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Portus – Not A Review

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I guess Portus is over now. There is still the Post-Portus Dance Party which starts in about three hours, but the name kind of implies that it really shouldn’t be counted.

The weekend was… interesting. Apparently at some point I pissed off Eris again and she decided that this week would be her revenge. I came down with a cold on Tuesday which resulted in me missing the Mickey Hart Band show on Wednesday night. The cold, combined with my terminal case of shyness in real life, left me in a weird state for most of the weekend. All of this seemed to come to a head Friday night when I spent most of the night with my hearing out of whack because of the pressure build up.

Things began to turn around on Saturday. At the last minute I made the decision to go see the Wizard Rockumentary, instead of seeing Oliver Boyd, The Blibbering Humdingers, and Owl Post. I’m still bummed at missing those sets, but the movie was in many ways a revelation. I picked up the DVD after the screening and watched it again last night. I’m sure I will at least be watching it on the flight back tomorrow. I’ll try to get a review together at some point, but right now it is a bundle of half formed ideas.

Which kind of sums up where my head is at about this whole experience. A jumble of half formed ideas which may or may not ever fully gestate. I’m not sure if I’ll be coming to one of these symposiums again or not. I think, given why I came here, something like WRockstock would probably serve me better. I am glad I came though. It wasn’t what I had expected, though in many ways my expectations were unfair and unrealistic. It was real though.

Whether or not a real review of this weekend ever surfaces, video of many of the performances will be popping up over the next several weeks. So far I have almost 4 gigs of videos and the dance party still to go. I’ll throw up a note as they begin to pop up. I think I’m going to look into actually learning how use iMovie before posting these.

Written by Matt

July 13th, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Wizard Rock

Test show

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On my 18th birthday a friend gave me two books, The Toa of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff (still one of the best introductions to Taoism as far as I’m concerned), and All I Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum. That evening was the beginning of my idle research into eastern philosophy and an appreciation for Fulghum’s essays. Both tendencies have been lost to time, but I’m thinking that I probably should dig out one of my Fulghum books for old times sake.

The reason that I bring this up is that in one of his books, Fulghum talks about advice for taking a trip. His first bit of advice is to spend the first night close to home. This way you can ease into the trip and if you realize that you forgot something important, it isn’t to much of a hassle to go back for it.

This weekend was the first night on my little WRock trip. For this first excursion into the Wizarding world, my hosts were the Monsters of WRock; Justin Finch-Fletchley, The Whomping Willows, Draco and the Malfoys, and The Remus Lupins. The situation was ripe for comparisons to my first WRock show back in August, since that show also featured the Lupins and the Willows, and the show occurred at the same venue.

While the show in August was a really fun show which opened my eyes to the possibilities inherent in the WRock scene. The show last Saturday extended these lessons and served as a reminder that, even with the series over, this scene doesn’t seem to be slowing down in the least. While the energy at the Aug show took awhile to ramp up, not really gelling until near the end of the night, Saturday’s show started off strong and built from there.

The night began with a set from JFF. Prior to the show the only thing I’d heard from Justin was his EP in this year’s Wizard Rock EP of the Month Club. The CD had gotten a couple of listens, but hadn’t really clicked with me. The tracks were fun, but not amazing. While I would love to say that Justin live was a revelation, it wasn’t. It was a lot of fun though. His songs have a strong sense of beat that leaves me with a slight after taste of early rock and roll, back when it hadn’t fully shed its rhythm and blues roots. His set began with just him on acoustic guitar. While he was later joined by Brain from the Malfoys (bass) and Matt from the Willows (drums), the full band set up wasn’t really a requirement, more a fun flourish that freed him to push things into a few other areas. The first couple of acoustic numbers showed that he was more then capable of handling his set with no help at all. It also pushed him into the circle of artists that I’m curious to see where they go from here.

After JFF, we were treated by the first of our two returning sets, The Whomping Willows. Recently Matt seems to have started playing more electric shows. I’m not sure if this is just a passing fancy or if it marks a change in his live sound. His albums have always featured generous use of electric guitars and full band arrangements, but his solo touring has necessitated an acoustic approach.

This hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing on his part, but it does limit him somewhat. His style of strumming folk pop comes across best when he is given an audience that is familiar with his work and willing to sing along. Minus this crucial piece, the shows run the risk of dragging. Matt’s banter from the stage and dry wit are strong tools to win the crowd over, but he is basically working with out a net with just him and his acoustic.

The electric though suited him really well. Accompanied by JFF on bass and a drum machine that has been christened Whompy Jr, Matt was free to deliver his songs with a dynamic that is near impossible to pull off with just an acoustic guitar. It leant an air of energy to his slower moodier songs. And pushed crowd favorites over the edge. I Found A Loop Hole was allowed to really achieve the rock and roll glory that has always been simmering underneath and songs like Draco and Harry and Wizard Rock Heartthrob were given an added bounce that had the entire room moving and dancing along, not to mention singing at the tops of their lungs.

This was my first chance to see Matt playing electric, and I really hope someone is feeding him some early Billy Bragg records so he realizes that there isn’t really a need to go back to the acoustic. Not that there wasn’t a certain sense of charm to the old shows, just that the new style provides him with a much better setting in which to display his talents.

Following Whompy’s set could have been a pretty arduous task for a lot of groups. Luckily, this tour had the Malfoy’s on hand. Making their first appearance in VA, the group decided to open the set up to requests from the audience, except for a couple of new tracks to promote their new CD. This was also my first time seeing the Malfoys in person, but judging by the YouTube videos I’ve seen of the group, we got a pretty typical high energy show that was focused squarely on making sure everyone had as much fun as possible. Of the small group of WRock bands that I’ve seen so far, the Malfoys definitely seem to best represent the idea that at its core, WRock is first and foremost about having fun. While the budding social consciousness of the scene is a wonderful turn of events, the scene would be well served to make sure they hit a Malfoys show now and then and remind themselves of this lesson.

With three bands down, it was left to the Remus Lupins to wring out any last drops of energy that the crowd had in them and the group definitely did not disappoint. Kicking their set off with Snape, Alex and the boys kept things at a fast boil through out their set as they wound their way through a set that was heavy on crowd favorites, while still giving room for new tracks from the new album. It is interesting to see just how quickly new songs work their way into being crowd favorites with the Lupins. Songs like Alone on Valentines Day and The Weasleys, off an album that might be a year old, were greeted by the crowd with the same energy and excitement as older songs like the Ballad of Neville and Luna or Snape.

The only divergence from the groups formula of high energy dance numbers was the obligatory rendition of Remember Cedric. A perfect chance for the crowd to catch their breath and cool down a little bit, Alex still managed to mix things up. Before playing the song he instructed the crowd to sit in a circle in the middle of the room. In the center of the circle Alex played solo with just his acoustic guitar and no amplification. As he played, he coaxed the audience into singing along, not just with the chorus, but the verses as well. The effect was magical. This only marked the second time I have seen the song performed live, but I challenge anyone to point to a more amazing rendition. The raised voices of the crowd perfectly capturing not just the mournful qualities of the song, but the defiant cry to continue to fight in the face of tragedy.

After such a wonderful performance, the rest of the set could have easily become anti-climatic. Alex quickly got the focus of the audience back though by picking up where he had left off before Cedric, including bringing the room right back to a fit of energy and moving bodies. Finally capping the evening off with a typically boisterous rendition of Looking For Trouble, this one featuring Grace, from Snidget, on backing vocals.

And then the night was over. Autographs were signed. Pictures were taken. Merch was sold. As I headed out to post-show burritos, thanks to an invite from Grace, I was left with a slightly bittersweet feeling. This party was over, but I was only days away from my trip out to Texas where the party would undoubtedly continue. If this was the first night of my trip, where would things go from here?

The day before this show I decided to use up some birthday gift cards and purchased a video camera. The results aren’t great, but I don’t think they’re that bad for my first time. At this moment, I’ve loaded up six videos to my YouTube page, which you can find here. I’ll try to get some more loaded in the coming days, but that should give you a little taste.

One video that I should single out, given the above review, is Remember Cedric. It really was that magical.

Written by Matt

July 7th, 2008 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Reviews,Wizard Rock

Live Music Heaven

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So I’m looking down the barrel at one hell of a fun couple of weeks. While my luck didn’t grant me the privilege to head down to Orlando this weekend for the Nerdapalooza festivities, it has tossed me a few bones to compensate.

First up, this Saturday is the DC (actually Vienna, VA) stop on what I am referring to as the Monsters of WRock tour (if you get the joke, you get the prize, a nice new hearing aide!), featuring Draco and the Malfoys, The Remus Lupins, The Whomping Willows, and Justin Finch-Fletchley. Interestingly enough, the show is at the same place that Church and I saw the Lupins and the Willows last year. Exactly how so much unadulterated WRock is going to fit in such a tiny room, is going to be half the fun of going.

Saturday is only a warm up though, the following Wednesday, the real fun starts. First, I head out to the Birchmere to catch The Mickey Hart Band. For those who don’t know who Mickey Hart is, which I’m assuming is all of you, he was one of the drummers for the Grateful Dead. I’ve seen him half a dozen times, in various groups, and he has never failed to deliver an amazingly fun show. Not to mention, a night hanging out with random deadheads is always recommended.

The day after loosening up with Mickey, I hop on a plane and head out to Dallas to attend Portus for four days of WRock. Groups include, The Mudbloods, The Moaning Myrtles, Owl Post, Oliver Boyd and the Rememberalls, Fred Lives, Ministry of Magic, The House of Black, The Remus Lupins (again), The Whomping Willows (also, again), and probably some folks I’m missing. The kids over at the ‘pedia have put together a handy schedule of WRock related events, which you can see here. Of course, an event this size inevitably leads to conflicts. I’m already looking at missing the second Myrtles set to catch the live AlleyCast recording. It also looks like I’m going to have to miss my chance to see the Wizard Rockumentary so that I can see Owl Post. Luckily, the girls should have DVDs to sell, so I’ll be able to catch it later.

I return from Portus on Monday. Tuesday will be reentry day, followed by a couple days of work. Then the following Sunday, the festivities are book-ended by another Mickey set, this time up in Baltimore.

I’ve got a new laptop that will be making the trek to Portus with me, and I’m really tempted to pick up a video camera for the festivities. Expect something from me. Though, if you don’t hear anything from me before the end of August, don’t worry. I’m either still recovering or have gone on tour.

Written by Matt

July 1st, 2008 at 9:18 pm

Posted in jamband,Wizard Rock

WRock or GRock?

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The Devil’s Snare
Lauren Fairweather
buy here (scroll down)

For those who are not up to date on their Wizard Rock (WRock) knowledge, Lauren Fairweather is one half of the WRock group The Moaning Myrtles. About a year ago Lauren started writing songs outside of the Myrtles and The Devil’s Snare is her first solo album.

The first hint that the listener has that this album isn’t a typical WRock offering is that the works are credited to Lauren herself. It is tradition in the WRock community to come up with a Potter related name for your group, even if the group only has one member.

The second hint comes in the topics that are covered on the album. The typical formula for WRock songs, in fact the very definition of WRock, is songs that are about, or inspired by, the Harry Potter series. This can take the form of songs that describe scenes from the book, songs that are written as if the songwriter were part of the Potter universe, or simply songs that are about the WRock scene in general.

The Devil’s Snare though features only one song that fits squarely with in this formula. Several songs, though not all, reference the Potter series, but do so as a fan of the series, not as a member of the universe. Because of this, I’ve found myself wondering if the album should really be viewed as a WRock album, as some will be inclined to do, or simply as a general geek-centric album, more in line with artists like Jonathan Coulton. Luckily the album stands up well in both camps, but I think it is perhaps more fruitful to view it outside of the WRock scene.

One of the biggest complaints of geek-centric music is its reliance on novelty. Critics cry foul that the songs lack emotional depth or resonance in the traditional way that pop music is supposed to. Whether this criticism is fair or not, it is hard to deny that a certain sense of novelty is prevalent with in the scene. It is hard to avoid a sense of novelty when your song revolves around mad scientists or Mega Man.

Which makes Lauren’s album all the more interesting. While several songs on the album openly revolve around or reference Lauren’s love for the Potter series, they do so in a way that side steps the novelty trap that comes from making such blatant pop culture references. Instead they come off as honest autobiographical songs. The references are touch stones which allow the listener to peek inside the artist’s mind, but do not detract from the overall message. These songs will likely carry more meaning for someone who is part of the same fandoms that Lauren is, but this does not preclude others from developing a meaningful attachment to the songs.

Now this isn’t to say that the album isn’t fun. It opens with the wonderfully irreverent track I Want You To Whomp Me, a parody of the classic Cheap Trick song I Want You To Want Me. There are also songs like the Snog Song, co-written with Lena Gabrielle of the Butterbeer Experience, about the infamous Book 7 kiss between Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley. Engines Make Me Hot (Kaylee’s Song) applies the WRock formula to the Serenity/Firefly franchise to great effect. And Nerdfighterlike is a playful song which comes off as a kind of love letter to the Nerdfighter comunity. In fact it is the sense of playfullness that permeates the album that makes it such an enjoyable listen. There is weight to the songs, but Lauren’s willingness to indulge her geeky impulses keeps the album from becoming bogged down.

Another interesting divergence from typical geek rock fare is the timeliness of the language used in the songs. While most geek music has an almost nostalgic flavor to it with references to old video games or TV shows or movies or books, Lauren’s songs reference elements of the geek community as they exist and evolve today. It is to early to tell if this will result in the songs having a limited life span even though the subject matter of the songs is timeless. Or if the appeal of these songs will be limited because of the language. It is still refreshing to hear songs though that are so current. And if one of the measures of a good songwriter is having other people covering your songs, Lauren is off to a pretty good start.

Over all the album is a little raw in places in the same sense that a lot of debut albums are. There is that feeling that she is still fine tuning her own voice as a songwriter and learning the craft, but the album holds a lot of promise. After a couple of listens one is left with the impression that if she decides to keep working at it, Lauren could one day be an influential talent with in the geek culture movement. Whether you buy the album or not, whether you like the songs or not, I highly recommend keeping an ear out for this artist in the future. Devil’s Snare is only her first tentative step into the world of songwriting. I have a pretty good hunch that her best work is still ahead of her and that it will be amazing.

Lauren performing I’m Going to Hogwarts:

Written by Matt

June 8th, 2008 at 8:29 pm

Posted in Reviews,Wizard Rock

New Traditions

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As we have seen across the book, convergence culture is highly generative: some ideas spread top down, starting with commercial media and being adopted and appropriated by a range of different publics as they spread outward across the culture. Others emerge bottom up from various sites of participatory culture and getting pulled into the mainstream if the media industries see some way of profiting from it. The power of the grassroots media is that it diversifies; the power of broadcast media is that it amplifies. That’s why we should be concerned with the flow between the two: expanding the potentials for participation represents the greatest opportunity for cultural diversity. Throw away the powers of broadcasting and one has only cultural fragmentation. The power of participation comes not from destroying commercial culture but from writing over it, modding it, amending it, expanding it, adding greater diversity of perspective, and then recirculating it, feeding it back into the mainstream

The above quote is from the end of Henry Jenkins‘ book Convergence Culture. Earlier in the book he discusses the folk qualities of what he refers to as “convergence culture” in a section where he talks about fan videos. I read this piece and understood it from an abstract point of view and understood the potential for it, but I was unable to connect it with anything concrete in my interactions with geek culture. I’ve always seen the potential there, but I’ve been unable to directly tie that potential with my experiences with the traditional music scene in the mid 90s. Tonight, that changed.

Tonight was the first of two local shows on the Accio Bodyguard tour, featuring Lauren of the Moaning Myrtles and Lena of the Butterbeer Experience. The show was in Reisterstown, MD, at Constellation Books, a small indie bookstore that is set up in an old house. The girls played in a little corner, which would have been the house’s front hall. The audience for the show was small. There were four of us (including a store employee) at the start and may be 15 later in the evening. By the end of the night, we were down to five of us who were actively paying attention to the show. Given the small attendance and the fact that the girls were nearing the end of their first extended tour and were starting to show some wear, the show was played kind of loose. A fact that paradoxically tends to lead to great shows (general rule of thumb. The best shows tend to either be the band’s last show, or when the band is playing for a small, but attentive audience).

Adding to the situation was the fact that the girls had been hired to play for three hours, even though they usually only play about a 90 minute set. The extended show and loose atmosphere resulted in the girls doing a standard set of their own WRock songs and then following it with a set of random songs that the girls decided to play on the spot. The second set ranged from covers of songs from other WRock groups, covers from artists as diverse as The Hold Steady, Kelly Clarkson, The Dixie Chicks, and Pink, to broadway show tunes, to songs that consisted of Lena improvising lyrics while riffing on the keyboard. The latter category resulted in two epic moments, including the night’s finale which snaked through a variety of diverse songs and betrayed more then a little innate talent.

The review of this show is unfortunately brief. This is not because it wasn’t a fun show, but because what made it a fun show is not something that can be readily described in words. It was something that needed to be experienced to be understood. This is because it wasn’t a real “show” in a traditional sense, which brings us back to the opening quote of this essay.

It was near the end of the show, when the girls were playing a song from Rent, with two audience members (Grace from Snidget and another young woman whose name escaped me) not just singing along, but actively doing parts of the arrangement, that I had my little epiphany.

Last August, I attended my first WRock show, featuring Snidget, The Whomping Willows, and The Remus Lupins. That show was a rock show. It was a celebration and embracing of what it means to be young and a fan. It was about dancing and having fun and not worrying about the troubles that awaited us when the show was over. This evening’s performance was not that, though it represented something that is as intrinsically a part of the WRock movement as what the previous show represented. This was an evening where a group of friends got together to play music and laugh and just have fun. It was devoid of the spectacle which defines the modern rock show. Instead it had a certain purity of intent that I have only ever come across in traditional music circles. In short, this was modern traditional music.

I separate the terms “folk music” from “traditional music” for a reason. The term folk music is a marketing term that was invented in the 50s to market a certain type of acoustic music to a given market. Much in the same way that the term “new wave” was invented to market early punk music in the 70s. Traditional music though is simply the expression, in music, of a given culture. Traditional music sometimes intersects with the corporate world, but that is not the primary intent and the majority of traditional musicians have no expectations of ever being able to pay their rent with their music. They perform simply because of the enjoyment that it brings them and out of a love for the music that they perform.

My epiphany this evening was the realization that this definition of traditional music could very well be used to describe the WRock scene. Few, if any, of the people involved in the WRock scene have any expectations of making a living at it. A few do pay their rent with shows, but even these artists give the impression of viewing that fact as a pleasant surprise, not as an expectation that they entered the scene with. They do not play WRock to pay their bills, but instead have made the decision to devote their entire lives to the scene.

I have long seen geeky music less as a genre, then as a new tradition. A modern form of traditional music which expresses itself using the musical vocabulary of today. When I have spoken of this though it has always been an issue of potential, of what the future may bring. Tonight I realized that the future is now. WRock is only a part of this new tradition, but it is possibly the most pure in its intent and expectations.

For this epiphany, I thank Lauren and Lena, but I also thank Grace and the other people who were in attendance this evening. Traditional music is not a form of music that lends itself to the typical artist/audience dichotomy. The audience is as much a part of the equation as the artist. Especially, since the only thing that separates the two is a willingness to perform.

The last 40+ years have been defined, culturally, by the increasing domination of broadcast media. While there has always been a counter movement to this growth, it has increasingly be defined in opposition to broadcast media. Over the last 10 years though we have started to truly see the pendulum shift as a new form of traditional music has begun to reclaim its place in culture. WRock is squarely part of that correction. As the scene grows and evolves, it shows great promise. And with musicians like Lena and Lauren, that promise will surely be realized.

Written by Matt

June 7th, 2008 at 12:20 am

Posted in Thoughts,Wizard Rock

Leaks

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When I posted on this site over a year ago, and said that I would start posting about things other then music I followed that post up with three posts about music. Since I am nothing if not predictable, let’s make a post about music.

The first sign that you are starting to get somewhere in writing about music is when people start sending you advanced copies of their albums. Well, tonight I had my advance copy cherry popped by my man Z. Z hooked me up with an early copy of his next compilation, Old Nerdy Bastard. The idea behind ONB is to get a bunch of vocal tracks from various geek artists and have them remixed by a bunch of other geek artists. The comp is a pretty good cross section of some of the key players in Geek Rock, WRock, and Nerdcore (sadly, all the Video Game Inspired Music folks that Z approached had to decline or were unable to get their tracks finished).

I’m not sure how much I am allowed to say at this moment, plus I’d like to give the album a few more spins before writing a full review. I can say right this minute though, that this album is destined for must have territory, and is a shoe in for all kinds of end of year album lists. In fact I will be rating end of the year lists this year by where this album ends up placing on them.

Seriously, Z hit up some very talented cats and they responded by bringing their A games to the table. There are some tracks here that are just jaw dropping good. To be completely honest, I knew we were capable of some amazing crap, but this thing is just silly good.

This is it folks. Break out the calendars and make note. This will be the first sign in the pilgrimage that will unite the geek tribes. It starts here. Keep your eyes peeled over at Hipster, please! for the release. You will tell your children about the day this album dropped.

Written by Matt

May 9th, 2008 at 10:35 pm

Stories in pictures

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I think I may end up just biting the bullet and putting up a Lizz category. Seriously.


Wrock Fans by ~lizzilicious on deviantART

The above picture is one Lizz took at a Harry and the Potters concert. Props have to be given to Lizz for taking a great picture, but that’s not why I’m posting this.

Someone, for the love of god, back me up when I say that this picture really reminds me of the work of Glenn E. Friedman, especially his punk concert pictures. I mean it isn’t just me, right? Someone else out there has to see what’s happening here.

For those who are wondering who the hell Friedman is, he is a photographer. He’s primarily known for the fact that he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time in the late 70s and 80s. He was in LA in the mid to late 70s, when the local skaters there were redefining the sport. He was there for the early days of hardcore and punk rock, both on the west coast and the east coast (his pictures of the DC punk scene are some of the best known). He was also there in NY as hip hop came into its own. In each case, he was one of the first people to take serious photographs of scenes that would shape the future of the US underground.

That isn’t why I’m posting this picture though. The Friedman connection with this picture underlined something that I’ve felt for awhile now. If punk has any real life in it, it is definitely on its last legs. What life was left in it after the rise of Nirvana and Green Day, is currently be beaten to a pulp by the current hipster scene. While punk itself is gasping its last breaths, the ideals and inspirations of punk, especially hardcore, are popping up in some of the strangest of places.

In my mind, Wizard Rock is definitely one of those places. Its youth focus. Its use of alternate venues. Its empowerment of people who typically feel left out of their own culture. Its unwillingness to compromise its values for “respectability.” Its whole hearted embracing of the importance of expression over talent. I’m sorry, this is hands down more punk rock then anything Pitchfork has even written about.

The Whomping Willows are probably the most obvious example that people would point to of the punk in WRock. With all due respect to Matt for being unwilling to compromise his vision though, in this regard I tend to find him the least interesting. This shouldn’t be taken as a slight against Matt in the least. If you’ve spent any serious time in the punk underground though, a lot of the message that comes from him is kind of old news. Not that it isn’t important, especially since so many of the kids involved in WRock have never had any contact with the punk underground, but I’ve heard it.

What really interests me in this regard are the kids in the scene. The ones who aren’t making artistic statements. Who aren’t attempting to subvert any dominant paradigms or change the world. The ones who came across WRock and thought, “that looks like fun, I want to form a band.” That, right there is the most punk rock thing in the world. And that it comes from a place that has no ulterior motives beyond having fun, makes it that much more powerful.

When people talk about the good that the WRock scene has done, they tend to talk about promoting literacy or the HPA or something like that. All good things, but the most important thing is those 300+ bands out there that formed for no other reason then to have fun and enjoy themselves.

Revolutions are messy affairs. They’re loud and and overwhelming. And when they are done and the dust has settled, then the real change begins. The change that happens when no one is looking and that no one notices until it is to late. Punk made for a grand revolution, but it’s done. Now it is time for us to get to work.

Written by Matt

April 1st, 2008 at 9:39 pm

Posted in Wizard Rock

Giving It Away

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My mind tends to wonder when I’m driving back and forth to work. Sometimes I think about things I need to do. Sometimes I just have random thoughts about random things. And sometimes I end up thinking about things I’ve done. Tonight’s drive home involved the latter, though it left me wondering about the future.

Tonight’s memory went back to 1996, and the HORDE tour for that year. By 1996, the original HORDE bands had moved on to headlining bigger venues. In their wake though, a scene was beginning to form. Resulting in a plethora of groups slugging it out in the clubs all over the US. At the time, I was a pretty big fan of this scene and the bands around which the scene grew. So, in 1996 I hatched a plan.

Prior to the show I bought a half dozen 9X6 manilla envelopes. In these envelopes I put a flier for The Fantastic Voyage, a zine that was covering this kind of music and who had printed a couple of my reviews; a catalog for the Homegrown Music Network, a distribution company that was created to support these kinds of groups; and I probably also wrote a short letter describing what I was doing and why, and which likely included subscription information for the horde.net and homegrown lists, two email-based communities for fans of this kind of music. The center piece of this care package though was a tape of a live performance by one of the groups I was trying to support.

The idea was that here was a group of people who were quite likely to enjoy this kind of music, since they were at the HORDE festival, but who may not have actually heard of any of these groups. Who, may not even realize that there were groups like this playing small clubs. I wanted to help spread the word to these people and turn them onto what was happening. What better way then to physically put the music in their hands?

So, what does this have to do with the future?

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, promoting geek culture is something that I’m interested in. And so I wonder how many geeks are out there who would really dig something like this, but have never heard of it? As I see it, those are the people that I’m trying to reach. When this memory surfaced, I found myself wondering if something like that would work with the geek culture movement?

The idea would work something like this.

Put together a mix tape of your favorite geeky tracks. You can either focus on a single scene, or create something that goes across all the scenes. Include tracks that you love, but also make sure to make room for tracks that may not scratch your itch anymore, but have a tendency to be big hits with a wide variety of people. The idea here isn’t to show off your flawless taste in music, but to hook people on this movement.

Once you have a tape put together (I’m saying tape here because I’m old and I remember when mix tapes actually involved tapes, CDs would probably be a better medium) make several copies of it. Really as many as you can handle/afford and feel confident that you can give away.

After the tapes/cds are created, put a little packaging together for them. Feel free to show your artistic side, but make sure to get in some key information.

(1) A short description of what the music is. If you focused on a single scene, do a short (sentence or two) description of what that scene is. For instance, “the music on this CD is by Wizard Rock (WRock) bands. WRock is a music scene were people write/play songs about/inspired by the Harry Potter books.” If you’re cutting across scenes, then you may want to write something about geek music in general (may I suggest Z’s amazingly brilliant description of “nerd” music).

(2) A listing of the bands on the mix, the names of the songs, and a way that people can find out more info about the group (myspace links are probably the best option here).

(3) Information on where people can find more information about the scene. Links to popular web sites (WizRocklopedia, WizardRock.org, Hipster, please!, Game Music 4 All, etc.) are probably a good thing to use for this.

(4) If some of the groups on the tape are playing a show in the area soon, it may also be worth while to include that info with the packaging for a couple of the CDs.

Once you’ve got your package together, then comes the hard part, figuring out how to give it away.

Randomly handing them to people on the street may have a fun sort of surrealist quality to it, but may not be terribly effective. I would suggest finding some near by place or event where people like you may be gathering, and focus on that. Bonus points if it is a place that you already have a relationship with. Where the people working there at least recognize your face as a regular.

So, say you’re tape is made up of mostly VGM artists. May be there’s a local game store that might be willing to let you leave a couple of CDs on the counter for people to take? Or, if you’re doing a WRock comp, may be a book store or a library? Comic shops are another option. Make sure to ask permission before dropping things off though and be sure to stress that these are completely free and that you are not being paid to do this, but instead are just a fan. You’ll also want to be ready to explain what this music is about and exactly why you are doing this. If you’re leaving your CDs in a place where children will have access to them, you’ll also probably want to keep the music free of swear words.

One other thing. It isn’t uncommon for stores to have a designated place where free stuff (usually newspapers or fliers) gets placed. If you end up putting your CDs in a place like this, you’ll probably want to mark them in someway that let’s people know that they can take one and what it is. Some people, seeing a CD or a package lying unattended, will automatically think someone left it there and so won’t take it unless they are told that they can.

If you do end up dropping your CDs off at a store or library, go back a week or two later and see what the reaction has been like. Has the store heard from anyone who picked a CD up? Did they like it? Would said store perhaps be interested in either hosting a show or helping you promote one? :)

What ever the reaction, this is good information to have. Either to plan your next move or to pass on to a band in hopes of convincing them to come play your hometown.

Either way, it gets the word out and lets those of us who have yet to join us, know that we are here waiting to welcome them to the party.

Written by Matt

March 14th, 2008 at 7:47 pm

WRock and Rambles about taping

with one comment

I keep this up and I’m going to have to rename this blog the Liz Appreciation Society or something just as silly. Because you see Liz has pulled a reverse Samson in that she has actually increased her awesomeness by sheering off her red locks. She increased her awesomeness by first hosting one of the evenings of the current Whomp The House Tour (featuring The Whomping Willows, Catchlove, Justin Finch-Fletchley, and, for this part of the tour, The Remus Lupins). Then adding to an already amazing bill by including The Mudbloods. And to make it all even more awesome, she’s posted video and audio of the Mudbloods set. (one day I will teach her how to separate tracks for her recordings, and then she will rule the world as a benevolent dictator.)

You can also catch some normal YouTube video of the night here and see Lizz (in her cute new haircut) talking about the evening here.

Anyways, this actually brought up two things that I’ve been wondering about regarding the over all geek music scene.

1) Why no one seems to have set up a Netlabel with Archive.org? You can find the netlabel page at archive here. I’m not sure what the requirements are to get listed at archive.org, so may be there’s a reason for that. I would have gone ahead and done it myself, but I don’t actually know any bands anymore, so that’s kind of stood in my way. If someone’s interested, but needs someone to handle day to day crap, feel free to drop me a line.

2) Why there isn’t more taping in the geek music scene, given the number of artists who freely give away their music?

For those who aren’t sure what I mean by taping, the practice started (as near as I can tell) in traditional music circles (and in this sense, I’m including Jazz and Blues as traditional forms of music). People would go to shows with a mic and a reel to reel machine (this was before tapes) and record the show live. If you listen to Jazz, Blues, or various forms of traditional music, you’ve likely heard a live album that was created from one of these recordings.

Probably the most famous taper friendly band was the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia’s background in traditional music and his fondness for these recordings, lead to the band turning a blind eye at first to people recording their shows and later to expressly allow it, even setting up a special “taper’s section,” behind the soundboard, where people could set up mic stands. While the dead are the most famous for allowing taping of their shows, tapes of different band’s from that era are not hard to find, if you know where to look.

The practice has, of course, grown considerably. Just check out the Live Music Archive at archive.org (and WRockers will want to specifically check out this site and this site).

So, given the number of geek groups that give away free music, why isn’t there more taping in the scene? Of course, cost is a real issue here. A good set of mics can set you back. And there’s the hassle of doing it (lugging gear, setting up, dealing with venues, watching your gear during the show, etc). That said, I’ve seen tapers at shows where they weren’t recording and they just didn’t know what to do with themselves. It is a geeky pursuit for sure. The people who do it are obsessed with it. The people that don’t, don’t understand it.

It is still kind of interesting that the Potters and the Malfoys are the only groups who are listed at the LMA. WRock seems like a perfect scene for live taping, given the off the cuff nature of the shows. I’m not as sure about the other scenes, but I imagine there are at least a couple of artists who could benefit from it.

And think about it for a minute.

For the tapers themselves, there is a pay off for doing it. For one, if that does scratch your geek itch, then it is something you can throw yourself into entirely. It gives you an in with artists (you can always let ‘can I tape?’ be your opening line) and it basically turns you into a god with fellow fans.

For artists, it is a great tool to use with grassroots level marketing. Especially if you’re an artist who has a strong live show.

It isn’t something for everyone, but it is still kind of surprising that more groups don’t do it.

May be I should start a netlabel doing live albums? There’s an idea that won’t look nearly as good in the morning.

Anyways, those are some random thoughts for the evening.

Written by Matt

February 20th, 2008 at 10:50 pm

Posted in Thoughts,Wizard Rock

Split Seven Ways

with one comment

I need to give a hat tip here to Liz, who is the one who turned me onto the UK WRock group Split Seven Ways. A favor for which I’ll be indebted to her for a while yet to come.

I mention this because SSW dropped a new EP on Friday, called Slytherin Hearts. The EP is free to download, as are her albums Love Is The Answer and The Best Days Of Our Lives. She also has an album that you can buy, called Wormwood and Wolfsbane, the money for which is apparently going to help her cover the costs of traveling to the US for WRockstock. You can find the links for the downloads and the link for paypal at her myspace page (see the above link). I heartily recommend checking out the free albums. After digesting those, picking up Wormwood and Wolfsbane will pretty much be a no brainer.

Like her fellow UK Wrockers Riddle TM, SSW identifies as a Slytherin group. Her songs tend to focus on house members, with the occasional foray into other points of view, especially the Marauders. Snape is a common reoccurring point of view in her songs.

As with Riddle TM, the honest talent displayed here is a bit surprising, as is the open emotion in the songs.

Usually when I write a review it tends to be something of a subconscious thing. I’ve never been much of a lyrics person and so I tend to focus more on the feel of the songs and how my subconscious mind reacts to them. Given that, I’m kind of surprised to find how many times I’ve been referring to the above blog entry (the second SSW link) to read through her notes and lyrics for the songs. Though, I guess when I stop to think about it, it does make some sense.

The first thing that hits you about SSW is how delicate the songs are. The arrangements use a combination of guitar, violin, and keyboard, all of which tend to play simple repetitive fragments over and over again through out the song. The effect of these delicate arrangements is to push the vocals up front. This could be a killing stroke for some artists, since it puts a great deal of demand on the vocal delivery, but SSW pulls it off impressively.

While there isn’t a great deal of emotional range on the album — SSW’s works over all seem to focus primarily on the gothic fascination with angst, despair, and an existential sense of hopelessness — the emotions that are on display here are convincingly portrayed. A good bit of that is thanks to SSW’s delivery, but another significant reason for the quality of the performance has to go to SSW’s lyrical abilities.

If you take the entirety of SSW’s work, there is an obvious affinity for poetry in her lyrics, but there is also a matter of fact, conversational quality to some of her songs. While the best example of this is probably the song Let Go, off Love Is The Answer; Slytherin Hearts offers a good example of what I’m referring to with the song Brains and Beauty. The song, which concerns a non-canonical Slytherin/Ravenclaw couple, proves to be a haunting song in large part because of the conversational quality of the lyrics. The listener is not presented with a poem which attempts to metaphorically capture the scene. Instead we are presented with a straight forward confession. This lyrical technique, combined with SSW’s ability to portray the proper emotions with her voice, removes any need for metaphor. It isn’t a trick that should be recommended to new comers, since it is easy to botch, but it is pulled off to great affect here.

I began this review comparing SSW to Riddle TM. There are definite similarities in feel and approach between the two artist, though SSW falls short of Riddle TM’s polished professionalism. Considering Riddle TM’s background in performing professionally though, this is hardly a slight against SSW. And for fans of her work, it provides us with the chance to watch her grow with each new release. Which in my opinion is one of the strongest reasons for listening to independent music.

Split Seven Ways is easily added to my list of WRock groups that I will be following in the future, not just with in the WRock universe, but beyond as well. Given the growth the has already been made, I imagine the coming years will hold some amazing music from this woman.

Written by Matt

February 18th, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Posted in Reviews,Wizard Rock