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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.”

••

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.”

••

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

There Goes My Hero – Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters Help NYC ‘Learn to Live Again’

“The ‘vaccines’ are simply the first steps in the genetic modification of the human race,” proclaimed the flyer, as its owner scrambled to pick up the sheaf he’d dropped on a Midtown sidewalk. “….Exactly as they genetically modify tomatoes….” it furthered. 

The only correct thing about that statement from the NYS Liberty Coalition is the accurate use of single quotes within double quotation marks. Many beg to differ, however, and a few dozen believers — anti-vaxxers — milled around a crowded street corner in front of Madison Square Garden this past Sunday evening. 

One protestor, regaling a small and rather disinterested group with a bullhorn, carried a hand-scrawled sign proclaiming, “Kurt Cobain would be ashamed.”  

That supposition was directed at one of rock ’n’ roll’s busiest and by all accounts, nicest guys — former drummer for Cobain’s Nirvana, Dave Grohl. He and his band the Foo Fighters were backstage in anticipation of concurrently making history and thrilling New Yorkers as the first lineup to play the storied venue in well over a year. The concert was at full capacity with no distancing or mask requirements. 

For the musical re-opening, MSG, according to its website, would only admit fully vaccinated concertgoers, and the Foos proved an ideal choice to lead the charge, welcoming back music lovers in one of the cities hardest-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Nearly 33,000 people in New York City have died since March of 2020. Looking around the packed arena, it was sobering and devastating to consider that more than double the 15,000 people who were in the jubilant audience had died from the coronavirus in the last year and a half.

But at 6:30 p.m. doors opened, and Foos fans began — with anticipation and in an orderly fashion not always seen among New Yorkers — filing into the Garden. Shana Stein, 20, from Manhattan, was attending with her dad, 56, on Father’s Day. “I came here at 11 or 11:30 am this morning because I heard the merch was opening at noon,” she said excitedly.  

Merch for the vaccinated masses

Decked out in a T-shirt she’d purchased, Stein added. “I bought two posters, one for home, one for college. I’ve been listening to [Foo Fighters] a lot more, especially during the pandemic. I did get Medicine At Midnight on vinyl, though my favorite album is Wasting Light.” Her dad smiled. 

The pair were not alone in exuding a sense of joy mixed with disbelief. 

Grohl’s own demeanor, by turns funny, grateful, intense, and always energetic, resonated even to the nose-bleeds. Like Grohl, irrepressible drummer Taylor Hawkins is a multi-musical talent, the pair akin to your favorite Dazed and Confused characters, at once the coolest, goofiest, and most talented kids hanging at the Moon Tower. 

The duo were the most visible of a supremely talented band rounded out by Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett on guitar, keyboardist Rami Jaffe and bassist Nate Mendel. Kicking off at 8:15 p.m. with  2003’s jangly, hopeful garage-pop gem “Times Like These,” the Foos turned in a nearly three-hour show that never flagged in vibrancy or material.  

They’re a band without schtick or elaborate stage antics, but the Foos always strike the right chord. The Foos and the audience were on the same joyful and grateful page, the protesters outside missing a celebration of togetherness that brought tears to the eyes of more than one concertgoer when the band took the stage to thunderous, sustained cheers and applause.  

Lights at the end of the COVID tunnel – a joyful crowd.

After 26 years together, the Foos are a well-practiced, powerful unit, but their punk and classic rock upbringings and Grohl’s role as the everyman pied-piper of rock ’n’ roll can bring a smile to even the most jaded music lover. 

Grohl’s charisma and the Foos’ nearly always spot-on songwriting — dynamic, and ranging from the punk-metal attack of new song “No Son of Mine” (elevated with three female backup singers) to the ’80s-influenced “Medicine at Midnight” title track — were unflagging.

The Foo Fighters’ unpretentious arena-rock is endlessly commanding. And it wasn’t just the circumstances of this special occasion. On social media, someone posited, “is Dave Grohl the only rock star?” Sometimes it seems that way. His myriad projects — brisket tacos, a documentary with his mom, anyone? — verge on overexposure. But it does seem he’s certainly doing more than his fair share of uniting across ages and stages with the Foos’ guileless, powerful rock ‘n’ roll and his own seemingly inexhaustible pool of good humor and even better sensibilities. 

The Foo Fighters had likewise “opened” Los Angeles, albeit in a smaller venue — the 900-capacity room Canyon Club in the San Fernando Valley was the site of a June 15 concert. It was the first day Los Angeles venues were allowed to fully open sans masks or social distancing requirements. Fans slept overnight in the club’s parking lot, old-school style, to buy tickets, which were available only in person with proof of vaccination. 

As in New York, attendees at  the band’s L.A. hometown show were by turns disbelieving and overjoyed at the newfound freedom. That gig also had well-chronicled protesters, including child star Ricky Schroder. While Canyon Club attendees said vaccine-verification seemed airtight, that wasn’t necessarily the case at MSG. At least one entrance had a security guard who glanced at proffered vaccination cards yet waved away the picture ids that verify the vax card and ID match. There seemed to be no electronic method for verifying MSG attendees’ Excelsior passes that also confirmed vaccination status. 

The Foo Fighters are not an inherently political band, in the way that Bad Brains or the Clash are. But their hand is sometimes forced. In 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain used “My Hero.” The band voiced objections, and played an acoustic version at the 2012 Democratic convention. “My Hero,” which Grohl told the Guardian was “written as a celebration of the common man and his extraordinary potential,” now seems a fitting anthem for the world circa 2020–21, celebrating frontline workers and stories of resilience behind every door. 

The only people in masks were MSG employees and the odd under-16-seeming kid. Strangers seated next to each other fist-bumped. Cell phones were held aloft the way lighters were back in the day. There was a warm ’n’ fuzzy intimacy despite the massiveness of MSG.   

Grohl didn’t do much talking during the show, although on their latest album, the stunning Medicine For Midnight, “Waiting on a War” seems to elucidate the singer/guitarist’s general mindset. In the lyrical storyline, inspired by a question from his young daughter, he sings, “I’ve been waiting on a war since I was young / Since I was a little boy with a toy gun / Never really wanted to be number one /Just wanted to love everyone.”

That tune didn’t make an appearance during their 24-song-set at MSG, but a mix of songs, styles, covers, and hits ran the gamut. Special guest Dave Chapelle, joining the band to sing Radiohead’s “Creep,” made headlines, but was ultimately extraneous to the Foos own performance. Quirky asides/highlights included Hawkins front and center doing impressive vocals on Queen’s “Somebody to Love” with Grohl on drums, and the Foos’ fun foray into disco via their new moniker “Dee Gees,” and the live debut of the Brothers Gibb gem “You Should Be Dancing.” 

Dave Grohl’s arena-rock cover band.

It’s impossible to forget the nightmare of the last 15 or so months. And there are valid opinions and research published on whether Covid vaccines are riskier than purported, with the Delta variant causing many, even the fully vaccinated, to stay away from concerts and other large gatherings. Moving forward, MSG will stay on top of evolving protocols and expect to host both fully vaccinated and a mix of vaccinated/non-vaccinated shows, depending on the event/artists.  

But for three freeing hours, those concerns weren’t front and center. At Eighth Avenue’s Molly Wee pub before the concert, Paul and Debbie, a married couple from Orange County, New York were at the bar, nothing short of elated. Were they wary about attending what in 2020 would have been termed a “superspreader” event? 

“No way,” said Debbie. “We’re fully vaccinated, we’ve been psyched and ready for this.” It’s their third time seeing the Foo Fighters and the couple were fine with the vaccination requirements for entry. “It’s a public health concern, I don’t have a problem with it at all. Especially with New York being a hot spot,” Debbie said. “I have zero problem with it. If there’s a vaccine, protect your friends, protect your family.”

A Long Island woman who said her name was Karen disagreed. Outside MSG with a sign urging a rejection of injection mandates, she was in attendance “for the cause of medical freedom. Where there’s risk there must be choice,” she stated. “There must not be segregation on the basis of your medical decisions. It’s segregation and its discrimination.”

If vaccines weren’t required, would she have been inside, rocking out to “The Pretender” and “Everlong”? “Maybe, maybe not,” she replied, in a tone that seemed to indicate “no.” Asked about her goals at MSG, Karen said, “If  someone has already done one shot, maybe they’ll think twice about getting the second, or when it’s time for their booster shot, they won’t take that.” 

Karen didn’t belong to any organized protest group: “We’re all part of a bigger organization, it’s called the United States of America.” 

There was a distinct lack of back-and-forth between protesters and concertgoers. But inside the venue, emotions ran high, and in two directions: the crowd’s energy was electric, positive, palpable, and unrelenting, much like the band’s own. 

“Times Like These,” which opened the show, provided a fitting emotional and lyrical through-line for the evening, which proved ultimately as much of a landmark experience than a concert. As the Foos left the stage the satiated but energized audience filed out. In the cheek-by-jowl exit herd, spontaneous cheering filled the packed stairwells to the Midtown streets, as the lyrics to “Times Like These” took on a poignant joy: “It’s times like these you learn to live again. It’s times like these you give and give again. It’s times like these you learn to love again.”   ❖

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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 ENTERTAINMENT 2021 From The Archives MUSIC 2021 TV 2021 Uncategorized

New PBS Special Looks Back on Career of Brazilian Legend Sergio Mendes (Q&A)

An influential music figure gets his due this month on PBS, which airs the special Sergio Mendes & Friends: A Celebration, chronicling the life of the Brazilian music pioneer, throughout June. Featuring the documentary Sergio Mendes: In The Key Of Joy by director John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs John Lennon), the presentation features commentary from Herb Alpert, Common, Quincy Jones, John Legend, will.i.am (who produced his comeback into the pop world called Timeless) and more.

Mendes, who was born in Niterói, Brazil in 1941, found his rhythm on the keys and in the New York music scene, first as a signee with his music trio to Capitol Records, and later Brasil 66 signed with A&M, where he re-defined the ‘60s Bossa Nova sound and popularized smooth jazz with a pop sensibility. Releasing 35 albums and scoring multiple hits like “Mas Que Nada,” “The Look of Love,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Night and Day,” and later, the soulful ballad “Never Gonna Let You Go,” Mendes has earned three Grammies and received an Oscar nod for his music in the animated film Rio.

His work has been used in countless films, adverts, and TV programs;  so much so that even younger music fans who might not know the artist by name usually have recognition of his work, both with his groups and as a solo artist and composer. His take on Brazilian music has become a global and cultural game-changer that continues to inspire and resonate to this day. With the PBS special debuting this weekend, we spoke to the legend via Zoom from his home in Woodland Hills, California.

LINA LECARO: The movie is wonderful. How did it all come about?

SERGIO MENDES: Thank you. Yes, John Scheinfeld did a tremendous job. He’s a wonderful director and producer, and it was great working with him. The record company had this idea of doing a documentary about my life and they asked me what I thought. I thought that was great so they sent me a copy of the documentary that John did on Coltrane, and also Harry Nilsson, and I loved them. I said I want to meet him. So he came to the house, we met and I said let’s do it. Let’s go.

He’s a great storyteller, and clearly very musical. I think that you probably have to really have a strong appreciation for the music to tell this kind of story in the right way.

I met with him a couple of times here at the house and he lives here in LA, which makes life easier. I really enjoyed meeting him and we spoke a lot about my career, my music, my life… I didn’t see anything until the end. Not the interviews or anything, and so it was for me, a very emotional experience when I saw the final cut. He got some incredible archives from shows I’d done years and years ago. I think it’s very well put together.

The archival stuff was so fun. Really captured that time. Were there things that you forgot about, or that made an impression on you to see again?

Once I saw it I remembered most of the things, but I had forgotten a few, so it was great to see that great footage again. And also, you know, going back to where I grew up in Brazil. The apartment building where I used to live….all that was very, very moving for me.

So looking back at your career, the film shows both your influence and your resiliency in tough times. It really showed the ups and downs. That early live gig Brasil 66 had and how you got fired because the crowds didn’t quite get it. And yet, you went on to be so popular afterward. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Yeah, of course that was a downer. You know, I mean, somebody who hired you to play and then goes, here’s your money and thank you very much but we don’t want you. I said wow, this is the beginning of my career. The gig was in the Bahamas. But I told the members that we just have to rehearse and make this thing better and so we came back to the U.S. And right when we get back here, we start to rehearse, then A&M was interesred, so things started happening.

As they say, ‘when one door closes, another door opens.” Watching the story unfold, that gig in the Bahamas was surprising because you guys were already establishing your sound, and you sounded amazing. Why do you think it didn’t resonate at the time?

Well I think it was a combination of things. First of all, we hadn’t had the big hit yet. This is before “Mas Que Nada.” We didn’t have a record or something to promote and nobody knew about us. I mean after I recorded my first album, and had the big success with so many songs, then things were different.

Brasil 66

How did Albert and Jerry hear about you? Were you playing out live a lot?

I was here in the L.A. studio of a friend of mine on Melrose. And in those days record companies used to come to visit to see and to hear new bands. A few record companies came to see us there and among them was Herb and Jerry. It was a perfect fit. They were just starting and they had great energy and I liked them a lot. We became good friends for life. It was just like—as I use the word many times in the documentary— serendipity.

I think so. Another part of the documentary showing the band’s evolution and how things maybe happen for a reason, was when you lost your original singer Lani Hall . She fell in love with Herb and left the band. That must have been hard because you had such a great chemistry with her singing.

Absolutely, we’re still very dear friends dear by the way. I speak once or twice a week with Herb and Lani. But you know, again, like you said one door closes and the other one opens. That’s when I met my wife who became the singer of the band.

It became a love story for all of you. Sergio, what would you say looking back on your career and being a Latino in the US, about getting your music out there? Like what were some of the challenges that you faced? How did you overcome the cultural barriers and find success?

I think it comes down to the song at the end of the day. The power of the song, and the melody. We had a hit song in Portuguese, it was the first time ever that a song like that became a number one in the world, not only in the United States. I think a lot had to do with the arrangement and the uniqueness of the sound at the time.

It was very unique. Did you ever consider translating it or would that have been weird?

For that song, it would be such a corny thing. It wouldn’t work out. The song by the way is huge in Japan. The melody is really the catchy and people, they’ve taken it to the heart and they’ve embraced it. Some songs need English lyrics but not that one. Having English songs helped to make us even more international, though.

You are a role model for Latin people. How does that feel?

I never thought about it. I don’t know, am I?

You are! Your music brought a flavor of music to America that wasn’t there and it changed pop music. I think the documentary touches upon that and it’s huge. I think it will inspire musicians of all backgrounds because you always stayed true to who you are and you still made it within the industry.

Absolutely, yeah. I would say people should stay with your dream, embrace your dream and don’t stop. As I like to say, keep playing in the key of joy.    ❖

Sergio Mendes & Friends: A Celebration airs on PBS beginning Sat., June 5.

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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.