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    Rising: Africaine 808: One Planet Under a Groove

    Rising highlights the most interesting new artists of the moment.

    Africaine 808: "Balla Balla" (via SoundCloud)

    "It gets so complicated sometimes," Dirk Leyers says ruefully, tucked into a booth at a Berlin restaurant called White Trash while his 4-year-old daughter eats a hamburger beside him. "We fight over notes," agrees Hans Reuschl.

    As the brain trust behind Africaine 808, the duo integrate dance music's electronics with a diverse range of rhythms and textures, resulting in a sound that’s unpredictable and funky in equal measure. But while their grooves seem effortless, the middle-aged musicians themselves are thornier creatures. With decades' worth of experience under their respective belts, both are deeply committed to their chosen aesthetic—and often just as deeply divided as to how they should attain it. An hour into our interview, it becomes painfully clear just how complicated things can get between the two: An argument about how to answer a question—soft-spoken Leyers wants to talk about dynamics, while the more emphatic Reuschl wants to focus on structure—builds to a series of back-and-forth taunts, eventually sending Leyers heading for the exit, daughter in tow. It looks, for a moment, like I may have witnessed the end of Africaine 808.

    But Reuschl goes scurrying after his partner, and after a heads-bowed conversation, Leyers and his daughter return to the table with Reuschl, their partnership apparently intact. "He's a fucking whiny bitch!" teases Reuschl.

    The tension is ironic, because the music they make together is so totally joyful. Basar, their recently released debut album, incorporates cosmic synthesizer fantasias, electro-soul balladry, New Orleans jazz, country blues, gospel, and a host of West African instruments and styles alongside elements of house, techno, and bass music. Reuschl calls it a kind of "global fusion," though he also cringes at the term. "When you say that, everybody thinks of this horrible world music stuff from the '80s," he says. Fortunately, there's no confusing Basar with dodgy white-dudes-with-didgeridoos records, in large part because it doesn't pretend to be anything it isn't. Expression and experimentation, rather than authenticity, are the point.

    Throughout the album, on instrumental and vocal songs alike, the underlying message is that of music as an emancipatory force—and a unifying one. They're assisted by a number of collaborators, including the Congolese/German percussionist Dodo N'Kishi, who frequently plays with the duo's studio partners Mouse on Mars, and the Ghanian percussionist Eric Owusu, whom Reuchl encountered idly hand-drumming on a piece of plastic on a Munich bus.

    Unlike many musicians within Berlin's house and techno culture, their sensibilities were formed elsewhere. Reuschl, who comes from Munich, once played drum 'n' bass on pirate radio, though his interest in African and Latin music and cosmic disco dates back to his adolescence, when he and his friends idolized Italian DJs like Beppe Loda and Daniele Baldelli. He also moonlights as a street artist; the illustration that adorns Basar's cover is his work, and a larger version of it can be found sprayed on an alley wall of Berlin's Arena complex, where he runs a small gallery.

    Leyers, who hails from Cologne, used to be one-half of the Kompakt-signed techno duo Closer Musik alongside Matias Aguayo—another artist who, coincidentally, traded techno for a woolier kind of world fusion. Leyers and Reuschl met in Berlin around the turn of the millennium, but both musicians pine for the comparatively anarchic days of the 1990s. 

    "Those were great times," says Reuschl, reminiscing about the days of setting up pirate-radio antennas on the roof. "You had all these illegal bars and clubs, where people would just squat a building and set something up: Monday Bar, Tuesday Bar, Wednesday Bar—they didn't even have names." The crowds then were more mixed, he says, and the music more varied—a single party might host not just house and techno but also jungle, hip-hop, and ragga. "Now everybody has to take drugs, and everything is swarming with tourists and based on making money, not on being creative. You go to clubs in Berlin and you hear the same music everywhere now. I'm not a nostalgic person; I can live with it. But when people talk about this amazing nightlife in Berlin, there was a time when it was a lot more thrilling than it is now." 

    Africaine 808: "Ngoni" (via SoundCloud)

    But Leyers and Reuschl are determined to keep fighting the good fight; their Vulkandance parties, which Reuschl began throwing in 2009, are a gleeful rebuke of techno homogeneity. Instead of the city's omnipresent oonce oonce, you'll hear a rich mixture of African, Latin, and tropical sounds along with all manner of leftfield disco. That musical melting pot was, in turn, the genesis for Africaine 808: It was in the process of making DJ-friendly edits of hard-to-mix tunes for those parties that the two musicians hit upon their unusual brand of fusion, leading to their debut single, "Cobijas," for their own Vulkan Dance label in 2013.

    "We come from this punk rock, do-it-yourself attitude," says Reuschl. "We got inspired by guys like Lee Perry that had nothing. He would just take equipment and use it in the wrong way. That's the spirit of how we started, and that follows you your entire life."

    Africaine 808: "Cobijas" (via SoundCloud)

    But where their early singles remained resolutely focused on the dancefloor, Basar is a far more experimental record, one that reflects the vast range of their listening habits—and elegantly resists what they see as the rote functionalism plaguing contemporary dance music. At the same time, given the duo's gleefully omnivorous tendencies, they also resist any school of thought that would treat world music as a kind of museum piece. 

    "Dirk and I have been collecting and exploring and playing for a long time, and we see the context," says Reuschl. "I don't want to compete with the people that made the original music. I'd rather do something that evolves out of what we both can put on the table and have people say that this isn't authentic African music—because it's not! It's a fucking 808! People get confused with our project name. We are not Africans, we just love African music."

    Africaine 808 in a Berlin alley, next to a graffiti'd version of the illustration that adorns the cover of their debut album, Basar. Photo by Florian Kolmer.

    Pitchfork: Africaine 808 grew out of your Vulkandance parties, how did those come about?

    Hans Reuschl: It basically started as the result of me splitting with [fellow DJ and producer] Hunee. We did a lot of block parties, parties in flats, in leftfield clubs, garages—odd locations—playing disco, Afro, reggae, everything. It was great practice for both of us, because we would DJ back to back for six hours, and when you do that, you have to be flexible and go with the flow. There's no concept; you have to adapt. But when Hunee got more hooked up with the whole house and disco scene, I went more into what I favor: African music. I was like, Why not do a party where I just play that stuff? It was always an experiment; you never knew what would happen. It was a tremendous amount of work. I had to organize everything from scratch. At some point, two years ago, I started doing it in clubs. Now we're doing it at [Neukölln club] Sameheads, and it's going to stay there. This is the perfect place for it.

    Dirk Leyers: It has this basement vibe. Very old-school.

    Reuschl: Sweat dripping from the ceiling.

    Leyers: With affordable drinks, not like this tourist rip-off. 

    Reuschl: It's a family affair. The people who do parties are people I've known for 10 years from the underground cosmic disco scene.

    Africaine 808: "Rhythm Is All You Can Dance 12" Mix" (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: I read that you saw the cosmic and Afro-disco DJ Beppe Loda play in the '80s?

    Reuschl: Beppe was our hero. When I was a kid we would trade tapes, and the sound was all crackly and messed up, but it was like, "Hey! I got the new tape from Beppe!" Around '89 was when I got to see him, through a friend of mine in Munich who was into BMX. He brought me to the Alps to these rave parties. He collected African drums, and he gave me a drum and was like, "We're going to get in for free if we carry a drum, but we have to be drumming all night!"

    We went in there, and there were like 40 guys in one corner, drumming to the music. It was this old-school setup, three decks, and [Daniele] Baldelli and DJ Mozart and Beppe were there DJing the most amazing music. On one record player there was always just percussion running, and on the other two decks they would do the regular mix. I was at techno parties before, where it was just fog and strobe. I was not so impressed by that. But that set had a whole spirit of connecting live instruments with electronic music, which brings us back to our project now.

    Pitchfork: Your songs tend to develop very organically. What's the songwriting process like?

    Reuschl: It's a hybrid way of working, because it's in between classic songwriting and modern dance music. What makes it a little bit different to a lot of dance productions is that we have a lot of different influences—jazz and country and folk music, this whole repetitive call-and-response thing, and the polyrhythms that overlap and create a different time frame. So you don't just have a 4/4. Sometimes it's about the threes, or it's about 3/8. Sometimes we have to fight with that.

    Leyers: It's not based on mathematics. It's based on feeling.

    Reuschl: It's not one formula. What makes our project different to a lot of these retro African music projects, where producers go to a certain area or country and just extract a style of music, is that we get inspired by a rhythmic structure from one culture and then play a completely different set of music or harmonies on top of that. It's never a linear idea of just, "Let's do a kuduro track," or "Let's do a samba." Where you can see it is "Cosmicumbia": It's a classic cumbia beat but the super spacey, echoey guitars and synths are completely unusual. It's a modern approach of getting a global concept going, instead of just exploiting one certain style of music or one particular sound and reproducing it.

    Pitchfork: You started out making DJ edits of hard-to-DJ music, and now you've made an album that's not really meant for DJs.

    Reuschl: It depends on the DJ. I respect DJs who are not just looking for tools. I love storytelling and structure. I love when there are phases of building and falling down, and even making mistakes and correcting them. It shows the human aspect—which is exactly the opposite of this dead, sequenced, perfectionalized music. Humans are perfect in the sense of being imperfect, random, not able to draw a straight line. We pretend in our modern world that we need to be perfect but we function best when we're thrown into chaos.

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    Photo Gallery: Pitchfork SXSW Parties 2016

    Last week, Pitchfork hosted two day parties at Austin venue Barracuda during SXSW. Check out the gallery below to see portraits and live shots of Neon Indian, Vince Staples, Chairlift, Anderson .Paak, D.R.A.M., Empress Of, Frankie Cosmos, White Lung, the Range, Mick Jenkins, Kevin Morby, Little Simz, Lavender Country, and more by photographer Matt Lief Anderson.

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    Greil Marcus' Real Life Rock Top 10: Stolen Tributes

    With Real Life Rock Top 10, Greil Marcus comments on culture and found objects, making connections across time and circumstance.

    1. Rihanna, Anti (Wesbury Road/Roc Nation) It’s been out for two months, celebrated, analyzed, and it’s at the top of the charts, but the music on this album isn’t likely to reveal itself quickly. There are dramas here that don’t fit the critically constructed pop mind, where all that matters is how a given release will affect a given career, which is to say balancing the long-term bottom line against the short one. There is no pop category, let alone any infinitely gene-sliced genre name, to contain the lead in Rihanna’s voice in “Needed Me.” Part of it is the conviction in the way she shoves out “Fuck your white horse and a carriage”—a verbal match for the look on Kim Hunter’s face in A Streetcar Named Desire as she walks back down the stairs after Marlon Brando has beaten her up. It’s a line that opens up into a dozen directions at once, seven words that in the months and years to come may be under the breath of countless people, just as once men and women of all sorts went through the day muttering “Don’t push me/ ’Cause I’m close to the edge.” The songs have echoes in them. To be heard they need airplay and memory.

    Kim Hunter in A Streetcar Named Desire.

    2. Tacocat, Lost Time (Hardly Art) Emily Nokes again delivers a sting inside every laugh (“You can bring a boombox,” she trills in “Night Swimming,” “but you can’t play R.E.M.”). Sometimes you can’t tell the sting from the laugh: In “Leisure Bees,” where people work like bees in a hive, the low croon over “What won’t be on your tombstone?” repeated four times, coming out of a bright, clattering beat, is no fun at all. Hilarious songs from “Dana Katherine Scully” to “Men Explain Things to Me” rest on a conviction that essentials of life—a sense of purpose, a belief in yourself, trust in your friends, work worth doing, free time that actually feels free—are not only missing but out of reach. While all that is present in the words Nokes sings, it’s more alive in her tone: She could be singing in French and you’d come away feeling the same. The music is most undeniable when it’s the least simple, though it always seems simple: All through “Talk,” the least obvious, most unsettling song here, textures shift, the tone darkens, and the song and the singer seem to be hiding from each other, not wanting to hear what the other is saying. The music has force, handclaps drive the sound forward, and the person in the song is quietly, resolutely, very consciously losing her mind. By the end she seems to have found it, but who knows?

    Tacocat: "Talk" (via SoundCloud)

    3. Interview with John McGraw (MSNBC, March 14)“I do find him refreshing,” Keith Richards told Hugo Lindgren of Billboard last year. “He’s cut through a lot of crap, and eventually… well, can you imagine a President Trump? The worst nightmare. But we can’t say that. Because it could happen. This is one of the wonders of this country. Who would have thought Ronald Reagan could be president?” It was one of Richards’ nine lives earlier—26 years earlier—when, at the close of the Rolling Stones’ 1989 American tour, as the promoter Michael Cohl said in a 2015 speech for Pollstar, Richards pulled a knife, laid it on a table, and threatened to cancel the band’s pay-per-view show in Atlantic City if Trump, whose casino was sponsoring the event, didn’t get out of the hall: “One of us is leaving the building, either him or us.”

    And now, just after slamming an unlooking Rakeem Jones in the face at a Donald Trump rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on March 10, a proud and beaming John McGraw, the pony-tailed white gun-rights American to a T, is telling the mike in his face “Next time we see him we might have to kill him” as the London Bach Choir’s gorgeous opening passages of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a staple at Trump events, hung in the air in the distant background. It made no sense: Trump’s message is precisely that if he gets to run the show you can always get what you want. Maybe it was payback for that long-ago insult. But I’d seen the McGraw clip a dozen times in the previous few days, without feeling, as I did now, that I was about to throw up, because before I’d never noticed the music. Maybe it was the smashing contradiction of the ugliness of one voice against the beauty of the others. Maybe it was the elegy for a precious, disappearing idealism that bleeds all through the song in the very process of its replacement by an idealism of a different kind. Maybe it was the new line McGraw and Trump had now crafted into the music: “You can’t always get what you want/ You can’t always get what you want/ You can’t always get what you want/ But if you try sometimes, you might find/ You get what you need/ Or deserve.”

    4. Barney Hoskyns, Small Town Talk—Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix & Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock (Da Capo) Substitute “Heroin” for “Wild” and you have the real subtitle. The most depressing music book I’ve ever read.

    5. The Americans, “The Right Stuff,” from I'll Be Yours ( From the first rolling guitar notes, carrying sadness and defiance like dust, this sweeps me up: I want to know everything about where that feeling came from, and where it’s going. You’re not surprised when the singer comes in, telling you about how the right stuff is what he doesn’t have, how the place he bet his life on is blowing him out, and as the song careens toward its end he sings louder, the band pushes harder, and what he’s lost seems to cost more with every measure. The Americans are four guys from Los Angeles: This is a tale, somehow steeped in the past, a story that retraces the history of the once ever-advancing, then ever-retreating frontier every time it’s told, that lives up to their name.

    The Americans: "The Right Stuff" (via SoundCloud)

    6. David Phinney, Abstract California Red Wine 2013 (Orin Swift Cellars, Napa) It’s a mouth-filling, coolly satisfying wine, but I bought it for the label: an overwhelmingly complex collage of images that shot out from the swarm around them for their familiarity and their violation of familiarity—the loyalist soldier falling back with his rifle still in his outstretched arm from the Spanish Civil War, a pensive Elvis with the “Nowhere” and “Boredom” busses from Jamie Reid’s sleeve for the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” tattooed on his forehead—until you’re caught, trying to see every picture at once, to read each one, yes, Beckett Lenin Bobby Kennedy dying on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel Tilda Swinton King Mob graffiti Patti Smith naked in a Mapplethorpe photo with someone else’s head Lenin again Hemingway the Adverts a Marlboro Man a Situationist poster from 1966 and scores more that someone else could identify and you can’t. You could spend years and never quite get to the end of it.

    “When you’re tired, had a glass of wine, creativity comes out,” said the collagist Phinney, who owns the winery and makes the wine. “After I put my kids to bed I’d spend four or five hours a night working on it. It was much more difficult than I expected. It’s a puzzle.” He collected the images over three years; the piece took three weeks to come together. A passion for Hemingway led to a fascination with the Spanish Civil War; as a Poli Sci major he wrote a lot of papers about communism: “I was a young, idealistic kid.” And “a skateboard rat, a huge punk fan,” and a fashion maven: “I wanted to be just gay enough to understand the female mind.” None of which accounts for the internal gravity of the label—the way it holds together, forming some indecipherable whole. The way it’s a version of the 20th century, shouting at itself.

    7. Heron Oblivion, Heron Oblivion (Sub Pop) A San Francisco foursome that posits the wah-wah pedal as the answer to all questions. There are a few moments when you can almost believe it.

    8. Eric Alterman, “Interview with Steve Earle,” The Nation (March 19) Earle on the Mississippi blues singer Robert Johnson and Earle’s album Terraplane, named for Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues,” from his first recording session in 1936: “As far as we know, and it’s the beginning of recording so there wouldn’t be recordings that predated it, but there is tradition and people have done the research and I’ve done the research. There aren’t earlier versions of those Robert Johnson songs that anybody knows about, so as far as we know, the entire genre of the blues as we know it, every bit of it, is based on one Robert Johnson song or another… There’s not one single thing that’s not really based on a Robert Johnson song. I mean the whole 12-bar, 16-bar modern blues thing—it’s all based on Robert Johnson.”

    It’s as if Earle is channeling Donald Trump: I’ve done the research! Robert Johnson was born in 1911; at that time, the blues guitarist Elvie Thomas, who would not record until 1930, had been playing and singing early, shared blues songs for nearly a decade. So had countless others. Blind Lemon Jefferson was recording hit blues records in 1926, and Blind Willie Johnson a year after that. Older Mississippi bluesmen, some of whom shamed Robert Johnson as an incompetent when he first tried to play with them—Charley Patton, Son House, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, Skip James—were writing the story of the blues on 78s from 1928 to 1931. As Bob Dylan would take phrases and constructions from Johnson, many of Johnson’s songs were derived from records by House, James, Kokomo Arnold, the Mississippi Sheiks, and more, transformed by Johnson’s sense of language and his rhythmic daring. That was how blues artists made blues.

    There is in fact no way to extract meaning from what Earle said. Alterman was taken aback; he tried to throw Earle a lifeline. “Who else would you say contributed fundamentally to the genre?” he asked, and Earle doubled down: “Nobody wrote any songs, everybody just repackaged Robert Johnson songs and used verses from Robert Johnson songs and took one verse from one Robert Johnson song and one verse from another Robert Johnson song...” Did he think this would help sell his record?

    9. Bruce Springsteen, Oracle Arena (Oakland, March 13) It was a big, loud, smiling show, where the almost German severity of “Point Blank,” where a girl grows up to be a junkie hustling on the street, fell right into Jerry Lee Lewis sweeping his fingers across the keys, which is to say “Cadillac Ranch.” In a novel, the lines “She asked if I remembered the letters I wrote, when our love was young and bold/ She said last night she read those letters, and they made her feel 100 years old” would keep you from turning the page, but the key to the way they hang in the poisoned air of “Stolen Car” is in the way Springsteen doesn’t sing to their literary quality, but instead repeats them to himself as if he can’t believe he didn’t even notice when his life ended.

    The highlight of the show came with a request from the crowd: the early tune “Growin’ Up.” It was from a young man named Steven Strauss, pressed up against the stage with his parents at his side, wearing an unmistakable black and white checked shirt. “I sing (hopefully not too loudly for those standing around me), all the words,” he wrote of a show in Albany on February 8 in the Springsteen magazine Backstreets. “I dance to all of the songs, I jump up and down, I cry, I fist-pump, I air guitar, I do things that no one has figured out how to describe in words yet.” Springsteen pulled him onto the stage to sing the song with him, and he was great.

    10. Ricki Lee Jones, “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground,” from God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson (Alligator) Aren’t tribute albums terrible? Yes, and even when devoted to one of the great artists of the 20th century. On a set stuffed with two tracks from Tom Waits, who given that his shiver-me-rotting-timbers act was Blind Willie Johnson from the start is doubly redundant, and two from tribute-album queen Lucinda Williams, whose mush-mouthed soulfulness is so affected she makes Taylor Swift sound like Etta James, plus mediocre work from the Cowboy Junkies, Luther Dickinson, Maria McKee, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Jones’ closing number is a door to another world. 

    When the Texas gospel blues singer recorded this song in Dallas in 1927, he used no words: He hummed and he moaned, as if when you spoke to the night and listened to the ground, only a language before language could say what you had to say. But the tune came from a hymnal: “I looked up some lyrics I found from the last century, or the one before,” Jones said before beginning the song in New York last year. With Fairport Convention’s wordless “‘The Lord Is in This Place… How Dreadful Is This Place’” and Bob Dylan’s “Sign on the Cross” swirling around her—and Jones’ performance makes it plain that Dylan’s song was based precisely on Johnson’s—she seems unflinching in the face of eternity, with the sense that no word she speaks, no sound she makes, will be less true a thousand years from now than it was a thousand years ago. She trusts the chords to carry her out of her own petty present. With bare notes abstracted from any melody on her guitar, she seems absolutely alone, and when Lee Thornburg’s horns and other voices come up around her, you feel relief for her, comfort, even if the voices you’re hearing, that she’s now leaving the song to, are the voices of the dead.

    Rickie Lee Jones: "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (Blind Willie Johnson Cover)" (via SoundCloud)

    Thanks to Steve Weinstein, Barbara Carr, Steve Perry, Jon Pont, and Doug Kroll.

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    Longform: Yearbook: The Chicago House and Hardcore Revolutions of 1984

    In June of 1984, Chicago hosted a pair of gatherings that emphasized pop’s bright digital future. Early that month at the Westin Hotel-O’Hare, some 1,000 engineers from around the world attended the International Conference on Consumer Electronics to hear over 100 presentations on the latest in computer, video, and communications gear. Two weeks later, McCormick Place hosted the largest edition yet of the NAMM International Music & Sound Expo, an instrument-dealers’ exhibition featuring 437 booths—up 10 percent over the previous year—whose panels included "The Use of Computers in Music Education," "Computer Bits That Don't Bite," and "Selling Digital Keyboard Technology in the 1980s." Machines blanketed the year, but in Chicago’s punk and dance undergrounds, drum machines and synthesizers were used not for big-bucks sheen but as DIY tools. 

    When Steve Albini, a Missoula, Montana native who’d moved to Chicago to study journalism at Northwestern University, began playing bass for short-lived post-punks Stations, their rhythm box made an impression on him: “[It] was the first time I realized that the drum machine could have its own personality—it could be a strong voice in the band,” he told Seattle’s EMP Museum. The first band in town he really fell for was Naked Raygun, who “totally blew me away,” he told EMP. They had a big impact on the music Albini began to make as Big Black, particularly once Raygun’s Jeff Pezzati and Santiago Durango joined the band. Big Black’s other major member was “Roland,” aka the cheap Roland TR-606 Albini had purchased after leaving Stations.

    Watch the first episode of's new series "Yearbook," which chronicles important years in Chicago music history.

    Albini’s persona—both on record and in his scorched-earth columns in the Chicago punk zine Matter—was extremely confrontational. “The aesthetic of Big Black when it started was sort of the standard intellectualization of adolescent obsessions... Sex and outsider culture and death and violence and freak scenes of all sorts,” Albini told EMP. “I was intrigued by the idea of finding those moments where people were either behaving or behaving like bastards or thinking about the influence of bastard behavior.”

    Take Albini’s sophomoric race-baiting: He nearly gave Big Black’s second EP, late 1983’s Bulldozer, the title Hey Nigger, insisting to a Matter interviewer that “Anyone stupid enough to be offended by that title is part of the problem... It's better to be confrontational about things like this. Of course I think judging people by the color of their skin is absurd.” His bandmates—and everybody else he spoke to—forced him to change the title. Later, when Albini named a project Rapeman, London’s Rough Trade shop refused to carry it.

    For 1984’s Racer-X, Albini was every bit as rude, even when he was playing the submissive: “Your foot in my face is what keeps me alive,” he spat out over double-speed drums and guitar corrosion during “The Ugly American.” On the other end of the spectrum, “Shotgun” promised: “Got an inch and a half of number-nine shot/ All pumped up your ass in the parking lot” over Albini’s and Durango’s virtuosically industrial gray-scale guitars, evoking conveyor belts heating up from overuse here, the Indy 500 there. Just to keep everybody guessing about Albini’s racial attitudes, Racer-X ends with James Brown’s “Big Payback,” which Robert Christgau nailed as “trash-compacted.” 

    The early Naked Raygun shows that Albini caught were incredibly mutable: “They were a million things at once and they were doing all of them well,”Albini told Punk Planet. But by 1984, Raygun’s membership had changed almost completely, with only vocalist Jeff Pezzati remaining from the original lineup, and the band began playing the hardcore that was burning through the scene. “We dicked around, and had rockabilly influences, and a lot of influences from English punk and as a result, we searched for our sound for a number of years until we came up with a couple of styles that we kind of settled in on,” Pezzati told Westword. “The albums starting with Throb Throb followed that trend.”

    Naked Raygun. Photo by Gail Butensky.

    Released in the summer of ’84, Throb Throb isn’t as breathtaking as Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade, but Raygun’s album nevertheless occupies its hardcore-centric dual lane with aplomb. “Only in America” is one of the era’s great anthems, even if only a few thousand people knew it at the time—the upbeat two-four rhythm and sardonically peppy sax riff give its speed-beat a surprising swing, just what Pezzati’s call-and-response of “Eat your own weight in salt (only in America!)” need to go down. The album is witty elsewhere, too, not just in following “Libido” with “No Sex,” but in Camilo Gonzalez’s strutting, jazzy bass breakdown on the former.

    Prior to Throb Throb, which was issued on Homestead Records (so was Racer-X), Naked Raygun had put out an EP and 7" on Ruthless Records, the label cofounded by fellow Chicago punks the Effigies—who, by ’84, had also grown restless with the increasing dogma of the political punk scene. “That whole axis of Maximumrocknroll bands—they're absolute destruction, tear down this system. Where's the alternative?” vocalist John Kedzy griped that year to a zine, adding: “I've got a lot to bitch about, everyone does, but that's not the reason we're in a band.” 

    Nor was it just philosophy that increasingly marked the Effigies out from their local peers. Their 1981 EP Haunted Town, wrote Matter’s Lee Sustar, had a “significance that has become clear only in recent months as the various 'post-hardcore' bands search for something new and flirt with—guess what—heavy metal.” Kedzy told Sustar that Earl “Oil” Letiecq’s shredding tone “does make us sound different... Sometimes we have to yell at him about those guitar solos.” By ’84, Kedzy would tell another interviewer, “I'd say I'm a lot happier with the metal side than the punk,” adding: “We're not a hardcore band... If we're punks in anything, it's in spirit. And that's about it.”

    The Effigies. Photo by Karen Wehrle.

    One of the places these bands’ records could be found locally was the Lincoln Park shop Wax Trax! “We would go to Wax Trax! all the time, and [co-owner] Jim Nash was constantly recommending records,” Pezzati told Westword. Though Nash had issued one of Chicago’s earliest punk titles in 1981 (Strike Under’s Immediate Action EP), he’d struck indie gold a year later with “Cold Life,” by local dance-oriented industrial act Ministry, which sold 10,000 copies and got the band briefly signed to Arista. In 1984, Nash told Billboard that “Cold Life” still sold “about 100 copies a month.” That year, Wax Trax licensed 12"s from England (Popular History of Signs) and Israel (Minimal Compact), right on the heels of a successful signing from Belgium, another industrial-dance act named Front 242, with 1983’s Endless Riddance EP. Nash further told Billboard that he intended Wax Trax! to remain “on a smaller level, so we can really give our artists the right attention. I'd be happy to sell 25,000 to 50,000 copies of any of our product.”

    The de facto showplace for the emerging Wax Trax! sound was Medusa’s, a teen disco that Dave Shelton—nicknamed “Medusa” for his thick blonde curls—opened in October 1983 at 3257 North Sheffield. On September 28, 1984, Front 242 made their U.S. debut at Medusa’s, a week after a Ministry appearance there. The club’s third floor contained a “video room,” with large screens onto which VJ Joe Michelli projected both rock videos and random graphics to accompany DJ selections—and bean bags to sit and watch it all if you didn’t feel like dancing. With a pair of local UHF stations scoring big ratings with clips—Music Video 60, on WPWR (channel 60), and the all-video (at least until summer) WFBN (channel 66)—there was a corresponding leap in local sales for Cyndi Lauper and Billy Joel titles in the heavily black South and West Side neighborhoods. “A lot of accounts are selling pop product that doesn't get played on [top urban stations] WGCI and WBMX,” the head buyer of local distributor Colorite told Billboard

    Big Black's Steve Albini. Photo by Gail Butensky.

    The Wax Trax! aesthetic didn’t just appeal to the predominantly white suburban crowd at Medusa’s. A black South Side teenager named Vince Lawrence had been impressed by “Primental,” from the first Ministry 12". “I just loved that record because every single sound in it was clearly a synthesizer,” Lawrence said in 2012. “I was like, ‘I’m going to make records like that one day.’ I was listening to new bands like New Order and Frankie Goes to Hollywood at that point, and the end of the new wave scene and the beginnings of the industrial scene, that was where I wanted to be.” 

    Lawrence had made a couple of heavily new wavy records under the name Z-Factor for his dad’s label, issuing the 12" “Fast Cars” in 1983. He was also spinning records around town as part of a conglomerate called the Chosen Few—a thriving subculture of young black DJs who were taking their cues from the playlists and influence of a New York transplant named Frankie Knuckles, who’d made his name at a spot called the Warehouse—a nonalcoholic “juice bar” for a black and gay clientele that was gradually opening up. Lawrence went there first around the time of “Fast Cars”: “It had a mystique about it,” he told Jacob Arnold. “I heard Frankie Knuckles spin and heard the music at those parties, it was just so seamless and so physical due to the size of the sound system... That drove us to want to make different records—more records, and get better.” 

    Frankie Knuckles. Photo by Al Pereira / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images.

    Knuckles came up in the world of disco’s New York beginnings—a regular at the Loft, in charge of spiking the Gallery’s punchbowl with acid, and finally a resident at the Continental Baths. He moved to the Midwest in 1977 at the behest of Warehouse owner Robert Williams, wowing the after-midnight crowd with 12-hour sessions of not just disco and R&B but rock and new wave, particularly synth-heavy European titles, as well as his own specially-made edits—or just back-and-forth turntable work—of tracks that extended-extended-extended the breakdown until it milked a dancer’s resistance dry. (A Chicagoan from the era once recalled a Warehouse night when Frankie played First Choice’s Salsoul classic “Doctor Love” for half an hour.) By ’83 he was ensconced in a new place, the Power Plant, and using a drum machine he’d picked up from a Detroit kid named Derrick May, who’d started coming to Chicago to visit his mom but wound up making the four-hour drive nearly every weekend just to experience Frankie driving the floor. 

    Knuckles’ DJ style spread throughout town, and it even had a name. Driving through the South Side in 1981, he saw a sign at a bar: “We play house music.” What’s that? he wondered. His friend told him: “It's that shit you be playing down at the Warehouse.” There was even a section of a local shop called Importes Etc. with “House Music” as a header. The term was being used on the radio, thanks to the “Hot Mix 5” DJs spinning Saturday nights on WBMX-FM, traveling all around town. Chicago native and writer Jane Lerner recalls that by 1985, at her Wisconsin summer camp, “Some kids kept talking about house music: ‘j-j-j-jack the house!’—upper-middle-class white kids.”

    But the core of house music’s young fandom came from the black neighborhoods. They’d congregate on Saturday afternoons at a South Side Catholic prep called Mendel High School, which regularly threw teen dances featuring local house DJs. “No one was upper class in the Chicago house scene,” says Charles Little II, who regularly attended the Mendel parties. “It was all black and it was all gay. It was all street. You got guys in there dancing to house music, spinning around looking like ballet dancers. But when you look at the guy, he’s got gang tattoos all up and down his arms. He’s ripped, and he will beat your ass. They’re ready to fight.” 

    Mendel High hosted every local house DJ of note: Knuckles, Ron Hardy of the Muzic Box (Robert Williams’ new club after Frankie went on his own), Farley Keith of the Hot Mix 5 and his roommate Steve “Silk” Hurley (who’d planned to change his name in 1984 to “Jackmaster” Silk, only for Farley to preempt him by announcing on-air that he was now Farley “Jackmaster” Funk), and the members of the Chosen Few, headed by future A&R man Wayne Williams (who would later sign, among others, his homeboy R. Kelly). 

    Another member of the Chosen Few was Wayne’s stepbrother Jesse Saunders, who’d been making longer versions of his favorite dance tracks with a tape deck’s pause button. “I’d extend the drum break and the intro parts, the musical parts where it would just break down with the bass or maybe just one little line where she’s singing and that was it,” Saunders told EMP. “I’d take these parts and put them in between others, extend them and make a remix out of it. The 12" versions of any of these songs, which they would call disco versions, were more or less taking the musical bed, extending it in the front so the intro was longer... [but] there were no real breakdowns.” 

    Jesse Saunders. Photo courtesy of Jesse Saunders.

    By the mid-’80s, Saunders was beginning to salt his mixes with “more electronic-sounding things: European import records and things like Men Without Hats’ ‘Safety Dance,’ new wave-ish types of records: B-52’s’ ‘Mesopotamia,’ a little reggae.” He had a residency at the Playground, playing to “1,500 to 2,000 kids a night—and not only just from the South Side, now, we’re getting from all over Chicago.” One night, WBMX’s Kenny “Jammin’” Jason was playing a guest set at the Playground and brought in a Casio keyboard to accompany himself. “I ran out and bought one of those and started fooling around with it, and I start playing myself in a set,” Saunders told EMP. “Right after that I had a drum machine, a TR-606 by Roland. And I would program drum patterns in there and I’d mix in and out of the drum patterns... I was like, ‘I want to make a record now.’”

    Saunders was Vince Lawrence’s best friend, and he’d joined Z-Factor for a track called “Fantasy,” sung by a Warehouse regular named “Screamin’” Rachael Cain. Many of the track’s elements were recycled for Saunders’ solo debut, “On and On”—by acclaim, the first-ever Chicago house record, manufactured at the city’s only pressing plant, Precision Record Labs Ltd. on the Near Northwest Side, which had opened on January 1, 1984, in the wake of the December ’83 closing of Musical Products. Precision worked fast: “If a guy brought in a tape I tried to have a record out within a week,” its president, Larry Sherman, told Sean Bidder. “I was buying a record on a Monday, cutting it Monday night, Tuesday it was in the tank, Tuesday night I had a test pressing. If the thing sounded OK, Tuesday afternoon I was in the print shop making the labels. Monday it was a new release.”

    Z-Factor. Photo courtesy of Vince Lawrence.

    Despite Precision’s promise that “All LPs are pressed on virgin vinyl,” Sherman was notorious for recycling old records—among them, a ton of returned copies of the soundtrack to Robert Stigwood’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, a notorious stink bomb. By ’84 they’d need the extra material, because “On and On” didn’t just sell in the thousands but kick-started a ton of newly minted producers. “That was the single most important record to me of the 20th century, because it let the non-musician know that he could make music,” Marshall Jefferson, who began recording in 1984, told Bidder “It was the revolution, man. Everybody and their brother, their aunt, their uncle, started making music after that.”

    Lawrence, Saunders, and their friend Duane Buford began a label called Jes’ Say to put “On and On” out, but as they began bringing in more similarly styled tracks made with cheap and castoff equipment such as the Roland TB-303 bass synthesizer—intended primarily for timekeeping and discontinued in ’84, it provided the bassline of “On and On”—they struck up a deal with Precision’s master. “I approached Larry and said, ‘Hey, we have records that are hot, [but] we can really only afford to press one at a time. If you press the records, we can split the money,’” says Lawrence. They began working together to create a new label: Trax Records, beginning in early ’85 with Le’ Noiz’s “Wanna Dance?” The B-side’s title echoed the answer Chicago and the world would give over the next few years: “Certainly.”

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    Longform: From the Outside In: Meet the African Immigrants Who Are Legitimizing Ireland’s Hip-Hop Scene

    Simi Crowns speaks with an accent that reveals both sides of his history. Born in Lagos, Nigeria—a country best known musically for its pulsating Afrobeat and traditional Juju—the 26-year-old and his family left their native soil to start anew in Dublin when he was just 11, and while the rapper’s voice still holds onto his West African roots, there are times when he’ll lean into a syllable in a way that reveals his adopted homeland.

    “I speak Yoruba, which is the native language in Nigeria,” says Simi. “That plays heavily into what I am. I’m trying to fuse some of that into the music, in terms of the language, the slang, the attitude. I really feel like I have the best of both worlds."

    On the ear, it’s an unusual mash-up. Nigerians tend to speak with a rhythm, their words popping in time, as though being delivered by a well-tuned jazz drummer. Heavily-accented Dubliners, on the other hand, often sag into a consonant-free drawl, as if their jowls have been doused in Novocain. But Simi’s particular mix has become more common in the city as the children of Africans who first arrived on Irish shores over a decade ago come of age.

    For Simi, rap offers an outlet to tell his story—a story mirrored by many young Irishmen of West African heritage. The young MC channels his natural vocal tics in a barbed flow that punctuates his intelligent lyricism and strong songwriting chops. Having hit the Irish summer festival circuit last year, his career is starting to gain some traction, with appearances on a handful of national radio stations and a few favorable blog write-ups to his name.

    It’s October 23, 2015, and Simi is headlining a show in Dublin’s snug, seated Sugar Club venue in support of poverty eradication and disaster relief charity Oxfam. Calling the small crowd to rise to their feet and surround the stage, he uses the intimate gig to consider his experience of coming to Ireland and the hardship of growing up with a label over his head.

    “Instead of being Simi Crowns, I started being the guy who’s black, the guy who’s an immigrant, the guy who’s a nigger—I wrote this track in reflection of those times,” he explains to the crowd before launching into “Lagos (Where I’m From),” a song that flips Anthony Hamilton’s “Comin’ from Where I’m From” into an ode to Simi’s hometown, warts and all. “Welcome to the state of Lagos, where they claim everything starts but with chaos,” he spits, “and we know that the government never cease to fail us.”

    “Growing up we had no role models from our background,” Simi tells me after the show. “There was always that element of being shut out or misrepresented. But now, people are realizing that my story is just as important to tell as that guy with a fucking guitar’s.”

    From Thin Lizzy’s triumphant blues rock and U2’s stadium-filling anthems to My Bloody Valentine’s woozy shoegaze and Van Morrison’s heart-wrenching rhythm and blues, the tiny island of Ireland—still divided into two countries, The Republic and The North—has punched well above its weight when it comes to producing internationally-heralded rock acts over the years. Irish musical tradition, though, stretches almost as far back as recorded history, and the image of a heavy-set, Guinness-fuelled guitarist perched on a bar stool, bellowing out trad songs from the great Irish songbook has been a lasting one. It’s no accident that Ireland is the only country in the world that has a musical instrument—the harp—as its national emblem.

    What you won’t see in a pub corner, though, is two turntables and a microphone. To the typical Irish citizen on the street, rap is much like any other underground scene: insular and other. Here, the genre remains largely associated with throwback gangster rap imagery and the jewel-encrusted stars of the bling-bling era, little of which would appear applicable to the realities of life in this one-time Catholic stronghold. The country’s rap acts have typically been dismissed as novelties, while much of their output has sounded confused and gimmicky—a sloppy tongue-kissing session between the rappers’ Irish roots and those of the U.S. artists that inspired them. Until recently, Irish hip-hop was represented by music that had  little replay value or hope of traveling beyond the island.

    Simi Crowns, though, is part of a recent surge of rap inventiveness that’s being pioneered by kids of African migrants and asylum seekers, many of whom have been forced to flee regions stoked in cruelty and corruption. Much like how the influx of Jamaican immigrants into the Bronx sparked the birth of hip-hop in the ’70s, the kids of these migrants—who sought the cradle of the Emerald Isle to help forge a better life for their families—are causing a new wave of creativity in Ireland. For the artists, laying their stories down on wax allows their voices to be heard.

    The population of Nigerian citizens in Ireland grew by 82 percent between 2002 and 2006. By 2011, there were over 40,000 Africans living amongst the Republic’s 4.5 million people. Comfortably fitting into this new-age land of opportunity, though, was not straightforward. For generation after generation, Ireland has been a one-note nation. With a recent history marred by sectarian violence, wondering what kind of Christian your neighbor was—Catholic or Protestant—was about as tuned to diversity as people got. Anyone who wasn’t 100 percent white was seen as something different.

    “It’s still a very new thing to have African people in Ireland, so we want to speak for those,” says God Knows, a Zimbabwe-born, West Ireland-based MC who forms one-third of the group Rusangano Family. With a razor-sharp flow that tugs at UK grime and Jamaican dancehall, God's rhymes slice to the core of heavy topics like racism in Ireland, immigration, and being an African raised in a country where any person of color is still assumed to be an outsider. On “Standard,” he opens up about life as a black kid in an all-white school, while “Throw the Spear” sees him decry those who would use racist slurs: “The n-word, I don’t trust that word/I don’t glorify that word, answer, or reply to that word.”

    The group’s producer, mynameisjOhn—an Irish music nerd who came up with hip-hop, electronic, and psych-rock ringing through his hoodie-hidden headphones—gives God and the group’s newest member, MuRli, who hails from Togo, plenty of ammunition for their visceral words, including skittering hi-hats to wah-wah funk to squelchy, DOOM-esque loops. More so than any Irish rap collective, though, Rusangano Family harness their African roots, sewing highlife guitars, triumphant horns, and rattling percussion into their tracks.

    For the trio, their music is not just about introducing Irish listeners to African culture—it’s about establishing themselves as Irishmen in their own right. As the country becomes increasingly pluralist, the one-time obvious tenets of Irishness are being challenged, and God Knows and MuRli have a unified message: They’re proud to be black, proud of their African heritage, and want to proudly represent their home country.

    “I don’t want to be just the black guy,” asserts God. “I’m an Irish person full-stop, as opposed to a black Irish man. I’m an Irishman that’s doing music, that’s pushing Ireland to the forefront, as opposed to pushing blacks or Africans.”

    “My perspective is shaped by everything that I’ve been through both in Africa and in Ireland,” adds MuRli, who cites his grandfather, a funeral singer, as his biggest influence, along with the Method Man and Ludacris tapes he copped from his schoolmates after arriving in the Irish city of Limerick in 2003, at age 12. “I don’t need to say I’m multicultural, I’m the portrait of multicultural.”

    Rusangano Family: "Wasteman" (via SoundCloud)

    Trotting that self-identity gambit is familiar to Emzee A, who credits hearing Nas’ “One Mic” during his childhood in Nigeria as his original rap inspiration. “It’s that balance where you want to adapt to the culture here without forgetting where you’re from,” he says. “And that’s the hardest part. Why I can’t just be fully Irish or fully African? Why do I have to find a balance?”

    Today, the young Nigerian is trailblazing his own unique style of hollowed-out cloud rap, drawing lyrical inspiration from sources as far flung as the writings of the Dalai Lama, to an interest in the inner workings of the mind and dreams. Having tasted stardom when he was pulled onstage and rapped alongside Jay Electronica at a Dublin gig last year, Emzee pictures himself as not just a local hero, but a global star, and he credits the emergence of fellow Dubliner Rejjie Snow as a motivating force. “He’s opening a lot of doors,” says Emzee. “He made me believe it’s possible.”

    Emzee A: "Lucid Dreaming" (via SoundCloud)

    At 22 and without an album to his name, Alex Anyaegbunam, aka Rejjie Snow, is already Ireland’s most celebrated rapper of all time. Emerging under the moniker Lecs Luther back in 2011, the quick-tongued MC dropped a couple of videos that infiltrated the U.S. rap blog circuit to an unprecedented degree for an Irish MC. With his nimble but laidback flow and fondness for jazzy, minimalist beats, he’s drawn plenty of Earl Sweatshirt comparisons.

    Anyaegbunam’s output since has been slow, especially in an era of ultra-prolific studio loiterers like Young Thug. But over the last couple of years, he’s stepped out of Odd Future’s shadow and established himself as one of alt-rap’s bright young things. Having uprooted to the U.S. and UK, he has a burning ambition to take a seat at rap’s head table. “I definitely want to be as big as Jay Z, or even bigger,” he tells me, speaking over the phone from Los Angeles.

    While most Irish rappers have utilized their heavy accents to pepper their rhymes with wry, region-specific gags, the baby-faced Rejjie was determined not to fall into the trap of just being another local star. While he wears his nationality proudly—one of the tracks that catapulted him is called “Dia Dhuit,” a greeting in the Irish language—his writing is loaded with snappy one-liners that travel, and his songs usually cover universal themes like love and growing up. And he’s quick to acknowledge the icons that inspire him. “Back in ‘92, Dr. Dre came/ The Chronic in my room, daddy would play/ I started making raps around ‘98/ When Big L died, the lord give and takes away,” he spits on “1992.”

    Rejjie Snow: "1992" [ft. Loye Carner] (via SoundCloud)

    “I definitely wasn’t naïve to the fact that coming out of Dublin and having an Irish persona and aesthetic was just going to reach a certain demographic, so I knew from early on that I had to do something a little bit different to catch the attention of other places,” says Anyaegbunam.

    The rapper’s parentage is a mix of Nigerian, Jamaican, and English, but, unlike Simi, Emzee and others, he was born in Dublin and raised in Drumcondra, an inner city suburb on the city’s north side. One of the only black faces in the area, he grew up amid a background buzz of racist diatribes. “It gave me tougher skin and in general made me who I am today,” he says with a brave face. “I think it all has to pass by. Growing up was obviously tough at times, because a lot of people are ignorant. But my parents and grandparents told me to not let it really get to me.”

    The vitriolic racism suffered by Anyaegbunam is far from isolated. When Africans flooded to Ireland in the late ’90s and early 2000s, the country was enjoying huge economic growth stimulated by low corporate taxation rates, the targeting of foreign direct investment, and the leveraging of the country’s EU membership. Overnight, Ireland was transformed from one of the poorest countries in Western Europe to one of the wealthiest. But antiquated ideals would take far longer to overturn.

    The ’80s and early ’90s were a bleak period of economic stagnation for conservative Ireland, a country where divorce was not legalized until 1995. Heroin plagued Dublin’s low-income housing neighborhoods, which became increasingly cut off from the city. These were the battlegrounds that many black families would be dropped into, haunted by the burden of a nation that viewed them as outsiders. As a recent study confirmed“black Africans” face the most racist abuse in Ireland to this day.

    Rejjie Snow: "Keep Your Head Up" (via SoundCloud)

    Chris Montana, who raps under the name Tafari Pesto, left Congo at age 7. Moving into the public housing neighborhood of Jobstown in Dublin, he distinctly remembers sleeping with the lights on to discourage neighbors from stirring trouble, and being subjected to constant racist abuse throughout school.

    But, as his classmates looked upon American rappers as distinct and separate, Montana saw them as symbols of strength. No matter that they were half a world away, there was comfort to be taken from the iconography of strong, powerful black men. “50 Cent’s album came out in 2003 and my life changed,” he says. “All of a sudden it was cool to be black.”

    Today, Montana forms one half of the group Dah Jevu alongside partner Bobby Basil. The pair makes bleak, hard music that serves as a medium to decry racism. The video for the brooding “Incubus,” sees them burning masks reminiscent of those donned by the KKK as a symbol of their rejection of the prejudice within Irish society.

    Like Emzee, Dah Jevu dream of making an impact globally. Bobby, in fact, envisions the day when the pair uproots from Dublin and heads to a corner of the world boasting a richer hip-hop history: Brooklyn. “We’d like to get the hell out of Ireland because I think there’s a lot more people out there who would appreciate our music—and us as people—than there would be here,” he says.

    While Rejjie Snow has already departed in search of becoming the great American rap star, and others look to follow in his footsteps, the Ireland they leave behind is not the same country they struggled in as children. Strolling through the bigger cities reveals an increasingly pluralist nation. The “us vs. them” mentality is fading, while calls for the introduction of hate crime legislation are becoming louder.

    The U.S. may offer riches, but it’s in Ireland that these young rappers’ music is most important. A decade after they arrived in this brave new world, their music is Exhibit A of their human struggle, and of the nation’s struggle to change with the times. It’s evidence laid down on wax forever. As God Knows puts it, “This is for the history books.” Now, for many of these artists, it’s about leaving that struggle behind forever and wielding a whole new kind of legacy.

    “I associate myself being equally Nigerian and Irish,” Simi Crowns tells me, dodging fans and well-wishers as the Sugar Club staff push us to the exit. “I feel 98 percent Nigerian and Irish. The remaining two percent I just want to be me.”

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    Rising: Boogie: A Rapper of Consequence

    Boogie: "Out My Way (Bitter Raps II)" (via SoundCloud)

    When out-of-towners picture Los Angeles, a good number of them are actually thinking of Burbank—the idyllic suburb a dozen miles northwest of L.A. proper, suspended in time and dotted with movie studios. From here, the downtown skyline seem like a mirage, and you can can walk for blocks without hearing a sound. But if you know which side streets to take—and listen closely for the rolling hi-hats and low end pulsing through garage-door paneling—you can find one of the best young rappers in the country.

    Until recently, Boogie was living an hour south of this tranquil locale, in Long Beach, a city that's wracked in places by gun violence and gangs. The MC, born Anthony Dixson, was introduced to that world during his adolescence, when a friend at the Compton church he attended revealed his Blood ties and encouraged Boogie to join. At this point, though, the 26-year-old father appreciates the little things about his new home: “The best part so far is that I was able to take my kid trick-or-treating without hearing gunshots.”

    Inside, most rooms are bare, but the bedroom has been fashioned into a makeshift studio, with a closet serving as an isolation booth; discarded plastic bottles and scrapped pieces of loose-leaf paper are strewn around. Sitting beside Boogie is Keyel, the producer who helmed his new single “Out My Way (Bitter Raps 2)” and who’s presiding over today’s recording session. 

    On one wall is a whiteboard with the tentative tracklist for Thirst 48 Pt. 2, Boogie’s forthcoming mixtape. It’ll be his first effort since signing to Interscope last year and it could be a departure from his previous work in one very important way: its release date. His first two solo efforts, Thirst 48 and The Reach, dropped on his 6-year-old son Darius’ birthday, June 24—in 2014 and 2015 respectively—as a nod to the little man who serves as his biggest inspiration. But this time, the heightened buzz for his latest tape might overshadow everything else on the calendar. 

    It’s just one of the ways in which the rapper’s life is beginning to change. It’s late March, and Boogie is fresh off the plane from Austin, where his SXSW experience was starkly different from last year’s. “Getting stopped was crazy to me,” he says. “It’s not like it was a lot, but even the 10 people recognizing me was huge. Last time, I was seeing other celebrities and probably thinking about stopping them to get a picture. And now, my Uber driver asked to take my picture.”

    Boogie went from local favorite to national curiosity with the release of last spring’s “Oh My.” The song showcases the MC’s array of flows and voices, and made its way onto commercial radio playlists almost immediately. It confirmed what those in Southern California already knew: that Boogie has an innate ability to inject grit and paranoia into party music, or to bring joy and optimism to the grimmest situation. On “Change,” the closing song from The Reach, he details sitting at his friend’s funeral, his mind racing with anger and hope for the future—emotions at odds with one another, but stemming from the same place. It’s a running theme: Boogie is quick to point out the perils of gang life but is also able to speak from a place of authority because he refuses to disown his peers. 

    Today he’s dressed in a clean white T-shirt and a Chicago Cubs hat, pulled low. He’s much more measured and reserved than on record, but he projects a quiet confidence. When asked about his plans for the rest of the year, he breaks out in an unmistakable grin.

    “My main thing is showing how this gangbanging life is not cool. I’ve got a kid and I don’t want him to grow up in the same cycle.”

    Boogie and his 6-year-old son Darius. Photo by Nathaniel Wood.

    Pitchfork: You grew up in Long Beach and Compton, how have those places changed in the last few years? 

    Boogie: I wouldn’t even say they’ve changed a lot—it’s still bad everywhere. But there are more rappers now who are actually using the platform to talk about it; Kendrick opened the door for people like me and Vince [Staples] to speak up instead of just glorifying the ignorant stuff. For a long time, since N.W.A, I felt like people were quiet about what was going on.

    Pitchfork: When did you know “Oh My” was going to get so big?

    B: When [producer] Jahlil [Beats] sent me the beat, I was still staying with my mom. I was in my bedroom with my kid and I started humming the melody—and he just started dancing to it. That was when I knew it was going to be a hit. I saw him dancing, and I recorded to it.

    Pitchfork: What does your son like to listen to?

    B: He likes turnt-up music. He loved “Oh My” because it’s super catchy, but he likes Drake more than he likes me for sure. [laughs]

    Pitchfork: It seems easy for you to switch between party music and stuff that’s somber and more concerned with the consequences.

    B: I was raised just by my mom, so I think that’s why I’m in touch with my sensitive side. But when she sent me away to this church in Compton, and I went outside, I had to have thick skin and be tough. That made me who I am today. 

    Pitchfork: How does Thirst 48 Pt. 2 differ from part one?  

    B: It’s just natural growth. We’re in here working every day and we’re getting better. For a while after I got my deal, I got out of my feelings sometimes—I was thinking I was too tough. I had to refocus. Now I feel like I’m in a way better place, and I touched back into my vulnerable side. I’m back to showing my flaws. That’s what got me to where I am in the first place. 

    Pitchfork: What helped you refocus?

    B: When I get too big-headed I’ve got people around me who let me know. We don’t always see eye-to-eye, because we’re like family, and that’s how family is. But lately I’ve been telling myself that, at the end of the day, it is my decision. I’m gonna listen to the homies, but I’m definitely gonna go with my gut. I trust my ear. 

    Boogie: "Catching Feelings" [ft. Tink] (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: How has your live show progressed since you got bigger? 

    B: Last year I was yelling when I got on the mic. We didn’t have performance tracks; I was rapping over the vocals and I was yelling. It took me about two shows, and getting pressed by my manager and seeing disappointment in people’s eyes, for me to get it together. And now I feel like I’m probably the best rap performer. [laughs] 

    Pitchfork: What creative challenges are you tackling right now? 

    B: More melodies, for sure. I’m trying to test my voice a lot more, to be a lot more open—I still feel I could dig deeper. There’s a lot of topics and subjects that I wasn’t sure I should touch yet because of the politics in the streets. But now I’m to that point where I don’t really care. There’s stuff that needs to be said. 

    Pitchfork: What are some of those topics? 

    B: My main thing is showing how this gangbanging life is not cool. Because I’m a part of it, and I feel like right now it’s so diluted, and rap makes it so trendy. Everybody thinks it’s cool. I talk on it a lot, but I was scared people were gonna say it was corny, and I didn’t wanna get looked on as a preacher. But now I’m actually just trying to show my problems, because I’m a part of the problem, too. I’ve got a kid and I don’t want him to grow up in the same cycle.

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    Longform: Yearbook: Beyond Rock—The Heyday of Chicago’s ’90s DIY Scene

    In 1993, if you loved underground music, Chicago was a special place to be. Abrasive post-punk and indie rock crossed paths frequently with the city’s vital free jazz scene. There were regular house music nights at rock bars. All across the city there was a sense of musical playfulness and a lack of desire to be pigeonholed. 

    To understand why, we need to rewind to 1986, when the Near Northwest Arts Council (NNWAC) formed in the then-somewhat bleak neighborhood of Wicker Park, an area with a good deal of unused industrial space. A non-profit built to support local artists who had historically been shut out of more traditional museums and galleries, the NNWAC set up an office in 1988 in the Flatiron Arts Building at the intersection of Milwaukee, North, and Damen Avenues, and began curating exhibits and performances and organizing studio tours. The NNWAC helped turn Wicker Park into a destination neighborhood for visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians, who quickly started to turn the cheap and plentiful industrial lofts in the area into live-work spaces. The gentrification process had begun.

    Watch the latest episode of's new series "Yearbook," which chronicles important years in Chicago music history.

    In late 1991, Nirvana’s Nevermind was on its way to becoming a full-blown cultural phenomenon, sending label representatives “cool-hunting” in marginal hubs of artistic activity across the U.S. in search of the next Seattle and the next big payday. “There was a huge influx of money,” audio engineer, outspoken advocate for all things Chicago and DIY, and Shellac guitarist Steve Albini explains. “You can't overstate how much that changed everything. Independent labels and bands stopped being sidelines and became going concerns. Touch and Go became a distributor and manufacturer for a lot of them, doing millions of dollars of business with some of the weirdest music and people imaginable. That was our peer group, but there was also a predatory layer, big labels sending scouts to shows with a buzz around them, labels like Matador and Sub Pop becoming imprints for major labels and just fucking burning their money.”

    He continues: “Speculators wrote absurd checks to bands on very little evidence, sometimes without a note of music in the shops. Labels sank fortunes into promotion, buying out venues and offering tickets for free, paying headline bands for support slots and festival positions. Radio payola guys made a mint buying airplay to break bands in different markets. Lawyers got involved, some specializing in the independent/major interface, crafting complex documents that were more likely to expire unfulfilled than run to term. Bookers became booking agents and managers. Local booking agencies became international players. Money changed everything, and one of the things it changed was the expectations bands had—some bands saw this insane inflation as their birthright. Local journalists, bought off with access and promotional spending, began to write about this feeding frenzy as though it were the renaissance of a music scene that had been percolating along nicely regardless.”

    While a few artists, like Urge Overkill and Eleventh Dream Day, were plucked out of Chicago’s DIY scene, others, like Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair, weren’t well-known regulars in that small, tight-knit world. Patrick Monaghan, who founded Carrot Top Records in 1993, remembers seeing Phair for the first time at “a small Polish bar” not long before Exile in Guyville, written about Phair’s experiences in Wicker Park, came out. Monaghan describes Phair at the time as a nervous performer, a “shy girl with an acoustic guitar” who was largely ignored due to her lack of stage presence; he could tell, however, that there was something special about her regardless. When Guyville broke, he was a bit surprised to see that Phair’s stage persona had changed significantly, but not at all surprised to see her success.

    Liz Phair. Photo by Marty Perez.

    A startling number of DIY labels that would go on to have great legacies were founded or thrived in Chicago in the early 1990s, partly because the city's DIY scene bred and supported weird, wonderful artists who would never be able to find the right home on a larger label. Corey and Lisa Rusk had moved their Touch and Go Records operation to Chicago in the mid-'80s. Drag City was founded in 1990; Skin Graft started putting out records in '91; Bloodshot Records began in '92. Kranky and Carrot Top were founded in '93; Los Crudos frontman Martin Sorrondeguy began putting out records on his own imprint, Lengua Armada, in '93, and Thrill Jockey moved to Chicago in '95.

    There was a lot of amazing music in our circles at the time,” Albini says. “Tortoise, Mule, the Jesus Lizard, Mouse, and other animal-named-bands. Drag City wasn't particularly Chicago-centric but their Chicago crew was spectacular, Brise-Glace, anything with David Grubbs in it, Jim O'Rourke, all of Rian Murphy's endeavors.”

    The Jesus Lizard. Photo by Marty Perez.

    Most of those groups, and indeed most of the creative and independent music in Chicago, was still too off-map for mainstream consumption at that time. The legendary first-wave British art-punk collective Mekons had “adopted Chicago as their town,” says Doug McCombs, of Tortoise, Eleventh Dream Day, and Brokeback; Mekons/Three Johns founder Jon Langford relocated to Chicago in the early '90s. Langford’s desire to fuse folk and punk in fascinating and confounding ways significantly influenced the Mekons’ direction away from a more straightforward post-punk route. 

    McCombs also cites Azita Youssefi’s theatrical no-wave group Scissor Girls as one of the most vital acts of the time. “I often look for bands that don't sound like anyone else, and Scissor Girls were kind of like that. The music that Azita's made since then has totally followed suit—you can still see this thing that's totally her own and totally personal.”

    For many musicians who grew up listening to punk, free jazz's improvisational nature and rejection of genre conventions made a lot of sense. The crossover between the DIY scene and the avant-garde jazz scene in Chicago in the early '90s led to bands like the Flying Luttenbachers and Tortoise, and the scenes at the HotHouse, where saxophonist Ken Vandermark had a weekly residency, and Lower Links, a club in Wrigleyville that spotlighted underground hip-hop, avant-garde jazz, and experimental music. Cornetist Josh Berman observes, “If you think about the influence of free jazz on the players of Tortoise, and then you think about the influence of free jazz in the no-wave scene, it's really just a different kind of free music, right? It's all the same bag.”

    “There was definitely a real interest in free jazz and other music outside of indie rock,” says Chicago Reader critic Peter Margasak. “That's why that stupid ‘post-rock’ term came about, because it was just musicians looking for inspiration elsewhere. Openness and curiosity that fed into it. It wasn't just people saying, ‘Oh, rock is so over.’ It was people saying, ‘We have to look beyond.’”

    Tortoise. Photo by Marty Perez.

    Free jazz and indie rock mixed frequently at the HotHouse, where Berman remembers seeing the George Freeman Trio, Gastr Del Sol, and Tortoise on one bill in 1994. McCombs remembers Ken Vandermark booking musicians from the legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a hub for avant-garde jazz since the '60s. Jeff Parker remembers seeing Tortoise at the HotHouse before he joined the band.

    Parker, who played in a soul-funk band called Uptighty at the time with Dan Bitney, who would also go on to be in Tortoise, and Leroy Bach, who played with Tortoise’s John Herndon in 5ive Style and, later on, in Wilco, emphasizes how much was going on at that time. As does McCombs, who mentions Tortoise soundman, former Nerves drummer, and current stick man for the post-punk trio Stomatopod, Elliot Dicks, as someone who could always make a show happen at a moment’s notice: “Elliot was a pretty important person around that time because he would try to make things happen on a super underground level. If someone wanted to do a show in a house or in some unconventional space, he would pull his PA system there on a skateboard and just set it up.”

    That sense of freedom, improvisation, and playfulness carried over to the more rock-oriented Lounge Ax, which Albini calls “the greatest live music club there ever was,” and McCombs calls “my favorite venue in the entire world.” It's where lounge revivalists the Coctails had accomplished jazz improvisers sit in with them, and where Shrimp Boat played, according to McCombs, “this totally skronky, weird, idiosyncratic music with pop songs on top of it. They probably played like two shows a week and it felt like they were doing a completely new set of material each time they played.”

    The Lounge Ax. Photo by Marty Perez.

    McCombs describes the first ever Tortoise show, at the Lounge Ax, in 1994: “We were supposed to be opening for the Ex but they didn't make it because they had problems at the border of Canada. So it just turned into a free show, but people didn't know that until they got to the door, because there was no way to spread the news that the Ex hadn't made it. But when people found out the Ex weren't playing, they didn't just turn around and go home. There ended up being 300 people there. It was pretty incredible. People were really supportive at the time.”

    In November 1993, Billboard published a cover story on Wicker Park titled “Chicago: Cutting Edge’s New Capital,” which many saw as the death knell for the area's small and vibrant independent arts community; it certainly helped to bring an influx of tourists into the neighborhood, though the true backlash to gentrification began as far back as 1990. 

    Berman emphasizes the cheap rent in the early '90s as necessary for artists to have the time and resources to put so much energy into their work, but also notes that Chicago music still blossoms because fewer people are watching what’s going on: “For the most part, if you wanted to become a famous jazz musician, this was not the place to be. This was the place to be if you wanted to create your own music in a really individual way. That might have a platitude feel to it, but I think there's something to really be said for a guy like Jeff [Parker] staying here and really being able to do a ton of things while working as a musician and really creating [something new]. Ken [Vandermark] totally exemplifies that, too.”

    Things have changed since then, of course, and Albini reflects on what the current landscape means for independent music in Chicago: “The thing we've lost is the influx of cash that the profiteers enabled. When there's loose money around, everybody feels like a winner. I'd say the core of active individuals is still there, though there are fewer freeloaders and people of naked ambition. Now everybody has to earn every nickel and it doesn't seem quite as glamorous to drag your ass up and down the country if there's no tour bus or record deal on the horizon.”

    And not many of the old spaces remain. Wax Trax! Records, the storefront version of the iconic punk, new wave, and industrial imprint, formerly within spitting distance of Lounge Ax, moved to a much smaller space in '93 and finally shuttered in '96  following founder Jim Nash’s death. Monaghan remembers the store fondly as a special crossing point for electronic music, particularly house music, and rock playing a similar role for that cross-pollination as the HotHouse and Lower Links did for indie rock and jazz.

    The HotHouse moved out of Wicker Park in 1995 and has since become more of a non-profit organization for supporting musicians than a venue. The Lounge Ax closed in 2000 due to unfortunate pressures from neighbors who thought the scrappy rock club didn’t belong in gentrified Lincoln Park, the difficulties of maintaining an alcohol license in a city that keeps changing rules and fees on bar owners, and a landlord who didn’t truly support the club’s existence.

    Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. Photo by Matthew Daniels.

    The Empty Bottle, which started booking bands in earnest in its current location in '93, thrives, as does the Rainbo Club, a Wicker Park bar that seems strangely impervious to the evolving neighborhood, which is mostly sports bars and designer outposts these days. McCombs says of the Rainbo’s magic: “That's a place where all of us have worked and drunk for a long time. It's not a venue, really, but it's just a really great place. It hasn't changed hardly at all in all that time. The Rainbo Club has been able to dodge gentrification by being the ultra-curmudgeon of bars; the sports bar crowd doesn't see the appeal of going into the Rainbo Club.”

    The legacy of the fertile and experimental early '90s in Chicago lives on, too, and time has been kind to the music made in that scene. Many of those bands are well-respected, well-loved, well-remembered, and well-thought-of if they’re still going. According to Margasak: “Time has proven that the [underground bands] are the ones that people still care about, whereas no one remembers a lot of those major label bands.”

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    Electric Fling: The Next Revolución: Adventures in Modern Mexican Dance Music

    Electric Fling is a column that explores the world of dance music.

    A1 “Licht und das Biest”

    In hindsight, perhaps watching Sicario en route to Mexico City for an informal dance music showcase wasn’t the greatest idea. Denis Villeneuve’s intense film—which Grantland deemed “the Apocalypse Now of the drug war”—looks at the thin line separating the United States and Mexico, good and bad, sanity and psychosis. And the drug war does inform our own club culture, as Los Angeles DJ IZM put it in a harrowing story about his wrongful imprisonment in a Mexico prison last month: “We consume drugs and we have no fucking clue as to the repercussions. We are inadvertently perpetuating corruption and misery and violence with every bump or line we do.” In the film, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro’s shadowy government agents gaze through a chainlink fence at the orange lights of Juarez just across the U.S.-Mexico border and call such luminosity “The Beast”; gazing out the plane window in January while descending into Mexico City’s massive sprawl, it’s all too easy to make a false equivalence.

    “There’s always this Hollywood impression, but Mexico has so much good,” says Mexico City electronic music producer Demian Licht in her third-floor apartment. “We have a bad impression where Mexico equals blood.” At that, a police siren blares outside.

    In her home studio, there’s a mannequin’s bust on a desk with the word “revolucione” in black down its sternum. For Licht, electronic music has been about upheaval and paradigm shifts, ever since she was 13 years old and saw a Chemical Brothers video on MTV. “It was the most transgressive thing,” she says. “It showed me a new world.”

    The scene at a recent all-female electronic showcase in Mexico City.

    Later that night, Licht headlines a showcase put together by Bushwick, Brooklyn DJ collective Discwoman, comprised of Emma Burgess-Olson, Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, and Christine Tran. They are promoting an all-woman lineup—something unheard of in one of the world’s largest cities. “In Mexico, the presence of women is just starting,” Licht says. 

    Salon Paradiso is a dive of a venue, squeezed between an actual salon and a shwarma stand in a coarse part of the city. Judging by the black-and-white tiled dancefloor inside, the place is more hospitable for salsa than techno, but it also brings to mind similarly repurposed spaces, be they in Bushwick or Beijing. The bill features Umfang (Burgess-Olson’s DJ handle), Chicago’s the Black Madonna, and an undercard of local female producers who have never played live in their own hometown, including Licht and Nina Sonik

    Licht created this video for her ominous track "Sin" using film footage she found on YouTube.

    I’m told that popular electronic music in Mexico City ranges from Guetta-esque EDM to gabber and hardcore, so there’s a bit of disconnect as the kids streaming into Paradiso try to engage with underground techno instead. The vibe of the room is much like that of a middle school dance, in that there's not much dancing. But in watching the number of young Latina women leading their boyfriends inside, tonight the inspiration might be behind the decks rather than in front of them. When Licht starts her live hardware set, there’s a palpable, thrilling energy shift in the room. She processes her voice and pairs it with sine waves that suddenly mutate into 128bpm techno full of squelches, hiccups, plunked piano, and high frequencies, unpredictable and exhilarating at every turn. 

    Demian Licht: "Tension" (via SoundCloud)

    “For me, electronic music is not just about partying, it's about the future,” she tells me after her set. “I like to transform the dancehall.” Licht has lived and traveled in the U.S. and Europe, but ultimately found herself returning home to not just make music but—as the lone female Ableton-certified trainer for sound engineering in all of Latin America—to help other women make their own music as well. “In New York and Berlin, everything has been achieved,” she says. “So I think I have the mission and the knowledge to give something to my country and my society.”

    Brooklyn DJ collective Discwoman in Mexico City.

    A2 “Anti-Antro”

    I’m seated at a fish taco stand with four members of Mexico City’s N.A.A.F.I. crew: Tomás Davo, Lauro Robles, Paul Marmota, and Alberto Bustamante. They look like skate kids who turned into DJs (or vice versa) clad in black baseball caps, sweatshirts, camo pants, Nike trainers. They are explaining the state of club culture in their city. The word they keep lighting on is “antro.” 

    Antro is like a club that is sort of posh,” says Bustamante, a curly-haired livewire who also goes by the handle Mexican Jihad. Lauro “Lao” Robles, whose own curly locks are bleached dirty blond, adds: “The DJ there doesn't matter. It's about getting past the guy at the door and paying a lot of money to just get in. And they'll be playing like Top 40. That’s antro.”

    Paul Marmota: "Aire" (via SoundCloud)

    The fact that Mexico City’s club culture is largely antro is what brought the four together. Ask about the roots of N.A.A.F.I., and they credit parties, shared musical tastes, and sensibilities as much as the Internet itself. They dug batida from Lisbon as well as what Fade to Mind and the like were up to, but rather than beats, genres, or scenes, it’s the ligaments that connected it all that drew the quartet together. “I don't think it has anything to do with the specific sound of the music we were listening to,” Bustamante says. “It was more about the contemporary way that music is travelling and distributed. It signified a new time period.”

    “A lot of that music already existed, but Internet platforms were still coming out,” Paul Marmota says. “So it was the first time it was being exported out of South Africa, or Angola, or Mexico, and other parts of the world, so it was very new.”

    N.A.A.F.I.: "Truffel Butter en la Mia (Zutzut Edit)" (via SoundCloud)

    Their name itself suggests such permeability and mutability; N.A.A.F.I. is an acronym that has meaning for both Brits (Navy, Army, Air Force, Institutes) and Afrikaners (“No Ambition And Fuck-all Interest”). And now it’s emblazoned on everything from lighters to coke baggies. In the rapidly changing topography of their city’s club scene, N.A.A.F.I. has kept up, moving from illegal parties in abandoned spaces to staging events at museums like Centro de Cultura Digital.

    After lunch, we walk through a bustling plaza and towards their office, passing graffiti of Steve Aoki’s face, torn posters announcing big shows from bigger EDM acts like Paul Kalkbrenner and Magda. Lauro steps towards a lamppost and quickly tags it. We walk by a shop marked by a sign that’s half black, half white; Davo explains that it sells both good and bad magic, depending on the situation.

    N.A.A.F.I.'s Lauro “Lao” Robles at the Discwoman showcase in Mexico City.

    B1 “Pro-Perreo”

    Upon their formation, N.A.A.F.I. quickly found kindred connections to omnivorous collectives like NON, Fade to Mind, Night Slugs, Mixpak, and Lit City Trax, all of which favor a mercurial bass sound that’s resolutely native yet still somehow without borders. For N.A.A.F.I., such a culture clash between high and low can mean dropping a reggaeton remix of Hyperdub’s electronic conceptualist Fatima Al Qadiri that earns the ire of her label. But N.A.A.F.I.’s style is ever-shifting: it’s the playful and sinister electronics of Paul Marmota; of Nicki Minaj and reggaeton singer Yaviah mashed together; the blat of car horns and screeching brakes; of the instantly discarded dance music forms prefabricated for Mexican teens. They recently played at SXSW and, in May, they’ll take part in the Red Bull Music Academy in New York City.

    N.A.A.F.I.: "Acceleration" (via SoundCloud)

    N.A.A.F.I. know that the Internet can also lead to mercenary-like cultural appropriation of smaller subcultures. At the moment, they are into perreo, a strain of reggaeton that thrives well out in the suburbs of Mexico City. “They’re day parties for minors,” says Lao. He’s been to a few and, despite still being young himself, he’s definitely the oldest dude in the room. These parties are fueled by juice as well as mona, a cheap inhalant. Soon, most perreo fans will age up to antro and EDM.

    “When you approach some of the phenomena and make them about how they look, you kill them because you commodify it and it just becomes an aesthetic,” Bustamante says. They hope to promote the work of some perreo producers but know that they have to work fast and carefully to keep the culture intact. “It's just brewing constantly,” says Paul Marmota. “It doesn't stop brewing.” 

    The inaugural Comunité festival took place in January in Tulum, Mexico.

    B2 “You Are Here Now”

    Tell any dance festival hopper that you’re headed to a fest situated outside of Cancun, and they’ll reply: “Oh, BPM!” But while that beer-sponsored two-week monolith boasts an exhaustive roster of nearly 400 EDM DJs and gobbles up all of Playa del Carmen and most of the Yucatan Peninsula, in one corner of the Mayan Riviera, a smaller event is quietly and consciously celebrating its inaugural edition. 

    Comunité, the handiwork of Mexican DJs and curators, starts off its two-day festival in January not with a secret party, but rather a film screening about how a vegan diet might benefit the planet. Sustainability is one of the tenets of the festival, and there are signs that announce its conservation efforts, like how serving vegan food means more than three million liters of water will be saved along with 2,000 square meters of surrounding woodland. But in case you are wondering if your hard partying will be better served up the highway at BPM, know that Comunité also testifies to the “spiritual aperture” of Mezcal, which flows freely—and that one secret day party transpires at what was once Pablo Escobar’s sprawling jungle compound.

    The Comunité festival featured two stages erected under a pyramid of tree trunks and palm fronds.

    The peninsula is a funny mix of ancient Mayan culture and the ancient “espousing” of its touristic conquerors. Revelers can look upon the Mayan ruins and discuss variations on vibes and paths. Yogis on the beach pose oblivious to the locals shoveling away the dense sargassum that would otherwise fill their lungs with its sulfur. Mindful breaths bring in sweet sea air, generator diesel, and jungle rot. Vacationing Europeans can be heard raving about the price of beer here versus pricey Ibiza. Considering the exchange rate, the movement to make this locale the next EDM mecca is already afoot.

    But it’s hard to argue about a dance music festival featuring two stages erected under a pyramid of tree trunks and palm fronds, and the luxury of dancing barefoot on sand fluffy as fresh snow. The only clouds darkening Comunité’s positive outlook are the actual clouds themselves, which hang over the festival the entire duration, resulting in wind-chopped waves and palm fronds bent as if a comb-over. The bill can’t be beat though: a heady mix of Central American producers, Eastern European minimalists, and Detroit’s finest. 

    The Yucatán Peninsula, where Comunité took place, could be the next EDM mecca.

    The opening set, of Traumprinz/DJ Metatron’s forthcoming ambient album, works perfectly against the silver skies. Ecuadorian producer Nicola Cruz delivers one of the early highlights of the fest. Much like his onetime collaborator Nicolas Jaar, Cruz’s set gets psychedelic without topping 92bpm. Big, leisurely thwacked percussion, fine crystal clinks, plucked strings, and slivers of pan pipe melody all get gobbled up in a slow, immersive dub. A woman’s disembodied voice enters midway through his set, sighing sensuously as she describes her body in Spanish.

    Nicola Cruz: Comunite Mix (via SoundCloud)

    Having been at festivals where checking out a different stage involves a 20-minute hike, there’s a sense of ease to stroll between the refined minimalism of Weimar, Germany’s Giegling label and the woolly eclecticism of Detroit’s Mahogani Music. Dez Andres effortlessly moves from Prince bootlegs to samba, De La Soul’s “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’” to Omar’s “Feeling You.” And Moodymann pulls up his hoodie to obscure his face throughout a set full of U-turns and giddy highs: Balearic pop like Crazy P’s “Heartbreaker,” South African house vocalist Bucie, and classic dark acid from Tyree. After so many years of illegal warehouses, crowded bars, and smoke-filled rooms, dancing with my feet in the sand and the stars in view feels like paradise.

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    Longform: The Pitchfork Guide to Festivals

    Welcome to the new Pitchfork Guide to Festivals. Formerly an annual rundown of our favorite summer fests, we've expanded and improved the Guide to make it a year-round list. This comprehensive collection includes events all over the world, big and small, in cities and out in the countryside, in fields and clubs and parks. The only thing they all have in common? Lots of great bands.

    We'll be updating the Guide regularly throughout the year. So bookmark this page and check back often.

    Jump to any month » April - May - June - July - August - September


    Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival April 15, 2016— April 24, 2016 / Indio, CA

    The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival returns to Indio, California once again for two weekends of peace, love, flower crowns, and this year, big-name reunions: Both LCD Soundsystem and Guns N' Roses will reunite with their original lineups for two headlining shows a piece. As always, Coachella takes place at the Empire Polo Club.

    Lineup Highlights

    Friday April 15 & 22: LCD Soundsystem, Ellie Goulding, Sufjan Stevens, Jack Ü, M83, Underworld, The Kills, Foals, Purity Ring, Rae Sremmurd, Savages, The Last Shadow Puppets, Joey Bada$$, DJ Mustard, Christine and the Queens, Ibeyi, HEALTH, Mavis Staples, Skepta, Sheer Mag

    Saturday April 16 & 23: Guns N' Roses, Ice Cube, Disclosure, Zedd, A$AP Rocky, Chvrches, Grimes, Courtney Barnett, Run the Jewels, The Arcs, RL Grime, Lush, Deerhunter, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Rhye, Bat for Lashes, Vince Staples, AlunaGeorge, Shamir, DJ Koze, Sophie, Alvvays

    Sunday April 17 & 24: Calvin Harris, Sia, Major Lazer, Flume, Beach House, The 1975, Miike Snow, Matt and Kim, Death Grips, Baauer, Hudson Mohawke, Kamasi Washington, Melody's Echo Chamber, Anderson.Paak, Nosaj Thing, Deafheaven, Alessia Cara, Girlpool

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Norman April 21, 2016— April 23, 2016 / Norman, OK

    Norman is a free three-day music festival in Oklahoma. Put on by the Norman Music Alliance, its mission is to help develop the arts community in Oklahoma through support of local artists, music fans, art education, and local businesses.

    Lineup Highlights

    Cloud Nothings, Small Black, Open Mike Eagle, Nobunny, Skating Polly, Woozy and Traindodge, Power Trip

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    24-Hour Drone: Experiments in Sound and Music April 25, 2016— April 26, 2016 / Hudson, NY

    Presented by Basilica Hudson & Le Guess Who?, 24-Hour Drone runs from 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 25 until 3 p.m. the next day. It features musicians experimenting in electronic, psychedelic, classical, non-western, and instrumental drone music in-the-round in Basilica's Main Hall.

    Lineup Highlights

    Prurient, Suuns, Bobby Previte, Patrick Higgins, Arone Dyer, Randy Gibson, Greg Fox, Lea Bertucci, Jessica Moss

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Further Future April 29, 2016— May 01, 2016 / Las Vegas, NV

    Further Future returns in 2016 for its second year. The three-day electronic music and techno festival takes place in Las Vegas.

    Lineup Highlights

    Caribou, Oneohtrix Point Never, Andy Stott, Four Tet, Nicolas Jaar, Fort Romeau, Dixon, The Pharcyde, Birds of Passage, Donato Dozzy, Jam City, Jane Fitz, Rival Consoles, WhoMadeWho, DJ Tennis, Kid Koala, Tropic of Cancer

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    GrooveFest Malta April 29, 2016— May 01, 2016 / Rabat, Malta

    The Mediterranean festival celebrates house music and spans three days.

    Lineup Highlights

    Route 94, Art Department, Kölsch, Jamie Jones


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Levitation April 29, 2016— May 01, 2016 / Austin, TX

    Last year, Austin Psych Fest updated itself as Levitation. Now in its second year under the new moniker (and ninth overall), Levitation features alternative and electronic acts who uphold the festival's psych the tradition. It takes place over three days at Carson Creek Ranch. For 2016, the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson will perform the band's 1966 Pet Sounds with Al Jardine for the album's 50th anniversary.

    Lineup Highlights

    Brian Wilson, Ween, Animal Collective, Caribou, Courtney Barnett, Flying Lotus, Slowdive, Sleep, Nicolas Jaar, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Ty Segall, Super Furry Animals, Sunn O))), Boris, Royal Trux, Thurston Moore Band, Black Mountain, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Parquet Courts, Dungen, Oneohtrix Point Never, Shabazz Palaces, Woods, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Lee Ranaldo, Twin Peaks, La Luz, Heron Oblivion, Mild High Club, Ultimate Painting, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    donaufestival April 29, 2016— May 07, 2016 / Krems, Austria

    donaufestival takes place over two weekends in Austria. Mogwai will perform their new album Atomic at the festival.

    Lineup Highlights

    Mogwai, DJ Koze, Le1f, RP Boo, Fatima Al Qadiri, Omar Souleyman, Lotic, Evian Christ, Babyfather, Hieroglyphic Being, Cut Hands, Wolf Eyes, Kode9, Rødhåd, Blanck Mass

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Moonstone April 30, 2016— May 01, 2016 / Orlando, FL

    Moonstone is a brand new rock music festival in Orlando. It takes place over two days at the Central Florida Fairgrounds. It features over 100 acts across six stages.

    Lineup Highlights

    Kiss, Def Leppard, Kansas The Flaming Lips, Scott Stapp, Surfer Blood, The White Buffalo, Vintage Trouble

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Jump to any month » April - May - June - July - August - September

    Welcome to the new Pitchfork Guide to Festivals. Formerly an annual rundown of our favorite summer fests, we've expanded and improved the Guide to make it a year-round list. This comprehensive collection includes events all over the world, big and small, in cities and out in the countryside, in fields and clubs and parks. The only thing they all have in common? Lots of great bands.

    We'll be updating the Guide regularly throughout the year. So bookmark this page and check back often.

    Jump to any month » April - May - June - July - August - September

    Festival Manana May 04, 2016— May 06, 2016 / Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

    Now that the end of the US-Cuba embargo is upon us, Cuba is now home to its own Kickstarter-funded electronic music festival, featuring an eclectic, international lineup.

    Lineup Highlights

    Adrian Sherwood, Nicholas Jaar, A Guy Called Gerald, Soundway Records

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Nuits Sonores May 04, 2016— May 08, 2016 / Lyon, France

    Nuits Sonores is dedicated to electronic, independent, visual, and interactive cultures. It takes place around Ascension Day over five days and five nights at about 40 locations across Lyon.

    Lineup Highlights

    Moderat, Mogwai, Peaches, Africaine 808, Cakes Da Killa, Daniel Avery, Diane, Dixon, DJ Harvey, Fatima Yamaha, Fort Romeau, Horse Meat Disco, Konono N°1, Maceo Plex, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Palma Violets, Pantha Du Prince, Powell, Rødhåd, Russian Circles, Seven Davis Jr., Seth Troxler, Tony Allen

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Rolling Loud May 06, 2016— May 07, 2016 / Miami, FL

    Rolling Loud is a rap festival in Miami. It takes place over two days.

    Lineup Highlights

    Future, Young Thug, Lil B, Curren$y, Freddie Gibbs, Kodak Black, Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, Da$h, Lil Yachty, Yung Simmie, Nyck Caution

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Art of Cool May 06, 2016— May 08, 2016 / Durham, NC

    Art of Cool is a three-day jazz festival in North Carolina. In addition to the music, the festival features eductational programs and late-night jam sessions.

    Lineup Highlights

    Terence Blanchard, Thundercat, The Internet, Kamasi Washington, Nicholas Payton, Taylor McFerrin, Moonchild, Brandee Younger, Otis Brown III, Derrick Hodge, JD Allen, Chareene Wade, Kendrick Scott

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Waking Windows May 06, 2016— May 08, 2016 / Winooski, VT

    Winooski, VT's three-day festival celebrates music, art, comedy, food, and drink. Its sixth edition features a lineup with over 100 acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Yacht, Speedy Ortiz, Mac McCaughan and the Non-Believers, Waxahatchee, Hop Along, Califone, Eskimeaux, The Besnard Lakes, Lady Lamb, Chris Cohen, Protomartyr

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Restless Natives May 09, 2016— May 15, 2016 / Glasgow, Scotland

    Restless Natives Festival takes place over a week and features an array of music and film events spread throughout seven venues and studios in Glasgows East End. This year's installment will include a Q&A with Fugazi's Ian Mackaye.

    Lineup Highlights

    Ghostface Killah, Tim Hecker, Future of the Left, Into It. Over It., The Hotelier, Rolo Tomassi, Blanck Mass, Caves, Dalhous

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    FOCUS Wales May 12, 2016— May 14, 2016 / Wrexham, Wales

    FOCUS Wales features over 200 acts across 20 stages. It takes place at venues throughout Wrexham in North Wales.

    Lineup Highlights

    The Joy Formidable, Los Campesinos!, The Sunshine Underground, Gwenno, God Damn, H.Hawkline, Meilyr Jones, Kagoule, Golden Fable, Peter Hook, Kizzy Crawford, JOHN LAWRENCE, HMS Morris, Sŵnami, Press to MECO, Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog, Hippies Vs Ghosts

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Extrema Outdoor Belgium May 13, 2016— May 15, 2016 / Houthalen, Belgium

    The Belgian festival returns to its beautiful Lake Kelchterhoef setting for three days of dance music.

    Lineup Highlights

    Carl Craig, Nina Kraviz, Groove Armada, Skream, Scuba, Simon Dunmore

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    FORM Arcosanti May 13, 2016— May 15, 2016 / Arcosanti, AZ

    Hundred Waters curate this off-the-grid festival, which takes place within an urban laboratory in the Arizona desert.

    Lineup Highlights

    Skrillex, Bonobo, Four Tet, Tortoise, Thundercat, Perfume Genius, Bill Callahan, Dan Deacon, Julia Holter

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Incubate May 13, 2016— May 15, 2016 / Tilburg, Netherlands

    Incubate is a celebration of “cutting-edge culture,” highlighting music by artists whose work spans the gamut from black metal to free jazz, from harsh noise to krautrock.

    Lineup Highlights

    Nurse With Wound, Wolf Eyes, Michael Rother, Varg, Prince Rama, Nap Eyes Tacocat, Conan

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    The Soundcrash Funk & Soul Weekender May 13, 2016— May 15, 2016 / Camber, England

    The Funk & Soul Weekender is Soundcrash's festival at Camber Sands in East Sussex, England. It features classic funk and R&B acts alongside electronic music newcomers.

    Lineup Highlights

    Roy Ayers, Quantic Afrika Bambaataa, Craig Charles, Gentleman's Dub Club, Tony Allen, DJ Yoda, Fatima, Onra, Andrew Ashong

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Sweetlife May 14, 2016— May 14, 2016 / Baltimore, MD

    Now in its seventh year, Sweetlife is Sweetgreen's annual music festival at Baltimore's Merriweather Post Pavilion. It's a one-day event and likely the best music festival hosted by a salad chain you’ll attend all year.

    Lineup Highlights

    Grimes, The 1975, Halsey, Flume, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Blondie, Eagles of Death Metal, Mac DeMarco, Thundercat, Shamir, Wolf Alice, DIIV, Prinze George

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Electric Daisy Carnival, New York May 14, 2016— May 15, 2016 / New York, NY

    The electronic music mainstay has festivals all over the world — their East Coast lineup promises particular highs.

    Lineup Highlights

    Zedd, David Guetta, Dillon Francis, Kaskade

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    The Great Escape May 19, 2016— May 21, 2016 / Brighton, England

    Over 450 acts play across over 30 venues throughout Brighton for the Great Escape Festival.

    Lineup Highlights

    Stormzy, Porches, Shura, Black Honey, Craig David's TS5, Cullen Omori, Eagulls, Frankie Cosmos, John Metcalfe Band, Kero Kero Bonito, Kevin Garrett, Mass Gothic, Mothers, Nap Eyes, The Joy Formidable

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Moogfest May 19, 2016— May 22, 2016 / Durham, NC

    Started in 2004, Moogfest is a tribute to Dr. Robert Moog, the pioneer of the synthesizer, among other inventions. The 2016 fest features conversations, workshops, installations, and a film festival, in addition to the music lineup.

    Lineup Highlights

    Grimes, GZA, Odesza, Gary Numan, Laurie Anderson, Explosions in the Sky, Blood Orange, Sunn O))), Oneohtrix Point Never, Miike Snow, Gary Numan, Reggie Watts, Sun Ra Arkestra, Actress, Ben Frost, Bicep, Christian Rich, DJ Harvey, Daniel Bachman, Daniel Lanois, Denzel Curry, D∆WN, Empress Of, Floating Points, Grouper, Gwenno, Hieroglyphic Being, Hundred Waters, Jaako Eino Kalevi, Jlin, Julia Holter, Julianna Barwick, King Mez, Kyle Hall, Larry Gus, Lotic, Lunice, M. Geddes Gengras, Mac McCaughan, Moses Sumney, Mykki Blanco, Rabit, Ryan Hemsworth, Son Lux, The Body, Tim Hecker, Tory Lanez, Tyondai Braxton, Well$, YACHT

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Red Bull Music Academy Weekender Warsaw May 19, 2016— May 22, 2016 / Warsaw, Poland

    Red Bull Music Academy heads to Maja in Warsaw for a weekend of electronic music.

    Lineup Highlights

    Wojtek Mazolewski, Zbignew Namyslowski, Jessy Lanza, Ibeyi, DJ Paypal, Samiyam, Miss Red vs the Bug

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Hangout May 20, 2016— May 22, 2016 / Gulf Shores, AL

    Hangout Music Festival is an annual event in Gulf Shores, Alabama. It features pop artists alongside electronic and alternative acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    The Weeknd, Calvin Harris, Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes, Ellie Goulding, Lenny Kravitz, Flume, Haim, Panic! At the Disco, Grimes, Jason Isbell, Miike Snow, Leon Bridges, Big Grams, Run the Jewels, Foals, Fetty Wap, Portugal. The Man, Courtney Barnett, Silversun Pickups, Kurt Vile and The Violators, Alessia Cara, The Wailers, Mayer Hawthorne, Vince Staples, Raury, Tourist, HEALTH, Bully, Lizzo, Pell, Bass Drum of Death

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    The Masked Ball May 20, 2016— May 22, 2016 / Cornwall, England

    An immersive, extravagant dance music festival in Cornwall, The Masked Ball is also notable for the highly costumed, elaborately “masked” attendees.

    Lineup Highlights

    Basement Jaxx DJ Set, Groove Armada DJ Set, Ben Pearce, Jungle, B.Traits, Julio Bashmore, Mike Skinner

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    MusicfestNW Presents Project Pabst May 20, 2016— May 22, 2016 / Denver, CO

    MusicfestNW and Project Pabst have combined for a new music festival this year. It'll take place across four cities: Denver, Portland, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.

    Lineup Highlights

    Courtney Barnett, Violent Femmes, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, Big K.R.I.T., FIDLAR, Baroness, Small Black, Metz, The Coathangers, Doomtree

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Rock 'N Derby May 20, 2016— May 22, 2016 / Schaghticoke, NY

    Rock 'N Derby is a hard rock festival at Schaghticoke Fairgrounds in Upstate New York.

    Lineup Highlights

    Five Finger Death Punch, Lamb of God, Clutch, Wolfmother, Scott Stapp, A Day to Remember, Halestorm, Anthrax, We Came as Romans, Shinedown, Coheed and Cambria, Megadeth, Ghost, Sevendust, Dokken

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Shaky Beats May 20, 2016— May 22, 2016 / Atlanta, GA

    The innaugural Shaky Beats Music Festival takes place at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park. It features a number of hip-hop and electronic music acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Floating Points, Odesza, Major Lazer, Nas, Big Gigantic, Porter Robinson, Carnage, Duke Dumont, Chromeo, A$AP Ferg, Tory Lanez, MØ, AlunaGeorge, Years & Years, Yeasayer, Classixx, STRFKR, Trippy Turtle, Com Truise, Lunice, !!!, Small Black, Treasure Fingers, Sango

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Bearded Theory May 26, 2016— May 29, 2016 / Walton-on-Trent, England

    Bearded Theory celebrates its ninth year in 2016. It takes place over four days at Catton Hall in South Derbyshire.

    Lineup Highlights

    Public Image Ltd., Levellers, Killing Joke, Black Uhuru, Billy Bragg, From the Jam, Roughneck Riot, Talisman

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Lightning in a Bottle May 25, 2016— May 30, 2016 / Bradley, CA

    Lightning in a Bottle takes place over Memorial Day Weekend at California's San Antonio Recreation Area. The lineup features some rock acts, as well as many electronic musicians.

    Lineup Highlights

    Grimes, Jamie xx, Chet Faker, Moderat, Ibeyi, Tourist, Hundred Waters, Raury, Cashmere Cat, TOKiMONSTA, Four Tet, Guy Gerber, Steve Bug

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival May 26, 2016— May 30, 2016 / Las Vegas, NV

    Las Vegas will host its 18th annual Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival in 2016. To celebrate, the fest has expanded to the East Coat in Asbury Park, New Jersey. As the name suggests, there will be punk rock and bowling. The Vegas fest will place at 7th Street and Stewart Ave. in Downtown Las Vegas.

    Lineup Highlights

    Flag, Descendents, Buzzcocks, Dillinger Four, The Exploited, Subhumans, The Dwarves, Flogging Molly, Dag Nasty

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Boston Calling May 27, 2016— May 29, 2016 / Boston, MA

    The seventh annual Boston Calling takes place over three days at City Hall Plaza. The fest includes 23 acts from pop, electronic, R&B, and rock.

    Lineup Highlights

    Sia, Disclosure, Robyn, Odesza, Sufjan Stevens, Haim, Miike Snow, Janelle Monáe, Courtney Barnett, BØRNS, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, The Vaccines, Vince Staples, Battles, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Christine and the Queens, Lisa Hannigan & Aaron Dessner, Lizzo, Palehound, Michael Christmas

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    BottleRock Napa Valley May 27, 2016— May 29, 2016 / Napa, CA

    The fourth annual BottleRock Napa Valley takes place at the city's Napa Valley Expo. In addition to the musical acts, BottleRock features wine, food and craft brew.

    Lineup Highlights

    Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Wonder, Florence and the Machine, Death Cab for Cutie, Lenny Kravitz, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Ziggy Marley, Grouplove, Gogol Bordello, Cold War Kids, Misterwives, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Houndmouth, The Pharcyde, The Joy Formidable, X Ambassadors, The Orwells, San Fermin, Until the Ribbon Breaks, Deap Vally, White Sea

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Lost Village May 27, 2016— May 29, 2016 / Lincolnshire, England

    Lost Village is a music festival that takes place over England's spring Bank Holiday Weekend at a privately owned woodland in Lincolnshire. There is a mix of live electronic acts and DJ sets.

    Lineup Highlights

    John Talabot, DJ Koze, Joy Orbison, Ben UFO, Fatboy Slim, Bicep, Floating Points, Jackmaster, Horse Meat Disco, Henrik Schwarz, KiNK, Âme, Fatima Yamaha, Crazy P Soundsystem, Jack Garratt, Eats Everything

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Trip Metal Fest May 27, 2016— May 29, 2016 / Detroit, MI

    A brand new, experimental art-focussed event in Detroit, Trip Metal Fest is set to be a mind-warping psychedelic experience.

    Lineup Highlights

    Morton Subotnick, Wolf Eyes, Andrew WK, Drainolith, Hieroglyphic Being + Marshall Allen & Danny Ray Thompson (The Sun Ra Arkestra)

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Sasquatch! May 27, 2016— May 30, 2016 / George, WA

    Sasquatch! Music Festival returns to Washington's Gorge Amphitheatre with over 120 musical acts. The 15th annual fest takes place over four days.

    Lineup Highlights

    Florence and the Machine, The Cure, Disclosure, Major Lazer, Alabama Shakes, A$AP Rocky, Sufjan Stevens, M83, Grimes, Chet Faker, Leon Bridges, Jamie xx, Purity Ring, Tycho, Mac DeMarco, Lord Huron, Kurt Vile and The Violators, Big Grams, Rudimental, Caribou, X Ambassadors, Four Tet, Digable Planets, The Internet, Yo La Tengo, Yeasayer, BØRNS, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, M. Ward, Todd Terje, Ty Segall & The Muggers, Savages, Vince Staples, Baauer, Houndmouth, Baroness, Casey Veggies, Vic Mensa, Ibeyi, Oddisee, Chelsea Wolfe, Raury, Shamir, Julia Holter, Titus Andronicus, Protomartyr, La Luz, Bully, Hop Along, Baio, Todd Barry

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Vivid May 27, 2016— June 13, 2016 / Sydney, Austrlia

    Vivid is a light, music, and ideas festival at the Sydney Opera House. Bon Iver will perform their "Cercle" concert at the fest.

    Lineup Highlights

    Bon Iver, ANOHNI, New Order, Esperanza Spalding, Ta-ku, Max Richter, Deafheaven, Oneohtrix Point Never, Poliça

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Common People May 28, 2016— May 29, 2016 / Oxford, England / Southampton, England

    Common People is a two-day, dual-site music festival in England. It takes place at South Park in Oxford and Southampton Common in South England.

    Lineup Highlights

    Katy B, Craig David's TS5, Primal Scream, Public Enemy, Gaz Coombes, Ghospoet, The Sugarhill Gang, Jamie Lawson, Kurupt FM, Soul II Soul

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Electric Frog & Pressure Riverside Festival May 28, 2016— May 29, 2016 / Glasgow, Scotland

    This outdoor festival’s fourth annual installment is set to be the biggest Scottish electronic music festival of the season.

    Lineup Highlights

    Fatboy Slim, Dimitri from Paris, Julio Bashmore, Sven Väth

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Love Saves the Day May 28, 2016— May 29, 2016 / Bristol, England

    A weekend of “music, glitter, and frolics,” Bristol’s Love Saves the Day festival is sure to be the feel-good dance music event of the summer. 

    Lineup Highlights

    Hot Chip, Dizzee Rascal, Hudson Mohawke, Katy B, Skream, Joy Orbison

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Neon Desert May 28, 2016— May 29, 2016 / El Paso, TX

    Neon Desert takes place in Downtown El Paso over Memorial Day Weekend. It is now in its sixth year.

    Lineup Highlights

    Future, Tyler, the Creator, A$AP Ferg, Deftones, Tiësto, Carnage, Daddy Yankee, Ludacris, Tory Lanez, Duke Dumont, STRFKR, Cults, AlunaGeorge, G Herbo, Natalia Lafourcade

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    We Are FSTVL May 28, 2016— May 29, 2016 / London, England

    We Are FSTVL takes place over three days at the Airfield of Dreams at Damyn's Hall in Upminster, London. It features over 120 artists across 12 stages.

    Lineup Highlights

    Richie Hawtin, Sigma, Kurpt FM, MistaJam, Claptone, Danny Howard, Loco Dice, Âme, Tale of Us, MK, Hannah Wants, Flava D, Plastician, Preditah, Guy Gerber, Jamie Jones, Keith Mac

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Soundset May 29, 2016— May 31, 2016 / St. Paul, MN

    Soundset is a hip-hop music festival at Minnesota's State Fairgrounds presented by local label Rhymesayers Entertainment. It takes place over Memorial Day Weekend. Minnesota's own Atmosphere will headline the festival.

    Lineup Highlights

    Atmosphere, A$AP Rocky, Future, The Roots, Common, Doomtree, Danny Brown, Lizzo, Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman, Jay Rock, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Post Malone, Raury, Murs & 9th Wonder, Pharoahe Monche, Mick Jenkins, GoldLink, Domo Gensis, DJ Marley Marl, Noname Gypsy, Finding Novyon, Lexii Alijai, Reverie

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Jump to any month » April - May - June - July - August - September

    Welcome to the new Pitchfork Guide to Festivals. Formerly an annual rundown of our favorite summer fests, we've expanded and improved the Guide to make it a year-round list. This comprehensive collection includes events all over the world, big and small, in cities and out in the countryside, in fields and clubs and parks. The only thing they all have in common? Lots of great bands.

    We'll be updating the Guide regularly throughout the year. So bookmark this page and check back often.

    Jump to any month » April - May - June - July - August - September

    MUTEK June 01, 2016— June 05, 2016 / Montreal, Quebec

    MUTEK is a five-day electronic music festival at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal. In addition to the music lineup, MUTEK's daytime program brings together workshops, showrooms, interviews, and discussions.

    Lineup Highlights

    Tim Hecker, Ash Koosha, Colleen, Galcher Lustwerk, Jlin, Powell, Romare

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Primavera Sound June 02, 2016— June 04, 2016 / Barcelona, Spain

    Primavera Sound returns to Barcelona for its annual three-day festival. The 2016 edition features Radiohead and a newly reunited LCD Soundsystem. Pitchfork will program a stage at the festival.

    Lineup Highlights

    Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, PJ Harvey, Tame Impala, Sigur Rós, Animal Collective, Beach House, The Last Shadow Puppets, Brian Wilson, John Carpenter, Pusha T, Neon Indian, Ty Segall & The Muggers, Julia Holter, Savages, Air, Action Bronson, Vince Staples, Explosions in the Sky, Moderat, Drive Like Jehu, Dinosaur Jr., Deerhunter, Chairlift, Kamasi Washington, Battles, Thee Oh Sees, Holly Herndon, Protomartyr, Sheer Mag, DJ Koze, Empress Of, Beirut, Dâm-Funk, Parquet Courts, Shellac, Hudson Mohawke, Floating Points, Titus Andronicus, Nao, Freddie Gibbs, U.S. Girls, Black Lips, Evian Christ, Beak>, Jenny Hval, Royal Headache, Car Seat Headrest, Wild Nothing, Mudhoney, Cass McCombs, Tortoise, Suede, Downtown Boys, Alex G, Jay Rock, The Chills, Moses Sumney, Dungen, DJ Richard, White Fence

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Red Rooster June 02, 2016— June 04, 2016 / Thetford, England

    Red Rooster is a three-day music festival at Euston Hall in Suffolk, England. The lineup features R&B, Americana, soul, blues, roots, and country musicians.

    Lineup Highlights

    King Khan and the Shrines, Bob Log III, James Leg, Daddy Long Legs

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Orange Warsaw June 03, 2016— June 04, 2016 / Warsaw, Poland

    Orange Warsaw is a two-day festival at Tor Służewiec horse racing track in Warsaw. There are two stages: Orange and Warsaw.

    Lineup Highlights

    Lana Del Rey, Skrillex, MØ, Die Antwoord, Daughter, Editors, Julia Marcell, Skunk Anansie, Tom Odell, XXANAXX

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Bunbury June 03, 2016— June 05, 2016 / Cincinnati, OH

    Bunbury celebrates its fifth year in 2016. It takes place at downtown Cincinnati's Sawyer Point and Yeatman's Cove.

    Lineup Highlights

    Grimes, Haim, Florence and the Machine, The Killers, Mudcrutch, Tears for Fears, Ice Cube, Big Grams, X Ambassadors, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaire, J Roddy Walston and the Business, The Wombats, Diarrhea Planet, Oddisee, Foxing

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Do Division Street June 03, 2016— June 05, 2016 / Chicago, IL

    Do Division Street Fest celebrates its tenth year with its biggest festival yet, spanning ten blocks and multiple venues.

    Lineup Highlights

     A Place to Bury Strangers, Beach Fossils, Peanut Butter Wolf, BADBADNOTGOOD, J-Rocc, Fruit Bats, Nikki Lane


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Lunar June 03, 2016— June 05, 2016 / Warwickshire, England

    Lunar is a three-day festival at Umberslade Farm Park in Tanworth-in-Arden, England. It's now in its third year.

    Lineup Highlights

    Super Furry Animals, Mercury Rev, Television, Badly Drawn Boy, The Zombies, Ibibio Sound Machine, Stealing Sheeps, The Mariachis

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Wychwood June 03, 2016— June 05, 2016 / Cheltenham, England

    Wychwood takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse over three days.

    Lineup Highlights

    The Waterboys, 10cc, Bill Bailey, Stereo MCs, Peter Hook & The Light, Idlewild, Kate Rusby, Craig Charles, Ms. Dynamite, HÆLOS, Black Honey, Hannah Scott

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    AVA June 04, 2016— June 04, 2016 / Belfast, Ireland

    AVA (Audio Visual Arts) Festival and Conference takes place at T13 Belfast. It celebrates electronic music and digital visual arts from Northern and Southern Ireland.

    Lineup Highlights

    Rødhåd, Bicep, Optimo, Phil Kieran, Mano Le Tough, JMX b2b T-Bone

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Junction 2 June 04, 2016— June 04, 2016 / London, England

    Junction 2 is a brand new techno festival in London. A collaborative project curated by Drumcode, the Hydra, and Closer, it takes place over one day.

    Lineup Highlights

    Alan Fitzpatrick, Âme, Dixon, Marcel Dettmann, Nina Kraviz, Move D, Scuba, Adam Beyer

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Born & Bred Festival June 04, 2016— June 05, 2016 / London, England

    Born & Bred is a “weekend-long celebration of the present and future sounds of London,” with a lineup that pulls music from a diverse array of genres, from hip-hop to minimalist techno.

    Lineup Highlights

    ILOVEMAKONNEN, Azealia Banks, Laurel Halo, A.G. Cook


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    We Love Green June 04, 2016— June 05, 2016 / Paris, France

    We Love Green takes place over two days at Bois de Vincennes in Paris. Among the artists are LCD Soundsystem, performing on their comeback tour.

    Lineup Highlights

    LCD Soundsystem, PJ Harvey, Hot Chip, Air, Diplo, Hudson Mohawke, Kelela, Floating Points, Âme, FKJ, Fatima Yamaha

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Governors Ball June 03, 2016— June 05, 2016 / New York, NY

    The Governors Ball Music Festival began in 2011. It takes place over three days on Randall's Island in New York City. The 2016 fest includes the return of 2013 headliner Kanye West and 2014 headliners the Strokes.

    Lineup Highlights

    Kanye West, The Strokes, The Killers, Eagles of Death Metal, Beck, Robyn, Death Cab for Cutie, M83, Haim, Chvrches, Father John Misty, Jamie xx, Bloc Party, Miguel, Big Grams, Action Bronson, Purity Ring, Courtney Barnett, Joey Bada$$, De La Soul, Vince Staples, Against Me!, Bat for Lashes, Thundercat, Torres, Bully

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Beaches Brew June 06, 2016— June 10, 2016 / Ravenna, Italy

    Beaches Brew is a free festival at Hana-Bi at Marina di Ravenna in Italy. It includes a number of punk, lo-fi, and psych rock acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Destroyer, Ty Segall & The Muggers, Cate Le Bon, Car Seat Headrest, Beak>, Dirty Fences, Girls Names, Royal Headache, Suuns, White Fence

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Unsound Toronto June 10, 2016— June 11, 2016 / Toronto, Ontario

    Part of Luminato Festival, Unsound Toronto takes place at the abandoned Hearn Generating Station over two days. There is a main stage and a side room, both with electronic acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Sunn O))), Tim Hecker, Lotic, The Bug, Flowdan, Amnesia Scanner, Elysia Crampton

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Parklife June 11, 2016— June 12, 2016 / Manchester, England

    Parklife Festival returns to Heaton Park with a lineup full of blockbuster headliners and must-see live acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    The Chemical Brothers, Major Lazer, Ice Cube, Jamie XX, Diplo, De La Soul, Four Tet, Pusha T, Todd Terje, Floating Points, Kelela

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Northside June 06, 2016— June 12, 2016 / Brooklyn, NY

    Brooklyn's Northside Festival enters its eighth year. Events take place at venues across the borough throughout the weeklong fest.

    Lineup Highlights

    Brian Wilson, Conor Oberst, Wolf Parade, Colleen Green, DJ Spinn, D∆WN, Diet Cig, Kacey Musgraves, King Khan and the Shrines, Lotic, PC Worship, Peanut Butter Wolf, Posse, ?uestlove, Rabit, Rostam, Future Punx, Blank Range, Hinds, Samiyam, Steve Gunn

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Bonnaroo June 09, 2016— June 12, 2016 / Manchester, TN

    Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival returns to Manchester, Tennessee for its 15th year. The 2016 fest features two sets from Dead & Company, the Grateful Dead's latest lineup including John Mayer.

    Lineup Highlights

    LCD Soundsystem, Pearl Jam, Dead & Company, Tame Impala, Death Cab for Cutie, M83, Haim, Chvrches, Miguel, Father John Misty, Tyler, the Creator, Vince Staples, Kurt Vile and The Violators, Ween, Blood Orange, Shamir, Mavis Staples, J. Cole, Purity Ring, Big Grams, Dungen, Ellie Goulding, Kamasi Washington, Chris Stapleton, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Twin Peaks, Natalie Prass, Judd Apatow, Hundred Waters, Waxahatchee, Beach Fossils, Leon Bridges, FIDLAR

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Gottwood June 09, 2016— June 12, 2016 / Llanfaethlu, Wales

    Gottwood is an electronic music festival that takes place in Gottwood Forest in Llanfaethlu, Wales. The festival marks its seventh edition in 2016.

    Lineup Highlights

    Andrew Weatherall, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Axel Boman, Beautiful Swimmers, Ben UFO, Crazy P, Daniel Avery, Joy Orbison, Jozef K, Kowton, Move D, Optimo, Psychemagik, Roly Porter, Roman Flügel, Shackleton, Sonja Moonear, tINI, Will Saul

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Mysteryland USA June 10, 2016— June 13, 2016 / Bethel, NY

    The Netherlands' Mysteryland comes to the States for four days. The electronic music festival takes place at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Upstate New York–where Woodstock took place.

    Lineup Highlights

    Bassnectar, Skrillex, Odesza, The Chainsmokers, Zeds Dead, Young Thug, Gesaffelstein, Gramatik, Claude VonStroke, Keys N Krates, MK, Omar-S, Skylar Spence

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Meltdown June 10, 2016— June 19, 2016 / London, England

    Each year, a new artist curates Meltdown Festival at London's Southbank Centre. For 2016, Guy Garvey (of Elbow) directs Meltdown.

    Lineup Highlights

    Lift to Experience, Femi Kuti, The Staves, Connan Mockasin, Guy Garvey, Laura Marling

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Found June 11, 2016— June 11, 2016 / Brixton, England

    Returning for its fourth year, Found Festival takes place over one day at Brockwell Park in Brixton. Found celebrates electronic and dance music.

    Lineup Highlights

    Leon Vynehall, Theo Parrish, Beautiful Swimmers, Derrick May, Flux, Kerri Chandler, Marcellus Pittmann, Maurice Fulton, Midland, Pender Street Steppers, Ron Morelli, Ron Trent, Trade, Willow

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Bestival Toronto June 11, 2016— June 12, 2016 / Toronto, Ontario

    Bestival has spread across the pond to Canada for the second year. The two-day festival takes place at Woodbine Park in the 6.

    Lineup Highlights

    The Cure, Tame Impala, Grimes, Jamie xx, Odesza, Porter Robinson, Madeon, Tchami, Dubfire, Maya Jane Coles, Daughter, Art Department, Joris Voorn, The Wombats, Classixx, Giraffage, Anna Lunoe, Malaa, Tom Trago, Rob Da Bank, The Twilight Sad

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Field Day June 11, 2016— June 12, 2016 / London, England

    Field Day turns 10 in 2016. The festival takes place over two days at Victoria Park in London's east end.

    Lineup Highlights

    PJ Harvey, James Blake, Beach House, Air, Cass McCombs, Bicep, Dean Blunt, Goat, Deerhunter, DJ Koze, Dusky, Optimo, Floating Points, Four Tet, Thurston Moore Band, Holly Herndon, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Mount Kimbie, Roman Flügel, Skepta, Wild Nothing, Youth Lagoon, Sleaford Mods, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Gold Panda, Yeasayer, Novelist, Nao, Kelela, Parquet Courts, Tourist, Little Simz, Metz, Danny L Harle, Fat White Family

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival June 11, 2016— June 12, 2016 / Asbury Park, NJ

    Las Vegas will host its 18th annual Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival in 2016. To celebrate, the fest has expanded to the East Coat in Asbury Park, New Jersey. As the name suggests, there will be punk rock and bowling. The Asbury Park fest will take place at the Asbury Park Boardwalk.

    Lineup Highlights

    Descendents, Flag, Dag Nasty, Subhumans, Cock Sparrer, The Slackers, Drug Church, Brutal Youth

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Mad Cool Festival June 16, 2016— June 18, 2016 / Madrid, Spain

    A brand new festival in Madrid, Mad Cool boasts a lineup that ensures it will live up to its name.

    Lineup Highlights

    Neil Young, The Prodigy, Caribou, Hercules & Love Affair, Band Of Horses, Jane’s Addiction Performing Ritual De Lo Habitual, Kings of Convenience


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Sónar June 16, 2016— June 18, 2016 / Barcelona, Spain

    Sónar is an electronic music festival with events around the global. Its main showcase in Barcelona takes place at Fira Montjuïc by day and Fira Gran Via de L'Hospitalet by night.

    Lineup Highlights

    James Blake, New Order, ANOHNI: HOPELESSNESS, Oneohtrix Point Never, Kelela, Four Tet, John Talabot, Bob Moses, Boys Noize, Fatboy Slim, Flume, Jackmaster, Jamie Woon, King Midas Sound & Fennesz, The Nøtel, Nozinja, Roots Manuva, Skepta, Stormzy, A-Trak, BADBADNOTGOOD, Ben Klock, Bicep, Danny L Harle, Jean-Michel Jarre, Kölsch, Nozinja, Richie Hawtin, Yung Lean

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Secret Solstice June 16, 2016— June 19, 2016 / Reykjavík, Iceland

    Secret Solstice is a three-day music festival in Iceland. Over the three days, the sun never sets, offering festivalgoers 72 consecutive hours of sunlight.

    Lineup Highlights

    Radiohead, Deftones, Die Antwoord, Róisin Murphy, Action Bronson, Art Department, Artwork, Afrika Bambaataa, Benoit & Sergio, Derrick Carter, Goldie, Jamie Jones, Kerri Chandler, Lady Leshurr, Maxxi Soundsystem, Midland, Skream, Voyeur, Will Saul, Deetron, Högni Egilsson, Amabadama, Droog, youandewan, Stephane Ghenacia, Herra Hnetusmjör, Glowie, Axel Flóvent, Lily the Kid, Lily of the Valley, Bones

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Best Kept Secret June 17, 2016— June 19, 2016 / Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands

    The Netherlands' three-day music festival features a diverse, multi-genre lineup.

    Lineup Highlights

    Beck, Wilco, Beach House, Caribou, Dinosaur Jr., Wolf Parade, Diiv, Oneohrix Point Never, Explosions in the Sky, Destroyer, Empress Of, Ryley Walker, BADBADNOTGOOD


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Electric Daisy Carnival, Las Vegas June 17, 2016— June 19, 2016 / Las Vegas, NV

    The Las Vegas edition of Electric Daisy Carnival.

    Lineup Highlights


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    NorthSide June 17, 2016— June 19, 2016 / Aarhus, Denmark

    NorthSide is a three-day music festival in Denmark. It features a mix of alternative rock acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Jamie xx, Beach House, Beck, Bloc Party, Caribou, Deftones, Iggy Pop, Sigur Rós, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Wilco, Yeasayer, Yelawolf, Damien Rice, Duran Duran, Flume, Jake Bugg, The Chemical Brothers

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Shadow of the City June 18, 2016— June 18, 2016 / Seaside Heights, NJ

    Last year, Bleachers and fun.'s Jack Antonoff gathered some of his favorite artists to his native New Jersey for the innaugural Shadow of the City Music Festival. He's doing the same this year for one day in Seaside Heights with '80s-influenced pop acts like the 1975 and Carly Rae Jepsen on tap.

    Lineup Highlights

    Carly Rae Jepsen, The 1975, Shamir, BØRNS, Steel Train, FRNKIERO ANDTHE CELLABRATION, Bishop, HANA

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Tinderbox June 23, 2016— June 25, 2016 / Odense, Denmark

    Denmark's three-day Tinderbox Festival returns for its second year.

    Lineup Highlights

    The National, Suede, The 1975, Band of Horses, David Guetta, Rammstein, Mac Miller

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    BET Experience June 23, 2016— June 26, 2016 / Los Angeles, CA

    BET Experience promises “four days of endless entertainment,” with performances by renowned artists and comedians at L.A. Live, the leading entertainment district in LA.

    Lineup Highlights

    Lil Wayne, 2 Chains, Usher


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Electric Forest June 23, 2016— June 26, 2016 / Rothbury, MI

    The Rothbury, MI festival has expanded its focus from jam bands to a dazzling, multi-genre experience perfect for attendees with a passion for both music and camping.

    Lineup Highlights

    Major Lazer, Fetty Wap, Bassnectar, DJ Mustard, AlunaGeorge

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    FOLD June 24, 2016— June 26, 2016 / London, England

    Nile Rodgers is bringing his FOLD Festival to the UK. It takes place over three night's at London's Fulham Palace. Chic will perform each night.

    Lineup Highlights

    Beck, Chic feat. Nile Rodgers, Alison Moyet, The Thompson Twins' Tom Bailey, John Newman, Emin, Grace, Angie Stone, Incognito

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Roskilde June 25, 2016— July 02, 2016 / Roskilde, Denmark

    Roskilde Music Festival began in Denmark in 1971. The fest now attracts 130,000 fans each year to see 175 acts across eight stages.

    Lineup Highlights

    LCD Soundsystem, MØ, New Order, PJ Harvey, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tame Impala, Tenacious D, Wiz Khalifa, Action Bronson, At the Drive-In, Chvrches, Foals, Ghost, Mac DeMarco, Skepta, Sleep, Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music (with Damon Albarn and Guests), Aurora, Cate Le Bon, Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld, Courtney Barnett, Dusky, Floating Points, Freddie Gibbs, Odesza, Protomartyr, Savages, Sleaford Mods, Sturgill Simpson, Vince Staples, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Hideout June 26, 2016— June 30, 2016 / Pag, Croatia

    Hideout Festival takes place over five days Zrće Beach on Croatia's Island of Pag. Now in its sixth year, it features a variety of electronic, dance, and hip-hop acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Jamie xx, Skepta, Andy C, Jamie Jones, MK, Gorgon City, DJ EZ, Hannah Wants, Stormzy, Dusky, Julio Bashmore, Jackmaster, Eats Everything, Skream, Seth Troxler, John Talabot, Joy Orbison, Artwork, Bicep, David Rodigan MBE, Kurupt FM, Midland, Paul Woolford, Preditah, Toddla T, Waze & Odyssey, Flava D, Monki

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Open'er June 29, 2016— July 02, 2016 / Gdynia, Poland

    Open'er is an annual festival at Gdynia-Kosakowo Airport in Poland. The first edition of the festival was held in 2002.

    Lineup Highlights

    Florence and the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tame Impala, Wiz Khalifa, Bastille, Beirut, Caribou, Chvrches, Foals, PJ Harvey, Sigur Rós, The 1975, Vince Staples

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Love International June 29, 2016— July 06, 2016 / Tisno, Croatia

    Love International is a weeklong festival at the Garden in Tisno, Croatia. A number of electronic and dance musicians will perform.

    Lineup Highlights

    Axel Boman, Ben UFO, Bicep, Dixon, Eats Everything, Fort Romeau, Horse Meat Disco, Hunee, Jackmaster, Joy Orbison, Midland, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Roman Flügel, Crazy P Soundsystem, Jozif, Maxxi Soundsystem, Moonboots, Pender Street Steppers, Suzanne Kraft, Tiago

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Summerfest June 29, 2016— July 10, 2016 / Milwaukee, WI

    Milwaukee's Summerfest takes place over two weekends. It includes 11 stages with more than 800 acts and 1,000 performances.

    Lineup Highlights

    Selena Gomez, Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Def Leppard, Weezer, Panic! At the Disco, Sting, Peter Gabriel

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Essence June 30, 2016— July 03, 2016 / New Orleans, LA

    Presented by Essence magazine, Essence Festival New Orleans celebrates hip-hop, R&B, pop, and jazz. It is now in its 22nd year.

    Lineup Highlights

    Kendrick Lamar, Mariah Carey, Ciara, BJ the Chicago Kid, Charlie Wilson, Dej Loaf, Digable Planets, Jeremih, Eric Bellinger, Faith Evans, Kelly Price, Little Simz, Leon Bridges, Maxwell, MC Lyte, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Robert Glasper Experiment, The Internet, Tink

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Garorock June 30, 2016— July 03, 2016 / Marmande, France

    One of France’s largest music festivals, Garorock has been providing attendees with exceptional performances from high quality artists for nearly two decades.

    Lineup Highlights

    Jamie XX, M83, Ratatat, Disclosure, Savages, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Method Man & Redman, The Kills


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Jump to any month » April - May - June - July - August - September

    Welcome to the new Pitchfork Guide to Festivals. Formerly an annual rundown of our favorite summer fests, we've expanded and improved the Guide to make it a year-round list. This comprehensive collection includes events all over the world, big and small, in cities and out in the countryside, in fields and clubs and parks. The only thing they all have in common? Lots of great bands.

    We'll be updating the Guide regularly throughout the year. So bookmark this page and check back often.

    Jump to any month » April - May - June - July - August - September

    Blissfields July 01, 2016— July 02, 2016 / Winchester, England

    Blissfields is a two-day music festival at Vicarage Farm in Hampshire. First held in 2001, it maintains an intimate 5,000 capacity in the countryside.

    Lineup Highlights

    Dizzee Rascal, Everything Everything, Roni Size & Dynamite MC, Sundara Karma, Jones, Dub Pistols, Too Many T's, Beans on Toast

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    El Dorado July 01, 2016— July 03, 2016 / Ledbury, England

    The first edition of Cirque Du Soul’s El Dorado Festival is held at Eastnor Castle, hosting a vast array of electronic music acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Craig David’s TS5, Basement Jaxx, Kano, Blonde, Jungle

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Terraforma July 01, 2016— July 03, 2016 / Milan, Italy

    Italy's three-day festival focuses on experimental music and sustainability.

    Lineup Highlights

    Charlemagne Palestine, Biosphere, Donato Dozzy, Lee Gamble, Healing Force Project, Francessco Cavaliere, Paquita Gordon

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Balaton Sound July 06, 2016— July 10, 2016 / Zamárdi, Hungary

    Balaton Sound celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2016. The Hungarian fest features electronic and hip-hop acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    A$AP Ferg, Armin van Buuren, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Martin Garrix, Oliver Heldens, Paul van Dyk, Robin Schulz

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Bilbao BBK July 07, 2016— July 09, 2016 / Bilbao, Spain

    Bilbao BBK returns for its 11th year. The three-day festival features a mix of alternative and electronic acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Grimes, Arcade Fire, Tame Impala, Four Tet, Chvrches, Pixies, Foals, Hot Chip, Father John Misty, Courtney Barnett, M83, José González, Floating Points, New Order, Years & Years, Wolf Alice, Jagwar Ma, Slaves

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    NOS Alive July 07, 2016— July 09, 2016 / Lisbon, Portugal

    NOS Alive, formerly known as Optimus Alive, is hosting one of the summer’s biggest music and arts festivals, by the Algés riverside in Lisbon.

    Lineup Highlights

    Radiohead, Tame Impala, Arcade Fire, M83, Grimes, The Chemical Brothers, Pixies, Father John Misty, Hot Chip, Ratatat, Biffy Clyro, The 1975, Junior Boys


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    EXIT July 07, 2016— July 10, 2016 / Novi Sad, Serbia

    EXIT Festival takes place at Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad, Serbia. Its companion festival Sea Dance takes place the following week

    Lineup Highlights

    Ellie Goulding, Bastille, Wiz Khalifa, Lost Frequencies, Robin Schulz, Stormzy, Andy C, Wilkinson, Antigone, DJ Hype, Dub Pistols, Sub Zero

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    BSTK July 08, 2016— July 10, 2016 / Essex, England

    BSTK (formerly Brownstock Festival) takes place over three days at Morris Farm in East England. Performers include pop stars and electronic acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Katy B, Annie Mac, Mark Ronson, Krept & Konan, Mike Skinner, Mistajam, Justin Martin, Huxley, Ms. Dynamite, Artwork, DJ Yoda, Lady Leshurr

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    NASS July 08, 2016— July 10, 2016 / Shepton Mallet, England

    NASS is part music festival, part extreme sports event. It takes place over a weekend at Royal Bath & West Showground in Somerset.

    Lineup Highlights

    Jurassic 5, Knife Party, Stormzy, Little Simz, Andy C, FIDLAR, Wilkinson, Netsky, Kurupt FM, Preditah, Flava D

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    North Sea Jazz Festival July 08, 2016— July 10, 2016 / Rotterdam, Netherlands

    The Netherlands' North Sea Jazz Festival celebrates more than just its titular genre. The three-day fest also features electronic, R&B, soul, and rock musicians.

    Lineup Highlights

    The Roots, Earth, Wind & Fire, Miguel, Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington (with Metropole Orkest), Thundercat & Jameszoo Quintet, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Gregory Poter, Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld, Snarky Puppy

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    T in the Park July 08, 2016— July 10, 2016 / Perthshire, Scotland

    T in the Park takes place over three days at Scotland's Strathallan Castle. It's the fest's second year at Strathallan.

    Lineup Highlights

    LCD Soundsystem, Jamie xx, Disclosure, The Stone Roses, The 1975, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Major Lazer, Frightened Rabbit, Hannah Wants, Oliver Heldens, Kaiser Chiefs, Jake Bugg, Craig David's TS5, Krept & Konan, James Morrison

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    4Knots July 09, 2016 / New York, NY

    Presented by the Village Voice, 4Knots Music Festival returns to the South Street Seaport for a lineup that includes Guided by Voices' first NYC show since announcing their return this year.

    Lineup Highlights

    Guided by Voices, Car Seat Headrest, Girlpool, Protomartyr

    Electric Daisy Carnival United Kingdom July 09, 2016 / Milton Keynes, England

    Electric Daisy Carnival has taken its festival across the pond. EDC UK is a one-day event at the National Bowl in Buckinghamshire

    Lineup Highlights

    Avicii, Axwell ^ Ingrosso, Eric Prydz, Oliver Heldens, Robin Schulz, Martin Garrix, DJ EZ, Galantis, Jauz

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Sunfall July 09, 2016 / Brixton, Englad

    The inaugural edition of Sunfall Festival occurs this year in Brockwell Park and promises to be a “celebration of the underground,” with a lineup covering everything from jazz to dubstep, and hip-hop to house.

    Lineup Highlights

    Jamie XX, Kamasi Washington, Shackleton, Zomby, Joy Orbison


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Fresh Island July 12, 2016— July 14, 2016 / Pag, Croatia

    Fresh Island is a hip-hop festival on Croatia's Zrće Beach. The fest celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2016.

    Lineup Highlights

    Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign, DJ Premier, Kehlani, The Game, Statik Selektah, Tim Westwood, Shakka, Logan Sama, Applebum, Cheese on Bread, Faded, Mahreen Luv, Melody Kane, Miss DJ Candy, The Menendez Brothers

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Farr Festival July 14, 2016— July 16, 2016 / Hertfordshire, England

    Farr Festival’s seventh edition features a wide variety of electronic artists performing in the otherworldly Bygrave Woods.

    Lineup Highlights

    John Talabot, Move D, Ben UFO, Moomin, Joy Orbison


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Sea Dance July 14, 2016— July 16, 2016 / Budva, Montenegro

    Sea Dance is a festival at Jaz Beach in Montenegro. Its companion fest EXIT takes place the week prior.

    Lineup Highlights

    Andy C, Lost Frequencies, Zomboy

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Super Bock Super Rock July 14, 2016— July 16, 2016 / Lisbon, Portugal

    Now in its 22nd year, Super Bock Super Rock features a mix of rock, electronic, and hip-hop acts. It takes place at Parque das Nações on the banks of the River Tagus in Lisbon.

    Lineup Highlights

    Kendrick Lamar, Disclosure, Jamie xx, The National, Massive Attack & Young Fathers, Mac DeMarco, Kurt Vile, Bloc Party, FIDLAR, Petite Noir, Kwabs, Villagers

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Latitude July 14, 2016— July 17, 2016 / Southwold, England

    Latitude Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2016. It takes place over four days at Henham Park in Suffolk.

    Lineup Highlights

    The National, New Order, Grimes, Chvrches, M83, Father John Misty, Kurt Vile and The Violators, Beirut, Courtney Barnett, Anna Meredith, The Maccabees, Chet Faker, Laura Mvula, British Sea Power, Sturgill Simpson, Christine and the Queens, Miike Snow, Poliça, Perfume Genius, MØ, Roots Manuva, Jamie Woon, Rat Boy, Låpsley, Mura Masa, Lucius, Protomartyr, Suuns, Jungle, Blanck Mass, Bob Moses

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Lovebox July 15, 2016— July 16, 2016 / London, England

    A two-day festival, focussed on music, dance, and the arts, Lovebox was founded by Groove Armada and takes place in East London’s Victoria Park.

    Lineup Highlights

    LCD Soundsystem, Run The Jewels, Major Lazer, Jungle, Diplo, George Clinton, Ricardo Villalobos, Jamie Woon


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Beat-Herder July 15, 2016— July 17, 2016 / Lancashire, England

    Now in its 11th year, Beat-Herder includes rock, house, techno, dub, reggae, drum'n'bass, folk, indie, EDM, and dubstep acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Primal Scream, Chronixx & Zincfence Redemption, Claude VonStroke, Derrick Carter, Dub Pistols, Gentleman's Dub Club, Justin Martin

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Forecastle July 15, 2016— July 17, 2016 / Louisville, KY

    Forecastle is a rock music festival in Louisville, Kentucky. It takes place over three days at Waterfront Park.

    Lineup Highlights

    Alabama Shakes, The Avett Brothers, Ryan Adams, Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Gary Clark Jr., Glass Animals, Dr. Dog, Sylan Esso, Moon Taxi, Danny Brown, Phosphorescent, Shakey Graves, Washed Out, White Denim, Bully, Speedy Ortiz, Steve Gunn, Alex G, Saintseneca, Jazz Cartier

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Pitchfork Music Festival July 15, 2016— July 17, 2016 / Chicago, IL

    Our annual music festival returns to Union Park, with a vast lineup of artists we love, featuring up-and-coming acts and legendary performers.

    Lineup Highlights

    Friday, July 15: Beach House, Car Seat Headrest, Broken Social Scene, Carly Rae Jepsen, Julia Holter, Mick Jenkins, Moses Sumney, The Range, Shamir, Twin Peaks, Whitney

    Saturday, July 16: Anderson .Paak, BJ the Chicago Kid, Blood Orange, Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds, Circuit des Yeux, Digable Planets, Girl Band, Holly Herndon, Jenny Hval, JLIN, Kevin Morby, Martin Courtney, Royal Headache, RP Boo, Savages, Sufjan Stevens, Super Furry Animals

    Sunday, July 17: Empress Of, FKA Twigs, Holy Ghost, The Hotelier, Jeremih, Kamasi Washington, LUH., Miguel, Nao, Neon Indian, Oneman, Oneohtrix Point Never, Porches, Sun Ra Arkestra, Thundercat, Woods

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Truck July 15, 2016— July 17, 2016 / Oxfordshire, England

    Truck Festival is not actually a truck festival. Rock and electronic artists (not drivers) play the three-day event at Hill Farm in South East England.

    Lineup Highlights

    Young Fathers, Everything Everything, Manic Street Preachers, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Circa Waves, Rat Boy, We Are the Ocean, Gnarwolves, Creeper

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Citadel July 17, 2016— July 17, 2016 / London, England

    Citadel is a Sunday festival in London. Its lineup features a number of electronic acts, as well as comedy shows, sports, and more.

    Lineup Highlights

    Sigur Rós, Caribou, Lianne La Havas, Calexico, Submotion Orchestra, Cat's Eyes, Andrew Weatherall, The 2 Bears, Pedestrian, Susanne Sundfør, Tinariwen, Akala, Billie Marten, Rukhsana Merrise, Antimony

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Firefly Music Festival July 16, 2016— July 19, 2016 / Dover, DE

    The annual music festival returns to the Woodlands this year with a huge, diverse lineup, promising a wide variety of summer jams.

    Lineup Highlights

    Lineup Highlights: Tame Impala, M83, Disclosure, Ellie Goulding, A$AP Rocky, The 1975, CHVRCHES, Vince Staples, Fetty Wapp, Mumford & Sons, Kings of Leon 

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    SuncéBeat July 20, 2016— July 27, 2016 / The Garden Tisno, Croatia

    SuncéBeat is a three day festival based in Croatia, focussed on presenting live DJ sets from top performers.

    Lineup Highlights

    DJ Jazzy Jeff, Louie Vega, Derrick Carter


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Liverpool International Music Festival July 21, 2016— July 24, 2016 / Liverpool, England

    Liverpool International Music Festival (LIMF) returns for its fourth year. LIMF 2016's theme is "ReDefinition," which includes five commissioned projects and performances that haveredefined music and popular culture.

    Lineup Highlights

    Sigma, Lianne La Havas, The Wombats, Kwabs, Netsky, Ms. Dynamite, Frances, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Gilles Peterson, Seani B, Rhys Lewis

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Secret Garden Party July 21, 2016— July 25, 2016 / Huntingdon, England

    Secret Garden Party takes place over five days in the East Anglia countryside. It features a mix of electronic, dance, and alternative music.

    Lineup Highlights

    Caribou, Air, Primal Scream, Milky Chance, Shura, Submotion Orchestra, Field Music, Rae Morris, David Rodigan, Hot Since 82, KLOE, Pleasure Beach

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    bluedot July 22, 2016— July 24, 2016 / Cheshire, England

    bluedot is a brand new three-day electronic and rock festival. It takes place at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre.

    Lineup Highlights

    Underworld, Jean-Michel Jarre, Caribou, DJ Shadow, Floating Points, Everything Everything, Public Service Broadcasting, Mercury Rev, George FitzGerald, 65Daysofstatic, British Sea Power, Ben UFO, Moon Duo, Gwenno, Lonelady, Dutch Uncles, Plastic Mermaids

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Capitol Hill Block Party July 22, 2016— July 24, 2016 / Seattle, WA

    This year marks the 20th annual Capitol Hill Block Party, Seattle’s esteemed three-day music festival.

    Lineup Highlights

    CHVRCHES, Crystal Castles, Odesza, STRFKR, The Joy Formidable, NAO, Tourist, Car Seat Headrest


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Nozstock July 22, 2016— July 24, 2016 / Herefordshire, England

    Returning for its 18th year, Nozstock is in the Hidden Valley in the West Midlands.

    Lineup Highlights

    Castles, Channel One, Dub Phizix, Foreign Beggars, Gentlemans Dub Club, Hot 8 Brass Band Jurassic 5, Pete Cannon, Rockwell, The Prototypes, William Poyer

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Splendour in the Grass July 22, 2016— July 24, 2016 / Byron Bay, Australia

    The 16th annual Splendour in the Grass Festival features a multi-genre lineup that includes a set from the Cure as well as the only Australian shows from The Strokes, The Avalanches, and James Blake this summer.

    Lineup Highlights

    The Strokes, The Cure, The Avalanches, Courtney Barnett, James Blake, Sigur Ros, Santigold, The 1975, Tegan and Sara

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Tramlines July 22, 2016— July 24, 2016 / Sheffield, England

    The eighth edition of UK's Tramline Festival spans four outdoor stages and 15 venues.

    Lineup Highlights

    George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Kelis, Dizzee Rascal, Leon Vynehall, Moon Duo, Pure Bathing Culture, Gwenno

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Paradiso Festival June 24, 2016— June 26, 2016 / Quincy, WA

    One of the country’s largest EDM festivals, Paradiso features art installations, amusement rides, and the beauty of Washington’s Gorge Amphitheatre setting.

    Lineup Highlights


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    XPoNential July 22, 2016— July 24, 2016 / Camden, NJ

    Presented by Philadelphia's public radio statin, WXPN 88.5FM, XPoNential Music Festival features over 30 alternative music performers across three stages. This year's festival also features shows at BB&T Pavilion and Wiggins Park.

    Lineup Highlights

    Father John Misty, Ryan Adams, Alabama Shakes, Kurt Vile and The Violators, Gary Clark Jr., Brandi Carlile, Josh Ritter & The Royal City Band, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Districts, Diane Coffee

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Woodsist July 26, 2016— July 27, 2016 / Big Sur, CA

    Hosted by California indie label Woodsist in association with (((folkYEAH!))), the seventh annual Woodsist Festival features a suitably psychedelic and folksy lineup.

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Lineup Highlights

    Woods, Jessica Pratt, Alex Bleeker & Friends, White Fence, Kevin Morby, Michael Hurley, Ultimate Painting, Gun Outfit, Cian Nugent, Little Wings

    LeeFest Presents: The Neverland July 28, 2016— July 30, 2016 / Kent, England

    LeeFest's 2016 theme is Neverland. It takes place over three days at a secret location near Turnbridge Wells.

    Lineup Highlights

    Lianne La Havas, Ghostpoet, Shura, Roots Manuva, The 2 Bears, Little Simz, Submotion Orchestra, DJ Luck & MC Neat, Formation, Clean Cut Kid, Loyle Carner, The Big Moon, Big Deal
    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Camp Bestival July 28, 2016— July 31, 2016 / East Lulworth, England

    Camp Bestival is the sibling fest to Isle of Wight's Bestival. First held in 2008, it takes place over three days at Lulworth Castle in Dorset. BBC Radio 1's Rob Da Bank and his wife and fellow Creative Director Josie Da Bank curate the festival.

    Lineup Highlights

    Fatboy Slim, Tears for Fears, Jess Glynne, Katy B, KT Tunstall, Rob Da Bank, Squeeze, DJ Yoda, The Cuban Brothers

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Kendal Calling July 28, 2016— July 31, 2016 / Lake District, England

    Held in beatific fields of the Lake District in northwest England, Kendal Calling is an independent music festival.

    Lineup Highlights

    Madness, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, The Charlatans, Kelis, The Hives, The Darkness, Maximo Park

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Lollapalooza July 28, 2016— July 31, 2016 / Chicago, IL

    Lollapalooza is back in Grant Park, with a lineup that includes sets from LCD Soundsystem and Radiohead.

    Lineup Highlights

     Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, Grimes, Lana Del Rey, Future, J. Cole, M83, Haim, Ellie Goulding, Major Lazer, Disclosure, Kurt Vile & The Violators, Vic Mensa, Red Hot Chili Peppers

    Find tickets at VividSeats.


    Bass Center July 29, 2016— July 30, 2016 / Commerce City, CO

    Bassnectar as created his own festival: Bass Center. It takes place as Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Colorado and will feature two camping villages. Bassnectar will perform two extended sets at the festival.

    Lineup Highlights

    Bassnectar, Flux Pavilion, Wu-Tang Clan, Flying Lotus, Porter Robinson, Lupe Fiasco, AlunaGeorge, Minnesota, G Jones, Dabin, Thriftworks

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Farmfest July 29, 2016— July 30, 2016 / Somerset, England

    This Somerset music festival with no corporate sponsors is notable for highlighting both signed and unsigned acts from around the world, as well as serving farm-fresh organic food in its quiet, rural setting.

    Lineup Highlights

    Young Fathers, Gilles Peterson, Gogo Penguin, Errors

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Yo! Sissy July 29, 2016— July 30, 2016 / Berlin, Germany

    Berlin's festival highlighting alternative queer performers returns for its second year and lasts for two days.

    Lineup Highlights

    Mykki Blanco, Le1f, Karin Park, Zhala, Christeene, Kablam, Hi Fashion, Ballet School

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Audioriver July 29, 2016— July 31, 2016 / Płock, Poland

    Audioriver is a three-day festival in Płock, Poland. It features a number of electronic and dance acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Four Tet, Crystle Castles, Gesaffelstein, Gorgon City, Recondite, Scuba, Sigma, Frederic Robinson, Vrilski

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Boom Bap July 29, 2016— July 31, 2016 / Suffolk, England

    The English hip-hop festival returns to Mildenhall with a lineup featuring acts from around the world.

    Lineup Highlights

    Pharoahe Monch, Da$h, Task Force, Phi Lyfe Cypher, Blade, RA the Rugged Man

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Osheaga July 29, 2016— July 31, 2016 / Montreal, Quebec

    Osheaga takes place over three days at Montreal's Parc Jean-Drapeau. Radiohead will perform.

    Lineup Highlights

    Radiohead, Lana Del Rey, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Disclosure, Death Cab for Cutie, M83, Haim, Future, Grimes, Flume, Beirut, Leon Bridges, The Last Shadow Puppets, Bloc Party, Mac Miller, The Arcs, Foals, Kurt Vile and The Violators, Wolf Parade, Kaytranada, Todd Terje & The Olsens, Baauer, Years & Years, Vince Staples, MØ, Skepta, Evian Christ, GoldLink, White Lung, Classixx, Sophie, Little Simz

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Standon Calling July 29, 2016— July 31, 2016 / Standon, England

    Standon Calling returns to Hertfordshire for its 11th year. In addition to live acts, it features a number of DJ sets.

    Lineup Highlights

    Suede, Kelis, The Thurston Moore Band, The Hives, Everything Everything, Ghostpoet, Gold Panda, Theo Parrish, Goldie MBE, Savage Disco

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Y Not? July 29, 2016— July 31, 2016 / Derbyshire, England

    Celebrating its 11th year, Y Not? Festival features a number of rock'n'roll acts. It takes place in Pike Hall in the East Midlands.

    Lineup Highlights

    Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, The Hives, Kelis, Editors, Catfish and the Bottleman, Madness, The Cribs, Everything Everything, Band of Skulls, Circa Waves, Milky Chance, Peter Hook & The Light, Nai Harvest

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    MADE Birmingham July 30, 2016 / Birmingham, England

    Set in Birmingham's industrial quarter, MADE focusses on electronic music as well as visual and street art.

    Lineup Highlights

    Rudimental, Stormzy, Andy C

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    OVO Fest July 31, 2016 / Toronto, Ontario

    Drake’s seventh annual music festival - which highlights artists from the OVO roster, as well as other special guests - will take place this year, right in the heart of the 6. 

    Lineup Highlights


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Jump to any month » April - May - June - July - August - September

    Welcome to the new Pitchfork Guide to Festivals. Formerly an annual rundown of our favorite summer fests, we've expanded and improved the Guide to make it a year-round list. This comprehensive collection includes events all over the world, big and small, in cities and out in the countryside, in fields and clubs and parks. The only thing they all have in common? Lots of great bands.

    We'll be updating the Guide regularly throughout the year. So bookmark this page and check back often.

    Jump to any month » April - May - June - July - August - September

    Hard Red Rocks August 04, 2016— August 04, 2016 / Morrison, CO

    EDM Mainstay HARD is back at Red Rocks this year with another lineup of electrifying jams.

    Lineup Highlights

    RL Grime, Savoy, Keys N Krates, Graves, Drezo

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Dekmantel Festival August 04, 2016— August 07, 2016 / Amsterdam, Netherlands

    Dekmantel, the excellent Dutch record label, has started its own music festival, bringing us the best in house and techno, amid the grassy meadows of the Amsterdamse Bos..

    Lineup Highlights

    Ben Frost, Joy Orbison, Objekt, Nina Kraviz, Midland, Ben UFO, Ricardo Villalobos, DJ Koze

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Wilderness August 04, 2016— August 07, 2016 / Oxfordshire, England

    Wilderness Festival takes place at Cornbury Park in South East England. In addition to the musical lineup, the fest features "The Wilderness Playhouse," which showcases theatre, focusing on brand new writing and work.

    Lineup Highlights

    The Flaming Lips, Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters, Crystal Fighters, Lianne La Havas, Goldie & Heritage Orchestra, Glass Animals, Shura, Tourist, Derrick Carter, Jackmaster

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Soundwave August 04, 2016— August 08, 2016 / Tisno, Croatia

    Now in its eighth year, Soundwave takes place at the Garden Resort on the Dalmation Coast in Tisno, Croatia. Hip-hop and electronic acts make up the lineup.

    Lineup Highlights

    Pharoahe Monch, Gentlemans Dub Club, Channel One Sound System, Romare, Josey Rebelle, Eva Lazarus, Sarah Williams White, Shunya, DJ E Double D

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Forgotten Fields August 05, 2016— August 07, 2016 / Rotherfield, England

    Forgotten Fields returns for its second year in 2016. It takes place at Eridge Deer Park in the Sussex countryside.

    Lineup Highlights

    Suede, Dizzee Rascal, Kodaline, Kelis, Band of Skulls, Sugarhill Gang, Milky Chance, Shy FX, DJ Yoda, Emmy the Great

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    OFF August 05, 2016— August 07, 2016 / Katowice, Poland

    OFF Festival Katowice returns for its 11th year in 2016. The Polish festival takes place over three days.

    Lineup Highlights

    Napalm Death, Sleaford Mods, Machinedrum, Beach Slang

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival August 05, 2016— August 07, 2016 / San Francisco, CA

    Outside Lands is back this year at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

    Lineup Highlights


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Pickathon August 05, 2016— August 07, 2016 / Happy Valley, OR

    Pickathon returns this summer for its 18th year. It takes place over three days at Pendarvis Farm in Happy Valley, Oregon.

    Lineup Highlights

    Jeff Tweedy, Yo La Tengo, Wolf Parade, Beach House, Ty Segall & The Muggers, Black Mountain, Thee Oh Sees, Ibeyi, Fruit Bats, Dan Deacon, Julia Holter, Kevin Morby, BADBADNOTGOOD, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Alvvays, Protomartyr, La Luz, Ultimate Painting, Mount Moriah, Moon Duo, Margo Price, Ezra Furman, VHÖL, the Cairo Gang, Palehound, Sir Richard Bishop

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Eastern Electrics August 06, 2016— August 06, 2016 / Hatfield, England

    Eastern Electrics is a house, techno, and garage music festival. It takes place over one day at Hatfield House in East England.

    Lineup Highlights

    Seth Troxler, Skream, The Martinez Brothers, Boddika, Eats Everything, Derrick Carter, Kölsch, Waze & Odyssey, Huxley, Shy FX, MJ Cole, Oneman, Monki, Bodhi, Artful Dodger

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Caught by the River Thames August 06, 2016— August 07, 2016 / London, England

    Held at the northern banks of the Thames, Caught by the River Thames is a “ready made escape plan for a two-day inner city musical road trip,” with a lineup tailor made for its sprawling, pastoral setting.

    Lineup Highlights

    Low, Beth Orton, Super Furry Animals, Ryley Walker, Sun Ra Arkestra, Mulatu Astatke


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Sziget August 10, 2016— August 17, 2016 / Budapest, Hungary

    Sziget is a weeklong festival in Budapest. It takes place on Óbudai Island, which is dubbed "Island of Freedom."

    Lineup Highlights

    Rihanna, M83, Sia, The Last Shadow Puppets, Sigúr Ros, Chvrches, MØ, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Crystal Castles, Muse, Bring Me the Horizon, John Newman, Kodaline, Naughty Boy, Parov Stelar, Róisín Murphy, Years & Years, Bloc Party, Aurora, Jake Bugg, Jess Glynne, Travis Scott, Tourist, Wilkinson

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Way Out West August 11, 2016— August 13, 2016 / Gothenburg, Sweden

    Way Out West celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2016. It takes place over three days at Gothenburg's Slottskogen Park.

    Lineup Highlights

    PJ Harvey, Chvrches, Jamie xx, Seinabo Sey, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Julia Holter, M83, Kamasi Washington, Anna von Hausswolff, Haim, Daughter, G-Eazy, Jack Garratt, Jason Isbell, Lady Leshurr, Massive Attack & Young Fathers, Section Boyz, Sia, Skepta, Stormzy, The Kills, The Last Shadow Puppets, Thundercat, Travis Scott, Yung Lean

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Wrecking Ball August 12, 2016— August 14, 2016 / Atlanta, GA

    Atlanta’s emo-centric Wrecking Ball Festival is notable this year for hosting a bevy of reunion shows from beloved acts like Piebald, Rainer Maria, and the Promise Ring, but there’s plenty of up-and-coming acts on the roster to get excited about as well.

    Lineup Highlights

    Dinosaur Jr., L7, DInosaur Jr, Drive Like Jehu, American Football, Deafheaven, Ceremony, Joyce Manor, The Promise Ring

    Defected Croatia August 11, 2016— August 15, 2016 / Tisno, Croatia

    Defected Croatia’s 2016 lineup features superstars from house through disco, playing in the idyllic beach location, combined with great food, boat parties, and outdoor clubbing experiences.

    Lineup Highlights

    Basement Jaxx, Julio Bashmore, Nightmares on Wax. Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Flow August 12, 2016— August 14, 2016 / Helsinki, Finland

    Flow Festival Helsinki is held at an old power station built at the turn of the century. It features big name artists from around the globe.

    Lineup Highlights

    Massive Attack & Young Fathers, Iggy Pop, Jamie xx, The Last Shadow Puppets, M83, Chvrches, Four Tet, Sia, New Order, Descendents, The Kills, Sleaford Mods, Lil B, Stormzy, Ben Klock, Roman Flügel, Jaakko Eino Kalevi, Hercules & Love Affair, Floating Points, GoldLink, Holly Herndon, Jeff Mills, Daughter, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Thee Oh Sees, Arca, John Talabot, Pantha Du Prince

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Migration Fest August 12, 2016— August 14, 2016 / Olympia, WA

    The first festival collaboration by esteemed underground metal labels Gilead Media and 20 Buck Spin, Migration Fest features a pummeling and unforgiving lineup.

    Lineup Highlights

    The Body & Krieg, Christian Mistress, Full Of Hell, Krallice, Thou

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Berserktown August 14, 2016— August 16, 2016 / Los Angeles, CA

    The third edition of the noisy LA festival takes place at Teragram Ballroom for three days of extreme music.

    Lineup Highlights

    Psychic TV, Inga Copeland, Brainbombs, Destruction Unit, Pop 1280, Shopping, Jason Lescalleet, Warthog

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Pukkelpop August 17, 2016— August 20, 2016 / Hasselt, Belgium

    Going beyond its name, Belgium's Pukkelpop features electronic, rock, hip-hop acts, and more. A newly reunited LCD Soundsystem will perform.

    Lineup Highlights

    LCD Soundsystem, Rihanna, Chvrches, M83, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Crystal Castles, Beach Slang, Big Sean, Bloc Party, Die Antwoord, Eagles of Death Metal, Flatbush Zombies, The Kills, Loco Dice, Mastodon, Mick Jenkins, Nina Kraviz, The Tallest Man on Earth, Travis Scott, The Underachievers, Warpaint, Wolfmother, Âme, The Chemical Brothers, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, Dillon Francis, Fatima Yamaha, George FitzGerald, Jamie Lidell, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Róisín Murphy, Seth Troxler, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Sleaford Mods, Zeds Dead

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Green Man August 18, 2016— August 21, 2016 / Brecon Beacons, Wales

    Green Man Festival takes place in the Brecon Beacons mountain range in Wales. It features alternative and electronic artists.

    Lineup Highlights

    Belle and Sebastian, James Blake, Wild Beasts, Warpaint, Grandaddy, Battles, White Denim, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Floating Points, Jason Isbell, Julia Holter, Kamasi Washington, Ezra Furman, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Jagwar Ma, Cate Le Bon, Fat White Family, Dungen, Julianna Barwick, The Besnard Lakes, Phil Cook & The Guitarheels, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Ryley Walker, Gun Outfit, Mothers, Sunflower Bean, Whitney

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Fields August 19, 2016— August 21, 2016 / Darlington, MD

    Debuted in 2014, Fields returns for its second festival this summer. It takes place over three days at Darlington, Maryland's Camp Ramblewood. In addition to music, there is comedy, live theater, film, sound and visual installations, performance art, poetry, yoga, food, and dance.

    Lineup Highlights

    Wolf Eyes, Deakin, The Sun Ra Arkestra, Weyes Blood, Dan Deacon, Deradoorian, TT the Artist, DJ Dog Dick, Wye Oak, Ed Schrader's Music Beat


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Gass Butter Beach August 19, 2016— August 21, 2016 / Abersoch, Wales

    Glass Butter Beach Festival is a three-day event celebrating wake, surf, music, and beach lifestyle, and features a diverse lineup of DJ sets and live performances.

    Lineup Highlights

    Naughty Boy, Julio Bashmore, Wolf Alice, Mystery Jets, Kodaline, Katy B, Huxley


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Lowlands August 19, 2016— August 21, 2016 / Biddinghuizen, Netherlands

    Lowlands takes place over three days. A newly reunited LCD Soundsystem will perform at the festival.

    Lineup Highlights

    LCD Soundsystem, James Blake, Kamasi Washington, Disclosure, Muse, Eagles of Death Metal, Foals, Sigur Rós, The Last Shadow Puppets, Wolfmother, Aurora, Chvrches, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, Flatbush Zombies, Ghost, M83, Jamie Woon, Philip Glass Ensemble, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Jack Garratt, Kaytranada, Travis Scott, Biffy Clyro, Giraffage, Mick Jenkins, Whitney, Thee Oh Sees

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Maha Music Festival August 20, 2016 / Omaha, NE

    The eight annual installation of the Omaha music festival features twelve hours of live music across two stages.

    Lineup Highlights

    Grimes, Vince Staples, Passion Pit, Car Seat Headrest, Jay Farrar, Diet Cig


    Find tickets at VividSeats.


    Sonus August 21, 2016— August 25, 2016 / Pag, Croatia

    Sonus Festival takes place over five days and five nights at Croatia's Zrće Beach on the Island of Pag. It features plenty of techno acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    Chris Liebing, Dixon, Jackmaster, Loco Dice, Luciano, Ricardo Villalobos, Seth Troxler, The Martinez Brothers, tINI, Dana Ruh, Sonja Moonear

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Festival Forte August 25, 2016— August 27, 2016 / Montemor-o-Velho, Portugal

    The Portugal techno festival returns this year with a strong and expertly curated lineup.

    Lineup Highlights

    Ben Frost, Cabaret Voltaire, Apparat, Rødhåd

    Find tickets at VividSeats.


    Creamfields August 25, 2016— August 28, 2016 / Liverpool, England

    Creamfields is a dance music festival that takes place over August's Bank Holiday Weekend in the UK. It features over 200 acts across 28 stages.

    Lineup Highlights

    Jack Ü, Four Tet, Idris Elba, Avicii, Annie Mac, Fatboy Slim, MK, Hannah Wants, Kölsch, Calvin Harris, Martin Garrix, Armin van Buuren, Jamie Jones, The Martinez Brothers, Maya Jane Coles, Andy C, Wilkinson, Axwell Λ Ingrosso, Robin Schulz, Above & Beyond, Tchami, Destructo, DJ EZ, Kurupt FM, Mistajam, Logan Sama, Flava D, Pete Tong, Hot Since 82, Eats Everything, Laidback Luke, Gorgon City, Ben Pearce, Tiësto, Hardwell, Galantis, Oliver Heldens, Blasterjaxx

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Leeds August 26, 2016— August 28, 2016 / Leeds, England

    Reading and Leeds are simultaneous three-day music festivals in England. They share the same lineup. Leeds Festival takes place at Bramham Park.

    Lineup Highlights

    Foals, Disclosure, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack Ü, Chvrches, Boy Better Know, The 1975, A$AP Rocky, Fetty Wap, Haim, Die Antwoord, Crystal Castles, Eagles of Death Metal, Savages, G-Eazy, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, AlunaGeorge, Mura Masa, The Internet, Sigma, Duke Dumont, Travis Scott, Birdy Nam Nam, DJ EZ, David Rodigan, Modern Baseball

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Reading August 26, 2016— August 28, 2016 / Reading, England

    Reading and Leeds are simultaneous three-day music festivals in England. They share the same lineup. Reading Festival takes place at Richfield Avenue.

    Lineup Highlights

    Foals, Disclosure, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack Ü, Chvrches, Boy Better Know, The 1975, A$AP Rocky, Fetty Wap, Haim, Die Antwoord, Crystal Castles, Eagles of Death Metal, Savages, G-Eazy, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, AlunaGeorge, Mura Masa, The Internet, Sigma, Duke Dumont, Travis Scott, Birdy Nam Nam, DJ EZ, David Rodigan, Modern Baseball

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Rock en Seine August 26, 2016— August 28, 2016 / Paris, France

    Rock en Seine takes place over three days at Paris' Domaine National de Saint-Cloud park.

    Lineup Highlights

    The Last Shadow puppets, Massive Attack, Foals, Iggy Pop, Sigur Ros, Eagles of Death Metal, Anderson .Paak

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    FYF August 27, 2016— August 28, 2016 / Los Angeles, CA

    FYF Fest returns to Exposition Park with a wide-ranging lineup including performances by Kendrick Lamar and LCD Soundsystem.

    Lineup Highlights

    Kendrick Lamar, LCD Soundsystem, Tame Impala, Grimes, Anohni, Beach House, Vince Staples, Oneohtrix Point Never, Kelela, Wolf Parade, Young Thug, Explosions in the Sky


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Dimensions August 31, 2016— September 04, 2016 / Pula, Croatia

    Dimensions Festival enters its ninth year in 2016. The underground electronic music festival takes place at Fort Punta Christo.

    Lineup Highlights

    Massive Attack, Kamasi Washington, Moodymann, Larry Heard, Helena Hauff, Ben Klock, Richie Hawtin, Marcel Dettmann, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Ron Trent, Nightmares on Wax, Ben UFO, Pangaea, Pearson Sound, Daniel Avery, Midland, Marcellus Pittman, Kyle Hall, Hunee, dBridge, Hieroglyphic Being, The Bug (with Miss Red), Om Unit, DJ Spinn, Josey Rebelle.

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Odyssia August 31, 2016— September 04, 2016 / Attiki, Greece

    The first inaugural festival from Odyssia focusses on an array electronic acts and DJs, performing in a secluded beach setting.

    Lineup Highlights

    DJ Harvey, Body & Soul, Gilles Peterson, Benji B, Boo Williams, Maurice Fulton, Midland


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Outlook August 31, 2016— September 04, 2016 / Pula, Croatia

    Outlook is a music festival that celebrates bass music in all its forms: house, techno, dubstep, reggae, dub, hip-hop, garage, grime, and electronica. It takes place at Camping Brioni in Croatia.

    Lineup Highlights

    Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, Joey Bada$$, Andy C, Stormzy, Kano, Hiatus Kaiyote, Slum Village, Goldie MBE, Angel Haze, David Rodigan, Lady Leshurr, Mick Jenkins, Hazard, Mad Professor, Kode9, Artful Dodger, Flowdan, Little Simz, MJ Cole, Lex Luger, Elijah & Skilliam, DJ Q, DJ Spinn, Madam X

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Jump to any month » April - May - June - July - August - September

    Welcome to the new Pitchfork Guide to Festivals. Formerly an annual rundown of our favorite summer fests, we've expanded and improved the Guide to make it a year-round list. This comprehensive collection includes events all over the world, big and small, in cities and out in the countryside, in fields and clubs and parks. The only thing they all have in common? Lots of great bands.

    We'll be updating the Guide regularly throughout the year. So bookmark this page and check back often.

    Jump to any month » April - May - June - July - August - September


    Festival No.6 September 01, 2016— September 04, 2016 / Portmeirion, Wales

    Festival No.6 takes place over four days in Portmeirion, North Wales. This year's fest includes a special presentation called David Bowie Reimagined (by No.6, Joe Duddell, and Manchester Camerata Orchestra with very special guest vocalists).

    Lineup Highlights

    Broken Social Scene, Hot Chip, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Super Furry Animals, Aurora, Babeheaven, Django Django, Eagulls, Echo and the Bunnymen, Gwenno, M. Ward, Róisín Murphy, Roots Manuva, Temples, Ben UFO, Crazy P, Fatima Yamaha, Gold Panda, Joy Orbison, Midland, The 2 Bears.

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Sundown September 02, 2016— September 04, 2016 / Norwich, England

    Sundown is a pop, hip-hop, and dance music festival. It takes place over three days at Norwich's Norfolk Showground, and features three stages.

    Lineup Highlights

    Dizzee Rascal, Years & Years, David Rodigan, Jason Derulo, Jess Glynne, Sam Divine, Wilkinson

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Field Maneuvers September 02, 2016— September 04, 2016 / London, England

    Field Maneuvers is a three-day house, techno, disco, and acid festival. It takes place at a secret location just outside of London.

    Lineup Highlights

    Ryan Elliott, Ben Sims, Jane Fitz, Mark Archer, Elgato, Jade Seattle, Mark E, Auntie Flo, Brackles

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    North Coast September 02, 2016— September 04, 2016 / Chicago, IL

    North Coast takes place at Chicago's Union Park over three days.

    Lineup Highlights

    Ty Dolla $ign, Sleigh Bells, Action Bronson, Zedd, Odesza, Juicy J, Raury


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Made in America Festival September 03, 2016— September 04, 2016 / Los Angeles, CA

    In 2014, Jay-Z brought his Philadelphia-based Made In America Festival to LA, and, this summer, it returns.

    Lineup Highlights


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Bestival September 08, 2016— September 11, 2016 / Isle of Wight

    Bestival has expanded to include Camp Bestival and Bestival Toronto, but the main fixture remains at England's Isle of Wight. It takes place over four days at at Robin Hill Country Park near Newport.

    Lineup Highlights

    The Cure, Major Lazer, Hot Chip, Diplo, Carl Cox, Fatboy Slim, Aled Jones & Rob Da Bank, Animal Collective, Aurora, Bastille, Bicep, Craig David's TS5, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, Danny L Harle, Eats Everything, Ghostpoet, Jagwar Ma, Katy B, Krept & Konan, MØ, Richie Hawtin, Ride, Skepta, Skream, Tourist, Years & Years, Wolf Alice

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Lollapalooza Berlin September 09, 2016— September 10, 2016 / Berlin, Germany

    Lollapalooza is coming to Europe for the second time, with a stacked lineup for their Treptower Park event in Berlin.

    Lineup Highlights

    Radiohead, Major Lazer, James Blake, New Order, Kings of Leon


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Oasis September 16, 2016— September 18, 2016 / Marrakech, Morocco

    Oasis is an electronic and dance music festival at the Source Music Resort in Morocco.

    Lineup Highlights

    Leon Vynehall, Lindstrøm, Maya Jane Coles, Hunee, Helena Hauff, Bicep, Derrick May, Dixon, Dubfire, Dusky, George FitzGerald, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Objekt, Omar Souleyman, Prins Thomas, Tale of Us

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Daytime Village at iHeartRadio Music Festival September 23, 2016— September 24, 2016 / Las Vegas, NV

    Daytime Village takes place at the Las Vegas Village across from the Luxor Hotel and Casino. during the two nights between iHeartRadio Music Festival.

    Lineup Highlights

    Jeremih, Alessia Cara, Cold War Kids, Panic! At the Disco, The Chainsmokers


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Austin City Limits September 30, 2016— October 09, 2016 / Austin, TX

    Austin City Limits has extended its festival to span the length of two weekends, doubling its regular capacity for great acts, both global and local, in the  “music capital of the world.”

    Lineup Highlights


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Rockaway Beach October 07, 2016— October 09, 2016 / Bognor Regis, England

    Rockaway Beach is an alternative rock festival at Bognor Regis in West Sussex, England. Classic UK pop acts Suede and Saint Etienne will perform.

    Lineup Highlights

    Suede, Saint Etienne, Killing Joke, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Luna, Black Honey, Jane Weaver, Eliza Shaddad, Gang

    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    New Alternative September 16, 2016— September 18, 2016 / Asbury Park, NJ

    A one-off festival started by New Jersey label Don Giovanni Records, New Alternative Music Festival is a “pro-weirdo event held in direct opposition to the apolitical sludge that has come to pass as ‘indie’ and that has nothing to do with operating independently.” Righteous!

    Lineup Highlights

    Screaming Females, Girlpool, Downtown Boys, P.S. Eliot, Antibodies, Daniel Bachman, Trophy Wife


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

    Iceland Airwaves November 02, 2016— November 06, 2016 / Reykjavik, Iceland

    Iceland’s annual Iceland Airwaves festival is focussed on showcasing new music, from both local and global acts.

    Lineup Highlights

    PJ Harvey, Julia Holter, Kronos Quartet, Múm


    Find tickets at VividSeats.

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    Interview: Frankie Cosmos: Pop Miniaturist

    Frankie Cosmos: "On the Lips" (via SoundCloud)

    Greta Kline and I are walking around Chinatown one bitter cold February evening at dusk, looking for Little Debbie’s Cosmic Brownies. Or rather, we are looking for her former life, for an old feeling. A few years ago, when the now 22-year-old Kline was a teenager, she wrote a 47-second ode to the synthetic two-inch sugar-rushes with the plasticy rainbow sprinkles and released it on Bandcamp under the moniker Frankie Cosmos. “We all know that this is the only deli in Manhattan that carries Little Debbie’s Cosmic Brownies/ But we’re too stoned to buy them,” Kline intones on the song, over angelically muffled fingerpicking. Today we are not stoned, and our mission is clear. 

    On “Little Debbie’s Cosmic Brownies,” the K&K Deli sounds like a small paradise that might exist on a cloud. But when we arrive, it is just another fluorescent-lit corner store selling seltzer and pre-packaged donuts. And being here makes Kline as visibly sick as those grossly sweet confections could make anyone. She recalls spending so much time buying snacks at this particular shop because a shitty ex-boyfriend once lived across the street. “All the worst times of my life ever happened here,” Kline deadpans, her tone growing more severe than usual as she motions towards a distant fire escape. “It’s so insane.” This is a lot of malaise to be sparked by one grimy bodega, but it is how Kline and her songs work—the tiniest and most unassuming detail can conjure a monumental rush of memory.

    She reckons with these old emotions on her awestruck new record, Next Thinga 28-minute collection of cleverly arranged, sharply penned city poems that make indie-pop feel contemporary and vital. The album is a wonderful progression from her proper debut album, 2014’s Zentropy, and the next chapter in the ever-expanding 3D universe of Frankie Cosmos.

    Kline’s songs are concise; most last less than two minutes. They are pop miniatures full of humor and grace, and they often show their own process, inviting unlikely connections to conceptual art in a way that reminds me of her cheeky New York City forebears, the Ramones. (Are these songs? Are they fragments? Does it matter?) “Today I walked through your town/ It’s ruined for me now,” Kline sings on Next Thing’s closing track, a bare synth meditation that is like a somber epilogue for “Cosmic Brownies.” Its title ominously refers to our current location: “O Dreaded C Town.”

    We leave the unexpected misery of the deli on Monroe Street in short order, and Kline’s mood soon brightens. One moment ends and a new one begins. We walk away from a past life, under the Manhattan Bridge, and towards another. With each retraced step is a potential memory—like all the earliest times she wandered this concrete alone with headphones, listening to the tender music of her current partner and occasional collaborator, Aaron Maine, of Porches.

    Anyone who has lived in a city for more than a few years knows how it is to cruise streets and encounter old, unrecognizable versions of yourself in ordinary things. Kline’s music is like this. If a writer is only as great as each individual word that she chooses, Kline makes each song about singular morsels of time—as if she is stitching together an unending tapestry, or life map, of little choruses and codas, piece by piece. “Sometimes I cry ‘cause I know I’ll never have all the answers/ Separated by a subway transfer,” she confesses on Next Thing highlight “On the Lips.” The line gets at her music’s considerable power, making the messiest quotidian bits of being a person feel poised and filmic. Life seems less scary if you think of it this way: one step and then another, one thing and then the next.

    E.B. White famously said that New York is a city of giants, where anyone can easily encounter her personal heroes and feel inspired. Though Kline is the child of famous actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, or perhaps because of it, that is not the New York where Frankie Cosmos dwells. She populates her city songs with anonymous faces and underdogs—the closest things to “giants” on Next Thing are subtle mid-song nods to downtown saint Arthur Russell and Instagram star Marnie the Dog. The tiny real-life details of Kline’s songs are more like Didion-esque bursts of air from a subway grate below.

    Before heading to the K&K Deli, I had asked Kline to choose her favorite place in the city to set this interview. We ended up at the tiny and vaguely suburban Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center. “This arcade’s kind of like a secret,” Kline says as a group of little children parades in and two dudes play a sad match of Strokes Guitar Hero nearby. After a few rounds of DDR and skeeball, Kline recommends I use our hard-earned tickets to collect a number of small prizes instead of one big one. I walk away with a rainbow of tattoo choker-style bracelets.

    On the street, Kline, a native Manhattanite, insists that "real New Yorkers" take buses (not Uber), but she's not above all tourist traps. In one Chinatown display, Kline's eye catches some goofy pajama pants covered in yellow taxis—turns out she’s got her own pair at home and wore them to high school often. As we pass a life-size "Simpsons" statue, she astutely notes, "Lisa would have liked Frankie Cosmos."

    As for those brownies, we never did find them; New York is never what it was.

    The following interview was edited from our conversations on Pitchfork Radio, at the feminist bookstore Bluestockings, and in Kline’s Greenwich Village apartment.

    Kline in Chinatown. "Lisa [Simpson] would have liked Frankie Cosmos," she says. Photo by Meetka Otto.

    Pitchfork: How have things changed for you in the past couple of years?

    Greta Kline: Well, I’m no longer an exciting young teen, just a normal 20s person trying to be a musician. I think I’m a little bit tougher. I’m a little more discerning and self-assured; if someone’s like “good show,” I’m more like, “thanks! I know!” instead of “oh, you know, it was OK!”

    I realized I was trained my whole life to be an accommodating person, to make sure that everybody is comfortable before I’m comfortable. After giving so much of myself to strangers, I learned to care for myself a little more, especially on tour. I’m not just going to hug every person that asks to hug me. I love talking to fans and teens at my shows. I’m not like “fuck off” to everyone. But I am a little more like, “OK, I’m a person.” I try to make sure that that’s clear.

    Often, you’re expected to be extra accommodating if you’re a woman. I don’t think Aaron feels the same pressure to be really nice to everyone who comes to the merch table. Maybe it comes from being an adult, maybe it comes from being a man. I don’t know. But having other musician friends, especially women, and talking about it has totally affected me. I’m inspired by a lot of my friends who say, “This is who I am, this is how I feel,” and don’t let people boss them around. 

    Pitchfork: This idea of not just listening to everyone around you reminds me of a lyric from your new song “If I Had a Dog,” where a person is giving you advice that you didn’t ask for. You sing about someone telling you what to do, who is making comments “about my body” and “not about my brain,” which sucks.

    GK: Honestly, someone said to me, “It’s cool that you’re a musician, but you should be a model, too.” I’m like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” I don’t want to do that. I’m really camera shy—the few situations I’ve been in where I felt that I was being scrutinized for how I look were damaging to me.

    Pitchfork: At least you were able to turn it into a song about potentially having a dog.

    GK: It’s a slight reference to Marnie the Dog. 

    Pitchfork: Really?

    GK: “If I had a dog/ I’d take a picture everyday.” It’s a Marnie moment.

    Pitchfork: Are you and Marnie friends? 

    GK: Hell yeah. I love her. I actually DJ’d Marnie the Dog’s bat mitzvah, essentially, her 13th birthday. I played an Arthur Russell song, “Habit of You,” because there’s a part about birthday cake. Marnie has aged so well—she’ll be beautiful forever.

    Pitchfork: You often sing about age and youth. Like on “Birthday Song,” or “Young,” or “I’m 20.”

    GK: It’s a rife topic. Two of the most literal lines in “Young” are: “Have you heard I am so young/ And who my parents are?” They’re the two things that somehow legitimized me, or gave people some reason to talk about me, whether or not they liked my music. Maybe it was a little bit about that fear—Am I a real artist, or is this the reason people are interested? It was stressful.

    Pitchfork: On “I’m 20,” you sing “I’d sell my soul for a free pen/ On it, the name of your corporation,” which is a hilarious way of dealing with being a young artist in a sponsored era.

    GK: It was me being 20 and actually accepting corporate, free shit. I did an interview with—I don’t know if I should name names—whatever, it was MySpace. I accepted a pen with MySpace written on it. I thought it was funny to be 20 years old and get a MySpace pen and a MySpace totebag. It felt like being sponsored by this stupid thing. Not that it’s stupid, but it’s kind of stupid: We’re schmoozing with this huge company. Accepting corporate merch is really silly. I don’t actually have problems dealing with corporate situations. There are times I’ve railed against it, but there are other times when I’m like, “I’ll take your money, no problem.” If it’s not super harmful or offensive, then I don’t have a problem with it. It’s especially funny now that I’m going to be 22 singing “I’m 20” every night.

    Pitchfork: When you sing “I’m 20/ Washed up already” on that song, how much of that is serious and how much of it is a joke? 

    GK: It definitely feels funny to say “I’m washed up” because I’ve only put out one record. But it’s also totally real. I don’t know what’s going to happen. With Zentropy, I had no expectations. This time, the expectations scare me. I was trying to not let that affect me. 

    I could have freaked out: Oh my god I have to go crazy making this perfect thing. Instead, I was like, “I’m gonna make it the most me thing ever, and scare off anyone who isn’t gonna like that.” It was an exercise in staying true to myself. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was during the only solo tour I've ever done. I was opening for Porches and Hospitality, and I was like, “It feels so weird to be doing a solo tour.” Amber [Papini] from Hospitality said to me, “Your songs are good, and that's all that matters.” It made me realize that if a take isn't perfect or a show isn’t perfect, that's OK. The songs are what’s forever.

    I always thought I was more mature than kids my age, but now I’m actually maturing and learning about myself. I think age is useless and I don’t think that it matters, but I am having a very 21-year-old time in my life.

    Pitchfork: I remember reading an interview with Tavi Gevinson where she said that by the time she was 16, she felt like she’d already been five different people.

    GK: Yeah totally. She was like a tycoon at 16, it’s crazy!

    Pitchfork: In a way, you’ve also been through a lot for a person your age.

    GK: I agree. I don’t drink or smoke or party. I’m this old man version of myself. I’m now going through what a lot of people go through when they’re 25 or 30, which is like, post-college sobriety. I feel like I’m too young to be giving up on partying, but I have no interest in partying—and I’m in a field that requires staying up late and partying! I was in a band [Porches] with a bunch of men in their late 20s who all wanted to party more than I did—I was like, “Wow, how old am I?” A lot of that went into that lyric, too.

    "Genres as a concept are so useless. Especially now, because everything is inspired by everything. Kanye’s sampling Arthur Russell. Give it up!"

    Pitchfork: Maybe the lyrics ultimately underscore the idea that age is a construct. 

    GK: Age is not a real thing. It was also a joke about, like: What if the record just fails, and I’m over by 20? That’s scary. I stopped going to college to be in bands. I wrote "If I Had a Dog" about telling my family and other people: “I’m going to pursue music and not finish college.” And there were the obvious reactions, like, “Oh, that’s an interesting idea, you should also finish college.” People are always saying “you should do this” and never letting you just be like, “OK, this is what I’m doing.”

    Pitchfork: It seems like you’ve learned a lot anyway.

    GK: Totally, I don’t need it. Technically, I’ve been a tour manager for three years, and a band manager. I’ve booked tours, I could probably do that, too. Not that I’m looking for jobs right now! But, if it doesn’t work out, there are things that I can do. I have skills. Can you guys publish my resume?

    Pitchfork: To say “age is not real” and also have so many songs about age—it proves how much the world just wants to impose age onto you.

    GK: Exactly. The songs are more about what’s imposed onto you. It’s the same if someone writes about gender—this is something that’s imposed on everyone.

    Pitchfork: I saw a tweet you posted recently about an article that said Aaron co-wrote Zentropy, which is not true. 

    GK: It’s fucked up. It sucks because I love the men in my band. I love the man that records our albums. I want to credit them, but it makes me terrified to give anyone any credit other than myself. It’s like there’s no amount that you could credit yourself enough as a woman and still actually have it be correct. You can literally say “I did this all myself” and people are still going to credit someone else. It’s sad and endless.

    Pitchfork: Next Thing does seem to have angrier songs.

    GK: There’s a lot of anger on the record. I consider “If I Had a Dog” and “Is It Possible” to be punk songs. I feel really angry when I sing them. I’ve always written angry-ish stuff, but this is the first time I’ve had a full band to amplify that feeling. We’ve been arranging some new songs, and they’re all sounding really pop-punk, which I love. 

    For me, this record was about old feelings. Half of it was written a long time ago, and the other half was written about a long time ago—this is what this emotion means, this is a good way to deal with it. I learned a lot about 16-year-old me. This record is for her. Being an adult and looking back on emotions that you felt a long time ago—the longer you think about it, the more you can write with clarity.

    It’s really fucking hard to write about emotions while you’re feeling them. They can cloud your vision. An emotion has to be distilled over time. I have to write a million crazed journal entries about it, pick out the one coherent line from those, and explore that. It’s like writing a research paper. When you really research something, you’re going to get a lot of shit you don’t need, and it’s all going to be worth it to get to the one thing you really do. For me, writing about emotions works the same way. 

    Pitchfork: You mentioned that the Frankie Cosmos arrangements are starting to err towards pop-punk.

    GK: I just like trying different things and I like strumming really hard and fast. In a way, I feel like Arthur Russell is pop-punk. Is “pop-punk” the right term? They are songs by adults singing from the perspective of a child. Arthur Russell does that in a funny way on “This Time Dad You’re Wrong.” It’s such a good example of a pop-punk song to me—you could totally picture Blink-182 singing that. Musically, it’s not pop-punk, but it was that emotion. There are still teenagers who don’t know about Arthur Russell and that sucks. All teenagers should be listening to that.

    The video for Frankie Cosmos' cover of the Blink-182 song "First Date."

    Pitchfork: I feel like punk, pop, and pop-punk are all more about attitude than anything.

    GK: I know what you mean. I use the word punk very loosely. I think of Beat Happening as punk, but nobody would say that’s a punk band just from listening. I’m definitely going to get some shit for saying that. I feel like genres are so fucking stupid. No offense. I know that your job is writing about music. But genres as a concept are so useless. Especially now, because everything is inspired by everything. Kanye’s sampling Arthur Russell. Give it up!

    Pitchfork: Your song “Sinister” references Arthur Russell in the lyrics, and there’s this shyness in his music that I also hear in your music.

    GK: I definitely hear it in my own music, but that’s because I know that I’m shy.

    Pitchfork: Do you understand where your own shyness comes from? 

    GK: I’ve gone through different phases of shyness and confidence. I’m literally almost a shut-in at this point. But it’s also because of the winter and tax season. This is the definition of my shyness: I’ll be invited to a party and be like, “I’m going to go.” And then I’ll go for an hour and be like, “Oh my god I’m overstaying.” And then I’ll leave and be like, “Oh my god they hate me, I’m never going out again.” I can be very social, but often it weighs down on me later, that the social thing was a put-on. I feel like my way of dealing with not wanting to go out is, I just don’t. I can’t bring myself to.

    Frankie Cosmos: "Sinister" (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: A lot of your songs are short but fully-constructed. Do you think what you’re doing says something about what a song can be?

    GK: In terms of the length, it’s just: This is how much time I need to get my point across, and I don’t need to repeat a chorus. But it’s not like I’m making a statement. When I first started, I was putting out literally 30 second clips, soundbites. It wasn’t a concept, it just happened. I often feel like repeating a line is useless, but when you do it the right way, it can gain more meaning each time. I'd like to try it sometime. 

    Pitchfork: Do you have a desire to do more traditional pop songs?

    GK: Not really. I love Taylor Swift. That’s the kind of pop I want to listen to, not me trying to do pop. Right now, I really like the kind of music I’m making, and that’s how I feel comfortable performing. 

    Pitchfork: What’s your favorite Taylor Swift song?

    GK: “Wildest Dreams” is the sickest song. But also, an old classic, “You Belong With Me.” She is really complicated. From the perspective of a musician, you can tell that she is all business. I don’t think she’s trying to project this, but you can tell that she has no life. She’s chosen this path. She’s really into perfection. She wants us to think she has this friend group, but it’s clearly a media thing. It’s really sad and fascinating. I saw her live, Girlpool took me. Girlpool are somehow friends with the band that was opening [Haim]. It was the coolest performance I’ve ever seen.

    Kline outside one of her favorite places in New York City. Photo by Jenn Pelly.

    Pitchfork: On Zentropy, a lot of the songs made these general declarations about sadness, but on this record, things seems more specific. Like on “Is It Possible,” where you sing, “I guess I just make myself the victim like you said.”

    GK: That’s the most vulnerable line on the album for me. It’s about a very specific fight. I don’t like being that specific. But thanks for picking that line out. [laughs]

    The record was written at so many different times, but when I went to pick the songs, the ones I was most excited about happened to be the most emotional or vulnerable. It wasn’t like I wrote them all at this horrible time in my life; there’s some beauty and happiness on the record, too. I like that some of the songs can be heard as either happy or sad. They’re both, and that’s what life is like. I’m proud of those.

    Even when something could be construed as a nothing-lyric, I always hope that whatever crazy shit I felt when I wrote it will show, and that the person will somehow feel the real meaning and not know why. It’s a crazy hope.

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    Longform: Flex Tunes: Brooklyn's Own Dance Music

    It’s a bitterly cold night in October, but inside the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, sweat is pouring during a flexing dance battle called D.R.E.A.M. Ring. A crowd of about 100 people—fans and dancers alike—make a wide circle, surrounding the night’s performers. Shouts of approval accompany every move hype enough to deserve them. At one point, near the end of a two-man performance by dancers Killa and Gee, everyone explodes, with hats and water bottles going up in the air as people jump into the circle in excitement. It takes a couple of minutes to get the event back on track, but smiles are everywhere.

    As the dancers hover across the hardwood floor and writhe in motion, the loudspeakers return again and again to an electronic style of instrumental dancehall called flex tunes, which grew up alongside the dance as an important part of the scene's identity. 

    Highlights from the D.R.E.A.M. Ring flex battle at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple.

    Like reggaeton’s use of the Dembow riddim and Baltimore club's reliance on the “Sing Sing” break, flex tunes revolve around a chopped-up instrumental called the “Volume” riddim, from the early 2000s. A handful of other riddims and samples from the same era are commonly used too, most of them ranging in tempo from 98 to 105 bpm, and lazer-like blip effects run through many of the tracks, often taking the place of snares. 

    The style has gone through several iterations over the years, and current flex tunes artists agree that the music is ready for new audiences. Dancer and producer Hitmakerchinx, for one, is getting the style and sound out there in a big way right now as a part of Rihanna's ANTI tour, where he dances to one of his remixes at each show. These artists have even started using the acronym FDM—short for flex dance music—as a way to mark its recent progression. Labels aside, this music is increasingly detailed and diverse, while still retaining a fundamental core that defines it; even as the sound picks up new rhythms and instrumentation, its main signifiers always creep back in to let the listener know where it’s coming from.

    Rihanna: "Work (Hitmakerchinx FDM Remix)" (via SoundCloud)

    Though its roots stretch back to Jamaica in the early 1990s, flexing grew up in the heart of Brooklyn. It became a distinct dance style of its own in the mid-'00s, defined by elements like bone breaking, an unimaginable contortions of the arms. There's also gliding, a trick of the feet, like an advanced moonwalk; pausing, where a dancer will move in animated motions, stopping at sharp intervals as if they are hitting invisible walls; and connecting, where every movement must come in contact with a different body part—the hand instigating the elbow, setting off the shoulder, and so on. Flexers also use moves found in other styles, but it’s the level of involvement in this close-knit world that determines whether a dancer is considered a true participant as opposed to someone just using flexing elements for their own purposes. 

    The music began as dense dancehall mixes, with layers of riddims and sound effects filling up entire cassette tapes. Then they shortened to the time of dancers' showcases, and eventually boiled down to regular track-length mixes with their own names. In the past five years or so, producers have started coming up with flex tunes from scratch, creating new dancehall riddims full of booming 808s, pulsing electronics, and chopped vocal samples.

    Hitmakerchinx and DJ Aaron: "Watching You" (via SoundCloud)

    The whole scene started with a public access television show called “Flex N Brooklyn,” which first aired in 1992. Created by Rocky and Sandra Cummings, it was a talent showcase where rappers, singers, and dancers performed onstage to a very lit crowd. The first episode featured reggae, cheerleader, and Harlem Shake dance teams, and that range of cultures would define the show for its early years. After the performers did their thing on the stage, attention would move to the crowd for the second half of the show, where it became like a teen party, and everyone got the chance to show out with their own moves and style.

    The premiere 1992 episode of public access show "Flex N Brooklyn," which kicked off the entire flexing scene.

    The reggae dancing eventually became the focus of “Flex,” which was what everyone called the show for short. It was all about teams refining moves that made their way over from the Caribbean island, most of them popularized by dancehall dancers like Bruck Up, who inspired a whole new style in Brooklyn that took shape in the mid-’90s. Named brukup in his honor, it was the biggest influence on the dancers that would go on to form flexing. "If it wasn't for the brukup, we wouldn't have created what we did," says Regg Roc, a pioneer of flexing. "Its DNA is in everything we do."

    Regg started dancing in the late ’90s while living in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood and soon joined a team called Hyperactive. Around that time, DJ Springer moved from Crown Heights to East New York and put Hyperactive onto a lot of the Caribbean music he grew up with in his old neighborhood. He had already been experimenting with the megamix style of DJing—layering multiple riddims and adding sound effects, influenced by tapes from Jamaica—but Hyperactive helped push him to refine the idea, mixing in a manner specifically for the dancers.

    "We were in the house blending, testing music," Springer says from Miami, where he's lived since 2007. "Riddims, old stuff, new stuff. We were just mashing stuff up, and it became this whole new wave." It was entirely analog, made with turntables, a tape deck, and an echo chamber unit. He kept making loops, layering new riddims, playing stuff backwards, adding different effects. "I was so into it that I bought video game consoles just to get the sounds," he recalls. Springer recorded these mega mixes onto tapes that could last as long as 90 minutes, and when he started DJing on “Flex” in the early 2000s, he did everything live on stage.

    Jason and Regg Roc of the Ringmasters crew perform at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple.

    A lot of well-known DJs made their names at “Flex,” including Boof, who eventually became Nicki Minaj's DJ. "I got my name from that era," says Hot 97's DJ Magic. "If you wasn't at ‘Flex N Brooklyn,’ you wasn't poppin'! Everything happening there would trickle off into the streets and the club. It became a whole scene and culture in Brooklyn."

    Around 2004, reggae dancers began to really saturate the show, and Hyperactive became heavily involved, helping with marketing, videos, and throwing parties (in addition to winning showcases). But Hyperactive was thinning out, so Regg got together with a few of the best dancers from the various teams and created a new group called Main Eventt—"because we were the main event of each of our teams," he says with a laugh.

    Main Eventt originally came together at Flexhouse, the nickname “Flex” originators Rocky and Sandra Cummings’ home in Crown Heights. Dancers got together there between shows to eat, dance, and get VHS tapes of their performances before they aired. "They provided the world for us," Regg says of the Cummings. "They're the core and the heart of flexing."

    "Some of the best battles happened at Flexhouse," adds Bones, one of today's top flexers.

    Doc (Main Eventt Music): "Behold the GOW" (via SoundCloud)

    The term flexing took hold in 2005, when all the elements of the style solidly came together and the difference between reggae and brukup dancing became recognizable; people just started referring to the dancers as “flexers” since that was the name of the TV show. "It was named by the kids out in the street, we had no control over it," Regg explains. "They'd say, 'Hey, you guys do the flexing!' I didn't know what the hell they were talking about." But it stuck.

    Around that time, “Flex N Brooklyn” was winding down, and things were changing in the Brooklyn neighborhoods where the scene began. People were going out less. Clubs were shutting down or couldn't accommodate the crowds. In this vacuum, an event called BattleFest, started by a dancer named Kareem Baptiste along with Regg, proved instrumental in incubating flexing culture (and continues to be central to the scene). Meanwhile, the music was evolving as well.

    The BattleFest series of live events has been incubating the flex scene for years.

    DJ Flava released the first mixtape representing flex tunes as a musical scene of its own in 2007, although people were already calling their individual songs by that name. He was also the first flex tunes DJ to become popular on YouTube during the platform's early stages. Jay Donn, one of the scene's most famous dancers, was mixing as well. Flava and Donn were part of a team called Unusual Suspects and also released music together as a duo. That first tape featured a young DJ Aaron, who would go on to become flexing's most popular DJ for some years, with the majority of dancers using his tunes for their battles and routines.

    DJ Aaron: "Ghost Town Tune" (via SoundCloud)

    Aaron grew up in East New York and started the dance team Next Level Squad in his ground floor apartment in the Linden Houses. Originally, he was engrossed with basketball, but when his cousin showed him “Flex N Brooklyn,” it was a wrap. In 2009, Aaron won the BattleFest award for Mixking, an honor almost created specifically for him since there really weren’t any other artists in contention for that title at the time.

    Soon after, flexing was introduced to the world. Main Eventt, which had changed their name to Ringmasters, performed on “America's Best Dance Crew” and “America's Got Talent,” and appeared in Nicki Minaj's "Massive Attack" video.

    Flex crew the Ringmasters appear in the video for Nicki Minaj's 2010 track "Massive Attack."

    Following that breakthrough, Main Eventt was reborn as another team with new dancers. It was around this time that D.R.E.A.M. and LOUD League came onto the scene, and a rising talent named Hitmakerchinx started making moves that would eventually shake up the flex tunes world once again.

    "When I first came on the scene, I was just Regular Guy Chinx," says the Brooklynite, laughing. "Aaron was the rival at first, because we were the young guys." Since he came from a different background—starting first by producing rap beats from scratch on FruityLoops instead of mixing tunes—Chinx brought new methods along with him, ultimately changing expectations within flex culture.

    He lived most of his early life in nearby Flatbush, but wasn't exposed to the scene until he moved to Queens: "I was right next to it the whole time but didn't know what it was." His introduction took a wide, circular route. He moved to Queens during high school in the mid-’00s and went to a magnet school for fashion in Manhattan, during which he attended a summer job program at Planned Parenthood in Bed-Stuy, where he was finally introduced to flex tunes.

    By the time he made a name for himself, Chinx lived deep in Jamaica, Queens—so far out that you have to take the J train to the end of the line and then catch a dollar van to get to his spot—but his tunes were in such high demand that dancers would make the trip to his basement studio anyway. "I've got an old door with all their signatures on it," he says proudly.

    In 2013, Chinx dropped "Earthquake," which was so popular that dancers in other scenes started using it, and it even made it into the movie Step Up All In. He also started making some power moves as a dancer himself, appearing in commercials and music videos, including Jidenna's "Classic Man." 

    Hitmakerchinx: "Earthquake" (via SoundCloud)

    Aaron concedes that the old flex tunes style of mixing had started to sound a little noisy and he eventually began collaborating with Chinx. These days, Aaron bridges the eras by combining the style he came up on with production in FruityLoops to create his tunes. "I never would have thought of adding 808s to a riddim," he says, "so for Chinx to do that, it was big."

    Over the past couple years, two more new producers named Uninamise and Epic B cemented the shift in style, coming together as a duo called Immortal Instruments

    Epic B: "Zues" (via SoundCloud)

    Raised in East New York and Brownsville, Epic B had made some dancehall riddims—including co-producing one that Vybz Kartel and Popcaan jumped on in 2009—but he was primarily known for his rap beats. At first, he wasn't sure how seriously to take flex tunes, so he made them under the Immortal alias. "They'd play my tunes at the battles while I was there and not even know it was me who made them," he says. But that positive reaction was enough for him to keep at it. "I'm inspired by flexing, and I love art, so to be able to make something that other people will be creative to is just dope to me."

    Flex dancers Karnage and Captain take center stage at the D.R.E.A.M. Ring battle in Brooklyn.

    Uninamise (pronounced "unanimous") had a similar wariness about making flex tunes in the beginning. "I knew about it, but I didn't want to dabble in something and dilute it," he explains. "So I focused on my regular production to get that right first." He thought his friends were just being biased about liking his tunes until one of his tracks got a rewind at a battle. "The reaction from the dancers was great, and I didn't expect it," he remembers. But still, he wanted to introduce himself slowly while paying respect to the art form. "I didn't want to be like, 'I'm coming after everybody,'” says Uninamise. “I wanted to show love."

    Uninamise: "The Jungle" (via SoundCloud)

    Flexing as a culture seems like it could go in any direction it wants right now. Regg recently collaborated on a show called FlexN with the famed choreographer Peter Sellars, featuring original music by Epic B. The event traveled overseas too, with a UK iteration called FlexN ManchesterJay Donn has gone on to join a well-known ballet troupe. Chinx signed to the electronic label Fade to Mind. Aaron and Bones were recently featured in Jordan and H&M/Balmain commercials, and, alongside Chinx and others, appeared in a Skrillex video.

    But for all of this international notoriety, the proving grounds will remain in Brooklyn, at events like D.R.E.A.M., LOUD League, and BattleFest. While Chinx does his thing onstage in front of thousands at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center with Rihanna, the scene keeps building just a few blocks away in small event spaces and people’s homes. New moves are tried out, fresh tunes are premiered, and battles rage on.

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    Longform: The Beach Boys’ <i>Pet Sounds</i> Celebrates its 50th Anniversary: Artists Pay Tribute to the Eternal Teenage Symphony

    If ever there was an artist so perfectly able to tap into the creativity of his inner child, it was Brian Wilson. In the time leading up to the May 16, 1966 release of the Beach Boys' grand masterpiece Pet Sounds, Wilson—who was only in his early twenties—erupted with a manic wellspring of ideas, visions, and fleeting thoughts.

    The songwriter suffered a panic attack while on a flight from Los Angeles to Houston two days before Christmas in 1964, which prompted him to stop touring with his band altogether. Then came the 1965 hit “California Girls,” which reportedly marked the first time Wilson composed a song while under the influence of psychedelics. He took in the Beatles’ then-brand-new album Rubber Soul, which challenged him to rethink his entire method of music making. With an opus in his brain, he headed to the studio. Compelled to break out of the surfing boy band box the Beach Boys were locked inside, Wilson sat out of the group's tour of Japan in January 1966 to create the 36-minute pocket symphony that would shatter every preconceived notion the world had about the band—and even popular music itself.

    Considering the lack of formal training Wilson possessed in terms of arrangement and composition, the way he translated his ideas to the album’s orchestral format is nothing short of magic. Though he was awed by Phil Spector’s production on the Ronettes’ 1963 hit "Be My Baby," with Pet Sounds, Wilson didn't construct a wall of sound as much as a sonic sandbox. (Later on, he would have an actual sandbox built in his mansion while he created the Beach Boys' intended follow-up, SMiLE.) And while Pet Sounds did yield its fair share of individual hits, the record was meant to be heard as a themed song cycle. At its root, the album is a story that takes you along the complete arc of emotions that coincide with falling in love with someone—from hope to elation to worry to despair—a far cry from the steady diet of songs about girls, cars, and surfing that had been the band’s primary M.O. since their formation in 1961.

    Pet Sounds has cast a net of seemingly infinite magnitude these last 50 years, informing the worlds of rock, hip-hop, jazz, electronic, experimental, punk, pop, and just about anything else you can imagine in between. The wide swath of artists assembled for this feature represent but a modicum of the album’s vast measure of influence. Its scope transcends just about all lines of age, race, and gender. Its impact continues to broaden with each passing generation.

    Brian Wilson directs from the studio control room while recording Pet Sounds in 1966 in Los Angeles. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

    Sean Ono Lennon

    I’m embarrassed to say that—perhaps due to a lack of sophistication on my part, or the misheard echoes of a supposed rivalry between my father’s group and the Beach Boys—I was late to understand the music of Brian Wilson. It wasn’t until after puberty, after discovering Hendrix, after listening to Miles Davis, and after my own feeble attempts at songwriting that my ears opened up and I suddenly found my universe transformed by Pet Sounds.

    I was 21 years old and had just about finished recording my first album, Into the Sun, at Sear Sound in New York. At the time, my only professional gig had been playing bass in Cibo Matto, and I was playing some of my tracks for their manager, and I remember him saying, “This kind of sounds like a Brian Wilson record.” Slightly offended, I replied cynically: “surf music?” After some quiet gasping, I believe it was the engineer Tom Schick who told me to be quiet. And suddenly I found myself listening to “God Only Knows.” 

    Brian once described how drinking water after his first hash joint felt like his “first glass of water,” and I felt the same way when listening to “God Only Knows” at that moment. This was the first time I’d ever heard a song. It was the beginning of my true musical education. No longer would I be self-taught; from now on I would be attending a graduate course at the Brian Wilson School of Music.

    I ravenously consumed each song on the album, overcome by a sort of madness. I couldn’t stop listening to “God Only Knows” until I knew every single note of every instrument and vocal. I’d never played a major 6 or a minor major 7; I’d heard those colors before, but Pet Sounds made me see them and desire them, and to this day I hunger for them; for the intricacies of counterpoint, of suspending chords by avoiding the root note on the bass, and for the interlocking molecular geometry of well-composed harmonies. Brian Wilson is my Bach. 

    I could’ve learned these things from the Beatles perhaps, but that music was so primordial and fundamental to me—it had always been there, like the sun or the moon. Of course, after I returned to Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s armed with the X-ray goggles I’d been given while making my way through Pet Sounds, I suddenly heard that music for the first time as well. I can’t imagine a greater gift. Nothing has ever made me feel more connected to the universe and ultimately to the work of my father. For this, I have Mr. Wilson to thank.

    Air’s Jean-Benoît Dunckel

    In French, “pet” doesn't mean an animal, it means “fart.” So when I first read this album’s title, I thought it was really funny. Then I noticed that the music sounded much more harmonious than the kind of sounds that the French word referred to; I don’t know any other pop album that’s as sophisticated as Pet Sounds.

    Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan

    I didn’t really like Pet Sounds when I first heard it. I was reading a lot about music at the time, so I knew I was getting to hear this legendary record. But I didn’t get it at first. It’s a very subtle record. But I just kept listening. And then one night I pulled it out and all the tumblers clicked into place and my appreciation for it was unlocked.

    Wilson and his dog in Los Angeles circa 1965. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

    Matmos’ Drew Daniel

    Everybody loves Pet Sounds. It is one of those records that is not just about its sounds and songs but also the total set of meanings we have attached to it as we listen, play and re-play it, cover it, customize it, sling it onto mixtapes and playlists, and embroider it with experiences over time. Pet Sounds has scored millions of private movies, intimate encounters, and even more close calls and near misses looked back upon with wistful regret. I have seen more than one student film that used “God Only Knows” as a trampoline on which to bounce back into private memories, and while I’m a sucker for this record like everyone else, I also feel that weird protective thing, thinking, Don’t use it in your art, it’s too powerful for that. It’s that kind of canonical album.

    We have also learned that the beauty and sweetness of Pet Sounds is not as simple as it looks. The gambit of innocence is directly engaged in the cover image, in which we are invited to see adorable looking animals with soft fur, and adorable looking Beach Boys with shiny, clean hair as roughly analogous inhabitants of a peaceable, stoned kingdom. But we also know that, given the troubled back story of Brian Wilson’s life, such visions of innocence are always in dialogue with and threatened by experience, pain, limitations, and negativity—which made the appearance of Pet Sounds at a key moment in Patricia Lockwood’s long, brilliant poem “Rape Joke” so startling when I read it a few years ago. 

    As its title makes plain, “Rape Joke” is a harrowing poem about the question of whether we can gain control over trauma through humor, and about whether art is strong enough to provide a framework around shattering moments, and also about the way that abusers and rapists can, horrifically, attempt to close over the facts of their actions with token gestures of care and concern. It was, finally, the artwork strong enough to engage Pet Sounds, to incorporate it and not to be overwhelmed by it. Now, for me, the two artworks operate in a force field in which they necessarily include each other; there is no Pet Sounds without “Rape Joke” anymore, and no “Rape Joke” without Pet Sounds. I am not trying to ruin anyone’s favorite album, but I am being honest about the way that art changes over time as later works—when they are strong enough—start to talk back to them. Read it and weep.

    “Nothing has ever made me feel more connected to the universe and ultimately to the work of my father. For this, I have Mr. Wilson to thank.”

    —Sean Ono Lennon on Pet Sounds
    Wilson circa 1968. Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

    Cullen Omori

    Of all my favorite "psychedelic" records by ’60s juggernauts, Pet Sounds probably comes last for me, after the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request and Sgt. Pepper’s. However, I do give Pet Sounds kudos for being the first to veer off the boy-band path and dig deep—real, real deep. The album offered a glimpse of how the studio, a place of more constraints than opportunities in the ’60s, could be used as an instrument. But the Beach Boys never really resonated with me—though the Brian Wilson movie they just made with John Cusack and the guy with the big schlong from The Girl Next Door was all right. I love the story about Brian Wilson pulling over to the side of the road to cry after hearing "Be My Baby" on the radio; I can relate to that story way more than Pet Sounds.

    Ronnie Spector

    I remember seeing Brian at Gold Star Studios when I was recording "Be My Baby"—he was so excited, peeking through the glass. Later, he told me he wrote "Don’t Worry Baby" for me as a follow-up to that song. I loved how he arranged harmonies; we both loved the vocal groups of the ’50s. I got a chance to sing with Brian when we did my song "I Can Hear Music,” and he did this incredible harmony that blew me away—there is no one else who could have come up with that part. The early to mid ’60s had a more simple approach to life and romance, and that’s what I miss about music now. Brian always had an innocence about his music, so pure. That's Brian.

    Wilson works on a song in 1964. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

    Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum

    My parents had a big record collection, but they didn’t have any Beach Boys records. My dad was more into stuff like the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, so in his mind the Beach Boys were just fluff. So I always had that idea in my mind that they weren’t worth listening to. And then high school comes around and somebody told me I should listen to Pet Sounds, and I loved it. I immediately went to my dad and said, “Did you even listen to Pet Sounds?” He was all like, “Well, yeah, it’s OK.” There’s a certain innocence to the album that is relatable. It’s like the first emo record. 

    Open Mike Eagle

    I came to Pet Sounds when I used to write an online music column. I had fallen in love with the song “Cherish” by the Association and wrote that it was like a Beach Boys song but that it couldn’t be a Beach Boys song because they weren’t capable of doing anything that good. You could imagine the barrage of hate mail I got saying that I had obviously not heard Pet Sounds—and indeed I hadn’t. But then I listened to it and fell all the way in love. I had heard “Caroline No” years before, when it was covered by They Might Be Giants on their EP Indestructible Object. It was my favorite song on that record, and I had no idea it was a cover; I’ve made numerous beats out of both versions. I had also loved Frank Black's cover of “Hang on to Your Ego” and didn’t know that was a cover at the time either. I wrote a song about the financial crisis of 2008 over a beat that sampled “I Know There's an Answer.” Having become more familiar with the album and its production, I have heard a lot of those same found-sound techniques used by Timbaland, Dilla, and many more.

    Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly

    I remember listening to Pet Sounds when I was about 7 years old—I assume it had something to do for my childhood love of the song "Kokomo." I think "Kokomo" brought the Beach Boys to a lot of people in my generation—that and their appearance on an episode of “Full House.” I liked the album then, but it wasn't until much later that I realized the depth of its artistry.

    In 2012, when I married my wife, "God Only Knows" played during our first dance. It was performed by a group of my closest friends and musicians, and it was a beautiful moment in my life. The lyrics in this song are still some of my favorite lyrics ever written. To me, it is not just about falling in love, it is about being endlessly in love.

    Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth

    When [Talking Heads] were signed to Sire, we were immediately under the wing of Warner Bros., which was the label of the Beach Boys at the time. And it helped us a lot that they were so in love with the Beach Boys, because there were difficulties with Brian Wilson, and his need for great care in regards to his condition—which was being a very sensitive artist—made it so that we were allowed to do what we needed to do as opposed to being pushed into a preconceived mold. I don’t think Talking Heads would’ve had the longevity we did if the label didn't have this wonderful view towards artists. That was the great thing about the music industry back then: There was room for everybody, and a few artists would sell a lot of records to enable those of us who did not sell in quantity to do our thing.

    Wilson considers his options in the studio while recording Pet Sounds in 1966. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

    Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cumming

    I remember walking to school and listening to "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" over and over again and feeling like, Oh my god, this song is for me. It's for every self-deprecating, overly sensitive, emotional kid who is feeling lonely and just wants to figure it out. I mean, who hasn't been there? In another way, I feel like I wasn't made for these times because I can't figure out how turn on the TV in my own home and I play rock music in 2016.


    I'm sure others can speak elegantly about the songcraft and extravagant orchestrations that produced arguably the most auteur album ever recorded. But I'd just focus on the Tannerin, which appears on "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" (and more prominently on "Good Vibrations"). It’s a Theremin-like instrument that was used on sci-fi soundtracks, but completely from outer-space in pop music. The vision of Brian Wilson! The gumption even. It's like he plucked the future from 1966 and invented G-funk and acid house. I'm sure it must have sounded crazy on the radio dial, it certainly did for me.

    Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo

    There’s never been a perfect Beach Boys album; Brian Wilson was not that consistent of a writer. But Pet Sounds is an interesting piece because it’s the one that strives the most to achieve this technical perfection, which isn’t necessarily my bag. But it made sense for Wilson to do it, because he was trying to blend this high art with pop music—the struggle is to find complex ways to say something that is very simple. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is built around a very simple chord progression, but all these variations keep getting added in and changing everything. He was trying to figure out how much the general public was willing to accept as far as the complexities of a pop song.

    “Pet Sounds is like the first emo record.”

    —Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum
    Wilson circa 1966. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

    Ezra Furman

    When listening to Pet Sounds, it's hard to think about anything but the total gorgeousness of the music and all the insanely deep emotions it provokes in me—which is why I never felt comfortable saying it had any influence on me. It's so advanced that I find it rather embarrassing when the average mostly-amateur indie musician claims to be influenced by Pet Sounds. Really? It's like the Ramones claiming to be influenced by Bach. I get that you listened to the album and loved it, but come on. You're not operating on anything close to that level.

    Tacocat’s Emily Nokes

    I imagined the lyrics on Pet Sounds were literal representations of how Brian Wilson felt in real life—he was sometimes in love, sometimes conflicted, sometimes wanted to go home, sometimes whining about Caroline’s hair. The subtle panic in his voice and the increasing drum intensity near the end of “I’m Waiting for the Day” felt far more interesting than songs about taking your favorite car to your favorite beach with your favorite girl and your favorite surfboard.

    Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite

    Along with Forever Changes and Are You Experienced?, Pet Sounds showed me that the late ’60s had been a period when music went on a rapid journey from pop to real invention, and the level of studio imagination is what I've mostly taken from this record. The possibilities displayed through multiple overdubbing were definitely an influence on the way Mogwai record our music, and Pet Sounds was one of the first places I heard it done. 

    Shilpa Ray

    Whenever I listened to Pet Sounds, I dreamt of my great escape to Southern California, where loss, loneliness, change, and depression could be felt and expressed in Technicolor. I could envision Tommy Morgan’s bass harmonica as the warm blasts of the Santa Ana winds, Wilson’s organ as the big golden sun, and Carol Kaye’s basslines as the playful strut of beautiful beach bunnies dotting the coastline against the vast Pacific Ocean.

    That said, this is not the SoCal of Black Flag, N.W.A, or Charles Manson. There’s no violence here, no gang or race wars, and no one dies in the end. Pets Sounds is the SoCal of a heavy, hazy, medicated ’60s love, for when you feel so broke up, you wanna go home. At the last fade, when you hear the train leaving, all the ear candy and innocence slowly disappears. Then the dog starts to bark and the anesthesia completely wears off. The movie is over, the dream is over, and it is time again for the browns and greys, the bills and work, the antagonistic exes and shit-covered snow. I know there’s no reality without grit, ugliness, or hate, but I still spin Pet Sounds from time to time for its gentle, meticulous way of mixing pain with palm trees to help the medicine go down.

    Larkin Grimm

    It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy just thinking about that music; I can sing the whole album from beginning to end from memory. I love "Caroline No" in particular, even if it's a little anti-feminist; just the idea that a woman could be ruined, that innocence and naivety are the most attractive qualities, that cutting her hair short and getting practical and real and wise would render her unlovable. But I love that song anyway.

    PC Worship

    It took me years to breach Pet Sounds’ exhaustive stature and cultural identity and really appreciate it beyond the soundtrack/FM radio monolith it became. I remember finally "getting it" in my friend's Ford Explorer in high school, while we drove around getting high in the suburbs, being taken aback that this music had been sitting in front of us this whole time, that there was this dark unfolding complexity within these short, recognizable pop songs that we had always been exposed to. It really is a strange album.

    Wilson holds up a mirror to the Beach Boys, from left: Mike Love, Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston, and Dennis Wilson. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

    Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz

    When I first heard “Sloop John B,” I thought it was a Beach Boys song, but it’s actually a Bahamian folk song. And one of my friends in the Bahamas said to me, “Oh, the Sloop John B was my grandfather’s boat.” It was actually a mail boat that would go across the islands, it’s how they get their supplies and so forth. The Sloop John B often didn’t work very well, but they could never stop to do maintenance because they were under pressure to deliver the goods. The thing was always breaking down on them. That’s where it comes from.

    Mr. Lif

    Pet Sounds’ relevance in my life has actually grown with time, because the themes Wilson touches upon are so heartfelt and real that one inevitably finds a route to his wisdom as we suffer life's bumps and bruises. His ability to be cognizant of the starry-eyed beauty of a new relationship while knowing that it is often merely a phase that will eventually be weathered by the realities of our complex selves is a trait to be admired and even coveted by the weary and jaded.

    Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda

    Brian Wilson’s chord progressions tell the most heartbreaking yet beautiful and silently intense story of the duality of life, all from a place of hope. The six bar intro of “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” is worth a thousand books. I consider it to be one of the greatest chord changes ever written.

    Deftones’ Stephen Carpenter

    What I love most about Pet Sounds is how much it influenced Mr. Bungle’s California record. I feel like it’s the same album, ultimately—I mean, that’s the true California sound right there. I just love Mr. Bungle and how they can go from beauty to straight-bust-your-face-open. I can only imagine what the Beach Boys would have done if they had some really high-gain amps and just crushed you.

    Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie

    Screamadelica was greatly influenced by Pet Sounds. It’s all over that album, in those minor chords, that plaintive sense of melody, and the gentleness as well; the way he used percussion like a soft drum machine. We never had a drummer as good as Hal Blaine from the Wrecking Crew, but we could start sampling shit. After we discovered Pet Sounds, along with keyboards and drum loops, our songs became a lot softer.

    Al Jardine and Wilson lay down vocals for Pet Sounds at Western Recorders studios in the spring of 1966. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

    The Church’s Steve Kilbey

    It was 1981 and the Church had just had our first hit single. It was a balmy night and we were staying in a lovely apartment overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We smoked some weed, and our drummer stuck in a cassette tape of Pet Sounds, which I had never heard before. Suddenly, the warm night, gentle weed, palm trees, twinkling stars, and the smell of chlorine from the swimming pool all coalesced perfectly with this most divine and delicate music that was pumping off an old-fashioned ghetto blaster. How I marveled at those clever, quasi-classical arrangements and those complex vocal harmonies, the music perfectly suggesting love and summer nights and sweet, sweet romance. Then the most beautiful track, “Let’s Go Away for a While,” came on—it was the sound of longing and future days.

    Tortoise’s Jeff Parker

    The album is almost futuristic. It sounds like it’s from a different world. I aspire to make music as beautifully arranged as that. Even just the instrumental interlude from “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”— with the Tannerin and a different bassline in a different key going underneath—it’s some crazy stuff, like Burt Bacharach on acid.

    Washed Out’s Ernest Greene

    I grew up hearing the big singles from Pet Sounds on the oldies station my mom would listen to constantly but I remember the songs feeling a bit different. They were catchy, but there was something peculiar that was just under the surface. I realize now that that peculiarity was the sheer complexity in songwriting and arrangement—that there were so many instruments and harmonies present that my young ears weren’t used to hearing. I feel like with each listen I’m growing to appreciate it more and more. That is perhaps the biggest compliment I can give Pet Sounds—that after so many years of listening, I’m still learning new things from it.

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    Longform: How to Buy the Best Turntable and Stereo System for Your Record Collection

    In a time when filling a room with sound can be as simple as tapping your phone, getting into vinyl can be intimidating. All those wires and plugs. Picking out a turntable that will last. Not to mention the myriad cartridge, amplifier, and speaker options. And even if you've connected all of those different components, why does that yellowing copy of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours you found at a garage sale sound so tinny and quiet? Fact is, getting a good sound out of vinyl records takes some effort, but—as anyone who has ever dropped the needle on a prized album after spending an afternoon installing a new cartridge can tell you—the extra work can definitely be worth it.

    The good news—or bad news, depending on how much of a do-it-yourselfer you are—is that there's no single right way to set up a vinyl-friendly stereo system. Ben Blackwell, a longtime record collector who handles manufacturing and vinyl distribution at Third Man Records, a leading label behind the format's resurgence, compares picking audio components to choosing between cars: They're all going to get you from point A to point B—some might be a little bit nicer, but whether that's worth the extra expense is up to each individual. 

    And anyone debating between different pieces of vinyl gear won't be alone. Though the format continues to make up only a slim portion of overall industry revenues, vinyl sales have now risen each of the past 10 years—surging by 30%, to 12 million, last year. Turntable shipments to retailers are also projected to climb by 12% this year, according to the Consumer Technology Association. Add in the secondhand market, and total sales for records and record players is surely even higher. For instance, online database and exchange Discogs processed sales of about 5.4 million vinyl records in 2015. The hand-me-down route tends to be cheaper for vinyl gear, too. "You can definitely get more for your money buying used stereo equipment on Craigslist or at flea markets and vintage shops, and there is a lot of it out there," says Josh Madell, owner of New York record store Other Music. "You can get started with a new system for as little as $400 and it goes up from there."

    All that in mind, I polled vinyl gurus, scoured the Internet, and visited a local audio-equipment store to put together a vinyl primer, both for those just getting into the format and for those who may be looking to step up their home stereo game. Again, personal preferences will vary, so it's important to listen to what sounds good to you and what works well with your listening habits. In the name of simplicity, though, I narrowed things down based on expert recommendations, broke down the results by type and price range, and added some advice about how to assemble it all and maximize your setup. Happy spinning.


    Numark PT-01 ($100)

    A portable turntable may be only a stopping point on the way to a more advanced rig, but for total beginners, there's no arguing with the price. Various editions of Numark’s PT-01 offer everything you need to listen to records, including a built-in speaker, a headphone jack, an RCA line for home stereos, and a USB port for archiving records onto a computer. Dan "Pop" Schorr, owner of Lexington, Kentucky vinyl and vintage-goods store Pops Resale, estimates he's sold 1,000 Numark PT-01s in the six years he has stocked it. "They're just really good systems," he tells me.

    Audio-Technica AT-LP120 ($250)

    Eventually, most vinyl listeners will want to move beyond all-in-one turntables. Other Music’s Josh Madell says, "My simple advice for new vinyl fans is to get a real stereo—a turntable, amp, and speakers." Rik Sanchez, a floor manager who also oversees used vinyl pricing at Amoeba Music in Los Angeles, says Audio Technica's AT-LP120 is a go-to pick for people looking for an introductory deck: "Everything on it is what you want."

    For those interested in a less expensive beginner option, there's also Audio-Technica's $100 AT-LP60"It's a very basic turntable, but it's got a nice platter on it—what the record sits and spins on—and a decent needle," says Sanchez. "I would still call that a starter turntable, but it's mid-level." Like the portable Numark PT-01, the LP60 has its own built-in phono preamp, which means you'll have one less item to worry about if you're plugging it into powered speakers or a home stereo.

    Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB ($600)

    Moving beyond starter turntables, when it comes to higher-end home listening, the name that keeps coming up is the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB. "You buy that and you're set for life," Amoeba's Sanchez tells me, pointing to the turntable's heavyweight materials and "precision-oriented" design. This deck comes with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, which alone typically sells for $100 and is widely praised

    When I stop by the showroom of Audio Labs, a Des Moines, Iowa, store that has been around for more than 40 years, in-house vinyl point man Greg Den Hartog tells me the Debut Carbon Esprit is the store's best-selling audiophile turntable. Sure enough, a showroom demo of Pearl Jam's Ten underscores why some may want to spend the money on such higher-end gear. Though Eddie Vedder and co. have never been a personal favorite, the longtime vinyl champions seem ideally suited to the format, their riffs booming warmly across the room. When opener "Once" begins full-force, I hear it more vividly than ever before.

    Technics SL-1200 ($800)

    Panasonic discontinued its Technics turntable line in 2010, but refurbished and secondhand models of these iconic "Wheels of Steel" are still widely available. Though less expensive than upper-end audiophile turntables, they're not cheap. But they are rugged, and if one somehow gets broken, the 1200's decades-long status as professional DJs' tool of the trade should make it easier to get repaired. Third Man's Blackwell says his 1200 survived a house fire. "It would probably survive an atomic blast," he adds. "For design, ease of use, and durability, there is no comparison. That is the turntable."

    The 1200 is a "direct drive" turntable, which means the platter for the records sits right on top of the motor. DJs tend to prefer direct drive for its reliability and versatility, among other reasons. Audiophile-oriented turntables are more often "belt drive," which means an elastic belt connects the platter to the motor, reducing noise and vibration. Which type of turntable to buy can depend on whether you plan to listen solely at home or play records out around town. Panasonic is also readying a redesigned Technics 1200, reportedly for as much as $4,000.

    Clearaudio Concept ($1,600)

    Peter Hahn, owner of New York's Turntable Lab, says that while this turntable is relatively cheap compared to other pricey decks out there—Japan's ELP, for example, manufactures record players that use lasers to read record grooves and go for around $15,000—it's his personal favorite in this range (besides the Technics 1200, of course). "Whereas most entry-level audiophile turntables look similar—many use the same factory in Czech Republic—the Concept is unique and super-refined: All the components look like they’re made especially for this model," Hahn says. "They also designed it to be user-friendly, so it's not fragile and doesn't require much fine-tuning or maintenance."


    A cartridge contains the needle (aka stylus) that actually touches the record. Some turntables, on both low and high ends, come with their own cartridges, but prospective vinyl listeners will find themselves needing to buy or replace one at some point. The needle can have a dramatic effect on how music sounds, and what you need depends on several factors: Are you sitting in an acoustically ideal, audiophile type of environment, or will you be scratching vinyl as a DJ, or something in between?

    Shure M92E ($60)

    If you don't have a specific function in mind, then Shure is a well-regarded brand, and its M92E is a common recommendation for a value cartridge. "The needles are not expensive to replace, and for most listening ears it's going to do fine," Schorr of Pops Resale tells me. Personally, and for only a bit more money, I've found the audiophile-oriented Shure M97xE ($165) works well both at home and in casual DJ settings.

    If the prices seem like they're beginning to add up, it's worth noting that you probably won't need to replace the stylus in whatever cartridge you buy very often. Sanchez says that in the vinyl pricing room at Amoeba, they play records, often ones in poor condition, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, but despite all that abuse their needles only need to be replaced about every four months. "In a normal listening situation, most people are probably going to listen to records for a couple of hours a day at most, so they probably won’t have to change the needle for years," he explains.

    Ortofon 2M Red/Blue ($100/$220)

    For the high-fidelity crowd, Ortofon's 2M series is a consistent go-to pick. Unlike many cartridges, which use parts made by other manufacturers, the Ortofon 2M is a wholly original design, says Turntable Lab's Hahn. "Ortofon is primarily a cartridge company—they offer the most thorough documentation and specs, so you know what you're paying for,” he tells me. The 2M Blue touts an upgraded stylus, among other enhancements. In fact, Hahn adds, "I'll take a [Technics] 1200 with a nice listening cartridge like the Ortofon 2M Blue over most high-end audiophile turntables."

    Grado Reference Platinum Cartridge ($350)

    "This family-run company has a distinctive look and sound," Turntable Lab's Hahn says. The high-end headphones and cartridges from Brooklyn's Grado stand out for their use of mahogany. The Reference Platinum carts aren't even Grado's most expensive model—far from it—but they showcase the company’s woodworking and how the material can have a unique resonance. At about half the price, Grado's Blue1 Prestige Series draws a positive mention from Third Man's Blackwell, who also cautions against worrying too much about needles. "Getting too far down that rabbit hole detracts from the whole purpose, which is to enjoy the music," he says. 


    While the most basic turntables can be connected directly to computer speakers via the headphone jack, once you're dipping more fully into the vinyl world, you're going to need some other equipment, like an amplifier or a receiver, the latter of which is essentially an amplifier that also has a radio tuner (and may be part of a home theater setup). Better turntables don't include what's known as a phono preamp, which boosts sound to the level of other audio components, so vinyl newcomers should look for amplifiers and receivers with a dedicated "phono" input; if you buy a receiver that doesn't have a phono preamp, you'll need to buy some kind of standalone preamp. Because older receivers are more likely to include a phono input, buying used can be a particularly good bet.

    Like everything else, amps and receivers are an area with a wide variety of options and price ranges. The amp that makes Pearl Jam's "Even Flow" seem unusually striking at Des Moines' Audio Labs is the Parasound Halo Integrated Amplifier, which costs $2,500. The showroom's Hartog says the $500 Marantz SR4023 Stereo Receiver, which has been discontinued but could be found used, is another good pick for vinyl setups. For home theater systems, he suggests the Integra-DTM 40.7, an $800 model that connects to wi-fi and Bluetooth. "The whole system is only as good as the weakest link," Hartog says. That said, he informs me what I'm hearing also depends on such factors as speaker placement and the acoustics of the room.

    But those are concerns for audiophiles with lofty budgets (and, perhaps, well-carpeted apartments). So long as a receiver has a phono preamp, or you buy some kind of external preamp, says Amoeba's Sanchez, "It's preference, like buying a refrigerator—they do the same thing."

    PS Audio Sprout Integrated Amplifier ($500)

    For a box-style design, Hahn suggests PS Audio's Sprout Integrated Amp, which works with turntables, Bluetooth, computers, and essentially any other musical source. Launched in a Kickstarter campaign, the Sprout amp includes a phono preamp. "PS Audio is known for their high-end components," the Turntable Lab owner tells me. "This is their first foray into consumer electronics, and I know they put similar R&D process into this."

    Onkyo A-9010 Integrated Stereo Amplifier ($300)

    A more standard-looking receiver or amplifier will also work, and for vinyl, again, you want one with a phono input. "I like the ones from classic stereo companies like Onkyo and Yamaha," Hahn tells me. "They're well priced, look nice, and sound great." This amp is an example, and also includes several digital and analog inputs for other devices.

    Onkyo CS-265(B) Colibrino Hi-Fi Mini System ($250)

    A mini stereo system usually consists of a receiver and two shelf speakers. These compact systems are less common in the age of computer audio, but they can be a relatively cheap way of listening to vinyl without the expense of buying an amplifier and speakers separately. Hahn points to the Onkyo Colibrino system, which combines an amp and speaker with Bluetooth, though if your turntable doesn't include a built-in phono preamp, you'll need to buy one. Once you have the preamp, you're good to go.


    Polk Audio T15 ($100)

    For speakers, size may have mattered in the days of Hugh Hefner-inspired bachelor pads, but not anymore. Small, relatively inexpensive speakers today pack as much power as the huge behemoths of yesteryear. Sanchez says he listens to a pair of Polk Audio "bookshelf" speakers at home, and they sound great. Take note: In a traditional stereo setup with an amplifier or receiver, speakers don't need to be plugged into a power outlet for electricity. For "powered" bookshelf speakers that will work without an amp/receiver, Turntable Lab's Hahn highlights the Audioengine A2+ ($250).

    Peachtree Audio DeepBlue2 ($400)

    In the wireless era, Bluetooth speakers may also make sense. This powered system from Peachtree Audio potentially allows you to put off buying a receiver—just plug a turntable or phono preamp into the analog input. The DeepBlue2 can also handle up to five Bluetooth devices.

    Magnepan 1.7 ($2,100)

    Speakers typically have a "box" design, with cones inside of an enclosure. Based in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, Magnepan uses a different technology its founder invented in 1969. As a result, the 1.7s are more than five feet tall but only two inches thick, and their live-like sound noticeably improves Pearl Jam for me at Audio Labs, where Hartog tells me this model is a top seller. He adds that the best way to compare speakers is to try them out in-person and not get caught up in the accompanying jargon: "The demo's worth a thousand words." For a powered speaker, Turntable Lab's Hahn suggests the AudioEngine HD6 ($750).

    The potential costs for speakers go up and up; another brand I like at Audio Labs is Monitor Audio, but I got my (more budget-minded, non-powered) floor speakers from a local proprietor and they've never caused a problem. "You can take a pair of $5 speakers and put them next to a pair of $500 speakers," Pops Resale's Schorr says. "Providing there's no difference in the physical requirements, if the $5 speaker sounds better to your ears, it's a better speaker, period."


    Hosa RCA Cable ($5)

    Wires are a matter of controversy in the audio community. While audiophiles with money can choose between such high-priced brands as Kimber Kable and Tributaries, for most of us a standard RCA cable, such as this one from Hosa, will suffice. "I literally know two people who might be able to differentiate cables," Schorr tells me. Plus, luckily, the other components in your system likely already include the necessary cables. "I wouldn't be able to tell you the name of anything specific," Third Man's Blackwell says.


    Bellari Rolls VP29 ($50)

    If your turntable doesn't have a built-in phono preamp (most better ones don't—the built-in kind tend to be inferior and can't be customized), and your receiver doesn't have a phono input either, you'll need a separate preamp. A simple model that got the job done for me was Bellari's Rolls VP29 phono preamp, which also has a memorable red design. Higher-end preamps or "phono stages" from the likes of Bellari, Cambridge Audio, and Pro-Ject can sell for as much as your budget will bear. DJs with two turntables will bypass the need for a preamp by acquiring a mixer (which is probably a matter for a whole other tutorial).


    AudioQuest Carbon Fiber Record Brush ($15)

    "This isn't surgery," Amoeba's Sanchez tells me. "Don't overthink this." Vinyl records need to be taken care of—handled by the edges, stored in sleeves, kept out of heat—and if they get dirty, the most effective solution I've found is a simple carbon fiber brush, which can reach into the grooves without requiring the use of a liquid cleaner. When cared for properly, records shouldn't get especially dusty, and Sanchez says he never bought extra cleaning materials when he was listening to vinyl in its pre-comeback days. The stylus itself generally comes with its own little brush, or they're available separately—when you hear weird distortion, lightly brush the needle from the back toward the tip, not from front to back.



    Slipmats sit between the record and the platter. DJs use felt and slippier materials to help them cue a song or scratch. Rubber is another traditional option for non-DJs, and cork is sometimes billed as an option for fighting static buildup. Third Man's Blackwell tells me he uses a cow-hide Mooo Mat, which sells for about $75, though he acknowledges he was "mainly attracted by the look." 


    What's important is to store your records upright—not stacked or at a tilt—to avoid warping them. Ikea's Expedit modular shelving units were for some time a cultishly favored way to store records, to the point that a social-media backlash emerged when the company said it would replace them in 2014. Ikea's successor Kallax shelves are still essentially the same dimensions, though, and should fit the bill. If you're willing to spend a little more money, The Vinyl Factory points to some specifically vinyl-oriented shelves from Mapleshade and Gothic Furniture. 

    45 Adapters

    Seven-inch records are traditionally 45 RPM, whereas 12" LPs usually run at 33 RPM, and old 45 RPM singles that have a hole in the middle require an adapter. This is a cheap place to add a personal touch to your setup. Blackwell says he happens to prefer "really thick and heavy 45 adapters." 


    Totally optional, but Blackwell recommends a weight to put over the center spindle. He says that's the weakest, thinnest part of a record, and simply applying weight there can offset the weakness. Blackwell owns a solid copper weight. "I did splurge," he said. "I wanted the heaviest weight I could find."

    How to Connect Everything

    First off, follow the directions. "There's a basic setup involved, but it's easy to do," Amoeba's Sanchez says. "Most of the times when I get stuff returned to me, it's because the people didn't want to be bothered to read the instructions."

    On the very low end, setup is minimal. With the portable Numark PT-01, if you're not listening over its built-in speaker or using batteries, you can plug it into the wall using an AC adapter, plug in headphones or powered computer speakers using the 3.5mm port, or hook it up to a stereo by plugging the RCA cables into an input in the back of a stereo receiver or amplifier. Something similar goes for the Audio-Technica AT-LP60: Just plug the RCA cables into the receiver. Both of these turntables have phono preamps, so there's no need for a receiver with a specialized "phono" input.

    As you move up the pricing scale, more variables can come into play. The main thing to focus on is the type of input, where the wires go, and the settings on the turntable itself.

    The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB, for example, has no built-in phono preamp, so you'd need to either plug the RCA cables into the phono input on the back of a receiver/amp—or plug them into a preamp, and then plug the cables from that into the regular RCA input on a standard receiver. After the all-in-one level, most turntables also have a thin wire known as the ground wire, which you need to attach to a screw on your preamp or receiver (otherwise, the turntable will produce an annoying hum). Almost all older turntables have a similar configuration, and need to be plugged into either a preamp or a phono jack in an amplifier or a receiver, with a grounding wire attached.

    On the turntable itself, there are two variables that need to be adjusted to get you started: the counterweight, adjustable at the base of the turntable arm, and the anti-skate. This part is a little complicated, but if you’ve ever had your needle slide across a record, fine-tuning these settings will fix it.

    The counterweight controls how much downward or “tracking" pressure is exerted on the needle. With too little pressure, your records are likely to skip, and with too much, you could potentially damage your records or the needle. They key for getting the correct tracking force is to first “zero” the weight by putting just enough force on the arm to make the cartridge suspended in air, between the up and down positions. After setting the weight to zero, adjust it to the correct tracking force by turning the weight to a number based on your cartridge. Tracking force is measured in grams. The tracking force will generally be between one and two grams for audiophile cartridges, and three and five grams for DJ cartridges, but a cartridge's documentation should say the specific recommendations. The anti-skate dial counteracts a horizontal "skating" force that takes place during playback, and is another setting that keeps your records from skipping. It’s usually set to the same number as the tracking force.

    For powered speakers and lower-cost stereo configurations, plugging in speakers can be pretty simple. But for older equipment and higher-end speakers that draw power from the amp, it can involve cutting speaker cable, stripping the wire casing to expose about a 3/4” strip of copper wire, and connecting the cable to the terminals on the rear of the speakers.

    Speaker cables have two strands, and speaker connections have two connections, labeled red (positive) and black (negative). When attaching speaker wire, it’s important that the polarity of the connections should line up properly. Correct polarity ensures that the two speakers are working together. If the left speaker is red-to-red while the right is red-to-black, then one speaker will be sucking in air while the other is pushing it out, muddying the sound.

    When setting up speakers in a room, there are a few simple things to keep in mind. The further the speakers are from reflecting surfaces like floors and walls, the more airy and spacious and “accurate” they will sound. In general, you’ll get clearer sound when you keep the speakers out of the corners and move them out a bit from the wall. Conversely, the closer your speakers are to reflecting surfaces, the more bass you will get. So if you have small speakers that seem light on bass, putting them in the corners will give them some additional low end. The ideal listening position for stereo sound is usually considered to be something like an equilateral triangle, with the listener sitting in one corner and the two speakers in the others.

    Once you're done, congratulations: You won't have to mess with any of this again for some time—unless you want to. And when you do, you'll be coming at the situation with some experience.

    0 0

    Interview: Anohni Finds Hope in Hopelessness

    Anohni’s Hopelessness is complicated. It’s probably the most outwardly political album you’ll hear this year, triumphant and wrenching all at once, full of moments that will bring chills and tears. Featuring beats and production from Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin and Hudson Mohawke’s Ross Birchard, the record hits on a unique sweet spot between dance music and revolution; you’ll want to move to these songs about climate change, drone warfare, totalitarianism, and executions, to these lyrics about bodies exploding, skies burning, and dead animals falling from trees.

    The album balances compassion and bluntness in a way that keeps you on your toes, and never complacent. For instance, there’s “Obama,” the oddest and most atonal song on the album, where Anohni brings the president to task for not living up to his early promises. The lament ends with the low hum of applause behind bits of noise and piano.

    I met with Anohni at a cafe inside Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel at the end of last month. As we spoke, she was framed by painterly wallpaper. The small, comfortable space offered an interesting contrast to the large, painful topics that made up our discussion.

    “Drone Bomb Me” is written as if it’s a love song, though it actually deals with war and death and tragedy.

    It’s a feminine way of using an expression of confounding vulnerability to try to outwit a perpetrator that you can’t subdue. They often tell people to scream like crazy if they are being raped, because that can shock a perpetrator into a different perspective about themselves and what they’re doing. For me, as a young person, one of my only means of defending myself was to find ways to confound and disarm perpetrators. And I’ve often used vulnerability as both a platform to be witnessed and as a defensive mechanism. 

    You worked with Hudson Mohawke on that song. How did your collaboration come about?

    I love his tracks. They’re so exhilarating and exuberant and galvanizing. He asked me to do a track on his record [Lantern] and I said “yes.” He sent me seven demos he had lying around, and I did vocals on all seven and said, “You could have one of these, and I want the other six.” I was really thrilled to take that stuff on, it was immediately inspiring to me. Especially when the track for what became “Drone Bomb Me” came in the mail, I was just like, fucking hell. Then I was off to the races. I haven’t worked a lot with producers that create song structures that you then put vocals on, but it was very liberating because it gave me a different energetic approach.

    A few years ago I had done a demo with Skrillex where I tried for the first time to use a really plastic pop medium to put something heavy across, and he didn’t like the content so he kind of nixed it. He had sent me a track and said, “I love your voice, would you put some words on this?” And I did. It was a song called “Boys’ Club,” and he just couldn't take the content. So he was like, “It’s really great, but can you make it to be more like a song about vampires or something?” And I was like, “Well, nevermind.” But Ross and Dan were totally up for it.

    Do you imagine people being struck by the subject matter on this album as they dance to these songs in a club?

    My model is the kind of music that people were dancing to in the late ’80s, during the height of AIDS. Rage is a really fun place to dance from—expressions of anger sublimated into something beautiful are invigorating, especially if you feel like you’re telling the truth. It’s a great way to get energy and catch the momentum of a movement. Yes, I want the songs to be dance songs, because I think there was something in the rest of my catalog that almost seemed too passive and morose, especially in a conversation about global realities today. I wanted to do something that was gonna go down fighting. Something more vigorous. Something that would compel people who are already in that mindset to take action.

    This is your first record as Anohni. Does it feel like a new movement?

    That was just a happy accident that it corresponded, but this is definitely a more angular foot forward, and more emotionally complex in a way, and more problematic in a bunch of ways. It doesn’t have the innocence of the Antony and the Johnsons project.

    One song I thought about in light of the current political moment is “Obama,” which is very critical. Do you feel at all different about that track in light of Trump and Cruz and the upcoming election?

    I wrote the song “Obama” three years ago, at the height of the NSA scandal. I harkened back to his first election campaign speeches, where he promised transparency, but the only person that has been arrested for war crimes is Chelsea Manning, who dared to speak about them. The number one political prisoner in this country is a trans woman who Obama has no intention of granting pardon. Why don't we show a little guts and grant Chelsea Manning pardon? She was sentenced for 35 years for releasing a video of a Reuters journalist being executed by American drone bombs.

    Of course I’m impressed with Obama’s endgame legacy issues, which have certainly cast a new hue over his tenure as president, but it really doesn’t change what’s transpired in this decade and how incongruous his declaration of intentions eight years ago is with the reality of the impact of his presidency.

    The song expresses disappointment in Obama, but the last line of it is “like children, we believed.” And my complicity in that song is in the ways that I have allowed myself to be infantilized by a representational government and how I still accept it as a condition of nature as opposed to a construct that on some level seeks to constantly disempower and deceive. The fact that I am willing to continue forward on this track—casting the vote to think I’ve done my part and continuing to reap the benefits of a system that doesn’t have the world’s best interests at heart—is infantile. It’s like expecting a father to take care of all the problems while you can still be a baby and just suckle a mother’s breast for more milk.

    "In many ways, Obama set the stage for someone like Trump, because he didn't take his opportunity to educate all people as to why it was that they were so disempowered."

    So there’s a big part about Obama, but the song is also about me. I mean, I am very sickened to watch Obama at SXSW declaring America a pretty great place when Europe is heaving under the weight of 25 years of American foreign policy, with millions of refugees fleeing a region that America destabilized. How can he really humor that insular delusion when America’s footprint is that of an immense perpetrator upon the rest of the world that’s not really willing to account for itself or take its own inventory? If Obama isn’t willing to take that inventory, just as he wasn’t willing to take the inventory of the previous administration’s war crimes, then what future does representational government have? There's no future for this kind of government, because we’ve only got a  few years left. The jig is almost up. We were looking for a hero when we elected him, and we got a bipartisan compromiser.

    Remember how everyone was so afraid he would be assassinated? Little did we have to worry about that! There was no reason to fear his assassination. He wasn't going to dismantle systems. He wasn't going to harness the power of the American people whom he inspired to elect him. He wasn't going to create that mass movement that was going to force the hand of change. And now, at the 11th hour, he's dialing in a weak climate agenda, and the world is supposed to applaud? It's just disgusting to me. We've wasted another decade on an issue that we didn't have five minutes left on. 

    He was elected on a platform of transparency and he was supposed to name the truth. He hasn't done that. He hasn't made it so American people could understand what was really happening to them. In many ways, he set the stage for someone like Trump, because he didn't take his opportunity to educate all people as to why it was that they were so disempowered. He had eight years to convince poor white people that the reason they were fucked was because of the trickle down economics of the Reagan administration, and he bypassed that opportunity. He didn't dismantle Murdoch's media empire, which could practically elect Sarah Palin or a Trump singlehandedly; regardless of whether he says he supports Trump or not, the bottom line is Trump is the end product of the Murdoch media. And let's not forget he was the one who swept the entire Occupy Movement off the face of this earth, just like they had once swept the Black Panthers off the face of this earth.

    So I am extremely disappointed in President Obama, and I don't see why I should have to shy away from that disappointment just because things are even worse now than they were when he was elected. I think he failed because we're still on the same trajectory. America has no real idea of the extent to which it abuses its authority and power.

    And I'm someone that campaigned around the world for him when he was running for president the first time through. He once said that people project what they want onto him—their own issues and their beliefs—almost like a reflecting pool. And of course it was true. So I can express my anger with him, but at the same time, I have to hold myself accountable. I was the one seeking a silver bullet, casting a passive vote, such that I didn't have to participate more meaningfully. I think that's what most of us did: We cast a passive vote and saw how the dreams fall.

    What is your impression of all that? How does it sit with you?

    He maintained the status quo. He's a good speaker and he smiles, and that goes a long way with people.

    And he's intelligent and accessible and he plays identity politics in such a way that we feel included.

    And people love his wife and his kids.

    His wife—who is relegated to, like, taking care of fat children, who has more of an education than he does? You know what I mean?

    Still, at this point, when I watch him on TV, I think, God, I'm going to miss him, because even if he hasn't done what he said he was going to do...

    At least he seems to be on your level.

    He seems like an intelligent person.

    But if an intelligent person can only behave as well as Bill Clinton, what use is he? We're still sliding down the hill into oblivion. We needed a heroic person who was going to take a tremendous risk, not just the measured risk of someone who cried crocodile tears over Sandy Hook and then has children in another country drone bombed and killed without even mentioning it in the media. What the fuck is that?

    He has evoked Martin Luther King, who was nonviolent. Where's his principle of nonviolence? He’s measuring the potential cost of feet on the ground versus random and inaccurate executions of swaths of poor people with his drone campaign and his military industrial complex.

    I think that's why Bernie Sanders is doing a lot better than people would have imagined.

    He's raising that same specter of hope. And young people are trying again. They haven't given up. They want someone to tell the truth. They want someone to dismantle the system as it is today. Sanders has a longer record of being able to do that. Obama actually had no record of doing that.

    Photo by Alice O’Malley at the Bronx Zoo orphanage. Fennec fox handling by orphanage director Kathleen LaMattina.

    On the album, you touch on the issue of drone bombs and how we’re complicit in such actions when you sing, “How did I become a virus?”

    The virulence is deep within us. Those are our systems. And we did make these decisions. And we are paying for them, and we are all participating in that decision making process. It's our collective consciousness. The drones are just our messengers. It's not the deadness of the drone that concerns me; it's the spiritual deadness of our species. It's our species' inability to accurately assess this giant chasm of denial between who we think we are and who we actually are. Within that chasm is the seed of our brokenness, which is utterly intent on not just taking us down but taking down all of creation as we've ever known it. Are we capable of having a conversation about that?

    For me, on this record, it was as much about modeling an examination into my own brokenness, denial, hypocrisy, and complicity in the hopes that I could be useful. It's just like the execution model: A country that executes its citizens is a country that identifies the poison outside of its own body and tries to eradicate it, such that it will retain its being pure. It's identifying that virulence as "other," as opposed to a country such as Norway, which dealt with the guy who recently killed all those kids so differently. They created this national platform and even gave him an opportunity to speak. And the country grieved over his brokenness, and the horror that he had inflicted on his community. They processed it.

    Compare that to the Boston bomber, who was just a deluded, fucked-up teenager. The country celebrated in the streets when his execution was announced, thinking that the enemy was the "other." This blame model is, to me, actually part of the problem now, because it excuses me from an exploration into my own complicity and the ways that I am a microcosm of this giant system, that the brokenness of this world is in my body. It's in me.

    I would be hard pressed to truly extricate myself from that. It's practically an impossible task. What would it take at this point? I'm of the belief that nothing short of a radical transformation is going to make much of a difference now. Maybe I'm too dramatic. But when you read the newspaper, all the scientists are saying the same thing: February was two degrees Celsius hotter than it should have been in the northern hemisphere. Obama was promising a 1.5 degree cap on global warming, and we're already past that.

    It's tricky because people likely aren’t going to do the things they need to do to shift that.

    We're all just waiting for our sugar lumps. That's how life has been structured for us. That's how they've created such compliance within us. That's what they do when colonists move in on an indigenous community—the first thing you do is ply them with tobacco, alcohol, and sugar lumps, comforts that they feel they can't dispense or be without. Get them hooked on comforts, and you have a compliant population begging for more. We're all in that same boat. We want our shit. It's not so weird. Everyone wants their shit. Native Americans were played with that kind of shit. It's tempting. It's sad, because you're dealing with it with your children in many ways. Children and sugar lumps.

    How do you make hard choices? Especially when the truth about what's happening to you is never told to you. How long will it be until it catches up with us?

    How would you describe your own relationship with America at this point?

    I have a complicated relationship to this country—it made me who I am, and in many ways it hurt me, and I'm very grateful for this country. My friends are here, my life is here. I'm an immigrant, a classic American. But something took hold here, and it's spreading across the world. I want to reject it but I can't separate myself from part of this place. So I'm turning over this cold, hard stone and looking at it. 

    Are you hoping this record brings some truths and start discussions among people?

    I don’t think I’m going to teach anything. A lot of people are already thinking about this shit, and the people that can't will not be willing to. I just want to support people that are on the same page. If I can do that much I will be happy. I want to participate. And maybe it is a defunct model to participate in systems as they stand. Maybe it's ridiculous for me to think I could work within these systems to be helpful. But I just wanted to give it a shot. I wanted to say exactly what I thought. Because I'm only alive one time, and I wanted to try to live expansively.

    I'm not asserting that I have some unique grasp on this. What I find when I talk to people about this is that most of them are thinking a similar kind of thought. It's not like I'm particularly intelligent or have a significant education, I’m just trying to understand what's really happening. I don't suffer the delusion that I have everything right. I’m sure I’m wrong on several things—hopefully on everything. That would be the best case scenario.

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    From the Pitchfork Review: Sonny Rollins: The Saxophone Colossus

    The following story is featured in the latest issue of our print quarterly, The Pitchfork Review. Subscribe to the magazine here.

    Meeting some people can feel like entering a fairytale, and interviewing the 85-year-old Sonny Rollins recently had that quality, beginning with the woods. Rollins has lived in upstate New York, for over 15 years now—the move was precipitated by 9/11—and trees heavy with early spring leaves line the front of his house, which is secluded. 

    Outside, one is aware of sound—bird calls, rainwater dripping off the roof—because that has been Rollins’ job for over 60 years now: to make others aware of what he hears, and what the world gives, sonically. Settling in his spacious sitting room, Rollins told me in his melodious, sonorous voice, why he hadn’t been able to tour behind his two most recent albums: just over two years ago, he was diagnosed with respiratory issues, a diagnosis which caused him to feel, he said, “really depressed.”

    Sonny Rollins: I’ve come to terms with it. If I can play again, I’d like to play again. I feel I haven’t quite gotten where I wanted to get to in my music. I’ve had a successful career. I’ve done what I’ve always wanted to do, which is music. I’m 85 years old now, so there is nothing to be angry about. If I can play again, if I can get the medications, these new drugs, then fine, I’ll be able to play again. If not, that’s the way it is. I have accepted it.

    You always keep developing, and even if you can’t play right now, you’ll be a different artist when you come back. That’s the wonderful thing about jazz, right? It teaches you acceptance in a certain way. When you play with this disease does it hurt your lungs?

    It limits my breathing and then after I play for five minutes or so, I get fatigued. That’s the problem. But it’s not a thing where I’m in constant pain or anything. 

    You’ve always made a big distinction between recorded music and playing live. What are the differences for you between the two?  

    In front of an audience, I get more feedback and it’s easier for me to lose myself, because it’s about forgetting things and letting the subconscious take over. When I’m feeling the energy, I’m able to get into it and actually shut out the people more easily. That’s what improvisation is all about: losing conscious thought. You can’t think and play at the same time. I’ve tried it—can’t do it. You just have to put yourself in the state of mind where there’s no conscious thought. And then let the music come out. 

    I read that one of the first experiences of music that you loved was a concert that Frank Sinatra gave when you were in high school where he spoke about racial tolerance.

    I’d like to address that. From the time I was a child my grandmother was an activist. 

    She was West Indian? 

    Oh yeah. My grandfather, her husband, was from Haiti, but my grandmother was from St. Thomas. Anyway, when I was a little boy I used to walk in parades up and down Lenox Ave. We would be marching for W.E.B. Dubois, Paul Robeson. I grew up with that. Through “Free the Scottsboro Boys.” Now fast forward to 1946, when they bussed us from where we lived on 175th Street. There was a new school opening up down in Italian Harlem, on 116th Street, off of the river. This was a new high school. We were met with a lot of hostility from the neighborhood. The people in the area figured it was some black kids coming into their neighborhood, and there were a lot of fights—people were throwing stuff out the windows as we were getting out. It was just a whole lot of violence. So Frank Sinatra came down to our school and did a concert. Naturally, he was an Italian hero. So he preached to the people that we shouldn’t fight with these kids, which was very helpful. Things straightened out after that. Now, I think that was great, but that was not my introduction to civil rights. I’ve been around it all my life. The wrong people have put on Wikipedia that Frank Sinatra came down, and it changed my life. That’s complete bullshit. And it’s very offensive.

    It’s not giving credence to your family.  

    We even had a Black Nationalist flag in the house. I didn’t need Frank Sinatra to wake me up to civil rights. I love Frank Sinatra’s music. He’s a great singer. I think what he did then was very admirable, but it’s not about him. To me, it’s about trying to make me look smaller and him bigger. It’s making me look like I didn’t know what civil rights was all about, which is ridiculous. All my music had this—I did the Freedom Suite in 1958. Before that I had done this song “The House I Live In” that was a civil rights song by Paul Robeson. Why did I do it? Because I was trying to get black consciousness into people. 

    That’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about. I remember LeRoi Jones’ book Black Music—before he was Amiri Baraka. He wrote very beautifully about your early work, and what he says is true about certain aspects of your music: romanticism, lushness, and also a moving forward—volition. How were you developing your style when you first decided to become a musician?

    When I was a little kid, the first music I really heard was my favorite: Fats Waller. In Harlem, you’re right in the epicenter of jazz. I heard a lot because of the radio; those days, that’s where you heard everything. I heard Louie Jordan. And I heard calypso in my house with my mother. So I heard all this music growing up. That was my upbringing with music. 

    Jones is saying that there are different things that come into your music, but it’s your music. Having grown up with all sorts of black music, you were very nimble with the tunes that you would use to improvise, like “I’m an Old Cowhand” or “Toot Toot Tootsie.” These tunes that were very banal, but you were able to make them your own. Were you attracted to these tunes because they were banal, or was there a spark in them for you?

    I think mainly the latter. There is always something in music that I like; I don’t know what it is. I heard in those songs something I felt that I could use. As I said, I heard a lot of this stuff when I was kid—my mother would take us to the movies. And I’d see all of these Hollywood movies with Hollywood music. What they call the American Songbook. Jerome Kern, all those composers. 

    Cole Porter.

    Cole Porter. I guess I’m looking for something that excites me. If something struck me musically, I tried to use it. I didn’t feel that I had to be restricted.

    I always felt that there was enormous optimism throughout your music. Toni Morrison has said that she wants to know something by the end of her story, something she didn’t expect. Do you think that’s what improvisation does?

    I don’t know if I can respond to that exactly. Each thing is a story. Each song. Improvisation is a story in itself. I guess in some ways it’s similar: You can say that you’ve learned something about yourself.

    And by extension, music. One great thing about your career is how much young people have learned from you. Did you feel, when you would have groups with younger musicians, that it was a way of teaching them the legacy—musically, politically, and so on?

    Dizzy Gillespie really loved showing music to the younger musicians. That was part of who he was. I’m more like Miles in that if a guy can do the job, then he’s up there. You’re supposed to be able to get the gig by listening. I’m heartened if people feel they can get something from what I’m doing. But I never thought of myself as a real educator in that sense. 

    Speaking of Miles, I was interested in talking about your response to free jazz as something that wasn’t really your thing.

    As far as so-called free jazz, well, I accept it. There’s nothing for me not to accept. I love all kinds of music. What LeRoi Jones is talking about, Our Man in Jazz, could be considered my more free jazz period. So yeah, of course: It’s good music. I just put whatever I could contribute into it. That’s really where I am and who I am. 

    To do your version of a thing.

    I think that would be the way to describe me. 

    What about the times that you didn’t want to be part of the music business? There are a couple of big hiatuses. But you played every day still. And you’re playing on that bridge. Tell me what life was like for you then.

    Well, I’ve taken several hiatuses in my life. Early on, of course, I had some drug problems. I got myself straight after paying some dues. 

    How long was that a problem for you?

    I got in bad trouble. I was incarcerated around 1950. As a stickup man. The last thing I am is a stickup man. That’s the first time I had a gun, actually. I knew we needed money and that was the way to get it. But that wasn’t my thing—I was part of a group. Big stupid me was the one with the gun. I spent a year in jail. And that was rough. Then I came out, but I went back because I went back to drugs again during the parole period. I had to go back for three months. And boy, you don’t want to be in jail. I know what it is now, but it was bad enough then. I was fortunate because there were some musicians in there and we had a clique. So I was able to survive. But the second time, when I went back, I said, “God, I have to find a way to stay out of here.” But after I came out, I was still messing around. That heroin is a rough habit. I was fortunate because they had this place called Lexington, which was a narcotics rehabilitation place. It was good, treating people and trying to get them off of drugs. 

    And treating them humanely.

    Humanely. It was just a bunch of criminals then, which now—it’s funny when I look at the way they are treating this, they have a name for it: “opioid.” It’s really funny to me how society operates. But the whole story is: I was recording with my hero Charlie Parker. A lot of guys used drugs because of him, and he knew it. That really messed him up. He said, “Yeah Sonny, how are you doing?” And I said, “I’m straight.” And he was so happy, man. And then somebody in the record session ratted on me and told him. I could see the look in Bird’s face and boy that tore me down. I realized I had to get off this shit, man, if just for my idol. So I went to Lexington and stayed there for the cure, which was four and a half months, and that was it—I was able to get off. It’s rough being an artist and not wanting to use alcohol or drugs to get away from the normality of life. I had to face that. And I still couldn’t exactly do that. After I got out of hard drugs, I still had to get away from other things, alcohol and amphetamines. Pot, of course. Although I used that later on as a sacrament when I was studying yoga, not just to get high—

    To plug in.

    Yes, to plug in. Eventually I was able to quit it all, even smoking cigarettes. You mention the bridge: When I went to practice on the [Williamsburg] Bridge, I was still smoking but I was trying to stop. Going up on the bridge helped me to stop because I had to walk across the bridge and it was beautiful. There was hardly any traffic up there. It’s perfect. And the sky. There was a place on the bridge where the trains were—traffic, cars, the boats coming down below, and nobody could really see where I was standing. The part of the bridge where nobody could see me but they could hear the horn. That was a great revelation to me.

    Why did you take that second hiatus?

    I’ve always been very critical of myself. And I was getting to place where I was getting built up and I didn’t feel I was ready for it. It means something to our people. Jazz music is not just entertainment; jazz took the next step to being a need for our community and our people. That was important to me. I knew I had to deliver something. I had to say something. So I just stopped completely and found some place else to play. And I got to the bridge eventually.

    You say something very beautiful about jazz music being a kind of offering. And if you’re not offering it purely, what’s the point? It’s a spiritual thing.

    Very much so. 

    You mentioned yoga. Did you start doing yoga around the same time?

    Yeah, I did, in the ’50s. I had been getting into yoga and Buddhism. A lot more advanced thought than what was available to me. That was another good part about being on the bridge: It really helped me focus on what was important in my life and what I had to do. I’m still doing yoga mentally every day. A lot of people just think it’s exercise. But there are a lot of forms of it that coincide with trying to find yourself: What are we here for, what is it all about? Is it just about having fun? To me, that’s not enough. I’ve lived that life. I’m looking for the deeper things. That’s hard because this is the society of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” And you have to go against the society and...

    ... claim your spiritual life, creative life, and physical life in a big way, no?

    Exactly. You have to know who you are and do that. Be who you are. 

    When you go to films or watch television, what interests you? What are you interested in in music? 

    I don’t get out too much. I haven’t been to a movie in a long time. I haven’t looked at television for 15 years, maybe. I realized I had to get away from that. I have an iPad and I learned how to use it, but it was bothering my eyes. The only thing I’m into is listening to the radio. 

    And you read?

    I’ve got my stuff. I’m still studying yoga.

    It’s a pretty good life.

    When you learn yoga, you say this thing: not this, not this, not this—that’s where my life is right now. I’ve said “not this” like I said “not TV.” I’ve gotten past a lot of things that didn’t work for me. And it’s a good life, but I guess it’s never good enough. I’m still trying to get some wisdom. Some knowledge.

    What’s the point if we don’t continue to grow in our minds? We have to evolve.

    I think so. Or you can live a life where you just have fun and enjoy whatever you want to enjoy, food, and sex and getting a big house—that’s another way. It’s not wrong. It’s just a way people go. I don’t believe in that because I believe in something else. It’s not so much “believing”—I sort of know. I’m not criticizing anyone, except me, because I know what I need to do. I need to try to go to that other place: that universal place.


    The world is over in a minute and we’re here just for a second. We need to use this time to find out something. We’re all on our different journeys. And of course it’s difficult. But it’s the way it’s supposed to be. I believe in karma too. Karma is what we’re supposed to be doing—to unravel our karma. See, whatever I did that was bad in this life or another life, I have to get rid of that. And here I Am. 

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    From the Pitchfork Review: The Interstellar Style of Sun Ra

    The following story is featured in the latest issue of our print quarterly, The Pitchfork Review. Subscribe to the magazine here.

    The year is 1972, Oakland, California. Down a sunny street and inside the doors of a neighborhood teen center, things are popping. Everyone’s wearing black leotards, striped short shorts, flared blue jeans, tight, bright sweaters, floppy hats, Afros and Afropuffs, denim vests, crocheted shawls. They’re snapping bubblegum and petting dogs. Playing pool and Ping-Pong. Black Power posters line the walls. At one point the room spontaneously breaks into a beautiful acappella hymn: “That’s the way love is.”

    And then, straight out of nowhere, smack in the middle of this scene appears a man in a voluminous black caftan draped in an iridescent silver overlay and a headdress of gold chainmail. He is a time traveler from another planet. He is flanked by a pair of resplendently costumed women, faces obscured by massive gilded animal masks; one dog, one eagle. They appear vaguely Egyptian, certainly not of this world. The camera centers on the curious visitor’s shoes: a pair of striped platform oxfords that conspire to send their wearer a few inches further into the atmosphere.

    “What it is, what it is,” someone greets this spectral gang. “Why your shoes so big?” says another kid. “Are those moon shoes?” a girl asks. Another: “How do we know you for real? How do we know you ain’t some old hippie or something?”

    “He might have something going for him,” a guy suggests. It’s not lost on anyone that the face of this vibrant, bizarrely outfitted visitor is the same color as theirs.

    And at this, about 20 minutes into the film The Space Is the Place, their uninvited, recently-arrived-on-Earth guest introduces himself. He is an ambassador, he informs them in his chamomile-calm Southern Saturnalian accent, “from the intergalactic regions of outer space.” 

    Moon shoe girl pipes up again: “I ’bout to take off down the street running when I see somebody dressed like that talking to me about being from outer space!”

    Sun Ra came from the galaxies decades before Isaac Hayes whipped off his multicolored robe and became Black Moses, shackled in gold chains; before Parliament arrived on the Mothership, or Hawkwind took their first ride on the Silver Machine; before Ziggy Stardust fell to Earth from Mars; before Dr. Octagon left his native Jupiter; before Kanye West donned a Margiela mask and longed for his own spaceship to fly past the sky. In his spangled capes and violet cloaks, his painted third eye, his mesh caps and pyramid hats and pharaoh’s headdresses and solar antennae, Sun Ra ushered in an utter sense of liberation, mystery, and free expression. He was not a man, he patiently explained to all who asked, but an angel. Above all, he projected benevolence: a hopeful idea of an extraordinary realm existing outside of the very troubled real world. He did this through what he wore just as radically as by the music he made.

    He was born on Saturn. Or he was born nowhere (he preferred not to discuss his origin story in terra firma terms). Or, as a birth certificate for Herman Poole Blount claims, he was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 22, 1914. This detail is confirmed by his biographer, John Szwed, but for the better part of his time on Earth, Sun Ra avoided the literal world. He focused instead on the ancient times of his imagination, the future realms, and above all, music: His wildly innovative, improvised, modal, cascading, sometimes dissonant but also frequently harmonious compositions worked in touches of ragtime, big band, swing, bebop, and, of course, free jazz, of which he was a pioneer. Truly, though, Sun Ra was celestial jazz, space jazz—his was a music that shunned gravity and reached for the cosmos.

    “The music was a little like the sound of Ornette Coleman, but further out, outer space music, close to the EEEE of an electric drill at the center of a harsh trumpet,” wrote Norman Mailer in 1963, after a friend took him to an open Arkestra rehearsal in Chicago. “My cold cleared up in five minutes, I swear it.” 

    By and by, Ra amassed his Arkestra, a sprawling collective of rotating and regular musicians who, led by his disciple Marshall Allen, still perform under the name (which is “how black people pronounce orchestra,” their original leader explained). Onstage, evocatively dubbed instruments—the flying saucer, the fireplace, and the sunharp—mingled with saxophone and trumpet and drums, and the then-novel Moog; they shared space with acrobatics, recited poetry, a transcendent circus, total theater. Twenty costume changes might occur in a single concert, cape upon cape. (And you thought James Brown had robes.) 

    Sun Ra might do a little softshoe to Billie Holiday; a replica of the solar system might serve as a hat, with a standup collar making pleated sunrays fan around his face. He and the Arkestra were as apt to pay aural homage to Frankenstein or Star Wars as they were to perform Duke Ellington. Veritable solunar storms erupted mid show on occasion, aided by lighting effects and industrial fans that sent the band’s garments billowing like sails. The fabric they sourced was so heavy that singer-dancers learned to swirl and sway and slide so it moved—“I developed the ‘space walk,’” said Arkestra member Verta Mae Grosvenor, “the one that Michael Jackson did later and called the ‘moon walk.’” In their metallic, bell-ringing, gliding wake came Sun Ra, cradling in his palm a crystal ball.

    The vision of Sun Ra in the everyday, catching the subway or strolling through the grocery store in his alien garb, is inspirational...When the Sun came out, it was a rare bird sighting, a reminder of pure, total, not-a-damn-given, free expression, that assurance of the permanence of weirdness. It simply makes you happy to be alive.

    Sun Ra was the future, the ancient past, and the embattled present, all in one. Years before the Birmingham bombings, the town nicknamed Magic City was so segregated that young Sonny Blount, an insatiable reader, was slipped books by a librarian out of the back door of a public library. He was 8 years old when the entrance to the tomb of King Tut was unveiled to the world in 1922, in drawn-out, spellbinding suspense. This event resonated for him ever after: At Berkeley, where he briefly taught, prominent on his syllabus was the Egyptian Book of the Dead. He christened a certain talented protégé Pharoah Sanders. Moon Stew was the name of the dish he cooked for friends and it was never the same recipe twice. He rarely drank, didn’t do drugs, popped nutritional supplements before most anyone in Alabama knew what a vitamin was. Even his alleged interplanetary travels were well ahead of the times—long before stories of UFO abductions proliferated in popular media.

    “This boy was definitely out-to-lunch,” said George Clinton, whose outsized helmets, bright furs, decorated jewels, and generally bedazzled, larger-than-life self in Parliament, Funkadelic, and onward, are a fantastical reflection of Sun Ra. “The same place I eat at.”

    Sun Ra believed the avant-garde could use a sense of humor (he was right), and though a certain tongue-in-cheek sensibility emerged in his music, this found its truest expression in the way he dressed. He was raised in a time when jazzmen wore bow ties and pin-striped suits. “They don’t look like they’re having fun,” he told a reporter in 1986. “I want people to laugh at the costumes I have on. Why do astronauts wear what they wear? Why do soldiers? Because it makes people notice them more. The musicians have a perfect right to join the crowd and say, ‘We’re going to wear this; this is how I feel.’” 

    Feeling dictated fashion. During their Chicago period in the mid-’40s to early ’60s, Sun Ra and the Arkestra bought up costumes from an opera company and started wearing them onstage; the shimmering cloaks and metal headpieces chimed right in with Sun Ra’s organ. The outfits were a visual link between past and present—those breastplates and robes channeled the slaves and kings of Egypt as much as they did the comets and planets. Dressed in chrome-colored bodysuits and gossamer capes, singer June Tyson said she felt like a celestial being with the Arkestra as she chanted lyrics like, “If you find earth boring, just the same old same thing, c’mon sign up with Outer Spaceways.” 

    Central to the life story of every true icon is the defining moment when one rejects the world, the mainstream, and genuinely becomes oneself: When Coltrane had his Year Zero, kicking his addictions and making his debut. When Nina Simone roared through “Mississippi Goddamn.” When the Beatles dropped acid. And on and on. In the moment when you become yourself, you become something to others. 

    Photo by David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images

    For Sun Ra, this moment came in New York. He’d moved his band there and took to wearing his stage clothes on the street, all the time. He bought a pair of opaque, citrus-colored shades from a vendor on Orchard Street and wore them on the cover of Rolling Stone; in his flowing finery, he was a Lower East Side precursor to the caftans worn now by fashion icon Andre Leon Talley. The separation of costume and daywear disappeared altogether, and Sun Ra came into his own, letting his clothes sing. 

    It’s not that his outfits were so beautifully made or even as spectacular as the imaginative universe they represented—what made them fabulous was that they weren’t, at all. Their specialness emanated from their imperfections. They were handmade, homespun, assembled from Garment District remnants, theatrical castoffs, gifts of dashikis and togas from fans on tour; they lay somewhere in between drama department castoffs, a child’s dress-up drawer, and sci-fi fantasy. But no matter how shabby his stage clothes appeared in the light of day, the fact that he remained consistently in costume and thus in character was what made him truly radical—unafraid to be himself, to arouse attention, to draw stares, to elicit smiles. “What are you doing here?” Charles Mingus once asked him in the Village, and Sun Ra replied that he came downtown quite often. “No,” Mingus said. “I mean what are you doing on Earth?” 

    Kanye takes off his masks after the show is done and puts on his Yeezy boots and jeans. After David Bowie died, pictures surfaced of the Thin White Duke in cargo shorts, walking the streets of Soho. How marvelous it was, everyone said, that he had slipped in among mere mortals, unnoticed. But what Sun Ra had done, and done best, was reminding earthlings everywhere that he wasn’t mortal. He was a signifier of a life beyond the reality of this one. He was a visual reassurance of the presence of another world. He brought the cosmos to the streets, and, most importantly, he was a reminder that one does not have to subscribe to the status quo—musically, stylistically, politically, ideologically.

    The vision of Sun Ra in the everyday, catching the subway or strolling through the grocery store in his alien garb, is inspirational. It’s akin to witnessing a carnie outside of his element, with a novel of tattoos running down his arms; the cool old couple holding hands in matching furs; the high schoolers sailing down the middle of the street in their cut-up, thrifted prom dresses on a regular afternoon; it’s the toga-wearing being with the Manic Panic-dyed beard beaming in the midst of the Central Park roller skaters. When the Sun came out, it was a rare bird sighting, a reminder of pure, total, not-a-damn-given, free expression, that assurance of the permanence of weirdness. It simply makes you happy to be alive.

    But back to Oakland, early ’70s. Sun Ra moved there briefly at the invitation of Bobby Seale. Ra and the Arkestra lived in a house owned by the Black Panthers, whose military uniforms reclaimed symbols in a way that paralleled Sun Ra’s mythic dress, both offering their own version of Black Power: the Panthers in their black berets and leather jackets, Sun Ra in his moon boots.

    “How do you know I’m real?” he addresses the youth center with a shattering peace that resonates loudly. “I’m not real. I’m just like you. You don’t exist in this society. If you were, your people wouldn’t be seeking equal rights. If you were, you’d have some status among the nations of the world. I come to you as a myth… I come to you from a dream the black man dreamed long ago. I’m actually a present sent to you by your ancestors.” The luster of his brilliant cape illuminates the glow in the room, beaming the light right back at them.

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    From the Pitchfork Review: Thelonious Monk: So Plain Only the Deaf Can Hear

    The following story is featured in the latest issue of our print quarterly, The Pitchfork Review. Subscribe to the magazine here.

    In 1964, Thelonious Sphere Monk appeared on the cover of Time magazine. It was a remarkable achievement for a middle-aged black man who had been broke just a decade before. Despite the fact that the virtuosic pianist and bebop originator’s compositions were beginning to be studied by jazz and classical musicians alike, most of his nearly 15-year career had been spent in relative obscurity. The Time cover seemed to mark the end of all that. Churchill had been on the cover of Time. FDR. Clark Gable. This was for-real business. And they didn’t just take a photo. They had a portrait painted: Monk’s profile in a feathered chapeau, his stately gaze off to the distance as though he were surveying the kingdom he ruled. A black man who sometimes played piano with his forearms in portrait on the cover of one of the most serious magazines in the country. In 1964. What the hell. 

    Consider that Monk was a largely self-taught pianist from a section of New York City that doesn’t even exist anymore. San Juan Hill—reportedly named in honor of its population of former Buffalo Soldiers whose bravery won one of the most decisive battles of the Spanish American War—stood hemmed in by Amsterdam and West End Avenues, 59th and 64th Streets. The blackest section in Manhattan at the time, it was predictably marked for wholesale demolition to make way for Lincoln Center and its subsequent streams of tuxedoed season subscribers. But in its day, it stood as a wry and tough neighborhood of fighters and families, hustlers and musicians, so quintessentially New York that West Side Story was filmed on its streets. This was the soil from which Monk sprang. His family moved there from North Carolina when he was just 4, sealing his fate as a New Yorker. 

    A quiet but confident child, he fell immediately in love with the piano after taking 15-cent lessons at the community center, and hustled his way into jamming with every local musician he could. He won Amateur Night at the Apollo so many times he was banned by the time he was 13. He attended the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, but dropped out to tour the South as an accompanist for a traveling preacher. Unlike the jazzman who travels north with an instrument case and a dream, Monk was, almost by birth, an apartment dweller, a man utterly at home in the dense and sardonic temperament of Manhattan. 

    He was already experimenting with his brand of off-kilter boogie woogie by the time he reached his late teens. A master of stride piano, he forged his sound from pieces left by the jaunty traditions of Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson, self-accompanying pianists who insisted you dance rather than listen. But Monk approached this style with a vicious sarcasm that was at once beautiful and contentious. Behold his sharp re-working of the 1925 Vaudeville tune “Dinah,” a piece previously treated as a blithe soundtrack to early Max Fleischer cartoons and made famous by novelty quartet the Mills Brothers. Monk’s take appears on the 1964 masterpiece Solo Monk, released on Columbia Records. He flashes his stride chops to glittering and playful effect, entertaining with the cunning of his right hand, while the left dexterously covers vast stretches of the keyboard. The upshot is a savvy rendering of a goofy love song. A day at the amusement park. A shared sundae and a dollop of whipped cream on the nose. It’s the audio version of those old-timey pictures of lovers posing on a paper moon. But Monk’s tendency to occasionally drop a wrong note—to pound out a dissonant thud in the bass run—lends a comedic, if satirical, edge. The tune, by Harry Akst, written for the vaudeville show “The New Plantation,” has been recorded by Chet Baker, Cab Calloway, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, and many more. But only Monk’s version unpacks the song’s fluffy innocence to reveal something wry underneath. 

    Photo by Herb Snitzer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    For better or worse, Monk’s public persona was one of extreme, almost mystical inscrutability. He was wildly introspective and capable of extreme focus, often to the exclusion of social niceties like greetings and small talk. He mumbled while he played and sometimes became overwhelmed with a desire to write, reportedly staying up pacing and working literally for days at a time. But sometimes, it was impossible for him to get out of bed. He could be notoriously taciturn, and when he did deign to talk to reporters he frequently parried obvious questions with philosophical games of “Who’s on First?” Frank London Brown learned this when he profiled Monk in 1958 for Downbeat magazine. Brown asked Monk where he thought modern jazz was going. “You can’t make anything go anywhere. It just happens,” replied Monk. His stalwart wife, Nellie, and his precocious adolescent niece both tried to help Brown out by rephrasing the question, but Monk would not be moved. “I don’t know where it’s going. Where is it going?...I don’t know how people are listening”—a wildly paradoxical response from a man whose work defined modern music for generations. 

    Everything about Monk’s life and work suggests a person unconditionally committed to the world in his head. Even in his poorest days, he never left the house unless cleanly appointed in a pressed suit and tie accessorized with an array of ascots, wild glasses, and funny hats. But while magazines and movies ran with this cartoon version of the scatting hep cat, Monk’s visage was authentically acquired, a product of his unceasing creativity. This desire, indeed, was what drove his offbeat and mesmerizing compositions. Early pieces like “Well You Needn’t,” with its spastic call and response, was laid out on a bed of chromatically rising and falling tones; “In Walked Bud,” a raucous tribute to best friend and mentor Bud Powell; and the Monk standard “Round Midnight,” which managed to fashion purposeful dissonance into a kind of slowly rollicking ethereal bliss, all stood out as pieces well ahead of their time. Not only musically, but in shape and meaning. In vibe. A vast cosmic wink permeated all of Thelonious Monk’s work. You never knew if he was crazy, or if he was just trolling you. 

    If you want to understand Monk trolling, you have to understand bebop trolling. Prior to the form’s inception, the once fiery swing genre had cooled to a series of bland big bands in dance clubs. The music had become simple, easy to comprehend. One and a two and a three and a four. Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey had taken over, and it was for white people again. Even Duke Ellington and Count Basie, as beautiful as their compositions were, enjoyed what fame they did outside of black communities precisely because they received benediction from the likes of Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, and others; they had to prove they could speak the language of white music in order to be taken seriously. The framers of bebop—Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Milt Hinton, and Kenny Clarke—began to rebel against this idea of “friendliness” in music, perhaps subconsciously at first, but then with greater purpose. They wanted to play music that expressed how life actually felt. Angry, complex. Tragicomic. Emotionally full. They began to experiment with more densely layered chords, stacked high like the levels of a skyscraper: 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, 15ths. Dissonance buried like gems within pockets of harmony. A smaller band with bigger freedom. A feeling that things were slightly off. Asymmetrical melodies that started off one way but didn’t resolve themselves. Didn’t assure the listener that everything was all right. Because everything wasn’t all right. Blacks were routinely beaten for being on the wrong side of town. New York City police forced every jazz musician to carry an identification card without which they were barred from playing. (Monk, by all accounts a generally sober fellow, nonetheless lost his when a car he was in with Bud Powell was pulled and a bag of heroin was found in the glove compartment.) The most gifted musicians in town often died broke and penniless, overdosing while country clubs played handsome fees to white men to perform their compositions. Bebop had chord progressions that took you for dangerous rides without exactly telling where you might be going. Musical cycles that tumbled you up one hill and down another side, landing you in an entirely different place than you began. And it was played fast. So fast, in fact, that musicians that didn’t know what was up couldn’t participate. They would be lost. And that was the point. If you didn’t understand it, then you couldn’t steal it. It wasn’t for you.

    This insistence on leaving the less-learned behind was at the core of Monk’s singular and captivating peculiarity. Think of the piano intro to the iconic “Straight No Chaser.” Monk lays out a relatively straightforward melody but continues to plant dissonance bombs at the bottom of each figure. He then leverages the churning characteristics of bebop to return you to this same discomfort again and again at different points in the measure. It’s almost as if he’s testing you, teasing you like an older sibling, training you to hear it again and again until you understand the impartial beauty of its disfigurement, until you finally recognize the delicacy and grace of the perfectly placed wrong note. How spiritually necessary and personally honest it is to do things as they’re not supposed to be done.

    Sometimes it seems the entirety of black American music is about this: trying to carve out a space unspoiled by the overbearing whiteness of being. Slave songs were coded messages about escape and freedom. Blues was filled with complex and culturally specific imagery. Jazz expressed an attempt to deconstruct and complicate American band music in a way that captured the violent and frenetic pace of life in northern cities. R&B beat with hidden messages about revolutions and uprising in the ’60s. Then funk generated intergalactic imagery and a colorful form of mystical Egypto-alien visuals to create a world of inaccessible and separatist blackness. 

    In the early ’80s, hip-hop began as a tenement cultural collage, sly, transmutable, and infinitely self-referential. Run-D.M.C. took the disco goofiness of the Sugarhill Gang and planted it on cinder blocks in burned-out lots. N.W.A. took the Saturday morning b-boy cartoonism of Run-D.M.C. and infused it with the clear-eyed nihilism of the post-crack era. Biggie and Puff took the hole-in-the-shoes hoodism of N.W.A. and let the shit be platinum clean, razor sharp, and fabulous as fuck. Timbaland and Pharrell took Puffy’s gold-plated pinky rings off and let it be nerd-core. Kanye decided you could be therapeutically self-reflective while dropping televangelist-level braggadocio. And then Drake just started bodying people as an unapologetically suburban singing nigga. These contradictions weren’t just to be weird. They were meant to leave your ass behind. If you didn’t understand how these things worked together, then it was not for you. Every moment of this progression consists of a black artist making something that challenges the norm and tries to give life to the specificity of their experience. Every moment imbues the maker with the power that comes when you create music that is direct, epic, and (most importantly) impossible to understand for people that don’t live it. Doing things wrong is often how black people create their own freedom. 

    But the wizardry of Monk, who is comfortably situated in this 400-year tradition, is that he was as much a brilliant musical technician as he was a brilliant troll. He possessed indelible speed on the keyboard, as demonstrated by his vivid runs, tossed on to the ends of tunes as if to say, Yeah, I can do that shit, too. And his two-handed stride work, most evident on jumpy solo sessions like “North of Sunset” and even midtempo gems like “I’m Confessin,’” distinguished him from contemporaries who favored an aloof comping approach to their solo work—playing chords fully on the left hand. But the most lavish demonstrations of Monk’s aptitude come with his compositions. Probably none more so than his breakthrough album, 1957’s Brilliant Corners.

    The title track is legendary, in that it almost caused a fist fight in the studio. Producer Orrin Keepnews had to stitch the final product together from 25 different takes. At one point during the recording, bassist Oscar Pettiford was just pretending to play, miming while the tape was running. He would never speak to Monk again after it was over. They worked on the song for five long, smoke-filled, tense, and probably stinky hours, and still couldn’t nail it. Monk brought it on himself. He was trolling the universe with this hilariously complicated hook, one that makes no sense whatsoever, except for the fact that it’s perfect. Last year, I tried to teach myself to hum it, and it took over three weeks of continuous listening just to get close. And yet what makes this track so good isn’t the technical proficiency it requires. It’s just what the melody means. Climbing and falling, unfolding over itself like a telescopic barroom fractal. And then the whole thing starts double timing. The song has two tempos, a loping 92 bpm passage that feels like stumbling home contentedly drunk—and then suddenly you’re tossed you into a breathless 108 that leaves you panting and looking over your shoulder. The composition knows exactly how much of each speed you can take, and every transition offers well-earned relief. It’s high-intensity interval training for your ears. Monk’s playing on the hook manages to simultaneously lead the procession and trail behind it like a child dropping magnolia petals in a glorious small-town parade. 

    Photo by Echoes/Redferns

    This is the apogee of Monk’s vision. Music that’s insane and gorgeous, droll and dire, ardently crafted to be so perfectly wrong that it robs you of your predictions and replaces them with ever unfolding alms of unexpected rapture. The harder you fight it, the more frustrating it is. Maybe the life work of Thelonious Monk was to crack apart and invert the rusted shell of the piano and open a portal into the bedraggled contradictions and breathless off-tempo grind of being black in America. This was his power over you and over the world. He reveled in confusing the outsider. And when that outsider has enslaved, beat, hung, dragged, murdered, raped, starved, and excluded your people for centuries, then it’s more than a game of intellectual keep-away. It’s an effort for spiritual freedom. But, of course, it’s a short one. Because everything you make will eventually belong to someone else. This is the American Way. 

    The Time magazine cover story, of course, did not go as Monk might have hoped. The writer, Barry Farrell, treated him as a zoo-ish curiosity, devoting over 5,000 words to describing his idiosyncrasies while only managing to include two or three direct quotes from his subject. Farrell does talk, however about the jazzman’s tendency for what he called “the put on,” which he defines as “a mildly cruel art invented by hipsters as a means of toying with squares.” Having missed the irony altogether, the writer barrels on with his portraiture of Monk as a mumbling, shuffling, sweating savant, rather than one of the most complex composers of the 20th century, and concludes by describing a sleeping Monk in an “Oriental” hat with cabbage on his lapel while his wife prepares ice cream for him. For Monk, who had spent a lifetime fucking with people in as many ways as he could think of—benignly, angrily, feigning ignorance, feigning interest, and most frequently just by subverting expectations—there’s a cruel yet entirely predictable irony to the fact that the most important piece written about him up until that point was written by someone completely unequipped to understand him. Barry Farrell did not grow up in a community of black warriors from a segregated military unit. He did not travel from church revival to small town to make money to help his mother. He did not teach himself to both play and subvert classical piano as a child. He did not have to, as a grown man, ask NYPD for a permission slip to make his art. He did not have to watch the best and most genius men of his generation kill themselves because they did not want American racism to do it first. But what the 28-year-old Farrell did have was a pen and a national magazine cover on which to explain his understanding of this man almost two decades his senior.

    But to many of us who live lives of broken chords and impossible dissonance that nonetheless create wild and beautiful music, Monk’s message was as straightforward as the black keys on a piano. In the 1958 Downbeat profile, Frank London Brown reported that Monk’s wife Nellie once chided him for his opacity in the public eye. Monk, as usual, saw it differently. “I talk so plain,” he said, “that a deaf and dumb man can hear me.”

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    From the Pitchfork Review: Two Turntables and a Saxophone

    When Kendrick Lamar walked onstage for his performance at this year’s Grammy Awards, hands cuffed and clinking as part of a chain gang, saxophone player Terrace Martin stood to his left, blowing doleful notes from inside a jail cell. Lamar won five awards that night, including Best Rap Album for To Pimp a Butterfly, a record that heavily features Martin. The prison imagery gave way to pyrotechnics and ended with Lamar’s frame silhouetted against a map of Africa, with his Compton hometown labeled where the Sahara desert would be. Joined by all African-American dancers in front of a largely white Staples Center crowd, the blazing medley of TPAB’s “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” carried a sense of history in the making. 

    This momentousness was embodied in the music, a heady update of pointillistic astral jazz and hypnotic G-funk. It’s fitting that Martin, who’s producing records for Compton rapper YG and jazz legend Herbie Hancock, later told a reporter the first face he saw from stage that night was the veteran pianist’s. At the 1984 Grammys, Hancock’s keytar-wielding rendition of crossover hit “Rockit” marked another milestone for hip-hop, jazz, and pop culture overall.

    From the awards-show stage to fellow TPAB collaborator Kamasi Washington’s 2015 saxophone opus The Epic, jazz and hip-hop are colliding in beautiful ways lately. But jazz and rap have long been close relatives. Jazz, in spirit, is actually something of hip-hop’s ancestor, not only because of rap’s frequent use of direct jazz samples, but also in the shared traditions of African-American free expression, avant-garde experimentation, and even solo parts that build upon each other. First the ensemble jam, then the posse cut. 

    A master of the nexus between these two crucial art forms was the late Detroit producer J Dilla. Indeed, on “The Introduction,” from his long-lost vocal album The Diary, he raps about listening to Q-Tip, “My pops used to say it reminded him of jazz cats/ See, he told me that this game go in cycles.” If Dilla is correct, the cycle has come full circle again.

    The Pitchfork Review reached out to a who’s who of rappers, producers, and jazz musicians working on the borders between the two genres to ask them two questions: What jazz record should every rap lover own? And what rap record should every jazz lover own? Let the cross-pollination of jazz and hip-hop continue.


    Los Angeles saxophonist, producer, and arranger.

    Keith Jarrett, Eyes of the Heart 

    is one of those ECMs that every hip-hop digger has come across at some point. I remember picking up a 99 cent copy in the early 2000s at Amoeba LA and trying to sample it, but never using it for my early productions. When I started listening to it for its music instead of its sample potential, everything changed for me. I began to take jazz seriously as the next musical frontier that I needed to pursue as both a performer and listener. Keith’s soprano saxophone solo (his recorded soprano saxophone output is rare) on “Part 1” is so raw and emotional on top of Charlie Haden’s pillar-like bass vamps and Paul Motian’s skittering drums. When Dewey Redman finally emerges at the end of “Part 2,” his tenor solo is one of the most heartfelt improvisational musical moments in history. This album is one of the few reasons that I picked up the saxophone in my early 20s. Eyes of the Heart is a great transitional listen for fans of hip-hop seeking more free, yet still not too out there, sounds.

    Quasimoto, The Unseen

    The Unseen is to me, Madlib’s masterpiece. Raw, strange, free hip-hop production coupled with Madlib’s helium-induced freeform raps on top. Jazz heads will dig Otis Jackson Jr.’s rapping style, always reminiscent of a twisted jazz solo, and the production is always so swinging to keep anyone interested. My dad would even let me play this in the car during my high school days because of the jazzy beats. This was a huge production influence early on for me, and while I don’t listen to it as much as I used to, whenever I go back I’m transported to simpler, loop-based, hazy days.

    Ishmael Butler

    Frontman for Seattle-based experimental hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces and reunited Brooklyn alternative hip-hop trio Digable Planets 

    Lightnin’ Rod, Hustlers Convention

    When complexity is the goal of an artist to me it always plays boring. Grown rich-broke-baby-men throwing tantrums or pseudo-intellectual-corporate hood representatives pursuing riches through the mascotization of our struggle make the trill of us smirk. Now, the age of the underwhelming spectacle. Enter the “schoolyard bard” Jalal Mansur Nuriddin. He be never none of this. 

    Miles Davis, On the Corner

    Back when, in NYC, teeming in neighborhoods where the beautifulest survivors dwelt stacked with energy of racing minds and pounding hearts exploring in action the concept they call freedom, a brilliantly colored sound pronounces. Way past meaning, this sound makes path for members to escape into light and for observers to participate with the primordial essences their civilization requires they kill with etiquette. The energies captured in this artifice contain all humanesses forgotten. High music from the neon black cipher.

    DJ Premier

    Brooklyn hip-hop producer/DJ and formerly one-half of the duo Gang Starr.

    John Coltrane, A Love Supreme

    It is a four-part LP broken up into a suite. It speaks to you soulfully even if you’ve never heard a jazz album in pure form. It is a must-have period.

    Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

    This album must be owned by anyone that claims to love rap music. It not only is lyrically vital to life’s survival, but the production and DJ scratching is phenomenal and will not be denied. The Rhyme Animal Chuck D, The Spark Plug Flavor Flav, DJ Terminator X, The S1W’s, Professor Griff & The Bomb Squad on Production is technically an airplane that never crashes.

    Benny Cassette

    Los Angeles-based producer, singer, and songwriter whose projects have included Kanye West’s Yeezus album.

    Miles Davis, Bitches Brew

    This album was revolutionary because it had two bass players and two to three drummers on it, so the rhythms are crazy. It opened my eyes to what you could do with bass and drums and how they could be so melodic and musical. On top of that, everything on here sounds like a crazy sample, which I tried to do over and over but was never successful at, because it all flows, and it’s seamless to the point I could never pick a part to chop.

    A Tribe Called Quest, Low End Theory

    For me, great jazz records really feel like everyone in the room is playing together in a zone — and all the musicians are completely in sync with each other. When I discovered this album it really sounded like each part of the beat was made for each other. Every sample had the perfect drums and vocal on it and sonically, it’s like a great jazz album because everything is sitting right where it should be.


    Member of Oakland, California-based underground hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics

    Donald Byrd, Places and Spaces

    The jazz record every hip-hop lover should own is Places and Spaces by Donald Byrd but, more importantly, produced by the Mizell Brothers. Although it is more of a soul-jazz fusion album as opposed to straight-ahead jazz (jazz purists will cringe), the Mizell Brothers created a sound that is one of the blueprints of hip-hop jazz and neo-soul. They did many other important albums including Black Byrd and Black and Blues but Places and Spaces is their sound at its very best. 

    A Tribe Called Quest, Low End Theory 

    The hip hop record every jazz lover should own is Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest. It is hip-hop incorporating jazz rhythms at its best, in addition, Q-Tip’s attitude and style is very jazz musician centric. I think it’s important that Tip references the connection to jazz of the past and current hip hop immediately on the first song of the album, “Excursions”: “My pops used to say it reminded him of be-bop, I said that daddy don’t you know that things go in cycles…”

    Jermaine Dupri

    Producer, songwriter, and rapper from Atlanta. 

    Bob James, One

    Dr. Dre, The Chronic

    The Bob James album sounds like a rap album without the raps, and The Chronic for its samples, live instrumentation, and sound quality.

    Freddie Gibbs

    Los Angeles-via-Gary, Indiana rapper.

    Miles Davis, Kind of Blue

    Kind of Blue is one of the best records of all time. Miles’ use of space is something rap fans can definitely appreciate. Sometimes you have to let the track breathe and throw a melody in here and there. He never did too much on Kind of Blue, it’s the perfect vibe.

    Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata

    Piñata is a great rap record for jazz fans. Madlib isn’t a beatmaker, he’s a producer. The way we approached the album was like two jazz musicians, he’s the rhythm section and I used my voice to solo on top. A lot of improvisation and freedom went into Piñata.

    Robert Glasper

    Houston-born jazz pianist, producer, and leader of the Robert Glasper Experiment, whose 2012 album Black Radio won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album.

    Roy Hargrove Presents the RH Factor, Hard Groove

    Roy is the first jazz cat of our generation to really mingle with hip-hop and soul on a high level. He’s on Common’s Like Water for Chocolate and D’Angelo’s Voodoo and went on the tours. So this album had a cool way of making jazz accessible for that particular audience.

    A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders

    Tribe is the first group to really use jazz samples and bring jazz to the forefront of hip-hop. Even having jazz musicians come and play live in studio!


    New York City rapper and producer and author of 2011 book Root for the Villain: Rap, Bullshit and a Celebration of Failure

    Max Roach, Drums Unlimited

    I’ve always felt Max Roach was a master of making rhythms melodic. Rhythms (and drums) make up about 70 percent of hip-hop. Every producer should own and study this album. Even MCs’ cadences are all rhythm. On “The Drum Also Waltzes,” there’s a steady pulse with his bass drum and hi-hat foot and all the lyrics are what he does with his hands. That’s almost like when the Southern cats would keep chanting the chorus while the verse was going. “For Big Sid” — that’s one of Max’s instantly identifiable licks. You hear it and know it’s him, like Big L, and Lord Finesse with those compound punch lines. This album has so much in common with hip-hop and Max was one of the older musicians who actually embraced hip-hop in the ’80s. Me being both a drummer and a hip-hop artist, Drums Unlimited is a treasure trove of ideas.

    Gang Starr, Step In The Arena

    My dad was probably in the minority as a parent who was really into hip-hop in the early ’90s. He always said this album reminded him of a great jazz album and I see what he means now. These were the days when albums had no guest appearances and Guru had a tone that came across like he was an elder statesman trying to pass on wisdom. It felt like an intimate conversation with no distractions, and jazz is a conversation. The album was considered jazzy compared to other rap albums of the time due to some of the samples and Guru’s eventual association with jazz, but not in the same way US3 or Jazzmatazz were jazzy. Listening to this was almost like you were in a hole-in-the-wall jazz club deep in the hood and it was a trio—Guru, the beats, and DJ Premier’s cuts.

    Lyrics Born

    Berkeley, California rapper and producer who is one-half of the duo Latyrx with Lateef the Truth Speaker.

    Weldon Irvine, Sinbad

    Most jazz aficionados would not consider this a pure jazz record at all, but for the hip-hop fan, this record is pure nirvana. It’s just jazzy enough, with equal parts funk and soul for the average hip-hop head to grasp, and any person with ears will recognize the A Tribe Called Quest-sampled “Here’s Where I Came In” for their classic “Award Tour.”

    Freestyle Fellowship, Innercity Griots

    It’s the most interesting, non-hokey, and successful fusion of experimental jazz principles, aesthetics, and dynamics, and credible, envelope-pushing hip-hop. It incorporates everything from scatting, recorded improvisation, and live instrumentation (rare for that era).

    Billy Martin

    Percussionist in jazz-funk trio Medeski, Martin & Wood and breakbeat producer under the Illy B alias.

    Ornette Coleman, Virgin Beauty

    If you think about the Prime Time stuff [Coleman’s ’80s group], there’s experimenting with grooves and multiple grooves and things like that, which is kind of obvious. But it’s really more about the interplay in how the harmolodic concept of making music is I think really important for the hip-hop musician. Especially the young ones. Because it will open up their ears. There’s an aspect of rhythm and groove to it, but it’s just so open. It kind of blows the whole thing out of the water in a sense. It’s also good for hip-hoppers to hear what jazz musicians that didn’t stop innovating ever, what they were doing with rhythm. It’s not just Kind of Blue or A Love Supreme.

    Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

    I just focus on the artists that have a really strong style and are innovative in their way. And that’s Wu-Tang Clan. It has a lot to do with individual style, and I think that’s really important. It’s almost in a crisis with upcoming jazz musicians today, young players, that they don’t have a voice. They don’t have a strong individual voice. I think that Wu-Tang nailed it in that way.

    Gregory Porter

    Soulful jazz singer behind the 2013 Blue Note LP Liquid Spirit.

    Eddie Jefferson, Body and Soul

    If you listen to Eddie Jefferson’s phrasing and his voice, he in a way is the original Ol’ Dirty Bastard. There’s a lot of humor in his delivery and the lyrics that he writes, definitely as an individual character he is very much like a hip-hop performer. And his poetry is very strong throughout all of his records, but a good example of it is Body and Soul. The original Ol’ Dirty Bastard. You’ll hear it in his phrasing, and his voice, and his style.

    Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde

    When I heard that record, there were so many references — so many samples on the entire record, but in particular in “Passin’ Me By.” Almost three-quarters of the way through the song, when the rapper starts to do a vocalese, in the style of Eddie Jefferson. I remember a lot of people at the time becoming more interested in jazz and Blue Note Records based on that record. I was trying to emulate the style of Eddie Jefferson at the time, and I remember people being interested in my version of “Moody’s Mood for Love,” because it reminded them of what they’d heard on a Pharcyde record. I love the way that Pharcyde works as an ensemble, very much in the way that a group of master jazz musicians work, each of them expounding on the style and maybe the timing and the phrasing of each other. The first MC laying down a pattern, a style, a rhythm, and the second one following that style but then switching it up a bit. And that’s something— when I hear Miles come after Coltrane, come after Cannonball Adderley, in a way they all follow the lead of the first soloist, but then expound on the concept. Not in a deeper way, but just in a different way. I hear that on the Pharcyde record and in particular on “Passin’ Me By.” The similarities and commonalities that exist in jazz and hip-hop can be seen in the phrasing, the musical charisma of the individual player, and, in hip-hop, just straight-up using jazz to inspire something new.

    Ricky Reed

    Oakland-born, Los Angeles-based producer and member of electronic group Wallpaper.

    Ornette Coleman, The Shape of Jazz to Come

    Could have been just as easily titled The Shape of Revolution to Come. Largely understood as the beginning of free jazz, it feels more like the start of punk to me. Ornette’s technical credentials were widely disputed, but he pushed forward with calculated abandon and made bold, unhinged music which, although it predates the full boiling over of the civil rights movement, was and still is the best soundtrack for change.

    Danny Brown, XXX

    The great instrumentals vary from lush and soulful to dark and glitchy, but they are not what draws the listener in. Danny is an unflinchingly ferocious rapper, but when he strips away the bravado and dives into stories about growing up in Detroit and wrestling with drug addiction, his vulnerability is disarming and intoxicating.

    Karriem Riggins

    Detroit-born jazz drummer as well as producer for the likes of Common, Slum Village, Talib Kweli, the Roots, and Kanye West.

    Miles Davis, Kind of Blue

    I was in sixth grade when I discovered this record in my dad’s records. Listening to this record taught me how to listen. I learned all of the melodies and solos on the record. It helped me understand phrasing. Once I learned the solos it was like seeing a “droste effect” [ed.: In the visual arts, this is a technique where the artist creates a picture within a picture, going on to infinity]. This record is a classic and the drummer Jimmy Cobb was all about simplicity and groove.

    A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders

    This is one of the only hip-hop records that I listen where there isn’t a song skipped. The beats on this record inspired me to push the envelope and to also having an open ear to fusing all types of genres with hip-hop. These brothers changed the sound of hip-hop and are the pioneers that I respect and honor.


    Philadelphia-based hip-hop producer, whose 2006 instrumental “A Beautiful Mine” was immortalized as the theme from "Mad Men."

    Bob James, One

    There is the obvious reason for rap fans — the album contains “Nautilus,” which is a staple of rap records going back 30 years — but when one delves deeper into the record, the subsequent layers are equally amazing. The playing, arrangements, and engineering are almost impossibly tight and concise. The grooves are cavernously deep. But this record can also be a perfect gateway to fusion, which, once acclimated to, can pay huge dividends as a musical interest.

    Organized Konfusion, Stress: The Extinction Agenda

    I see Pharoahe Monch as rap’s logical heir to Thelonious Monk’s crown. Pharoahe’s command of rhythm is unparalleled to my ears in the realm of rap music. His phrasing is so hyper-tuned, advanced, and still full of character; I can’t help but to be reminded of Monk’s same unique and genius sense of rhythm.


    Seattle-based singer, songwriter, and producer and half of R&B/hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction.

    Ella Fitzgerald, Pure Ella

    For the hip hop/rap heads, grab the 1998 Pure Ella compilation. Ella Fitzgerald is one of my favorite vocalists of all time. The way she approached her songs was incredibly fearless and fierce. Very percussive with her articulation and scatting, she is definitely one of the many predecessors to rap and hip-hop.

    Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

    For the jazz lovers, get into Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (also released in '98). Lauryn’s voice is thick, hard and full of life. Deep songs like “Zion” and “I Used to Love Him” will resonate with any Sarah Vaughan or Nancy Wilson fan. The passion encompassed in the performance of each song is genuine and the musicality is spot on.

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    Interview: Bat for Lashes: Wedding for One

    As Bat for Lashes, Natasha Khan has always turned outré ideas into intimacies. In lesser hands, the 36-year-old’s grand and spiritually inclined dream-pop might not fly, but the tenderness of the English artist’s cut-glass vocals, and the way she so fully inhabits every world she creates, pulls you right in with her, clinging onto her sides as she pilots another eagle across the cosmos.

    Her upcoming fourth album, The Bride, is no different. It’s intended as the soundtrack to a feature film that she hopes to make about a woman whose groom dies on his way to their wedding. On the cover, Khan is dressed as a kind of acid spouse, in lurid green eyeshadow and a white dress, and the record comes with a fully-fledged narrative—one version of the album even includes letters written between the bride and groom, a newspaper clipping about his crash, and an air freshener from her car. 

    But for all its conceptual intricacies, The Bride turns out to be Khan’s subtlest, moodiest album to date—dusky torch songs that are heavy with melody. There are no potential pop hits like “Daniel” or “All Your Gold” here. “It felt much more like I had to tell a story,” Khan says over the phone, a couple of days before playing the first weekend of Coachella. “The need to communicate through the art form of a pop song wasn't as strong.”

    The Bride is less a character study than a “classic road trip through the heart,” she explains. “It moves from looking for love outside of yourself—filling a void with external things—to looking inside yourself.” When asked about how the music relates to her own life, she flips the question: “It’s about how many times you want to repeat the same pattern of thinking that, once you find the love of your life, everything is complete? Can you transmute that fairytale beginning and get to a place of truth and reality? That’s the greatest struggle for relationships today. All that excitement has to die down, and the death of romance has to occur so the relationship can move into something that is grounded in seeing a person as they truly are.”

    Marriage is a potent theme for Khan at the moment. After studying film at university and spending more than a decade honing her cinematic sensibility as a performer and musician, she recently made her directorial debut with a nuptials-themed short called I Do, which premiered at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival. “I Do” is also the name of the opening track from The Bride, and Khan says she could sense the smell, color, sound, and atmosphere of the album as she created it: wet pine trees, Wild at Heart desert vibes, The Wizard of Oz, Elvis, the Carpenters, Bambi. “These things come from me being a 12-year-old and absorbing all the films I love, fancying Nicolas Cage, and loving Celtic sea shanties,” she says. “The location where The Bride exists is this place in my heart that I can't escape.” 

    In that sense, the album feels very connected to Khan’s debut, Fur and Gold, which turns 10 this September. She likens the new record to being a full-grown woman driving down the roads of her first album, rather than the “tiny, wide-eyed girl” she hears on the rare occasion that she listens back to it now. Her last couple of records, Two Suns and The Haunted Man were “soundtracks to all these new places I've been and people I met,” she explains, “but The Bride feels like I've revisited who I am again. It sounds like my land, not anyone else's.”

    Khan spent two years writing the album and coming up with visuals in collaboration with photographer/director Neil Krug before heading to a rented house on top of Ohayo Mountain in Woodstock, New York—that’s where she found the giant pine trees, rainy roads, misty mornings, and babbling creeks she had been looking for. Co-producing alongside the Felice Brothers’ Simone Felice, she helmed a six-week recording session there late last year; different friends came in, including singer/songwriter Dawn Landes, onetime Jeff Buckley drummer Matt Johnson, and Lou Rogai of folkies Lewis & Clark, with the whole band often playing in a room together.

    In between takes, they cooked and drank copious amounts of wine and tequila, playing records by James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. Khan describes it as a classically Woodstock vibe, and says she was always conscious that Jimi Hendrix had lived nearby, and that there was a strong chance David Bowie might be up the road in his Catskills summer home. “The air is thick with really beautiful, poetic people's work,” she says. “Driving around made me feel submerged in this very creative place that seeped into my bones and made me feel really different than how I felt anywhere else.”

    Pitchfork: I love that you were in Woodstock and channeling Bowie a month before he died.

    Natasha Khan: Oh my God, yeah. I was thinking about him quite a lot when I was making this album. He was my spiritual guardian angel while I was there. He was someone I really admired because he approaches art in a way that is rare and multidimensional, covering all the bases. And he was a perfectionist. I identify with lots of those feelings.

    Did you listen to Blackstar?

    He just kicked it out of the park: This is my take on death—fucking have it. I came back [to London] and went to Wembley Park and listened to it in my headphones. As soon as I put it on, the sky blackened and the wind picked up and it rained in my face. I felt like he was whipping the wind, this elemental force of nature. It’s good to get a kick up the arse when you listen to music like that, to keep you aiming higher. On the day he died, my mum came over to my house with my brother and sister, and we played Bowie music all night and danced.

    The bride is such an entrenched cultural image, these virginal women in white. But the bride on the cover of the record reminded me of PJ Harvey's “Joan Crawford on acid” phase.

    It's a really fantastic construct to use for a narrative because it has a universal meaning. Within that context you can take it wherever you want. It's nice to personalize the bride and make her a bit more weird and eccentric and rock’n’roll. I've enjoyed getting to know her over the last couple of years. What would she look like? What would she do? She’s longing for that archetypal man-and-wife scenario, this construct that you think would be quite a mainstream desire, but her actual inner self is not mainstream at all. It was a balancing act between those two aspects of being a woman.

    There have always been fictionalized characters in your songs, but never a whole narrative arc. Did it change the things you were able to say?

    It tightened things up for me in a really nice way, and having that boundary concentrated the themes I wanted to talk about. The first half of the album is a tragedy, then you speed up into this adrenaline-fueled realization of loss, then the second half is about the stages of grief and coming back around and finding yourself again. All the fear, the self-loathing, the foggy voids, and devils on your trail: It's a classic blues story and it’s about our expectations of love in this day and age and the disappointments we have when it doesn't turn out to be the fairytale we expected. And that harkens back to my favorite film as a child, The Wizard of Oz. That story will be playing out forever.


    "Everyone I know is getting married and having families, and there is a part of me that really yearns for that—but I don't know if that's part of my sociological conditioning or whether that's something I really want."

    How does the album's story resonate with your life over the last few years?

    It's so revealing to talk about myself in that way—it says everything in the album. It really reminds me of the skeleton woman story in the Women Who Run With the Wolves book, which every couple who's going to get married should read. It’s a beautiful story about a man seeing the ugliest part of this woman and having compassion for that, and managing to love her anyway. I think so many relationships go through all those early stages, like, “I'm going to go fishing and find a juicy fish today.” And as soon as they hook onto something real they're like, “fuck this.” Men and women—I've had so many friends go through that. And I wonder, Where is our depth as human beings?The Bride is about that love story, but also about your own love story, and managing to be all right about that.

    Marriage has rarely appeared in your lyrics before. What significance does it hold for you?

    I'm not really a conventional girl in any way, and maybe that’s what’s dawning on me recently. Everyone I know is getting married and having families, and there is a part of me that really yearns for that—but I don't know if that's part of my sociological conditioning or whether that's something I really want. And if I don't know, I probably shouldn't get married. I'm not against it. Marriage is a beautiful thing. It's an opportunity to really face up to some of the most beautiful and terrifying aspects of companionship. I think it's something I'll do one day with the right person.

    Was there any expectation from your family that you would get married?

    My dad tried to arrange me a marriage when I was 18, but me and mum refused. It happened to my family members and Pakistani cousins, and I remember thinking it was really scary. For me, living in England, that was a very weird thing to consider. So I guess that would've been my one opportunity, and I said no. 

    Did your parents get married that way? 

    No. It was funny that my dad had that in mind for me since he married an English woman that he met and fell in love with. 

    The search for love feels like a very motivating quality of your music—a move towards the transcendence that comes up in this album when you sing about going through to the other side.

    It's a lifelong endeavor—I want to know that by the end of my life, I've learned to love myself and others in a transcendent and spiritual way. I feel that's my reason for being on the planet, to learn that skill. As the albums have gone on, I'm refining and polishing and sculpting away at trying to understand what it is to love unconditionally. And to feel connected, and trusting, and to understand what it is I’m searching for.

    My greatest achievement would to be to find companionship and love and have a family, and be able to do that successfully as well as being an artist; my greatest fear is the art will take over and I won't achieve those things. The people I admire the most are the ones I've met that are incredible artists and also have lovely families, like Beck. In the past it seemed like something I couldn't understand how to do, but you have to learn those things.

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    Yearbook: The Chicago Blues Explosion of 1966

    In the mid-1960s, TV networks were looking to capitalize on the success of the Beatles’ “Ed Sullivan” appearance. Primetime musical variety shows were standard issue, and in 1965, one of them booked Howlin’ Wolf. It was a gift not only for the blues hero, who wasn’t getting much radio play at the time, but also for anybody fortunate enough to be watching ABC’s “Shindig!” that night. On the show, this towering bluesman with a booming, craggy voice belted “How Many More Years” and played the fuck out of his harmonica. He was literally shakin’ all over. Billy Preston played piano; the house band was excellent. Wolf was surrounded by smiling, clapping white teenagers. It’s excellent television. And it almost didn’t happen.

    “Shindig!” creator Jack Good wanted an episode with Wolf and the Rolling Stones, but the network shot it down. An ABC executive once apparently told Good that the show was “too black,” which eventually led the creator to walk away entirely. Thankfully, the Rolling Stones forced the network’s hand—no Wolf, no Stones. Right before Wolf performed, the host interviewed Brian Jones. “We started playing because we wanted to play rhythm and blues,” mumbled the guitarist. “Howlin’ Wolf was one of our greatest idols.” An impish grin on his face, the Stones guitarist told the host, “Now it’s about time you shut up and we had Howlin’ Wolf on stage!”

    The entire British Invasion was built on the backs of kids who somehow managed to snag copies of records released by the Chicago-based blues label Chess, study them like sacred texts, and play their own versions to massive commercial and critical success. So Wolf’s appearance on “Shindig!” was a full-circle moment: Chicago blues icon influences skinny white British rockers, and then the young guys ensure their hero’s moment in the spotlight. That dynamic was cemented further in 1971, when Wolf recorded an album in London with Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and the Stones’ rhythm section.

    Watch the latest episode of's "Yearbook" series, which chronicles important years in Chicago music history.

    Wolf, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker records didn’t just make an impact in the UK—kids living in America were trying out their own versions of the Chicago blues, too. One group of those kids called themselves the Shadows of Knight. (Originally, they were just the Shadows, but after they realized that name was taken, they added “of Knight” to capitalize on the British Invasion’s success.) Really, that’s full circle—the Rolling Stones worship the Chicago blues, make hits by covering blues songs, and inspire a Chicago-area band to make suburban Chicago versions of British Invasion blues records.

    The Shadows started when they were all high schoolers—teenagers playing parties and teen clubs. Eventually, they became the house band at an Arlington Heights hot spot called the Cellar—a club that couldn’t seem to hold onto one address. It was started by Paul Sampson, a guy who worked at the post office and ran a local record store. Realizing that teen clubs were good business in the 60s, he rented the VFW hall to host Saturday night shows. When the VFW kicked them out, the Cellar popped up at country clubs, former grocery stores, and finally, the basement of a shuttered school. Cellar shows sold out frequently, and kids from Chicago and surrounding suburbs would travel there to see nationally touring acts.

    Soon, the Shadows of Knight were overshadowing their out-of-town counterparts. “The Cellar got so popular that we had to have two shows a night,” Shadows frontman Jimy Sohns once said. “That was the screaming era, where the kids would charge the stage, and we got to be big enough to where it would disrupt the headliner coming on after us.”

    Shadows of Knight. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

    At some point, the Shadows of Knight literally billed themselves as “Chicago’s Rolling Stones.” The branding, while opportunistic, made sense. One of their 1966 albums is called Back Door Men. They recorded Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Workin’,” John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” and Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful.” Not only that, but they reveled in the stereotypical rock’n’roll lifestyle. Frontman Jimy Sohns was working up a “hide your daughters” wildman mythology for himself, earning citations for indecent public exposure at live shows. (In the mid-’60s, this just meant that he took off his shirt during a performance.) In several interviews over the years, Sohns has bragged about how many groupies he came to know. The band’s manager Bill Traut described their intrinsically wild tendencies at the time: “They always tore places up.” Years later, Sohns would do jail time on cocaine charges and boast about beating up Sid Vicious in the late 1970s.

    The turning point in the Shadows of Knight’s career came when Traut got word that “Gloria” by Van Morrison’s band Them had been banned from the airwaves. (Apparently, “She comes into my room/ Yeah, and she makes me feel all right” was considered too risqué for mid-’60s radio.) The Shadows of Knight changed the line slightly, and more importantly, they made sure to hit the song’s iconic chorus even harder—compared to Them’s version, even more voices were belting the word “Gloria.” It became a huge hit for the band, and it led to them traveling the world, opening for the biggest acts imaginable, and for a time, living the rock’n’roll dream. There’s a 1966 live Shadows of Knight album that was recorded at the Cellar, which is a perfect document of how powerful they were at the time: You can hear girls screaming while Sohns is power growling and Joe Kelley is ripping through an ace guitar solo. The live version of “Gloria” is three times as long as the single. It’s a document of a band that, however briefly, found widespread success. Throughout that live record, you can totally understand why.

    Several other bands who held court in suburban basements made a national impact at the time. The Buckinghams got a soft rock #1 hit with “Kind of a Drag.” The New Colony Six also capitalized on the British Invasion by adopting a uniform of long red coats and white pants—their output in ‘66 included pleasant-if-vanilla ballads like “I Confess.” The Ides of March from the western suburb Berwyn would have a hit with “Vehicle” in 1970, but made their first impression in ‘66 with some puppy love and teen heartbreak singles. The Cryan’ Shames’ point-perfect harmonies got their cover of the Searchers’ “Sugar and Spice” on the charts.

    Other bands flew under the radar with quietly great singles. The Huns were typical of the scene at the time—they were sophomores at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights. They made the teen club and basement show rounds, won battle of the bands competitions, played the Cellar regularly, and landed gigs opening for the Cryan’ Shames. They released exactly one single: the 1966 ripper “Destination Lonely.” Meanwhile, the Royal Flairs were imports from Omaha. They figured if they ever wanted to “get anywhere” with their music, they needed to settle down in a bigger market. They moved to Chicago, became the house band at a few clubs, and recorded a series of singles in 1966. “Suicide” is the best among them—a garage rock song with harmonicas and surf vibes. The suburban basement rock bubble would inevitably burst in short order, but for a short while, business was undeniable.

    Of all the bands in that scene, the Shadows of Knight were easily the most blues-oriented of the bunch. But while their albums featured a handful of blues covers, they weren’t nearly as dedicated to the form as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Butterfield, who grew up in the Hyde Park neighborhood, wasn’t just hearing the Chicago blues via British rock bands—he was learning first-hand, visiting blues clubs in the late 1950s. In the ’60s, he was a University of Chicago student who dropped out to spend more time perfecting his harmonica solos in bars. Butterfield, Elvin Bishop, and Mike Bloomfield were literally learning from legends like Muddy Waters (who, unaccustomed to seeing white guys in that particular club, thought his visitors were from the IRS) and Howlin’ Wolf (whose rhythm section became members of Butterfield’s band). They were already a local attraction, and then in 1965, they caught their break, releasing their first album on Elektra Records, and Bloomfield got picked up to join Bob Dylan’s band. He played on Highway 61 Revisited as well as Dylan's infamous electric set at Newport.

    The Paul Butterfield Blues Band Photo by David Gahr/Getty Images

    The Paul Butterfield Blues Band weren’t exactly chart darlings, but by 1966, they’d grown to be much more than a typical bar band. “[Bloomfield] had been given something that was represented as ‘Leary acid,’ and he took it and spent the entire evening listening to Indian music,” once said the band’s keyboardist Mark Naftalin. Then, the next day, the song “East-West” started to take shape. The longform jam was massively influential—a recording where the blues intersected with Indian raga and jazz. Live, they’d sometimes play it for a half hour. The recording goes for 13 minutes on the band’s excellent 1966 album East-West. It’s considered a landmark moment, especially in jam band culture.

    East-West was a record by guys who had mastered the craft at the feet of their idols and then subverted the genre into something completely different. But keep in mind: Chess Records was still going during Bloomfield’s acid-headed blues voyages and while the Shadows of Knight were sweating it out to Muddy Waters songs in suburban basements. The label would get sold in 1969, but in ‘66, both Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf made solid showings with “Ooh Baby” and “My Mind Is Rambling,” respectively. That year, they also released one of their best-ever recordings by an artist who could arguably howl better than Wolf.

    Koko Taylor. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

    Like so many of her peers, Koko Taylor came up to Chicago from the South. Born and raised in Tennessee, she grew up singing gospel and Memphis Minnie songs. By the time she and her soon-to-be-husband Robert “Pops” Taylor got to Chicago in 1953, she was well-acquainted with the blues. She worked as a housecleaner throughout the week, and when the weekend came, the two of them would go to small blues bars. Frequently, artists would invite her on stage to sing something, which is how she was discovered by Willie Dixon. The songwriter was working as Chess’ A&R man at the time, and upon hearing her giant voice, he approached her. “My god, I never heard a woman sing the blues like you sing the blues,” he said. “That’s what the world needs today—a woman like you to sing the blues.”

    Dixon got Taylor signed to Chess and had her record “Wang Dang Doodle” for the label’s Checker imprint. (Howlin’ Wolf previously recorded the song but, apparently, hated it.) The song was based on a lesbian party song called “Bull Dagger’s Ball,” and in Dixon’s version, “Fast Fuckin’ Fannie” became “Fast Talkin’ Fannie.” It’s a song where a bunch of people get invited to a fish fry to drink, party, fight, and break windows. “There’ll be snuff juice everywhere,” Taylor sings at one point, which is awesomely gross—people are going to party so hard in a room that reeks of fish that there’s going to be broken glass and brown tobacco saliva all over the place. The Chicago blues had found its way into music by white teenagers and twenty-somethings across the city, but no man—not even the great Howlin’ Wolf—could pull off bacchanalian revelry quite like Koko. It was Chess’ last hit record and became Taylor’s signature song. It cemented her position as Queen of the Chicago Blues.

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