The 2014 Electronic Music Marathon was one of the most gratifying experiences I have had as a member of WKDU. I was fortunate enough to spend a good chunk of time down at the station, catching many great sets and having the opportunity to chat with luminaries like King Britt and Dave P. Regardless of stature, I was struck by the humility and friendliness of all of our performers; it was truly a pleasure having everyone down at the station.
Author Archives: nickstropko
Words and photos by Nick Stropko
I think the most apt way to describe seeing King Tuff live is to describe the banner in front of which he performed. The words “KING TUFF” are spelled out in flames, surrounded by sunglass-clad skulls with varying numbers of teeth missing. The sunglasses have the words “KING” and “TUFF” emblazoned across the lenses.
King Tuff is not big on subtlety.
On Wednesday, Vermont-based garage rock weirdos King Tuff played to a packed house at the Church–part of the string of final shows this fall before R5 cedes the storied space to an after school group. Mr. Tuff (actually named Kyle Thomas) may be one of the world’s best ambassadors of dad rock, slinging shamelessly massive riffs with a bright blue Gibson SG through a beat up Marshall full stack, backed by what appeared to be two aging roadies for Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band exuded a certain skeezy charisma, affecting the part of rock star idols (replete with sweet moves) despite the dingy basement setting. They wasted little time in working the crowd up, which devolved into a mass of moshing entropy after two or three songs that only grew throughout the night. If you suspended you sense of disbelief and squinted just a little bit, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine King Tuff in the mid-seventies selling out stadiums. For now, though, he seems perfectly content being the freak working up weirdos in basements–and I seriously dig it.
By Esmail Hamidi
On Sunday, June 15th, I was given the incredible opportunity to see tUnE-yArDs and Sylvan Esso at Union Transfer. While it was not the only musical endeavor I had involved myself in that weekend -the previous night had been defined by an excursion to the Great Indoors in West Philly to see PILE and others, and the afternoon I helped out Nick Myers with putting Tweens on our airwaves – it was tUnE-yArDs! Nobody can beat the bizarre reputation of Merrill Garbus and her merry band. Since 2009, Garbus has been making music and touring relentlessly. The consensus among my friends was that it kind of had to be seen to be believed.
Before the show, I was also invited to interview Sylvan Esso, who were opening on this tour. The first listen won me over. Despite being almost entirely electronic, Sylvan Esso’s music sounds human to me. From a more technical standpoint, the production value is high. Amelia’s soprano is layered and complemented by the high level of deep bass in all of their songs. I struggle to pick out a structure in their songs, but that’s not a bad thing. They ebb and flow organically. The lyrics are conversational, and definitely have a stream-of-consciousness feel to them.
When I first met them, it was clear that Nick and Amelia make an extraordinary creative team. They welcomed me into their dressing room with smiles. There were moments during the interview where I definitely thought they were messing with me, the strapping young music journalist, but I was so okay with that. It was a pleasure to get to know their creative sides.
I’ll shut up now. Here’s the best chunks of the interview:
By Esmail Hamidi
If you’re a punk kid from Philadelphia, chances are you know of the Golden Tea House. Several nights a week, people from far and wide flock to this oasis of good times and cheap, all-ages, relateable music. The kitchen is where it all goes down. Bands set up opposite the stove, the refrigerator, the microwave, and the audience. Bring earplugs, because the PA is terrible. If you by chance forget them, the door guy probably has some spares, but be chill about it.
The illustrious House has been holding shows since at least 2012, which is grandfatherly in punk years. That whole time, it’s been cursed by terrible, oblivious writings about it (the article about DIY venues on Myspace is a glaring example). That said, here’s my shot.
Last Thursday, I went out to see Pujol, Needle Points, Ruby Buff, and The No-No’s. It was a curious bill, for sure. The No-No’s were first on for their first show ever- trading virtuosity for attitude and energy. The pint-sized girl lead singer yelled about all kinds of things. The drummer was loose and liberal with tempo and the dual guitars sounded like unhealthy chainsaws, but watching them was the most punk thing I did all week. They played a song called “I Wanna Hit My Head On The Radio,” which kinda rules. Seeing them made me want to start a band like them.
Ruby Buff took the form of a power trio taking cues from powerpop, post-punk, and other twinkly guitar music. They were really tight, and they had a singing drummer who got the job done. Their guitarist looks a lot like the guitarist from another great band, The Joint Chiefs of Math. They might be the same person, but my cursory internet research appears to indicate otherwise.
Needle Points appeared in the kitchen dressed in full psychedelic garb, to the delight of the modest Thursday night crowd. There was glitter, leopard print, eyeliner, and tribal paint. They truly pulled out all the stops. As an ensemble, they are an experience – two standing drummers playing a hodgepodge of random drums and cymbals, fuzz bass, slapback guitar, and a howling, possessed lead singer evoking equal parts Iggy Pop, Peter Zaremba, Syd Barrett, and Sky Saxon. All of this stews together into something that will make you dance your ass off.
They aren’t just some imitation revival act – I find that they bring an addictive energy and originality to live psychedelic garage music. I don’t know how these beautiful people found each other, but they did, and the results, in the form of Needle Points, are exquisite. I hate to attach something so immaterial as the beauty of Needle Points to material goods, but you should get their self-released record on your turntable soon because it rips. If you’re too cheap for that, get a very solid approximation of their live set and “studio” work from their live set on WKDU (see below).
Now, full disclosure, I had to leave before Pujol played, but they are worth mentioning. To me, their recordings sound like Wavves’ second record and Diarrhea Planet – straight ahead rock’n’roll out of Nashville with hipster tendencies and a rough, self-deprecating voice. Their new record, titled Kludge, is worth checking out.
Sorry for no pictures. I was too busy rockin’ out.
Be sure to check out our live in-studio set with Needle Points!
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.
By Matt Rotello
The show opened with Dream Tiger, a keyboard-heavy group that reminded me, at least atmospherically, a little of the Warpaint show I saw a month or two ago at the same venue. Their setup consisted of two interchangeable keyboards, a female vocalist with her own big pedestal of sampling pedals and vocal filters and whatever else, and a drummer who pounded away far more enthusiastically than anyone else in the band. I appreciate his energy despite the simplicity of his parts–it’s always nice when drummers aren’t bored. Their music was atmospheric; dark synths and ambience from the keyboardists, simple but powerful drum patterns, all overlaid with ethereal female vocals (which were occasionally downpitched to sound menacing). All their songs kind of blurred together, and they all felt more or less the same, but that’s not necessarily a complaint. The muted red lighting lent the whole affair a shadowy, almost ominous air, despite the relative gentleness of the music, and the songs flowed into each other pretty well. Overall I enjoyed their set. It didn’t blow my mind, but they were a solid opening act and their performance intrigued me enough to make me check out their recordings, which is really all you can ask for.
And then there was of Montreal, bizarre troubadours from some fantastic land no one’s been to. They were introduced by some weird hybrid of a masked wrestler and a power ranger, who threatened to kill us in the audience, then changed his mind and told us we were all beautiful. I like him. As far as the actual performance, I don’t know if I can really describe it. It was too fantastic, in every sense of the word. Of Montreal’s eclectic blend of whatever they feel like playing at the moment sounds fantastic live, every song far richer and fuller than on record, and they augment the performance with the most bizarre backdrops and stage antics I’ve ever seen. At various points, there were the aforementioned masked wrestling rangers, people carrying huge cutout trees with swirling light projections dancing across them, and a two person high bird with reflective wings that flapped slowly behind Kevin Barnes. The music itself ranged from peaceful indie-folk to psychedelia to the immense, jam-driven finale of flickering strobes and noise. I admit to being less familiar with them than I should be, so I can’t tell you how their choice of setlist was from a diehard perspective, but every song was excellent, and I didn’t see a single person not having a good time in the room, whether dancing or simply nodding their head and smiling. Anyone who hasn’t seen of Montreal yet should really get on that, because it was a fantastic experience all around.