In the basement of The Delancey in the heart of LES, The Harpoons quickly got the groove going late on a Saturday night. Music export initiative Sounds Australia put together an edition of their Aussie BBQ, a showcase of Australian bands, right here in New York City.
Funk and R&B vibes with a techy-modernized twist is the best way to describe the way they warmed up the dingy little room. Clad in a relaxed white power suit, gorgeous lead singer Bec Rigby swooned and crooned while the energy from brothers Henry and Jack Madin and Marty King’s harmonies get the crowd to melt right into the beats.
The Aussie BBQ showcase put each band on a pretty tight schedule, as all day, they had each of the twenty-one acts coming out one after another since 2 pm. Still, by midnight, the crowd had plenty of energy up until the last song of the set, where we begged for one more, and The Harpoons were happy to oblige. It was a quick set, but the band were around to chat and enjoy the other Aussie bands up next, like Pearls and friendships, both of whom I really came to enjoy.
The Harpoons are headed back home to Melbourne soon for Melbourne Music Week, and will be playing a few shows around Australia to close out the month. Check out their latest music video for the single “Ready For Your Love,” made to accompany the video diary for their Japanese tour:
On my second venture to Williamsburg’s Living Room, I encounter an even stranger sight than the Anglomania days prior. A lanky, rather stunning gentleman is flung upon a couch like the lead dandy of an Oscar Wilde play. He wears foppish Chelsea boots, a rust red sweater with a hole in the elbow and a slate, Nehru-necked vest. A conical birthday hat tops his mop of curly hair, making him look like a dunce or the subject of some Balthus painting. At a glance, one would reasonably question his country (or era) of origin.
This could only be Cosmo Sheldrake, a man whose name and music are as eccentric as the scene I just described. He’s also one of the acts I was most thrilled to see this year. So why was the headlining act sprawled flat on a sofa? Was he drunk? Ill? Strung out? I suspect he was just trying to squeeze in a bit of shut-eye before his set-which didn’t start until 1:30 am.
But, as things go at these sorts of events, Sheldrake’s set didn’t actually commence until 2:30 am. The vibe at this show was quite different from when I saw him at Piano’s two nights before, where a packed crowd beamed and shouted “Cosmo!” long before his set time. Instead, as Sheldrake parted the curtain to enter the listening room he muttered: “oh fuck, there’s like no one here.” He turned and looked to his friend with a nervous but lighthearted chuckle: “shitballs!”
At Piano’s, Sheldrake had come on stage wearing the exact same outfit, sans birthday cone. He spent a good half-hour setting up keyboards, sequencers, a laptop and some semblance of a Kaoss Pad or effects station. I remember thinking that it may have been more useful for Sheldrake to perform in a dog pit so onlookers could gaze down and see what the hell he was doing.Having read that Cosmo has savant-like musical abilities, (he plays around 30 instruments and having composed film and play scores by age 24) I was really hoping he’d be outfitted with a full band, or at least juggle a few different instruments. I’m sure both scenarios would have been a logistical pain in the ass, so the electronic motherboard it was.
Despite the one-man-show feel of the gig, I certainly can’t say Cosmo disappointed. He’s so engaging, charming and humble that it’s mildly infuriating; this level of talent is supposed to be reserved for the unattractive and socially inept, both of which Sheldrake is the opposite. He takes the time to introduce certain elements of his compositions, all of which are comprised of self-recorded sound bytes (a couple are borrowed) and oft-improvised vocals.“These are some sounds I want to introduce,” he says sweetly like a 3rd grade science teacher. “This is a sheep I recorded in Bulgaria.” Sheldrake presses the bleat button and glances sideways, making the crowd giggle. “This is a recording of me breaking some rocks in Wales. This is the sound of the sun sped up 42,000 times. These are some sounds from a cave in Bulgaria-there’s a rabid dog in there if you listen really close.” I don’t hear it. Sheldrake’s arrangements are so densely woven that you wouldn’t necessarily guess what the component parts are. But I like it that way. An enigma, much like Cosmo himself.
At Living Room Sheldrake mostly improvises. He is still wearing the birthday hat, with one helium balloon fastened to his keyboard. As it turns out it’s Luisa Gerstein’s (of Landshapes) birthday. I’m less taken with his improvisational vocals as they tend to venture on the scat/beatbox side of things, but I appreciate where he’s coming from. At one point he says that improvising is how he centers himself, and I find that as inspiring as I do rare. Making up a song in front of a bunch of strangers sounds more like a nightmare to me than a spiritual device.
Sheldrake is someone who seems constantly inspired, almost plagued by creativity. I imagine him finding a perfect rhythm while sweeping his flat, or hearing a rhapsody in rush hour traffic, or chewing to a beat. And just as I begin to cast off these thoughts as ridiculous, Sheldrake pulls the balloon towards him: “this should have helium in it!” He bites a tiny hole in the rubber, sucks in, and sings a song in a whole new key.
“Our sound isn’t necessarily bound by a single genre,” says Sarah Gaugler, the vocalist of Turbo Goth. It’s true – the band can’t quite be called electronic rock, though it’s the easiest way to categorize the duo which also includes Paolo Peralta on guitar, synths, and drum loops. Gaugler speaks and sings each word in a carefully, calculated way, while during live performances, Peralta swings his guitar around wildly. Some songs sound like a blues-rock band from outer space, others are industrial, slightly frightening. It takes more than one listen to get a handle on them.
As well as fronting the band, Gaugler is an accomplished tattoo artist with her own studio in Chelsea called Snow Tattoo. Though she was busy preparing for Turbo Goth’s CMJ show at Left Field last week, she took some time to answer questions about her music, art and the origins of Turbo Goth.
AF: Where did the name Turbo Goth come from?
SG: Personally, I don’t think it describes our music at all because I don’t know exactly how to label our music. We certainly aren’t playing traditionally “Goth” music, but I do think it describes our live performances, or the attitude of the band. It’s like we created a personality that is still growing and evolving as we continue to make more music. The name is more of the “concept of the contrast.” We love the contrast of aggression and beauty, heavy rock sound with heavenly, graceful notes.
When we were developing our band, we suddenly noticed the word “turbo” on old appliances, like an old electric fan. The humor was that back in the day, if you put “turbo” on something it meant it was top quality and intense, or high powered!
The “Goth” name originally came from the Visigoth conquerors who invaded the Roman Empire, just as we aggressively invade the stage when we perform. It was also derived from our admiration of Gothic architecture, long and pointed aches that stand tall and monumental. This type of architecture was named after the Visigoths due to the abandonment of classical Romanesque lines and proportion, just as our music is an abandonment of the typical rock band style.
AF: You’re originally from the Philippines- what brought you to New York?
SG: We felt it was time for us to share our passion with a bigger audience and got attracted to the city’s energy. After playing festivals around Asia and SXSW, we decided to go to New York where the music world is much more diverse and alive.
AF: How did you meet your bandmate, guitarist Paolo Peralta?
SG: Paolo Peralta was a sous chef at a fine dining restaurant in Manila and already the lead guitarist of a punk rock band…We had common friends and then eventually we started hanging out.
Knowing that I was a Fine Arts student and Visual Artist, the original plan was for me to create art on stage, while he played beats and music. But one day he heard me singing along to music I was playing in my car and said he liked my voice and we ended up making music together instead.
AF: Who are your biggest influences as a musician, and what are your biggest influences as a visual artist?
SG: When I was a little girl I was exposed and inspired by Madonna and Michael Jackson. I appreciate their pop tones and grooves. My dad used to listen to the Beatles so I feel like that is a part of my influences. My favorite music in college were songs by Go Sailor, Muse, the Mars Volta, Radiohead, and the Sundays. This is just from the top of my head, there are a lot more.
When it comes to illustrations or tattoos, life events and nature currently stimulate me. My thesis, however, was based on pen and ink, and crosshatching techniques, so my research was on Edward Gorey and Bernie Wrightson. When I was a child I loved watching movies by Tim Burton. These were some of my significant influences as I was developing my art skills.
AF: Do you think music and visual art are more effective when used together?
SG: Yes, for expression and for the viewers who are engaging with the performance. Music and visual art are married to each other…the complete experience of music is when you are seeing the performance live and feeling the energy face to face.
AF: What was your first tattoo? Have you ever tattooed yourself?
SG: My first tattoo was my bandmate’s name. After a couple of months, when I finally had my own machine, I started doing my illustrations on friends’ skins instead of paper.
The first tattoo that I inked on someone was one of my stylized girl illustrations, holding the word “pag-asa” (hope) in her hands above her. I never thought that I would tattoo myself but just as 2015 was about to start, I finally felt the urge. It’s a heart with arrows on my left thumb and three letter Vs on my left middle finger.
AF: In the past, it seems like women were underrepresented in both the music and tattoo industry. As a woman who is involved in both, what are your thoughts on this? Do you think women with these careers are more accepted now than before?
SG: I’m very happy to be in this age where women and men can be treated as equals in an industry that used to be dominated by men. Sexism for me is so much a thing of the past, and I have been fortunate enough to have not had any bad experience with it.
AF: Who parties harder, musicians or tattoo artists?
SG: I don’t think it matters if you are a tattoo artist or a musician. I think you party hard when you are young and in time we grow and learn through experiences. As time goes by, for me, being creative and productive stimulates me so much that beats the fun of partying too hard.
Ezra Furman was all over CMJ this year. I was lucky enough to see him twice-once at a matinee showcase for Brooklyn Vegan, and again at a headlining spot at The Knitting Factory. I’ve always felt like seeing a band more than once in a short span of time is like hearing a the same joke back to back-you get to see if it really holds up, or whether it was never all that funny to begin with.
To stick with the simile: Ezra Furman is a fantastic joke.
Both of his sets were almost entirely different. I only heard one or two repeat songs and even those were performed with little idiosyncratic tweaks in delivery or time signature. One thing that did stay constant was the quality of the gigs. Much like Furman seems incapable of writing a bad song, he also can’t manage to play a boring show. I guess there are things it’s good to be bad at after all.
Ezra Furman is often labeled a new act, but he’s already got a decent sized catalogue to pull from while performing. Several albums deep in his career, he still plays from many of them, which is both convenient and wonderful because, well, they’re all great records.
His latest release Perpetual Motion People however, seems to be the one that’s finally getting him noticed internationally (including by the godfather of punk himself, Iggy Pop.) I first heard the record on BBC 6 Music and knew Furman was something special straight away. PMP zips from folk to punk, doo-wop to soul, and is never scant on infectious pop licks. It’s not an easy sound to define, but neither is Furman the man – and I’m starting to think he likes it that way. Many of his lyrical themes involve sexuality and gender identity, or as he put it last Wednesday night before introducing “Body Was Made” at Knitting Factory, being “body positive.”
Despite Furman’s flamboyant appearance – he’s rarely without his pearls and red lipstick – he is an endearingly shy performer. As a fan shouted, “I love your shoes!” he coyly looked down and whispered, “thank you” off mic. At the Brooklyn Vegan showcase he fawned: “Aw look at all you, standing there, you’re all so cute just standing there. Look, I’m infantilizing you for personal gain because – well, I’m really uncomfortable.”
Yes, Ezra Furman certainly is a strange one. And we wouldn’t have him any other way.
I’ve often been called an anglophile. When it comes to my favorite books, movies, music – even people – an alarming amount hail from the U.K. I can’t help it. So imagine my delight upon arriving at The Living Room last Tuesday and seeing the many Union Jack-emblazoned posters hung around the room reading:
Music is Great
Britain and Northern Ireland
The snippets of conversations overheard around me only confirmed: I had accidentally landed at CMJ’s British showcase, hosted by Brit clothier Ben Sherman no less. I wonder how all those Brits felt, caged in by tiny ensigns dotting the stage as if it were a sports arena. It must be strange to feel an average amount of apathy towards your country on a daily basis, and then to be wrapped in the flag and delivered to an American audience. Could you imagine U.S. bands rolling up to London all Stars and Stripes? Somehow we don’t evoke novelty the same way.
Each act performing the showcase dealt with the patriotic décor in their own manner. Soul-folk singer Jake Isaac was a characteristically self-deprecating Englishman, professing that he wasn’t “as rock n’ roll as the last guy.” That’s a cuppa’ tea after sipping from a Styrofoam cup. But regardless of his degree of “rock n’ roll,” Isaac certainly didn’t fall short with his ability to work a room. Early on in his set Isaac unplugged his acoustic, stepped away from his kick drum and into the crowd where onlookers instinctively formed a circle around him as he sang. Isaac’s voice is at once booming and sweet, with just the right amount of rasp; a true soul vocal that sounds so natural it’s as if it’s falling out of his mouth.
CMJ exists largely to introduce and bolster emerging talent, so it’s rare to see a fairly unknown musician have this much charisma and pull with an audience. By the end of his set, Isaac had everyone clapping along and singing call-and-response style, a move I typically find cheesy, but his charm assuaged that reaction. He even made me (momentarily) like a track I otherwise abhor by weaving bits of Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry About a Thing” into his own song.
I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about Jake Isaac doing big things in a few years time. He’s already got a handful of EPs under his belt (his latest being 2015’s Where We Belong on Rocket Music Records) and clearly knows how to sway an audience. I’d say he’s fit for proper stardom, and deserving of it too.
Hooton Tennis Club, the Liverpool foursome (no, not that Liverpool foursome) were chipper despite being horribly jet lagged. “We got in 36 hours ago, and we still haven’t slept,” quipped lead singer/guitarist Ryan Murphy. The lot of them looked like a pack of scruffy teens that wound up here by accident while cutting gym. But this slack attitude is part and parcel for Hooton. Their sound is effortless and often a product of improvisation-yielding pop songs that are just the right portions catchy and scrappy. But this ease is a good thing. No one ever said that the best songs sound forced-quite the opposite in fact.
Their first record The Highest Point in Cliff Town is an impressive debut in that it asserts a cohesive sound immediately. This must have been something Heavenly Recordings picked up on, considering they signed them after only three gigs. The record is heavily rooted in the nineties, and they admit to looking at bands like Deerhunter as massively influential. There is a shabby professionalism to Hooton-sounding alive while looking exhausted and smothering honeyed pop melodies with lo-fi distortion; a sort of sonic rendering of a pretty boy dressed in dirty clothes.
Mid-way through their set bassist Callum McFadden plucked up a tiny Union Jack, stuck it’s tooth-pick-like pole through the strings in his headstock, and shimmied left to right, making it wave like a naval flag. Whether the gesture was out of patriotism or sarcasm I don’t know-but what would be more British than being sarcastic?