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    Interviews: The Secret Language of Laundry: Inside Matmos’ Washing Machine Album

    Matmos: "Ultimate Care II Excerpt Eight" (via SoundCloud)  

    The idea to make an album entirely out of the sounds of a washing machine came to Matmos’ Martin Schmidt as he drummed his fingers on the Whirlpool Ultimate Care II in his home studio, lost in abstracted contemplation of its cyclical rhythms. “It was a self-contained, very simple idea,” Schmidt explains. “But once you start examining anything, it gives and gives and gives. The shit writes itself as soon as you're actually paying attention." So what began as a lark turned into a profound investigation into the creative process itself. 

    Of course, Schmidt and his longtime partner in art and life, Drew Daniel, are no strangers to ambitious projects—whether it be musique concrete sourced from the sounds of plastic surgery, as on 2001's A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure, or the fusion of Medieval folk music, early Americana, and electronic processing of 2003's The Civil War, or their last album, The Marriage of True Minds, which followed a convoluted parapsychological conceit in which human guinea pigs attempted to divine the particulars of an as-yet unwritten album. But Marriage's many moving parts tested their abilities, and sometimes their patience, taking up more than five years of their lives and occasioning more than its share of tears and fights. For the follow-up, they wanted to do something simpler.

    “It started with just the sound of the washing machine itself," says Daniel. "We made a recording of its full cycle, but we were really disappointed in it." It sounded less like the dramatic slice of found sound they had imagined, and more like, well, water sloshing around in a metal box. So they began experimenting with the placement of contact mics; using transducers to feed samples of the washing machine back into the machine's resonant chamber; and inviting friends from Baltimore's underground music community, including Dan Deacon, to contribute. They decided to call the record Ultimate Care II, in honor of its star.

    "The album's arc duplicates the process of getting more and more elaborately involved in the question of: How do we turn this into an instrument?" says Daniel. Ultimate Care II begins with the telltale crank of a dial and the sound of water gushing in, explodes into an extended section of unhinged polyrhythms—"the panic of the imbalanced load," jokes Schmidt—and proceeds to take in the bleeps and pings of academic computer music, pots-and-pans techno, and electroacoustic IDM.

    To preserve the project's rigor, they followed certain constraints. For one thing, only sounds generated by the washing machine could be used. (What seems to be a trombone is actually Schmidt licking his finger and rubbing it across the machine's metal surface.) Also: The family machine needed to emerge from recording unscathed. "There’s that amazing video on YouTube of the guy who puts a brick in his washing machine and it destroys itself!" says Schmidt, “but I did not want a broken washing machine at the end.”

    The most important stipulation was that the album's length mirror a typical wash cycle—and for it to be presented as one unbroken track. "It's important because that's what the washing machine is," says Daniel. "You don't get to pick this part or that part. You commit to 38 minutes of this sound."

    To drive that point home, they even include a four-minute stretch of pure, unprocessed washing machine in all its banal glory. "There is this feeling of: What the fuck is this, you're just making us listen to a washing machine?” Daniel says. “Yes we are." Rather than the exaggerated, fantastical aspect of contemporary electronic music—whether mainstream EDM or the underground's more apocalyptic visions—the two aimed to imagine something that would be the opposite of escapist.

    "I wanted to think about what it would mean to deliberately court drabness,” Daniel continues. “If you look at our lives now, so much of it is leveraging social media to produce envy in others." What could be less enviable than having to wait for the laundry machine to finish its cycle? That said, the making of the album wasn't without its pleasures. "I've honestly never had so much laundry done in my life," says Daniel. "It's amazing, like, wear it once, and boom, it's clean again."

    Photo by Josh Sisk

    Pitchfork: How did you come up with the washing machine idea? 

    Drew Daniel: There's that Kierkegaard quote: "The moment of decision is the moment of madness." You can't ultimately justify these little flicks of intuition where you see something and say, [snaps] “That's what I'm going to do.” But once you've made that decision, everything follows.

    Martin Schmidt: I'm the house-husband, so I do the laundry. I stand in front of this thing and fuck with it, like any nerd does with anything. I worry about getting whites whiter. I do bleach-soaking cycles. I use that chemical that oxygenates your clothes. I do all this stuff, and I have for years. The machine tells a story that's broken up into a little parts, and I have an intense relationship with it. It's unserious yet serious. I think about California and how they don't have any water anymore, and American waste, and how this old-school washing machine is just a huge bucket that fills with water and goes uh-hu-uhhhh-hu and dumps out all the water and then does it again.

    DD: The more you look at it, the more you see. That's what our methodology has always been about. At the level of sound, a washing machine is an experience of being forced to hear a drone for 40 minutes; it's a noise instrument in your house. Everyone is having this DIY noise show in their basement pretty much on a weekly basis. And we've all had that experience, whether you're on psychedelic drugs or daydreaming, of getting corkscrewed into this spiraling pattern that keeps shifting as the weight of clothes moves and the speed ramps up and slows down. There is so much musicality in that.

    Pitchfork: Do you remember when you actually decided that this would be the theme of your next album?

    DD: I thought he was kidding the first time he said it, and then he brought it up again, and then I realized, Martin's not kidding. 

    MS: I liked that aspect of it, like: But that's just stupid. [laughs] Yeah! It's a stupid idea. It's funny. It makes a joke out our practice, which we have never been afraid of. I don't know how many times people have said, "So that's just novelty music, right?" I would be more than proud to say that I stand in a parade with Perrey and Kingsley and Enoch Light.

    DD: We are, for better or worse, associated with this idea of a conceptual approach. But it would be fairer to say that we're literalists. There's something quite crashingly literal about a washing machine album that is made with a washing machine. Is that a concept? Well, are objects concepts? Not really. They're material things. They aren't abstractions. There's a kind of no-mind that we're searching for—that reverie of just listening to the machine and tumbling into its sounds. You don't need a PhD to grasp that it's a rhythmically complex cycle that is pleasurable unto itself.

    “It's not cool to be under a Bud Light banner, but how many bands are fucking sponsored by Whirlpool?”

    Pitchfork: Were there any constraints that you placed upon yourself? You can turn anything into music with enough processing nowadays, but did you feel a tension between respecting the specificity of the machine and making something aesthetic out of it? 

    MS: We've always felt that you should be able to hear the original object at some point.

    DD: If we filled the washing machine with marbles, we might get a great sound—but then you're talking about marbles. We even debated about using the sink where the water from the washing machine drains, like, “Is that still a washing machine sound, or is that a sink?” It's a little bit like Hasidic Jews, where you get into questions of, like, “How can we live within the law and honor that while still having the freedom to do X or Y?”

    MS: So we consulted a rabbi. [laughs]

    DD: There's a lot of creativity in interpreting how to follow a rule. I don't feel like, Oh, my creativity is hampered. The whole rhetoric of infinite possibilities is such a cliché. Every gear manufacturer wants to sell you on that, and it's a ruse. There's one moment on the album that is not a washing machine and it's where Martin is drumming and fucks up. He goes "argh!" and we kept it in there. It's like when Freemasons make a building they leave one brick turned the wrong way, because if you have a perfect building it's an insult to God. You have to show humility with one error. 

    Pitchfork: Was your water bill atrocious while making the album?

    DD: Water isn't such a big deal in this state—and a lot of the people on this record did their laundry at our house. 

    Pitchfork: Besides the obvious, what was the thinking behind naming the record after the washing machine?

    MS: This is an album made with this washing machine, not washing machines in general.

    DD: Every washing machine has different patterns and different speeds and a slightly different pitch.

    MS: European washing machines are so technologized and they have incomprehensible sigils all over them. It's like, “What does the triangle wave over three lines and a single dot mean?” I'll never forget doing laundry at Björk's house—who of course didn't do laundry either, because she has a housekeeper—and I was like, “What does any of this mean?” And she was like, "I don't know." Eventually I had to unplug the washing machine and wait for it to reset to get my fucking clothes out. We were there for three and a half hours.

    DD: There is a particular love of the Ultimate Care II. And the fact that it's not a model that is currently for sale or in production helps us to avoid basic commodity fetishism.

    Pitchfork: You could have tried to get a sponsorship.

    MS: We tried. We were like, “Is there room in your bed, Whirlpool?” And they were like, "You are weird. We won't sue you, but we also won't give you $20,000 to go on a tour." We'd be happy to perform under a Whirlpool banner. It's not cool to be under a Bud Light banner, but how many bands are fucking sponsored by Whirlpool?

    DD: And when you tour, it's a fucking nightmare to do your laundry. You don't have time and very few venues have a place where you can do it. So it's just a part of being on tour to be stinky and dirty and kvetching in this sort of entitled-sounding way about how it's so hard to do laundry. So if we are somehow able to tour with a washing machine and do laundry on stage, that would be amazing. If Whirlpool wants to help us make that dream come true, then God bless 'em.

    Pitchfork: I understand that you were actually trying to get a stage-ready washing machine you could tour with.

    DD: Yeah, we don't know how we're going to do it live. It's a particular challenge because water and electricity are generally not friends.

    MS: No venue wants you filling up a 20-gallon bucket full of water and dumping it out on their stage. 

    DD: And we didn't make a dryer album, so is the outcome just a bunch of wet clothes? Would our encore be a dryer set? We could have fabric softener at the merch table.

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  • 01/11/16--17:00: Afterword: David Bowie
  • Afterword: David Bowie

    David Bowie is not simply the prettiest star—he’s a constellation. No matter which Bowie you first encountered—the orange-haired alien androgyne of Ziggy Stardust, the creepy clown in the “Ashes to Ashes” video, the louche lothario of the Let’s Dance era, or even the guy refereeing Derek Zoolander’s walk-offs—you were instantly disarmed by his style, sophistication, and presence. But Bowie was the rare rock legend whose mythology is defined more by his intellectual curiosities than his cocaine-fuelled debauchery.

    The famous parade of personae that defined his astounding 1970s discography represented not just new sounds and aesthetics; Bowie was essentially a human Internet, with each album serving as a hyperlink into a vast network of underground music, avant-garde art, art-house film, and left-field literature. Bowie was the nexus through which many rock fans were first introduced to not just the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and Kraftwerk and Neu!, but also William S. Burroughs and Klaus Nomi and Nicolas Roeg and Ryuichi Sakamoto and Nina Simone. By design, most pop music is a closed loop—a rollercoaster that’s expertly designed for maximal thrills, to make you go “wheee!” over and over again. Bowie envisioned pop as Grand Central Station, the train tracks branching off into infinite new directions. 

    It’s hard to think of another celebrity artist who was so committed to using his elevated stature to bring transgressive ideas into the mainstream, reshaping it many times over. “Starman,” the glam anthem that made Bowie a bona fide UK sensation in the summer of ’72, wasn’t just some cosmic jive about a visiting space alien; it was the road map for a career spent luring the masses to the fringes and showing them all the weird and wonderful things happening on the other side. Even when engaging in media manipulation—like telling Melody Maker that he was gay that same year, even as his domestic life suggested otherwise—the effects were real and profound, by making the world feel a little safer for queer kids, while igniting a public conversation about gender fluidity that continues to this day. For Bowie, a vampish visage was a mere front for a deep reservoir of ideas. Even after he ditched the sci-fi costumery to focus more on musical rather than aesthetic experimentation—all while first-wave punks remodeled rock out of his discarded leather scraps and hair-dye—it still felt like he was taking us to unrecognizable places, with his late-’70s Berlin Trilogy serving as the connective tissue between the rock of the past and the electronic music of the future.

    Though 1983’s mega-selling Let’s Dance proved Bowie could dominate the MTV game as well as any of the new-wave progeny he spawned, he gradually became less interested in playing it, and seemed adrift whether succumbing to glossy radio-rock or plotting reactionary retorts to it. But while his record sales may have declined considerably from the mid-’80s onward, his influence became only more firmly entrenched, as if the world was still playing catch-up with all the groundbreaking music he released in the ’70s. Through the ’90s, his presence permeated the sleazy Britpop of Suede, the industrial operas of Nine Inch Nails, Beck’s plasticine soul, and Nirvana’s mellower moods; from the 2000s on, it’s been manifest in the goon-squad disco of LCD Soundsystem, the album-to-album reinventions of Kanye West and Lady Gaga, the high-concept funk of Janelle Monae, and every time Win Butler shreds his throat trying to hit a high note to remind us we’re not alone

    The truth is, we’ve been preparing for a world without David Bowie for years. Ever since an onstage heart attack in 2004 precipitated the end of his touring career and the start of an extended hiatus from recording, listening to all the aforementioned artists over the past decade felt at times like attending a group séance, with everyone trying to tap into some elusive spectral force. And while 2013’s The Next Day was a warmly received return, its “Heroes”-desecrating cover art and death-obsessed lyric sheet made the album feel less like a triumphant comeback than an admission that Bowie was working on borrowed time.

    But when Blackstar’s epic 10-minute title track was released in November, the real celebrating began: Not only was Bowie back with another new album, he sounded like he was picking up where his late-’70s experiments left off, once again pushing his music into dark, uncharted territory. And when the album was released last week, on the day he turned 69, fans celebrated a rebirth as much as a birthday.

    That moment feels so very long ago. Now that we know Bowie had been fighting the cancer that ultimately claimed him, it’s impossible for Blackstar to sound like anything other than an extended death knell. Every moment on the album is now imbued with grim prophecy, from the sputtering flute that closes the title track, to the heaving breaths that open “Tis a Pity She Was a Whore,” to the increasingly disembodied quality of his voice on the fadeout of “Dollar Days,” to the omnipresent saxophone that sounds like it’s constantly beckoning him into the great beyond. And, of course, Bowie wouldn’t want it any other way. He lived his life as theater, so why would his death be any different? David Bowie’s greatest albums always opened us up to new worlds; Blackstar leads to the most mysterious, frightening, and unknowable of all.

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    Staff Lists: The 27 Albums We're Most Excited for in 2016

    The best part of the New Year, by far, is having a legit reason to get excited for stuff. You haven’t been disappointed yet! You’re still nailing those New Year’s resolutions, and you have a year’s worth of cool music to look forward to. Here are a bunch of vital artists who are supposed to drop records in 2016; we know more about some than about others, but all of them are giving us reasons to think it will be another great year for music. Here they are, ranked from most excited to very most excited. (Just kidding: They are in alphabetical order.)

    Animal Collective
    Painting With

    WHAT WE KNOW:Painting With is AnCo’s first record since 2012’s Centipede Hz, and their first that wasn’t worked out in concert. It was recorded without Josh "Deakin" Gibbs, and is heavily influenced by early Beatles, early Ramones, and dinosaurs.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: February 19

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: What site are you on right now? The Economist? Nah, bro: Pitchfork. Of course we’re psyched about new AnCo.


    WHAT WE KNOW:Hopelessness was co-produced by glitch-king Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, master of the glittering drop. It’s the first record by the former Antony as ANOHNI, which she says will be her performing name going forth. In an interview with a fan site, she called it "a dance / experimental electronic record with quite a dark thematic undertow," and it is "as different as could be" from her previous work.

    WHEN IT’S OUT:In the spring. The record will make its live debut in July.

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: The album’s apocalyptic first single, "4 Degrees," is a wailing death knell for a planet ravaged by climate change, described by ANOHNI as "a brutal attempt to hold myself accountable." OPN and HudMo don’t seem like natural bedfellows, but they’re two of the best producers at creating immersive sonic environments. With a title like that, you probably won’t feel good after listening, but here’s the thing: Feeling good is overrated.

    Ash Koosha

    WHAT WE KNOW: The London-via-Tehran producer impressed last year with his debut album GUUD. At some point, he’s got to put out more music, right? Right?!?

    WHEN’S IT OUT: Unclear

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: The composer is exploring the cross-section between classical and futuristic—between VR and Vivaldi. Why wouldn’t we be interested in what he brings to the table next?

    Blood Orange

    WHAT WE KNOW: No one makes slinkier protest music than Dev Hynes. First single "Sandra’s Smile" is a heartbreaker of a eulogy to Sandra Bland. We also know he reunited onstage with Solange after some simmering beef. Will she be on the album?

    WHEN IT’S OUT: Spring

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: Hynes—from his days in Test Icicles, to the solo Lightspeed Champion, to his twoalbums as Blood Orange—only gets better. He’s honed his chops writing for others, too, and we’re hoping this record contains the political anthems as jammy as he can be at his best.


    WHAT WE KNOW: The Brooklyn duo broke the silence left in the wake of 2012’s Something (and Caroline Polachek’s album as Ramona Lisa) last fall with "Ch-Ching," the first taste of an album honed in and largely inspired by New York City. Since then, they’ve dropped two other tracks, "Romeo" and "Crying in Public."

    WHEN IT’S OUT: January 22

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: Throw on "Ch-Ching" at a party sometime, and watch what happens. There’s your answer.

    Dej Loaf

    WHAT WE KNOW: She’s kept mum so far; it doesn’t even have an official name yet.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: "Gonna work until everything becomes great, until everything sounds great," she said late last year.

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: The Detroit rapper and singer broke big with 2014’s "Try Me." Nicki Minaj shouted her out from an awards-show stage, and in a nice way, not a "Miley what’s good?" way. Eminem brought her onto a song called "Detroit vs. Everybody." Did all of this sudden success faze her? It did not. She released an EP, #AndSeeThatsTheThing, that was even more unearthly and unique than her first. As David Turner wrote: "Her default remains disinterest." That’s rad.

    Is the Is Are
    [Captured Tracks]

    WHAT WE KNOW: The dream-poppers’ follow-up to 2013’s Oshin features 17 tracks, including a collaboration with Sky Ferreira. We’ve heard four of those cuts—"Dopamine," "Bent (Roi's Song)," "Mire (Grant's Song)," and "Under the Sun"—already. A lengthy statement penned by Zachary Cole Smith describes the LP as their most diverse to date.

    WHEN IT'S OUT: February 5

    WHY WE'RE PSYCHED: Between tumultuous struggles for sanity and sobriety and the discovery of true love, Cole’s got more than enough material here for a strong, emotionally compelling LP.


    WHAT WE KNOW: Most of the EP was really good! We know he is capable of some extremely catchy music. He’s weird. He doesn’t seem to be trying to be weird. We like that.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: TBD, but definitely this year because his record label is doing that "release an EP first then use feedback to shape the LP" thing.

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: This guy kind of made "Hotline Bling." We have high hopes!

    Views From th
    e 6

    WHAT WE KNOW: The long-awaited official follow-up to Nothing Was the Same prominently features Noah "40" Shebib again, as well as Boi-1da. Here is six seconds of music from it.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: Any day now, possibly. He’s hinted that he’s made finishing the record a top priority, but his first deadline—January 6, to coincide with the album title—came and went. Here is a photo on Instagram showing us Drake’s earnest commitment to album-finishing.

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: He’s a perfectionist. He makes good albums and he has been working on this one longer and harder than anything he’s done.


    WHAT WE KNOW: We know the producer Nineteen85, who worked with Drake on "Too Much," "Hold On, We’re Coming Home," and "Hotline Bling," is behind boards. We know they are based in Toronto. We know that the as-yet-unnamed lead vocalist has one hell of a heartbreaking voice.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: We dunno!

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: Look, there are a lot of new R&B acts right now, and every year brings more promising ones, but songs as devastating as "The Line"? Those are hard to write, and even harder to perform. There’s a reason we don’t hear those that often.

    Frankie Cosmos

    WHAT WE KNOW: The word is that after doing some electronic bedroom pop on her Fit Me In EP, she’s coming back with a full-band full-length this year.

    WHEN’S IT OUT: April

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: "Young" was a tiny philosophical treatise and a jam, and we’re still bumping Zentropy. More Greta Kline, please.


    WHAT WE KNOW: Not much! It’s again being produced by Ariel Rechtshaid.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: Who knows

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: They have a radio show called Haim Time and their bassist’s Twitter name is Jizzie McGuire. This band is not above easy fun, which was what made up the bulk of their truly excellent debut. More jokes and more bass face, please.

    Isaiah Rashad

    WHAT WE KNOW: Last year, Rashad came through with a track called "Nelly." His debut album was rumored to be getting a 2015 release, but we’re still waiting on the TDE rapper’s proper debut.

    WHEN’S IT OUT: TDE boss Anthony Tiffith hints that it’s soon.

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: "Nelly" was low-key incredible. His whole last record was low-key incredible. "Low-key incredible" seems to be his thing.

    Black Origami: The Motherboard

    WHAT WE KNOW: The Gary, Ind.-based artist broke out with last year’s universally acclaimed Dark Energy. She made the record between shifts at a steel mill: As she told Pitchfork last spring, "This album took my entire life to make." Now there is a follow-up, already due on Hyperdub this year.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: No release date announced.

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: Jlin’s Dark Energy sounded like footwork if it were also having a panic attack. You could dance to it or sob/laugh uncontrollably to it. Or both at the same time.

    Kanye West
    [Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music]

    WHAT WE KNOW: Per Kim, G.O.O.D. Fridays are back!!!! Snippets are leaking out that include Ty Dolla $ign (who also worked on "FourFiveSeconds" and "Only One" from 2015), Madlib, and Kendrick.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: February 11

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED:Because we were worried for a minute there. But the songs that came out last week are incredible and give us the "this is new Kanye" chills!! We’ve been waiting for this feeling. He’s worked with Paul McCartney, Rihanna, Sia, Vic Mensa, Ty Dolla $ign, Hudson Mohawke, composer Caroline Shaw, some guy named HXLT, and tons more in the last year alone, and we have no idea what any of that will sound like when it’s finished.

    Missy Elliott

    WHAT WE KNOW: She’s still got it! "W.T.F." is pure old-school Missy Elliott magic.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: Elliott is keeping her cards close to her chest. In a Billboard cover story, it says she took four months to get puppets made for the "W.T.F." video, so we might be waiting a while.

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: There’s no parallel for the absurd exuberance of Missy’s best tracks, and we’re hoping to feel a lot more of that in 2016.

    Moses Sumney

    WHAT WE KNOW: He’s signed to Terrible Records, the imprint of Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, and he’s working slowly.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: He seems … unhurried.

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: His voice is unearthly; he’s an incredible performer; he has been through a few rounds of major-label feeding frenzies while he hones his voice; he has preternatural poise and charisma. He’s somehow recorded a cover of "O Superman" that doesn’t feel superfluous.

    Parquet Courts

    WHAT WE KNOW: Nothing, really, beyond the fact that it’s the band’s Rough Trade debut. Their last EP was a strange move, a mostly wordless and tuneless misanthropic thing that they probably needed to get out of their systems.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: Spring

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED:Monastic Living was terrible, but it felt designed to be, something to clear the room of the unfaithful. Well, they can’t fend us off: we’re still excited about the prospect of a new record from the wittiest and most passionate indie rock band going.


     WHAT WE KNOW: This is the Domino debut by Aaron Maine, who dates Greta Kline (Frankie Cosmos) and drums in her band.

    WHEN IT'S OUT: February 6

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: He seems to be zeroing in on his voice, in the writerly sense. His actual voice is gorgeous, too, but as he’s worked away at Porches, we’ve started to hear an aesthetic—lonely, yearning, quietly sensual, equally indebted to indie pop, synth-pop, and (gasp) chillwave—emerge.

    Pusha T
    King Push
    [Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music]

    WHAT WE KNOW: Pusha recorded the songs on King Push at the same time as Darkest Before Dawn, but separated them out into two projects because he wanted each to have a specific aesthetic. Darkest Before Dawn was cold, dark, and relentless. Pusha’s hinted that King Push has features from people we haven’t heard from in 18 years. The mind reels. (Magoo?)

    WHEN IT’S OUT: Spring

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: Did you hearDarkest Before Dawn? And these were the table scraps? Twenty years into rap, Pusha still has his unholy intensity.

    The Range

    WHAT WE KNOW: The Range is the moniker of James Hinton, who hasn’t released a full LP since 2013’s fantastic Nonfiction.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: Sometime this year.

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: His music is sparkly and pretty and feels good, like a digitized glass of champagne. We haven’t been given a full album of that in two years. Now, please.

    Adore Life

    WHAT WE KNOW: They released the tracklist and album art back in October. So far, we’ve heard "The Answer," "T.I.W.Y.G.," and "Adore."

    WHEN IT’S OUT: January 22

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: There’s been a real slow-burning, ominous energy to everything we’ve heard from the album so far. Like "the animals are running away and the crops are dying" ominous.

    Rae Sremmurd

    WHAT WE KNOW: "A whole ‘nother album, bout to drop it soon/ Sremmlife coming, bitch, they gon’ bang the tunes" — Swae Lee, at the 17:07 mark of this bananas, movement-starting, 20-minute freestyle on Tim Westwood.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: He didn’t specify.

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: 2015’s SremmLife still sounds like Pop Rocks and gasoline mixed together and shot out of a fire hydrant. The above-mentioned freestyle is insane; they were angry that Ebro in the Morning impugned them for not writing rhymes, so they burned down the booth.


    WHAT WE KNOW:Joyride is the follow-up to Tinashe’s 2014 debut LP Aquarius and last year’s Amethyst mixtape; so far, the singer has shared two collaborative singles: "Party Favors" (with Young Thug) and "Player" (with Chris Brown). The album is set to feature production from Max Martin, Dev Hynes, Boi-1da, and more.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: February

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: It’s guaranteed to be one of the biggest R&B records of the year.

    Ty Segall
    Emotional Mugger
    [Drag City]

    WHAT WE KNOW: Ty Segall’s latest solo endeavor on Drag City has all the dressings of his strangest solo work in a while—he shared cryptic videos of him performing in baby doll masks and sent around the album on VHS tapes featuring forgotten Michael Keaton movies.

    WHEN’S IT OUT: January 22

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: That track "Candy Sam" sounds like the best Segall song in years, and while the giant pile of Segall side-projects is often entertaining, it’s always good to hear what he’s cooking up under his own name.

    fka Viet Cong

    WHAT WE KNOW: In September, following months of hand-wringing and public outcry (and one cancelled concert), the Canadian band Viet Cong finally ditched their problematic name, ushering in a new era for the quartet. Their new moniker has yet to be revealed, along with any formal album announcement.

    WHEN IT’S OUT: Who knows

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: By changing their name, fka VC have removed the primary distraction preventing fans and potential audiences from enjoying their excellent post-punk jams. Now we can shut up and get on with the music.

    Young Thug

    WHAT WE KNOW: We know that "all of the songs are perfection." No official tracklist, but rumored to include both "Pacifier" and "Paradise."

    WHEN IT’S OUT: No idea. Atlantic Records was supposed to release in August 2015, then in September. Then they postponed the album and the corresponding tour. Since then, we’ve gotten several mixtapes and overwhelming silence. "Hy!£UN35" is meant to be pronounced "hi-tunes," but it’s possible it is actually the name of a new release date that Young Thug has invented.

    WHY WE’RE PSYCHED: He’s rap’s least predictable, most rewarding artist, its best stylist, and possibly its best lyricist. For the past four years, he’s been evolving like the T-1000 dropped into lava; "Pacifier," produced by Mike WiLL Made-It, sounds nothing like Young Thug or Mike WiLL Made-It have ever made.

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    Articles: Anthems for the Moon: David Bowie’s Sci-Fi Explorations

    The book’s cover must have grabbed the young David Robert Jones. Illustrated in lurid yellow and green, it depicts a man and woman entering a shadowy forest. Behind them, a spaceship shaped like a giant light bulb perches on the surface of some strange planet. In the sky above, alien octopi bob like sentient balloons, peering down at the humans with a mix of curiosity and hunger. Written by science fiction legend Robert A. Heinlein, Starman Jones was published in 1953, when Jones was 6 years old, and the sci-fi-loving English lad who would grow up to become David Bowie considered it a favorite. Surely he was captivated by the fact that the story’s astronautical hero shared his last name—and that, with a bit of imagination, he might someday become his own kind of Starman Jones.

    He never lost that fascination. A decade later, in the summer of 1969, the 22-year-old aspiring rock musician released “Space Oddity,” the song that launched him into an undreamt orbit of fame. Like Bowie himself, the single’s astronaut protagonist—Major Tom—was destined, or perhaps doomed, never to return to Earth.

    “Space Oddity” marked Bowie’s pivot from pop hopeful to bona fide star, and it remains the most immediately identifiable sci-fi song in rock history. But it wasn’t his first or last foray into the imagery and themes of science fiction and fantasy. As far back as 1965, his fashion sense was pointed toward the future; as Peter Doggett recounts in his book The Man Who Sold the World, even as a suit-wearing mod, Bowie’s hair “looked as if it had been created by the designers of a 1950s science fiction B-movie.” Early on, the voraciously bookish Bowie absorbed not only Heinlein, but the works of other sci-fi luminaries such as Ray Bradbury and George Orwell, whose classics The Illustrated Man and Nineteen Eighty-Four would prove to be vital influences as he became popular music’s ethereal, mercurial ambassador to science fiction.

    The late-’60s was a heady time for science, sci-fi, and music. The Apollo 11 mission culminated in a landing on the moon on July 20, 1969, marking a turn away from the vision of hippie utopianism, the back-to-basics movement that elevated pastoral romanticism over the hard logic of encroaching technocracy. As sociologist Philip Ennis noted, “It is probably not hyperbole to assert that the Age of Aquarius ended when man walked on the moon. Not only was the countercultural infatuation with astrology given a strong, television-validated antidote of applied astronomy, but millions of kids who had not signed up for either belief system were totally convinced.”

    Meanwhile, science fiction was making a different yet similarly seismic shift of its own. In 1964, a young editor named Michael Moorcock took the reins of New Worlds, a venerable British magazine that he used as a platform for avant-garde science fiction and fantasy. By 1969, New Worlds had become a beacon for transgressive work, regularly publishing forward-thinking authors from both sides of the Atlantic such as J. G. Ballard, Samuel R. Delany, Thomas M. Disch, Brian Aldiss, Roger Zelazny, and Rachel Pollack (under the name Richard R. Pollack).

    All of these New Worlds authors, and many others like them, challenged the predominantly optimistic outlook and linear storytelling techniques of science fiction up to that point. Theirs were not simplistic tales of intrepid explorers such as Heinlein’s Starman Jones. In their place, New Worlds substituted moral ambiguity, sexual fluidity, narrative experimentation, broken taboos, and sometimes even outright nihilism; Moorcock and crew wholeheartedly embraced William S. Burroughs’ incursions into genre-twisting radicalism as an integral part of the sci-fi canon—and the genre’s future. 

    Moorcock published some of his own work in New Worlds, and it exemplified his ideal: a style that became known as the New Wave. In particular, his Jerry Cornelius series of novels and short stories—1965’s The Final Programme being the first book-length installment—summed up that wildly transitional period. In them, Cornelius is a mysterious, androgynous secret agent with a knack for sartorial elegance and introverted remove—and in his spare time, he’s also a rock star.

    The parallels between Cornelius’s chameleon-like existence and Bowie’s otherworldly personae are unmistakable. Both are products of swinging London’s mod scene of the mid-’60s, where Bowie cut his teeth as an up-and-coming performer. In his scattershot quest for recognition, Bowie often switched up his stage names and identities, a process that eventually culminated in his androgynous image at the height of the glam movement in the early ’70s, when he reinvented himself as Ziggy Stardust.

    In its celebration of androgyny, glam also lined up with Ursula K. Le Guin’s visionary 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness, which takes place on an alien planet where transitions between genders are as routine as any other biological process—a concept that certainly resonates with Bowie’s aesthetic. “Androgynous sexuality and extraterrestrial origin seemed to have provided two different points of identification for Bowie fans,” notes Philip Auslander in Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music. “Whereas some were taken with his womanliness, others were struck by his spaciness.”

    Prior to that breakthrough, during the formative years of the mid-’60s, Bowie was the frontman of a short-lived group named the Lower Third. And that rock band incorporated an odd choice of song into their repertoire: “Mars, the Bringer of War,” a movement from The Planets, the orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst. The suite was known to British audiences of Bowie’s generation primarily from its use as the theme to the popular “Quatermass” science fiction serials produced by the BBC in the ’50s. Bowie was a huge fan of “Quatermass,” once admitting that as a boy he would watch it “from behind the sofa when my parents thought I had gone to bed. After each episode I would tiptoe back to my bedroom rigid with fear, so powerful did the action seem to me.” That power took a very firm hold of the young man’s imagination; the theme of astronauts lost in space was the premise behind the first “Quatermass” serial, 1953’s “The Quatermass Experiment.”

    As the amphetamine-fueled mod scene morphed into the acid-fueled psychedelic scene, London became the laboratory in which Bowie began conducting experiments of his own—ones that sought to transmute science fiction and fantasy into the sounds of popular music. 

    Like most of his pre-“Space Oddity” output, Bowie’s 1967 song “Karma Man” made little impact on the public consciousness. The song, however, vividly depicts a tattooed man whose elaborate body art tells wondrous and hideous tales. “It’s pictured on the arms of the Karma Man,” goes the refrain, a blatant reference to Bradbury’s 1951 book The Illustrated Man, a collection of science fiction short stories framed by one of fantasy’s most indelible conceits: a tattooed man who lets strange stories play out like hypnotic films within the confines of his writhing body art. 

    Also in 1967, Bowie’s “We Are Hungry Men” sketched a nightmare scenario in which a messianic scientist devises a new solution to world hunger, a proposal that’s rendered irrelevant, in a “Twilight Zone”-like twist, when the starving mob opts instead for cannibalism. One year before the release of “We Are Hungry Men,” the author Harry Harrison published Make Room! Make Room!, a grim novel with a strikingly similar concept that would eventually become the source material for the most infamous dystopian cannibalism film of all time, 1973’s Soylent Green.

    Bowie’s alignment with the sci-fi and fantasy zeitgeist didn’t end there. Nineteen sixty-seven also saw the release of “The Laughing Gnome,” a novelty single that’s been dismissed by many Bowie fans as fluff. It’s a curious song, a pastiche of singer Anthony Newley’s silly, music-hall style, sped-up voices, and a bizarre, retro-Victorian vibe. But it also taps into a newfound cultural fascination with mythic creatures like gnomes, elves, and goblins, thanks in large part to a late-’60s resurgence of interest in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, originally published in in the mid-’50s, as well as its predecessor, 1937’s The Hobbit.

    But unlike the earnest appropriation of hobbits and elves that had begun to pop up in folk and progressive rock in the late ’60s, Bowie’s emerging style pointed more toward the future rather than the past. And not in an optimistic way. His 1969 song “Cygnet Committee” featured gently strummed acoustic guitars along with a lurching, elaborate arrangement, and a plot involving a cultural revolution gone wrong that foretold not only the imminent demise of hippie utopianism, but the apocalyptic atmosphere—or lack of atmosphere—of Bowie’s cosmic work to come.

    In a short film for “Space Oddity” made in 1969, Bowie’s face is cold, serene, composed. It might as well be made of plastic, the artificial flesh of some futuristic android. He’s wearing a silver spacesuit. Unlike the bulky spacesuits in the widely publicized photos of the ongoing Apollospace missions, however, this astronaut is clad in sleek, form-fitting chrome, so as to enhance rather than obscure his lithe physique. With robotic precision, he dons a blue-visored helmet. There’s an air of extravagant vanity to this particular space explorer, as well as one of aloofness. His helmet secure, he steps outside his space capsule. He floats. The void beckons, a womb of oblivion that threatens to swallow our hero. He is not humble. His name is no secret. It’s printed on the front of his spacesuit in capital letters: MAJOR TOM.

    The “Space Oddity” clip came out long before music videos became a cultural institution, signaling one of the many ways in which it was prescient. And yet it did not come out of nowhere. It followed Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the similarity between “Space Oddity” and A Space Odyssey are entirely intentional; Bowie, who worked in marketing in his youth, knew the power of synergy. In 2001—which was based on the 1951 short story “The Sentinel” by Arthur C. Clarke, who also wrote co-wrote the film’s screenplay with Kubrick—astronauts in are forced to confront both the travails of artificial intelligence gone awry and the devastating metaphysical awe of discovering alien life.

    There are no aliens in “Space Oddity”—those beings would factor greatly in some of Bowie’s best-known work to come—but a devastating metaphysical awe underpins the song. Faced with the vastness of the cosmos, Major Tom laments in newfound futility, “Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.” That ennui, bordering on paralysis, humanized astronauts in a way that NASA’s heroic sloganeering failed to do. As Bowie has noted, “The publicity image of the spaceman at work is of an automaton rather than a human being. My Major Tom is nothing if not a human being.”

    But beside 2001 and “Quatermass,” there’s another work of science fiction that informed “Space Oddity.” After having drawn on Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man for the song “Karma Man,” Bowie dipped into that wellspring once more, namely the story “Kaleidoscope,” which hauntingly described a group of astronauts falling to their fiery deaths through Earth’s atmosphere after leaving their malfunctioning spacecraft in orbit. “I’m stepping through the door,” Bowie sings from the perspective of Major Tom. “And I’m floating in a most peculiar way/ And the stars look very different today.” Those lines would eventually gain a profound secondary connotation: Bowie himself was the rock star who was looking very different, a striking evolution that would continue over the next few years. 

    “I want it to be the first anthem of the moon,” Bowie once said of “Space Oddity,” adding drolly, “I suppose it’s an antidote to space fever, really.” It didn’t quite accomplish either of those feats, at least not immediately; programmers in the UK initially deemed the song too negative to play on primetime radio while there were still astronauts in space risking their lives to make science fiction into science fact. But by the mid-’70s, space fever had indeed cooled, just as disillusionment with many of the achievements of the ’60s had set in. 

    In that sense, “Space Oddity” perfectly mirrored what was going on in science fiction’s New Wave at the time—not to mention Bowie’s lifelong investment in speculative fiction. Even the B-side of the “Space Oddity” single, “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud,” reflects this; it’s the tale of a mystical boy whose attempts to enlighten his village earn him persecution—until the sentient mountain on which he lives causes an avalanche, which kills his accusers. It also makes the “Space Oddity” single a delightful rarity in sci-fi and fantasy music: A record that’s science fiction on one side, fantasy on the other.

    In 1973 Bowie gloomily predicted, “This is a mad planet. It’s doomed to madness.” So, in a sense, he left it behind. “Space Oddity” introduced the character of Major Tom as pop music’s preeminent galactic pioneer, and Bowie followed in his creation’s footsteps. Throughout the early ’70s he became an explorer, with each album offering a dispatch from an uncharted planet on which he had delicately landed.

    With its trippy sprawl of chants and repetitive chords, his 1970 single Memory of a Free Festival” seems, at first listen, to lapse back into peace-and-love idealism. But Bowie spikes it with science fiction, singing, “We scanned the skies with rainbow eyes and saw machines of every shape and size.” Those machines being extraterrestrial spacecraft, a phenomenon that is brought into sharper focus in the next line: “We talked with tall Venusians passing through.” There’s no hint of novelty to the song; this is not “The Laughing Gnome” with aliens subbed in. It’s the sound of Bowie fully buying into his own alternatingly euphoric and apocalyptic fantasies.

    “Memory of a Free Festival” marked an important turning point in Bowie’s career, and indeed, the arc of rock music as a whole. It’s the first studio recording that features guitarist Mick Ronson and drummer Woody Woodmansey—who, along with Trevor Bolder on bass, would become reborn as the Spiders From Mars, the backing band for Ziggy Stardust in Bowie’s band-within-a-band spectacle. It’s also one of the few points in time that could be considered to be the genesis of glam rock, as it would come to be called in the ’70s, a fusion of riff-heavy rock’n’roll, flamboyant showmanship, sexual freedom, and a kind of science fiction extravagance that manifested itself in metallic shades of makeup and glitter.

    Injecting a dizzying dose of color, decadence, and fantasy to a rock culture that had begun to emphasize the music’s more earthy qualities, glam came more fully into fruition on Bowie’s 1970 album, The Man Who Sold the World. In another echo of 2001, the song “Saviour Machine” puts forth a frightening future in which an advanced supercomputer “hates the species that gave it life,” and, like Clarke and Kubrick’s HAL 9000, begins to toy with the humans that it was built to serve. At a time when the ’60s back-to-nature ideal had curdled into technophobia, the imagery resonated.

    Bowie dug deeper into his science fiction background on Hunky Dory. The 1971 album employs the term “Homo superior” as a descriptor of the next stage of human evolution beyond mere Homo sapiens—a science fiction trope that dates back to Olaf Stapledon’s influential 1935 novel Odd John, which posits the conflict between people with extraordinary mental powers and the human society to which they’ve been born. By the early ’70s, the concept had trickled all the way down to the mutants of Marvel’s X-Men comics, but Bowie took it in a more chilling direction—that is, toward Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of the Übermensch,or superman, a theme he established more overtly on the track “The Supermen” from The Man Who Sold the World. In the Hunky Dory song “Oh! You Pretty Things,” Bowie crafted what’s been called “a myth of the future,” yet another facet of his encroaching dystopian view of the world.

    Not that Bowie was exclusively fixated on worldly concerns. A flash of the old space explorer surfaces on “Life on Mars?,” which came the same year as the launch of Russia’s Mars probes as well as the United States’ launch of the Mars-bound Mariner 9. Mars was in the air, although for a boy who was enthralled by Gustav Holst’s “Mars” theme from The Planets—not to mention another of Ray Bradbury’s masterworks, 1950’s The Martian Chronicles—it was inevitable that Bowie would add the Red Planet to his ever-expanding cosmology-in-song.

    That said, “Life on Mars?” isn’t about Mars at all—except as a symbol for alienation, social estrangement, and cultural decline, all filtered through the lens of cinema, with Bowie once again playing an aloof, dispassionate observer of the human race. For Bowie, glam rock’s co-opting of science fiction was a way to express the otherness and isolation he had felt since a child, feelings that drew him to the pages of science fiction in the first place. It was also a way to cloak the cold, introverted reserve of sci-fi in the flame of pop-culture rebellion; he even went so far as to describe the Hunky Dory song “The Bewlay Brothers” as “Star Trek in a leather jacket.”

    That tension between engagement and escapism hit its peak in 1972 with the release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. A concept album about, according to Bowie, a “Martian messiah who twanged a guitar,” the record wends its way loosely through a narrative that outlines an imminent, Burroughsian apocalypse just a half a decade away. The opening song, “Five Years,” isn’t really about the oncoming year of 1977, it’s about the point on the horizon in which the future perpetually splinters, changing from a graspable string of linearity into an infinite web of maybe. That uncertain tomorrow is personified in “Starman,” a first-contact scenario involving an alien—Ziggy Stardust himself—who would “like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds.”

    Bowie himself is both the narrator and the protagonist of Ziggy Stardust, which tells the tale of how Ziggy comes to Earth, becomes a rock star, attempts to save humanity from itself, then flames out in a blaze of extraterrestrial glory. In its most basic form, the plot isn’t that far from that of Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein’s 1961 novel about Valentine Michael Smith, a human raised on Mars who returns as an adult in an attempt to understand and be understood—the same dilemma that Bowie faced as he began navigating the tides of superstardom as a postmodern icon the likes of which had never been seen. And on the Ziggy Stardust song “Star,” Bowie sings of “wild mutation as a rock’n’roll star,” a reference to both his character’s bisexuality and the androgynous persona he established in real life. 

    It feels like more than a coincidence that another science fiction book with Bowie’s true surname in the title—Philip K. Dick’s 1956 novel The World Jones Made—features familiar elements, such as hermaphrodites and mutants who take part in a post-apocalyptic entertainment industry. Not that Bowie felt the need to rein in the number of science fiction references he flaunted during his Ziggy Stardust phase; in 1972, as he was debuting his new alter ego, he would enter the stage to the strains of Wendy Carlos’ futuristic synthesizer score for A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick’s dystopian follow-up to 2001. Bowie loved both the film and the Anthony Burgess book on which it was based; in fact, one of Ziggy Stardust’s most popular songs, “Suffragette City,” cites by name the marauding “droogies” that comprise the violent subculture of A Clockwork Orange. The entire album is a web of disguises, smokescreens, allusions, delusions, mythic adventurism, and lavish decadence on par with any of Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius stories.

    Instead of settling into his Ziggy Stardust persona, though, Bowie’s restlessness led him to his next incarnation, the short-lived, Ziggy-esque Aladdin Sane, anti-hero of his 1973 album of the same name. Less conceptual than the already loosely structured Ziggy Stardust album, Aladdin Sane features one solidly science-fictional song, “Drive-In Saturday.” Despite the song’s nostalgic sound, which draws heavily from ’50s doo-wop, it takes place in the year 2033, when post-apocalyptic Earthlings are being urged  by “the strange ones in the domes” to reproduce, aided by the viewing of 20th-century pornography. At first it seems like an avant-pulp idea straight from the head of Burroughs, who met Bowie in 1974 for a now-classic Rolling Stone interview. The piece describes Bowie’s London home as being “decorated in a science-fiction mode,” and the topic of science fiction pops up repeatedly in the ensuing conversation between the two, with Bowie calling Ziggy Stardust “a science fiction fantasy of today,” which he compares to Burroughs’ 1964 novel Nova Express.

    Primarily, though, “Drive-In Saturday” bears the strong mark of Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical sci-fi novel from 1969, Slaughterhouse-Five. In it, protagonist Billy Pilgrim is placed in an extraterrestrial zoo—shaped like a dome, no less—and paired with a porn star in order for them to procreate. It’s as though Bowie catapulted himself far beyond the sexual liberation hedonism of early-’70s rock culture and into some far stranger sexual tomorrow. 

    As if to punctuate that arc, Bowie’s 1974 album Diamond Dogs is graced with cover art that depicts him in the midst of another “wild mutation,” from a human being into a canine, yet remaining somehow unsettlingly sensual in the process. It’s his most sci-fi-heavy album, and his bleakest. Based vaguely on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (Orwell’s widow, Sonia Orwell, denied Bowie permission to do an official musical adaptation of the iconic novel, to Bowie’s frustration), Diamond Dogs retains direct references to Orwell’s book in the song titles “We Are the Dead” and “Big Brother.” To make the point even plainer, the album contains a song called “1984,” which cites the novel’s characters by name. According to a press release for the album, Diamond Dogs“conceptualizes the vision of a future world with images of urban decadence and collapse,” a mood that was also gripping sci-fi literature at the time, from films like Soylent Green and A Boy and His Dog to novels such as Thomas M. Disch’s 334 and Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren. And indeed, Diamond Dogs’ opening track “Future Legend” describes a scene of rotting corpses and “red mutant eyes” that could have been ripped straight from any of those harrowing, hopelessly grim works.

    Bowie himself gazed down on the strangeness of Earth—as an alien, naturally—in Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth. An adaptation of Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel, the movie stars Bowie as an extraterrestrial dispatched to Earth in order to procure water for his own dying planet. Bowie’s performance in film is abstract, aloof, and arresting, one that’s apt to make the viewer feel like an alien in their own skin.

    Along with Diamond Dogs the year before, The Man Who Fell to Earth marked the end of Bowie’s overriding fascination with science fiction, just as he was moving on from glam rock in order to experiment—like a mad scientist—with an even more mysterious array of materials and techniques.

    Bowie would return to speculative themes sporadically in subsequent years. But with glam still big business in the mid-’70s (and science fiction about to conquer popular culture thanks to Star Wars), other artists swooped in to fill his cosmic vacuum—most famously Elton John with his 1972 hit “Rocket Man,” which was so similar to Bowie’s works that rock critic Lester Bangs jestingly lumped them together, writing in Creem that they looked as if they had been “dipped in vats of green slime and pursued by Venusian crab boys.” 

    Two of the other most notable sci-fi-leaning musicians of the ’70s were also Bowie collaborators: Marc Bolan of T. Rex and Brian Eno of Roxy Music. Nolan’s space-age boogie conceptually merged Tolkienesque fantasy with the pulp sci-fi of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars character. Bolan and Bowie shared a producer, Tony Visconti, and the two were close friends as well as rivals since the ’60s, when they played the same British club circuit that included, according to Rob Young’s Electric Eden, venues with sci-fi and fantasy-themed names such as The UFO Club and Middle Earth. Bolan also provided backing vocals on “Memory of a Free Festival,” and at one point in the summer of 1974, Bowie and Bolan spent days bingeing on a print of A Clockwork Orange, a testament to just how much the science fiction of Kubrick and Burgess affected them. 

    As for Eno, his 1977 album Before and After Science hinted at the more rarified New Wave voices of Moorcock with lyrics such as, “We’re sailing at the edges of time,” from “Backwater.” And in 1979, Eno recorded the background music for an audio recording of Robert Sheckley’s sci-fi novella In a Land of Clear Colours. By the end of the ’70s, Eno had left glam far behind, focusing instead on ambient music—and in 1983 he released Apollo: Atmosphere and Soundtracks, which accompanied a documentary that focused on the same NASA moon program that inspired Bowie a decade and a half before, bringing glam’s interplay between science fact and science fiction full circle.

    Eno’s connection to Bowie runs deeper than the incidental bookends of “Space Oddity” and Apollo. Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy—comprising 1977's Low and “Heroes” plus Lodger from 1979—were collaborations with Eno that resulted in some of the most challenging and innovative music of their respective careers. Oddly, though, it’s one of the least sci-fi-leaning periods in Bowie’s catalog—at least when it comes to lyrical matters. Sonically, Eno and Bowie crafted a sleek, automaton-like form of pop music on the Berlin Trilogy that seemed as eerily futurist as any Philip K. Dick novel (or any record by Kraftwerk, the German electronic band that Eno and Bowie found so fascinating at the time). That sound would vastly influence a new musical movement waiting just on the horizon: new wave.

    The fact that Bowie, by the late ’70s, served as the bridge between the sci-fi-heavy music genre of new wave and the sci-fi literary genre of  New Wave is telling—especially as Bowie himself was about to complete a different kind of circuit. On his 1980 album Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), he included a song titled “Ashes to Ashes”; in it, an astronaut has become “strung out in heaven’s high.” The astronaut is Major Tom, and Bowie points out the link in the song’s opening verse by breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the listener: “Do you remember a guy that’s been/ In such an early song/ I’ve heard a rumor from Ground Control/ Oh no, don’t say it’s true.”

    “Ashes to Ashes” is a sequel to “Space Oddity,” but it also stands as a testament to Bowie’s attachment to science fiction and fantasy—with the latter genre being entertained by his turn on the big screen in the 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth, in which he zestfully played the Goblin King (but thankfully not a laughing gnome). Then, as Nicholas Pegg points out in The Complete David Bowie, Bowie’s 1987 song “Girls” paraphrases a line from one of the singer’s favorite sci-fi movies—Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, based on Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? That film’s premise of androids who lose the ability to realize they’re not human couldn’t be more Bowie-esque. (Or vice versa.) 

    Major Tom would resurface again (although not by name) in “Hallo Spaceboy” Bowie’s 1995 album Outside, which found him reuniting with Eno for the first time in decades. Detailing a dystopian society on the verge of the new millennium, the album is a bleak work, one that Bowie claims to have “strong smatterings of Diamond Dogs.” Outside’s follow-up, 1997’s Earthlings, retained a vestige of that sci-fi atmosphere, only with a more celestial slant.

    In 2013, following nearly a decade of silence, Bowie released The Next Day, whose themes of mortality and outer space called back to Ziggy Stardust—to the point where the album ends with the same skeletal “Five Years” drumbeat with which Ziggy Stardust begins. In June of that year, Bowie was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, the first musician to be awarded that honor. Near the end of 2013, he listed his top 100 books of all time, showcasing a broad literary panorama that spotlit speculative-fiction classics such as Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita and Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four and A Clockwork Orange (not to mention Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, whose main character, a boy infatuated with science fiction and fantasy novels, might have seemed familiar to someone who grew up reading Heinlein’s Starman Jones).

    Around this time, Bowie’s link with outer space and science fiction was consummated in a more profound way—one he never could have foreseen as a child in postwar London reading sci-fi tales that transported his mind to far-flung corners of the universe. On May 12, 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield posted a YouTube video that featured him singing and playing an acoustic version of “Space Oddity” while in orbit on the International Space Station. It soon went viral, racking up nearly 30 million views.

    In the video, Hadfield floats weightless, just as Major Tom did in the original “Space Oddity” clip, strumming and lamenting his isolation—the mundaneness and frustration that afflicts even those who have been rocketed miles beyond Earth’s workaday concerns. And with it, mythology became fact, and a postmodern narrative went beyond meta and into the even stranger realm of the real. 

    The most staggering moment on Bowie’s recent swansong, Blackstar, appears in the science-fiction video for its 10-minute title track. An unknown planet—or perhaps it’s our planet, far in the future or past—orbits an ominous sun that’s either become eclipsed or burns with some perpetual darkness. A girl with a tail, straight out of a fantasy novel, finds a figure in a NASA-style space suit reclining against a rock. As if answering the helmet-donning gesture of Major Tom in the video for “Space Oddity” 46 years prior, the astronaut’s visor is raised. Behind it is a skull encrusted with jewels and gold filigree, the ornamented corpse of a space traveler left to spin through eternity.

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    Articles: Living Rooms: Uncovering Bejing’s DIY Hideaway

    In the first installment of Living Rooms: Global Punk & DIY Venues, a series that looks at DIY clubs around the world, writer Jamie Fullerton and photographer Giulia Marchi visit School Live Bar, a venue in Beijing’s Gulou area.

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    Gentrification has taken over on Wudaoying Hutong, once a quiet traditional residential lane in Beijing’s Gulou area. Pizza restaurants pile up next to trinket stores selling tin Camden Town signs and postcards featuring pictures of flat-faced cats. At its eastern edge an ornate single-story building houses a branch of Costa Coffee.

    During the day, selfie sticks bob down the narrow lane as the #wudaoying Instagram hashtag feed is flooded with images of tacos and leather handbags. At night, as the atmosphere shifts, stark yellow streetlights silhouette anyone walking down Wudaoying into Slender Man-esque figures. It’s then that School Live Bar’s battered door, which is bolted shut in daytime as if to protect its interior from the zombie lurch of camera-snap tourists outside, swings open.

    I first visited School in 2013 to watch four local bands, each more inebriated than the last, run through brilliantly ramshackle sets. Then someone plugged an iPod into the soundsystem and played back-to-back Libertines and Babyshambles songs until the final punter’s shoes were pried from the sap-sticky floor and trudged home. As a British indie obsessive who made most of my significant life choices in grimy sweatbox venues, it felt like I was home.

    School opened in April 2010, but the layers of gig posters on its walls and the build-up of dust-sodden trinkets that make its shelves bend, fool you into thinking it must have been there since China’s first heavy rock explosion in the 1980s. A little more than 150 people can cram into its two-story interior, and the place is near capacity during a mid-December visit to watch Wuhan-based math-rockers Chinese Football play a typically sweaty School compression session.

    As the band’s clever, clattering guitar stabs penetrate the room, local girls in ankle-length overcoats swig lager at the bar. With no physical barrier between band and crowd, a woman in a bucket hat shoves a Polaroid camera towards Chinese Football’s singer Xu Bo, shaking the resulting print as his guitar neck bobs by her forehead. Behind her, a stick-thin Western man wearing women’s jeans, stomach exposed and with waist-length Robert Plant hair, swirls rhythmically.

    Shows like this take place most nights at School, overseen by the owners, cousins Liu Hao and Liu Fei. Beer in hand, and wearing a Tottenham Hotspur football shirt ("It’s match day tomorrow" he says), Fei admits that the he was inspired to open School as much by drink as music.

    After the 2010 closure of Beijing’s D22 venue, an underground music mecca considered the Chinese capital’s answer to CBGB’s, Fei and his friends needed somewhere new to drink. His answer was to open School as the headquarters for his rag-tag gang of friends on Wudaoying, which was still a peaceful area with just a few restaurants on it. They called themselves "Nianqingbang," which translates to "Gang of Youth," which they tweaked to "Gang of Gin" to reference a Babyshambles song. The venue didn’t have a stage and the group, variously 20-30 strong, drank there every night and fought over stereo control. The place was funded by dubstep and house music DJ shows pulling in punters at weekends.

    "It felt like a friend’s basement hangout place, like when someone puts in a makeshift bar and a foosball table and you do a bunch of drugs when you’re 16," says Michael Marshall, a 27-year-old American who came to Beijing in 2010 and basically hasn’t left School since. He now helps out with promotion for the venue.

    "Some of my favorite memories are about a band called Omnipotent Youth Society," he says. "In 2010, when they were recording their first album, they would show up with songs they’d just mixed and play them on the sound system while we did tequila shots. It’s still one of my favourite albums of all time."

    School’s reputation as an inclusive underground space slowly grew, but in 2012 it was under threat of derailment. Reacting to alleged incidents of violence at the bar, the US Embassy issued a warning about the venue, branding it unsafe for foreigners.

    Marshall says the warning came about after School’s owners ended up in a street brawl with some Europeans they had befriended, with things turning sour when the latter group spouted extreme right-wing views. Fei, however, references an incident in which an American customer was beaten up by one of School’s bar staff after the former attempted to touch up the latter’s girlfriend.

    Both admit that School’s staff hiring policy at the time may not have aided its reputation. "The selection process was, ‘My buddy just got out of jail and needs something to do, can we put him behind the bar?’," says Marshall. "Some of those guys would get really vicious and violent. As a joke I once bought the venue a wooden baseball bat but it ended up getting used to threaten people."

    "Fist fights happen everywhere, School was no exception," shrugs Fei. "A foreigner flirted with the girlfriend of a staffer who had been released from prison and had a hot temper, so he beat him up. We made friends with foreigners for years and it just so happened that this man was American. If he were Chinese it wouldn’t have had such an effect."

    In addition to shifting the bar staff demographic away from violent ex-convicts, a big factor in the rescue of School’s reputation was its transformation from sketchy dance club to gig venue in 2012. Fei fondly remembers the floor looking like it was covered with cement as customers’ vomit mixed with sawdust during its initial years, but he wanted change.

    Being musicians themselves—Liu Hao had success with the band Joyside until their split in 2009—the cousins ditched School’s dance nights, installed a stage and set themselves up as a sweatbox venue primarily for new bands.

    In 2012 Beijing’s indie rock scene was—as it is now—healthy, still pumped up from the mid-2000s emergence of strong, internationally-touring bands such as Hedgehog and Queen Sea Big Shark. With the demise of D22 and few alternative small venue options, fans were looking for their next HQ. They found it in School.

    Casino Demon (described as "The Chinese Arctic Monkeys" by some), punks Demerit, icy synth-pop band Nova Heart (who enjoyed a breakout year in 2015 with their debut album) plus rockers the Bedstars and the Diders made early appearances, the latter pretty much becoming School’s house band. A ‘hall of fame’ of photos of acts playing there quickly spread across the walls, an appearance being a badge of honor for any Chinese band.

    "School has a cache that other Beijing venues don’t have," says Marshall. "You’re not just performing a gig, you’re performing as part of a legacy because it has a community atmosphere I’ve not seen anywhere else." Fei recalls: "At our end-of-year party gig in 2012 a drunk man at School softly held my hand and said, ‘This is exactly what you wanted to do’. I was deeply touched by that."

    As well as alcohol, nudity was a recurring theme during School’s first year as a gig venue. "The bikini party was particularly crazy," says Fei, who regularly performs at School singing in his hardcore band Dr Liu and the Human Centipede. "We made a pond on the roof full of girls in bikinis and guys in their underwear and all the bands played in swimsuits. It was like a bathhouse.

    "Also, we had our third anniversary show on my 30th birthday. My band wasn’t scheduled to play but we decided to perform impromptu—the people in the front row tore off my clothes and I played naked. All I can remember is being scolded by my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, on the way back home in my underpants and socks, still holding my other clothes. A classic School night."

    Dan Makowski, who is from Milwaukee and has been a School regular since its opening and now organizes shows there, says a gig by heavy four-piece the Bedstars was a particular highlight. "They were set to play last, and if you know anything about the Bedstars you know that’s not a good idea," he says. "They were plastered when they came on at 1 a.m. and just argued with each other. They continued to drink, then the guitarists got in a fight and smashed a guitar. It hangs in the School hallway to this day."

    The lack of a backstage area (and bathroom: customers use public squat toilets across the alley) has added to the feeling of inclusiveness and community. Marshall talks about an early 2015 show where he spotted the dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei milling around at the bar alongside the veteran godfather of Chinese rock, Cui Jian. Seymour Stein showed up last October.

    Then there was the time Steve Mackay, the late saxophonist behind Iggy and the Stooges’ distinctively squalling sax sound on Fun House performed with the Shanghai band Round Eye. "This guy, who made one of the most iconic punk sounds of all time, was just hanging around chatting," says Marshall. "There’s no separation. It’s a village mentality that leads to amazing exchanges between local and foreign bands and fans."

    I revisited the venue this past Christmas and found School’s sense of fun intact. On Christmas Eve, a man in a moth-eaten Santa suit stumbled around in front of a machine that belched out bubbles, distributing lollipops as punk bands played. On Christmas night, a bill of hardcore acts showcased an untethered flipside to the measured math-rock bands I’d seen previously.

    Liu Fei donned a Santa hat (lost to the crowd after one song) to perform with Dr Liu and the Human Centipede, limbering up before delivering Slipknot-worthy bellows. Doomy hardcore types LaiSee incited a bobbing mosh pit and the Diders delivered their latest set of unpolished, drink-saturated bludgeon-punk. After their show, singer Cookie careened through the crowd, spraying a beer can and dousing everyone around him.

    "We’ve played here 200 times," Cookie says. "Seven times so far this month. The biggest show we played here was our 100th performance. After three songs I set off a smoke bomb that spread through the whole place. Liu Fei stopped us playing and shifted everybody out, but it was fun. We’ve played here naked, too. Well, our drummer wore underwear.

    "This place is so important," he adds. "There are few places in Beijing for young people like us to have fun in. If it didn’t exist, where would we go? Nightclubs? You can hardly enjoy the music there, or talk. Rock music can change history and Beijing need such places, like Tokyo and other big cities have. If School didn’t exist, young people would go crazy."

    "Everything about School is right," says ZO, singer of Hedgehog and the man credited as the first musician to perform a stage dive at School (impressive, considering there is no real stage). "The owner plays in a punk band so he makes it feel right. You just get this feeling when you walk in the bar."

    It’s testament to School’s importance that the place is thriving in a potentially tough environment. As authorities crack down on youth-attended events and rent rises sharply in Beijing, many rock venues have closed recently, such as the similarly grimy and intimate XP. Mao Livehouse, another long-standing Beijing favorite, is under severe threat of closure at the time of writing, allegedly due to rent issues.

    Buttressed by its loyal community, School stands firm, and will open a new bar section soon. "Everyone is equal here, no matter how famous you are or how rich a customer you are," says Fei. "I hope School, as its name suggests, can provide more opportunities for new bands so they can grow. That’s where the spirit of School lies."

    And with that, he opens another beer bottle.


    Read a Mandarin Chinese translation of this piece on the next page.



    2013年,我第一次来到学校酒吧,观看了4个中国乐队的表演,他们一个比一个喝得醉,在这样醉醺醺的状态下却依然出色地完成了表演。突然,有观众把iPod连接到音响系统,循环播放浪子乐队(the Libertines)和迷途宝贝(Babyshambles)的歌曲,直到最后一名客人脱下被黏黏的地面粘住的鞋子,拖着沉重的步子回家。对于本身痴迷于英式独立音乐,常常混迹于脏乱闷热的酒吧并在这里做出过许多重大人生决定的我来说,School给我的感觉就像家一样。

    学校酒吧成立于2010年4月,墙上贴满的一张张演唱会海报和布满灰尘的装饰品将木架压得变形,会让你错以为它早早诞生于中国最早的重摇滚流行时期上世纪八十年代。酒吧最多能容纳150人左右,分为两层。去年12月中旬,来自武汉的数学摇滚乐队中国足球(Chinese Football)在这里完成了一次典型学校风格酣畅淋漓的表演,现场几乎爆满。



    2010年,被誉为美国摇滚俱乐部CBGB中国北京版的地下音乐麦加圣地D22酒吧关闭,刘飞和他的朋友们需要重新寻找喝酒的去处。他最终决定创办学校酒吧,作为与朋友们在五道营的基地,那时这里还很安静,餐馆并不多。他们自称“年轻帮”,并借迷途宝贝(Babyshambles)的歌曲Gang Of Gin作为相对应的英文名称。当时酒吧还没有舞台,这些20岁到30岁不等的年轻人每晚在这里喝酒,为立体声控制而争吵。酒吧当时主要靠电音回响贝斯和DJ表演吸引顾客前来,得以盈利。

    “它就像一个朋友聚会的地方,这里有临时酒吧,有桌上足球台,16岁的年轻人在这里嗑药。”27岁的美国人麦克•马歇尔(Michael Marshall)说道。他2010年来到北京,这些年似乎从来没有离开过学校酒吧,现在帮着处理宣传方面的事务。

    “我印象中最喜欢的一支乐队叫万能青年旅店(Omnipotent Youth Society),”他说,“2010年,他们正在录制自己的第一张专辑,来到酒吧在音响系统播放他们刚刚完成混音的歌曲,我们在那里喝着龙舌兰酒。这也是我人生中最喜欢的专辑之一。”







    2012年,北京独立摇滚音乐与现在一样发展良好,当时还有2000年中期出现的刺猬(Hedgehog)和后海大鲨鱼(Queen Sea Big Shark)等知名乐队,他们实力强大,均进行过全球巡演。D22关闭后,北京的小型表演场地选择甚少,粉丝们开始寻找下一个目标,最后锁定在学校。

    赌鬼(Casino Demon,被誉为中国版北极泼猴),朋克乐队过失(Demerit),冷酷的合成流行乐队新星的心(Nova Heart,2015年凭借首张专辑声名鹊起),摇滚乐队床星(the Bedstars)和the Diders(敌打死)都是在这里开始他们的音乐历程,the Diders几乎成为酒吧的常客。各个乐队的表演照片很快挂满墙头,组成一面“荣誉墙”,这对于任何中国乐队来说都是荣耀徽章。


    除了酒精以外,裸露也是学校酒吧早期的常见主题。“比基尼派对特别疯狂,”刘飞说,身为硬核乐队刘得龙与人体蜈蚣(Dr Liu and the Human Centipede)的一员,他经常在酒吧表演。“楼顶上有一个巨大的水池,我们请了很多的比基尼女孩,男人们只穿内裤,乐队也穿着泳衣表演。就像一个澡堂。”


    来自美国密尔沃基市的丹•马科夫斯基(Dan Makowski)从学校酒吧开张以来一直是这里的常客,现在负责组织表演。他说四人乐队床星的一场演出让他记忆尤为深刻。“按计划他们最后一个上场,如果你了解他们,就知道这不是一个好的安排。”他说,“凌晨1点上场的时候,他们因为内部成员打架上了石膏。他们不停地喝酒,吉他手互相打起来,还摔了吉他,现在那把吉他还挂在酒吧走廊里。”

    酒吧没有后台(也没有洗手间:客人们需要到胡同里的公厕方便),更加凸显包容感和团体感。马歇尔说,2015年初,他看到中国饱受争议的艺术家艾未未和中国摇滚之父崔健穿梭于酒吧。Seymour Stein去年10月也出现在那里。

    其他造访酒吧的名人包括曾经在伊基·波普(Iggy Pop)和傀儡乐队(the Stooges)第二张专辑乐趣屋(Fun House)担任萨克斯风手的已故史蒂夫·麦凯(Steve Mackay),他当时与上海乐队瞪大眼(Round Eye)合作演出。“这个历史上最成功的朋克音乐制作人就在那里聊天。”马歇尔说,“没有任何隔阂,中外乐队和歌迷在这里尽情交流,学校酒吧俨然成为他们的精神家园。”


    带着圣诞帽的刘飞(唱完一首歌后消失在人群中)和他的乐队刘得龙与人体蜈蚣一起表演,在呈现活结乐队(Slipknot)般咆哮表演前做了简单热身。忧郁派硬核乐队利事(LaiSee)带领全场在摇滚舞池跳Pogo,the Diders也在烂醉状态带来了他们略显粗糙的最新重击朋克音乐。演出结束后,主唱王紫璐穿过人群,到处喷洒啤酒,溅得周围的人全身湿透。

    “我们在这里演了200场,” 王紫璐说,“这个月已经有七场,规模最大的一次是我们的第一百场演出。唱完三首歌后,我拉了一个烟雾弹,整个酒吧什么都看不见了。刘飞阻止我们继续演出,让所有人都到室外,不过挺好玩的。我们也在那里赤裸表演过。对了,鼓手穿着内衣。”






    Translation: Cissy Young

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    Podcasts: A Conversation With Carrie Brownstein at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

    Last October, author, actor, and musician Carrie Brownstein took part in Pitchfork and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s In Sight Out series, which explores new perspectives in music, art, and culture. In this podcast recorded at the event, Brownstein reads a passage from her recent memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, and speaks with former Pitchfork Senior Editor Jessica Hopper about the book and her writing process.

    In Sight Out is presented by MailChimp

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    Interviews: Rostam’s Next-Level Art Music

    Four years ago, Rostam Batmanglij made a mashup of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass,” posting it online with the following description: "this one is strictly for the lulz." At that point, it wasn’t totally clear if the songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist—best known for his smart and playful work as the musical mastermind behind Vampire Weekend—was laughing at Jepsen’s brand of unequivocal pop or with it. But over the last couple of years, as the lines between musical stations continue to dissolve, Batmanglij put any doubts about the sincerity of his pop worship to rest by collaborating with Jepsen herself. “For me, working with someone like Carly felt super natural—not in the Santana sense of the word,” the 32-year-old says with a chuckle, talking about “Warm Blood,” the track he produced and co-wrote from Jepsen’s 2015 album E•MO•TION. “It just came out of the fact that I loved her music.”

    But that doesn’t mean he just wanted to make “Call Me Maybe Part Two.” Batmanglij’s list of musical heroes includes Brian Eno and Pharrell—producers who have managed to reshape pop multiple times while retaining an aura of innovation. So while he loves the formula, he’s also trying to tweak it. For instance, on the original version of their E•MO•TION collaboration, Jepsen sang the words “warm love,” which Batmanglij misheard as “warm blood,” a decidedly less common phrase. Though it took some convincing—“There was a little bit of the feeling, like, ‘Is this song too weird to be on her record?’” he admits—Jepsen eventually agreed to the change. Choosing the word ‘blood’ over the word ‘love’ made the song a little more physical and less abstract, which I like,” he says. That same sense of corporeality is felt during the song’s bridge, when a pulsing beat and squiggling synths drop out to spotlight Jepsen’s whispering vocals and Batmanglij’s earthy upright piano. This is pop music with a distinctly human touch—just don’t call it an “indie” touch. “I never identified with ‘indie,’ I don’t like that word,” says Batmanglij. “It’s never made much sense to me.” He offers another term to characterize his irregular sensibilities: “I like the term ‘art music’—I fuck with that.”

    No matter what you call his sound, it’s in demand. Batmanglij’s upcoming collaborations feature artists from an impressively wide range of styles, including Santigold, Haim, PC Music’s A.G. Cook, Ra Ra Riot, and former Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser. In addition, he’s just released a new solo track, “EOS,” a hymn-like ballad that distills his less-is-more artistic ethos down to three-and-a-half minutes of spacey elegance. Calling from his current homebase of Los Angeles, Batmanglij expounds on the new single, his plans for 2016, and what’s next for Vampire Weekend.

    Pitchfork: “EOS” is the first solo track you’ve released since 2011. Why did you decide to revisit the idea of singing your own material now?

    Rostam Batmanglij: I record a lot of different ideas all the time but I had hit a wall with my solo songs. Then I ran into Julian Casablancas, who went out of his way to compliment my voice—actually it was the second time he'd said something about it to me. That moment served as a motivating force, and I felt like I had to listen to him. I'd like to release solo songs on a regular basis, but it's pretty difficult for me to finish them. But I think that may happen this year. That would make me happy. 

    Pitchfork: The song has a beautifully empty quality musically—do you feel like de-cluttering is a sign of maturation for a producer?

    RB: I have always loved minimalism as a production aesthetic—it was something me and Ezra [Koenig] bonded over the first time we hung out and played each other our music back when we were 18. I admire Brian Eno so much in how he seems to push the idea of less being more—his touch is to crack open a window and let the light in. I also admire people like Eno and Pharrell in that they’ve been able to be both artists and producers. Those are people I look up to. Also, Yeezus has had a profound impact on me as a producer. It's so clean— everything sounds huge and open, and it's because there are never more than a handful of elements at once. Björk's Vespertine still sounds fresh to me too—I love the way her voice is surrounded by so many voices but always clear—and always guiding you through the song.

    Photo by Wes Miles

    Pitchfork: A lot has changed in the world of independent music since you broke out with Vampire Weekend eight years ago, and I feel like your trajectory is symbolic of that shift. For instance, there are probably more young artists in Brooklyn who would rather produce a song for Carly Rae Jepsen than start an indie rock band at this point. 

    RB: That’s a really interesting thing that’s happened. What happened to all the bands? Is New York responsible for it, or is it just that bands are corny now? I mean, I’m always down for people shifting the paradigm. I understand why that music seems sort of irrelevant now, because so much of what makes people respond to songs is about sound. In that way, production has become more important than it ever has been. When people go to see Skrillex do a set, it’s not just about the elements in his music. It’s about how those elements are reacting off each other, like how he’s side-chaining the whole mix against the kick. People are responding to that in addition to the songwriting, which is always gonna be important. But I think that sort of thing alters the landscape of why people see live music.

    At the same time, I love organic instruments too. You can’t really put me in either camp. I understand the idea of me being “a dude in a band,” because people got to know me through Vampire Weekend, but it has caused a lot of frustration for me because I came from a different place from the get-go. Even though I’ve been making electronic music since I was 14, it’s hard for people to see you as a producer with a musical identity when you’re contextualized in a band that performs on a stage. I mean, maybe people don’t see the last Vampire Weekend album as electronic music, but I do—if you were with us when we were making it, you would think of it as electronic music. 

    Pitchfork: When you’re working with more pop-leaning artists, how would you describe the signature you’re trying to make as a producer?

    RB: I want it to be next-level, and I feel that same way about all the different kinds of music that I make. It's not like I put a hat on, like, “Now I'm making pop music, it's time to throw out everything I care about.” I see it as one thing. It's a little bit hard for me to talk about it from a third-person perspective, and I also don't want to say that stuff out loud—I gotta let there be some magic in the mystery there. But hopefully, in 10 years, you'll look back on all the music that I've made and be able to write a thinkpiece about it. [laughs] 

    Pitchfork: Do you think that it’s ironic that Vampire Weekend sell more albums than the more overt pop artists that you've worked with? It can make those sorts of categories feel especially meaningless.

    RB: Well, who knows if anyone will ever sell albums again. In the last two years we've experienced the end of physical—or even download—sales. But cultural impact is a harder thing to measure when people are streaming music.

    Rostam joins Charli XCX on piano during a "Letterman" performance of "Need Ur Love," a song that he produced and co-wrote

    Pitchfork: What’s going on with the next Vampire Weekend album?

    RB: It is too early to talk about that. But I can say that I’m always making beats, and when I can hear Ezra singing on one of them in my head, I send it to him. That's one of the ways that we've always worked together. In Vampire Weekend, I often express myself in terms of the bigger picture stuff with subconscious choices that I make while I'm making the music. In that way, I'm very different from Ezra, because he makes connections more explicitly in his head. Like, when we were writing the song "Diplomat’s Son" [from Contra], I wrote that lyric “it was ‘81,” but I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking about when I wrote it. For Ezra, it meant something different; he was thinking about Joe Strummer and the Clash and that line opened up a whole other connection for him. But for me it was much more instinctual. I don't want to say that I never have conscious artistic choices, but it can be hard to think about why you make some of the choices that you make.

    Pitchfork: I listened to a podcast interview with Ezra last year where he was talking about what it means to make a fourth album. Historically, some bands have offered radical changes at that juncture, like Radiohead with Kid A. Would you aspire to make an artistic left turn like that? 

    RB: Man, I don't know. I mean, I love Kid A and bought it the day it came out. It changed my life. So, sure, I would hope to make a record that interacts with culture in a macro sense. That is something to aspire to.

    Pitchfork: I saw on your Instagram that you were in the studio with PC Music’s A.G. Cook. What’s the story there? 

    RB: The first time I heard of PC Music was from Charli XCX actually. She played me Hannah Diamond's "Pink and Blue" and was like, “What do you think of this?” and I was like, “I think it's awesome!” Working with A.G. was kind of last-minute—we met at Charlie's housewarming party and just emailed a little bit about getting together and then he came to my studio and we started building tracks from scratch together and writing songs. It was really fun. A.G. is a super talented producer and songwriter, and I think he's about to fuck up a lot of stuff in the world of pop. We have similar ways of thinking; I just felt a kinship. He has really strong opinions about how he hears things in his head and how to translate that. And as a producer, that's your role, to present that vision. It's probably too early to say where the stuff we are working on will find a home.

    Pitchfork: What else do you have in the works?

    RB: I've also been making a full-length record with Hamilton Leithauser, which I'm very excited about. Our plan is to release it as a duo, basically, and every now and then I get a feeling that it might be one of the best records I make in my whole life. We worked really hard on lyrics and every song tells a story. In some ways, the more that I write songs, the more I feel that telling a story is the most important thing; just being able to close your eyes when you hear some lyrics and go somewhere. It's worth taking the time to do that, because people respond to it.

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    Podcasts: 5-10-15-20: Chvrches

    5-10-15-20 features people talking about the music that made an impact on them throughout their lives, five years at a time. This podcast edition features Pitchfork News Editor Amy Phillips in conversation with the three members of Scottish synth-pop band Chvrches: Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty. The interview took place at Soho House Chicago last summer, right before Chvrches' performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival. 

    Chvrches: 5-10-15-20 Podcast Interview

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    Rising: Supa Dupa Fly: Kamaiyah Bosses Up

    The day before my scheduled interview with Oakland rapper Kamaiyah, she reached out to Twitter for some guidance: “Meeting up with Pitchfork tomorrow trying to decide should I be ratchet or professional. *ponders” hmmmm what would TUPAC do?” It’s a joke. But, like all jokes, there is truth to it: Who else can this 20-year old on the precipice of fame turn to when it comes to industry matters besides a deceased role model and some Twitter followers? Who shows a woman how to be an up-and-coming skills-based rapper out of Oakland, California in 2016?

    By the time we meet, she had apparently decided to split the difference. She’s rocking a matching sweatsuit decorated with french fries and milkshake drawings, a look that’s punctuated by a bottom gold grill and the fully operational vintage brick cell phone she flashed in her breakout video for “Out the Bottle.” But when she speaks of her work, she’s clear-headed and intensely professional. As we talk, she keeps her hood up the entire time, allowing only a few of her trademark Brandy-style box braids to fall forward. One might be tempted to say she is wise beyond her years, but it is more accurate to consider that, as a woman barely out of her teens in the hip-hop game, she’s exactly as wise as she needs to be. In every way, she is like that girl who shows up unapologetically late to first period English—but still understands the reading better than everyone in the room.

    On “Out the Bottle,” Kamaiyah pursues the elusive balance struck by the likes of Missy Elliott, TLC, and MC Lyte: flexing musical inventiveness while keeping an appeal broad enough to reach hip-hop fans who don’t yet (and may never) know how to process female artists who do not lead with sexuality. The song itself is a groovy slap rooted in the ’90s West Coast funk traditions of Too $hort, DJ Quik, and Dr. Dre, but with a stripped down simplicity that abstracts its post-hyphy bounce. Content-wise, it lands squarely in the party-anthem genre, but Kamaiyah delivers her lines like a sonnet, mixing and matching end rhymes with internal rhymes to create a pattern that takes four bars to pay off. And when her words intertwine with the beat’s restrained synth melodies, the effect is mesmerizing.

    A self-described child of the ’90s, Kamaiyah is looking to bring back elements of that era. In her view, black popular culture reached something of a zenith in the decade when its reach was vast, but its total co-optation not yet complete. It is tempting to write this off as a case of rose-colored nostalgia (she was born in 1995), but, looking back, her perspective is not entirely inaccurate. It’s impossible to deny that something is now fundamentally different about the relationship between popular hip-hop and blackness. Back then, Lauryn Hill was flowing black genius bars over “Ready or Not” in fatigues and combat boots. Now, a Disney star sings the same song in white Ray-Bans and Coachella bangles. It can seem like hip-hop has become simultaneously more bland and more intense—less an expression of black culture and more a hasty and dispassionate repackaging of its perceived central aesthetic tenants.

    At the same time, Kamaiyah is adamant that her version of a ’90s redux doesn’t just mean a return to rip-raw battle verses and wordplay. Her conviction is that we live in a world driven by melody, and that lyrical verses, while dope, are largely lost on the masses. The irony is that she, more than most, actually has the skills of a true lyricist. Her SoundCloud features two tracks—the neo-soul finger snapper "Do Dat," and a lo-fi freestyle over the “Mo Money Mo Problems” beat—that showcase a confident battle flow with slick punchlines. But, to her point, these tracks have allotted relatively few plays compared to her more melodic bottle poppers.

    She is most compelling, however, when she combines her conscious-rapper heart with her more commercial and melodic instincts, as on the deceptively advanced funk track “How Does It Feel.” The song’s video features a homeless Kamaiyah facing the early morning cold of the Oakland hills while dreaming about what it would be like to have money. True to form, she offers a crispy melodic structure that you could imagine a much bigger (but much weaker) artist stealing and passing off as their own. Her interplay with the 808 bells, handclaps, and Roland synths is irresistible as she keenly turns the “get money” trope on its head. When she raps “I wonder how does it feel to be rich,” we aren’t shown shiny Aston Martins in front of sprawling McMansions. Kamaiyah’s fantasies are more humble and idiosyncratic: a dining room table, a staircase, a bottle of champagne, a Nintendo 64. She desires the richness of having a roof over one’s head and a carpet to sit on. It is the inverse of typical critiques of hip-hop materialism. Rather than asking from the top—why do we have to be rich?—Kamaiyah’s ask is from the bottom: What is it like to not to be broke? 

    As a female artist trying to match lyrical honesty with the commercial demands of an industry largely lacking in imagination, the bottom is where Kamaiyah has to start. With an EP due in March and an album to follow later in the year, the path she is taking is one largely of her own making. But if anyone can figure it out, she is sure she can. “A lot of people can’t boss up,” she tells me toward the end of our talk. “I have to boss up.”

    Pitchfork: What’s the story behind your old-school brick cell phone?

    Kamaiyah: I honestly got this because I felt like it was good for my image. Growing up, my influences were ’90s artists like TLC, Missy, and Aaliyah, so I feel like the phone fits me as an individual more than an iPhone. 

    Pitchfork: What drew you to those artists?

    K: I was a tomboy, so seeing those types of people made me more comfortable than seeing Lil’ Kim—but I also love Lil’ Kim, ironically. I didn't want to be a girl that has to show my ass to get somewhere. I wanted to be the one that you had to respect as a woman and an individual. I want people to like me for my talent, not my look.

    Also, I feel like the influence that black people had on the market was just so dope in the ’90s—you saw ‘NSync trying to dip into that market because we ran the whole world. Marketing-wise, if you watch any show from back then, any race you see was trying to be part of that culture. That was the best part of the ’90s to me.

    Kamaiyah: "Mo Money Mo Problems Freestyle" (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: Do you feel like that's happening now? 

    K: Not really. I feel like music is taking a deficit with creativity—people like you, but they don't like you enough to buy into your brand. Records aren't selling because you don't like the artist, you like the song. And you can get that song from any other person. There’s no individuality. That's why people are taking a liking to me. Because it's different. You see that weird-ass girl over here, and it's like, “Who is this kid?”

    Pitchfork: Do you feel like rhyme skills are less important now?

    K: We live in a melodic world. It's no longer about lyricism. It's about how good your beat is and how good the harmonies and melodies are. Because, in the first 10 seconds, you're going to know if you like a song or not. That's just how the world is now. People aren't going to vibe with you if you come on too hardcore or too deep. That's why people save those things for their album.

    Kamaiyah: "Do Dat" (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: How did you start rapping?

    K: I never tell people this, but when I was a kid I heard Bow Wow—and, since he was a kid, I thought I could do it too. That was my influence. Watching him. I used to wear the bandanas and the glasses with the little heart and I wanted to get the cornrows. The whole nine.

    Pitchfork: Where do you think you fit into Oakland’s hip-hop tradition?

    K: I actually met Conscious Daughters, and [Karryl "Special One" Smith] was pretty dope. She gave me game. And I got the name of my album—which I'm not going to tell you—from her. When she passed away [in 2011], I was going to always show love. And Tupac is the person I vibe with culturally, and Too $hort is like my uncle.

    Pitchfork: What impact do you want to have with your music?

    K: I want young women to know that they don't have to be a sex symbol to sell records or get love. Because right now you see one thing—which is Nicki—and everybody feels like they have to be that. But you can't be a copy of her because you're not going to sell. You can't be a clone of somebody else.

    Pitchfork: What is the most important thing in the world to you?

    K: Spreading positive energy is the most beautiful thing about life. That's what we're living for. And to keep thriving. A lot of people don't do that, and that's why they're unhappy and can't be successful. Spread the love.

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    Articles: Living Rooms: Inside Mexico City's Acid House

    In the second installment of Living Rooms: Global Punk & DIY Venues, a series that looks at DIY clubs around the world, writer Gabriela Jauregui and photographers Ramiro Chaves, Florencia Diaz, and Daniel Hernandez visit Acid House, a venue in Mexico City.

    Read in:
    Read in EnglishRead in Spanish

    Full disclosure: I have played at this venue. If we can call it that.

    When I first arrived in front of number 144 Manzanillo in the Roma Sur neighborhood, I was surprised. One of my best friends lives a block away and I have driven in front of this particular house countless times. Built in 1928, as a ceramic tile declares next to its door, it looks a lot like many other houses in the neighborhood: old, run down, slightly graffitied, sort of charming, on the verge of collapse, maybe haunted. And so I hadn’t really noticed it.

    More conspicuous in its pistachio-green decay, the house next door is home to two old ladies, who are the first to greet me. They unexpectedly bob their heads to some beats emanating softly from within 144. I shoot a worried/apologetic look their way and they actually look at me approvingly as I wait for Yomy to open the garage door with its dirty stained glass. They smile like two ancient harpies.

    "I don’t like to speak of a ‘scene’, this is more of a community." The political awareness and clarity of Yomy’s ideas belie his age. He’s only 24, skinny, a melt-you-on-the-spot smile full of teeth. He and Benjamin, 27, sweetly mellow in his beard and glasses, started organizing weekly gigs at Benjamin’s mom’s house in the Cuauhtémoc neighborhood, further north, when they were in their late teens. It was there that I had heard some of Mexico’s now legendary very indie "underground" bands, like Soledad or Resplandor, perform. The scene then was more rock, but it has slowly evolved. And the guys were onto something: no one was showcasing the kind of music they were paying attention to, and when they stopped organizing gigs there, they began to organize Antes, a full-on indie, grassroots festival, in various venues around the city. Their HQ was first located in the Roma Norte neighborhood in a place they started calling A179 (for Álvaro Obregón 179), where they borrowed the space for a while. In 2012, they moved in together, as roommates and started organizing the festival and gigs from their house, nicknamed M144 for Mazatlán 144, or now better known, tongue-in-cheek, as Acid House.

    The first time the garage door opens I am hit by a full-on pot hurricane. Pot and maybe a whiff of dog pee. Sheena, the enthusiastic black rescue, is keen to come and greet me and wags her tail amidst the piles of beer cartons and debris. We start climbing the stairs, with a twisting Spanish-style wood banister, I see rooms with piles of clothes and shoes, small beds, synths in various shapes sizes and wear and tear. I hear a couple other people, Jorge, who makes hip-hop beats for his label Raccoonin Records, and also Andros, who plays with Yomy in System Error and Marco Polo from Siete Catorce, who goes back and forth to Mexicalli, and who also live here. We keep climbing out onto rackety metals stairs that lead to a tiny room at the top of the house: the rehearsal room. Yomy starts ripping the air with the drums, Gaby’s guitar is amped to as high as it can go, and I am singing on the outside metal staircase not to go deaf. I remember the old ladies next door. Between songs, I ask Yomy about them. He says they actually like the music. That’s why they kept smiling at me.

    Having gone to many gigs at the first house, I was curious to see what it would be like here, aside from rehearsing during the day. I was also curious when they started. I felt like I had missed a beat there for a second. The first official gig, they can’t really remember. After much thinking and lighting of a bong, Benjamin and Yomy tell me it was probably an after party they organized for a NAAFI show called Estado. DJ Smurphy played, and Mexican Jihad, too. They were supposed to shoot a video. "We shoot a bunch of videos here," Yomy laughs, "I mean shitloads." So the video becomes the pretext for a party, which becomes the pretext for the venue, which becomes a pretext for community.

    "There is no scene," Yomy explains, "there’s taste."

    "There’s a shared taste. And we began doing all this inspired by a festival and venue in Monterrey where no one was an asshole, everyone talked to each other, and the money was for the bands. We felt that was the job we wanted to do: no sponsors, trying to create an audience for little-known acts, and with Antes it was about giving them visibility and presenting them in larger venues to build up their audience. But creating an audience is tough and exhausting," Benjamin laughs. "And now there’s plenty of promoters who focus on rock bands, like the guys from Aquí no hubo escena, and so we felt we needed to focus on a different kind of music. And we also had our label, Sonido Inconsciente. We do all kinds of music, we’re not against anything, but I think we have managed to build a certain kind of audience."

    So, Yomy and Benjamin organize about eight gigs a year, and then they "let the house rest," as they say. The house does look a little tired, but happy and never worse for the wear. And so this coming year they’re doing an after party for NRML and then, "we want things to be special so we don’t get into trouble with the neighbors. So we’re collaborating with a bunch of really cool labels this year so we don’t always do our own Sonido Inconciente lineup. It’s so worth it. There’s so many people working so hard," they explain. Let’s call 2016 an open house, since they have invited Ten Toes Turbo, Raccoonin, Lowers, Ensamble, Extasis Records, and Pyramid for the monthly shows.

    When you get a flyer for the parties and gigs here you don’t really get much information. Unless you know what you’re looking for. "It’s to keep away the Orkos," they both laugh. There’s no address, whoever knows, knows, and those who don’t just ask, if not someone brings them. There’s no one who comes here just to party, people come to listen to something and hang out, they know why they’re here. Once there were about 200 people packed in God-knows-where. The police did come that time, but nothing happened. No one wanted to leave so everyone stayed inside and the police had to go. To me, what speaks volumes about the kind of community they have built is that all in all, the only time something has been stolen from the house (which has all kinds of valuable equipment hiding behind the pot smoke and dirty socks), was a rather huge Corona metal cooler. Full of empty beer bottles.

    Promoters are always hanging around, waiting to see something that catches their ear. Acid House is about creating community, Yomy insists, and there have been lots of collaborations between artists andpromoter friends, and since a year and a half ago there’s been an ongoing dialogue with Poncho Muriedas who directs NRML and the guys from NSMBL. The first time they came, Las Brisas and System Error were playing. "I think everyone was surprised at the fact that the house was really being used as a venue, getting dirty and fucked up," explains Benjamin. And since it is a community space, the house is also a place to rehearse, and bands like Los Pellejos, DDA, Mentira Mentira (with whom I was rehearsing the first time I came here), Siete Catorce, Bruno Darío, and others. The house is a platform.

    So what’s it like to play here? To party here? It’s dark, it’s safe. What’s the sound like: busted house, dark electronic, undanceable dance music, techno from the end of the world. The vibe is dark. I mean literally: there’s a lot of smoke, a strobe light sometimes, two light bulbs (one is in the bathroom, thankfully). It’s heavy. The idea is to get lost. Lost in what, you might wonder? Well, the music, the darkness, but also pot and acid. Lots and lots of acid. A lot of the music they play is made to be listened to on acid. And so people don’t just get lost, they also get found: you come here, do anything you want, and it’s all good. I was awkwardly happy about all the kids. I felt old, but I also remembered my first parties at 14, remembered checking out the older people—I am one of them now—then going my own pubescent way. And somehow here it’s like prices haven’t changed in 20 years. It feels like home. When the guys see people they don’t recognize, they come up to them and let them know this is their house and ask them to respect it. "They get a little freaked out at first, and then they just flow. The can do whatever they want. Just no destruction. If you give people the freedom, they do their thing then leave all mellow. No one is ever aggressive," Benjamin explains.

    This sense of community is great. This isn’t a bar, or a "hoyo funky" where you stay for days. The house exists because the city has few if any good venues, says Yomy, who has played pretty much anywhere you can play: "All the owners in the venues wanted to take our money, they’re pimping you out and then they don’t let people in, and if you’re underage, forget it. And this new generation is cool, I love watching 16-year-old kids having a blast and in a safe space. The problem with narco violence in the Condesa [neighborhood] for instance, is really tough right now. But here it’s not about money. In fact we owe money. We got all fancy when Inga came and we really wanted to look good and get some extra equipment and pay a dollar fee."

    It certainly isn’t about money. Beer is cheap, and the entrance costs anywhere from 30 to 50 pesos (a couple of bucks). The money gets spent on buying the beers and paying for equipment if needed, and always a little for the bands. "They can at least pay for their taxi. Or we all go get breakfast the next morning." To keep things going, Yomy runs errands at a law firm during the day and studies music and engineering, while Benjamin is freelancing organizing parties and the like.

    So, you wonder, is this a venue? Is it a home? Is it a community space? Is it some illegal post-aztec speakeasy bladerunning into the 21st century? Playing here is almost as mellow as rehearsing in your own place. But you can blast the sound, rip your lungs out, or whisper because everyone is packed in so tight. And you’re there with what feels like a bunch of cousins, friends, and extended family as your audience. Except, of course, these are not your annoying cousins—or maybe they are, but they are also all the fucked up children of the world, as Spacemen 3 would say. And Sheena the dog is barking, and it’s grimy as fuck, and your beer is maybe cold, maybe not so much. And you’re having a good time. And so are the kids. And no one is getting shot. Which nowadays, in this death-obsessed culture where students disappear, kids get gunned down, and rampant capitalism is about denying youth its bodies, and its lives, then this little Acid House, sponsored by the day jobs of two melomaniacal enthusiastic activists, feels like heaven.

    Cuando me paré frente al número 144 de la calle Manzanillo en la Roma Sur estaba sorprendida. Una de mis mejores amigas vive a una cuadra y he pasado frente a esta casa en particular un sinfín de veces. Construida en 1928, como declara un mosaico de cerámica junto a la puerta, se parece a muchas otras casas del barrio: vieja, medio dilapidada, levemente grafiteada, bastante encantadora, a punto de colapsarse, tal vez embrujada.

    Más notable en su decrepitud color pistache, la casa de al lado es el hogar de dos viejitas que son las primeras en saludarme. Mecen la cabeza suavemente al ritmo de unos beats que emanan del 144. Les mando una mirada preocupada/culpable y de hecho me miran con aprobación mientras espero a que Yomy abra la puerta del garaje con sus vitrales sucios. Sonríen como dos antiguas arpías.

    "No me gusta la palabra 'escena'. Pero sí creo que es una comunidad." La conciencia política y la claridad de las ideas de Yomy casi contradicen su edad. A penas tiene 24, es flaco, con una sonrisa llena de dientes que te derrite en tu lugar. Él y Benjamín, 27, dulce y relajado con su barba y lentes, comenzaron a organizar tocadas semanales en la casa de la mamá de Benjamín en la Cuauhtémoc, un poco más al norte, hacia el final de su adolescencia. Fue allí que yo escuché a unas de las ahora legendarias bandas independientes del “underground” mexicano como Soledad o Resplandor. La escena entonces era más rock, pero ha cambiado. Los chicos habían captado algo: nadie estaba presentando el tipo de música al que ellos estaban poniendo atención. Así que cuando dejaron de organizar tocadas allí, empezaron a organizar Antes, un festival independiente y de base en varios venues en la ciudad. Su cuartel general se encontraba primero en la Roma, en un lugar que llamaban A179 (por Álvaro Obregón 179), donde les prestaron un espacio temporalmente. En 2012 se mudaron juntos y se pusieron a organizar el festival y tocadas desde su casa, apodada M144 (por la dirección). También mejor conocida, y no sin sentido del humor, como Acid House.

    Aquella primera vez al abrirse la puerta del garaje, me cacheteó un huracán de mota. Mota con tal vez un tufo de pipi de perro. Sheena, la entusiasta perra rescatada negra me saluda con ganas y sacude la cola de un lado a otro entre montañas de cartones de cerveza y basura. Comenzamos a subir la escalera con su pasamanos de madera estilo español: veo cuartos con montañas de ropa y zapatos, camas individuales, sintetizadores de varios tamaños, formas y desgaste y uso. Alcanzo a oír a algunas otras personas: Jorge, que hace beats de hip-hop para su disquera Racoonin Records, Andros quien toca con Yomy en System Error y Marco Polo de Siete Catorce que va y viene de Mexicali también viven aquí. Seguimos subiendo ahora las escaleras de metal oxidado que llevan a la azotea y un diminuto cuarto hasta arriba de la casa: el cuarto de ensayo. Yomy desgarra el aire con la bataca, la guitarra de Gaby está tan amplificada como es posible y yo canto desde afuera en la escalerita para no quedarme sorda. Me acuerdo de las vecinas viejitas. Entre rolas le pregunto a Yomy qué onda con ellas. Dice que de hecho les gusta la música. Por eso no dejaban de sonreírme.

    Después de haber ido a varias tocadas en la primera casa, me daba curiosidad ver cómo serían en esta, más allá de ensayar durante el día. También tenía ganas de saber cuándo habían empezado, medio sentí como que me perdí de un compás por allí. La primera tocada oficial, no se acuerdan. Después de mucho pensar y prender un bong, Benjamín y Yomy me dicen que seguramente fue el after que organizaron después de una fiesta de NAAFI que se llamó Estado. Tocaron DJ Smurphy y Mexican Jihad. Se suponía que iban a grabar un corto. "la casa la usamos para grabar un chingo," se ríe Yomy "pero un chingo de videos." Así el video se vuelve el pretexto para la fiesta que a su vez es el pretexto para el venue que se vuelve el pretexto para una comunidad.

    "No hay escena," Yomy continua, "hay un gusto."

    "Hay un gusto compartido. Empezamos a hacer esto por un venue y por un festival en Monterrey donde nadie se mamoneaba, todos hablaban con todos, y el dinero era para las bandas. Sentíamos que esa era la labor que queríamos hacer: libre de patrocinios, intentando crear un público para actos poco conocidos, y con Antes se trataba de darles visibilidad y presentarlos en un formato más grande para darles difusión y construir público. Pero construir público es muy difícil y desgastante," Benjamín se ríe. "Y ahora ya hay muchos promotores que se enfocan en bandas, como los de Aquí no hubo escena, así que sentimos que era mejor enfocarnos en otro tipo de música. Y también está nuestro label, Sonido Inconsciente. Hacemos todo tipo de música, no estamos peleados con nada, pero sí creo que tenemos ya un cierto público."

    Así, Yomy y Benjamín organizan como 8 tocadas al año y después "dejan descansar la casa," como ellos dicen. La casa se ve un poco cansada, pero contenta y no demasiado traqueteada. Entonces este año van a hacer un after para NRML y después "queremos que las cosas sean más especiales, para no tener pedos con los vecinos. Tenemos el plan de hacer varias tocadas este año con varias disqueras para no hacer siempre nuestro lineup de Sonido Inconsciente. Hay un chingo de disqueras bien padres, vale la pena," explican. Llamémosle al 2016 el año de mi casa es tu casa, ya que han invitado a Ten Toes Turbo, Raccoonin, Lowers, Ensamble, Extasis Records y Pyramid para sus shows mensuales.

    Cuando te llega un flyer para una de las fiestas o tocadas en la casa, en realidad no te llega mucha información. A menos de que sepas qué buscar. "Así abrimos a los Orkos," se ríen. No hay dirección: los que saben, saben. Y los que no, sólo preguntan, y si no, los traen. Acá no hay gente que viene nomás a fiestear. Todos saben por qué están aquí. Una vez llegaron 200 personas, aperradas quién sabe dónde. Esa vez sí llegó la patrulla, pero no pasó nada. Nadie quería salir así que todos se quedaron adentro y la policía tuvo que irse. Para mí lo más revelador acerca del tipo de comunidad que han construido es que con todo y todo, la única vez que se han robado algo de la casa (que tiene toda clase de equipo valioso sepultado debajo del humo de mota y los calcetines sucios) fue un cooler gigante de metal Corona, lleno de envases vacíos.

    Los promotores siempre andan por aquí, esperando ver algo que les llame la atención. En Acid House "hemos generado comunidad," articula Yomy, "y han habido muchas colaboraciones entre artistas, amigos promotores y desde hace año y medio un diálogo constante entre Poncho Muriedas, quien dirige NRML, y también con NSMBL." La primera vez que vinieron los promotores, estaban tocando Las Brisas y System Error, "creo que estaban sorprendidos por el uso que le damos a la casa como de un venue. La casa se maltrata y se ensucia cabrón y como que les sorprendió ver cómo pasa eso," explica Benjamín. Y como es un espacio comunitario, la casa también es un lugar para ensayar: bandas como Los Pellejos, DDA, Mentira Mentira (con quien ensayaba yo la primera vez que vine), Siete Catorce, Bruno Darío y otras más empiezan desde acá. La casa es una plataforma.

    ¿Y cómo se siente tocar acá? ¿Venir de reven? Es a la vez oscuro, y seguro. ¿Qué se escucha? House roto, electrónica oscura, música dance imbailable, tecno del fin del mundo. La vibra es sombría. Lo digo literalmente: hay mucho humo, a veces un estrobo, dos focos (uno está en el baño, por suerte). Está heavy. Esta casa tiene otro tipo de embrujo. La idea es perderse. Perderse en qué, te preguntarás. Pues en la música, en la oscuridad pero también en la mota y los ajos. Chingos de ajos. Mucha de la música que tocan está hecha para ser escuchada en ácido. Y la gente no solamente se pierde, si no que se encuentra: vienes aquí, haces lo que quieres, y todo bien. Yo estaba incómodamente feliz con todos los chavitos. Me sentí vieja pero también me acordé de mis primeros revens a los 14, me acordé de cómo veía a los rucos –yo soy una de esos ahora—y de seguir tranquila por mi camino puberto. Y quién sabe cómo pero los precios siguen igual que hace 20 años. Se siente como estar en casa. Cuando los anfitriones ven a alguien que no reconocen se le acercan y le avisan que esta es su casa y que por favor la respeten. "Al principio se sacan de onda, pero luego como que ya fluyen. Pueden hacer lo que quieran pero que no agravien la casa. Si les das esa libertad, están en su pedo. Nadie se siente agredido en ningún punto, y entonces están todos tranquilos," explica Benjamín.

    Este sentido de comunidad es chingón. No es un bar ni un hoyo funky donde te vas a quedar días. "La casa existe porque casi no hay venues en la ciudad," dice Yomy, que ha tocado casi en todos los lugares que se puede tocar en la ciudad. "Todos los dueños de los venues nos quieren sacar el varo, te caciquean y luego ni dejan pasar a la gente, y si eres menor, olvídalo. Y está chida la nueva generación, está chido ver a morros de dieciséis pasándosela cabrón y que estén en un lugar seguro. El pedo del narco en la Condesa, está muy cabrón. Y aquí no se trata de varo. De hecho debemos varo porque cuando vino Inga nos lucimos con el fee en dólares y rentamos audio de más."

    Seguro que de dinero no se trata. La chela es barata y la entrada cuesta entre 30 y 50 pesos (un par de dólares apenas). El dinero se gasta en comprar chelas y pagar el equipo necesario y siempre hay algo para las bandas. "Está chido que todos se lleven un varo aunque sea pa’ pagar su taxi. O para irnos a desayunar todos a la mañana siguiente." Para seguir con el proyecto, Yomy hace talacha en una oficina de abogados en las mañanas y estudia música e ingeniería, mientras que Benjamín freelancea y chambea organizando fiestas.

    Entonces por fin, ¿es un venue? ¿Es una casa? ¿Es un espacio comunitario? ¿O tal vez es un clandestino post-azteca bladeruneando hacia el siglo 21? Tocar aquí es casi tan tranquilo como ensayar en tu propia casa. Pero puedes volar el sonido, desgarrarte los pulmones, o susurrar porque todo el mundo está tan juntito y apretadito. Y estás allí con un público que se siente como un grupo de tus primos y amigos y familia extendida. Pero claro que estos no son tus primos ñoños, o tal vez lo son, pero también son todos los "fucked up children of the world," como diría Spacemen 3. Y Sheena la perra está ladrando, y todo está bien pinche sucio, y tu cerveza igual está fría, igual no tanto. Y te la estás pasando chingón. Y también la harpía vecina (una de las dos ya pasó a mejor vida). Y los chavitos también. Y no están baleando a nadie. Lo cual, hoy en día, en esta cultura obsesionada con la muerte, en la que desaparecen estudiantes, le disparan a morritos, y el capitalismo desenfrenado se dedica a negarle a la juventud sus cuerpos, y sus vidas, entonces esta pequeña Acid House, patrocinada por las chambitas de dos activistas entusiastas y melomaníacos, se siente como el paraíso.

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    Profiles: All Apologies: DIIV’s Zachary Cole Smith Returns From the Brink

    DIIV: "Under the Sun" (via SoundCloud)

    Zachary Cole Smith is running behind. Three minutes after our designated meeting time of 1:45 p.m., the lead singer of DIIV shoots me a text saying he’s just woken up. He shows up 20 minutes later, profusely apologetic, and says he was trying to tidy up his Williamsburg apartment before I came over. When he opens the door, though, the place is a mess.

    Stuffed cardboard boxes line the walls. Used Solo cups and plastic forks litter the kitchen. The floor is covered with ephemera: a DIIV gig poster from 2012; a European electric adapter; a special edition of Rolling Stone focusing on Nirvana, which Smith flips through from time to time as we sit in his living room. There are multiple stand-alone clothing racks crammed with outfits belonging to Smith and his girlfriend, singer Sky Ferreira, who is away working in Los Angeles on this September afternoon. It looks like the pair just moved in. They’ve actually been living there for a few months.

    Smith is sporting the same oversized T-shirt and colorful baggy pants that he wore onstage a couple of days before. The band is due to embark on a tour the following week, and Smith still has to finish mixing four of the 17 songs on Is the Is Are, DIIV’s long-awaited sophomore album. The frontman is DIIV’s creative engine, and the record’s completion hinges on his ability to cram. “None of the songs have titles, which is so dumb,” he tells me, his platinum-blue hair tucked behind his ears. “I just have to go on a vision quest.” 

    We leave the apartment and head to a nearby sandwich shop. While we wait for food, Smith starts singing along to “Heroine (Got Nothing on You),” a song by former Girls frontman Christopher Owens that is playing over the speakers. He points out a line—“I need my heroine too!”—that he finds hilarious, and talks about his admiration for Owens, whose struggles with opiates have been well documented. Smith notes how Owens’ solo material hasn’t received as much attention as his work with Girls and wonders if that has affected his creative courage. “When you think you’ve failed, it can change everything,” he says.

    After eating, we file into Smith’s tour van. “We’re trying to extend the life of guitar music,” he says as he drives, echoing proclamations he has made in past interviews. The singer has talked freely about the possibility of becoming a new Kurt Cobain and, over the last three years, he has accumulated a relative measure of celebrity unique to indie rock musicians due to his relationship with Ferreira, his distilled Brooklyn fashion sense, and his penchant for saying objectively wild shit (like the Cobain stuff).

    But in that time, relatively straightforward guitar bands like DIIV have become increasingly less chic in the world of independent music. And now, Smith says he would be happy if his band’s new record simply does as well as their 2012 debut, Oshin. “Guitar music isn’t what people are talking about, and I don’t know if it’s 100 percent what the world needs,” he admits. “My ambitions are higher, of course, but I have to consider all options, because I don’t know what will happen.”

    This newfound humility comes in the wake of an incident that occurred on September 13, 2013, when Smith and Ferreira were pulled over in a car in upstate New York en route to the Basilica Music Festival. The car contained heroin and ecstasy, and they were booked on misdemeanor charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance. The heroin was Smith’s, but Ferreira was implicated as an addict and lost a number of modeling contracts. Along with the public embarrassment, Smith was also forced to move out of an upstate house he had maintained for several years when his landlord heard about the arrest on the radio. 

    Following the bust, the couple’s comparisons to Kurt and Courtney took on a darker edge. They were typecast as “druggy losers,” as Smith puts it. He requests we don’t talk too much about the arrest but then launches into an explanation with only the slightest prompting. “What happened to us was really shitty and traumatic, and it wasn’t something I did to get attention—it was the worst possible thing that could have happened at that moment,” he says. “I knew it was going to take a really good album to save me. That’s what made it so hard to write, and why it took so long. If I didn’t make a great record, then I’m done. That’s it. I’m fucked.”

    The arrest coincided with a period when Smith was in the throes of his addiction and wasn’t finishing any work. “The material just wasn’t there,” says Mike Sniper, the founder of DIIV’s label, Captured Tracks. “It was this hump to get over.” Of course, there’s a long tradition of rock musicians using heroin to inspire their best music—think Lou Reed, Neil Young, Keith Richards—but Smith found no truth in such myths. “You can’t write music when you’re high,” he says plainly. “You can’t do much of anything productive.”

    “Dopamine” was one of the first songs Smith wrote after leaving rehab in January 2014, three months after the arrest. (He says he went to rehab of his own volition, after anticipating a judge would order him to attend.) Last September, the song was released as Is the Is Are’s first single. “Dopamine” is a clash of styles—an echoing guitar progression matched against manic vocals that confront mortality while describing the trembling grip of a cocaine and heroin-fueled trip. “Eardrums shaking, years start weighing me down,” he sings. “Buried deep in a heroin sleep.” Smith shared the track’s lyrics online, so that its message could not be misunderstood. “When I see kids with no experience with anything talking about ‘Dopamine’ as a heroin record, I want it to be a cautionary tale,” he says. “Look at the words. Look at what happened to me.”

    DIIV: "Dopamine" (via SoundCloud)

    Much of Is the Is Are is informed by Smith’s experiences from this time: his struggle with heroin, his self-doubt over his art, his relationship with Ferreira. “I’m not a storyteller,” he says. “I’m just telling my own story, in a way.” He describes himself as a cloud hovering over Ferreira’s light, a metaphor employed on “Dopamine.” “I hope that she doesn’t feel that way, but I sometimes did,” he says. “For her to be caught up in that just because she was in the car with an out-of-control person… the fact that she stuck by me after all that shit is just crazy.” (Ferreira declined to comment for this article.) 

    Smith was in rehab for 12 days, where he says he kicked the habit, and many of the songs on Is the Is Are were written soon after he got out. “Take Your Time” addresses recovery culture, while a windswept track called “Bent (Roi’s Song)” was inspired by a psychic who told Ferreira that if Smith didn’t stop using drugs, one of his friends would die. Smith took it as a warning about two friends struggling with substance abuse. “I saw you with a very loose grip on your tight ship,” he sings on the track, calling back to a Cat Power lyric. “And I lost you when you said one hit couldn’t hurt a bit.” Both friends have since sobered up; Smith calls “Bent” his favorite song on the album.

    DIIV: "Bent (Roi's Song)" (via SoundCloud)

    Most of Is the Is Are took full form at the beginning of 2015, when DIIV decamped to Los Angeles to rehearse at a warehouse. Since Smith was also mixing the band’s music for the first time, he was free to follow every creative impulse—a process that stretched through most of last year. Kurt Feldman, an audio engineer who worked with Smith over the summer, describes him as the kind of artist who gets to the end of a project and can’t let it go.

    Is the Is Are isn’t a radical departure from Oshin’s crystalline guitar lines and lockstep rhythm section—as Smith puts it, they’ll always sound like DIIV—but it’s clearly the work of a more mature artist. Along with appearing on a harrowing song called “Blue Boredom” and inspiring a part of the album’s emotional core, Ferreira also guided him toward being a more diligent lyricist, as he drew from literary influences like Frank O’Hara and Sherman Alexie. His aim was to make Is the Is Are sound more insistent than Oshin, shedding the vague “vibe” of their reverb-heavy sound without losing their characteristic dreaminess. 

    Smith used the piercing and noisy textures of Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising as a touchpoint, but despite that artful influence, DIIV are probably closer to the Cure and the Smashing Pumpkins—bands that were unapologetically earnest about their exposed feelings. Because of the way they look and the world they live in, DIIV register as a collection of weird hipsters in big shirts, but their appeal is deeply resonant for people who see past the affectation. They tap into an emotion the Japanese call setsunai, a sort of bittersweet longing for something very dear.

    Smith’s speaking voice is innocent and enthusiastic—he would be a perfect choice to narrate a Boy Scouts training video. But this outward friendliness is coupled with a savviness that reveals itself the longer we talk. He’s intensely aware of how he comes off, and he speaks candidly about changing DIIV’s “narrative.” He’s a person who knows exactly what he wants and what he can affect to attain it. He is self-critical, but he’s clear about wanting his art to be successful. At times, I wonder if he feels slighted because he aspires to be a rock star in an indie world where such aspirations can be seen as a bit gauche.

    Smith grew up in Connecticut and spent a chunk of his teenage years in New York City. After an aborted stint at Massachusetts’ Hampshire College, he moved back to NYC with a girl he had only known for a couple of weeks. Their impromptu living arrangement eventually became awkward, and Smith decided to explore the rest of America, to mixed results. An attempt to live in San Francisco with his father, a musician who played with the ’80s hair metal band Scandal and wrote commercial jingles, quickly went awry. He ended up settling back in New York around 2007, selling weed to make ends meet.

    One day, he tried to get a job at Angelica Kitchen, an organic food restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village. The guy at the front counter didn’t have a position, but he liked Smith’s weird, long-haired look. He asked Smith if he played bass and if he wanted to join his band. Smith played guitar in high school, but he had never touched a bass in his life. Still, he joined that band. Later on, he was approached on the subway by another guy who was also enamored with his look and wanted to know if he played drums. Smith didn’t play drums. But he joined that band, too.

    “I knew it was going to take a really good album to save me. That’s what made it so hard to write, and why it took so long. If I didn’t make a great record, then I’m done. That’s it. I’m fucked.”

    —Zachary Cole Smith

    Shortly thereafter, he joined yet another band called Beach Fossils, which was then part of a nascent Brooklyn DIY scene. Though Smith joined as a drummer, he eventually switched to guitar and also started working on his own material. In 2011, Beach Fossils bassist John Pena was starting a label called Olympic Traits, and Smith asked if he could release a single through it as a new band: Dive. (The name change came in 2012 after it turned out they shared the moniker with an older German band.) Smith hand printed the sleeve for a hundred CDs containing two songs and began passing them out at Beach Fossils shows.

    Mike Sniper was sitting at the Captured Tracks office when the label’s former project manager, Katie Garcia, played the Dive single on her laptop speakers. “I remember whirling my chair around like, ‘What is this?’” he says. Garcia told him it was the band led by that androgynous-looking guy who played guitar in Beach Fossils, and Sniper says he knew he was going to sign them.

    When Smith was looking to put a band together, his roommate recommended Devin Ruben Perez, an elfin scenester who worked the door at now-defunct Brooklyn DIY venue 285 Kent; Perez joined up after he decided his Chinese astrology signs aligned with Smith’s perfectly. Andrew Bailey, Smith’s childhood friend, came in as a guitarist. Colby Hewitt, who had recently been kicked out of Smith Westerns, sat behind the drums.

    They began playing shows across Brooklyn at spaces like 285 Kent, Glasslands, and Monster Island Basement, acquiring a lofty reputation. From the start, they had a very defined idea of what it took to be an engaging rock band, and their charisma was a study in contrasts: Smith and Bailey ping-ponged across the stage as Perez stood to the side, cutting a brooding figure. Meanwhile, their style—so many big shirts!—was immediately eye-catching. It also helped that their songs were dynamic and well-constructed, owing to Smith’s various apprenticeships. 

    Ric Leichtung—who used to edit the Pitchfork-owned site Altered Zones—frequently booked DIIV at 285 Kent, and he concedes that, “on paper, they’re a Brooklyn dream-pop boy band.” But he adds that their appeal was elevated by an intangible quality many bands look for but never find. No one I talk to can sum up DIIV’s appeal in the abstract, though everyone agrees it all snaps together onstage.

    Though the burden of completing Is the Is Are falls mostly on Smith’s shoulders, he’s quick to praise DIIV’s other members. Drummer Ben Newman, who officially joined in 2015 after Hewitt left, and multi-instrumentalist Colin Caulfield, who joined following Oshin, helped solder the musical scraps into complete songs, as Smith isn’t trained in music theory. 

    And Smith calls Perez a “musical genius” who embodies the most mysterious and interesting aspects of the band. But Perez threatened to derail DIIV less than a year ago, when he was accused of making several offensive statements on 4chan, the largely unfiltered message board frequented by anonymous trolls. (Unbelievably, he had identified himself in his posts.) Perez wrote unflatteringly of Perfect Pussy singer Meredith Graves and said he found Grimes’ Claire Boucher “physically repulsive.” He told anti-Semitic jokes, and repeatedly used slurs like “nigger” and “faggot.”

    In the context of 4chan’s bilious atmosphere, it was, sadly, nothing unique. In the context of DIIV’s existence as a Brooklyn band making music in a supposedly progressive scene, it suddenly seemed like they were employing an unrepentant bigot. “I’m so fucking disgusted,” Smith wrote on Twitter after Perez’s posts came to light. “I will never EVER tolerate sexism, racism, homophobia, bullying, or bigotry of any kind. I’m doing everything to get to the bottom of this.” Perez apologized, claiming he “just said some dumb shit on an anime message board.”

    Originally, Smith says he intended to kick Perez out, but demurred after a “super real” conversation. Perez is half-black and half-Dominican, and Smith says the accusations of racism were being made by white listeners who had never experienced any firsthand discrimination. He says Perez was abandoned by his family and bullied endlessly because of his race when he was younger. After weighing what he knew, Smith decided to let him stay. “Devin’s place in the band isn’t guaranteed,” he says. “There’s still a lot more conversation that needs to be had.” (Perez was not made available for an interview.)

    A week after my first visit to Smith’s apartment, I’m once again sitting on his couch. The apartment is just as cluttered—he says he’ll clean up before the band goes on tour. The sun goes down as we talk, and Smith’s energy is flagging. As he explains his decision to keep Perez in the band, he digresses several times. His voice recedes to a low whisper, and he begins to stare into the distance, almost shrinking in his seat. He speaks at length about the culture of 4chan, the long shadow of white supremacy, the hypocrisy of white cisgendered people complaining about white cisgendered people, and so on.

    All of this helps rationalize his answer, which ultimately does not seem that complicated: Perez stayed in DIIV because he and Smith are close, and Smith would rather deal with the criticism than change the dynamic of the band. “Cole definitely identifies with Devin on some levels that no one will understand,” Sniper says. “They find some solace in each other. Ostracizing themselves from other people is almost like comfort for them.” 

    These sorts fuck ups made DIIV a more controversial band, for better and worse. Smith knows that having a rep as “the shoegaze band with the propulsive rhythm section and strong melodic guitar parts,” is less attention-grabbing than being “the fucking racist heroin addict, crazy-dressing guy who dates Sky Ferreira.” He talks about a halcyon period when DIIV were still riding high on the success of Oshin, and his relationship with Ferreira was blooming. But the stigma of the arrest and the issues with Perez attracted enough negative attention that Smith could no longer glide through his world. Instead, he felt forced to put everything into this one record to justify himself as a musician and not just a heat-seeking dilettante. 

    The longer we talk, the more Smith hedges his bets about Is the Is Are. It’s the record he wanted to make—and he truly believes it’s near-perfect—but he doesn’t know how it’ll pay off. He talks casually about making a third record, hopefully in less time than this one. When I ask what he wants it to sound like, he says: “darker.”

    In November, DIIV play to a capacity crowd at New York’s Webster Hall on the last night of their fall tour. Before the doors open, Smith and I sit inside his van. He’s wearing a new outfit for once, and his hair is dyed back to a glowing peroxide blonde. But he looks tired.

    Finally, the record is finished, song titles and all. “They literally took it away from me,” Smith says, describing how even as the band was driving from city-to-city, he was trying to tweak the masters. He spent two hours tinkering with a song called “Incarnate Devil” only to realize that the original was better—and with this, he seemed to grasp the edges of his obsession. “It just has to come out,” he tells me. A few days prior, they released “Bent (Roi’s Song)” as the album’s second single, but the reaction to the song wasn’t what Smith was expecting; he notes with a grimace that changing DIIV’s Facebook profile picture got nearly three times the likes as the post announcing the song. 

    DIIV: "Mire (Grant's Song)" (via SoundCloud) 

    It’s the day after Smith’s 30th birthday, and he’s supposed to get a celebratory dinner with his mother and sister before the show. As we talk, his sister calls. Smith becomes agitated as he listens to her. It turns out she’s trying to cancel the dinner, because she thinks it will be too hectic. “I just want to get dinner with my family,” he tells her. When he hangs up, he becomes extremely quiet and wipes tears out of his eyes. “It’s just fucking lonely,” he says. He says the only person who called him on his birthday was his grandmother. 

    “Being on tour makes people feel disconnected from me,” he says. “I always get really emotional at hometown shows because I feel like all the people I know and interact with on a daily basis are all treating me differently, because they have to step carefully. I’m like, ‘It’s just me.’ It really seeps into my soul and hurts. I’m not supposed to be up on this stage. It’s supposed to be one-on-one, on the same level, but at shows everybody gets a little weird. I mean, I’m sure I get weird. But I have a hard time doing this sometimes.” 

    “That might be the price of getting bigger,” I say.

    “Yeah. I really want this record to do well. So it’s really important for me to represent it the best I can and play the songs well and get the roll out right and get everything perfect because if I do then that’s my chance to make something of myself. And if I fail, at least I know I did my best.”

    His sister calls back. They agree to meet at a bar instead, though Smith isn’t sure if he can get in since his ID is at the Argentinean consulate, where it’s being registered ahead of their upcoming South American tour. We say our goodbyes, and he slips inside the venue.

    That evening, DIIV perform most of Is the Is Are for a rowdy crowd that flips out over songs they’re hearing for the first time. A reel of home movies shot by Smith is projected against a banner that takes up the entire backdrop of the stage, showing a variety of scenes: Ferreira watching “Beavis and Butt-Head” and blowing bubblegum; a photograph of Kurt Cobain taped to a bathroom stall door; night vision footage of the band hanging out; an extended text message from a friend that begins with “haha no worries man.”

    Throughout the show, Smith doesn’t seem fully comfortable. He complains about the truncated length of his guitar cable, which is preventing him from moving freely around the stage, and at one point says the overly bright lights are making it feel “like a fucking talent show.” Still, the crowd is too responsive for the band not to lose themselves. Eventually, Smith loosens up. He gets a longer guitar cable; the lights dim down. He tells the crowd about his birthday. The whole room screams for him.

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    Interviews: The Indivisible D∆WN

    D∆WN: "Hollywould" (via SoundCloud)

    Dawn Richard believes in third acts, in the swelling denouement of the final scene. Raised in a literary family—her mom has a master’s degree in reading comprehension and her grandmother was a library science major—she is quick to mention how she devoured Shakespeare as a little girl growing up in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, cribbing notes from him on how to close out a plotline. She studied his structures: First came the giddy build-up, then the somber dark night of the soul, and finally, the revelation of truths, that triumphant and often tragic sense of release. “I lived in the library with my grandmother as a child,” says the singer and songwriter also known as D∆WN. “I still love the smell of books; the library card is still my friend.”

    So when she decided to go solo after nearly five years of working with Diddy and Bad Boy—first as a member of the pop-forward girl group Danity Kane, and then in Diddy’s Dirty Money collective—she saw her musical future unspooling in these three acts. First came 2013's Goldenheart, a majestic, gilded, shape-shifting R&B record that told the story of a love affair in mythological terms. In what she calls her “Gold Era,” Richard cast herself as Joan of Arc, plowing through the frontlines of love with oversized emotions and huge beats as her armor. “People were calling it ‘Dungeons and Dragons R&B,’” she tells me, speaking on the phone from Los Angeles, where she moved recently to finish the final part of her trilogy. “When I first came into the music industry, I had this bold idea of what I wanted to say, and it was almost this Lancelot mentality: I charged ahead. Goldenheart was all about being this hero of my own story.” 

    But then, as in any good fairy tale, the hero must meet a challenge. And as Richard found out, releasing an uncategorizable R&B album on her own came with more hurdles than she ever expected. No one knew how to describe or sell her sound. She did all the marketing herself, all the publicity, all the booking. She announced the second installment of her saga, Blackheart, but before it could emerge she tried wading back into the comfort of working with Danity Kane and Bad Boy—only to find that it was not comfortable at all.

    So Richard kept making her own sounds, co-producing most of the beats on Blackheart herself. What emerged was a melancholy, pulsing vision of the future. But the record is also punctuated by moments of victory; when her voice breaks through on the chorus of “Warriors,” it sounds like a battle cry. Blackheart is an R&B record that has the audacity to not sound like R&B at all; some of the quietest moments feature just Richard’s voice and a piano. She manages to live inside her own genre, somewhere between futurism and ancient ballads, between Janelle Monáe, Rihanna, and Adele (speaking of which, Richard also made my favorite cover of “Hello” last year). And yet these comparisons are just boundaries, and Richard is not interested in boundaries—she makes independent records specifically to avoid them.

    The forthcoming RED•emp•tion is the exultant conclusion of her trilogy. “Jubilation is where I am now,” she says. “There is a sense of home and self. I really got back to my New Orleans roots—my grandfather played with Fats Domino. We had to leave after Katrina, but I feel like, spiritually, I’m back there. RED is so vibrant; so full of rhythm. It makes you want to move your feet, like you’ve found something deep in yourself.”

    “There's always going to be a fight between mainstream and underground because they both see themselves as secret societies. But I’ve learned that when either side doesn’t know how to classify you, that’s when you start to have some fun.”

    —Dawn Richard

    Pitchfork: Did you always conceive of your solo albums as a trilogy? 

    Dawn Richard: Yes. I’ve always loved literature, and the best books I read were always trilogies. I thought if I gave people all of my journey in one go, it could be overwhelming and easily forgotten, and I didn’t want to make an album where the single was so popular that you overlook the whole record. So three parts felt right—it’s a number that can’t be divided into. And color has always evoked emotion for me: visually, internally, emotionally. I felt like color-coding it and putting an identity to each story gives people an opportunity to pick and choose what emotions they feet at the time and a chance to fight over which is better. It causes conversation. That’s what art really is. And if you are the type of confused misfit that I am, you like the size and length of the entire trilogy. It becomes this ride you feel you need to be on, like a life rollercoaster. 

    D∆WN: "Roses" (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: How would you describe each record to someone hearing them for the first time?

    DR: Each album sounds exactly like its color. I love [Austrian painter] Gustav Klimt, whose work evokes an emotion of regalness. He put patches of real gold into The Kiss and Danaë, and, with the Gold Era, I wanted to do an album that was as naive and loud and overwhelming as those paintings. That album was also written as an actual book, about 37 pages written-out in full.

    Whereas in the Black Era, there was this huge realization that there are so many dark moments in the industry. I had a really big fall around that time—I lost my grandmother, there were breakups in the groups. A lot of Blackheart was me literally in a dark room, confessing my sins; Poe was the influence for that album. But that melancholy has a hopefulness—in every Poe story, there is always a moral at the end.

    Now, in the Red Era, I’m ready to dance again. That’s why we put out “Dance” as the first single; I’m connected back to the dance studio I grew up in. And there is a lot of poetry on the album, similar to the way Oscar Wilde would write something—I have a fucking huge Oscar Wilde library. It always starts with the writing for me.

    Pitchfork: After working with Diddy for so long, you decided you needed to put out your solo work totally independently. Was that a reaction to working with a big label?

    DR: In a way. The only person who can confine you is yourself. Even in independent music, people push towards radio. It is very political. There’s always going to be a fight between mainstream and underground because the mainstream is a very small bubble, and the underground scene is a very small bubble, and they both see themselves as secret societies. But I never saw it that way. I always thought music was open to all things. I sit in this middle place, where I have been able to see and play with both, and because of that, it has been very difficult for either side to claim me. I’ve learned that you only become as creative as you possibly can by staying independent. When either side doesn’t know how to classify you, that’s when you start to have some fun. You become this kid that nobody wants, and you start living in your own world and making your own joy for yourself. And when you look up, everyone says, “Oh, that’s kind of cool, how did you make that?” and you say, “It’s because you motherfuckers wouldn’t let me in!”

    Pitchfork: It's interesting how you can talk about yourself as an outsider even though your big break was “Making the Band.” How do you look back on your past in terms of your own creation myth?

    DR: I've always been an outsider kid, even when I was on that show. But I had always wanted to be in a group—growing up, I loved bands like the Cranberries and K's Choice. I'm not going to say I'll never rock with a band, because I'm too much of a fan of the aesthetic of a great band. But a girl group? Not again.

    I had big ideas when I was in Danity Kane. But at the time, it wasn’t like I could walk up to Puff and be like, “I was looking at this Aphex Twin video where this guy's eyeballs were backwards and I'm thinking maybe we do that." It wasn't where we were. So I had to appreciate other things about music, like the writing and the cadence and dealing with producers. I became a student. I wanted to learn the actual idea of what this industry was before I could creatively speak a lot of the things that I wanted to speak.

    None of those things ever really worked out because they weren't really organic. So I'm just now doing the shit that I loved when I was a kid in New Orleans. People look at me now and say, “Oh Dawn, you're an outsider and this is cool,” but my best friends are like, “Girl, you look like you looked when you were 12.” I'm just being the artist that I would have loved if I was a child.

    D∆WN: "Physical" (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: Were there any positives in working with a major label? 

    DR: Major labels limit you, but I also learned my tricks from getting around that. When I was with Puff, there were moments of confinement, but I did get to play with many different genres inside Bad Boy too, and a lot of artists never get to do that. Learning that flexibility molded me into the kind of artist I am now, who can walk between all these tribes. But in being on my own, business-wise, I have been more flexible. I can mold this into my own vision because there is no manager, no booking agent; it’s literally me and my partner doing everything. At a label, you are confined to the team you have, but I did all my solo work myself, and that makes you more agile and able to go into weirder corners.

    Pitchfork: One of those weird corners that you really seem to dive into is your visual presentation. Your videos feel so heightened and strange, like they sprung out of a dream.

    DR: We work on the visions of the songs everyday; I grew up in the dance school my mother owned, and I see everything in body shapes, everything visual. When Goldenheart came out, I envisioned it as a 17-song cinematic experience, because I had seen what Michael Jackson and Missy Elliott and Björk had done with videos, and I wanted to be a part of that. But financially, I only had the money to one video. I felt cheated, I was so pissed. 

    So I promised with Blackheart that I would work my ass off to have the budget to tell visual stories and let people see what I was seeing in my head. And thus we made nine videos in one year, which is unheard of for any artist who isn’t Beyoncé. The visuals are so important, because that is how people understand what I am doing. I have been doing choreography my whole life, and it’s so important to make that marriage between music and the body. Like in the “Titans” video, where we become pixelated, I wanted the choreography to transcend human form.

    Pitchfork: Who are the artists that are out there now that you really respect? Not necessarily that you want to sound like or anything, but who do you think is really doing it well? 

    DR: I like Girlpool because they're a tongue-in-cheek, old-school alternative girl band—no effects, real chanty. It's like a toy girl punk band, and nobody else is doing that. They're on some other shit, and I respect the risk of it. 

    D∆WN: "Hello (D∆WNMix)" (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: Why did you decide to do the cover of Adele’s "Hello"?

    DR: It's just really well-written. I've only covered a few songs because I feel that if you're not going to go beyond the original artist in some way, then don't disrespect what they created. With “Hello,” I felt it would be cool to put a different perspective on it. She sings like she is crying, but I thought it would be dope if it was more conversational, almost anti-emotional. I thought it might bomb, but I just didn't give a fuck. And it received the most overwhelmingly positive response that I've ever got. More than anything, with “Hello” and everything else, I want people to understand that this is not a style, it's a signature. You're going to know a D∆WN record when you hear it.

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    Electric Fling: The New Miami Sound Machines

    A1 “Right to Wynwood”

    Telescope Thieves: "Afterparty @ Lagniappe (You're Never Happy)" (via SoundCloud)

    In her 1987 book Miami, Joan Didion wrote, “Nothing about Miami was exactly fixed, or hard… a certain liquidity suffused everything about the place.” More recently, Grimes described the city as a “post-apocalyptic Barbie world: everything is pink, and there’re palm trees everywhere. But then there are also… warehouses with sick parties where all the girls are covered in spikes and black leather. It’s a very weird place.”

    Five minutes after landing one October afternoon, that weird fluidity of Miami manifests: The wind surges to life, the blue skies turn into a haze of silver, and a sudden downpour makes traffic on the MacArthur Causeway come to a halt. Then, just as quickly, it’s back to that paradisiacal climate. 

    The skies remain clear for the opening night of the third annual III Points Festival, which takes place in the center of the buzzing neighborhood of Mana Wynwood. The three-day event features acts like Run the Jewels, Bonobo, Nicolas Jaar, and Toro y Moi as well as dozens of local Miami bands and producers, offering a big stage for the city to show off its own talent.

    In a few short years, Wynwood has changed from derelict gang turf to an edgy gallery district—a gentrification process that has been staggering in its speed. Mario De Los Santos, the Miami-born future beats producer who goes by Telescope Thieves, remembers how Wynwood used to be a “scary, lock-your-windows, shouldn't-even-be-out ghost town” in the ’90s. “And now…” he says, surveying an artisanal coffee shop and streets full of people strolling in and out of galleries at their leisure. Just down the road is a Vice office; the influx of new residents is pushing the artistic community further out to neighborhoods like Little Haiti.

    Telescope Thieves: "Haven" (via SoundCloud)

    For locals, Wynwood is now starting to resemble South Beach, with its shots bars and telltale club music emanating from every street corner. But there was a time when even the sleek, garish South Beach was known as having “the sickest, poorest and oldest population in America,” so this latest facelift might be yet another example of Miami’s strange fluidity.

    A graffitied tunnel runs through III Points Festival in Miami.

    A2 “III Points”

    Walking the grounds of III Points, artworks of all shapes and sizes are tucked into strange corners. There’s a black tunnel festooned with graffiti, leading to glowing teepees and a centralized pyramid that could be designed by Obey; taken together, these structures act as the hub for the festival’s five stages. Like any well-curated fest, there’s tough choices to be made: between Nico Jaar and Neon Indian, Run the Jewels and the booming house of Bicep, King Krule and Wolf + Lamb. Move beyond the big-font headliners, though, and homegrown new discoveries are plentiful.

    “III Points has done wonders for Miami,” Santos says. “You don't even think about playing Ultra if you're a local guy,” he continues, talking about another big Miami dance festival. “But III Points gives a lot of time slots to locals—last year, I got to play with one of my heroes, Flying Lotus.” 

    Bedside: III Points Mix (via SoundCloud)

    “Miami has gone through so many stages,” adds Travis Acker, bassist and producer for local act Bedside, which mixes live band instrumentation with heavier dance music tropes. He lists the small but vibrant scenes that have come and gone through the years: soul, disco, Latin fusion, booty music, even ’90s rock. It’s a strange musical heritage that spans from KC & the Sunshine Band to 2 Live Crew to hard rockers Load.

    Acker and Bedside trumpeter Trace Barfield played in ska bands through the ’90s, but as club DJs started to take over in the new millennium, the two saw a way to “bring live elements into electronic dance music,” as Acker puts it, and the group adapted. Onstage, the duo fans out to a sextet that includes trumpet, sax, backup singers, drums and percussion, creating an expansive disco sound. Even taking the stage opposite a performance from Ghostface and DOOM, Bedside have a sizeable crowd dancing.

    Bedside live at III Points Festival. Photo by Jason Koerner.

    B1 “Antes tú me llamabas al iPhone” 

    The ceaseless thump of South Beach, perpetuated by Winter Music Conference and Ultra, or by Pitbull and Ne-Yo singing “Time of Our Lives,” out-glares most of what’s happening in the city’s underground, but the sound of a much older Miami sputtered back to life and surreptitiously overtook the charts at the end of last summer. Thanks to a sample in Drake’s “Hotline Bling,” one-man lounge band Timmy Thomas’ Vietnam War-era plea for peace, “Why Can't We Live Together," became the inescapable beat of 2015.

    Fuego: "Cuando Suena el Bling (Hotline Bling Remix)" (via SoundCloud)

    I hear that chugging, hissing rhythm no less than four times during the III Points Festival. It’s nestled into a Grandmaster Flash afterparty set ranging from Top 40 to Mark the 45 King. I hear it during a daytime barbecue, in passing SUVs, and as a highlight of Sango’s Saturday night set—except, in true Miami fashion, the version Sango drops is by Pitbull signee, Fuego. “Cuando Suena El Bling” emulates the many cultures and ethnicities at play in the city: a Cuban cha-cha beat that travels up through a South Florida lounge organ helmed by an African-American, continues on into Toronto so as to be sent back South and appropriated by a Miami-based, Dominican singer-rapper, returning that riddim to its Caribbean heritage and wrecking Miami with it all over again.

    Artworks of all shapes and sizes are tucked into strange corners at III Points Festival. Photo by Jason Koerner.

    B2 “The American Dream”

    It’s the middle of the afternoon, and the Miami air is approaching a cotton-like viscosity. And yet, the well-coiffed Mickey de Grand IV and his bandmates in Psychic Mirrors don’t break a sweat. In fact, they’re dressed mostly in black, with black loafers, black silk socks, and high-waisted black slacks, discussing their Cuban heritage and the way their parents think about their adopted country.

    “People hate on Walt Disney, but Disney World is the shit,” he says. Bassist Antoine Rocky-Horror agrees, adding: “Our parents were straight-up come to America, Coca-Cola and Disney, the American Dream.” 

    Psychic Mirrors: "Charlene" (via SoundCloud)

    “My grandfather was his grandfather's lieutenant in the Bay of Pigs,” de Grand says, pointing at vocalist Al Batlle. Batlle nods but corrects him: “Second lieutenant. And my dad held your dad when he was a baby in Havana.” These connections prove de Grand’s bigger point: “Our families are intertwined like that. Growing up, we always thought Miami was so big, but it's really, really small.”

    Despite being raised in Little Havana, de Grand paints himself an outlier on the Miami scene, but his musical sensibilities are such that he would be an outlier no matter the city or the trend. He was reared on orchestral music by his abuela, got a scholarship to City College of New York to study jazz orchestral arranging, and counts both Gil Evans and Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine as musical heroes.

    Psychic Mirrors: "Midnight Special" (via SoundCloud)

    With his friends, he founded the Cosmic Chronic label in 2011, releasing four hazy boogie singles that now fetch ludicrous sums online. And while de Grand released an album of sleazy disco edits last year entitled Eye Witness, he says that his new solo album, Fantasy, released under the name Rosemary Qarr, is “‘Murder, She Wrote’ music—like Angela Lansbury shit, just really bugged-out shit.” A proper Psychic Mirrors full-length, entitled Nature of Evil, is to follow later this year.

    Psychic Mirrors: "Head of the Class"

    In 2014, one of de Grand’s close friends and bandmates, Louis Salgar, returned to their home studio, interrupting a robbery in progress. He was shot and killed in the house. “Everything after that dropped off and I didn't know what to do,” de Grand says, shaking his head at the senseless tragedy. He and his girlfriend wound up relocating to L.A. to get a bit of distance from their hometown. This weekend is a rare return for de Grand and an even rarer live performance from Psychic Mirrors.

    When the band takes the stage at III Points on Sunday night, they don’t quite bring to mind Miami Sound Machine. Their falsetto-laced synth funk instead evokes the likes of Dâm-Funk, Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life,” and Jam-Lewis era of the S.O.S. Band. A crowd of locals moves toward the stage, and the wind picks up, as if another rain shower is imminent. But no water comes. Looking up, I notice a whirring drone overhead, taking in the performance.

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    Articles: Living Rooms: Exploring London's Corsica Studios

    In the third installment of Living Rooms: Global Punk & DIY Venues, a series that looks at DIY clubs around the world, writer Laura Snapes and photographers Toby Keane, Sophie Harris Taylor, and Fresh to Death visit Corsica Studios, a venue in London.

    The overground line from Kings Cross St. Pancras to Elephant and Castle traces the spread of London gentrification from north to south, as well as Corsica Studios’ various homes over the past two decades. The grotty railway arches that the club occupied early on now back onto the glossy Eurostar terminal, from which it takes 15 minutes to get to Corsica's current home; a journey that emerges on a platform adjoined to a shabby shopping center. Incomplete flats tower overhead, an omen of impending change in the borough of Southwark.

    Regeneration has been on the cards for Elephant and Castle since the turn of the millennium. Back in 1965, this shopping center was Europe's first covered mall. Now it houses some chain stores and a bowling alley, along with a shop selling waist trainers, and a Polish delicatessen. The recession saved it from demolition in 2010, but it will soon go the way of its old neighbor the Heygate Estate, the sprawling 1970s housing project that was recently torn down to make way for a more modern development—one with a significantly lower social housing commitment.

    The message is clear. As the Radical Housing Network points out, Fred Manson, formerly of the council, was open in his view that Elephant and Castle needed "a better class of people." According to the 2011 census, the borough is only 39.7 per cent White British; the area has strong Afro-Caribbean and Latin American communities. The regeneration of Elephant and Castle is social cleansing with a £1.5bn budget and a smile. And right in the middle of the council-defined "Core Area" for regeneration, between the shopping center and the Heygate's ruins, are the two railway arches that house Corsica Studios, regarded by lovers of dark sounds played at teeth-trembling volume as the best club in London.

    Corsica founders Amanda Moss and Adrian Jones always knew this moment was coming. They met back in 1995, an art student and a musician in search for cheap studio space to fill with friends’ art and events. Work on the Channel Tunnel had begun in Kings Cross, meaning that properties frozen in preparation for the development were available cheaply. That’s how they spent their first three years experimenting in a former porno studio. "That wasn’t the thing that led us there," Jones clarifies, sitting between Moss and in-house promoter Chris Gold. It’s mid-January. Come Friday, Corsica’s two arches will be filled with the fog of sweaty bodies, but tonight they’re quiet, as the below-stairs HQ is busy preparing for their second weekend of 2016.

    They adapted to instability, spending 18 months in nearby Highbury (on Corsica Street, hence the name), before moving to their first railway arch. That’s where the parties started, around 1999. "People would do quite large productions, but on an intimate scale—200, 300 people," says Moss, describing them as a backlash against the superclub explosion. Jones recalls a friend who created a winter wonderland out of UV lights, a crucified Santa, and mountains of polystyrene balls acting as snow. "It was completely extravagant. He lost loads of money on the invites—stickers on the back of fake ice cubes, which cost half the budget. But that was typical. It was all about doing something really special and extravagant; throwing an event, consequences be damned."

    Giving their friends and collaborators creative license to make their mark would become part of Corsica’s ethos. "It’s a lot more work to reconfigure everything on someone’s whim," says Jones. "But at the same time it was important to us to allow that freedom of expression."

    That there was a steady stream of empty venues for Corsica to move between now seems fantastical, in a London of stratospheric rents and massive gentrification. The short-term capitalist concept of pop-up shops didn’t exist in that way, says Moss, so there was little competition for the derelict buildings. But while London was their playground, Corsica demanded extreme dedication. "We had nothing, no funding, no money from anyone," says Jones. "We had to do parties to survive, to earn the money to do the space up, and before we knew it we would be told that we’d have to move out, and so it would go on again. It wasn’t really by choice that we had such short notice, but actually by having such low rents, we were able to take a few risks."

    After nine months, they were evicted again. They decided to give Corsica one last shot, and spent three months in a moldy arch underneath Waterloo Station. Their landlord took pity, and led them to the Elephant and Castle arches that they’ve occupied since 2002. They knew that their new home might not survive the slated regeneration, but Moss knew that these projects tended to take a long time, so they took a gamble.

    The space wasn’t legal, though it was among the least of Southwark police’s worries. Shootouts were so common, they weren’t even reported. "Once we were holding an event and people wanted to leave, and there was a full-fledged gang war going on in the street," says Moss. "We couldn’t let people leave the building. Every weekend there would be some sort of problem. Once we couldn’t get to our door because there was police tape around it."

    "They’d found a finger," says Jones.

    Having white proprietors in a multi-ethnic area with sometimes-violent nightlife undoubtedly helped Corsica slip under the radar. But community integration was vital to them: They offered local art students and youth programs free use of the space. When resident dance group Bruk Out had their funding cut, Moss and Jones helped them out. Under the name the Movement Factory, they’re now closely linked with Covent Garden’s prestigious Pineapple Studios.

    Then-Camberwell College of Arts design student Chris Gold approached Corsica about using the venue for a second-year project. He got a taste for promoting, and started staging nights that capitalized on the city’s nu-rave and New Cross scenes, scoring early shows from acts like Florence and the Machine and Mystery Jets. When Gold graduated, Moss and Jones asked him to become their first in-house promoter, spawning their longest-running night, Trouble Vision, which started as a bass party, and now specializes in everything from American house to Nordic disco.

    The space was still incredibly fluid, hosting art exhibitions, dance classes, iconic house/disco/balearic night Low Life, and nights that did a bit of everything. The effort required to constantly shift between different purposes made them realize they would have to focus. "You compromise one or the other if you’re trying to do too much," says Jones.

    Streamlining coincided with going above board in 2006, after one too many mid-party visits from police demanding to know if Corsica was selling alcohol. They had been for four years, but they worked around licensing laws by acting as a private club, printing their own currency (which bore a dancing vagina), making sure everyone was in by midnight, not selling tickets on the door, and not putting prices on the tickets. Now legal, Corsica solidified its reputation as a destination club for discerning fans of techno, dubstep, deep house, some grime, and iconoclastic groups like Sunn O))) and Little Dragon (hosted by their in-house gig arm, Baba Yaga’s Hut).

    Their old anything-goes ethos translated into a dedication to making every night as fully realized as possible. "It’s the difference between throwing a party with a venue or simply at it," says Frank Broughton of Low Life, which ran there from 2004-2015. Krautrock provocateurs Faust took the idea too far in 2006, throwing manure over the audience and setting off smoke bombs designed for a significantly bigger venue. The fog blinded everyone and set off the fire alarms in the shopping center. "That was the only time we’ve evacuated the building," says Moss, who nonetheless calls it a standout night.

    Around 2007 Corsica installed a new soundsystem: the deeply heavy Funktion 1. "There was virtually no venue outside the big clubs that had access to equipment of such fidelity," says Toby Frith of South London underground dance night Bleep43, which started its Corsica nights in 2006. "When we did a party that March, Surgeon showed just what a paradigmatic change was possible."

    "It’s the only venue where, when you’re DJing between sets at gigs, the sound man tells you you’re playing too quietly and turns it up so your drink vibrates like the cup does when the t-rex is coming in Jurassic Park," says The Quietus co-founder Luke Turner.

    The club soared. In late 2010 it became Boiler Room’s first proper home. "Back in 2010, 2011, they were booking acts like Grimes, DJ Rashad and Spinn, Kyle Hall, Objekt, the Haxan Cloak, and countless others years before any of them could be considered surefire draws," says Boiler Room editor-in-chief (and former Pitchfork contributor) Gabriel Szatan. "That quality and foresight has never faltered. It’s our go-to spot when we want to pull off something special." (Like 2011’s launch party for Radiohead’s remix album TKOL RMX 1234567, with Thom Yorke, Jamie xx b2b Caribou, and Lone.)

    Jones’ standout night came in 2012. Not only was it Corsica’s 10th birthday, but Detroit techno icon Jeff Mills asked if he could hold Axis’ 20th anniversary at the club. They limited the event to 200 tickets, and Mills played from 10 p.m. to 6.30 a.m. "Grown men [were] in tears at how awesome it was," says Jones. "He himself was overwhelmed—he said a few words about how it was one of the highlights from his career, which, coming from someone like him..."

    The likes of James Murphy, Hot Chip, Andrew Weatherall, Roedelius, Omar-S, and more helped celebrate Corsica’s first decade with a series of events that autumn. But despite the club’s increased pulling power, they endeavored to keep things intimate. "Once things get beyond a certain size then it changes, and it’s rarely for the better," says Jones. "That’s not the point for us."

    That ethos has engendered a loyal following, and genuine community. Perc often holds his Perc Trax nights there, and praises its "rough, independent feel" in contrast with its professional foundations. "It’s the only venue in the world which I can go to on a night off and someone will come up to me and ask what time I am playing," he says. "It’s really rewarding that people associate me with the venue like that." Kode9, aka Hyperdub founder Steve Goodman, calls it "easily" the best club space in South London. "Room 2 is a very special room—one of the best rooms to dance in London. It’s just a small box with a banging system, goes really dark when you want it really dark, really smoky when you need to be. Shove a laser in there and it’s perfection."

    It’s been going so long that there’s even the makings of a Corsica generation: music journalist Joe Muggs has friends that married and had twins after meeting at the I ♥ Acid night. "Since the closure of Plastic People, it’s without question my favorite venue: the one that cleaves closest to the vital understanding that the music really is paramount," he says. "It is the absolute example that when form follows function, all will be well."

    "The sound is good, but mostly what makes it special is that the security is relaxed and the space feels free, so people feel comfortable and able to have fun when they are there," says Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard.

    Journalist and Wild Combination founder Maya Kalev tells a different story. "I wouldn’t say it’s great: Accessibility is bad, ventilation can be awful, and harassment can be a real problem. All that said—and perhaps this is telling of the scarcity of good spaces in London—it’s one of my favorite venues in the city." (Corsica plan to advertise their anti-harassment codes of conduct more clearly this year, says Moss.)

    There’s a wide range of established nights at Corsica, from Sunday daytime party Jaded to techno/electro/acid/bass night Plex, but Moss and Jones are dedicated to bringing in the new generation of promoters, though they admit that they’re choosy. NVWLS are staging their first night in February, with Kornél Kovács and Shanti Celeste. "We knew we couldn’t approach them until we had plans that were grand enough for Corsica’s high standards," says NVWLS co-founder Eden Cooke. "To say we were nervous was an understatement. It was really refreshing that they placed so much emphasis on the lineup. We told them our plans, and got the green light—this was back in July."

    Which brings us to the future. Moss and Jones are cautiously optimistic about surviving the regeneration, and have established strong relationships with the council in the hope that their local contributions are recognized. Its survival is crucial, says DJ Andrew Weatherall. "As [mayor] Boris [Johnson] and his chums do more damage to London than the Luftwaffe and what’s left becomes a bland investment opportunity, Corsica is an establishment making a stand in the battle against property investment opportunities, luxury flats, and creeping urban homogeny. With a late license."

    The cause is supposedly of strong importance to the mayor’s office, which has mounted a taskforce aimed at protecting London’s music venues, the number of which has declined by 35 per cent in the last eight years. (The figures are worse for the UK’s nightclubs, almost half of which have closed in the last decade.)

    "What we pay may not be what Pret can pay, but what’s the extra value that we give that someone like that may not give?" Jones asks.

    Chris Gold is more cynical. "They’re quite happy to use Corsica in the brochures to demonstrate the area’s ‘thriving social life and vibrant artistic community,’ and then they’ll be the first to bulldoze the space whenever’s convenient."

    It’s important to consider Corsica’s own role in gentrification: Interestingly, their cache hasn’t attracted other cool venues to the area, so much so that it’s hard to get a drink locally before a night there. "I think the crowd who go to Corsica aren’t at the age where they’re buying flats, or even able to afford to rent the flats in the new Elephant Park," says Dan Hancox, who writes on music and gentrification. "So Corsica probably isn’t playing the same role that, say, a branch of Whole Foods would."

    Just in case the worst happens, Corsica’s founders are looking beyond their front door. Last year, they established temporary outdoor space the Paperworks. Their festival Rituals travels around Italy, programmed in collaboration with local promoters. The Raw Power festival, an extension of the Baba Yaga’s Hut nights, started in house, but now in its third year, has moved to a bigger north London venue.

    But the beauty of Corsica Studios is that they all happen under not one, but two dome-shaped roofs. "It’s church for all these disparate musical communities that keep London exciting," says The Quietus’ Luke Turner.

    "You have these two rooms that are the center of the universe for so many Londoners," says Jaded’s Raymundo Rodriguez. "To me, the very walls feel like they are suffused with power from all the magic nights—and days—they’ve held."

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    Podcasts: This Is How We Do It: Savages

    Our podcast series This Is How We Do It features artists talking about the secrets behind their creative process and is presented in partnership with WeTransfer.

    “Maybe I will die, maybe tomorrow, so I need to say: I adore life.” It’s hard to imagine more irreducible lyrics than this. They come from Savages’ vocalist Jehnny Beth, and especially in the wake of a globally shitty year like 2015, they feel utterly vital. “Adore”—the centerpiece of the band’s new album Adore Life—starts with a lone creeping bassline before manifesting into a black, maxed-out assault. The effect is overwhelming.

    “There will be a cost to become the person you want to become, but there’s not really another way,” Beth tells me over the phone from L.A., reflecting on the core of “Adore.” “That’s the only freedom you will find here on Earth.” These are pretty zen notions of inspiration and becoming, and accordingly, our conversation ranges widely. Topics include: Beth’s personal practice of transcendental meditation, hypnotherapy, Savages’ brutal experience working out their new album’s songs live last year in New York, the pure essence of Swans, Allen Ginsberg, and the practical virtues of all-black dress.

    Click the button below to download the podcast interview along with a bonus Savages zine and exclusive photos.

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    Photo Galleries: Searching for an Underground Generation in Karachi, Pakistan

    Home to a staggering 24 million people, Karachi is the biggest city in Pakistan. Partly due to its size and density, the capital of the country's Sindh province can be a violent place, host to its share of murders, kidnappings, extortion, and terrorism. Though recent reports suggest that an influx of paramilitary forces are making things safer, due to a high level of overall corruption, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if the city’s police and politicians are actually on the right side of the law. It is also a conservative place. When I visited last April to photograph and talk to members of Karachi’s independent music scene, I didn’t see many women walking around in the streets; for the most part, they appeared to be hidden from public view. Though the female locals I met did not cover their hair, I was advised to wear a headscarf in certain areas to hide my blondeness and avoid attention. People generally do not discuss politics out in the open in Karachi. 

    Sunrise over Karachi

    But within this cloistered environment is a bastion of progressive thought. The Second Floor, aka T2F, offers a platform for discussion, music performance, and art. When I stopped in one day, grassroots literature and fliers were spread around the café, and old-school feminist posters decorated the walls. In the corner, a group of young women sat around a table in deep discussion, comparing writings in their notebooks. “If there is anyone you should meet while you’re here, it’s Sabeen,” one local musician told me. 

    Sabeen Mahmud earned a godmother status in the eyes of Karachi’s underdogs as a foundational counterculture figure. As a teenager and young adult, she spent her time trying to drop out of school and replacing motherboards on some of the first Mac computers that were available in Pakistan, while simultaneously learning how to master the depths of the Internet. She dreamed of a Karachi that existed during her parents’ youth in the 1960s: tea houses filled with leftist poets and political discussion; long nights of loud music at the local clubs. She opened T2F in 2007, and the space was an instant success amongst Mahmud’s creative circles—a thriving alternative outpost. It also became a destination for Karachi’s musical underground to rehearse and perform.

    As I walked into Mahmud’s office she welcomed me like I was one of her own. “We’ve been under a military rule for most of our history and we haven’t really been able to build democratic movements for a number of reasons,” she explained, discussing her country’s plight. “There is a general distrust of democracy; there is a very military, nationalist agenda.” Her co-worker, Reem Khurshid, continued, “There is definitely a creativity drain in Karachi—you can’t plan any day one hundred percent in advance. But despite all the dangers, people still have the desire and willpower to be creative.” 

    Talking about the purpose of T2F, Mahmud said, “We’ve tried to create a culture where people would feel comfortable to talk to one another, where we could learn each other’s strengths: a multi-purpose space that could host artists, and political and scientific talks. If you’re surrounded by art, music, zines, poetry, and grassroot journalism, maybe you could start thinking.”

    She allowed me to snap a few photos of her during a staff meeting, but when I asked to take some portraits, Mahmud mumbled an excuse and immediately slipped out of the room. One of her co-workers looked at me with a grin. “She doesn’t like to be in the center of attention,” she said.

    Social activist Sabeen Mahmud during a staff meeting at her events space T2F on April 14, 2015.

    Ten days later, on April 24, I was eating dinner at a friend’s house when text messages slowly started coming in on the phones scattered around the room. “It’s Sabeen,” one friend whispered to another. We turned on the TV to see reports confirming her death: While Mahmud was leaving a panel discussion at T2F that involved potential human rights violations and missing people in Pakistan’s poor Balochistan region, armed motorcyclists pulled up to her car and began shooting. The 40-year-old was hit in the neck and chest; one bullet went through her face and struck her mother, who was sitting beside her in the passenger seat and survived. 

    The following day, denial and confusion were still in the air at the funeral, which was held at the ground floor of T2F. Hundreds of people gathered out on the street, waiting to enter. Speaking to the appeal of Mahmud and her message, many of the mourners came from different classes and backgrounds, including fellow activists, creatives, musicians, and journalists. Considering her controversial work, hushed unsolved questions coursed through the crowd. (One of the shooters, a jihadist terrorist, has since confessed to the crime and is currently awaiting trial.)

    The T2F staff came back to work on the Monday following Mahmud’s death. “As difficult as it was, we decided that whoever wanted to stop Sabeen would only have succeeded if we are to give up too,” Sana Nasir, T2F’s illustrator, wrote me in an e-mail after the incident. “Sabeen set the groundwork and created a culture that is larger than one individual. Her legacy will live on.”

    Following Sabeen Mahmud’s memorial service, a woman knelt down beside Mahmud's mother Mahenaz to tend to wounds she suffered during her daughter’s killing. As I paid my condolences, Mahenaz looked me in the eye and said, “You took the last picture of Sabeen, thank you for that.”

    Part of Mahmud’s legacy is related to her support for Karachi’s nascent experimental and electronic music culture, as many of the city’s leftfield artists played their first shows at T2F. Pakistan’s first DIY netlabel, Mooshy Moo, began in 2007, spearheaded by founder and producer Sheryar Hyatt, who records as Dalt Wisney—a knowingly ridiculous moniker he chose in part as a “response to the wack Pakistani music industry.”

    The son of a successful record producer, Hyatt grew up listening to innovators like Radiohead and Aphex Twin, buying pirated albums at a local music store. Zero 7’s 2002 mix CD Another Late Night proved to especially pivotal, turning him onto idiosyncratic hip-hop artists including Madlib and Slum Village. “I had no idea what a sampler was at the time,” he wrote in an email from his current home in Istanbul, Turkey. “I ended up getting a cracked version of FruityLoops and started making shitty, overdubbed cassettes on my Sony hi-fi.” In 2006, while working on his first EP as Dalt Wisney, Hyatt was invited to participate in the Red Bull Music Academy in Melbourne, Australia, which inspired him to launch Mooshy Moo.

    But for the next five years, Karachi’s underground music would linger unnoticably in the shadows. Then, towards the end of 2012, producers and friends Bilal Nasir Khan (aka Rudoh) and Haamid Rahim (aka Dynoman) got together to launch the electronic netlabel and collective Forever South.

    Listen to a playlist featuring various underground Karachi artists:

    The music coming out of these labels is challenging and diverse, from Asfandyar Khan’s ambient drones, to the harmonium-laced electronica Zeerak Ahmed makes as Slowspin, to Dynoman’s worldly techno, to shoegaze quartet //orangenoise. By making art that doesn’t bend beneath the status quo, their very existence doubles as a potent political act.

    As I ate a watermelon with T2F’s Sana Nasir in her bedroom in the days before Mahmud’s slaying, she admitted that leading a creative life in Karachi is not easy. “It becomes discouraging, especially when people get killed,” she said, looking down at her hands. “People have kind of given up on trying to fix things, but I want to see this place become better. I know it can—things might get worse before they get better, but it can get better.”

    The following gallery features scenes from Karachi and portraits of local musicians; commentary and reporting by photographer Tonje Thilesen:

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    Interviews: The Range Journeys to the End of YouTube

    The Range: "Florida" (via SoundCloud)

    James Hinton does not use YouTube the same way you use YouTube. While the 27-year-old does spend hours clicking from clip to clip, he’s not just wasting time like the rest of us. There is purpose in his video jags. Hinton is trying to find the clips that YouTube does not want you to see—or, at least, some of the ones that are so far back in the search results that they are virtually impossible to see—in order to sample amateur vocalists for use in the meticulous electronic productions he makes as the Range. For Hinton, it’s all part of breaking away from what he calls the “Justin Bieber narrative” that has defined YouTube talent searching over the last decade, where pop superstardom is the only presumed endpoint.

    Sitting in his small, uncluttered apartment in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood, Hinton explains the ways in which he tries to access YouTube’s deepest crannies. “Sometimes I’m convinced that YouTube is hiding and restricting videos,” he says, pulling up a browser on his imposing seven-screen home studio setup. “But there are lots of different games you can play to get at stuff.” To this end, he types in a few of his go-to search terms (which he politely asks me to keep secret) and then starts toying around with the site’s filters and algorithms in order to find the unvarnished humanity he’s looking for. Most of the time, Hinton is seeking simple webcam videos of regular people singing or rapping a capella directly into the lens. Anything with a high amount of views is automatically ruled out, as are slick studio sessions and proper music videos. The way he tells it, Hinton’s search goes beyond whether the voice coming out of the YouTube window fits one of his tracks to something more instinctual and empathetic.

    For his new song “Florida,” Hinton sampled this YouTube of Kai Mars singing in her bedroom.

    “Maybe I’m fooling myself but I do think there’s something about a facial expression and the human ability to read something into it,” he says of his nights spent watching random strangers pour their souls out online. “You can tell when someone’s completely given into the thing.” And since Hinton will ultimately need to listen to any voice that he decides to sample many, many times—as part of manipulating it to fit into his music and then performing those songs live—he also requires that these YouTube vocalists seem like good people IRL. “There was this one video where I liked the way the guy said one word,” he says, “but I couldn't actually use it, because he just came off as a horrible human being [in the video].”

    During the creation of his forthcoming second album Potential, Hinton hit one particular eureka moment when happening across a video of 13-year-old London rapper named Kruddy Zak freestyling in front of a brick wall as a pint-sized hype man stood in the background. In the clip, Zak mixes teenage boasts with a startling, beyond-his-years stoicism. “’09 was emotional,” he raps, paying tribute to a late loved one, “It’s a memory that will never fade, I wish that everything was still the same.” Watching the clip, Hinton was taken aback—the producer had lost his own mother, a music teacher, in 2009.

    “That was a huge moment for me,” he says, marveling at the very real connections wrought from the Internet’s bottomless well of digital ephemera. “It was like, ‘Holy shit, this was meant to be.’” The Kruddy Zak vocals became part of a twinkling Potential highlight called “Copper Wire.” “I still think about my mom all the time,” says Hinton, who grew up as an only child on a Pennsylvania farm and didn’t know his father. “She would have been very proud that I was making music.”

    Potential also manages to fold in the emotions Hinton endured while going through a breakup during the course of the album’s creation—from the wispy what-could-have-been nostalgia of “Florida,” to the helpless “Falling Out of Phase,” to the rejuvenating “Retune,” he comes away with an album that’s both personal and universal, exacting and spontaneous.

    The freestyle in this video was used to make the Potential track “Copper Wire.”

    Wearing thin, circular glasses and a wintry mix of black and grey, Hinton is a cerebral presence. Books about World War II, computer coding, and economics line a shelf in the corner. “I had some weird economic theories going around the Occupy movement,” he says, “so I got really into trying to figure out what all the derivatives were.” Four white boards take up much of one wall, and the former theoretical physics student at Brown University uses them to work out math problems “just to stay sharp.” At one point, he goes on a tangent about black holes and photons and quantum computing that I am definitely not equipped to begin to understand. He sees both physics and music as infinite realms that can never really be solved. “With both art and science, any goal you reach will lead to another three or four things to look for next,” he says. “With this new record, I’ve advanced a lot of the themes that were on my first album, but I only have more questions now.” 

    Though Hinton used a similar YouTube-sourcing process to make his 2013 debut LP, Nonfiction, with the new record, he decided to reach out to the people he was sampling in an effort to shine a light on their talents, get their blessing, and offer a stake in the song’s publishing royalties. While most of the artists were thrilled by the opportunity, there was also some confusion. Kruddy Zak, who originally posted that freestyle video five years ago, was reasonably skeptical when Hinton originally reached out to him on Facebook. “He was like, ‘Wait, are you joking?’” Hinton recalls. “But once he realized it was real, he was just happy his art had gone somewhere, because I don't think he's freestyling anymore.” (To further expose the artists he sampled on Potential, a forthcoming documentary film showing their personal stories will be released this spring.)

    By surrounding his unpolished vocalists with lush sonics and morphing beats, Hinton often manages to lift up his Internet collaborators while retaining their guilelessness—offering a beautifully modern new creative paradigm in the process. And with 300 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every single minute, he won’t be wanting for source material anytime soon.

    Pitchfork: On Potential’s opening track, “Regular,” the vocals sound tentative, with lines like, “Right now, I don’t have a backup plan for if I don’t make it.” You can’t help but feel sympathy for this person rapping into their webcam. Do you ever worry about exploiting these vocalists’ emotions while making your own music?

    James Hinton: Certainly that’s something I wrestle with. But what struck me about the rapper who ended up on “Regular” was this idea of an internal monologue about how, if you really search deep enough in anyone’s life—particularly if they’re in the arts—there’s a lot of shit that can go wrong. It’s incredibly unstable. And I empathized so heavily with that idea. So rather than being exploitive, I just wanted to put that well-articulated emotion forward and say, “It’s OK to feel that way.”

    Hinton sampled Roger “SDotStar” Miller’s vocals from this clip on his track “Regular.”

    Pitchfork: The idea of “making it” also comes up on the last song on the album, “1804,” but on that track it seems to be aligned with spiritual success rather than money—is that where you're trying to end up?

    JH: I feel like “1804” says something about attempting to divorce from that [materialistic] mentality, because it's very toxic to think that way. But what I realized is that the will and drive to continue to make work is the real key to “making it”—if you think that way, you're constantly resetting your goals and opening up the next thing. And that's precisely why those two songs work as bookends. It's a bit of self care. With all the different ways you can go about things as a music producer, you can't help but think about drawing lines in the sand as far as what you will and won’t do.

    Jamaican reggae artist Naturaliss is featured on the final song on Potential, “1804.”

    Pitchfork: I feel like a lot of electronic producers out right now, like Hudson Mohawke and Rustie, are trying to figure out how to incorporate vocals into their music, and that can involve getting brand-name artists—which can sometimes feel more like a business transaction than a creative act. You’ve found a novel way around that dilemma, but were you ever tempted to go that more common route?

    JH: You can’t help but be curious about that kind of process, because it can work incredibly well; it’s also tempting to do that for a single song to just see what happens. But if you include that song, it can wreck a whole album. In the fine arts we give people 40 years to stretch and iterate and do small things but, in music, there’s such a rush to maximize money that it’s very rare for even one record to have any type of continuity. So I had to put my foot down. There’s also a point where that way of working falls down for me, because there’s no narrative: You come in, you have a set of songs, you hand those songs over to someone. And a lot of rappers tour a ton, so their time in the studio is very precious and there’s less opportunity for talkback. For what I’m doing with the Range, [the vocalists’] narratives are so powerful—whether I’m reading into them or whether they actually exist—and that is much more compelling to me. There are flaws in it, but there are gorgeous parts that you would lose if you were forced to capture it in a studio.

    Also think about the life circumstances of a star—the likelihood that they're experiencing emotions that are not in some way related to their circumstance is very low. There's a much wider palette of emotions shown on YouTube, and you end up dealing with much more realistic, interesting things. There are people writing songs to their daughter and all sorts of specific things that would fall down in a popular context. Of course, Drake or Kanye or Beyoncé all write very different songs, but they’re all influenced by their experience.

    Pitchfork: Do you consider watching all of these YouTube videos voyeuristic at all? 

    JH: Well, “voyeur” has so many connotations, and it does correspond in that I’m not on the other side of the webcam. But it’s more like I'm responding—I’m viewing YouTube in a different way than you would when you're just checking something out. My brain switches into this other mode where I’m searching and trying to identify the best parts of people. But you can't get around the fact that I’m sitting in front of a screen late at night. 

    Pitchfork: The way you make music sounds like a solitary pursuit. Do you ever think of your YouTube-ing as a way to have some company?

    JH: Yeah, it’s an interesting form of being cloistered to some degree. But I wouldn't have it any other way. It’s more of an internal dialogue—even if it's just one way. Maybe I just need to go out more.

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    Photo Galleries: Perfume Genius: The Queen of Shanghai

    Mike Hadreas is sitting in a restaurant in Shanghai, happily eating a dish called “Beijing Heaving”—so named due to dodgy Mandarin-to-English menu translation and not because it tastes like puke. It’s December and the singer/songwriter known as Perfume Genius is wrapping up more than a year’s worth of touring behind his third album, Too Bright, with two dates in China, far away from his current home of Tacoma, Washington both geographically and culturally. 

    The following night, the 34-year-old puts on lipstick and wedge heels before swaggering in front of his four-piece band at Shanghai’s QSW Culture Center. Armed with the beefed-up songwriting and sound shown on his latest record, Hadreas’ performances provide a platform to exorcise his long-standing anxiousness, which was fostered by the homophobic abuse that permeated his life as a young gay man growing up in America. 

    Walking around The Bund, Shanghai’s iconic waterfront, he fidgets and hunches while posing for photographs in front of skyscrapers that are barely visible through lung-busting smog. He shrinks into his pink patterned sweater as camera-toting tourists mill nearby.

    As a singer, Hadreas doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve as much as he places it on a platter and passes it around. Too Bright saw his songwriting clout increase considerably, most memorably on the single “Queen,” in which he sarcastically lambasts homophobic stereotyping with the declaration: “No family is safe when I sashay!” In recent years, an increasing amount of prominent gay musicians have felt comfortable enough to be open about their sexuality in the public sphere, but few channel the issue as a source of lyrical inspiration as directly as Hadreas.

    As we walk up The Bund, he asks me if homosexuality is legal in China. It’s surely a vexing prospect for him to come to countries such as this, where homosexuality was criminalized until 1997 and listed as a mental illness until 2001. Even now, clinics offering supposed “cures” for homosexuality involving electroshock therapy are rife across the country. While the government has made strides to promote equality here recently—a Chinese court recently agreed to hear a same-sex marriage case—much of society here still holds negative views towards gay people and it is believed that the vast majority never come out.

    “That makes me want to come to these places even more, though it makes it more nerve-wracking,” he says. “In Singapore, the gay sex act is criminalized, so I knew that being who I am there could have got me sent me to jail.”

    Hadreas’ music gains even more gravitas when he performs alongside his long-term boyfriend, keyboardist Alan Wyffels; during a typical encore, they sit together sweetly, shoulder to shoulder. “It feels so intimate,” says Hadreas. “We’re never really apart. It’s like we’re the same person—recently I got a booking wrong because I counted us as one person instead of two.”

    His songwriting honesty has made Hadreas an underground icon for those on the receiving end of homophobic abuse, and he feels it’s important not to suppress his urge to write about the issues that dominate his life, even if a more ambiguous style might reap greater commercial success.

    “Writing about this stuff can cut out insecure people who think it means something about them to like a gay artist,” he says. “[Many gay musicians] don’t want their gayness to be such a big part of their identity, but I want to be purposeful and specific. When I was young, it would have been so helpful for me to have someone be hyper-specific, because I would have related to them much more.”

    As a high school student, Hadreas suffered extreme homophobic bullying that compounded his isolation. A group of peers once sent him a joint letter promising that they wouldn’t “treat me like a human being until I stop sucking dick.” That teenage abuse has made him feel like he needs to steel himself to face the public whenever he leaves his house to this day.

    "Some people act like it’s a drag show and yell 'fierce!' I am fierce, yes, but I'm serious about music. I have a sense of humor but I don't want to turn this into some novelty."

    —Perfume Genius' Mike Hadreas

    Through the years, he has been attacked both physically and verbally. “There are all kinds of different things people do, from tiny little wound marks to straight up getting punched in the face,” he says. “Something like that hasn’t happened in a long time, though. It’s more getting called a faggot on the street. Or people laughing. The laughing really bugs me. It depends a lot on what I’m wearing.” 

    Hadreas’ outlet for the anger and fear that comes with such ridicule is performing as Perfume Genius. It used to be drink and drugs: He spent his early 20s bingeing in New York before going to rehab and getting sober about a decade ago. “Going out and being a dickhead was what made me feel completely whole,” he says, looking back. “I met people similar to me—gay people, weirdos—and for the first time I felt part of something.”

    He liked party drugs (“speedy stuff—I wanted to feel everything and have it feel really good”) and admits he still misses them. Having always been an outsider, he valued the acceptance the party scene gave him. “It was really fun and it did save me for a few years,” he says. “But I realized I was gonna die if I kept doing it. I would never say I’ll never have a drink again, but I can say I’m not drinking now.”

    So, in Shanghai, instead of hitting the bars, Hadreas hits the stores. We head to a pet market stacked with panicky caged birds, glass bowls overflowing with terrapins, and piles of wicker balls housing clicking crickets. After inquiring about the legalities of importing pets from China to the U.S. (not a good idea), he buys an outfit for his Chihuahua, who recently recovered from illness after eating marijuana (that Hadreas says did not belong to him). These days, Hadreas’ dog is doing more drugs than he is.

    Canine clothes shopping done, evening arrives, and Hadreas puts his makeup on, changes outfits, and gets ready to hit the stage. During “Queen,” he seems to grow a foot taller, smiling and swaying with a confidence not hinted at during our stroll around Shanghai’s neon-slick streets. “I want to bang you!” yells a slurring male American voice from the crowd. “Get in line,” Hadreas sassily replies. 

    After the show, vaping as he winds down in the dressing room (as well as drink and drugs, he’s quit smoking), Hadreas reflects on his onstage transformation. He does it simply because it feels natural to him, but he’s aware that many onlookers not plugged into the subtleties of his songwriting can misinterpret such flamboyance.

    “Some people act like it’s a drag show and yell ‘fierce!’” he says. “I am fierce, yes, but I’m serious about music. I have a sense of humor but I don’t want to turn this into some novelty. That guy shouting ‘I want to bang you!’—of course I want everyone to want to bang me, but that’s not why I’m up there.”

    As he steps out the back door after the show, a gaggle of mostly male Chinese Perfume Genius obsessives are waiting for him, asking to kiss him on the cheek. “That’s a good review,” he quips.

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    Articles: Living Rooms: Breaking Bread at Paris' Les Instants Chavirés

    In the fourth installment of Living Rooms: Global Punk & DIY Venues, a series that looks at DIY clubs around the world, writer Philip Bloomfield and photographer Johann Bouché-Pillon visit Les Instants Chavirés, a venue in Paris.

    Read in:
    Read in EnglishRead in French

    From the outside, there's not much to see. A scruffy door hidden down a back road, a weather-beaten blackboard with a chalked listing for the night’s gig, a few dozen nondescript smokers braced against the cold. As I enter, the dimly-lit room still carries the smell of fresh paint from the renovations carried out after the New Year. The stage is low and the sound desk perched beside the door to the toilets. But there’s a word that comes up frequently when talking about this quietly iconic venue, nestled in the eastern Parisian suburb of Montreuil: Les Instants Chavirés might just be an institution.

    As Stephen O’Malley, a Paris resident when he’s not touring with Sunn O))), reflects via email: "Venues like this are critical and rare. If you're lucky you may have one in your town. The word institution goes against the ethics, but the common use of 'an institution' is a compliment." Jean-Francois ‘JF’ Pichard, the artistic director of Les Instants Chavirés, is visibly uncomfortable with the word. "We’re not an institution." He pauses, his gaze settling somewhere in the middle distance as he rolls a cigarette. "We don’t have that formality, that rigidity."

    His reticence to validate my use of the word may have something to do with the perception of cultural institutions in the heavily centralized French state. Since the end of World War II, the state has invested in spaces to push creative boundaries and explore new frontiers. In music and sound, the twin behemoths of French music research, l’IRCAM and l’INA GRM, are two of the most famous laboratories of their kind in the world. Stepping into the metro to take Ligne 9 east, I’m confronted by the piercing gaze of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the famed German avant-garde composer, staring out at me from a poster at the station entrance. It’s advertising a series of concerts celebrating his work at La Philharmonie, the steel-and-glass concert hall that rose out of the ground in Parc de La Villette. They are already sold out.

    Since the beginning, Les Instants Chavirés has existed somewhere on the boundaries of this formalized world. It was founded in 1991, under a socialist government intent on supporting a more localized French music scene to combat the dominance of international, predominantly Anglo-Saxon artists that were booked by private venues. Thierry Schaeffer and Philippe Bacchetta, who had been working together organizing jazz concerts in Montreuil, secured a public grant for start-up costs and subsidies to cover salaries, and Les Instants was born. "We were among the first to position and align ourselves with public policy. Outside of the market economy, this is one of the key things about Les Instants, and it’s still the case today," says Schaeffer, who is the current Director. (Bacchetta left amicably in 2002.)

    Yet even with these subsidies, Schaeffer is candid about the venue’s struggles. "It would be much more complicated today," he says, when asked whether he could envisage starting a similar venture from scratch. The access to public funding provides for five full-time employees, and it allows the venue to take risks that others can’t. Yet the subsidies, which would be unheard of outside of France, belie a financial fragility. Not for nothing, Schaeffer notes wryly, does the name (taken from an album of a French jazz trio) translate as "capsized moments." "You’re navigating by sight, because nothing says that there won’t be another economic crash and then we don’t have [the subsidies] anymore, or a right-wing government which cuts the funding." He ruffles his tousled grey hair, and smiles gently as we sit in his office, shared with his staff. "In France we are the only ones. You have [not-for-profit] associations, you have festivals, but still, we are the only ones doing this."

    By "this," he means putting on upwards of 80 concerts every year since 1991: noise, electroacoustic, free jazz, pyschedelic rock of all shades, electronic, black metal, and increasing amounts of ‘outernational’ non-Western sounds. International artists as diverse as Godspeed You! Black Emperor to Sunn O))) have played their first French shows here. Others, such as legendary free jazz saxophonists Joe McPhee or Peter Brötzmann, return every time they play in Paris. Above and beyond that, the venue has been a breeding pool for local French acts: electronic producer Low Jack’s fledgling label Editions Gravats held its first showcase here last year, experimental jazz pianist Sophie Agnel will play a two-set residency this February, and the venue also organizes a series of monthly free-entry nights entitled Q# which serve to showcase young Parisian and French performers of a variety of noisy, freeform, and experimental disciplines.

    Arno Bruil and Jo Tanz, playing tonight together as Femme, a circuit board mangling duo of rhythmic, bleeping drone, stress how different the venue is from others they play in France. "It’s the only place I know in France that provides the environment to present what you want to present," says Bruil, who is a regular performer here with multiple projects, including France Sauvage. "That’s to say, a sound engineer who’s engaged, who knows what’s going on, who understands the aesthetic of our music." Tanz, who runs DIY noise label Tanzprocesz as well as performing as Fusiller (amongst other projects), and has a long history with Les Instants, remembers his reaction the first time he was invited to play. "They invited me with a project which was just…chaotic," he laughs. "I was like…Is this a joke?! And they said no, please come, we’ll pay your transport, we’ll pay you a fee." Every artist or promoter I speak to underlines this aspect of Les Instants: the respect they show to their artists; the commitment not only to paying them properly, but also to housing them; to feeding them; and above all to ensuring that they’re in an environment conducive to performing. "Les Instants is also a reflection on what it is to be a musician, economically, socially, artistically…" opines JF, voicing what the artists he books have already told me.

    The idea of going beyond being "just" a concert venue for off-grid music has always been there, but in recent years Les Instants has become increasingly active in the community via outreach programs. In 2015, Les Instants organized over 350 hours of artist-led workshops in local schools and youth care homes, not to mention four or five exhibitions hosted in the abandoned brewery annex across the road from the venue. Nina Garcia, the youngest member of the team, has taken charge of the venue’s ever growing cultural outreach and community engagement projects for the last four years. She’s at once intense and jovial, and like all members of the team, entirely sincere in her infectious enthusiasm. Summing up her work, she says that it’s focused on broad ideas and principles rather than doctrine. "The idea is to put in place a whole load of tools for transmission of our ideas and teaching around the disciplines of that we support: improvised music, noise music, visual arts, and sound art." The idea is to encourage openness and intelligence rather than trying to format the next wave of free jazz or noise musicians. "We don’t seek to make good ‘French people’ or ‘good citizens,’ but instead to make individuals who think for themselves," says Schaeffer. "You need to have a vision of the world that is your own."

    Arnaud Rivière, a veteran Parisian improv musician and a former artistic director at Les Instants, now helps run Paris’ biggest experimental music festival Sonic Protest. He tells me that it’s Thierry’s openness to new ideas and fresh ears and eyes which has ensured Les Instants' survival for 25 years. "That’s the richness of Thierry, both in how he organizes his team, which is very varied, with people of all ages, from all different backgrounds, and aesthetically as well—this is a guy who doesn't come from an educated musical background." He also makes it clear that Sonic Protest, which has become the highlight of the experimental calendar in France, hosting the Dead C, Brigitte Fontaine, and Thurston Moore, simply wouldn’t exist today without the support of Les Instants on a variety of levels.

    Schaeffer’s easygoing attentiveness and his gentle kindness permeates his team, who are disarmingly positive about what they do. "I’ve had bad days," says JF, "but I’ve never woken up not wanting to go to work." It’s easy to see why. I’m invited to dinner at Les Instants’ "offices" (housed in the disused brewery procured for them in 2001 by the local council and currently used for exhibitions) before the night of the first concert of the year. When I arrive, all eight members of Les Instants’ paid staff and the two groups who’ll be playing that night are smoking, drinking, and talking animatedly amongst themselves around the large wooden table piled high with homemade vegan food and carafes of organic red wine. It’s an almost too perfect tableau of a stereotypically French "grande famille" at dinner. "It’s like we’re all in the same boat, it’s something very friendly, and familial," says Garcia.

    After the dinner, the team goes to work. Impressively-bearded soundman Benjamin Pagier heads across the road to the venue with Femme and JF, who will be on the door tonight, whilst the rest of the team busy themselves with clearing up after the meal. Each concert starts at 9:00 sharp, preceded at 8:30 by a program of short experimental films, roguishly titled "Rien a Voir" ("Nothing to See"). Behind the bar, Régis Darthez, the beaming, moustachioed barman, serves strong Belgian beer by the bottle and organic wine by the loosely poured glass. It’s a good sign if he’s got his earplugs in: it means tonight will be loud, or not, as the case may be. This is the first concert of the year and the bar is packed. Jo from Femme shoots me a look as the crowd start to press around his table of pedals, synthesizers, and wires as he’s setting up. "Our concerts are never this busy," he exclaims. Femme are playing first, followed by the repetitive, Loop-tinged garage rock of duo Spectraal, from Metz. What’s astounding from the start is the quality of sound in such a small, unassuming space. Even if those chatting loudly at the bar sometimes cut above the quieter moments of Femme’s set, there’s no echo and little distortion.

    Everyone has a story or three of a concert at Les Instants. Promoter Les Sons Paranormaux retell via email the time they put on legendary power electronics group Sutcliffe Jügend and a young goth turned up to carry out his first public sacrifice. Bernard Ducrayon from Parisian record shop and label Souffle Continu remembers seeing Japanese noise guitarist KK Null of Zeni Geva deal with an overenthusiastic punk repeatedly knocking over the speakers, first by warning him and then smashing him over the head with his guitar, leaving the bloodied punk laughing maniacally before storming off stage.

    My own memories from four years of concerts are thankfully less violent: Most of all I remember the beautiful, hushed silence that descended as Australian minimalist trio the Necks played, the audience clustered around the stage as though huddled up around a fire. Even Schaeffer, the 25-year veteran who’s never shocked anymore, admits to a recent minor epiphany watching some very modern punks: "Sleaford Mods, these guys from Nottingham, there you’re like ‘wow’, this music, these objects, these guys, it’s really something." Garcia remembers watching computer musician Marcus Schmickler playing some very particular frequencies over a multiple-speaker surround sound setup at the annual L’Audible festival of electroacoustic music organized by Les Instants. "I remember closing my eyes and not knowing whether the music was coming from the outside or whether my brain was producing it. I was completely disoriented!"

    All these stories paint but a small picture of the variety and diversity of the venue, which is now far more than just a harbor for improvised music and free jazz, as intended on its launch in 1991. Today, Les Instants is home to a variety of scenes on any given night. Besides what JF and Rivière both describe as a hardened "core" of around 200 attendees who come for pretty much everything and anything they put on, there’ll be a distinct flavor to the audience, depending on who’s playing. Turtlenecked, gray-haired jazz aficionados will give way to young, tightly-clad hipsters or longhaired rockers, punks, and metalheads of various ages, from one concert to the next. Tonight, perhaps in a reflection of the noisy bill, the crowd skews youthful and hip, evenly divided between male and female, but predominantly white, in sharp contrast to the Arab and Somali shops that cluster along Montreuil’s main road, Rue de Paris.

    Even if Les Instants is "open" to all, the "difficult" nature of the music means that the archetypal attendee remains more middle class "educated" rather than working class and, for the most part, white. There are exceptions: JF remembers that when Niger-born Sahel Sounds artist Mdou Moctar brought his "desert blues" to Montreuil last year, the audience was filled with Nigeriens from up the road in addition to the more familiar faces. Still, Schaeffer admits that he’s frequently troubled by the divide between the demographics of the area and the audience. "I’m conscious of where I am, a working-class neighborhood, this is my life, I was born here…so I say to myself, perhaps there’s something else to be done."

    Those who really know Les Instants certainly feel that he’s already done enough. The level of admiration and veneration for the place resonates among those who work there, perform there, and spend their evenings there. Everyone had a story to tell, and everyone I approached wanted to share their appreciation of the place. The only criticism to be heard came from an unnamed promoter, loitering around the bar after the concert. "I’ve been coming here for 20 years," he tells me, before confiding that he hates the beer they have on tap.

    De l’extérieur, il n’y a pas grand chose à voir. Une porte délabrée, cachée au bout d’un chemin de traverse, un tableau noir battu par les éléments où les informations sur les concerts du soir sont inscrites à la craie, quelques douzaines de fumeurs bravant le froid et défiant toute catégorisation. Je pénètre dans la pièce faiblement éclairée où flotte encore l’odeur de peinture fraîche des travaux de rénovation du début d’année. La scène est basse et la régie est perchée juste à côté de la porte des toilettes. Un mot revient sans cesse dans les discussions sur cette salle tranquillement emblématique, nichée à Montreuil, ville de la banlieue Est de Paris : il se pourrait bien que Les Instants Chavirés soit une institution.

    Comme l’explique Stephen O’Malley, Parisien lorsqu’il n’est pas en tournée avec Sunn O))) dans une réflexion par mail: « les salles comme celle-ci sont essentielles et rares. Il faut avoir de la chance pour en avoir une dans sa ville. Le terme institution va à l’encontre de l’éthique des Instants, mais l’usage du terme ‘institution’ est dans ce cas un compliment ». Jean-François « JF » Pichard, le directeur artistique des Instants Chavirés n’est clairement pas à l’aise avec ce mot. « On est pas une institution ». Il marque une pause, le regard dans le vide alors qu’il se roule une cigarette, « on n’a pas cette formalité, cette rigidité ».

    Sa réticence à valider mon utilisation du mot a peut-être quelque chose à voir avec la perception des institutions culturelles dans une France fortement centralisée. Depuis la fin de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, l’Etat a investi dans des espaces pour repousser les limites de la créativité et explorer de nouveaux territoires. En ce qui concerne la musique et le son, les deux colosses jumeaux de la recherche musicale française, l’IRCAM et l’INA GRM sont deux des laboratoires dans leur genre les plus connus au monde. Alors que je descend dans le métro pour prendre la ligne 9 en direction de l’Est, une affiche à l’entrée de la station me confronte au regard perçant de Karlheinz Stockhausen, le célèbre compositeur Allemand d’avant-garde. C’est une publicité pour une série de concerts à la Philarmonie qui célèbre son oeuvre dans la gigantesque salle d’acier et de verre sortie de terre dans le Parc de La Villette. Ils sont déjà complets.

    Depuis ses débuts, Les Instants Chavirés existe quelque part en marge de ce monde plus formel. La salle fut fondée en 1991 sous un gouvernement socialiste dont la volonté était de soutenir une scène musicale française en mettant l’accent sur le local pour combattre la domination d’artistes internationaux, à dominance Anglo-Saxonne, dans le circuit des salles privées. Thierry Schaeffer et Philippe Baccheta, qui organisaient ensemble des concerts de jazz à Montreuil, ont obtenu une subvention pour les coûts de lancement ainsi qu’une aide pour couvrir les salaires. Ainsi, « Les Instants » vit le jour. « On était parmi les premiers à se positionner autour de la politique publique et en dehors de l’économie marchande, ça c’est un des premiers trucs à propos des Instants, et ça tient encore maintenant », déclare le directeur Thierry Schaeffer (Bacchetta a quitté le lieu en bons termes en 2002).

    Pourtant, même avec ces subventions, Schaeffer parle avec franchise des défis auxquels est confrontée la salle. « Ce serait bien plus compliqué de nos jours » dit-il, quand je lui demande s’il pourrait envisager de lancer un lieu similaire à partir de zéro. L’accès aux fonds publics finance cinq salariés à temps plein et donne à la salle la possibilité de prendre des risques que d’autres ne peuvent pas se permettre. Pourtant ces subventions, peu répandues en dehors de France, dissimulent une certaine fragilité financière. Comme le note ironiquement Schaeffer, le choix du nom de la salle qui vient d’un album d’un trio Français de jazz n’est pas du tout anodin. « Tu navigues à vue, parce que rien ne dit qu’il n’y aura pas un deuxième crash boursier » qui mettrait les aides en péril, « ou un gouvernement de droite qui coupe les subventions ». Il ébouriffe ses cheveux en pagaille et sourit avec douceur, alors qu’on s’assoit dans le bureau qu’il partage avec son équipe. « En France on est les seuls. Après t’as des assos, t’as des festivals… mais quand-même, on est les seuls qui font ça. »

    Par « ça », il entend l’organisation de plus de 80 concerts par an depuis 1991 : noise, electroacoustique, free jazz, tous les nuances de rock psychédélique, musique électronique, black metal et de plus en plus de musique dite « sans frontières » qui mêle genres et traditions du monde entier. Des artistes internationaux aussi divers que Godspeed You! Black Emperor et Sunn O))) y ont fait leur première date française. D’autres, comme les légendaires saxophonistes de free jazz Joe McPhee ou Peter Brötzmann, retournent aux Instants à chaque fois qu’ils jouent à Paris. En outre, la salle est une véritable pépinière pour les acteurs de la scène locale : le jeune label Editions Gravats du producteur électronique Français Low Jack ( y a tenu son premier showcase l’année dernière, la pianiste expérimentale Sophie Agnel y tiendra une résidence en février et la salle organise Q#, une série de soirées gratuites et plus ou moins mensuelles qui présentent des jeunes artistes français issus d’un éventail de disciplines apparentées au noise, à l’improvisation et à l’expérimentation.

    Arno Bruil et Jo Tanz jouent ce soir en tant que Femme, un duo de drone rythmé et pulsant, armé de circuits imprimés mutilés. Ils soulignent à quel point la salle est différente des autres dans lesquelles ils jouent en France. « C’est le seul endroit que je connaisse en France qui fournisse un tel environnement pour que tu puisses présenter ce que tu as envie de présenter », déclare Arno, qui y joue régulièrement à travers de multiples projets, comme France Sauvage. « C’est-à-dire, avec un ingé son qui est engagé, qui sait ce qu’il se passe, qui comprend l’esthétique de notre musique ». Jo, qui dirige un label DIY nommé Tanzprocesz et qui monte aussi sur scène en tant que Fusiller (entre d’autres projets), vit une longue histoire avec Les Instants et il se souvient de sa réaction la première fois qu’il est venu y jouer. « Ils m’ont invité à travers un projet qui était tout simplement…chaotique », dit-il en riant. « Je me suis demandé…est-ce que c’est une blague ?! Et il m’ont répondu non, venez s’il vous-plaît, on vous défraie et on vous paiera un cachet ». Tous les artistes et organisateurs à qui je parle mettent en exergue cette facette des Instants: le respect voué aux artistes, l’engagement non seulement à les payer correctement mais aussi à les héberger, à les nourrir et par dessus tout, à s’assurer qu’ils sont accueillis dans un environnement propice à la performance. « Les Instants est aussi une réflexion sur ce que ça veut dire d’être musicien, économiquement, socialement, artistiquement… » me fait remarquer JF, en résonance avec ce que les artistes qu’il programme m’ont déjà déclaré.

    L’idée d’aller au-delà d’être « seulement » une salle de concert pour musique hors des sentiers battus a toujours été présente, mais ces dernières années, Les Instants est devenue particulièrement active au sein de la communauté, à travers des programmes de sensibilisation. En 2015, Les Instants à organisé plus de 350 heures d’ateliers, menés par des artistes dans des établissement scolaires et sociaux locaux, sans parler des quatre ou cinq expositions organisées dans la brasserie abandonnée qui se trouve de l’autre côté de la rue. Nina Garcia, plus jeune membre de l’équipe, est responsable depuis quatre ans du nombre croissant de programmes de sensibilisation et des projets d’engagement communautaires. Elle est simultanément intense et joviale et comme tous ses coéquipiers, l’enthousiasme contagieux qu’elle porte à son travail est complètement sincère. En résumant son travail, elle explique qu’elle se concentre sur des idées larges et sur des principes plutôt que sur la doctrine. « L’idée c’est de mettre en place tout un tas d’outils de transmission et de pédagogie autour des disciplines qu’on défend : musiques expérimentales, bruitistes et improvisées, arts visuels et sonores ». L’idée est d’encourager l’ouverture d’esprit et l’intelligence, plutôt que d’essayer de fabriquer la prochaine génération de musiciens de free jazz ou de noise. « Nous ne cherchons pas à faire ‘de bons français’ ou ‘de bons citoyens’, mais plutôt des individus qui peuvent réfléchir pour eux-mêmes » dit Schaeffer, « tu dois avoir une vision du monde qui est la tienne ».

    Arnaud Rivière, musicien Parisien vétéran de l’improvisation et ancien directeur artistique des Instants dirige aujourd’hui le plus grand festival de musique expérimentale de la capitale, Sonic Protest. Il me confie que c’est l’ouverture de Thierry aux nouvelles idées ainsi qu’un regard et une ouïe sans cesse renouvelés qui ont assuré la survie des Instants au cours des 25 dernières années. « Ça c’est la richesse de Thierry, à la fois comment il organise son équipe, l’équipe est assez variée, il y tous les âges, des territoires très différents, et puis esthétiquement, c’est un mec qui ne vient pas de la musique savante ». Il met l’accent sur le fait que Sonic Protest, devenu un évènement incontournable du calendrier expérimental en France en accueillant The Dead C, Brigitte Fontaine et Thurston Moore, n’existerait tout simplement pas aujourd’hui sans le soutien, à bien des égards, des Instants Chavirés.

    La bienveillance attentive de Schaeffer ainsi que sa douce amabilité imprègne toute son équipe dont l’enthousiasme pour le travail qu’elle accomplit est désarmant. « J’ai eu des mauvaises journées » dit-il, « mais je ne me suis jamais réveillé genre je n’ai pas envie d’aller au travail ». Pas compliqué de comprendre pourquoi. Je suis invité à dîner dans « les bureaux » des Instants (qui se trouvent dans la brasserie désaffectée que leur a octroyé le conseil local et qui est actuellement utilisée pour les expositions) lors de la première soirée de concerts de l’année. Quand j’arrive, les huit salariés des Instants et les deux groupes qui joueront ce soir là fument, boivent et discutent tous ensemble, avec entrain, autour d’une grande table en bois où s’empile nourriture végétalienne faite maison accompagnée de carafes d’un vin rouge et biologique. C’est un tableau presque trop parfait du cliché qu’on pourrait se faire d’un dîner de famille nombreuse en France. « Pour moi [c’est] de l’ordre d’un bateau entre amis, un truc très amical et très familial » déclare Garcia.

    Après le dîner, l’équipe se met au travail. Benjamin Pagier, l’ingénieur du son à l’impressionnante barbe traverse la rue avec Femme et JF, qui sera à la porte ce soir, pendant que le reste de l’équipe s’affaire à débarrasser la table à l’issue du repas. Chaque concert débute précisément à 21h, précédé à 20h30 par une sélection de courts métrages expérimentaux, baptisée non sans espièglerie « Rien à Voir ». Derrière le bar, Régis Darthez, le resplendissant barman moustachu, sert de la puissante bière belge à la bouteille et du vin biologique au verre généreusement rempli. S’il porte ses bouchons d’oreille, c’est bon signe : le volume sera élevé ce soir. C’est le premier concert de l’année et le bar est plein à craquer. Jo du groupe Femme me lance un regard tandis que la foule s’agglutine autour de la table où il raccorde pédales, synthétiseurs et câbles. « Il n’y a JAMAIS autant de monde à nos concerts », s’exclame-il. Femme joueront en premier, suivi par le garage rock répétitif d’un duo venu de Metz et inspiré par Loop, Spectraal. Ce qui est étonnant d’emblée, c’est la qualité du son dans un espace si petit et modeste. Même si ceux qui parlent bruyamment au bar parviennent parfois à couvrir les passages plus calmes du set de Femme, il n’y a pas d’écho et très peu de distorsion dans la salle, sauf quand c’est voulu.

    Tout le monde a une ou trois histoires à propos d’un concert aux Instants. Les Sons Paranormaux, organisateurs de concerts, se souviennent de la fois où ils y ont fait jouer le mythique group de power electronics nommé Sutcliffe Jügend et de l’arrivée d’un jeune gothique, tout équipé pour mener à bien son tout premier sacrifice rituel en public. Bernard Ducrayon du magasin et label parisien Le Souffle Continu se souvient avoir vu le guitariste de noise japonaise KK Null du groupe Zeni Geva s’occuper d’un punk un peu trop enthousiaste qui renversait les hauts parleurs de façon répétée, d’abord en l’avertissant puis en lui fracassant sa propre guitare sur la tête, laissant le punk ensanglanté rire frénétiquement avant de quitter la scène en trombe.

    Heureusement, mes propres souvenirs après quatre ans de concerts sont moins violents : par dessus tout, le beau silence étouffé qui s’est installé pendant le concert du trio minimaliste Autrichien The Necks me vient en tête, le public rassemblé autour de la scène comme autour d’un feu de cheminée. Même Schaeffer, le vétéran que rien ne choque après 25 ans de service, me confie avoir vécu une petite révélation face à de bien modernes punks : « Sleaford Mods, ces gars de Nottingham, c’est ‘wow’, d’où vient cette musique, ces objets, ces mecs, c’est super! ». Garcia se souvient des fréquences très particulières jouées par le musicien sur ordinateur Marcus Schmickler sur un système son immersif à plusieurs points de diffusion installé pour l’Audible, festival annuel de musique electroacoustique organisé par Les Instants. « Je me souviens avoir fermé les yeux et de ne plus savoir si le son venait de l’extérieur ou si c’était mon cerveau qui le produisait. J’étais complètement désorientée ! ».

    Tous ces témoignages dressent un beau tableau de la variété et de la diversité de cette salle, à ce stade bien plus que le havre pour la musique improvisée et le free jazz envisagé lors de son lancement en 1991. De nos jours, Les Instants accueille tous les soirs une variété de scènes différentes. Hormis ce que JF et Rivière décrivent comme le noyau dur, fort d’environ 200 personnes qui se déplacent pour à peu près tout et n’importe quoi, le public aura chaque soir une saveur particulière, déterminée par ceux qui jouent. D’un concert à un autre, les aficionados grisonnants du jazz arborant cols roulés laisseront la place à de jeunes hipsters aux vêtements serrés ou à des rockers aux cheveux longs, à des punks et à des métalleux de tout âges. Ce soir, peut-être en reflet de l’affiche d’obédience noise, le public est plutôt jeune, branché, équitablement partagé entre hommes et femmes, mais majoritairement blanc, en contraste flagrant avec les échoppes Maghrébines et Somaliennes qui peuplent la rue de Paris, l’artère principale de Montreuil.

    Même si Les Instants sont « ouverts » à tous, la nature « difficile d’accès » de la musique qui y est jouée est telle que le spectateur lambda demeure blanc et « éduqué », issu de la classe moyenne plutôt que de la classe ouvrière. Il y a des exceptions : JF se souvient de quand Mdou Moctar, artiste signé sur Sahel Sounds et né au Niger est venu jouer son « blues du désert » à Montreuil l’année dernière. Le public était composé en majorité de Nigériens du quartier en plus des habitués. Cependant, Schaeffer admet qu’il est fréquemment perturbé par le fossé entre la composition socio-économique locale et celle du public. « Je suis conscient de là où je suis, le territoire populaire, c’est ma vie, je suis né ici, et donc je me dis qu’il y peut-être autre chose à faire ».

    Parmi ceux qui connaissent vraiment Les Instants, il n’y a aucun doute que personne ne pense qu’il n’en a pas fait assez. Le niveau d’admiration et de vénération pour ce lieu est élevé en ceux qui y travaillent, ceux qui y jouent et ceux qui y passent leurs soirées. Tout le monde a une histoire à raconter et tous les gens que j’aborde veulent partager leur engouement pour cet endroit. La seule critique que j’ai pu entendre est venue d’un organisateur qui restera anonyme et qui zonait autour du bar après le concert: « Ça fait vingt ans que je viens ici » me dit-il, avant de m’avouer qu’il déteste la marque de bière à la pression qui est servie.

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    Rising: Zero Fatigue: Chicago’s Next Hip-Hop Visionaries

    Ravyn Lenae: "Venezuela Trains" (via SoundCloud)

    The most important thing to know about Chicago's Zero Fatigue crew is that they have a living, breathing sound. Helmed by 20-year-old producer Monte Booker—an avowed aesthetic disciple of Flying Lotus and Timbaland—it's a spontaneous style shaped by the fusion of disparate trend lines, united by a generation raised to never see geography as a career obstacle. Not that their locale is meaningless: Chicago is a city of studios, and the collaborations between Booker, rapper Smino, and vocalist Ravyn Lenae came together thanks to Chris "Classick" Inumerable, a recording engineer who created his first studio when he was only 20 himself. "He always had the doors open and never charged me a penny for anything," Smino says of Inumerable. “He gives us this environment so we can inspire each other, and that's how we became a family.” Classick Studios, located on the western edge of Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood, is where Zero Fatigue first bonded last year, and it’s where we meet one evening in December.

    Smino: "Zoom" (via SoundCloud)

    At this point, Smino says he and Booker “basically live” at the studio, recording tracks for Smino’s recent blkjuptr and S!CK S!CK S!CK EPs as well as Booker’s steady stream of SoundCloud loosies; the pair are currently working on Smino’s debut album, and Booker is looking to release a new EP on his birthday, March 27. Lenae, who released the excellent, Booker-produced Moon Shoes EP last fall, isn’t in the lab as often, but she has a good excuse: The 17-year-old spends most of her days studying classical music at the nearby Chicago High School for the Arts.

    Zero Fatigue, which extends beyond its three present members to include rapper Jay2AintShit and others, make music with a particularly tactile, organic quality. It stands apart by creating a sonic world in which typical rules work differently: Although Booker's easygoing style feels congruent with the earthy sounds of Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment's 2015 LP Surf, it’s also marked by idiosyncratic found sounds: zippers, crinkles, stickers being unstuck. This music is warm and weird in equal measure.

    Smino: "RAW" (via SoundCloud)  

    A St. Louis transplant, Smino, 24, has a melodic vocal style which pushes the tics of someone like Chance the Rapper into fresh territory, stretching and warping his vocals to form a new vocabulary. Jay2AintShit is a more traditionally dense, fluid rapper, whose words unfurl with a formalist’s precision. And Lenae’s vocals are so elegant and delicate that just listening in can feel like trampling on flowers. 

    Monte Booker: "May" [ft. Ravyn Lenae] (via SoundCloud)

    Sitting around a recorder, Booker has the quiet confidence of someone who's found himself through music and is just beginning to recognize his artistic powers. Smino is fearlessly sharp and funny; Lenae, dressed in matching teal sneakers and headphones, is similarly bright and assured. They support each other in ways that feel as naturalistic and joyous as their music. “I only want to work with the people I'm friends with right now,” Booker says.  “That's what’s most important.”

    From left: Ravyn Lenae, Monte Booker, and Smino

    Pitchfork: Monte, how did you first get into music? 

    Monte Booker: Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, my family was always involved in the church, and I loved the music there. I started producing when Kendrick Lamar released [2011’s] Section 80—after hearing that, I picked up Fruity Loops and started trying to make beats. I started to get really serious a few years ago, making music every day.

    Pitchfork: What did you do in church? 

    MB: I dabbled around but I wasn't really really a musician in church... 

    Smino: Yo, tell the truth—you were a deacon's assistant.

    Ravyn Lenae: [choir voice] "Ohhhhh..."

    MB: [laughs] They playin’.

    Monte Booker: "Gina" [ft. Jay2AintShit] (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: Your tracks have a unique sound, how did you come across it?

    MB: I started messing withTimbaland and Flying Lotus, along with trap music and jazz. I definitely use a lot of organic sounds and random things [crinkles a water bottle], little pencils and clicks—anything to give it a little more feeling than the sounds everybody uses and to be more creative. I remember seeing videos of Timbaland recording something in the room and then sampling that. I was like, “Man, I can do that too.” 

    Pitchfork: Why do you think your guys' sound stands out?

    S: It's the fact that we inspire each other to do us; we're not just sitting here trying to hear what's going on around us. All of us are being ourselves to the highest level that we can. We never stop learning. And Monte got a million beats, so we never run out of inspiration. It's like a never-ending well.

    MB: We’re trying to come up with new ideas that we've never heard before. Every time I make a song with them, they always do something new. They inspire me to keep going harder.

    S: Boy, you inspired by honey buns.

    MB: [laughs] I love honey buns.

    Rayvn Lenae

    Pitchfork: Ravyn, what kind of music were you into as a kid? 

    RL: I was exposed to a lot of OutKast, Timbaland, Eminem, and my mom introduced me to India.Arie and Erykah Badu, so I guess I'm a mash-up of those styles. I initially did not think I could sing, though. I started playing piano and guitar when I was in elementary school, and then I was finally like, “I want to sing.” So I started taking voice lessons and decided I wanted to go to an art school and take music seriously.

    Pitchfork: How do you manage doing music and school?

    RL: It's hard—you know how many times I've cried? I'm in school until 5 p.m. every day; I do academics until 2, and from 2-5 I do classical music classes. But I get the best of both worlds—I learn classical music and then I go home and do this. 

    Monte Booker: "Baby" [ft. Ravyn Lenae] (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: Are you planning on going to college after you graduate high school or will you try music full-time? 

    RL: College is the plan right now, but we’re also having conversations with labels—though that’s not my main concern. Right now I just want to make music and have fun with it. If the right person comes where I feel like it's necessary to sign papers, we will have to make adjustments. But school is important to me.


    Pitchfork: Smino, what were you listening to growing up in St. Louis?

    S: I grew up in the church, so it was a bunch of gospel along with Musiq Soulchild, Em, T-Pain—just a bunch of soulful dudes that are country. My first favorite rapper was Ludacris, bruh. When I first heard ["Southern Hospitality"] I was like [makes “holy shit” expression]. I liked how he was funny in all his songs. But Kanye is probably my all-time favorite artist.

    Smino: "blkjptr" (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: How long have you been rapping?

    S: I was rapping since I was seven years old, bruh. I got in trouble in school for writing raps on papers in school. I remember this one time, in sixth grade, my teacher was behind me while I was writing this real nasty rap song about this girl. She took the paper, scanned it, and faxed it to my mama. So my mama made me read every word, and every time I cussed she whupped me.

    Rayvn Lenae, Smino, and Monte Booker

    Pitchfork: Are you guys trying to make radio records ultimately?

    MB: I don't really care for the radio.

    S: I'd like to be known as an artist who redefined radio. Drake redefined pop music. And trap music redefined pop music—there's trap hi-hats in every Katy Perry song now. I want to be that artist, but I don't want to necessarily make music so it can go on radio.

    RL: I feel like that's so weird, like, "I'm finna make this for the radio!" Ugh. You doing it for the wrong reason then.

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