Lawrence, Kansas noise-rockers, Boo and Boo Too were a bit overambitious to kick off CMJ musically for me. Trying a bit too hard to sound like the band whose venue they were playing (A Place to Bury Strangers), their songs came off as a watered down wall of noise. As the set went on the music gained more composure, and the rhythm section held it down while the guitars and vocals relied on the high end for an unpleasing static freak-out. Don’t get me wrong—that sound is right up my alley (I plan on attempting to withstand the brutal assault of Psychic Paramount later this week), but this music had no life to it.
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Hip-Hop Renaissance: A Cultural Rebirth @ NYU Kimmel Center (Ft. Q- Tip, Jon Carmanica, Amanda Diva, Chuck Inglish, Nekessa Moody, Mikey Rocks, & Asher Roth
Although the panels weren’t at the top of my priority list this week, a chance to see Q-Tip and the Cool Kids speak together about the cultural rebirth of hip-hop is a no-brainer. The most interesting aspect they tackled was the impact of the internet within hip-hop, and how it can create illusions of grandeur—i.e. with the Cool Kids. They spoke about how, despite all their MySpace hits and the hyped reviews of their record, going out into the real world and playing was the actual test for them. Q-Tip spoke a lot about wishing hip-hop would get back to the music and stop being so much about the big business and the empire it has created. All in all, a worthy first stop in the CMJ Marathon.
The Swedish siren Lykke Li arrived at CMJ on a wave of anticipation and praise. Her debut album, Youth Novels, was produced by Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, warranting some attention. So her headlining showcase—emphasis on headlining—was greeted by throngs of teenage girls eager to sing along with their musical muse. (Fittingly she dedicated her last song “Breaking It Up” to all the girls, and gay men, who had dumped bad boyfriends.)
Though Li’s album—aside from her voice—is full of wistful but stripped-down melodies and rhythms, live she was as rhythmic as a Stomp understudy, marching around the stage in ankle boots and trashing an adjacent cymbal during “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Let it Fall”. (She had a drum stick in her hand for the first half of the set.) The music was also noticeably rhythm oriented, with a resounding live drummer. Still, her three band members propped up Li’s innocuous vocals so that they could shine in their doll-like idiosyncrasies. Onstage, however, Li is dominating, showing sass and control, even whipping out a bullhorn at one point into which she sweetly sung for a rotary-speaker type effect.
If anyone questioned whether her album had enough depth or not, this live performance quickly silenced them by showing off her fragility, playfulness, and might all at once. Moreover she ended the night with “Can I Kick It?”, a surprising cover for a Swedish pop starlet, winning over the home crowd.
As someone who is extremely wary about the inescapable influence of marketing, I find things like this sort of terrifying: PsyBlog has a post about how false memories are (1) easy to implant, and (2) influence our behavior much the same way real memories do. Researchers convinced participants that they had an unpleasant experience with egg salad in the past and this caused them to eschew egg salad during the study.
What this study clearly shows is that not only is it possible to instil false memories in a significant minority of people, but that these false memories can have a marked effect on behaviour.
Naturally this should make us wonder which of our preferences, attitudes, or phobias even, might be based on false recollections. Could that distaste for yellow peppers have stemmed from a false memory of getting sick after eating them? Or could that desire for a seaside home be built on childhood beach trips misremembered as enjoyable?
(Methodological questions: Wouldn’t anyone in their right mind reject egg salad? Does this have any bearing on Phil Moskowitz’s pursuit of the world’s best egg-salad recipe?)
It seems to me that the marketing war is fought mainly on the terrain of memory—which, incidentally, is why nostalgia is so dangerous. Ad campaigns, when they are not trying to undermine the principles of cause and effect so as to make their free associational assertions seem stronger, are basically trying to rewrite our memories, and we are easily persuaded to cooperate because the false memories are generally preferable to the real ones. The problem is the false ones from marketing come with a commercial virus built in to them, slanting our recollection of what pleases us toward shopping experiences, or toward experiences that require branded goods. Perhaps the most important skill, then, for someone who seeks to resist consumerism is the ability to forget everything, treat each day like a blank slate, a la the protagonist in Memento. Similarly, the best way to avoid brand consciousness, which hinges on our passion for grooming our social identities, is to aspire to have no identity at all. Ugh. Such is the hegemony of consumerism that best mode of resistance appears to be self-inflicted amnesia.
What can I say, except that Friendly Fires took the Bowery Ballroom by complete surprise and ran away with the show. Completely maximizing their allotted time, the group was in it to win it from the downbeat of “Photobooth” to the last echo of their dust-buster-fueled feedback (you can’t make this stuff up!). And the crowd was both awed and thrilled to see such maniacal dancing by lead singer Ed Macfarlane after a comparatively listless performance by Miles Benjamin. Relentless in their energy and hip shaking, they charged through catchy tune after catchy tune from their eponymous debut album.
Most electrifying was “On Board”, which seemed to charge the lead singer both sexually and emotionally, leading him to jump and thrust uncontrollably yet perfectly in time with his drummer—not to mention the percussionist with whom he always made time for a cowbell breakdown. Macfarlane was also intent on getting the audience on board with Friendly Fires and their infectiously concocted sound that mixed Prince, LCD Soundsystem, and Beck’s Midnite Vultures aesthetic and tropical beats, airdropped onto the dance floor and was readily devoured.