U.K. grime producer Mr. Mitch tackles the subject of fatherhood, and tries his hand at singing.
In 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)
A look at the myriad of songs that have been released since the Commander-in-Chief entered the picture.
Los Angeles rappers YG and Nipsey Hussle spearheaded the trend of anti-Trump songs when they released their boom-bap track “Fuck Donald Trump” in March 2016. Since then, a number of artists from a wide range of genres have followed suit, releasing their own resistance songs and proving just how widespread hatred for Trump is within the music industry.
Dave Eggers launched the musical project “1,000 Days, 1,000 Songs” (originally 30 Days, 30 Songs) last October, which consisted of songs from acts like Death Cab for Cutie and Local Natives that urged listeners not to vote for Trump. (After Trump was elected, the project changed its name and transitioned into a playlist featuring one motivational, inspirational song per day.)
About a month before the election, Eminem dropped the minimalist freestyle “Campaign Speech,” which includes a line intended to make Trump supporters think twice about their candidate of choice. “You say Trump don’t kiss ass like a puppet / ’Cause he runs his campaign with his own cash for the funding,” he raps. “And that’s what you wanted / A fuckin’ loose cannon who’s blunt with his hand on the button / Who doesn’t have to answer to no one? Great idea!” (Click here to read more)
Chicago DJ Mark Farina brought ‘mushroom jazz’ to S.F. in the early ’90s. Now, he’s taken it to Dallas.
On Twitter, musician and DJ Mark Farina recently posted a photo of two song waveforms. Over one that looked like a solid bar, Farina wrote, “I prefer this…” Above the other — a segmented line with uneven heights — he wrote, “…more than this.”
The first waveform is representative of music with an even tempo and steady instrumentals, a style of producing that Farina has championed and emulated since 1989. But it’s the second waveform that is most in line with today’s musical tastes. Most dance songs played on the radio or in clubs posses similar peak-valley-peak structures that denote buildups and drops — common ploys used by EDM acts like the Chainsmokers.
But Farina couldn’t care less. For close to three decades, he’s made a career pushing smooth, adroitly produced Chicago house and a blend of downtempo and hip-hop he calls “mushroom jazz.” He says he’d rather his tunes “have a groove that goes on,” than consist of erratic transitions or interruptions — even if doing so diminishes their chances of charting on Billboard.
“If what I do gets popular, so be it,” he says. “But I’m going to keep doing what I do whether or not it gets any more received beyond the underground.” (Click here to read more)
The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers recently sued nine venues around the country for playing members’ music without paying. The Grand Nightclub in San Francisco is one of them.
Seemingly every week, new festivals are sprouting up around the world, in far-flung places such as limestone quarries in Sweden or the middle of the desert in Arizona. Bands are also touring more, often looping around the country multiple times a year in the hopes of playing as many shows as possible. Even older acts like TLC, the Monkees, and Bush have reformed and started playing shows again.
As for why more musicians than ever before are performing live, the answer is simple: money. Ever since streaming sites like SoundCloud and Spotify entered the picture — in 2008 and 2011, respectively — the record industry has been in a state of flux. Sales are declining as listeners opt to stream rather than purchase their music, and in 2016, streaming reigned as the No. 1 way that people consume music, according to Nielsen Media Research.
A large number of artists, especially older acts and bands that have broken up, rely on royalties they earn from licensing their music to streaming services. The pay is paltry — streaming one song can pay anywhere between $0.0003 to $0.007, depending on the platform — but it’s better than nothing, especially for songwriters and producers who don’t have the option of touring or playing festivals. (Click here to read more)
The D.C. rapper has perfected the art of speaking his mind without sounding moralizing.
But instead of dispensing unsolicited advice, fans should be asking Oddisee for answers. Because he seems to have a lot of them.
For a decade, the 32-year-old has been making music, churning out two dozen albums, mixtapes, and EPs in that time. Though he started out living in his mother’s basement, he hasn’t had a nine-to-five job since 2004, and he’s been able to afford living in Brooklyn for the past seven years. His quick rhyming and acerbic observations of urban and Black life in 21st-century America have won him legions of fans beyond the DMV, and his instrumental-only albums — like 2016’s The Odd Tape — have earned him street credit as a beatmaker. He’s also married with a child on the way, and owns some real estate.
Oddisee clearly has his shit together, a blessing that he believes is possible because he “think[s] a lot more than [he] should.”
“I’m constantly observing and cataloguing and storing things in my brain,” he says. “If I really divulged my thoughts on everything, I think I’d make a lot of people feel uncomfortable and awkward.” (Click here to read more)
Three decades after its release, the 67-year old San Francisco musician’s debut album finally enters the limelight.
Doug Hream Blunt was watching TV in his first-floor, Visitacion Valley home when the phone rang. It was the middle of 2015, and the 67-year-old — who doesn’t own a computer and only recently upgraded from a flip-phone to a smartphone — had just returned from dropping his daughter Juanita off at middle school. Blunt wasn’t expecting any calls that day, least of all from a boutique record label in New York City.
“I looked for Doug online and called him up,” says Yale Evelev, president of Luaka Bop Records. “The conversation was along the lines of me saying we loved his music and we’d like to put it out, and him laughing and saying, ‘OK.’ ”
Unusually late in life for a musician, Blunt began recording his kaleidoscopic, guitar-forward music in 1985 at the age of 35, but he hadn’t released any new material for almost two decades. The label, formed by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne in 1988, had learned of Blunt through an obscure DJ mix that contained his late-’80s, fuzzy, psychedelic jam, “Gentle Persuasion.” The song’s hypnotic melodies and Blunt’s breathy, stream-of-consciousness lyrics impressed Luaka Bop, which had just finished a five-year record-release project with funk musician William Onyeabor.
“We found [Blunt’s music] really mind-blowing and interesting and weird and hard to explain,” says Eric Welles-Nystrom, Luaka Bop’s director of communications. “It sounded like it was from the ’70s, but at times, it had an ’80s and even ’90s sound.” (Click here to read more)
Husband-and-wife duo Vantana Row combines rapping, screaming, and bassy electronic production into inventive, off kilter tunes.
While their music involves rapping, it also includes screaming. Though the band is guided by a punk ethos, its tunes lean more toward trap and hip-hop. There’s manic drumming, à la metal or hardcore, but also heavy doses of bassy, electronic production that sounds a lot like E.B.M. (electronic bass music). At times, you can even hear a bit of dance or pop, which, when combined with screamo vocals, would qualify as crunkcore.
Even Jamey and Volly Blaze, the husband-and-wife team behind Vantana Row, don’t know how to classify their music.
“I’m just doing this because I don’t have any music that I really feel inspired by,” says Volly, who has a face filled with freckles and what appears to be a backwards letter “F” tattooed between her eyebrows. “But it’s hard, because there is no genre like us. And we’ve really been trying to figure out what we are.” (Click here to read more)
For more than four decades, the KPOO DJ has been spinning ’50s and ’60s tunes on nighttime radio.
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)
Incorporating weed into nail art is the new way to show your love for the plant.
Walk into any nail salon and chances are you’ll be greeted with the smells of rubbing alcohol and acetone. But a new trend is sweeping the nail-art world that might introduce another scent into the mix: marijuana.
Dubbed “weed nails,” the style incorporates cannabis products — such as the leaf itself, ground-up bud, or hash oil — into acrylic nails, and using them to create designs. Like flower pressings, weed can be sprinkled into the clear bedrock of the acrylic, color-blocked into a pattern, blended into an ombre, or bedazzled with rhinestones and glitter.
Louisiana “Louie” Pham, owner of the Orchid Nail Lounge in Santa Clara, has even used ash from a blunt and slivers of rolling papers to create decorations on her clients’ nails. On a Wednesday afternoon in February when I visit Pham at her store, she’s in the process of snipping out the “100” from a fake $100 bill to glue into the center of a weed-flecked acrylic nail. For almost four years, Pham has been doing weed nails, and it all started thanks to the customer whose nails she’s currently working on. (Click here to read more)
It took the award-winning London rapper Skepta at least a decade to get on Coachella’s bill. Even though the 34-year-old — widely regarded as a leading figure in the U.K. grime scene — has reached Kendrick Lamar status overseas, it wasn’t until 2016 that his name appeared on the festival’s lineup. Due to visa issues, he ended up canceling that performance, but he was able to get a raincheck for this year, showing up on the Sahara stage on Day 3 of Coachella alongside a phone booth.
Americans are still discovering Skepta and learning to embrace the foreignness of grime — best described as breakbeat-heavy electronic music — but if Skepta’s dogged perseverance in Britain proved anything, all he needs to do it is hang around the U.S. long enough and he’ll start to blow up. Putting out albums also helps. Since 2007, Skepta has dropped four records and five mixtapes, and if you listen to them in succession, you’ll see how far he’s come. (Click here to read more)
Bishop Briggs has made a name for herself as a moody, melancholic singer, but there’s more than one side to her.
Sometimes, mixing business and family can be a terrible idea. Other times, it can be a boon for the whole clan. Fortunately, things worked out for indie-pop singer Bishop Briggs and her older sister Kate.
Kate is Bishop’s manager, handling the singer’s Instagram account and day-to-day activities, and sometimes even moonlighting as Briggs’ “part-time therapist.”
“It’s really nice working with my sister,” Bishop says. “There’s something about having a sibling that you know will always stick with you.”
As Bishop tells it, Kate has always stood up for her younger sister. The 24-year-old shares a story about a time in high school when Kate came to her defense after a guy Bishop was dating started making out in front of her with two girls at a party.
“He kept his eyes open when he was doing it,” Bishop recalls. “Like, who does that?”
Sobbing, she left the party and called Kate. And then Kate showed up.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Bishop says. “I’ve tried asking her, but she still hasn’t really told me exactly what happened.”
Whatever went down ended up working in her favor, and the boy became even more invested in Bishop than before. (Click here to read more)
Leading the chorus was a 6-foot-3 man with chest-length dreadlocks flecked with gold beads, dressed in an unassuming blue anorak and a solid yellow baseball cap. His name is Rexx Life Raj and he alternated between singing the chorus and rapping the verses to the song, called “Father Figure.” The warehouse gathering and the dad-declaring crowd was in celebration of Raj’s debut album — also called Father Figure — which came out June 23.
Raj, 26, writes all his own material, and occasionally mixes and produces his tracks as well. But what he really has a knack for is coining catchphrases and stick-in-your-head hooks.
Each song he performs has at least one line the audience belted out like an anthem, such as “I think I might have a mother-fucking problem / Crushing Adderall and marijuana!” or “Bitch, I’m a dad now!” (A “dad,” in Raj’s parlance, is someone who is “a boss,” not a literal father.)
Calls for “more!” and “again!” rang out when he finished “Shit N’ Floss,” what was supposed to be the last song of the night. Raj obliged, signaling the DJ to play the track one more time. Everything about this night had been a long time coming for him and he was willing to prolong it for as long as possible. (Click here to read more)
A.C. Newman of the New Pornographers has considered moving back to Canada, but he’ll never quit the band.
A.C. Newman lives in a “funky,” one-story house in Woodstock, N.Y., that has seen numerous renovations and additions in the eight years since he and his wife bought it. Even though the tiny cabin — which Newman describes as “not a mansion” — was a fixer-upper when they bought it, Newman was drawn to it from the moment he saw it.
“It’s a weird thing when you go to a house and it’s filled with portent somehow,” he says. “You’re like, ‘This is the one.’ ”
But on the Wednesday morning in March when I call him, Newman confesses that he and his wife are contemplating moving back to Vancouver, Canada, where Newman emigrated from 10 years earlier. The reason? Trump, of course.
“We’ve started asking ourselves, ‘Should we make a preemptive move?’ ” he says. “This country isn’t crushing us yet, but maybe we should get out before it does.”
Newman is particularly concerned about the Republicans’ recent plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which, at the time of our interview, was still a strong possibility.
“This is the first time in my life where I find myself in a place where I would be legitimately sad to leave,” Newman says. (Click here to read more)
U.K. producer Jax Jones is now more famous than the artist who helped launch his career.
Jax Jones’ parents really didn’t want him to pursue music.
“My parents are super-traditional,” says the British house producer, best-known for his 2016, island-inspired dance-pop single, “U Don’t Know Me.” “To them, any career in the arts — they just wouldn’t have it.”
With an Atari, Jones started making beats at the age of 14, but he says his dad still held out hope that he’d become a doctor, and that his mom always pushed for a career in investment banking.
“I could have done it,” the 29-year-old says. “I was pretty smart in school in terms of grades and stuff. I just got the bug to do music.”
Relations between Jones and his folks finally hit a boiling point when the musician tried to return home after graduating from college. Though his parents agreed to let him move back in, there was a stipulation: If Jones wanted to live there, he couldn’t come home later than 10 p.m.
As a burgeoning DJ trying to break into London’s nightlife scene, Jones knew that the ultimatum would be a death knell for his career. (Click here to read more)
Oakland hip-hop crew Down 2 Earth channels ’90s rap and laidback vibes in its new album.
Filled with obscure jazz and funk samples, internal rhyme schemes, and live bass, ’93 ‘til Infinity stood in stark contrast to the G-funk, gangsta-dominated, “gin and juice” era of hip-hop that was then sweeping through the West Coast. Mellow, chillout rap caught on like wildfire, and Souls of Mischief’s democratic style of trading bars so that each member got his share of the limelight became a common method for other acts.
It’s now been 20 years since the Oakland crew released its debut album, but Souls of Mischief’s impact is still reverberating — and you can hear their influence in the Oakland group Down 2 Earth.
“I think our formula is very similar to Souls of Mischief’s, even though that was 20 years ago,” says Down 2 Earth rapper Azure. “We’re very much a lyricist lounge type of act, and you can hear the similarities through little nuances, like making the drums extra-heavy.” (Click here to read more)
The Third Eye Blind frontman dishes on the band’s next album, trolling Republicans, and becoming ‘a whole person.’
Interviewing Stephan Jenkins is like herding cats or trying to get my very untrained dog Mischa to do a trick. He evades questions, changes the subject, gets easily distracted, and takes minutes to finish sentences, often using as many as a dozen adjectives to describe one thing.
“This isn’t really an interview,” Jenkins tells me shortly after we meet up. “We’re just chit-chatting.”
It’s a little after 5 p.m. in the middle of the week, and we’re sitting on the patio at Zeitgeist, a metal bar in the Mission, because that’s where the Third Eye Blind frontman suggested we go.
For more than two hours we sit there, facing each other while seated on the same bench — because the din from the crowd and the live thrash band is so loud that our knees have to be touching for us to hear one another.
“I feel self-conscious,” Jenkins complains, after I ask him to hold my recorder closer to his mouth so that it picks up what he’s saying. “I feel like, ‘Is this really what my voice sounds like?’ Fuck!” (Click here to read more)
In his debut album, Eldorado, fast-rising R&B singer Ro James showcases his many personas.
In some tracks, like the stripped-down, acoustic guitar number “Everything,” the 31-year-old comes across as the perfect man, cooing lines like, “everything’s about you, baby” and “you got me so weak like I need you.”
James reveals another side to himself in “Burn Slow,” a simmered down, cavernous track about convincing a paramour to “call in sick” and “call in favors” so that she can spend the day in bed with him.
By the time “A.D.I.D.A.S.” rolls around, James has dropped any semblance of subtlety, opting for a more straightforward, if not lewd, approach, intoning statements like, “Craving your body” and “All day I dream of sexing you.” (And yes, “A.D.I.D.A.S.” stands for what you think it stands for.)
Other songs, like “GA$” and “Permission,” promulgate this same devious, bad boy behavior, with James purring lyrics about his sexual prowess (“You ain’t never had it like this before”), favorite extra-curricular activities (“I wanna spend the whole night sipping on you”), and the things that are most vital to him (“Pussy, money, weed”). (Click here to read more)
Thank Clams Casino.
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)
Austen Afridi of Viceroy can heat up a dancefloor with his tropical house tunes.
“We had a very real winter,” says Afridi, who helms the San Francisco tropical house act Viceroy. “In fact, I got Seasonal Affective Disorder these last few months.”
Unluckily for him, The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts more rain for the Bay Area and temperatures no higher than 60 degrees for the next two months. But now that summer is around the corner, Afridi is confident he can hang, even if the impending season turns out to be as cold and dreary as the last.
“You’re absolutely right, it’s not always sunny here,” Afridi says of San Francisco. “But I love it. I love it for a million reasons other than that.” (Click here to read more)
Beach Goth 2016 was a fiasco and City Club sounds too polished, but The Growlers don’t give a shit.
“I do the whole ‘I’m not talking to anybody anymore’ thing a lot,” the frontman says. “Even at this stage, I get people interviewing me who don’t know my music, who’ve never heard The Growlers.”
In fact, as recently as “like, two weeks ago,” Nielsen wasn’t taking calls from journalists. But I’ve caught him at a good time: The Growlers, all three of whom are from Dana Point in Orange County, are home for a week and have some time to spare. It’s a rare occurrence for the garage-rock band that has spent an average of seven months a year on the road since releasing its debut, Are You In or Out, in 2009.
“We didn’t know that we were touring more than anybody else,” Nielsen says of the band’s early years. “We didn’t know how much we were supposed to be touring.” (Click here to read more)
A lot has happened in the 12 years between Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s debut and their fifth album.
On the one hand, there’s a lot of pressure to contend with — be it self-imposed or from others — and making an album that is both flawless and attention-grabbing is no easy task.
On the other hand, a debut can be viewed as a blank canvas. As a newcomer, you have no expectations to meet and plenty of leeway to do and try whatever you like. For Alec Ounsworth, frontman of the indie rock group Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, it was the latter.
In 2005, when the Brooklyn band, then a quintet, was recording its self-titled debut, the sky was the limit because there was “nobody looking over our shoulders,” Ounsworth says. The group had ample creative freedom to be as weird and experimental as they wanted — so they were. In album opener “Clap Your Hands!” eerie carnival music comingles with distorted and harmonized vocals, and throughout the entire record, Ounsworth morphs his creaky, nasally voice into whinnies, wails, and yelps.
“We didn’t really have any expectations for the album,” he says. “It wasn’t any grand statement, but simply a first album.” (Click here to read more)