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28th Annual “Taste Of The Nation” Gives As Well As It Receives

Outside 180 Maiden Lane, blocks from the South Street Seaport, a server holding a tray of sample cups greeted arrivals, her name tag indicating she was with the NYS Department of Education. “Turkey chili?” she offered. And just like that, Share Our Strength’s 28th annual “Taste of the Nation” food festival was off and running, the chili cups a small sampling from the city’s school lunch program, as well as a humble reminder of why over 800 guests were gathered last Monday on a damp and misty evening in lower Manhattan. Share Our Strength’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign, beneficiaries of the night’s proceeds, battles child hunger across the country; on a local level, it provides breakfast and summer lunch programs to schoolchildren who would otherwise go without, and proceeds from this particular evening raised enough for 1.9 million meals.

In the expansive glass atrium of 180 Maiden Lane, the dapper Eamon Rockey — formerly of Betony (RIP), and our spirits chair for the evening — welcomed partygoers with glasses of his beloved milk punch. The room was festooned with flags in bright orange, the campaign’s signature color; they dotted each booth with the name of its participating restaurant or bar, of which there were fifty. Danny Meyer served as the event’s honorary chair, with chefs Anita Lo and Bryce Shuman serving as culinary co-chairs.

Representatives from Meyer’s far-flung restaurant empire were clustered together, an amalgamation of booths bearing mostly sweets and cocktails, including Daily Provisions and its popular maple cruller. Union Square Cafe was set up away from the crowd, serving a roast pork and sweet pea bruschetta with grilled ramps, a bite-size re-enactment of the refined rustic and seasonal cuisine for which it is known.

Chef Emily Yuen’s Bessou passed out a memorable Japanese riff on the deviled egg, appropriately named Deviled Tamago: a smoked, soy-pickled egg topped with shiitake bacon and karashi (mustard) cream. Chef Gerardo Gonzalez of Lalito served curried chickpea tamales with charred poblanos; throughout April, he had donated all proceeds from the dish’s full-size restaurant version to No Kid Hungry. And Acme’s Brian Loiacono doled out savory mini-tarts of nettles and goat cheese, inspired by the new spring menu at his restaurant.

The eighteen-year-old chef–boy wonder Flynn McGarry of Eureka was on the evening’s host committee, and his sweeping mop of hair could be seen bouncing throughout the event as he stopped to chat with his (older) peers, grazing as he went. Chef Leah Cohen of Pig and Khao and Top Chef fame was dressed down for the night, out of chef whites and clad in jeans and a T-shirt, as she chatted with bystanders and helped her team pass out bowls of Khao Soi, a spicy curry noodle soup topped with a crisp heap of fried noodles.

The Department of Education had a booth too, where Kid-friendly Kale Salad was being offered — it wasn’t the salad-converting bite one hoped it might be for young palates, but the chili cups from earlier and the creamy NYS Apple & Celery Salad both earned two thumbs up.

It was a night made for the Instagram set, as multiple kiosks, dubbed “Photo Beautifiers” by Citi sponsors, gave strollers the opportunity to snap glamour shots of their food within a backlit mirrored cube. A DJ spinning Top 40 hits soon gave way to the alt-country band the Strumbellas. Then another DJ took over and the room filled with enthusiastic dancers, buoyed by the cocktails and spirits on offer. A brief round of amateur breakdancing ensued.

Just when we thought we would eat no more, we found ourselves outside assessing the light rain and lack of yellow cabs in sight. A food truck from Walter’s Hot Dogs, a Westchester institution since 1919, was parked nearby, the scent of split dogs being seared on a flattop beckoning us over — with most revelers still inside eating and drinking, there was no line. The duo inside the truck were bustling around, assembling mini-plates of funnel cake sticks dusted with powdered sugar, while pressing down every so often on their sizzling hot dogs. We were able to make room for more, so we accepted the offerings of half hot dogs and funnel cake, finding the familiar carnival of flavors a comforting final bite to this year’s lineup.

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Richard Hell: Confessions of a Book Collector

I went up to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair the other week. I’ve collected books since I was a teenager. When I was a little boy I collected birds’ nests. There’s something about collecting that’s connected to childhood — amazement at the world, maybe, generating a desire to possess it…in acts of undercover self-definition. It’s the classic need to own “pure” beauty and so be reflected there, subtly sabotaged by the realization that nothing is owned that isn’t internal. One does want one’s books to love oneself only, but they never do; they’re available to all.

Walter Benjamin wrote a famous essay about book collecting, “Unpacking My Library,” which is what he’s doing in it. He’s drunk from his books and the essay is daffy (“I’m unpacking my books. Yes I am.”), while still seeming (mostly) sincere, and he remarks on the connection to childhood, though he saw it differently. He looked at the collector’s acquisition of a book as its “rebirth,” as, for children, “collecting is only one process of renewal: other processes are the painting of objects, the cutting out of figures, the application of decals….To renew the old world — that is the collector’s deepest desire,” which is plausible, but I think every true collector has unique motives. Because a collection is a mirror, a self-realization, one’s inner life made visible. You are what you love, and what you know, and a book collector’s library makes those things material.

I’m glad I grew up before the internet, because, as we all know, the web has devastated brick-and-mortar bookstores. When I was a teenager in New York in the late Sixties, Fourth Avenue for five blocks below 14th Street was practically nothing but used-book stores, and the new-book stores in the neighborhood kept smudged and curled, overflowing sections of consignment small-press publications, mostly local. My favorite recreation was to systematically investigate the shelves of all those stores. In the poetry sections I would look at every single book I didn’t already know. Being penniless, I took joy in finding something that was way more valuable to me than to the bookseller. I hardly ever bought a book that was presented as a collector’s item. I still feel that way — part of the pleasure of finding a book is that other people don’t particularly want it — and it’s a reason I buy fewer old books than I used to.

Now everything that’s old or rare is a collector’s item, thanks to reality TV (Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers, Comic Book Men, etc., etc.) and because dealers can consult the web. There’s no more rooting around through dark, dusty shelves and boxes (half the pleasure of the hunt is simply being in the woods). It’s true that, strictly in terms of convenience and availability, the web is a great market for lower-end first editions — if you know the right questions to ask of sloppy, unregulated dealers. Brian Cassidy, an enthusiastic, soulful young dealer of my kind of material (Sixties mimeo poetry, for instance), has a booth at the annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair — where the dealers are regulated and rarely sloppy. At the Fair two weeks ago, he described to me how book collecting seems to be following general economic trends in that the finest examples of the higher-end things are becoming more and more expensive, while simple, clean first editions, without any extras (such as author inscriptions, say), are cheaper and easier to find than at any time in decades. It’s not the same, though, to be staring into the glare of shifting screens and ordering books from unknown merchants whose stock may not be exactly what you expect once you can examine it. And nothing costs $1 anymore.

What is the appeal of a first edition? I can explain what it is for me. First of all, a book is unrivaled as human information formed for maximum delectation — knowledge and beauty made manifest. Proust liked books more than people; in fact he wrote that a good book is the only way to know another person, another person’s world. Conversation with a friend is superficial by comparison. That’s fair. But I’ve forever sought books desirable for another quality, namely, ones that look exactly how they mean. For me, that meaning, “content,” tends to be poems. There are a couple of modern books I know that come close to that, to being deployed language reified, ur-books, paradigms. But I have once held in my hands a volume that fully attained that object. Don’t scoff at its obviousness. It was a book so rare that very few have been lucky to leaf through it, and there’s no other way to understand. Namely, an original printing, hand- colored on paper printed from his own etchings by its author/printer/publisher: Songs of Innocence and Experience. The poems seem swirled up on the water colored face of the deep itself, by William Blake, lamb and tyger. It proves there’s some hope. (Modern examples of this ideal, for me, are Ted Berrigan’s Many Happy Returns and Bill Knott’s hardbound Nights of Naomi, though perhaps the recent volume that’s the closest example of one that, like Blake’s, merges visual art with words is Berrigan’s lyrical, barbaric, modern American reconstruction of Rimbaud, The Drunken Boat, drawn and hand-lettered by Joe Brainard.) Of course, my real hope, more than to acquire such books, is to make one myself before I die; sometimes I think I’ve come close. (Benjamin: “Of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as the most praiseworthy method.”)

But I was talking about the mystique of the first edition. For me, it’s a time-space gestalt centered on the writer: I love the original printing for everything it says about its moment — its moment in culture, but more specifically the moment when the writer him- or herself first received and reacted to that public realization of a work. It’s the most intimate display of its being — more so even, for me, than the book’s manuscript. A first edition collapses time, or it transmits an instance netted by its hollow facets. The first edition is the absolute context, in time and intent, for the pure sequence of spaces, letter forms, and punctuation (and/or graphics, maybe) that is its pretext. That context being such elements as dust-jacket subject and design; the book’s means of reproduction; its dimensions and its format; typeface; the tone of its author bio; innumerable, sometimes unforeseeable or even invisible variables; and everything they suggest: the time and place of publication and its temper, the genre of the book, what can be surmised from the identity of the publisher. Like everything human, books happen in time, and they almost always are consistent with their era. By relishing the specifics that “date” first editions, you can feel both the curious fascination of another moment and its larger irrelevance, that time is not much more significant than a hairdo, even while we revel in the hairdo because it belongs to the author in the picture on the dust-jacket flap.

I did once take a stab at switching roles and going pro myself. When I was about twenty-one, my best friend was working for a specialized bookdealer and had become expert in literature in translation to English. I was crazy about my favorite nineteenth- and twentieth-century French writers, and we decided to borrow a couple hundred bucks and a car and do a two-week Midwest biblio tour, routing ourselves via the best used-book stores out to Indiana and back. We’d home in on Apollinaire and Rilke, Cossery, Hamsun and Vallejo et al.,  to catalog for mailing to all the university libraries and bibliophile mailing lists we could muster. It was one of the greatest non-sexual road trips I’ve ever taken, and we returned with cartons and cartons of fantastic books. We typed up the listing and printed it on a cheap old desktop offset press I had in my apartment. Then we realized we’d rather keep the books. So we divided them up between ourselves and set about working to repay our investors.

As much as I miss the sweetness of afternoons browsing low-rent used-book stores, I do invariably get a rush of happiness and anticipation simply from seeing somewhere a wording that refers to my fetish: Triolet Rare Books, Caliban Book Shop (“Used & Rare Books Bought & Sold”), Thomas A. Goldwasser Rare Books. The stock of such shops is carefully curated and priced accordingly, but there are still books in them I want more than other people do, and it’s sweet to find one. I also love the sellers who are bibliophiles more than they are salespeople, who want the books to find a good home—and such dealers do still exist. Many of the stores do half their yearly business at fairs, with the New York Antiquarian weekend often enough representing half of that. Most of them bring their very best things. Those coveted items when out of reach can be painful, but the pain is worth it. There’s pain built in to the whole enterprise, most profoundly in that futility of “ownership,” to say nothing of the impossibility of completion (as in being a collecting “completist”). But as I sit here, in the midst of my library, I feel again what I’ve often felt before. I love my books. Sometimes I need courage to look at them because they’re so good.


The Village Voice Spring Arts Preview:

 

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Princess Nokia Is Ready to Reign

I meet up with Destiny Frasqueri — the 24-year-old Nuyorican alternative hip-hop artist known variously as Princess Nokia, Wavy Spice, or simply Destiny — in the East Village. I’m running late; she’s even later, so I get to the Astor Place cube first. Fifteen minutes later she walks up, dressed, as she’d indicated in a text apologizing for being behind schedule, in a beige duster coat and sweats to match, carrying a cherry-print Louis V bag. She’s wearing oversize shades, no makeup, just a touch of mascara. Her dark hair blows in the breeze, caressing a diamond-studded choker.

Frasqueri has appeared in Vogue, modeled for Calvin Klein, and had her song “Tomboy” used for an Alexander Wang runway show. But what makes her a figure of fascination for music aficionados in their teens and early twenties is the way she celebrates the beauty of imperfection, building a hero’s identity out of being a self-described “fucked-up kid.” She’s stunning yet still rough around the edges, rhyming about wearing dirty sneakers, smoking blunts in the stairwell, and proclaiming the power in her heritage. For her followers, her attractiveness lies in her contrasts. “Eczema so bad I’m bleeding,” she raps on “Bart Simpson,” the first track on 1992, the album she put up on SoundCloud last September. Sure enough, I look down and her irritated hands are bleeding slightly.

[pullquote]‘I never thought being poor was great or cool. But I wouldn’t take it back for a second. There’s so much richness and funniness in it.’[/pullquote]

“I’m just ghetto as hell,” she says once we’ve settled in at San Loco for some chicken nachos. “That’s the only way that I know how to just be myself.” She shares a San Loco pro tip: “If I learned anything eating here all these years, you gotta ask ’em for a paper box and just dump all the nachos in there. It gets messy, but it’s so good.” After we’re done, we cross the street, and cultures, to get dessert at B&H, the kosher dairy. Frasqueri greets the cashier and places her order in Spanish.

As a teenager — when she was a goth and a cutter — Frasqueri hung out around the corner, with punks on St. Marks Place. She didn’t listen to much rap growing up, gravitating instead toward rock — Evanescence and Blink-182. The first music she made, as Wavy Spice, starting in 2010, was clubby — tracks like “Versace Hottie” and “Bitch, I’m Posh.” In 2015, as Destiny, she put out Honeysuckle, an album of soulful r&b.

But 1992 is a rare thing, combining the kind of New York lyricism safeguarded by hip-hop purists with the freedoms enjoyed by new-wave rappers like Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty. “I’m old-school with a new-school heart,” Frasqueri says. Three years of writing and rhyme woodshedding led to 1992, named for her birth year. “I fell in love with hip-hop as an adult, not as a kid,” she says. “At the end of the day, I’m still a ‘hood bitch, no matter how punk I am.”

Frasqueri’s mom passed by the time she was nine, and she grew up living in various homes across the Bronx, Harlem, and the Lower East Side. She experienced abusive foster care, life in the projects, and brief escapes to camp with wealthy kids from the Upper West Side. She’d skip class but bury herself in books, digging deep into the Black literary canon. (“I am Black Harlem Renaissance,” she says. “I am Walter Dean Myers and Langston Hughes, baby.”) She taught herself, studying Kemetic philosophy, practicing brujería and Santería, claiming her inheritance of Yoruba and Taíno cultures, and falling in love with New York City. Pissy project elevators and breezy summer barbecues in the street suffuse Frasqueri’s memories. She represents a specific kind of New York, what she describes as her own “urban realism.” “What makes life beautiful?” she muses at one point. “The ghetto makes life beautiful. Black people make life beautiful.”

When she speaks, Frasqueri sounds like Harlem. Her voice is honey-warm but can turn tough and unyielding in an instant. I hear it when she braces herself as she remembers the moment she pinpointed her status as an outsider: “When I was sixteen, I was in a duplex of my homegirl, she was white, and with another Latina who came from an upper-middle-class family. I lit my cigarette on the stove, and my friends laughed at me. I asked them what was so funny and they said that what I did was really ghetto. From that moment, I knew that there was two different types of people in this world: people who light their cigarettes on the stove, and people that don’t.

“I never thought being poor was great or cool. But I wouldn’t take it back for a second. There’s so much richness and funniness in it. That’s what poor people do: They light their cigarettes on the stove, and smoke Newports with the door open while we take a shit in front of our family. That’s who we are. Poor folks, ghetto folk, Brown folk, Black folk, we just have a whole different world, life, and style. I just feel comfortable with the rawest, most naturalistic parts of every spectrum of my life.

“I’m a Brown Afro-indigenous woman. That makes people uncomfortable as it is. The folks that have a problem with me and say, ‘You still live with privilege. You not fully Black.’ I can’t win and I can’t lose, so I’ma just keep going.” She smiles. “Yes, I’m mixed-race. There’s girls who look like me and glorify being exotic. I have a responsibility to my Blackness.”

Frasqueri’s Princess Nokia persona was a way of transforming all the moments of ridicule and unsureness she felt as an outsider. “I know what it is to be the weirdo kid in the ‘hood,” she says. “That’s who I am in rap.” She promotes queer rights and lets fans know she has “zero tolerance” for instances of “sexism and sexual assault” — that’s how she put it in February at a show at Cambridge University, after she’d jumped into the crowd to punch a man in the audience she maintains was hurling misogynistic comments at her during her performance. (He denies this.) After she swung on him, she told the crowd, “That’s what you do when a white boy disrespects you.”

“I’m like an old-school rapper,” she tells me. “I never put no guns in my fuckin’ videos. Fuck the beef, spread the peace….At the same time, I’m very much a rapper. Recently, I was in the papers for punching someone. That’s more ‘rapper’ than a lot of rappers.” She laughs softly.

Punch-outs aside, shows are how she earns her living. On April 11 she plays the Brooklyn Bazaar, one stop on a 24-city international tour that includes many sold-out 300–500 capacity rooms as well as summer festival dates across Europe. She’s turned down label offers, running her business herself — no manager, no PR, no assistant — and it’s paying off. She says she flies first class when touring. And there are other benefits.

“I don’t look at tags when I shop now,” she says. “I love to get fly, but I don’t buy designer clothes. I can’t take care of nice shit, so I don’t buy nice shit. That’s the difference between me and a rapper; my equity’s gon’ be in my home and my assets.” She pauses. “Then again, rappers are wonderful business people….I think about twenty years from now, honey, I’m not gon’ be no internet artist, I’ll tell ya that! I’ma be sitting on some residuals and some fuckin’ legacy.”

That legacy will be shaped by Frasqueri’s presence as a cultural force actuated by her sensibility of the past, embodiment of the present, and intimation of the future. She’s attuned to the tone of the times, catching wind of New York’s cultural scene. Her existence is what she brings to hip-hop. “It’s so powerful to be a girl at the top of underground hip-hop,” she says. “I love being a rapper so much because I get to redefine what it is to be at the top. Them other boys at the top with me right now — they’re gods in their worlds — young gods. I’m a young god, too. I don’t get down like other rappers. But I am hip-hop.”

 

The Village Voice Spring Arts Preview:

 

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The Regrettes Bring Their Teenage Riot To New York City

Five years ago Lydia Night posted on Facebook: “I am now a TWELVE year old singer/songwriter from Santa Monica, California! Yay! Can’t wait to see Marlhy and go to Rocky Horror Picture Show at Midnight!” Marlhy being her bff—and the 9-year-old drummer who played with Lydia that year at SXSW in their band Pretty Little Demons.

Fast-forward  to 2017, and Night, now 16 and a senior in high school, has been playing music half her life.  At the moment, she’s in the back seat of a mini-van driven by her dad, Morgan Highby Night, somewhere off  California’s Interstate 5. She’s on tour with her buzzy band, The Regrettes, supporting its Warner Bros. debut, the utterly infectious punk-pop album Feel Your Feelings, Fool!

Night—along with bandmates Genessa Gariano (guitar); Sage Chavis (bass); and Maxx Morando (drums)  – is headed to a gig in Stockton, and while she’s not sure what town they’re in, she reports: “no cows,” but “beige buildings.” And a Starbucks, her current location.  Dad’s driving (Lydia failed her permit test) and tour managing, because “he does it all for free, and he’s good at it.” The Regrettes stay in AirBnB’s or at Motel 6, boys in one room, the three girls in another.

 

Lydia Night, in action
Lydia Night, in action

Age and adorableness factor aside, The Regrettes are the real thing for a band of any age. Lydia’s years of seasoning—playing with School of Rock in Burbank, California, attending Southern Girls Rock & Roll camp, and leading three bands—are evident in her writing, playing and singing chops. A favorite pre-teen birthday gift? A ’64 Gibson. When she was younger, her powder-blue Fender looked like it weighed more than she did.

She’s a good kid who doesn’t forget Mother’s Day. But instead of a Hallmark card, in 2013 her gift to mom was YouTube video of 13-year-old Lydia doing an acoustic rendition of Danzig’s “Mother.” It’s not a song Night’s particularly enamored of, nor does she share her mom’s taste for death metal.  (“To each her own” Night quips.) But she does take influences from her parents: Dad’s a Joan Jett fan, mom digs Patsy Cline (when she’s not head banging.)

“Both of my parents have pretty good taste,” Night allows. To wit: her first concert was Fats Domino. “That’s my first memory, too. I love him to this day. I wanna say I was like 2 or something. It was some outdoor festival.  When I was about 5, Brett Anderson and the Donnas was the first concert that I went to that made me want to play music.”

For the Regrettes, influences include: “Ronettes, Kate Nash, YYYs, Detroit Cobras, 50’s Doo Wop, Bleached, Deap Vally, King Tuff, Hole, Ty Segall, Peaches, Joan Jett, HAIM and Devendra Banhart.” And the 15 songs on FYFF reflect and channel those artists. But the young quartet is not retro. “It’s fair to say retro-inspired,” says Night. “There’s definitely a lot of that style, 50s melodies and chord progressions and ‘60s harmonies, but we’re not a retro-style band. We don’t try and go for that. If it comes through, it’s because we like that kind of music. It’s a part of who we are, but it’s not who we are.”

Night, though she has a typical Cali 16-year-old’s speech patterns and enthusiasm has ambitions, though she doesn’t state it as such. “I started a band when I was 6 or 7, all girls, called L.I.L.A., which stood for  Little Independent Loving Artists,” she says with an embarrassed laugh.  Their first gig was 2009 (she was 9), at L.A.’s storied McCabe’s Guitar Shop. That lineup morphed into Pretty Little Demons, who recorded an EP of original music in 2012 at Hicksville Trailer Palace in Joshua Tree, California with producer Ethan Allen (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Cult, Gram Rabbit). Now, five year’s later, Night has Regrettes.

Though she’s two years away from voting (all the Regrettes are teens: only she and Morando are still in high school; she’s taking a month off from home-schooling to tour), Night’s far from immune to the current state of the nation. She recently penned what she “hopes” will be thought of as a feminist anthem. In “Living Human Girl” she saucily runs down a personal yet universal litany: “I don’t exercise and I don’t read books / And if you want to criticize me, go ahead, take a look / I’m not being bossy, I’m saying how I feel /And I’m not a bitch for stating what is real /Sometimes I’m girly and sometimes I’m not / So let’s take a listen, hit me with your best shot.” Stretch marks, razor stubble, dating, Night puts it all out there. “I think that anyone who is not a feminist is either misinformed or uneducated in that department.” At an LA gig, the frontwoman dedicated the song “Seashore” to President Trump, because “I wanted everyone in the audience to know that it’s important to be who you are and stand up for what’s right, even during this divisive political climate. Lyrically ‘Seashore’ is an expression of that.”

Feel Your Feelings, Fool!’s cover features a pink cake with fluffy white frosting, and a parental advisory sticker, which sums up the group’s sweetly subversive approach. Night’s too young to go to an R-rated movie without her parents, but is right at home in front of a beer-swilling festival crowd. (Though, of course, no drinking for the band, and when The Regrettes play 21+ clubs, they can’t stay in the venue post-show to hang or meet their fans at the merch table.)

The world is opening up for Night, and her future writing will reflect that. She covered the January 20th Women’s March for Noisey, writing: “I have never in my life felt so accepted and appreciated as I did on Saturday. Nobody questioned my age because I was one of many minors not OK with having a misogynistic, racist, and fascist man as our president, and we’re not OK feeling like we don’t have full control and safety when it comes to our bodies.”

Now she feels hopeful, and is seeing that reflected in her art. “That experience completely inspired me musically. I think [the election] that’s happened, and a lot of my music recently was taking that kind of turn, more of the darkness of the world. I write a lot. And only a small portion of the songs get out. But after that march, I took a turn to a more hopeful point of view.”

Thus far, the response to their major-label debut has been mostly positive, and after playing out for more than a decade, the 16-year-old is pretty confident in her abilities. “The only negative things maybe I’ve read or heard was that ‘Pale Skin’ (a slower, darker, more meditative five-and-a-half-minute tune) was so different from our other songs. But that’s the point,” she says, before adding in a perfect-teenage-sing-song, “and I don’t care!”

The Regrettes play Mercury Lounge on Friday, March 24 and Rough Trade on Monday, March 27

Mercury Lounge
217 East Houston St.
New York, NY 10002
(212) 260-4700
mercuryloungenyc.com

Rough Trade NYC
64 North 9th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11249
(718) 388-4111
http://www.roughtradenyc.com

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Personal Space Are Bringing Post-Hardcore Back to Brooklyn

Personal Space vocalist/bassist Sam Rosenthal can still remember the April evening in 2002 when he stepped out of his “Blink-182/Warped Tour phase,” as he describes it, and into a Fugazi show in Holyoke, Massachusetts, jettisoning his 14-year-old self and entering an entirely new musical universe. “I barely understood what good music was then,” Rosenthal remembers. “[Fugazi guitarist and vocalist] Guy Picciotto spent the whole time rolling around on the stage just acting like a weirdo, and I thought it was incredible. It was so much stranger than anything I’d [ever seen].”

In their respective teenage bedrooms in Connecticut and New Jersey, Rosenthal and his future bandmates Henry Koehler (guitar), Alex Silva (guitar), and Jesse Chevan (drums) were listening closely as Fugazi and their 1990s D.C. punk contemporaries like Jawbox, Shudder To Think, and Dismemberment Plan used hardcore as a jumping-off point for new ideas. These were bands who were as happy pummeling listeners with brainy, heavy grooves as they were indulging in pseudo-operatic singing, confounding dynamic shifts, ear-bleeding dissonance, and pop choruses lifted straight off XTC albums.

Years later, Personal Space has bent those influences—along with alt-rock concept albums like Weezer’s Pinkerton and the Mars Volta’s De-Loused In The Comatorium—into the eight songs of their debut album Ecstatic Burbs. Loosely based on stories and scenes from the suburbs where the now-Brooklyn-based quartet grew up, the album makes an emotional impact matched perfectly by adventurous, genre-shifting rock ’n’ roll.

Opener “An Evening … (With Mr. Brontosaurus)” immediately sets a high bar (“It was an experiment in writing a song that never loops back in on itself,” Rosenthal says with a laugh), with six distinct, stylistically unrelated sections. “Offering” streamlines the approach with an addictive guitar melody and a “la la”-enhanced chorus, while the seven-minute “A Weekend With … (The Horsehead)” evolves from brisk, jazzy verses into a full-on Krautrock jam. “I’ve always liked concept albums and have a few weird ones in my history as a musician,” says Rosenthal. “There’s actually a Men In Black concept album in my past. Once we had this idea about Ecstatic Burbs [being a concept record], everything just became more cohesive.”

Koehler, the guitarist, adds that Ecstatic Burbs is Personal Space’s bid to stand out in a crowded field that seems caught in a cycle. “There’s so much garage, punk, and psych stuff, especially in Brooklyn, and that’s cool, but how many three-chord, three-minute songs can you listen to?” Adds Rosenthal, “When you depart from a known form and take it to weird places, the listener can be like, ‘Oh yeah, I see what’s going on!’ They don’t feel like they’re just rolling down a mountainside.”

The band’s classic-meets-new sound has already made them some prominent fans. Jason Pettigrew, the editor-in-chief of long-running punk and hardcore magazine Alternative Press, says he’s thrilled to hear bands like Personal Space referencing a strain of post-hardcore that has rarely reared its head in the 2010s. “After enduring the often impenetrable bluster of hardcore, there was this new school of thinking that went far to expand life after the genre,” he remembers of the ‘90s scene. “Bands started exploring the polarity of dynamics, space, straight-up noise or all three. That a new generation of bands like Personal Space are embracing their historical antecedents allows listeners to access possibilities that never really got their due the first time around.”

To get the album out, Personal Space cold-emailed North Carolina label Tiny Engines in January with their demos. They got a call back two days later from the label’s co-founder Will Miller. “To hear a debut record like [this], that sounded so confident and accomplished, was impressive to say the least,” says Miller of the quick turnaround.

Although they still lack a manager or a booking agent, Personal Space is planning its first real tour for early 2017. “I personally am kind of anxious about playing quiet, slow songs live,” Rosenthal admits, “so we front-load the heavy material and bludgeon the audience until they submit to our whole idea of a band.” Fair enough, but with music as good as theirs, it may be less of a bludgeon and more of a soft nudge.

Personal Space play a release show for Ecstatic Burbs at Sunnyvale on November 18.

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In the Age of Pop Feminism, Women Still Have to Scratch Their Names Into the Musical Record

Over the weekend, former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine renewed her punk credentials by defacing a museum exhibit to correct the historical record. Some wall text at the British Library’s Punk 1967-78 show praised Sex Pistols, The Clash and Buzzcocks for inspiring “a nationwide wave of grassroots creativity.” Noticing a theme, Albertine crossed out the all-male bands and scrawled in, “The Slits, X-Ray Spex, Siouxsie & the Banshees. (What about the women!!).”

We may be living in a pop-feminist era, but the institutions that document music history remain stubbornly conservative. The 115 titles in the fan- and writer-beloved 33 1/3 series, whose book-length considerations of individual albums makes it a de facto canon for the Pitchfork crowd, suggest that women made significant contributions to only about 15% of important releases. Aside from a Mary Wilson exhibit borrowed from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Seattle’s EMP Museum–which bills itself as a forward-thinking institution for music and culture–hasn’t devoted a single show to a female musician since it opened in 2000. (No, the obligatory Women Who Rock retrospective does not count.) And the scarcity of biopics like Bessie and La Vie en Rose only highlight the plethora of similar stories about male musicians; in the past year or so, dramatized the lives of Brian Wilson, Miles Davis, Hank Williams, Chet Baker, N.W.A., and Elvis. Like Judy Chicago inscribing thousands of years of lost “herstory” into the ceramic foundations of her groundbreaking 1970s installation The Dinner Party, women who shared stages with the best-known male artists of their eras risk erasure unless they write themselves into the record.

Albertine sets the record straight
Albertine sets the record straight

Perhaps that’s why so many of these musicians are reaching for their pens. Patti Smith’s National Book Award-winning 2010 bestseller Just Kids begat memoirs by three generations of female musicians: Kim Gordon, Grace Jones, Carrie Brownstein, Kristin Hersh, Beth Ditto, Chrissie Hynde, Carly Simon. Albertine’s own Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys is among the best of these, chronicling a lifelong romance with creativity that survived marriage, motherhood and even cancer. As it unfurls over half a century, the book subtly elucidates the conflict between Albertine’s insatiable appetite for art-making and the obstacles she’s faced as a female artist.

Women are also benefiting from one of the 21st century’s most maligned musical trends: reunion mania. When Tanya Donelly’s dreamy mid-’90s alt-rock act Belly roll through New York next month, they’ll be following in the footsteps of contemporaries like L7, Babes in Toyland, that dog., and Veruca Salt. Lush, whose reunion was directly inspired by Albertine’s book, are slated to headline Terminal 5 in September. None of these bands appeared on Spin’s 1999 list of the preceding decade’s best albums, as definitive a canon as exists for their era.

A 1980 NME shoot. Clockwise from top left: Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Viv Albertine, Siouxsie Sioux, Pauline Black, Poly Styrene
A 1980 NME shoot. Clockwise from top left: Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Viv Albertine, Siouxsie Sioux, Pauline Black, Poly Styrene

Nonetheless, both of Belly’s dates at the Bowery Ballroom are sold out; so were the first New York reunion gigs for L7 and Babes in Toyland and that dog. and Veruca Salt. At these shows, the women onstage always seem floored by the size and enthusiasm of the crowds they’re still capable of drawing. Equally shocked audience members whisped to each other: “I thought I was the only person who still remembered this band.” It’s easy to scoff at a reunion-industrial complex that keeps vomiting up cynical spectacles like ‘90s Fest, but when these shows serve as historical correctives, they transcend cynicism.

It will be a while before we know whether these shows and memoirs amend the canon. They could easily end up nothing more than brief reminders, fading from the popular consciousness as soon as the tours end and the books go out of print. That’s why permanent archives like NYU’s Riot Grrrl Collection, spearheaded by a librarian with years of experience in the feminist punk community, are so crucial. And it’s also why Viv Albertine’s act of rebellion, literally breaking through a seemingly impenetrable dogma of exclusion, felt so poetic. She, her contemporaries, and their musical descendants have endured decades of erasure. Who wouldn’t start showing up to museums with a Sharpie in hand?

Belly’s sold-out Bowery Ballroom shows happen August 10 & 11. Lush headlines Terminal 5 on September 14.

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Good Charlotte Want the Kids off Their Pop-Punk Lawn

Early-Aughts pop-punk stars Good Charlotte have made a new album, their first in six years, and it’s unclear who they want listening to it.

Longtime fans will likely find Youth Authority a little puzzling. Here are Joel and Benji Madden’s wonderful vocals, sounding as urgent and perfectly whiny as ever, with dense guitars soaring upward, the occasional EQ twist bringing it all rushing to the front. These are the things that make pop-punk fun to listen to, and that Good Charlotte mastered on their best-known record, The Young and the Hopeless.

But here, too, are intrusions of the bland neo-folk chants you’d never hear at Warped Tour (“Reason to Stay”); twee pop’s signature instrument, the glockenspiel (“Stray Dogs”); and even the bro-grunge of Linkin Park (“WAR”), which no one, not even people who listened to the regrettable genre the first time around (me), wants to hear anymore. It would’ve been worse for Good Charlotte to rehash their original sound, but this is hardly progress.

The other people who will probably listen to, and be confused by, this record are the teen-girl fans of the Australian pop-punk boyband 5 Seconds of Summer. For the past two years the Madden brothers have enjoyed an unexpected career turn as songwriters for 5SOS, whose perfectly pierced heartthrobs grew up obsessed with Good Charlotte. With a fan base that rivals One Direction’s in its passions, 5SOS could offer Good Charlotte a new audience, or at least new relevance.

Like 5SOS, I also grew up obsessed with Good Charlotte, and they were ground zero for my own taste. The Young and the Hopeless led me to the Rock Against Bush compilations, which led me to the Clash, and my listening spiraled out from there. When I read last year that a band who still had a place in my heart were writing for some Australian kids, I listened to 5SOS, and it sent me, cringing, straight back to Good Charlotte. 5SOS are homeopathic punk — so diluted, there’s hardly a trace of snarl. Good Charlotte may only be slightly stronger, but even that makes a big difference.

It’s also likely enough to turn off this potential new audience of 5SOS fans eager to hear their favorite band’s favorite band. 5SOS perform pop songs barely disguised with guitar distortion, whereas even at their weakest Good Charlotte are all crunch. And although the lyrics on Youth Authority have lost the punch of the band’s earlier work, they still reach for real irreverence. But the Maddens aren’t teenagers anymore, and their attempt to balance their core ethos with their own aging is wobbly at best.

They do nail it once, on the peppy, soaring love song “The Outfield.” Over a deeply satisfying, chugging guitar line, Joel addresses the partner who helped him grow into a better, and better-adjusted, person. “We were the young and hopeless/We were the broken youth,” he sings, signaling the distance of middle age without falling into nostalgia or bitterness. The outfield becomes a metaphor for a place where adult survivors of their own misspent youths might retreat and, eventually, find each other: “You’re not the only one they used/I was in the outfield too.”

But most tracks aren’t so nuanced, and none less so than Youth Authority‘s thunderous lead single, “40 oz. Dream,” a clunky invective against, well, everything about 2016. Joel details a waking nightmare where rappers sing, rock bands DJ, and his mom is (ugh) taking selfies. “Now all the punk rockers are over forty/They’re coaching Little League and reading stories,” he moans, later implying that the young punks at legendary Berkeley DIY venue 924 Gilman Street have become so tame they leave the cops outside “snoring.” But Good Charlotte aren’t from the Bay Area, and Gilman’s booking policy bans artists signed to a major label. He’s borrowing cred from a scene that wouldn’t want him anyway, an amazingly efficient way to sound totally out of touch.

Passing judgment on the uncool is a beloved pop-punk pastime, but when the people you’re judging are “the kids these days,” you sound an awful lot like the grumbling old-timer at the back of the show. Contemporary acts like Downtown Boys and RVIVR are more punk than anything the Maddens ever did, and so, for that matter, is Kendrick Lamar. The least Good Charlotte could do is acknowledge that the world kept turning while they were away.

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ABC No Rio’s Beloved Hardcore Scene Transcends Its Physical Space

On a humid Saturday in early June, the graffiti-covered backyard of 156 Rivington on the Lower East Side teemed with punks. A
charcoal grill flamed, an anarchist center tabled, and a crowd in torn T-shirts clustered around broken chairs until the call of amplified guitars summoned them into the building. Onstage — which is to say, on the floor at the far end of the room — the frontman of Ultor, a band listed on the flyer as “blackened crust/d-beat/death warcrust from Queens & LI,” barked: “Let’s hear it for this fuckin’ sweatbox we call ABC No Rio!” It all seemed a world away from the mimosa-buzzed brunch throngs prowling the same block.

Few neighborhoods have changed as dramatically in recent decades as the L.E.S., but on this Saturday afternoon ABC No Rio looks much the same as it has since the musician and fanzine editor who goes by the nom de punk Mike Bullshit booked his first all-ages hardcore show there in December 1989. “On the weekends, it wasn’t really used,” Bullshit recalls. “So I just started booking.” The Saturday Matinees made ABC a mecca for hardcore, the intensified strain of punk born in California in the late Seventies that dominated the genre for the next decade with the rise of bands like Black Flag, Bad Brains, and Dead Kennedys.

Now ABC’s hardcore/punk collective is preparing to go into what members call “exile.” A new condo development is being installed next door, and the century-old building that houses ABC, which isn’t structurally sound enough to survive the neighboring construction, will be torn down. Charles Maggio, whose band Rorschach played the basement in its first month as a hardcore venue, says he’s shocked the place has survived even this long. “When I stepped into that building in late 1989,” he says, “I thought it was
going to fall down.”

Through a combination of luck and occasional upkeep, it hasn’t, and in the
intervening years ABC has succeeded in fostering and sustaining an alternative to a New York hardcore scene that was
already decaying by the time Bullshit started booking his showcases. CBGB, previously the center of the local scene, had stopped hosting matinees after they became unbearably violent. “A friend of mine got the shit kicked out of him, and I realized I couldn’t go there anymore,” he says. “There were people who would go into the pit with a hammer.”

According to Tony Rettman, author of the oral history NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980–1990, “ABC brought a political awareness that wasn’t really there before.” It injected new ideas to revive the scene: Fighting was banned, along with racist, sexist, and homophobic bands. “It was the first place that had an across-the-board aesthetic,” says Rettman. “A lot of places adopted that afterwards.”

...and 1991

Not that ABC was paradise. Early shows took place in a dusty basement where you could catch a nail in the arm
if you danced too close to a beam. And, like most utopian communities, it didn’t always live up to its lofty ideals: Anti-violence policy notwithstanding, fights occasionally broke out. But it was a haven for kids who felt alienated by CBGB’s
aggressive vibe, and, says former booker Freddy Alva, the shows were just fun: “People would break out in conga lines.”

Almost three decades later, even as punk’s profile wanes, ABC’s radical inclusivity still draws a crowd. The anti-bigotry policy has created a fan base that runs counter to the default young-white-male image of a “hardcore kid.” The group that puts together the Saturday shows is diverse in every imaginable way, from race and gender to age and ability. For Shawn, a 28-year-old veteran booker who wore an anti-fascist T-shirt when
we spoke, ABC is about “all identities of punks coming together under one roof.”

When the roof itself comes down, the hardcore matinees will continue at Silent Barn and Aviv, Brooklyn DIY venues whose all-ages mandate and punk politics make them ABC’s spiritual offspring. Aviv booker Tyler Kane says he’s looking forward to the borough’s punk scene getting an injection of grit. “[ABC] harbors a space for local hardcore bands that don’t get so much love in the ‘cool’ — like, Tumblrcore — scene in Brooklyn.”

The displacement isn’t without its challenges. Collective member Esneider Huasipungo points out that the exile shows will happen in neighborhoods undergoing the same changes the L.E.S. saw shortly after ABC opened. “The first
gentrifiers are punks and artists,” he says.

So, it’s even better, then, that the matinees will eventually return home. The ABC No Rio collective owns the Rivington building (the city sold it to them for $1 in 2006) and has been fundraising to execute a long-delayed plan: the erection, in the same spot, of an environmentally sustainable space, including a larger venue with its own lobby.

Collective members are unsure of the timeline for the exile, but they’re counting on the multigenerational makeup of their community to keep things moving forward. After the show, teens swimming in fresh band merch perched on the stoop next to fifty-year-old dads who have introduced their own kids to ABC. Surviving years of displacement will be tough, but the Saturday Matinees are founded on a sense of wide-ranging, dysfunctional, found family — something even condo construction can’t destroy.

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Mohawks and Moshing: Punk Island 2016 Rages on Governors Island

Hundreds of punk rock fans and musicians attended Punk Island 2016, held on Governors Island on June 19, 2016. The all-ages event featured more than 70 bands playing on eight stages, embracing the annual festival’s focus on DIY and inclusivity.

Photos by Skyler Reid for the Village Voice

 

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Prophets of Rage Relocate Secret Gov Ball Performance to Warsaw

Prophets of Rage — a new endeavor featuring members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine along with Chuck D of Public Enemy, B Real of Cypress Hill and DJ Lord — played a show at Warsaw last night after day three of Governor’s Ball was canceled. Prophets of Rage also just announced a U.S. tour — “Make America Rage Again” — which will include over 35 stops and kicks off August 19.

The band kicked things off with a mash-up of “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” and “Power to the People” before ripping into a lengthy set for the sold-out crowd. The show was everything a fan could have asked for and then some…and we have the photos (and GIFs) to prove it.
Photos by Chona Kasinger for the Village Voice