Archive for the 'politics' Category

Review: Thievery Corporation’s Radio Retaliation

Metromix Louiseville hit the nail on the head when they described Thievery Corporation‘s new album, Radio Retaliation, as “a quietly funky soundtrack for the generation”.

The album, which was released early on iLike and Facebook, is fairly true to the classic Thievery sound – loungey, organic, multicultural. This time around, however, they deliver a decidedly more overt political message. Properly Chilled posits that they deliver their message “through a swirling, smoky kaleidoscope that will leave most people who listen to it largely unaware of, yet affected (if only subconsciously) by its social and political text”. I couldn’t agree more. After a few listens, here is my breakdown of the album.

First up is Sound the Alarm (feat. Sleepy Wonder) which kicks off with a hair-raising siren. A solid reggae beat, guitar riff and bass line set the stage for the minimalistic but passionate lyrics. Not a whole lot happens in this song, but all throughout it’s an enjoyable dub track.

Mandala features Anoushka Shankar, daughter of legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar. If you are a sucker for sitar, you will like this track. A playful twangy melody glides over the layers of deep driving bass, heavy brass and percussion. Some clubby turntable scratching and electronic beats punctuate the song, giving it a timeless feel.

Radio Retaliation again features Sleepy Wonder. As the title track of the album, this is a good example of classic Thievery reggae. Background instrumentals don’t vary much, so your attention is drawn to the lyrics, which have plenty to say.

Vampires has a funky upbeat feel. As musicOMH points out, “the swaying horns and polyrhythmic drums of Vampires do a commendable job of disguising the song’s clunky political metaphors“. The song very appropriately features Femi Kuti, eldest son of Fela Kuti, the Nigerian “pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick.” (And yes, if you are still playing the Sarah Palin drinking game, you can count that use of “maverick” and have a drink.)

In Hare Krsna, the recognizable voice of Seu Jorge, Brazilian pop samba icon (possibly better known to his American fans as the David-Bowie-covers-in-Portuguese soundtrack guy for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) adds a scratchy rawness to what would otherwise be a little too smooth of a trip hop track. The title might lead you to expect an overtly Indian sound but instead you get classic Thievery muted basslines, looped guitars, brass sections… Only after listening closely do you catch what sounds like a dhol in the background. That, and of course, Seu is singing “Hare Krsna” over and over…

El Pueblo Unido, featuring Verny Varela, is probably one of the best songs on the album. The juxtaposition of jazzy Latin sounds and loungey dub gives it sort of a Buena Vista Social Club meets Morcheeba vibe.

(The Forgotten People) starts off with a sad clarinet intro and quickly picks up the pace with forceful sitar, dhol, and some electronic beats. The bass line gives this track a much darker sound than the rest of the album. A perfect song to listen to when you’re feeling a little dark yourself. Intense, worldly, and pleasing to the ear.

33 Degree features the soft haunting vocals of Zee over mellow trip hop style instrumentals. Part space age synth, part loungey beats, this track utilizes minimal percussion and a smooth blend of sounds to send you on a quiet thoughtful journey.

For Beautiful Drug, think AIR. Heavily reminiscent of the Virgin Suicides soundtrack, this one. The smoky vocals of Jana Andevska, who sounds a bit like Cat Power, gives the track a lazy, melancholy texture. You can almost picture an emaciated bored French socialite lounging in an opium den somewhere unimpressed by her glamorous yet soulless life and yearning for a different reality or perhaps a lost love…

La Femme Parallel is super mellow. LouLou‘s gentle vocals calmly drive this ambient track forward. Suitable background music for a loungey nightclub in any cosmopolitan city. You can imagine hearing this song playing softly while well dressed city types sip their martinis and steal sultry glances at strangers in the dim smoky room.

Retaliation Suite launches into a brassy funky groove with lots of triangle, some smooth sax, and provocative vocal samples. The political rhetoric contrasts nicely with the relaxed head-nodding qualities of the instrumentals. A great listen whether you play it in the background or listen to the words.

The Numbers Game is more of a departure from Thievery’s typical chill sound. Funky percussion, lots of soul and brass accompany the “Godfather of Go Go”, Chuck Brown, as he sings about the “same old game” and tells you to “shake out your mind”. Definitely a toe-tapping number.

The Shining Path is bass-heavy throughout and laced with haunting synths patterns. In the second half of the song, a tabla beat drops giving the song a more organic element, sort of a drum-circle vibe.

Blasting Through the City features Notch, whose earnest lyrics implore you to: “feel the struggle, but don’t give up the fight”. This reggae-infused downtempo track simultaneously makes you want to kick back on an island somewhere and join the a revolution.

Sweet Tides (feat. LouLou) A downtempo groove with a positive and uplifting feel to it. When LouLou sings in English, somehow she loses a bit of her charm, but the vocals are still very pretty. Seemingly uniform at first, a more triumphant hi-hat beat drops about halfway in to pick up the energy. The muted trumpets that fade out at the end of the song give it a nice polish.

In conclusion, we have another great accomplishment by the DJ duo. Some may say they went a little overboard with the number of guest artists, but it certainly adds diversity to the overall sound. The album is unique in that it preserves enough of the elements of Thievery Corporation’s core sound and feel and yet adds some new dynamics including the ramped up political undertones. I say two thumbs up and go buy/download/steal/burn (or do whatever it is you do to get new music) Radio Retaliation. If nothing else, spread the word. It’s worth hearing.

Remix Culture is Exploding

DIY music mashups are becoming increasingly prevalent as more and more musicians see the value of interacting with their fans. Luckily, as DJ Earworm points out, “the music industry is beginning to see the benefit of increased exposure through releasing stems directly to the public”.

Remixing used to be largely the territory of DJs, producers and other “sonic manipulators”, who would typically overlay the a cappella from one song on top of another or sometimes add their own sounds. But now fans are embracing the concept. We owe a big thank you to Radiohead for popularizing the fan remix concept (again) and to all the other musicians who have begun to release stems through various mediums. More and more artists, both underground and mainstream, are warming up to the idea.

Increasingly, average people don’t just want to passively be entertained by media anymore. They want to experience it. Whether it’s pictures, audio, or video, people are manipulating and mashing up media to their hearts’ content. YouTube is a great example. People want to be seen and heard and be free to exercise their creativity in new ways. (Sometimes leaving the rest of us scratching our heads and wondering why they would possibly post a video of themselves doing that… but hey, they should still have that freedom and ideally the tools to do so.)

One has to give some credit to Girl Talk as well. Through his enthusiastic use of unauthorized samples, Girl Talk has been a pioneer in the mashup revolution. While legal remixing is certainly different than the bootleg subculture that grew around unauthorized sampling, these two sides of remix culture seem to be slowly converging. As artists and the powers that be in the music industry begin to embrace the perspective that when someone samples your music it’s not stealing, but rather free promotion, the boundaries begin to melt away. And thus, music evolves.

In an article delving into some mashup history and the growing mashup revolution, Roberta Cruger says:

“In DIY culture, consumers are the producers, owning the tools of production — a laptop instead of guitar, bass and drums. The bedroom is the studio and factory machinery moves out of the nightclub onto the Internet for millions to access. The media monopolies are fighting back, but with the airwaves gobbled up by conglomerates, homespun mash-ups may be the people’s digital antidote.”

When a need becomes apparent (in this case, the desire of fans to remix), naturally the solutions begin to surface as well. Like the MixMatchMusic Remix Wizard, which allows artists (e.g. The Bayliens) to host their own remix promotions easily. As remix culture continues to grow, it’ll be fascinating to see what kinds of creative fusions and deconstructions happen. New genres will evolve, the industry will continue to take unpredictable twists and turns, and who knows what other clever things will surface as the tools and the freedom to explore and create are placed in the hands of music consumers.

For example, someone took the Remix Wizard (created to facilitate music remixes) and set up a page called “Help Sarah Make Sense” where you can rearrange Sarah’s words (for better or for worse). Pretty funny actually. Go make a remix!

iTunes, DRM and Artist Royalties

Earlier this week, alarm bells were ringing when a quote from Apple in 2007 found its way back to the top of the news heap. That quote? That if royalties were to change to a point of being unprofitable to Apple, it would shut its iTunes store down. Now even the thought of this, among Apple and its competitors, has been brewing frightening thoughts for the consumers for a while due to the fact that virtually all the music these stores sell is DRM protected. Of course, the DRM is built into the song, so what exactly happens if the company selling the songs ends their existence? Well, it looks like the DRM for the material would expire, leaving consumers with hundreds if not thousands of “purchased” songs that will no longer play anywhere. As a music lover (and legal buyer of mp3s), this kind of news, even if it is an undeveloped thought, causes a good deal of frustration. Here the studios want consumers to pay for music, foregoing the option of downloading all the music they want illegally for free, but the copyright protection within the music means that if the retailer goes down, the files go down with it? That’s like buying a CD at Tower which is then erased when Tower goes out of business (you all do still remember Tower, don’t you?)

So what can we do about it when the very mechanism that has allowed music labels to go digital, and therefore the infrastructure that controls all of our legal downloads, is compromised by companies willing to close their DRMs? Unfortunately, not much. Short of burning all of your DRM tracks to a CD and then re-ripping them to mp3s to strip of them of their DRM (and some sound quality in the process), if a store goes down and discontinues its DRM licensing, all the tracks you’ve bought could die on your iPod. This to me seems like the ultimate Trojan horse of the music industry…we don’t want you to have mp3s, but if you do, we’ll create a way so that once they’re in your music library, should the stores you bought them from close, we’ll demolish your entire music collection from the inside.

I understand the purpose of DRM, but unfortunately its just not a viable business model if there are ways to stop the music playback at any point after the purchase. The point of buying music is that you have it forever. All the CDs I bought are still mine and will be mine for as long as I manage not to lose or damage them. The idea that you could buy a song which at some point in the future becomes unusable is, to me at least, outrageous.

The reason that all of this has come about this week is because the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) was weighing a decision to raise the artist royalties on digital downloads from 9.1 cents per song to 15 cents a song. From what I can ascertain from the article announcing the steady royalty fees, a .99 cent iTunes song is sold like this…

1) Apple sells the song for .99. 2) Apple keeps .29. 3) Apple gives .70 to the record label. 4) Record label gives the artist 9.1 cents, keeping 60.9 cents. I don’t know about you, but even at 9 cents a song, it seems like the labels and iTunes are getting over on the artist. Are we really supposed to believe that the iTunes store deserves to keep almost three times as much money for a song it sells than the artist receives?

What this scare does do is make it painfully obvious that the record labels and online music stores need to create a way and find a method to allow consumers to legally retain their music, no matter what happens to the store you buy it from. Should royalty rights eventually be raised in favor of the artist, it would be a travesty for Apple to claim it can no longer operate iTunes profitably (with the number of sales they have per year and the fact that they’re getting money just to be a middle man, it would be very hard for me to accept the idea that they aren’t profitable), disable the DRMs and leave music consumers with a bunch of dead and unusable files. Apple needs to show a little more foresight and decency when it comes to wolf cries of lost profits with a change from 9.1 to 15 cents of royalty. This could have been Apple simply playing politics in order to protect its profit margin, but even then the greed factor, given what the artists out there are making, comes into play.

For now (the CRB’s decision lasts 5 years), it appears we can rest easy. But it makes it clear that more thorough examinations of the digital music sales industry, DRM technology and what the rules and technology mean to consumers are necessary and should not be ignored.

Thievery Corporation’s New Album: Early Release on Facebook, iLike

Given the current chaos in the music industry, bands must find new ways to promote their music. From musicians using Twitter to connect with fans or partnering with brands to cross promote, we are seeing more and more examples of non-traditional music promotion and distribution. The artists who are willing to take risks and think outside the box, with their art and with their careers, are the ones we here at Evolving Music are most interested in.

One such band is Thievery Corporation. In addition to being a refreshingly unique group that fuses together a plethora of genres and cultural sounds, they are not afraid to speak their minds. Sure, everyone likes a good mindless “bump ‘n’ grind” tune from time to time, but you gotta respect the artists who choose to use their music not just as entertainment, but as a way to communicate what they believe and are passionate about (as we’ve covered in previous posts about artists such as Immortal Technique and Bataka Squad.)

The DJ duo, comprised of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, hails from Washington DC, which “has long been the home of a music subculture legendary for fierce independence, a staunch do-it-yourself work ethic, and conscientious social activism.” They definitely practice what they preach. The organic multi-cultural sounds of dub, reggae, lounge, afrobeat and Indian music, to name a few, may catch your attention at first if you hear Thievery’s music at a neighborhood cafe or in a European nightclub. But, their uninhibited socio-political messages and passionate desire to open hearts and minds will keep you riveted.

Additionally, their diverse team of collaborators – singing in numerous languages, playing funky instruments, and each adding their own cultural thread to the musical quilt – give the band a truly unique sound. Not to mention their live shows, which can be pretty freakin amazing.

Photo by openeye

Their upcoming album, Radio Retaliation, purportedly takes their politicizing to a new level. According to Rob, “There’s no excuse for not speaking out at this point, with the suspension of habeas corpus, outsourced torture, illegal wars of aggression, fuel, food, and economic crises. It’s hard to close your eyes and sleep while the world is burning around you. If you are an artist, this is the most essential time to speak up.”

If you are on Facebook or iLike you’ll be able to stream Thievery Corporation’s new album on September 19th, before its official release on September 23rd. This is the first time the two social networking giants have ever worked together to promote an album.

Given that this album is particularly focused on the band’s disgust with the current state of American media, their decision to skip the middle man and go straight to their fans via the internet is appropriate, both for them personally and for the industry as a whole. According to Hilton, “We chose iLike as the platform to debut this record because it offers us a direct vehicle to share our music and communicate with fans worldwide, free from editorializing or whitewashing of our messages.”

For the fans among you, or those interested in gaining further insight into the artists and their message, keep your eyes out for a series of videos in which they introduce and discuss the album, which will be available exclusively on iLike. In the meantime, check out the title track on their MySpace.

To quote Rob Garza once more, “… if you can get people to question the things around them, just a little, then that’s not such a bad thing.”

On that note, here’s the title track from their 2002 “Richest Man in Babylon” album:

Doomtree Interview



For anyone who hasn’t heard of Doomtree, they bring a variety of MCs and DJs to the table in what has become a comfortable and exciting collaboration of individuals exploring how to produce and expand new hip-hop while pulling from other musical genres and multiple rapping styles. Doomtree demonstrates the potential that is created when numerous artists, most from seemingly disparate backgrounds, get together to create something new and different. Last week I had the opportunity to chat with P.O.S. and Mike Mictlan of Doomtree about their style, the idea behind the group, and of course politics. Enjoy.

AC: Hey, this is POS and Mike on the line?
POS: Yea.
MM: This is Mike.
AC: How you guys doing? Where you at today?
POS: Minneapolis, 32nd right off of Hennepin
MM: Minneapolis, Minnesota, Park and Franklin.

AC: What’s the general hip-hop scene like in Minnesota? People are starting to hear the name Doomtree and before that Atmosphere was real big. What are some other artists?
POS: For the most part, as far as hip-hop, it’s very diverse and large scene aside from Atmosphere and Doomtree, we’ve got Brother Ali, Self Divine, Kill the Vultures on some avant hip-hop, it can go on and on. It’s one of those cities that no matter where you’re at, any night of the week you can find a hip-hop show, and chances are three out of four will be decent. What do you think Mike?
MM: I could go on and on with that list. I’ve got a lot of favorite rappers out here, the scene is very thick in terms of hip-hop and music in general. Not only can you find hip-hop three nights a week, but you can find a lot of genres.
POS: Any number of punk rock, metal, hardcore, indie rock, pop, anything you’re looking for.

AC: You guys are obviously MCs, but there’s a lot of other musical genres and tastes that you bring into it. Talk a bit about your influences and what kind of musical backgrounds you both have.
MM: I’ve chosen rap my designated favorite style of music since I was 4 years old. Aside from rapping on an independent rap label, I’m a connoisseur of gangsta rap and various other hip-hop genres. In terms of doing actual music, right now I just rap my ass off.
POS: As far as me, I came up more interested in punk and hardcore from a very young age, as soon as I heard it, that’s what grabbed my attention because of the energy of it. And then as I grew up I got more into the experimental areas of that stuff, like the Fugazis, as well as underground hip-hop, all the old Rhymesayers stuff. I currently make hip-hop and play guitar and sing in a hardcore band, not really hardcore anymore, but it’s something off the wall called Building Better Bombs, it’s like a dancey, hardcore screamy mess.
AC: What kind of things do you do in order to get ready for these very different shows? Between your more punk and hardcore shows, and then coming in to do a hip-hop show with Doomtree, do you use different methods of preparation?
POS: Not at all. It’s all the same to me. It’s different songs and setting, and hip-hop shows tend to have more people at them, but I’ve been making music since I was real young, and it’s always been about getting a chance to go out and perform it and have a good time, it’s one of my favorite things to do. Preparation is about the same for both, it’s just wait until you get to go do it, and then go do it.

AC: In terms of the group Doomtree, where did the name come from and how did you guys form up?
MM: I don’t think any of us really know where it came from.
POS: It was some non-sensical banter. Sometimes you get something stuck in your head and say it, and then when we were tossing around names for an early stage of it, it was just a production crew called Doomtree. Then that blossomed as we started playing more rap shows. How it came together was me, MK Larada, Bobby Gorgeous and Cecil Otter started doing some shows that I had booked, solo shows. Cecil would come out and do my back ups. He had songs, but he was nervous, but then as he got less nervous we started splitting the sets in half. Sam was somebody we went to high school with, Mike we met in high school, and from there it snowballed into a nice solid crew that we all felt good around.
MM: I met Stef (P.O.S.) when I was in high school, we’ve been wanting to rap together ever since…Doomtree’s a monster.

AC: Obviously we have you two on the line, but you’ve just dropped a lot of names for a lot of people in Doomtree, so for the people who don’t know the crew out there, why don’t you talk a little bit about what the other members bring to the table in terms of their styles and musical input, and how do they form the rest of the group?
MM: Well we’re talking about 9 people altogether.
POS: I don’t want to step on you Mike, but I just thought of a solid answer. It’s essentially 5 solo MCs, myself, Mike, Sims, Dessa, Cecil Otter and Turbo Nemesis is a DJ, Paper Tiger is a DJ and producer, MK Larada is a producer, Lazerbeak is a mega super producer. We essentially make solo songs, each bring our own style, I don’t want to go into everyone’s style, but everyone brings their own favorite elements of music into it and then we pile it on. Mike’s from LA, we all have our own sound, our own individual styles, and when we write songs together we try to balance everything out to make sure everyone gets the proper shine, everyone gets the proper words in to round out the song as well as flex their own personal style, from solid pattern rapping to as poetic as people want to write.

AC: It sounds like you have a great collaboration and you just released your first album. Talk about the tracks on this album and what the listeners can expect to hear.
MM: This album is a long time coming. There isn’t really any filler. We just had a lot of straightforward rap. When I listen to it, I may be biased, it doesn’t sound like everything else, but it fits right in. It doesn’t sound like the new, it doesn’t sound like the old, but it fits somewhere in there, at least to me when I step outside it as a listenter. We all have a solo track on there, and the other 18 songs are all of us together with different styles. I think a lot of it is straightforward.
POS: I think straightforward to us is a little different. I definitely agree with Mike that we don’t sound like new, we don’t sound like old, but we mix right in. We all bring elements of what you expect to hear from hip-hop, but we all also bring out own little flair. I think that’s an accident, being in the Midwest, and kinda being outsiders in the Minneapolis hip-hop scene for a really long time, we ended up playing a lot of shows with a lot of bands, a lot of rock bands, catering to different crowds than rap crowds until we could actually get outselves put on, so I think over the years our style just kinda developed in that way. It’s not like excessively rock music by any means, but the rules are cast aside in terms of how it’s supposed to go, the roots are in raw pattern hip-hop, and trying to be the best possible rappers we can be without having to talk about rap all the time. If people haven’t heard any of us before and they pick up the Doomtree record, they could and they should expect to hear quality hip-hop production, quality raps varied over 5 entirely different sounding MCs with 5 entirely different styles, but it’s all stuff that you’re used to if you’re a fan of rap. If you’re not a fan of rap, the beats can get aggressive or melodic enough to where you’re in, just one of those things where we don’t put on any kind of face for anybody, we just go do it.
MM: And that’s exactly what I meant by straight up.

AC: How would you view the traditional music industry with major labels and CD distribution, and where it’s intersecting now and clashing in some cases with the mp3 and download industry.
POS: That’s something we kept in mind when we went into this record coming out. A lot of these songs were done and started being written 2 years ago, and then the others are brand new, mega fresh. But a lot of that came from trying to find the right people to help us with the right deal and right situation. We ended up talking to some smaller majors, some moderately bigger majors and some indies and we ultimately wanted it by ourselves and looked into who we could talk to to help us do that. We ended up going alone because we didn’t want to give up our digital rights, and people are offering these ancient deals that just don’t make sense anymore. It’s the kind of thing where the artist has more control over the product than ever in the history of music. That’s a double-edged sword because there’s tried and true ways of getting it done out there and getting paid for it, and then there’s this whole experimental new world that we’re kinda just launching ourselves into. So I don’t really know how the music business is supposed to go, but when people say that they can’t do it the way that we want to, we just say sorry we’re going to go do it this way now.

AC: In terms of not giving up your digital rights, you look at Radiohead and NIN who recently had very well publicized free releases and downloads of albums. Do you think it’s beneficial to give parts of your songs to fans in remix contest format? Do you agree with putting your music out there to let the fans interact with your music?
MM: I’m totally into that. Two people I know, their next project is acapellas and instrumentals for free downloads on their Myspace. What it’s really all about is getting your music out there. Especially with CD sales, all that we have left is touring, playing shows and selling merchandise if we’re ever going to make money. So in my eyes, I see using your CDs and music as a tool to get people to your shows and stay current to what you’re making. With the digital insurgence, if you will, we’re definitely at a point where we need to put as much music out as possible, so if that makes people remix it and get it out even more, that’s where it’s at.
AC: That’s demonstrated by the fact that before I heard about you through your PR company, I checked the “Dots and Dashes” track off Indiefeed Hip-Hop. What kind of touring are you doing and where can people look out for you coming up?
MM: After we put the crew record out on July 29th, one of the big reasons we didn’t go with any of the labels is that we wanted a very rigorous release schedule. With the finishing of our crew record, we had almost everybody finishing solo projects. On the 26th of August we had Cecil Otter drop his solo record. Me and Lazerbeak are putting out a collaboration out at the end of this month, September 23rd, and then we hope to have something coming from our camp at least every month until the summer. We just got off a tour with the Flobots, and I believe we’ll probably be going out with POS for his solo record coming out.

AC: You’re up in Minnesota right now and the Republican National Convention is taking place. What’s the atmosphere up there like, and where does Doomtree stand, if anywhere, politically?
MM: We’re all pretty incredibly liberal people.
POS: We’re on the left, like in the corner, talking to ourselves. The atmosphere out here is crazy. We’re in Minneapolis the conventions in St. Paul, but you can still see like 6 police helicopters flying over Minneapolis two days before.
: I’ve seen unmarked vans with the doors open with guys in SWAT gear just waiting to pull up, I thought it was a drive by.
POS: Today was the first day of the convention and there was a cop car that got destroyed and a bunch of people got maced. There’s 72 hour holding cells for people if you don’t have a permit to demonstrate. Seems like a total headache nightmare…I’ll probably head down there tomorrow.
MM: There was a raid the night before last. Like 150 people got arrested.
POS: They weren’t arrested…they just busted into peoples’ houses got information and left. It’s bad news bears, but it’s to be expected, it’s the Republican National Convention. They definitely took down anything that isn’t bolted down. They were knocking down stuff 6 miles out from where the convention is, taking down lightposts just in case.

AC: That’s all the questions I’ve got for you guys today. Do you two want to plug anything, talk about any albums coming out, go for it.
POS: I just want to pump and People can go there and figure out whatever’s going on without having to think, they can just go there and look.
AC: I certainly appreciate you taking the time to talking to us at Evolving Music today.
MM: I appreciate you having us.
POS: Thanks man.

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