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The Return of the Hum, Brooklyn’s Buzzworthy, Women-Only Concert Series

Rachael Pazdan has booked hundreds of shows, more than enough to know there was a problem. Pazdan, 28, was until recently the music director of (Le) Poisson Rouge, the decade-old Bleecker Street venue. She also booked shows around the city under the LPR Presents promotional umbrella. If you’ve been to a show at Baby’s All Right, Murmrr, or Union Pool in the past few years, chances are you’ve seen Pazdan’s handiwork.

But back to that problem. Pazdan was one of only a handful of female bookers working at any of New York’s major concert venues, and soon after starting her role at LPR in 2016 she realized that that gender disparity extended to the acts that were playing those venues as well. “I was just seeing a lot of live music and noticed that I never saw women onstage consistently,” says Pazdan, who estimates that, between work and pleasure, she’s at a show at least every other night in New York. “It’d be one bass player or a singer, but there’d be so many nights where it’d be literally an entire triple bill of only men onstage.”

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It was in that spirit of frustration that Pazdan decided to start the Hum, a female-only concert series now in its fourth year. Originally, Pazdan allowed male musicians to play as long as they weren’t front and center, but she eventually realized that she wanted a unique space for female musicians to collaborate with one another and banned men from playing altogether. “I’m a freak for collaboration. I love putting artists together in weird situations and challenging situations and having them collaborate,” she said. By removing male influence from the creative process completely, Pazdan has taken what her forebears at Lilith Fair developed and what her contemporaries at all-female workspaces like the Wing have progressed. She has no intention of making the Hum’s audience a dude-free zone, but she does understand that for many female artists, being able to create in a room free of male influence can be freeing. “I’ve heard many times over that it’s a completely different experience working with only women,” Pazdan said. “The artists feel like they can be more open. They don’t feel like they’re going to get shut down if they say something during the rehearsal or collaborative process. They feel empowered to speak their mind.”

Pazdan grew up in Naperville, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Her father, a musician, had eclectic tastes, filling the house with music from Tom Waits, A Tribe Called Quest, Muddy Waters, and King Tubby. Pazdan was also an accomplished dancer growing up, and credits her instructor with introducing her to artists like Jill Scott, Fiona Apple, and Ani DiFranco. After a stint at Columbia Artists Management, Pazdan landed an artist services job with BRIC, one of Brooklyn’s cultural lodestars. That daily interaction with artists coming through BRIC’s doors gave Pazdan a view into what made local artists tick, and what the scene was missing.

The Hum’s first go-round was at the now-closed Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint, a venue that was dear to Pazdan but difficult to set up the way she wanted. “The first idea was to have musicians collaborating with a visual artist doing projections,” Pazdan said. ”It was hard in Manhattan Inn because it was a square room and the performance was in the round. Where are you going to put the projector? It just didn’t work.” She abandoned the visual aspect of the series altogether, and refocused her efforts on the music. The Hum has welcomed acts like Frankie Cosmos and Kimbra to the stage, as well as members of the Big Thief, Cat Power, and Tune-Yards. “There is a debilitating trendiness surrounding a certain brand of feminism that prizes visibility as its main goal. I’m generally disinterested in that,” said Taja Cheek, a/k/a L’Rain, who is set to perform on the Hum’s second night on May 9. “The Hum has catalyzed new work and collaborative relationships that might not have existed otherwise. I went into the process thinking I would only play these songs once in my lifetime for the performance, but I’m still workshopping them today for my next record.”

This year, the Hum will call Bushwick’s House of Yes home every Wednesday in May. Pazdan knew she could have brought the shows to Manhattan and potentially reached a bigger audience, but she also “wanted to keep building it in Brooklyn.” 

The location also has a nostalgic tint for Pazdan. “My first show I ever produced in New York City was in 2012. It was called the Vis-a-Vis Project,” she said. “It was this way overly ambitious thing. The vision was for it to be a DIY arts festival — a three-day thing. It started in this venue that’s no longer there called Vaudeville Park. Second night was at another venue that is no longer there. And the third night was at the original House of Yes across from [now defunct] Shea Stadium.”

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The Hum’s fifth installment comes at an especially volatile time, and Pazdan knows that the series is taking on additional layers in the shadow of movements like #MeToo. Along with L’Rain, this year’s lineup includes NYU darlings OSHUN, singer-songwriter Glasser, and the meme-toting, psychedelic rapper Bunny Michael. Jessica Lea Mayfield will open the whole series up on May 2.

For her part, Pazdan wants the Hum to keep growing, but there are no plans to expand it beyond its current scope. She’s focused on impact over imprint. “I just wanted to do the Hum one time as a one-off residency. I had no idea that it was going to become something much more than that,” says Pazdan. “I just felt the need to keep doing it, because people kept asking me about it. I feel like it was the right time for it to happen, especially now.”

‘The Hum’
House of Yes
2 Wyckoff Avenue, Brooklyn
houseofyes.org
Every Wednesday in May

May 2: Jessica Lea Mayfield; Ana Asnes Becker and Caroline Yoder (Fruit & Flowers) with Rachel Angel and Rachel Housle; Anni Rossi and Nicole Schneit of Airwaves

May 9: Glasser and L’Rain; Lou Tides and Miho Hatori; Arone Dyer’s Dronechoir; Ziemba, Marilu Donovan, Elizabeth LoPiccolo, and Mara Mayer

May 16: Bunny Michael with L.K. Napolitano and Zoie Omega; Sateen; Xhosa

May 23: OSHUNLATASHA and Lawlyse; SassyBlack

May 30: THAO and MIRAH with Maia Macdonald, Mickey Vershbow, and more; Katie Von Schelicher and Julie Byrne; Alix Brown, Breanna Barbara, Dida Pelled, Lyla Vander (Roya), and Reni Lane (Fever High)

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Best Oyster Bar

Any bar can shuck a few bivalves at happy hour, but if you want real oyster expertise, Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. is North Brooklyn’s safest bet. Carefully sourcing sustainable staples for every item on a menu full of thoughtful, elegant seafood dishes (like green curry mussels, fish tacos, or kelp noodle pad thai) is a labor of love for business partners Adam Geringer-Dunn and Vincent Milburn. That rings especially true for their raw-bar selection, featuring mouthwatering mollusks from both coasts, like Pacific-harvested creamy Kumamotos in their deep, rounded shells, or the big and briny East Dennis variety from Cape Cod, with hints of grapefruit and seaweed. There are also show-stoppers like live sea scallops served in the shell (if you can snag one before they sell out). Combo platters offer one way to save a few — ahem — clams; alternatively, stop in from 2 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for $1 Noanks, a “sweet and salty staff favorite” from Connecticut. 114 Nassau Avenue, Brooklyn 11222, 718-349-0400, greenpointfish.com

Readers’ Choice: Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant

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ALL THAT JAZZ

Corn. U. Copia. You know, like overabundance, like variety, like horn o’ plenty. The annual Winter Jazzfest swamps an array of venues in the Village — the kind of gathering that can make even the most dedicated fan a bit dizzy. With over a decade of victories under its belt, this year the fest adds more venues and more artists. That mandates more decisions, of course. It’s 11:15 on Friday; are you planting yourself at Marc Ribot & the Young Philadelphians, Kris Davis’s INFRASOUND, or Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life? Obviously not an affair for hand-wringers. You’ve gotta make a choice and act in order to claim prime real estate at each space. How else to absorb the myriad subgenres, from drummer Dafnis Prieto’s Cuban-slanted fusion to guitarist Anthony Pirog’s progtastic dreamscapes to the Vandermark-Wooley reed-brass abstractions? The 2015 don’t-miss event seems obvious: the ICP Orchestra, in from Amsterdam to blow minds and tickle funny bones (grab their new East of the Sun immediately). And hats off to Andrew D’Angelo for the slate’s most appropriate band name: The entire weekend, after all, Sounds Like Fun.

Jan. 8-10, 8 p.m., 2015

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CHRISTMAS UNWRAPPING

Baby, it’s cold outside, but that won’t stop some of the city’s brightest burlesque stars from peeling off the layers tonight at Le Poisson Rouge. Angie Pontani, Helen Pontani, the Maine Attraction, and more are putting the X back in Christmas with Burlesque-A-Pades, a Christmas Shimmy. Magician Albert Cadabra takes on the role of Scrooge, visited by sultry ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to…well, you know. The night will be packed with illusion, burlesque, and variety acts…and, if it’s anything like the original story, a big goose at the end.

Fri., Dec. 5, 8 p.m., 2014

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Best Dance Party

For a taste of the ’80s and a dance party sure to dazzle your bright-colored Spandex off, check out “Back to the Eighties” on Saturday nights at Le Poisson Rouge. Seven-piece band Jessie’s Girl take the stake equipped with a synthesizer, sparkly makeup, mulleted guitarists, and three costume-changing singers, covering all the hits you loved in the ’80s if you were around in the ’80s to love them. Selections include “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “Video Killed the Radio Star,” “I Had the Time of My Life,” and oh-so-much more. DJs spin other favorites before and after the main event, and party favors — including confetti, red balloons (99 of them, probably), and a montage of movie clips from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Back to the Future, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, etc. — abound.

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Blake Mills

The White Dude with a Guitar thing has been going on for a while — like, since the instrument was invented and people had emotions they wanted to sing about. But in recent years, locking yourself up in a room and writing songs about heartbreak has become a bit of a cliche. Who’s to blame? Is it Bon Iver? Is it sophomores in college? Is it Urban Outfitters? It’s probably all three. That’s why when you have a singer-songwriter like Blake Mills, an artist who actually knows what he’s doing behind six-strings, it’s something of which you should take note. Make it a date night. Just don’t wear a fedora.

Wed., Oct. 1, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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Carla Bozulich

Joining no wave goddess Lydia Lunch and Sonic Youth co-founder Kim Gordon atop the holier-than-thou perch of avant-garde brutarians is Carla Bozulich, a vanguard on a deconstructionist mission for the last two-odd decades. Throughout her trailblazing arc, Bozulich has sliced and diced alt-industrial with Ethyl Meatplow and art-cow-punk with Geraldine Fibbers, dabbled in free-improv experimentalism with Wilco’s Nels Cline in Scarnella and Evangelista and has even covered an entire Willie Nelson record note for note. This year’s Boy (under her own name) is smoky and haunted noise-blues doom, and tonight, Bozulich’s worn, hoarse-throated bark will gloriously fill LPR. Ace twang-guitar jammer William Tyler opens.

Tue., Sept. 23, 8 p.m., 2014

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PIANO MAN

In honor of Pierre Boulez’s 90th birthday next year, Taka Kigawa performs the composer-conductor’s complete works for piano, an instrument with which this modernist’s modernist had a life-long, if intermittent, relationship. But Kigawa, who has already toured Elliott Carter’s complete piano oeuvre, has been getting rave reviews for his non-chronological approach to Boulez, whose first acknowledged composition was the seriously serial 12 Notations for piano (1946). The second and third of Boulez’s three piano sonatas are particularly badass. Moving beyond serialism, Boulez sought more elegant solutions to problems of control and freedom, adding flashes and fields of beauty throughout. Suffice to say that Kigawa brings both virtuosity and deep feeling to Boulez’s often convulsively gorgeous conundrums, radical restlessness, and temporal suspensions.

Mon., Aug. 25, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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‘Basement Bhangra’ w/ DJ Rekha

British-born and New York-bred DJ Rekha is a true legend, and often seen as a leader in South Asian music. DJ Rekha did, after all, bring the upbeat style of bhangra music to the US masses, making bhangra essential to New York’s club scene. In 2007, after 10 years as an active DJ in New York, Rekha released her first album DJ Rekha Presents Basement Bhangra, which blends hip-hop and bhangra genres. “Basement Bhangra” also became the name of her famous monthly event that falls on the first Thursday of every month, encompassing bhangra, hip-hop, dancehall, electronic and Bollywood music.

Thu., Aug. 7, 7 p.m., 2014

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Camera Obscura+Laura Cantrell

If irony is the currency of American indie pop, last summer’s Desire Lines, Glaswegian outfit Camera Obscura’s lithe fifth album, trades in its more wistful Scottish equivalent, Byronic nostalgia, cultivating a mid-career freshness steeped in the ennui and disillusionment typified by the angst-ridden poet and quintessential anti-hero Lord Byron. “I seek not to be grand nor witty, but I am half a Scot by birth, and bred a whole one, and my heart flies to my head,” he wrote. An image of Byron opens “William’s Heart,” the album’s most arresting track, hitting the saturation point for lilting literalized metaphors till the cup runneth over with single malt. With Laura Cantrell.

Tue., July 15, 9 p.m., 2014