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Culture 2021 CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC 2021

Islands in the Stream: Music Streaming Services and the Race to the Top

Islands in the Stream: While the world continues to open up in pretty much every other way, it’s fair to assume that streaming and downloading will be the standard means of listening to recorded music for the foreseeable future. This was true long before the pandemic hit, and it will remain true afterwards.

But where to go for our music? The days of one or two choices are long gone; nowadays, the competition is fierce. Each service offers something a little different, be it simple familiarity, better sound quality, ease of use, or compatibility with our existing devices. 

The main players in the game right now are arguably SpotifyApple MusicAmazon MusicYouTube Music, and TIDAL. Others, such as SoundCloudPandora and IHeart Radio, are still around and working to keep up.

Neal Gorevic, global head of consumer marketing at Spotify, says that his company is the world’s most popular audio streaming subscription service, armed with 70 million tracks and 2.6 million podcast titles. He’s keen to point out that, as well as a vast array of subscriptions to choose from, the free Spotify service ain’t to be sneezed at.

“No matter if you’re a Premium subscriber or a Spotify Free user, we exist to introduce you to audio we know you’ll love through best-in-class personalization,” Gorevic says. “Our signature combination of human curation and algorithmic insight helps us build a personalized music experience that’s unique to you. Plus, Spotify is available on more than 2,000 different devices. From home and car speakers to gaming consoles, Spotify offers countless convenient ways to listen and discover no matter what you’re looking for or where you are.”

Amazon Music, a relative new kid on the block, says that they aim to expand premium music streaming to new customers with innovative products, like voice features with Alexa, high-quality sound with Amazon Music HD, Twitch live streams and artist merchandise in-app, and podcasts.

“We’re always working to introduce innovative new features that create a richer, more immersive experience that connects our customers with the artists and creators they love,” says an Amazon spokesperson. “We wanted music fans to be able to hear music the way artists recorded it, that’s why back in September 2019 we were the first major streaming service to introduce a high-quality streaming tier with Amazon Music HD. And in May of this year, we announced that going forward, our high-quality streaming tier, Amazon Music HD, is available to all Amazon Music Unlimited customers at no extra cost, unlocking access to the highest-quality streaming audio for even more music fans.”

Amazon purchased Twitch in 2014, and in September 2020 they partnered to add Twitch’s live streaming functionality into the Amazon Music app. That, in combination with their new DJ mode, proves that Amazon are serious players in this game. Meanwhile, YouTube has long been a valuable resource for listening to beloved songs and discovering new artists. The dedicated YouTube Music makes the whole process a little more convenient.

“YouTube Music is the only music streaming service with official singles, albums, playlists, remixes, music videos, live performances, covers, and hard-to-find music you can’t get anywhere else,” said a YouTube spokesperson. “With YouTube Music, you can listen to the latest hits, find songs that you love, stay connected to the music world, and discover tons of new music to enjoy on your devices. YouTube Music Premium ($9.99/month) allows fans to listen ad-free, in the background and on-the-go with downloads.”

Apple Music and TIDAL are also considered big guns in the streaming game, though recent years have been tougher on Soundcloud. Many have moved on, but there’s a determination at SoundCloud and they shouldn’t be counted out quite yet.

“What differentiates SoundCloud amongst other music streaming services is that music streaming represents only one part of our business,” says a SoundCloud spokesperson. “Only SoundCloud runs two businesses, a music streaming service with one of the world’s largest and most diverse catalogues and an artist services business, empowering artists to build and grow their careers by providing them with the most progressive tools and services like monetization, distribution and marketing.”

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Naturally, the various employees at the various streaming services are keen to point out the positive traits that they have to offer. And it’s difficult to say that one is “better” than another because it’s all very subjective depending on what the listener wants out of a service, what device they listen on, etc. Apple devices, for example, are now very much geared towards Apple Music which integrates iTunes with the streaming and downloading app. The recent COVID lockdown essentially forced all of the companies to consider what users might want and need.

“We know over the past year both creators and our users have been looking for new ways to feel connected, and we’ve seen audio bring people together like never before,” says Gorevic of Spotify. That company launched a COVID relief fund to aid members of the music community, as well as virtual concert listings, and more.

L: Spotify’s Neal Gorevic / R: Tidal’s Lior Tibon

“Amid the coronavirus pandemic, we saw artists turn to live streaming as their preeminent outlet to connect with fans while they were unable to tour,” says an Amazon spokesperson. “Twitch has long been at the forefront of connecting creators and fans through live streaming experiences, and Amazon Music recognized prior to the pandemic that this technology represented a new frontier for artists looking to combine live with on-demand streaming experiences. Our relationship with Twitch made us uniquely able to go even further, and make their live streaming capabilities available to even more fans by adding the feature to our mobile app.”

YouTube hosted virtual shows and launched a new activity bar feature. Pandora, too, hosted shows, playlists and personal stories. Pandora was also the first to have integrations with leading smart home products from Apple’s HomePod to Amazon’s Echo devices. In addition, Pandora was recently purchased by SiriusXM, allowing for cross-platform features. SoundCloud livestreamed through its own channel on Twitch, and introduced a direct support feature and a $10 million artist accelerator fund.

Meanwhile, Norwegian subscription-based streaming service TIDAL was purchased by Square and founder Jack Dorsey.

“The acquisition by Square only strengthened TIDAL’s commitment to supporting artists and strengthening the artist to fan connection,” says COO Lior Tibon.

Some users might feel frustrated when Spotify adds songs to a user-selected playlist, but Gorevic says that they are committed to helping users discover new music.

“There isn’t just one Spotify experience, but rather 356 million+ different Spotify experiences unique to each user,” he says. “Our algorithmic recommendations are personalized to each listener’s unique taste, taking into account a variety of factors: what you’re listening to and when, which songs you’re adding to your playlists, and the listening habits of people who have similar tastes.”

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So nobody is resting on their laurels – not the industry leaders and certainly not those currently playing catch-up. One area being explored as a potential means of getting ahead is sound quality, with Apple Music now offering Dolby Atmos and hi-def as a free upgrade.

“Spatial Audio with support for Dolby Atmos gives artists the opportunity to create immersive audio experiences for their fans with true multidimensional sound and clarity that comes from all around and from above the listener,” reads an Apple statement. “Beginning today, subscribers can enjoy thousands of songs in Spatial Audio from some of the world’s biggest artists and music across all genres. Albums that are available in Spatial Audio will have a badge on the detail page to make them easily discernible and Apple Music is also offering a special set of editorially curated Spatial Audio playlists to help listeners find the music they love and enable further discovery.”

“Earlier this year at Spotify’s Stream On virtual event, we announced our plans to unveil Spotify HiFi, our new high-quality music experience,” adds Gorevic. “High-quality music streaming is consistently one the most requested new features by our users and at Spotify, we will continue to go all-in on the limitless power of audio and provide the best audio experience for our users.”

Amazon says that they’re pushing the evolution of the industry, “by offering our customers the ability to hear 3D Audio, which includes both Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 RA formats. Available to Amazon Music HD customers with an Echo Studio, 3D Audio allows artists and creators to deliver immersive listening experiences by placing music objects – such as vocals and instrumentals – in a three-dimensional space, creating a listening experience unlike any other.”

TIDAL’s Lior Tibon says that his company is focused on the experience of music.

“Since 2016 TIDAL has been nurturing and building a community of audiophiles, and more importantly, has prioritized the mission to bring the most advanced and quality experience to listeners through both high-fidelity and immersive audio,” he says. “As a pioneer in audio technology and experiences, TIDAL offers the largest variety of audio formats – including MQA, as well as Dolby Atmos and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio.”

••

Things are starting to open up, and it’s probable that there won’t be such a great focus on virtual events moving forward.

“[Spotify is] excited to get back to live events as parts of the world begin to open up,” says Gorevic. “Our Spotify for Artists app provides valuable data to help creators understand listening habits, see where they’ve built their fanbase, and plan tours based on the momentum and excitement that’s been building up around their music over the past year.”

“It’s still day one for us at Amazon Music, and we’re very excited about the future,” adds an Amazon spokesperson. “It’s the most exciting time there has ever been in the music industry and we will continue to innovate, creating new features and content that will help music fans and artists connect in ways we only dreamed about a few years ago.”

YouTube says that they’re going to continue meeting listeners where they are:

“We aim to provide fans with the most seamless, all-in-one music experience and YouTube Premium provides just that – a seamless, ad-free experience that lets you effortlessly move between YouTube and YouTube Music to explore the world’s largest catalog of songs, music videos, live shows, culture, and everything behind the beats.”

Similarly, SoundCloud says that they’re looking forward to getting back out and communicating directly with their community.

“We launched the SoundCloud Forum a few years ago, which is an experiential platform that brings everything you love about SoundCloud directly to the core communities pushing music culture forward. This past year we took the forum online, though the year prior we held events in Toronto, Miami, Atlanta and Amsterdam.”

“We believe the future is hybrid and connecting audiences digitally and IRL will be the future of how entertainment helps to bring communities together who share the same love of music around the world,” adds TIDAL’s Tibon. “We’re looking forward to TIDAL driving how our members experience concerts and festivals through on-site experience and virtually.”

••

So what does the future hold? Who will retain a place at the top table and who will fall away? Will any of the current strugglers force a glorious comeback? It remains to be seen.

“This is an interesting point in time when music services are evolving to become more than just a music store,” says the Amazon spokesperson. “You can see this in the moves Amazon Music made over the last year; adding live streaming brings a new dimension to a music service, as does adding podcasts and in-app merch. Amazon Music is enriching the user experience, and adding a new listening experience to one customers already enjoy.”

“We‘ve always been focused on connecting creators and fans – it’s rooted in our mission as a company,” adds Spotify’s Gorevic. “Whether we’re providing fans with exclusive content from their favorite artist or incorporating features that allow fans to directly support podcasters’ careers, we’ll continue creating new ways to deepen that creator and fan relationship through our platform. This is a major space to watch in the coming years.”

TIDAL’s Tibon says that there has been a seismic shift in the last few years in how music is consumed and valued.

“Technology advancements have allowed fans to have the highest music quality in their pockets,” he says. “We’re hoping to see continued advancements for the listening experience, and more importantly we hope to see artists properly compensated for their art across the board. Both of these elements are incredibly important to TIDAL’s mission and we’ll continue to push this forward across the industry.”

The competition will be fascinating.    ❖

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC 2021

Joker’s Hand Duo Are No Idiots

Kevin Kawano: One of my favorite albums of all time also happens to be the first CD I bought as a kid: Green Day’s American Idiot. I grew up listening to the music my parents listened to, so most of the songs I knew were from before the 90s. I remember popping that CD into my boombox and being blown away by the title track. The guitars and drums immediately sparked something in me that made me want to pursue music. Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocal delivery and lyrics catapulted my mind into another realm where all I could think of was hearing more. I also remember my mother’s reaction to hearing me play my new CD. Her ears immediately perked up at the lyric, “The subliminal mind-fuck America.”

However, as I continued listening to the CD, she would occasionally pop into my room and say something along the lines of, “that’s actually pretty good.” The second track on American Idiot, “Jesus of Suburbia,” is one of the most fascinating pieces of rock music ever written with its seemingly never-ending musical twists and turns. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” pulled at my heartstrings in a way that nothing else had before. And when I watched the band perform American Idiot in their 2005 live album Bullet In A Bible one year later, I suddenly knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: I wanted to perform. American Idiot is one of those rare albums where every song holds my interest from beginning to end. It had the fuck you attitude we needed in a post 9/11 world, an iconic sound that to me defines rock and roll in the 2000’s and is probably the reason I am a musician.    ❖

Joker’s Hand Duo are No Idiots:  The “War Profiteer” single and video is out now.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC 2021 MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Record Store Day Highlights Include Gun Club and Rolling Stones

The global pandemic might be showing signs of winding down, normality is almost in view, but this year’s Record Store Day — June 12 — still takes on extra significance. If independent retail shopping was suffering before 2020 thanks to Amazon, etc, things only got rougher in lockdown. So while a virtual RSD would still appear to be the smart approach, these beloved stores need our support. Find the full list at recordstoreday.com. Meanwhile, here are some of the RSD-exclusive releases that tickled our fancy (again, more can be found at the website).

In Los Angeles, Minky Records have done the legacy of late L.A. punk legend Jeffrey Lee Pierce proud with two spectacular vinyl releases. The first is a “vault discovery,” a lost solo recording called Soulsuckers on Parade which Minky has put out on beautiful green vinyl (we can’t hide our affection for colored vinyl). Recorded in 1984 at L.A.’s Control Center, Pierce’s band included Dave Alvin (X, the Blasters, the Flesh Eaters), Bill Bateman (Cramps, the Blasters, the Flesh Eaters, and Kid Congo, among others. The album offers a wonderful opportunity to revisit the wild, unhinged, cowpunk glory of the Gun Club founder. Surrounded by friends and home comforts, Pierce riffs and even jams like a punk Doors.

The second Minky release is a 45 called Ruby Sessions by Pierce’s band the Gun Club, featuring two previously unreleased tracks from their debut album — “Fire of Love” and “Bad Indian.” Much like the solo album, the release offers further insight into Pierce’s wild mind. Newcomers should go on and check out more Gun Club. Long-time fans get to enjoy new versions of old faves.

Hard rockers Triumph have been named the Candian ambassadors for Record Store Day, and they’ve treated us to a deluxe 40th anniversary boxed set of their 1981 album Allied Forces via Round Hill RecordsThe set includes the album on vinyl, a live record and a 7” single, plus various books posters, and goodies. The album has dated well — big anthems and bigger riffs. “We’re extremely proud of Allied Forces,” bassist Mike Levine said via a press release. “It was the record that started the global rocket ride for us and we’re also excited to share with our fans some really great moments from our archives with this boxset.”

L–R: Evanescence; The Cutthroat Brothers; Punk the Capital

God bless the Rolling Stones, who are releasing a concert film of their 2006 free show at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro on July 9. For Record Store Day, they have a gorgeous 10” single on clear vinyl, featuring a song from that gig and another from Salt Lake City. “It was amazing,” recalls Mick Jagger of Rio. “It was a really good audience. They know how to enjoy themselves on those occasions.” The Rio song is “Rain Fall Down,” an enthusiastic blues-rock number from 2005’s A Bigger Bang, which sees the band and crowd carrying each other. Side B is “Rough Justice” from the same album, recorded in Salt Lake City. Of the two, this is the better song — a heavier, livelier rocker. But still both sound great and the packaging is awesome (the lips logo on the front is painted in the Brazillian flag).

Craft Recordings have a sweet selection ready to drop for RSD, including titles by John Martyn, Celia Cruz and Willie Colón, Jonathan Richman, O.A.R., Kenny Dorham, Lamb of God, and the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Highlights include the 15th anniversary rerelease of Evanescence’s The Open Door. The album was a Billboard number one hit back in 2006, and now it’s been given the heavy vinyl treatment. Gray marbled vinyl, no less. Their chunky riffs already sound a tad dated, and the songs aren’t as remembered as those on the debut, but still there’s plenty to enjoy here. Songs like “Call Me When You’re Sober” see Amy Lee getting super-personal.

1960’s rockers the Zombies might be best known for the “Time of the Season” single, but the likes of Tom Petty, Paul Weller, and the Bangles were influenced by the Brit psychedelic band. The Oddities and Extras record was previously only available as part of the Complete Studio Recordings 5 LP set, but Craft has put it out for RSD. Ambitious early tunes like “She’s Coming Home” and chart botherers like “I Want You Back Again” make for a fascinating listen.

Dedicated to You: Lowrider Love is a compilation of songs from between 1956 and 1972, mostly from the ‘60s, that highlight the heartfelt croon tunes of the Chicano lowrider scene which developed in L.A. The Sheppards, Ralfi Pagan, the Harvey Averne Dozen and Gene Chandler might not be household names, but that’s all the more reason to dip in and explore a criminally underappreciated side of Los Angeles’ musical history. More, the automobile artwork is super-cool, as is the smokey clear-and-black vinyl (we don’t know if it’s supposed to look like exhaust fumes, but it kinda does).

A fascinating collaboration sees punk barbers the Cutthroat Brothers join forces with Minutemen/Stooges man Mike Watt for an album called The King is Dead which gets a special RSD vinyl release. It’s swampy yet catchy and groovy and fuck, recalling the likes of the Cramps, the Gun Clun and yes, the Stooges.

Death Row Records is putting out a very pretty rerelease of the soundtrack to the basketball movie Above the Rim on yellow and orange vinyl (plus a nostalgia-inducing cassette tape). Suge Knight was the executive producer on the soundtrack back in ‘94, with Dre acting as supervising producer. The result is a bright, chill and occasionally bouncing album. If you haven’t seen the film, starring, among others, 2Pac, Bernie Mac, and Marlon Wayans, it’s well worth a look. The soundtrack suits it perfectly, and this new package is awesome.

Passion River will release the DVD and Blu-ray editions of the excellent documentary Punk the Capital for Record Store Day. Tracing the roots of punk rock in Washington D.C. and its evolution into hardcore, the movie covers an exciting seven-year period between 1976 and ’83. The big names are all included — Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Henry Rollins specifically. But the real joy of the film is the equal billing it gives to the many other bands of the time and their cultural impact. Even if you’re not from D.C., this is a thrilling account of an important musical movement, and how it took off in the nation’s capital surrounded by government.    ❖

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MUSIC 2021

Infected Mushroom are the Antidote to a Rough Year

Israeli DJ and production duo Infected Mushroom got started as a project around 1996, but individually Amit “Duvdev” Duvdevani and Erez Eisen began their electronic education years before that.

“Erez has been DJing since he was in the womb haha… just kidding,” they say. “We were both young. Erez was around 14 years old when a German DJ named Jörg kidnapped him and brought him to Europe. I (Duvdev) was about 15 years old when I started DJing punk and rock music. A mutual friend introduced us and we made a few songs under the name Duvdev and Shidapu.”

The men say that the Infected Mushroom sound is uniquely theirs.

“From our pure early psychedelic days, to now a unique style of electronic rock, we have always managed to pioneer our sound incorporating influences from metal, breaks, bass music, trance, and downtempo,” they say. “We don’t like to be tied to one style — experimentation and innovation keeps us moving in sonically interesting directions.”

The two men find themselves working all over the place, but they still have friends and family in Israel so they make time for annual shows and parties.

“We have always been proud of the electronic music scene in Israel,” they say. “It has given rise to some of the greatest trance, deep house and techno artists. Also, the clubs and festivals are second to none. It’s a hectic place, so people there like to let loose. The perfect recipe for great parties.”

The new EP (and NFT) drop is Shroomeez, a body of work with the craziest of themes.

“When we were presented with the art for this EP, it reflected a hybrid of humans and mushrooms,” they say. “So we imagined a society of creatures that evolved from mushrooms, and the music is what we envisioned these Shroomeez listen to — hard Psy-Trance.”

Looking ahead, the pair have plenty planned for 2021.

“We are thankful to have started touring again, with our first live band set since the start of the pandemic, which was performed last week in Moscow,” they say. “Our tour schedule is starting to fill back up, so we are looking forward to getting back on the road. Also, we made quite a bit of new music during the break, so we will have a stream of releases to finish off the year. Excited to see you on a dance floor soon.”    ❖

The Shroomeez EP is out now.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC 2021

Rise Up, Rise Above, Rise Against

You can always count on Chicago Political punks Rise Against to offer timely commentary. Their last album, 2017’s Wolves, came out six months into Trump’s term, with songs such as “House on Fire” and “Mourning in Amerika” gifting us some much-needed perspective. What the band has always done, from their 2001 debut The Unravelling, is spell out the problems we face and then give hope. That’s what they’ve done yet again with the new album Nowhere Generation.

“I think of Rise Against as a thing that will take you to a dark place, ask you to join us in this dark place, but we’re never gonna leave you there,” says frontman Tim McIlrath. “We won’t abandon you in the dark place. We’re gonna leave some breadcrumbs for you to get out. We’ll come back into the sunshine, and that’s when we’ll start talking and thinking about how we change things so we don’t end up living in that dark place.”

“Darkness exists, and that despair will exist on a Rise Against record, but I feel like our songs should be like the arc of any good story,” he continues. “It should lead you to a place with a silver lining, lead you to a place where it’s not completely void of all hope. That’s part of the responsibility I feel as a songwriter but also how I feel as a person.”

McIlrath describes himself as an optimist, something which might surprise those familiar with his lyrics that deal with dystopian futures, and wretched political situations. Even the title of the new album appears nihilistic. There’s more to it than that.

Nowhere Generation is speaking to a generation of people who feel a little bit invisible, and lost in the years of society,” McIlrath says. “People who feel like they’re running a race but the finish line just keeps moving on them. It’s giving an ear to those voices, and trying to listen instead of dismissing the complaints of people who are trying to get ahead and swim upstream the whole time. I feel like this is a lot of what our fans were communicating to me, and not just here in America but all over the world. I realized that we have been living in a very tumultuous political climate for the last four years.”

For an American political punk band like Rise Against, the last four years have offered plenty of lyrical inspiration, low-hanging fruit, and easy targets. But McIlrath wanted to tackle the disease, rather than the symptoms. The bulk of the work for the new album was done in 2019 and it was intended for a pre-election release. The pandemic knocked those plans to the ground.

“It led to me way overthinking everything,” the frontman says. “I think I had a picture in my head of what this record would be, and when it would come out. When I realized it wasn’t coming out before the election, it was going to be a post-election record, I thought ‘wait, is that going to be a bad idea? Should we get this thing out?’ When that came and went, I realized that ‘no, we’re singing about things that are a little more timeless than just an election, a president or an administration. This record still very much makes sense.’

“But then I went through the same thing with the pandemic and the lockdown, the rebirth of the Black Lives Matter movement and the riots around the world. I thought the same thing: so much has changed in the world, is this record even still relevant to what’s happening? Again, overthinking got the better of me because the more I listened to the songs, I was like, we were talking about issues that were bubbling just beneath the surface anyway.”

The latest single, and the opening track on the album, is “The Numbers.” The song works as a reminder that people are a vehicle for change. Power comes from below.

“People really decide what happens,” he says. “Our leaders can be compelled to make changes if enough of us demand those changes. You certainly don’t need a Rise Against song to tell you that. We have a rich history of social movements that all started with one person or a group of people raising their hand saying, ‘I’m sick of this and want it to change.’ 100 years ago, women didn’t have the right to vote in this country. That was something that people fought for. So ‘The Numbers’ is just a reminder of that.”

It’s a truth that McIlrath takes seriously, amplified by the fact that he’s the father of two teenage girls. As he’s forced to think hard about the day that they leave home, he also wonders what sort of world he’s sending them out into.

“It’s a lot more of a real thing now that my kids are a little older,” he says. “I want them to have the experiences that I had if they were good experiences. I want them to avoid bad experiences. The world seems a little bit like uncharted territory and so all those things were weighing on me when I was writing songs like ‘Nowhere Generation’ and an awful lot of the stuff that pops up on this record.”

But still, McIlrath is feeling hopeful. The band just announced a tour that starts at the end of July and, while he’s yet to figure out what those shows will look like, he’s happy that there is a light at the end of this damn tunnel.

“The world looked totally different just six weeks ago,” he says. “It could look totally different two months from now when we finally get on the road. But I’m feeling pretty good about it. It seems like things are trending in the right direction. Most people are taking the virus seriously, and people don’t want to go back into lockdown whether for health reasons or economic reasons. In our world we’re vaccinated against everything from tuberculosis to polio, and this is something else that we’ve figured out how to combat. All we need to do is figure out how to make sure everybody is on board. Then we can look at brighter future.”

Amen.   ❖

Rise Up, Rise Above, RISE AGAINST: The Nowhere Generation album is available from June 4. 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC 2021

UK Influencer CC Clarke is a Musician Too

Essex girl CC Clarke says that music has always been in her blood. Nowadays, she might balance music and her “other” career as a beauty influencer, but she started out in musical theater. At college, she was writing her own lyrics and ad-libbing during productions, and that’s when she realized that she was born to play herself.

“I started songwriting from quite young,” she told us during a Zoom interview. “Poetry from the age of ten and then it soon turned into songs by the age of 13 or 14. By the age of 17, I had my first manager and was in the studio, had a taste for that. It’s never stopped since. I’m in my late 20’s now, and it’s something that I’ll never stop pursuing. I’m so grateful, the different, unexpected twists along the way. I was a very deep child, writing about all of the problems in the world. Why was there suffering and injustice? My mum was like, ‘where on earth does she get this from?’ She definitely didn’t expect me to be writing about all of that, that’s for sure.”

Clarke describes her sound as soul-pop — heady blend of the artists she grew up listening to such as Gwen Stefani, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Jorja Smith, and Rihanna. Born and raised in Essex, she now lives in Hertfordshire outside of London, and she loves having the UK stamp on her music.

“For me, that’s really important because for so many years there were a lot of artists in the UK trying to be American,” she says. “It didn’t make sense to me, and I always wondered why we put on American voices. I have so much respect for anyone that really puts their stamp on their UK project as someone from the UK.”

Clarke’s latest single is “Boys Do Cry,” which she says addresses the stigma associated with mental health, especially in men.

“The more that you talk about your feelings, the more open you can be and the more that they thrive,” she says. “When you stop communicating, that’s when they break down. Seeing that firsthand really inspired me to write this song and to get this message out there. I didn’t know quite how many people it would touch. It’s not just about boys, it’s about anyone not being ashamed to cry. Cry, dance to it, feel happy, but also feel reassured that you’re not alone.”

The artist has a direct line to her own audience thanks to her work as a beauty influencer. That whole thing started when she was touring with bands, and people would ask about her makeup. Rather than repeat herself constantly, she began filming online tutorials.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing to be honest,” she says. “I started doing Instagram and documenting what I was wearing, in terms of my fashion and makeup for shows. I was always the girl in the band that was doing everyone else’s makeup, or the cast’s makeup at the theater. It was something that I loved. Beauty ran in the family — my mom was a makeup artist so I took on a lot of her creativity. I do feel like being an artist in the music industry is about embodying everything to do with art from fashion to stage set and presence and makeup.”

Fast-forward to now and she has 2 million followers on Instagram, plus 583K on TikTok and more elsewhere. He certainly has influence, although she prefers to refer to herself as a “digital creator.”

“An influencer in my eyes is someone who has a large following, because they’ve either attained followers from a TV reality show or from being a makeup artist or anything,” she says. “But I prefer to refer to myself as a digital creator because I create for my audience and I’m obviously an artist. For me, that is more of a craft. If you’ve got a large audience these days, you’re influencing your audience one way or another. But whether you’re specifically creating anything to teach them is another thing. I’m creating specifically for my followers and what they want to see.”

Keeping on top of it all is a job in and of itself, especially when considering that Clarke has a six-month-old baby to take care of too. It’s not easy, but she loves a challenge.

“It’s not even just one platform anymore,” she says. “It’s finding your niche on each platform as well. You have to evolve with it. I was always looking ahead of the trends. I want to make it relevant, keep things moving and make sure that people are enjoying the content, along with being true to myself and not losing the message that I want to continue to put across to my audience. Which is really encouraging them by means of makeup, music or fashion, to embrace themselves. Inspiring other people to have the confidence to do something that they’ve always wanted to do.”

With a child comes the opportunity to “mommy blog,” though that sadly brings trolls with it. Mom shaming, she says, is very real. Still, she’s doing things on her own terms and coming out on top.

“In my mind, the dream is if I can continue to meld these worlds together because they’re both my passion,” she says. “I’m never going to be performing without a full face of makeup on. Trying to be glam. I think there’s a way that I can make that dream reality. On Instagram, I have separate posts as well. Getting the balance is tricky because all the music I’m doing, I can’t put out on social media, I have to wait until the singles are released. But it’s definitely something I see as going hand in hand.”

Looking ahead, Clarke can’t wait to tour as soon as it’s allowed, and there might be an EP next year. Until then, she’ll keep working on singles, and her beauty videos. It’s what she does.    ❖

UK influencer CC Clarke is a musician too: Find her on Instagram,  TikTok, or at ccclarke.com. The “Boys Do Cry” single is out now.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC 2021

Soldiers Of Destruction March for Motörhead

Mörat, frontman with punk band Soldiers of Destruction and erstwhile scribe, told us about his love for Motörhead’s final album and his friendship with Lemmy.

Mörat: It’s pretty much impossible to pick a favourite album by any one band, but I’m gonna have to go with Bad Magic by Motörhead. I’m not even sure that this is my favourite album of theirs, but it’s just such a brilliant swansong.

It was kind of hard to listen to, at first, especially “Till The End,” because Lemmy knew he was dying when they recorded it, but it should be heard for what it is, a celebration of a life lived entirely without compromise or remorse.

I was lucky enough to call him a dear friend for many years and I miss him dreadfully, but what a way to go! All guns blazing! Our new album has a song called “Kilmister” in his honour and I can only hope to do him justice.   ❖

Soldiers of Destruction March for Motörhead: The Cause and Effect album is out May 1 via American’t Records. 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC 2021

New Doc Looks at the Birth of D.C. Hardcore In the Late ’70s

Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement, explores the birth of punk rock in Washington D.C. between 1976 and 1983. Created by James June Schneider (co-director, editor), Paul Bishow (co-director), and Sam Lavine (associate producer, co-editor), the documentary’s been making the rounds of the festival circuit.

The DVD and Blu-ray of the film, which features Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Void, Rites of Spring, and more, plus interviews from Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, H.R., Jello Biafra, Joe Keithley, and many others, will be available for Record Store Day in June.

“We were touring the film like a band would until the pandemic hit,” said Schneider in a statement. “Now as things open back up, we’re glad to kick off the theatrical release for a variety of reasons. Some of the cinemas where Punk the Capital will be showing, I screened my films back in 1997 when filmmaker Martha Colburn and I hit the road together. I’ve been thinking about them as we piece this together. Before we release the film on DVD/Blu-ray we wanted to undertake a big push with a theatrical release, part virtual, part in person, that I hope will do its part in getting some of these struggling indie cinemas some much-needed support. And we also are looking forward to sharing the film in these times since it’s an optimistic film essentially about building something new and constructive despite the odds.”    ❖

 Details at punkthecapital.info.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC 2021 MUSIC ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Andy Shernoff Gets The Dictators Back Together

There’s some poetry in the fact that the Dictators formed around 1973, the same year that Hilly Kristal opened CBGB. Max’s Kansas City, meanwhile, was still a year away from losing the Warhol crowd. See, every yin needs a yang. In retrospect, it’s difficult to imagine a world populated by David Byrne and Patti Smith and Joey Ramone and Deborah Harry and Tom Verlaine and Jayne County (etc, etc) would also include former wrestler “Handsome Dick” Manitoba. And yet that gloriously storied New York (proto) punk scene was anything but homogenized.

It helps that the Dictators were a tremendous band. They released three great albums in the ‘70s, plus another two over the years until now. PLUS another one with the core lineup recording as Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom. But the key ingredient, the one consistent, has been the songwriting of Andy Shernoff.

Reunions are a part of rock & roll’s tapestry. If the Doors, Queen, the New York Dolls, Thin Lizzy, the Dead Boys, and more have proven anything, it’s that not even death can stop a band from getting back together when they want to. In the case of the Dictators, it’s a little more complicated than that. Classic-era drummers Stu Boy King and Ritchie Teeter are sadly no longer with us, but everybody else is.

When Shernoff plus guitarists Ross “the Boss” Friedman and Scott Kempner decided to reform the band a year ago, it was off the back of some wranglings with Manitoba. So they simply didn’t include him.

“We want to make music and we need a healthy, creative environment,” Shernoff says. “You inject Manitoba into that, and it changes the dynamics in a very, very bad way. We just couldn’t do it. Plus, he did some legal things that were beyond the pale. So we just couldn’t deal with him.”

Fair enough. Shernoff provided most of the lead vocals on the classic debut album Go Girl Crazy! anyway. More tragic is the fact that Kempner can no longer be involved.

“Scott was diagnosed last year with early-stage dementia,” says Shernoff. “He’s not been able to partake in as much as we’d hoped. We have what we think is a replacement. With Scott, his father had the same disease. He’s ok, he’s well taken care of and he’s reasonably happy. He gets confused about things, as you’d expect, but he can’t be in the band. It’s a damn shame. It’s ironic, because I wouldn’t have done it without Scott’s enthusiasm. It really eats me up.”

Kempner will be there in spirit, but his position will be filled by an as yet unnamed rhythm guitarist. Meanwhile, the drum stool will be occupied by Blue Öyster Cult founding member Albert Bouchard, continuing a perhaps unlikely long-term relationship between the two bands (the Dictators’ debut album was produced by Sandy Pearlman and Murray Krugman, best known for their work with BOC).

If it all sounds messy, Shernoff is very calm in conversion. This is the way it is, the way the chips have fallen, and these are the best people for the job.

“To be honest, it’s the last thing I ever thought I’d be doing,” he says. “I thought I was way beyond the Dictators, and I was having a pretty happy life. I evolved with a lot of musical projects. But some Dictators business came up, and it brought me, Scott, and Ross together. This went on for a few months. Me, Scott, and Ross were in constant contact. Once that business was settled, Ross goes ‘Hey, let’s play together again.’”

That was the end of 2019. By January 2020 plans were well and truly afoot, but then the pandemic hit. Shernoff says that he’s glad he had new Dictators business to keep him busy and sane over the past year and a half. The first two songs that this lineup of the band has released have been extremely positive signs. “God Damn New York” and “Let’s Get the Band Back Together” are in many ways classic Dictators — cynical, hilarious lyrics, punk ‘tude but lashing of glitter stomp.

“We just wanted to start recording songs to get stuff out, to let people know we exist as a band,” Shernoff says. “Where we’re gonna go with the new guy, if he’s the new guy, we’ll see. It’s exciting. Things just clicked right away. Everybody is in a good place in their lives. Me and Ross, and Scott also, and Albert — we love making music. Albert had his gold records. Ross and I have been in a dozen bands each. We do it because every day you make music is a good day. That’s just the way we live our lives.”

It’s a sound way to live. And God knows, after the year we’ve just had, some gloriously catchy, fun and gonzo punk & roll is just what the doctor ordered.

“The goal was always to maintain the Dictators’ aggressive sound, sarcastic lyrics, not too serious, put a smile on your face,” Shernoff says. “When the song ends, when you leave a Dictators concert, you’ve got a smile on your face. That’s kinda been the MO.”

Pretty much. Friedman can be pretty vocal with some seriously right-wing opinions and theories online (this writer has had some minor run-ins), but a conversation with Shernoff convinced him to curb the trolling.

“Me and Ross sat down, maybe at that very first meeting,” he says. “I said, ‘Ross, people when they listen to the Dictators, they want to have a good time. We give out good vibes. We’re not trying to alienate people. Maybe just not troll people, or bring it up in social media. It really goes against what the band is.’ He agreed, totally. As far as I know, he’s kept to his word. I’ll tell you something else about Ross. I’ve known the guy for 50 years, and he’s never been a political person until the last four years. I think he likes pissing people off a bit. He wants to maintain that hard rock, manly metal thing.”

Looking ahead, Shernoff doesn’t expect to be able to bring this new Dictators lineup to stages until 2022, so more recorded music is where the focus lies.

“First we want to solidify the new guy,” he says. “Then we want to get a song out in July, and around that time we want to go back in the studio to do a little more recording — two more songs. We have a song we want to put out for the holidays — November or December. A song about Festivus. Then we’ll keep on finishing songs. Put another one out in February, March. By then, I think we’ll have a better picture of when and where we can play. We’ll see.”    ❖

Andy Shernoff gets the Dictators Back Together: The singles “Let’s get the Band Back Together” and “God Damn New York” are out now.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC 2021

Jahmed is Draped in Armani with New EP

Jahmed is Draped in Armani: There was no way that west coast rapper Jahmed was going to let a global pandemic slow down his career when it was just getting started. The artist was just preparing to release his THEBOOFMOBILE EP when the world screeched to a halt, and so he had to do everything the hard way. A debut drop with no touring – the ability to take his brand new music to the masses was snatched away. But the internet has made the world a small place, and he’s thriving anyway. Now, he’s just released the Armani album – his second lockdown project.

THEBOOFMOBILE came out this time last year, in the earlier stages, so we were limited on that rollout,” Jahmed says by phone. “Same with this one. I think it’s a beauty because it takes a lot of guts to do stuff like this. I’m very new into being in the business, the industry. For me to be limited and still making somewhat of an impact is a blessing because when the time is right, when we’re not locked down and limited, I think I’m gonna go crazy when I drop a project and I can really have a full rollout and a press run with it. All of this only tells me what I can do when I’m not limited.”

He’s right. He’s currently like a coiled spring, doing everything he can while options are restricted and ready to go crazy when conditions allow. He’s been preparing for this his whole life.

“Probably the age of 14 around 2010, is when I first started, when I first made my first record,” he says. “It didn’t really get serious until I got into high school. Everybody was figuring out what they were going to do, college-wise. I tried to lean toward the college route but it didn’t make sense. Rap was a tool for me to express myself, because I was going through a lot at the time. It just made sense for me to really take it seriously then, around 2014.”

Back then, he was learning from west coast icons such as Ice Cube/NWA, DJ Quik, and Suga Free. Like the latter, Jahmed is from Pomona, though he has divided his time between Southern California and Texas for family reasons. That geographical split, he says, has helped shape his personality and musical style.

“During high school, at Christmas and winter breaks, I would go out to Texas because my grandmother on my father’s side, they all lived there,” he says. “Both of my grandmothers are southern. So the south has always been in my blood. When I was able, I’d go back and forth to Texas and eventually after I graduated high school, I moved to Texas to see what Texas was talking about.”

“It’s one of the greatest moves I ever did because growing up in California, you’re used to certain things, seeing certain things,” he continues. “The lingo. Then you have this second chance to experience a whole other side of the world. You start getting into the southern lingo, the music, and it was one of the best things I ever did. I was able to match those two worlds together and come up with records like ‘Roadblock’ where it’s a southern bassline but then California sounds, swag and attitudes.”

Nowadays, he describes his sound as energetic, a means to express himself.

“Really just being aggressive with certain records,” he says. “It’s just out there. I guess you never know what you’re going to get when you listen to Jah. I’m not trying to box myself in, but it’s very open.”

While his love for Texas is understandable, Jahmed is keen to stress the virtues of the current SoCal hip-hop scene. This region will, he says, always provide due to its ingrained authenticity.

“It’s aggressive, it’s up front with you, and a lot of times we need that in music,” he says. “We have a lot of different types of approaches from different sides. But Southern California is always gonna be there because it’s just real. We’re tough out here, and we’re tough critics. We’re so selective of who to put on a pedestal because you’ve got to be authentic. You’ve got to be about what you’re talking about, what you’re rapping about. We don’t just accept anything.”

Armani is the new EP, and it displays all of that authenticity and aggression. Jahmed is naturally delighted with the way it turned out. 

“I think it was the perfect outcome,” he says. “Making a body of work, I had expectations and of course I exceeded those. Just on the music side, the sonics, the maturity that I’ve obtained while making this project. I’m definitely pleased with the outcome. I couldn’t be happier.”

Lyrically, the artist has tried to keep things as literal as possible. There’s little in the way of metaphor here, as he explores life as he knows it.

“I try to spoon feed the lyrics, and at the same time balance it with saying clever things,” he says. “I think lyrically, it’s a perfect balance. There’s enough for the hip-hop heads, in records like ‘Makaveli,’ and ‘Dirty, Ho.’ It’s a perfect balance when seeing it from afar.”

The evolution from THEBOOFMOBILE is, he says, stark. His writing is more mature, even after only a year. That debut EP saw the rapper having fun and finding himself.

“It’s the same thing with Armani as well, but you can hear a lot of maturity,” he says. “You can hear that I went through something, and putting that vulnerability frontline. What I have to share and my experience of living. Being a young black man in America, I just think those few topics I name right there, it’s a huge progression. It takes a lot for an artist to put himself in front of these songs and giving it to the thousands of people who listen to you. You’re giving your life to these people.”

Looking ahead, Jahmed has some livestreams in the world for 2021, and he hasn’t stopped recording. 

“Two days after the project, I went right back into the studio so I think there will be more music coming,” he says. “More records. I’m trying to get one more project out before the end of the year. I’m trying to go crazy with it. It just don’t stop. It’s still going to be coming.”

Jahmed is Draped in Armani: The Armani EP is out now.