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Tuesday, Dec 13, 2011
Guns N' Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just last week--but not fellow ballot finalist the Cure. Here's why goth's flagship group deserved to join them.

Last week, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced the winning inductees this year from a 15-name strong ballot.  So congratulations are in order for rock icons Guns N’ Roses (a major band, if overrated), Red Hot Chili Peppers (quite underrated, given its accomplishments), Beastie Boys (the Hall never followed the strictest definition for the rock genre, but it’s a bit late to backtrack now and the Beasties are certainly musical heavyweights who have stronger rock credentials than most hip-hop acts), Donovan (ok, we’ll mark this as a pass for a few cracking singles), Laura Nyro (uh . . . really?), and the Small Faces/the Faces (these aren’t the same band, people . . .).  Just as notable are the names that weren’t voted in, which include Heart, War, Donna Summer (whom you’ll hear about in detail tomorrow here at Sound Affects), and the most important proper rock band that didn’t make the cut in 2011: the Cure.


Why is the fact that the Cure only made the ballot this year after years of eligibility an egregious snub to be filed among the baffling ranks of current Hall non-inductees that range from Kiss to Donna Summer to the Smiths?  Ok, the long-running British group (led by Robert Smith, its only consistent member) was by no means the first post-punk band or even the most influential, and Bauhaus created and defined goth, the genre the Cure is most associated with.  What makes the Cure worthy enough to belong to alongside the ranks of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and U2 is a combination of trailblazing inroads into the musical mainstream, an extensive influence over later musicians, and a diverse body of songs that could’ve formed the basis of the careers of four or five lesser groups.


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Tuesday, Oct 4, 2011
A legendary German music venue that has hosted a number of major American acts over the last several years turns 20 this month.

When Americans stereotype the German music scene, they think of techno and Berlin nightclubs. There is however, a much more extensive network of national clubs in Germany that hosts international indie bands. One club in the city of Dresden is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month—Beatpol concert hall is known for its ambitious approach, in terms of curating international music within the Dresden area. The venue has hosted hundreds of American indie bands since its opening in 1991. Names like The National, Interpol, Yo La Tengo, Built to Spill, and Death Cab For Cutie all toured through the 500-person capacity club during their early careers.


Tucked away in the outskirts of Dresden, Beatpol is housed in an old ballroom that the city has used for various forms of entertainment for over a century. “It’s a lone soldier in Dresden. The venue has a soul, and people notice that,” said Johannes Zink, Beatpol’s lighting technician.


Beatpol is a place where people come to experience live music exclusively. According to Beatpol manager Hans-Jürgen Lachotta, “Beatpol is located nowhere near the club/party scene. Whoever comes to Beatpol comes because he or she wants to hear his or her favorite music, or get to know new music”.


The city of Dresden houses most of its youth culture in the “Neustadt”, or the “new” part of the city. The area is on the north side of the city’s main river and is packed with bars and clubs. Beatpol however, is several tram stops away from the Neustadt, back on the other side of the river in an older neighborhood called Cotta. Surprisingly, the location has proved to be a more positive attribute, contributing to the venue’s purpose.


“In my opinion, if Beatpol were located more centrally in the city of Dresden, more people would come to the club—but Beatpol’s mentality is not about profit, but about organizing good shows with great bands”, explained Dresden student and Beatpol frequenter Jan Zscheile. “For this reason, Cotta is a perfect location… the audience consists of mostly concert-goers and music enthusiasts. With only occasional exceptions, there aren’t intoxicated, thoughtless people who just simply ‘go to the show’”.


What makes the venue unique as a whole is its ever-present philosophy of team management. Lachotta, a man who lived through World War II and was a citizen under Soviet Regime until the fall of the Berlin Wall, maintains the venue with positive notions retrieved from Soviet times: Not one staff member is more important than the other; at the end of the night, each concert is a success because of the entire team.


Beatpol’s personal chef Eric Spiegelhauer credits the venue’s success to Lachotta’s work philosophy, “Throughout the years, he’s never sacrificed or given up his strong ethical values. He’s never done the business just for himself, but for the sake of music—for the bands, for the club, for the staff, and for Dresden”.


Spiegelhauer, a hired chef for the touring bands and staff, is another part of what makes the venue so distinct. Before every show, Spiegelhauer prepares a number of traditional and non-traditional German dishes for everyone to enjoy in a family-style dining setting. When Iron and Wine toured through the venue this past summer and the band’s tour manager asked lead singer Samuel Beam what he should try from Spiegelhauer’s cuisine, Beam replied, “All of it. It’s all so good”.


These small, individual details that the Beatpol staff preserves are key to maintaining a long-term audience and a long list of bands that insist on coming back to the venue, even when they’re meant to play larger shows. The high standards are something for American venues to take note of, according to many American bands that pass through Beatpol, such as the Portland band The Thermals:


“You feel like a guest over here. They take putting on shows more seriously here. You show up to a club in the US and just the sound guy shows up, he just woke up, and he’s super bummed out and grumbling. Maybe the promoter comes to the show? But here, even with the lights and sound, they take everything more seriously, like, ‘we’re putting on a concert’. In the US, it’s just another show,” explained Thermals guitarist and singer Hutch Harris.


As for the future of Beatpol, Lachotta remains hopeful, “There have been music highlights on and off in Dresden, but they come and go. I’m proud that we have a place for people in Dresden, where they can come just for the music. Perhaps every band won’t be the taste of every audience member, but at least people can always expect high quality. We repeat good work and insist on high expectations. It’s an ideal location and venue. I hope the future will be long and bright”.


***


Jennifer Brown volunteers at and works as the American Translator for Beatpol. Her insight and access to this venue allowed her present the German (or perhaps European) take on the touring and venue system for bands.


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Tuesday, May 17, 2011
While AC/DC's still-standing refusal to make its music available on iTunes is rooted in the widely-held view of the album as a complete work, it’s important to acknowledge that LPs really aren’t the immutable documents we tend to think of them as.

In an interview with Sky News during the premiere for AC/DC’s new concert DVD Live at River Plate earlier this month, schoolboy-uniform-clad guitarist Angus Young reaffirmed his band’s still-unwavering stance on not making its music available for sale as digital downloads on iTunes. Even though notable major holdouts from the online marketplace—Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles—have one by one acquiesced to digital sales in recent years, the Thunder from Down Under is having none of it. As Young told the interviewer, “For us it’s the best way. We are a band who started off with albums and that’s how we’ve always been… We always were a band that if you heard something (by AC/DC) on the radio, well, that’s only three minutes. Usually the best tracks were on the albums”.


Certainly the veteran Australian rock band is free to distribute its music the way is sees fit, although it’s necessary to point out that iTunes allows artists to make certain tracks “Album Only” purchases. Still that only goes so far, as Radiohead discovered when the retailer refused to honor the band’s wishes to make all its tracks “Album Only”, causing the British alt-rock group to balk at offering its catalog there (Radiohead eventually relented, and now all its album cuts can be bought individually at the store). No, AC/DC wants classic albums like Highway to Hell (1979) and its immortal masterwork Back in Black (1980) to be consumed by buyers as unfractured wholes, and nothing less will do.


Tagged as: acdc, itunes
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Tuesday, Nov 16, 2010
Taylor Swift's popularity has been bubbling for years now, and if the first-week US sales of her latest release, Speak Now, prove to be the climax, they could also prove to be historical. Think about it: who else has the potential to break the million-in-a-week mark ever again?

Jake Gyllenhaal better have thick skin, and it’s not just because Brothers wasn’t nearly as good of a movie as it should have been.


Actually, it’s because his latest muse—the “whenever a relationship I’m in ends, and I’m mad, I write about it” singer/songwriter Taylor Swift—recently did the one thing I, along with most of the other geeks who follow this kind of stuff with pertinent attention, never thought would be done again: she sold a million copies of her latest release, Speak Now, in its first week.


Swift has long been a curious case for me. I was admittedly resistant of her success when she first found her way onto the charts. I then fell completely head over heels for her when I stumbled across her performance of “Fifteen” with Miley Cyrus at the Grammy Awards nearly two years ago. Now? Well, now, she just kind of exits within my own personal musical orbit, at this point not really warranting an emotion either way.


I will always find her shtick endearing, but that’s mostly because I’m probably a 16-year-old girl at heart. She writes her own songs (though I’ve never truly believed such a statement, even when it’s insisted upon). She seems to prefer performing with a guitar strapped across her torso more than she does, say, performing with two free hands and a slew of dancers behind her. She sings about heartbreak (and who doesn’t love that?). It appears as though she’s nice enough, constantly willing to sign autographs, and making appearances and granting interviews basically whenever she’s asked. She killed it on Saturday Night Live with a spot-on Shakira impersonation. And she loves vinyl. And if you love vinyl, I love you.


So it’s clear that she’s someone I find myself rooting for, regardless of how “cool” or “uncool” it may be for a 26-year-old dude to partake in such activities. All of that now considered, though, the entire notion of her achieving such a feat as selling a million records in a week utterly transcends any preconceived notion one may have of the singer/songwriter. I mean, my goodness.


Tagged as: taylor swift
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Friday, Jul 30, 2010
Using a newspaper promotion to get an album out to the masses might be a mutually beneficial arrangement for artist and publication, but what happens to the listener's perception of the music?

As huge a presence as he is, Prince is not a musician who has ever loomed particularly large in my world. We’re only a product of our influences after all, and for whatever reason mine have not led me to explore Prince’s purple path in much detail. Prince worked his way into my attentions recently, however, when on July 10th, he released his latest album 20Ten as a free gift with a number of European newspapers, including the British Daily Mirror. The copy of the paper which brought the CD to me was one of 334,000 copies by which the publication’s sales soared that day. It’s not the first time Prince has used this method to distribute his music—he gave his 2007 record Planet Earth away with the papers, too—but am I the only one that feels that such a strategy cheapens the music and even Prince himself?


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