Monday, April 28, 2008

What Makes Scenes Tick?

The Scene Article, written by avant-jazz musician Matt White of Richmond, provides thoughtful commentary on what it takes to build a local music scene. White modestly claims to know little about music scenes, but as this post and his scene-building work with Patchwork Collective shows, active people who know some and do much is perhaps the key ingredient. For that combo in Richmond also see Gallery 5, RVa Mag, Richmatic, Richmond Roots Revival, Hz Collective/804Noise...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Post-“Women in Rock”

In the US, the 1990s was the decade of “grrl power” as third-wave feminists renewed the movement through cultural expression, and particularly musical expression, of women’s identities. The movement began underground in the late 1980s in the form of woman-made ‘zines (self produced and distributed magazines) and all-female punk bands who stared the Riot Grrl subculture in Olympia and Washington DC (Schlit 2004). The new feminist consciousness expressed itself through creativity and visibility and was concerned with women’s access to male dominated cultural forms. In practice, this generation of women united second wave-feminism’s grassroots consciousness-raising with the D.I.Y. ethos of punk in order to create self-produced small-scale music and media.
By the late 1990s, the mass media was announcing the arrival of the new gender equality, evidenced by women’s access to spaces and occupations traditionally reserved for men, from the arena rock stage to the U.S. Congressional floor. The image of “girls with guitars” taking over the charts drew on the unearthing of Riot Grrl subculture and on women’s presence as singer-songwriters in sold out tours of the Lilith Fair.1 As the Billboard charts showed sales of women artists outpacing that of men, a new term was coined to represent this movement: “girl power,” deriving its name from Riot Grrl but dropping the edge in favor of the more familiar and arguably disempowering “girl.”
By the late 1990s, “girl power” became a mass media frame used to understand women’s increased presence in culture-based industries. It also became a brand image. The visibility of ‘girls with guitars’ lead to guitars marketed toward a “girl” aesthetic: pink, purple, small, light, sparkles, butterflies and daisies. The “empowerment” brand eventually stretched to more traditionally feminine products like hair gel and handbags, just like second-wave feminism slogans became the intellectual property of Virginia Slims. Mudd Company, for example, placed ‘zines in the pockets of its jeans to instruct teenage girls on proper skin care. The image of girls with guitars, mixed with sexual empowerment, even allowed heterosexual boys and men to consume girl power as they checked out the latest guitar models, in both senses of the word. In these ways, women’s participation in new creative cultures morphed into women’s participation in new cultures of consumption. As such, women rock musicians came to be understood as a passing fad or consumer trend, rather than as new players in the rock music world.
Yet at the local level, women continue to participate in rock music and are quickly forgotten, as has been the case for decades (Bayton 1998). In their everyday lives, women musicians contend with the widely shared images that position them as outdated novelty and as new consumers of musical technologies.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Repressed III @ Gallery 5

Richmond may be full of alienation and frustration, but it makes for damn good art.

With events like I Dream of Richmond and Repressed III, Gallery 5 shows us the best of what community arts can be, providing not just a space, but a communal and aesthetic context for critically engaged art. Gallery 5 asks the Richmond community to reflect upon itself and its direction, allowing us to critique, hope and act.

At the opening of Repressed III, an annual series of works on paper arranged by T.O.W.A.R., First Friday art walkers got a warped tour of their own city, courtesy of the Society of Advanced Psychogeographical Perception Mechanics. Large boxes, covered in black and white paper collages of historic city buildings were placed around the upstairs gallery. Some had miniature gardens on top, while others has slate for chalk messages. From the ceiling hung buildings carried into (or from?) the city by parachute. The buildings, chopped and designed into patterns gave the viewer a sense of disorientation. The viewer was called upon to speak out - at the back of the sculptural display was a podium with a live mic and buildings were topped with slate begging for chalk messages. Like the controversial Free Speech Monument in Charlottesville, these forums captured both the silly and the serious with messages about peace along side juvenile jokes. The images contributing to this visual installation can be seen around Richmond, wheat-pasted in gentrifying areas of the city - a guerilla activist art that tells us "You can't fight alienation with alienated means."

Solid performances were held throughout the evening by Pacific Before Tiger (NC), Amrita K. Dang (Baltimore, MD), Cars Will Burn (Philadelphia, PA), and Caustic Castle + Jason Talbot + Clifford Schwing w/ video by Eric Eaton (Richmond, VA)

The final set of the evening Caustic Castle, Jason Talbot and Clifford Schwing showed the depth and diversity of the Richmond Noise community. Caustic Castle, deftly manipulating feedback through a no-input mixer he built himself, gently processed the thuds, squeals and rich tones of Clifford Schwing's saxophone. Schwing made impressive, measured use of notes and musical phrases, sticking most of the time to long tones that he sustained with circular breathing and then switching up to noisy clatter of pads and air. The set began as a dialogue between Caustic Castle and Schwing, with Jason Talbot on turntable etching his way into the conversation, playing bells and knives on the needle. Within the context of Eric Eaton's short black and white film, the three performers built up intense waves of sound creating an ebb and flow form. As we watched spray paint drip down mannequins and saw the close up grit of spray paint cans, the dialogue between disparate instruments built into a wall of sound that was broken in a perfect moment of silence -- Schwing played a quick lick that drew on his free jazz chops and everyone stopped. In that moment, the chatter of gallery goers became woven into the sounds of the performance, as if responding to the sax. At the end of the set, Caustic Castle cathadically blasted us with white noise and Talbot had his turntable in the air, pressing the needle to the vinyl. When they cut out, Schwing was left underneath cycling a mid-range tone in beautiful contrast with the last spitting and sputtering of Talbot and Caustic Castle.

A clip of this performance:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

When Sociologists Come to Richmond

When Sociologists Come to Richmond, for the Southern Sociological Society Meetings in April this year, they are unwittingly conferencing in the midst of urban change. Since the 1970s small cities like Richmond have invested a lot of time and money into cultivating a sense of place. Projects to revitalize the downtown business district, to unite racially segregated neighborhoods, and to draw in consumers and tourists have thrived and failed in turn. Richmond development in this era evidence a struggle between development philosophies that has lead a patchwork of ‘mega-projects’ and locally focused small-scale projects of new urbanism. At the Southern Sociological Society Meetings to be held at the Marriott in April, they will live, work and play in the liminal space between Jackson Ward and Downtown, between New Urbanist designs and mega-projects, between wealth and hardship.

As sociologists, they will be interested in issues of urban change, social inequalities of race, class and gender, and in the local economy. At the same time, as conference goers, they are the target audience for Richmond's projects of place. As a sociologist and consumer, as an analyst of place-making and a lover of authentic locality, I created a guide to Richmond for Sociologists reproduced here:

Richmond Marriott | 500 East Broad Street

The Richmond Marriott, built in 1984 as part of a Broad Street revitalization project, is a mega-project that was designed to draw convention goers to the city of Richmond. At the time, these structures were seen as a way that Richmond, the old Capital of the South, could compete with ex-urban Atlanta, the new Capital of the South by basing much of its inner city development on amenities for convention attendees.

Sixth Street Marketplace | 550 East Marshall Street

The intersection of 6th and Broad Streets was historically an open-air marketplace. The Sixth Street Marketplace, a covered mall that housed local businesses, was a built in 1985 as the commercial component to the convention area and as a well-touted catalyst of downtown renewal and racial reconciliation. With its financing and construction, the marketplace was the first public-private partnership to dot the downtown landscape. There is much local debate about its demise – whether it was the fault of city bureaucracy or private mismanagement. The marketplace was demolished in 2003 and just this year the remaining food court was closed.

Nanci Raygun (Formerly) | 929 West Grace Street

This building, currently under renovation to become a bagel shop, has historically been the center of Richmond’s homegrown punk and hardcore scene. Originally opened as a convenience store that made its own whiskey in the 1970s, it later became a record store, restaurant and finally full-fledged club. Most recently, going by the name of Nanci Raygun, it hosted all-ages hardcore shows, hip-hop producer battles, and metal shows. The music scene lives on in nearby house shows and makeshift venues (in warehouses, vintage shops and sushi restaurants) as well as in the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood at Alley Katz and Toad’s Place.

Hyperlink Café | 814 West Grace Street

The music scene also lives on down the street at Hyperlink Café, a business interested in fostering creativity and community through smart entrepreneurship. This business is part of a growing movement to foster the cultural economy of the city, acting as café, Internet hub, upscale bar, and gritty music venue. The vibe is postmodern cosmopolitanism, as the café merges indie rock, hip-hop, hardcore, and world music in one venue. It comes complete with an oxygen bar -- unlike other venues in this tobacco-friendly town, there is no smoking here.

Ipanema Café | 917 West Grace Street

This basement café exudes warmth through the scratchy sounds of records that play over small speakers and the cozy bohemian scene of art students, punks, and hipsters. One of several vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the area (Harrison Street Café and Panda Veg are two others), it is also host to an emerging indie, folk-punk scene of edgy acoustic guitarists.

Gallery 5| 200 West Marshall Street

Gallery 5 is an experiment in community arts and arts entrepreneurship. Loosely partnered with RVa Magazine, Gallery 5 hosts art shows, books musical events and promotes them on-line and through print media. They create multi-media events with art, music and performance that complement each other. Gallery 5 is not only hooked in across the arts scene, they are also firmly rooted in local history, as they are the stewards of the Police and Fire Museum, the building in which they reside.

Richmond Center Stage| 600 East Grace Street

Richmond Center Stage is a private foundation, working in partnership with the city of Richmond to develop the downtown around the performing arts. Under construction are three venues and an education center. One of the three venues, the Carpenter Center was originally built as a movie house in a cultural boom that brought several theatres and opera houses to Richmond in the 1920s.

Ghostprint Gallery | 220 West Broad Street

This new gallery opened in November of 2007, combining an art gallery with a tattoo parlor in an effort to redefine the boundaries of high art. The April show is entitled Everything Has a Deeper Meaning – a show of Anna Kaarina Nenonen that ‘represents female sexuality in an ironic and provocative manner.’

The Black History and Culture Museum | 00 Clay Street

Purchased in 1922 by bank CEO Maggie Walker, the museum building was previously the Black branch of the Richmond City Library. According to its website, the museum currently aims toward becoming the state resource for Black history in Virginia. Its exhibits tell the story of Jackson Ward and in doing so tell the story of African-American history in Richmond and in the nation. Its exhibits document the insurance companies, banks, and other business supported through community organizations as well as the cultural life of Two Street – an important Southern tour stop on the Jazz and vaudeville circuit. In April, it will exhibit the research of James E. Wright Jr. on The Gift of Black Inventors.

The Hippodrome | 530 North Second Street

This theatre, hosting musical performance, theatre and film, was the centerpiece of the music scene of Two Street during the World War II era. It hosted musicians Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and James Brown among others. It thrived until a fire forced its closure in 1945, and then reopened as a movie theatre. It is currently closed, though many plans have been laid to reopen the venue for music.

The Leigh Street Armory | 122 West Leigh Street

This Armory, soon to be converted into apartments under historic restoration standards, is the oldest armory in Virginia. It served African-American troops from the Spanish-American War through World War II and has also served as a building for several African-American schools in the years prior to Brown v. Board of Education. The building, in serious disrepair, has been threatened by the wrecking ball, but in recent years local citizens gained federal support to maintain the building.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

$tackboy Entertainment

Stackboy Ent., an organization of seven young MCs, lyricists and producers, entertained a crowd of over fifty at the Outback Lodge in Charlottesville back in November 2007.

Stackboy Ent is on stage with DJ XSV, the crowd is pushing up to the stage, hands in the air, and the whole building is buzzing with sound and good vibes. Throughout the night, Stackboys make their way through the crowd, pushed ahead by friends and fans, as DJ Millz films the event. They take the stage to the cheers of the audience, where young men stand at the center in hoodies and jeans and women dance on the side in casual dress. Many people are already convinced of the talent of these young men, yet still others in the crowd, new to the experience, look on skeptically. Their skepticism doesn't last long; the crowd pushes closer. Men bob their heads and shoulders and women sway their hips to the heavy beats. The climax of the night comes with HB's Get Money - "Who wants money?" they ask, as they shower the crowd with greenbacks. The energy held through P. Giovanni's In Da'Ville, as the entire room put two up and two down to represent Virginia.

This is the third show of Outback Lodge's attempt to revive the hip-hop scene by offering the only major venue space for local artists. This effort, combined with a new sound system and new stage downstairs is aimed at offering an alternative venue in town that supports the edgier side of music. Intentional or not, this new mission also seems to have broken down the racial and genre barriers between the upstairs and downstairs clubs that used to exist - punk, metal, hip-hop, goth and indie rock all share both stages.

This is the first major show for Stack Boyz and there are some performance jitters - mostly related to sound and technology breakdowns. It is the also the first time Stackboyz have worked with DJ XSV and at times they seem to work at cross purposes. Yet, the beats, designed by P. Giovanni, Nix, and DJ Millz were well crafted. The MCs' vocal performances, and ability to work with the situation and with the crowd made this a strong show. HB was particularly charismatic, with flows that were smooth and well-executed. Domino's minimalist sounds and dead-pan delivery forge a new path for Virginia hip-hop, which is often caught between the sounds of NY and ATL. Bandana Money, the youngest member of the group, proved that he is one of the hottest up and coming acts, showing confidence in his fiery delivery.

The buzz of this live show only partially reveals the on-line attention that is given to their mix tapes. Despite the few opportunities for live performance in town, the artists of Stack Boy Ent. are remaking Charlottesville's hip-hop scene as each member contributes his own unique talents and strengths to the group.

Stackboy Ent. has big plans in mind. Stackboy Ent., lead by manager DJ Millz, is working to bring new life to the Charlottesville scene, supporting each other and up and coming acts. They aim to lead a scene that would be visible beyond Charlottesville's borders and a community that would support young kids coming up in their city. As they achieve financial success, they plan to reinvest in their community through creating a venue. This will be particularly important, as the Outback Lodge, like other venues before it, has lost the ability to host hip-hop shows.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

C-Fest Surround Sound

C-Fest Surround Sound
February 16th

Surround Sound is the third show in a series of that showcases Charlottesville musicians at Satellite Ballroom. The first FreakFest, featured fringe rock, and the second Noble Savages, featured Rock, Hip-Hop and Pop. Surround sound features experimental, ambient and jazz music.

This line up posed a mind bending challenge for sound engineers - tape music and video, live jazz bands, ear-bleeding shoegaze and can-hear-a-pin-drop improv. Despite the gulf between the genres of music, there was something for everyone and musicians found themselves connecting with others who were interested in experimenting with genre and instrumentation.

As bands and performers played on two stages, the crowd shifted its attention. A wide ring of space remained between the bands and the crowd as several professional photographers and video documentarists captured the evening. Particular accolades were reserved for Thrum, who played a drony set with surprisingly upbeat hooks. The Graboids, a shoe-gaze band and one of my local favorites, seemed too loud to entice the crowd who had come expecting something more gentle. They played through their CD Infinite Delay and the first song, with its meditative introduction and explosive middle reminded me of their earlier situation-climax-resolution song forms, which remains their most convincing dialogue. Judith Shatin, a composer and faculty member at the University of Virginia, composed a piece that referenced themes of weaving and women's self-actualization. The night was brought to a festive close by the Matthew Willner Band.
Ambient Pancakes
January 26th, 2008
(letterpress flyer created by John Bylander @ Virginia Art of the Book Center)

Ambient Pancakes was an all night sleep over of ambient music and noise that culminated in vegan pancakes. It was the closing event of Audio January, a month long series of performances, workshops and installations at the Bridge Performing Arts Initiative in Charlottesville, VA.

The night included performances by Monolith Zero (8pm RVA), Marty McCavitt (9pm RVA), Zach Mason (10pm MD), Myo (10pm BLT) aka Dang (11pm BLT ), Caustic Castle and Eric Eaton (12am RVA ), Jonathan Zorn (2am CVL ), SARS (3am RVA), Pinko Communoids (4am CVL), Kevin Parks and Jonathan Zorn (5am CVL), (6am Tokyo/Oakland) Cutest Puppy in the World (7am DC)

The audience included fellow performers and the curious bundled cozily in sleeping bags and coats in the simple building with concrete floors that used to house a convenience store. The sonic landscape began with waves of sound punctuated by outbursts of harsher noise created by Monolith Zero. McCavitt gave a brilliant and jubilant performance on prepared keyboard that included a rattling, crackling version of Old McDonald Had A Farm. Zach Mason was perhaps the first performance of the night to settle us down into ambient sounds as he transformed subtle landscapes of sound into an ethereal organ-like chorale. aka Dang offered densely textured loops of sitar sounds through a broken pickup and layered her voice over top of it as the sounds grew. Caustic Castle and Eric Eaton followed with a duet that combined rumbling low frequency sounds with samples of film dialogue.

The night unfolded. Bars let out and more curious folks stumbled in, some staying a while and others moving quickly on. At dawn, revelers from deeplyrooted gathering, an ongoing neo-rave party, joined the event at the encouragement of the party organizers - this was to be the "chill out room." While some were too tired or in too distant a world to stay, others broke out sleeping bags, and dug in to the pancakes and coffee and other breakfast items contributed by deeplyrooted gathering and Hz Collective.

Cutest Puppy in the world, a duo with drums, keyboards and guitars provided an appropriate wake up call with ambient sounds punctured by low frequencies, drums and guitars.

This event, which gathered experimental musicians from the east coast and beyond as well as the musically curious in Charlottesville, was the result of collaboration between several grassroots organizations that are community-minded, focusing on their local community as a basis for solid connections with other localities. The event was organized by Kenneth Yates of Richmond and Hz Collective, an organization that seeks to build support for experimental, improvised music and noise between Charlottesville and Richmond. Space and publicity was provided by the Bridge PAI and its team of event organizers. Food and publicity was provided by Hz Collective and deeplyrooted gathering.