Tag Archives: Jonathan Plotkin

Concert Review: Disclosure at Union Transfer (6/6/2014)

When A Fire Starts To Burn — Disclosure

When A Fire Starts To Burn — Disclosure

By Jonathan Plotkin

Wow okay so this is mad late but whatever. I saw Disclosure like a month ago and due to a combination of being super busy at work and super lazy when I’m not at work, it’s taken me this long to get this review out. I know you’ve been on the edge of your seats wondering how I enjoyed the Disclosure show at the Union Transfer last month and now you’re finally going to find out.

Full disclosure (pun fully intended because punz rool): I’m not “the biggest fan” of Disclosure. I’ve heard their album Settle, thought it was really cool, and then kind of forgot about it. I haven’t heard their early stuff, but I thought that album was dope and figured their show would be pretty fun. I honestly didn’t even plan on see them- I was supposed to see Kishi Bashi but then a fellow DJ at the station handed me a pair of free tickets to the thrice sold out show, so I couldn’t really say no. Not knowing what to expect, I finally rolled up some time after 9 PM, just in time for that awkward transition after the opener to the main act. I met up with my friend Chris (@CrispyChrisX) who proceeded to tell me all about house music until Disclosure got on. A good primer for the coming act, considering I missed Broadzilla since I got there late.

When Disclosure finally got to the stage, I didn’t really know what they had so many instruments set up. They had a drum kit, keyboards, bass guitar… I thought these guys were just DJs? Turns out one of the reasons their work sounds so rich and full is because they play real instruments! Of course, everyone reading this probably thinks I’m a total noob but WHATEVER man I think learning new things is great and I just wanted to share that excitement with you guys.

Anyway.

The crowd was super pumped, and since the show was super sold out, the Union Transfer was more packed than I’d ever seen it. Disclosure used that to their advantage though and got the jams pumping right away, forcing the close-packed crowd to dance with “F For You”, leading into “When A Fire Starts To Burn.” After that, they played some stuff that I didn’t recognize, but Chris told me was some of their old stuff updated with new twists (I later looked it up- I remember at least one of their old songs they played was “Flow” which sounds good on YouTube, but was incredible live). This whole time, the brothers are singing, playing live drums, and doodling around on the bass. If there’s anything I love in house music, it’s a good bassline and watching it being pulled live from an instrument is just too cool.

The duo moved back to more famous stuff from their album, which due to their excessive touring schedule was incredibly tight and well rehearsed. They kept it fresh though, adding all sorts of new elements to songs that undoubtedly were getting a little old for them. At one point, Chris turned to me and complained that he didn’t think they sounded “big enough” and that one of the drops should have gotten more of a reaction. Luckily, their next song was crowd favorite (or at least MY favorite) “Grab Her” and they had it turned up to 11 the whole time.

I especially liked how professional their light set up was. For two brothers who are barely old enough to drink at some of the shows that play in the USA, they had laser effects and projections rivaling well established bands like Chromeo and and Emancipator. The Disclosure mask made quite a few appearances, floating around the brothers’ heads and (somewhat creepily) singing along the last few tracks. From a projection display that reminded me of the video for Simian Mobile Disco song “Cerulean” to lighting the whole stage red during “When A Fire Starts To Burn”, the show was just as visually stimulating as could be (speaking of which, when they played “Stimulation” the crowd went wild with how pumped up the sound was).

Finishing the track “Help Me Lose My Mind” with plenty of audience help on the vocals, the brothers walked off stage. The crowd started chanting “Latch! Latch” and when Disclosure finally walked back on stage I thought the roof was going to fly off. Closing with a soul splitting rendition of “Latch” in which everyone sang (even me, despite only learning the lyrics after the first verse). It was a beautiful show and the vibes during it the whole time were just fantastic. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend taking the time to see Disclosure live if you get the chance. No matter if you’re feeling happy or sad, tryna dance or tryna chill, Disclosure put on one hell of a show.

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Concert Review: Chet Faker @ Union Transfer (5/16/2014)

Or: Like James Blake You Can Fuck To

By Jonathan Plotkin

A late show at a venue typically means the place has been overbooked and the second guys aren’t that important. But Friday night’s late performance by Chet Faker at the Union Transfer was nothing short of gorgeous. Starting us off was Sweater Beats, who despite his moniker, performed on stage wearing a jacket. Not having heard of Sweater Beats before tonight, I had really hoped it would be a duo wearing reallyridiculoussweaters and dropping beats, but apparently it’s just one guy from New York named Antonio Cuna. Maybe sweater describes his beats themselves? I suppose one word that sprung to mind during his set was “wooly” but that’s probably me just trying to make this stupid analogy work. Despite some technical difficulties early on, Sweater Beats rocked it for about 45 minutes with slowed down bass that rattled your chest and lifted your body with each beat, only to drop it on the next. He reminded me somewhat of Sweet Valley, though a bit less aggressive. I didn’t want to break stuff so much listening to Sweater Beats as I did just groove. Suffice to say, I’ll be checking out more of his stuff in the future.

As for the main attraction, Chet Faker (born Nicholas James Murphey- his stage moniker is an homage to Chet Baker) came out to a darkened stage (wearing a sweater, I might add). His set up was simple: a small keyboard, a board with some beats making jawns, and a laptop off to the side. Unlike the Chromeo show a few days beforehand, there was no elaborate lighting scheme and he relied on just the house lights. I actually liked this stripped down approach: for just one dude for whom being an independent artist is a huge part of his aesthetic, anything more would have felt showy. Plus, the dark purple lighting kept the mood, well, moody throughout the show.

Chet Faker wasted no time in getting soulful- starting off with “I’m Into You” and “Terms and Conditions”, he got the crowd dancing all sexy like right away. He later moved into material from his new album Built on Glass with “To Me” and “Blush”, a personal favorite of mine. WIth its high energy the crowd went from bumping and grinding into jumping and sweating without missing a beat.

But he didn’t just play stuff from previous releases. About half an hour in, he turned to the crowd and said “I really love electronic music but it’s too easy to just hit play. I think it’s really important to have a section of your set where you can fuck up, that’s what makes a musician. This is the part where I fuck up.” He then proceeded to improvise for several minutes, looping live beats and keyboards. Though not as soulful or danceable, to me it was the most impressive part of the show, especially since I didn’t hear him fuck up at all (though to be fair, how would I know? He laughed about that afterwards, telling the audience “maybe I fucked up, maybe I didn’t”).

He brought it back to the beginning of his career soon afterwards, playing another track off of his debut EP Thinking In Textures (whose name unfortunately escapes me, just trust me it was great). Finally, he played the track that we had all been waiting for and made him famous: his beautiful, smooth-as-silk cover of “No Diggity”, encouraging the audience to “get sexy with this one”. And ooh boy did we. I’m pretty confident that most of the people at that show got laid afterwards (I would have joined the fun, but I went alone and though I did run into someone I knew, it was a guy I went to middle school with and I’m not the biggest fan of man parts).

Wait, did I say everyone had been waiting for “No Diggity”? He closed with “Talk Is Cheap” and the crowd went wild. More than happy to follow his request to sing along, the roof of the Union Transfer swelled with the combined voices of hundreds of people all unified in vocal harmony (I thought we sounded pretty good but maybe his mic was just turned up enough to drown out our crappy voices).

Chet Faker left soon after that, bowing and thanking us once more for being such a wonderful crowd, sounding completely sincere. His humbleness tied nicely with a mid set speech describing his nature as a DIY musician and I really just liked the guy. It didn’t hurt that when he first walked on stage he gave several dozen “Happy Birthday” balloons out the the audience. Apparently he found them backstage and figured it had to be at least one person’s birthday. What a stand up guy.

Happy birthday to someone.

Happy birthday to someone.

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…Sleep Deprivation, Hoagies, and Yoga

By Jonathan Plotkin

This was written last fall, but slipped through the cracks until Jonathan fortunately remembered and sent it over to me. 

I recently had a bit of an unusual night. I went out bar-hopping with a friend and some girls he knew much later than I normally would (we didn’t start drinking until after midnight, which I felt was rather late for a Wednesday night). Afterwards we filled up on Wawa hoagies and by the time I got home at 4 AM, I was stuck with a choice: Should I pull an all-nighter and exercise at 6:00 AM, or sleep until noon and contribute nothing to better society?

Being the headstrong individual that so many describe me as, I decided to start my day early so I could crash right after. I managed to keep myself awake for 2 hours by snacking on chocolate covered espresso beans, until I was able to head to the Bikram yoga studio. For those who don’t know, lack of sleep, meatball hoagies, and whiskey typically aren’t a great way to warm up for 90 minutes of intense exercise in a heated room. The mind turns to anything else to distract it, which for me is always music.

What with the sleep deprivation and trying to work out the alcohol from my system, I began to have bizarre waking dreams synched up to whatever music was stuck in my head. Having recently just seen Spiritualized live, I couldn’t get their music out of my mind. I tried to recall exactly how specific songs went, causing a strange, Fantasia-like series of flowing colors to move behind my eyelids. As soon as I got home, determined to hear the space/psychedelic/gospel rock of Spiritualized the way it was meant to be played, I cued up Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space on my stereo and settled into my bed for the proper listening experience.

Of course, having been up for nearly 24 hours at this point, I immediately fell asleep, with iTunes just playing through their entire catalogue (just three albums, but still a sizable length of music at over 3 hours long). Now I don’t know how many of you have tried to go to sleep with blinding daylight outside, but it’s really hard. Your body naturally wants to be awake when the sun is out (no seriously, it’s science) and trying to fall asleep at 8 AM when you’re used to waking up then is damned near impossible. So impossible, in fact, that I kept waking up from bizarre whiskey/yoga dreams to hear the sweet sounds of Spiritualized playing in my room.

These dreams seemed much more like a Hollywood production than typical the random firings of my subconscious. They had plot structure that (nearly) made sense, real characters that weren’t just bastardizations of people I knew in reality, and music. Oh, the music! It was like having an honest-to-goodness soundtrack playing the entirety of my dream. A chilled out party had “Cop Shoot Cop” playing in the background. I went on a bike ride and I heard “Headin’ For The Top Now” playing as I climbed the hills. At one point, I met a girl and “Mary” played while she described the most tragic life my subconscious had ever imagined.

I honestly can’t think of a poetic way to finish this, I just wanted to share with you all the joy that comes with staying up all night, eating and drinking too much before a yoga class, and finally sleeping while the music you’ve had stuck in your head for the last hour and a half is playing into your ear holes. Bottom line: music + sleep = awesome and I definitely recommend that’s how you spend your next all-nighter, no matter what causes it.

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Back to the Retro-Future: How the Sounds of Last Century Are Making the Music of a New Millennium

By: Jonathan Plotkin

You slowly drive your Pontiac Grand Am along the darkened alleys of the underbelly of a diseased city, where neon signs shine permanently half lit through the neverending rain. Or maybe you’re cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway in your Ferrari Testarossa Spider, roof down, wind in your hair, shades on even though it’s midnight. Or perhaps you just broke into the mainframe of MegaCORP’s servers and now are currently whizzing your way down the electronic super highway with their top secret files in your grasp. Whatever you find yourself doing right now, the soundtrack to your various exploits all sounds surprisingly familiar and yet new at the same time.

Retro-futuristic music, as I like to call it, is music that sounds like it was written in the 80s but somehow reaches into the future with its sound. It conjures a similar aesthetic to cyperpunk fiction, envisioning a neon-soaked synthesizer-addled future that in some alternate timeline is occurring at this very moment. My first experience with the sound was probably the movie Tron: Legacy, but it wasn’t until a few years later when I saw Drive did I really understand there was more than one artist making music like this. Who would have thought that there was a whole subgenre of people making purely electronic music that emphasized synthesizers as their main body of work, instead of using them just for effects?

What makes retro-future music so unique in my mind is how well it inspires various emotions without any lyrics or even standard song structure. While of course those are never required to make a great track, I find it rather impressive how tracks like “Retrogenesis” by Perturbator or “Hydrogen” by M|O|O|N never fail to make me think I’ve been transported to a decaying city to perform horribly violent crime of some form or another. The pulsing basslines and dark, moody synths conjure up entire cityscapes in my mind that could easily have acted as backgrounds for Blade Runner. Conversely, artists like Kavinsky and Starcadian have a lighter mood in their work. The former’s “Nightcall” (i.e. that song from Drive) and the latter’s album Sunset Blood have a slower beat and generally feel less claustrophobic. They make me want to slow down and take in the sights around me, instead of speeding through the grime to get out of town. Meanwhile, other artists strive for expansive sound. Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner could be argued to have kick-started this entire genre, while Pilotpriest’s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack instantly transports the listener to a world light years away from ours, with wide open galaxies where starships zip across the skies and attacks ship burn off the shoulder of Orion.

Of course you can’t classify a huge genre of music like this into 3 groups, despite the vast amount of evidence that supports the validity of the rule of three in writing. Artists like Com Truise make music that sounds more like it belongs in a late 80s or early 90s film about computer hackers where no one really understood how computers worked (like the original Tron or Hackers if the latter didn’t have so much drum and’ bass). Then there’s bands like Kraftwerk, where you wonder if they count as retro-future since it wasn’t retro when they wrote their stuff but they sure sounded like the future. And of course there are composers for indie video game soundtracks, who more and more frequently will post the entire soundtrack on the internet for at home listening. These artists sometimes combine a multitude of genres, from downtempo, to synth, to chiptune to create tracks that in one way, each tell a small part of a larger story.

But now we’re splitting hairs, so who cares? The important thing is that even in this age of easy technology, where everyone who has an internet connection can become a musician, there is still really unique and intriguing stuff out there. Why not pursue sounds of the past to create the music of the future? Retro-futuristic music might inspire you to write the next great cyberpunk novel or just put on a pair of headphones and enjoy the ride. Either way, the sounds are out there, for you to do with them what you will.

Looking to start listening to this genre but are struggling for a good jumping off point? The soundtrack to Drive, though largely an original work composed by Cliff Martinez, has some wonderful tracks by Kavinsky, Chromatics, and more. The Hotline Miami soundtrack is over 90 minutes of pulsing songs by Sun Araw, Jasper Byrne, and many other equally talented artists. Additionally, be sure to tune into Midnight Drive, Tuesdays from midnight to 1 AM with Peter Liu on WKDU 91.7 FM for the best 80s inspired synths, the perfect way to enhance your late-night driving experience.

For a wider range of electronic music, check out Jonathan’s personal show, Dr. Plotkin’s Majikal Love X-Perience, Wednesday nights from 10 PM to midnight on WKDU and be sure to follow him on Twitter @doctorplotkin for more musings about music.

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Concert Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor (October 16, 2013)

Courtesy of Flickr user Kmeron

Courtesy of Flickr user Kmeron

By Jonathan Plotkin

Let’s just get this out of the way now: I don’t listen to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. My friends have told me all about them and I’ve seen that scene in 28 Days Later that uses one of their songs to show the utter hopelessness of waking up in a post-apocalyptic world. But save for the one time I heard Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven while driving my friend back from New York, I’ve heard more about them then I’ve actually heard them. So when  I saw them on on Wednesday I really had no idea what to expect.

Post rock, much like prog rock, is a genre I’ve always wanted to get into but never got around to doing so, mainly because the songs are so long and dense. That doesn’t stop me from reading about post rock while I should be doing homework though so I have a good idea about what the genre means. I always hear it described as “music for the Apocalypse” or “the soundtrack to the end of the world.” This has colored my opinion of the genre, but it’s more like looking through a foggy window instead of just walking outside and climbing some trees.

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Interview with Young Pilgrims (September 10, 2013)

Courtesy of The Key

Courtesy of The Key

By Jonathan Plotkin

Young Pilgrims are an indie punk revival band from Philadelphia. Earlier this summer, they released their debut album Kyoko and a Rocket to the Moon on their Bandcamp, have been playing places such as Don’t Tread On Me, Jolly’s, and North Star Bar, and were recently featured as artist of the month by The Deli Magazine. On September 10th, after their last show, I got the chance to sit down with the band and talk it out for a few minutes.

Jonathan: So you guys are Young Pilgrims, what are your names?

Sean: I’m Sean Brown.

Zack: I’m Zack.

Jonathan: And what instruments do you play?

Sean: I play the guitar and I sing.

Zack: I play the bass guitar and I sing sweet harmonies.

Jonathan: And is there a drummer in the band?

Sean: Nick Boonie. We have two drummers, actually.

Jonathan: Who did you record the album with?

Sean: Jesse Appel.

Jonathan: And they’re both not available right now.

Sean: That’s right, they both died in the accident.

Jonathan: Right, the accident. We’ll get back to that totally true and not made up story later. So how did you guys meet in order to form your band?

Zack: High school. A lot of people went away to college and their band broke up and we made a new band.

Sean: Can I… can I tell that better than you did?

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