Tag Archives: List

Five Artists Who Are Keeping Bay Area Hip-Hop Strong

Otayo Dubb

Otayo Dubb

The Bay Area hip-hop scene has certainly had its share of notable moments over the years, but the last scene to find favor with a large audience outside the region was the Hyphy era, which slowly faded into obscurity around 2010. But that doesn’t mean the Bay has gone quiet; the area has a long history of making noise, whether it was Too $hort, E-40, Hieroglyphics, Living Legends, or any one of the number of critically acclaimed acts in between. That spirit remains strong and vital to this day.

Diversity is the key: The Bay Area is host to a wide variety of of hip-hop styles, from ‘hood vibes to backpacker to the live band approach — there’s even some pop rap. Ironically, the result of all this variety is a spirit of camaraderie: artists support one another, keeping the Bay fresh by showing that an intimate scene can achieve longevity simply by covering all of the stylistic bases. That’s one of the reasons Bay hip-hop is still here, and still healthy and relevant.

These five artists are a perfect example of how fresh and versatile that scene remains.

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Five Flawless Punk Sets Live on the Radio

Punk Live Radio artwork

What is the best way to experience music: live or recorded? It’s an age-old question with a multitude of different defenses, explanations, and rationalizations. A live band is more visceral and immediate. A recording is exactly how an artist meant to represent their art. Live shows are spontaneous and unpredictable, a measure of an artist’s true skill. Records are made for the ages. Live shows have a communal nature. Recordings are often listened to in solitude. This question is especially relevant to DIY punk bands, known for their wild live energy and well-known lack of resources when it comes to recordings.

In-studio radio sets are a natural blend of the two experiences, through which listeners can experience both the live energy and immediacy of a band playing together and the controlled, dialed-in sound of recorded music. They capture the band at a specific moment, have the spontaneity of a live gig, and have a technical professional at the helm making sure it sounds good during the performance and for future listening. Many DJs, such as the legendary John Peel, have built their legacies around capturing sets that would often come to be considered essential parts of bands’ catalogs.

Bandcamp is packed with radio sets that have been recorded for both physical release and/or for plain posterity’s sake. Here are a few of the great punk and hardcore selections that are well worth investigation to get you started.

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Eight Bands Re-Inventing the ’90s Hardcore Breakdown

Moshpit at Sick Of It All - Berlin S036 - 1996 - photo by bhrgero.

Moshpit at Sick Of It All, Berlin S036 (1996). Photo by bhrgero.

The 1990s began as a prosperous time in hardcore, as countless formalized styles splintered off of punk’s most popular subgenre. The Revelation Records-sponsored youth-crew movement, headed up by Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits (and predated by BYO’s 7 Seconds), overlapped with a greater straight-edge hardcore uprising, helped by the militant likes of Judge, Bold, and Chain of Strength. There was also the New York-bred mid ’80s toughness of Agnostic Front, Sick of It All, Warzone, and Cro-Mags that was threaded through each raging mass.

Though plenty angry, the brazen, gutsy hardcore from the early part of the decade lacked some of the metal-tinged sophistication of some of its predecessors and went straight for the jugular—specifically, making the center of the song the chug-chuggin’ hardcore breakdown (the universal instrumental call to “open this pit up,” thick palm-muted rhythmic guitar jogging alongside the clicking, pinpointed thrum of a double-kick pedal and quarter-notes on the crash). Guitar tuning dropped to the fifth circle of hell. Lyrics became directives along the lines of “Listen up, shit is about to get violent.” It was all muscle, and about as nimble as a boulder.

The beatdown-hardcore sound (though the term “beatdown” itself derives specifically from the ‘90s New York hardcore scene, it grew to encompass a larger variety of mosh-friendly, breakdown-fixated groups) began to flare out near the decade’s tail end as nu-metal adopted its hamfisted intensity, and the Hydra Head and Relapse catalogs of intricate, complex metalcore grew larger. But as of late—and thanks in part to the cyclical nature of decade-defining trends—the ’90s hardcore sound has come back with a vengeance. These artists are leading a new generation of hardcore kids to pledge allegiance to the days of yore.

Absolute Suffering

From Springfield, Massachusetts, Absolute Suffering deliver a healthy-sized cadaver of classic beatdown hardcore. Their 2015 EP Death Is Guaranteed is dark in concept via title alone, and fatalistic title-track lyrics like, ‘There is no way out/ But beneath the surface / All hope is gone/ There’s no purpose’ do nothing to lighten the mood. Sludgy breakdowns are augmented by hot metal squeals and licks and are often slowed down to such a slog that you can feel the snapping boom of the snare deep in your guts. It resonates in such a way to make you think that maybe the tracking setup was hijacked from 1995. They’re out on tour in January with Jesus Piece.

Axis

AXIS. Photo by by Dana Nichols.

Axis. Photo by by Dana Nichols.

More akin to the hyper metalcore of Deadguy and Buried Alive than, say, Bulldoze’s rough-and-tumble breakdowns, Orlando’s Axis is representative of the strand of ’90s hardcore that relied on crazed timing and harmonics scorched into breakdowns. Their 2015 full-length for Good Fight, Show Your Greed, is meticulously constructed from the manic rhythms up, with the collapses of each track coming at obtuse angles rather than head-on. The changes are fierce and frequent, and frontman Rafael Morales manages to keep in sprint with every new twist like it’s no sweat whatsoever. Check for their collaborative EP with Seraph/The Light that’s dropping December 9th.

Bent Life

Bent Life. Courtesy of Bridge Nine Records.

Bent Life. Courtesy of Bridge Nine Records.

One of the list’s most loyal to the “all-in” crew vocal, Omaha’s Bent Life represent steadfast meat-and-potatoes hardcore, replete with me-against-me motifs. They shift from fiery thrash-treated wildness to hard, chugging breakdowns, offering front man Andy Voorhees enough space to stomp around stage.

Blistered

Tampa’s Blistered are one of the tightest in the new breed of metallic hardcore bands. Their 2015 record, The Poison of Self Confinement, includes triumphant Maiden-true, metal-riff harmonies cruising over torpedoing breakdowns. Near the end of “Path of the Coward,” a rolling tom rhythm transitions into a chugging turmoil that clicks along in a unison much adopted by hardcore bands like Earth Crisis in the later half of the ’90s. And let us also please look to the album’s glorious artwork: part fantastical ode to vintage metal, part grim foretelling.

Knocked Loose

KnockedLoose. Photo by Trevor Sweeney.

KnockedLoose. Photo by Trevor Sweeney.

The Louisville fivesome are one of the fastest-rising of the new crew of beatdown bands, having just released their acclaimed debut full-length Laugh Tracks via Pure Noise. Sharp and crisp, their drubbing double-kick rhythms and slow-snaking riffs direct the thrum of the mosh pit that splits open on the first track, first breakdown. Maybe more so on their 2015 split with Damaged Goods than on Laugh Tracks, Knocked Loose’s massive guitars subsume the clatter into a black hole, shoving tracks till they practically collapse in on themselves. On “Billy No Mates” you can pretty easily envision the 20-feet-deep semicircle of space being cleared out from the front of the stage as a swarm keys up.

Jesus Piece

Jesus Piece. Photo by Dustin Genereux.

Jesus Piece. Photo by Dustin Genereux.

Maybe the rawest and most hyped in the new hardcore legion, Philly’s Jesus Piece weld together beatdown grooves with occasional blasts of grind and Coalesce-esque metalcore flourishes. A track like “Coward’s Way” from their self-titled EP from 2015 isn’t afraid to stop on a dime and explode in an entirely different direction, practically changing rhythm with each fresh spin kick. This year’s Summer 16 Promo—pretty much two tracks and an interlude—is a greater, more congealed beast, with Aaron Heard’s vocals hammering at rumbling, subterrestrial guitar chugs and tight, flailing rhythms. The sky’s the limit with these dudes.

Mercy Blow

Self-described as “Music for the reckless youth,” Mercy Blow is a special kind of violent rage. Never too technically swift in attack, the foursome lurches forward together via a hellish fusion of smoldering low end. From their most recent EP Secondhand Suffering, the best cut, “Purge,” rains down in waves of cymbal whirr and filthy, thick guitar before pausing along the fault line to rejigger the breakdown and begin again. At the end of the track, when the rhythm is stymied and dragged down to a slow-motion deep stomp, frontman Zachary Wilson seems to be screaming in defiance of the song’s implosion around him.

Momentum

In the late ’90s, too many metallic-hardcore bands fell victim to the over-compression—and damn near digitization—of their guitars and drums. Records began sounding as though they had been tracked in panic rooms; there was no soul, and tempers felt thin. On their reckless self-released EP Bliss, LA’s Momentum writhe in wide-open space while rhythms feel so on the brink of tattering and unraveling that you have to keep on high alert just in order to keep a hold of something. A volatile mix of technical hardcore and crossover thrash, Momentum have only been in existence since July, which makes this record all the more impressive.

—Kevin Warwick

The New Face of Power Pop

power-pop-600

By the early ’70s, the Beatles had become something of a whipping boy amongst more experimental rock bands. Groups like The Stooges and The Velvet Underground favored raw riffs over layered harmonies and, in direct contrast to the sumptuousness of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, kept production minimal and gritty.

But despite this growing insurgency, there were still a number acts who fondly remembered the Beatles’ mop-top era. Badfinger, The Raspberries, and Cheap Trick all worked Who-style riffage through their early-Fab-Four template, and while they all netted some radio play for their songwriting prowess, they too were nonetheless often tossed off as “throwbacks” both by critics as well as stadium rock-oriented FM programmers. But by the end of the decade, those three bands—along with Big Star’s slow-burn influence—had sketched out the template for power pop, creating a light at the end of punk’s increasingly dark tunnel for bands who didn’t join hardcore’s macho march into the Reagan years.

The Knack were arguably the best known of the bunch, distilling the ’70s neo-Help! twists into tight, two-minute tunes with just the right amount of lyrical naughtiness. They had the sole huge hit of the first wave of power pop with “My Sharona,” in 1979. Toss in the Flamin’ Groovies, The Romantics, and then a hefty pile of awesome also-rans (the Shoes, Dwight Twilley, Paul Collins Beat, Holly & the Italians), and sure as hell shoulda-beens (Real Kids, The Nerves, Niki & the Corvettes, Milk ‘n’ Cookies, Shivvers), and the industry had itself a certifiable trend from about 1978-81.

That moment came bubbling back in the mid ’90s, in the midst of grunge’s big, moaning moment. As an antidote, loads of garage bands started turning to power pop reissues, like Rhino’s excellent DIY series, as well as the more accessible late ‘80s bands that sprang from the original trend. It was easy to find used copies of ‘80s major label power pop acts like the Go-Gos, the Plimsouls, the Bangles, and the Smithereens, and soon, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub, Lemonheads, Matthew Sweet, and Weezer were bringing a jangly sound to predominantly heavy alternative rock radio playlists.

Today, power pop’s influence continues to be felt in a host of new bands. Despite varying production budgets, all these artists stick to power pop’s basic themes: the timeless desire to get over that missed kiss, that jerk math teacher, or the waning weeks of summer. All of them specialize in under-three minute tunes, with three ringing chords and gum-chewing beats.

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Drum & Bass: The Next Generation

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Moresounds, on Cosmic Bridge Records.

When Goldie named his 1995 debut album Timeless, the statement was clear: his music was here to stay. A hip-hop kid, dance music enthusiast and budding producer, Goldie captured the zeitgeist of the time by seizing the forward-thinking, social utopia of rave culture to transform the skittish rhythms and rumbling bass of jungle—a British fusion of hip-hop, house, and techno—into a sleek, futuristic prototype called drum & bass. Twenty years on, Timeless has held up to its sonic promise, and the man behind it has been recognized for his contributions to British arts and culture with an Order of the British Empire.

Long seen as the more raucous member of the dance music family, thanks in no small part to its breathless tempos (between 160 and 170 beats per minute), drum & bass has aged into a British institution still capable of regular incursions into the country’s charts, maintaining a healthy independent following around the globe. One of the defining characteristics of the genre is its dedication to the cutting-edge. From cutting up breakbeats with surgical precision to creating alien atmospheres through synthesis, the music has always been a playground for experimentation. And while it hasn’t been immune to watering down, the common denominator between many of its most ardent practitioners is a love of innovation. As dBridge, a veteran of the music and founder of Exit Records, told me last year, “[drum & bass] is big enough that pop acts are choosing it as a career choice, while it’s still underground enough for experiments.”

The thing about futuristic enthusiasm is that it can be difficult to sustain. As the future becomes the present, we dull to its excitement. In recent years, drum & bass has recaptured some of its early vitality by cross-pollinating with techno, Chicago footwork and modern hip-hop, casting its ear back to the early days of jungle and electronic experimentation. In an ever busier musical landscape, drum & bass remains a haven for those looking to push their art in new creative directions.

The following seven labels offer a snapshot into the breadth of drum & bass available today. While many remain rooted in England—where the music was born—their rosters are as global as the music and its fans.

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