VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Childish Gambino “This is America” & More

It is the job of the artist to question society, to be able to shine a light on cultural truths and shake the status quo. On Saturday Night Live this past weekend, Atlanta’s Donald Glover, known on stage as Childish Gambino, set the internet on fire with a video that did just that.

“This is America” is a hauntingly honest view of our current American reality. The video is a series of long shots following Glover through a large warehouse. The music fluctuates between light-hearted South African melodies and a heavier Southern trap sound. Glover visually cuts this music with scenes of him shooting someone each time the music changes.

The lyrics call out materialistic hip-hop culture at its intersections with ministrel performance: “We just wanna party/Party just for you/We just want the money/Money just for you.” The frames of the video engage in that disparity further, juxtaposing the celebration of black culture with the struggles of black life in America, be it systemic racism, gun violence, or mass incarceration.

Tackling gun, police-related, and community violence in America, Glover’s video depicts intertwined issues stemming from racism and how it impacts communities of color. Glover is dishearteningly honest in his portrayal of this message. Using a variety of visual representations, the video encapsulates current day happenings such as the Black Lives Matter movement, Nazi riots in Charlottesville, and the church shooting in Charleston.

“This is America” highlights the truly nightmarish aspects of our country in a way that might seem mocking, if it weren’t such a potent call to action, a wake up melody for anyone still living in the delusion and privilege of safety.

Kelsey Lu wrote her latest release while squatting in a leather factory in New Jersey. Deeply depressed at the time Lu’s writing process pulled her out of this emotionally dark space. The video for her song “Shades of Blue” seamlessly moves through the process of depression, and how one finds themselves on the other side of despair into the beauty of a life that might still be coated in sadness.

Aurora, herself says it best: “Queendom is about celebrating all the differences in us: the quiet ones and the introverts, where they can sing and be seen. It’s about the shy people and the lonely people and I hope it can be a place where we can come and be lonely together and then not be lonely anymore. Queendom is a place for all of us.” With Lorde-esque production and vocal qualities, the single brings life to a world Aurora pulls straight from the inner workings of her inspired imagination.

Serpentwithfeet creates a collage of the weird in his latest video for “Cherubim.” Lost in the ruins of a porn house with a dancing lover, the video for “Cherubim” feels like the visual representation of being trapped inside the mind of a psychotic break, the psychosis slowly intensifying through the video. “Cherubim” comes from serpentwithfeet’s upcoming debut soil, set to be released on June 8.

After nearly four decades of producing music, U2 stepped out of the spotlight for the most recent video releases from their 2017 album Songs of Experience. Well-known fashion and street photographer David Mushegain takes on the task of visually representing the single  “Love Is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way.” After documenting the youth of U2’s native Dublin, Ireland for the past seven years, Mushegain is back to his familiar stomping grounds. Sharing small clips of these cool kids, Mushegain represents the “love yourself” message of the U2 single through the carefree and expressive attitudes of the Dublin youth.

ONLY NOISE: One Ball to Rule Them All


The town I grew up in didn’t have a roller rink. Sure, there was a five-lane bowling alley and a one-screen movie theater, but roller rinks were too big for the bite-sized britches of Arlington, Washington. There are many consequences of a town with no roller rink – namely that it becomes by default a town with no disco ball, and that is no place to live, my friends. Marysville, Washington, the next town over, was no place to live either, but it had something we Arlingtonians did not: a roller rink. With skates, and shakes, and a disco ball.

Songs by Bee Gees, Chic, and Donna Summer did not score my first orbit around the glitter ball. I was miles and decades removed from the wonder years of Studio 54 and Paradise Garage, but the tidal pull of the mirrored globe translates across time and space. With its galaxy of glittering infinity, the disco ball’s only message is: keep moving.

Today marks yet another internet-spawned holiday you didn’t know about: National Disco Ball Day. But before you deck the dancehalls with balls of disco, or flock to Pinterest for mirror ball cake recipes, let’s consider the disco ball in all its pop culture glory. Oddly never out of fashion, disco balls have been spinning for around 100 years, though under varying monikers. Mirror ball, glitter ball, and “myriad reflector” were runner-ups to the genre-specific name that stuck.

An early and particularly odd usage of the sparkly decoration can be found on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s website. A 1912 image of a “Sun Parlor for Tuberculosis Patients” (which was located in the Milwaukee Hospital for Insane, might I add) appears pleasantly mundane – until you glance up at the photo’s topmost edge, and see a mirrored sphere shining down on the vacant room. The image is jarring with its backwards anachronism, giving off a A Kid in King Arthur’s Court feeling of displacement; I scratch my head upon seeing this objet de disco thrust into a pre-disco atmosphere.

The disco ball traces back even further than that however, as Vice’s thump outlet details in their in-depth history of the ball. The disco ball’s first reported appearance cropped up in an 1897 issue of the Electrical Worker, which referred to a “mirrored ball” hanging over the attendees of a N.B.E.W. electrician’s union party in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

Despite the disco ball’s varied history, it goes without saying that the glitter globe is not known for its psychiatric hospital tenure, or electrician’s party debut. Rather, it was the flame that “burn baby” burned its way through “Disco Inferno.” While its roots dig much deeper, the dance floor ornament’s cultural capital skyrocketed in the disco days, and at that time, Louisville, Kentucky manufacturer Omega National Products had already been the unofficial home of the disco ball for 20 years, making 90% of the world’s spheres at their peak. This boom in bling balls was surely due to disco fever, as every New York discotheque worth its salt had one. Paradise Garage, Crisco Disco, The Loft, and many other disco havens were bathed in specks of light cast by their own mirror balls, dutifully twirling above the heads of boogying regulars.

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The Paradise Garage, 1979. Photo by Bill Bernstein

Back in ‘90s Marysville, we weren’t snorting snow in gilded bathrooms or shacking up with Bianca Jagger. We were eight, and while it wasn’t a New York City night club, the Marysville skating rink was just about the coolest place an eight year old could throw a birthday party in a 20 mile radius. We didn’t have drugs or Halston dresses, but we were rich with ice cream cake and the flavored roll-on lip-gloss the rink sold for $3 (I’m still convinced it was fruit-flavored vegetable oil). The DJ? Certainly not Larry Levan or Frankie Knuckles. I’m fairly sure there wasn’t even a human behind the music programming at all, but a CD that favored acts like Shaggy, LeAnn Rimes, and Hanson. Such were the times.

Naturally, there’s no comparison between the glamorous disco clubs of the ‘70s and my barely-local roller rink, but they both boasted that mirrored mosaic sphere that is the disco ball; and that’s one of the most magical things about it. Aside from its overwhelming ability to *sparkle*, the disco ball is a remarkably democratic piece of party paraphernalia. Even if you aren’t among the rich and famous folks about town, chances are you can afford a seat at a bar with a disco ball overhead, or better yet, your own for home use. This may not have been the case in the early 1970s, when manufacturers like Omega were charging around $4,000 for a 48-inch ball. These days you can nab one second-hand, buy an inflatable version, or even make your own. The possibilities are endless, and the emblem is timeless.

New York’s own Museum of Sex recognized this timelessness; the museum has enshrined the disco era in Night Fever: New York Disco 1977-1979, a collection of photographs by Bill Bernstein, who captured iconic nightlife images at joints like Studio 54, Xenon, Electric Circus, and more. Bernstein was the man on the scene, and to honor his exceptional work, MoSex didn’t go the normal route with regards to museum curation. Instead of white walls, frames, and text panels, MoSex transformed their bar into a disco itself, playing nonstop cuts like “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” “Ladies Night,” “A Fifth of Beethoven,” and all the Bee Gees hits you can strut to. According to MoSex’s website, Night Fever includes a “an original Richard Long Audio System (infamously associated with clubs like Studio 54 and Paradise Garage) along with guest appearances by disco-era DJs” and “a retro ‘70s cocktail menu” to enhance the experience. Oh, and a total of SEVEN disco balls. One large ball in the center of the ceiling, and six smaller ones clustered around it, like planets surrounding the sun.

The lasting presence of the disco ball is perhaps its most fascinating quality. It remains a completely relevant symbol (as proven by acts like Madonna, U2, and the English music festival Bestival) despite being completely analog. At the end of the day, the disco ball is merely a sphere covered in mirrored squares of varying size. And yet it is so much more than that. It is a silent choreographer, keeping the room in perpetual motion…an egalitarian beacon, showering everyone with a little bit of spotlight.


NEWS ROUNDUP: RIP Walter Becker, Holger Czukay & More

  • RIP Holger Czukay

    Holger Czukay played bass in the groundbreaking Krautrock band Can, which he founded with keyboardist  Irmin Schmidt, guitarist Michael Karoli, and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. He passed away on Tuesday at age 79 at the band’s Inner Space Studio. Can got their unique sound from improvisation that mixed jazz with rock, and during Czukay’s solo career, he explored the use of sound effects and sampling. His last release, Eleven Years Innerspace, came out in 2015.

  • RIP Walter Becker

    The Steely Dan co-founder and guitarist passed away last Sunday at age 67. His songwriting partner, Donald Fagen, described Becker as having a knack for “reading people’s hidden psychology and transforming what he saw into bubbly, incisive art.” The beloved band was highly influential and advanced in terms of songwriting and song structure, though sometimes derisively referred to as the main progenitors of “dad-rock.”

  • RIP Fat Baby

    The Lower East Side club/venue closed on Saturday, after being bought by an unknown buyer. For the residents of “Hell Square,” a highly concentrated area of nightclubs, venues and bars, this closure was not necessarily unwelcome. Yelp reviews of the hotspot vary from describing a pretty good place for a night out to a crowded pit of despair.

  • Other Highlights

    Lin-Manuel Miranda sings the theme for the “Magic School Bus” reboot, a Prince statue may replace Christopher Columbus, Martin Shkreli is selling his infamous Wu-Tang album, a new Michael Jackson song is coming, meet the Indonesian girls fighting to play heavy metal, NYC’s Power Station recording studio to be restored, new songs from U2, Bill Withers and St. Vincent, how bands are helping hurricane victims, and yes, we’ve established that women are the new face of rock.


FESTIVAL REVIEW: Highlights from Bonnaroo 2017

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photo by Jorgenson Photography via Bonnaroo Facebook

Four years in the Tennessee heat. Bonnaroo 2017 was my fourth year heading to “The Farm” and despite grumbles over Live Nation buying the fest, Bonnaroo remained true to its core: filthy, socially conscious, and driven by the music.

After flying into Austin, we traveled up to Dallas to pick up the rest of our gang and then made our way to the rolling hills of Tennessee. Every year, we camp with the Reddaroo Groop: like-minded music nerds who know how to use the internet. Our Reddit friends organize elaborate drinking games, a craft beer exchange, and can be found dancing wildly each year to the left-hand side of the main stage.

Four days of non-stop music (the Farm doesn’t shut down at night) may seem intimidating, but Bonnaroo regulars know that it’s all about pacing yourself; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Naps throughout the day are required if one is planning on dancing back at The Grind in Pod 7 til 6am. Only a novice drinks craft beer all day (coconut water is a must-have). And if you’re not digging the show you’re at? Get up and find another. The lineup this year was dense, with impressive headliners like U2, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Weeknd; the undercards were equally stacked, boasting indie favorites like Cold War Kids and Glass Animals. We had to edit this list several times for length, a sure sign of a successful Roo.

July Talk dished out the sexual tension.

Thursday at Bonnaroo is usually the day to do a quick tour of the grounds, take inventory of the fried food vendors, and make friends with your camping neighbors (when Sunday comes, you may be out of beer, after all). However, our Canadian campmates talked us into trekking out early to see Toronto favorite July Talk. Singer Leah Fay’s borderline saccharine voice battles with guitarist and co-vocalist Peter Dreimanis’s guttural growl; the pair denies any private romance “for personal reasons” but the often physical, “Push + Pull” nature of their onstage interactions make it difficult to think of anything else.

The Strumbellas lifted spirits.

Canada hit it out of the ballpark this year, introducing the Bonnaroo crowd to The Strumbellas on Friday. The band’s 2016 release Hope is full of… well, hope. Despite the Tennessee heat, the audience danced and sang along as though they really needed those lyrics to feel true, the lines “And I don’t want a never ending life / I just want to be alive while I’m here” hitting close to home. The Strumbellas have been vocal about their positive vibes, telling AXS “We get a lot of really awesome messages from people, saying how the lyrics have helped them through hard times, like depression, or anxiety, or PTSD.” With a foot-stomping Americana sound to back it up, it’s no wonder they’re picking up fans south of the border.

In the shade with Michael Kiwanuka

The near-sunset set is always a coveted slot for performers, their audience sitting placid after a day of running around in the heat. After hitting up Tegan And Sara on Saturday, we moved over to the This Tent to watch Michael Kiwanuka perform. Songs like “Black Man In A White World” reflect Kiwanuka’s diverse background, having been raised by Ugandan parents in North London. Kiwanuka doesn’t shy away from the controversial, explaining in a recent interview with The Telegraph that “A lot of people who are way more famous than I am say they don’t feel obligated to speak out on important issues, but I do. One of the cool things about Muhammad Ali or David Bowie is that they always stood for stuff; it wasn’t uncool to believe in something and follow it through.

Dancing is required for Cage The Elephant.

Matt Schultz, the lead singer of Cage The Elephant, danced shirtless on stage, channeling a young Iggy Pop with his spastic, sexual movements. The crowd sang favorites like “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” “Cigarette Daydreams,” and “Come A Little Closer” word-for-word, their energy matching Shultz’s. Our group was so taken with their performance it was difficult to leave early for the Chili Peppers; we ended up splitting up (I remained bouncing up and down until my group dragged me away).

The Soul Shakedown makes Bonnaroo unique.

What sets Bonnaroo apart from a festival like Coachella? Many things, but the yearly SuperJam is definitely a gem unique to the fest. Each year, the SuperJam is curated by a specific artist or band. 2017’s SuperJam was presented by the Preservation Jazz Hall Band and featured performances from Chance The Rapper, Margo Price, Tank And The Bangas and more. “Hey Ya,” “Waterfalls,” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” were just some of the highlights from the horn-infused set.

Umphrey’s McGee Tears It Up (TWICE).

Shpongle was the reason my brother decided to go to Bonnaroo this year. I myself listened to Shpongle for hours in preparation for their late-night Saturday set. Due to visa issues, they couldn’t make it. Devastation. “After 18-plus years of performing more than 100 concerts annually, releasing nine studio albums and selling more than 4.2 million tracks online, Umphrey’s McGee might be forgiven if they chose to rest on their laurels.” Thus read Bonnaroo’s description of the band that would replace them: Umphrey’s McGee. I was not familiar (neither was my brother). Umphrey’s late night jam set made us forget our Shpongle woes (if only for a few brief hours) as we danced with wild abandon next to Bonnaroo’s hippie tribe.

Margo Price brings outlaw country flair.

On certain Sundays, the Reddaroo crowd doesn’t go into the festival grounds til dusk. This year, however, I had made a date with Margo Price. Price was cool as a cucumber, despite the grueling sun. She sprinkled tales of time spent in jail and her struggles as a musician in a male-dominated industry throughout her set. “Tennessee Song,” “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle),” and “Four Years of Chances” got the crowd on their feet and dancing. My attention was only diverted by a man struggling to dance with his scarf despite dropping it every few minutes.

Bonnaroo 2017 was chock full of outlandish characters, outstanding performances, and motivating messages. As I roamed the festival grounds, I couldn’t help but be moved by sentiments of love and community. “Some people may think [/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”][Martin Luther King Jr.’s] dream is dead, but not at Bonnaroo tonight. Maybe the dream is just telling us to wake up,” Bono said passionately during Friday’s performance. As the Weeknd closed down the festival Sunday night, I looked around at the large crowd, singing at full voice into the darkness, and thought: We’re awake.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

ONLY NOISE: The Good, The Bad, and The Guilty


Freud called it ambivalence. I call it Cher. And not just “old stuff”, niche, “Half Breed” Cher. I’m talkin’ “Believe” Cher too. The good with the bad, which could be a crude definition of ambivalence itself. This week, I’m thinking a lot about ambivalence, and my favorite iteration of it: the Guilty Pleasure.

I recently came across a piece of clickbait that The Daily Mail ran last summer called “The Science of Guilty Pleasures: Study uncovers how feeling bad can boost your happiness.” Evidently, Professor Ravi Dahr of Yale University got the notion to conduct such a study as he sat next to a colleague one day, watching him munch on a chocolate bar as if it was some sort of dilemma. Dahr was taken aback by his coworker’s simultaneous display of enjoyment and self-loathing while eating the chocolate. Thus spawned the idea to research the merit of the Guilty Pleasure.

The article goes on to site stimuli such as “alcohol and shopping sprees” as arbiters of this shame/pleasure model, the driving point stating that “guilt and pleasure are often tightly coupled in people’s minds, so activating one of these concepts can draw out the other.” Hence: forbidden fruit, the five-finger-discount, ice cream, and Phil Collins. Dahr’s intended application of the study was market research (which is all a bit too Edward Bernays for me), but what happens when we apply this idea to the ultimate Guilty Pleasure: the Musical Guilty Pleasure (MGP)?

Is shame the true catalyst for the immense joy I feel while listening to “You Can Call Me Al” and picturing the entire city dancing in unison? Do I feel just the right amount of “naughty” when I, in all sincerity, have to fight back tears upon hearing “In The Air Tonight”? No. This isn’t a fucking Dove chocolate commercial. I may not be a professor at Yale, but I can’t help but wonder if the MGP functions on a different level than a sumptuous dinner for one at Dallas BBQ. Because unlike the handbag that cost more than your rent, or the 3am Seamless order, the MGP has no real repercussions. You aren’t poorer for listening to, say, every record the Wallflowers ever recorded, on repeat, for a year. Cranking Bette Midler’s The Divine Miss M to 11 when no one’s home doesn’t raise your cholesterol. So why feel guilty in the first place?

One consistent feeling I recognize when accessing my secret song library is discomfort. There is always that lingering question: is this good? Or bad? Or very bad? My favorite example of a band that elicits such confusion is Paul Weller’s schmaltz project The Style Council. Their music is…I don’t know. It could be compositionally brilliant, and merely stamped with that 1980s seal of production quality that seems to doom and date so much of the era’s oeuvre. Or, it could be horrendous. I will never know, because loving The Style Council is like having a stupefying crush: you’re so smitten you fail to notice how ugly his shoes are. Or his crippling video game habit.

For instance, The Style Council have a song called “You’re the Best Thing” off of their 1984 debut LP Café Bleu. It is kind of my MGP poster song, if you will. No song has ever toyed with my emotions so deeply, and I don’t expect another ever will. It makes me rage with cognitive dissonance. It is so gauchely over the top, so sappy, so wrong; and I love every minute of it. This is a track that legitimately makes me squirm with unease. While preparing for this week’s rant, I was going through all of the music that I classify as MGPs. Upon listening to “You’re the Best Thing” I jotted a sprawling note on my legal pad, which read: “isn’t good art supposed to make you feel uncomfortable?” I don’t know what Ravi Dahr would have to say about that.

I suppose that aside from causing discomfort, the MGP stokes the fear of being found out.  That somehow your love of U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (just that ONE song, ok?) will potentially negate your enormous Tom Waits collection. Like U2 has the power to cause chemical equilibrium and suddenly disable all of your good taste. There is a wonderful scene in the recent movie Green Room in which an interviewer is asking members of a punk band what their desert island band would be.  They respond with understated cool: “Poison Idea,” “Sabbath” and the like.  Towards the end of the film, as the main characters are getting killed off one by one in the most gruesome ways, the band’s guitarist poses the same question as a sort of rallying distraction, but the answers have shifted rather drastically.  “Prince.”  “Madonna…and Slayer.”  “Simon and Garfunkel.”

The funny thing about these two scenes is that while the characters weren’t discussing MGPs, the same principle of embarrassment applies: that fear of being revealed as a charlatan, of being, god forbid, not punk enough, or at all. Last year I was conducting an interview at the Four Knots festival here in New York, and brushed up against a similar phenomenon. The band was fairly new to the scene, so I asked them that old question I find so endlessly amusing: what were their MGPs? “The Strokes.” “Grizzly Bear.” “Guns n’ Roses.” It was the Green Room effect before I even knew what that was. I wanted real humiliation. I wanted Enya, or Yanni, or Godsmack. I pressed them to think harder, and finally got something deeper. “Alkaline Trio.” There it is.

I don’t believe people when they say: “none of my pleasures are guilty.”  Or maybe I am simply jealous of their carefree life, in which they can host a dinner party and put their itunes library on shuffle, walking away free from the clutching fear that one of several Rancid songs could come on at ANY MOMENT. That must be a nice feeling. But until I can liberate myself from discomfort and shame, I will brandish my guilt in the most Catholic of ways, reserving it a seat next to me at the bar, doing its laundry; hell, my guilt and I could even open a joint checking account. Guilt is a lubricant for dry food; she is the one thing separating bad taste from eccentric taste.