Giant Step’s Resident 25: Lykke Li, MGMT, Peter Hadar, The DFA, The Herbaliser

By Mawuse Ziegbe

One of my favorite songs of the moment is “Little Bit” by Lykke Li. Lykke Li is a Swedish national who cranks out that folky, beige pop the Nordics craft so well. When I hear her music Feist and Peter Bjorn and John pop in my head. “Little Bit” is a sunny infusion of delicate, melodic guitar and fuzzy bass over which Lykke coyly proclaims she’s “a little bit in love with you” only if you’re “in la la la love with me.” That sort of naked declaration of undying (“and for you I keep my legs apart and forget about my tainted heart…) yet conditional love (“only if you’re a little in love with me”) is sooooo what being a 20-something fantasist is about. I’m also all about MGMT’s “Electric Feel.” This is a band I didn’t want to like, because its appeal is unabashedly hipster and well, I’m shallow. The two mussy-haired Brooklynites (via Weslyan University) do Hall and Oates and David Bowie proud with their proggy disco. The accompanying video is indulgent, trippy woodland camp that invokes Labyrinth and The Never Ending Story. In other words, video of the year.

When I’m not listening to bugged-out Gen-Y’ers, I’m listening to Peter Hadar. A burly wall of a man, Hadar (pronounced Hah-darr) pumps out sensual, electro-soul. An aural clone of Dwele, he’s more metaphorically nimble as he invites young tenderonies to visit his world (“Planets”) and croons about how a beautiful bedfellow induces pill-poppin’ (“Sleeping Pills”). Last Tuesday night, Hadar held court at Drom where Pete Rock spun records from Redman, Erick Sermon and 50 Cent (blech). Hadar kept it hip hop and kicked off his set with a freestyle over Lil Wayne’s thundering ” A Milli” instrumental. Then he launched into “Planets,” followed by a drum and bass vocal song and topped off the impassioned set by stomping all over the furniture.

Last Saturday, DFA Records was making a racket over at PS1′s Warm Up performance series. James Murphy and Pat Mahoney of LCD Soundsystem, a project I normally just can’t get into, spun cherubic disco house from some heavenly dance floor where angels do the hustle and the Jheri curl juice never drips. The art was fun too. I was particularly into the Olafur Eliasson’s Reversed Waterfall where water flows up and Damián Ortega’s Controller of the Universe where weapons float in the air. I was particularly so not into the exhibition, Arctic Hysteria: New Art From Finland. Especially Markus Cooper’s creepy kinetic sculpture Kursk; a series of life-sized hanging antique diving suits, rigged to jostle back and forth randomly in a cramped dark room. That almost killed my disco buzz.

But praise polyester there’s the good ol’ Giant Step Hudson Hotel party. UK’s The Herbaliser peppered the playlist with more funk than a little bit. But surprisingly, it was more of a sipping and head-nodding affair compared to the usual Hudson footwork fest. It started out somewhat slow but eventually swelled to a sizable jammy jam. And if this past week has taught me anything it’s that Finnish art gives me the heebie jeebies, my idea of heaven includes a mirrored ball and a wah-wah machine and that funk always gets the party started.

Giant Step’s Resident 24: Rich Medina, Q-Tip, The Martinez Brothers, Santogold, Diplo and More

Photo of The Martinez Brothers © Phillip Angert
View photos here. Archive link here.

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Bless Rich Medina and Q-Tip for giving this city something reliable to do on Friday nights with their body-rockin’ weekly at Santos’ Party House. It’s still in its infancy (only a few weeks old) so it’s still all innocent and chill (although Solange, the underrated Knowles, and actress Jurnee Smollett did sprinkle a little stardust on the joint last week). It’s exactly how you expect it to sound if you kidnapped ‘Tip and Medina and forced them to play your favorite disco, hip hop, house and soul records – and they were into it. With tracks like MSFB’s “Love Is The Message,” Tribe’s “Find A Way,” and Shaun Escoffery “Days Like This” It was one of those, “I gotta leave but this is my JAM” type of nights. Come 4 AM and I was stumbling around Chinatown with soulful disco house still buzzing my ears. Word of advice: things don’t get jumpin’ till after 1 AM.

Speaking of Rich, The Studio Museum of Harlem nearly crumbled under the chunky Afrobeat and soul rhythms at the Kehinde Wiley opening. I was batty about his portraits of African youth but it was the subtle three-dimensionality of the backdrop that put a crease my pants. Very impressive.

And no groove was safe from my friend-in-my-head James Pants’ heady set at Studio B with Peanut Butter Wolf. It was the age of buggin’ out as Pants put the needle to everything from Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to Smokey Robinson and The Miracles‘ “Tears Of A Clown.” The place wasn’t packed but we were shearing some rugs, honey. Then Pants jumped off the turntables and ended his set with a dance that looked like Napoleon Dynamite got the holy ghost. Lordy.

Shaking things up at Giant Step’s Hudson Hotel jump-off were the LP-loving zygotes The Martinez Brothers. At 16 and 19 years of age, they must have picked up taste for spinning in utero and favor the chunky thump of house gems older than themselves. They volleyed DJ responsibilities throughout the night and were as wiry as the classic house selections pumping through the systems speakers. And that kept a steady stream of taut bouncy beats they kept the feets moving like DJs old enough to vote and buy porn. I wasn’t mad at them at all.

I was, however, hopping mad at the Mad Fools Summerstage show featuring Santogold, Kid Cudi, Diplo and A-Trak aka The Seventh Circle of Hell. Too much of New York was there in the acute heat and the endless wait for Santogold. I guess the first two hours were supposed to be a big outdoor shindig with Mad Decent and Fools Gold DJs taking turns as lives of the party. But watching people do the Electric Slide on stage when you have no room to snap in a circle three times is infuriating. And watching it for two hours is Chinese water torture. By the time Santogold came I was fresh out shits to give. But here’s why she deserves the hype. She came out with her militant booty-poppin’ back-up singers to “Find A Way” all smiley, extra sweet and dropping a corny joke or two. Then launched into “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Shuv It.” She has weaknesses but knows how to patch them up (hence the fly-ass back-up dancers) and she’s just cool enough, breezy, but definitely in control. The suffering of the previous two hours melted away and I managed a sincere booty wiggle or two. She ended the show with the electric buzz of “Creator” and in her sweet-as-pie way told us she wasn’t doing an encore so please don’t ask. All praise be to Santogold who understands when the party is over.

Giant Step’s Resident 23: Little Jackie, Brazilian Girls, Platinum Pied Pipers, Wale and Blu

Photo of Wale at SOB’s © Antwan Duncan

By Mawuse Ziegbe

On Thursday, I learned something: Steve Madden is a real person. I just never saw that coming. But he is real and showed up to the Giant Step Little Jackie party at the Steve Madden store in the L.E.S. He and other non-imaginary people came to see Little Jackie perform acoustic renditions of their playful repertoire from their new album, The Stoop. Little Jackie’s wily frontwoman Imani Coppola, who often misbehaves in concert (much to my personal glee), played a restrained yet enjoyable set, including songs “Guys Like When Girls Kiss” and “28 Butts.” She seemed like she wanted get into some trouble (maybe knock over a sandal display or throw a bag of peds in the air) but she played the good girl role quite well.

On Friday, a girl I know, let’s just call her Bawuse, had a horrible time at the Brazilian Girls show at Prospect Park. She went out with a nice enough fella whose friends deployed one of the most effective cock-block campaigns in modern history. He introduced Bawuse to one friend who gave her the side-eye. Bawuse learns later, that she’s the friend of an ex-girlfriend which made Bawuse an enemy most foul. Another friend took creepy pose pictures and grilled her on reasons why she and her date weren’t going home together. You know those great, successful people who are chronically single? Bawuse learned there is no easy way of saying, “if you ever want to get some, throw your friends off a bridge.” As far the Brazilian Girls’ actual show, Bawuse thought the cavernous annals of Prospect Park engulfed the ambient rhythms and frontwoman Sabina Sciubba’s subtle and cozy vocals. But Sciubba was all types of fierce in a dress that looked like an angular cream-puff and the pillars of smoke that flared up from the crowd when Sciubba sang “pussy, pussy, pussy marijuana” made Bawuse giggle.

I spent most of Saturday getting my sloth on. I blew a couple hours gossiping in the park and then I got some cake. Cake with frosting. But for serious, I really got going when I saw Platinum Pied Pipers at Southpaw. They were dressed in pimpalicious shades of Dover like they just left a white party thrown by Sly Stone. And they brought the partaaay with three live-ass singers and bucket loads of joy. They rounded out the half-hour performance with their clangy cover of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” Mostly, I had fun because they had fun. So snaps in a circle to artists with job satisfaction.

Sunday, I hit the Afropunk block party featuring The Ceasarz, J*Davey and Kudu (Oh, and am I the only one starting to feel out of place at summer shindigs because I don’t have an Afro and a toddler?).One of my favorite underrated bands, The Carps brought their crazy Canadian ways to Clinton Hill. They had this weird robbery interlude that they reenacted live which made my head hurt. They sang their Bel Biv Devoe-meets-Poison track “Compton To Scarboro” and some new ish I didn’t recognize. They bounced between instruments with Jahmal singing and drumming and Neil strumming and tinkling. Snaps in a circle to the duo for embodying the colloquialism “hold it down.”

Later, Wale and Blu tore up S.O.B.s. Blu had the audience swooning over his snappy rhymes and Exile flashed his turntabling skills. Skillz threw down with a surprise performance and Talib Kweli jumped in the last song. But Kweli didn’t like, rap or anything. He just yelled a few “yeahs” and left the stage like nothing happened. Awk-ward. Then Wale came out. For someone whose image is so swaggerific, he was refreshingly democratic with his stage show. He kicked his rhymes, including his verse from his Roots collabo “Rising Up” but he was mostly recounting the history of go-go and letting his band and DC group UCB shine. At one point he stopped to answer a text but I didn’t mind, because he set up a machine of musicians who kept it jumpin.’ I’ve been to many shows where I’ve stared at some rap music singer pacing about and have wanted to shoot a crossbow in my eye. So, snaps to artists with the confidence to let the music take center stage.

Giant Step’s Resident 22: Afropunk Festival, Ronnie Spector and Afrika Bambaataa

Photo of Afrika Bambaataa and crew © Phillip Angert
View photos here. Archive link here.

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Hear ye, hear ye! The negroes are coming! 2008 Afropunk Festival is in town! This year at BAM, there’s a skate ramp (courtesy of some hefty corporate might) and performances from artists like Kudu and Proton. But as luck would have it, I missed most of the festival’s kickoff because I was in Boston for July 4th hanging out with my mother. We watched the fireworks peel off into the sky above The Charles River as Rascal Flatts saluted Old Glory. Them pretty sparkle lights sure soothed any qualms I have about the holiday’s dubious celebratory overtones. When I got back to New York I went to Franklin Park, the bestest new bar ever. Tucked away on a sleepy residential street in Crown Heights, Park houses an outcrop of beautiful people enjoying the formidable selection of beers and grooving to D’Angelo, Fela Kuti and remixes of Fela Kuti featuring D’Angelo. Afterwards, I went to the West Village to dispense some birthday knocks to Lucas of DJ duo Sweatshop Labor at Love. Fun most foul was had by all.

While I missed most of the Afropunk kick-off, on Sunday I caught neo-negro-rock Svengali James Spooner’s latest film, White Lies, Black Sheep. Personally, I was a fan of the proliferation of male crotch shots; I mean the film was packed with celluloid man ass that you just don’t see these days. Yes, of course there is the storyline about negotiating blackness and personal identity in this mockumentary set in the heady downtown NYC rock scene. However, that storyline is weakened by the film’s desperate lunges at messages that were touched on in Afropunk, Spooner’s excellent 2003 documentary on coloreds in the rock and scene. In a admirable attempt to drive home the idea that tokens should own their otherness, stereotypes skew the film’s impact as a monotonous pattern arises: white girls = airheads, black girls = depressed, white guys = dickheads, black guys = slutty and depressed. But crotch shots aren’t the movie’s sole redeeming factor as the soundtrack kicks fuckin’ ass, the actors grapple valiantly with the script and cameos from real club lords like Michael T. and Queen Majesty lend authenticity.

The same day at McCarren Park Pool, girl group queen Ronnie Spector hit the stage. The black rocktress ambled on stage in a saucy all black bustier number but she was soon felled by the oppressive heat and performed most of the set perched on an amplifier. Sadly, she was pitchy and sounded like she was passing a melon. And not to compare female Rock and Roll Hall of Famers but maybe that lack of energy is why Tina Turner is Tinaaaah: The Legendary Survivor and Ronnie comes off as a legend of beehived kitsch.

But if you wanna talk legends, the conversation has to turn to Afrika Bambaataa. The father of hip hop packed the Hudson HotelGiant Step’s latest DJ event last Monday and demonstrated his many levels of, as VH1 would say, totally awesomeness. When you’re credited with creating a genre as culturally significant as hip hop, all you are ever required to do at a gig is show up and enjoy the sweet, sweet ass-kisses. But Bambaataa turned the joint out spinning everything from comfort disco (Cheryl Lynn, Sugarhill Gang) to whippersnapper jams like Reggaeton from Tego Calderón, Baltimore Club remixes of Kelis and speaker-shattering Trance. Bambaataa has every right to curmudgeonly cling to the hip hop of yesteryear but his nimble curiosity means he’ll evolve not only as a selector but an artist. And that’s legendary status, honey.

Giant Step’s Resident 21: Kid Sister, Vampire Weekend, DJ Spinna, Stevie Wonder, 2008 BET Awards

Photo of Kid Sister © Antwan Duncan

By Mawuse Ziegbe

So, why has my life recently been …bizarre? A couple weeks ago, I’m living my little Mawuse life, logging hours at the day gig when my left eye bubbles up for no reason. It starts swelling and I can feel it growing by the second. Have you ever felt the skin around your eye expand, puffy matter festering exponentially until your lids are swollen shut. Sexy, right? Well, I decided to go the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. Now here’s why I hate hospitals: the needles and sick people thing is no big deal but it’s just the horrible inefficiency of the place. The hospital is an event for the patients but for the workers, it’s just hump day. So, your eye can be in your hand but your ailment is just adding time to the clock. They’ve got a TiVo full of “Grey’s Anatomy” they need to tear into so you’re just eating up McDreamy time. When I asked the receptionist a question, it was all, “oh I don’t know.”…Er, but the website says… “oh, yes, I have no idea.” You…what? Why don’t I just ask that vending machine for info, at least a can of Fresca is pleasant. Oh, and the good doctor was no better. He sent me home after a 4 hour wait and said, “Um, I think it’s an allergic reaction to something, maybe. Take some Benedryl and if you have a problem, see another doctor.” What??? Dr. Pepper would have been a better diagnostician and he’s fucking fictional.

A bizarre experience we can all share is this rowdy monsoon season. It started innocently enough as the hipsters invaded the upper east side a couple weeks ago for Kid Sister and Vampire Weekend at that venerable New York Central Park tradition, SummerStage. Born Ruffians opened up with their biggest fans getting all nutty in the audience. I’m amped to see Kid Sister and then…the rain comes down. At first, there were little weak-ass play drizzles but then it was straight-up rainy season. Central Park looked more like Manila than Manhattan but after an hour, someone up there decided to knock it off. The clouds parted, the angels sang and DJ A-Trak kicked off his set with Fat Joe’s “Make It Rain.” Har effing har. KS hit the stage with these extra sassy back-up dancers in day-glo harem pants and foam core football gear. She performed a 30-minute set including her songs “Let Me Bang” and “Telephone.”

http://www.giantstep.net/downloads/images/Mawuse/vmpwkndude.jpg
Photo © Antwan Duncan

Then another hour goes by and I’m beginning to think Vampire Weekend is a myth scared up by Columbia alums out for a lark. I stayed relatively dry, climbing in every free nook I could but when VW came on I got drenched. I was enjoying the preppy hi-life rhythms but the rain was quickly too effin’ much. I punked out and went to sleep and ignored all calls. Lucky I did too since not only was DJ Spinna’s legendary Stevie Wonder tribute party going down that night but this happened…

You know those yokels who go through life screaming “no regrets!” If they missed this party they are lying monkeys.

But the bizarre stars aligned while in L.A. last week when I got to attend the 2008 BET Awards. Watching an award show in the actual theater is completely different than checking them out on TV. When the performances end, there’s no dynamic camera pan up into the rafters as we go to commercial so T-Pain, Rihanna et al, just walk off the stage all anti-climactic-like. Also, you can’t change the channel during commercial breaks so you just sit around gettin’ your thumb-twiddle on. But Alicia Keys brought back teenage memories of voguing in my living room when she sang with not only SWV but the original line-up of En Vogue and TLC during her performance of “Teenage Love Affair.” And to cap off my surreal evening, who else did I run into, looking extra dapper in basic black, but BET Best Female Hip Hop Award nominee Kid Sister and her brother Josh from DJ duo Flosstradamus. We gabbed about the source of addictiveness in Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles (I say it’s the waffle mix, they insist it’s the syrup) on the vacated red carpet. It was soooo on the verge. Elephantine eyelids, flash monsoons, red carpets and 90′s girl-group sass – I take it all in stride. Because, for serious, if my life continues to veer towards the bizarre, I’m cool with a healthy dollop of “WTF”