Giant Step Resident: All Points West with Jay Z, Q Tip, The Pharcyde & more

libertyBy Mawuse Ziegbe


The 2009 All Points West Music and Arts Festival in New Jersey’s Liberty State Park was kinda like an open-air high school lunchroom where shaggy rockers, glittery rappers, and freewheeling artsy kids all held court in their respective corners. Spotty showers soaked the first day of the weekend-long festival which left dedicated (a.k.a. fool-headed) fans tramping through glutinous mud to the sounds of Vampire Weekend, The Knux and Peanut Butter Wolf. The Pharcyde rocked loopy hits like “Runnin’” and “Passin’ Me By.” The original line-up was in full effect – including a formerly dreadlocked Tre sporting an appropriately Jersey Corleone hat – and showed love to J. Dilla by playing Slum Village jams like “Raise It Up.” Q-Tip deployed his trademark energy, grooving through Tribe’s hits and busting out a quirky yet charming cover of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”

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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 20: Detroit Electronic Music Festival 2008

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Memorial Day weekend ’08 I wasn’t passed out, tummy distended, on somebody’s gritty Brooklyn “rooftop lounge.” Instead, I trekked to the Midwest to take in The Detroit Electronic Music Festival. Everyone from Mark Farina to Richie Hawtin to Benny Benassi to The Cool Kids camped out near downtown Detroit’s Renaissance Center as I spent Memorial Day weekend in a flurry of D&B, hard house, deep house, minimal tech and corn dogs (I’d never had a corn dog before, those things were delish!).

Day 1
I began my Midwest sojourn by flying on the ever dodgy Spirit Air which had $9 fare sales but the seats looked like they were ripped open by a cat. An angry cat. When I touched down my friend gave me two things that apparently make Detroit really special: Faygo soda and BetterMade chips. They were like Sunkist and Lays on steroids. Angry steroids. Favoring proximity to the festival over any semblance of quality, we checked into the Comfort Inn; replete with unidentified stains on the curtains and a view of, um, the parking lot. But that night I hit up a party with a grip of house artists (what is the point of Detroit without house music) just off Jefferson ave. We got there wicked late and the music was fine, sultry, epic deep house. But loud. Lawd-a-mercy, everywhere in the D everything was just too dang loud! We went to sleep to rest our swollen eardrums.

http://www.giantstep.net/downloads/images/Mawuse/real-detroit.jpg
Real Detroit © Mimi Louya

Day 2
Comfort Inn was giving us the willies so we upgraded to the St. Regis which at least looked like there was a washing machine on the premises. Then we got brunch at the Detroit Breakfast House and Grill. A lot of restaurants in the Motor City have adorable entrees like “Shoo-Bee-Doo-Waffles” and we tucked into some Bananas Foster pancakes and sky-high stuffed French toast. With our diabetes-inducing brunch packed in our stomachs we moseyed to the festival. Raves are still de rigueur in the D as tweeny girls with neon clip-on dreads and buzzed guys with Freshjive wide-leg pants milled about (Since pants are so passé, many girls just cut off the pant legs and taped them around their thighs). The festival grounds included two stages, two DJ set-ups and this underground lair called Real Detroit. Egyptian Lover put on a truly epic hour-plus performance on the Red Bull Music Academy stage and later I caught Mike Grant puttin’ it down in the lair. The hottest part of the night was Pete Rock who threw down a Pu Pu Platter of regional classics with early ’90s jams by Snoop Dogg and Biggie. The crowd was ravenous for more, even though the sound cut out on the last song, his own hallmark track with C.L. Smooth, “T.R.O.Y.” We ended the night watching Moby pack the Vitamin Water outdoor amphitheater with tons of die-hards bopping to Basement Jaxx and beyond. It was like something straight out of the ’9-9-6.

http://www.giantstep.net/downloads/images/Mawuse/raver.jpg
photo © Mimi Louya

All day we’d been jonesing for a party that was straight of the ’9-7-6: Soul Skate ’08. It was a skate-party at Northland Skating Rink where even Amp Fiddler came to roll, bounce. And this is one of the ways the Midwest kills New York: good clean fun. There were couples, singles, groups and teams teeming with good Midwestern spunk, gliding along while Motown favorites and funk staples blared from the speakers. Then there was a skate competition where suave teams from Chicago, wiry pimpalicious old-heads and fresh young anklebiters in sagging pants went at it, flippin’ around, spinning on one skate and whatnot. But the victors were a buxom couple that swirled along to Ne-Yo’s “Can We Chill.” Three cheers for love.

Day 3
After another boozy…er, social brunch, we went thrifting where I picked up a checkered gingham number (you just don’t find quality gingham in the city) and a tailored gray shift. Then, galvanized by the wonders on wheels from the night before, I promptly bought some roller-skates (I’ve been actually wheeling around at parties like a lunatic since). We made it back to the festival grounds where we saw the one-man party that is Girl Talk. Known for his storied, blithe electro mixes he was all brash, shirtless cock-rock excess, playing to a stacked crowd of admirers. On the other side of the festival and the performance spectrum, Carl Craig spun a tidy, minimal house set that, sadly, served as little more than electronic muzak.

Afterwards, we jetted to Detroit venue The Magic Stick where 2 Live Crew performed. We wanted to go to check out one of the legendary pillars of shock rap who even fought for their right to be nasty all the way to the Supreme Court. Following a warm-up by Peanut Butter Wolf, they demonstrated many reasons why today they can barely pack a living room. For one, those fools have no stage presence. What’s changed now is that they’re older and creaking across the stage, damn near wheezing out their rhymes. And their rhymes are not good elbow-nudging fun; they’re horrifyingly obtuse, boorish and offensive. Times when a swear word is far from necessary, the Crew will jam in three. What really torpedoed my innocence were their dancers. Women who were probably full of life and naturally occurring collagen back in 1992 were slower, um, wider and less artful about jigglin’ it. One lady went completely topless as flabbergasted fans flashed camera phones and dollar bills. It went from Magic Stick to Magic City with one flick of a tube top. Even The Cool Kids watched, mouths agape, at the pandemonium. I was pretty much done.

I had an early flight and went straight to the airport after the show. Overall, I really found the city charming. There’s not much development so it’s fixed in time; lots of grand marquees and restaurants that haven’t switched up the décor since the 1930s. Not many people and very spread out so it’s a relatively quiet big city with a pretty cool view of Canada. It’s scrappy and things shutter early but it was a welcome respite from the glass castles, grimy debris and endless buzz of NYC. Beer, brunch and beats – I could call the trip “Shoo-Bee-Doo-Wonderful.”