WEDNESDAY, 13 NOVEMBER 2013
For some time now, I’ve been meaning to post an item regarding National Public Radio’s blog/series Microphone Check, which is devoted to telling “stories that contextualize rap’s past and present.” I can only guess the rationale for choosing the term “rap” over “hip-hop,” but sorting through that is a matter for another time, if any. Since the inauguration of the series in July of this year, hosts Frannie Kelley and Ali Shaheed Muhammad have interviewed and/or focused on Prodigy/Mobb Deep, Marley Marl, Pusha T, and Goodie Mobb among others. The occasion for this post is the most recent item in the series, one wherein a group of performers and industry personnel—DJ Stretch Armstrong, engineer/producer Mike Dean, television host and video director Ralph McDaniels, A&R representative Faith Newman and producer Prince Paul—had a public conversation about the “productive and creative year” for hip-hop that was 1993. Over the course of the piece, the guests discuss instruments and equipment; recording studios like Unique and D&D; record stores, clubs and community; recording industry accounting; MTV and videos as promotional tools; women as performers and industry personnel; and, of course, the process of music creation. Click through to hear an edited version of the conversation they had at the Ace Hotel in New York City on 25 September.
MONDAY, 21 OCTOBER 2013
On the front page of The Quietus today, there’s an illuminating interview with Marshall Jefferson, the creator of one of the most classic house music tunes, “Move Your Body (The House Music Anthem).” The piece covers some essential and useful biography that you might find elsewhere, but not necessarily presented on Jefferson’s terms. It also features discussion of the early days and development of Trax Records and acid house. Jefferson talks a bit about Traxbox, the 16-disc boxed set released in August that covers the label’s first 75 twelve-inch mixes and suggests that the remastering has made the tracks sound more like what the recordists heard in the studio. And, because of my own interests, the nuggets he shares regarding the equipment he used for his own pieces and how he used it are welcome. They help, again, to counteract the persistent mischaracterization of black musicians’ work as being only concerned with “the body” rather than also with creative and even innovative uses of technology and, thus, the mind. The piece itself mentions Stevie Wonder, but one might also have to consider Jimi Hendrix, Sun Ra, Bernie Worrell, and a host of others for their challenges to the stereotypes. As usual, click through for more…
SATURDAY, 17 AUGUST 2013
“I Came to Really, Genuinely Admire and Respect Them and Their Music”: Steve Albini on Producing In Utero
Here’s an item that’s worth a listen if you care about (a) Nirvana’s In Utero, which turns 20 this year and is getting a deluxe edition reissue with new mixes; (b) Steve Albini, the album’s always acerbic producer/musician, the proprietor of the Chicago recording studio Electrical Audio, and the not consistently accurate industry pundit (the famous linked article, even in its time, included costs not incurred by all artists and underemphasized how publishing royalties might offset the losses for a group’s songwriters); or (c) both. In the ~78-minute interview (where interviewer Vish Khanna gets good responses despite himself), Albini discusses the difficulty he and Nirvana faced getting off the ground together in the early 1990s “feeding frenzy” surrounding the band (the first 20 minutes or so, the title quote comes around 18:30); the vibe and process of recording and releasing the album (~26:05 forward); the disdain he has for the “parasites” who criticized him and the band for what they produced (~28:12–33:22—he repeatedly declines talking about Courtney Love during this stretch); Kurt Cobain’s concerns about the original album mix, which led to redone mixes of “All Apologies” and “Heart-Shaped Box” by Scott Litt (34:00–40:24); the technical limitations of mastering for vinyl and the decision to do the vinyl reissue without a digital transfer (41:44–45:42); and the difference between the sound of a master tape and a released recording in the 1990s and one today (49:10–52:14). Click through to hear more of what Albini has to say.
THURSDAY, 18 JULY 2013
This Pacific Standard Magazine piece by Northwestern University psychologist and business-school professor Adam Waytz makes two basic points: that expertise has become nearly irrelevant in modern society and that, at the same time, crowdsourced opinions seem to be ascendant. He cites useful research to bolster each point, but taints his argument with “good-old-days” type nostalgia. Where I agree, that is, that the opinions of “experts” are becoming increasingly insignificant to ever larger groups of people and that crowdsourced opinions tend to cluster, it doesn’t necessarily follow that expert opinions have only recently come to resemble everything else in popular culture or on the Internet. One need only examine any instance where there has been a critical consensus on an artist, an album, whatever. How does that consensus emerge? Surely, it can’t simply be because the critics all agree, “objectively,” on the value or worthlessness of something. When I wrote about critics’ lazy comparisons several years back, I wasn’t discovering a new phenomenon. It seems more likely, then, that even experts have long been tuned in to one another, if not also to public opinion. In that sense, what Waytz identifies is likely a difference not in kind, but of degree. Click through, however, and read his piece for yourself. Your thoughts might not be influenced by mine.
WEDNESDAY, 17 JULY 2013
Over at The Quietus, there’s an illuminating interview with Robert Hood, whose Motor: Nighttime World 3 made my best-of list for 2012. In the interview, which works only partly to promote Paradise (Hood’s new release under his Floorplan alias), the main subject is the rich and varied social, cultural, political and, of course, musical life of Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s. Along the way, Hood explains how gospel, disco and funk, as well as his fellow travelers in Underground Resistance in the early 1990s, have affected his work as a techno producer and DJ. He also grapples with the question of how one might communicate spiritual and political ideas in instrumental music. This is definitely recommended, eye- and ear-opening reading for anyone who has ever been interested in EDM or deluded into thinking either that the style’s biggest stars—in the UK or in Berlin or in Ibiza—were the beginning and end of the story or that the music’s originators were simply soundtracking the hedonism of the well-heeled. As always, click through for more…
WEDNESDAY, 3 JULY 2013
I’d been seeing ads for and reviews of various events over the last several weeks without fully registering that those events were intended to promote a film. Now that I’ve got it all sorted out, here’s the news. Yet another, apparently acclaimed documentary is currently being screened at various locations in the US and abroad. As the title indicates, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me focuses on the 1970s band Big Star, whose songs and recordings, while profound in and of themselves, have exerted a powerful influence over a number of bands in the 1980s and since—including REM, the dB’s and the Bangles (who covered Alex Chilton’s “September Gurls” on their 1986 album Different Light). I’ve yet to see the film, but the reviews look promising, and hopefully the film will shed light in one of the neglected corners of 1970s rock in a fashion similar to Margaret Brown’s *Be Here to Love Me: Townes Van Zandt. Big Star takes its subtitle from the lyrics of “Big Black Car,” one of my favorite songs by the group. You can hear that song and read my brief tribute to Alex Chilton, written shortly after his death, here. For more information on the documentary, as usual, click through…
FRIDAY, 28 JUNE 2013
And now, another adventure in black eclecticism…
A little over four years ago, a number of mp3 blogs and music-centered sites were featuring stories about a pre-Bad Brains, black "protopunk" band from Detroit called Death. Their story, partly told in a Peter Margasak review of the 2009 reissue of their singles and recounted more extensively in this piece from The Guardian, includes abortive attempts to record an album and an ensuing rift that brought their career as a band, at least playing in that style, to an abrupt end. That story, with added layers of complexity and a broader range of revelations, is the subject of a new documentary, A Band Called Death, which will have a limited run in theatres starting today. Click through for information on screenings, to view the trailer and to purchase a digital version of the film, and click here to read a Wired piece about how the documentary came to be.