Music

Nasty Dad

U.K. grime producer Mr. Mitch tackles the subject of fatherhood, and tries his hand at singing.

SF Weekly

music2-mrmitchIn the early 2000s, while Americans obsessed over Justin Timberlake’s solo debut and all things Britney Spears, a new branch of electronic music called grime was bubbling up in London. In the beginning, it had multiple names — nu shape, sublow, and eskibeat — but it became known for its pairing of industrial and occasionally discordant sounds with lightning-fast raps. An aggressive and energetic subgenre, grime got its start in underground parties and on local pirate stations like Rinse FM and Deja Vu FM, and The Guardian recently hailed it as the “most significant aural rebellion since punk.” Early grime champions, like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, and Lethal Bizzle penned wordy albums about gang violence, street life, and being different, and the adjective “nasty” is now a commonly used term within the musical style.

But though grime has reached critical mass in the U.K. — albums by grime artists have received Mercury Prizes, and tracks have been adopted as anthems by political groups — it’s only now spreading to the U.S. In fact, it wasn’t until this year that Skepta and Stormzy, two of the biggest grime stars, made their Coachella debuts. But that’s progress, at least to British producer Mr. Mitch, who hopes grime continues to expand in both scope and reach.

“I want it to be as broad as house,” he says. “I don’t want people to think of grime as just one thing.”

Mr. Mitch was a pre-teen when grime’s progenitors were dropping their debut albums at the turn of the century, and his music was greatly influenced by it from the get-go. Around the time most of his peers were graduating from university, Mr. Mitch — who had dropped out of a media-studies program to pursue music and host a grime club night called Boxed — was forming his own label, Gobstopper Records. In addition to a string of his own EPs, Gobstopper releases records from fellow experimental and electronic artists whom Mr. Mitch believes “wouldn’t get any attention otherwise and just needed to be heard.” Well-known avant garde musicians have since taken notice of the label: Bjork played a Gobstopper song during a set in New York, and Aphex Twin included a Gobstopper track in a festival playlist he later shared on Reddit. (Click here to read more)

Teach Kids How to Play Classical Music & They Might Become Tiny Geniuses

San Francisco’s Little Stars Trio is hard-working, insanely talented, and still in grade school.

OK Whatever

On weekend mornings, while most kids are sleeping in or watching cartoons, the Breshears siblings are often busy performing impeccable renditions of classical music in a downtown San Francisco subway station.

Collectively known as the Little Stars Trio, they usually arrive at BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) around 9 a.m., ferried there by their father, Dustin, who is also their manager. In their monotone frippery and finery, the Breshears — Dustin Jr., 11; Starla, 10; and Valery, 9 — stick out like sore thumbs in contrast with their grimy, bird-shit-stained environment. (Click here to read more)

I Wore Pasties At EDC And It Wasn’t That Bad

LA Weekly

It’s easy to make friends when you wear pasties at EDC. I would know. I did it last night.

I didn’t plan for this to happen. When I packed for the festival, I chose regular clothes—shorts, tank tops, a sundress. You see, I’m not a raver and I’d never been to a rave before, so I had no idea what to expect. Actually, that’s not true. I once saw a gaggle of girls dressed in tutus and furry boots leaving a hotel in downtown L.A., apparently on their way to a rave. So I knew enough about rave culture to recognize the tropes: the boots, the bracelets, the drugs, the glow sticks. I just had no idea what to expect once I got there.

I barfed and went home early on my first night at EDC. I’d drunk too little water and inhaled too much dust. I was also completely and utterly overwhelmed. The last time I’d gone to a large-scale musical event was back in 1999 to see The Spice Girls at the Forum. (I must admit, even though I am a music journalist, I’ve never been to a music festival — not even Coachella.) Needless to say, I was wholly unprepared for the sheer size, scale and volume of the event.

And then there were the outfits — or rather, lack thereof. Girls were wearing panties and bras and thongs like it was the most normal thing in the world. Of course, it was over 100 degrees outside, and I sure as hell am no Mormon. But still, I was shocked. One girl wore a unitard made entirely of (thin) black duct tape. Others seemed to have given up on clothes all together. (Click here to read more)

Skeme Stays True to his Inglewood Roots — Except When He’s Ghostwriting Other People’s Hits

LA Weekly

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At Time for a Cut Barber Shop in Inglewood, Lonnie Kimble, known to rap fans as Skeme, sits slouched in a faux leather chair, his dreads pulled back in a ponytail and his knees peeking out of holes in his distressed Yves St. Laurent jeans. A bootlegged version of Straight Outta Compton, with Chinese subtitles, plays on the TV, while the shop’s lone barber, Marlon, shaves the head of one of Skeme’s “brothers.”

It’s a sizzling Friday afternoon in September and some of the guys in the shop have wet towels draped over their heads. The rest of Skeme’s crew is camped out in the back of the room, sitting in a semi-circle around the shop’s lone floor fan.

As his friends joke and gossip, Skeme looks on with a smile. These men — his crew and the other customers — are the people he makes music for, releasing all nine of his mixtapes for free. Though he has been offered deals with labels such as Top Dawg Entertainment, he has remained unsigned. He hasn’t upgraded his lifestyle by relocating to Hollywood or the Valley, instead remaining a constant fixture in the neighborhood he grew up in and still calls home.

His music, he says, is tailored specifically for the streets, with themes of drugs, death and money. “These songs were made for Inglewood niggas,” Skeme says, his voice raspy from years of smoking clove cigarettes. “I speak with their tongue. I say the shit that they’re going through.”

(Click here to read more)

Like What You’re Hearing?

Thank Clams Casino.

SF Weekly

music1-0908In 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)

The Metamorphosis of a Rapper

How Miami emcee Denzel Curry spent the better part of 2015 working on himself.

SF Weekly

music1-1For 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)

Lil Debbie’s New EP, Home Grown, Is An Ode To Weed

LA Weekly

IMG_3210 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.

(Click here to read more)

Who Is Joanna Newsom?

Demystifying Northern California’s enigmatic harpist

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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.)

(Click here to read more)

Metal 101

Gary Holt, The Guitarist For Legendary Thrash Metal Band Slayer, Explains The Genre to a Novice

SF Weeklymusic1-slayer-aa16a72444ef9191

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)

Racing Goosebumps

How DJ Jazzy Jeff and 20 others spent a week creating an album.

SF Weekly

music-jazzyjeffIf 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)

Grooving With Rockin’ Jim

For more than four decades, the KPOO DJ has been spinning ’50s and ’60s tunes on nighttime radio.

SF Weekly

music2-1It’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)

Twiggy Rasta Masta, aka La Goony Chonga, Is Keeping Hip-Hop “Based”

Broward-Palm Beach New Times

MASTA3IT’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)

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