Chelsea Jade Makes Enigmatic Pop Music for Outsiders with Soft Spot LP

Chelsea Jade has always felt like an outsider in the music industry. Even after making the voyage to Los Angeles from her isolating home country of New Zealand, Jade’s journey in music has always seemed like something that happened despite her plan, not because of it. She went to art school and dropped out after a year to pursue music. She didn’t quite fit in between the lines of dense art history textbooks, but never really felt at home in the star-studded hustle and bustle of Hollywood. In fact, Jade’s life has been full of paradoxes, and her music makes no exception. Her latest record, Soft Spot (out April 29 on Carpark Records), is a collection of songs that contain both the effervesce of a summer day and the nihilism of Nietzsche. Her ability to weave dark metaphors and prosaic story telling into the tight confines of ABAB pop song structure is nothing short of genius, and result is, simply put, a record full of bops.

“Frankly, I appreciate the parameters that pop [music] provides,” says Jade. Once the barriers are in place, you can just bounce around inside so freely.” Take her song “Optimist.” At first glance, it sounds like a lovesick infatuation anthem – “I became an optimist the minute that we touched/I’m positive it’s love/I don’t believe in much/It’s looking up/‘Cuz I became an optimist the minute that we touched.” But if you listen closely, Jade’s lyrics carry a heavier weight. “It’s about manipulating someone with sex,” explains Jade, “or using them as a salve when you feel affection for them but you don’t know how to maneuver through that honestly, because you have no self-esteem. Does that make sense?” Why, yes, yes it does.  

Through this lens, Jade’s record unfolds in a type of dark love story – the kind that paints your whole world blood red and doesn’t give you a moment to breathe until you’re out the other end. The kind that might actually just be obsession, or lust, or just blatant distraction. In “Good Taste,” Jade elaborates on the idea of sex as a band-aid for any unpleasant emotions. “It’s like a miracle/Feeling your charisma getting physical/And yet I’m miserable/But oooh, it’s such a mood getting sexual.” But, as nature has proven, the fruit is always the sweetest before it decays.

Jade points out that the thesis of the record lies in the first phrase of the title track, “Soft Spot” – “I’m gonna love you from the soft spot where the fruit begins to rot.” It’s a nod to the sickly-sweet decadence that characterizes impulsive love affairs, escapist bouts of romance, or a fling that has run its course. Ironically, the title track is stripped of all the embellishments and lushness present in the rest of the record’s eight tracks, and plays out like an intimate soliloquy.

“This is the art school in me I couldn’t resist,” Jade says of the song’s stripped down production style. “It felt like a good opportunity not to abandon context. Which is a new thing for me.” She explains that as she adds production to her practice, she’s not afraid to add crunchiness or texture to the music she makes. On top of that, she’s not afraid to let what feels natural supersede what anything “should” sound like, especially when it comes to pop music. “The person who’s playing the piano [in “Soft Spot”] is not in the music industry or anything, it’s just my friend who has a piano in his house and we were just playing around after dinner, which is nice too.”

These subversive nods exist throughout the record, whether it’s the dark, repetitious bassline in “Optimist” or the bright twinkling bells set against the foreboding metaphor for relationship-induced isolation in “Real Pearl.” Soft Spot finds its home in the spaces between – between self-awareness and escapism, love and hate, indulgence and sagacity. If Chelsea Jade is an outsider, then we are lucky to get a glimpse inside her enigmatic mind.

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Alex Orange Drink Comes to Terms with Brokenness on Most Candid LP Yet

As a pioneer in New York City’s DIY all-ages scene over the past decade, alongside his brothers in the The So So Glos, Alex Zarou Levine – better known by his solo moniker Alex Orange Drink – represents a millennial shift in pop punk. Today’s punks hold space for complexity, they go to therapy, and they unabashedly share their souls with the intention of healing, ushering a new era of emotional maturity for the genre at large. Once, at a Desaparecidos show, Conor Oberst’s nephew told Alex that he seemed to be aging backwards, with the spontaneity and direct nature of a little boy, and the compassion and wisdom of an old man. The observation struck a chord, and feels even truer listening to his recent work.

After releasing his debut solo LP Babel On in 2018, Alex Orange Drink returns with his most intimate musical project to date, Everything Is Broken Maybe That’s Ok. A powerful autobiographical body of work, he throws shade to stereotypical white men whining about high school (of course there’s a sprinkle of flat rim caps, Dickies, and wallet chains) that characterized late ’90s and early aughts pop punk. Instead, Alex Orange Drink candidly explores his experiences with love and loss, getting arrested, and his life-threatening battle with rare genetic disorder Homocystinuria. Tapping into narratives of broken political systems woven together with universal themes of heartbreak, the record stays true to his never-ending teenage angst. Released digitally in July, pre-orders for vinyl will ship this month via Freeman Street Records.

“Half of the album was recorded before the pandemic in a party-like atmosphere – with basic tracking captured live among friends, family and lovers – while the other half was completed by a heartbroken protagonist reflecting in isolation,” Alex tells Audiofemme over a long, impromptu car ride to the beach in rush hour traffic. As we inched through Bay Ridge – the infamous setting of Saturday Night Fever, and also the neighborhood where Alex grew up – he broke the album down song by song to offer a window into its unique and autobiographical depth.

“Brooklyn Central Booking”

“[I’ve been arrested] three times. This song is a combination of all of them. I had an outstanding warrant for pissing in the street. One time we got arrested as a full band, coming from our practice space and smoking a joint. Everyone made it through the system and got out except me. After 15 hours I was tripping out from not having my orange drink (which I drink for my Homocystinuria). I was malnourished and going crazy. They say if you have diabetes or any kind of genetic disease, you’re supposed to tell them. But they just take you to the hospital, then it takes 20 hours before you go back to the jail. I was trying to get a glass of water but they wouldn’t let me. They took me out of the first cell, which is the worst one – and called my name. One cop was standing on one side of the hallway and the other was standing on the other. The cop on the other side said, ‘Did I tell you to move?’ I sat down on the floor, then a cop threw me against the wall by my head and threw my file at the bottom of the pile. I was there for two days in the first cell. Two days without my orange drink.”

“Homocystinuria Pt. 1 (1987-1994)”

“Homocystinyria is a super rare genetic disease that I was born with, and it’s pretty life threatening if it’s uncontrolled. Luckily I’ve been controlled since birth. It’s an extremely restrictive diet where I can’t break down protein. It’s this medicine I have to take with all of the amino acids, with the one I can’t have taken out. It’s like my rapper name that’s like my super power. The song is about growing up with that, and feeling really isolated and alone because I didn’t know anyone else who really had it or was living with it. The song is about bringing my music friends to the hospital for my check ups – I list all of the artists I listened to that got me through it. I wasn’t affected yet so much but I was clinging to music and making it a survival instinct. Later I realized it was anxiety. You don’t know what anxiety is when you’re a kid. You grow up and begin to realize what it is. I had a lot of panic attacks in my teenage years. The mental things that come with having a restrictive diet, the psychological effects of that are interesting – it’s what makes me an artist. Part of it is very physical. You feel like you’re dying and you attribute it to physical things. Racing thoughts – it’s very crazy real anxiety in your head. I felt uniquely crazy. I kept it very private until this project. I very consciously didn’t think about it.”

“Oxytocin (Love Buzz)”

“The song was inspired by extreme and perpetual heartbreak. The feeling of someone falling out of love, and looking to science to try to understand something emotional. I did a lot of research on limerence and oxytocin. The world shows you Disney love, but not five years later when it gets hard. That’s what this song is about. Wanting to believe that there is a magic thing that is love, that it’s not just some kind of scientific chemical to procreate. It’s a hopelessly romantic song at the same time, like you’re addicted to desperation.”

“How High?”

“This song is about the urgency and desperation of feeling powerless at 3AM. The only thing you can do is run away and disappear. The first line is ‘Julia’s hanging in the corner,’ and that’s a real person. She was 99 years old. She’s just a really special person and I always wanted to put her in a song. She’s the oldest person I’ve met in New York. She was telling me about the elevated 2nd Avenue line in Manhattan. I met her when I was doing construction at a pizza place. This song is about that feeling of knowing I’ll do whatever you want; when you fall into love like that you lose power. It becomes a struggle. I think you can lose yourself very easily and it’s scary. It’s complicated. Fiona Apple and Bob Dylan are really good at giving the 12-sided die to relationships. I love to write about multiple interpretations of a relationship. I’m obsessed with double meanings, double entendre rooted into really deep emotion.”

“It’s Only Drugz (Limerence)”

“I’m just playing an acoustic guitar on this one, and Adam [Reich] did the string arrangement. He’s also playing bass, and Johnny [Spencer] is playing drums. Adam and I went in a year and a half later after we finished this track and went crazy with overdubs. I was in a heartbroken state of mind when I recorded the vocals. Emmerson [Pierson] is singing vocals. She’s doing that little hook. Her music is really good. The song feels inspired by the Zombies or the Kinks. Maybe a little Serge Gainsbourg or Leonard Cohen. I didn’t really think about the influences consciously on any of them but it’s fun to analyze them now. If I had to say it, it has a psychedelic ’60s kind of crooner energy. It’s a similar concept to the ‘Oxytocin’ theme.” 

“Click Bait, Click Me” 

“It’s always a subject, internet obsession. I think the least about this song, but I think that it’s the feeling of voyeurism, watching someone behind a screen. It’s about the celebrated narcissism in our society. The feeling of being sold something that’s a lie, that’s empty, not fulfillment. The lab rat in the pellet experiment where they keep pressing the button and they just want more – I forget the name of the experiment. Instagram feeds off of our insecurities, and then if you add a human relationship to it, and all of the things that come with that, it’s like a love song through a screen, with the addictive thing of what you see in someone else, and what you see in yourself through someone else and how they see you. That sense of hyper voyeurism, like the film We Live in Public.

“Homocystinuria Pt. 2 (1995-1999)”

“The sequel to ‘Homocystinuria Pt. 1,’ the infant stages of becoming a superhero. There’s this bully named AJ who’s bullying me, and the feeling of being a total outcast and growing into your teenage years. Feeling different from people, not totally connecting it and not understanding why. The feeling of being an outsider, and finding my way towards high-energy rock ‘n’ roll. That’s why it’s the most punk song. It’s a metaphor for the kind of punk I was listening to as a teenager. I still like that music. Part two is more suburban. My parents split up around that age, and my mom moved to the suburbs. It has the feeling of teenage angst, but it’s wordy, like hip hop. I think about it like a Biggie Smalls song – he’s just talking about himself in middle school, and the struggle. This is my rap song.”

“I L​.​U​.​V​.​I​.​O​.​U.”

“It sounds happy, almost like an American Beatles circus. I tried to make it like a carousel. The protagonist is trying to be in love and have someone all the time. All I want is an i.o.u, you owe me! It’s the feeling of when you’re just looking for acknowledgement. It’s about unrequited love, and it’s the simplest song on the record.”

“Teenage Angst Forever”

“This wasn’t as much a personal song, but a story song. In one half of the song I’m a little boy and in the other I’m an old man. Shilpa Ray plays the harmonium on that and the mellotron. It’s a live recording, just me and acoustic guitar and then Shilpa doing her stuff. This is the only one that’s separately recorded. This was recorded during the blizzard the day before Christmas Eve. My parents get sad when they hear that, but I did have feelings like that [when they divorced]. Once you express them they’re not even about me, they’re about whoever hears them. Cystadane is a medicine I take for Homocystinuria, that’s my only “cysta.” We all have these dreams as a kid of a better utopian kind of place and we’re forced to think that ambition isn’t real. That cynicism that we’re supposed to grow up with and accept the racist sexist capitalist bullshit that makes us all pawns. It’s not teenage to say that, it’s just true. Teenagers can be brats and they don’t know everything about the world, but a lot of them know their truth and I was one of the kids who did. You don’t die at 27, you grow up and you’re a certain breed – teenage angst forever. I think a lot of people are like that.” 

“Sun is Only Shining (Everything is Broken)”

“This song was written really organically with my friend Karla [Nath]. We have a really good energy together. We wrote it on a bench and then I went home and put the verse down really quickly. I knew it was going to be the name of the album when I was listening to my friend’s band Bueno – there’s a reference to a So So Glos song, and so it’s a reference to a reference. I thought it was a really cool concept and feeling for the record. The system that I knew was broken, my heart was broken, everything was broken. The broken glass from the protests in May. You saw the fabric of everything these last couple of years. Maybe that’s okay – we gotta smash everything and rebuild it better, to solve the problems. Or maybe we just leave it broken, I don’t know. It’s a dark statement and then a surrender to that. It’s acceptance. The album is like the seven stages of grief, and this is just acceptance. It goes through all of it. It’s denial, then anger comes in the middle, then sadness. This entire record is about loss and also about finding something. It’s a grand finale that the sun’s only shining on me even though everything is broken.”

Follow Alex Orange Drink on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Michelle Rose Makes Her Own Dreams Come True “One Promise At a Time”

Photo Credit: Daniel Giovanniello

The same earworm plays in nearly every episode of the final two seasons of Comedy Central’s Broad City; it’s in the bodega, it’s on the radio, someone’s performing it at karaoke. Fans of the show are probably already humming (or belting) its singular refrain: “I am LEAAAAAANNNE!” Though Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson created the show’s most memorable Easter egg as a spoof on Lady Gaga’s Joanne persona, there’s a talented industry vet at the helm of the studio version – and our readers are likely already familiar with her.

Longtime Audiofemme contributor Michelle Rose, in fact, is the Leanne – and she didn’t just stop at tracking vocals for Broad City. She turned “Leanne” into a full-blown performance piece, evidenced by a karaoke-style video shot at Baby’s All Right just after the show’s fifth season wrapped. The opportunity came about because Rose was naturally doing what she does best – striking up a conversation with a random stranger at the right time. “I’m a sticky person who constantly just wants to enter new spaces and meet new people,” she explains. In this case, that person was the show’s music supervisor, MattFX, who brought in Ary Warnaar of ANAMANAGUCHI to helm production; the rest is history.

Rose’s professional history is long and storied: she’s a classically trained cellist and played alongside her sister Sarah Frances in Frances Rose off and on since 2011; she interned at PAPER and worked in experimental theatre; had a songwriting deal with Warner/Chappell; and most recently curated events as the Program Manager at Soho House, where she helmed their Future Female Sounds series. But when the pandemic hit, there was no more networking, no more booking, no more events. Reeling from the loss of her livelihood, in the throes of a toxic relationship mired in tension and distrust, and still grieving her father who’d succumbed to cancer in 2018, Rose set out to fulfill his dying wish.

“One of the last things he wrote down for me after he lost his ability to speak was to use my skills,” Rose says. Coming from a master of the flat-top guitar, music teacher, and mentor who played with Pete Seeger and Les Paul among others, she felt the weight of her dad’s last request heavy on her shoulders. But it would be years before she put pen to paper to write “one promise at a time,” premiering today via Audiofemme.

Written at the start of the pandemic, “one promise” channels the pop-punk energy Rose gravitated toward as an angsty teen coming of age in Hudson Valley, while its DIY production recalls the scrappy grit of Kathleen Hanna’s post-riot grrl electro project Le Tigre. She finally vents long-simmering frustrations built up over years of pushing her own ambitions aside to make other people’s dreams come true. “I love doing that, but I had to find a balance being an artist,” she says. “The song became an anthem for myself that I was ready to call out all of these false promises and expectations that were orbiting my life at the time. I was ready for not only a pivot, but a catalyst of growth.”

That growth is richly documented on Rose’s forthcoming EP, arriving early 2022 (in the meantime, she plans to release a new single every five weeks or so). The EP underscores the importance she felt in showing up as authentic and autonomous, to tell her story transparently, and to put the music first. Appropriately, the EP is called it’s about time, expressing Rose’s playful impatience, as well as holding space for all the weeks, months, and years that slipped by while life got in the way.

“A lot of these songs are about the literal passing of time and personal growth, and over time, coming to these realizations,” she explains. Minimal break-up jam “i don’t see you in my dreams,” for instance, was written before Rose’s doomed relationship officially ended; subconsciously, she knew it was already over. “These songs are a piece of self knowledge,” she says.

They’re also a roadmap to Rose’s eclectic musical tastes. There’s dance punk circa New York City’s electro indie golden era, when Rose first arrived in the city after studying at Bennington College. There are vocal nods to Madonna and Britney Spears and sonic odes to hyperpop and disco. “I just felt like the world really wanted pop music that was coming from a simplistic place, like direct songs from a place of empowerment that didn’t need to be theatrical and larger than life,” Rose says, her music biz savvy showing. “People want brooding, vulnerable, disco songs in simple registers that we can sing along to, these kind of pop punk-adjacent, female-fronted anthems.”

Photo Credit: Daniel Giovanniello

Rose is lyrically vulnerable on each track, but they also embody the lightness of the songs she loved in her youth. “I really love that bright, shimmery, escapist pop,” she enthuses. Surprisingly, most of her demos start out as “sad country songs,” but Rose never felt that was true to what she wanted her sound to be. “I really wanted to make something upbeat and fun and electronic. I have the language and vocabulary for electronic music but I know that I’m not the fastest engineer and can’t really capture my ideas in real time as they come.” She’d often thought to herself, “Why can’t I just meet some indie kid who makes electronic pop music in Brooklyn and like, make a record?” And then, she did.

After dipping her toes into performing solo again (or making a splash, depending on who you ask), a mutual friend introduced her to Godmode alum Tyler McCauley. It had been years since someone had offered to connect Rose with a producer (“Everyone thinks that I know everyone and that I’m just the queen of networking but I had no one to work with!” she says, lamenting the “elaborate coffee meetings” with so-called producers who wanted steep fees for unheard beats).

“I said to him: I don’t really have any kind of budget and no label. I’m looking to do something really collaborative,” Rose remembers. She and McCauley instantly found common ground, surprised they hadn’t met sooner via the one of the many serendipitous links between them. But most importantly, says Rose, “our skillsets worked well together – I was more experienced with pop toplining, writing quick hooks, and song structure, and my ear is really strong. He was a super fast engineer, really good with electronic sounds and synthesizers and disco and dance music.”

“But also, just the fact that he wanted to work together was so meaningful for me,” she adds. “We genuinely had fun together – it was something we looked forward to, an escape. It felt really cosmic and super cool and we just kept going.” “one promise” was the first song they finished together, and in the year since, they’ve completed more than a dozen.

As it’s about time began to take shape, Rose says she felt euphoric. “Any experience I had in the past that made me feel jaded or question if I should keep going totally washed away, because I was having so much fun making this music,” she recalls. “People can really get swept up in the idea of what something can become and then so much time passes you don’t get started. I was told that I’m too pop for indie but too indie for pop. Now that’s a whole genre and there’s space for that.”

And Michelle Rose is done waiting. “I want to re-enter the community with a more authentic sense of self than just being passive and longing,” she says. “I could go all these different directions, do whatever’s on my mind. But I want my passion within pop culture to have substance and to be rooted in something I’m creating. It took a lot to reawaken that, but now it feels nothing but honest to be moving into this next chapter.”

Follow Michelle Rose on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Wing Vilma Lets Nature Guide Self-Discovery on Spirit Practice LP

Photo Credit: Sidd Finch

Milly Coleman of Wing Vilma has never been one to fight with nature. Instead, from early on in their life, they found themselves tuning into the complex and ever-present rhythms that nature has to offer – branches of a tree tapping a window, waves crashing to shore, their own footsteps brushing the ground as they walked home from school. On their sophomore LP Spirit Practice – released Friday, August 13th via Young Heavy Souls – Coleman explores how their own connection to nature has acted as a guiding force in both music and shaping their identity. 

Where most people see technology and nature as opposing forces, Coleman has spent much of their life fusing the two to make something beautiful. “I’m just obsessed with synthesizing organic sounds,” Coleman explains. “It’s almost like ASMR for me…I feel like there’s a really physical, tactile sense of pleasure and dopamine release that I have when I take the sounds of a forest and I run it through a loop so that the footsteps become the rhythm or whatever it might be.” Samples of nature can be heard throughout Spirit Practice in nearly every song, whether it’s a heavy rain or the cushion of a soft breeze. 

“Astrology Cup” offers the most outright sampling of nature, with its intermittent sounds of water flowing. The gentle reminder of one of Mother Nature’s most powerful elements builds a tension throughout the song, inviting the listener to meditate on this essential life source. Coleman explains that they approached much of making this record in the same way. “I truly don’t remember writing some of the things that came to define these songs,” Coleman says. “I feel like I’m just very meditative in these moments and I’m channeling something beyond myself.” 

The video, which premieres exclusively on Audiofemme today, gives a visual explanation of Coleman’s subconscious and conscious inspirations, and includes lyrics to a spoken word piece that was instigated by the song. It was filmed, directed and edited entirely by Coleman and encapsulates their DIY approach to making music and art.

A record three years in the making, Coleman says that time was as vital as any other instrument on the album. Giving the music space and coming back to it allowed them to reinterpret and build upon what they had started days, weeks, even months before. The time also allowed them to view their work and what it was saying from a bird’s eye view. “This record… before I even had a conscious realization… was about discovering myself,” Coleman says. “When I started some of these songs, I hadn’t even come out to myself as trans. I was in the deep, deep beginnings of understanding my own identity.” 

They explain that this body of work, more than any other, marked a significant time stamp in their life. They see a continuum of the same person they have always been, but also a marked difference in the identities and stages of their life. Spirit Practice tells this story through an ebb and flow of intensity and calm. The record’s title track welcomes the listener – and its creator – to look deep inside themselves, allowing all the noise to come and go, leaving one’s inner truth at the forefront of the mind. 

Moments of doubt and apprehension are communicated through booming percussion and dissonant tones – most noticeably in “You Don’t Know Arts” and “Thunder” – while effervescent melodies and buoyant rhythms signal lightness and peace in “GO!” and “I Wish.” Coleman uses what feels like thousands of different textures throughout Spirit Practice to tell a story of fluidity, change and self-assurance. And while each song contains a different palette of found sounds and meticulously manipulated synths, they are all tied together by Coleman’s masterful production. 

Though they started taking piano lessons at age six and are proficient on a range of instruments, Coleman has always felt most at home sitting at a drum set or constructing intricate rhythms on their laptop. “I think there’s always been a very strong, innate sense of rhythm in my body,” they say.The more I realized I could just appreciate the rhythms around me, [that] I didn’t have to fight them, I could just take them in… and create with them, that was liberating for sure.”

For this particular project, Coleman didn’t have access to their normal kit set up, and ended up sampling the sounds from their kit – and elsewhere – to create the kaleidoscopic beats you hear on the record. They admit that this method has made it especially challenging to repeat in a live setting, but that it has only pushed them to further expand their skillset as a drummer. “I’m really surprising myself with how far I’ve come as a percussionist,” says Coleman. “I really think I’m doing my best work ever now.”

It doesn’t hurt that Coleman also comes from a long line of musicians. They remember riding in the car with their grandma while she played orchestral music and quizzed them on which instrument was playing and in what key. She was the one to give Coleman their first synthesizer, a Roland Juno-106. “It’s a synth that I’ve heard used on some of my favorite records throughout my whole life, and for her to have been the person to [gift that to me]… is profound. I’m really grateful,” though Coleman says they are just as likely to improvise on pots and pans as they are on a legendary synth. 

This innate ability to merge worlds – artificial and organic, acoustic and electronic – is what gives Wing Vilma limitless depth and accessibility. And while the story Coleman tells through it is completely and wholly their own, their music invites the listener to impose their own life’s arcs and challenges onto it and view them from a meditative lens. After all, who doesn’t want to be the main character?

Follow Wing Vilma on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Melbourne Punks Plaster of Paris Distill Queer D.I.Y. Ethos on Debut LP Lost Familiar

Photo Credit: Kalindy Williams

Melbourne three-piece post-punk purveyors Plaster of Paris are bristling, vulnerable and truthful on their debut album, Lost Familiar, out June 23. After years of thrilling Melbourne with brain-shuddering, pelvic-shaking garage rock on stage at some of Melbourne’s finest rock venues including The Tote Hotel, The Old Bar, and The Espy, putting their raw, live energy on record has been long-awaited.  

Formed nearly a decade ago, shifting lineups and changing band names solidified in the last five years, bringing us the Plaster of Paris we know and love today: Zec Zechner is on vocals, Sarah Blaby is the goddess of guitar riffs, and Nicola Bell is deadly behind the drum kit. Zechner came from a grassroots, feminist, DIY collective from the inner West of Sydney, while Blaby is Melbourne born and bred. The two met when their former bands played shows and toured together. Both were involved in queer-friendly, trans-friendly shows and bonded over their proactive political and personal attitude to art.

“We’re not your average four piece – we don’t have a bass player,” explains Zechner. “Essentially, Sarah and I write songs together. I write the lyrics, and I like to use a really organic process – having a theme, a really visual idea, and building a song up slowly, like a painting. I like to use really visually strong lyrics, built around how I see the world. It’s almost a diarised experience. We’ll hum along a melody, then Sarah will write a riff around it. Then I’ll polyrhythm, and weave it in and out of guitars. And of course, Nicola’s an amazing drummer and an amazing filmmaker, who’s been nominated for multiple awards for her films.”

Working with engineers Casey Rice and Paul Maybury, plus post-production by Nao Anzai, Lost Familiar was recorded at Atlantis Studios in Tottenham, a church-based studio in Fryerstown just outside Melbourne, and the rest was done at Secret Location studios. The mastering was done at Rolling Stock studios in inner-suburban Melbourne.

“We love Casey, we love Paul,” says Zechner. “They’re fantastic engineers and producers. We wanted to work with Casey because they’re from a really DIY, punk background in Chicago. They’ve also worked with [Melbourne punk band] Cable Ties. They get a really punk guitar sound, which suits Sarah’s angular, sharp guitar – not unlike Gang of Four. Paul lived close to us, and we wanted to get the work done and finish the album sooner, plus the two of them are friends. We wanted a bigger drum sound and guitar feel, which Paul executes beautifully. He has a reputation for that real garage vibe.”

Nao Anzai has worked with big names in Australian music, including studio engineering for David Bridie and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, as well as doing live engineering for Tropical Fuck Storm and Alice Skye. “Nao is a wonderful engineer. He has worked on Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, Teskey Brothers – a lot of big names,” gushes Zechner. “It was just really good luck and a good friend introduced us to them. He did a beautiful job, and he’s got magical hands. He does a lot of live shows, festivals and things around the country and overseas.”

Thrashing out of the speakers with the spiritual essence of Hole’s “Violet,” Plaster of Paris’ “Newcomer” was originally released in 2017 on a dual 7” vinyl along with another track “Oh Wow.” The band decided to remix and include them on the album.

“’Newcomer’ initially came to me when I moved to Melbourne, but it took time to make sense to me,” says Zechner. “I talk a lot about Australian experiences – being a newbie, and reflecting on being the daughter of migrant parents. Moving from a small town to a big city, searching through dusty bazaars… searching for lost family, found family and connections, someone you can rely on to be there. That’s where the album title came from, too.”

Zechner’s dad is Austrian, her mother from New Zealand. “That’s informed my experience as a queer woman, growing up in a small town [Albion Park, south of Sydney]. Since 17, I was always moving to the big cities, fleeing childhood trauma: I’ve moved to Darwin, Canberra, Sydney. I’ve had a nomadic life, trying to fit in. I’ve worked in Indigenous communities in Darwin, and Nicola has too. That’s a big passion for us,” explains Zechner.

Another track, “Danceflaw” was inspired by the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, which Zechner responds to with determination to take a stand against terrorism and fear.

“I love ‘Danceflaw.’ That’s one of my personal favourites,” she says. “Both Sarah and I were in LA for a lesbian wedding in Palm Springs in 2016. We happened to be there during Pride and we were going to go out that night, but [the nightclub shooting] happened that night. The song is about how it’s political to stay visible, and remain visible, and to keep going to the dancefloors as a queer woman and queer person. Don’t let homophobia or outside influences pressure you into not being your fabulous self.”

Zechner and Blaby ended up going out that night and being together with community, drinking cocktails and supporting each other. “The next day, I remember seeing rainbows drawn on the footpath around Silver Lake in LA, and thinking about how beautiful that was,” she recalls.

The political and the personal are intertwined, anthemic and empowering on Lost Familiar, which has a wholly fresh take on the early ‘90s riot grrrl sound that was exploding in Zechner’s formative late teens. “My dad bought me a classical, nylon-stringed guitar for my birthday,” she recalls. “I remember staring at the Hole Pretty On The Inside cover, Babes In Toyland, Sleater-Kinney – also Sarah’s favourite band – then going to see Nirvana at the Big Day Out [festival]. I loved Nina Hagen and those big diva vocals, Marianne Faithfull, Anita Lane, and of course, Kate Bush.”

Zechner’s passions also extend into goth and darkwave bands like Depeche Mode, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy and The Cure. “I love buying that goth stuff on vinyl because it’s so rare,” says Zechner. “I’d rather buy that than a meal. In iso, I was living in my Sisters of Mercy hoodie. I saw them in Melbourne and sang along to every song until I lost my voice.”

It was important to Zechner and the band that they align with like-minded people, so opting to release their album on Psychic Hysteria was an organic fit. “Psychic Hysteria has similar politics to us… we’ve worked really hard at keeping this precious DIY thing quite strong and really grounded,” she says. “Sarah worked with Kurt [Eckardt] at PBS [a local community radio station]. It was my idea to say, ‘Do you wanna put my band on your label?’ And he said ‘yeah.’ They’ve got some amazing bands like Hearts and Rockets, Zig Zag and Shrimpwitch.”

Having found a supportive community, Plaster of Paris are ready to thrive in 2021. They’re currently organising an East Coast tour; in the meantime, Lost Familiar provides a burst of their band’s “unapologetically queer, feminist and D.I.Y.” ethos, satisfying fans who’ve had to wait a while for a debut, and likely bringing new fans into the fold, too.

Follow Plaster of Paris on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Audiofemme’s Own Mandy Brownholtz Set to Release Debut DIY Novel Rotten

Photo Credit: Megan Rainwater

“I’ve spent my whole career promoting other people’s work,” says Mandy Brownholtz. “Now I’m in this position where I have to talk about myself and things that I’ve created; it’s this peek into my brain that I’ve never really allowed people to have, and it’s scary.” Brownholtz has certainly been indispensable to us here at Audiofemme, coming on board in 2017 to write album reviews, eventually expanding her incisive music coverage into her role as our Marketing Director after working for some of Brooklyn’s best known concert promoters. But this week, Brownholtz has announced her own epic endeavor – her self-published debut novel Rotten (edited by yours truly) is now available for pre-order, with limited-edition physical copies and some extra swag shipping June 22.

“This book is very, very personal to me, and the fact that I’m putting it out in the world for everybody to consume and have opinions about, it’s a lot of nerves,” she adds. “But nerves indicate that what you’re doing is important and that you care about what you’re doing. Nerves are a good thing.”

Rotten is a story that’s overdue to be told in fictional format. Set in Washington DC’s DIY scene – the same scene where Brownholtz came of age and cut her teeth in the industry, working at the legendary 9:30 Club – the story centers the experiences of freelance writer Viv Taylor, a hapless, haunted early-20-something tasked by City Paper with chronicling the history of Fort Rotten, the kind of party house that anyone who’s been to a basement show anywhere in the United States will recognize. But she has a complicated history with the venue and its residents – including one who sexually assaulted her during a night of hard partying. Grappling with the trauma of that event in a series as flashbacks, as well as the difficult childhood that led her to seek out “people who smelled bad and wore leather in ninety degree weather; ones with pieces of metal lodged in their faces and relentless tinnitus,” there are simply too many women who will find Viv’s story relatable, even if the specific setting is new to them.

“I wanted to write this book for women who have experienced these types of things. I wanted them to feel seen and I feel like I’ve succeeded in that, because almost every woman I know has a story like this and every woman I know that’s read it has been like, this really spoke to me and it resonated with me,” says Brownholtz. It’s been through many iterations – the setting evolved from a webseries she was working on in an MFA screenwriting class, and in its first form as a novel was more conceptual, examining the illusion of choice for women from all walks of life in a country that had just elected Donald Trump.

“I was mad. Everybody was mad; there were like five million things to be mad about. But I wanted to examine what choice and consent really mean when you’re making a choice based off of these circumstances that oftentimes you have no control over,” Brownholtz recalls. “And what really kind of put the idea in my head was that after Donald Trump became president I went and got an IUD, because [women] were like, ‘We’re all gonna lose our birth control!’ And the IUD was not good for me. I went and did this thing that I didn’t really wanna do, I made this ‘choice’ that I didn’t really wanna make, because I thought that I didn’t have a better choice.”

Combining these ideas, and interrogating free will from the perspective of a vulnerable young girl exploring her city’s tight-knit DIY scene, proved to be a perfect vehicle for Brownholtz to introduce herself as a novelist. Building on her own experiences and that of friends adds a layer of authenticity and dark humor to the accurate portrait she renders in Rotten – not just of the DIY scene itself, but also to the archetypes that populate millennials’ lives.

“I wanted it to be as much about what it feels like to be in your early twenties right now – the sexual politics of it, the confusion, and our struggle to communicate in a good way – as it was about heavy #MeToo stuff,” Brownholtz explains. And if you’re a Boomer who’s never been in a basement mosh pit, well, “that’s what fiction’s about – transporting you to a world that you normally wouldn’t have access to.”

Brownholtz doesn’t see DIY scenes as inherently predatory, though she certainly recognizes that some aspects of the lifestyle can lend themselves to problematic situations just as easily as they can uplift otherwise lost souls. “It’s more intimate. It’s people who know each other very well, it’s relationships and friendships, it’s small and close-knit,” she says. “You’re paying with a crumpled five dollar bill at the door, and it’s about supporting bands that are traveling. It has this heart to it that’s a little different than the corporatized music industry machine.”

Last summer, everyone saw the flipside of that when the Instagram account @lured_by_burger_records outed the wildly popular SoCal tape label/record store as a predatory institution that had harmed dozens of young girls, either through grooming, gatekeeping, or outright assault (in the aftermath, Burger Records folded). Teenagers can hardly be blamed for failing to recognize that the subculture niche they’ve discovered can turn into a trap just as easily, particularly when drugs and alcohol are involved. Though some might feel capable of engaging with adults, the situation can change rapidly or evolve into trauma over time, once they begin to reflect on those years with some maturity.

“When I was seventeen and going to shows in places like [Fort Rotten] and hanging out with people who were a couple years older than me, I didn’t think anything of it. I was like, I’m an adult, I’m grown up. But then you get older and you’re like, wow, it was like mad inappropriate that I was hanging out – I was seventeen, I was a kid!” Brownholtz says. “I think it’s important that young people [have access to DIY] communities because I don’t think I would be the person that I am today if I hadn’t. But we have to somehow achieve this balance between welcoming younger people and making sure that people are not taking advantage of them.”

While the sense of community and creative energy a DIY scene fosters can be positive for the many, it also serves to obfuscate abuse – or potential for abuse – only discussed in whispers, and its perpetrators rarely suffer consequences, especially if they have clout. “It’s uncomfortable for men to have to disrupt their business arrangements, whether it’s something as legit as the Bowery Ballroom or some shitty DIY venue. It’s like, that guy is important, he’ll book my band, so I don’t wanna cause any strife with him – he’s only ever been nice to me,” Brownholtz says, adding that another function of Rotten‘s narrative, hopefully, will be creating insight and empathy in men.

“This book gets pretty cerebral and it’s pretty much in this girl’s head and you’re really seeing her anxieties and her fears and reservations about things,” she says. “I wanted them to see how damaging something can be, that they might think is kind of innocuous, just a ‘misunderstanding.’ It wasn’t a misunderstanding to her, and it’s gonna haunt her for fucking ever. I want them to get in the headspace of understanding that.”

That understanding needs to happen, Brownholtz says, because “men are the solution moving forward. Women getting angry is not gonna do anything but make men defensive. It needs to be men calling out their fucking friends when their friends do disgusting shit or say disgusting things. It needs to be about men shaming other men into line. That is gonna be the saving grace of the music industry.”

Viv Taylor may not be a sympathetic character to all, and that’s what Brownholtz intended. “I wanted her to be imperfect and I wanted her to be, at times, unlikeable. I wanted her to make bad choices because I wanted to show how so many things in our lives that are formative to us are things that we have no control over, like who are parents are, what our family is like, all this stuff. All of those things cause the wounds that cause you to seek out problematic people, that put you into these kind of situations,” Brownholtz says. “I also wanted to emphasize that just because she does kind of suck sometimes and makes bad choices, it doesn’t make her any less deserving of being believed or respected.” She never places the blame on her narrator’s shoulders; instead, we see an arc that turns her from a victim to a local hero as she gains back some of her agency from her abuser, her family relationships, and her friendships to emerge with a more holistic view of herself.

And ultimately, that’s Brownholtz’s personal narrative as well; after small publishers gave positive feedback, but balked at the touchy subject matter, she decided to self-publish. “I was shopping it around and then the pandemic hit,” she says. “It’s hard enough to get a book published as it is – most publishers only put out a couple titles a year. Even if I had gotten in at a small independent publisher, it might not have seen print until like, 2022 or 2023. I’d been working on this book since 2017, and I was like, you know what? I’m just done.”

She enlisted Jonny Campolo (a musician and designer she’d worked with at PopGun Presents, but never met) to put the book together while they were both out of work during lockdown. “Jonny and I shared a very unique vision; since it’s such a small run of books, we wanted them to feel like a nice object, like an art book. It was kind of cool to do it that way because it made it more personal and unique than just using the Amazon self-publish tool,” she says. “I’ve had a couple people be like, I wanna write a novel, and it’s like, okay, so fucking do it. That’s all that writing is – if you sit down and do your pages every day, you’re a writer, even if nobody has published it or read it. It took me a long time to be comfortable referring to myself as a writer because it seems so lofty and kind of silly, but then like it got serious and was like, no, that’s what I do right now. I kind of feel like I’m like bludgeoning myself to some sort of relevance, because I don’t have the MFA or the ‘right’ connections – I’m just sort of forcing my way into people’s heads and making them pay attention to me.”

“Self-publishing was mostly just a result of me getting tired of waiting for someone to give me permission. And tired of waiting for someone to tell me that I’m good enough,” she adds. “I realized that printing a book costs less than pressing a record, and bands press records all the time with no institutional help. More people should just publish their own books; it’s not cheap and I don’t expect to see a complete return on investment. This was an investment in myself, honestly, and it was an investment in my community too.”

Follow Mandy Brownholtz on Instagram and visit her website for ongoing updates.

Port Lucian Uses Twitter to Curate ‘Trans Musicians and Allies for Change’ Compilation

Photo Credit: Julia Leiby

We all know that the internet can be a dark, scary place. But sometimes, it can also be a catalyst for beautiful projects that inspire change. Twenty-one year old college junior Portia Maidment (of Port Lucian) harnessed the power of the internet and used it to create a new compilation, Trans Musicians and Allies for Change, out via Ztapes on March 5th. The comp is made up of nineteen different artists from around the world, ranging from an acoustic Diners ode to chilling out, to the watery shoegaze of Floor Cry. All proceeds from the cassette will be donated to Trans Lifeline, a 24-hr hotline dedicated to offering support to trans and gender non-conforming folks.

Maidment, a pre-med student at Case Western Reserve University, was first inspired to make this project after taking a class on transgender literature. “That [class] sort of boosted my interest in transgender rights,” says Maidment. “So, I’m actually applying to medical school so I can eventually perform gender affirming surgeries and things like that.”

If you’re wondering how a pre-med student managed to organize an entire compilation album in the midst of a pandemic, you’re not alone. But Maidment said it was actually pretty easy. “I would hit people up on Twitter and ask if they were interested in this comp,” she says. “That’s honestly how I did the whole thing. A lot of people that are on the comp, I don’t know, but because I had support from a label and a cohesive idea, it just sort of came together.” And the power of the internet prevails.

Maidment’s patchwork approach to choosing the artists is evident in the diversity of sound on the record. Whether it’s an acoustic Joni Mitchell track from Philly indie pop band 2nd Grade or a trademark conversational narrative from Fred Thomas, all of the tracks are either previously unreleased demos or written specifically for it. While all of the songs feel vulnerable and personal, some speak specifically to the transgender experience.

Toronto-based indie group Little Kid explores the importance of defining your own identity in “What’s in a Name?” In the most gentle of voices, singer and multi-instrumentalist Kenny Boothby distills the emotional fallout that can occur after a person chooses to change their name. “Oh babe, what’s in a name?/Grew tired of the one that your parents gave/They heard that you wanted to change it like trumpets on judgment day.” Many transgender and non-binary folks experience pushback from friends and family members when announcing their name change, making the transition harder than it needs to be. Aside from the administrative cost of a name change – ranging from $150-$450 – the emotional cost can be huge. Having to remind your friends, family and strangers of your new name over and over again can be emotionally exhausting and invalidate your identity.

Boothby goes on to support the sentiment that these type of dismissive of reactions usually have nothing to do with the person they’re directed at, but rather, a deep-rooted resistance to change or anything outside of what they know. He sings, “Guess they still don’t know how to behave when they can’t place you anywhere.” The song is a validating, soothing reflection on affirming your identity, and an ever so tender fuck off to those who don’t respect it.

Unfortunately, the theme of people not respecting transgender or gender non-conforming folks’ pronouns, identities and safety is a global epidemic. This threat to safety and selfhood can undoubtedly drive people into dark places. And while organizations like Trans Lifeline are an amazing resource for folks that are struggling, sometimes it’s extremely difficult to take the first step in reaching out. In their song “Are You Doing Alright?” Kennedy Freeman of Highnoon addresses anxiety and depression and encourages listeners to reach out to their friends. Freeman says they wrote the song in December, a time when they were especially feeling the effects of being isolated during lockdown.

Although they tried recording the song a few different ways, they say that a voice recording felt the most natural. “Phone audio can feel really familiar and comforting in a way for me too,” says Freeman. “I wanted it to feel like a close friend reaching out leaving a message or something.” The feeling definitely comes across and feels poignant to this project in particular. “This song felt applicable to the compilation,” says Freeman, “specifically the idea of a lifeline people can access when they’re struggling and how important queer friendships and mutual support can be to gender non-conforming people.”

Much like the community it aims to support, Trans Musicians and Allies for Change is colorful, varied, and refuses to fit in any one box or description. The funds from this compilation will go straight to Trans Lifeline, where they will be used to provide direct emotional and financial support to trans people in crisis. Grab yourself a copy – today is Bandcamp Friday, so the streaming platform is waiving their revenue share – and proceed to listen in awe.

You can reach Trans Lifeline at US (877) 565-8860 or Canada (877) 330-6366. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255

Teenanger Have “Good Time” with Social Critique on Latest LP

Photo Credit: Jake Sherman

Sometimes, music prompts us to reflect on the hard truths about ourselves and the times we’re living in. Other times, it makes us want to bob our heads and shake off our worries. And, occasionally, it does both. Good Time, the latest release from Toronto-based post-punk band Teenanger is one of those rare albums that’s equal parts fun and thought-provoking. On it, bassist and vocalist Melissa Ball, singer and keyboardist Chris Swimmings, guitarist Jon Schouten, and drummer Steve Sidoli respond to political and social unrest with catchy vocal harmonies against groovy electronic guitar, creating music that is intellectual but unpretentious.

The topics addressed on the album range from dating to environmental issues, several of the songs specifically addressing mid-COVID life, making timely social commentary with playful but incisive lyrics. In “Touching Glass,” Ball sings about the disconnection that stems from always communicating through technology: “Scratch the surface/There’s a reflection/Mediocre means of a connection/Bloodshot bedroom eyes tethered and tired/Filtered fiction demands what is required.”

The most overly political track is “Trillium Song,” where Swimmings critiques the Ontario government’s failure to address COVID-induced economic losses: “Capped and traded, poisoned fertile crops/A buck a beer, closing all the tops/Manning the wheel, to drive us out of home/Dwindle the future, what have you done?”

The musical styles on the album vary to match the subject matter, which ranges from flirtatious to melancholy. “We were trying to be as open as possible and not pigeonhole ourselves with the sound,” says Ball, whose personal goal was to sing more and write more on the album than she had on past ones. On the fun, dance-rock-style “Pleassure,” Ball shouts about the “pressure for pleasure” people encounter in the dating scene, while “Beige” gives off ’90s grunge vibes, with Ball repeating in an airy, flat tone, “It’s the safest shade/Everything is beige.” On “Straight to Computer,” you can hear the influence of the Talking Heads as Swimmings half-sings, half-speaks about being immersed in “acronyms and useless chatterbots.”

Overall, the band wanted to make this album lighter and simpler than their past work, though the environment where it was written and recorded was perhaps not always conducive to lightheartedness. They had recently left a studio they shared with other bands so they could devote more time to the process, and their new studio was in a basement underneath a restaurant, where they were dealing with rats and flooding. “We were just in this little workshop in the basement, having all the time in the world, and we just naturally kind of adapted to that little basement and just had a summer full of writing,” Ball remembers.

Despite the suboptimal conditions, the new studio allowed the band the space and time to flow with their creative impulses. “We have so much more freedom,” says Ball. “We were like, try this, try that, bring different weird instruments, and I think that that freedom lifts us up a little bit, and it made a more spacious, poppier record. I think that environment has a lot to do with the writing process: If you feel pressure because you’re waiting for some band to come in or you only have a set amount of time to be creative, it’s hard because being forced into a creative setting feels rushed. The space is like another part of the record — there’s a spacial influence.”

In the playful spirit of the album, the band decided to make cover art out of their feline mascot of sorts, Roxy, who was originally Swimmings’ cat, but was later adopted by Ball and Schouten. “We just wanted to pay tribute to her because she’s the sweetest little thing,” says Ball. “We did a bunch of photos at high contrast, and we were originally going to go with the same photo, then we got a treatment on it and decided it would be that still of her with her tongue sticking out. It was more of like a dedication.”

Teenanger originated in the same kind of environment it ultimately ended up in: in a basement, where Ball would jam with Schouten and his former band. Now twelve years old, the band is releasing Good Time via Telephone Explosion as its seventh album, after 2017’s Teenager. Ball describes the band as more garage-rock in the beginning, but consistently lo-fi and DIY throughout its lifespan. “Every record seems like a new sound for us,” she says. “We’re just trying to do what come naturally right now. Not a lot is coming naturally in general in the world, but that’s all I got.”

Follow Teenanger on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING DETROIT: Prude Boys Unpack Grief and Grievances on New Seven Inch

Hamtramck-based DIY band Prude Boys (Caroline Thornbury, Quentin Thornbury, and Connor Dodson) recently celebrated the release of their new 7-inch record, The Reunion/Daddy. The songs – put out on the band’s own label, Grumble Records – are a preview of a full-length record the band recorded last July. C. Thornbury’s rock solid vocals are the constant between two very different songs: a fuzzy, dream state rumination on loss and a folk-driven reflection on unconscious cycles of hurtful patterns. 

“The Reunion” feels nostalgic, heartbroken and triumphant all at once. Not shying away from the band’s comparison to new wave trailblazers The Pretenders, Thornbury dons a short blue wig and sings alone under a disco ball for the song’s music video. Her solitude in the video reinforces the song’s core ethos – grappling with the loss of a loved one while finding a way to stand on her own two feet. 

“It’s actually about my sister who passed away two years ago,” explains C. Thornbury. “I had this dream that I had to go to her high school reunion for her in her place, so the song sort of stemmed off of there and how, in the grieving process, all the real sadness and realization of loss happens later on when all those little things happen…like I would text her about this article I’m reading or send her a picture of this t-shirt I like.” The song acts as a refreshing catharsis for anyone experiencing loss, whether it’s a loved one who has passed away or one someone who’s just not in your life anymore. 

The band drops the guitar solos and drums for “Daddy,” a staggering song that C. Thornbury originally wrote on acoustic guitar. Her cyclical lyrics and guitar melody reflect the heart of the song, which talks about the Sisyphean task of loving someone that keeps hurting you. “It’s about the wrongs that your family does to you without their knowledge and how you sort of carry that with you,” C. Thornbury explains. “And how you keep trying and trying with people you love even though their behavior towards you isn’t improving and they have no idea what they’re actually doing to you.”

Overall, Prude Boys deliver brutal honesty wrapped in razor-sharp instrumentation and gorgeous melodies in this pair of songs. Look out for more Burger Record releases in the future and listen to The Reunion/Daddy below.




WOMAN OF INTEREST: NOW WHAT?? Offers A New Approach to Networking in the Digital Era

The three hosts of NOW WHAT?? take questions at the beginning of their roundtable discussion. All photos by Desdemona Dallas.

Spreadhouse Cafe is lit softly with rose-colored neon. A group of creative types gather around a table, excitedly talking about art, projects, new ideas, past ideas, failures and successes. There are about forty people here, but there’s only one computer sitting at the head of the table, and no one pays attention to it. Each person here is here for dialogue – IRL dialogue.

NOW WHAT??, a New York based collective of music industry professionals, has gathered this meeting of the minds at the Spreadhouse to start an honest conversation about what is next for the music industry. They’ve stripped away the social media grandstanding, the trolls, and the fake filtered photos of friends who #wokeuplikethis, and replaced it with a vulnerable experience of honesty they hope leads to empowerment in a new era of networking.

NOW WHAT?? host Vira Byramji adds her own comments and suggestions to the conversation.

Gathering for the first time in 2017, artist manager Eliza Berse, music business woman Lilly Torres, and audio engineer Vira Byramji wanted to create a welcoming atmosphere to break down walls within the music industry through a unique, crowd-sourced question-and-answer forum. The three have known each other for nearly a decade, since attending SUNY Purchase together. One afternoon, while discussing some of the professional pitfalls they’d experienced, the three came up with an idea for a round table discussion, open to others who may be experiencing the same turmoil. They thought it would be a one-off production, but right from the get-go, attendees vocalized a desire for more. Since then, NOW WHAT?? has hosted over a year’s worth of events, each bringing new perspectives and dismantling the roadblocks that seemingly stand in the way of those looking to begin a career in the music world.

“We are opening up the floor to vulnerability and we are giving our audience the opportunity to be the leaders of the conversation,” explains Torres. ” I think that alone changes the dynamic of a regular kind of networking experience, where you are listening instead of being an active participant. So I think that is where we can empower people, and I think its rare to find that in New York.”

In the round table discussion, everyone in the room has a chance to offer questions, advice and ideas for collaboration.

Usually, the events play out like this: someone poses a question to the group about the music industry – everything from how to market your music to how to find an engineer. The evening unfolds organically as members from the audience come forward with guidance, tips and tricks, or sometimes just the honest admittance of also having felt lost. The aspect of commiseration is a humbling one – NOW WHAT?? isn’t a place for know-it-alls, self-appointed experts, and especially mansplainers. Instead, the discussion breaks down both common and uncommon struggles by teasing out particular stumbling blocks in a supportive environment. The room buzzes with a sense of relief, inspiration, and hope that in an overly connected internet age that often leads to feelings of disconnection, we can still find spaces for honest vulnerability.

“I think what we also realized was how important it is for artists and creatives to have that space to even feel comfortable. We always open the conversation by saying, ‘There are no stupid questions – we want to hear what you’re afraid to ask because that’s where we are going to start,'” says Berse. “We are here to talk about the process because everyone can learn from that. I think just the comfort opens up the floor to some really nice conversation.”

We are in a time where pretty much everything across all platforms is changing. Older industry professionals have been media’s gatekeepers for so long, but the internet has disrupted all that, putting the means of production, promotion, and performing directly in artists’ hands – not to mention creating a proliferation of smaller management companies with a hard-working DIY aesthetic. But sometimes these processes remain opaque – if all that’s standing in the way of your music career is the limitations of your knowledge, NOW WHAT?? goes beyond networking to provide a blueprint for opportunities you might not have known existed.

“There is no map right now,” says Torres. “So everyone who is working in it is creating their own lane in one way or another.” Rather than keep their struggles and successes a secret, attendees have a chance to share them, pooling resources and ideas.

But the conversation isn’t open to just music professionals; surprisingly, NOW WHAT?? has also hosted yoga instructors, filmmakers, real estate agents and more. By opening their platform to unlikely members of the music community, they’ve built tangential relationships and discovered unusual ways for everyone to share their work. When the room is full of collaborators – on the same playing field or not – everyone has a bigger impact on the industry.

“I think the big theme is empowerment,”  says Byramji. “I think people get empowered, and then we get empowered, and it’s like a feedback loop. For me as an engineer it’s definitely been great – I have a much broader [understanding] of what happens after the song is done. I think the biggest thing, no matter what, is it’s been a huge boost of confidence. Not in a cocky way, but in a ‘we can get shit done’ way.” She adds that the simple act of inviting people into a room for NOW WHAT?? events even taught her how to be more vulnerable in her work as an engineer. While NOW WHAT?? is certainly invaluable to its community in terms of providing unfiltered knowledge, the curiosity that brought it into existence and the openness to try new things that it encourages has become a lifestyle choice for many of its devotees.

Like any other profession, there are many grey, unmapped areas in the music industry. But the women of NOW WHAT?? use their openness in a radical new way to demystify that uncharted territory. Here, in New York City – one of the largest epicenters of music in the world – these three women ask industry members to slow down, admit their discomfort, and reach out to their community to get the job done.

The next NOW WHAT?? gathering will take place at 7:30pm on Wednesday, February 13 at Spreadhouse Cafe, 116 Suffolk Street in Manhattan, with an afterparty at Beverly’s. RSVP here.


PLAYING DETROIT: This Summer’s Hottest Releases You Might’ve Missed

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Summer Like the Season released “Wakey” in July via PopMatters. Photo by Allen Zhang.

As we all know, it’s impossible to keep track of all the incredible music being released on a regular basis, even on a local scale. Instead of focusing on one particular release, I wanted to do a roundup of some seriously solid Detroit artists who released music in June & July. This list spans all genres and shows the deep complexity of Motown’s musical landscape.

Soviet Girls – Filled Up With Nothing EP

This local indie-rock outfit – comprised of Anna Baghina (vocals/guitar), Jonathan Franco (vocals/lead guitar), and Devin Poisson (drums) – released their first set of songs this July and it is a goddamn treat. Teetering somewhere between garage rock and the bright, smart songwriting of the ‘60s (think Beach Boys, early Jonathan Richman), Filled Up With Nothing is a collection of masterfully simple songs, encapsulating the emptiness that lost love, adulthood, and, well, just plain old life can bring, but somehow makes it sound…fun? Enjoy.

Nebr, The Tiger – “w&b”

Detroit hip-hop artist Nebr, the Tiger released an escapist anthem called “w&b,” which stands for “weed and brews.” Sure, it may not be the most cryptic song on the planet, but it’s obviously fuckwithable. Who couldn’t use some weird and a nice brew in THIS economy?

Saajtak – Hectic EP

Consistently impressive art rockers Saajtak offered up their Hectic EP, and it is nothing sort of a sonic masterpiece. Lead vocalist Alex Koi gives a transcendental performance with her ethereal vocals, bending between operatic and punk rock. The title track evokes the mood of its namesake and meditates on the tumult of undying, unhealthy love. “If You Ask” incorporates heavily syncopated beats a la the band’s drummer, Jonathan Taylor. The 7-minute opus is a gorgeous and haunting journey through a myriad of emotions.

Mango Lane – El Diablo

Superfunky indie new-wave group Mango Lane shared single “El Diablo,” a couplet of FTW tracks that will save any shitty day. Its A-Side is a catchy, meaning-fits-all song impossible not to sing along to. The B-Side, “Vacation,” has the same weightless beat with a more grounded theme – wanting to enjoy a vacation but being mentally plagued by responsibilities.

JMSN – “Talk Is Cheap”

Christian Berishaj, a.k.a. JMSN, is a rare and underappreciated jewel of Detroit’s R&B/funk scene. “Talk Is Cheap” is a clap back at all the bullshitters that waste our time – in work, love, friendship, whatever. Berishaj’s no-bullshit message could be easy to miss when delivered by his sweet-as-sugar falsetto, but sinks in deep to anyone who is truly listening.

Summer Like The Season – “Wakey”

Writer, drummer, producer, and all-around talent Summer Krinsky captures restlessness on “Wakey.” What started as a solo effort in 2014 has blossomed into a beautifully balanced quartet complete with Tasha Peace, Scott Murphy, and Sam Naples. The group makes what they coin as “indie art rock bizarro pop,” and I couldn’t describe it better myself. Treat your anxiety-ridden insomnia with “Wakey.”

Legume – Shrug LP

Shrug is a summery, light-hearted, and freaking cute record from local indie-outfit Legume. Channeling some vintage Fleet Foxes vibes, Liam McNitt joins forces with Arman Bonislawski, Paige Huguelet, and Alex Murphy to craft the windows-down sunshine record of choice.


VIDEO PREMIERE: Emily Jane Powers “Sullen Days”

With her latest video, Emily Jane Powers proves there’s more than one shade of blue when it comes to feeling sad. The Chicago-based art rocker’s clip for “Sullen Days” is an atmospheric meditation on the spectrum of emotions contained within a sullen or sad mood. The entire video was shot on an iPhone by Powers’ husband, bass player, and creative collaborator Alec Jensen (Dream Version). The couple’s DIY approach and clear creative intimacy yielded a raw visual that coincides with Powers’ honest songwriting.

To capture the phases of sadness, the pair wanted to portray Powers as a passive vessel, experiencing, but not engaging, in the moving world around her. “I think that one of the biggest themes of the video was that things were happening around me, but I was passive and still,” says Powers. “We’re trying to evoke an idea that there’s a loss of control as well, which I think goes along with the mood I’m describing.”

However, it’s not always easy to remain still while hanging out of a moving car, which is how the bulk of the video was filmed. “There were a few times when Alec was driving in circles and I was physically unable to hold on to the car,” says Powers. This explains some of her agitated facial expressions throughout the film, but Powers also describes how the “sullenness” she’s capturing doesn’t hold one distinct characteristic. “To be sullen or sad isn’t just one mood, it’s a range of moods that can change pretty rapidly, and the changes of the moods in the video illustrate that,” says Powers.

Powers’ voice swells and evolves, too. Starting in a calm, hypnotic tone and spiraling into a swirl of inundated emotion, she rattles off stream-of-consciousness lyrics that hint to the depths of her psyche. She even identifies the effect her peers can unwittingly have on her feeling when she sings of “transferred desire.”

“I am pretty hyper-aware of the transference of emotions when I’m with people,” says Powers. “If someone’s sad or I’m with someone that’s happy, I sometimes absorb that too easily. Desire could be a bunch of different things – desire to feel better, desire to belong.”

It’s easy to empathize with Powers’ weighted conscious in “Sullen Days,” a cathartic burst of artistic expression. Watch the video below, premiering exclusively on Audiofemme.

Sullen Days by Emily Jane Powers from EJP on Vimeo.


PLAYING DETROIT: Wet+Paint Praise Diverse Crew on”Neapolitan”

With all of the thought-provoking, politically heavy music being released in the last year, it’s nice to come across a track once in a while that makes you forget about it all. Detroit-based DIY hip-hop group, Wet+Paint, give us some major reprieve in their music video for “Neapolitan.” The three-piece crew – made up of Sam Morykwas, Rahbi Hammond, and Troi Sharp – brings back an old-school, collaborative style of rapping that is meant purely to bring you a good time.

“Our music is fun – party to it, turn it all the way up in your car, forget about whatever BS is going on and feel good,” the group tells Audiofemme. The video, which Wet+Paint self-directed and produced, shows the trio doing exactly that. Shot on Belle Isle, Detroit’s version of Central Park, it follows Wet+Paint doing random shit, like rapping in the woods, standing on top of a moving car, and just having fun in general, tinted in an array of colors that the crew feels connected to.

As far as what spurred the song’s title, the group says the hook is a tribute to their diverse group of female friends. “The lyric ‘All the shawties in the crew Neapolitan’ is about the dope women in our squad of all different colors and backgrounds. You inspire us and we love y’all,” says Wet+Paint. Well, we can’t argue with that.

You can watch the full video below and listen to the full EP, CAUTION: Wet+Paintvia Soundcloud

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Absinthe Father on Making DIY Spaces Safer

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Haley Butters of Absinthe Father doesn’t stop at making music – they also advocate for safer, more inclusive DIY spaces. All photos by Kaiya Gordon.

Haley Butters of Absinthe Father has been running DIY spaces since they were 16. “It was really time consuming,” they admit, “and probably not the smartest thing for me to be doing at sixteen, but it really shaped me as a person.” Now, Butters continues to be invested in the transformative possibilities of DIY spaces. “I’m trying to make sure that people don’t go down the path I went down when I was a kid,” they say, “but [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][that they] still have access to music.”

Butters is about as multi-disciplinary as it gets, though they’re reticent about their own talents. They’re thoughtful, funny, and clearly well versed in both accessibility strategies and music making. “A habit I have,” they explain, is that “I think about what I want to say, and then I go through every single possible way it could be interpreted, and I try to make sure it comes across as clearly and as intentionally as possible.” They’re scrappy, too–when they tell me about their production process, I’m surprised to learn how much of their DIY music they truly do themselves. And as we talk in a Columbus café, the snow mellowing into slush outside the windows, I’m happy to settle into a conversation which expands beyond their own musical output to include questions we both have about ethics and intentionality, and what it takes to make a safe space safer.

2018 is off to a good start for Butters. Along with their January 1st release, SP/IT – a split EP between Absinthe Father and Ness Lake, the band for which Butters plays bass – they started recording a new six-song EP, played shows in both Pittsburgh and Yellow Springs, and, after advocating for a friend abused by Ian Graham of Cheap Girls, got blocked by Jeff Rosenstock on Twitter (Haley and their friend have attempted, since last summer, to have Rosenstock withdraw his support of Cheap Girls; he released the now-defunct band’s first two LPs via his Quote Unquote imprint before accusations came to light but has not made a statement on his relationship to them in the aftermath of the accusations against Graham). “It was sick,” they tell me. “Two days into 2018 – blocked!”

On SP/IT, Butters’ work as Absinthe Father is dreamy and expansive; their voice sinking into guitar sounds which vary from airy to biting, inviting to cosmic. But when I ask Butters how they achieved the mix on the EP, they laugh. “This is gonna reveal all my trade secrets,” they tell me. “I open garage band, put it like ten yards away from me, press record, run to my bed, and I just play straight through.”

In truth, this is an over-simplified version of Butters’ method, which is more purposeful than they initially admit. Though they don’t put their music through post-production, Butters curates their sound with guitar pedals, in addition to manipulating sound and tone with distance and volume. On the split, they opted for three different recording techniques, highlighting, they tell me, that “you can make music, record music, and be successful (whatever that means) no matter what level you’re at, [and] no matter what equipment you’re using.”

“Absence,” the first song on the EP, was recorded with the method described above. For the second track (“a little nervous energy is perfectly normal and nothing to freak out about haley”) however, Butters changed their approach. “I have a little i-rig, which is a quarter-inch adapter,” they explain, “and then a little dongle that [I] put in [my] iPhone. So I played the guitar through that into garage band, and then I played that recording out loud and sang [live] to record my vocals.” Lastly, “Marco’s Song,” a Ness Lake cover, was recorded professionally at Daily Grind in Columbus. But, says Butters, the EP “shows you don’t have to make the fancy equipment, because I like ‘Absence’ more than anything, and it’s the least done-up one.”

When Butters talks about the split EP, it’s clear how much they admire their peers in Ness Lake. “[Chandler and I] push each other a lot to create things every day. I’ll give him a challenge – like, write a song about your cat,” Butters laughs. They continue: “He doesn’t actually have a cat. He has like, a tarantula. It’s named Rodeo.” And Butters’ support of their peers expands beyond the tarantula, and beyond their friends in Ness Lake: they gush about their roommates in Columbus duo Queer Kevin, and when I ask about bands they’re excited about, they nearly squeal. “Oh god,” they tell me, “this is where I can go off.”

This investment is a testament not only to the way Butters approaches collaboration, but to their position in the music community as a whole. These days, they balance recording, touring, and managing with running Middle Earth, one of Columbus’ only all ages spaces. “I’m super into getting queer youth involved in scenes really early, because we don’t make things very accessible to people who are younger,” they tell me. But still, they say, “I wish I could do more. I’m not doing as much as I can, especially when it comes to people of color – in our scene, they’re virtually non-existent. To be the only one – and I pass as white – that’s not enough.”

In Columbus, Butters has seen a lack of attention to safety within music spaces. At the last hardcore show they went to, they tell me, they were kicked in the head and projectile vomited. Nobody came to help. To them, that level of carelessness is unacceptable. “When it comes to the way I run my space,” they say, “I want to make sure that the first thing I say is: ‘Hey, my name is Haley. I use they/them pronouns – come introduce yourself to me.’ That way people know they can feel comfortable talking to me.” If guests can’t donate money for artists, Butters gets them involved by putting them to work: telling people where the bathroom is, checking in to make sure that everyone feels safe, or completing smaller jobs, like recycling – all of the “little teeny things that people don’t think about,” they say. Butters has other tricks to make their shows more accessible too: providing time between sets for the audience to go outside and take a break, and handing out ear plugs. “I know it used to be punk to not wear earplugs,” they say, but “2018: it’s the year of the earplug.”

Butters also has strategies for intercepting “rambunctious” guests. “You can’t let that slide out of fear from [that person] lashing out,” they say. “You just have to nip it in the bud and make sure that everyone around them is ok – but also, that that person is ok.” They continue, laughing: “Assholes are still people.”

Despite this attention to detail, Butters is aware that not everybody feels comfortable at DIY shows. “I can do my best to put together a diverse bill,” they say, “and still, there will be almost all white people there. Inclusion is only half of the problem. I think that finding out why POC don’t feel safe, [and] what we can do to improve – [things] like that that people don’t think about.”

“We all just need to do better,” Butters tells me. “I don’t know the answers. I know the problems, but I don’t know the solutions. I wish I did.” One way Butters is striving to do better is by joining friends in organizing a nationwide group of non-men interested in developing better ways to curate safe and accessible spaces. “We’re saying do-it-together, instead of do-it-yourself,” they say. Another is by continuing to book bands that might not be highlighted in other settings: groups made up of trans and queer folks, POC, and people harmed by misogyny. Still, Butters notes, they can’t do it all alone. They know that often, a band will choose to book with other promoters – even if they know about Butters’ work.

“I understand, completely, wanting to make money,” they tell me. “I think that musicians should be paid. I understand wanting to have a good turn-out, and a good show.” But, they continue, “assuming that a white dude is going to curate that better than a non-man is not only fucked up, it’s wrong. If you are an artist, and you give [a] white dude your resources – your social capital, your time, and the opportunity to curate a bill, and book a space, and learn those skills – they just move up.” Butters sighs. “It’s so incredibly performative,” they say. “Everyone wants to support non-men. Everyone wants to support people of color… until it’s time to actually do it.”

While DIY scenes can be a refuge, especially for youth who may have little access to community spaces or familial stability, they aren’t exempt from the structures of power which dictate access and wealth within the United States. Abuse often runs rampant, and in a space where so many hold identities oppressed by the state, naming that abuse can be tricky. “Nobody wants to face backlash,” Butters notes. “Nobody wants to be the person who called out this big artist [with] a lot of social capital. Nobody wants to go through that, and get dragged on twitter […] but everyone’s thinking it. So why do we continue to support it? Why do we continue to let it happen?”

Precarious social and financial positions only add to the fear of being dragged. And, Butters points out, folks don’t want to feel “demonized” for confronting members of their own community – especially if those members aren’t cis-het white men. “In the DIY sphere, when somebody is called out, they’ll use language, or their friends will, to protect them and make it seem like they’re super woke.” And when people don’t take responsibility for harm caused, it’s the survivors of that harm that suffer. “People can be shitty,” Butters says. “Queer people can be shitty, women can be shitty, non-binary people can be shitty, people of color can be shitty… and it’s up to us to hold them to a standard.”

Alongside their continued push for accessible spaces in Columbus, in the coming year Butters looks forward to making more music. Frankly, they tell me, it helps them stay alive. “There are certain feelings, and emotions, and words that I don’t know how to accurately say, and sometimes you can’t say things,” they explain. “I don’t want to make another person feel bad. And if I can put those feelings and words and thoughts into a song […] I have more creative control to make sure that what I’m trying to say is conveyed accurately.” And Butters wants everyone in their life to know that they, too, can pick up an instrument. 

“Anyone can make music,” they insist. “You don’t have to be rock god, finger tapping on a telecaster with a capo…you can do anything and somebody out there will enjoy it.”


AF 2017 IN REVIEW: Opening Elsewhere

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Ringing in the New Year at Brooklyn’s newest nightclub & indie rock venue, Elsewhere.

“What is elsewhere?” I asked.

Just a week or two into my internship at PopGun Presents, I had heard Jake, Rami, and Dhruv say this word at least ten dozen times. I sat with Jake and Dhruv at Saint Vitus over beers as they went back and forth about something, until I had to ask. They just laughed, but explained that Elsewhere was a still just a concept, but would one day be a massive music venue that we would own and operate. I say “we” because I had already decided that I would be working there, even if they didn’t know it yet. It would celebrate the DIY ethos of PopGun’s former home, Glasslands, while being totally legal and up-to-code so that it could survive. They wanted to build a home for independent artists and musicians that would last.

Nearly three years later, Elsewhere is open, a reality that seems to re-dawn on us everyday as we face the triumphs and challenges that arise at the club each day. In my first year at PopGun we were just a team of four; I sat at my desk posting Tweets and straining my ears to try and gather bits of information as the guys poured over and finalized blueprints while we waited to begin construction. At this point, the location was top-secret even to me, knowing only that it was in the general vicinity of our Bushwick office. One afternoon after construction had begun, Rami began to head over to the site and asked if I wanted to come see it; I was already out the door ready to go before he had put his coat on. We walked through the gutted warehouse maze, of which the main hall was still merely an idea, as Rami pointed down hallways and through door frames and told me what each “would be” someday.

Slowly but surely bricks were laid and walls were raised; the guys plowed through to-do list after to-do list, checking off licenses, permits, and inspections with respect for the complicated game of bureaucracy and red tape that they had undertaken, and brazen excitement for the future the unfinished project held. One afternoon, Dhruv burst into the office and told me I had to come see what was going on at the site; they were breaking ground on the main hall. Huge stacks of wooden stakes the size of telephone polls littered the ground; a giant machine used to plow them into the ground would suck them up and hammer them into the dirt, creating tension for the massive structure that would one day rest upon it.

It only became more real from there, as the to-do lists became shorter and more of the necessary paperwork was acquired. There were cautious celebrations with each little victory, with all of us afraid to jinx the next necessary step – the liquor license, the T.C.O. inspection. We hunkered down in the freshly finished green rooms plotting strategy for opening and operation and counted down the days until our first show. Lighting went up, art was installed, the sound system arrived piecemeal and was plugged in. Soon enough Elsewhere would cease to be our secret clubhouse and would belong to all of New York City instead, and it seemed like the little details to get there multiplied as quickly as we attended to them.

Every ounce of stress has been worth it though, outweighed tenfold by pride in every victory and excitement over what’s in store. In the two months since our Halloween opening, so much has already happened: Mayor Di Blasio signed the repeal of the much-detested Cabaret Law on our Hall stage. Swedish pop star Tove Lo played a surprise show in pasties; emerging queen of Brooklyn house Yaeji continued her ascent to the top of the scene with a sold-out set in the Hall. We’ve booked all three members of the Detroit techno Belleville Three, and hosted the triumphant return of London soul-funk collective Jungle. It’s been a trip to watch people take in the space, overhearing their comments and questions – Where does this door go? What is this room? – and it’s felt great when they’ve loved it as much as we’ve wanted them to.

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Mayor de Blasio ushers in a new era for NYC nightlight by repealing the city’s 90 year old Cabaret Law.

With all that in mind though, we’re only two months in, with so much to come in 2018. There’s a daily learning curve in everything we do, as we try to constantly grow and diversify the artists and genres we book. A lot of seemingly simple questions grow into long conversations because they are questions that haven’t been asked before, so we don’t have answers at the ready.

More literally, we’ve got a lot of exciting shows on the book though. In the coming months we’ll welcome thrashy noise-punk duo Lightning Bolt, dub songstress Hollie Cook (daughter of Sex Pistol Paul Cook), and Detroit punk legends The Gories. This summer, our rooftop patio opens, which promises lots of frozen drinks and twilight dance parties. All in all though, after everything we’ve been through, I mostly can’t wait to keep lifting up the community that has always lifted us up, by sharing art and music that we love and creating nights that you’ll remember fondly.

Thank you to Jake, Rami, and Dhruv for letting me tag along on this crazy journey, and to all of you for supporting us through it.

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Jungle headlines Elsewhere.

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Double Happiness to Close After 7-year Run

It’s been a short but meaningful run for Double Happiness, which will close its doors on November 25th after seven years of music, drinks, and community-building. Opened and run by Yalan Papillons, with additional booking by Jenny Donaldson, the bar and venue hosted DJ sets, electronic music shows, and local artist showcases, as well as niche events like “Manicure Monday.”

Double Happiness will be played out by a run of free shows at the end of November, hosting sets by Columbus locals Youth Hostel, Dogbite, Nuclear Moms, Pink Reason, and more. It’s a line-up which, frankly, highlights the ways in which white men dominate the punk scene. One departure from this slew of bro-punk, however, is Betsy Ross, whose emotive vocals by Charity Crowe are refreshing in their clarity. Double Happiness’ last and final show will migrate away from the theme of white men as well. On November 25th, hosted by Polar Entertainment, the night will feature “special guests,” joined by Columbus Hip Hop artists Mood and Lone Catalysts.

Many have noted the venue for its Chinese decor, inspired by Papillons’ family, but what is truly significant about Double Happiness is the role it has played as incubator for many of Columbus’ local bands. More mainstream than a DIY venue, but smaller than other, more commercial spots, Double Happiness served as an outward facing door to the Columbus music scene, and a portal for those who would otherwise be out of the loop.

Along with local acts and EP releases, Double Happiness has hosted nationally touring artists like Angel Olsen, Helado Negro, (Sandy) Alex G., and Half Waif. Their catalogue of artists–the entirety of which can be found on their website–is an impressive mix in terms of both genre and popularity. Large acts have never shied away from the venue, despite its close quarters. One of the bar’s first publicized shows, in fact, was the official after party for Bright Eyes, after the cult favorite played at one of Columbus’ larger venues, Express Live.

It’s also worth noting that Double Happiness is one of few bars and venues which is both run and booked by a woman of color. Papillons highlighted community within the space, running the venue as all-ages, and limiting sales of national beers. And while no safer space is truly safe, it’s sad to see a venue which strove to center at-risk audiences be shut down.

Columbus will miss Double Happiness’ unique approach to booking, as well as its warmth and locality. To get in your last goodbyes–and maybe a few drinks, as well–catch one of the venue’s “farewell” shows, detailed on the calendar below.

All photos courtesy of Double Happiness’ Facebook Page

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Jay Som @ Ace of Cups

Jay Som has had a big year. Since Polyvinyl picked up the project – conceived and led by Oakland’s Melina Duterte – in 2016, Duterte has released a second full-length album (Everybody Works), toured nationally, played a tiny desk concert at NPR, and received extensive coverage by major media outlets. In other words, Jay Som has outgrown Duterte’s Bay Area bedroom.

At the Ace of Cups last Sunday, Jay Som played a set which drew from both the old (“I Think You’re Alright,” an enduring hit for the band, was first released in 2015) and the new (a video for “The Bus Song,” directed by Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner, was only released a few weeks ago). It’s probable that I’ve seen the band play live more times than anybody else in Sunday night’s crowd. And it was interesting to encounter Jay Som in Columbus, especially because this might be the last time I hear Duterte play for a while – she and her bandmates are moving to LA in a few weeks, and I’m staying in Columbus for the next few years.

Much has been made of Jay Som’s success in regards to the Bay Area music scene. Duterte is young, Philipinx, gay, and hard-working. She stands within the intersections of identities which are often pushed out of the music industry. But it’s these identities which should, frankly, be populating the Bay Area’s stages more often – POC, especially black folks, make up far more of the East Bay’s demographic than is represented within artistic spaces. As is the case everywhere, DIY and other music spaces in San Francisco and Oakland often prioritize white artists on their bills, making room for loud, cis, white punk boys before creating space for queer folks, women, and people of color.

So it’s encouraging to see Duterte carving a place for herself in the music industry. Encouraging too is seeing artists like her blow up: Kehlani, Xiomara, and Spelling, to name a few, have all made waves far beyond Oakland and San Francisco in the past few years. And Duterte has certainly earned her success. Both Turn Into and Everybody Works are carefully considered, lushly arranged albums. Duterte’s vocals, attention to lyricism, and weaving melodies are remarkable in their precision and vitality.

When performing, Duterte and her band – the bulk of which she grew up with in Brentwood, CA – animate the songs with long diversions into musical riffs. They’ve all known each other a long time, and it shows in their comfort onstage. But that comfort comes with the potential cost of excluding listeners. “There’s nothing I like less than seeing white men jam onstage,” a friend told me during the show, referring to Duterte’s bandmates. That frustration seems to be tension with Jay Som’s success as a Bay Area band. If we are to understand Jay Som as Duterte’s project – and Duterte certainly crafts her records alone – how should we evaluate the musicians that accompany her on tour? Does the backing presence of white, cis men not make an impact on the audience, just as Duterte does?


Jay Som was joined on Sunday by didi, another band intrinsically rooted within its musical community. At this point in their career, didi is a Columbus staple, regularly playing shows with other locals, as well as opening for queercore favorites like Aye Nako and Sad13. The band’s self-titled album, which was released in 2015, is dynamic and well-considered, weighing squealing guitars and sleepy vocals against steady melodies and bass lines.

Like Duterte, didi is vocal about making space for themselves where they can, and are open about the struggles POC and trans folks face booking shows in DIY communities. As well as being accomplished musicians, they’re significant advocates for themselves and others in Columbus.

It’s important to evaluate music within the context of its community. But how do we gain enough access to musicians to make those value judgements? In other words, am I, a recent Ohio transplant, truly able to place a band like didi within the historical and social contexts of the Columbus music scene in the same way I can with Jay Som? How does that change my approach to seeing either band live?

At the end of the show on Sunday, I watched as crowd members lined up to talk to Duterte. Some posed for a picture. Others milled about, finishing drinks or buying merch. It’s striking how much trust we each must have, in each other, and in the musicians onstage, to fill a music venue. To enter any space of entertainment is to re-negotiate the safety of your body in a crowd. That negotiation has higher stakes for some than others, just as being visible onstage is riskier for systematically marginalized folks than it is for those in power. We all take up space in different ways.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Market Hotel Is Back, NYC’s Cabaret Law & More


  • Market Hotel Ends Their Hiatus

    Bushwick’s Market Hotel will host shows again starting on November 1st, with yet-unannounced special guests playing the grand reopening show. It’s been out of commission while Todd P. and his crew secure the proper licenses t0 turn the longstanding DIY club into a legit venue (in the eyes of NYC officials), but will soon be back with a new sound system. The next batch of announced shows include Tera Melos with Speedy Ortiz, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die with Rozwell Kid, Pile with Bad History Month, Titus Andronicus, Black Marble, and Royal Trux. See the full schedule and buy tickets here!

  • NYC May Finally Repeal Its Cabaret Law

    In 1926, the Cabaret Law was created to forbid dancing in certain spaces without a license. Many have pointed out the racist implications of the law, which mostly targeted black jazz clubs in Harlem and required its musicians and employees to submit to a background check. In modern times, the law has added a mountain of paperwork to bars and clubs that want to host events with dancing, but hopefully not for much longer; the Mayor’s office has expressed support for repealing the law, as long as certain clubs are required to install more security cameras. NYC, get ready to dance!

  • Other Highlights

    Yoko Ono will voice a character in Wes Anderson’s latest stop-motion feature, Isle of Dogs, Rolling Stone is up for sale, Morissey joins Twitter and announces new song/album, women are keeping guitar makers in business, new videos from Bjork, Downtown Boys, Leonard Cohen and Torres, Avril Lavigne is apparently very, very dangerous, please don’t try to make out with musicians while they’re on stage, Taylor Swift may end up in court yet again, and ICYMI, the Juggalos marched on Washington.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Bushwick’s New Venue, St. Vincent’s New LP & More

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Elsewhere Photo by Sam Gold

  • Glasslands Founders Debut New Venue, Elsewhere

    When Kent Avenue’s DIY hotspot Glasslands closed in 2014, its founders seemed to hint that they’d open another spot eventually. Turns out that spot will be Elsewhere, a warehouse in Bushwick that will double as a community space complete with an art gallery and rooftop access. Dates have already been announced for shows as early as November. Read what the founders have to say about Elsewhere here.

  • Get Ready For A New St. Vincent Album

    It’s been a busy year for Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent: she’s directed a horror short (and will soon direct her first feature film), covered the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” for the new Tiffany & Co. campaign, and is about to release her next album and embark on a tour. Check out her cover of the Fab Four’s classic, as well as her new video for “New York” below. There’s no official name or release date for her album yet, but according to a recent New Yorker interview, the LP’s main themes will be “sex, drugs and sadness.”

  • Simpsons Composer Alf Clausen Fired

    He’s been using a 35 piece orchestra to compose the wacky, classic songs that make The Simpsons for 27 years, but not anymore. His work won two Emmys (in ’97 and ’98), and received 21 additional nominations, but according to Variety, Clausen was told by the show’s producer that they wanted a different kind of music. Seems like an interesting choice to make.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

NEWS ROUNDUP: Warped Tour Controversy, DIY In NYC & More

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photo by Daniel Pagan

  • What’s Up With The Warped Tour?

     Last year’s Warped Tour brought controversy by allowing  a pro-life tent on the festival grounds. This year, founder Kevin Lyman explained why he thinks this is a cool, punk rock thing to do: “I use them to drag out the pro-choice groups… We couldn’t get the pro-choice groups out until we had a pro-life group out here. That’s been the thing to stir it up a little bit. That’s what punk rock was always about.” The fest has received even more negative press for the misogynistic onstage rant unleashed by the Dickies’ frontman against an audience member who held up a sign protesting the band’s controversial lyrics, banter, and general attitudes. Read a full account of the incident written by War On Women’s Shawna Potter here.

  • Silent Barn Gets A Liquor License, But Needs Your Help

    Yes, it’s true: you can legally buy shots next time you visit the Bushwick DIY venue. That’s good for you, if you like to drink, but we can also assume it’s good for the venue, because they’ll be earning money from an uptick in alcohol sales. Speaking of money, in order to keep operating, they need it. It’d be incredibly sad if Silent Barn went the way of Shea Stadium or Palisades, so if you have a moment, consider reading about their financial situation, which was presented in depth (and somewhat bluntly and humorously) this week. An important takeaway from the piece:

    The lemonade stand needs to close, and in its place we need to open a Jamba Juice franchise, essentially…When that moment comes, I will gladly sip my stupid Jamba Juice in defiance of all the things that almost prevented us.”

  • Other Highlights

    RIP John Blackwell and Pierre Henry, watch Nirvana perform in a RadioShack, the muppet and hip-hop mashups continue with Sesame Street + the Beastie Boys, check out a surreal video from Japanese Breakfast, rock legends get their own comic book covers, Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes forms new supergroup, a Biggie Smalls basketball court is coming to NYC, is Soundcloud floundering? and Kesha is back.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

NEWS ROUNDUP: Goodbye Shea, Spotify Sponsorship & More

  • Shea Stadium Officially Closes

    All we’ll have left of 20 Meadow Street is fond memories, and the new nightclub that the landlord wants to open to replace the beloved DIY venue. Shea Stadium was going to have a few more closing events, but yesterday posted on Facebook that “It now seems impossible to have any more events no matter how small.” The owners raised quite a bit of money on Kickstarter, and hopefully they’ll find a new space to hold Shea Stadium soon.

  • Get Ready For Sponsored Songs On Spotify

    Sponsored content: it’s on your Instagram feed, in your television shows, and in the articles you read (buy Sprite! Just kidding, drink water). Now Spotify treads tricky payola territory by announcing that it will let labels and other entities pay money to have certain songs featured in their wildly popular curated playlists without mentioning that the content is sponsored. TechCrunch reports that the streaming service has already been testing it out on users who don’t pay the monthly subscription fee, though there’s an option to turn off that feature; meanwhile, Liz Pelly’s in-depth, must-read report on The Secret Lives of Playlists ruminates on what the pay-to-play model means for indie labels, among other issues.

  • SXSW Supports Austin’s immigrants

    After the previous controversy over the immigration language used in SXSW contracts, the festival organizers have expressed their support for the lawsuit Austin is filing against the state of Texas. The lawsuit is in protest of Senate Bill 4, which forbids sanctuary cities like Austin. Though they were asked to move the festival to a different city until it was resolved, SXSW CEO Roland Swenson stated that they would “continue to make our event inclusive while fighting for the rights of all.” San Antonio and Dallas are pursuing similar lawsuits. 

  • Other Highlights

    RIP Prodigy, listen to the new Sleater-Kinney/R.E.M. supergroup, a cassette tape caused a New Zealand bomb scare, get ready for a new Foo Fighters album,  this article is kind of blaming Taylor Swift for the death of electric guitars for some reason, Gene Simmons is abandoning his quest to trademark the “rock” gesture, and once again, WTF, Spotify?

PLAYING DETROIT: Summer Solstice Playlist


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Ypsilanti power-pop trio Lightning Love may no longer play together, but their 2012 gem “So Easy” will always be a perfect summer jam.

School is out, bare skin exposed and the sense that anything is possible is undoubtedly in the air. Yes, it’s summer in the city. While we may all have our ideal soundtrack for the season, we’ve put together a few forgotten Detroit tracks that embody the whirlwind of emotions, expectations and possibilities that summer is so often defined by. Will you fall in love? Start over? Will you finally overcome your irrational fear of swimming in private lakes because you never could shake the premise of the movie Lake Placid from your brain? Summer is yours for the taking (and snacking) but mostly for the taking. Dive into these five tracks that are sure to be the aloe to your awkward sunburn.

1. Anna Burch: Tea-Soaked Letter

Anna Burch is a quiet storm. An vital touch in the folk-rock outfit Frontier Ruckus, Burch delves into her own acoustic woes with a similar rawness, this time backed by veteran scenesters Adam Pressley (Prussia, OHTIS) and Matt Rickle (FAWN, Javelins.) Simple, sweet and sorrowful, Burch delivers an aimless summer bike ride with “Tea-Soaked Letter,” a track that confesses to being unraveled and needy with a cooling dose of pop ennui.

2. Passalacqua: Been a Minute

Hip-hop duo Passalacqua revisits and rebirths hazy porch vibes with beautifully-crafted rhymes that go down smooth. There is something particularly retro about “Been a Minute;” it feels like it could soundtrack a subway montage on an episode of Broad City.

3. The Kickstand Band: Fall Back

Upbeat and wistful, surf pop DIY duo The Kickstand Band find a tender bruise with “Fall Back” as it toggles with one foot in spring, the other firmly planted in summer and one arm stretched out to graze Autumn.

4. Mountains and Rainbows: How You Spend Your Time

Possibly my favorite local record for taking mushrooms on Belle Isle or getting so drunk I call up my ex and asks if he still has my record player (not that I care, or anything), Mountains and Rainbows’ Particles contains this frantic gem, “How You Spend Your Time.” It’s perfectly posed for summer indiscretions, but masked with a sort of playful recklessness that is more fun than damaging.

5. Lightning Love: So Easy

Good god, I miss now-defunct Ypsilanti trio Lightning Love. Leah Diehl’s preciously imperfect vocals explore commitment vs. being alone, a perplexing crisis many of us find ourselves dancing between during these high-temp, highly tempting sweaty months. Appearing on 2012’s Blonde Album, “So Easy” features elements of 2005’s best power pop, and as such is well-suited for driving past addresses you don’t live anymore but think about sometimes.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

NEWS ROUNDUP: Spotify Celebrates Pride, Meet Bot Dylan & More

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Palehound made a Pride playlist on Spotify.

  • Spotify Announces Pride Month Playlists
    From the streaming service’s press release: “In celebration of Pride Month, Spotify is proud to present The Spotify Pride Hub, a series that highlights queer icons and music of hope, self-acceptance and empowerment.” They’re using streaming data to rank the proudest cities, which seems a bit unnecessary, but they’re also offering playlists by LGBTQ activists and queer musicians. Don’t know where to start? We recommend this one, curated by Palehound.

  • The Future Of Music: A Folk Song Writing Robot?
    Move over, Bob Dylan; the A.I. program Bot Dylan can also write folk songs, though it probably won’t be winning a Nobel prize anytime soon. The bot was put to work analyzing tens of thousands of Irish folk songs, and from that data, has written a staggering amount of its own material. The London scientists who created it were surprised that the tunes weren’t that bad, either. Read more about Bot Dylan here and listen to one of its compositions below.

  • RIP Gregg Allman
    The Southern Rock  legend and member of the Allman Brothers Band died last Saturday due to complications from liver cancer. He was 69. Gregg was a vocalist and keyboardist and formed the Allman Brothers Band with his sibling, guitarist Duane. Even if they weren’t fond of the term, the group is crediting with creating Southern Rock and inspiring later jam bands. Read a full obituary here.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Shea Stadium, Northside Festival & More

  • Shea Stadium Is Raising Money To Reopen

    Shea Stadium, after closing to avoid fines and fees “related to the legal use, zoning and licensing of [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][the] building,” is on its way to reopening in a more legal, permanent manner. As of today, the DIY venue has raised tens of thousands more than the original goal of $50,000. The money will go towards things such as: renovations to pass inspections, building fees, fire safety training, bar permits and legal fees. Just because they’ve reached the goal doesn’t mean you can’t still donate! Support New York’s DIY scene and check out their Kickstarter page here.

  • Northside Festival Lineup Announced

    This year, the festival will take over Brooklyn from June 7-11 and so far, performers include Dirty Projectors, Miguel, Kamasi Washington, Julia Holter, Girlpool, the Hotelier, Downtown Boys, Lower Dens, Ricky Eat Acid and Vagabon. More details here.

  • Watch A Music Video That’s Different Every Time

    Via Engadget: The UK band Shaking Chains has created an algorithm that makes their music video different every time you watch it. The band members chose predetermined keywords that the algorithm uses to select clips of footage from, and then assembles them randomly every time someone watches the video. Why make a video this way? Band member Jack Hardwick stated,”I sought to obliquely reframe the stuff we subject ourselves to (whether beautiful, distressing, mundane, frivolous or eroticized) and algorithmically cut them into a new context.” Check out the video and see what it plays you here.

  • Other Highlights

    The problem with Ed Sheeran, RIP Chuck Berry, Thurston Moore releases “Smoke Of Dreams,” Marissa Nadler’s contribution to the 100 Days Project, Future Islands share sign language lyric video for “Cave,” and new music from Perfume Genius and Gorillaz.