The Proud Hipster and His Blood Thirsty Interns:
Scouring the Indie Aesthetic for the Big-Game Charlatans
and the Quiet Sensations
A column by S Montgomery Houghton
Originally, Delta Spirit was an emo band. You can totally see it: The guitarist with a heroin-is-so-passé, dark hair-in-the-eyes glare; the bass player with some weird waist jive and their songs all dark and bloody – they’ll have a hard time living that one down. But that was all before they met Matt Vazquez outside of their apartment when they heard him hollering with his acoustic like a caged tiger, busking, probably waiting for a train, trying to get enough change to wander out to the edge of town and share a visit with the ghosts of Kerouac.
Vazquez has a lot of personality. He appears like he’s been around the world a few times, seen some things but still nothing seems to faze him. He’s a Woody Guthrie or a Willie Nelson type, built on the roots of country and folk – a drifter. But there is an interesting duality to him that essentially carries into Delta Spirit. On stage, Vazquez is a ball of crazy energy, belting out his lyrics with pure ferocity and thrashing his guitar like a wild boar. He has that punk frustration to ad to his drifter vibes, and while the ex-emo band behind him, prior to would be gazing forlornly at the stars, now jump around just as wildly, smashing trashcan lids and massive orchestral drums. Essentially, Vazquez is what all indie bands need these days: someone with straight-up gall, someone to face the big crowds without batting an eye and to ad a little showmanship to the Quaalude frenzy... and the punk/folk personality is absolutely perfect for that.
On both of their albums, Ode to Sunshine (Rounder Records – 2008) and History from Below (Rounder Records – ’10), Delta Spirit has a strong resume for folk, with songs like “Scarecrow” and “Ransom Man.” The songs are lyrically heavy, dropping ballads of gruesome revenge full of blood and dark love stories. “Ballad of Vitaly” shares a true story of a man asking for an apology but ending up with blood stained hands. The folk songs on Sunshine, written in ’08, were more about raising people into action, with marching songs like “People Come On” and "Children." On History, they seem to have matured to a less political, more to the core folk feel with songs about basic human nature. However, they haven’t completely changed with songs like “911,” a light, sarcastic ream on the old-boys on the hill.
But back to this duality: with rocking songs like “Trashcan” and “White Table,” the rock and roll veins of DS are pumping strong. You could say they are punk as many critics label them, but punk suggests very raw, minimal music knowledge, two minute thirty primitive bursts of energy, like Vazquez's singing, but the band is extremely precise with their chords and their changes, and very aware of their sound. They are more just plain rock and roll. “White Table” is the best rock song I’ve heard recorded this year. It is lead by a double drum thrill ride of rising tension and a climax three minutes into a five-minute song. The build up is pure brilliance. “Trashcan,” off Sunshine, is a similar, percussion and drum driven number, with a thick piano addition to the rhythm.
So essentially, The emo days for Delta Spirit are gone. They’ve written some great songs, but I think they’re just gettin' going. From the energy I saw on stage at Webster Hall on November 23rd, lets just say I’m excited to see what these guys will bring to the table. They have a new EP out now: Waits Room, a mostly acoustic and short record, but History from Below is in the running for best album of the year so check that one out first.
Here's "White Table"
By: Sam Houghton
The White Noise Supremacists is an angry punk band with some mean overtones of oppression and racial tensions. I first saw the band at Trash Bar in Williamsburg, off Grand, and there were four other people there: the bartender, the singer from the next band, the sound engineer and a drunk dude dancing in the corner. I was new to New York, somewhat of a shrewd pilgrim journeying to what I had thought would be the epic new music scene: Brooklyn, home to the likes of Grizzly Bear, the Dirty Projectors and other weird, experimental bands that were labeled, or quoted, or doomed to carrying on the torch of the now underground and frail thing we used to call rock and roll. The Trash Bar, in its grungy glory, was prime: cracked walls, car seats, grunge, dirt, PBR, grunge, low ceiling crumbling with what looked like used foam pads. It all made me feel at home, like my quest was right, that being young and poor and dirty would win out in the end…
I paid ten bucks to get in, sat down in the corner with a beer and on came the opener: the White Noise Supremacists, a young woman standing up there alone with a big yellow guitar and a lot of reverb. She seemed small on stage at first, with spotlights illuminating the whites of her eyes and the big empty room in front of her, but when the first power chord went off like a Mack truck, she fell into a mean trance of anger, somewhat oblivious to things. She grew with her anger. It was shocking. She didn’t do anything too dramatic physically but I could sense the anger, possibly by the way she grumbled the lyrics or possibly from the way she introduced her songs (the lyrics were buried in reverb). There’s nothing quite like an angry black women with songs like “Big Strong White Man” to make you feel right at home. Needless to say, I didn’t feel at home, I felt more shamefully annoyed. There was a piercing angst to her voice that seemed she was singing not to entertain me, but to piss me off.
I could be an ignorant fool, not give The White Noise Supremacists a chance and denounce the band founder and sole performer, Iféoluwa Babalola, as just another freak a few decades too late, trying to collect off the feminist/black circuit. But that would be ignorant. I can’t simply write about the music because that seems to be missing the point. I felt I needed to speak directly with her. However, she had moved on to Berlin because, according to an interview she did with some Berlin media outlet, the music scene in New York was too afraid to embrace her themes of race, feminism and oppression. But I still wanted to find out if her anger was genuine and justified and not just some lingering, post high school angst coming off, so I sent her some questions via the email.
Her band name is taken from a 1970s article written by Lester Bangs that appeared in the Village Voice and discusses the lingering and vile, racist actions in the CBGBs punk scene. I asked her about why she named her band after the article and, inevitably, I had to bring up themes of race, wondering purely out of curiosity, what it was like to be a female black singer in our Brooklyn scene. I made a bold move and said that compared to the 70s and the way Bangs’ describes race during that time, I thought that after 30 years, the scene had seen some improvements; racism was not nearly as vigilant as it was then. Here was her response:
This is not an attack against you but I won't be able to answer these questions. I just refuse to put myself in a situation where I am explaining racism to white people. You live in the same world I do. You watch the news. You hear about people being dragged behind trucks until their head comes off. You should know what is going on without me having to tell you. I make music. First and foremost. I named my band as such because I knew my color would be something that would be harped on. So if race were to be talked about, it would be spoken about on my terms. I am Black and Female and African. Racism and sexism and homophobia are intolerable to me. Saying those things is not wrong. Saying those things needs no explanation. And if you feel that they do, that says more about you than me. But I never intended to explain myself and I let myself be dragged into that many years ago by cowardly, knee jerk people that I have encountered. But your email made me realize that is something I have absolutely no interest in doing. Think of it what you will. I've just realized that I have no desire to make people see my point of view. If that happens, it will be their decision. My only desire as a person that creates is to express myself purely, bravely and without compromise. So if you think that last question you asked me was appropriate and that race relations are "healing"...you're obviously not paying attention. And there is no way I can make you see something you have decided to be blind to. There are people out there with their hands over their eyes and are just being lead. Those people will never see me. So I don't concern myself with them. My eyes are open and I am searching. My music is solely for people who are the same.
I'm just a mirror. What you see in me is a reflection of you. And I am absolutely fine with that. My point was to make you look in the first place and even for a second, think about what you saw. And ask yourself why.
A month or two after I received these comments, a video of “Big Strong White Man” was posted on the White Noise Supremacists MySpace page. The lyrics are obviously geared towards the great moves by the white man and how they have fucked up the whole world, which has always been true, but Babalola’s voice and demeanor seem much more composed and honest. There is still the anger, but it’s now a voice that wants to be heard instead of a voice intended to spread annoyance. It’s a good song with some good promise behind it. It seems the move to Berlin has had a postive impact on the band and I could understand why. In the US, or the Northeast at least, or at least the over-educated Northeasterners, we feel that racism, yeah sure in the past it’s been pretty horrible, but we’ve nearly gotten over it now. We’ve elected a black president! Sure, there’s still some lingering weirdness, which sucks, but when I meet a black dude for the first time, I barely notice the color of his skin. It’s just how it is. So when I looked into this so-called mirror at the Trash Bar, perhaps the annoyance was a good thing to see, and perhaps it’s good that the White Noise Supremacists have moved to a place where they are better listened to.
By: John Mabery
The current trend of noise rock, and music in general growing progressively noisier, is something that needs to be put to death now. It gives any jag-off with a computer the ability to falsely label his or herself a musician, and thanks to the wonders of Youtube and Myspace, those so-called musicians have a forum to display their nonsense. Frankly put, it’s so subpar that it doesn’t deserve any sort of debate, and if that’s the kind of “music” you fancy, then you can go outside and place your head against a running lawnmower. You would probably get more out of it.
Needless to say, I felt compelled to bring this up after attempting to listen to Twin Tigers (pictured), a “dream noise” trio from Athens, Georgia. What starts off as an intriguing listen rapidly deteriorates into a big old mess of unnecessary noise under the weight of feedback, flat and/or sharp vocals and notes bent into oblivion. Sounds to me like someone out there is having some painfully loud dreams, and if I were them, I’d pray for insomnia.
It’s a shame too, as I was actually enjoying “Red Fox Run” and “Everyday,” even though they are far from what I would call fresh. But then, halfway into “Island,” the noise bug strikes and the listening experience goes from good to downright frustrating. I forged on through “Sexless Love” and “Envy,” but the lyrics were gobbled up by all of the sounds and those sounds were just far too heavy and distorted to make sense of. I even tried to listen to the tracks again, but my tolerance had left me long since, and I hit the stop button on the Myspace player. Even now, as I struggle to remember anything about the songs, I can’t bring myself to hit that play button again. And what would be the point? How does one rate, let alone recall to the reader, such noise? It’s something that I won’t, and can’t do.
I’m sure many will argue that music has always been noisy, which is fine, as long as that’s your argument and not that this noise is actually worth a listen. The way I see it, it’s a trickle down effect. Pop music has become gradually noisier over the past decade and it has found its way into the underground. But unfortunately, the growing popularity in noise is widening across the board, from Lady Gaga to the Sleighbells. For this reviewer, the day that the majority of music can be lumped under a single umbrella due to the noise factor will be the day that I grab my records and run for the hills.
By: Sam Houghton
Muslims wander across the desert to Mecca and pray to their god; Americans load up big cars with grills and tie-dyes, rip across the country and drench themselves in decadent music festivals.
They transcended like giddy Army Officials storming a beach: swarms of Jeeps and mini-vans slugging over the mud in a mad fury, tires spinning, horns blowing, adolescents hollering, to get through the gates. After sitting in a cramped car for 24 hours, the mere sight of a gate is enough to make a grown man salivate from the lips. Peace, free love, good music and good drugs, four days of absolute freedom with nothing in the way but a couple of emaciated, bearded freak volunteers waving orange flags.
It is Thursday, June 10, 2010, the first of four beautiful days amidst insane heat, huge crowds and total anarchy, where nearly 80,000 glossy-eyed Americans flood the Great Stage Park, a 700 acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee. It is home to some of the best music that challenges and even justifies the very principles of our fine nation. It is the 9th annual Bonnaroo, one of the world’s largest music festivals.
Inside the gates, people with their cars and their tents are packed in like refugees. The sheer volume of campers looks surreal – majestic even. From the solitude of my campsite, things are relatively peaceful. College dudes with no shirts and multi colored headbands occasionally yell out an obscenity here and there, maybe grilling burgers or corralling a caravan of cars; chicks with loose-fitting clothing and floppy boobs parade lightly through the different paths, one every so often in the nude; old men with pony tails and toothless grins stand in tie-dye aside their grill-less Broncos; middle aged folk with their infants dance to the far off noises with closed eyes and strange smiles; hipsters, dressed down in tight jeans and bright orange sunglasses, strum green ukuleles in the shade of massive oaks. There are people everywhere, all huddled together sharing a strangely happy vibe. It feels good to be a part of it.
Today, there are a few indie bands starting around four. I can hear one them off in the distance, over the hordes of cars. It is probably Neon Indian, a couple of hipsters from my part of the country, fellow Brooklynites just beginning to carve a nice spot for themselves amongst the computer button pressing, new psychedelia that has become popular these weird days. The heat is too heavy to move out of my blue LL Bean camp seat so I sit here, trying to get a grasp on how I might gather the energy to watch all the bands that will be playing in quick succession over the entire weekend until early Monday morning. I began to understand why the South has a different moral stance. The heat and humidity forms a gel-like mold over the entire body, bearing down against your brain and chest with maximum pressure. It’s impossible to think, never mind move. God is not nice in these parts.
According to local correspondents, a 29-year-old will die from the sun. The local newspaper, the Tennasseean, reports that some 400 more a day will suffer from some sort of heat related disease inside the numerous medical tents. A good 70,000 will be severely soar, diseased, bloated, bowel-y inept, and all around spent come Monday morning.
Bonnaroo is nothing less than a marathon – an endurance test. Over 100 bands play, and most, if not all, are quite talented and highly regarded in the real world, never mind the vast, pretentious music world (to name a few: Jay Z, Phoenix, John Fogerty (pictured), Little Stevie Wonder, the Kings of Leon, the Black Keys, and on and on). On top of that, six might be playing at once on the ten or so stages. To catch all of them is impossible. To catch a few greats in a day is plausible but left only to those naturally selected.
The only way to survive an event such as this is with careful preparation and sheer dedication… supplies are often necessary for the sort dedication that will get you to the highest possible peak of a musical festival. It is strange that the most popular drugs of Bonnaroo make you feel airy and light, leaving you frayed around the edges and utterly lazy and useless, watching colorful lights on the Ferris Wheel, drooling and physically useless like an aged Stephen Hawken. You can’t possibly wade through eight hours of dead heat like that. You’ll collapse within the first two hours of a legend like Fogerty and wake up in a grassed field, alone, dry as a prune, burned like an Alzheimer’s turkey roast and foaming at the mouth. If you were stone cold sober and drank water on a steady routine, at least eight bottles a day, with some shade here, you could catch a few hours before you collapse.
What you need are uppers and a clear head. When you wake up in the morning, which will inevitably be early because your tent acts more like an oven than a sleeping chamber, immediately start sucking on oranges and ice to mellow you out; perhaps bring a solar shower if you can get your hands on one. Eat a big breakfast full of protein and vitamins to keep you energized throughout the day, fill a jug with pure xanthine, six bottles with ice, a pouch full of your preference of speed, dip yourself into an abyss of sun block, cancer be damned, strap on your walking boots and starting humping it through the campgrounds to the band shells. Sadly, most people here are not dedicated to that sort of intetraverted trip, but are here more for the scene. Music is second to the actual things floating by. We are, after all, a visual generation with life wafting easily by on computer screens from the confines of a comfy chair.
But there are many faces to Bonnaroo – people with all different motivations. From its origins, the festival was for the jam band freak, the purebred hippy: groupies of Phish, moe, and the String Cheese Incident type bands. They boom across the landscape in orange vans for entire summers, hitting every festival possible, their license plates reading from California, Tennessee, Montana, and everywhere in-between. They bring kids, dress them down in tie-dye frocks and daisy headbands and then continually dance like loose-limbed zombies with twisted smiles. They must be recluses the rest of year, still recovering, or perhaps ignorant from Bob Dylan’s memo that the times changed, still trying to grasp onto the hopes of the Haight/Ashbury 60s scene, hiding from the evils and harvesting small farms in their backyard while eating weird tofu products and yogaing with the rising suns. Naturally, they are good people, just radically different than the average American and perhaps a little slower, mentally, from the wear and tear. Some of them weren’t even alive when Jerry died, but are now engulfed in a protective shell of grandpa’s fantasy world of nostalgia. But they are very nice people, naturally, and they do bring the best drugs. You can always trust hippies because their existence is based solely on the idea that humans can do good.
As a result of Bonnaroo’s extremely lax security (in Centeroo, where all the stages are held, there is absolutely zero security), drugs flow like candy in Wonka’s Lab. The steady bass line to the festival, besides the constant streaming of bands, is the murmuring advertisements from dudes walking around with back packs calling out: “Doses… Molly… Headies… uppers… coke… K…” Inevitably, as reputation got out over the years, Bonnaroo attracted a new breed of incomers: college kids and their post college, intellectual kin, along with some top notch white trash, all following the good drugs. Weeks before Bonnaroo, they began growing their beards and quit the barbershop routine. Maybe they’ll rent an RV or plead for mom’s mini van, either way, they come in large caravans swilling numerous cases of Natty Ice and flasks of cheep whiskey. By the second day, they are burned to a strawberry-red, except for a white, clearly cut out shade where their wife beater once was and a thin white strip where their tie-dye head band once was. By day three, they are passed out on a beach chair outside their tent or holed up in the infirmary, mentally fucked and confused. It’s a typical college weekend taken to the highest extreme, hands down the ultimate party – a rare excuse for the complete drug binge.
For the majority of Bonnarooers, the music is mere background, an opportunity to listen to John fucking Fogerty while wrapped in a Dashiki tie-dye dress and subdued to a happy drug coma sprawled out in a field. It has become a vacation from the ego, a chance to be a hippie for the weekend, to wallow in neon lights, glow sticks and everything else groovy, then go back home, go back to the day job, to the suburbs, eat some anti-bodies, take a shower, detox, get some sleep and remember Bonnaroo, weeks, months, years later as that place in the back of the heart where you know that there is something right and good about America.
And who can blame them.
While I was parked under the shade of a tall tree, waiting in a thick line to fill up my water jug, I overheard a discussion from a few Bonnarooers. It wasn’t so much a conversation as a shouting match, but it happened around a large patch of mud. With the masses trying to tiptoe around it, a traffic jam formed at the only small patch of grass left. One young fellow, after a short few frustrated moments, promptly charged right through the thick of the mud, demanding in a loud voice: “Where is everyone’s Woodstock spirit?”
About two steps in, he slipped and fell square on his face. Everyone, including the young fellow, began laughing. Another fellow, red in the face with his shirt off and cup of beer beautifully balanced, started charging through the mud right behind him. He gave the man a hand and said: “You’re right. Where is everyone’s Woodstock spirit!? This opportunity only happens once a year. Come on you pansies! It’s only mud!”
With the mud dripping down his face and grinning like a school boy, the first fellow got to his feet and declared: “I need more drugs!”
“Make way for this man, get him some water,” some one in the crowd said. A path was cleared
The man with a beer in his hand, overcome with emotion, said to no one in particular: “Only one weekend out of the year we can celebrate our freedom like this… only once a year.”
He was met with wise nods of affirmation.
With the mud now cleared from his face, the first fellow threw his arms up in the air and hollered happily, “Give me more drugs!”
Promptly thereafter, a young man with blond dreadlocks down to his kneecaps, beaming a weird, bewildered smile, wandered up to the scene, like a gnome or a spirit bounding out of a tree. He was holding a cardboard sign reading in bold sharpie: “Divine Moments of Truth,” with D – M – T written in bold.
And so it goes at Bonnaroo.
What do all these people do during the week? Are they insurance men and landscapers, perhaps investment bankers and social workers and autoworkers? It seems they are all caught up in some sort of wicked pattern: work hard, party hard – the American way, the only way we know how it’s done. Some are better than others, but we’re all in together, struggling at what often seems like cogs and bolts in the great machine. We sit at work all day, grinding it out or shoveling shit, trying to get one step ahead, stepping on our neighbors whenever getting a chance… and always breaking our backs.
We found a ride with a guy named Charles on the Bonnaroo community website, a 36-year-old New York City businessman married with two kids. He explained that Bonnaroo would last; days, weeks, even months later he would still have that swagger, still be high off the Bonnaroo buzz. When the kids are screaming and his wife is nagging, he could cope. He could do more than just cope, he could exist with some kind of confidence that what he was doing was somehow right.
To be continued...
Editor's Note: The photos of Bonnaroo used in this article were taken by Drew Litowitz from CoS.
I'm Not Coming to the Show
A Minor Rant by Guest Writer Billy Gray (guitarist/vocalist of Ben Franklin, pictured )
Look, I'm not coming to your show. Yes, we've known each other a really long time, you came out to a lot of my shows in the past, you've been super supportive and even hooked me up with shows, what's my problem? How can I be so calloused?
Please check off any of the following that apply:
[x] You email me almost every fucking day.
I mean, seriously. Seriously. Knock it the fuck off. Tone it down. This is the most annoying thing you could possibly do as an artist of any stripe. ONCE A MONTH is enough with the email list. Do you have any idea how many emails your fans (many of whom for a long time will consist only of your beleaguered friends) get every day from bands like yours? Especially those living in a place like NYC? Check your own inbox if you need some sympathy.
For bonus points, use an actual mailing list so people can unsubscribe from your deluge of information.
[x] You play in this town twice a week.
Do I really need to explain this? Apparently, I do. Say there's a band you like quite a bit, let's call them Dog Slayer. They're pretty good! They might make it some day. They play in Brooklyn about twice a month, where you live. Are you going to make it to every show? How about every month?
I know what you're thinking, Dog Slayer, you're thinking, "might as well let everyone know, and they can come out to the shows they can make, we really should play as often as possible to reach as many people," but you know and I know that it DOESN'T FUCKING WORK LIKE THAT. You have to starve the market. You have to space out your shows and make them really damn good if you want to build some kind of "buzz", if you want people to think, "woah, I can't miss that! I need to tell my friends!".
Don't buy into that play everywhere, play often trap, it's a load of crap, it does not work.
[x] You implore myself and everyone you know (as well as those you don't) to VOTE For YOU! It only takes five minutes, honest! You've just got to go here and sign up for this website...
These contests are total and complete bullshit, and everyone knows it. Easily hacked cheez-ball popularity contests designed for maximum page-hits are not Your Ticket to the Big Leagues. If you really have to get out the cattle prods to get a decent showing in the polls, your time might be spent better on your art.
Time management aside, your obsessive attempts at winning these things are incredibly annoying and if you send me another one, I am going to go out of my way to avoid your shows or make eye contact.
[x] You are a social media slut
Hey, we've all done this one, or at least dipped our toes in the waters. Yet, we're not all Amanda F. Palmer. Just as there is a fine line between clever and stupid, there's also a fine line between making things available for people to read and pushing them on people. If you want to be the AFP-type of status-update junkie, do it in a way that allows people to subscribe if they really want it. Twitter's great for that. Blogs, tumblr, RSS feeds - these are all things that allow your friends/fans to keep up with your political ranting if they so choose to do so.
Facebook status messages are where that sort of thing breaks down. Repeatedly posting the same thing over and over again is extremely annoying. And honestly, if you are just posting every five minutes from your band page on Facebook, see the email comment above. It's not that different. Keep a low profile if you want people to pay attention when it's important.
Someone's gotta say it to you: that initial group of people who are willing to support your art when you're just starting out is vital to you. Not just because they might help tell other people, but because these are the Only People Who Give A Shit outside of yourself. It's really important not to bombard them, but to carefully consider the presentation of yourself and your events as part of your art, and to finely tune all of that just like you would your songs or the mixing of your next record.
It took me a long time to learn that, and I really wish I could say that I've lived up to all this. But, we persevere. Be not despondent! Just tone it down. Lay low. Plan a really good show with some really neat new stuff that your friends have never seen you do before, and spend some time planning it. And don't play your buddy's birthday party the week before.
Remember, the people that really like your stuff will jump to come see you, especially if you make the effort to minimize extraneous communication (is it really an effort?) and be sure to get directly in touch with your core supporters when you need them. They'll be quite a bit more receptive if they only hear from you once in a while, and if every time you deliver something amazing.
Now you've just freed up a lot more time for yourself to work on your art. Leave the cluttering of people's minds with bullshit to the bozos that do it best.