Boy with the thorn in his side

This past week I watched an adorable little video of a 10 year old interviewing J Mascis. Dino Jr. were the first real rock band (I don’t count U2) I went to see and they were absolutely, totally spectacular. The wee boy in the video says “Sometimes I feel like your songs are hugging me”. I’ve always felt that way too.


In posting it, however, Gawker suggested that Mascis is “one of music’s worst interview subjects” . Thinking back, I was reminded that the first interview I ever did was with J Mascis, back in around 1999 or 2000. And, truth be told, it was not the worst. It was actually a lot of fun. After a bit of digging, I found it. Maybe he was more friendly because I talked to him about the Smiths. Who knows. I had totally forgotten about this conversation – and I’m glad to have been reminded. I’ve left the not-so-well-written intro just as it was.

J Mascis on Morrissey

The post punk era – mostly seen as bereft of political ideas and motivated primarily by a desire to either sell records or make self-indulgent art – is also the era of the Smiths. Providing an interesting antidote to almost all other British music of the time, the Smiths provide an interesting response to the post-punk era. Instead of being overtly political and anti-government, there is, I feel, a tremendously individualized resistance detailed in Morrissey’s lyrics. It is subtle sometimes, other times more overt, but always insisting on positioning himself on the margins – refusing to fit in and blindly accept traditional views, morals, and ideas.

Perhaps that’s why hardcore punk guitar hero J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr is such a big fan. I always thought that J Mascis’s covers of songs originally performed by the Smiths were somewhat out of keeping with his normal punky fare. In addition, I’ve been interested in how people come to the Smiths and Morrissey and why they enjoy the music and lyrics so much. A multi-faceted and constantly evolving individual, Morrissey seems to open himself up to all sorts of fans – each one believing that Morrissey speaks to them individually. As a result, his public positioning as well as his lyrics are constantly interpreted and re-interpreted. I thought it might be an idea to ask J Mascis where he stood.

The release of Dinosaur on Homestead in 1985 nearly coincides with the realease of The Queen is Dead in 1986. I enjoy both of these albums, but they are obviously very different. What kind of music were you listening to back when you started performing? Were you at all interested in the Smiths at that time? What has been your acquaintance with their music?

I first saw Morrissey on The Cutting Edge TV show on MTV. He seemed quite annoying, like he wanted to be punched. I wasn’t inspired to pick up any of [his] at the time. Then, a friend in college went to see the Smiths–he was a heavy anglophile. He said they were great. I nodded in disinterest. I first got interested in their music when “Girlfriend in a Coma” came out. I thought it was really funny and I liked that it was short. I had heard “How Soon is Now” and I really started liking that song. I also liked the other video that popped up at the time – “Stop Me (if you think you’ve heard this one before)”. My interest gradually became more and more til’ I realised the genius of Morrissey. I was listening to the Birthday Party, Wipers, New Order, and Dream Syndicate at the time Dino started up. When I started doing publicity for Where You Been in England I got all their albums on 10″ at the Warner office. I guess they had just bought the Smiths catalogue from Geoff Travis. That’s when I first heard The Queen is Dead.

Writers often list Sonic Youth and Neil Young (sometimes even Led Zeppelin) as influences for Dinosaur jr . Would you say that you have been influenced by the Smiths?

I’m not sure how influenced by the Smiths I have been. I don’t play like Johnny Marr or sing like Morrissey, but I love them.

Having recorded covers like “Just Like Heaven” and “Show Me the Way,” was there any particular reason why you chose to cover “The Boy With the Thorn In His Side”?

I guess I was really getting into the Smiths at the time not realising that everyone already loved them. You know you get into a band and it seems like you discover it and no one else has ever really been into it like you were. I’m playing in England and every American band does a Smiths cover as if the English will be really impressed that you know this cool English band, but they’re just bored. “Oh no not another American saying ‘I’m cool, I dig yer people, I get it, English right?'” I didn’t realize it was boring and uncool til’ later so I still had a genuine enthusiasm while playing it. Americans still love to cover the Smiths – it’s just not as tiresome over here. We weren’t beat over the head with Morrissey in this country. He still seems cool.

What is your favourite Smiths/Morrissey song? If you were to make a mixed tape with Smiths/Morrissey songs, what songs would you put on it?

It’s hard to pick a favorite song – it changes. Maybe “Panic.” I like “Last night I dreamt somebody loved me,” “Ask,” and “Some girls are bigger than others.”

As an American hardcore/punk/grunge/indie pop figure (sorry to categorize), your version of a Smiths song raises questions about the influence of the Smiths in the US, and their influence on other musicians. What do you think the impact of the Smiths/Morrissey has been within the states? Can you think of any unlikely bands/musicians that have been influenced by their music?

People I know seemed to start liking the Smiths after they broke up. They were a little too much for people at first – you had to ease yer way into them. Like, Henry Rollins would talk about wanting to beat up Morrissey and Robert Smith. The English camp takes a little getting used to after being a testosterone filled hardcore kid. Still a lot of my friends think the Smiths are too wimpy, but those who love them really love them. I thought it was funny when Choke from Slapshot really got into the Smiths and Slapshot started covering “How Soon is Now”. He was the “hard” in “hardcore” – they didn’t come much harder. Suddenly it was OK in Boston for hardcore kids to love the wimpy Smiths as well as loving hockey.

Safer than ten padlock: Vybz Kartel

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So Vybz Kartel was acquitted on one murder charge a couple of days ago. On the afternoon of the verdict, I went and spoke to defence lawyer Christian Tavares-Finson about the case. I wrote a piece for Pitchfork about it, but my original had a few extra details from the case and bits and pieces from Tavares-Finson that folks might be interested in…

Just two weeks ago, a bass-heavy, cracking tune called “Compass” by Vybz Kartel was unleashed. A sure summer highlight, given a recent lull in head nod-inducing dancehall tunes. “Keep yuh safer than ten padlock,” the man also known alternately as “Di Teacha” and “Worl’ Boss”, rhythmically repeats. This is more than a little tongue in cheek, given that Kartel has been locked up himself, waiting to face murder charges since September 29, 2011.

“Compass” was far from the first track released in the past almost two years. Though he is certainly not permitted by law to be recording while in jail, Kartel has oddly managed to be almost as prolific as when he was a free man. With explanations and hypotheses ranging from the use of old acapellas to voicing over the phone to straight up illegal activity, UK soundcrew Heatwave has provided a nice rundown of best (and worst) of the many tracks released since Adidja Palmer’s arrest. One of the best is the hit single from February 2013, “Peanut Shell.” It’s now a recent arty short film/video starring World Reggae Dance Champs Shady Squad.

Vybz Kartel was on the rise in 2011—a critically-praised new album, Kingston Story, produced by American producer Dre Skull and a profile in the New York Times. No stranger to controversy, from specializing in explicit lyrics to flaunting his bleached skin to his public conflicts with fellow performers, Kartel has always butt heads with someone or other. His business ventures, such as Daggering Condoms and Street Vybz Rum alongside his rather racy reality tv show “Teacha’s Pet” also did little to endear him to so-called respectable society. His detractors seemed vindicated when the deejay born Adidja Palmer was arrested for two counts of murder.

On July 24, Palmer was acquitted of one of these two murder charges, exiting the courthouse and waving to a large crowd of screaming fans. In the shooting death of music promoter Barrington “Bossie” Burton, Palmer stood accused alongside two others. Though rumors of cellphone-video footage, DNA evidence, and text messages swirled in the media and online amongst fans, the case hung on witness statements that were disallowed by the judge since the police could not secure the presence of the witnesses themselves. According to defense attorney Christian Taveres-Finson, “We didn’t believe that they had any witnesses. We didn’t believe that the police were investigating the matter properly.” Sure that Palmer will be exonerated, his legal team feel that a defamation case might be in the cards: “When he comes out, we will look at [that] very carefully.” 

In a post-verdict statement to his fans, the “Worl’ boss” remained defiant: “I had the utmost confidence from the outset as I knew I was being used as a scapegoat as usual because of my image and content and some of my music.”

What remains is the case of Clive “Lizard” Williams, who was allegedly beaten and shot to death in Palmer’s Kingston home. This case, with six defendants in total, is due to come to trial in November. According to Taveres-Finson, the evidence is again “circumstantial. We have the view that he shall be out on bail.” And how soon? “It will take a couple weeks to put the documents together, so anywhere between three or four weeks.”

Whether or not the bail hearings lean Palmer’s way, the artist that is Vybz Kartel is not going away soon. Nothing seems to stop his popularity on the streets of Kingston and in the minds of dancehall fans worldwide. After all, there was yet another new tune released just this week . . . there’s surely more where that came from. 

RELICK: Electronic in the Dance: Alric and Boyd on Jamaica’s eclectic tastes

Since LargeUp posted a big ol’ feature on Alric and Boyd, I thought it might be a good idea to revisit a piece I wrote for the venerable UK zine No Ice Cream Sound  around this time last year. Alric and Boyd are a pile of fun to interview–and their music tastes are pretty fun too. Withut further ado, here’s “Electronic in the Dance”:

Alric and Boyd have a passion for music. They’ve produced dancehall and R&B, working recently with Jill Scott. They’re linked with Max Glazer’s Federation sound, crafting amazing mixtapes. But they really get animated when talking about doing remixes for Acid House creator DJ Pierre and the fact that Carl Cox is slated to perform in Barbados for the second Music Factory Pop, Dance and House Festival in May 2012. Alric and Boyd played the first edition in November 2011.

All in all, it’s been twenty years that Alric Anglin and Boyd James have been in the club scene and on radio, helping to bring electronic dance music to Jamaica. Describing themselves as a team, they’ve worked side by side since 1992. Djing since 88 and 84 respectively, however, they can chart just how house music and other electronic forms have been bubbling in the Jamaican scene. Yes, Boyd admits, “The scene is small, but it is there. There is an awareness.”

The prolific nature of reggae and dancehall production tends to obscure the fact that music lovers in Jamaica have significant variety in their musical diet. “We listen wide, not deep,” laughs Alric, in one sentence exploding any idealized view reggae lovers might have about the island and its music. “That’s where you find that we started to push the envelope with house music, with electronic dance music and found that there is a market.”

“Jamaican music is not just dancehall and reggae,” says Boyd, lowering his voice, “And I will tell you something that might be quite shocking. The UK reggae scene is way deeper than the Jamaican reggae scene.” The thing is, from the 1960s through to the 80s, a lot of reggae music was exported to the UK, because that’s where the money was. “We would get what you might call the ‘what left’,” laughs Boyd. The phenomenon can perhaps be linked to the fact that the Jamaican British population have been interested in music from home. For this reason, and also the fact that reggae music and dancehall was long looked down upon (not even used in tourist advertising until 1984), Jamaicans on the island tend to cultivate a varied taste in music. This has exposed non-Jamaican UK listeners to heaps of Jamaican music, but it has also allowed other types of music to flourish in Jamaica. One only has to look at the rapturous reception to Celine Dion at this year’s Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival to know that there’s a wide audience on the island for other types of music.

“We were always exposed to American and UK music, based on the influences on our culture,” says Boyd. After all, in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, it was mostly international music played on the radio in Jamaica. “It is in our DNA that we have an appreciation for country and western to classical to R&B to rock to hip hop.” Specifically, however, in 1981 there was a radio show on what is now FAME fm, then Capitol Stereo, called “Disco Mania”. “It was almost a five-hour radio show. It was the biggest thing for us,” recalls Boyd. The hits from that show trickled down into the party scene. Rae Town’s still-running party was founded in 1982, and showcased a lot of disco tunes—as it still does today.

Alric remembers sitting, listening with ear to the radio, to “Disco Mania” playing some of the underground sounds from New York. The radio show lasted ten years, and during that time Boyd ended up in New York, at NYU studying audio technology during the day and going out to now-legendary clubs from Studio 54 to Tunnel. He did an internship with Sly and Robbie, and then upon return to Jamaica, he began working with then-DJ Alric in 1992, and was able bring music to the table that was at the time unavailable in the Caribbean. “We started to develop a synergy and started to take off,” says Alric.

They’d drop the bass of pop tracks and introduce underground house and techno music gradually, making sure that the crowd wouldn’t lose interest. Almost like an inverted dubplate, Alric and Boyd would play with the riddim instead of the lyrics. And like all Jamaican selectors, they actively thought of the massive at all times, they were well aware of the fact that they needed to please: “If you can rock a Jamaican crowd, you’re a good DJ,” laughs Boyd, “In a night club where people are paying money, we had to keep the vibes. A DJs job is to convert and make memories. If you can’t remember what a DJ plays, you’re not a good DJ.”

Their radio show, aptly titled “The Edge” began in October of 1995 and took up where “Disco Mania” left off, Alric and Boyd playing the same format as they did in the club. “We went deeper into the house, deeper into the progressive,” says Boyd. “You would hear jungle, UK garage, 2 step, the new techno, hard house coming out of Germany, we were banging it,” continues Alric. But back in the 90s, there was no quick download of these tracks. Alric and Boyd needed to struggle and BUY these records. Sure, they got some promos, but they’d also get records from visiting DJs and vacationers who would come and play their house parties and club gigs. The show ran strong until April of 2009, when the pair moved on to other projects.

As for the place of Alric and Boyd’s favourite music in Jamaica today? “It still needs a kick. People who put on big parties here are afraid of electronic dance music because in the 80s and 90s it would come with a stigma—it was gay music of white people music or drug music. Now that it has blown sky high, I think they are trying to see how they can reintroduce it into the market.”

And how do they feel about folks like Bob Sinclair and Diplo who have come to Jamaica to draw on local music and enhance their electronic dance music productions? “Jamaicans can be close minded,” says Boyd, “But these people are introducing us to a new market, so don’t fight it. But there are pros and cons. There are producers who do come in and take. But the good side is exposure.”

And with festivals like the Barbados Music Factory receiving the blessing of London dance music stalwart Ministry of Sound, Alric and Boyd don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that there might be some potential for a bit of Ibiza in the Caribbean. After all, the region has the beautiful beaches and amazing weather. But, most importantly, a commitment to music that makes a crowd move. “It must have a vibes,” says Alric. Boyd nods in approval.

Party Circuit

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It isn’t an April Fool’s joke. Dancehall made the front page of the New York Times today. This was, as Annie Paul mentioned on Facebook, rather interesting considering Emma Lewis’s posting yesterday of complaints against the seemingly constant parties and night noise in Jamaica. It reminded me of Mutabaruka’s call for a study on the impact of this partying on a sleepy population. I should make it clear that I lean far more on the positive side of this argument–there is purpose in the partying. And there have already been studies–check this one on the economic impact of spring breakers or this one on partying as social and political participation. Larisa Mann has also written on how partying and politicking can come together–and how music can be a “powerful force for sharing pleasure, trust, release, and purpose across marginalized communities, and forging a radical, broadly participatory movement.” So after a day of discussing the pros and cons of letting loose, it was edifying to see Sarah Maslin Nir‘s piece “Jamaicans Get Party to Come to Them, via DVD“. Nir’s piece dealt with the way party DVDs–the long-form, unedited works filmed by the ubiquitous dancehall video men every night of the week–circulate, providing connection to yard for those abroad.

I then proceeded to get into a big twitter argument with a reader of the piece who tried to catch Nir on her lack of differentiation between selector and MC. Selector being the one who spins the tunes and MC being the one who talks and bigs up the dance. Of course, in 2013, based on the range of soundsystem practice, there’s no really cut and dry differentiation. But it was one of those ridiculous discussions that I only seem to have on the internet. It was a shame, really, because I shouldn’t have been splitting hairs about soundsystem terminology. I should have been talking about the meat of the piece.

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Apparently Nir has been the New York Time‘s nightlife columnist for a while, so she is familiar with a party–and perhaps some of the wilder sort (a quick google reveals a portrait of the writer with a couple horses at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC). I was a little disappointed in the descriptions of dancing as “feverish”, “outlandish” and “border[ing] on pornographic” in her column and then on her twitter–where the she exclaimed that readers of her piece had to check out the “bonkers” videos. Having been to numerous dances, as well as numerous late-night affairs in my home continent of North America, I can honestly state that there is nothing more offensive happening on the streets of Kingston than that going on at certain nightclubs and during aforementioned spring breaks in Canada and the US. She writes that “by night’s end…bodies jiggle free of miniscule clothes”. Not so much. Dancehall, for all its slackness, often draws a line between nastiness and nudity. The language of the piece is a bit grating and tiresome, as it’s yet another example of a portrait of the island as a wild place–unfettered by the boundaries of civilized society. A mite problematic.

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This being said, though I think that the piece could have been more fully fleshed out, it provided an interesting narrative of diaspora circulation. I liked the inclusion of Kim-Marie Spence’s comments about seeing one’s own reflection on video, but I wished that Donna Hope had been consulted. Hope’s Inna di Dancehall, was published way back in what seems like the ancient times–2006. She discusses video men like Jack Sowah (still active today) as a key creator of dancehall culture, alongside artists, dancers, soundsystems and so on. The book also discusses the circulation of Sowah productions through out the diaspora–in places Nir discussed in her piece, such as Brooklyn and Queens, New York. But Hope’s discussion stems from the dancehall in Jamaica. According to Inna di Dancehall, dancers and “models” try to steal a piece of the video light in hopes of catching a break.

Right now you have girls wheh deh a England an America true my videocassette. Raquel from Modelling Crew is in Engald an…Little Bit…she is also in England, Mackie Boo, she’s in England, Lisa is in…no…Mackie is in New York, Lisa is in England..An…couple a dem well yuh nuh leave here an go abroad true di video - Jack Sowah, quoted in Inna di Dancehall (73)

Nir describes the videos as providing a connection with home, whereas Hope describes these same products as offering a connection with foreign. Nir describes a young woman who travels from New York to Jamaica to get herself on camera, whereas Sowah presents the videos as a ticket to get out of JA. The dancehall circuit, whether Uptown Mondaze, Boasy Tuesdays, Weddy Wednesdays or any other day, is recast as a diaspora narrative, demonstrating links between home and foreign. The parties hold promise and potential for those in attendance, and they offer up Jamaican experience to those in the diaspora. And beyond the diaspora community, these films circulate further, crossing boundaries. As Sonjah Stanley-Niaah has written, dancehall is constructed according to certain borders–boundaries in space, time and, as the consistent crackdowns and complaints about night noise demonstrate, sound. But dancehall culture becomes boundaryless through its ability to reach beyond the spaces it inhabits. As sound travels from downtown Kingston upwards, disturbing those who wish to sleep, it also travels around the world.

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Footage recorded at events in Jamaica is mostly amateur, though it may often be sold to fans, while footage generated by prominent professional videographers such as Knight Rider or Scrappy is packaged for commercial distribution both in Kingston and other places in Jamaica, and in metropolitan centres such as London, New York or Tokyo. Generally, dancehall videotapes and, increasingly, dvds circulate, at prices ranging between five and twenty US dollars, in those countries where reggae and dancehall are already established as popular forms, such as Germany, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, Canada and Japan. More and more footage is also becoming available globally through general-interest websites, such as YouTube or MySpace, as well as specialist ones, such as Dancehalltv.com – Sonjah Stanley-Niaah, Dancehall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto (168)

Dancehall and dancehall DVDs are about more than just partying. More than just noise. Yes, they do provide a series of economic opportunities, but it also presents a narrative of transnationalism, skipping across the world, bringing Jamaica abroad and abroad back to Jamaica.

Note: All photos from a heavily filmed Weddy Weddy back in 2009.

Satisfaction don’t come until…

Major Lazer‘s new album has yet to drop, but there have been bits and pieces that have been released while folks wait around for Free the Universe to show up on April 15. The latest track to whet the appetite is “Jessica” ft. Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, which premiered on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 show last night. 

I immediately was sure I’d heard it before. Journalist Marvin Sparks was thinking the same thing. One person thought it was “Wear You To The Ball” by the Paragons and another suggestion was the Heptones “Sea of Love”. Spin magazine said “[t]he track borrows from Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s earlier productions, combining crunchy roots reggae groove with spoken word bits and crooned falsetto highlights.” True, it’s got a little bit of falsetto Congos-style crooning, but none of this is right. First off, they’re wrong about Lee Perry. When Spin says the track “allow[s] Major Lazer’s latest to drift in and out like a radio transmission from a bygone era,” they’re certainly right–just the wrong era. This song aint from the 1970s. And the riddim is, arguably, not by Major Lazer.

How do I know? Thanks to Jah Mikes, he of encyclopedic knowledge regarding riddims, the mystery has been solved. The tune’s riddim is from “Satisfaction” by Carl Dawkins, a 1968 Carl JJ Johnson-produced gem later re-released by Winston Riley. “It’s exactly [“Satisfaction”]…nothing to do with Lee Perry at all,” says Jah Mikes. “It’s a shame people seem to have forgotten the oldies…At least now they can be re-released as ‘new’ songs.” The re-release is mysterious as well. How did Riley’s Techniques label get a hold of the tune?

What’s interesting is that in every blog post that showcased the track today, there’s no mention of “Satisfaction” at all. One says of the track that “[t]he production is crackly, raw and so vintage that it sounds as if the whole thing has been played through a battered transmitter radio”–but it sounds identical to the original version when played on good ‘ol trusty 45″ vinyl–at least until there’s a wee bit of echo and such added in. Everything old is new again…maybe it’s time for a 60s one drop revival. Go back to foundation and check “Satisfaction” here. What do you think?

EDIT: Edited to show that it was Carl Johnson, not Winston Riley who originally produced the track. Thanks to Red Selecter (another encyclopedic mind who confirmed that my first guess of Johnson was in fact correct), here’s a piece by the venerable Mel Cooke about the story behind Carl Dawkin’s “Satisfaction”. Makes me wonder…what’s the story behind “Jessica”?

Jamaica wins the Superbowl

Yup, Jamaica was at the Superbowl. From Bey to VW, foreign was clearly taking cues from yard. As a demonstration of this fact, I’ve collected some of the best tweets referencing Jamaica’s presence. Some of my faves had to do with the blackout. Jamaicans have a sense of humour–and the remarks take the USA down a peg or two. Enough with first/third world characterizations. The powercut placed the US on a playing field no better than anywhere else. And it’s always nice to find an opportunity to poke at the incredibly expensive JPS electrical company.

@usainbolt Big man thing a Jamaica run the world #Beyonce.. Yard vibes

@DamionCrawford right now beyonce prejudiced fi a duh dutty wine lolol… anyway jamaica win super bowl argument done

@Real_Julz I guess they will say beyonce made dutty whine famous now?? lol #jokes #Jamaica #dontdis

@yaadinfo We need a Jamaican in New Orleans to bridge it fi dem. Where is Winstan?

@MrDatMad JPS DEH PON WORLD WIDE TOUR

@fluffymisskitty Well at least dem cyaa blame JPS! or maybe I should say I hope they don’t have a branch in New Orleans a supply di dome!

@Chunchi JPS get visa

@souldancing Power cut at big-big #SuperBowl? They’re taking this #Jamaica thing too far! Dwl!

@SadeSweetness 1st this: Jamaican accent, Jamaican music, Jamaican dance, then this: Jamaica powercut. #SeemsLegit

@BradscottJames Does “outside power feed” mean bridge light?? #PowerCut #SuperBowl47 #jamaica

@Richard_Stacks Powercut at superbowl and jamaica hav light! Bwahahahahaha!

@DwayneSamuels Jamaica win the Super Bowl! All JPS powercut reach dem to raw!

@nikkirich61 A who obeah di superbowl

@BigBlackBarry Light gone? True dem diss Sean Paul. #obeahstrang

And nothing is complete without throwing a little inter-island shade…

@Lacey_World So Bahamas paid for an ad and Jamaica got free advertising. #superbowl

@DebiBunni Poor Bahamas spent millions for that ad and Jamaica got free ad space from VW and Beyonce… rough…

Then, of course, there’s the response to *that* ad:

Red Stripe RefsThe GermaicanReal Jamaican Volkswagen Commercial