Friday, December 31, 2004

Christmas/New Years mix

25 minutes of songs that either have something to do with love, New Years, or Christmas -- or all three. Or that just have warm popping noises in them like a synthetic fire.

Volga Select (spliced, repeated, killed)
Mechanik (intro)
Mr Mixel Pixel
The Walkmen
Wolf Parade

I have mono. Go out and party for me. At least now I know why I've been so god damn sick the last few weeks.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Your new clothes.

I knew you before all of this.

I knew you before you decided indie rock was cool again -- because someone told you it was.

Before you were into electro. Before all your friends were stylists, artists, and designers.

Before you tucked your jeans into your boots and before you wore your collars high.

Who do you think you are?

You drop your names and make your references, and you pretend you were there. You love My Bloody Valentine but you don't really know why.

Your parties are empty. Your talk is cheap. Your art is vacuous and your intentions are full of deceit.

Your scene won't last forever. Your friends will leave when the drinks run dry and the coke is all gone. Your tongues will be barbed and lashing, and your backs will be bloody and raw.

You watch the games and you play them well. The pawns move and the words move amongst them as you choose to whom you shall whisper.

The nights get cold, and your relationships turn sour.

Yeah everything is cool with me. Yeah I like you just fine; but don't make me any promises -- and don't call me unless it's after dark.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

LA Music Scene (Color Magazine, Nov 2004)

“I don’t think we’re hyping anything at all. The music and the shows speak for themselves.” – Erik Hernandez (Ashbury)

Ashbury, The Blood Arm, Midnight Movies, and Moving Units -- four bands emerging from a revitalized Los Angeles music scene. People are talking. The BBC is doing TV shows on these guys, and major labels are picking up on the potential. No, this isn’t rehashed hair metal; this isn’t some kind of easily defined genre. Listening to what’s coming out of L.A. right now, it’s impossible to say these bands have a sound specific to their city; what they have is a shared attitude.

“People like to dismiss L.A., relishing criticisms of superficiality and vacancy, when in truth the city is a startling collision of culture and influence found nowhere else in the world. The swell of underground music coming out of L.A. only helps announce its place as a nexus of currency.” – Nathaniel Fregoso “The Romantic Accidentalist” (The Blood Arm)

Every so often a region gains popularity for it’s music: London, Chapel Hill, Manchester, Seattle, and Brooklyn were all recognized in one way or another. Since the eighties, L.A. has been plagued by the legacy of spandex tights, big hair, airbrushed snakes, collagen, and snorting blow off a hooker’s tits. It’s a tough image to shake, and popular media has done nothing to help. Not surprisingly, it’s been a while since there has been a real buzz around L.A., musically.

A little over a year ago I heard about an L.A. called Ima Robot – energetic pop-punk in the vein of The Cars. A few other people took notice, because their album started selling and they attracted a fair bit of attention (art-scene haircuts and just enough 80’s synth energy to ride the post-electroclash wave didn’t hurt either). Later, while interviewing Franz Ferdinand, Alex Kapranos dropped the name of another L.A. band – The Blood Arm. Over in Silverlake, Moving Unit’s debut EP had already been out for some time, and was well worth the price of the pink vinyl it was pressed on -- so I figured it’d be worthwhile looking into what was going on in Southern California (aside from The O.C.).

“L.A. is a perverse sanctuary in which the spirit of the gold rush still prevails. The creative energy here is real but any notion of artistic community is a mirage. Bands co-exist but usually develop in a state of disparity. The music scene is very self-driven and rarely celebrated. New York bands can always count on hype to lend a helping hand but in Los Angeles -- you're on your own.” – Blake Miller (Moving Units)

Unlike the indie music scene in a city like Toronto, where many of the bands share members (Broken Social Scene, Do Make Say Think, Stars, etc.), L.A. has less of a community atmosphere amongst the musicians. All the bands agree that their fans in L.A. are helping fuel what’s going on in the city. Sold out shows and well-supported clubs are driving the scene, and there isn’t the same feeling of, “if they’re local they’re not cool” that can stifle artists elsewhere (you listening back home?).

Nobody said living in L.A. was easy, and that’s part of where influence and inspiration come into play. “I think we all share a certain existential melancholy. This city is very unforgiving to the sensitive at heart,” says Blake. There is a thread of uneasiness that winds it’s way through some of this music -- I’ve said of Ashbury that they can make you dance and cry at the same time. It’s a testament to the way these artists perceive the world around them, and it gives the music more substance than the sugary pop we’re attuned to.

After hearing Ima Robot, Moving Units, and The Blood Arm, I had a sense that there was an extension in L.A. of what the indie-press were calling the dancepunk -- the fusion post-punk guitar hooks and synths with open-hi-hat disco beats -- pillaging the sounds of Liquid Liquid and Gang of Four against a modern techno backdrop. I think the press imagined throngs of self-conscious indie kids dancing like mad in dingy clubs across the country in a revival of early 90’s rave culture. Of course, it never materialized.

“I think there is a lot of new energy and excitement that is inspiring musicians in L.A. right now. No real prediction on where things are going. I don't think that where it's headed is really important. As far as whether it's a scene or an attempt to (...) I'm not really sure if it's either. I think there is a lot of good, true music being produced out here right now.” – Gena Olivier (Midnight Movies)

Midnight Movies come from yet another angle. With Gena Olivier providing both the beat and the vocals, the three-piece have an unusual dynamic for a band. Less dance, and more mood, with audible references to '70s psychedelia, while retaining a distinct post-punk feel. On stage, their sound is stripped down and more driving than in the studio; yes, you can even nod your head to it if you like. Olivier is careful to avoid genre pigeonholes, and balks at the mention of easily quoted catch-phases and generalizations. None of these bands are concerned with creating a scene, so much as with making music, and avoiding the burnout and backlash which is associated with any media-hyped phenomenon

Color Magazine: Would you call yourself post-punk revivalists? New-wave revivalists?

Erik Hernandez (Ashbury): Neither. That’s a definite pigeonhole. Nice try though.

I’m not sure I was trying, but the response was perfect – Ashbury don’t fit neatly into any category and succeed because of it. While their debut EP (see Reviews) has drawn parallels to both Joy Division and their modern contemporaries, Interpol, they have a sound unique to themselves. Like the other bands in this article, they’ve taken part in the unique concept of holding a month-long residency at one of the top venues in the city – in their case, The Key Club. Of the L.A. area indie rock clubs, Spaceland seems to garner the most attention, and manages retain credibility amongst the fans. With a rotating roster of all the top local (and international) talent, it is a focal point for what’s going on, musically.

There is a sort of humility shared amongst all of these bands; not what you’d expect if you subscribed to the stereotypes most associate with Los Angeles. Avoiding comparisons, and downplaying their success as anything other than the result of hard work, there is a connection between these musicians which has more to do with where they’re from, than who they hang out with -- it’s not about name-dropping your personal and musical connections. If there is a scene in L.A., it’s driven by the fans and the music itself, not by a group of artists aligning themselves together. As things mature, the sense of community will likely become stronger – it’ll be exciting to see where it goes, and we know none of these bands will forget where they’re from.

“Without L.A. we are nothing.” – Nathaniel Fregoso (The Blood Arm)

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Don't look back

I have weeks of material to catch up on. The architecture of subway systems; the social implications of moving to a new city; the degree to which I am in love with Toronto again; the memories the cold weather brings back; just how hot the girl standing to my left is.

There is something horribly contrived about sitting here in this coffee shop on the corner of Queen and Spadina, drinking a double espresso, and writing this blog. I am reminded of movies. I am reminded of songs. I am reminded that I should never take myself too seriously.

I think it takes a serious change in order for some people - myself included - to make an objective re-assessmenet of themselves, and where they're going. I can say, without a doubt, that I was getting stuck in Vancouver. The social drama I was dealing with, and the energy I was pouring into the people around me was killing me. To make a point, I have been able to make it into work before 9:30am on a consistent basis since I started -- even though I have been going out a fair bit during the week. This is a relative miracle.

This is a disgustingly self-indulgent piece of writing. Perhaps there will be some small poignant observation someone will be able to drag out of it. As it stands, I can close by saying Oasis were great -- until they released their second album. Don't put your faith in a rock'n'roll band, who'll throw it all away. Don't look back in anger, I heard you say... (you ain't ever gonna burn my heart out).