Archive for music

DC Punk, Documentary, and Place

One of the coolest uses of web video–and perhaps more precisely mobile video–is Yellow Arrow’s documentary project about the Washington, D.C., harDCore punk scene, Capital of Punk. The project features ten short videos that you can watch either on your computer, with the scene’s prominent locations highlighted on a Google map, or via video podcasts. The videos invite viewers to walk along the Washington streets to locations in Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and the U Street Corridor, highlighting the importance of place in the punk movement and, perhaps, music in general, as well as the lived experience of a city (based on links, I think this project has been around for a while, but I’m just now discovering it).

The videos feature interviews with prominent members of the D.C. punk scene, including Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye, Brendan Canty, Joe Lally, and Dante Ferrando, and included footage from Jem Cohen’s Fugazi documentary, Instrument, as well as photographs and other documents from the early moments of the harDCore scene, and there are some great anecdotes about concerts, innovative political protests, and friendships within the community. But what I found most compelling about the videos was their ability to provide microhistories of many of D.C.’s neighborhoods, including many neighborhoods that have changed radically due to the economic shifts associated with gentrification (at one point, MacKaye even acknowledges the punk scene’s, perhaps unintentional, complicity with gentrification, describing live music venues and art spaces as “transitional businesses”).

Because I spent last year, many of the locations were familiar, and I found myself wishing I could have taken this virtual tour when I was still living in D.C, and in fact made me feel incredibly nostalgic for a city where I’ve spent much of my life. But the videos did remind me of the ways in which the city is a walkable, pedestrian friendly place. I remember, for example walking past the old 9:30 Club, depicted in this concert footage of Embrace, on my way to the E Street Theater (coincidentally right around the corner from Ford’s Theater and, unfortunately, a Hard Rock Cafe). And, of course, I spent quite a bit of time exploring the Adams Morgan and U Street neighborhoods, both of which have changed considerably since they were centers for the city’s music scene.

My sense of nostalgia is probably not accidental in that the interviews themselves take on a nostalgic tone as MacKaye and others describe their memories of Washington in the 1970s and ’80s. This is not to suggest that the people who were being interviewed were stuck in the past or that they were uncritically looking at that era as a golden age without also recognizing its flaws, but there seems to be something inherently nostalgic about many of the punk documentaries I’ve encountered (including the very interesting Punk’s Not Dead, which I caught at Silverdocs last year). But what I found interesting about the documentary clips–and how they framed the past–was that they explored the conditions that made D.C.’s punk scene possible. MacKaye credits former mayor Marion Barry–and, yes, I’m well aware of Barry’s complicated tenure as mayor–for supporting the arts and providing opportunities for teenagers to develop their music and artistic skills as instrumental to the music scene, while MacKaye, Barry, and others describe the devastating riots that took place on U Street after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and the slow process of rebuilding that began when Barry commissioned the building of the Reeves Center, a major municipal building at 14th and U.

I’m probably the ultimate target audience for this kind of documentary project–I loved living in Washington, D.C., have a fondness for harDCore punk, and miss walking the city’s streets–but I would love to see more work like Capital of Punk that uses video podcasts to provide these tiny histories of specific places.

Cross-posted over at Newcritics.

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Short Attention Span Saturday

Completely distracted today, so why fight it? Here are a few more links that I’ve been checking out this afternoon. First, via Feministing, the news that Kiri Davis’sA Girl Like Me” is up for a $10,000 prize from CosmoGirl (all three finalists are worth checking out, so go there, watch the films and vote).

Second, on her website, Miranda July playfully promotes her new collection of stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You. For more on July’s creatively low-tech approach, see Bob Stein’s post at the if:book blog. July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know remains one of my favorite films from the last two or three years, so I’m looking forward to checking out this collection, maybe after classes are over.

Finally, an interesting Deadline Hollywood Daily post on Grindhouse’s disappointing box office. It’s expected to do only $13 million or so, far less than the predicted $20-25 million. Bad news for the Weinsteins, but I wonder if this is one film that will benefit from word-of-mouth and/or eventual DVD sales. I’m not sure I have an answer for that question, but given that Tarantino’s biggest successes (Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction) are 13-15 years old, is Tarantino’s audience increasingly becoming the kind of audience that will encounter films at home? Rodriguez is obviously a more complicated case here, but QT’s star power as a director was probably a bigger selling point for Grindhouse. Worth noting: the three-hour screening time probably doesn’t help box office very much.

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Instant Karma Action Figure

I forgot to mention that while I was in Chicago, I saw what has to be one of the best action figures I’ve seen in a long time in the window of a comic book store near Belmont and Clark: a John Lennon action figure based on his look during his New York City years. Tim also saw the action figure and tracked down an image, and discovered that the action figure was licensed by Yoko Ono and apparently has a sound chip allowing it to repeat a number of “Lennonisms.”


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Mountain Goats in the Triangle

Via Scrivenings, one of my go-to blogs for news about indie rock: news that The Mountain Goats will be playing in Durham at the Troika Music Festival on October 20. Given that I’m going to a conference in Austin the following weekend, I’m not sure I can justify the trip up to hear them play, but I have been wanting to catch some live music for a while.

Other bands playing at the Troika Music Festival: Asobi Seksu, Two Ton Boa, The Moaners, Portastatic, and another personal fave, Okkervil River.

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Politics of Pop Music

While Al Gore’s documentary has been getting major buzz, I’ve also been fascinated by this summer’s other high-profile blend of politics and popular culture, the realease of the new Dixie Chicks album, with its unapologetic single, “Not Ready to Make Nice.” As Atrios and others have noted, their latest album debuted on top of the Billboard country charts, selling over half a million copies despite getting very little airplay on most country radio stations. Their appearances on Larry King’s show and 60 Minutes have given them some publicity and an opportunity to discuss their experiences since 2003.

The Dixie Chicks, of course, made major headlines in 2003 in the days immediately before the US launched a pre-emptive war in Iraq when Natalie Maines criticized President Bush during a concert in London, leading many country music stations to participate in a boycott of the band’s music. Maines and her bandmates faced death threats but refused to back down from their criticism of the president. Of course the new album has been quite successful, and there have been a number of interesting editorials on the topic, including this Eugene Robinson editorial in The Washington Post that explains the band’s popularity in part through the unpopularity of Bush’s war.

But a far more interesting narrative is offered in this Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed by John Sinton, an FM radio pioneer and the creator and co-founder of the Air America radio network. Sinton argues that the Dixie Chicks have benefitted from satellite radio, which he reads as supplanting the increasingly homogenous playlists available on FM radio (what he calls “terrestrial radio” or “earthbound stations”). For me, the jury is still out on satellite radio, but in explaining the potential appeal of satellite radio, Sinton offers a brief history of how the FM revolution in the late 1960s and ’70s became sidetracked into the homogenous radio formats we have today. It could be a nice companion to Susan Douglas’s account of that history in Listening In, which covers some similar ground.

Update: I was still waking up when I wrote this entry (10 AM is surprisingly early in the summer), so it doesn’t quite do what I want it to do. I think, more than anything, I was trying to comment on Sinton’s discussion of satellite radio, which I find interesting but problematic. I think satellite radio can open up playlists, but Sinton’s comments don’t take into account the fact that the Dixie Chicks’ new album has been promoted havily on TV and on the Internet (thanks to a number of liberal bloggers such as Atrios and the folks at Crooks and LIars). And while I agree with many of Sinton’s criticisms of commercial FM radio, to characterize all of FM as a musical wasteland isn’t quite fair, especially given the number of very good college and community radio stations in many cities. I have been intrigued by media representations of the Dixie Chicks and probably have a lot more to say about tht topic, but I really need to get some work done this afternoon.

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DC Benefit Concert

While listening to Seattle radio station KEXP this morning, I learned about a cool benefit concert here in Washington, DC. Dischord bands Antelope, The Evens (feat Ian MacKaye), and Joe Lally will be playing an all ages benefit concert for Momie’s TLC.

The concert takes place at All Souls Church/Pierce Hall, which is located at 16th and Harvard Sts NW. Door open at 7 PM.

Update: I forgot to mention that the concert is scheduled for Saturday, April 15. Next time I’ll drink more coffee before posting.

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Hip Hop at the Smithsonian

No time to comment, but I happened to notice the very cool news that the Smithsonian Museum of American History will be sponsoring an effort to create an ongoing collection of hip hop memorabilia. Their collection efforts sound rather promising, as they seek to compile artifacts from the earliest days of hop hop in the Bronx in the 1970s, including relics such as turntables, microphones, and old vinyl records belonging to hip hop pioneers Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Fab 5 Freddy. Looks like a promising way to document this important and ongoing part of our cultural history.

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Radio Free Washington

I haven’t been in Washington, DC, very long, but it hs quickly become clear to me that DC radio sucks. Other than the NPR station, it’s pretty much awful in a Clear-Channelled-for-your-protection sort of way, leaving me longing for Atlanta’s twin gods of college radio, Georgia State’s Album 88 and Tech’s slightly more obscure WREK. So, now that I (finally) have high-speed internet, I’ve been exploring the wonders of Internet radio.

So far, I’ve been enjoying Seattle’s KEXP quite a bit (thanks for the recommendation, Jason and Dave), and Northeastern University’s WRBB looks promising. WREK also happens to be available, so I’m sure I’ll be listening in there from time to time. But I’m new to this wonderful world of Internet radio, so I’d love to hear your recommendations. What Internet radio stations/shows do you enjoy? I usually listen to indie rock, punk, alt. country, or hip hop, but I’m open to other suggestions.

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Everybody Knows

I’m still in the middle of my grading marathon, so no time for blogging. Late last night, I did come across a cool Guardian article celebrating Leonard Cohen’s 70th birthday. Cohen’s one of my favorite musicians, and it’s good to see him still writing and recording interesting music.

Things may be quiet around here for some time, as I’m going to be very busy over the next few weeks while I catch up on grading, prepare for the job market, and finish up a couple of conference papers.

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Bonnie “Prince” Billy Coming to Atlanta

Bonnie “Prince” Billy, one of the artists whose music got me through my dissertation, is playing at Atlanta’s Echo Lounge on Thursday, June 10. I saw BPB perform at the High Dive in Champaign, IL, a few years ago, and it was one of the better concerts I’ve attended. Should be a good show.

I should be grading midterms right now, but reading Creative Loafing is much more fun. If you like BPB, check out his tour diary from last year’s tour.

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The Killers

Listening to Album 88: The Killers’ “The Ballad of Michael Valentine” is a great garage song. The Killers have been compared to the Strokes, and while they do have the guitar and melancholic vocals of contemporary garge rock, the Killers’ lead singer, Brandon Flowers, doesn’t really hide his appreciation for the “stadium songs.” Anyway, it’s a great song, and maybe when I get my car back from the shop, I’ll go out and buy the CD.

Small bit of trivia: the name Michael Valentine comes from Michael Stipe’s rumored pseudonym when he stays in hotels.

Speaking of Album 88, is anyone out there going to the WRAS Fest fundraiser?

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Guided By Voices Database

Via Metafilter: The Guided by Voices Database, which basically has all things GBV. The enthusiasm and the attention to detail is amazing:

This site allows you to navigate & search the Guided By Voices discography and gigography. Information includes catalog #’s, scanned album images, track times, credits, vinyl color, pressing information, release dates, setlists, and gig ticket/poster images. Song details include the releases the song appears on and gigs where the track was played live. GBV discography searches can be performed on album titles, song titles, and lyrics.

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