7.26.2007

requiem for a dream



i've been both too busy making music and too bummed about the end of tonic to effectively comment on it's closing. in a sense i still am, but i wanted to at least say a few words and post the photo above. i note with some small amount of black humor that this is my thirteenth post about the place (that's more than any other venue i've written about). for more eloquent words, read the words of the patrons on the website.

i was present for the last event of the venue at 107 norfolk street, which bianca almost didn't get into. we had a last techno-driven hurrah for the bunker's final night before they moved to luna lounge. in fact, i've delayed this post so much that the night has already moved again, to galapagos.

the DJ sets of spinoza and derek plaslaiko were great as usual, pictures were taken by seze, excellent drinks were served by heather (who is also the criminally underexposed electronic artist doily) of broklyn beats.

tonic was a great place, one of the few venues i felt at home in. it will seriously be missed.


the title of this post comes from the film of the same name

4.15.2007

not to bury but to praise



upon learning that sin-e was closing, i scanned the listings and found that die romantik, a band i’d been meaning to see, was playing one of the last days. other passengers were slated to play the same night, but they ended up performing as a hybrid with another band. the three original OP members played excellently as usual, but i’ve blogged about them so much i’ve decided to focus on die romantik, and the end of another LES club.

sin-e used to be a little coffee house on st. marks’ place that sometimes had musicians playing in a corner. it was an early casualty of east village gentrification and skyrocketing rents. when the owners brought it back as a live music club and bar a few years ago, they wisely moved down to the then-burgeoning but still-cheap lower east side. budget was probably what led them to a location somewhat further east than the no doubt pricier ludlow/stanton/orchard/rivington axis. unfortuantely, this may have been one of their downfalls as they were even further off the beaten path than rothko, another LES club plagued with ill luck. with nothing else on the block, there was probably a lack of walk-in business or nearby incentives to hang outside and re-enter to see more bands and drink more. lowering the latter incentive, in my opinion, was the lack of a full liquor license. for a non-beer-drinker like myself, this meant much less money spent; instead of multiple mixed drinks, i’d either have one glass of red wine or stay dry altogether. similar clubs, take note.

still, the new sin-e had a decent stage and sound system, and i’ve heard pre-show DJs playing some pretty good stuff mostly unknown to me. they also seemed willing to take chances on music other than the recent standard of hipster-targeted indie rock, and ultimately this was their biggest legacy and the local scene’s greatest loss at their departure.

case in point, die romantik. this is a trio of immensely talented musicians performing music that’s a bit moody, artsy, and very hard to pigeonhole, especially in the context of the recent wave of NYC rock bands. their CD cover and band portraits support the almost goth sensibilities of their name and some of their more melancholy songs. however, at least on this night, they uphold the indie “we’re just regular guys like our audience” look and attitude. to me this seemed to undercut the elements they already have that can make them larger than life.

the intensity of their complex playing and beautiful singing makes a greater argument for truly progressive elements (as opposed to “prog” wankiness) - the kind that inspire devotees to follow bands like dream theater, tool, and radiohead. i’m not comparing their sound to those bands, but they have the chops to be in the same league.

maybe they were just saving their best threads for when they get tapped to open for interpol (their song "tik tok" makes a good case for that), but it’s more than clothes. the talented guitarist takes what appears to be center stage, but shies away from it even when taking a lead vocal, and is (perhaps unintentionally) largely buried in the mix. the drummer, while also excellent at both playing drums and singing backup vocals, makes the unfortunate sartorial choice of a headband (commented on openly by the audience), confusing their appearance further. meanwhile, the lead singer and keyboardist is largely hidden behind three levels of synths (i could only get the above shot by crouching down right in front of the stage), since he also handles bass duties with his left hand. while i’m hugely impressed by his ability to do this, i can’t help but think a full-time bassist would allow him to be seen better and concentrate more on singing and giving the band focus.

one downside of the current “indie” mindset is the fear of appearing to try too hard. i don’t mean to assume that’s what’s at work here, but if the band are wary of seeming too serious, they can let their music and personalities speak for themselves. some tunes were of a more whimsical, quasi-french riviera vibe, and their between-song banter was very down-to-earth. this is enough to keep them from lapsing into self-parody, should they choose to tighten up their presentation.

all this is, in a sense, nitpicking, since the band is so good. this post’s title is sincere, applying to both sin-e and die romantik; any criticisms come out of a desire for things to be even better than they already are. i wish clubs that take chances could figure out how to make money and stick around without losing their adventurous spirit. i think bands like this should be raised up to greater heights than clubs like sin-e. a good sign is that they did have the most attention and appreciation of anyone that evening. as things tend to go in cycles of death and rebirth, let’s hope that, as sin-e’s star fades, die romantik’s will brighten.


the title of this post is a paraphrase from julius caesar.

3.28.2007

when the going gets wierd




the title of this post is a paraphrase of a partial quote from hunter s. thompson

2.22.2007

try to misunderstand this girl



lurking on myspace is a music page with thousands of friends and hits, of a little-known girl on a small indie label. except the music is not only not what's come to be known as "indie" in the past few years, but its creator is staunchly against any such scenes. "i dont listen to electro or whattafuck," her bio reads, "i just do it. 5 years ago i found out it was funny pushing buttons and rotating knobs to make stupid noises and make fun of those pretentious indie electroassholes. hey youuuu, i know it's just noise and screams, you dont need to remember me i know what i'm doing."

thus is summed up the music and persona of miss violetta beauregarde, the musical name of cristina gauri, a swiss-italian girl. no doubt many of her fans first saw or recognized her under the name aiki on alt-porn site suicidegirls [wikipedia link, safe for work].

that little backstory may influence some of the unbridled anger and attitude put forth. people tend to make assumptions once someone's posed naked for all the world to see. "first of all, i'm fat, so dont trust in the pics you've seen and most of alla dont add me if you wish to score me cause you could get slightly disappointed at seeing me in the real life," she spits on her myspace intro. google image results for aiki turn her up as tatooed but adorable, all smooth skin and big eyes. by contrast, miss violetta is often dressed "like shit" (in her words), sneering, screaming, dirty, bloody, and hunching over cheap gear common to noise artists.

except that the music isn't simply noise as she says. the lo-fi sounds and cheap keyboard/drum sounds are reminiscient of xiu xiu, but informed by the in-your face beats and breakdowns of kid606. her accented screaming might bring to mind such polarizing women as yoko ono or atari teenage riot's hanin elias.

you wouldn't think that anything listenable would come out of such a noxious stew, and to many it probably isn't. but her small-scale sonic destruction can be addictive, and the 16 songs in 20 minutes of her CD go by way too fast. songs like "flanger when you die" (see video below) end up sticking in your head with their rhythmic chanting - and they don't even make any sense. not that they need to. the way she spits out "flanger when you die, when you when you die, it's a flanger when you die, when you fuckin' die!" is the essence of punk, probably the most important element in this electronic junkpile.



miss violetta would probably be appalled to know that song also brings to mind a moment from indie rock giants pixies: between songs on surfer rosa black francis shouts "you fuckin' die!" and then launches into a lengthy explanation of why he said that. with violetta however, there is no explanation, except the blanket statement that she spends most of her time "hating," especially indie scenesters. even my emailed comparison of her to some of the bands above drew the response "ha ha i hate xiu xiu and atari teenage riot."

in fact miss gauri seems to hate anything that takes itself too seriously, so it's odd that her latest CD is housed in a dour gorey-esque black cover with a long latin title, even if the meaning translates into another pissed-off swipe at her potential audience ("i hate the masses and i spurn them"). some of the public has responded in kind, predictably and rudely bringing up her nude pictures and vague resemblance to a certain icelandic pixie in online comments on her musical output.

judging from her attitude, she's either thick-skinned or prepared to respond with both anger and impish humor; her website contains an invitation to download a video entitled "aiki_blowjob_double_penetration.mpeg" which appears to be a large white rat swimming downstream. meanwhile her myspace blog makes reference to acting in a hardcore porn movie with some italian rappers. whether this is true or not isn't the point; she's manipulating people's perceptions and desires. while several of her fellow suicidegirls tour in a faux-punk burlesque, shaking their asses to a predetermined beat, gauri tours with her own beats, rocking everyone else's asses. rather than sliding helplessly down a slippery slope others have gone down before, gauri seems ready to do whatever she wants on her own terms.


the title of this post comes from a song on mvb's latest album.

1.22.2007

the anatomy of anxiety



bellmer dolls are one of those bands whose name you hear that makes instant sense. then you see their name a dozen more times and remind yourself to hear them or catch a show. once you finally do, you’ll wonder what took you so long.

new york underbelly lived up to their name by coming up with a bill of bands from the wrong side of the gutter. the recent show at crash mansion also featured the funeral crashers and blacklist, both of whom i’ve written about before. both bands sounded excellent and played well to the packed crowd.

it’s still exciting to hear a band take the most basic, even hackneyed instrumentation of guitar/bass/drums/vocals and make something unexpected out of it. bellmer dolls seem to have three distinct musical personalities that blend together perfectly.

the dirty blonde, boyish drummer appears almost out of place in such a dark rock band. appearance and disposition aside however, he’s the perfect fit. he held down a steady but often syncopated beat while sitting bolt upright and still as possible for someone pounding with such power.

the bassist often had his legs so far apart he seemed in the midst of a slow-motion split. it was just to anchor his position as he attacked his instrument with almost tool-like lines, infused with enough edge and punk spirit to keep them from drifting into prog.

the word "anchor" is apt because without the others holding things down, the nervous energy of singer/guitarist peter would have the band spinning out of control. half the time he would let the guitar fall behind his back or even on the floor. once on the floor, the feedback magically, exquisitely played itself. at one point he actually stood on the neck of it, making me (and probably all guitarists in the room) wince. when he actually played it, his chords and lines were jagged splinters, but showing clear intent rather than pure wild abandon.



several times during the show he lurched off the edge of the stage, swaying ominously over the adoring crowd as if ready to pounce. once he did actually enter the audience, but it didn’t come off as a star trip, but part of losing himself in the music and the moment. doing this quite a lot of course caused some damage, including the drink i set at the edge of the stage before i realized the extent of his roaming. “you owe me a drink, peter,” i called up to him as he tuned up. “you owe me a blowjob,” he shot back without missing a beat. full disclosure: i’ve know peter off and on for years, and while we can hardly be called close friends, the above exchange seems fairly typical from nights at places like happy ending. i won’t be taking him up on the offer, but i’m sure there were plenty of people of both genders in the audience who would have.

all of the theatrics might be called over-the-top or distracting if the music wasn’t so damn good. simple and hypnotic, yet locking into something other than rote repetition, the band doesn’t just ape their punk, postpunk, deathrock, or even cabaret influences. they actually do something that has the shock of the new while keeping some of the basis of the old. this is a band that deserves to be heard and seen.


the title of this post comes from a book about hans bellmer, from whom the band gets their name.

12.12.2006

huge ever growing pulsating



prejudice can hold you back. case in point, my previous experience with the venue known as downtime was spotty at best. however, i wasn’t aware of its transformation into rebel by the folks at webster hall until last week when the beyond events calendar told me about rare appearances by two techno artists i like.

metope and joey beltram occupy nearly opposite ends of the techno spectrum. any more minimal than the former and you’re in basic channel or raster-noton territory. going more maximal than the latter and you’re in the overblown realms of eurodisco or hard trance. metope and the rest of the areal records roster came to my attention via excellent remixes for the last depeche mode album’s singles. i think of the label as a more fanciful belgian counterpart to ghostly, with their distinctive cartoony images and analog synth melodies flicky pulse. joey beltram, although he’s from new york city, seems to be mostly associated with german label tresor, favoring a repetitive pummeling that berliners love.

those two artists pretty much defined the two downstairs rooms open to the night put on by doojee. the front room, formerly downtime’s anemic main performance space, has been reconfigured as more of a lounge and small dancefloor, with couches and coatcheck off to the sides. a DJ only known as connie was spinning when i got there around midnight. she kept a good but chilled pace, working with the ebb and flow of deceptively simple beats, building to mini-peaks and bathing everything in a wash of synths before dropping the metronomic kicks again. in fact it was literally chilled with the entrance and two big emergency exit doors leaking cold air. definitely a good room to revisit throughout the night.

once i realized the double doors in the back actually led somewhere, i was even more amazed at rebel’s transformation. they’ve expanded deeper into the building and made the main performance space a 325-capacity venue with its own bar and a killer sound system.

punishing the large array of speakers when i walked in were atomic babies, two guys i’d never heard of before. different aspects of their sequenced music were constantly being molded live, making it live and breathe as they tweaked their array of classic and new techno gear. they pushed the envelope of their sounds to the borders of industrial/ebm without crossing over into the terrible self-parody arrived at so often by that combination. as with most techno sets, it was essentially one long track, or rather a series of seamless electronic vignettes driven by the same tempo. rather than settling into a hypnotic groove, atomic babies showed how much you could keep changing things up while still staying within a few parameters. this, and their expert use of hardware (as opposed to pure laptops/controllers), made them one of the more enjoyable live electronic acts i’ve seen in awhile.

after taking a break with more DJ connie (and thanking her for the excellent set), i was lured back into the main room by the sounds of armageddon on repeat. the thundering kick drums reverberated closer as i approached, and i knew that joey beltram was on. his style is singularly relentless, like a buildup and orgasm caught in a time-loop, constantly exploding and regenerating itself. i know he spun different records, because i saw him get them and cue them up. but unlike, say, derek plaslaiko, who is also a master at beatmatching, beltram somehow turns everything he spins into the same giant beast. i don’t say this as a criticism but as an awestruck compliment. it’s as though he’s creating a monster using the mindset of the borg (from star trek TNG); every record, and eventually you, will be assimilated. the throbbing, synthetic hooks were more like fragments of riffs. he may have some kind of sampling delay or looper in his arsenal to grab the weirdest half-measures from the coldest records and repeat them until they take over your entire being. whatever the method, the result was a floor full of ecstatic dancers, surrounded by a few onlookers and the requisite glowstick twirlers.

unfortunately i decided to call it a night at about quarter to three, so i didn’t get a chance to hear metope. a shame, because i really like his album. but i did leave there with the blood pounding in my veins and a resolve to return to future nights put on by doojee as well as shows at rebel.


the title of this post comes from a song by the orb.

11.15.2006

dawn of the idols



last thursday i went to something i’d been looking forward to for awhile: the wierd records compilation release party. somehow the wierd parties have slipped under my radar for the past 5 years. the three-record (plus 7”) set i picked up a few weeks ago at other music shows pictures and flyers from those parties, and it looks like i missed a lot, as did anyone who didn’t come to club europa that night.

one of the great things about wierd is that it crosses the artificial boundaries of genres and cliques. most of it falls under the heading of “coldwave,” dark but strangely danceable minimal postpunk made almost exclusively on old analog synths and drum machines (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). but there’s also a smattering of experimental noise, techno-industrial, and nouveau deathrock. so the crowd was also not the “usual” you might expect to see at an event like this - adhering to neither hipster nor goth or any other standards, everyone was free to simply enjoy the music for what it was.

i arrived too late to see column, but the dj’s trading off between sets spun a good mix of dark electronic music with a few obscure goth tracks that lived up to wierd’s unnoficial slogan, “very rare.”

diako diakoff worked very hard with his two cheap-sounding keyboards, impressively playing both at once, with only the drum patterns programmed. at times it was hard to tell if the defiantly lo-fi set was totally earnest or tongue-in-cheek.

nearly all the lights in the club went off for the odd band out of the whole wierd roster, the comparatively straightforward blacklist. visually and sonically, they fit in with the postpunk-inspired end of the LES indie rock scene but push closer to goth-rock such as the mission or sisters of mercy. even given some almost unnoticeable technical problems, they were easily the most professional and energetic act of the evening. part of this was due to the foundation being driven forward by bassist ryan, who also puts on the night hail and was involved in visions of the impending apocalypse.

but the crowd really mobilized for the next performer, tobias bernstrup. this was possibly aided by his penchant for over-the-top costumes (online you can see him as both schwarzeneggeresque soldier and drag-queen diva). he took the stage dressed head to toe in black leather and vinyl, topped off with huge blue plastic eyes and a giant claw that made him into some kind of fetishistic insect. his entire musical set played from offstage as he sang, swayed, and posed, more performance artist than musician. he got one of the biggest responses of the evening.

i was most interested in the next act, sleep museum. it takes a lot of strength, being based in NYC in 2006, to get up onstage as a one-man synth/drum machine act. most electronic performers these days bring along a mac laptop, maybe a few controllers. sleep museum and the rest of the evening’s performers took up the entire stage with gear and wires probably not seen onstage here in such quantity and vintage since depeche mode first toured the US in the early 80s. the music was a blend of pre-sequenced minimal synthesizer bleeps with live mixing and key changes. he topped this off with bleak, discordant singing, vocally and visually reminiscent of iggy pop drowning in echo.

the following act, epee du bois, took this sound even further, adding ever-darker layers of synthetic drones and electronic percussion while changing tempos. it was great to see cheyney thompson looking like the classic bookworm/science lab tech, generating such dark sounds howling into the void. this sonic/visual dichotomy was further underscored by the later appearance of sean mcbride, who’d also just crouched behind an onstage mixer for sleep museum’s set. mcbride has the dirty blond, clean-cut look of a member of haircut one hundred, but clearly knows his way around a synth far more than that lightweight combo ever did. together they played an incredible long dark instrumental piece. i eagerly await a full-length release from thompson's project.

after that, mcbride remained onstage for two more sets, the first with vocalist liz wendelbo as xeno and oaklander, and secondly in solo form as martial canterel. wierd impresario pieter schoolwerth was right to offhandedly call him “the genius of wierd records” when we met briefly. both sets were dead center on the coldwave sound, but unique in their own way, not an unenjoyable moment through the end.

soaking in the glorious analog noise, i didn't want to leave, knowing this sort of thing doesn't happen very often (although the wierd party has resumed weekly installments). hopefully this compilation and night will kick-start the growth of music inspired from dark obscure places.


the title of this post comes from the song of the same name by blacklist.

9.26.2006

the sound and the fury



anyone paying attention to the dates on this blog may have noticed the decrease in frequency of posts in the past several months. since i've been busy with my own sounds (nothing new online yet), it takes a lot these days to get me out to one of the many shows i recommend through upcoming.org at the right. this past friday at turned out to be a bill i couldn’t pass up since i had a free night: four dark rock bands whose names i recognized, hosted by new york underbelly. i’d never been to crash mansion before, so this was a perfect opportunity to check out two bands i’d heard of and linked to on myspace but never seen, and reaccquaint myself with two others who’ve been undergoing some changes lately.



the december sound hail from boston, so this was a semi-rare chance to catch them. i found them through loveless music group, which gave me a clue to expect some variation on shoegazer music. although i recall their songs online as good, they took on another dimension live due to the full depth of the guitar sound being given room to breathe. they had an unusual setup in that the lead singer/guitarist stood off to the side mostly facing the rest of the band, while the keyboardist took center stage. this subtly diffused the focus to the group as a whole, a very interesting idea. their songs were well-balanced between a distorted guitar wash and ethereal synth melodies, with the bass and drums keeping things grounded. they were impressive also in that they were not just aping my bloody valentine, slowdive, or ride, but focused on building their own sound from various influences. they built up to a crescendo of looped guitar noise and bowed out gracefully.



surprising me by being second on the bill were a place to bury strangers, who delivered one of their best performances. the drummer accidentally knocked his electronic pads off his kit early on, or they might have matched the destructive power of the knitting factory show i first saw them at. it’s hard to build a wall of sound as noisy and yet forceful as they do without the full effect of distorted and reverberating drums, but they manage very well. kudos also go to the soundman, who was able to make oliver ackerman’s vocals cut through the mayhem throughout, which i’ve never heard before. their new bassist seemed to fit in better than last time i saw them, and the drums had more regimented punch and less punky abandon. the wildness was left to ackerman, who attacked his guitar more fiercely as the set progressed. this culminated in his turning on the strobe light for the final song, which dissolved into a hailstorm of distortion before he decided to attack a fender twin reverb amp. he banged it on the floor repeatedly to cause a series of huge metallic thwangs that closed the set.



this was a tough act to follow, but the funeral crashers rose to the challenge. musically and visually, they hang at the turning point between punk and deathrock. they aren’t as unschooled or brash as early punkers, or as depressed and theatrical as deathrockers or goths. the singer’s vocals lie somewhere between bauhaus-era peter murphy and monotone ranters like jello biafra. the latter comparison was also driven home by the seeming socio-political bent to the lyrics i could make out. they also had three television sets, which might have been ready to flash some kind of media commentary, but seemed to be simply more of a visual element. while they had the most retro vibe of the evening, there are some good original elements to their music, particularly some forward-looking guitar work and the way it locked in with the bass at times seeming to create a third instrument.

this was the first time i’d seen other passengers (top photo) without a second guitarist, and the first time in well over a year when they had no visuals behind them. the first issue was due to a band member departure, and the second was brought on by the sudden tragedy of a/v queen berkoy’s computer dying. send condolences, donations, and offers to lend powerbooks to her email address.

these two missing elements pushed OP to new kinds of energy and noisemaking. second guitar duties were filled in by singer billy, forcing him to leave out his keyboards. obviously this made for a harder sound overall as well as a seemingly frustrated attention split between the audience and the fretboard. main guitarist kevin also filled in more spaces than his usual edgy effect-laden sparseness. the effect was almost like watching a different band than the moody progressive outfit they were developing into. their playing reminded me of the backed-into-a-corner (literally) energy of the first time i saw them at bar 169. they’re definitely worth seeing, as they tend to put a lot of effort into each performance.



towards the end, kevin made a quick effect pedal change that cost him his entire sound, so he angrily plugged directly into his amp and wailed away brilliantly without much audible difference. this came to an abrupt end as he took a backwards dive into the drumkit, still playing from the floor. james continued to beat individual drums while billy intoned a kind of impromptu requiem. the sound dissolved in chaos as they left the stage.

i hope crash mansion and new york underbelly keep booking exciting shows like this. it’s a good venue that deserves support and so do these bands.


the title of this post comes from a classic book by william faulkner

9.20.2006

so bright, so strong



a hope long-held by many became reality last year when nitzer ebb caved in to demands for a live reunion show. this was followed by the announcement of a 2006 world tour. having imploded personally and artistically in 1995, the two members have done a few other projects, but their classic records continued to play in underground dance clubs, expanding their reach to new audiences. when i went to a t.raumschmiere show in 2004, the hipster/techno crowd at knitting factory was being warmed up by NE’s “warsaw ghetto”, an early rare single. besides countless industrial bands, their influence has been heard recently in avant-pop/techno label ghostly international band kill memory crash and even t.raumschmiere himself. what they’ve clearly learned from NE is that if you have basslines and beats good enough, you don’t need much else.

the irving plaza show was opened up by another band following this template, albeit filtered through the berlin/detroit axis and powered by almost lo-res digital sounds. motor came to my attention via a remix for depeche mode. the word described the movement of the mix so well, i thought it was just a title and not a band name. the german/new york duo was joined onstage by a third tweaker, who added some very welcome live squelches and percussion to the proceedings. they weren’t especially visual (they had projected images but you could hardly see them as there was no screen), but they did their best. the kick drums pounded out sub-bass frequencies while every aspect of synthesizer filters was explored. while somewhat monochromatic, it has an edge missing from most techno and is excellent dance music. however, while the crowd listened attentively and applauded, they were clearly reserving all their energy and enthusiasm for the headliner. a rough spot to be in, but motor handled it well.

three triangular flags bearing the NEP (nitzerebbprodukt) logo and each of the quintessential “industrial” symbols from their first album (cog, hammer, star) dropped down. the live blond female percussionist strode onstage to whoops and applause - clearly a woman being able to hold her own in a very male-dominated field has garnered her respect in the short time she’s been playing with the group. in fact, there were a lot of women at the show, more than you might expect for such angry, masculine music. next bon harris came on to much greater applause, followed (after a calculated pause) by a roar for vocalist douglas mccarthy. while many industrial bands favor dehumanized, over-processed voice, mccarthy stands nearly alone as being one of the most distinctive vocalists in the genre.

i knew what to expect and was not disappointed. there is no better way for them to begin a show than with the quasi-metal buildup of grinding synths and halting drum rolls of “getting closer”. the tired rock cliché ending of the full band beating the last note of a song to death is inverted and synthesized into one of the best intros ever. bon surprised me and tag-teamed on vocals (as in the picture above), adding to the energy by criss-crossing the stage in a mirror of douglas’ movements. after that he went behind a second drumkit and manned the ubiquitous mac powerbook which has replaced their racks of gear.

not that the band need a lot. their music, like their lyrics, is a perfect minimal expression of directness and anger. from what little they give you, you can infer the rest. some may call their music mindless and simplistic. but really, when you’re faced with lines like “money for blood /don’t take that cash away / don’t take that cross away” mixed with a southern US-accented televangelist sample over a single relentlessly ominous bassline and punishing beat, what more do you need to understand their point?

because they’re so easy to learn as well as bring so primal, mccarthy had a lot of help with his lyrics on sunday night. the packed house tried to match his guttural scream word for word. i don’t know how he can even speak, much less continue to sing and shout after a few nights of shows. the thing about nitzer ebb is, there are almost no breathing points. no long ambient intros, no ballads, no extended solos during which anyone can rest. the music is full-on energy from start to finish, and all members are very physically active onstage. they did an amazing job, especially for a couple of guys in their 40s.

the set was almost the entirety of their classic ‘belief’ album, with the singles from their first, third and fourth albums. there were a few surprises in some of the less-known choices such as “captivate”. while i was initially happy they’d chosen to do the highly-underrated “ascend,” sadly it didn’t come off anywhere near the album version. on the other hand, “godhead,” which to me falls flat on the recording when the band, as ben put it, “tries to be slayer,” came off as powerful all the way through. it was especially great because the more widespread video/radio mix has re-recorded “clean” lyrics which completely erase the song’s original seedy, nasty, sexual lyrical tone. that song, and indeed many aspects of NE seeming to be an aggressively homoerotic experience, i was surprised to find out recently that mccarthy is married with kids.

clearly NE cares about their fans, which is one reason they inspire such devotion. mccarthy took time at one point to hand out bottled water, and thanked fans at the end of the show. bon harris lingered in front of the audience both coming and going, with a look of amazement and intense gratitude. he kissed his hands and offered them to the audience, bowing repeatedly and mouthing “thank you.”

no, thank you bon, for writing the best basslines in the world.


the title of this post comes from a collection of early singles by nitzer ebb.

9.06.2006

two hearts beat as one



i really wanted to go out last thursday and support my friend bianca’s DJ set, but when i found out ellen allien and apparat were playing live as a duo the same night, i had to take a rain check.

i ended up getting to hiro ballroom after midnight. there was a velvet rope and clipboard-wielding door person, who told punters the room was at capacity. presold tickets were honored of course, but not without standing on the same inexplicably barely-moving line as those hoping to buy. meanwhile, friends and associates strolled to the front of the line and got slipped tickets and immediate entry. the whole scenario seemed designed to hold things up just to keep up the show of a crowd of 10+ people looking anxious to get in.

once inside the ballroom itself, i noted the old-fashioned mini-stage with curtains, looking as though it was designed to barely hold a 4-piece jazz or doo-wop band. it jutts out of the same side wall the entrance runs into, which is a bad design move, since people wanting to see the stage competed with people wanting to come and go and order drinks. also, amazingly, several people in the packed room were smoking. perhaps being part of a hotel, the ballroom is exempt from the standard nightclub smoking ban. the final straw of this bad setup was the elongated tables surrounded by sitting people - right on the edge of the dance floor at calf height.

fortunately, none of this has anything to do with ellen allien and apparat. i saw them once before, playing separate opening sets for t. raumschmiere at knitting factory. sadly, allien only played a DJ set then, but she was so good at it and so fun to watch i didn’t mind. things have changed a bit since then, as she’s released an even better solo CD as well as orchestra of bubbles, the duo release she and apparat were promoting. like excited kids, they crouched together behind the cloth-covered tables of equipment as the DJ before them finished his set. each had a mac laptop, bluetooth mouse, and several external devices to affect their sounds. when they stood up, cheers rose.

they immediately launched into two tracks from the aforementioned album that were dark-edged, but with a joyous energy. their music together is a seamless mix of allien’s berlin techno roots with the artier twists and turns of apparat’s IDM bent, bound together by a secret love for pop melody that both have played with in the past.



on the third song, allien stepped away from the gear and picked up a microphone, which drew more cheers. she has a great voice for techno - she keeps her lyrics and melodies simple, she stays in key, she doesn’t try any vocal gymnastics, her voice cuts through the mix without being annoying. as savvy laptop artists, they had her a little processed so she fit into the music perfectly. a few times over the course of the night, such as on the excellent “way out,” she deliberately bent her melodies into yells, perhaps to introduce a more “live” element or simply prove it wasn’t prerecorded or auto-tuned.

however, after each turn at the mic, she seemed eager to get back in front of her laptop, which gets her much respect from me. sadly, women in music aren’t very encouraged to do much else than sing and look pretty, to sell their persona and the promise of sex. that allien is a musician and DJ first and a cute female singer a distant second in a male-dominated field is admirable. even moreso since her own music is so great. as a perfect example, her first vocal was her own “stadtkind,” which seems to have a semi-political bent rather than being personal or sexual in nature.

this was not a pure ellen allien show, however. her relatively straightforward, analog-sounding techno (excellent though it is) is given new dimensions by the digital sheen and inventiveness of apparat. it’s a near-perfect balance, as allien’s own compositions could sometimes be said to be a bit too simplistic, while apparat takes a few too many melodic and rhythmic twists and turns to appeal to more than the chin-scratching segment of the electronica crowd. the merging of their talents has resulted in a nearly-perfect union.

apparat also happens to be one of the more interesting laptop performers i’ve seen, because he makes such a show of tweaking his effects and doing jump cuts live. there’s also a fairly clear cause and effect to his actions, which i think is the main thing people miss when watching someone use a laptop. the top picture isn’t the sharpest i took (seriously low light in there, and i hate using flash), but it best captures the physicality of his gestures. one of his favorite tricks of the night was to loop a small section of a song and substitute it for the rest of the track, sometimes doubling the repetition as allien warped effects on top of it until a climax. this made the live versions recognizable yet clearly changed from their recorded versions. as a finale, allien handed him the mic, and after a moment’s hesitation, he grabbed it with both hands and let out a long, grating, ultra-punk rock scream before abruptly stopping the music. they gave each other a hug and a kiss and left the stage. so much for the ideas of laptop performance being cold, detached, boring, and unchangeable.

i’d been pretty tired before the show, almost considering not going, and the irritating venue made me want to leave right after (another DJ began almost immediately - an unenviable slot). but on the street i was wide awake, blood pumping with excitement at what i’d just seen and heard.


the title of this post comes from a u2 song.

7.31.2006

the swinging reflective



shannon of stars like fleas told me about an event they were playing that instantly made my "must go" list, which has been pretty short lately. the sheer quality, diversity, and number of artists involed in BAPlab 2006 made it more than just another live show, cool A/V night, or gallery opening. it was all of those things and more. it had to be to get me to go out to bushwick when i knew the L train wasn't running. a promised BAP shuttle bus never materialized, but the B60 took us close enough to walk.

once inside the massive warehouse space that is 3rd ward, my first stop was a clever piece by doug henderson, which i was interested to see because he mastered a CD for me. only inaubdible sub-bass frequencies play through the painted (and presumably water-sealed) speakers above, making the water move in interesting and unpredictable ways. doug said people would sometimes lean over trying to hear the sounds only to be surprised by a splash on their cheeks.



nemo hoffman's nearby video sculpture consisted of six small monitors, each showing a slightly different view of some secret underground pipes and machinery in motion. all the monitors were connected to a wooden speaker emitting somewhat muted sounds.



not far away in the photo lab, the first performace i saw was miya masaoka, who had set up a series of lasers which, when they sense something in their path, each triggered a different sound sample. her careful dance simultaneously created an industrial soundscape of crunching metal mixed with softer, more melodic snippets.



there was so much art that even the hallways were filled. looking down at a visual akin to a virtual saturday night fever flashback, i realized something that may not be apparent from the above photo: the ceiling-projected blocks of color were being knocked aside by anyone stepping into the area, after which they would resume their ordered positions.



immediately across the foyer from this discovery was the input end of jamie burkart's time is long. a camcorder captured the scene at the building entrance, showing the image on a tv and recording it onto a VCR. the door and videotape hung open, the recorded videotape stretched down the hall to a duplicate setup which plays back the tape at a much later time. it was hard to tell whether it was still working properly since i took my time getting to the other end, but the tape also formed an interesting divison of space along the wall in between.



the next room i stopped into had jake klotz operating his piece robot. the centerpiece of the installation resembled one of the leftover R2 units in star wars, except it talked more than C3P0 while it painted (it's appparently a rush fan) and rolled around the room.



free103point9, whose brooklyn shows i used to go to, had set up a room of three different artists' transmission works. prayer antenna is the most immediately impressive and obviously interactive; the radio antennae beaming in answers from on high can actually be heard in speakers inside the padded helmet.



it didn't occur to me to sit down at the table and wear the headphones in the immaculately staged wanderlost. i found out later that had i done that, i would have been drawn into a mysterious pulp radio mystery brought to life by darwing comparisons to all-too-current issues of privacy.



chop 10 is a tower of 10 identical radios, each one tuned to a top-10 radio station. each radio lights up and spits out signal in sequence, underlining their near-total homogeneity.



in the next room, the true meaning of “interactive” came into play. sadly, my picture shows little of this piece‘s true nature, which is created by each participant. a camera is trained on the chair, whose output is on the screen in front of it. when you step into the area of the frame, you see on the screen that it is divided into equal blocks, some of which show the action in real-time, some others a few seconds delay, and others delayed even further, and so on. it’s very disorienting seeing pieces of you arriving and departing at different times, especially as you can compare your actual cohesive appearance in the mirror to your right.



the hallway leading away from the next intersection was lined with planters with speakers imbedded in them, each one playing a different loop of bird sounds. pieces like grow are interesting because they force us to notice sound happening from multiple locations instead of a pair or speakers or headphones. the planters seem like a subtle hint that such musical sounds are all around us, in life.



ernesto klar’s piece above follows dust particle movement and turns it into light and sound.



the alphabet machine clicked and clacked as letters typed themselves. at first i thought it was typing the input for the nearby freudster projection, but that was by a different artist.

inside a vast industrial woodshop, i was assaulted by noise from various installations and performances. most interesting was the loud objects, in which three people (artists? participants? both?) soldered and connected microchips over a backlight while they were already hooked up to an amplifier. their work was projected on a screen behind them while humming, buzzing, and frying circuitry blared gloriously through the speakers.



not far away, people were amused by zipper orchestra (above), where 9 zippers control the motions of each of the people in a split video screen.



video works by ernesto rios played in a loop as the caretaker of the free103point9 room took a break from the oppressive heat in there.



road kills & other tragedies lit up a raw space in an alcove somehow reminiscent of a diorama at the museum of natural history.



across the room, the disturbing and disorienting combination of images and sounds from the wizard of oz and apocalypse now played out on giant shards of a film screen.



once i made my way upstairs, i was confronted with two rooms that seemed to be both functional and snidely artistic, albeit a bit disgusting. these were basically no-frills bathrooms - no doors, no seats, crumbling white plaster walls - with red spotlights on the business areas. black marker grafitti cheerfully beamed, "don't be shy!" i didn't oblige, as the stench made it hard to stay long enough to even snap the picture.



the warm light from her free clinic beckoned me into a room that also had artists selling handmade wares. but the space was dominated by the translucent screens in cross formation, hiding mysterious female figures sitting cross-legged and speaking in hushed tones. outside, artist suneet sethi played the part of the free clinician (a title intentionally loaded with multiple entendres), offering her services to onlookers.



in the next room was the largest performance space. video artists projected onto multi-faceted surfaces while a band artfully mixed laptop electronica with live brass. after watching for a little while, i turned to leave and saw some girls in a dark corner knitting thick white yarn into something unrecognizable.



i stepped out into the hallway and snapped this long shot of the video installation white noise, a piece expressing the artist’s feelings on media saturation and overload. as i was shooting however, i was drawn down the hallway to some familiar sounds i couldn't place initiallty.



living up to their name more than ever were vortex, one of my favorite improv groups in the city. as usual they were accompanied with live video by adam kendall. this was possibly the most dark and intense i have heard them playing, and the murky duotone images that swirled queasily on the screen matched perfectly.



after i made my way back through the main room to the upstairs bar area, i was confronted by aaron canton’s hanging globes. each of them slowly rotated to reveal the kind of imperative commands we face every day.



out the window, i noticed a series of pictures being projected on the building across the street. recognizing some of the people from earlier that evening, i later found out this was the first bushwick yearbook project by rafael fuchs. based loosely on the yearbook-style photo (complete with ugly seamless backdrop), each of the subjects starts out posing as they would for a DMV picture but after a series of shots they become more animated and individual.



once again i got as far as the hallway between the rooms when i was assaulted by an ominous sound, this time from pounding electronic drums coming from the darkest room in the place. handshake should have been called roomshake. the incredibly loud music wasn’t quite danceable, although you could try since it was a fairly regular beat. but it was constantly being subdivided by odd polyrhythms akin to amplified knives scraping on plastic. the result, besides a lot of head-nodding and irregular body-jerking, was that every kick drum brought several pieces of concrete and plaster down on my head.

i went downstairs for awhile and talked to greg shakar (who certain people may remember from the early days of backworld) about his installation, the analog color field computer. an incredibly minimal interactive piece, it’s simply a computer whose screen displays only one pixel and makes one pure tone. but with that you can choose the hue, brightness, saturation, pulse frequency and pitch of what comes out of it. multiply that by 5, each with a person or two tweaking knobs, and you have a near-infinite combination of never-ending, audience-made colors and sounds. sadly, it was too dark to snap a photo of, but greg said the piece may be shown elsewhere.

heading back upstairs, i ran into someone i know who does work for develop don’t destroy brooklyn. i mention this in the context of this blog because the kind of raw warehouse space this event took place is is getting increasingly difficult to find. development is a tricky subject (see my rant on the topic). it can be a good thing up to a point, but there are times when greedy and big-headed people overstep their bounds. that’s all i’ll say for now, except to go check out their website and read about what they’re trying to do.



on my way back out of the main space, i noticed the girls who had been knitting in the dark had set up a blacklight and were stringing up their work.



nearby, another screen showed a series of cartoonish short films on a loop. i'm guessing this was part of the night video series showing works by multiple artists.



when i stepped into the hallway, bass-heavy sounds of the apocalypse beckoned from the same room vortex had been in. again it turned out to be a familiar face: charles cohen (at right, who i’ve seen at the c.o.m.a. benefit as well as [r]ake's january show), making frightening noise with two other electronic musicians. i’m not sure who they were, because cohen was scheduled to play the downstairs room much earlier, while this space and time was supposedly another group, but they were excellent regardless. the man on the left controlled his samples with what appeared to be a virtual reality glove. different sweeps of his hand and finger motions triggered and warped several aspects of samples at once. try to imagine the sound of a car crash, amplified louder than if you were actually standing in front of it. then take that and repeat it at will, turning the glass shards into melting squiggles and forcing the metal through a giant blender. that still doesn’t quite capture how destructive the sounds were.

when i went back next door rj valeo was in the midst of a banging techno set in the same dark room handshake had been in (by then too dark for pictures). even with the heat sapping our energy, he had people moving, myself included. david last followed immediately with a killer extended version of his song “animal hybrids”, which blew away what i heard online. in fact the PA itself was literally blown away, twice. it was probably the heat, or a circuit breaker, but the music was really that powerful. people left after the first power outage, but he filled the room up all over again as the track mutated and kept on going. despite how hot it was, i danced with vigor until it got close to time for stars like fleas to go on.

heading towards the stairs, i noted a huge crowd in the hallway. functionality had won out over art, making the red-lit open toilets the most popular installations of the evening, even beating out the bank of 9 box fans outside the woodshop. participants and onlookers turned it into the ultimate interactive performance piece, proving that even amongst all the electronics, sometimes the call of nature is just too hard to resist.



stars like fleas initially seemed like an odd choice for this event, as they normally keep their electronics off to the side. even when shannon used to bring his full-size computer tower, monitor screen, mini speakers, and various outboard effects, the setup was only to add bits of field recordings and process various live instruments. he pared down to a laptop this time but used it more extensively with his acoustic guitar. pianist ryan smith (also of a million billion, grand mal, mason dixon, the silent league, and two more i’m forgetting) also brings a laptop for additonal processing. vocalist montgomery (better known to some as the mastermind of monkeytown) has been adding live effects to his voice, and cellist tianna kennedy (nyc projects coordinator for free103point9) sometimes favors a pedal or two on her instrument. multi-instrumentalist jon natchez (another fellow silent leaguer along with shannon) has also taken to playing a small bass synthesizer during one song.



the overall effect, particularly this evening, is of a battle between incredibly naturalistic and human acoustically-produced music, and very digital-sounding clicks, cuts, and mangling. the electronics mostly came out during chaotic noise pieces, crashing waves of computerized squelches that would recede into an extended intro to a more melodic number. humanity won out over machine-kind, not just musically but in the presence of a packed-out room of sweaty people who were willing to wait until 1:30 in the morning to sit in an airless space too small to contain this band and their growing fans.

even as much as i saw and heard, i still missed a lot. there were more installations than i could adequately photograph. lusine, ryan elliot, tim xavier, and ezekiel honig were all artists i planned to see, but SLF felt like the capper to the evening. i hope this becomes a recurring event, as i'm already looking forward to next year.


the title of this post comes from a CD collection of collaborations between various artists and experimental music masters nurse with wound .

5.31.2006

kiss the eclipse



i haven't been out to a loveless music group event in awhile, even though i've wanted to go. this past thursday had a lineup of four bands i really wanted to see, some for the first time, at northsix, a bigger venue than LMG usually books.

although i arrived way too early, fortunately rex nexus was filling the cavernous space with the harder side of shoegazer music, and doing a good job too. it was all the more impressive when he told me later that his entire CD collection had been stolen two weeks ago and he was spinning temporary burned copies of his own mix CDs and promos given to him by friends and bands.

alcian blue have some nice dreamy sounds on myspace. however i'm sorry to say this didn't translate live. the cure-influenced vocals and delicate washes of keyboards were steamrolled by the sisters of mercy-like drum machine and over-loud distorted guitars. that mix can work sometimes, but not for this band's music.

daylight's for the birds (top photo) have a new singer and bassist since the last time i saw them, as well as some nice new songs. amanda doesn't yet have the stage presence or character of her predecessor claudia (also formerly of on air library along with DFTB mastermind philip), but she does have a lovely voice, and i'm sure the rest will come together as this relatively new band finds their footing. some of the songs really gelled nicely, their pop qualities superior to the later OAL attempts, while their guitarist has his perfect shoegazer guitar sound down pat. those saddened by the former band's departure should take comfort in the growth of this new incarnation.



i'd meant to catch unlove when LMG had a show at pianos, but unavoidably missed it at the last minute. fortunately they were also on this lineup, bringing more pop and rock sensibilities to the night. i was interested to find out the bassist is also in tungsten 74, who i wrote about at another LMG night last year. he mixed a supportive/melodic approach with backwards and synthesized pieces, while the guitarist stalked around his area playing angular two-string riff fragments. the drummer was rock solid without being boring, and the singer's keyboard skills gave lie to the accepted wisdom that pretty frontwomen are incapable of doing anything other than looking sexy and singing. a muddy vocal mix was just about the only marring factor in their show. if all their songs were as arrestingly catchy and energetic as their first, they could be the next downtown indie circuit buzz band.



the main attraction of the evening was a place to bury strangers. although they didn't have quite the same impact on me as when i saw them at knitting factory, in many ways the show was better. they played in the dark with only sickly blue-green projected video illuminating them. the vocals were echoey yet more understandable, the guitar was a howling wall of sound. the drums should have been hooked up to the PA in order to process and pump them up to match the distorted reverberating power of their demos and KF show, but only the kick drum punched us in the chest like we needed. such technicalities are nothing to do with the band itself and their clear talent and dedication to a sound. the chief architect is clearly guitar pedal wunderkind oliver ackerman, who uses his own death by audio pedals to ear-bleeding effect. their sound mixes dark rockabilly, deathrock, and other dark abrasive underground sounds, but ackerman literally adheres to the term "shoegazer" with his deliberately downcast eyes locked on his pedals. the set ended with explosive guitar feedback that satiated the audience's desire to be saturated with sound.


the title of this post is the name of a rare song by my bloody valentine.

4.10.2006

visions from the dark side



i hadn't been to a death metal show in years, and probably the last time i went to one was when morbid angel was touring with their replacement vocalist/bassist steve tucker. it was good, but neither the material nor the delivery of those parts were up to par with those of original member david vincent. vincent left the band in 1996 to play in his wife's band, genitorturers. last year, after three original albums with steve, vincent returned. their latest tour found them at bb king blues club & grill, which has strangely become the nyc home of death metal in recent years. morbid angel are the best the genre has to offer, by far. they balance technique with brutality perfectly, and vincent arguably has the best voice of them all, being simultaneously gutteral and (mostly) understandable.

the set started out with a riduculously low-end shuddering ambient loop, pitched to such depths that it was impossible to tell what instruments were playing (other than the crowd's internal organs). a minor technical problem that had nothing else coming out of the PA before they started was resolved in a few minutes and the band was off. chief visionary trey azagthoth's off-the-hook playing was augmented by a new, younger second guitarist. his guitar and vincent's bass were solid, but of course only truly noticeable when they were not playing. the main dynamic of most metal bands since metallica is between the main guitarist and the drummer. in vincent they also have the bonus of a charismatic vocalist whose voice goes beyond the standard unintelligible "cookie monster" grunts. but most of all, MA are extremely proficient musicians, pushing the envelope of how harmonically weird music can get and still retain the sense of single-minded driving force required by the genre.

the center of this is the man-machine named pete sandoval, obvious from his dangerously opulent drumkit that dominated the stage. built as a kind of cage vaguely in the form of a 3D unicursal hexagram, it had 6 cymbals (!), 5 toms, 2 kick drums, snare and hi-hat attached to its sturdy frame. the roadie checking the tightness of all the joints right before the show was a sign of the punishment it was going to be taking. sandoval relentlessly punches listeners in the chest with kick drums you would swear no human could be playing. and yet he does, starting/stoppping and changing tempos and time signatures on a dime. on top of this, trey alternates between his uniquely dissonant riffs and completely insane guitar acrobatics. how he doesn't break a string when playing so many strokes so hard and fast, frequently yanking and holding the tremolo bar as far as he can, is beyond me.

those two players alone would make any band a powerhouse, but david vincent puts a more human (and humane) face on the violent-sounding music. not only are his words fairly discernable, but his between-song pronouncements always emphasize the importance of their fans. besides thanking everyone for coming several times, he pointed out the diversity of the crowd; besides the ubiquitous long-haired, scraggly, chunky, white metal dudes, there were skinny mohawked punkers, short-haired indie rockers, dreadlocked and bald black guys, a lot of hispanic people, and quite a few girls. vincent roared, "if we can all get along, why can't the rest of the world?" he also commended the crowd for doing the right thing in the moshpit, which is that when you see someone go down, you pick them right up, "because that's your brother." then again, he admonished the crowd whenever he didn't "see enough movement going on" and told them to "be a man" and "fuck shit up". he also asked everyone to flash the devil horns and grinned, "it don't necessarily mean we're angry, just that we're evil," backtracking oddly to add, "and there's nothing wrong with that!"

i really wanted to watch the band, but often my attention would be distracted by being pushed, pulled, or slammed into as somehow i ended up on the edge of the pit. it was going pretty much the whole time, so that meant over an hour of a near-constant workout, including my neck muscles as my head snapped in time to the pummelling beats. while annoying at times, it's pretty much to be expected at shows like this and it really gets the blood pumping, especially when you push back. considering this, it's a good thing i didn't bring my camera, although a few people risked theirs. the picture above is actually from infernal crusade, but i chose it because it looks pretty much like what i saw.

the crowd ate up almost every song, because everything played was from one of their first four albums with vincent. each title announcement or chorus elicited ragged screams and raised arms from the audience. often the band would run two songs together, including their encore of their slowest songs, "god of emptiness" and "world of shit." with most of the show running at breakneck speed, it's no wonder that every 4 songs or so the band took a break to tune up and stretch out offstage, while running a recording of another dark ambient keyboard interlude. a few times the tempo lagged a bit compared to the studio versions, but that's understandable given that these guys must be in their forties and playing music a lot more physically demanding than that of the much-lauded rolling stones. still, this was probably the best show and the biggest venue i've seen them at. although i could have done with a few more songs (and they'll probably never play anything written by former member erik rutan), i wasn't let down.


the title of this post comes from a song on the album altars of madness.