do you say nothing yourself?

in a musical landscape where "indie" is often a term thrown around to define a sound or gain street cred, we often forget there are truly independent artists and labels. people who work hard and stick to their underground principles, and make a difference and set an example. perhaps the most extreme and admirable example is set by dischord records, home of fugazi and their predecessors, minor threat.

minor threat were the blueprint for so many hardcore bands, whether straightedge or not. i know that and i'm not even close to an expert in that type of music. someone else who must have also known that apparently works for nike's advertising agency. in an obvious ploy to sell sneakers to skater kids, nike's recent ad campaign clearly swipes the cover art from the minor threat CD. the changes are so minor as to be negligible, and clearly not for parody, which would be the only halfway acceptable defense.

dischord is not pleased at all. the label has always stood for exactly the opposite of everything nike is really about. their ubiquitous ad campaigns aside, nike is reportedly one of the worst offenders as far as american companies using sweatshop labor (as detailed in the brilliant book no logo), though they claim to have stopped using it. in fact the company itself amounts to almost nothing; it's my understanding that barring a small board of directors and similar decision-makers, every function of the company is outsourced, which is what makes them so successful (and so untouchable should any part of their operation come into question), and their products so insanely marked-up. this is in stark contrast to dischord, a band-run label that practically invented DIY while keeping prices at a minimum.

whatever path dischord chooses, i hope nike's plan ultimately backfires on them. it would be great if the target audience for this campaign recognizes how blatantly they're being marketed to, their ideas being mocked and their intelligence insulted all the while. as consumers, we vote with our dollars or lack of them.

sadly, nike's true target audience may in fact not even be the hardcore punks or skaters, but bored middle class teenagers who don't know or care about the background of the situation and follow the thought process "that looks cool. skater punks are cool. nike is cool. i want nikes."

late breaking news, 4:22 pm: apparently the uproar over this has been loud enough to cause nike to pull the ads and apologize. still, they got what they wanted: tons of national attention for their brand. remember the old saying, "i don't care what you say about me, just make sure you spell my name right." i'd like it if somehow something could be done to teach nike a lesson that this isn't something they can keep doing. their sales going in the toilet over this would be nice, but i'm not holding my breath.

the title of this post comes from the song DIY by peter gabriel.


a white house, a white room

as promised in my c.o.m.a. event post, i've added more pictures to ocular spectra, some of which were taken there. other recent shots were taken the night of the photobloggers 4 and other passengers show.

the title of this post comes from the song photographic by depeche mode.


couldn't call it unexpected no.2

i unexpectedly had a second chance to hear saints and lovers, who i'd previously seen at gothamist's moveable hype 1.0. in fact, that was one of my first posts. i was already at pianos upstairs, and jasper mentioned they were playing downstairs soon.

for some reason, the vocals sounded like there was a wet sock on the mic. that's a real shame, because the singer has a really good voice, which somehow shone through the mud. i also liked the guitar-as-bass trick he pulled off with effect pedals. he did actually play bass for the first few songs, most effectively on a vaguely new order-ish number just before he switched to guitar.

while their stadium-sized guitar sound seems a bit out of place in a venue the size of pianos, and is perhaps overly reminiscent of the edge in spots, the band is very good. their songs have a sad-but-uplifting quality that i tend to like.

the closing song was worth the price of admission alone. the guitarist pulled a beautifully ghostly sound out of his gear completely unlike anything else in the set. the singer countered with a dry guitar rhythm until kicking in the big distortion at the climactic moment, lifting his voice to a dramatic wail while the drummer pounded it home. if their other music gets as good as this song, i expect great things from this band.

the title of this post comes from a song by elvis costello.


garden of unearthly delights

on sunday c.o.m.a. held an acoustic benefit concert for abc no rio in the latter's LES tenement. i'd never been there and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. the performances were overlapping almost continuously in six different spaces throughout the building, including the garden. not only did i get to hear a lot of interesting music (above is bassist andrew lafkas), i got a lot of good shots that will be on ocular spectra soon.

abc no rio is a unique venue. it's basically an old building, not specifically made for live music, and so is actually a pretty exciting place to experience it as a result. often musicians crowded into rooms barely big enough for themselves, much less an audience.

the event was almost like an experimental lollapalooza. running back and forth between rooms, you were bound to hear something good. above is the self-described "secret bass player" who played in a trio with flautist diana wayburn and acoustic guitarist ty cumbie. at one point, i stood in the garden near the doorway in the perfect spot to hear three different sets of musicians playing simultaneously. that was a beautiful coincidence no one else could experience without being within a few feet of that spot.

the music ran the gamut from free jazz to beat poetry to electronic processing. i approached it like a smorgasbord and sampled a bit of everything.

i was mainly there to see robin's friend ed chang (above), who played in a noisy avant-jazz trio. i prefer his work on guitar, but it's fun to see him nonetheless, he's a great musician.

an unexpected pleasure was the quartet of (l-r, above) on davis, nick gianni, colin carew, and jerome james. a great blend of acoustic and electronic sounds. i want to hear more of them since they were one of my favorites of the day.

i'd heard of soundpainting, but it's quite another thing to see the walter thompson orchestra (above) in action. many of the players from the smaller ensembles were also a part of his lineup. thompson conducted the players with unorthodox movements to improvise at his commands. there was even some audience participation at the end.

i was happy to see charles cohen on the bill, since i loved his improv set with michael (sporangia/leisure muffin) last summer at dogs blood rising, which was one of the best shows ever at that monthly event. using the buchla music easel and a looper, he and joe lentini (on another synth and reverb effect) performed an ode to the south american rainforest. the music was transmitted through various speakers and radio receivers all over the room, enhancing the sense of space.

i caught the last few minutes of another dbr alumnus, nate wooley (above), because i heard a wonderfully hideous shriek from the garden, which turned out to be his trademark atonal trumpet. he was in a duet with a percussionist who had a lot of interesting instruments but used them discriminately.

this was some seriously underground music in a very raw space. after this i'll be paying more attention to what's going on at abc no rio.

the title of this post is a paraphrase of both a hieronymous bosch painting and an xtc song.


images of broken light

nyc photobloggers4 was seven photobloggers presenting at the apple store in soho, displaying a great diversity of style (thanks to rion, who assembled the lineup).

i was especially happy to see a presentation from jay parkinson of darkshapesprowl (above). he prepared a series of images and bullet points that were as professional as a business meeting, but full of his own personal charm. this wasn't just onstage huckstering though; when i met him afterwards, he was as nice in person as he's always been in email. one of the main points he touched on was the fact that digital photography is often "too perfect," and his efforts to rehumanize the form through inventive photoshop processing.

keith of overshadowed has taken a different approach to that issue. he announced he was switching over to using a medium-format film camera. he gave a more specialized presentation, focusing on the stages his photography goes through from raw shot to final image. ironically, he often seems to be intent on making his photos hyper-real, larger-than-life, evocative of widescreen sci-fi cinematography, yet is now going for the analog, human element, perhaps as a reaction to his past work.

another photographer who loves to shoot in the subway at least as much as i do, but from a different perspective, is travis ruse. he uses images of his daily commute to document and reveal the lives of the people around him, bringing them into focus to others around the world. apparently he was inspired to do this by the negativity in the news and the knowledge that people in other countries must have extremely skewed views on americans. his pictures show that ordinary working folk are pretty much the same everywhere.

the human connection was also very much a theme throughout the work of mexicanpictures, pixietart, and go photoblog, who are all excellent. jenene of pixietart in particular showed a strong sense of community, pointing out people she and others have met entirely through photoblogging. in another interesting twist, elliot from slower.net showed no pictures at all and instead give a talk about the pros and cons of the interactive side of the medium.

afterwards, most everyone adjourned to merc bar around the corner, to have a beer on gothamist, but i had to run across town to sin-e to catch one of my favorite nyc bands.

other passengers have definitely matured as a band in the year since i first saw them at bar 169. the symbiosis between the members has always been obvious, but it seems to be reaching another level. this show was almost the antithesis of the last one i saw. here they were able to spread out on a real stage, with great sound and excellent mood lighting. this last enhancement came courtesy of berkoy, who created appropriately dark and shifting visuals projected directly on the band without the benefit of a screen. her work may not have been as immediate in this setting, but it melded perfectly with the music and was certainly superior to regular stage lighting. it was a subtle but effective addition to a great show.

billy, the singer, struck me as having almost an ian curtis-like intensity this evening. his shorter haircut and the lighting may have had something to do with that association, but the kinetic energy, desperate vocal tone, and wide-eyed stare are all his own. guitarists travis and kevin reached a peak in their call-and-response playing style. individually, travis tends to be more visceral and visual, while kevin plays little circular melody lines and gets insane effects. tobin's bass anchors the music while being extremely melodic, and james' rhythms are dead on but unafraid of syncopation. the two of them also seem to bring a serious dub influence to the foundation. their songs are never simple but almost always memorable.

they're only playing two more shows this summer before heading down to louisiana to record their debut full-length CD. i don't know how they're going to squeeze into the back of cake shop, but they put on a spirited performance no matter how small a space they're jammed into. try to catch them now so you can say "i saw them back when."

the title of this post comes from across the universe by john lennon.


a thousand words

somehow i blinked and missed photobloggers3, but this time i'm prepared. anyone remotely interested in unique, beautiful, DIY photographic art should go to the fourth installment of what is fast becoming an institution here in nyc.

on a related note, i've added 5 new pictures to ocular spectra this week, including the one above. by the way, this wasn't set up at all; i stepped out of the subway near times square and there was the rose in pieces in the street by the gutter.

the title of this post comes from a famous (but apparently inaccurate) quote.


blur my thoughts again

i've been excited about cake shop since long before it opened. as a former devotee of halcyon, i was familiar with the all-in-one shop concept. cake shop does actually sell cakes, but they also sell paintings and crafts, have a record shop in the back, and a downstairs bar and dj/live band setup.

though i'd been meaning to go since it opened several weeks ago, i was finally drawn to go by the short notice of a live performance by mahogany and dj set by auburn lull. both bands exist in a beautifully hazy area where shoegazer, drone, and slowcore meet. they're also both associated with the darla label/mailorder, where i've gotten quite a few great CDs. i gave just enough of this info to tempt angel, josh, and robin to come out.

besides the two-floor setup, cake shop differs from halcyon in that the musical focus is not electronica, but what can loosely be termed indie rock (although not as narrow as that sounds). it loses points in my book for not having a full bar, but it does at least seem to have a decent selection of wines for those who don't drink beer. other than that, it's a great little place.

upstairs, the front is dominated by a coffee shop-like setup where the cakes and non-alcoholic beverages are served. the cherry cheesecake made me roll my eyes at the first bite, which is a good sign. there are stools to sit at the counter as well as small tables and chairs underneath the paintings for sale.

the shop in the back is an indie record store browser's dream. the best-looking covers, pins, and magazines are displayed on the walls, a nice organized spot for flyers up front, clearly labeled and well-organized sections for both new and used vinyl and CDs, including a large selection of 7" singles. a nice mix of music too; hip enough to carry the arcade fire but not too cool to have a hall and oates record. speaking of which, go buy robin's brilliant oates t-shirt.

the downstairs is very clean-looking, with a mostly black-and-red color scheme. this continues in the op-art decor which robin pointed out are actually square-cut color copies. rather than thinking this was cheesy, we agreed it was a brilliant cost-cutting DIY thing to do. the stage area is also somewhat informal, since it's not raised off the ground and has the cbgb-like setup of an area to the side where more people can stand and watch. nearby there's a jukebox with a great selection of CDs rivaling those at bellevue and ace bar. there are comfortable cushions and couches up against the wall and moveable chairs for easy group conversing.

this wasn't going on a lot though, because the music was great. the DJs had the perfect mix of ambience which ranged from early cocteau twins to dubbed-out electronica. for a long time, someone seemed to be soundchecking (see above), although it was seamless with the DJ set going on and quite enjoyable in itself. when the real show began, mahogany played their set in total darkness, with friends of the band swelling their ranks to eight people. it seems like they only played two very long pieces, which began like something off of eno's apollo atmospheres and soundtracks and grew to a massive wall of sound. multiple effected guitars created swirling layers of echoing harmonies, while old drum machines and synths added quaintly robotic rhythms which became harsher as the pieces built up to a climax and then faded.

for some reason although i stayed dry that night, the hypnotic music gave me the sensation of being somewhat buzzed, even to the point where some of my memories of the evening aren't quite clear. it all went by quickly, which usually means a damn good time. i applaud cake shop for living up to my expectations and hope this great new addition to the lower east side stays around for quite awhile.

the title of this post comes from a song by auburn lull.


in the woods

i hadn't been back to tonic since its rescue from imminent oblivion (and reinstatement of proper restrooms). since it's always a great venue for interesting new and avant-garde music, it's fitting that the first band i went back there to see was edison woods. i've been meaning to catch them for about a year, but they don't play very often. i was going to back out, but my friend and fellow photographer bianca convinced me to go after all.

i'd never heard of openers the new radio band, and tonic unwisely had no description next to their name on the bill. still, we turned up in time to see them and were pleasantly surprised. at first glance they're a simple jazz trio of drums, upright bass, and saxophone/flute. this is the kind of setup that could be very boring trad or improv jazz, but fortunately it was neither. the bassist had a solid groove and a great sound, laying down simple (yet not simplistic) lines which jumped into variation without losing the pulse. the drummer was locked in without being metronomic, intuitively sensing the right time to make changeups, and never overwhelming the other players with grandstanding. and much to my delight, the saxophonist/flautist played through a monstrous effects pedalboard, augmenting his inventive melodies and snippets with just the right amount of technology.

athenians hope for agoldensummer(photo above from their website) were pleasant and talented, but personal taste interfered with my enjoyment of their set when their songs took a bit too much of a backwoods twangy turn for me. i did like the initial mix of pj harvey-like vocals with sparsely earthy guitars, cello, and unusual percussion (for one song, the drummer shook a wooden crate of coke bottles in rhythm).

edison woods have eight members, and not one of them is superfluous. two female vocalists (one of them also playing piano and accordion), a guitarist, drummer, violinist, cellist, bass guitarist, and baritone saxophonist. from the moment the blonde singer took the stage her presence was palpable. they began with an accordion-driven instrumental, which set the tone for their set, freely alternating between vocal songs and understated chamber music pieces. several of the musicians clearly had a command of both conventional and experimental techniques. each of the players had moments in the musical spotlight, but took their turns with a quiet reflectiveness that suited the songs. the exception to this came at the end of the set when the backing vocalist stepped out front and shifted from breathy childlike whispers to a series of wordless crescendoes of operatic intensity. this was a welcome climax to the gorgeous restraint shown until then. i hope to see more of this band.

the title of this post comes from a great melancholic black metal band.


de profundis

i rarely seem to make it to galleries these days (except for special performances/events like i wrote about at the cave gallery), but i had an inkling i should see the ashes and snow exhibit. all i knew was that it was some nice duotone photographs of a relatively serious-looking nature.

it turned out that the space it's being shown in, the nomadic museum, was built specifically for the show and will be taken down after june 6 once it's over. it was also built on pier 54. these added unusual elements helped make my decision to go into a certainty rather than a possibility which floated in the back of my head until it was too late. too often, museums and galleries are fairly sterile environments, their neutrality doing the work on display a disservice.

from the outside, it's fairly impressive, although seemingly incongruous with the anticipated photographs. the museum was constructed out of interlocking metal containers, much like boxcars, alternating in different styles and colors. unfortunately, photography wasn't allowed inside, and there were constantly ushers and security keeping an eye on the crowd and quietly asking people to move to the right and keep their cell phones off.

this last request confused me until i was inside. the structure's interior formed a long hallway, like something out of the emerald city. the lighting was much dimmer than the photo above (from new york architecture images). hidden in the upper reaches were speakers playing music that coincidentally reminded me of my dark ambient project a murder of angels. the photos were hung from the high ceilings by near-invisible wire, so as to seem suspended in the air. rectangular spotlights were trained on each print, which seemed to be somehow done on a surface akin to canvas. we had to walk down wooden planks in the center, because under the photographs hung on either side was a layer of clean grey-white stones that stretched several feet all the way to the walls. this had the effect of being in a zen rock garden without the flowers.

the pictures themselves were often of people deep in meditation with different wild animals. each type of animal was grouped in a series. all the locations were either in the desert or in water. the subjects were mostly either very young or very old, although there was a brief focus on a man and woman in their 20s or 30s.

i thought the most gorgeous and profound photos were those contrasting the tiny, smooth-skinned children with huge, rough beasts, especially the elephants. elephants being a symbol of memory, it seemed as though the inexperienced child was seeking knowledge from the wise creature, somehow communicating on a spiritual level. the photos with the young child and the very old woman struck a similar chord.

at the end of the hall was a theater, showing a film of the same scenes in the photographs, albeit from different angles. some sections were in slow motion. because of the movement and more obvious posing apparent in the film, i found it less affecting than the stills. even non-linear film such as this creates some degree of narrative by the simple fact of showing time passing and different actions taking place. this removes the viewer somewhat from the role of attempting to figure out what the story might be or creating one of their own. in addition, the deep-voiced narration was highly unnecessary since the beauty of the images told their own story. fortunately, i stayed out of earshot of most of it, and took a second look at the photographs on my way out.

none of the images above or my description can compare to being in this space, so i recommend people make it over there. although the $12 entry price might seem steep for a gallery show and short film, the amount of expense clearly needed to do the entire installation justifies it. the day i went was packed; hopefully the success of this exhibit will mean artists and galleries will take chances like this more often.

the title of this post comes from an essay by oscar wilde.