Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 10

Photo of DJ Spinna & Jazzy Jeff © Michael July

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Many of you may know that being a proper New York resident means flitting off to warmer locales and scaring the natives with your frenetic pace, ever-present dark sunglasses and debilitating ache for anything caffeinated. It’s even more fun when you infest said locales in groups. Such was the case this March, when all the cool kids left NYC to the office monkeys for the SXSW festival in Austin and the Winter Music Conference in Miami. Sadly, my day gig as a dedicated office monkey doesn’t allow for such indulgences so I tapped some cool kids to regale us with tales of some of the biggest events in independent music. Turns out both events were optimal for networking and raising awareness about rising and established artists. Or, for as you’ll read below, boozing it up and not stopping ’til you’ve got enough. Personal goal for March 2009: Quit office monkey position.

Winter Music Conference – Miami, FL
$mall ¢hange – DJ, B.A. In Snappy Verbosity, PhD in procuring rare and dusty disco rhythms
Even with the silicone and overpriced society of South Beach, it’s hard not to have a good time. Some highlights: dinner at Puerto Sagua with Monk One and Gas Lamp Killer rocking doubles of hip hop instrumentals at Mad Decent vs Turntable Lab, Sinbad destroying Raw Fusion at Jazid with broken beat to B’more soul remixes, myself dropping crackly sevens at the James Brown tribute party, the paparazzi set checking DJ Spinna with Ms. Baduizm at Giant Step, Dam Funk and Stones Throw Illuminati at the Raleigh Sat. afternoon, Subatomic Sound System dropping chilled vibes at Miambient, and ending with sneaking a J with a mud bath at The Standard. It’s not so bad after all, even with the spring break bs and $7 bottled waters.

Photo © Phillip Angert

SXSW – Austin, TX
Christie Brown – Video Editor, Derby Hat-and-Mussy Hair Combo Enthusiast
Me and mine snuck into an unofficial iheartcomix/JellyNYC party by haggling security and claiming we were a DJ collective. The party ended up being completely WACK – they were denying droves of people entry and the space was super empty. Their one bar had retarded lines, and while the acts were alright, I wasn’t feeling the music possibly based on the difficult circumstances of getting there. So no booze, can’t get all my friends in, nothin’ to do, no where to go. Well, turns out there was a party on the North Lamar pedestrian bridge so we sauntered over there. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the previous 2 hours of my life, but No Age played and it was fucking great. Apparently, NME claimed there was a riot which caused police to come, but I must have missed it; I was talking to random stragglers like a drunken fool ’til the wee hours of the morning.

The weather was nice all week, at every hour of the day people found it personally offensive if you didn’t have a beer in your hand and would place one in your grubby hands. I ran into Brooklyn kids left and right… I was filming for Jay Buim’s Todd P documentary from the time I woke up in the late morning/early afternoon to the time I went to bed, starting by hopping in a van on my birthday and driving pretty much straight through to Austin with assorted hijinks along the way. Didn’t sleep much at all, pleasantly lost my damn mind, saw Jah-Jah [from NYC's Ninjasonik] more times in 4 days than I’ve seen him in the last 6 months. Ate lots of meat ’cause that’s what they do in Texas. Oh, but check this, I got a fucking original Salt ‘n’ Pepa concert t-shirt for 8 dollars. Don’t tell me that isn’t straight flamboastin’ cause I will say “Emphatically No” to that.

Photo of Retro Kids © Michael July

Winter Music Conference – Miami, FL
Michael July – Photographer, Occasional DJ and Frequent Dance Floor Connoisseur
I would definitely say the most eventful moment for me at the WMC was captured in this photo I took. DJ Spinna was killing it on the 1s & 2s. Mixing classic hip hop joints at Jazzy Jeff’s “Nothing But An Old School Party,” which featured performances by Common, Talib Kweli, Biz Markie, King Sun, Skills and DJ Jazzy Jeff. All of a sudden pandemonium broke out…the Retro Kids came out of nowhere and started taking it back with all the old school dances as Spinna did his thing. The young lady in the photo, obviously a true head, suddenly paused from her torrid dancing, turned and looked up at Spinna and Jeff and shouted “that’s my jaaammm!” The intensity in her face says it all.

Photo © Michael July

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 9

By Mawuse Ziegbe

The origins of rock music have always been entangled in the African-American experience. Musical idioms like blues and to an extent jazz have laid the groundwork for rockin’ and rollin.’ For several reasons, over the years, rock music has no longer been considered “a black thing.” But there have always been the Lenny Kravitzes, Meshell Ndegeocellos, Bad Brains, Living Colours and many others who stand up and represent. Today, there’s a blitz of new kids pickin’ up axes and making new noise that shoves the boundaries of rock music and cultural identity. Below are a couple of kids who are bringing that certain “I-don’t-know-what” to the rock game.

The Carps
The Carps is the Toronto duo of Jahmal Tonge and Neil White that punches up warbling electro with splashy garage drums. Tonge’s vocals invoke the gleefully cheesy, Activator-powered soul of say Rockwell or early Michael Jackson. “All The Damn Kids” is a dizzying hybrid of punk and Soca (expect to see dirty Union Jacks waving in the air on Eastern Parkway this summer). And “Compton To Scarboro” opens up with a drum riff lifted from Bel Biv Devoe’s 1990 acidic banger, “Poison.” Currently, they’re on tour, blowing minds across Europe with throwback rappers The Cool Kids.

Apollo Heights
This NYC-based group makes my feet tingle with its fuzzy electro rock and makes my heart smile with its latest project “White Music For Black People.” The collective is anchored by twins Danny and Daniel Chavis and they make a lot of poppy epic rock that would make The Smiths and whoever made the music for the finale of The Karate Kid proud. They demonstrate their prowess for revamping classic ‘80s sounds on their remake of Madonna’s “Dress You Up” and piling up heady percussion and pouty vocals on “Missed Again” with
Mike Ladd.

Dragons Of Zynth
Critics have been wetting their pants about the psychedelic-Afrobeat-soul brew that Dragons Of Zynth have been stirring up so well. Another set of twins, Aku and Akwetey, work their magic from the epicenter of a sensual glam-rock enterprise. Their debut, Coronation Thieves is wall-to-wall disjointed rhythms and well-placed explosions of noise. They’re also been endorsed by the ever artful TV On The Radio and Thieves is produced by TVOTR’s David Sitek. But DOZ is more like TVOTR’s over-amped kid brothers who are still obsessed with wizardry and getting into trouble. And thank goodness for that.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 8

By Mawuse Ziegbe

This week I was posted up with the sniffles so I spent most of my time chugging Spirulina, gawking at Andrew Zimmern’s cast-iron constitution on the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” and giving even less thought to my hair in the morning. However, I did get to know two people a lot better – Mike Ladd and Duffy.

Mike Ladd is a Boston ex-pat MC whose new album I was shamefully apathetic about for some time. I often leave the ‘pod on shuffle because I’m, well, I’m lazy and every now and then, whatever well-worn disco beat I was bumpin’ would give way to some rabid yet velvety cacophony. “Wild Out Day” is a grinding, urgent enterprise with wheezing horns and chaotic percussion – perfect for an afternoon of looting or whatever less genteel activities are etched in your planner. The whole album, Nostalgialator, has an ambient steadiness that underscores tracks like “Off To Mars” and “Earn To Fall.” Even the wily, elastic instrumentation of “Afrostatic” and the rickety thump of “Trouble Shot” sound comfortable next to the milky electro of “Housewives At Play.” Ladd also handily satisfied my weakness for lively songwriting with songs about a graying Benjamin Franklin and party-hopping throughout Asia. I’m not so down with his delivery which is noncommittal and hampered by a slippery command of rhythm. But all in all, the Nostalgialator did much to help flush out the sinuses.

Duffy has been lording over the UK charts with her dusty, folky, Northern Soul. Imagine Dusty Springfield with the defiance of Aussie singer-sourpuss Missy Higgins. Usually touchy-feely tones are not my thing but Duffy’s smoky sound has a straight-up authenticity that’s hard to ignore. Songs like the blissfully campy UK chart-topper, “Mercy,” are brimming with “not-gonna-take-this-no-mo’” sass. I imagine instead of an agile neck-roll and finger-snap combo my American sisters do so well, Welsh women put this on when they’ve had it up to here. I especially love the trembling crescendos and vintage orchestral sensibilities of “Warwick Avenue.” Her main weakness is that when listening to her music, there’s a lot of, “this kinda sounds like Dusty, Joni, Amy, etc.” The sound does warble into derivative territory but real talk; it’s very capable and satisfying pop music.

I wrapped up my week-long quarantine by watching Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, a film made blocks from the crib and what seems like ages ago. Let’s take the way-back machine to 2004, when “Chappelle Show” was gleefully ruling the catchphrase circuit and everybody’s favorite rapper from Kanye to Kweli dropped by for the fun. It was an idyllic time when some of us were just chubby college-dropouts in ill-fitting blazers and none of us could win a televised Grammy. The Fugees long-awaited third album had a street date and I think Common and Erykah were still goin’ steady. Now Kanye rarely wears cardigans, I was more excited for Jill Scott’s new movie than her album and “Chappelle Show” doesn’t even live on through the magic of syndication.

But in 2004, I was an intern at Giant Step and now they’ve given me prime real estate on their homepage for my rambling musings. The moral of the story is get over it; things are usually better now and the past will always be on DVD.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 7

Photo of Little Jackie at SXSW BMI Showcase © Randall Michelson

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Hey boys and girls, today’s theme is friendship. Last week I was able to support some chums as they made their dreams come true – all while being comped and whisked into places like I was special (Maybe a more apt theme is nepotism).

On Monday night, I hit up Southpaw to catch friend-in-my-head, Imani Coppola and her group, Little Jackie. I’ve been an Imani fan since way back in the ‘90s when she logged MTV-time with that nutty video and song “Legend Of A Cowgirl.” Her work with Little Jackie is no less kicky (and loopy) as she sauntered on stage and muttered pleasantries to her two stuffed bunnies. The band bubbled through a lot of new stuff which combines the breezy doo-wop riffs of The Supremes with the biting, self-aware lyrics of well, Imani Coppola. My favorite was the swingy “Black Barbie” that takes the piss out of daffy celebutantes. Throughout the night she tossed bubblegum to the crowd and took her top off, because, well, why not. It was like watching Amy Winehouse if her eccentricities were triggered by a sugar high and not a crack binge.

Tuesday, a good friend hooked up me up with list space for Dizzee Rascal’s performance at my new Slope haunt, Southpaw. Dizzee pounced on stage with his incredibly chill hype man and pummeled through his three-album deep catalogue of punchy rhymes and steely beats. The crowd went batty on ditties like “G.H.E.T.T.O.,” “Paranoid” and “Flex” from his upcoming U.S. release, Maths & English. Backstage, a bouncy Aaron LaCrate discussed 2Pac while a sleepy-eyed Dizzee recounted slap-happy times as a rowdy East End teen and dropped sage ruminations about his Nigerian and Ghanaian heritage. It was a time.

Wednesday night, another buddy put on an acoustic showcase at The Cutting Room. Real talk, I hate acoustic music. I was there simply to send some sublime head-nods of support. However, I was not prepared for the billowy-haired songstress with the mega-dimples, Stephanie Michelle, and her sharp-edged version of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Her voice was this rich cocktail of feathery tones and bold melisma. With her vulnerable and generous voice, the lyrics were that much more emotive. By the end I was down right dewy-eyed and I took my behind home to blubber in private.

Finally, I caught religion at a Saturday night performance of the Broadway hit Passing Strange. I first heard about Passing Strange about this time last year through this black rock blog, and how it was about identity and colored people strummin’ git-boxes. I’m pissed that I waited for it to blow up on Broadway (everyone from Toni Morrison to Barbara Walters have checked it out. We sat behind Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz). I have never seen an artistic narrative that spoke to my experience as a surly, arty, black girl constructing her identity in a too-postmodern world. The writing, the music, the performances were literally the best things I’ve ever seen – I was pelting out giggles in one beat and nodding in tearful empathy the next. Maybe I was just having an emotional week. The friend I saw it with gave me a hug.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 6

Photo of Jazzy Jeff © Nick Digital

When I told my friend about my weekend, she flatly informed me with thinly-veiled horror that it was “bizarre.” I’m on the fence about the term. You, gentle reader, can be the judge. Let’s pretend the weekend started on Wednesday where I was eagerly awaiting a performance by Kid Cudi at Left Village bar Le Royale. The whole hourly-motel air makes my head hurt (where do establishments still get mirrored walls after 1978?). Anyway, I was excited to see Kid Cudi hit the stage because his MySpace page be poppin’ with his spacey brew of intergalactic hoodness. But live…wow. He rocked the crowd with all the vibrancy of a Saltine. His stage presence was desperate and inelegant. Overall, crappy. There was a lot of shouting out “peoples” that helped him through the struggle. Once again, desperate. The anti-climactic set wrapped up at midnight as the crowd unceremoniously filed out into the stinging cold.

The bizarreness really cropped up Thursday evening when I saw author and Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis interview Mos Def at the 92nd Street Y. Mos ruminated on everything from his childhood (“too much basketball” nurtured his interest in acting) to his reservations about the good life (using the complimentary Bentley shuttle at a snooty hotel was a trifle much). He spoke with candid wit, dazzling the crowd with low-key astuteness and even previewing a freshly recorded track from his upcoming album, The Ecstatic. However, the question and answer period devolved into bedlam as the restless crowd began to claw at lofty echelons of inappropriateness. Shouts of “next question!!” rang out as an older woman told Mos his music had changed her son’s life. A fan behind me kept screeching “Mos!!” arbitrarily (or perhaps for the optimal annoyance factor) in my ear. Brassy women began loudly interrupting each other, vying recklessly for Mos’ attention. There was a bit of a “WTF” factor watching grown people ready to wrassle each other for some eye contact with Mos Def.

Friday night, I hit one of my favorite bizarro events, Flavorpill’s One Step Beyond jump-off featuring DJ Jazzy Jeff at the Natural History Museum (Rockin’ next to rock formations just never loses it’s heady “where-the-eff-am-I” appeal). This time, instead of the usual infestation of downtowners it was very grown n’ sexy: lots of wizened uptown cats and fly broads who bought “Summertime” on vinyl. The vibe was much more “family cookout” than “tight pants competition.” Jazzy played it safe but his comfort hits straddled a gang of genres. There was Crystal Waters’ never-say-die dance jam, “Gypsy Woman,” Mims’ mind-numbing ode to braggadocio, “This Is Why I’m Hot,” and Dee-Lite’s sunny heart-pumper, “Groove Is In The Heart.” The brazenly cool, Retro Kids made an appearance, bedecked in parachute pants, split-level fades and jocular dance moves that made the early ’90s the hotness. Between the Kids, Jazzy and the tunes, it was like 1992 came back for a quick spin around the planetarium. I was entertained.

The actual weekend was a furious blur of hookah smoke, karaoke, Sparks and disco as my posse and I decamped to this loopy loft party in the Brooklyn. One minute I was chatting up locals in a plastic spaceship, the next precariously creeping down an iron ladder in my pin-thin stilettos and later screeching on stage to an oddly captive audience with my boozy pals. When we finally stumbled out of the rabbit-hole into the pale dawn sunlight, we cabbed it to my friend’s Midtown hotel and ordered $17 fried chicken. However, I wasn’t licked yet and spent Sunday afternoon with my artist friend, Alexis Peskine in Hoboken, NJ (aka Stepford. I mean, is that place serious?) who asked me to pose for a painting. It was slightly disorienting to discuss the tension in the “subject’s” face when the image was my own surly mug.
Since I went this far without sleep I decided to keep the party going by hitting up the 718 Sessions with Danny Krivit. If anyone is deserving of a loyal groupiedom it is Krivit. He spun my brains into jelly with tons of extended mixes of plucky disco and early ’90s Euro-house. As I bounced to the beat, I felt like I was in the New York you see in movies. Lots of dark corners, never-ending vocal house and people having moments on the dance floor. This wasn’t a pageant where everyone is casing each other but a party where people swayed to the music with their eyes shut. Bizarre must be another word for “damn good time.”