Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Live Double Whammy! Part One: Virgin Freefest

Well, I've been off for a long time but hopefully this long-ish post will make up for my absence. Had a music filled couple of days which I think are worth sharing.

First up was the Virgin Mobile Free Fest this past Saturday in Columbia, MD. This has become somewhat of a mid-Atlantic institution and I think this was the second time they did it for free. A surprisingly indie-leaning line-up was spread out over three stages, with a good amount of dance acts thrown in too. Oh yeah, and Ludacris was there.

Merriweather Post Pavillion, which is where the fest took place, is a pretty good outdoor venue, close to lots of roads and even rail. Needless to say, the event was packed (did I mention it was free?), and nice sunny weather only helped. Age-wise, the crowd was a mix -- I'd say it leaned towards the younger, but there were people in their 30's (cos how many kids listen to Pavement?), some young parents, and even older folks with their teenage kids. Not sure how I feel about that -- I'd like to be a cool young parent, but do I want to expose my little 'uns to the smoke, sun, dust, and extremely loud noise? Probably not. And if my kids are teenagers they should really be making their own way to these things. Young people nowadays! More on that later.

So the place was packed, and it was very hot. That meant some shade action for me, so I went over to check out Neon Indian in the "dance forest" -- a shaded area near the edge of the grounds that was actually full of trees. The nice thing about being slightly older, and being me I suppose, is that I no longer feel the need to be up front where the action is. I spent a lot of the time watching acts from the comfort of a beach mat in the shade where the sound was good but not ear-damagingly loud. Had time for a chat here and there too. Neon Indian was decent, some good tracks, but not enough to really grab my attention. Next up was DC's own Thievery Corporation on one of the main stages. I listened to them mostly lying down and thoroughly enjoyed the experience -- a multicultural dance music band like Thievery, with influences from all over the shop, really defines the festival experience for me. I started feeling the vibe while listening to their global rhythms.

I then checked out the cheeky funky sounds of Chromeo back in the dance forest. I enjoyed their fun take on 80s' electro influenced dance music; they reminded of Daft Punk without the pretension. Pavement were up on the main stage next. I don't know their music very well but got quite into the indie guitar sounds and lo-fi aesthetic. I took a half an hour break to see Sleigh Bells (started off good, but felt overly pummeled half way through -- noise for the sake of it, toughness for the show of it?) and then went back for more. After that was a haphazard attempt at securing lawn space while everyone bar me and one other person went to check out MIA. I wasn't too bothered cos I'd seen her after Kala came out and I think she's annoying now, especially after that infamous NYT article. So, lawn space hopefully secured, I instead headed once again to the Dance Forest to see Modeselektor. Their furious techno was under-appreciated since they were on at the same time as MIA but I loved it and got down properly for the first time that night (mostly cos I was by myself). Half an hour of Ashraf shape-throwing ensued.

Last act of the night on any stage were LCD Soundsystem. An odd choice of headliner, one would think, since really how many people are into them? But they attracted a big crowd who seemed to know their stuff. I wasn't sure about them myself to be honest. Up until recently I had a low opinion of LCD: they were an over-rated indie version of dance; James Murphy was involved with DFA, the home of crappy punk-funk; he was also fat and annoying. I checked out 'Sound of Silver' and was thoroughly unimpressed by it, despite the glowing reviews. But then I read about their most recent album, and how it was their last, and started to rethink (and to stop being a hater). Plus, I've grown older and started asking myself the same questions as Murphy seems to have (am I a bit past it for all this? Am I relevant or cool? What's the point to any of this anyway??). Lastly, my brother said they were great live, and that definitely proved to be true. They were another highlight of an overall great day of music, and 'Losing my Edge' brought a big smile to my face as it closed the night out. I will definitely be giving LCD another go, as well as picking up some Pavement.

Now for the fest experience overall. I haven't been to too many big festivals, and not a single overnight one. The ones I have been to have generally been underwhelming, but I think there are multiple factors that go into that -- any music event held at RFK stadium is going to seem a bit crap no matter what happens, and HFStival half a decade ago was no exception. I enjoyed this one quite a lot but I can't imagine ever wanting to go a festival and stay there for more than a day -- the dirt and heat and discomfort are tolerable when we're talking hours, but extending that to days and adding tents, portaloos, and no showering to the mix sounds like a recipe for misery to me. So you can keep yer Glastonbury! Another festival downer is the sheer amount of drugs in the mix, whether it be alcohol, weed, or tobacco. I felt smokier after the freefest than I have in a long time; it was basically as bad as indoor concerts used to be when smoking was still allowed (if you live somewhere where indoor smoking is still allowed, sorry. Now go wash your clothes and take a shower, cos you stink). And then there's the kids. A festival like this being free is a pretty great thing, but I realised that it's only free because it presents corporations with a captive audience and a massive marketing opportunity. The middle section of the festival site was entirely devoted to corporations, their wares, and their crappy free giveaways. And people lined up for that junk! Not only that but they seemed happy to be getting even more for nothing, even if it was rubbish. Ok, some of the giveaways were actually useful, like the beachmats Virgin were handing out if you recycled something. But the bright green Toyota bandanas people got and then actually wore? The State Farm backpacks?? NO, NO, NO! C'mon, the kids! When I was younger "selling out" was still a real concept; now it seems that having your music in an advert is an aspiration -- that or on the soundtrack to some shitty mainstream teevee show. But that kind of selling out is really just one part of the larger commodification of what used to be youth culture by large multinational corporations and The Man. Yes, I sound like a bit of an old punk at this point, but it's true! Kids should be taking full of advantage of corporate stupidity by enjoying the music and ignoring the marketing but they don't seem to be clued-in enough, or to even care that they're really only seen as consumers. Rant, rant, rant; I could go on, but I don't see the point. I had a good time, the line-up was good, the setting was good, and I only got one piece of free crud -- the aforementioned Toyota bandana, soaked in ice water, and used to wipe the sweaty scuzz off the back of my neck before being discarded. Why can't young people think like me, eh?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

El Iqaa

Let's see if we can get this music blog started up again. I hope so!

Over the last couple months or so I haven't really discovered any new artists to listen to. Well I might have found a new band just this past Friday, but they haven't released an album yet, so I'll put them on hold for now.

So I'm gonna go back to my collection. Allow me to introduce to you, if you haven't heard of him already, to El Iqaa, aka as Olivetones the visual artist, aka Joe Namy, a Lebanese-American who is an artist in many forms. He is part of Other: Arab Artists Collective.

I discovered his recordings, called "Detroit Beirut" around 2007/2008 and was re-listening to them yesterday. He has quite a few gems - many of which might be good for a film, hmm...

You can actually download the whole album right here, give it a listen. My faves are 'July War', 'While They Were Sleeping', 'Zeina', 'Al Arabiya', 'Olds 98', and 'Floating On a Nod' - there are about 28 tracks!

Joe also has a radio show called Electric Kahraba on WNYC, and I definitely need to go back to listening to it.