BBQ Films and Rough Trade NYC Toast Twenty Years of Empire Records

Empire Records, the 1995 film about the teen employees of a record store struggling to stay afloat, holds a measly 24 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Created to cash in on the mid-Nineties alt-rock zeitgeist, it flopped at the box office after critics panned it as predictable and fluffy despite a terrific soundtrack and endearing performances from young soon-to-be stars. It was released on the brink of the music industry’s collapse. Being doomed to late-night TV rotation seemed a fitting fate.

Gabriel Rhoads muses upon these less-than-auspicious beginnings as he sits upstairs at Rough Trade, the massive Williamsburg indie record store that opened last year. The founder and CEO of immersive film screening company BBQ Films is in the middle of planning the latest chapter in Empire‘s saga of underdog success: a twentieth-anniversary event celebrating its enduring status as an unlikely cult hit, rescued from obscurity by obsessive music fans who discovered and cherished it over the last two decades. Rhoads and his mostly volunteer crew of movie lovers are transforming Rough Trade into the film’s titular location for three nights starting on April 8, the same date on which the movie’s story unfolds.

Update: See photos from <a href="">Rex Manning Day at Rough Trade Records</A>.
Update: See photos from Rex Manning Day at Rough Trade Records.

He is, for lack of a better word, really stoked about it. The BBQ team — which has so far hosted events themed around Back to the Future, The Fifth Element, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and American Psycho — had an Empire celebration on their wish list for a future party. But the location, particularly crucial to this film, repeatedly eluded them. That all changed when Rhoads visited the shop. “I remember walking into Rough Trade for the first time, for an X Ambassadors show,” he says. “It was instantaneous. I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is Empire Records.’ ”

Helping him bring this vision to life are George Flanagan, Rough Trade’s store manager, and Sebastian Freed, who books shows there through Bowery Presents. As they riff off each other’s anticipation for the upcoming blowout, their enthusiasm for the film, its legacy, and the community it sanctifies is infectious. “It’s exciting, because we’re a fan of anything that celebrates record-store culture,” says Flanagan. “There’s just this and High Fidelity. It was a perfect fit.”

Empire Records takes place over a single 24-hour period. A particularly droll young employee discovers plans for a chain takeover of the store while closing up one night, and takes $9,000 of the store’s cash to Atlantic City in an attempt to win enough to stop the sale. He loses it all at craps, and over the next day he and the other employees scramble to make it back. They also contend with Rex Manning Day, an in-store promotional event for a badly aging pop singer; the halfhearted ire of their begrudgingly protective adult boss, Joe; and the familiar, routine struggles of senior year (it is a teen movie, after all). Spoiler alert: It all turns out fine and ends with a dance party behind the store’s vintage neon sign.

Because every scene but the gambling sequence takes place at the store, the space “is in a way the star of the movie,” says Flanagan. “They never really leave. It’s so perfectly aligned” to Rough Trade, whose cavernous main floor bears an uncanny resemblance to Empire‘s set. Rhoads agrees: Rather than forcing his team to pick between dozens of often elaborate locales depicted in a given story, this event allows them to re-create the world of a film in unprecedented depth. “I don’t think BBQ will be able to do anything the same way after this,” he says.

Considering everything they have planned for the run, it’s indeed hard to imagine how they’ll top it. In addition to the screening itself, they’re incorporating over a dozen iconic details from the film into the interactive environment of the party. Some are small, like gluing quarters to the shop floor, or relatively straightforward, like offering perks to guests who shave their head in honor of the character who does the same. Others are somewhat astonishing: In addition to a different lineup of indie bands playing the Rough Trade stage every night, they’ve booked legendary metal rockers Gwar to play all three dates in sync with the group’s onscreen performance during a fantasy sequence.

Few of these details — most notably the bands — were released when tickets went on sale; nonetheless, all three nights sold out in two minutes. Rhoads credits the unexpected frenzy to Empire‘s history as a film rescued by its fans, whose dedication to the story has paid off in the form of connection with other music lovers. “There’s also the aspect of [music stores] that have a huge film section,” adds Rough Trade’s Flanagan. “There’s a cool factor that comes along with stumbling on something in a record store.” That’s not unlike how many of the film’s fans discovered it on VHS tapes.

The idyllic dream life of a boom-era record shop immortalized in Empire all but disappeared shortly after the film’s release. The film’s persistence is an unusual mix of nostalgia and excitement that the dream is, against steep odds, very much alive. Massive chains like Virgin and HMV, or the fictional Music Town that threatens Empire, have collapsed; highly personable indie shops filled with the sorts of characters in the film have fared far better. “On a busy Saturday it feels like that vibe, going back to [the] heyday of the Nineties,” says Flanagan, who’s worked in record shops for most of his life. While he admits the industry will likely never return to its peak levels, “the little things you took for granted then are so great to feel again.”

Even more surprising to the organizers is the discovery of a dedicated fan base too young to have seen Empire‘s debut or the golden era that inspired it. “It’s wild to me that there’s a generation that didn’t grow up with record stores,” Flanagan says. “But now [teens] are coming into the store and think it’s so cool.” Freed, of Bowery Presents, thinks Rough Trade’s dual identity as shop and stage represents the vanguard of the music industry, one that satisfies both generations. “This is both halves: buying a record, and then being able to take ten more steps and see the band live,” he says. “Or falling in love with an opening band and then being able to buy their record right outside. This space is hopefully on its way to becoming an Empire Records.”

As the event that brought them together approaches, all three are eager to see the results of their collaboration. Flanagan and Freed have given Rhoads and BBQ near-free rein for their takeover, and despite being involved in every facet of the production, Rhoads can never anticipate how fans will interact with the environments his team creates. The “brain trust,” as he calls the BBQ family, surprises him every time with what they manage to pull off.

“I’ve rewatched the movie a lot lately for the production, and I [identify] with the boss now. I identify with Joe,” Rhoads says, beginning to glow with pride. “I now run a creative team and I feel responsible for taking care of them. Watching Joe take care of his community resonates with me.”

BBQ Films started with a screening of The Blues Brothers Rhoads organized with his wife on their roof. He sees his company as a real-world sister to Empire Records, fueled by passion and a scrappy ethos. The film is set in an unnamed Delaware city, but Rex Manning Day, as BBQ has dubbed the party, could only conceivably happen in New York, according to Rhoads. “If there’s something out there that you don’t see but you want to go to, you can just go make it,” he says of the city’s creative energy. “And then you make it, and other people are like, ‘Oh, I want to do that, too!’ And then all of a sudden, you have a company.”

BBQ Films and Rough Trade NYC present Rex Manning Day: A 20th Anniversary Screening of Empire Records at Rough Trade NYC April 8–April 10. All three nights are sold out, but tickets are available on the secondary market.

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Kendrick Lamar’s Fans Brave the Snow at To Pimp a Butterfly Rough Trade NYC Signing

Two thousand Kendrick Lamar fans can’t be wrong, but 30 degrees and icy snowfall was definitely an insult. Regardless of the less-than-stellar conditions during the wait outside, fans of the rapper trickled in and snaked around the outer rim of Williamsburg’s Rough Trade NYC. First they obtained a copy of this week’s biggest album release, To Pimp a Butterfly, as well as a yellow wristband to then face the bleak music of returning back to the cold for another joust with the weather. Though everyone looked like they had white powder caked to their jacket hoods and shoulder tops, spirits and anticipation couldn’t have been higher.

“He’s definitely changed the game of hip-hop,” says Tevin, whose full name shall be withheld because he cut work to get in line. “I grew up listening to hip-hop, but to me it was starting to get watered down and there were some really wack artists. I started to drift away until I heard Kendrick Lamar. Finally a new change — it brought me back into the game. So I had to meet him.”

Tevin was one of a few hundred fans who arrived around 2:30 p.m. While waiting to buy the record, the crowd was treated to a preview, with the good people of Rough Trade blasting To Pimp a Butterfly over the store speakers for the sea of beanies and ball caps.

When the second track came on, Josh DWH remarked on how rapid-fire Lamar’s vocals are on “For Free? (Interlude).” “He went off with that flow,” he says. “The jazz on it is crazy.” Josh downloaded the album when it sneaked online earlier this week. “It was something like ‘Rigamortus’ [from 2011’s Section.80], just fast flow. He killed it. He ran through that track.”

After purchasing To Pimp a Butterfly and receiving the bracelet, fans then returned to the snow-dusted North 9th Street to await the 4 p.m. arrival of Lamar. It was during this time that you could see the vast line of fans standing two by two consuming most of the sidewalk.

“I was really surprised. It’s the biggest signing that I’ve seen here,” says Mel Gottshall. Last year she attended Wayne Coyne’s signing at Rough Trade but had a rather awkward experience with the leader of the Flaming Lips.

“He was kind of a dick,” she says. “I got it signed for my boyfriend and [Coyne] was like, ‘Where is he?’ and I said he lives in Philly, and he said, ‘When are you going to move in together?’ And I said space is good. And then he leaned back and crossed his arms and said, ‘What do you mean, space is good? Don’t you love him? You should want to be with him.’ And I was like, ‘Can’t you just sign it?’ ”

If Lamar winds up giving Gottshall relationship advice, she thinks it’ll be nicer than Wayne’s.

Kendrick's canine fans came out to get in on the <i>To Pimp a Butterfly</i> action as well.
Kendrick’s canine fans came out to get in on the To Pimp a Butterfly action as well.

Fans killed the next hour making conversation and discussing the plans they’d made or changed or broken after hearing of this event.

“Well, this is really depressing — instead of standing out in the snow for two hours, I was going to go to Miami,” laughs Ariel Richer, who’s currently on her spring break. “But then I was like, it’s Kendrick Lamar!”

When the time came to finally meet the man of the hour, fans approached his table while hastily trying to remove the godforsaken CD sticker with their frozen fingers so that Lamar could sign the inner booklet. Sitting in front of a large poster depicting the album’s already iconic cover image, Lamar appeared cool and calm as he signed “KL” in a single cursive flow.

With so many fans to greet, it’s obvious that each meeting was short (about ten seconds on average), but that didn’t mean fans weren’t prepared to ask a specific question or two.

“I’d love to talk him about race relations, but we don’t have enough time for that,” says Richer. Tevin adds, “For me, if I get to ask him a question, it would be how he stays so positive and true to the hip-hop game when an entire nation of fans just want stuff like twerk and party music. He says true to the old-school, West Coast style of rap.” Afiya Jackson wouldn’t have minded something a little chummier. “I know there’s a lot of people here, but I would like to pull him away and have a real heart-to-heart conversation for, like, twenty minutes. He’s amazing. I just want to pick his brain.”

Crummy weather aside, hundreds of New Yorkers bonded together and braved Mother Nature’s sick joke of a first day of spring and met a contemporary rap icon. And nothing was going to prevent it.

“Nah, man,” says Tevin. “They could have blocked the roads and I would have still tried to come in.”

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Kendrick Lamar to Pack Rough Trade NYC for To Pimp a Butterfly Signing

Hooray for playing hooky. Kendrick Lamar, on the heels of the (surprise!) release of this new album, To Pimp a Butterfly, will offer a special signing for the first 2,000 records sold at Rough Trade NYC in Williamsburg March 20 beginning at 1 p.m. Fans who purchase the record will be given a wristband allowing them to return at 4 p.m. for the meet, greet, and signing. Lines will start forming around 3 p.m., so if you want a shot at saying hey to K-Dot, get thee to the L train, stat.

To Pimp a Butterfly has made countless headlines in this past week for its high anticipation and ambiguous album release. Lamar’s most recent New York appearance was his Saturday Night Live guest spot last November, where he dazzled and teased with new material.

Judging by Lamar’s current position at the center of the musical universe, if you’d like a chance to meet him, now is the time to start practicing your most convincing fake cough so you can make a speedy exit from school or office.

Update (1:19 p.m.): Looks like the line is already snaking down North 9th.

Kendrick Lamar fans on line for the signing today at 4pm! It’s not too late to come down and jump on it! #kendricklamar

A photo posted by Rough Trade NYC (@roughtradenyc) on

Kendrick Lamar will sign the first 2,000 copies of To Pimp a Butterfly sold today starting at 1 p.m. at Rough Trade in Williamsburg (64 North 9th Street, Brooklyn).



Seven Things to Know About ‘Disney Princess’ Natalie Prass Before Her Brooklyn Debut

Natalie Prass’s first full-length record has been out for a week, and two words have been repeatedly thrown her way now that her songs are out there for the world to hear: “Disney” and “princess.” As Brooklyn Vegan pointed out, nearly every single paragraph gushing over her pristine soprano, elaborate instrumentation, and timeless songwriting style has recalled the chipper, wholesome, preternaturally pretty melodies of the heroines of our favorite cartoon musicals. It’s easy to see why every critic from Vogue to Pitchfork listened to “Why Don’t You Believe in Me” or “You Fool” and pictured Prass getting dressed by bluebirds in the morning or using a fork for a hairbrush: Her voice is up there with those of Ariel, Cinderella, Jasmine, and Pocahontas before her. Thankfully, she’s in 3-D.

Still, who’s the gal beyond the “Part of Your World” comparisons? There’s not a whole lot out there about Prass, even though she seemingly appeared on the front page of music internet overnight. Of the venues she’ll be playing on her first headlining tour in support of the new record, Rough Trade is the latest to sell out, and she’ll be heading there February 6. Prass will go on to support Ryan Adams on the European leg of his tour shortly following her Brooklyn date, so we got to know the enticing indie talent before Pixar goes and digitizes her in an attempt to craft an indie answer to Frozen.

1) The Disney comments are all compliments, as far as Prass is concerned. She’s heard it before, as far back as three years ago, when the initial listening party for her album took place. “It wasn’t a surprise, to be honest,” she laughs. “You know, the record’s been tracked for a while. When we finished tracking it in 2012, we had a big listening party for everyone that was involved in the record. It wasn’t mixed or anything, but we had this party. Everyone heard the closer and said, ‘Wow, this is a Disney song!’ I’m completely aware of that. I think it’s a compliment! Who doesn’t love a really good Disney princess song?! [Laughs] I think it’s cool. I don’t take any offense to it. Bring it on. It’s great.”

2) You may recognize Prass from Jenny Lewis’s road band, as Prass joined Lewis for her tour in support of 2014’s The Voyager. She learned a ton from Lewis in their time on- and offstage, specifically with regard to how to run a happy ship when you’re fronting a band full of people living out of suitcases for months at a time.

“I was a sponge, just soaking up everything,” she recalls. “I learned a lot about being a sideman and a supporter of an artist, and how that’s so important, to just be a rock for this artist. Jenny doesn’t need any rock — she’s so strong and such a professional — but I learned that it doesn’t matter if you’re tired or if you have the worst day of your life, you have to go onstage, because that’s your time to let all that go and give the best show you can. And then after the show you just crash. She was just so good to us. She always made sure that we were taken care of; she was very attentive to our needs. I thought that was amazing of her. I’ve heard horror stories from other friends with different artists, but she was always on point. I’ve never had the opportunity to bring a band out [until now], but I’m definitely going to be like that. This is who I want to be as a bandleader.”

3) Speaking of being a bandleader, this tour marks her first outing fronting a full band. “The last [couple of] times that I played in Brooklyn, it’s was just me solo, or me and one other person,” she says. “I’m really excited to get to focus and relax and sing and play. I can communicate with them onstage and we can feed off each other. Sometimes it gets a little lonely when you play by yourself. The band is so good. We don’t really play the same thing every night. There are little subtleties we explore. That’s pretty exciting for us, too.”

On the next page: “I kind of wanted to write my own ‘Jolene.’ ”

4) Virginia is for lovers, and she’s one of them. Prass spent nearly a decade honing her songwriting chops in Nashville but fell in love with Richmond while working on Natalie Prass, which she recorded in her new city. Instead of unpacking from tour with Lewis, she just packed the rest of her stuff, left Music City in the dust, and settled in the Virginia capital just a couple of weeks ago. “I lived on a tour bus for a while, and I’ve been wanting to move to Richmond ever since we did the record,” she says. “I was so impressed with everyone I was meeting. The city was so beautiful. I love the energy. Sometimes there’s so much involved. It just kind of kept not happening. When I went on tour, all my stuff was in storage and I was living in a bus, and I was like, ‘This is my time to move, and I’m doing it now.’ I’d been thinking that for a while.”

Still, she credits Nashville as one of the chief muses responsible for her musical growth, and she can certainly hear the city’s pull on the record. “Nashville had a huge influence on my songwriting, no doubt. It’s kind of hard for it not to, as it’s a musician’s town. It’s everywhere. You’re learning so much, especially in your twenties when you’re experimenting and it’s your time to throw everything at the wall. Nashville’s definitely in my record, no doubt about it.”

5) Strings, woodwinds, and blaring brass are all present on Natalie Prass, but not necessarily in her live show. “We have the traditional rock setup: drums, bass, guitar,” she says. “I play guitar and keys, and then Trey Pollard plays guitar and keys. He co-produced the record and did the string arrangements. So the sound is obviously not an orchestra — there are no horns — but we’re very aware of that. We definitely have incorporated those horn lines into the show. It sounds different, but personally, I think that’s exciting. From what I’ve experienced, doing this for a while, people want to hear what the record sounds like. I think that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we’re definitely doing what’s appropriate, you know? We don’t have octopus arms! [Laughs] We have to tone it down. It sounds great. These guys are insanely skilled and have amazing, unbelievable ears, and it’s just such a joy playing with them, because we can build and get really quiet. It’s just an amazing band.”

6) This may be her first full-length, but she’s got two EPs to her name and years of material to work with. Don’t expect a one-dimensional set: Prass has been at it since long before 2009, when she released her first EP, Small and Sweet, and her setlist reflects that. “The thing is, I had the EPs and everything, but this is my first full-length, and I knew I didn’t have the resources or the platform to present my songs in a way that would reach a lot of people…That was the hardest part for me, when I realized that this record was coming out in 2015. I was like, ‘Whoa, I have to play some really old songs.’ I was psyching myself up: ‘It’s OK. No one’s heard these songs.’ I mean, people have, but not to this degree, so it’s fine. It’s been nice to visit these old memories, these old songs again.”

7) Some of these songs are difficult to perform, given the album’s themes of heartbreak and unrequited love, but “Christy” may take the cake as the weirdest tune for her to revisit onstage. “I didn’t listen to the record at all when I knew it was going to be kind of shelved for a while,” she says. “I just wanted to keep working on other things, and then when we brought it back out to mix it and master it, it did bring up a lot of old, unfinished feelings that I had just put away. With ‘Christy,’ we’ve been doing that one with a string quartet when we can — we’ll have the quartet in New York. I had written that song because I kind of wanted to write my own ‘Jolene,’ and then the song wound up coming true. It wasn’t true at all. It was just a story. It’s pretty broad, but yeah: Somebody started dating my one true love, and yeah, that happened. It was really hard. That was one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with. It sounds silly now, but at the time I couldn’t believe it was happening. That one always feels really haunting and mystical to me whenever we play it.”

Natalie Prass plays Rough Trade NYC on February 6. Tickets are sold out, but you can find them on the secondary market.

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We Spoke to Cops About the Shooting Outside Freddie Gibbs’s Rough Trade Show

Update, Tuesday, November 4, 2014: A spokesman for Rough Trade reached out after publication to offer this statement on behalf of the venue: “Last night, an incident occurred across the street from Rough Trade approximately 30 minutes after a performance with Freddie Gibbs ended. As the safety of our audiences, artists and neighbors is always our first priority, we are fully cooperating with the police and have shared video footage of the street to aid in the investigation.” He declined to offer any insight into whether or not the venue will use metal detectors in the future, or whether the incident would impact their decision to book acts like Gibbs, though. He did say that concerts would go on as scheduled at Rough Trade.

Shots rang out early Tuesday morning around 1 a.m. in front of Williamsburg’s Rough Trade, shots that appear to have been meant for rapper Freddie Gibbs, who had just wrapped up a show at the Brooklyn record store and venue.

See also: The 10 Best Pieces of Freddie Gibbs Fan Art


Still Livin.

A photo posted by @freddiegibbs on

“It looks like two unknown males started firing shots at the passenger of a vehicle,” says NYPD Officer Sophia Mason. Three men were sitting in a black GMC — “one stepped out, that’s when the shooting began.”

A bullet grazed the first victim’s right hand; the 33-year-old was taken to Woodhall Hospital. The second victim, 29, was hit in the thigh and transported to Bellevue Hospital, according to police. Both victims were part of Gibbs’s entourage.

“A third victim,” Mason says, “was uninjured — they just fired shots toward him.” That third victim was Gibbs. When the New York Post caught up with the rapper outside the venue after the shooting, he reportedly said: “They tried to kill Tupac. They tried to kill me.”

According to the Post‘s report, the shooter spent the entire show hanging around Gibbs’s entourage, and even spent time in the green room before the show, but Gibbs didn’t recognize him.

“He was stalking you guys. We can tell on camera, he wanted it to look like he knew you, but it’s clear he didn’t. When you guys left, he was waiting for you outside,” a Post reporter heard an investigator tell Gibbs after viewing the security footage.

The NYPD only had the most basic description available for the two shooters — both black, male, about six feet tall, in their mid-twenties. Both fled down North 9th Street on foot.

Gibbs posted the pair of pictures above and below to Instagram shortly after, both with the caption “Still Livin.”

A British gentleman who answered the phone at Rough Trade on Tuesday morning declined to comment on the shooting and whether or not it would affect decisions to host artists like Gibbs at Rough Trade in the future. As the Post noted, the venue does not have metal detectors, nor does it check patrons for weapons.

Yep. Still Livin. Thanks NYC.

A photo posted by @freddiegibbs on


Rap-Metal Is Back…and It’s Good

Metal is an ever-turning and twisting genre, following wormholes into subgenres and melding any and all techniques and sounds along the way in a constant struggle to create something new and original. It doesn’t always work, and anyone who lived through the ’90s can attest that the addition of hip-hop elements like rapping and turntables was a serious low point.

Except now we have a whole generation who grew up on that music and wants to give it another whirl. You can find bands like Whitechapel and Suicide Silence admitting how much their sound is indebted to Korn and Slipknot, while others are even busting out those turntables again.

See also: The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time

There’s a difference this time though. Insane as it may sound to say it, it’s working.

Of course, ’90s rap-metal was terrible. Even those who hand in inventing it, like Mike Patton of Faith No More, came out strongly against it; he famously once said, “don’t blame me for that shit.” Yet his part in its creation is undeniable thanks to the massive success that was “Epic.”

And “Epic,” along with various other experiments in the idea like Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing” with Chuck D, Anthrax and Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise,” and Run DMC’s version of “Walk This Way,” proved that the idea could work. It just…didn’t.

As bands copied the idea, not just collaborating with rappers but making it a vital part of their sound as rappers and DJs became full-fledged members, it became increasingly trite and awful. You may feel nostalgic for Linkin Park, but go listen to Hybrid Theory again. It was shit. Search your feelings; you know it to be true.

But here we are in 2014, and that generation who grew up on that kind of music, who have been influenced by it and are unashamedly fans of it, are now creating. The most bizarre thing is that they’re creating well.

Maybe it’s because of how far metal has come since then. One of the most aggravating things about the original rap-metal movement was how it tried to combine bad rapping with bad Pantera-esque groove-metal riffage.

These new bands are drawing instead on death metal and technical metal influences to shape their riffs, and apparently have been paying attention to better rappers over the years.


Take Devastator, for instance, the shining example of how to do modern rap-metal right. These guys have djent riffs in spades, progressive interludes and a rapper with some serious skill in his flow. This is what the genre always sort of had the potential to be, finally being exploited properly.

Then take a band like Emmure, who wear their Limp Bizkit influence on their sleeve. They get a lot of shit for it, but love them or hate them, they’re one of the bigger names in metal right now. Front man Frankie Palmeri has always drawn from rapping to influence his lyrics and his vocal style, and most recently they busted out a DJ to put some turntable scratches on the single “E” from their new record, Eternal Enemies.

Far from being the abomination that it by all rights should have been, the track is bouncy and fun, and the turntables take nothing away from Emmure’s sound. They are perfectly applied. If you’re going to do this sort of thing in metal, this is how to do it.

It’s not all gold, of course. Former Escape the Fate front man Ronnie Radke’s current project, Falling in Reverse, has started to head in the rap metal direction, and it’s pure trash. The reason is that they’re drawing from mainstream-radio rap. If you already hate what you hear on The Box like most real hip-hop heads, you’re going to hate what Falling in Reverse is doing.

But then you get a band like Hacktivist, who are doing something similar to Devastator and executing the idea very well. A lot of fans are going to be resistant of course, but I for one welcome our new rap-metal overlords.

As long as it continues to be done with tact, like the way Hacktivist or Emmure are doing it, and remains largely removed from the awful cliches Falling in Reverse are attempting to trade in, it should be a welcome addition to the genre. If nothing else, it lends variety to a style of metal that has increasingly become mired by copycat bands and devoid of true originality.

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How Not to Run an Indie Rap Label

Ten years ago, Matt Diamond started Coalmine Records. The Brooklyn-based independent rap label’s first release was “The Raw,” a 12-inch single featuring the Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck, horrorcore-styled rapper Bekay, and one-time savior of New York hip-hop Saigon. Since then the Coalmine vault has stacked up contributions from a list of luminaries that includes Pharoahe Monch, Kool G Rap, and Talib Kweli, plus producers Alchemist and M-Phazes.

In celebration of a decade in the game, Coalmine has released Unearthed this week — a 22-track compilation that’s mixed by the dextrous hands of DJ Revolution and acts as the label’s vital Soundbombing moment. Consider it your daily dose of fortified boom-bap goodness.

In honor of the milestone, here Diamond embarks on a good-natured reminisce about five vital learning steps that come with launching an indie rap label. Naturally, they involve advice on how to deal with Kanye West’s notorious cock-blocking tendencies.

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1. Be Careful When Telling Members of the Wu-Tang Clan to Re-Record Their Verses

“The very first record that I released was “The Raw,” which was a 12-inch single featuring Saigon, Bekay and Inspectah Deck. The track ended up going on Bekay’s Hunger Pains LP after initially being released as a single in 2005. When the track was a work in progress, Saigon and Bekay tracked their vocals first, and with just two 16s it was a bit light time wise, so I gave some thought as to who would be dope to close out the track and Inspectah Deck came to mind.

“I ended up booking some studio time and Deck knocked out a dope verse, but I remember him ending his verse in a way that was kinda unorthodox for Deck — like I think he threw in a really extended “yah kiiiid” as the end which would have been dope had it been Flava Flav, but it just sounded kinda off for Deck.

“I was trying to work up the courage to ask Deck if he’d mind changing up the end, and he was getting set to leave, so I realized I’d better hurry up. I think I had a very quiet panic attack in the process, but I realized this is a situation that’s going to happen again and again if I’m going to be running a label, so I better learn to speak up. I did, and luckily Deck had no problem switching it up — took him all of five seconds, and he gave me a dap, bounced, and that was that. Remember, closed mouths don’t get fed.”

2. Exercise Caution When Telling Rappers to Record Violent Raps

“Historically, Heltah Skeltah was always one of my favorite groups and I still bump Nocturnal on the regular to this day. Needless to say, they were one of the first groups I reached out to work with when I launched Coalmine. They ended up recording the track “Midnight Madness” which was the lead single off the Foundation project, produced by Shuko. The track also ended up getting remixed several times over for our Midnight Madness remix EP, as well.

“I always had a certain vision for the record, so I’ll never forget meeting Ruck and Rock at this studio in Crown Heights. I remember talking to ’em about how I wanted the track to go in a really violent direction. I mean, you hear the instrumental, and it’s just one of those tracks to start a riot to, so it seemed fitting, and if there was ever a group that could deliver on these terms, it would be them. But the hilarity is how they looked at each other — and then looked at me like I was more crazy then they were. I guess the irony was that I was legitimately concerned that they’d be able to make the record violent enough, and having them realize that this was a grave concern of mine was comedy gold. I definitely got the dumbfounded Rodney Dangerfield-esque stare from P.”

3. Always Make Sure to Have R.A. The Rugged Man’s Money In Hand

“When I working on Bekay’s Hunger Pains, we decided to have R.A. The Rugged Man on the Marco Polo-produced track “Pipe Dreams.” It’s a dope track that’s in the form of a label meeting where Bekay essentially plays the role of himself being solicited for a deal, and R.A. plays the role of a sheisty record exec. Anyways, I ended up picking R.A. from midtown and driving him to the same studio in Crown Heights that I recorded with Heltah Skeltah.

“We get to the studio and everything was cool. He wrote and recorded his verse at the spot, Shuko showed up to play ’em some beats, and for whatever reason R.A. changed up his steelo and went into tough guy mode. Basically, he started shouting through the vocal booth into the PA system that allows you to communicate with the mixing engineer, saying that if I didn’t have the money for his verse in the palm of his hand the second that he walks out of the booth then he was gonna snuff me in the face.

“I mean, many of us have heard these crazy R.A. stories so I wasn’t surprised — overall I was more amused than threatened. He got paid, no punches were thrown, the track came out dope, and all was right with the world. I fuck with R.A.’s Film School series — dude needs to bring that back.”

4. Learn It’s Smarter to Barter Your Beats

“One of the first producers I started working with was M-Phazes. It’s a relationship that started after buying this one track off him which ended becoming Pharoahe Monch’s “Clap (One Day).” I remember Phazes asking who I was going to have featured on the track, and I replied “Pharoahe Monch.” Truth is, I didn’t know Monch at the time, but I was convinced he was gonna like the track, so I made it my business to get the track in his hands.

“I was recording a couple of songs with MeLa Machinko who sings vocals for Monch. She got him the track, and from what she told me he liked it, but I also ended up getting that beat, along with a few other of Phazes’ tracks, into his hands personally. Monch was working on his third solo LP at the time and wanted to use the beat for the album, so we ended up bartering that track for him to record what would become “Get Down” for Unearthed, which is also produced by Phazes.

“This is just one of those stories about how the barter system is the smarter system. Phazes went on to produce four tracks for Monch’s W.A.R. album, and I got to release a track with my favorite artist of all time. Everybody wins.”

5. Beware Kanye West’s Cock-Blocking

“I remember being at this club Cain (which is now closed) where DJ Reach was spinning. There was this one girl that I was talking to and towards the end of the night, Reach, myself, the girl and a couple other of peeps all bounced to go to Greenhouse. We made it about as far as the end of the block and out of the corner of my eye I see some dude quickly grab the girl. Now when I mean grab, I’m not talking about the traditional “Hey ma” arm grab — this was a full-fledged, come-from-behind, hands-around-waist get-over-here.

“My first instinct was, “Shit, is this one of those moments where you gotta go into superhero mode and whip a dude’s ass as part of the courting process?” My second instinct was, “Oh, wait, that’s Kanye West.”

“This was a pre-Kimye Kanye so I’m not throwing dude under the bus, but what followed was pretty hilarious: Apparently, Ye and the girl knew each other and he was trying to run some game and get her into the Expedition; all the while Kid Cudi’s with him, but about ten yards in the distance, like literally staring into space. I think my sense of opportunity clicked off before the realization came that I was the victim of a classic cock-block, so I reached into my back pocket to pull out a beat CD of various producers I was working with and asked ‘Ye mid-block if he was looking for any outside production. No shame. He put his game on pause for a second, looked up at me and said, “My man, the only thing outside I’m looking for right now is some outside pussy.”

“Well, either his response upset the girl or she was disappointed in Kanye for not taking my inquiry seriously, but either way he skated off empty handed. Let’s just say the night ended without any outside production (or its alternative) being bought, sold, bartered or given. Unlike the Pharoahe story, nobody wins here — but you can’t win ’em all.”

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The Numero Record Store Pop-Up Happening This Weekend in Greenpoint Sounds Amazing

Since setting up shop in 2003 Chicago’s Numero Group has reissued a steady stream of gems from the likes of Syl Johnson, Wilco, Codeine, Hüsker Dü, Unwound and a ton of others. The label’s mission from the start was, according to their website, “to dig deep into the recesses of our record collections with the goal of finding the dustiest gems begging to be released from their exile on geek street. No longer would $500 singles sit in a temperature-controlled room dying for a chance to be played. No more would the artists, writers, and entrepreneurs who made these records happen go unknown and unappreciated.”

They’ve certainly succeeded at that task. And now, Numero Group is opening a store in Brooklyn. But only for the weekend.

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From Numero’s Facebook event page:

Numero’s first east coast mega mart sets up in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood at Human Gallery for three days only! We’ll be taking over all 700 square feet of the space for the entire weekend of April 25th-27th, stocking the place with thousands of Numero Group LPs, 45s, and CDs. Our very own Rob Sevier and Ken Shipley will DJ intermittently throughout the day. We’ll also be bringing tons of deleted items and damaged stock, selling it all at blow out prices. Wholesalers welcomed. Everything there will be priced to move. We have no interest in trucking it back to Chicago.

Human NYC is located at 110 Meserole Ave, and the store will be open from 12-5 p.m.

See you there.

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“[Nirvana] Went From Opening Band to International Rock Stars at That Moment.”

“It’s kind of like coming full-circle, starting with the Subterranean Pop radio show in 1979 and finally doing this book signing at the Rough Trade Records store in Brooklyn,” says Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt. Seventeen years after leaving Seattle and his iconic label behind to focus on his family, Pavitt has both physically and mentally returned to an era of rock he helped build. In his photo journal titled Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989, released via Bazillion Points in December of last year, he shares a glimpse into a moment just before grunge broke into the mainstream as Nirvana, Tad, and Mudhoney tour Europe, the former two on the “Heavier Than Heaven” tour and relatively unknown on both sides of the Atlantic. Pavitt finds “beautiful resonance” in the fact that he gets to celebrate his memories at the new, Brooklyn location of the original UK record store where his book’s narrative ends. Additionally, he gets to do so through a Q&A session with Our Band Could Be Your Life author and old friend Michael Azerrad. “I have deep respect for all the work that he’s done to convey the intricacies of the indie culture from that era,” he says.

Prior to this event and a few months in advance of the release of his second book Sub Pop U.S.A., a collection of the thousands of record reviews he wrote for his fanzine in the ’80s, Pavitt shares his reflections on his time in Seattle, the “post-Nevermind” musical landscape, and his take on ’90s nostalgia.

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Kurt Cobain signing autographs at London's Rough Trade Records store
Kurt Cobain signing autographs at London’s Rough Trade Records store

Why did you decide to release these photos and stories more than 20 years after the tour?
I intuitively felt it was time to share some stories. Sometimes the longer you wait, the more appreciated the stories are. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to release the pictures five years after they happened. I’ve been processing them for many years, so it just intuitively felt like the right time to share them. I also feel that pop culture feels pretty stagnant right now, and hopefully this book will inspire some young musicians to rage a little harder.

In what ways do you feel pop culture is stagnant now? Can you elaborate on that?
Well, it’s what’s going on with indie culture right now, to be more specific. I think the indie culture that I was familiar with in the ’80s had, I believe, more of a revolutionary spirit, and I feel that in this day and age, post-Nevermind, a lot of indie bands are a little too calculated. They’re hiring a manager and an attorney before they start their first rehearsal. They’ll gear up and try to license music for TV shows and commercials. I’m from more of the punk era where bands just created art for the sake of art. When you go back and look at the time period that is presented in [Experiencing Nirvana], 1989 with bands like Sonic Youth and Mudhoney and Nirvana, there was, I really believe, more of a revolutionary spirit. None of these bands really ever thought they would hit the mainstream. Because of that, they took more risks, certainly on stage and often times in their post-production and in creating music.

Have you read any of the biographies or oral histories on Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene?
I’ve gone through some writings, but to be honest, it’s something I’ve put aside for a number of years when I was raising kids. I’m just currently in the process of revisiting the time period, and that’s kind of what this book is about.

What was it like being on tour with that particular group of guys who came to represent a specific and new image of American youth in Europe? How did cultural interactions go?
[Laughs] Well, the scene that was happening in Seattle was extremely spirited. It was extremely physically expressive. The bands had a lot of emotional depth. They were bringing a deeper level of emotional intensity and physical expressiveness. You weren’t really seeing that too much in Europe. In witnessing the London LameFest tour, which was kind of the peak of the whole event, I really think the London audience was taken aback with just how intense and expressive the bands were. You can see that in the photos. You can see that in the reaction. You can see it in the dynamic movements of the artists.

Bruce Pavitt and Krist Novoselic at LameFest UK
Bruce Pavitt and Krist Novoselic at LameFest UK

People today are always looking for the “next Nirvana” and that next wave of energy that you experienced firsthand. Did you find that similar thirst for a band like that prior to their explosion?
It occurred naturally. I think there’s a desire in mankind to connect to active, creative communities, and oftentimes music history can be viewed through that lens. From Manchester in mid-80s to San Francisco in the mid-to-late 60’s, I think there’ s a deeper resonance for people when they observe there’s a community of people coming together to create their own culture. Fundamentally, what this book is all about, is championing the right for people to create and control their own culture. That’s what the indie movement was all about. What we were doing in Seattle wasn’t really happening anywhere in the world, really.

When did you personally start to feel that a community in Seattle was being fostered through music?
Very specifically, when the Deep Six compilation record came out. [I] believe that was in ’86. It became apparent to me that there was a new, heavier, more soulful style of punk that was happening. I think that compilation really helped define it. That in addition to bearing witness to the photos of Charles Peterson who captured the energy of these bands. I had an “a-ha” moment where I realized that if we could just couple Charles’ photos with the sounds of these bands, that we could really trigger a lot of interest in what was going on in Seattle.

Those photos are still breathtaking to look at today.

Mark Arm of Mudhoney at LameFest UK
Mark Arm of Mudhoney at LameFest UK

You speak very highly of Mudhoney’s live performances in your book. Since they’re still playing and around, have you had a chance to see them recently, now later in their career?
I recently saw them when they performed on top of the Space Needle. You know, they’re older so they’re not as physically expressive as they used to be, although they still rock really hard. If you see in some of these pictures, Mark Arm had the unbelievable ability to almost do these yoga-style backbends while he was playing guitar which was just phenomenal to watch. The band never slowed down on-stage. I don’t think they can quite pull that off these days.

When you left Sub Pop in ’96, did you also completely abandon Seattle’s music scene? Or do you still pay attention to it?
Certainly, I do. I’m currently on the board of advisors at Sub Pop, so I keep abreast of what they’re doing. I think there’s some really good music coming out of Seattle right now. I’m particularly excited about the band Rose Windows as well as a hip-hop duo called THEESatisfaction. A lot of good music coming out of the city.

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You described Nirvana as the “epiphany” of LameFest UK. What made them seem that way to you?
When I first saw them perform a year and a half earlier, they barely had any good material and their live show mainly consisted of Kurt and Krist staring at their shoes while they performed. So, they had grown exponentially. Kurt kept writing better and better material, and by the time they finished the six weeks in Europe, their live show had become really fine tuned. So even though bands like Mudhoney really delivered, as they were great from the get-go, Nirvana’s accelerated growth really caught everybody by surprise. They were the opening act at LameFest UK, and they really surprised everybody with how great heir performance was and how great their material was. Case in point, on the live CD On the Muddy Banks, there are a couple of tracks from that show. In particular, their version of “Polly” is phenomenal. It’s an easy way for anybody to check out how great that band was at that time. They went from opening band to international rock stars at that moment.

Tad Doyle of Tad at LameFest UK
Tad Doyle of Tad at LameFest UK

Which bands from that Seattle era do you wish would’ve gotten more recognition outside of the scene?
The Tad band never really got their due. The 8-Way Santa LP came out then it was recalled due to the controversy around the cover art. So the release lost its momentum. It’s a great record. Phenomenal live band. I think they were the true underdogs of the story. I really wish that people would go back and revisit some of their music.

Do you find all of that ’90’s nostalgia endearing or detrimental?
It’s just human nature to want to revisit history. That’s why I wanted to release the book. There was some great music and great culture from the time. I was a History major in college, so I place great value on revisiting culture. I think it’s important because there are always lessons to be learned.

What is your favorite memory from the ‘Heavier Than Heaven’ tour?
I would have to say spending a day with my business partner Jon Poneman and Kurt Cobain walking through the wonders of Rome was one of the highlights of my life. Going to the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel. Having an opportunity to discuss music with Kurt Cobain who was a very serious student of indie and punk culture was an honor and is one of my fondest memories.

Bruce Pavitt will be in conversation with Michael Azerrad and signing copies of ‘Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge in Europe, 1989’ at Rough Trade NYC on Saturday, 1/11, at 4:00 p.m. The already opened “Experiencing Nirvana” photo exhibit will be at Rough Trade until February 2, 2014 and copies of Pavitt’s book are available here.

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We Brought an Acoustic Consultant to Rough Trade to Figure Out What’s Wrong

Last Thursday Williamsburg’s new and impressive home of overpriced vinyl, Rough Trade, announced that all scheduled shows taking place in the 250-capacity concert venue in the store’s back were to be cancelled or postponed. The problem: Noise complaints. They were getting too many of them. A bit odd considering 1) The massive store is located on a largely industrial N. 9th St. and 2) Many of the shows are relatively early. Those shows aren’t all that loud, either, at least the two we’ve been to (Danny Brown, playing a 20 minute set at 5 p.m., and Phosphorescent playing barely louder than the talk-happy weekend afternoon crowd).

But the complaints are real enough that Rough Trade took the responsible (and, as we learned, very rare) steps to right whatever is wrong. Over the weekend, we asked our (real word coming up) acoustician friend Marty “Hard” Schiff to grab his lab coat and clipboard and go out to the store with us so he could offer an actually-informed diagnosis about what’s going with the venue, and what management could do to get the shows back on track.

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Schiff is no slouch. He earned his undergrad degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas (aka The World’s Greatest) and an MS in Sound & Vibration from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. He has been working in the field of making things quieter since 2000. At Rough Trade, after prying him from the hypnotic clutches of the Tumblr IRL Childish Gambino room (LOLWTF), we walked back to the venue, which is still partially open just in case any young record-buying sporting-enthusiasts want to take in a game or two of ping pong.

Schiff took a look around, made some mental notes about whatever it is acoustic consultants make mental notes about, and the following day we asked him about the place and what they could do to get back on the live music track. Watch out: Things are about to get mad nerdy.

SOTC: Based on our looking around Rough Trade, any obvious sound-leaking red flags pop out at you?
Marty Schiff: I didn’t see anything that was an obvious leak, which would be something like windows to the outside or an exhaust fan punched right through the roof. But two things were clear, first that they didn’t have any interior construction–the underside of the roof is exposed to the room, as are the exterior block walls, and sound insulation is limited if you don’t put some finished surfaces up on the interior. And there is no telling how massive the walls are or how much concrete (if any) they have on the roof to block sound. Second, many of the loudspeakers were rigidly bolted to the walls and roof, which because of number one are the exterior walls that the neighbors are exposed to and/or attached to. This can increase what’s called structure-borne noise transmission, where you are directly vibrating the building components, as opposed to airborne where things are simply so loud they can be heard through the wall.

What are some of the fool-proof recommendations you’d make to management to turn Rough Trade’s music venue into a sound proof fortress?
At this stage of the game, short of an interior renovation, the avenues for improvement are probably limited. Step one would be to really quantify how much sound insulation they have currently through some controlled testing. This will establish how loud things can be without them exceeding the legal limits in the apartments. Short of building interior walls and ceilings, some improvement might come from addressing how the speakers are bolted to the neighbors’ walls and the roof that they look out over. When it comes to a sound transmission problem like this, superficial things like hanging acoustic panels or foam sheets or that kind of thing don’t really address the problem. Surface treatments like those only really affect the sound inside the room, not how much gets out.

With or without any changes, the last step is always to figure out the maximum allowable level and then to make sure they don’t operate louder than that using a limiter. The city noise code limits how loud commercial music can be in the apartment, but not how loud it can be in the venue. So it is never straightforward– different venues can operate at different sound levels depending on how well their acoustic separation is from their neighbors. The sound level in the apartment depends on the building between and a host of other variables. So that’s where the testing comes in.

How much money would all this take?
That really depends on how many neighbors there are, how involved the testing is, how contentious the dispute is, how far they want to go in renovating, etc.

Short of booking folk music exclusively, what are some easy fixes Rough Trade could do RIGHT NOW to better contain the sound there?
It will all come down to limiting the sound level. Getting the speakers off of the shared walls and off of the roof that the neighbors look out at may let them play louder than if they didn’t do anything–but all that does is get them a higher limit, not no limit at all.

You were mentioning something about the neighbors window units essentially being holes in the wall where sound can easily travel through. I’m not familiar at all with the law, but isn’t some of this on them?
Not at all–the law is completely on the side of the residential property. It limits the sound level in the apartment, no matter how well insulated the apartment is. It also doesn’t matter who was there first. If someone builds an apartment building next to your venue, it is now your responsibility to comply with the noise limit in the apartments that weren’t there yesterday.

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Anything you want to add you feel might be pertinent about all this?
Venue and bar owners should know that the city noise code is serious when it comes to commercial music from bands, DJs, jukeboxes, iPods–the fines start big and go into the tens of thousands, and then they can even padlock whatever gear is making the noise. From the residents side, folks should know that the apartment noise limits are quite low, but they are not necessarily inaudible–there is no law that guarantees silence in your home, even if you were there first, and even if the music sucks.

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