My friend Thomsen Cummings and I (Dr. Plotkin, if we haven’t met before) had the extreme pleasure of seeing Shabazz Palaces at the Union Transfer last Friday and were lucky enough to spend twenty minutes talking to them after their sound check. We headed out to the parking lot and listened to the Seattle-based duo, led by Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire, speak to us about their influences, their approach to creating music, and the future of Shabazz. They are currently touring their new album Lese Majesty, which you can check out on Sub Pop.
KDU: Just looking around, I’m seeing some interesting stuff here. What is that instrument on the back of your car?
TM: That is called an mbira and it originates from Zimbabwe.
KDU: Cool, can you tell me a little about it?
TM: I can tell you that where it derives from is a very spiritual place in Zimbabwe. It’s used to channel to the ancestors and to communicate with them and to communicate with other human beings. And also to party.
KDU: Of course to party! I read that for your previous material, you guys would rehearse, perform and record, and then change of the recording as it went. On the new album, was there any approach to recording it? Some of the lyrics and rapping kind of seem to go into the background.
IB: We don’t really subscribe to most notions of recording or approaches to music. So foreground, background, I understand what they mean in terms of the mix but not in terms of what one might focus on in any given song. It’s all one entity that’s moving forward sonically into your ears, and then hopefully into some categories and compartments of emotion.
We usually try and mix everything clear, so that there’s a certain undertow of subtle things, or sub-mixes if you will, that add to the groove. But to say the lyrics take the background, never. We’re rappers and we say everything we mean, but I understand what you’re saying. Sonically, you might hear it less loudly than you would in a normal thing but again, if you make music you should develop your own sound. It shouldn’t be a standard sound you try and fit into and that’s how we see it.
KDU: I was reading through the lyrics for They Come In Gold and I noticed a lot of contrasting ideas. The line “sepulchre, a stage alive by ghosts” seems to be hinting at a self-destructive nature, maybe about a lot of hip-hop music that’s out there.
IB: Some of it is self-destruction, some of it is destruction from outside forces that want to come in. Some want to moonlight inside our culture. They feel like because they dress up and wave their hands in a hip-hop style that they’re legitimate. And we just reject that notion. Self-destruction can be one destroying one’s self through some legitimate mechanism, but it can also be allowing destructive things to infiltrate something that should be held sacred. So that’s kind of what that song’s about.
KDU: I noticed you focus a lot on the idea of the self. Not in an attack on individualism, but you seem to be rapping against self-obsession.
IB: Well, it’s like this. Music has always been a universal thing. The individual thing is a directed plan by marketers in order to sell products. It’s not really individualism, it’s really everybody doing the same set of things disguised at individualism or told that. We’re not really trying to pick A or B in terms of what our platform is, we see it for what it is.
To have the calling of being a musician is a gift. We don’t really know where that’s from but we understand it as that. We don’t say it’s us making this music. We physically do it, the ideas come to us from somewhere, and we feel good to have the blessing of those ideas to come to us.
A lot of motherfuckers came before us that were just as good, if not better than us. So we understand where our place in the pantheon is, if you will. And we also know some motherfuckers that are hella filthy, but will never get the light of day – people we’re close to that haven’t experienced the notoriety, but have a lot of weight in our spheres of influence. We’re just seeing it for what it is, and that’s what you’re hearing in the music.
KDU: I’ve always been struck by the sound of the scream that runs through the entirety of An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum. How do you go about creating some of your trippier samples?
IB: You can come to a conclusion or a result of a sound in any way that you can. It’s not really by chance, but what happens is you record something or you sample something and you got all these processes at your fingertips. You can stack them, you can run them concurrently, you can turn them around, you can slow stuff down, speed it up… There’s an endless combination of things you can do to a sound. Also, whatever studio you’re in, whatever speakers you’re listening to, what headphones you’re using, it all affects how it might sound. When you’re doing it you’re not thinking “Okay I ran it through this, let me write that down. Then I ran it through that, let me write that down. And I had these headphones on…” The environment comes second to the instinct.
KDU: What are some musical acts that you’re listening to that are currently blowing your mind?
TM: I’ve been listening to this guy out of Zimbabwe called Jah Prayzah. And this kid out of Seattle called Porter Ray. Jah Prayzah plays contemporary Shona music [music from the Shona people of Zimbabwe] and Porter Ray does hip-hop.
IB: I like Ariel Pink, I think that’s the coolest shit I’ve heard in a while. I like the weirdness of it, the daringness of it, the creativity of it, and how all those things collude to make these songs that are poppy, but at the same time anti-pop.
KDU: What do you think the future holds for you guys?
IB: We’re always in a state of composing and recording. Right now, Tendai is working on videos for Chimurenga and we got videos for Shabazz coming out. It’s always about the proliferation of the instinct and the ideas that come from our instinct and just trying to share them. We been growing and there’s people that say they like what we do. There’s a conversation between them and us, where we put out some music and then we go on tour. We had a ceremonies of shows, we meet people, do shit like this, so we try and do our part by making some music and artwork. We got partners that are just dope. Cats that make clothes, cats that direct videos and films, so we look forward to working with them as well.
KDU: On the new album, you have a track with Catherine Harris-White from THEESATISFACTION, are you touring with them as well?
IB: No, that’s pretty rare. Obviously it’s fun as fuck when they’re around and we get to perform together. Hopefully we’ll get back through Philly, this is a good town to perform with them. We did that once at the Kung Fu Necktie, it was phenomenal.
KDU: This question has nothing to do with your music, or how you create it. If you were trapped in a room filled with food and you had to eat your way out—
IB: No, that’s a question I always ask people!
KDU: Oh, well then I definitely want to hear your answer then, you must have a good one!
IB: Watermelon man! Nice ripe watermelon. I ask girls that, seriously. But I say buried, buried alive under food. What would you want to eat your way out of? Is that your line too?
KDU: I think that opens the mental conversation a bit.
IB: It gives you a chance to see where someone’s coming from.
KDU: Thank you so much for taking the time to have this interview with us. Do you have anything left you want to say?
IB: I just appreciate anybody listening and checking us out. If you get the chance, come see the show one of these days.
Check out Shabazz Palaces’ dope new album and catch them on tour at a venue near you.
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.
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.
by Victoria Powell
Last week I had the chance to see Metronomy perform at Union Transfer. I had played them on my radio show the day before, but what I played was a heavily electronic instrumental piece from their album Nights Out which came out in 2008. I listened briefly to their newest album Love Letters online before going to the show, picking up that it had more of an indie rock sound. Not knowing what to expect from the show, I was already pleased when I arrived and saw the stage set up with a background design that looked like pink bubblegum and cotton candy. It is always exciting to see a foreign band perform in Philadelphia; there is a certain excitement about it that helps take me to another place for a few moments. Adding to the fact that they are from London, it almost seems as if their style and stage mannerisms come straight out of 60s and 70s mod fashion influences. And of course, this is very appealing to my taste. Metronomy should win an award for having the most fun on stage. I really liked that each member of the band was able to get a chance to sing solo at one point or another during the set. This made the whole experience very entertaining and enjoyable. I could not stop dancing for most of the songs and I am so pleased with my decision to go check out this show! Check below for the groovy music video for “The Look”.
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.
A good majority of the WKDU staff could be found at the Union Transfer last Saturday. The much anticipated return of Tycho, both in Philadelphia and in recording, led to a sold out show. Their latest album, Awake, has been a station favorite here, and for good reason. Mainman Scott Hansen’s project has evolved from solo to trio, whose recent live performances include a backing band. Beyond that, the synth-heavy music of Tycho is both tranquil and engaging. Each song will take you on a ride, changing vibes at every turn.
If we weren’t already excited for Tycho, a few weeks before the show it was announced that California natives Gardens and Villa would be the opener. I’ve been told by many that their live show is incredible, and after avidly listening to their two albums (Dunes, was most recently released in February) I was already interested in seeing them live.
We were able to get right to the front with no problem during Gardens and Villa’s set which was awesome because we were right in the midst of the band’s high energy set. The lead singer Chris Lynch’s numerous flute solos combined the poppy sounds of the synths with tribal influences.
Black Hills and Orange Blossom form their first release were personal favorites of mine. They also played a lot of songs from their latest, Dunes. The moody purple lighting on the stage was an excellent touch as well. They ended their set with lots of applause, and they expressed their gratitude to the crowd.
Tycho came on soon after, in which time the audience was chanting in excitement. Hansen got on the mic to explain that they were fixing some technical difficulties on stage. After fixing the problems, the show started with a bang. If you are not familiar, Scott Hansen is also a very well known graphic artist and it would be no surprise if he had something to do with the projected visuals. Serene settings of beaches and minimalist designs coincided with each song. The title track from Awake kicked things off. They also played a lot of songs from 2011’s Dive release as well. What I found most appealing was the live drums, which gave each song a different feel, something not heard in their recorded works. The entire set was mesmerizing and I don’t think anyone wanted it to end. Being right there by the band was also an amazing experience.
Be sure to check out Gardens and Villa’s Dunes as well as Tycho’s Awake, both out now!