Monday, August 6, 2012

The Evil Side of Music.

By now most of you have heard of that terrible ambush on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in which a madman went on a killing spree on Sunday, killing six people before getting shot and killed himself.

The gunman's name is Wade Michael Page, an Army vet who was demoted and later given an administrative discharge. Page was frustrated and decided to take it out on people whom he felt was lower than he was. After all, he had neo-Nazi ties and even played in a number of "hate" rock bands including a band called Blue Eyed Devils (NSFW). You would think that these bands are generally isolated and not very common, but they are still very much active in their communities.

The movie American History X, which was about a neo-Nazi who was trying to clean his act up and get his life back together, briefly covered the popularity of these hate rock bands.

The difference in the music that I cover and the music these bands play is that this music is not about popularity contests or how much money the band makes. It's simply propaganda to fuel this unrelenting hatred for anyone who isn't pure, someone not of their profile.

By textbook definition, it is music. It is indeed making a lot of noise. However, its significance is in the minds of those who continue to play this music, those who continue to hate and nothing more.

It is an absolute shame that music, something that I love so dearly is twisted and contorted into this blind, empty hatred.

I have a personal story to share. When I was a high school senior, I participated in my high school's showtunes and jazz choirs (Are you NOT laughing yet? Though, that's not the point of this article.). One of the highlights of my entire life was the opportunity to fund a trip to Europe, specifically in Austria, Germany, and Italy.

We went to Munich, Germany and had a great time there, but one of the main reasons we were there was to learn about the history there and not very far from the city was one of the first WWII concentration camps built, Dachau.

I didn't have family directly affected by The Holocaust, but the experience at Dachau is one of the most emotionally gutwrenching experiences I've ever had. You listen to all of the stories and you see the pictures and the disturbing videos that were taken and you think to yourself: "Where did humanity go?" and "How could people deny the existence of such a prolonged, agonizing tragedy?" Over 30,000 people were reported killed at that camp and it's very likely that there were more. How could you not be affected by something like that?

Music is meant to spur feelings within you that may not always be positive, but pure hatred is not meant to be one of them and for that very reason, I will not classify the music that Page made as music.

In the same breath, I hope that the actions of this terrorist don't scapegoat hard rock music as a whole as violent. Not all hard rock and heavy metal music is violent, not all rap music is violent, and not all pop music is violent (although if I hear "Call Me Maybe" just one more time...).

We can't tell these neo-Nazi groups to stop playing their music. We can't tell Westboro Baptist Church to stop playing their music. They're going to keep spreading their messages of intolerance. This article is only meant to inform you that people like this exist in the world. Haters gon' hate. So love your neighbor, appreciate your differences, and hopefully, as a people, we will triumph over this.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thoughts on the New Rock 101.9

After three months of the failed experiment of FM News 101.9 by Merlin Media, the owners of the station after purchasing it from Emmis Communications, alternative music made its return to New York City yesterday under the banner of New Rock 101.9, a station that apparently intends to pick up where WRXP left off a few months ago.

This is exciting news for a rock fan like me. However, I am going to be as cautiously optimistic as I have been about these stations in the last few years because I know that if they fall into the same problems that befell K-Rock's WXRK and WRXP that they will not survive for very long.

So far, listening to the station, I'm pretty happy that it seems to be focusing a bit more on new rock and alternative music, but there are songs that were played yesterday that were 5, 10, 15, 20 years old or more and that leaves me with a little bit of concern for the station's future.

Here are a few things that I think 101.9 needs to do in order to survive this go 'round:

1. Play new stuff : Yes, it sounds so simple, but alternative stations have been under the spell of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains for the last 20 years. Don't get me wrong, those artists are wonderful, but in the era of New Rock 101.9, Soundgarden or Alice in Chains (unless it's from their upcoming albums) do not qualify as new music.

I feel that alternative stations and their reliance on grunge from 20 years ago is stunting the growth of the artists that exist now. No one is denying the greatness of those artists, but much of their work now belongs to Q104.3 because they would classify at this point as classic rock. If nothing else, they may need to segment the golds (songs that are over 5 years old in radio rotation) to an hour or two so as to not get in the way of the newer stuff.

2. Play a diverse lineup of artists : So far, it appears that New Rock 101.9 is doing exactly that playing Three Days Grace, Florence and the Machine, Coldplay, and Rise Against amongst others. They need to make sure that they cater to every type of rock fan...the hipster, the hard rocker, and the like...because this is the only new rock station in New York City, and I'm sure there's room for all of that in this city.

3. Play local artists : New York City is the greatest city in the world and a huge part of that is because of the multitude of music scenes that exist right here in New York City. There are so many talented indie, alternative, and hard rock bands that it may be hard to fit all of them on the station, but there has to be a place for them, too. The scene had been faltering for a few years after K-Rock died, but there is still hope for us all.

4. Bring Back Matt Pinfield : Pay him whatever he wants, I don't care. The fact of the matter is that he knows his music. I want music intensive DJ's for a music station. Is that too much to ask? I don't mind some fluff talk, but we alternative fans care about our music. We want to know more about it if there is more to know.

5. Hire me : It doesn't have to be now, but can it be soon please?

That was more than a few things, but I think most of these things are necessary to keep New Rock 101.9 from falling to the same mistakes that our previous rock incarnations made.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Frank Ocean and his 'Odd Future'.

Overnight on July 3rd, Frank Ocean posted a message on his Tumblr that sent immediate shockwaves throughout the urban music industry, not so much because someone openly announced their sexuality, but moreso who.

As far as singer/songwriter/producers go, Frank Ocean is the 'it' guy right now in the business. Ocean has written for everyone from Justin Bieber to Beyoncé Knowles and has also been a hit parade in his own right, both with his massive hit single "Novacane" and as a feature in the Jay-Z/Kanye West hit "No Church in the Wild".

His status is unquestionably high in the world of hip-hop where the culture of "no homo" still reigns. It took a lot of courage for Ocean to admit all of this in the face of that. However, the issue of people of color coming out in and of its self transcends Ocean because of that culture.

It's interesting how many people of color generally react to any other sexuality other than heterosexuality and many times, that reaction will be a negative one even though our first African American president recently lent his support for gays to have equal rights.

You really have to go back in the history of this country and its treatment of people of color to understand the current plight of the LGBT community. On a week where we celebrate this country's birth, our 236 year history has not come without its flaws.

In 1787, legislation was introduced in this country called the Three Fifths Compromise. Slaves were considered three-fifths of a person and were not allowed to vote, marry, own land, or allowed to do much of anything without their master. It wasn't until 1967 that laws against interracial marriage were deemed unconstitutional.

While it's not exactly the same, many of those in the LGBT community feel like second class citizens because they're not allowed to marry who they want to and are not entitled to the same benefits. Up until last year, the military had a policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".

Listen, no one's asking you to become gay or bisexual just because there are laws that are introduced to protect those who are. They simply want to be treated as an equal and be entitled to the same rights that all Americans are entitled to. Whether you like it or not, this is the civil rights battle of our generation.

The reaction on Frank Ocean's post has generally been positive and I believe it's a small step in the right direction to acceptance. Acceptance will never be universal, but here's hoping that one day that we don't look at 'coming out' as a big deal.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

4/16/12: The Studio at Webster Hall: Fair to Midland/Dead Letter Circus

The last time I went to Webster Hall to see a show, it was the main stage where Evanescence headlined the Nintendo Fusion Tour with Cold, Revis, and Finger Eleven playing almost 9 years ago.

This time, I went to the Studio at Webster Hall, the main venue's side stage, for what would become the most diverse show I've ever seen.

The show started with a New York City area band called Ever Forthright. Ever Forthright is a djent metal band. For those that don't know what djent is, it's an experimental guitar heavy genre, chock full of solos and tricky time signatures.

Lead singer Chris Barretto is a djent metal veteran who had a stint doing lead vocals for Periphery before Spencer Sotelo took the job.

Their show was chaotic, but awesome all the same. It was hard to tell what kind of band they were at first...after all, they had a sax on stage (which they wound up not using). They let us know very early on. Through all of that djent-y goodness, there was actually a soft side. Chris Barretto went all Usher on a song called "City Limits". Their music may be more random than your run of the mill Family Guy episode, but somehow their tangential genre-bending riffage worked out well enough to be a worthy opener.

Next on the lineup was Jolly, yet another New York City area band I was unaware of before the show. This band sounded a lot different from what I was expecting from a band named Jolly. Sure, it was catchy, but there was quite a bit of moroseness...almost a HIM vibe from listening to this band. The band's sound was a bit all over the place from the softness of the harmonies and keys on songs like "Joy" and "Where Everything's Perfect" to "The Pattern", a six-minute opus that flirts with djent metal at its climax and the highlight of their set.

Speaking of tangents, one of the highlights of the entire show (in a show that had many) was the Maryland band Lionize that had a completely different sound than any of the acts on the bill. Their sound is very similar to that of Clutch. Their sound had a bit of funk, stoner rock, dub rock, and dirty south blues all wrapped in one. Their set was extremely impressive on me and I would certainly see them again if they came back up to the city anytime soon. Nate Bergman's vocals were showstopping.

That leads me to the awesome Aussies known as Dead Letter Circus, a band that is pretty massive in Australia that had their first NYC stop ever. They did not disappoint, playing songs from This Is The Warning, such as their first American single "One Step" and my personal favorite "Here We Divide". Lead singer Kim Benzie's falsetto is similar to Matt Bellamy of Muse or Anthony Green of Circa Survive, but Benzie does it with such ease live that it's hard to compare him to anyone else. Just last week, I found out that they released a new single off of their upcoming album called "Wake Up" in their native Australia and I'm waiting with baited breath to listen to it. Hopefully, we will all be able to hear it soon.

Finally, we got to watch the Texas fable rockers Fair to Midland and if you've never seen what their live show is like, it can be summed up in three words: Darroh is nuts. Lead singer Darroh Sudderth is a few fries short of a happy meal, but the fans love him for it because he and the band give off such energy and want their fans to feed off of it.

It's not about being perfect note for note, it's about giving the fans what they want. In some cases, what they want is Darroh inflicting ruckus on the crowd...and that he did, jumping into the crowd time after time. The fans went into a frenzy by the time they played "Tall Tales Taste Like Sour Grapes" crowd surfing, pit-forming, and all around having a blast. Their set was similar to the DVD they released of their incredible set at the world famous Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan. When they closed with "Rikki Tikki Tavi", they did so with authority. Darroh jumped into the crowd, just about fell on his face when he was launched back on the stage and let out a big "RRRRRIKKKKKIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!". And just like that, the set and the show was over, but not without the chaotic cheering of the crowd.

The show was as random and as chaotic as I've ever seen, but every band was up to the task. Every band put on their A-game and it showed throughout the night. Man, I miss going to live shows.

Death of a Kiss.

This marks the last weekend of the legendary urban adult contemporary station 98.7 WRKS-FM (Kiss-FM) in New York City.

Emmis Communications announced a sale of the station to ESPN Radio that set off a chain reaction of events. Kiss' legacy will live on, merging with 107.5 WBLS-FM and ESPN Radio will take over 98.7.

In the biggest music market in the world, two of the city's major FM stations will not play music and many of the major ones that do are mere carbon copies of each other.

Z100 and Now 92.3 FM are both pop stations that copy much of the same music and both of those stations tend to play a lot of the songs found on Hot 97 and Power 105.1FM, both urban (R&B/hip hop) stations and some of the songs from those stations leak into WPLJ 95.5FM and WKTU 103.5FM, an adult top 40 station and a dance station, respectively.

Songs in our market tend to be super crossovers. They not only cross over on stations that they would traditionally be played on if it were successful, but those songs then oversaturate radio with remixes both for easy listening stations and/or dance stations. By the way, if I start hearing Pitbull on Lite FM, I'm done.

EVERY SINGLE STATION here winds up sounding the same because of those super crossovers. Even some of the Spanish/Spanglish stations in the market tend to play the most popular songs on English pop and rap stations.

You would think that the biggest music market of the world would play music that's on the cutting edge, no matter the format, but this market is home to radio stations that play most vapid, lifeless, and safe music in the country and this is when you consider that terrestrial radio is still the #1 medium for discovering new music.

I'm not upset that ESPN made the move to FM radio as ESPN's radio programming is dynamic and engaging. However, to do it at the expense of one of the better stations in the market was a bad idea. Cheers to Kiss and here's hoping the legacy of the station lives on with WBLS.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Radio is a Dance Floor...

Pop radio has been in different phases in the last decade...

1999-2001 is when you had the peak of the pure pop era with acts like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys and N*Sync

2003-04 is when hard rock bands like Evanescence, Trapt, Lostprophets, and Crossfade broke into top 40 radio.

Between 2005 and 2007 is when you had a lot of dirty south style rap artists breaking top 40 radio like D4L, MIMS, Yung Joc, and Lil' Jon.

2008 was the year of Pop&B with Chris Brown, Rihanna, and Usher dominating pop radio.

Ever since Lady Gaga's prominence in 2009, radio has sounded a lot like this.

Why? Putting a sociopolitical spin on it, the recession hit the US in late 2008 really hard and we're just now starting to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

Dance music seems to be the perfect escape music, so it's not entirely surprising to have seen acts like Taio Cruz and LMFAO dominate the Top 40 scene. Even songs that weren't meant to be dance songs in the first place are getting remade for the floor and are getting a lot of airplay, such as Adele's Someone Like You.

It's gotten to the point where other genres of music have had to adapt to the dance craze. Jay-Z & Kanye West's Watch the Throne project released the dubstep flavored "N**gas in Paris" as a single and Korn put out an entire album influenced by dubstep, The Path of Totality, last year. Add the three Grammies that dubGod Skrillex won a couple of weeks ago and it seems like this dance influenced pop music is here to stay for a little while.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why I Am Not "Team Breezy".

Three years ago, the world was shocked to find out that clean cut R&B/pop superstar Chris Brown beat fellow R&B/pop superstar and girlfriend Rihanna in a car in Los Angeles before the 2009 Grammy Awards. The extent of the felony mentioned in the link made it all the more shocking.

This past Sunday, after a successful run with his F.A.M.E. album, he won his first Grammy in 11 career nominations for the Best R&B Album.

As Chris Brown preps a new album called Fortune with new single "Turn Up the Music" already burning up Top 40 radio, he is facing yet another public backlash for the incident. Why? Because, simply put, he's never learned his lesson.

First off, no one hates him 'cause he's got a Grammy. They hate him because he admitted his guilt and never learned the error of his ways. He never got the punishment that fit the crime. For a punch in the face, he got a slap on the wrist.

People can hate on what Tiger Woods did, but what he did was not illegal, just immoral.

People can hate on what Michael Vick did, but he actually served time in prison and cost himself two full years of football in the process. He had to work really hard to come back to the level of prominence that he had before the dogfighting charges.

What Chris Brown did was so severe, that he could have earned himself four years in prison, which would have meant that Graffiti, F.A.M.E. and now the upcoming Fortune, would have likely never been released.

After his sentencing though, he was able to continue his career and still managed to put out an album (Graffiti) by the end of 2009. Despite the album being critically panned, he still earned two Grammy nominations and a debut sales week of over 100,000 copies.

Chris Brown then started to get on a roll. Deuces, the first single from F.A.M.E. earned praise back from his fans and music critics. He earned some of the most successful singles of his career, including the extremely popular song Look At Me Now, a song that earned Karmin a recording contract because of their cover.

Chris Brown was at the top of his game again and then his appearance on Good Morning America proved that he had not been given the right punishment.

It should have been expected that Chris Brown was going to face some questions about the Grammy incident. In fact, from the day of the initial report and on, it will define every aspect of his career.

Chris Brown doesn't seem to understand that and continues to lash out at his "haters". Even worse is that his fans feed his ego and his "hater" mentality by mitigating, condoning, and worse, making a joke of what he did.

No, it's NOT OK. That's why people hate on him in the first place. His talent does not make him immune from his actions.

At least since early 2011, it's been rumored that Chris Brown and Rihanna have come back together. If he slips just once into that abusive behavior that got him in trouble in the first place, we'll see how quick the world is to forgive his actions a second time.