Honolulu’s Honest, Diverse DIY Scene

The Bougies

The Bougies.

It’s a warm Friday night in Honolulu’s Chinatown, and local punk band Smoke Free Armstrong are playing their final show to a packed crowd at the Downbeat Lounge, a venue that, in recent years, has been ground zero for the city’s DIY punk scene. Between songs, guitarist and singer Steve Tanji grabs the mic to offer a sincere tribute. “I just want to thank you guys, from the bottom of my heart, for letting us play for you,” he says. The crowd of kids gathered in front of the stage cheer in response. “We’ve been playing for two years, and I want to thank you all for coming out and supporting the scene.”

There is a certain poignancy to Tanji’s words. By the usual musical standards, two years isn’t a long time for a band to exist—but, in Honolulu, it’s rare to find bands who last more than a few months, let alone years. Being a punk band in Honolulu is a lot more challenging than it would be on the mainland. First of all, there’s the location—“literally in the middle of nowhere,” says longtime promoter Jason Miller, who has been booking shows in Honolulu since the mid ’90s, and currently books under the name 808shows/Hawaii Express. “It’s so much [money] up front just to get somewhere for exposure. People can go on tours, but they’re not able to do it every summer, or during spring break. They can’t just jump in the van.”

Other problems: Hawaii is by nature a transient place. People come and go from the islands constantly, making it difficult to sustain a musical project for a long period of time. The state has an extraordinarily high cost of living, on par with that of the Bay Area or New York City, but with a far smaller population, and musicians need to hold down two or three jobs just to scrape by. Instruments and amps are more expensive because everything is imported—and forget about PA systems. Nobody owns property and basements are non-existent, so practice spaces are difficult to find and pricey to rent.

As far as places to play, there are currently no DIY venues on the island, and even if there were, the owners would still have to contend with the strange-but-true fact that sound travels farther in moist air than in dry air, making noise complaints inevitable, and house shows nearly impossible in Hawaii’s tropical climate. Generator shows in skate parks and on the beaches occasionally happen, but they can be stressful to execute—especially when it suddenly starts to rain, as it often does in Hawaii. To say nothing of the fact that the laid-back nature of Hawaiian culture isn’t exactly the most amenable to punk rock.

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Open Mike Eagle Wants To Change Your Perspective On Black Art

Open Mike Eagle

Lyricist Open Mike Eagle has a clear plan for his recently-announced TV show on Comedy Central. “I want them to come away feeling like, ‘Oh, black comedy, black entertainment, black music isn’t what I thought it was,’ if they thought that to begin with.”

In November, Eagle spoke confidently with The New York Times about his live comedy show, The New Negroes, which he and co-creator and co-star Baron Vaughn have been performing in Los Angeles and at festivals around the country for over a year. Now, the Chicago-bred rapper will have an opportunity to present the show—and all the varying black art it encompasses—to a wider audience.

The New Negroes, which at times runs as long as two hours in its live format, was recently picked up by Comedy Central as part of a new slate of comedy shows that also includes the Reggie Watts-hosted Taskmaster. While the name of the show references The New Negro, a book published at the start of the Harlem Renaissance that encapsulated the black literary excellence from the era, Eagle is aware that it might cause some people to stay away from the show. He is fine with that.

“It’s fitting, in a sense,” he tells me over the phone. The New Negroes intends to make the audience deal with “the frustration with that level of discomfort in life.”

At its root, though, Eagle and Vaughn’s The New Negroes aims to achieve the same goals as its namesake: to prove that black art isn’t a singular concept, threaded through a needle—it’s a wide section of the quilt of American culture. The show doesn’t have a release date yet, but production starts later this summer. We spoke with Eagle about his relationship with comedy, The New Negroes, and how it will translate to television.

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In “Naturewave,” Forest Sounds Mask Sinister Subtext

VaporwaveNature-600

Pyravid

Vaporwave is notorious for its many proliferating subgenres and memes, but there’s one strand that appears to have been largely neglected by most commentaries and breakdowns of the genre to date. And while “naturewave”—for lack of a better term—isn’t big enough to be recognized as a legitimate subgenre by the vaporwave community, the number of albums that this term describes has been steadily growing since at least 2014. As with every other branch of vaporwave, the specific characteristics of these albums tend to vary, but all of them share a fixation with nature and the natural world, which is evident in their predominantly leafy green artwork and the often New Age-y sounds they appropriate. But more than this, they’re also fascinated by the ways society perceives and constructs nature, and with how the natural world is often used as a dubiously reassuring counterpoint to the artificiality and coldness of the modern world.

Here are the records filling out the “naturewave” sound.

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Coldcut’s Matt Black Talks Ninja Tune History & Collaborating with Adrian Sherwood

Coldcut

Photo by Hayley Louisa Brown.

Because both Coldcut and Adrian Sherwood are native Londoners with a cosmopolitan taste for dance beats and crazy sonics, it’s surprising that they haven’t collaborated until now. Sherwood’s plethora of credits, in particular the reggae/dub-rooted but gleefully far-afield music of his label On-U Sound was always a perfect match for Coldcut, the duo of Matt Black and Jonathan More. Those two got their start as renegade samplers, inspired by hip-hop cut-and-pasters like Double Dee and Steinski; they then began to curb their illegalities while still pursuing the most audacious sonic gimcrackery possible.

Far from habitual pirates, Coldcut instead became shrewd bankrollers of other artists’ far-flung sonic fantasias. In 1990, they formed Ninja Tune, the label that has seen every kind of hip-hop variation under the sun, and then some. It’s spun off sub-imprints like Ntone, Big Dada—and now, Ahead of Our Time, which is actually a revival of the duo’s pre-Ninja Tune imprint. Ahead of Our Time is the imprint for Coldcut x On-U Sound’s Outside the Echo Chamber, the flavorful fruit of the Sherwood collaborations.

We spoke with Coldcut’s Matt Black about his history in music.

[For more with Matt Black, tune into the December 6 edition of the Bandcamp Weekly]

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Album of the Day: Threefifty, “Gently Among the Coals”

The New York-based collective known as Threefifty is like a rolling snowball that gathers everything in its path. Founders Brett Parnell and Geremy Schulick met while studying guitar at the Yale School of Music and released two albums of spare instrumentals, interpreting Bach and Salieri on the former and playing their own compositions on the latter. Since then, Threefifty has gradually grown into something resembling a rock band, as they added new members (including their multi-instrumentalist wives) and expanded their sound from classical to folk, bluegrass, and the post-rock of groups like Rachel’s and Mogwai.

That “post-” prefix has dogged them for a few years now, and on their latest album, Gently Among the Coals, Threefifty have done little to dispel the label. Opener “Crossing State Lines” and “Andromeda” feature pointillist guitar notes that arrange themselves into melodic constellations, the band churning up a dramatic din behind them. Acoustic instruments, mainly mandolin and fiddle, mingle with electric guitars, picked and strummed to add a folksy flavor to the “The Door” and “You Are Going the Right Way.”

To that framework, they add unexpected flourishes: L.A. electronic musician Daedelus undergirds “More” with jagged rhythms, which spar violently with Parnell and Schulick’s guitars—it doesn’t evoke a jam session as much as a knife fight. “Running in a Burning House” is a showcase for New York multi-instrumentalist Nathan Koci, whose deployment of whistling and trumpet call to mind the gunslinger soundtracks of Ennio Morricone. Post-rock tends toward the deconstructive, but Threefifty emphasize the opposite: building a unique sound out of various fragments and traditions they come across.

Stephen M. Deusner