Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beautiful pictures of the week -- the DJ Diner and record stores to die for

A couple of gems courtesy of the RA news feed ...

DJ Diner episode 6 featuring Ruede Hagelstein and his shnitzel recipe.  Why was the "DJ's and their living rooms" photo series such a hit a few years ago?  As much as people try to pretend that the club scene is all about the music, or all about setting a mood in the club, or the interaction between DJ and audience in the club, or about the DJ showcasing his or her personality using only music, we all want to peek behind the curtain at some point.  It's precisely because DJ's usually are, or were so reclusive (or altogether faceless) that we'd jump at the chance to be a fly on the wall and learn more about them, for example, by sneaking into their houses and photographing their living rooms when they weren't at home.  Or at least that's what it feels like to browse through those pictures.  Of course you can learn a lot about someone just by seeing how they live -- who's unexpectedly a slob, who's the most tech savvy, who has the rig or music collection you'd give your right arm to have.

That was seven years ago, before the widespead use of social media and before podcasts accompanied by extended interviews with DJ's became commonplace.  Reclusiveness is fading into the past and openness is the new, expected norm.  The EDM explosion has probably contributed to the willingness of DJ's to advertise their personalities a bit more, although perhaps many of them would not want to admit this.  Resentment toward "superstar DJ's" of the 90's like Sasha and Sven Vath is still reasonably fresh -- in the not so recent past, the backlash was fierce and destructive if a DJ got too big.  But the mainstream attention given to the club culture of cities like Berlin is likely a huge factor too. Clubbing is no longer the exclusive domain of select individuals who are in the know, worldwide, it's probably never been as socially acceptable to be a club kid or a DJ than right now.

So what's the next logical step in the "DJ as pop star" series?  Maybe it's DJ's sharing home cooking recipes while playing your tracks in the background.  I mean sure, why not? I love shnitzel and Ruede Hagelstein's tracks are exactly the kind of stuff I like to play while I'm in the kitchen too.


Just when you thought you couldn't take any more stories about record store or concert club closures, an article such as this one pops up -- 27 breathtaking record stores you need to shop at before you die.  I've only been to five of them (1, 3, 5, 6, 26) and they are all worth the plane fare to get there with the exception of the last one. Seriously, is there anything better in music photography than pictures of beautiful record stores or of a person's sprawling music collection?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Two more oral histories

Oral histories -- they're everywhere now!  I singled out these two mainly because of the one interesting factoid in each that sort of blew my mind.

First, an oral history of Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ.

The good: Makes you feel as though you were actually there.

The bad:  An incomplete, all too brief history, they skipped the middle of the story and presented just the beginning and the end.  It seems they could have elaborated more on what they had -- how many more gold nuggets like the Korn story are left to be told?

The factoid: Bruce Springsteen filmed the video for "Glory Days" at Maxwell's!  I had no idea, but it makes perfect sense.  Go Bruce.

Second, an oral history of "Be My Baby" on its 50th anniversary.

The good: Not a whole lot.  A lot of the key figures in the story have passed away (or are in prison), so perhaps we should be thankful to get any stories at all.  It's a little sad to present an oral history with only three interviewees, one of whom had no connection to the original recording.  Maybe that's the best thing to come out of this -- I listened to Eddie Money's "Take Me Home Tonight" about five times in succession after reading this.  Great tune, awesome chorus, and I hadn't realized it was his biggest hit.  So there's that.

The bad: The article revealed absolutely nothing that we didn't already know.  I've thumbed through Hal Blaine's autobiography and this interview was just more of the same, in short, how can he be so dispassionate about everything he's done in his career?  He's played on literally hundreds of legendary rock songs, but to hear him talk about it, everything was just a gig, they did the jobs they were hired to do, the Wrecking Crew were pros, etc.

The factoid: The "By My Baby" beat is the same rhythm as that on Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" (which Blaine also played on)!  It's sped up and played with more emphasis, but it's the same!  I couldn't believe my ears -- this is up there with the "More Than a Feeling"/"Smells Like Teen Spirit" riff stealing that nobody notices or even suspects until it's pointed out to you.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Shlomo Artzi, Ashdod Amphitheatre (15/08/2013)

Shlomo Artzi tok to the stage flanked by a tightly rehearsed nine piece band. 

I'm fairly new to the experience of seeing stadium sized concerts by sixty something rockers, which means, fairly or unfairly (probably the latter), my first thought is to generalize and find a way to lump them all together.  The plot certainly seems familiar, as an example, consider Leonard Cohen's hugely successful world tour.  An aging music star wants to assemble a stage show that will be worthy of the ambitious arena and stadium tour he has planned.  He puts together an impressively sized band, complete with brass, strings, and other odd instrumentation as he sees fit.  He hires attractive background singers and musicians to inject some youthful energy into the proceedings, because nobody wants to buy tickets to see a traveling circus of senior citizens.  The staging and lighting are reserved, tasteful, and not too complicated, because huge LED screens and flashy graphics would look like a ploy for trying to appear younger and more contemporary.  All in all, the show is clearly centred around him and higlights him as the star, while at the same time not requiring him to do all that much.  He plays and sings at all the key moments but knows when to step aside and leave his capable musicians and singers to their extended solos, intros, and filler parts in order to fill out the whole of a two plus hours long concert.  This isn't meant to be a putdown of Leonard Cohen (I didn't get to see him in concert but heard recordings and saw many video clips of his last tour, which was more than deserving of the praise it received) or anyone else.  Concerts and tours are long and exhausting, and performers of any age or experience should be taking all steps to show off their strengths while simultaneously hiding their weaknesses.  

Most of this is also true of Shlomo Artzi.  Except that nobody told him that he's supposed to step aside and lets his backing band do the yeoman's share of the work.  From the first minute to the last of this nearly two and a half hour concert, Artzi was in total command of the stage.  His still strong voice dominated nearly every moment that of the show, and his remarkable energy is what drove his band, not the other way around.  His tireless work ethic was the key difference between a near pantheon level show and just another greatest hits set by a guy who could live comfortably off playing greatest hits sets for as long as he wants. 

It's partly because the people with him on stage are more than just capable hired hands.  It's more of a family affair, with his son Ben, his drummer of more than 25 years, and a pair of brass-playing brothers.  But can you show me another 63-year old performer who can sing a nonstop train of lyrically complex hits for over two hours (there was a teleprompter but he barely glanced at it), dance with audience members, act as the joke telling emcee, and generally entertain a mixed crowd of literally all ages (everyone from teenagers to their grandparents were there) while doing so?  I'm not sure I've ever seen an artist connect with his audience as well as Shlomo Artzi connected with the crowd in Ashdod.  The connection was almost telepathic, people stood when he wanted, sat when he wanted, danced when he wanted, sang along when he wanted, and while some of that can be chalked up to setlist pacing and song selection, you mostly have to chalk it up to Artzi's incredible charisma as a performer. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hey granddad, EDM is huge in vegas

Yeah, I didn't see this article coming.

Of course I knew about EDM taking off and the incredible success of Skrillex et. al. and the re-re-re-rise of the superstar DJ charging obscene fees for two hours of work.  Naturally there's some crap being peddled in that article by the kinds of people you'd expect to be peddling it in the interests of making money, i.e. everyone who boasts about how there's no end in sight to the growth potential of the scene and whatnot. I seriously doubt that the EDM industry is worth $4.5B annually, because that's not much less business than what major North American sports leagues are doing every year.  The article doesn't even clarify if that's supposed to be just in North America, or worldwide, or what kind of tickets/merch/other are included in that number.  Does it include the total cost of a weekend in a major city centre if somebody travels there for festival or a party (probably)?  The scene is undoubtedly big, but whether it's a 21st century rave fad or something more permanent isn't yet clear.  That's implied in the article too.  The merging of technology (state of the art animation, video screens, and lighting) with the excitement of electronic music has finally led to the EDM scene becoming  more accessible to a wide spectrum of people.  That's obvious to anyone with a passing interest in the scene as well, and it's a relief to finally move on from the "laptops and video screens: is it 'real' live music or not?" arguments.

What I didn't know before reading Andrea Domanick's report in SPIN is that the epicentre of EDM excess is VEGAS.  I had no idea that Vegas could draw 200K people for an EDM festival.  I didn't know that Vegas was making Celine Dion-sized investments in EDM clubs for partygoers.

I aged about five years reading this article.  Hell, I still read "EDM" as "EBM" half of the time, and wonder how I managed to miss out on the Front 242 revival.