Senior Superlatives: DC Hardcore Edition

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Photo by Jim Saah, Director of Photography for Salad Days

Here’s something definitely worth leaving your apartment for: the brand new documentary titled Salad Days: The Birth of Punk Rock in the Nation’s Capital is now screening in select cities across the United States. Chronicling the formative years of Washington DC’s prolific punk scene, the film features interviews with DC all-stars such as Dave Grohl, Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye, as well as archival footage of said all-stars at their most bratty and baby-faced. (And, spoiler alert: in tie-dye shirts. It was the late 80s, okay?!?!)

In my recent interview with writer/director Scott Crawford, he seemed hesitant to dwell on the nostalgia factor, instead hoping to offer a complex take on an often hyper-romanticized era. “The best days don’t have to be behind you,” he says, “You gotta always think ahead.”

But for comedy’s sake, I egged him onto taking a U-turn down memory lane. If Salad Days was like a DC punk yearbook, I asked, what superlatives would you bestow upon some of the scene’s key players? These were his answers:

~*~Presenting Senior Superlatives: DC Hardcore Class of 1980-1990~*~

Best Dressed: “In my humble opinion, this title goes to John Stabb from Government Issue. He was the guy wearing paisley shirts and polyester pants at shows. So many patterns that wouldn’t even match. Although I think Ian Svenonious (Nation of Ulysses, Chain & The Gang) deserves an honorable mention for those suits.”

Class Clown: “Minor Threat/Dag Nasty’s Brian Baker, who first coined the term “emo.” He gets high comedic marks for that alone.”

Most Athletic: “Well, I was quite good at doing backflips! But I wouldn’t vote for myself, so. This guy Tom Berard (local superfan) was always going crazy at every show. Backflips, slam dancing… You name it. He had the moves. All of them.”

Best Dancer: See above. (**Author’s Note: Guy Picciotto was ROBBED**)

Best Hair: Ian MacKaye during his brief dreads phase in 1987. There aren’t too many photos from that time though… Probably for a good reason, who knows. Also um, Bobby Sullivan from Soul Side. He had some great dreads too. In fact he still has them.”

Life of the Party: “Pshhh. What party? We didn’t have parties in DC! Just kidding. There were so many people [who] were funny, intelligent, charming. I vote all of them.”

Salad Days: New Documentary Reveals Growing Pains of DC Punk

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Director Scott Crawford chronicles the gloriously awkward adolescence of a movement in Salad Days: The Birth of Punk Rock in the Nation’s Capital

Any music buff worth their weight in rare vinyl records knows the profound, lasting impact of Washington DC’s underground in the 1980s. Music, DIY culture and independent media would not be what it is today without the contributions of its local artists, musicians and activists, whose legacy is chronicled in the brand new documentary titled Salad Days: The Birth of Punk Rock in the Nation’s Capital. The film was spearheaded by two of the scene’s leading cultural archivists: writer and filmmaker Scott Crawford and renowned punk photographer Jim Saah, who met as teens. In 2012, they initiated a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, and with the support of close friends, neighbors, famed musicians, and their loyal fans, the film was fully funded within six days.

Salad Days Final PosterSo what makes this documentary so special? Although films such as Punk’s Not Dead and American Hardcore offered comprehensive takes on punk music, Crawford felt there existed narrative vacancies that 1980s DC deserved to occupy. We spoke over the phone, shortly after the film began its first wave of screenings across the United States. “In watching these punk documentaries, I didn’t [see] my experience,” says Crawford. “It wasn’t quite my world. There needed to be better representation of the people, of the music that changed my life.”

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Tanya Tagaq Defies Definition… Among Many Other Things

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The Polaris Music Prize Winner and Inuit throat singer reinterprets long-standing cultural traditions for a rapidly changing world

Some people may have first heard of Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq when she featured in Björk’s 2004 album, Medúlla. Others may remember when she won a Polaris Music Prize for her 2014 album, Animism. And many recall her recent internet beef with vegetarian stronghold PETA over her advocacy for seal hunting — one of the few means of survival in her home territory of Nunavut, Northern Canada. But if anyone at her latest New York show expected a quiet evening with Tanya Tagaq, they were in for something much more… explosive. Sporting a red plaid asymmetrical dress, the singer greeted patrons of Joe’s Pub, an upscale Manhattan venue, the best way she knew how.

“Hi everyone,” she said dryly, “fellow meat sacks.” Audience members chuckled over their cocktails and salads, their smiles uneasy against the candlelight. “Inuit throat singing is traditionally done between two Inuit women, facing each other,” she explained. “In precolonial times, they would sing directly mouth-to-mouth but… You know how Christianity is. Today you just get me.”

She promptly cleared her throat. “Sorry to everyone who’s eating,” she said, “I’m going to disturb you.”

Within minutes she sank to her hands and feet, the agony palpable in every inhale as she panted rapidly into the microphone. Comprised of a drummer and electric violinist, her backing band would spend the next hour hacking out a hair-raising, improvised medley of experimental jazz, electronica and metal. Stretching her arms outward and clawing desperately into the air, Tagaq alternated between earthy, guttural moans and the serene warbling of a child; addling the audience with joy, terror and heaps of sexual and postcolonial tension.

“Manifest. Destiny,” she began to chant, gasping for air in sync with the drums. Cheers emerged from the back of the room; did they cheer for the devastating impact of Western expansion, displacing thousands of indigenous nations since the 19th century? Or because she finally sang something they could understand? Another audience member half-jokingly wondered aloud if she would cough up a demon by the end of her set, baring strong parallels to European settlers’ accounts of their first contact with Indigenous people. As with the Christian missionaries who once banned throat singing in Inuit communities, it seemed only logical to this person that something foreign and discomforting could be a byproduct of demonic possession.

On the phone, Tagaq is much more placid than her stage presence would let on. “I’m gonna make another coffee,” she says breathily. “I’m too mellow today. Usually, I got a lot more piss and vinegar in me.” Once the coffee’s brewed, we discuss sex, caribou, and her new album Animism, released this week in the United States.
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Kat Dahlia Reps the Darker Side of the Sunshine State

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(Crossposted from MTV Iggy, 1/12/2015)

Almost two years since she garnered YouTube fame with her gritty single, “Gangsta,” this week Cuban-American singer-songwriter Kat Dahlia will finally drop her debut studio album, My Garden. An impressive showcase of her smoky alto and no-nonsense rhymes, her new album boasts production credits by TimbalandMissy Elliott and Salaam Remi (who has also produced Amy Winehouse, Nas and The Fugees).

Kat Dahlia’s style is undoubtedly homegrown in the 305, otherwise known as the vibrant, Caribbean landscape of Miami-Dade County. But the genealogy of her sound spans time, space and heritage; she cites musical influences from blues to reggae, classic rock to Jamaican dancehall. In an interview with NPR’s Alt.Latino, Dahlia recounts the time an industry rep pressured her to cater more specifically to the Latin pop market, by flavoring her R&B-cultivated sass with a little more sazón. She, therefore, penned the song “Tumbao,” giving nod to her Afro-Cuban predecessor, the late salsa queen Celia Cruz. “La blanca tiene tumbao,” she bellows in Spanish, attesting to both her own impeccable sense of rhythm and reverence for her musical and cultural roots.

The new album also features songs from her self-released 2013 mixtape, Seeds, including the overcast, cautionary tale of “Gangsta” and the slow burning trap jam, “Clocks.” Despite her big deal with Epic Records, she hardly loses her edge. She has a knack for bookending even the most sentimental hooks with a little bit of spitfire. Take in the rugged romanticism of the following lines of her most pop-friendly (albeit rated R) ballad, “I Think I’m In Love Again”:

I make fun of your belly
And tell you to do some crunches
And you say ‘well, yeah your ass jiggles’
‘Go do some lunges’
I say ‘fuck you’
While I’m thinking of you as my husband.

My Garden is set for release January 13 on Epic Records.

Chicago Rapper Tink is Ready to Reign in 2015

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(Crossposted from MTV Iggy, 12/31/2014)

Tink was just a junior in high school when she dropped her heavenly 2012 mixtape, Winter’s Diary. In collaboration with DJ Hustlenomics, Tink assumes the role of both MC and one-woman choir in Winter’s Diary, delivering snappy, playful bars and soulful, confessional slow jams with the same finesse. But as a particularly enterprising wunderkind, the high school student would not just wait around to become the next major-label lady rapper; Tink would double her production levels, putting out a whopping five mixtapes in two years.

It was in 2013 that her fourth mixtape Boss Up saw her evolve from a spunky cherub into a more formidable rap demigoddess. The unyielding, authoritative force of her rhymes caught the attention of renowned hitmaker Timbaland, who described his chance encounter with her music as an act of divine intervention. With the encouragement of Timbaland, she signed to his label, the Mosley Music Group, under the banner of Epic Records.

“I can’t stop workin. I need a [million] by age 21,” she tweeted earlier this year, setting the bar for 2015 sky-high. And she’s certainly on the right track: 2014 has been quite a fruitful year for her.  She’s scored a plethora of cross-genre collaborations with acts like Future BrownHow to Dress Well, and Sleigh Bells. She also throws down in an early (and for whatever reason, unreleased) version of Rick Ross and Jay Z’s “Movin Bass“ — in which she eagerly skips ahead of the veteran rappers to finish their verses. But her evolution as a rapper took a turn for the revolutionary in November, when she dropped her most somber track to date, ”Tell The Children.” A heartrending indictment of widespread police violence in the United States, Tink penned the song in response to the epidemic that hit boiling point in late 2014 with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. “A badge is a pass to do whatever,” she proclaims. “So now we living in fear of the people here to protect us.”

Tink is currently at work on her full-length debut with Epic Records, anticipated for release in 2015. Stream “Tell the Children” below.

Goodnight, Band: The Best Song Ever #26

1419698179BSE_Dec_1-700x598I’m sad to report that the December installment of my serial comic for Rookie Mag, The Best Song Ever, will be the last one. You can read the grand finale in full here.

Don’t fret, though: two years was a good run for the band! And I will remain at #TeamRookie as an illustrator. In the meantime, I hope to have the whole BSE series printed in an anthology zine by Spring/Summer 2015.

Thanks to everyone who enjoyed and supported this series. Now go forth and start your own band, webcomic, well-dressed friend crew—whatever you want! I believe in you. By all means, believe in yourselves, too.

 

Go Ahead, Call It a Comeback: The Jazz June Returns After 10 Years

the-jazz-june-nov-2014-Mike-OShea-photo-credit-use-this(Crossposted from MTV Iggy, 12/3/2014)

Established 1996 in the sleepy college town of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, The Jazz June didn’t expect to be relevant in 2014. The five undergrads spent years playing opening slots at basement shows, discomforting hardcore bros with their unusual, experimental brand of punk driven by weed, Coltrane and Dischord Records. But they would unknowingly steer the trajectory of emotive hardcore for years to come; particularly via their deeply ruminative, acclaimed 2000 release, The Medicine.

Long after their 2002 release Better Off Without Air, The Jazz June now joins the recent wave of comebacks by late ’90s-era bands, resulting in dozens of new albums and reunion shows that fans never hoped to witness. What’s been heralded as the “emo revival” of the past few years once seemed like the sole venture of punk musicians too young to have witnessed the heyday of recently reunited OGs like Braid or American Football. But it’s safe to say these bands may not have resurrected without the enthusiasm of this new generation of musicians, who now get to share stages with their heroes.

Among the most prolific artists of this new generation is Evan Weiss, a Jazz June fan and multi-talented machine of a man behind Chicago indie rock project Into It. Over It. With his production chops, as well as the support of indie label Topshelf Records, The Jazz June would reconvene to record their first album in 12 years, After The Earthquake.

(Read more here.)