs, I worked up the nerve to buy a ticket and to ask the location of the theater. The show was at 9, early, so I mean I couldn't have missed it.

Outside the theater no one took tickets and the doors were closed, which gave me slight pause. But, hearing music inside, the pied piper beckoned, and I proceeded. The band was on-stage, but there were only two people in the audience. Poor Adem Ilhan. How far behind he'd left the days of Fridge. In a show of support, I chose an enthusiastic seat, front and center.

The band sounded great and then 2 minutes in—stop. They put down their instruments and begin discussion. What is happening? Is this the show? Is it this incredibly postmodern venue? Is this the way things happen in Europe?

It was the sound-check. I slid low into my chair, but the band played on. They played mostly material from Homesongs, with some new tracks that nonetheless sounded familiar. The band was cohesive and the performances tight, the percussion particularly charming in its bric-a-brac sort of way. The band seemed hardly to notice, although Ilhan occasionally squinted in my direction. I suppose they believed me management, and they were at the same loss for Spanish as I.

For twenty minutes I sat in on the show. The songs, though melancholy, were subtly so (though distinct from lo-fi). Lyrically, Ilhan is unadventurous but achieves great warmth, which comes off stronger with the visual of his large family of band-members around him. The unpretentious band elevates the candor of the songsmanship. They have strong, open faces that—though by no means Walker Evans subjects—ennoble the mundane domesticity of the music.

Finally, I received a tap on my shoulder. I had planned all sorts of excuses—I was going to interview the band!—but when the man behind me, presumably the manager, asked me if I knew the band, I just told him that I didn't know enough Spanish to inquire the time of the show, and I took the walk of shame.

The manager was nice enough as to tell me when I could return—the show was still two hours away. I went out looking for food, though severely challenged by the lack of vegetarian options in "working-class" Lavapies. What seemed like an eternity of hunger and cigarettes later I returned to the Casa, only to find the band outside. Clearly the show hadn't started, and I had become a stalker.

I took my time getting back; after all, the police could be waiting and if I know anything about Spain it's that Inquisition-era cells had spikes. An hour later the show opened to a full house. The songs were less tight, and despite the obvious alternation of moods, the set seemed more maudlin without the band's jaunty interplay. The encore was a Bjork cover, the third of which I've seen used as an encore in the past month.

But I'm still up for that interview…Any day now.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Todd P; Interview

I did three pieces this week on party promoters, focusing on Todd P, Karenplusone and Leo of Crashin' In. Below is the transcript of the interview for the Todd piece.

When did you move to New York?
I actually moved directly from Texas, but I lived in Portland. I only lived in Texas for about 6 months. I moved here in about March 2001, and I think I put on my first show in October.

How did you start promoting? I had put on a couple of parties in Austin 5 years ago. And then I moved to Portland and I ran a small all-age club that did really well. I did that for about 2 years. So I had, you know, a couple of connections that way.

But you came to New York for a girl? How did that pan out?
Oh, it was over before I arrived. I'm sorry to hear that. Believe me, it was for the best.

How do you do it non-profit? Do you have a day job?
I don't have a day job. Well I rent practice spaces, commercial spaces. But it's not non-profit anymore. These days I do take a small profit, because I don't have a job. But it is fairly minor. For the first 3 or 4 years I never took any money, and I had a day job. But these days I don't because I'm trying to get my space open, and I have the rehearsal spaces which give me a small living wage. But I do pay myself out of the shows.

What is your philosophy regarding the music you want at your shows?
I'm into a lot of different styles and a lot of different approaches. I do like people that have the energy of early rock and roll and the politics of punk and hardcore, without really sounding like that. My overriding philosophy on music is that it has to sound provocative, which is really the same criteria you can use for any art form. Art is interesting when it has a look or a sound or whatever that catches your eye with its novelty, and after that has something to say.

How does that philosophy relate to your audience? What type of people are you hoping to get to your shows?
The kind of people who are looking for that in life. I want the shows to inspire. Whether everybody who comes to the show is thinking of it that way, conscious of it, before they come out. I hope to bring together people who can be inspired.

Does this mentality attract a certain demographic to your shows?
I hope it doesn't, but it does. My hope is that there isn't a demographic, except for people that want to be alive. But of course there is, of course it's upper-middle-class white people just because that's what I am, or at least that's where I came from. That is the type of person that has been interested in the forms of music that I work with. I would love to expand my crowd, and to be more multi-cultural, but obviously it's mostly college-educated kids.

Do you see this as a conflict--being provocative, and having comfortable kids at your show?
Well, for one thing I would say that most of the people at my show, the cynics would say they're slumming it. The bottom line is people have consciously not followed the comfortable lifestyle when they could have followed it, and have created a lifestyle that is somewhat challenge. However much cynics see that as a cliché--a bunch of cultured white kids living in a loft out in the ghetto--and that that is not being inspiring, whatever, it is inspiring, and it certainly is an improvement over people living in track housing. No, I don't think there's a conflict. What I wish is that the sort of in-grained culture and the minority cultures of New York didn't have such a (I guess the word would be) lexicon for free-thinking. It makes it hard to bring people together, and to be more universal. I mean New York is the most segregated city in America [sic: Boston, or so the legend goes] and though we all ride the subway together, everyone lives in their own little communities and hangs out in their own little scene. Suppose you're an Ecuadorian living in New York. Aside from the guy you buy stuff from at the bodega from, and the guy you see in the subway, you could never speak to anyone in the world who's not an Ecuadorian. And that's how it works. It's greats for the immigrant on the subway, because everyone has their own little world. But it also makes everything very segregated into its own little universe, which from my perspective, who would love to see everyone hang out together, as cheesy and old school liberal as it sounds, I really would like that. I'm not happy having a niche. I am really into the music I put on, and I put a lot of time into music, and just into art and music in general. I would love to share what I do.

So do you shape your publicity accordingly?
I'm not a publicist, and so the publicity I get is unsolicited, and it comes to me. But it's all about who you've sold as the artist. I've tried and continue to try to go to things that are in different communities, and find stuff. I'm not that knowledgeable, having not grown up with those things all my life, that I feel confident enough to put together groups of artists that I'm into. My hope is that once I actually have a venue of my own that the process will become easier.

What is the status of your venue, the Llano Estacado?
The most recent update is that, it's been closed for over 6 months now. In its initial months of being closed we went through several stages of how to deal with the situation, seeing if there was a backdoor way to avoid getting shut down again. Those things never came to pass. They weren't really possible for it to be halfway legal. Over the summer we talked to a lot of people who we thought might help us get legal, finding out what the circumstances would be. Most of those people would be architects and lawyers. And most of the connections were through art and music; therefore they were kind of high-end. They were either people who design high rises, or people who were interns working for people who design high rises, neither of which were helpful because they're always people who a) don't work on the small scale and b) don't know how to work on a small budget. Or, on the other hand, the people who work for the people have never designed anything bigger than a toilet. They've designed a bathroom or a deck or something, but that's all they've ever designed. It was pretty frustrating for many months. It meant a lot waiting on people's schedules and having walk-throughs by various legal professionals, and all that kind of crap. It mattered very little.

However, very recently, in the past few months, I've been introduced to some people, some architects and some lawyers, who work in a different class. They work with small business owners. They're people who work in the ethnic communities. They work with small Mexican dance clubs that try to open; they work with little Jamaican catering halls--all those places that the city tries to fight. Kind of like what I experienced, but obviously in a different way. It's not easy to open a place that throws big dancehall parties in Central Brooklyn, at least not ones that are said to stem violence, rightfully or wrongfully, but the city tries to make it hard for those places.

What I've done is I've contacted the people who worked with these places, who have helped bring them up to code, and now we have goals and a plan that is much more within or grasp financially and time-wise. It's a matter of coming up with a small amount of money. This is a very new development and it's only come about in the last month or two and the goal at least now is the fundraising, which is starting to come together.

How is it coming together?
Various ways. The same way it comes together for anybody else. Once it comes together, it won't immediately be open. We still have four to six months of the permitting process. It could happen a year to the day.

So how do you and your venue fit into the general nightlife scene in New York? Why, for example, do you think it is important for you to have a single venue? Is it because you see your party as very different from what else is happening in the city?
It's because every other place that we've put on shows is not ideal. It's not about distinction. I would rather have an indistinct concept of what is ideal. I would like to come across, again, from a more philosophical view than from a particular creative niche. I wouldn't want to be type-cast like that. What I find, moving around to different clubs all the time, and they're not really clubs so much as dive bars, lofts, and weird rental halls, which is what I mostly use. It's not ever ideal, because a) the lion's share of all the proceeds of these happenings is going to the people who own these bars. Not that I need to make money, but shouldn't that money count more towards integrating the communicative? I think it should. On top of that, all these places have noise problems. All of these places are not living, breathing creative entities; they're places where I host events.

So then how do you envision the space fostering that type of community? I'm envisioning the Factory in Brooklyn...
The building is already a creative building; it already hosts and art gallery. We're going to have more gallery stuff going on. And it just won't be as hermetically sealed as you find in most music clubs or whatever. There will be installations in the places where the shows actually happen, that actually change the look of the place constantly, to give it the feel of seeing all these art forms as one art form, and not separated into fine are and music and popular art and blah blah blah... The only reason that I cleaned up is because a lot of people in different industries art making moneys off it. You don't look at it that way. You look at it as just an exhibition in creativity, then you don't have to have fine arts in one room and dance happening in a special dance room. That's crap: a room is a fucking room. It's four walls. Anything that you like or see as important or interesting, or that has meaning can happen. We can show movies; we can do anything we want. It doesn't have to be in the cheesy typical mold of the community art center or that kind of thing.

So to conclude, how would you characterize the rest of the New York concert/club scene?
That's a huge thing to say in a couple of sentences. How would I characterize it? In one word: commercial. More commercial than anywhere else on earth. And that's not always terrible. It's not a terrible thing. Great things come from commercial art. But you have to understand that huge limitations arise when the defining factor of good or bad is purely commercial drive.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Blood on the Wall, Tunnel of Love; Cake Shop

I'm back from France, and still late as ever. After vegetarian chili and some flossing, I arrived at Cake shop late as ever, having missed 2 of the bands.

Tunnel of Love did their typical thing, tumbling in and out of the crowd, sweating, shirtless. Quite frankly I was busy. Too girls who had paid me no mind the first time I met them were now pleased to speak with me, 5 pounds lighter in my cutoff shorts and suspenders. My waist was totally going cha! too loud to hear the band.

Blood on the Wall are homely. They look Kim and Thurston from Sonic Youth, if Kim and Lee had spent the last ten years of their lives eating burgers and smoking cigarettes and generally not being icons. Courtney Shanks is all gruff insecurity--Kimya Dawson with more booze or same amount of booze but less painkillers. When someone in the crowd instructed Courtney to take it off, her "fuck you" was as much Midwestern modesty as rattled rebuff. Brad Shanks is all red hair and flannel and beer. I mean, check the press photo.

Appearances are important. Why are they Time Out's "local bands' favorite local band?" as opposed to you Time Out's "band on the move" or even Time Out's "favorite local band." It's because local bands like to drink beer and look attractive, and being surrounded by less attractive people drinking more beer helps that image. It's also because Blood on the Wall are super fun, approachable and hang out at Enid's.

Either way, they're a "favorite," and for good reason. In the full Cake Shop basement under Christmas lights, Blood on the Wall's warm and [Sonic Youth-like] fuzzy music is that much warmer and fuzzier. The effect is genuine and unaffected, rootsy without being self-righteous. They might not have Bruce Springsteen's posterboy looks, but they do locals good.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Paris, France

I arrived in Paris five days ago, moved in, and have yet to do anything really exciting.

General impressions of the French:

1. They never work. I live two blocks from the Palais du Luxembourg, and from 1000-2000 (ooh...24-hour French time), men and women--but mostly men--laze about, take photos, and play an elaborate version of bocci-ball. And they still have the money to pay for black nurses.

2. If you tell them you like "fromage," they will jump around an wave their hands. There's nothing like an American novelty. Or a French one, at that.

3. There are no French people. It's a lie. The referendum: all American tourists, scared to death of what a united Europe would do to their already valueless currency.

Should be working for Chronowax this summer, although I missed my meeting this morning. Ciao!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Barrel Fever; David Sedaris

No matter how fabulous the movement might be, homosexuals in America are on the defensive. To be successful, gays are given a crutch. And make that a funny one! Whether it be Will's pandering, or his inability as the most rational character to have an on-screen relationship, or the flamboyant, girlish ineptitude of Jack on the same show. Okay, I fucking hate Will & Grace and the fat girls who watch it. I dislike the idol-seeking gay men who watch it as much as I could any ugly, neglected dog.

For David Sedaris, that crutch is his lower-middle-class upbringing. Granted this is the source of Sedaris' major critique, and it's painful; it can be quite effective. But at the same time, it's another interpretation of the handicapped homo. And more importantly, in the stories where Sedaris' scarcely-costumed self-portraits circumstantially suffer (though they rarely resign), the comedy suffers.

It does, however, make for occasional moments, such as this testimonial from an imagined talk show:

"I never bit anyone on the head unless maybe they deserved it because they come home all messed up on needle drugs."

For the most part Sedaris is strongest when taking the higher ground. In the title story, Sedaris channels himself into a wity mother-son combination who refuse to submit to a world of AA meetings. The idiot world struggles beneath them, and the pair, though suffering, condescends only to communicate through the occasional extortion. Sedaris is best on the offensive.

But then again, perhaps I just need affirmation.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Demon Days; Gorillaz

I'm taking it upon myself to update more, which means more songs, albums, books, and movies, as I listen to, read, view them. I hardly leave my house, so the opportunity rather eagerly presents itself. I leave for Paris June 2, however, so my site-coddling may soon dry up.

Now to Gorillaz.

Simply put, I'm a snob. I loved "Clint Eastwood," loved the video, claimed I was the first to discover the band (which I was--in New Jersey--via MTV2). But 40,000 spins later, I was too cool for 2-D, Murdoc, Russel and Noodle. They were on Virgin, for Christ's sake.

I wasn't the first to discover "Feel Good Inc" or Demon Days, but hey, I'm cool with that. It's still a great song. It rings in with the familiar cackle, the funky falsetto, and a killer hook, before settling into a familiar fuzzy vocal current. And that hook!--which sets off into a severely danceable rap, and then splashes techno arpeggios. It's four songs, four characters, and I have faith in every one of them

As for the rest of the album, well that requires a leap of faith. It's a leap I'd love to take--cartoon reality is far better than plain ole' reality. I still wish for Pokémon powers.

The problem is that the band asks us to relax our realities, but fails to follow its own advice. Damon Albarn can't get out of his way for more than half an album. For the first seven tracks or so, it's 2-D in that's in control, sly and mysterious, comically lonely. But after so much time, 2-D loses his polish; the curtain comes down and the wizard is Albarn.

Granted, even the outstanding tracks are infused with melancholy, for which the cartoons' happy-go-lucky machinations are the perfect outlet. But as the album wears on, Albarn tries everything from string quartets to childrens choirs to cheer up his rainy day British pipes. The results are disappointing, not surprisingly given their less than inspirational devices..

Cartoons may have been the Blur frontman's catharsis. Gorillaz isn't pegged as a solo project, but come on...

What if the cartoons are more compelling than their master?