Szung Szongs: In support of cassette tapes

ROBERT SZYPKO/The Dartmouth Staff
ROBERT SZYPKO/The Dartmouth Staff

I’ve had my fair share of jarring experiences with Spotify audio ads — Aerosmith interrupting “David Comes to Life” was the first really bad one I can recall. But the worst is probably what I experienced last Wednesday when a clean, shiny automobile ad interrupted my maiden listen of “Hi, How Are You,” Daniel Johnston’s so-lo-fi-you’re-not-sure-whether-to-call-it-something-other-than-lo-fi 1983 cassette release. Continue reading

Szung Szongs: Szitting Down with Bleached

ROBERT SZYPKO/The Dartmouth Senior Staff
ROBERT SZYPKO/The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Going to a festival like South by Southwest can be an intense experience, and I’ve found myself musically exhausted since then. So I’m more or less at a loss for what to talk about here this week. Therefore, I’m going to opt for some stuff I wished I had published during the festival.

In my posts over spring break, I talked a lot about the quality of music shows and the styles of music swirling around the summery Austin air during SXSW. But when I chatted briefly with Jennifer Clavin of Bleached after their set at the Hype Hotel, I talked more about the process of SXSW and how exposure and audience reception plays into their work. Continue reading

Szung Szongs Notes from SXSW: When audiences misbehave

Ed­i­tor’s Note: While most of us will be spend­ing our spring breaks sit­ting at home to get some rest be­fore Spring term, Szung Szongs colum­nist and for­mer arts & en­ter­tain­ment ed­i­tor Robert Szypko will be re­port­ing from South by South­west Music fes­ti­val in Austin this week for Dart­beat.
ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

AUSTIN, Texas — If there’s one thing that South by South­west has in boun­ti­ful sup­ply, it’s free stuff. Not free music, just free stuff: chips, tacos, drinks, koozies, bar­be­cue food, CDs, t-shirts. Their ap­par­ent logic: If you give fes­ti­val-go­ers enough free stuff, they will be­come hooked and start buy­ing prod­ucts in droves. So it’s a beau­ti­ful thing when the crowds turn the ta­bles on these com­pa­nies, and it’s a sight to be­hold when the crowds turn the ta­bles on the venues, too.

That’s where A$AP Rocky came into the equa­tion yes­ter­day af­ter­noon at a venue called For­merly TOPS. The Harlem-based rap­per made the eager crowd wait nearly 45 min­utes after his set was sup­posed to start, and in the mean­time, some com­pany sell­ing water in milk car­ton-style paper con­tain­ers was toss­ing free boxed water into the crowd. A ques­tion­able de­ci­sion.

After sev­eral “ASAP!” chants, the rap­per and his en­tourage fi­nally erupted onto the stage, jump­ing around to the hazy beats. The bass was thump­ing harder than any­thing I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced, and weed smoke con­tin­u­ously drifted into the rafters of the ware­house-style venue.

Things then started to get a bit rowdy after a song or two, and A$AP Rocky egged the crowd on with his stage ban­ter. One mem­ber of his crew seemed to try to keep A$AP from en­cour­ag­ing the au­di­ence to wreak havoc on For­merly TOPS.

“I don’t give a f-ck — these are our peo­ple!” A$AP said to him. “Feel free to get buck naked and f-ck, I don’t give a f-ck.”

Boxed wa­ters started fly­ing, smash­ing the water com­pany’s hopes for mar­ket share and nearly ru­in­ing the lap­top that A$AP’s DJ was using. Fans also threw trash bar­rels, and many peo­ple — in­clud­ing A$AP Rocky him­self — crowd surfed. While some of A$AP’s tracks un­for­tu­nately had his vo­cals pre­re­corded on the cho­rus, the bass was some­thing to be­hold and pro­vided an im­pres­sive sound­track to the may­hem.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

Other au­di­ences Sat­ur­day night seemed to also hold chaos in higher es­teem than any­thing else. When hard­core punk group Cer­e­mony took the stage at Red 7, the front row con­sisted en­tirely of pho­tog­ra­phers jock­ey­ing for a good shot of off­beat lead man Ross Far­rar. Then, a cou­ple of songs into the set, the real punks in the au­di­ence came out of the wood­work, burst­ing into a mosh pit that sent the pho­tog­ra­phers and the rest of the crowd re­treat­ing 15 feet back from the stage.

The stand­off seemed all too sym­bolic — the fash­ion­able pho­tog­ra­phers look­ing for a good shot for their music blog were scared off by the kids bump­ing into each other, and the kids seemed un­en­thu­si­as­tic after re­al­iz­ing how few of them were there to ac­tu­ally get into the music. As a re­sult, Far­rar made for the ma­jor­ity of the spec­ta­cle as he con­tin­ued to jump off the stage and flail around by him­self to the band’s straight­for­ward gui­tar hooks.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

At Club de Ville, OFF! played a rowdy set that was a more con­crete ar­tic­u­la­tion of ’80s nos­tal­gia, which Cer­e­mony seemed to be hint­ing at with their ear­lier per­for­mance. A mosh pit of all ages — from mid-20s to mid-50s — rocked out as the su­per­group, led by Keith Mor­ris ofBad Brains and Black Flag, rocked through their in­cred­i­bly short songs. Within 30 sec­onds of the set’s be­gin­ning, a string of Christ­mas lights had been ripped down from the ceil­ing.

“We’re all friends here — no fight­ing,” Mor­ris said in be­tween one of the songs. Rowdy yet os­ten­si­bly re­spon­si­ble, Mor­ris made for a pic­ture-per­fect image of the aging punk star that ’80s music fans must have ex­pected.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

On an un­re­lated note, I highly rec­om­mend Scot­tish indie pop band Django Django. They played a re­ally tight set at Lat­i­tude 30 last night — their synths, wide array of per­cus­sion and stan­dard gui­tar and bass made for an en­gag­ing set of light, poppy rock songs.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

Mikal Cronin also played great at the Mo­hawk with Ty Segall, help­ing out as part of the back­ing band. Cronin’s songs ranged from fast and light sum­mer jams to grungier rock songs, all of which had the au­di­ence hop­ping around and danc­ing.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

That’s it for me this week — SXSW has come to an end. Time for all in­volved in the music in­dus­try to get some sleep and ask them­selves: Is this re­ally a sus­tain­able lifestyle?

Szung Szongs Notes from SXSW: Throwbacks and more

Ed­i­tor’s Note: While most of us will be spend­ing our spring breaks sit­ting at home to get some rest be­fore Spring term, Szung Szongs colum­nist and for­mer arts & en­ter­tain­ment ed­i­tor Robert Szypko will be re­port­ing from South by South­west Music fes­ti­val in Austin this week for Dart­beat.
ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

AUSTIN, Texas — The band Pond would be re­ally hard to pin down if the seem­ingly clash­ing com­po­nents of their music and image weren’t in­di­vid­u­ally so fa­mil­iar. Dur­ing their per­for­mance last night at Buf­falo Bil­liards, the band would set­tle into psy­che­delic prog rock for a minute or two, only to smash that apart with thick, juicy gui­tar licks rem­i­nis­cent of ’70s glam rock that drowned out the odd­ball vo­cals of lead man Nick All­brook, who seemed to walk right out of the early ’90s. Throw­back was the order of the evening for the Aus­tralian band, which con­sists of two mem­bers of Tame Im­pala.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

When he wasn’t singing, how­ever, All­brook would often grow im­pa­tient of stand­ing on stage, jump­ing into the au­di­ence to suc­cess­fully — or not-so-suc­cess­fully — crowd surf, or oth­er­wise to sim­ply flail around on the ground. It might have felt like a punk show, but the music sounded any­thing but.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

The en­tire band seemed to adore the idea of being rock stars — it was some­what un­clear whether All­brook pre­ferred in­ter­act­ing with the crowd or the cam­era flashes that came with his unique an­tics — as they shoved each other into the crowd, ripped each oth­ers’ shirts off of their backs and gen­er­ally messed around while they let loose their catchy clas­sic rock. I threw out any ques­tions about just how tongue-in-cheek some of the goofy an­tics were when the lead gui­tarist asked the sound tech­ni­cians, “How long we got left, mutha­fuckas?”

Speak­ing of throw­backs, I had the chance to re­live my high school sum­mers last night when I saw The Shins on the rooftop of a park­ing garage. Un­for­tu­nately, some of the youth­ful nos­tal­gia was un­der­cut by the fact that I was sur­rounded by a bunch of mid-20 to mid-30-year-olds who were prob­a­bly, I dunno, net­work­ing the whole time or some­thing adult like that. Such is the sad irony of 21+ events — music that often speaks most to younger kids is played in set­tings where said kids are not al­lowed. Then again, Richard Swift of The Shins was cel­e­brat­ing his birth­day last night and cer­tainly wasn’t turn­ing 22 years old, how­ever much they joked about it on stage. Age dy­nam­ics in rock music are weird. I di­gress.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

The Shins struck a nice mix be­tween cuts off of their first three al­bums and the new ma­te­r­ial off of their new, highly an­tic­i­pated LP, “Port of Mor­row,” which comes out this Tues­day. The first new song they played, “Sim­ple Song,” was the third song of their set and is also their first sin­gle. I par­tic­u­larly liked “It’s Only Life,” which lead man James Mer­cer said is the sec­ond sin­gle off of their up­com­ing LP.

It wasn’t all about nos­tal­gia last night — I got a chance to check out THEESat­is­fac­tion, a fe­male rap duo, at the Sony Club at Red 7 last night. The pair often traded off on vo­cals, as one rapped or sang while the other would in­ter­mit­tently whis­per key words in the back­ground. The duo did not in­ces­santly in­ter­rupt their rhymes to try and hype up the crowd as can be the case in other hip-hop shows, but no mat­ter — many au­di­ence mem­bers were groov­ing to the beats that went from glitchy to soul­fully smooth, and THEESat­is­fac­tion had some short dance rou­tines that made the show even more fun to dance to.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

I also checked out Rep­tar, which fea­tures Ryan En­gel­berger ’12 on bass, at The Stage on Sixth dur­ing the Paste Mag­a­zine day party. When I saw the group at South by South­west last year, it was in a much more mod­est set­ting, and some of the sound tech el­e­ments weren’t work­ing, mak­ing the set suf­fer. Yes­ter­day, how­ever, Rep­tar was on point with a larger band than last year and a much fuller sound with big­ger per­cus­sion. Gra­ham Ulicny, the lead vo­cal­ist, con­tin­ues to be a cap­ti­vat­ing cen­ter­piece of their live per­for­mance, as his face and body con­tort while he yelps his dis­tinc­tive vo­cals. Their set in­cluded plenty of new tracks off of their up­com­ing debut LP, “Body Faucet,” avail­able on May 1.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

Szung Szongs Notes from SXSW: Comparing live performances

Ed­i­tor’s Note: While most of us will be spend­ing our spring breaks sit­ting at home to get some rest be­fore Spring term, Szung Szongs colum­nist and for­mer arts & en­ter­tain­ment ed­i­tor Robert Szypko will be re­port­ing from South by South­west Music fes­ti­val in Austin this week for Dart­beat.
ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

AUSTIN, Texas — What makes a live show a worth­while live show? Thurs­day af­ter­noon and evening, I caught sev­eral acts that make heavy use of pre­re­corded loops and sev­eral acts that didn’t, lead­ing me to won­der if it re­ally is the ma­nip­u­la­tion of in­stru­ments that makes a per­for­mance in­ter­est­ing, or if it is some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent.

I al­ways find it in­ter­est­ing to see how an artist like Grimes has changed over the course of a year. In my very first South by South­west show ever last year, Grimes played an unas­sum­ing yet ethe­real (I hate using that word) set in a small bar to a de­cent-sized crowd. Since then, Grimes has gar­nered tons of buzz on­line and re­ceived crit­i­cal praise for her re­cently re­leased LP, “Vi­sions.” Last night, she found her­self on a much larger stage than in 2011, per­form­ing at Pitch­fork’s of­fi­cial SXSW show­case at the Cen­tral Pres­by­ter­ian Church.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

Her dreamy elec­tro-pop filled the high-ceilinged nave of the church, which made for a pleas­ant lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as a bunch of Pitch­fork-lov­ing hea­thens sat in the pews. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like her live per­for­mance was lack­ing — some­thing about watch­ing two peo­ple press but­tons and hit sam­ple boards just didn’t do it for me. There just wasn’t much sub­stance there to for me to rally around.

Then there’s Youth La­goon — I ended my night catch­ing his set at Club de Ville. It is with­out a doubt among the best and most spe­cial per­for­mances I’ve seen this year. Trevor Pow­ers used plenty of loops and sam­ples but was miles be­yond Grimes with re­spect to the en­gag­ing na­ture of his per­for­mance.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

In what I later learned was an un­in­ten­tional artis­tic de­ci­sion, Pow­ers went with­out vocal ef­fects dur­ing his live set, trans­form­ing his airy, re­verb-heavy tracks into emo­tion­ally ar­rest­ing songs on stage. Pow­ers sang in a dis­tinc­tive near-groan, adding sev­eral pauses to his vocal track to make the per­for­mance all the more wrench­ing. The few extra mil­lisec­onds be­tween the rep­e­ti­tions of “I blame you” on “Bobby” felt like a heart-wrench­ing eter­nity.

The emo­tional in­vest­ment in the songs didn’t sim­ply flow from a raw vocal track or a few key pauses — the strain on his face was ev­i­dent each time he un­leashed key lyrics. I didn’t find this in­vest­ment in the more light-hearted per­for­mance style of Grimes. And while Pow­ers did use loops, the ma­jor­ity of the songs con­sisted of his syn­the­siz­ers and his friend Logan’s gui­tar, with the loops pro­vid­ing the waves of bass that an­chored the tracks.

Did I men­tion that the chat­ter of fans fur­ther back in the au­di­ence was a con­sis­tent au­di­tory fea­ture of the ex­pe­ri­ence? Ugh.

Catch my full in­ter­view with Trevor Pow­ers of Youth La­goon, where we talk a bit about the tran­si­tion from recorded music to stage per­for­mance.

Pu­rity Ring, who played be­fore Grimes at the Cen­tral Pres­by­ter­ian Church, also had lots of loops and such, but ac­tu­ally tried to phys­i­cally evoke the dream-like na­ture of their songs, mak­ing use of an in­ter­est­ing set of light bulbs that ap­par­ently dou­bled as some sort of elec­tronic sam­ple board.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

The mer­its of loops and elec­tronic music in live per­for­mances aside, the band Friends made their Thurs­day evening per­for­mance at The Parish a hit by, well, act­ing as if they were play­ing in front of a bunch of friends. Saman­tha Ur­bani ven­tured into the au­di­ence fre­quently, danc­ing up on a num­ber of au­di­ence mem­bers. Their loungey, sassy indie pop cer­tainly made for an easy-go­ing dance party.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

One Dart­mouth-re­lated aside: I caught a few songs by Fil­li­gar last night at Em­pire Au­to­mo­tive. They had the crowd — which in­cluded a few alumni, no sur­prise — en­gaged with a cover of “In Bloom” by Nir­vana and a cou­ple of their own tracks.

 

ROBERT SZYPKO / THE DART­MOUTH SE­NIOR STAFF

 

Lis­ten to my in­ter­view with Youth La­goon here:

Shoutout to Erin Lan­sky ’12 for wait­ing for me out­side my hotel as I fin­ish writ­ing this. Time to get some Texas BBQ!

Lan­sky is a for­mer mem­ber of The Dart­mouth Se­nior Staff.