Come to Dada: Maestro Gamin's Hip-Hop Surrealism

Maestro Gamin's surreal and irregular grooves court hip-hop culture as much as they do jazz, his music transmitting from some Dadaist aperture of sound.

Terrifying, surreal and majestically resplendent, the music of Maestro Gamin offers a slipstream of fantastic and swarming ideas. In Gamin’s world, sounds are physical constructs to be toyed and messed with; beats collapse and fragment before they regroup and metamorphose with a vengeance. Rhythms take on the cadence of speech and Gamin’s own verbiages are mere shadows that follow the fractured and propulsive grooves.

It would be a misnomer to refer to his music as hip-hop, although hip-hop is the primary base from which his ideas grow. Perhaps a more appropriate extraction in his sound is jazz. It wouldn’t be too difficult to measure the proximity of his work by jazz’s often irregular meters; cut, flushed and fucked, Gamin’s beats exercise (exorcise) a certain manic intensity boiling beneath the hypnotic and circular rhymes. Like a mind rapidly turning in successive ellipses, Gamin rhymes with an impetus both lucid and jagged; language is dispensed like reams of script and his words, pressured by the heat of breath and emotion, disperse over the grooves with druggy release.

Gamin’s beginnings were not especially complicated or unique; like most rappers, his work is the product of a childhood spent in formative hip-hop culture. “I remember writing my first rhymes walking up and down the hall around fourth or fifth grade with my boy LeBaron,” he recalls. “We had an ill Run DMC-style call-and-response. We were dope. Didn't record or do shows, but we had our shit down. It was just something that you did, like popping, breaking, or graff. Everyone my age had to know a little about something in one of those things. It’s just what was going on and what everybody was into.

"I rhymed all up until high school and then it became about crews, freestyling and doing shows. College radio was the thing, too. We used to run up to the folks over at Santa Clara University. Crazy Bill and Bob's show. This was all before everything went digital, so I don’t think there’s any record of it now. This one night we saw Biggie and Puff drive away in a big-ass black Suburban before we got to the station. They were promoting. That night was nuts.”

Gamin’s latest efforts, King Trade Supreme (“a reincarnation of [my] old hip-hop collective, Lurk Music, from 2006-2014”) and BlvckMvdonna (with The Architect on production duties) are but two works that explore the artist’s fidgety and complex talents. Underpinned by hip-hop loops and rhythms, much of the rapper’s work on these two releases expand upon the illbient influences that dominate much of his sound. With his collective King Trade Supreme (consisting of musicians worldwide), Gamin pulls into shape the white noise of splintered loops and glitch, assuming patterns of sonic discordance that respond to a logic deeply internal.

The collective’s self-titled release also mines grooves of minimalist dimension, extracting a deep bassy resonance from the bone-brittle beats. On the eerie, sci-fi crunch of “Over Here”, rhymes of female adulation skitter about, the phrases and praises cut up in the Dadaist aperture of sound. “Brodequin” appropriates a Sam Rivers avant-swing of big band jazz; over an awkward, elephantine pulse, the rapper waxes lyrical about encounters with hip-hop braggadocio which devolves into host of strange non-sequiturs.

On the BlvckMvdonna EP, melodies assume the mechanisms of songbird ritual; they sweep, hover and flit over rhythms like the scans from the tricky, jazzed stanzas of a Hedwig Gorski poem; Gamin’s minimal finger-painted tunes share with Gorski a poetic space, cross-wired with memory, irony, humour and rage. BlvckMvdonna’s transreal poetry and scavenger blues also plumbs a deeply Afrocentric core that embodies much of what the rapper absorbed in his musical upbringing.

“I grew up in a big family,” says Gamin, “Lots of brothers and sisters, and when I was growing up my pops was already in his fifties. He had a lot of blues and stuff: Bobby Blue Bland, BB. King, George Benson. My folks used to take me to the Paul Masson Amphitheater when I was, like, eleven or twelve. It was crazy -- old hippies drunk off wine, dancing in the aisles. I saw Stanley Clark open up for James Brown when I was about eleven.”

Also a regular at open mics, Gamin’s spoken-word pieces have explored everything from biracial identities to living life in the city with all its modern contraptions, themes which sum up his experience in finding an audience for his music. Gamin’s work is at once evasive and direct, skirting racial lines as much as it does musical boundaries while still managing to connect with a receptive crowd.

Navigating a digital landscape promoting his work, however, proves a slightly trickier feat. “Yeah, I think the main struggle is probably just getting ears to the music,” he reasons. “I mean, just because something is so readily available, or able to download fast doesn't mean it’s gonna get heard. There’s definitely a part of the game that feels like you constantly wanna put your stuff out there and make it available, take chances and show new work. But then also you want more of a result for the growth you're hopefully making.

"If [I were] twenty years back before the new media revolt, before all this quick post loading and updating... I don’t know. I would probably still be in some grimy home studio getting high and cutting up b-movies for my music videos until five in the morning, ‘cause that’s cool. That’s something I’ll be doing until it’s not fun anymore. It really doesn't matter if [my music] gets a shitload of likes on Facebook or whatever. I can play my shit at my shows and freak out the crowd.”

Perhaps the stage is where Gamin’s work is best surveyed; in an open and confessional space, his music is bound to traverse all kinds of red lines implemented by way of industry standards. The rapper’s explorations in sound have negotiated with just about every musical genre and the mobility he’s been afforded seems more a privilege enjoyed by artists working outside of music altogether; consider Gamin’s approach and you may see in him a Sergio Badilla Castillo or a Julio Cortázar.

His off-kilter, art-in-limbo designs may certainly hold some at bay if they can’t let the weirdness in. But he’s got at least one notable fan under his mesmeric spell. “I once did this live poetry show for TV One and Jill Scott was the musical guest. She tweeted at me after that. Called me a "real poet". That’s maybe not so interesting, but it was dope.”


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

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Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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