In 2011, Michael Volpe was a 23-year-old physical therapy student who lived in the historic township of Nutley, N.J., with his mom and her two dachshunds. In his spare time, Volpe produced beats under the name Clams Casino and used MySpace to pitch his glitchy, chillwave creations to other up-and-coming artists.
By the time graduation rolled around in May, he’d released his first mixtape, Instrumentals (which Pitchfork would later name the 17th top album of 2011), produced songs for the likes of Lil B, Soulja Boy, Mac Miller, Main Attrakionz, and Havoc of Mobb Deep, and had a record in the works with the then up-and-coming emcee, A$AP Rocky.
With one foot in two worlds, Volpe, who will be performing at Mezzanine on Thursday, Sept. 15, realized he had a decision to make post-graduation: He could either pursue music full-time or use his degree to get a job in physical therapy. With little hesitation, Volpe chose the former.
“I was just like, ‘I’m going to see how far I can take my music over the summer,’ ” he says. ” ‘And, if it works out and I can start making some money off of it, then I’ll just keep going with it.’ ” (Click here to read more)
For most of 2015, mum was the word for Miami rapper Denzel Curry. The 21-year-old emcee kept a low profile, only emerging once in June to release the double EP, 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms. Fans took notice of his absence, wondering what had happened to the ambitious young artist who has been churning out a steady stream of music since the age of 16. Had he retired from the music industry? Or was he taking a break?
The answer: neither. Instead, he was plotting his transformation.
Curry’s decision to tweak his image and sound came after a conversation he had with André 3000 — “my idol,” he says — at an art gallery in the Wynwood District of Miami at the tail end of 2014.
“I knew that if I was going to ask him something, I wasn’t just going to ask for a picture,” Curry says. “I was going to ask him something that was going to change my life, and really, that’s what happened.”
He ended up asking André 3000 a few questions, like “What do you do to stay relevant?” and “What keeps you going?” The former OutKast member’s answers were startlingly simple — “He was like, ‘Just don’t get bored. That’s how you succeed and have fun,’ ” Curry says — but it was enough to jumpstart the younger rapper’s ambitions to modify things in his own life and make the mundane less mundane. (Click here to read more)
It’s Friday night, a little after 10:30, and I’m hoofing it through Hollywood to a spot called Las Palmas where Lil Debbie is premiering her new EP, Home Grown. There are stragglers hanging out front and they’re all young, definitely not over the age of 25, some of them probably not even over 21, which I assume is why they are hanging outside to begin with. Because that’s the thing about rap and hip-hop shows: They’re always mired with youngins.
The last — and only — time I saw Lil Debbie was back in 2013 at a place called Venue in downtown Oakland. The Venue is one of those multi-use spaces with a stage and a bar and lots of floor space, and I remember being impressed with the size of the room when I got there. Impressed because I didn’t know much about Lil Debbie, other than the fact that she was in the White Girl Mob, and impressed because I hadn’t been to a rap show since high school.
V-Nasty was there, and probably Kreayshawn, too, but all I can remember is Lil Debbie strutting across the stage in a pair of silk boxer shorts, gesticulating and waving the mic around. Her tiny, 5’2″ frame was a mere wisp compared to V-Nasty, and yet she was just as fierce, just as tough. The rest of the night is a blur — let’s be honest, I probably drank one too many glasses of Moscato — but I remember watching her perform as if it were yesterday.
In 19 minutes and 53 seconds, I tried to crack Joanna Newsom. I wanted to figure out who she was, because Newsom, a 34-year-old singer and harpist raised in Nevada City, is an equation that doesn’t add up.
Since Newsom emerged on the scene in 2004 with her debut studio album, The Milk-Eyed Mender, fans and journalists alike have been trying to figure her out. (She’s even had problems with stalkers.) With her long, flaxen hair, whimsical song titles, poetic lyrics, and ethereal, polyrhythmic song structures, there’s something otherworldly about her. (Tolkienesque terms like “Elfin princess” and “wood nymph” are frequently used to describe her.)
In her music, Newsom is haunting and cryptic. Though her sound is firmly rooted in folk, it’s not the happy, cutesy folk of Simon and Garfunkel or Peter, Paul, and Mary. Instead, she sings about loneliness, loss, regret, and misunderstanding — that is, if you can understand any of her lyrics in the first place. Newsom’s voice is high-pitched and quivering, and her lyrics are couched in metaphors and symbolism — so much so that one fan has created a website devoted entirely to deciphering her lyrics. (In “The Things I Say,” Newsom even sings a few lines backwards.)
Phillip Pessar‘s Flickr stream reads like a love letter to Miami. In roughly 9,600 photos, it tells the story of South Florida’s ever-changing architectural landscape.
The photos are simple — many of them head-on shots of old department stores, abandoned burger joints, historic hotels, and bulldozed office buildings. There are no fancy editing tricks or filters, just straightforward photography. Every day, almost without fail, new pictures are added. And all consist of the same thing: images of Miami and South Florida architecture in various stages of decay, disarray, remodeling, or rebuilding.
His photos are regularly used in articles and on news blogs. They’re in the Huffington Post, Forbes, USA Today, and theMiami Herald, to name just a few. They’re also featured in cookbooks, travel guides, insurance advertisements, and real-estate blog posts. But in the ten years Pessar has been taking photos, he hasn’t seen a dime. His work is available under Flickr’s Creative Commons and can be used by anyone as long as they give him credit.
Though Pessar’s photographs might be unremarkable, he has found a niche cataloging the mundane and quotidian: a bankrupt Radio Shack location, a Wet Seal store going out of business, an Airstream trailer outfitted into a food truck. (Click here to read more)
Last month, I went to see Metallica perform at AT&T Park the day before the Super Bowl. It was the first metal show I’d ever attended — and it was terrible.
The music was loud and clamorous, the vocals were sinister and throaty-in-an-evil-way, and the overall experience was much darker and ominous than I’d expected. I spent three hours with my mouth agape in horror, resisting an urge to cover my ears.
But as I looked around the audience, I saw 40,000 people were vibing to the music. Cacophonous, raucous, and scary though it was, these people — normal-looking, not-dressed-in-black people — were digging it. Like, really digging it. The guy next to me stood up for the entirety of the show, and the guys in front of me couldn’t contain themselves from throwing up devil horn hand symbols every few minutes. It was clear something was afoot. But what?
I needed help. I would never be converted, but I needed to understand why people listen to metal. And who better to explain metal than Slayer, another legendary metal band of the 1980s?
From a hotel room in Wisconsin, Slayer guitarist Gary Holt took the time to explain the genre to me and provide some insight into why people are drawn to it. I still don’t get metal, but I at least now sort of understand the genre from a metal lover’s standpoint. (Click here to read more)
If there’s one thing you should know about DJ Jazzy Jeff, it’s that even though he lives in the woods outside of Philadelphia, there’s almost always a few people at his house. In fact, it’s for this very reason that he was 30 minutes late to our phone interview.
“I’m sorry,” he tells me when I finally reach him. “I had some family members stop by.”
For someone who averages 160 shows a year and always seems to have his hands in a new project or two, you’d think the constant deluge of visitors to Jeff’s home would be distracting, not to mention unwanted. But he insists it’s not.
“There’s always someone here, but it’s not a bad thing,” the 52-year-old says. “I’m trying to create a creative safe haven for people.”
In fact, Jeff — who most people associate with Will Smith, a longtime friend with whom he formed the two-time Grammy Award-winning hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince in the mid-’80s — thrives on collaboration and teamwork. It is for this reason that he has hosted biannual workshops and sessions — called the PLAYlist Retreat — for producers, DJs, and songwriters at his house for the last three years.
“It’s like a camp atmosphere,” Jeff says. “We get about 18 to 25 trailers and line them all up outside.” (Click here to read more)
It’s a little before 8:30 p.m. on a Monday night, and Jim Rigsbee is sitting in the studio at public radio station KPOO, shuffling through a stack of CDs and 7-inch records. For more than 40 years, Rigsbee — better known to listeners as Rockin’ Jim — has been hosting Grinders Grooveyard, a late-night program consisting of pop and rock hits from the 1950s and ’60s.
Rigsbee inherited the show in 1976 from its original hosts, who created the program when KPOO was founded in 1971. A retired customer-service agent and “jack-of-all-trades” for the San Francisco Chronicle, the 69-year-old has long grown accustomed to the show’s nocturnal hours, which are currently 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Mondays, but in the past have continued as late as 2 a.m.
Rigsbee — wearing a crewneck sweatshirt, Manchester United sweatpants, and oval wire glasses nestled halfway down his nose — is an S.F. native who currently resides in the Outer Mission. He remembers listening to Elvis Presley on the radio at the age of 8 and can recall seeing shows at iconic (and now-defunct) turn-of-the-century concert venues, like the Fillmore West and Avalon Ballroom. (Click here to read more)
IT WAS 4 P.M. ON A THURSDAY, two hours until the end of Jesse Banuelos’ workday. He was standing behind the front counter of Berkeley Typewriter, his trademark green apron tied around his waist. A dozen broken typewriters — some electric, but most of them manual – were stacked in a corner on the brown linoleum floor.
Forty years ago, the shop was at the top of its game. But during the ’90s, as computers became more affordable, fewer customers bought typewriters or needed them repaired. Many typewriter stores went out of business. Berkeley Typewriter laid off some staff and managed to remain open by offering services like printer, photocopier and fax repair. Banuelos is the store’s only remaining technician who knows how to fix typewriters. He never learned how to type on a computer and for a time he worried that the typewriter industry would soon disappear.
He was wrong. In the last few years, both typewriter sales and repairs have increased at the store. Berkeley Typewriter experienced an increase in overall sales in 2011, moving about two or three a week. It’s not like the olden days, Banuelos said, but it’s enough.
Most of the typewriters that he sells or takes in are manual machines made between the early 1900s and the 1960s. The dozen or so brands displayed in Banuelos’ front window read like a row of multicolored tombstones: Royal, Remington, Underwood, Smith-Corona, Olivetti, Corona, Adler, Oliver.
IT’S SPRINGTIME IN HOLLYWOOD. The sky is cloudless and blue. Tourists bake in the sun and the Hollywood sign winks from the hills. A low-flying plane poops smoke trails overhead. On the rooftop of a 1920s apartment building, two girls are smoking a joint and listening to music from a cell phone.
“Genius, right?” says the girl with the blue hair, who goes by the name Twiggy Rasta Masta. She has gold-encased teeth and a slight Spanish accent. Brown liner is stenciled around her lips and a gold chain hangs from her neck. The inside of her left wrist reads, “Yeah!”
“So good,” agrees her friend, Bootychaaain. She has short hair, like a boy’s — curly on top, buzzed on the sides. Her nails are teal and over three-inches long, perfect for holding stubby joints.
Busted out the womb, is the Young Daughter, sings the third member of their crew. Heard your ass was thirsty/Need some fuckin’ water. Her voice is wan and she sounds bored. (Click here to read more)
It’s Saturday night at The Layover and the bar is close to maximum capacity. People of all ages are crammed onto the tiny dance floor, their foreheads glistening with sweat as they shake and bob to the music. A gaggle of girls start twerking in a corner and a young couple lock lips on a couch. Squelchy slap-bass and booming 808s pulse from the speakers as the DJ spins a mélange of trap, rap, dub, and electronica beats. More people filter in. Space becomes even tighter. Bodies collide. Cocktails are spilled. But the party keeps going. Welcome to NVR OVR.
Every fourth Saturday, The Layover hosts one of the most lively parties in Oakland, called, appropriately enough, NVR OVR. The massive dance party attracts a few hundred people every month and often lasts until 2 am. NVR OVR founder Marty Aranaydo (aka DJ Willie Maze) and resident DJs Starter Kit and Neto187 (of Trill Team 6 and Sick Sad World) are known for spinning tracks spanning a variety of genres and eras. Local DJs and musicians such as Antwon, Main Attrakionz, So What, RNB Millionaires, Nanosaur, Pony Loco, and Bobby Peru are regular attendees, and it’s not unusual for them to perform as well. Aranaydo also designs and sells a new NVR OVR T-shirt every month, and up until recently, the ladies of local nail polish company Floss Gloss provided in-house manicures.
Robert Pennell shifted the gear to neutral and parked the car along the side of the road. “There,” he said, pointing out the open window to a cluster of houses across the street. “That one is modern and the one next to it is traditional. Then you have a contemporary California ranch style house and over there you have an English Tudor.”
A partner at Jarvis Architects, Pennell navigates the narrow hillside streets with an ease that comes from years of driving through and working on the homes in this post-fire destroyed Oakland Hills neighborhood. Although there are some trees, they are young and sparse, and the streets are drenched in sun, causing Pennell to squint behind his gold-rimmed sunglasses. It wasn’t just the houses that burned, he said—much of the vegetation, including the canopy of trees that once shaded the streets in this sleepy, secluded neighborhood, were burned, too. (Click here to read more)