“We were absolved of a life of mediocrity because we couldn’t play,” says Iggy Pop about 16 minutes into this interview with Thurston Moore. Crucial memories of the Psychadelic Stooges in this video include oil drum percussion strategies, vacuum cleaner/ air compressor wind synthesis, water jug gongs, and a great discussion of repurposing a bummer of an amp that Iggy bought by knocking it over and enjoying the clang of the reverb.
Category Archives: art
Into Another are a New York City based post-hardcore band. I’ve seen them perform at least a dozen times and consider the band to be a light-year progression in American music. Here is why.
The NYC hardcore years and east coast hardcore were really fertile times. There was something proud about this organized movement of young musicians that were embodying a disruption to the musical genres that had previously constrained it. Hardcore was faster than punk at times, but could slow down to metallic chug-chug levels of thrash. Hardcore musicians were represented as bald, young and passionately creative. The politics were DIY, politically aware, working-class priced and relentelessly political. Youth of Today, Minor Threat, Bold and a couple hundred tiny bands that popped up inspired by this moment.
I came of age at the right time. I was blessed to be surrounded by music at all times and have a forgiving mom that didn’t mind me playing music and discovering my own music. I could play the Dead Kennedy’s in my room and the only boundary was the request that my Butthole Surfers sticker stay on my side of my bedroom door. The foundations had been laid by the time I discovered 7-Seconds at age 14 – there was a whole world of people my age who were making music and getting things done. Honestly, the DIY awareness that you could just do things and figure it out through force of will was a lesson that stuck with me to this day.
As fast as the new hardcore movement was opening up a chance for kids to find their voices and for people to get organized and make a difference, there were also threads that were discouraging. Sexism (particularly the exclusionary assumption that all of the music was written for, created by and performed to boys only), racism and white supremacy and some purity/hipster problems also plagued the hardcore movements. Straightedge, Krishna-influence and animal liberation were also early ideas that came along with the great music I was discovering. There was very limited internet in these days, conduits of knowledge are actually limited (you could miss stuff) – you had to mail order a punk rock band’s dubbed cassette from the back of Maximum RocknRoll.
Everything moved very fast. While I was in high school Minor Threat ceased to exist and Fugazi came to be. Youth of Today ended, and Judge, Underdog and eventually Shelter emerged. You could discover a band and they would break up and you’d never know until you saw an interview or the new project. Knowledge of music became really important. I started to seek out every record that certain labels released (notably Dischord and Revelation). Being broke didn’t deter my musical fiending. I worked part time jobs, borrowed money, traded, sold and got patient in hunting out music.
Into Another were on my radar screen before I saw them live. Any of the players who touched Youth of Today were absolute gold standard. My first year in college at UVM I had worked hard to get the privilege to DJ in the middle of the night on WRUV the independent college radio station. I beat out several other folks because I was focused on playing punk and hardcore music.
Sidenote: when you have to fill two hours of radio time, songs that are 30 seconds long are a disaster. My first night DJing on the radio I had a complete breakdown after playing every 45 I owned and becoming paralyzed on air with nothing to play after 24 minutes. My debate partner Lisa came down to the radio station and helped me out. My arrogance had been the assumption that I would just play what I already knew about – the wonders of a literal library of music (there was a whole room of jazz records lovingly curated by a crew of people at WRUV). I got my head around the radio station as an extension of my knowledge network (skimming the new releases, coming in and previewing new records in the production booth or just taking freestyle risks on air and playing something that looks cool – these were great joys I was just discovering).
I can see the first Revelation Into Another CD at WRUV. The front cover with the 11-pointed star has the white sticker that is covered with comments. The date scrawled in the corner and the review noting that members of Youth of Today and Bold are in the band. Then someone wrote that the record sucked and was pseudo-metal. Another defender wrote that the record was genius in terrible scrawl. The arguments on the CD label between radio station DJs was so heated that the plastic CD cover was cracked down the middle.
I played Into Another blind that night and I wasn’t that impressed. I was going to defend it because it was kind of good, but it wasn’t what I was expecting or used to from the genre. I had not yet understood just how pleasureable that was going to be. I remember thinking that I’d tape a copy of the radio station CD, but that the record didn’t warrent buying my own copy of the tape (I didn’t own a CD player until I was a sophomore in college).
That dubbed Into Another cassette travelled with me everywhere and grew on me. In the back of debate vans while everyone was sleeping I would listen to “Robot Whales” or “For Lack of a Better World” and think about the complexity of the world to a soundtrack that seemed one dimensional, but was starting to get tinged with reggae, jazz, blues, hip hop, metal and international music.
When I was a sophomore I made a cassette tape with Into Another‘s “Powered” and a couple of Underdog‘s “A lot to learn” at the front. I would get ridiculously over-amped for debate rounds listening to these songs in the hallway outside the rounds. When we won the Marist tournament, my debate partner Scud listened to one headphone of both songs before we won the final round.
Even when you knew that Underdog had the metal energy to get you adrenalized, there was a kind of humanity and complexity in the music. Underdog‘s lyrics were about loyalty, friendship, solidarity and sacrifice. But honstly, I had vague ideas of what Into Another were singing about most of the time. Not to mention the musicians were edging past the hardcore comfort zone with reggae and metal, consider Underdog‘s “Without Fear” a staple of my life in the 1990s.
When Into Another was coming to town to play at 242 Main Street, a few of us gathered together to see the band. I was sort of taken aback at how friendly they were. The first band member I met was Tony – a jolly friendly long hair who was sitting on the stoop of 242. We introduced ourselves, assuming he was a local that we didn’t know and we talked about the band for a while. We were really excited to meet some musical heroes and Tony was just as excited to meet fans who knew about his band.
Tony took us around back to meet Peter, Richie and Drew. Richie was really friendly and quick to talk about veganism, philosophy, and had a funny story about everybody. Drew looked like a rock star and was quiet – it wasn’t until he hit the stage that he really turned on. Richie committed to an interview for my little zine at the time and then the show started. I don’t remember who played with Into Another that night, but I don’t think it would matter.
The crowd at 242 became life-long Into Another fans that night. The band was an organic whole performing world-shifting rock and roll for a crowd of 25 people. Richie was funny and personable between songs and then would transition into serious singing (that was one of the knocks on Into Another for decades – was that the lead singer sang). But live, it was the crystalization of a humungous juggernaut machine behind that capable lead singer. Peter Moses brought this exceptional guitar tone and restraint. He plays a lot of stop-start polyrhythms on guitar, but also a lot of viscious metal riffs. Drew’s drumming is snare and tom-forward and complex. Perhaps one of the best martial breakdown drummers ever to play, he and Peter worked in concert to bludgeon audiences. Tony was the artist, grooving along with bass lines and fills that just worked to keep your head nodding. The ensemble could not be beat, and you had the sense that this band was at a higher level.
And they were the opposite of assholes. After the show, every person got a conversation and the sincere sense that they were leaving with new friends who happened to be the best band you’ve ever seen.
The next time the band was in town, the crowd was in the hundreds and the talent was next level. They played several tunes from the Creepy Eepy and destroyed the club. Despite being legit hardcore champions that night they found themselves crashing in our dorm rooms and eating pasta and broccoli I cooked in the communal kitchen with Richie and Drew helping. Tony crashed with my friend Rhymestyle Bob who made a life-long friend over vodka, Russian literature and metal guitar riffs. There was a kind of weird juxtaposition that this band looked, sounded and seemed like stars, but you had the sense that they were earnest DIY folks who crashed with grandmothers and college kids across the nation to make this band happen.
Bonding over veganism and hardcore, a lot of the conversations with Richie influenced my eventual Ph.D. dissertation about punk rock music and animal liberation. But you got conversations with Richie that happened while I was cooking green beans or while trying to get a tape recorder to work for an interview on the back of a loading dock. Richie is a solid intellectual who has forgrounded ethics – he also is just a funny dude who didn’t talk down to people.
There isn’t a great ending arc to this essay. Into Another struggled and despite releasing consistently top notch art and rocking shows world wide, they broke up after label difficulities. Beloved bass player Tony Bono died in the early 2000s and the world’s capacity for rocking shifted back a few notches. They have played a few reunion shows this decade and sound excellent albeit the absence of Tony.
If there was one thread that was consistent with Into Another was complexity. The band’s lyrics were complex, the music was complicated and the band was not a transparent youth-crew handcore legacy project. The band extended the ideas present and made something really quite new – the fact that people didn’t have the ears to appreciate what was recorded doesn’t diminish was was contributed. The band offer up a catalog of rocking riff-laden monsters, mental-health lamentation ballads, psych-rock trip-a-thons, tributes to lost friends, and daydreams of apocalyptic surveillance and control.
It is worth supporting the band with a bandcamp purchase – I recommend the whole catalog, but don’t sleep on the relatively recent “Omens” album.
We need spirit of fertile creativity embodied by Into Another now more than any time. The kind of oppressive bland culture which created the youth-crew positivity would be welcome right now. But so would the dissidents – the kids who can see something more and are willing to risk the mockery of their peers to make great art.
It is hard to fathom the loss of DOOM (editing note – “all caps when you spell the man’s name”). I listened to a lot of MF DOOM and spent quite a few hours discussing, debating and analyzing his lyrics. I can’t capture the depth and weirdnesss of thoughts about DOOM in a single post – every time I sit down to outline this post I get a gigantic spider web of entwined themes.
Black america, slang, diaspora reflections, coded language in hip hop, sample choices, mocking, survivorship, graffiti, families, drugs and alcohol, masking, comic books, representation, sex, communication strategies and a million other threads travel through DOOM lyrics. All you can really do is pull some of those strings and hope that they spark meaningful thoughts.
So maybe we start with the fact that DOOM wrote about his death, his legacy and the fragile nature of human existence in his first song as DOOM.
Daniel Dumile emerged in the NYC hip hop sphere as MF DOOM for the potent first album Operation: Doomsday with the support of Bobbito Garcia and his indie record label Fondle ‘Em. Although Dumile had rhymed with KMD, this was a new incarnation for the artist with a new mask, lyrical style and stylized representation as a villain – exhaggerating every hip hop trope with double and triple entendres.
“On Doomsday/ ever since the womb/ ‘Til I’m back where my brother went, that’s what my tomb will say/ Right above my government: Dumile/ Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who’s to say?”MF DOOM “Doomsday” from Operation: Doomsday.
Dumile’s brother Subroc was killed in a car accident the same week that his band KMD was dropped from Elektra shelving their second album Black Bastards. The band was fired because of the album cover art presenting the hanging of a Sambo character – symbolizing the birth of a new Afro-centric Black man who refused to perform demeaning roles. Cue Dante Ross.
How do you make art out of this kind of stuff? DOOM is honest about his own upcoming death in the chorus, then he names the stakes. It has been DOOM’s day (centered on him) and also a apocalypse/catastrophe (doomsday) from his birth until his death. His tomb might be engraved (famous) or he may finish his run on this earth as an un-acknowledged anonymous dead person but he is going to work.
It is a weird thing to put in the middle of your comeback/vengence album. But for DOOM life and death never seem all that far apart. This is the opening track (after the intro skit) an honored place in the hip hop album – the centerpiece to tell a consumer if they should buy the album. It might seem morbid, but this is life and death stuff and that crucible produces amazing art.
Doom reports that he made the album while semi-homeless, sleeping on couches, battling doubt and an industry that didn’t understand or like him. Which forced a very intimate album. The samples are friendly (if you like 80s and 90s RnB – DOOM and his friend’s limited record collections) and looped with careful MPC skill by the masked villain himself (as he writes in “Operation: Greenbacks” he owns the crown in “microphone, beats or the wheeles of steel”).
For me this song presents a declaration of his rebirth into a new world of DOOM. The song is an invitation to understand an artist’s use of the medium of hip hop to embody his own will to re-define and rearticulate himself. From a traumatized rejected creative artist who had tried to do the right thing (KMD) to a retaliatory bad-man who was beloved and could also pay his electric bill. That transformation came through intention, lyricism, imagination and the follow-through to make something happen.
We can imagine the tomb as an end piece – the final resting place – but we can also understand the tomb as a transition between worlds. Most mystery cults (and the saccharine descendants like the masons) use simulated burial, re-birth and re-naming as ritual symbols marking a person’s change by committing to the worldview.
In similar ways the end of KMD, ending of intimacy (you don’t get to see DOOM’s face after this) and the death of Dumile’s brother come to a focal point in this song’s chorus. Like a mystery cult burying an initiate in a stylized coffin suffused in incense and low lighting only to have them emerge reborn and shrouded in a new costume and given a new name.
For the comic book loving Dumile, it is also the birth of every significant bad guy character. It is Doctor Doom from the Fantastic Four comic book crafting his metal mask, studying esoteric magic and creating the character to plague the comic book heroes. It is a great story arc for an artist and Dumile could foster a literal mask to keep the public just far enough away from the actual pain while still talking explicitly about how much he missed his brother and was still angry at the journalists and record labels that had ruined he and his brother’s career.
The new DOOM, clad in the metal mask is ready to make fun of the goody goody rappers like KMD. Not only that, he wants their money, the credit and the praise. In his mini Jeopardy segment in the song, DOOM chooses the category “Means to the end” – he will do what needs to be done to get the money. He is “Bound to go three Plat / Came to destroy rap.”
Emerging as a villain from the tomb had to be liberating – and DOOM is free to drive off with sexy women, brag about his toughness in jail, mock the current so-called tough guy rappers and play with verbal expression without any limitations other than being the best. And that is what made him a villain in their eyes — and a hero in ours.
Some decades ago I began celebrating December 26th as Ghostfacemas – at the time it seemed like a good pun on Boxing day.
But the annual return to the emblematic and lyrically gifted emcee is a good chance to think about Ghostface Killah in the current moment. It seems as though the hip hop of Wu-Tang golden era through the 2000s offered creativity and unlimited opporunities for growth. If you were talented, relentless and willing to match the moment then the world was your oyster. Cue the Wu Wear documentary.
Artists could make a living by spitting aggressive disrespectful bars spotlighted in videos of New York backstreets and bodegas made by friends, cousins and sycophants. I watched the RZA centered Wu-Tang: An American Saga which offers up the early years of the Wu-Tang conglomorate in glacial formation. The series has ended with the crew on the verge of what we know is industry-wide revolution.
In this series the Ghostface character comes across as heartfelt and desperate. A debonaire loyal friend with the need to earn money to support disabled siblings and a drunk mom. For those of us who spent years trying to decode Wu-Tang slang by rewinding the CD, the show was a revelation – background characters and stories come into visibility through memorized Wu-Tang lyrics. And then it all stops.
Amazing emcees with historic catalog of genre-defining tunes who get the veteran musician documentary treatment can still disappear (Ghostface Killah’s most recent album Ghostface Killahs charted at 25 on Billboard top 100, this video has a little more than 100,000 views).
I think that this experience of being squeezed out has guided Ghostface Killah to a more conservative discourse. The rhymes are crisp with clever inventive word choice (“My moms never knew she was nursin’ a wolf/And I wrote this on 9/11 covered in soot”) and the now-pattented rhymeflow that can only be Ghostface Killah (or Action Bronson).
But the subject matter is old. Guns, home invasions, objectification of women, liquor brands, fashion label, and the relentless juxtaposition of upper class symbiology brought to lower class contexts. I loved this from Ghostface Killah in the 1990s, but today it seems nostalgic and out-of-date. The fact that Ghostface created some of the most significant home-invasion fables of all hip hop history probably leads him to lean on this genre when it comes to 2019 recordings, but I find myself longing for a little more from Ghostface.
The other part that seems old is the use of the anti-gay slur “faggot” in a 2019 record. The last 30 years have been a significant period of culture change in hip hop. Hateful language and insulting slurs were the norm in hip hop and over the course of a few decades things have changed. The genre itself has opened, and the artists who record hip hop music select from a wider genre of symbols and narratives. There are quite a few hip hop artists who present a kind of repudiation of the traditional masculinity of hip hop (Lil Yaghty, Future, Young Thug).
The battle for the soul of hip hop can be understood as attempts of gender policing (Sean Price’s anger at emcees wearing tight pants). The small symbols and language of inclusion (and lessening of hateful language) should be understood as a genre discussing teaching, evolving and learning from itself. Careful observers of hip hop can map lyrical choices of emcees to understand how the discourse of the genre evolves over time.
Conservative hip hop vocalists might veer back into the gender policing of men in hip hop in order to dip into the well of hip hop authenticity. This is a tactic to identify who is real and who isn’t. But the cost is too great – the community of those who are comfortable with hateful slurs isn’t real hip hop – it is casual gate-keeping to create an artifical community that nurtures bigotry.
To understand the multiplicity of Ghostface Killer discourse should be a semester-long university course. The contributions of an artist who should be honored and critiqued in equal measure. Which is how we move forward into Ghostfacemas this year – critical, optimistic and savvy about the possibility that the next year might disappoint.
Fear draws out creativity – telling ourselves a story that we made up can be soothing. When we share our stories they go from sublime-to-mundane.
Good writers manage to capture some element of the sublime experience and convey it. Dragging some element of magic along in their prose.
Some writers make us feel more sublime than we have lived or experienced – their words point to something we can only imagine at that moment. Some rare writers create new possibilities by writing them into existence.
That’s Grant Morrison.
Long out of print in 2019, I was pleased to get a copy of the boardgame Wingspan this summer. Since it arrived we have played Wingspan almost every two days. Wingspan is one of the best constructed and fun to play games of all time.
Wingspan allows you to build an collection of birds in meadows, forests and wetlands. You operate mostly in solitaire mode, drafting birds, getting food and laying eggs for future generations. The mechanics resemble natural processes and the subject (170+birds) are simply beautiful.
The game play is very pleasing. I find myself lost in my own (almost solitaire-like) joy in strategizing how to get the right food to build a magnificent Golden Eagle or Mississippi Kite, the sense of competition falls away and I’m just in the zone. It is an innovative game mechanic – you finish every game wishing for one more turn.
Wingspan was created by Elizabeth Hargrave who has a robust life as a thoughtful board game intellectual. I’ve watched a few videos where she documents the process of creating Wingspan. She comes across as sincere, thoughtful and aware of issues of representation and power in all aspects of life. The below lecture given at the NYU Game Center is a good example.
Hargrave outlines the creation of the game and the development of the innovative game mechanics. When given the opportunity she also unpacks some of the gendered assumptions about Wingspan (“Am I making games for women?” she asks at 41:20. ) The response includes this great slide:
Hargrave’s talk is for a group of students (MA and BA) who are studying game design. You can watch the video on a number of platforms, but watching it on twitch has the added benefit of seeing the commentary as Hargrave’s lecture unfolds. (This is also a refreshing juxtaposition, traditionally the text chat on the side of a twitch stream would be rapid-fire trolling copy/paste spam, replaced in this case by earnest classmates joking with each other and riffing sincerely on Hargrave’s arguments).
Hargrave is on top of the significance of representation in boardgames. She also shared the tools and strategies she used to build, and publish her game. She shares information about inclusive calls by game companies and scholarships for new designers. She seems earnest in a desire to open up games for new creators and to encourage sincere support for each other.
I appreciate the values expressed by this approach of game design. She also just comes across as cool. At 46:00 when she encourages future boardgame makers to experience wonder by making games about things that they care about or describing her ban on games that include castles, I got the sense that Hargrave would be fun to hang out with and game with.
One thing that consumers who share the values of inclusion, accessibility and nonviolence can do is BUY these kinds of games. Wingspan is published by Stonemaeir games and you can get all sorts of cool stuff there. I recommend the European bird expansion set.
While praising the game you have to pause at the incredible art that covers the cards of Wingspan. The hundreds of birds illustrated for the game are almost scientific-style drawings, but are really beautiful. You can check out the artwork of Ana M. Martinez and Natalia Rojas on their respective websites.
I appreciate the thoughtfulness and strategic communication of the 1UP graffiti crew. The above videos are a pretty good representation of the trans-national cohort bent on leaving their shared name on any (un)available surface.
1UP have challenged the stereotypes before with their coral reef tag, and the #LEAVENOONEBEHIND campaigns. They are graffiti extenders – moving the practices of graffiti into new mediums and methods. The crew seem comfortable with a variety of new application strategies including the whole crew whole car strategy with the car in service, fire extinguisher painting, and of course repetition.
These two videos present some of the more interesting elements of 1UP practice. I’ll observe:
- Collaborative vacation. These videos document 2019-20 New Years Eve in Napoli. The crew pick a location and then paint up the town and socialize. They share a crew tag and a goal of making it beam from every surface in the city.
- interactions on the street. The 1UP crew zip around Napoli and paint on the walls with passersby interacting. These offer up some great moments like the memorial tag at 2:28. But the 1UP crew seem social, jolly, the paintings all seem pretty crisp and they seem to pass cans to people walking by if they express an interest.
- Include the failures. I really like the disruption of the standard graffiti video format. Including some high profile failures and semi-honest reflection about those tactics adds a lot to these two films.
- Strategic painting. Two giant cans of silver paint with fat caps allow a person to cover a lot of terrain. The use of teams (one person doing the fill and another to do the outline) and the multiplication of these roles if they are doing something larger was really impressive.
- Nostalgia. After a half a year of COVID-19 and stresses of the end of democracy in the United States, seeing a band of artists run through a European city on New Years eve seems like nostalgic hi-jinx.
- Vele. The Vele houses in the second video (10:45) offer up one of the best case studies of representation and voice. My concern is that it would be exploitative for the community members, so I appreciated that they foregrounded consent with the neighborhood and participation in the message-making.
- Art. I have some aesthetic preferences. Not sure what the face on the Vele houses was. Was not moved by the addition of the yellow streaks to most of the finished throwups. Really liked the rainbow drip piece. Appreciated the solid lines and old school letter styles used for 1UP across the project.
- Ethics. I’m sympathetic to anyone who was disrupted in their transportation to work. I bet quite a few people were terrified by the giant firework explosions. And I think that some of the crew shots of large gatherings of hooded men may seem menacing to some.
Overall these two videos are great examples of communicative strategy both in the video construction and the 1UP artwork.
An amazing documentary about a crow named Canuck. Worth a watch.
This video by the guitar pedal manufacuters Earthquake devices is particularly good. Featuring Money Mark (artist and famed Beastie Boys collaborator) in a laboratory with some created tools to make music.