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Groundislava

Groundislava is the mellow member of the WeDidIt crew, a collective of LA-based DJs whose M.O. involves flipping regional bass thuds into bouncy club bangers that deftly (and often, just barely) sidestep the traps of festival mosh pit glut. No, give this guy some room to work. He’ll sneak footwork under the melodrama of Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake” or add sprawling, ambient synths to Nicki’s “Super Bass.” Breakdown Groundislava to its meaning (Ground Is Lava) and you’ll find his style; a slow burn of grooves (acid house! techno! resculpted pop!) that quietly bubble up into thumping, dance-floor bangers.

Thu., May 30, 11:45 p.m., 2013

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Live: Boiler Room NYC with Flying Lotus, Just Blaze, Questlove, Flatbush Zombies

Better Than: Watching the Internet.

Boilerroom.tv has become a sort of voyeuristic dream party for DJ nerds over the last year or so. Proudly self-branded as “the world’s leading underground music show,” the website is sponsored by a handful of lifestyle-branded music partnerships – Red Bull Music Academy, Red Stripe Make Sessions, Warehouse Project – and solicits dance-friendly labels and musicians to curate very intimate, invite-only parties with often mind-blowing lineups. The shows are streamed live and at times, result in an Internet party where DJs and partygoers inside the venue and those at home chat via Twitter and forums as the sets play out. Last night, we were a part of the lucky group that made it inside Boiler Room’s NYC stop, where Flying Lotus, Questlove, Just Blaze, and Flatbush Zombies (among others) played at a tiny warehouse venue tucked under the WIlliamsburg bridge. And while we were in the thick of it, chances are you would have seen more if you were watching at home.

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That is, the room was set up so that the DJs played to a wall of cameras with their back to the crowd in the room. (For video streaming purposes.) It was fine, though, and we watched Questlove’s signature Afro pick bob back and forth over a sea of heads as he set the tone; that tonight was about hip-hop. Understated and funky, the Roots drummer paid homage to J Dilla with Robert Glasper’s unreleased “Dillalude #2,”a downtempo jazzy tribute that unfolds into a ghostly echoing throwback to Common’s Dilla-produced hit “The Light.” Just Blaze went a different route, managing to play a hearty portion of his own rap bangers in his squeezed 30-minute set. Joe Budden’s “Pump It Up,” Cam’ron’s “Oh Boy,” and Beanie / Freeway’s “Roc the Mic” made appearances alongside songs that would have made his newer, younger, Fool’s Gold following dance audiences break out their neon with their jerseys. (RL Grime & Salva’s remix of “Mercy” and Flosstradamus’ remix of Major Lazer’s “Original Don” included here.)

Watching Just Blaze’s transition into the current, youth-driven trends of dance-by-way-of-rap was an interesting contrast to the actually-young rappers on the night’s agenda. Joey Bada$$, a 17 year-old from Brooklyn whose recently released 1999 mixtape sounds more like 1996 live, was best when channeling the clever,
no-fuss rap flows of his proclaimed idols, Biggie and Tupac rather than the on-trend riotous hollering of his Pro Era collective. (Bonus points for the beef-starting “Survival Tactics” zing: “Tell the Based God/ Don’t quit his day job.”) And while the Underacheivers might have been the most highly anticipated live act (they’re the newest signees to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label), Flatbush Zombies won the rap-posse award of the night. They broke into a fight with a bystander within the
first verse of their first song. (Quickly breaking out of it by shouting “Peace! Peace!” and then acting like nothing ever happened.)


As expected, Flying Lotus was the true highlight of the night. By the time he took over the turntables, the room was filled with smoke puffed out by those filled with enough whiskey from the open-bar to embrace the warehouse lifestyle. Perched by that bar was Oliver Sim of the xx, who charmingly smiled and dodged off the girls who whispered at him about their fandom. “It’s my day off,” was a common response to picture requests. At the front of the room, Thundercat and Flying Lotus traded off gorgeously choreographing all of the night’s different factions into something that made sense, mixing psychadelic-swirls of synths (of what sounded like a warbled Who guitar riff to a friend standing nearby) with the shrill hi-hats of trap and knocking bass. What had started as a room of people watching the back of a DJ’s head had now changed into a grooving, quicksand of unreleased material. We left content, foggy-headed from smoke and body-heat, as the DJ’s set was cut a bit short due to time constraints. And while copping a smoke machine and watching Boiler Room in bed sounds like the ideal Monday night in, being in a room with a couple of hip-hop icons and a couple of XX’s isn’t so bad either.

Critical Bias: Trip-hop isn’t dead and trap-rave is the future.

Overheard: “THIS IS THAT UNRELEASED SHIT.” Many times.

Random Notebook Dump: SBTRKT and Kitty Pryde were also in the building.

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Live: Bon Iver and Frank Ocean Are Trying to Break Your Heart

Better Than: Seeing either of these guys in a festival setting, which seems to be the only way you’re going to these days.

Last night Fader magazine and Vitamin Water’s collaborative Uncapped tour series hosted their grand finale at the Lower East Side’s Angel Orensanz Center. The performers were billed as “surprise guests,” though rumors flew leading up to the door’s opening at 8 p.m. Some reported that Bon Iver would stop by after his recent run of Radio City Music Hall shows. Others buzzed that Frank Ocean would be making an appearance after his stint at ATP. In the end, the surprise was much bigger than we thought: Frank Ocean and Bon Iver would be playing together.

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For the couple of hundred lanyard-slinging media and RSVP-savvy concertgoers who got in, the scene that greeted them couldn’t have been more fitting for the artists about to take the stage. The Angel Orensanz Center, now a contemporary arts community space, was built as a 19th-century synagogue, complete with looming Gothic arches and three-tiered balconies. Bathed behind tufts of smoke and a faint blue-and-red glow, a stool stood in front of a microphone stand suggested that the show would provide the kind of intimacy that fans have come to expect from both of the night’s headliners.

There’s no denying that Frank Ocean and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon share certain lovey aesthetics; both are singer/songwriters beneath their fronts, both evoke pit-of-your-stomach sadness set against happy nostalgia, both find solace in the peculiar pairing of heartbroken, story-telling R&B and the washed-out pulses of alt-rock. Both have been recruited onto projects by Kanye. (No, Kanye did not make the appearance that many of us had hoped he would.) Bon Iver won the Grammy for Best New Artist last year, and Frank Ocean is a frontrunner this year. Last night, both artists wore headbands — it worked better for one than the other.

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Frank Ocean rocking that Karate Kid look

Ocean, an L.A.-via-New Orleans native, has a smooth, self-assured, schoolboy charm to him, one that’s born out of shyness than cockiness. Aside from his spot-on vocals, this quiet confidence and smiling gentleness is Ocean’s greatest asset on stage. Over the course of an hour-long set, the singer — backed by a suited two-man band (No John Mayer) — went through hits like “Thinking About You,” “Novacane,” “Sweet Life,” and “Pyramids,” often sparking a choir-like echo from the audience amid his gorgeously executed octave-spanning hooks. “We Made It in America” and “Strawberry Swing” came as additional, unexpected highlights, dense with warm memories of forgotten youth and the American Dream. One of the most spectacular things about Ocean is that he delivers the same sentiments with the same force live as he does on his records.

Vernon’s brand of nostalgia is reflected in him as well; tall, white, beardy, quiet, mumbly, reverb soaked, and born from a cabin in the woods. But the Vernon whose “Lump Sum” and “Skinny Love” undoubtedly sparked millions of late-night phone calls between long-lost lovers has changed since his second album (or maybe it was his Grammy win). The Bon Iver that took the stage last night — complete with a ragtag band of fellow shaggy, beardy fellows (No John Mayer) — did not deliver the log-burning, campfire warm-and-fuzzies that one might have expected. It was only on the reverb-drowning, autotuned echo behind “Woods” that Vernon ever truly owned the stage on the same level of precious familiarity as his music.

“Calgary,” a personal favorite, was performed with pomp, the horns far outweighing the angst behind Vernon’s moans. “Creature Fear’s” quiet folksy twangs were played live as a massive, crashing battle of reverb. “Holocene” and “Skinny Love” cued massive sing-a-longs, of course, though by then, his smooth-jazz jam-band stage act was more and more reminiscent of an indie Dave Matthews Band. And while Bon Iver’s fans remained true with most of the audience singing in unison to “Skinny Love” long after Vernon had left the stage, he proved better on the iPod than in the flesh.

Critical Bias: Earlier in the evening, I joked that Frank Ocean would make me tear up. And then he actually did.

Overheard: “He’s not gay. That’s not politically correct. He’s not bi, either. He’s just not mad at a penis.” — Deep discussion of Frank Ocean overheard in the media area. Oof.

Random Notebook Dump: John Locke spotted in the VIP.

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Live: AraabMuzik Bridges The Gap Between Old And New At East River Park

Araabmuzik w/Flosstradamus, Teengirl Fantasy, Nick Hook
East River Park
Monday, August 20

Better than: Drinking Red Bull to get through just about anything else.

Watching the Manhattan-by-night sightseeing cruises pass behind East River Park’s Summerstage during last night’s Araabmuzik-headlined show, you had to wonder how the ship’s tour guide was explaining the scene they floated by. Hundreds of teenagers—some atop each other’s shoulders, some whipping bottles of water into the air, one wearing an “MDMA-ZING” neon tank, and far too many smoking cigs (among other things) behind their mothers’ backs—screamed, raved, flailed, and booty-popped to Waka Flocka Flame before collectively bouncing into a moshpit for a remix of Baauer’s “Harlem Shake.” “To your right, you’ll see one of New York City’s many diverse music festivals,” we imagine the tour guide told his voyeurs.

For people of a certain age, fighting through the cognitive dissonance that’s come hand-in-hand with dance floor genre-melding has been harder than for their younger peers. The scene surrounding this particular type of music, where having an active Soundcloud and Twitter page is almost as important as the music itself, likely affects this perception. And last night’s Red Bull Music Academy-sponsored battle of bass—dubstep, rap, trance—was just another example of the recent embrace of the dance-meets-rap melting pot. Flosstradamus took the decks with the now-everywhere sample pulled from Southern rap mixtape kings Trapaholics: The Chicago DJ duo played “Damn Son” while hoards of teenagers screamed back, “Where’d you find this?” A chuckle-worthy insert, considering the Trapaholics are also known for the drop: “You can’t find this on the Internet.” The duo followed this call-and-response with their own “Lana’s Theme,” where the “Baby, now you do” from Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” whispers in and out of a squeaky, springing trap bass.

But let’s talk about this age thing. It’s important to note the literal divide at this show; Summerstage gave those over 21 the option of standing in a barricaded-in bar area of the bleachers. The wristbanded “grownups” could roam as they pleased, of course, but they mostly stuck to their safe haven, bouncing along on benches and looking on with amusement as the teens gyrated and flailed to mixes where Future yelled “Same Damn Time” over Flosstradamus’s “Total Recall” instrumental and Gucci Mane’s “Trap Shit” was reduced to growls over bass. It was a scene that sometimes caused the older attendees around our patch to laugh uncomfortably and snark at the expense of their wilding-out counterparts. Which is a shame, really: The newer, larger, mass-consuming dance crowds are so often, immediately, and wrongly attributed to the dumbing-down of dance music or the cluelessness of today’s music-consuming masses instead of, you know, their actual age. (My friends rapped Ludacris’ “What’s Your Fantasy” in the barely lit halls of highschool homecoming dances and girls-only sleepovers in 2000, as if we were being brazenly risqué by doing even that; some of yesterday’s crowd literally demonstrated the line “I wanna lick, lick, lick, lick you from your head to your toes” as the sun went down over the East River.)

But does that matter? Maybe they’re a new generation of kids embracing their newness. Maybe they’re making fun of themselves. Maybe these kids are more self-aware than we give them credit for. Most importantly, maybe they’re just having a good time.

The true test of the audience was AraabMuzik, whose live stage shows are all about showmanship yet eschew the over-the-top, behind-the-turntable-bravado other performers embrace. In fact, at a SummerStage event earlier this year in Bed-Stuy’s Von King Park, the legenadry DJ Scratch played a similar concert, though he denounced wannabe DJs while picking up the turntable mid-song and delivered up a slew of classic turntablist tricks in suit. While these are signature moves of old-school DJs, I was left wanting more than throwback rap and calls for real DJs of yesteryear. This is where the expertise and technical prowess of AraabMuzik has bridged the gap between old-school tradition and current trends. Live the Harlem-raised, Dipset-producing wunderkind used throwback jams to his benefit and built whirlwind-fast orchestrations of snares, hi-hats, bass, and screamy drops over hits like Damien Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock” and his own recent release for Slaughterhouse “See Dead People.” A camera captured his fingers pounding his MPC while a swarm of photographers crowded around him for the best seats in the house. “I was at the dentist yesterday and he played this track,” joked a friend nearby as a drill-shrill dubstep concoction kicked in. Behind the gates next to us, the once-riotous mosh pit had toned their dance moves down a little to stare in awe of the musician, ending the show with the closest scene resembling old-school turntablist culture than I’ve seen in a long while. Take that, naysayers.

Critical bias: I am not mad at trap-rave and recently attempted to investigate it.

Overheard: “Everyone here is, like, 12.” [Over and over and over again.]

Random notebook dump: Was momentarily but seriously concerned for the quickly fading girl in the MDMA-ZING tank. RT this if you’re OK.

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The Rub Turns 10: Memories From A Decade-Long Party

The Brooklyn collective of DJ Ayres, DJ Eleven, and Cosmo Baker celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their now-legendary rap party The Rub this weekend. While their monthly rager moved from the now-shuttered Park Slope club Southpaw to Gowanus’ much larger Bell House, the party remains a house-party-away-from-home for many New Yorkers, with the three DJs and their guests serving up hip-hop classics old and new alongside dancehall, R&B, funk, and stints of disco/house in an environment that encourages dancing over everything else.

The Rub has always been something much larger than just another dance party, and my first time there, back in its Southpaw days, is something I’ll always remember (I’ve gotten emotional about it once before). At the risk of sounding clichéd, the night left me with the distinct feeling that this party was representative of the growing underground and DJ community, which was a more inclusive, more interesting, more demographically diverse group than I had ever seen before. Not only were Ayres, Eleven, and Cosmo some of the best DJs Brooklyn had to offer, they trusted the talents of their friends and the open-mindedness of their audience enough to build a relationship based on mutual love and friendship as much as it was on pure entertainment.

In honor of the Rub being around for a decade (the party in its honor is tomorrow night at The Bell House), SOTC asked some of its friends to share their memories.

Nick Catchdubs, Fool’s Gold
The Rub is one of my all-time favorite parties to play as a guest and to attend as a regular, dancing-ass civilian. As DJs, The Rub braintrust are among the most knowledgeable and crafty selectors I know. But with great power comes great responsibility. The reason the party has been so fun for so long is because The Rub DJs have always put their crowd first—they can flex obscure records and wicky-wickys with the best of them, but on that one Saturday every month the only mission is to rock the party by any means necessary. They still change with the times and constantly find ways to surprise and evolve musically, but always remember to drop the bass out so the crowd can yell “biiiitch” in call-and-response with Too $hort. That’s why The Rub will still be jamming when it’s time to write another one of these in ten more years, and I’ll still be spilling my drink when Juvenile comes on.

Pete Emes, Smalltown DJs
I’m a Canadian from Canada, so I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment on The Rub because as an outsider it feels like such a Brooklyn institution—like it belongs to the city. When we first came to play at Southpaw in 2006, we had been told that dance parties in New York were no fun, and this was exactly the opposite. It actually reminded me of home immediately, which is so weird. The people were a bit rougher than your average overly polite Canadians, and the punk-rock spirit of this rap party stood out. Cosmo Baker, Ayres & Eleven are three guys who I would consider some of my best friends, even though I only see them a few times a year. We’ve toured together several times and done a ton of ridiculous shit over the years. They are phenomenal dudes and great DJs, and I don’t want to state the obvious, but there’s nothing like being there when they are DJing a night at The Rub.

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, Writer (SPIN, Billboard, Village Voice)
Cosmo, Ayres, and Eleven soundtracked more strange make-outs than most of their participants probably remember. In ’05 and ’06, when this weird little internet community was just beginning to congeal (thanks to blogs and the Hollerboard), it felt like you knew every single person at The Rub, or at least knew someone who knew them. By the end of the summer, you’d have Frenched them. Beery singalongs to those years’ jams—TI’s “Whatchu Know,” Three 6 Mafia’s “Stay Fly,” Smitty’s “Diamonds on My Neck”—not the most romantic mood on paper, but somehow The Rub DJs were like hairy Dr. Ruths. They knew that somehow, a song that made the whole room scream would inevitably lead to young, drunk puppy love. How did they know it? We were so innocent. The Rub’s stayed so vital over ten years because they DJ like you’re family, and you are. I met some of my best, lifelong friends because of these dudes (shout out Will Creeley!) and I’m happy to call them the same. If I made out with you in 2005, love you babe don’t ever change.

Dave Nada, Nadastrom
I remember the first time I got the invitation to play The Rub. I was so honored and insanely excited to play. It was in 2007, around the same time I released my first ever Baltimore Club EP on T&A Records [a record label run by DJ Ayres and Tittsworth]. My sets were 99% Baltimore Club and booty house and, as I recall, the main room of The Rub was all hip-hop then. I was super nervous and my hands were shaking; I knew I had to come correct, since I was trying something different. Sure enough, the place went nuts when I started and I fed off the energy of the crowd. I had one of the best nights of my life. I think I even headbanged into one of the turntables during my set because I was losing my mind! Haha. Playing The Rub continues to be a career highlight for me and it’s been an honor to have Ayres, Cosmo, and Eleven in my life as friends!

Matt Sonzala, Rap Blogger [Austin Surreal / Houston So Real]
I first met the guys from The Rub when I joined an online community called “The Hollerboard.” I had booked Diplo a couple of times in Houston, and I was going to the site mostly to find new music and to post music from Houston. A dude named Cosmo Baker called me out and declared that area of the Internet to be his. I was like “What the fuck, dude?” Then I realized he is literally one of the greatest, most thorough DJs in the world and a kindred spirit, and we became close friends pretty immediately. I met Ayres and Eleven way more amicably and will say the same things about them as well. That’s my people.

Together we created an event/movement called Sabbath in the Park, to bring balance to the off-kilter community and to celebrate the music of the greatest band ever, Black Sabbath. Sabbath in the Park has had multiple run-ins with the law, and through all that we have stood together and always beat the rap.

One of my fondest memories of The Rub guys happened on their turf, when we all hosted the Sabbath in the Court afterparty at Southpaw. We were all there to celebrate a unanimous decision by the courts to let all of the people cited by the Brooklyn Police at the first Sabbath in the Park off, and free of all charges. The music of Black Sabbath pumped loudly from the basement of Southpaw, while a couple hundred true heads from far and wide celebrated this magnificent victory. It was there that we became brothers. And even though DJ Eleven mixes records way too fast for my slowed-down Southern brain, I still regard The Rub as three of the greatest dudes to ever touch two turntables.

Rahnon, The Rub’s Gatekeeper / Door Girl
The Rub is everything that is good in life—your first kiss, falling in love, finding those expensive shoes you want at half the price, having all of your favorite people in one place every last Saturday of the month with great music. They say time flies when you are having fun. If that is the case, we have been having a blast, because the past 10 years have flown by. The Rub is the type of party that invites you in with a smile and gets you relaxed with some soulful grooves and classic R&B. Once you have had a drink or two and have started to let your hair down, The Rub hits you with classic hip-hop in a way that makes you say, “This is my song.” And before you can catch your breath, that new party rap has you on the dance floor making new friends with the cutie that was three people behind you in line at the door. You are feeling good; the reggae, soca or salsa has you trying moves you have only seen on Dancing With The Stars. And after you have caught your breath and the number of that cutie (and maybe a sip of water), The Rub hits you with a little rock, dance, or house music just to make the music circle complete. Before you know it, it is 4 a.m. and the party is over. You say to the fabulous door girl, “This was the best party ever!”, and she replies, “I know, right?! See you next month.” Then, you are officially a Rub-ber.

The Rub’s 10-year anniversary party, with Just Blaze and The Gaff, takes place tomorrow night at The Bell House.

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Q&A: Drop The Lime On Growing Up With New York’s Dance Underground, Bringing Punk To Le Bain, And The “Devil’s Music”

Dracula is the image most frequently equated with Trouble and Bass founder and DJ Drop the Lime. “It’s because I’m a night owl, always showing up everywhere,” says Luca Venezia—and he’s a New York night owl at that. Born and raised downtown to artist parents, Venezia has lived through three decades of the city’s growing dance community: hardcore and punk shows and warehouse raves in the nineties, his own drum-n-bass and breakcore experimentations in the early aughts, and the early days of the now-massive DIY bass and electro scenes in Brooklyn via the Trouble and Bass collective.

While electro, club, grime, and bass influences have always been the most prominent in his better-known dance productions, Venezia has always had a slightly odd rocker undertone to his live performances: He identifies as much with rockabilly as he does with dance, and credits Elvis Presley as one of his idols as a performer. With last week’s release of his new album Enter The Night (Ultra), Venezia brings his rocker edge to the forefront with a sultry, downtempo collection of songwriting that rely on techno minimalism and more subtly knocking synths to back it up. The result sounds something like a score for an an old-timey Western directed by David Lynch.

SOTC talked to Drop the Lime a few days before Enter The Night‘s release about the growth of the New York dance underground, how rockabilly and electro aren’t all that different, why sex and music are inseparable, and the motivation behind his new album.

You’re born and raised in downtown Manhattan, right? How did that affect what you were listening to growing up?

I’m an only child raised by an abstract painter and a fine arts photographer. My dad is Brooklyn raised; he bought a loft in the ’70s in Tribeca. He and my mother always played music in the house. Like, constantly. He was more classical and opera while my mother was more rockabilly, blues, and jazz. Bob Dylan and stuff like that. But she also had a keen ear; I heard Björk for the first time through my mom. Talking Heads and Radiohead too. It was weird. So at a really early age I wanted to play guitar. And then I saw the Ritchie Valens [biopic] La Bamba. Seeing all the screaming girls, the showmanship, while being passionate about an art and making a living while inspiring other people, I wanted to be that.

I was seven years old then and my parents were supportive and bought me a guitar. I took guitar lessons and immediately got into it; I was making love songs and tapes and recording on a straight-up tape recorder. I would make tapes for girls in my class and, I don’t know, I was trying to live this rockstar lifestyle at young age. This was the late ’80s, early ’90s. I had a girlfriend at eight and would get in trouble at school for putting my arm around her in class and stuff. I had no idea what I was doing. [Laughs.]

When did you start getting into dance music?

Probably the mid or late ’90s. The time felt so raw. I was hanging out with people who were older than me so my first real musical outing down in Tribeca was going to hardcore shows at Wetlands. I lived on North Moore street, right across from the [firehouse] in Ghostbusters. When you’re growing up in New York, you end up go to a lot of house parties and hang out on stoops. As a teenager, it’s a very mixed group of people. I went to public school, Professional Performing Arts school, so I hung out with a mixed group of people; people who liked the Cramps and then people who loved Wu-Tang.

Around 15 I was dating a girl who brought me to my first rave. At the time I was in a hardcore band and was really into Minor Threat, Fugazi, Helmet, Quicksand, and Jesus Lizard. But I reluctantly went to this rave, Chemical Brothers were playing, and this big promoter Scotto from [club night] NASA days put it on. It changed my life. I was like, what is this?! I didn’t understand; there was this one guy up there and thousand of people are dancing. You could feel the music more than you could at a punk show because of the all of the bass and so on. So, yeah, it immediately became my lifestyle.

You became a raver?

A straight-up raver. Immediately. From a punk guy and skateboarding guy to a raver. I was still into playing guitar but, yeah. I think that happened to a lot of people though.

Going to see dance music while living in New York during the mid-’90s house era must have been great.

I was not into house music at all. I was drum-n-bass through and through. Hardcore into drum-n-bass. I thought house was commercial and boring and couldn’t find anything interesting about it.

It’s interesting that you thought house was super commercial when you were going to see chart-ranked acts like the Chemical Brothers.

I know, right? It must have been the people I was hanging out with. What happened was that I was hanging out with these guys Burner Brothers, DJ Pish-Posh, DJ Scene. DJ Scene, Al, really taught me about DJing and beat-matching. I bought my first turntables and they weren’t Technics, they were, like, American DJ Pro or something. I got this old Akai sampler, an S-20, it’s not even an MPC. I was so clueless at the time that I even thought jungle and drum-n-bass records were made with drum machines. I didn’t realize they used samples. I would try to make that “Amen Break” by compressing sounds and distorting sounds. It finally just killed me one day. I called up Breakbeat Science, where I got all my records and was like, “How the hell do you make this sound” and then played him a DJ Hype record over the phone. He was like, “Uhhhh, it’s a sample.”

As an outsider looking back at that time, ’90s New York always seemed very DIY to me. With the punk-rock, dance…

Even in hip-hop. RZA’s productions were very punk. Very DIY, very gritty. He didn’t give a fuck.

I was going to say that your DJ collective and label Trouble & Bass felt very much like a DIY dance collective when you started out in… 2004, was it?

Yeah, it’s kinda crazy. Trouble & Bass is what I wanted my DJ name to be. I thought it added a funny comic thing to a sometimes serious genre, you know? Dance DJs took themselves so seriously. I let it go and followed it up with Drop the Lime.

Where did that come from?

“Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash. For a while that was my alias. I played a festival at Pianos called Audio Star with Girl Talk back in 2004. They messed up when they called the festival and said “Drop the Lime” in the Voice, I think, and then it happened again. My friends would jokingly call me Drop the Lime and then it stuck.

I swear I heard you give a different explanation of your name to someone else. Something about it being the translation of an old Italian saying?

I might be fucking with you right now.

Are you?

Or I might have been fucking with her. Who knows, really?

How did Trouble & Bass start? Where did you all meet?

I used to go to Italy every summer and I spent my first summer, finally, in New York as an adult. I used to throw this party called Bangers & Mash and used to bring all these grime dudes over for it. We’d book Jammer and D Double E and Plastician. Vivian [Star Eyes] was in Syrup Girls and working at XLR8R and was like, “Whoa I love you guys. I wanna play your party.” So they played our party and we immediately hit it off and ended up doing a mixtape together on Tigerbeat6 called Shotgun Wedding.

Then I went to the Cut NYC party one night. I was with my crew when I see these two dudes [Shark and The Captain], and we were like “Oh god, look at those fucking hipsters. What fucking hipster punks.” Shark had this all-over print vintage Gucci ladies coat on with plugs. The Captain had, like, a Louis Vuitton hat on with tattoos everywhere and plugs. I was like, “Seriously, what fucking hipsters!” Then Captain came up to me and was like, “Hey you’re Drop the Lime, we should get you to play my party sometime.” So I thought they must not be so bad.

I ended up playing their party with Larry Tee, which was funny in itself because I used to go to Luxe to all of his electroclash nights. Anyways, I really found myself in the right company in New York for the first time. I felt like I had found people who were hungry for something new and were very passionate about NY nightlife and music. We all had punk backgrounds but we all had a different take on what we loved: Vivian was more Miami Bass and ghettotech, I had grime and dubstep, Zak Shadetek, who was part of the crew then, had an electro side. Mixing that together meant us playing any genre no matter what it was.

As long as it had the same attitude or energy, basically as punk, then we would play it. I think that people were waiting for something dangerous and different to come. Even garage rock, like the Strokes, they had a different sort of vibe about them but their shows were all so clean and staged and pretty. We were rocking a shitty room under the Williamsburg Bridge back when no one would even go to Williamsburg. We’d max out the speakers mid-party and have to play off of one. Or someone would knock a turntable and we’d go on playing on one because the whole party was freaking out to some song they never heard before.

It seems like the shared punk background has played a big role in T&B’s music and visual aesthetic too. The T&B brand has a dark rockabilly thing to it that’s very Cry-Baby.

I obviously love Cry-Baby. The reason I was drawn to combine rockabilly and dance music is that they both shared this kind of rebellious attitude. Rockabilly, when it was a thing that existed in the ’50s, came about because kids were going out and sneaking out from their parents’ house to go dance to music and hook up with people and get wild and cause trouble. They’d go out and race hot rods against each other and be bad, you know? Rock and roll in general is that. If you listen to interviews with Carl Perkins, you get these amazing responses of like, “Rock and roll is the devil’s music. It provokes sex and is bad for our youth.” And of course, Elvis shaking his hips and the cameras not showing that, that whole side of sex is the same in dance music.

Yeah, you can see and hear that ’50s Elvis vibe on your live act. Tell us about Drop the Lime’s transition from being a DJ/producer to a live act with vocals and a band.

Drop the Lime actually started as a live act with me on Ableton on controllers singing and sampling myself. But it was more of a punk edge to electronic dance music. Some people called it breakcore or hardcore or IDM at the time. It’s evolved to this state where I’ve incorporated more and more of my rock and roll influence. In a weird way I’ve come full circle back to where I began. I saw that people would get down to it in the same way that they would at a punk or a live show, which I thought was crucial to maintain in music with this synthetic sound.

I really only started to DJ more when I did my Curses project on Institubes and was on tour with Para One and Surkin. No one knew me on those tours and I knew that I would have to start DJing if I was going to keep up with them live.

Let’s talk about the concept behind Enter The Night. It’s surprising to hear you make an album that’s made up of songs instead of straight dance music.

I love electronic music, I love rockabilly, I love blues, I love Western music, I love hip-hop. I just love music. For me personally, it’s my natural instinct to constantly evolve and pull from different influences in my immediate life. I’ve been going to a lot of shows and concerts and it made me pick up my guitar again.

Enter the Night is a torrid love affair with the city. I fucking love New York City. It is my city and I can’t live anywhere else, I’ve tried. I tried living in Berlin and came back. At the same time, it’s such a frustrating city. But it’s also a very giving city. It’s something that you have to embrace. The last song of the album, “Leaving,” is really about me allowing myself to not worry about what anyone else thinks or critiques. It’s about making music that makes me happy. If other people happen to enjoy it, that’s amazing. As cheesy as it sounds, I make my music because it keeps me going. If people don’t like it, then fuck ’em. If they like it, God bless ’em.

You’re not worried that your fans may be confused by it? I mean, because it’s not the club-friendly Drop the Lime that they’d might expect.

I would never want to alienate those fans that love the party-rocking Drop the Lime. We’re doing a “night versions” of the album that comes out on October 30, the night before Halloween. They’re all remixes I’ve done. When I’m going on tour and playing DJ sets, I’ll be playing the night versions of the album. I love to get down and go crazy and party, so it’s important to me that I put this album out first so that people really soak in the songs and understand the music and where I’m at emotionally. But then still going to bring it to the night club madness. That’s for sure.

Yeah, you can still definitely hear the minimal techno vibes or the synth-electro undercurrents on the album.

Exactly. That’s all still there, I just wanted to make an album that people could just sit and listen to. An album that maybe would grow on people and wouldn’t be just a throwaway DJ banger after banger type thing. But the night versions is all bangers and bringing my DJ influences to the album. It was really fun to go in and just tear my own songs up.

“No Sleep for the Wicked” immediately reminded me of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games.” It’s not even that the two songs sound a whole lot alike as much as they both ooze sexuality.

Yeah! It’s happened my entire life. It’s really something I can’t separate is sex and music.

You’re not one of those people who puts on music to have sex, to are you?

Not to my own music. When I was seventeen I was probably having sex to Björk or Radiohead. And you know what? I can’t really listen to some of those songs anymore because of that. But, yeah, definitely sex to music. They both go hand in hand to me. It’s funny that you bring up “No Sleep for the Wicked,” actually. It’s kind of a key song as far as that goes. It’s set in the middle of the album and it’s written directly about the Standard Hotel and Le Bain. Being at that Night People party with Blu Jemz, Eli Escobar, and Lloydski. It’s about a wild night that happened there and ended in a hotel room. The thing about Le Bain is that people judge it because it’s played out. To me, Le Bain is timeless New York; it has this vibe that old New York had to me.

Isn’t it sometimes strange to see these DJs who ride for punk and DIY also play at these places where they’d never go or be able to afford otherwise? I’m not mad at it, but it is an interesting duality. DFA comes to mind with the hotel circuit too.

Yeah, that’s the whole thing though. Like, that we’re at this place that’s too nice and we shouldn’t belong there and then we tear it the fuck up and do whatever we want and have a great time in the process. I mean that musically too. I make music that is very different from the DFA roster, but we all share this punk feeling, that we want to rage and have fun and do something creative and different. Once you’re punk you can never change that at the core. It’s with you forever.

Drop The Lime performs at Le Bain at the Standard Hotel on Saturday.

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Santigold’s Gold Standard

Despite spending the previous evening performing on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and hosting a celebratory after-party at downtown hot spot Le Baron, Santi White, a/k/a Santigold, is surprisingly fresh-faced and cheerful the morning after the release of her second album, Master of My Make-Believe (Atlantic/Downtown). Her demeanor might be light, but that’s not to say she doesn’t have weighty things on her mind. “The earth is going crazy,” she proclaims.

She continues, gazing out the window of her label’s midtown offices: “It’s insane. There are birds falling out of the sky, oil spills, nuclear explosions. There are earthquakes and tornadoes here in New York City. I mean, come on. What the hell is going on?”

In person, the 36-year-old is just as playfully engaging as she is on stage, where she champions social and musical revolution. She’s also remarkably enthusiastic for someone who has seen the seedy inner workings of almost every facet of the music industry. In her twenties, she served as an A&R rep at Epic Records and fronted the punk band Stiffed; she has helped write songs for Christina Aguilera, Lily Allen, and Ashlee Simpson. And thanks to songs like “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Creator” becoming music-blog and commercial staples, she has toured with Björk, Coldplay, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Kanye West and Jay-Z. The Roc-a-Fella mogul and Nets co-owner even sampled her heady dub chant “Shove It” on his song “Brooklyn We Go Hard.”

But with that out-of-the-gate success came creative confusion, which led to a long period of time between her first and second albums. “When you’re out giving, giving, giving, you put a seal on the emotional part of you, and it hardens,” she says. “I really had to do a lot of work to get back to the private, personal part of myself to write. And when I got there, I had to re-evaluate.” She mentions TV on the Radio’s David Sitek, who contributed production to Master, as her savior; he recommended that she try transcendental meditation and yoga, and she credits those practices with helping her gain creative clarity.

Later in our conversation, White jokingly blames her constant inner angst on artists’ tendencies toward being overly sensitive to their surroundings. It’s a gentle, personal reconstructing of the in-your-face, revolutionary tone that made her debut’s collage of rock, punk, dub, and hooks translate so well. On Master, dancehall, kuduro, and synth rock enter the mix. “I really like when pop music had world-music influences, like Peter Gabriel or Talking Heads,” she says. “I think I did more of that style this time.” Lyrically, she balances the roles of all-powerful femme-warrior (“GO!”), cultural theorist (“Fame”), challenging provocateur (“Freak Like Me”), and soothsaying romantic (“The Riot’s Gone”).

The lumping together of hard and sweet, sassy and sentimental, and a grab bag of musical tastes puts Santigold in a particularly powerful position. Her brand of music is purposefully off-kilter and masterfully constructed in a way that separates her from a growing pack of everything-including-the-kitchen-sink pop stars. But her pop-sheened weirdness might ultimately make her one of the most endearing, relatable, and authoritative bridges between the cutting edge and the mainstream.

That fact is most apparent to White herself, and Santigold is a stylish, savvy project as a result. “What I do well is curating to make my vision come together,” she notes. A resident of Bed-Stuy, where she lives with her one-time Olympic snowboarder and musician husband Trouble Andrew, the singer’s self-mined, hands-on approach is key to her method. She went crate-digging with Q-Tip to find the sample for the choppy battle cry “GO!” and her choreographed stage routines are inspired by Kid-N-Play and Public Enemy shows she saw when she was young. Even the strappy golden swimsuit she dons on the cover of Master was custom designed for her by Alexander Wang.

White has approached the release of her second album with a mix of excitement and trepidation. On “Fame,” a track that calls out the paparazzi-fiending masses, the singer lyrically and openly struggles with her own public image. For her, the world is out of whack in more ways than one. She notes that the pop icons of her youth were different from the Real Housewives of today and maintains that fame is a double-edged sword. As a result, it’s her belief that fame only belongs to those who want to use it for good. “Celebdom is weird and really fucked up,” she says earnestly. “I’m definitely not in it for that. At the same time, I want my music to be famous. I feel like there’s an insane amount of power in music, and it’s a positive power.”

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‘On the Rocks’ w/ Flosstradamus+Baauer

Touring behind their “Jubilation 2.0” EP (out on A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold imprint), Flosstradamus brings their grab-bag of trap-meets-electro booty jams to Drom’s #OffTheRocks kick-off party. Make sure to turn up early: Future-crunk producer Baauer might even upstage the Chicago DJ duo with hometown pride (via bangers like “Harlem Shake”) and drop-it-low basslines.

Thu., May 31, 10 p.m., 2012

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Kool Herc Gets Honored; Niagara Bar Lets Loose

Kool Herc’s Birthday/Sutra; Normalized Dance Night/Niagara Bar
Thursday, April 26

Better than: Reading about how NYC’s nightlife is dead.

Last month, in the spirit of March Madness, SOTC created a tournament with the aim of crowning the quintessential New York musician. Popularly dubbed the Godfather of Hip-Hop, Kool Herc made it onto the bracket as a representative of the Bronx, though he was knocked out of the running early. Readers voted Bette Midler on to the next round instead. It’s funny, really—an over-the-top diva pitted against an understated, genre-defining man of the streets—but the legendary DJ’s understated familiarity is part of his charm. (As our bracket lobbyist noted, the 57 year-old DJ can be seen riding his bike around the Bronx during warmer months.) And at his birthday celebration at Sutra last night, it couldn’t be any more apparent that as far as New York’s rap community is concerned, Herc will always be the guy who made it happen for them all.

“We owe everything to him; without Herc, there would be no us,” declared an MC into the mic as the man of the hour lumbered into Sutra’s upstairs lounge. Naturally, this grand sentiment was immediately followed by the promoter shouting out his own gig that would take place the following week. As for the “us” in attendance last night, the room was filled to the brim with the Who’s Who of the city’s rap and turntablism elite. DJs on the bill included DJ Scratch, DJ Premier, Evil Dee, and Just Blaze. The Crooklyn Clan, Tek of Smif-n-Wessun, and X-Ecutioners DJ Eclipse and Mista Sinista chatted by the bar while a crowd of friends and industry folk enveloped the birthday boy.

There’s no getting around that parties stacked with DJ legends like these are meant for nostalgia and reverence more than anything else—no matter what the given reason. “It’s an alternate universe,” noted one DJ outside. “I wonder if anyone inside knows that things have changed since twenty years ago.” And although the night’s venue was one that wouldn’t allow backpacks or fitted hats, there’s no doubt that revelers were celebrating their golden years just as much as Herc was. “This is the part of the show where you don’t dance,” commanded DJ Scratch upon taking over the turntables to play Dead Prez’ “Bigger Than Hip-Hop”. “You stand around the DJ and watch this shit.” The room complied.

Seven blocks away, Baltimore’s Mark Brown was supervising a very different group of nightlife patrons. Tucked in the back room of Niagara Bar, a dive on the corner of Avenue A and 7th Street, the visiting DJ was a guest for house producer DJ Odd Facade’s Normalized dance night. The name of the party gives away its intent; the small dance floor is aimed at massaging the oddities of their revelers and the tastes of their DJs into an intimate, all-inclusive, we-don’t-give-a-fuck club night. If last night was any indication, leaving inhibitions at the door [or, ahem, curtain that half-separates the nook from the main floor of the bar] is part of the deal.

In comparison to Sutra’s jam-packed standing space, Normalized was a freeing relief. The club’s floor peaked at fifteen dancers at most—a group that was made up of a strange mix of young, fratty college boys, people who trickled in from the main bar, and a few of the DJ’s vogue-fiending friends. At times they managed to take up the whole room, each doing their own particular mix of ass-grabbing grinding, wide spins, or whatever else felt right to the mix of funky, Baltimore club, and the like. That’s not to say that the one overzealous Jets jersey-wearing bro in the room came to vogue, but rather that the total lack of pretension made him comfortable enough to jump up and down to Mike Q’s remix of “The Ha Dance” in an effort to keep up with the girl who duckwalked and dipped nearby. And, honestly, that is good enough.

Critical bias: I have previously covered the Fat Beats closing, the Roc Raida tribute, and the twentieth anniversary of the Stretch and Bobbito show for the Voice.

Overheard: “Shout out to all my nieces up in here. To all my Japanese crew, Konnichiwa.”—MC at Sutra

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Live: Adrian Grenier And The Honey Brothers Make Midtown West Feel A Lot Like L.A.

The Honey Brothers (with Adrian Grenier)
Random Warehouse on Tenth Ave.
Wednesday, April 18

Better Than: Would Turtle’s band be Saigon?

Let’s get this out of the way now: Adrian Grenier was member of new-wave folk troupe Honey Brothers before he was Vince Chase on Entourage and not the other way around. The band even had some influence on the show; Vince’s endearingly aggro agent Ari Gold got his name from Grenier’s bandmate (whose website notes that he was neither asked nor paid for this identity theft). And as someone who has recently documented a number of very strange events that hosted actors-turned-musicians, going into last night’s Honey Brothers show knowing that the HBO star has been in his band for seven years gave us some hope.

As always, where there are celebs, there’s commercial motive too. In this case, Grenier was celebrating the launch of his newly founded SHFT project, a green initiative to promote sustainability within the culture-branding arc of art, film, fashion and music. The preview took over a swanked, two-floor warehouse space on Tenth Avenue where things like pate and truffled mushrooms were served alongside martinis and ad execs discussed Green Initiatives and yoga mats. Idle strums of a tuning ukelele played nearby. In short, Midtown West was beginning to feel a lot like L.A.

The ukeleles weren’t all that bad, really. Once a trio of street-performing warblers, the Honey Brothers have evolved to make mindlessly playful, Vampire Weekend-dunked college rock. Their short set was made from the kind of stuff that benefits from the fact that everyone likes the Beach Boys—though we would later hear one band member mention Silver Jews and Ween as inspirations. In honesty, the night’s dose of summertime surf rock felt a lot like an attempt to take big ideas and make them palatable to the sustainability-minded folks who would eventually fund or promote SHFT’s lifestyle umbrella. This is a band that has Grenier earnestly singing lines like, “Space is everywhere except when you need it,” while reaching his arms around a female vocalist to tap out a beat on a drum machine, an act that made this female writer green with both nausea and envy. We’ll begrudgingly admit that the sparkling, synth-backed cheeriness of “Green and Gold” is kind of a jam, though.

It’s probably unfair to let the whole “Entourage Star Promotes Going Green With Band” headline get in the way of the fact that the Honey Brothers make fine, perfectly inoffensive music, music that was at times unbearably precious in it’s earnestness. And there’s definitely something larger to be discussed here in that the night’s events were also co-sponsored by Ford, they who conveniently had their newest eco-friendly car on display. But for now, we’ll have another martini please.

Critical Bias: Everyone’s a rock-star these days, huh.

Overheard: “So happy they have cheese. I’m not eating carbs.”