Category Archives: funk

SXSW 2012 final wrap-up

Finally got some free time to finish talking about the rest of my South By Southwest experience… Lots more interesting music on Friday, March 16 and Saturday, March 17.

Friday, March 18 finds

On Friday I went to the free Eye in the Sky Collective party at Shiner’s Bar at 5th and Congress. I only saw one band there, but it turned out to be pretty impressive. Sorne performed these tribal anthems that really got folks excited. The singer had a high, powerful voice. There were two percussionists in the group. For one song, he got the audience to divide into groups of “Vulcans” vs. “Romulans” and get them to perform a chorus. Sounded pretty cool.

Here’s an example of what they sound like (It’s the song with the Vulcans and Romulans in fact):

By the way, the Eye in the Sky Collective bears looking into. It’s an organization working to establish a new business model that works for both fans and artists. Just off hand, it makes me think of John Pointer’s Patronism. If you give them your e-mail address you can get 28 free tracks. Sounds worth it to me…

After listening to Sorne, I had an inexplicable feeling that I should leave the bar and go wandering outside to see what I could see. (The fact that I had no bars on my cellphone inside Shiner’s may have had something to do with it.) It was a good decision, because I saw the coolest act, playing on the street. Gouda Music – a group featuring Ghanaian xylophone player  Kwame Kponyo Wadada. Apparently there are different lineups, but on this night he was accompanied by a cajon drummer and another guy playing a kind of rasp. They were busking at the corner of 6th and Trinity and had drawn quite a crowd.

Here’s a video I made with my cellphone:

I love surprises like that. It’s part of what I like best about SXSW. There was another world music group on the street Saturday night, playing some kind of Caribbean music, but I didn’t get to stick around and wasn’t able to find out more. If anyone got to see more of them and knows their name, let me know.

Saturday, March 18

We started the day at a free party at The Belmont (305 W. 6th), sponsored by an app called Tabbed Out (you got a better place in line if you had it on your phone – lots of us were downloading it while standing in line. Mine didn’t download all the way, but they let me in nevertheless.)

Best bands I heard there were Bright Light Social Hour and Cuckoo Chaos.

Austin-based Bright Light Social Hour was quite like a throwback to the best music of the ’70s, doing hard rock, funk, and even throwing in some disco. A few times I was reminded of Grand Funk Railroad. Just one of those powerful, balls to the wall rock groups like I grew up with.

Next was a group called Kids These Days from Chicago. They are kind of a jazz-hip hop group, quite young. At first I wasn’t feeling it, but finally they got into a groove and I started digging their sound. They did a song kind of mock-fighting with the crowd, “Shut the Fuck Up,” and put their young female keyboard player on lead vocal for a really kickass blues song. They’re young, but I think they could be going places…

Cuckoo Chaos

Next up was Cuckoo Chaos from San Diego. I actually discovered them while playing a mix on the MySpace music player (might have to give MySpace a second look – they found me some seriously good tunes) and was looking forward to them. They do a kind of African-influenced pop-rock in the same vein as Vampire Weekend. I liked their sound and their tunes. The guitar player had a way of producing harmonics from feedback that reminded me a bit of Gang of Four. Definitely a band to check out further.

Not only did we get to hear free music at The Belmont, we had plenty of free alcohol. I could’ve stayed there all day, but we had another party we wanted to get into later. This was quite a party though. It looked like the party your parents were always afraid you were gonna have whenever they went out of town. Lots of drinking and dancing. And I might as well throw in my bathroom story. By late afternoon, the men’s bathroom looked like it had been hit by a very unsanitary tornado. I went in and there was a very drunk guy standing there with a roll of paper towels, going, “woo, woo,” just swinging it around. He comes up to me and goes, “You think I should get that guy?” pointing to someone taking a leak at a urinal. I said, “That would be totally up to you.” So he went up and wrapped paper towels around the guy’s face. The guy turned around and said “what the fuck?” and drunk guy threw the roll of towels onto the wet floor and left. I decided to use the stall so no one could sneak up on me. I sure feel sorry for the janitor…

Sometimes it’s good to let someone drag you into a place you wouldn’t have gone otherwise, and sometimes it’s good to throw your hands in the air and wave ’em like you just don’t care.

To my surprise, one of the biggest highlights of the evening on March 18 was the Thre3Style show, a free event sponsored by Red Bull including major acts Erykah Badu, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Crystal Method. It turned out to be mainly DJ music and a lot of hip hop. Not something I would’ve expected to enjoy. But enjoy it I did. I decided to give in and get down. It was a hugely popular event – at one point, security guards had to keep people who didn’t get in from pushing the fence down. (The only real downside to the event was actually the Red Bull itself – I hate energy drinks and the only alcoholic beverage choices were Red Bull & Deep Eddy vodka or beer. Also not a huge beer drinker.)

I enjoyed Erykah Badu and The Crystal Method. (I’m gonna have to dig out my copy of Vegas.) I also enjoyed the DJ sets more than I would’ve expected, especially a DJ who called himself Big Once, Dan the Automator, who at one point was accompanied by an excellent singer (and I believe actress as well) named Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Badu did an interesting set, accompanied by a host of producers who refer to themselves as the Cannibinoids. The music was a kind of techno-hip hop, with a lot of rich visuals on the LCD screens. Psychedelia was a major theme, and everyone including Badu had names that sounded like names of illegal substances. The highly rebellious theme, along with the trippy visuals, made me think of cyberpunk. Points to Badu for doing something unique, but frankly I enjoyed it better toward the end of the set, when she performed some of her old songs from the ’90s.

In between sets, there was plenty of music to keep people dancing, a beach ball for people to toss around, and at one point, giant eyeballs. It took a while for me to realize there were cameras in them, flashing views of the crowd on the LCD screen. I only managed to graze a ball once, never got a good solid whack on it, but it was fun trying. There was also enough pot smoke in the crowd to nearly give me a contact high. A community joint came through my part of the crowd in fact – I let it pass me by, but still, thanks to whatever generous person it originated with.

We later went down to check out the madhouse that is 6th Street at the height of SXSW. It’s just barely controlled chaos. They close off the street, which fills completely full of people, desperately trying to cram in as much party as possible before everything ends. From the rooftops were laser beams, some of which fanned out and had smoke billowing through them, making interesting patterns. It’s crazy, all those people crammed together, but kind of an impressive sight.

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Filed under funk, indie, indie pop, indie rock, live show, music, one to watch, psych

Down and dirty at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011

Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011 came along at just the right time for me. I’ve been going through a bit of a musical drought as well as a real one. (I think a lot of folks will probably refer to the weekend event as “dust fest.”)

When I first got to Auditorium Shores on Friday night, I thought the place was full of revolutionaries — I guess because my mind has been “occupied” by current events lately.

Every other person had his face covered by a bandana. After eating about my second tablespoon of dirt, I finally figured out what the deal was. The grass is gone after about a year of very little rain and the wind constantly blasted us with dust. I soon had my own bandana. It was some protection, but I still inhaled enough dirt to start a garden. Chris, my concert buddy, had to miss the last day due to allergies.

I saw a lot of great shows, but the hip hop acts seemed especially enjoyable and relevant for me. Strange, since that’s not my main genre. Public Enemy and Kool Keith kicked a lot of ass. Also really enjoyed Henry Rollins’ spoken word performance on the last day.

Friday night, Nov. 4

We arrived a bit late and missed some good acts, but I enjoyed the hell out of Public Enemy. I thought it was interesting to see how mixed their crowd was, and how white. The fact that they were even at the same festival as Slayer tells you something about how much our culture has changed since the early days of hip hop.

Public Enemy performed a many of their old favorites and were political as expected — many mentions of “Occupy” and a rant about the unjust treatment of immigrants. “Fight the Power” seemed especially relevant given the social protests going on in the country and around the world right now.

Danzig Legacy (Glenn Danzig and members of the Misfits and Samhain) were scheduled to play at the same time as Public Enemy, but were a huge letdown for a lot of fans. Glenn Danzig was a huge primadonna, bitching about the stage and making unreasonable demands.

He went on stage more than 40 minutes late. The band was just starting to get on a roll when they cut the power at 10 p.m. Then he fought with people backstage and tried to start a riot and took off in a van. Always thought he was a prick. Lucky for me, I was more into Public Enemy anyhow and didn’t bother with the Danzig show, but my friend Chris really wanted to hear the Misfits and Samhain stuff and was really disappointed, especially since he forked over $80 to get into the festival on Friday.

Another group that deserves a mention: Four Tet. Some very good electronic music that made me think of ’90s Detroit techno. Somehow it made me think of revolution. I think that’s the rabble rousing music for the Internet age.

Saturday, Nov. 5

I finally got a chance to actually see Tune-Yards. Last time I “saw” them live I only got to see the top of people’s heads, but heard enough to get me permanently hooked. I thought Merrill Garbus and company put on a hell of a show.

Dan Deacon was a good electronic artist who knew how to get people moving. He had technical problems at first, but got them ironed out. There was some crowd surfing.

M83 put on a great show as expected. Although it was a bit hard to appreciate it fully as a minor dust storm kicked up right about that time.

Kool Keith was a pleasant surprise. He wasn’t even supposed to be at the festival, but agreed to fill in when scheduled rapper Rakim broke his foot. Keith packed his performance with old favorites, including some from the Dr. Octagon days. “Halfsharkalligatorhalfman” and “Livin’ Astro” were highlights. A lot of the songs were in that wacky vein, but many, like “Sex Style,” were hilariously over-the-top obscene.

I took a bit of a break from the music and watched a few acts from Wham City Sketch Comedy, a Baltimore-based troupe that includes the aforementioned electronic artist Dan Deacon. Ben O’Brian was pretty damn funny, doing basically stand-up and messing with the audience. There was a guy dressed in an egg costume who made egg puns, who was… not the funniest guy I ever saw. There was also a depressing yet funny lecture on human extinction from a guy pretending to be a drunk professor.

Swedish singer Lykke Li put on a hell of a show. Teamed up with the guys from Peter, Bjorn & John, her show had a lot of punch. Not only did she sound great, but her show was visually arresting also, with the smoke and flapping banners.

I didn’t plan to watch Spoon. I’ve been a big fan for years, but I figured I’ve seen them a few times already and I might want to check someone else out. But they were really on fire and I found I couldn’t resist. I had to stick around for the whole show. Damn good musicians.

Sunday, Nov. 5

We got a little rain in the morning, which kept the dust down. There was also a sprinkle of rain in the evening, but not enough to cause major problems or damage my new cellphone. Speaking of cellphones, the festival had a solar power recharging station for those and other electronics. Pretty neat (I also managed to sneak a bit of juice from outlets near the food booths).

The two bands that really stood out for me on Sunday were Austra and Grimes. Austra is a synth pop and electro-rock act featuring Katie Stelmanis, a classically trained opera singer whose career took a left turn when she fell in love with acts like Nine Inch Nails.

We Were Promised Jet Packs was the first band of the day. Pretty good indie rock. Lots of energy. They seem to be going places.

This was their best:

Grimes is a witch house act featuring a woman with a little girl voice, electronic beats and noise. Her music was catchy and hypnotic. In keeping with the witch house scene, her blouse had inverted crosses and a pentagram. A somewhat effeminate looking man danced on stage alongside her. She had good songs with a lot of energy. The crowd got into it.

Budos Band was impressive, with their Ethiopian-inflected funk. I saw them for the first time in a small venue at South By Southwest and didn’t pay much attention. I have since discovered how amazing they can be and I’m not the only one — they attracted a pretty good crowd. The bari sax player got props from the crowd by talking about metal. He said one of the songs, “Black Venom” was named for Black Sabbath and Venom and dedicated that one to Slayer, the death metal act that was the highlight of the festival for many. I loved the baritone sax and horns. I kept thinking about how much my dad would’ve loved them if he could’ve lived to see them. He used to lament the rarity of band instruments in rock ‘n’ roll.

I got a big kick out of Master Pancake Theater, hosted by Alamo Drafthouse. That’s something they do at the downtown Austin location, making fun of movies Mystery Science Theater style. This time they poked fun of music videos by Pat Benatar, Eddie Murphy and Michael Jackson (they made one together and was it ever awful), Boy George, David Hasselhoff and last but not least, Henry Rollins.

Henry Rollins followed Master Pancake Theater, giving a very entertaining spoken word performance. He talked about politics, his days in the punk band Black Flag, eating rats in India and traveling to Vietnam and North Korea. He didn’t mention Occupy Wall Street as I had expected, but he challenged the young people in the crowd to take charge of their destinies and become the world’s next leaders.

After that, I was pretty much tuckered out. I caught a little bit of the VERY popular Slayer show, but I wasn’t feeling it. Not enough of a metal head. Not for that kind of metal anyway. All in all it was a success as far as I’m concerned. The dust was pretty hardcore and I think having a 10 p.m. noise ordinance curfew at a music festival is ridiculous. But anytime I can make even one discovery it’s worth the money, and I made several.

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Rebirth Brass Band – latest brass band to blow me away


I recently made a trip to Waterloo Records and grabbed the first thing that jumped out at me: Rebirth of New Orleans, by the Rebirth Brass Band. It pretty much blows me away. I discovered them last Mardi Gras, when I was digging through Youtube, looking for music from New Orleans.

They remind me a bit of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, a group I got to see in Austin a few years ago. It’s a great jazzy mixture of New Orleans second line, funk and hip hop. Great horn playing. It’s also an interesting segue from the last batch of CD purchases I made, featuring Balkan brass band music, much of it created by European Gypsies.

In both cases, you have extremely skilled musicians from cultures that know what it’s like to go through bad times — yet they still know how to enjoy life and spread that joy to others. In short, they have passion.

This isn’t on the latest album, but it’s awesome — The Rebirth Brass Band in the French Quarter, in 2008:

Now check this out:

Kinda different, but kinda the same too, don’t you think?

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Tune-Yards – Whokill: not just another Graceland homage

Just got several really good CDs in the mail. Immediate gratification is nice, but so is that feeling of anticipation, waiting for something to turn up in my mailbox.

Tune-Yards – Whokill

This is the sophomore album from Tune-Yards – one of my best discoveries from my set of unofficial South By Southwest shows back in March. I like the album as much as the show, if not more.
It’s odd, funky, upbeat and at times really beautiful.

Merrill Garbus, singer and multi-instrumentalist, really has a unique vision as well as a great voice and a great team of musicians. Loops, ukelele, plenty of percussion and a definite African vibe. My reaction when I first heard her weird yodeling and drumming at SXSW was, “What the hell is this?” Then it sunk in: She knows exactly what she’s doing and she is brilliant.

When an indie rocker makes music with an African influence it usually reminds me of something I’ve heard before – like Paul Simon’s Graceland. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love that album and Vampire Weekend.)

Whokill doesn’t really remind me of anything. The African influence is there (I know Garbus studied music in Africa for a while), but it doesn’t really define the music; it just sounds weird, unique, and very good. Catchy even. It’s indie rock, not some kind tribute to an African style. Yet it doesn’t come across as a fusion. It sounds natural, like Garbus is just writing what she feels, not trying to put an ethnic spin on the music.
Every song is a winner, but “Gangsta,” “Bizness” and “You Yes You” are my favorites. Very funky. The album’s hits if anything can be a hit nowadays.
The delicate lullaby “Wooly Wolly Gong” is also growing on me. Really beautiful. Makes me think of Modest Mouse.

I’ll talk about the other CDs in my latest batch after I get through covering Elgin’s Western Days Festival, which will keep me busy for a couple of days, but I’ll go ahead and list them now: SheLoom – Seat of the Empire, Figli di Madre Ignota – Fez Club, Balkan Beats 2.

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Latest discovery: Radio Free New Orleans

Just found a great place to stream music: www.radiofreeneworleans.com It’s a feature of NewOrleansOnline.com, which is the official tourism website for the city of New Orleans. I’ve heard so much great music: people I knew already like Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Neville Brothers and Fats Domino; plus great acts that were new to me like the Rebirth Brass Band and the Soul Rebels.

The little player that pops up has several player options: vintage jazz, pop & rock, eclectic mix, contemporary jazz, rhythm & blues and gospel brunch. I usually leave it on R&B or eclectic mix.

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Filed under blues, funk, hip hop, jazz, music, r&b, roots

Latest discovery – Ocote Soul Sounds

Just found another treasure the Goodwill thrift store – El Nino Y El Sol, a soundtrack for a non-existent movie by Ocote Soul Sounds. It turns out the group that created the album is based here in Austin and has roots in two groups that I already love: Grupo Fantasma and Antibalas. Grupo Fantasma is a non-traditional Latin group in Austin that infuses cumbia music with funk, dub, dancehall reggae, and more. Pretty fiery stuff. New York-based Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra picks up where Nigerian legend Fela Kuti left off, with a powerful mix of funk, African grooves and politics.

Ocote Soul Sounds, around since 2003, is the brainchild of Grupo Fantasma’s Adrian Quesada (guitars, bass, drums) and Antibalas founding member Martin Perna (vocals, saxophone, flute, guitar, organ, percussion) and has since expanded to seven members. It’s definitely funky, but is more atmospheric and dub-influenced. At times the music reminds me of a Latinized version of Air. Other times it’s a bit like Thievery Corporation, which is on the same label as Ocote Soul Sounds – Eighteenth Street Lounge Music.

I feel like I should’ve known about these guys already. They are definitely on my radar now.

Here are a couple of videos to give you the idea:

There’s also a nice DJ mix on the band’s official website: http://www.ocotesoul.com/

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Filed under acid jazz, funk, one you might've missed, psych, reggae, soul, thrift store finds, trip hop, Uncategorized, world music