Check out the slick new WESU T-shirt graphic! This can be yours for a $35 donation!! Click here to donate!
Check out the slick new WESU T-shirt graphic! This can be yours for a $35 donation!! Click here to donate!
That’s right!! Donate online to WESU’s Annual Pledge drive by midnight Monday 12/2 and automatically get entered to win a ticket to see MGMT live at The Oakdale in Wallingford, CT Friday 12/6/13. 4 Lucky winners will be randomly selected from all online donors Tuesday, 12/3. We will also give away one more pair of tickets on Homegrown with Rob DeRosa this Thursday, 12/05 between 5:05 and 6pm!!
Don’t miss this opportunity to win a ticket to see everyone’s favorite Wesleyan band gone wild, MGMT, and support the first radio station to EVER to spin their tunes and support their music. Click the donate now button to get started!
Come out this Saturday, November 16th at 10PM for a FREE concert hosted by WESU featuring HARD NIPS, A Deer A Horse, and Novelty Daughter at Eclectic (located at 200 High Street on the Wesleyan Campus in Middletown, CT). This will certainly be a night you won’t want to miss!
I caught one of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan’s CMJ sets this week at Fontana’s on Wednesday. I then sat down with the group’s two leaders Ruby Kato Attwood and Alaska B at Enid’s in Greenpoint on Thursday. I won’t spend too much time on an introduction since they have plenty to say in their interview, but they are definitely one of the most unique musical acts around and if you ever have a chance, you should see their live show (see the photos for visual evidence!).
Alaska: I would say a lot of things in the band, including on the first album, were inspired by Journey to the West.
I recently saw the musical that was based on that.
Alaska: Oh, the Monkey with Damon Albarn.
Yeah. Did you see it?
Alaska: I’ve seen clips of it.
Ruby: Yeah, I’ve seen clips and stills.
It was pretty cool. Really cool acrobatics.
One of the other things I read was that you were particularly inspired by the two characters of the Monk and the Monkey. So one of you is the Monk and the other is the Monkey?
Ruby: Yes. Alaska is the Monkey. She always wears the Monkey makeup.
Alaska: It’s a stylized version of it.
Ruby: And then I’m always the Monk with the robes.
Alaska: It reflects the character where the Monkey is always action. And I’m playing the drums. And the Monk is always more about speech…
Ruby: And reflection and contemplation and non-action. They’re related to the sun and the moon in the same way. The sun’s this life-giving, chaotic, plasma fireball and the moon is its reflective light. But they are part of the same thing.
I was actually recently at a ceremony where my friend’s father became a monk. It was really interesting.
Alaska: What school?
Alaska: Was it Theravada or Mahayana?
I actually don’t know that.
Alaska: Were they ringing bells or were they hitting gongs? That’s one way to tell the difference.
I don’t actually remember either of those things. It was a very simple ceremony.
Ruby: He just accepted the precepts?
Yeah. There was a lot of bowing.
Ruby: Yeah. He had to promise stuff. [Laughter]
So what about the monk lifestyle…
Ruby: I guess we approach those two characters from the position of storytelling. So rather than reflecting necessarily or not necessarily aspects of our true personality, we’re interested in presenting the two opposites and how they’re related through the characters on the stage. There’s aspects of these two opposites of action and reflection or acts of rationality and acts of impulsivity in everybody’s lives. And those poles contain existence. So we’re trying to express those in a more poetic way than something clinical or didactic.
Alaska: And I wouldn’t say that’s the entire basis…
Ruby: No because there are other characters. It’s like a mode.
Alaska: It was kind of a statement about being in America too. So in Journey to the West… I’ve actually been to the Grey Goose pagoda where the story starts, which was a pretty interesting experience for me years ago when I went to China. The characters go to India. And on the Silk Road they run into all the demons and so on because so many people would starve to death, get killed by avalanche, winds, you know, etc. that there’s the concept of there being so many demons. And they learn to get along to go to a strange place to bring back something that brings peace to where they come from. In the same concept, where we’re starting from in North America, it’s in a way going back there to get further here. It’s like going back home even though this is our home here, which is kind of the tongue-in-cheek irony of it all. It was also a statement about– I’m from Alberta. It’s a little bit like–I hate when people say this– it’s kind of like Texas in Canada. And I really hate that because I’ve been to Texas and it’s not really true. But it’s kind of true enough. So for people to foist these stereotypes that they have of people from Asia upon me, being from the most redneck place in Canada, it’s ridiculous because obviously I identify more with the prairies than I do with big, sculpted mountains.
Ruby: And then, as far as it being a starting point, there are all these myths that we came to from that story or in relation to that story also. Different myths about religious figures, leaders, people who go on voyages, expeditions, and just monkeys themselves. There are so many stories about monkeys because they are this animal that’s also sort of human. There are lots of different myths from all over the world about these animal-in-human characters.
Alaska: Yeah. We’ve had a total of three native members so far. Two of the members of our band– one is Iroquois. Our former second drummer– we used to have two drummers in the band, and he was Iroquois as well. And we’ve had Jonas, he’s a guest singer on “One.” He’s also Iroquois. And also our guitarist John is also part indigenous from the Southwest from the border with Mexico.
Ruby: Also Spanish. He has a very long, interesting, convoluted family tree. We’re really interested in personal experiences with culture and self-definition.
Alaska: But also, for us… I’m half Chinese, but I’m also part Mormon. I’m part Swedish, part Irish. I’ve got a very complex background that I also draw on for inspiration. We made a statement about being racialized because all of our influences are Chinese and Japanese and all our other influences are denied. I’ve been to Ireland. I have family from the Southwest in potato country. They still live on farms. And if I were to say that I have all this Irish nationalist influence– Celtic music is a big thing I grew up with– people would be like, “Well, you’re not Irish.” And I would be like, “Yeah, but how many Irish-Americans even listen to Celtic music or know a word of Gaelic.” And I grew up with Gaelic around me. So it’s like, “Fine. You want to paint me with a broad brush. I’ll paint myself with a broad brush.” It’s like, “Give me that brush.” So I think other artists, in particular white American artists can draw influence from anything. They can be like, “Oh. I watched a documentary on National Geographic about Africa and now I’m going to play Afrobeat because I saw a documentary.” And then for us, things that are actually deeply personal– we get told, “Oh, that’s not yours.” So there’s a different imbalance about how people can access different cultures.
Ruby: And in terms of cultural influences, I would say that we’re really influenced by certain art sub-cultures I would say almost even moreso than these ethnic references that we make. Punk music. Performance art. Experimental film. Animation. And drawing, painting. Those kinds of things that are cultural, but not necessarily bound by national identity. And that’s how we work as a multi-media collective, and that’s a huge part of our work as well.
Alaska: My dad was actually a progressive rock musician in the 70s, so that’s where a lot of the progressive rock influence comes from. But that’s something that people wouldn’t necessarily see as being part of my personal influence. People hear it in our music for sure, but you wouldn’t understand that that, for me, is a personal thing. I grew up with the prog records in the house.
Ruby: It’s a bit of a joke.
Alaska: It’s a bit of a tongue-in-cheek thing. I think somebody said once that our entry point is confusion. And I think that’s probably the smartest thing that anybody’s ever said because people want to box things up and instead we made the box really big and then we labeled it with a simple small label that doesn’t describe the box. So, once again, the entry point is confusion.
One sunny Tuesday afternoon I sat down with the illustrious Daniel Pope (of The Turpentines fame) to talk about all of the public affairs programming that WESU Middletown has to offer. Daniel Pope is this year’s Public Affairs Director and has a lot to say about the shows that he oversees.
WESU: How are you today Daniel?
DP: I am wonderful. I just ate a giant cookie.
WESU: Sounds delicious. I wish I were eating one right now. So tell me, what’s your favorite public affairs show on WESU?
DP: Well, as far as the nationally syndicated public affairs shows go, I’m a big fan of Alternative Radio and Democracy Now. Alternative Radio allows you to get perspectives you don’t get from most of the media. Democracy Now gives solid news. I know it sounds boring, but it’s true! They are a very clear, good source of information. As far as local programming goes, I enjoy Middletown Youth Radio Project (MYRP).
WESU: I heard you listening to that the other day. It’s so funny!
DP: I think it’s great that we’re getting local kids involved in radio and it’s especially good in that we foster connections between Wesleyan University and the Middletown community. I also love listening to kids. They say the darndest things!
WESU: Why do you think public affairs programming is important?
DP: It is a good source of information for what’s going on in the world and your community. WESU especially is a good source for public affairs broadcasting because they have local, national, and international public affairs information. Listening to public affairs programming can connect you to your community and can tell you something about where you fit in the world.
WESU: Sounds groovy. I know I will be tuning in.
We’re now a couple weeks into our new Fall program season at WESU! While many of our mainstay programs remain where they’ve been in our schedule, we have added a whole bunch of new shows for you to check out.
Print program guides will be hitting the streets very soon!
On August 25, Count Bass D released the tenth-anniversary deluxe edition of his little known, but nevertheless classic album Dwight Spitz. The album is available streaming and for download on his Bandcamp. Count Bass D first showed up on my radar when I heard his guest verse on MF DOOM‘s “Potholderz” (which the Count also produced) off 2004 record Mm..Food? The collaboration between the two idiosyncratic hip-hop artists dates back to Dwight Spitz, on which DOOM appears on the tracks “Quite Buttery” and “Make a Buck.”
Music writer Dart Adams introduces the deluxe edition by writing, “I’m just glad we have cats like Count Bass D in this current time to help us in the constant war between real music & bu11$#!+.” That isn’t self-censorship, but rather a reference to Bass D’s song “Real Music vs. BULL$#!+.” The sequel to that track is one of six new songs included on the deluxe edition. The original track samples someone declaring, “Real music’s gonna last. All that other bullshit is here today and gone tomorrow.” Dwight Spitz is a testament to that statement.
Though he had previously recorded hip-hop with live instrumentation, Count lost his major label deal with Sony long before 2002 and, as he put it, “I didn’t have the money to record traditional instruments correctly.” Instead, he used the AKAI S-3000 and MPC-2000 to create an entirely sample-based sound that is as engrossing and smoothly connected as other well loved sample-based records like Endtroducing….., Since I Left You and Donuts.
The following is an interview I conducted with Count Bass D over the telephone:
WESU: So, are you in Tennessee right now?
Count Bass D: No. Actually, I’ve lived in Atlanta, Georgia since the end of 2009.
W: Oh, OK. Because on Wikipedia it still says Tennessee. But that’s often pretty inaccurate.
C: Exactly. I didn’t do many interviews for a long time, so my Wikipedia page didn’t have information updated. That’s a reason why I started doing more interviews lately. There’s a lot of inaccurate information that I hear sometimes. So, I’d like to clear the air, and it’s a good idea to do interviews again.
W: I watched the documentary about you last night. One of the things I learned from that was that you were born August 25, 1973, around the time that hip-hop was invented by DJ Kool Herc. I actually got to see him perform recently. There was a concert in Central Park for the 40th anniversary of hip-hop. He was there. Rakim, Big Daddy Kane were also there, and a bunch of other people. It was really cool. So I was wondering, when did you first realize that connection?
C: Honestly, I started to realize it every day as I grew up. I just turned 40 a couple weeks ago. Every day of my life I would see more and more things that were centered around hip-hop. It became my race, more than just my culture. Hip-hop was everything to me. My favorite art was graffiti art. My favorite dancing was break dancing. Any time I saw anything on television or any magazine or anything that had to do with it, automatically, I was drawn to it. It’s always been that way, even up to now. I gravitate to and am automatically drawn toward things that have a heavy concentration of the culture and the art form of hip-hop.
W: Another thing you were talking about was this preacher stage persona that you have– that you based on ministers that you saw when you were growing up. Do you see a parallel between gospel and hip-hop?
C: I guess in some ways. Preachers speak what they’re saying and rappers speak what they’re saying. And a lot of times you have a microphone and an audience in front of you, and it’s your job to speak the words. And there’s music. As far as accompanying, preachers will have an organ behind them, you know, a drummer– a certain type of backing band behind them. And we have DJs behind us. It’s the same sort of dynamic so far as bringing motion out of people, and making them feel things, a call-and-response. Preachers will say, “Turn to your neighbor and do this.” And you might say, “Say ho, and throw your hands in the air.” A lot of soul musicians and black performers borrow from preachers that we saw growing up because that was a concert that we saw every week. A lot of people who don’t go to church now still have a foundation of that from when they were younger– from when they were in grade school up until junior high, and then at that point maybe they stopped going. But most people that are my age have some semblance of going to a traditional church, and by that I mean a real church, not a mega-church– the ones with the big productions and the slick pastors that we see today. People were more sincere about the religious aspect. Now, the religion has gotten a little away from the spirituality. So there are a lot of parallels that I see, at least for myself.
W: You say that you are making music for yourself. And one of the funnier parts of the documentary, I thought, was when you were saying that you have the snobbiest, most bourgeois taste of anyone out there (laughter). When you’re making music, do you have something in mind that you’re aiming for, or are you just creating, and as you go along you say, “Yeah, I like that”?
C: It’s all about feeling and personal opinion. You know, when people go shopping, they say, “I like this shirt. I don’t like that shirt.” For me, musically, it’s the same way. It’s just a feeling that I’m looking for that the music gives me. That’s what I mean by snobby taste. If I can tell that it’s been put together just for the sole purpose of selling a lot or if it’s just for the sole purpose of sounding good in a strip club, a lot of the time that music doesn’t do much for me. Sometimes it does, though. It depends. It’s just a feeling. I’m looking for a loop that goes back to that essence of original hip-hop music. With my music, it’s really just a personal preference. That’s why I’m surprised when people tell me how much they like my music because I’m not making it with other people in mind. When you make yourself a mixtape and you say, “I’m gonna put these songs on here to go on the road. Because I’ve got a long trip, I’m gonna make myself a cool playlist to put into my iPod,” right? That’s your personal preference, you know. So now imagine if someone got a hold of that personal playlist, and a whole bunch of people were like, “Yeah, yeah. I want that mix. I want that mix. I want that mix.” You’d be pretty shocked, too because you just put down some songs that would entertain you. It’s your personal preference on your trip, you know. And so that’s kind of how I make the music. It’s something that would entertain me, that I really would like to hear. And I guess because I’ve listened to so much music, and have critiqued music for so long, there’s a common bond with other listeners out there. The music translates. So that’s the good part. I tell you, doing this interview is a great thing for me because one of my best friends just got in contact with me again last week from high school. He went to Wesleyan. And my spiritual adviser from when I was in Nashville, Reverend Edwin C. Sanders— he went to Wesleyan. And I remember when I was in high school, probably in 1990, I visited the college. I went there for a weekend, and, I’m telling you, it was the best weekend. I’ve been on tour, I’ve been all over the place, I’ve been everywhere, but still, that weekend was one of the greatest weekends of my entire life. Any time that school comes up in conversation, I tell people that’s one of my favorite colleges. That’s my dream college to go to if I could have, but, you know, when I was in high school, even though I was going to a great high school, my mind was elsewhere– really just on music and the background I had just come from. I didn’t really understand what it took to get into a university, and I didn’t have the discipline. I wouldn’t have lasted anyway. But I think it’s a great institution, and so when I was asked, “Would you do the interview?” I heard it was Wesleyan, no question about it. That’s why I did it.
Read rest of the interview after the jump
We had mixed feelings about Day 1 of Afropunk. Day 2 on the other hand was one of the most musically and politically stimulating days that I have been fortunate enough to experience.
The day started off with The Coup‘s leader Boots Riley announcing to the audience, “We came to funk you hard. That’s easy to do. Sometimes we funk you softly… The sweet angel of revolution whispering in your ear. What does that sound like? I don’t know. I don’t believe in angels. But if I did, it would probably sound like this…” Their set did not disappoint. One highlight was the song “5 Million Ways To Kill A C.E.O.” off 2001’s Party Music. Boots introduced the song as a cover of a traditional song he once heard Paul Robeson perform.
The band ended their set with an “oldie but a goodie,” “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish” from their second album, 1994’s Genocide & Juice. The song, an outstanding example of hip-hop storytelling, follows a small time hustler, who learns that the real hustlers are corporate executives. Boots stepped back to allow the band’s guitar player B’nai Rebelfront unleash a filthy solo, followed by bassist J.J. Jungle doing some literal acrobatics during his own solo.
The next performance we took in was from Death, a group from Detroit, who like fellow hometown hero Rodriguez was unfairly lost to obscurity before recent documentaries (A Band Called Death and Searching for Sugar Man respectively) brought the artists renewed interest and recognition.
Death’s unique style of protopunk was just as powerful now as it must have been in the band’s brief original career from 1971-1976. They dedicated one of their songs to David Hackney (who died of lung cancer in 2000), brother to bassist Bobby and drummer Dannis, and the group’s original guitar player.
Danny Brown was one of Afropunk’s biggest crowd-pleasers. He played some (presumably) new material from his upcoming Old album. He also returned to 2011’s critcally-acclaimed XXX, performing “Monopoly” and “Blunt After Blunt,” and leading the crowd in the unabashed ode to cunnilingus, “I Will.”
Closing out the day for us was Chuck D, who wore a KRS-One t-shirt and performed with what he called Elements of Public Enemy or Too Much Posse. Like The Coup and Death, Chuck D demonstrated an incredible amount of energy for a veteran performer. He tossed and swung the mic, throwing it up in the air and catching it like he a quarterback passing to a wide receiver.
The musicians backing him up were no slouches either. He introduced drummer T-Bone Motta by asking, “Can the drummer get wicked?” That he did. Also on stage was a member of Public Enemy‘s legendary production crew, The Bomb Squad, Hank Shocklee (Chuck called him “King” Shocklee). Davy DMX, who worked as writer, producer, and DJ for early hip-hop acts Kurtis Blow, Lovebug Starski and Run-D.M.C., played bass. Guitarist Khari Wynn laid down a solo Jimi Hendrix-style by using his teeth.
This set was about more than just the music. Chuck D soon got into the politics that Public Enemy is known for, saying that there are “more check to check, ain’t making a check black people than ever… I ain’t talking for long, but every word I say is gonna be a motherfucker.” The group played “Black Steel In The First World” off 1988’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Chuck D then said, “J. Edgar Hoover set out to destroy us as a people.” He called out radio stations Hot 97 and Power 105 for playing “hate music,” or, as he put it, “Hoover music.”
Next, he addressed a subject that has been on my mind quite a bit lately. In my interview with Thoth & Lila’Angelique, we talked about how people are turning into cyborgs, constantly immersing themselves in technology, rather than connecting with other human beings. And in the recently released film, The World’s End, a group of reunited high school friends battle robots in a commentary on the insidious place of technology in our society. Chuck D said that there are going to have to be “medical services for people who keep their heads at a 45 degree angle… Be smarter than your phone. Don’t be a dumb motherfucker with a smart phone. Forget about Big Brother out to get you, people are signing up to help Big Brother.” Then he turned to the corporate suits that control the hip-hop industry, asking, “Who said it was the home of hip hop [a reference to Hot 97’s motto “Where Hip-Hop Lives”]? A bunch of motherfuckers in offices, who said they could take this shit from you. The air is the last battleground. They’ve been hating on the originators of this beautiful art form… Reclaim your air. Every city in this country needs to play local artists. Man up, local artists. We are rebellious with our homage to the people and black music, which unites people all over the world.”
Chuck D began the most dramatic section of his performance by asking, “What did James Brown say? “Papa’s got a brand new bag.” I ain’t James Brown, but I salute him every day, cuz I’m black and I’m proud.” He then took out a bag full of magazines and newspapers, along with a barbecue lighter. First up was Rolling Stone, which he called out for not writing about real musicians. “Fuck Rolling Stone. Don’t talk about real music.” Next up was the New York Post. When it comes to hip-hop and black people, “bad news is the only news.” They got burned, along with some other publications that Chuck D considered bad for the people.
That wasn’t the end, though. Chuck went on to say, “I don’t like the way we’ve allowed radio stations to talk bad about our mothers, our daughters, our sisters. They’ve disrespected the classic artists: DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaata, Grandmaster Flash…” Then came one of Public Enemy’s best and most well known songs, “Fight The Power,” which he introduced by saying, “We went right to a Klan rally in ’97 and played this song…” Next, he paid tribute to his DJ, DJ Lord, asking, “Before there was an MC, who’d we pay attention to? The DJ. DJs were gods.” DJ Lord then displayed some virtuosic skills on the turntables. Concluding the show, Chuck D said, “You hold this microphone like an instrument. You don’t give a microphone to a motherfucker who can’t, like Rakim says, move the crowd… I don’t smoke shit. I don’t drink. But I smoke the fucking stage.” Few in the audience could have disagreed with that statement.
-Jesse Brent and Adam Wechsler