The Lowlands Festival (full name: A Campingflight To Lowlands Paradise, happening August 19-21) is a hard thing to get away from on the Dutch festival calender. With some 55.000 paying visitors, and over 200 acts on more than 10 stages, you could say it’s the highpoint of the festival season. For some, it’s the closest you can come to the garden of Eden. BAMM.tv will be out in force to give you ample insight into and coverage of this monumental 3-day event. In order to get the party started, below is day-to-day list of acts to watch. We will also be shooting some footage for a very special documentary project the BAMMsterdam crew have been working on, more of which we’ll share early september (so watch this space!)
The first day starts off strong with British goth-punk garage kids The Horrors at the India stage, an indie-dominated tent. From what I’ve heared, their third album Skying might really give these guys wings. Canadian songwizard Destroyer is another must-see at the small open air stage Lima. His 9th album Kaputt is a slick piece of 80’s jazz-pop-rock magic. I’ll definitely be hanging out there for the performance from Jungle By Night. Withouth doubt the revelation of this summer. Nine kids from Amsterdam, teenagers for the most part, playing insanely groovy afrobeat gems. Enough to put a smile on any Nigerian’s face. Furthermore, James Blake and Fleet Foxes are not to be missed for obvious reasons. They’re just the best at what they do, dub-pop and pastoral folk-rock respectively.
It’s also worth checking out Belgium’s top rockband dEUS playing the main tentstage Alpha (cap. +/- 20.000). Their newly released single Constant Now hasn’t really settled in yet, but their live show is second to none. Expect it to be loud, groovy and deeply melancholic for the most part. For some nighttime entertainment, LA’s very own The Gaslamp Killer is our break-psych-rock-step-hop maniac of choice. The Netherlands and mr. Killer have certainly hit it off recently, resulting in a string of his characteric anarchistic DJ-sets in recent months.
We’re starting early today with BAMM.tv staff favorite Palmbomen in X-Ray, the place to be for fresh bass sounds and awesome weirdness. Now Berlin-based Dutch producer Kai Hugo is hoping for the sun to draw the crowd out of their tents early. He’ll have some appropriately sunny chillwave/italo tracks ready for them in his spaced-out LED timemachine. BAMM.tv is hoping to hear some new tracks of his to-be released debut full-length. To learn more about Palmbomen, check out THIS INTERVIEW BAMM.tv had with Hugo in March. We’ll stick around there for Canadian psych-rockers Suuns, as well. Their wild, left-field alternative drones and fuzz is a more than ample way to clean out your ears for the second half of the festival.
Another top-favorite is Berlin producer/prodigy Sacha Ring AKA Apparat. While his regular MO is as a dj and laptop act, today he’ll be taking to the stage in a band formation, giving way to his more indie and ambient tendencies. Belgian sirene Selah Sue is also not to be missed on Alpha stage. Fusing soul and singer-songwriter with hiphop and dubstep, this talented young superstar has been catching soaring reviews and ecstatic audiences. The live program at Alpha stage finishes in style with Elbow. These venerable grandmasters of soft-spoken indie melancholy will bring a touch of subtlety and civilisation to this hedonistic event.
So we’re two days in, soar and hungover and perhaps a tad muddy (even though the predictions for the weather are very good, you can never count on it down here!). What’s the best way to get us going on this final day? Perhaps some tail-shaking to Antwerp Gypsy Sky is your remedy, or you take it slow with Montréal’s dub-minimalist Deadbeat. Our choice is Little Dragon. The quartet from Göteborg, Sweden were already hitting the scene pretty hard in the past couple of years, but their recent album Ritual Union should be their big break. What better way to wake up than dancing to some really smart 80’s electrofunk tunes. Don’t ask us!inflatable water pool
Choices are a part of festival life, and we’ve got a few to make. Rock out with dutch pride De Staat and hiphop legends The Roots, or go deep with Trentemøller’s atmospheric electronic orchestra? Perhaps the latter, as we’ll be getting plenty of guitars from The Kills and Warpaint later on. Both bands have a pretty sweet pairing of lush female vocals and gritty guitarwork. And let’s not forget Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa’s heavy grooves! We’ll get our share of hipster vibes from the likes of Twin Shadow and Jamie Woon, but those might be easily forgotten if and when mr. Richard D. James is having a good day. The main man behind legendary Aphex Twin and WARP label is notoriously unpredictable in his performances. Will he go all conceptual artistic on us, take to the skies or get down and dirty? Check out at own risk!
Time once again for BAMM’s regular Friday list of curiosities to keep you talking over the weekend. This week: five awesome uncool acts …
‘Coolness’ can be such a fickle concept sometimes. One minute you’re the toast of Pitchfork, the next you’re being slated on a million message boards for ‘selling out’ or mysteriously losing whatever touch you had in the first place. It’s never been quite clear who decides on what’s ‘cool’ or not (our god-like cultural overlords, perhaps, plotting the rise and fall of pop-culture from a volcano fortress somewhere in the mid-Pacific), but the rules of the game seem genuinely unfair a lot of the time. Here’s a look, then, at some of the acts whose talents have often been overlooked simply because they’re so ‘uncool’ …
5. Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
Boring, trad-heavy, MOR dadrock, right? WRONG. Petty’s ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation is pretty much a masterclass in songwriting, and all the hip sneering in the world ain’t gonna change that.
Okay, so they’re lyrically simplistic and Chris Martin can be a bit whiny, but let’s not pretend that they don’t write great tunes.
Bono’s constant sanctimony and messiah-complex can be wearisome, true – a fair trade-off for three decades of killer songs, one might argue, however.
2. The Pretenders
‘I’ll Stand By You’ might have been overplayed on a million romantic-drama trailers, but if you don’t like ‘Brass In Pocket’ then you may well have no soul.
1. Bruce Springsteen
One of the finest singer-songwriters in history has bizarrely found himself labelled ‘middle-of-the-road’ and ‘leaden’ by a legion of try-too-hard cool kids. Who should stop it.
One thing that’s become glaringly apparent over our many instalments of Appwatch is that music creation tools are getting ever more democratised – the sort of stuff that was the province of the semi-professional ten years ago is now readily available on your phone. The world of remixing has joined the party with Romplr, an app which allows users to …
“… juggle loops, trigger combos and cue sequences on the fly. Every beat, bassline & hook is yours to control. Romplr rewards creativity, so change your style up and watch your scores soar. There’s even a Freestyle Mode, where you can practice and experiment without a time limit.”
There’s a lot of pre-loaded tracks to mess around with, and we’re not talking small-fry stuff either: names like The Pharcyde, Lady Gaga and James Brown all have songs ready to be taken apart and tinkered with. Do a particularly good job, and you might find yourself heading up the global leaderboard.
We’ve mentioned how much we love electroclash maniacs HOTTUB before on this blog – and also treated you to someperformances, plus a look at the Oakland scene from which they enemate – and now we’ve had the chance to sit down and have an exclusive chat with the band. And by ‘chat’ we mean ‘raucous yellfest which may or may not have involved the consumption of one or two drinks’ (and just think how much better the Frost/Nixon interviews would have been if they’d taken that route).
So, Arcade Fire are something of a successful little beat-combo – selling out stadiums, amassing a worldwide fanbase, straddling both critical acclaim and commercial revenue with a fervour that many other acts can only dream of. But Win Butler (lead singer) isn’t exactly pleased with the present state of rock music.
He feels that the whole genre is stagnant. Lacking in ambition. Meandering. Dull. And … well, let’s hear what he has to say for himself:
“A lot of people get really stuck in this idea that everything’s been done, and there’s nowhere left to go. Rock ‘n’ roll is almost the most conservative form of performance art: you play your guitar, these are the moves, this is what the songs are about, and this is the energy. I always felt like there’s so many sounds to make and things to talk about in songs. There’s more to life than ‘I love you baby, la, la, la’.”
It’s a statement with many curious undertones, and BAMM (despite being huge fans of Arcade Fire) are all too happy to argue some of the finer points.
Firstly, there’s the obvious implication: that there’s something wrong with creating simple, down-the-line rock songs. Fact: some of the greatest records ever made have been variations on ‘I love you baby, la la la’, and in many instances mean a lot more to people than so-called ‘intellectual’ alternatives. Ask the fans of AC/DC whether they want the group to start exploring new avenues and broadening their horizons – they’re likely to say hell, no, they just want to hear some killer guitar licks. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
There’s also the fact that – as good as they are – Arcade Fire aren’t exactly revolutionary. ‘The Surbubs’ is a great album, but it’s undeniably mired in recognisable pop heritage, and contains just as many catchy riffs and full-on choruses as a less ‘innovative’ band. Possibly the most distinctive moment on the album is ‘Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains'; a Kate-Bush-tinged electro-rock odyssey.
A great tune, yes. An awesome one. But, still – lots of old-fashioned, ‘straightforward’ musical reference points in there.
The thing is: there’s a big wide world out there (and with a sound so expansive and wide-eyed, someone like Win Butler should realise that). There’s enough room for every kind of genre, no matter how ‘trad’ or ‘simplistic’ – and such orange-apple comparisons (hey, guys, who’s best, Black Flag or Brian Eno?) are a little pointless at best.
So here’s another choice cut from the recent Phono Del Sol festival (organised by our friends over at the indispensible SF music blog Bay Bridged): it’s intricate electro-guitar-pop melodies from Sacramento’s very own Appetite.
A musical project created by Terry Biggs in order simply to share the music he created in his spare time, Appetite have since released two killer albums (check out the debut ‘The Ambigious Garment’ here; you won’t be disappointed), and Biggs has now enlisted a backing band in order to bring his unique vision to a live audience. He’s certainly a rising star who falls into the ‘one-to-watch’ category: and here’s your chance to join the fanbase on the ground floor.
Time once again for BAMM’s regular Friday list of curiosities to keep you talking over the weekend. This week: ten more of the craziest album covers ever …
A lot of you seemed to like our whistlestop tour through ten of the craziest album covers in history – so we’ve decided to crack open the dusty archives of pop-culture and dig out some more. Extra weirdo points if you happen to own any of these bad boys …
10. Don And Seymour
Taken in happier times, before Seymour’s drug problem spiralled out of control.
9. Anna Russell – ‘In Darkest Africa’
Pretty much the most offensive (unintentionally or otherwise) sleeve cover of all time? If ever the KKK had a party record, we’re betting its this.
8. Ira North – ‘If I Were A Woman’
“… I’d stop whining about how painful pregnancy is, and get back in the kitchen. At least that’s what I told my wife, before she left me.” (breaks down into tears)
7. Erik and Beverley Massagee – ‘Amen’
God, what is it with creepy plastic puppets on abstract album covers? Hasn’t Cher got that market covered? Huh, guys? Amirite? Amirite?
6. Millie Jackson – ‘Back To The S**t!’
I’ll level with you, Millie – that’s just horrible.
5. The Moody Blues – ‘In Search Of The Lost Chord’
“What? No, I don’t think there’s LSD in my studio’s water supply. Now, do you want my cover artwork or not?”
4. Paddy Roberts – ‘Songs For Gay Dogs’
“What? Sorry, Rex, no, I just assumed you were …. what? Well, you just have that look about you. Look, if you don’t like it, I kept the receipt.”
3. Millie Jackson – ‘ESP’
For god’s sake, Millie, another one?
2. Swamp Dogg – ‘Rat On’
In the near future, when the world has been irradiated in a nuclear apocalypse and rats have mutated into giant beasts, this will actually be something of an everyday scene.
We recently had a nostalgic look at the history of MTV when the broadcasting giant (and one-time massive cultural force) celebrated three whole decades in the business. And while it seems to be the consensus that MTV isn’t as influential or innovative as it once was, that by no means indicates that they’re resting on their laurels. Want proof? Take a look at their latest venture into the App market – Live And Local, for the Android device.
A partnership with social location music startup Superglued, the app claims to be “the ultimate mobile app to navigate live music”. A bit of hyperbole, maybe – this app isn’t a game-changer or anything, but it’s certainly a useful little tool with a lot of handy gig-finding features. Among the elements: a local shows calendar, including recommended shows based on your favorite artists, and the ability to scan your music library on and build a favorite artist database in order to recommend similar shows. If you’re ever stuck for plans and want a night out, you could do a lot worse than check this little puppy out.
With Musical Yearbook in the rear view mirror, Brock Alter, Zach Ryan, and Phil Lang embark on a new musical podcast journey. Over the course of the next month, the guys will focus an entire podcast on one single song and dissect it in every possible way. This week we hear three very, very different reactions to one hell 0f a blues number, courtesy of The Stone Foxes. “Mr. Hangman” is a fan-maker to be sure. The guitars, vocals, and tremelo harmonica singe. Make sure to check the band out at Outside Lands this weekend (they play on Saturday), or if you’re lucky you can see them open for the one and only Warren Haynes at The Independent. Damn, that’s a kick-ass weekend for an up-and-coming band!
Most songs are about something, right? Could a song be about nothing, and isn’t that something?
I think too many songs are about love. Do you want me? Don’t you want me? Why don’t you want me? What can I do to make you want me? What did I do to make you stop wanting me? I want you. I think I want you. I don’t want you. Etc. I can’t say a love song has never touched me but for fuck’s sake if an alien turned on the radio it might think that most people are lovesick puppies for brains who spend 95% of their day pining.
“Mr. Hangman” is about something. It bothers to give a damn about something important, or at least I think it is anyway, and it’s absolutely refreshing for that.
Let’s get the badassery out of the way. The song could rip the roof off a barn (if you could move enough to turn all the speakers towards the roof of said barn). If the song were composed differently and if the Stone Foxes didn’t have it in them, we might not be talking about it but it is this way and they do and I like it. So we thrash, but that’s not why I keep coming back.
Some of us at BAMM followed the stone foxes around for a week for this documentary we were making so we were doing a lot of prep work. At one point we said, “what’s going on here? What are they talking about? Why are they singing these things?” We meant in a general sense, like we would ask any artist we were documenting this. “Why do you do this and not this?” Anyway with the ears tuned in it sorta shone through to me that Hangman was a song about the death penalty, and about Shannon (the singer/drummer/harmonica player’s) ethical objection to it. A couple lines really telegraphed it for me the first one of course
“Hey there mr. hangman cut these ropes a swinging”
It’s hard to hear from there, so I’ll read them for you:
The hangman says he’s seen my sign,
He says that it’s past my time,
The punishment don’t fit no crime,
Mr. Hangman aren’t you over the line?
“The punishment don’t fit no crime” hits me in the brain gut like a bonesaw macgraw. It makes sense to me. How is it that the civilized answer to an uncivilized crime is an uncivilized crime? “You know I love you but you aint worth the trouble” The strait from the song version is the girl leaving while her man has the noose on. But the metaphor took me longer to figure out. It’s buried behind the layers of “this is a song about the death penalty” “execution is uncivilized” and finally this line lands on “you say you value humanity, but you also take the perspective that some humans aren’t worth the trouble.” Peace, cya later, sayonara sucka.
Shannon and I talked about it on the road. It came up in one of the interviews and validated my suspicion about the song. He told me about reconciliation programs where victims and offenders work together to repair the crime committed. I prefer this, and find it much more humane and cathartic, than scare tactics and strong armed punishers acting as keepers of the peace.
The song doesn’t really from what I can tell get specifically into the writer’s alternative solutions for justice which has me thinking about the subjective poetic approach to addressing an issue versus the objective saying exactly what you are addressing.
I’m going to use “The Times they are a changing” and I may be wrong or off base but I’m imagining giving the lyrics sheet to a 5th grader and saying, “What exactly does Mr. Dylan have a problem with here? What does he want to happen? What’s changing?” and they might respond, “Waters are growing, Congress men are standing in the hall, and mothers and fathers acting like assholes as usual.”
The song is of a time. Their time, which now can only be viewed in retrospect unless you were there which I was not and neither was this 5th grader. I can only guess that the rising waters were referring to either melting icecaps and global warming, or possibly the drowning nature of norms enforced by the status quo. Without detail it’s really hard to tell. What do you think of when you hear that line? It doesn’t matter, but it does! I want an “anthem” to at least know if it’s addressing social abstractions or promoting a direct action.
I’m in way over my head on this one. I can’t fully dive into the history of protest and whether poetry changes more hearts than minds and I’m not sure at this point if this essay uses more subjective or objective point of view and reasoning to provide a clear or convincing description about the power of this song and the importance of its message. And I don’t think or know if many people hear Mr. Hangman and begin questioning their stance on the death penalty, repentance, or redemption but its all in there.
I’m looking for a song that says, “I find your stance on abortion to be overreaching when you demand laws which outlaw my ability to choose how I handle my pregnancy.” “Your proposed constitutional amendment against my same sex marriage is in itself unconstitutional and is in fact another overreaching action promoted by you and your religion.” Or “I found on the Internet that worldwide we use over a million plastic bags per minute, they waste oil, create pollution, kill sea life, please don’t ever use a plastic bag ever again. Let’s make a law about it!”
Is it too direct to be direct?
I’m curious about the subjective vs. objective approach of addressing an issue other than love in a song. How much does poetic license make the point more confused or clear?
In “Mr. Hangman” I believe that the lyrics that assume the subjective more emotional point of view work to reinforce the meaning behind the song, which is that it is a rallying cry for pacifism.
Here’s Shannon’s email when I asked him about the song:
Hey Brock! Heard you guys used psycho for the last podcast, it’s a great podcast, really cool stuff, good essays! Yah, use Hangman. It’s an anti death penalty story, a guy on the gallows gets deserted by his girl, and it’s not enough to leave him in jail, the hangman is interested more in extermination than redemption.
Our legal system doesn’t exactly poor money into restorative justice. So there, that’s it buddy. Thanks for all the continued support, you guys are awesome, can’t wait to see the documentary! Hope you are doing well and we will see you soon! Also, you owe us a Psycho video, all you guys should do some! I meant our legal system doesn’t POUR money into restorative justice. We say we are better than the criminals and that we are civilized, woops!
Cut Me Down
By Zachary Ryan
I have to admit; I knew the real meaning behind “Mr. Hangman” long before I ever even sat down to really listen to the song. I had been told, very directly, by Shannon Koehler, who wrote and sings the lyrics to the song, that it was written about the death penalty.
It’s funny, because upon first meeting, Koehler doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would write a song about something as serious and controversial as this. In fact, given his natural inclination to tell stories in his music it seemed like the last thing he’d want to do is write about politics. And yet, there it is, the second to last song on his band’s sophomore album, in all it’s gritty, blues rock glory.
Upon first listen, you might not even realize that you’re hearing a protest song, especially when you consider his other musings across the album ‘Passenger Train’ tells the story of a train robber with a heart of gold, ‘Through the Fire’ is about good girl making bad choices, so it’s easy to peg him as another rock and roll raconteur. But the more you listen, the more you start to feel his message.
That’s what’s most striking to me about the song. Koehler doesn’t sing directly about whether or not the death penalty should be enforced. Instead, he writes in a way that if you’re just listening for straight blues rock revelry, you’ll chalk the lyrics up to another story in The Stone Foxes’ stable. But if you’re paying close enough attention, Koehler is beating you over the head with his message, but selling it to you as a story. And that’s what good writes do.
Hell, there’s even a bit of a love story in there. In this, he’s able to ad some humanity to his character’s plight. She tells him, “You know I love you but you ain’t worth the trouble.” How many of us turn this sort of nonchalant eye towards those that have been hung with our tax dollars?
In the bridge, Koehler’s character is pleading with his captor “Cut me down, Mr. Hangman” a moment that is made especially poignant when seeing The Stone Foxes live. Often, he takes his belief directly to the audience, hopping off the stage, standing amongst the crowd and singing quietly until everyone is singing along with him “Cut me down, Mr. Hangman”. A chorus of strangers unified, if only for a moment, on Koehler’s sentiment. Pretty moving stuff.
But I keep coming back to one line in the song. In the chorus he sings “The punishment don’t fit no crime, Mr. Hangman aren’t you over the line?” Thinly veiled, but it still asks an important question; just how much is too much? Is there ever a reason or an excuse for anyone to take someone else’s life? No matter what your politics are, it’s a question that you have to at least ask yourself.
Overall the songs is a powerhouse, it’s the best of both worlds and a truly stand out track on the album. Guitar geeks, and lyrical aficionados like myself can find something to love. When I listen to it, I can’t help but be impressed, not only by the bands blues rock bravado, but in Koehler’s courage to sing about something that is clearly so important to him.
Writer loses Girl to Local Rock Band (again)
By Phil Lang
At one point or another, all poets and novelists must experience an acidic jealousy towards a songwriter. This is how I imagine it playing out:
After numerous, increasingly aggressive pleas, Donald, one of Mr. Writer’s few friends finally pulls W away from his floor level apartment for a drink. As they cross Dolores Park, W fills the space between puffs to talk about a potential breakthrough while researching his WWI historical fiction manuscript. Of course he explains this development— a perfectly good reason for excitement—in that qualifying, pessimistic tone writers seemingly pledge to upon labeling themselves a “writer.”
Donald turns into W mid-stride and slaps him on the back. “It’s a whiskey night, then! A masterpiece has been conceived.”
“I’ll have to rewrite the whole thing. Again.”
Donald has heard this response so many times that he knows not to try to encourage W. They cross Guerrero and make their way to the Make-Out Room—a red-walled bar with silver tinsel hanging from the ceiling like stalactites. A band is getting ready to play.
Donald and W have a quick first drink. Then another. The band has left the stage and the bar is filling up before the set begins. Despite his best efforts, W finds himself trying to explain the complexities of the novel to a woman named Rita. She has tattoos on her chest and short bangs and thick red lipstick.
“But it’s more than just a personal struggle for the protagonist,” W says. “It’s about a collective identity.”
“Of course,” Rita says. She signals to the bartender for another drink. “A personal struggle, but through the perspective of a talking dog in WWI.”
W bites the corner of his mouth. “More or less.”
“I don’t entirely get it, but I like it, I think.”
“The name is Walton,” he says.
The band takes the stage. They fire into a blues number than singes the stalactites. The song grabs everyone by the ass. Rita pulls away, leaving W with his stupid talking dog trope and justification to make the next round a double. He sees Donald making his way to the front of crowd, bouncing to the kick drum.
That’s what’s so powerful about music over words. Emotion does not need description. A guitar can express the intangible—the most important of subtleties—so much more efficiently than a collection of nouns and adjectives. No guidance is required.
I’ve read the lyrics to “Mr. Hangman,” but in terms of my experience of the song, the lyrics are just adjectives and adverbs. The music is the thing. The noun. The harp is the man’s soul on the gallows. The guitar is the swinging rope, and the straight bass and drums all but put the noose around his neck.
I can’t help but hear “Whole Lotta Love,” the Led Zeppelin classic, in this song. The riff is so similar, but for that slight swing to the Zeppelin track. An eighth note of a difference. Maybe that’s the difference between death and sex.
We’re not only music fans here at BAMM – some of us also happen to be pretty handy stage-wise too, as you’ll see in the above video from Genius And The Thieves. Our very own Jerad and Zachary happen to be members of this SF five-piece, and – much to Jerad’s surprise – found themselves on the other side of the cameras, delivering a great live performance of ‘Quart of Blood Technique’. Turn your speakers up and enjoy …