I won’t lie. DJ sets these days bore me. The unending flow of generic EDM beats with the expected bass-drops just doesn’t do it for me. It takes a special kind of sound to get me to a club to see a DJ “perform”. Breakbot is one of those DJs.
MEAR ONE is a contemporary American artist based in Los Angeles. Having been labeled as “The Michelangelo of Graffiti” and “The Salvador Dali of Hip-Hop” he is considered by many to be Los Angeles’ most prolific graffiti artist. When he invited me to his birthday celebration I was honored. When I was told that Gaslamp Killer and Afrika Bambaataa would be spinning the ones-and-twos, I was geeking.
Held every Wednesday at The Airliner in Lincoln Heights is a club called “Low End Theory”. Currently they have a DJ residency of Nobody, D-Styles, Gaslamp Killer and Daddy Kev. Throw Afrika Bambaataa into the mix, and you’ve got an evening of hip-hop music that shouldn’t be missed.
When I got to the venue, the line to get in was already 50 deep, and the doors hadn’t opened yet. Thankfully, I was going in with the birthday boy and his crew. We made our way upstairs to the second floor, outdoor patio which overlooks the stage where the featured DJ’s would be spinning. Drinks were served, artistic discussion ensued and pictures were taken.
I made my way downstairs when Gaslamp Killer was setting up. As soon as he started spinning, I knew it was going to be a ridiculously curated set. Starting it off with some cumbria from Quantic (I mean, to me, that was pretty out-of-the-box mind blowing), I was extremely impressed with what he was able to mix in.
As soon as Gaslamp Killer finished his set, the patio started buzzing with anticipation. He took to the mic to announce his giddiness about having Afrika Bambaataa perform. After all, we area talking about one of the godfathers of hip-hop. An ambassador of hip-hop culture, whose message has always been a positive one.
When Afrika Bambaataa took the stage, the audience roared with approval. It was an honor to be there watching him spin his magic.
THOUGHTS: I’ve always looked up to Peanut Butter Wolf. Ever since he founded Stones Throw Records in 1996, and put out dope album, after dope album, after dope album, I knew that his taste of music was impeccable. Though I’ve never seen him DJ live, knowing what kind of music floats his boat really got me amped to check out his DJ set at Echo Park Rising. Though I’m not the biggest fan of DJ performances (specifically, EDM DJ’s), I was all smiles when Peanut Butter Wolf spun his records. Playing and mixing classic, after classic, after classic, it was music from my youth that, as cheesy as it sounds, made me feel young again. It was a party inside the festival grounds, as well as outside of the festival grounds. Hundreds of people were standing at the gates, only to be denied entry. Fortunately, they could still appreciate the music that Peanut Butter Wolf was pumping out.
The surprise set of my Sunday at Coachella was Rudimental; an electronic music, quartet based out of Hackney, London. When I was doing research on them before the festival, I discovered that their first studio album, Home, had reached number one, and was certified platinum, in the U.K., and after watching a few of their live video clips online, I decided to make them a band I wanted to check out at Coachella. I was not disappointed.
Their set was AMAZING! Right from the start, their MC and hype-man, DJ Locksmith, whipped the crowd into a frenzy with his boundless energy, running back and forth across the stage, cajoling the late-afternoon crowd to join him and the band in their fervor. Though internet entries describe the band a a group of producer/DJs, they were backed by a full band and a full set of vocalists; each holding their own performing like their life depended on it.
Their infectious sound, which I would describe as a mix of R&B, dubstep, house and drum & bass, was perhaps the most exhilarating, live (i.e. with a full band), party-music I have heard since … honestly, I don’t even remember. Though I had to leave their set slightly early because I had to catch an act across the festival grounds (thus missing the their Fugees cover of “Ready or Not” and the surprise appearance of John Newman to perform their hit “Feel The Love”) I can honestly say that I was definitely impressed with their live performance, and would no doubt purchase tickets whenever they are performing in Los Angeles in the future.
To check out pictures of other bands I was able to catch at the festival, CLICK HERE.
Earlier in the day I had watched Tom Krell p/k/a How To Dress Well perform, and having done some research before the festival about different projects he had worked on, I found a video on youtube of a track How To Dress Well performed on produced by Henry Laufer p/k/a Shlohmo called “Don’t Say No”.
Intrigued by the sound and the fact that he was apparently working with Tom Krell, I decided to buy his latest LP “Bad Vibes” and after a couple spins on my record player, I decided that I’d put him on the list of acts I wanted to check out at the Festival. I’m not a big fan of DJ sets- I’m more of a live band kinda guy- but having enjoyed Flying Lotus in the past year at the Hollywood Bowl, I decided to swing by the tent where he was performing to check out a bit of his set.
As the “house lights” dimmed, and the smoke machines started pumping out a thick mist over the stage, Shlohmo came up to his DJ console and started his set. His live set was a little different than I had expected. “Don’t Say No” and “Bad Vibes” are very moody records, extremely ambient in there overall approach . The live set still carried the eerie mysticism of the music that I had purchased and watched before the festival, but during the fifteen minutes that I watched, it didn’t feel as lo-fi as maybe I had wanted. Missing was the interstitial feedback and ambient hisses that gave “Bad Vibes” its unique sound. The live show was almost too “clean.”
Don’t get me wrong. The music was good … the filled tent of bobbing heads was proof of that, and I love “Bad Vibes” (which sounds amazing on vinyl) …. but like I said, I’m more of a live band kind of guy.
What do I love more than music festivals? FREE music festivals. Every summer, since 2008, the city of Pasadena transforms Old Town Pasadena into into a bevy of performance venues. Although this year was my first time attending, it is definitely a summer concert experience that I’m sure I will attend for years to come.
Not only is it an opportunity to discover new music, but it’s also a way to put a finger on the pulse of Los Angeles’s local music scene. I can walk over to one band’s stage, and if it’s not to my liking, on to the next … and did I mention that it’s also FREE? Okay, that’s enough of that…
I created a little schedule of the bands I was interested in checking out. It turned out the first band on my list for the day was a band that I already knew about: The Record Company You can read about the first time I heard their music (and check out live video clips and music links) by clicking here. Coming from the west side, the trek out to Pasadena took a little longer than anticipated. Luckily, I was able to catch the last 4 songs of their set.
It was the middle of the day, but they drew in a very, very impressive crowd. I asked the person next to me if they had heard of the band before, and she said that it just sounded good. She was right. Confidently commanding the main stage of the festival, they took their hard-rocking blues and set what seemed to be a very high standard for the rest of the acts that would follow.
Near the end of the set, lead singer, Chris Vos, abandoned the microphone and sang his call to the audience, “I feel good”, to which the audience more than happily obliged to respond with their own “I feel good”. I saw him do something similar at a more intimate venue, but this was more impressive as the crowd was significantly larger than the private affair I saw them at before. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, these guys have some serious potential. Not only can they rock the stage, but they can engage the audience to join in on the raucous good time.
It gets particularly warm in the Summertime in Pasadena, and I realized that my wearing a black polo shirt was probably not the smartest idea. I stepped into a Vans store, and bought a tank-top for $20. Meh.
I dropped by the artist merchandise booth to say hi to the guys in The Record Company. Though I had already downloaded their music online, I picked up a copy of their CD “Superdead”. The fellas were cool enough to sign it for autographs.
Next on my list was YACHT. I was looking forward to checking this band out since a lot of my friends seemed to like their music… at least, that’s what Facebook seems to be telling me. I had a good spot for their set and settled in to watch. Their set was fun and energetic, but for some reason I couldn’t get into the set. For me, their electronic/house sound felt a little anticlimactic after watching The Record Company. Also, I just didn’t feel that there was enough for me in terms of melody and lyrics. Their songs felt a bit repetitive. That’s just me though. I would assume that the huge crowd bouncing to the beat would have disagreed with me.
I met up with some friends during YACHT’s set for a brief moment, but as I usually do at Festivals, I left pack and did my own thing. I’m a loner, Dottie…. a rebel.
I visited a couple merchandise booths and picked up a water, then went back to the main stage check out The New Limb, but as I got settled I noticed that my music notebook was missing. Oi. I spent the next 35-45 minutes retracing my steps. I missed The New Limb, but I found my notebook. Ironically, I had left it at the KCRW booth (one of the main sponsors of the event) when I was signing up for a ticket give away. That was ironic.
I got a text from my friends that they were going to head to Robert Delong (who was also on my list, but I opted to check out The Peach Kings. I had enjoyed listening to their music from their website, and liked what I thought was a catchy, female fronted band that sang sexy, blues influenced music. Really, their EP “Handsome Moves” is pretty sexy.
Unfortunately, my high expectations may have spoiled the impression that they gave me … my expectations and the heat. The live show felt more psychedelic than blues, and having had my fill of psychadelice rock a few weeks ago, I opted to leave their set early and try to catch up with my friends at Robert DeLong.
It was a few blocks away, which in the 90 degree heat was barely bearable with my $20 tank-top, and as I was approaching the performance venue, The Playhouse Stage, I could start hearing Robert DeLong’s set. It sounded relatively good, but then I started noticing that his vocals were really quite flat. Honestly, I was kind of regretting my decision to walk the few blocks over, but I decided to carry on.
When I got there, I felt like I was in a club. People were jumping around and surfing the crowd. It was an enthusiastic crowd, but all I could really focus on were his vocals, which seemed consistently flat. I could understand that, though. The unbearable heat probably played a part in that. Probably the highlight of the set, for me at least, came towards the end when Robert DeLong mixed in a vocal stem from the Talking Heads recording “Once In A Lifetime”. I thought it was clever and I enjoyed it. I also thought that 95% of the crowd probably didn’t know who the Talking Heads were.
When his set ended, Robert announced that he’d be selling merchandise next to the stage, where I was standing, and added, “Over there, where I’ll be touching you and taking pictures with you. It’ll be nice.” <shiver>.
Since I was already at the Playhouse Stage, I decided that I would kick it there to check out Tanlines, a band that I briefly saw perform (about a song and a half) at Coachella when I was there this year. Tanline were supposed to get on at 5:45pm, but the heat probably messed with their equipment (I heard that this also happened to Robert DeLong as well), and they took the stage over 15 minutes past their start time. The sound for the first two songs was terrible, which was no fault of their own (unless they used their own sound guy), and I decided to leave. That’s a perk of going to a music festival. You’re free to move on.
Since I had left Tanlines’ set, I decided to head back to the Main Stage to catch Youngblood Hawke. The crowd for their performance was massive, and I was relegated to the very back. They were the last band to perform on the Main Stage. Their brand of alternative-new wave-electronic rock seemed to bring with it a loyal following. Their stage presence (at least from what I could see from where I was standing) was solid. You could see the members of the band using the entire width of the stage, frenetically pounding away at drums that seemed to be set up everywhere.
Though I had heard of them, I wasn’t too familiar with their music. Watching them perform, I really couldn’t get a grasp of what they were all about. For a minute, they sound like Franz Ferdinand, the next they sounded like Rusted Root (at least the percussive elements did), and towards the end it turned very bubblegum pop, almost like a of Monsters and Men, but with an edge. I’m over of Monsters and Men, and I decided to keep walking.
I decided to head up to the Levitt Pavilion, a quaint little outdoor performance amphitheater located on the top of a lawned hill in the center of Old Town Pasadena to check out Haunted Summer. They were still sound checking as their start time passed (7:00pm), but I comfortably grabbed some space on the lawn and stretched my legs out. I did want to catch a few songs before heading off to catch the final band on my list at 7:30pm.
Their sound check was fun. They jammed out to a little Jackson5 (“I Want You Back”) but I knew that that wasn’t going to be the sound of their music. The lead singer asked for more reverb all around stating, “As much reverb as you can. Take us into space.”
They started their set with a song called “1996”. It was very ethereal, and if I weren’t sitting up front, I would have just lay on the grass and closed my eyes. Their music is particularly effects heavy, which in a live setting may take away a bit from the vocals, but I don’t really think that the vocals are necessarily the focus of this band’s music. I enjoyed it and wish I didn’t have to leave their set so early. I couldn’t embed their playlist here, but check them out on Facebook or Reverb Nation.
The last band, and probably the least known band, I wanted to see was a band called The Likes of Us. They were set to perform in a wine bistro (I’ve omitted the name, cause I’m a nice guy). I got there, and, already feeling a little out-of-place wearing a Van’s tank-top in a wine-bistro, the host of the restaurant told me that I couldn’t come in to just see the band, and that I needed to make a reservation for a seat. WTF?! Um, that wasn’t noted in the schedule…
I’m not the confrontational type, so I made a “reservation” and ordered a beer. I noticed there was some space near the band, and I asked if I could stand over there, promising that I wouldn’t get in the way of anybody. The answer was no. There was a couple that invited me to sit with them, which I appreciated, and I joined them for a minute. The band started playing, but it was hard for me to hear or see them from where I was sitting. I pulled out my notepad, just to take a few notes from earlier in the day, when I noticed the host glancing at me scribbling in my notebook. I think that I may have intimidated him a bit. I saw this as an opportunity.
After a few songs, I told the nice couple that I would be abandoning them to sneak to a better spot. I went to the bar, and ordered another beer. I took my beer and went where the host told me I couldn’t stand. I kept scribbling in my notebook. I wasn’t bothered. Huzzah!
I like the music that The Likes Of Us perform. Granted, since they were performing in a wine bar, some of their set was covers of jazz and pop standards. But their original tunes, are real keepers. As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t posted any videos from the day here, and that’s because my phone would have run out of batteries in first few hours. So, I’ve posted a few of their video from youtube here:
Their original tunes are light-hearted and charming. The stylings reminded me of Jason Mraz back in his Live at Java Joe’s days. The lyrics are pure, and the harmonies are simple, and that’s what draws me to their sound. Even in the hustle and bustle of the busy restaurant, they sounded as good live as they did on the recordings I had previously heard.
Since they were playing to a dinner crowd, their set was going to be considerably longer than that of the other performers of the day. I had dinner plans elsewhere, so I had to leave their set early. I caught them between songs, told them I enjoyed what I had heard, and picked up one of their CDs (which they were giving away for free!). As I headed out of the venue, the host and I made eye contact. I thought about apologizing, but I just kind of stared at him as I left the restaurant. I bet he was wondering what I wrote in my notebook…