Rakim, Marley Marl, Roxanne Shanté, and Other Rap Pioneers Celebrate Forty Years of Hip-Hop

Four decades ago, when the Bronx was famously burning, one nightclub brought together the boogie-down borough’s dancing queens, hustlers, graffiti kids, turntable ninjas, and fledgling MCs under one roof. “It was just Sal’s place up in the Bronx where it all went down, where everybody in the whole rap industry used to go hang out,” Marley Marl says. “Whenever Sal has a celebration, I’m always down to keep the Fever spirit alive.”

The club was Disco Fever, and “Sal” is Bronx-bred entrepreneur Sal Abbatiello, whose forty-year love affair with black and Latino club culture has made him a pivotal figure within the overlapping scenes of r&b, hip-hop, Latin freestyle, and salsa. This Saturday, with legendary producer Marley Marl and scratch-master Grand Wizard Theodore on turntables, a who’s-who of hip-hop pioneers, including Rakim, the Sugarhill Gang, Roxanne Shanté, Melle Mel, and Rob Base, will gather at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts to celebrate hip-hop’s ground zero.

Growing up during the Fifties and Sixties in an increasingly nonwhite section of the South Bronx, Abbatiello decided that creating multicultural havens for music and laughter was better than falling prey to the dubious career paths offered by local wiseguys. So, one day in 1977, he persuaded his nightclub-owning father to let him transform their brand new r&b bar on Jerome Avenue into a space where — one night a week — emerging hip-hop DJs and rappers would perform. The overwhelming neighborhood turnout for those first weekly parties quickly transformed his father’s r&b bar into a hip-hop palace, strategically showcasing the most competitive street DJs and emcees seven nights a week.

It’s a world Netflix subscribers may recognize from Baz Luhrmann’s early-hip-hop fantasia, The Get Down. Abbatiello certainly did: Two years ago, when he brought his first Hip-Hop Fever reunion concert to the Lehman Center, The Get Down was not yet turning rap history into a colorful fairy tale, but Luhrmann showed up at the concert looking for inspiration. “He saw me, met Kurtis Blow, met all the rappers, got phone numbers, and I never heard from him again,” Abbatiello recalls, with barely contained frustration. “Now, if you stream the show, you’ll see how he ripped off and changed the image of the Fever to put this imaginary club up there called Les Inferno.” On the show, Les Inferno is run as an organized-crime front, a far cry from the way regulars remember the Fever.

“To me, the Fever was a safe haven for hip-hop,” says Marley Marl. “It was a dope place to go just to see the culture evolving, and to see all the players that were involved in the culture.”

One of the reasons almost every rap star who matters — even those loyal to rival crews, boroughs, and labels — remain supportive of Sal is because Disco Fever never exploited its clientele, routinely gave back to the surrounding community, and was determined to remain neutral ground amid irrational city turmoil. The entrance sported both an airport-grade metal detector and a locked weapons-check area. Departing patrons deemed too drunk or unfamiliar with the neighborhood for their own safety were escorted to cabs or the subway. Nonaggression pacts were negotiated with local gangs and drug lords, as well as with local police.

“My best personal memory of Disco Fever,” recalls battle-rapper and veteran Juice Crew member Shanté, “is being in there at the age of fourteen, in the back room, doing my homework at about three o’clock in the morning because I had to go to school the next day.” Usually escorted by other members of the crew, Shanté — whose life story is set to hit big screens this fall with the Pharrell-produced biopic Roxanne, Roxanne — stresses that Sal never let anyone take advantage of her or any woman in his club. “Sal was that real man of honor among ordinary men,” she says. “And that’s why I love and respect him so much to this day.”

As Marley and Shanté attest, nightly networking at Disco Fever consolidated a dynamic community of hip-hop managers, artists, producers, label owners, radio jocks, and mobile DJs. It was a unique environment with the innate potential to elevate everyone’s game. But this was the Bronx in the Seventies and Eighties, and Disco Fever saw its share of tragedy. Surviving devastating epidemics of drugs like cocaine, angel dust, and crack was no easier for the Fever family than for the patrons of any other New York nightclub. Over the course of a decade, substance abuse, gang activity, disease, and sheer urban misadventure killed several Fever habitués and employees, both on and off the premises. Abbatiello took every loss personally, and continues to raise money for cancer victims, foster kids, and college scholarships in memory of his fallen comrades.

When assessing the historical importance of Disco Fever, Rakim, one half of Eric B. and Rakim, the rap duo famous for landmark singles like “Paid in Full” and “I Know You Got Soul,” speaks of the taste-making gestalt of the club. “If you could make Fever your home, or get some shine for a track there, it was a turning point for an artist,” he says. “Fever was this unique universe where all of the aspects of a culture that was just starting to figure itself out had an open door. It defined New York for me at the time. But looking back, I now see how it helped all these different people come together to also start to define hip-hop.”

Thus Disco Fever’s fortieth anniversary concert will present soul survivors like the Sugarhill Gang, former Furious Five frontman Melle Mel, and the “God MC” Rakim, as living repositories of iconic star power, while also commemorating the contributions of lesser-known lights of hip-hop, less prolific innovators whom Abbatiello believes deserve tribute.

“The significance of these concerts for me is to at least give credit to all the pioneers who paved the way for others but didn’t really get financial gratitude out of it,” says Abbatiello, who could just as well be speaking about himself. “These guys are the ones who broke the ground for hip-hop to be as popular as it is around the world.”

Lehman Center for the Performing Arts
250 Bedford Park Boulevard, Bronx


Velvet Wonderland: Rediscovering The Velvet Underground’s New York

Fifty years ago this week, the Velvet Underground and Nico was released, causing barely a ripple in the wider music world, but leaving a trail of influence nearly unequaled in the history of rock & roll. To celebrate the anniversary, we’re resisting some of the locations that helped form and definite band.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Loft space, 56 Ludlow St.
In a loft with no bathroom, heat, or electricity, Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Angus MacLise rehearsed the first Velvet Underground songs. (A tape — minus drummer MacLise — surfaced on the box set Peel Slowly and See in 1995.)

Cale and MacLise had broken ground in the emerging world of minimalist music, playing together in La Monte Young’s Theater of Eternal Music, also known as the Dream Syndicate. (Tony Conrad, another minimalist pioneer, is a member of an early version of the band called the Primitives.) Reed and Morrison knew each from college at Syracuse. The Velvet Underground would combine the steady-state drone and repeated single notes of minimalism with the propulsion of the blues and R&B that Reed and Morrison loved.

In 1965, the nascent Velvets appeared in an underground film directed by a neighbor in at 56 Ludlow, Piero Heliczer, called “Venus in Furs.” Heliczer invited them to perform as part of a multimedia show at the Filmmaker’s Cinémathèque on Lafayette Street.

A side note: From 56 Ludlow, look to the Bowery to the west. That’s where the exploitation paperback from which the band took its name is found, reportedly by Conrad. “The Velvet Underground,” per Morrison, despite the whips and chains on the cover, “was basically about wife swapping in Suburbia.”

The Ludlow Street lofts are now home to a software company, a recording studio, a magazine publisher, and the building is now wired for electricity.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Café Bizarre, 106 West 3rd St.
Less a genuine Greenwich Village folk haunt than a tourist trap (“it was a dump,” according to Reed), this club hosted a residency by the Velvets in December, 1965. Drummer Maureen Tucker had now joined the group, but the club’s “anti-rock group” policy meant she was restricted to banging on a tambourine.

Underground filmmaker Barbara Rubin brought Andy Warhol, Paul Morrissey, Gerard Malanga and Nico to the Café Bizarre to see the Velvet Underground. Warhol loved the band’s confrontational edge — audiences left performances “dazed and damaged.” Warhol had been asked to be part of discotheque opening in the spring of 1966 on Long Island. He took the Velvets under his wing with the idea that they’d play there. (The gig eventually went to the Rascals.)

Café Bizarre is long gone. Now, the east corner is a JW Market; NYU Law School’s Faculty Club takes up the rest of the block between Sullivan and MacDougal.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Hotel Delmonico, 502 Park Avenue
Warhol was invited to speak at the annual dinner of the New York Society For Clinical Psychiatry on January 10, 1966 at the Hotel Delmonico, on Park and 59th. He decided his remarks would take the form of showing some of his films, with the Velvet Underground providing music. Some 300 guests sat down in the Hotel Delmonico’s Grand Ballroom for a black tie dinner and were greeted by the Velvets playing at full volume, with Nico now on vocals and Malanga cracking a whip in the air while Edie Sedgwick danced. Jonas Mekas (a Voice columnist) and Rudin filmed the guests while asking blunt questions about their sex lives. “I’m ready to vomit,” said one.

Donald Trump bought the Hotel Delmonico for $115 million in 2001 and converted it into a luxury condominium building, the Trump Park Avenue.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Andy Warhol at the Factory in New York, 1966.
Andy Warhol at the Factory in New York, 1966.

Warhol’s Silver Factory, 231 E. 47th St.
Twelve blocks south of the Delmonico was Warhol’s art studio, located in an industrial building near the United Nations. There, on the fourth floor of 231 E. 47th Street, Warhol oversaw the making of silk screens and collages, and shot experimental films and his screen test series (Bob Dylan was a subject; so was Beck’s mom, Bibbe Hansen, a Factory regular).

The Factory is social center for artists, filmmakers, journalists, drag queens and hangers-on of all sorts. The Velvet Underground practices there regularly from 1966 – 1968. (Rehearsal tapes were included on the 45th anniversary edition of “The Velvet Underground & Nico”; you can hear Reed going over the words to “Venus in Furs” while they fool around with Bo Diddley’s “Cracking Up.”) The cover of the Velvets third album shows the band on a couch at the Factory. According to Ken Pitt (David Bowie’s first manager) to access the Factory you rode up in a rickety old elevator — more like a cage than a proper elevator. Open on three sides, the thing offered a harrowing view of the sheer drop as you ascend.

Demolished in 1968, the building is a car park now.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Dom, 23 St. Mark’s Place
After the January, 1966, performance at the Hotel Delmonico, the Warhol multi-media show — first dubbed Up Tight — went on the road, playing college campuses in March. When the Long Island disco booking fails through, Warhol and Paul Morrissey are alerted to a ballroom in an East Village hall at 23 St. Mark’s Place. It’s called the Dom, an abbreviation of Polsky Dom Narodwy, or Polish National Home, the organization that owns the space. They rent the spot for the month of April, and the show is renamed the Exploding Plastic Inevitable in a Village Voice ad which reads: “Live Music, Dancing, Ultra Sounds, Visions, Lightworks, Food, Celebrities, and Movies: ALL IN THE SAME PLACE AT THE SAME TIME.”

When the band returned from a California tour, however, they found their lease ripped up and the room under new management with a new name: the Balloon Farm. Still later it becomes the Electric Circus. The band played both in time.

There’s no rock venue there today. A Chipotle and a Chinese restaurant are in part of the building, as is a tattoo parlor, though next door, at at No. 25, is the the punk rock apparel shop Search and Destroy.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Scepter Studios, 254 West 54th St.
In April of 1966 the band recorded the majority of their debut album here (though it would not come out for nearly a year) in studios belonging to Scepter Records, the label that put out the Shirelles and Dionne Warwick. Scepter had taken over the run-down recording studio from CBS, which had called it Studio 52, and used it for radio and television broadcasting. The building will later house the iconic ’70s nightclub and discotheque, Studio 54. Nowadays, the Roundabout Theatre Company runs the place, though you can still enjoy a nightclub scene in the basement dinner club.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Chelsea Hotel, 222 W. 23rd St
One of New York’s quintessential rock & roll hotels. Bob Dylan lived there in 1965 (he wrote “Sad Eyed Lady of Lowlands” there), and Leonard Cohen recalled his assignation with Janis Joplin there in “Chelsea Hotel #2.” Scenes for Warhol’s 1966 film Chelsea Girls were shot there, though a scene with Gerard Malanga and Mary Woronov was shot in an apartment on West Fourth Street, with the Velvet Underground in the next room improvising music. John Cale met his future wife Betsey Johnson at the Chelsea in 1967.

The hotel is currently closed, undergoing renovations, with plans to re-open in 2018.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Gymnasium, 420 E. 71st St
In April 1967, the Velvets played a series of gigs here on the Upper East Side, following the release of The Velvet Underground & Nico. (A tape of one show included on the 45th anniversary edition of the Velvet’s second album, White Light / White Heat, includes the only recording of a rocker called “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore.”) The delay between the debut album’s recording and release meant the Velvets couldn’t take advantage of their 1966 notoriety. Warhol, in an attempt to rekindle the energy of the band and the flagging EPI, arranged for a series of gigs in the spring of 1967 at the Gymnasium in Sokol Hall.

It was a real gym, complete with barbells, weights, parallel bars, even a trampoline that kids leap onto from the balcony where Warhol’s projectors live. The maintain their residency for the rest of the month, playing to small crowds and sniping critics.

You can still get your sweat on in Sokol Hall, which offers gymnastic classes, as well as dance and yoga.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The Scene 301 W. 46th St.
This basement club in the Theater District — a block west of Broadway and down some dicey stairs — was run by Steve Paul. Warhol and Paul hosted “underground amateur hour” advertised as featuring appearances by “stars of The Chelsea Girls” as well as “gurus, creative people, pop celebrities, society submergers” and the Velvet Underground.

The Velvets play here in January and of May of ‘67. Soon after, they cut their ties to both Warhol and Nico. And they won’t play another gig in New York until 1970.

Currently this space is under construction. Watch your step.


Fool’s Gold Records 9th Anniversary Party at Club Lust – NSFW

November 12th 2016 – Boutique Brooklyn label Fool’s Gold Records celebrated their 9th anniversary at Club Lust in Sunset Park. The night featured performances by K$ACE, OG Chase B and Raekwon. Label co founders A-Trak and Nick Catchdubs were there celebrating along with the one and only 50 Cent.

Photos by Laura June Kirsch for the Village Voice.



The Faces of Record Store Day 2016

Music lovers and vinylphiles all over the country headed to their local, independent record stores on April 16 to celebrate Record Store Day. While many waited on lines since dawn, New Yorkers ventured to shops like Rough Trade, Other Music, Generation Records, and In Living Stereo to get their hands on some rare LPs from David Bowie, J Dilla, Patti Smith, and Madonna. The inaugural Record Store Day Crawl also launched and took LP collectors from store to store to feed their vinyl needs.

Photos by Emily Tan for the Village Voice


Music of David Bowie at Carnegie Hall Was an Uneven but Fitting Tribute

In 1974, the BBC documentary Cracked Actor captured David Bowie during his most desperate fugue, alienated by Los Angeles and stiffened by cocaine, explaining Ziggy Stardust’s “psychosomatic death wish,” skeletal arm clutching his shoulder. As always, he was very funny. Bowie rides through the Mojave like a vampire on holiday, miming Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman,” and after receiving a convenient metaphor for his desolate journey from the fly floating around his milk carton, he laughs: “Look, a bleedin’ wax museum in the middle of the desert. Think it’d melt, wouldn’t you?” I thought of that image again last Thursday night, at the Carnegie Hall tribute to Bowie’s music — someone sculpting mannequins even as the heat relaxed their poses. The annual charity benefit was announced on January 10, only hours before the death of its honoree. Performers who had signed up for a celebration would instead play at a memorial.

They were eased into it by the evening’s house band, featuring Bowie’s faithful producer Tony Visconti as leader and bassist. Bowie knew when to accept someone else’s good ideas — think of the “Fame” riff his great rhythm guitarist Carlos Alomar invented, or Nile Rodgers bulking up a demo into “Modern Love” — and with Ziggy drummer Mick Woodmansey recruited as well, most of the other artists referred to his glam-era canon. Robyn Hitchcock chose a lovingly irreverent “Soul Love,” while Cat Power sang “Five Years” as if recalling a past, pivotal event, hands over her heart. Debbie Harry did “Starman” in a silver raincoat, with the entire audience on backing vocals; it was poignant to hear her register, lowered by time, resemble Bowie’s own. The band’s experience with the material carried the few underprepared performers, like Perry Farrell, who moved through “Rebel Rebel” as if it were a karaoke number he’d forgotten signing up for.

The more idiosyncratic covers were collisions of intimacy. Laurie Anderson walked on stage, looked up, said “Hi, darling,” and then rendered “Always Crashing in the Same Car” as tender spoken word, interrupting herself on electric violin. Bettye LaVette recorded “It Ain’t Easy” the same year Bowie did, 1972, and her rough-grained version in Carnegie Hall, a plastic soul covered with scratches, hinted at alternate histories. “Let’s Dance” was a strategic arena bid for Bowie, and Ann Wilson of Heart did its intentioned scale justice, with Bowie’s gift for lingering emphasis and more traditional vocal skills. During Jakob Dylan’s “Heroes,” I kept looking at Tony Visconti, as he mouthed “I remember.”

I was a little disappointed not to hear anything from the last three decades of Bowie’s career, no “Jump They Say” or “I’m Afraid of Americans” or “Strangers When We Meet.” (The group assembled for Blackstar did play a wordless “Lazarus” during the tribute’s second night, at Radio City Music Hall.) Bowie made a few mistakes over that time, including a few ghastly covers, but also some of his best music. Black Tie White Noise, where he dances around the idea of a house album, or Outside, which courted failure at such a grotesquely conceptual extreme that it compresses the rubble into jewels. He was a fan before anything else, and it thrills me, in a Jean Genet way, hearing Bowie embrace and sometimes throttle the new. I loved Michael Stipe’s “Ashes to Ashes” performance for that, how he reduced the zombie double of “Space Oddity” to minimal piano and his own whisper, with Karen Elson’s stately soprano alongside it, voices cut out of place and pasted together.

At one point in Cracked Actor, Bowie recounts, “I was trying to make up my mind whether I wanted to play rock & roll or jazz, and I wasn’t very good at jazz [but] I could fake it pretty well in rock & roll.” The Mountain Goats were Thursday’s only tribute act inspired by the singer’s unchaste devotion to jazz, introducing their version of “Word on a Wing” with a saxophone solo. That song stands out uneasily from Station to Station‘s robotic r&b, the broken prayer on an album lurching through evil rituals. Coming from someone who was not even a lapsed Christian, Bowie’s language sounds more like abject camp, referring to “this age of grand illusion” and God’s plans as a “scheme.” John Darnielle, himself a lapsed Catholic but still obsessed with scripture, sang it semi-obscured behind a grand piano, at first with measured poise, and then, as his bandmates’ harmonies fell beautifully short of him, growing more and more anguished. Flinging an arm up to the hall’s pink hollows, he cried: “My prayer flies like a word on a wing.”


Humming to a Different Tune at the Manhattan Inn With the Hum

Every Monday night in April of last year, Greenpoint’s Manhattan Inn hosted the Hum, an evening of first-time, unique collaborations between New York City-based musicians. It was so popular that the venue brought the series back that October. That edition was even more popular, so the Hum is returning to the Inn this month, starting on Sunday.

Oh, and all the performers at the Hum are women.

That’s not what Rachael Pazdan, who created the Hum last year as the talent buyer for the Manhattan Inn, likes to focus on when she talks about her series. She wishes being a female musician wasn’t a big deal at all. “It really rubs me the wrong way,” she says. “People always have to say ‘girl band’ or ‘chick bass player.’ Why can’t it be women, but just no big deal?”

Instead, she wants the Hum simply to celebrate music, and the love of playing and listening to it, sending the subtle message that it’s normal for women to make music together. Given the sexism rampant in the music industry, Pazdan initially didn’t think this idea would receive much support. But it did: last year, several performances sold out, and all but the earliest editions were well-attended. “I [doubted] I’d see a series of all women performers taking off,” she says. “I had no idea it would all be moving this quickly.”

Pazdan’s initial idea was to curate unique first-time collaborations between a diverse array of women working in various musical genres — everything from pop to punk, classical to crunk. “I’m sort of curating a dream band to create an eclectic sound,” she explains. “I keep the sound spectrum on the same page, but when they come together [the sound] becomes something new.”

The largest collaboration in this series — most are pairs — also closes out the season. Joan Wasser, aka Joan As Police Woman, joins Mayteana Morales, the percussionist and vocalist of funk band Pimps of Joytime, Zimbabwean singer Mizan, and Noga Shefi, the bassist of Brooklyn DIY band Zula. Wasser is excited to play with three musicians she doesn’t know. “Where that could go seems endless,” she says. “It’s great to be expanding beyond my normal circle.”

Joan Wasser
Joan Wasser

The Hum is as much about this — exposing women artists to each other, as fellow artists — as it is about exposing women artists to the world. “One artist told me, ‘I have never played with another woman before’,” explains Pazdan. She hears often that the musicians she invites to the series rarely work with other women. Participating changes their mindset. “One artist who performed in October says she now thinks about working with women first. Before, she hadn’t thought about it as an option at all.”

Wasser’s experiences confirm this: in over twenty years as a musician, she has seldom played onstage with other women, and even less often — never, almost — in a band of only women. This isolation denies women musicians the opportunity to recognize often frustrating shared experiences, like being treated as a bandmate’s girlfriend, or met with surprise when they explain they’re a percussionist and not the singer. But, notes Wasser, that makes the bonds between women musicians easy to form, and deeper.

“There’s a certain camaraderie among working women musicians that goes unspoken,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Ah. We made it here.’”

The Hum takes place every Sunday in April at 8:30 p.m. at Manhattan Inn.


I Was There at Webster Hall When LCD Soundsystem Reunited

You know it’s no coincidence that first of LCD Soundsystem’s reunion shows happened on Easter.

Given that, you may have expected more long-term die-hards, the people who were there the first time, true believers present to witness a miraculous rise from the dead. But this audience was young. Young in the way that high school seniors see middle schoolers: small and unreachable, distant like faraway stars. Young like makes-me-realize-I’m-officially-a-judgmental-old-person young. And they were all extremely happy.

I have more in common with them than with fans closer to my age: As my boyfriend, who is five years older than me and actually from here, reminded me, I was not here for LCD Soundsystem’s “heyday.” I assumed this meant something similar to being semi-fluent in a language, as opposed to being a native speaker. Seeing them for the first time at their reunion would be an exercise in cultural anthropology. I could never fully understand everything I was about to see, the adulation, the miracle.

At ground level, everyone within blast radius is on Snapchat, taking video of the stage even before the show starts. Upstairs, when the performance begins (with the stomping, we-missed-you-so-fucking-much barn burner “Get Innocuous”) the balcony begins to shake. The thing that means you’re forty or fifty feet off the ground — like you could conceivably fall from it and die pretty easily — that thing is practically lurching back and forth.

Looking out over the undulating mass, paranoid that these may be my last moments on earth if the balcony collapses, I start seeing lighters pop off around the audience like fireflies. The music has started, so the kids are smoking weed.

The vertigo sort of went away by the second song, when the technical difficulties started. Later on, James Murphy explained, “the worst idea is to build a modular synthesizer and hope it works no matter what temperature it is.” Whenever anything crumbled even slightly, all eight musicians on stage stopped and dove into the task of setting things right. A few made banter with the grateful audience.

It was wonderful to see. Shit went wrong and nobody on stage batted an eyelash. There was no ego, no stress, just a group of proactive adults with realistic expectations, helping one another get ready for the next song on the journey.

So they get their shit together and, in a power move that perhaps no one was expecting, they bang headlong into “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House.” It seems a little early in the set, until we’re about halfway through the song, by which point it’s apparent that they’re playing a nominally more layered, slightly sped up version that kind of sounds like Pizzicato 5 covering LCD Soundsystem.

James Murphy goes hard on the cowbell.

Things are fun and clumsy and everyone is so psyched, and so loud. They turn on a disco ball, big as the moon, bathing the room in a perpetual eclipse. It’s magic. LCD Soundsystem has not played a show in five years. People are shitting themselves over this band getting back together. And they’re really, really killing it, and everyone is relaxed and having fun, and now this dreamy disco ball casts a flattering light on the whole scene, blessing everyone in it.

Philosopher Alain Badiou talks about the concept of ‘the event’ as an intersection of time and location— right place, right time. This is the magic of live music that no hokey industry-themed movie or show could ever hope to capture. Here, now, neat dance numbers become feelings-driven percussion free-for-alls; horn players join in on “Freak Out”; people say a swear or two.

It’s an event if there ever was one, and the audience, though it may not have been here for the first go-round, knows it. It’s as if by attending, we’ve consented to stepping out of time: back and forth between 2016 and 2003, making local stops. And after “Someone Great,” Murphy thanks the audience for doing whatever they had to do in order to be there — as if he knows they’ve traveled through time, because he’s also come that distance, because of the mutual understanding that it was all completely worth it.

Set List:

Get Innocuous
One Touch
Daft Punk Is Playing at My House
Us Vs. Them
You Wanted a Hit
Freak Out
Someone Great
Losing My Edge
New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down

“Encore” (James Murphy said they would come back and play more “whether you clap or not”):

Dance Yrself Clean
All My Friends


In the Age of Kickstarter, Philip Glass’s Tibet House Benefit Concerts Soldier On

The annual Tibet House benefit concert has been a New York institution for 26 years — or maybe 28 or 30. “It’s been 26 years at Carnegie Hall, but we put on a few more, maybe four, before that,” says composer Philip Glass, who is the vice president of Tibet House and has been organizing benefit concerts for the nonprofit organization since the beginning. The organization’s president, Professor Robert Thurman, thinks they’ve put on something like “28 or maybe 29,” but isn’t quite sure, either. What they do know is that the annual concert serves an invaluable purpose for the organization. It raises money, yes, but also awareness for the plight of the Tibetan people — a cause that has driven Tibet House for decades, and continues to, even as it fades from headlines.

[pullquote]Thurman founded the Tibet House with actor Richard Gere at the request of the Dalai Lama, because when the Dalai Lama asks you to help save his culture, you do it.[/pullquote]

Tibet House’s mission is to help preserve Tibet’s long cultural history of Buddhist religion, art, music, and philosophy at a time when the country’s culture faces extinction, in the wake of its annexation or invasion (depending on your political slant) by China. “Since 1951, the Chinese have wanted to pretend to the world that they always — inevitably and naturally — owned Tibet and that Tibet is part of China, but it’s its own independent,” says Thurman.

Thurman founded Tibet House with actor Richard Gere at the request of the Dalai Lama, because when the Dalai Lama asks you to help save his culture, you do it. “I founded Tibet House earlier, but we didn’t get very far until Richard came along in 1986 or 1987,” says Thurman, who is a professor of religion at Columbia University. He and Gere filed the paperwork, got official letterhead, and set up shop on East 15th Street, where the organization is still headquartered today.

Philip Glass
Philip Glass

Early on in it’s history, Tibet House started putting on an annual benefit concert to raise money and awareness for the Tibetans, timed to coincide with Tibetan New Year. For the last few decades it’s worked the same way: Glass and his committee of “agents, record people, and writers” come up with a list of potential artists from a vast group of famous friends. “We know practically everyone in music,” says Glass, humbly noting the fact. Glass then handwrites invitations to a long list of twenty or so artists whom they would like to play at the concert, and usually six or eight of them are available. Past concerts have featured a who’s who of New York’s music scene, including David Bowie, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, and Laurie Anderson playing alongside Tibetan musicians.

This year’s show will once again take place at Carnegie Hall on February 22, with performances by Iggy Pop, FKA twigs, Sharon Jones, Gogol Bordello, Basia Bulat, and Dechen Shak-Dagsay with Helge van Dyk. The concert was curated, as always, by Glass, while Chuck Close, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, and Arden Wohl serve as honorary chairpersons and will undoubtedly make an appearance at the gala dinner that follows the performance. It’s a star-packed affair and has been since the inception of the benefit concerts, largely due to the impressive star power of the Tibet House leadership. (Not that Thurman will take any credit for that: “People are fond of the Dalai Lama, mostly, and Tibetans are popular wherever they’re known.”)

In the age of Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, a benefit concert seems almost adorably anachronistic, but Tibet House has no plans to stop. “The concert is a good way to gain publicity for the fate and plight of the Tibetans, and it brings together people in the movement who care about the Tibetans,” says Thurman.

[pullquote]Philip Glass: ‘Tibet House concerts have become a kind of meeting ground for musicians'[/pullquote]

According to Thurman, fundraising for Tibet faces a unique problem: As China’s economy grows, foundations and potential wealthy donors have deep ties to businesses in China and investments that they wouldn’t want to jeopardize by supporting Tibet or Tibet House. “It’s a hard cause to find big support for,” says Thurman. “China’s economy and their clout have grown. We’re up against a really big adversary who doesn’t want people to think about Tibet.”

The organization’s biggest supporters have always been artists and musicians, who are willing to donate their talents to the cause. “They’ve been the most kind and the most brave, not being afraid of China,” says Thurman. “Björk used to do our concerts. She spoke up about Tibet once when she was doing a concert in Hong Kong or Shanghai and they kicked her out of the country!”

A Kickstarter campaign pales in comparison to the publicity that a benefit concert can bring, especially one that features bands like Björk, New Order, the National, Sufjan Stevens, or the Flaming Lips, who brought out Miley Cyrus last year. For Glass, though, there’s yet another reason to keep the concerts going: They’re fun.

“Tibet House concerts have become a kind of meeting ground for musicians,” Glass explains. “At first it was just a way to solve a financial problem, but then it became more. We were able to raise money and Tibet House concerts have developed an identity of their own now.”

“For us it’s kind of a party,” he continues. “That day when we’re rehearsing, we play together, we talk about music together, we have lunch together.”

In addition to Glass’s handwritten invitations, which undoubtedly pack their own punch, Glass thinks part of the reason that Tibet House can lure in such incredible talent is thanks to the venue. “Playing at Carnegie Hall is a special thing,” says Glass. “Many of these players have never been to Carnegie Hall before, even people who play in stadiums and arenas.”

[pullquote]’We’re not the Metropolitan Opera or the ballet where they raise $10 million in a dinner. We don’t do that at all.'[/pullquote]

Still, concerts do have their downsides, namely the cost of bringing artists to perform. Even if their services are pro bono, their travel and accommodations may not be. “The concert doesn’t even raise that much money, because of the expense,” says Thurman, who says they choose to keep the ticket price low so that people will come and celebrate Tibet. “We actually raise more money at the gala dinner — not that much actually, but some. We’re not the Metropolitan Opera or the ballet where they raise $10 million in a dinner. We don’t do that at all.”

What money they do raise goes to pay the organization’s overhead, including the salaries of their few paid employees. Other money is passed to Tibetan organizations as well as other groups in need. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for example, proceeds from the benefit were donated in part to aid disaster relief in New Orleans. “We’ll probably send some to Kathmandu this year,” says Glass.

While they love the annual concert, Tibet House has dabbled in digital fundraising, too. “We’ve done Kickstarter campaigns for specific projects, like a documentary or a book,” says Thurman. “We’re working on trying to develop our online thing, but to develop an online presence is expensive, but we are moving in that direction as best we can. Real experts at it are high-priced!”

Even if the organization does find the funds and expertise to set up a digital fundraising platform, they would continue the tradition of the benefit concert. “It’s a way to remind people that Tibet House is still there,” says Glass.

“We’ll keep at our party and concert as much as we can,” says Thurman. “We’re still struggling away, like the poor Tibetans themselves. They’ve been waiting to get Tibet a little more free for 65 years, so we can carry on for 26 — or 28 — years.”

The Tibet House benefit takes place at Carnegie Hall on February 22.


Exclusive Premiere: Glassio Dole Out Synthpop Shimmer on ‘Poptimism’ EP

Brooklyn duo Glassio started, like so many Brooklyn bands, when its members met at NYU. Surveying a landscape full of lo-fi bedroom musings, Charlie Pinel and Sam Radseresht turned around and hightailed it to the hills of pop. After a self-titled EP and steady gigs in their home borough, their Poptimism EP drops today, and it’s a good cure to a midweek slump.

Glassio’s combined encyclopedic knowledge of pop informs their original music (they are also prolific remixers). The Eighties are all over this EP, but so are the sounds of refined early-Aughts indie electronica. They even sneak in some old-fashioned power chords on lead single “If I Was Your Boy,” connecting disparate genres by focusing on the place where they intersect. Everyone loves a good hook, whether it’s strummed or programmed. Although the resulting music is glossy and smooth, Glassio are proud members of the underground, DJing regularly at Bushwick house and techno tastemaker Bossa Nova Civic Club, and playing shows at DIY spots like Shea Stadium. This sneaks into their EP, too: None of the tracks are entirely predictable, whether it’s a slightly dissonant beat or lyrics that make you think twice.

Just as Hot Chip famously promised that “Hot Chip will break your legs” over a sweet, sparkling beat, Glassio hides menace behind satisfying thumps. It takes a few listens of EP opener “The Weight of the World on the Girl” to realize the driving chorus has you singing along to “It gets easier/If you wanna fuckin’ die.” It’s a song about getting older and the realization that you have to just keep going — the weight of the world we all feel sometimes. Setting a universal bummer to a pop track, though, makes that slog a little more palatable. Whether it’s dancing, partying, or coming to terms with the realities of human existence, Glassio knows how to make it all easier.

Baby’s All Right hosts Glassio’s EP release show tonight. Click here for more info. 


Can Animal Collective Still Surprise Their Fans?

Some fifteen years after they spent a summer tinkering with vintage synths and household-detritus-turned-percussion-instruments in Dave Portner’s Prince Street apartment, Animal Collective dove into a similar process to create their tenth proper album. Lauded for investigating the intersection of experimental technique and pop by merging such disparate elements as dance music, horror movie soundtracks, noise, and Beach Boys harmonies, they’ve parlayed mainstream music’s fascination with them into successful solo careers, side projects, and an ever-expanding web of collaborations, live releases, and psychedelic visual projects with video artist Danny Perez. Never compromising their creative impulses, they’ve followed no playbook in their musical trajectory. As trailblazers who have influenced a decade’s worth of indie rock, they still have themselves — and their die-hard fans — to impress. But the impending release of Painting With (out via Domino on February 19) begs the question: How long can their sonic explorations go on with the same wild abandon that made them pioneers in the first place?

Portner and his bandmates, Noah Lennox and Brian Weitz (their sporadic fourth member, Josh Dibb, doesn’t appear on their latest effort), kept the writing (in Asheville, North Carolina) and recording (at L.A.’s famed EastWest Studios) of Painting With secretive, and while it would seem that a tenth album is a milestone worthy of resounding celebration, they remain low-key about it. “We’ve kind of lost track of [our albums],” Portner laughs. “This is something that we’re so used to now. There are other emotions that take over, because in the greater scheme of things, we’re a little bit the elder statesmen of modern music.”

From the beginning, listeners zeroed in on the childlike fascination with sound that epitomizes Animal Collective’s work; indeed, its members shared the feral language that exists only between childhood playmates, as Portner, Lennox, and Weitz happened to be. This relationship is mythologized in the liner notes of their first collaboration, Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, in which they adopted their monikers, Avey Tare (Portner) and Panda Bear (Lennox): “‘Let’s make the music of childhood,’ Avey shouted one day as the two played. Panda thought this idea was a good one.… So the two began to create melodies.… Panda brought rythms [sic] from every direction while Avey sang. All of the songs were about wooden toys and invisible friends and filled with the light of the forest.”

‘We’re a little bit the elder statesmen of modern music.’

What’s arisen in the years since has been a unique combination of song structure and noise, rife with whimsical, evocative flourishes, as Weitz became the group’s de facto electronics wizard. It’s that sense of whimsy that has allowed such deeply experimental and technically complex music to reach beyond niche audiences. While no one but Pitchfork seemed to notice Animal Collective’s early work (the blog rated the band’s debut an 8.9; high marks from the site), each subsequent fraction of a point (2004’s Sung Tongs stayed at 8.9, but 2007’s Strawberry Jam earned a 9.3, and 2009 breakout Merriweather Post Pavilion an astronomical 9.6) coincided with an uptick in the band’s marketability. Merriweather topped year-end best-of lists from Spin, KEXP, UK magazine Clash, and even Entertainment Weekly, no doubt thanks to the same fever-pitch fandom that inspired FatCat Records to remaster and reissue the band’s pre-2005 recordings, many of which had been released in extremely limited runs.

Merriweather’s 2012 follow-up, Centipede Hz, was so steeped in abrasive material that it felt claustrophobic by comparison, and it effectively slowed the band’s dash toward accessibility. But Painting With is a solid antidote to that critique: Though Portner and Weitz turn 37 this year, and Lennox 38, the primitive joys that once flickered throughout Animal Collective’s albums are restored here. In the interim between the two albums, Lennox released Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper and Portner formed side project Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, but the tones of Painting With are more akin to bright-hued splashes of tempera than fake blood. This collection of intricate tunes is unflinchingly positive and comparatively minimal (at least on Animal Collective’s scale). Anyone who’s watched PBS series The Joy of Painting knows its hippie host, Bob Ross, was likely dipping into psychedelics; Painting With hints at what the soundtrack to those lost episodes might’ve sounded like.

The twelve tracks each flare, pop, and fade within five minutes or less; gone are melodies folded within churning drone. “Hocus Pocus” gets some staticky undertones from Velvet Underground alum John Cale, but the inspiration for the songs’ overall brevity came from more unlikely New York musical icons. “When we had these initial conversations about the kind of songs that we wanted to write, they were these kind of short, no bullshit, melodic little pop songs,” Portner explains of Painting With. “We talked about the Ramones or early Beatles, [songs] that hearken to the heart of pop music.” The city further inspired them on its dance floors, as Weitz and Portner had been helming DJ residencies between records, including a stint at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg. “Being in that environment and seeing how people react to music in a club [was] definitely a different experience,” Portner adds.

“It’s not like we’re trying to sound like the Ramones,” Weitz elaborates, “but [we wanted] those energetic, short bursts of rhythmic, powerful songs. [We weren’t] doing any extended ambient intro/outro stuff we like. There’s a place for that, but there’s very little room for it in DJ sets. Getting used to a musical experience being relentless in an exuberant way, not relentless in a punishing way — that’s where my head space was.”

Animal Collective’s soundscapes are often built from loops and samples of their own manipulated material, but Painting With takes another cue from DJ culture — pasting recognizable pop-culture sound bites throughout. “Golden Gal” opens with a shot of geriatric snark courtesy Bea Arthur’s Golden Girls character Dorothy Zbornak; in the midst of the freewheeling burble of “FloriDada,” there’s a burst of surf rock’s most recognizable cackle. “I really like the ‘Wipe Out’ sample. It’s always been one of my favorite ways a song started out,” Portner explains, laughing. “We like collage a lot and musique concrète. That was a big part in…how to put these songs together.”

Weitz didn’t extend the same transparency to instrumentation on Painting With; the trombone sample used in “Lying in the Grass” is warped enough to retain only its brassy essence. The circular-breathing, virtuosic sax of Colin Stetson hums along the backbone of “FloriDada,” but it’s certainly no “Careless Whisper.”

“We like jazz, but brass in rock or pop is not something we respond well to — especially not sax skronkiness,” explains Weitz. “Dave brought up the idea of taking something you really don’t like in music and challenging yourself to incorporate it…. [With] Colin Stetson, we were like, ‘There’s a person who’s doing something that is making us rethink this instrument.’”

‘It’s not like we’re trying to sound like the Ramones, but [we wanted] those energetic, short bursts of rhythmic, powerful songs’

Returning to the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality explored on Prince Street years ago, Animal Collective approached beatmaking with found objects, but within a much bigger playground — a warehouse in Los Angeles storing the rare and handmade instruments of experimental percussionist Emil Richards, which included a floor-to-ceiling drumhead. “I picked out a bunch of different stuff, and we intermittently would have it in the studio,” says Portner. “Most of it was only featured for a millisecond on the record, but —” Lennox adds. “It was fun to play!” Weitz interjects, finishing the sentence. “[There was] stuff from Hollywood soundtracks – Poltergeist or Planet of the Apes, for nerdy people like myself.… I was pretty psyched.”

With sitcom-dialogue studs and punches pulled from soundtracks, Painting With feels recklessly heady at times; it’s hard to catch a breath, and the songs pass in a kaleidoscopic rush. While it’s a welcome respite from Centipede Hz, it sometimes seeks so much to be the indefatigable opposite that it suffers, its endorphin-tickling delicacies dissipating before building into anything substantial. Painting With could have benefited from some of the gravitas of Centipede Hz, but with Animal Collective’s members now living in such disparate parts of the globe as Lisbon (Lennox), Washington, D.C. (Weitz), and Los Angeles (Portner), the overlap between ideas and moods that colored their early output is no longer possible. The old habit of debuting new songs while on tour, well before recording or releasing them, has been broken now that they must work within a strictly regimented time frame to allow time for side projects and family pursuits at their respective coordinates. “We’re all open to finding the time, and then waiting for the windows to be open,” Portner says. “Once the window is there and we’re all together, I think we’ve gotten used to it.”

“Creatively speaking, it’s kind of like riding a bike,” Lennox explains. Perhaps cramming creative bustle into these serendipitous moments is what gives Painting With its verve. And after fifteen years of blurring the lines between experimental noisemaking, indie rock, and pop, Animal Collective still have the capacity and desire to astonish.

“There was a time when…it felt like we were offering more of a surprise to people still getting to know what we were trying to do,” Portner muses. “It doesn’t feel like that so much anymore, which is not bad or good. We feel pressure that we put on ourselves, and work really hard to do something that feels like it’s still experimental, whatever that might mean for us.”

“There seems to be a theme [on this record] of us wanting to do [what] felt a little outside of our comfort zone,” says Lennox. “Most of the fun of doing this stuff is the exploration. Trying to search for new things – that’s what makes it exciting.”