Thursday, June 30, 2005

Supreme Court doesn't kill off technology or P2P

It's hard to remember the last time that each side in a major court case misread a ruling so badly as in the Supreme Court case about Grokster. While the major labels crowed that they had slam dunked a major victory, defendants including various Peer-to-Peer services painted a gloomy scenario of a devastated online music landscape. The truth lies somewhere in between these two views though.

First of all, start with the ruling itself. Reading through it, you see that it's not as clear as either side would have you believe. Bob Lefsetz's article What Doomed Them has extensive quotes from the decision. The substance there is that the decision hinges on the point that StreamCast asked for trouble by poising itself as "the next Napster." In other words, if you put out P2P software online and you ask for advertising dollars 'cause you're gonna get thousands of people trading MP3's without paying for them, you're gonna be in trouble with the courts. As a Harvard law professor puts it more artfully in an L.A. Times article (Firms Can Be Held Liable for Net Piracy), "There's only one thing that will clearly get you in trouble after this opinion, and that is actively promoting or marketing it for illegal purposes."

Which is all good and well but the problem is that this still isn't a cut and dry matter. What exactly constitutes 'promoting or marketing' these kinds of services is something that's still going to need some clarification. A sage editorial from Wired (The Real Lesson of Grokster), explains this:

"Even if companies have not promoted infringement in obvious ways, plaintiffs could still tie them up in litigation and costly discovery in search of damning e-mails--actions that could drain the coffers of thinly financed start-ups but barely dent the resources of the motion picture and music industries.

"The high court did a lot of things right in Grokster. But defending the rights of copyright holders in the face of disruptive new technologies does not demand protecting outmoded ways of selling products. It's time for the entertainment industry to accept the inevitable and stop trying to use the courts to put a leash on unpredictable new technologies."

And you know what? Even Hilary Rosen, former RIAA head and leading villain in the music industry, actually agrees with them. After a boneheaded, hollow contention that "we won" (echoes of Gina Arnold?) in a blog for the Huffington site (The Wisdom of the Court , Part 2), she goes on to say: "The euphoria of this decision does not and should not change the need for the entertainment industry to push forward and embrace these new distribution systems." This follows up on an earlier post (The Supreme Wisdom of Not Relying on the Court) just before the court decision where she talks about the authorized and unauthorized online music services: "These (non-authorized) services have traffic at a rate 40 to 50 times the traffic of legitimate sites. Yet, the amount of time and money wasted on besting the game by the entertainment and technology industries is huge. This volume needs to be embraced and managed because it cannot be vanquished. And a tone must be set that allows future innovation to stimulate negotiation and not just confrontation." Too bad she didn't have the same wisdom when she ran the RIAA and made all kinds of excuses for the majors' heel-dragging on the subject.

Which all goes back to the ultimately blunted impact this decision is going to have. While you can't totally dismiss a scenario like Cory Doctrow's Supreme Court Strikes a Blow against P2P Sharing where other countries are going to take up the tech slack if U.S. companies are going to stop them in courts, two other articles point to the problem that major labels are going to have with using this as a club against tech companies. Jon Pareles' The Court Has Ruled So Enter the Geeks argues that tech geeks always find a way around majors' maneuvering, includes each new generation of file sharing and MP3 blogs. Reason's Don't Stop Grokkin' also believes that this court decision isn't going to change much in the future in and of itself, mainly because it still has the fuzzy 'induce' language to say what is and isn't promoting theft. In other words, the courts are going to need to find specifics as to what the hell the Supreme Court said. One theory is that it will take a company like Apple to sort out this mess if they get nailed for their recent Podcasting initiative: Grokster May Haunt Podcasting. If the company that once told consumers to "Rip, Mix, Burn" can show that it isn't promoting music theft here, the courts would be hard pressed to rule against them. As such, it would take a company as big as Steve Jobs and friends to put enough legal muscles and money to hold back the majors from destroying their own industry.

Again, the important thing to remember about the decision is that even though the Supreme Court set a standard of what was a no-no for P2P, the lower courts still have to make their own final ruling in this (which is probably going to be argued back up to the Supremes anyway). These other courts have been using the 1984 Sony decision as a legal benchmark, correctly noting that VCR's had legit purposes- and sure enough, the entertainment biz was able to exploit it to their advantage to the tune of billions of dollars a year. That bolsters Lil Hilary's argument that the biz needs to do the same with these online services or else.

What that means is that the next move in this battle will come from the lower court decisions on this case. If they go along with the S-Court guidelines and rule against StreamCast and others based on intent, it obviously won't end the battle. Even if Apple isn't dragged into the fray, another software company will inevitably make it there. As noted above, many of the smaller companies won't have the money to duke it out but Microsoft or Sun (who live in court) will not only have time, money and legal power to battle this, it will be in their own interest to bat down any kind of nonsense challenge to their technology. Microsoft especially has coffers that make the majors look like mom-and-pop businesses and has also shown a proclivity to world (economic) domination so good luck trying to keep them back.

Because these battles can take a while though, Doctrow's worries may not be totally unfounded. As it stands, a lot of entertainment technology makes the rounds in East Asia months or years before it makes it to the States. No amount of lobbying is going to make them shut down their labs in sympathy with the majors while these delicate matters are being hashed out in U.S. courts. Rulings in the States aren't going to stop them and they should go ahead with any potential technology they're developing. Once they do and it makes it out to the Net, we all know how hard it is to cap anything flowing through cyberspace.

I'm not even convinced that the majors themselves aren't cynically playing this P2P card themselves. Even while they prosecute record stores for circulating unauthorized material offline, they don't seem to have a problem with some rap artists who generate their own mixtapes to generate interest in their work. Also, how do you explain the lack of prosecution with MP3 bloggers? Some of the high-tier scribes here get their own advance copies of releases directly from the labels- if they put up full-length songs on their sites for anyone to download for free, where's the legal line to be drawn for P2P services which do the same thing?

Pareles is right to note that this is a large-scale cat and mouse game going on. Techies come up with something that disrupts the music biz status quo and then lawsuits follow to stop them and then they come up with new technologies to get around that. And on it goes. Rosen has the right idea too but the majors haven't shown a good track record with embracing new technology quickly. Since it's happening faster and faster, they're going to have to learn to adopt even more quickly than before or else. The problem is that these huge bureaucracies can't do anything quickly- they're build around lawyers, meetings, committees, accountants that make such a thing impossible. What that would seem to mean is that smaller, leaner indies would be more equipped and adept to deal with these issues. Ideally that's the case but as far as I can tell, that hasn't necessarily happened, not because of will (I think) but because of nature of their size, it's not as easy to devote resources to catch up to all the tech innovations.

Any way you look at it, there's plenty of bloody battles coming about online music. I said it before and it bears repeating- until the labels invest more in innovation than litigation, they're screwed. And I don't mean copy protecting either- fans want music everywhere, anytime and they can get around this crap with a magic marker and other lo-fi methods. How technological is that?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Live 8- Who really cares about Africa?

Woe be to any pop star trying to be a Samaritan. You're immediately accused of drawing attention more to yourself than for the cause you're trying to help. It's seen as a career move to make you look sensitive and caring. Now, we can't have any of that nonsense in the music industry, can we?

Former Boomtown Rats singer and Knight of the order of the British Empire Bob Geldof (not 'Sir Bob' since he's Irish) faces these questions about himself as next week marks the huge Live 8 concert series, spanning countries and continents, following up on 1985's Live Aid, to bring recognition again to aid relieve efforts for Africa, in lieu of the upcoming G8 Summit.

Not surprisingly, there are detractors and supporters lining up about this new enterprise. Probably one of the worst ones is Andrew O'Hagan's Noisy public displays of compassion (The Telegraph) where Geldof gets chided for making such a spectacle of himself, preferring instead that we all experience suffering alone in solitude, rather than bonding over a common cause. Antonia Zerbisias' What's next, Live 8 ring tones? takes a similarly cynical view of Live 8 (as if you couldn't guess from the title of the article) but does bring up two really salient points: the wristbands for the event were made in Chinese sweatshops and the event was pretty Ameri-Eurocentric until complaints made them bend to include African performers. On that last point, it's important not just because Geldof and friends don't want to look like a bunch of racists but also because it'll serve as a fine example of the rich culture which could be lost otherwise.

As you probably can guess by now, I'm a little cynical myself but not about Geldof. If his detractors want to complain that this is becoming a bleeding-heart megafest for the do-gooding chart-toppers and dinosaurs, maybe there's something to that- Coldplay, Madonna, U2, R.E.M., Sir McCartney, Sir Elton, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd- but how does Eminem, Snoop Dogg and the Sex Pistols fit into that? Also, not much mention is made of the fact that in between Live Aid and Live 8, Geldof has been working tirelessly on projects to forgive Third World debt and increase aid to Africa for the past 20 years- I'm sorry but nobody puts in that much time and effort jut as a career move. So much for the ignorant snarks who lob arrows at him for his do-gooding.

That's not even mentioning what he's doing now. Traci Huckill's The Great Live 8 Debate is a very thoughtful look at Geldof and his work. Huckill is realistic enough to note that the guy's an egotist but also points out that it's stupid and naive to think that Live 8 is going to solve all of the problems with poverty and hunger. Geldof is using the concert series to bring light to his ongoing charity work, which is why the shows are free this time. As for him yelling about E-bay auctions for tickets, how dare he complain that a bunch of scumbags were trying to rake in piles of cash for themselves on the back of a charity event!

Annette John Hall's Stars have long made noise for causes is another fine article that details the history of do-good concert events: George Harrison's Concert For Bangladesh, Willie Nelson's Farm Aid, last year's Vote for Change tours. Like Huckill, she realizes that these shows don't end problems but if they can raise awareness, they've done a lot.

As such, one thing I really resent about detractors for these events and causes is how stupid they think the audiences are. The theory is that the fans will go, have a good time and promptly forget everything that they were supposed to learn about or care about from these shows. There's no question that this'll happen to many people who go to these events but definitely not all of them. Say what you will about the egos of U2, Coldplay or Bruce Springsteen but they're not one to mince words when it comes to letting fans know who or what they support. They do this in interviews and not songs, wisely because they want to work to appeal to people at a grand scale without getting too much into demagoguery . To say that NONE of their fans then get the message is condescending. A great example is the heat that Springsteen took for the song "American Skin." As Dave Marsh pointed out, most of the critics didn't bother to really listen to the words and understand that the song wasn't saying how evil cops are (as most reactionary punks would have) but what a sad and unfortunate tale it was. Similarly, an event like Live 8 isn't done to point fingers but to point out great tragedies.

If there are some short-comings to an event like Live 8 that are worth pointing out, two recent news stories are instructive. Gearing up to be at 21st Century Idi Amin, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has continually destroyed his own country for the last 5-10 years, in a desperate grab to maintain his power. After years of attacks, murders and imprisonments that he's orchestrated, his latest atrocity is throwing thousands of poor families out of their homes: see CNN's Rights groups call for end to Zimbabwe's 'crime against humanity'. Even though he's plunging his own country into disaster, many other African leaders are hesitant to criticize him. When he originally took over the country, he had an amnesty for many white land owners because he understand that despite their racist, slave-owner past, he still needed their help to build a society where every race had rights. Having visited there in the late 80's, I can attest to what a beautiful, green countryside there is and what friendly people there are living there. Nowadays, I'd be loathe to tell anyone to visit there as they'd likely lose their life for speaking out against the horrors there. Mugabe is causing misery not just in his country but in the whole Southern region of the continent. Any aid or debt relief will be meaningless there until a dictator like Mugabe reforms or leaves power.

One other thing that's worth addressing in a huge charity event like Live 8 is the idea that not just aid but also self-helping initiatives need to be encouraged. A great example of that is Indira A. R. Lakshmanan's article For Venezuela's poor, music opens doors where we learn how classical music is helping children who have little else in their lives. It's a wonderful idea and something that a big concert event would be ideal to promote since there's the obvious music connection. It might seem like a white man's burden to have these truly down-trodden kids learn classical music but it brings so much to their lives and gives them a sense of accomplishment and hope. I'm sure there's good arguments that they should learn their own native music instead and that's fine too as long as they have something to grasp on to.

So go ahead and throw all the pies that you want at Geldof and his imperfect enterprise. He'll shrug it off anyway and despite some short-comings, he's got the right idea. Maybe you should ask his detractors what the hell they themselves are trying to do to make this world a better place. Clogging it up with snarky articles is just pollution and if we need some kind of concert event to stop that, sign me up.

POST-SCRIPT: Bono on NBC's Meet The Press this past Sunday was truly a surreal sight if only because it's usually a gotcha session for a bunch of Washington spin-masters to make their cases and dodge thorny quotes. The U2 singer was lobed softballs by host Tim Russert mostly, wondering how much good Live 8 will really do and if the aid will actually reach the intended victims, which are both legitimate questions. Bono admitted that the biggest problem they face is corruption (where the food and money is siphoned to dictators) so they try to deal with aid organizations that best work around these limitations. Just as Geldof has done, Bono also showed the political acumen of Hilary Clinton when he refused to slam George Bush, instead praising his work so far but warning that history's gonna judge him harshly if he doesn't step up to the plate and do more. Might be wishful thinking but you have to admire his and Geldof's tact. Whether there's going to be any payoffs (literally and figuratively) remains to be scene. That's how history is going to judge them and if the whole event is a success or not.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Vision Festival- 10 years old and still 'free'

"Free jazz" scares a lot of people. They hear the term and think "uh oh, it's gonna be noise..." But just as the term 'jazz' itself is so elastic a century after the fact, so is its great-grand-kid. Come to think of it, any strict definition of a genre is toast after a decade or two- think of rock, classical, country...

But if anything proves that free jazz isn't something to hide under the covers about, it's the year Vision Festival in New York. When I've written about VF for the Village Voice this year and back in 2002, I took it for granted that this was celebration of a certain style. I started going when they had the 2nd or 3rd event and I've been hooked ever since. I can't think of any local music fest that was so uplifting and surprising. CMJ is disorganized and has no real heart to it, other than to give music types a reason to converge on NYC to gorge. The JVC jazzfest means well but it almost never draws blood. Columbia University does have its share of modern classical fare but nothing that I can remember that's been a consistent show of strength like VF has been.

Maybe part of it has to do with underdog rooting. Free jazz is obviously not something that thrives easily nowadays (or ever, for that matter). VF itself has hobbled from venue to venue over the years, having to make a last minute change of plans this year when issues came up over fire-code problems before they settled on the wonderful Angel Orensanz Center (where they've been twice before). And since the AO ain't cheap to rent, even after charging $25 a night, they still pass around the hat to help defer the rental costs. I'd say it's worth it though as the former synagogue has a huge, awe-inspiring interior (as you see from their site).

The best I could liken VF is to a laboratory, where experiments are constantly being conducted. All mixture of old and new musicians appear and re-appear in different ensembles from year to year and even from day to day in the same year's festival. You know what happens in labs- some experiments succeed while other fail. To do this in the private confirms of institutional research but to do this in front of an audience (even after rehearsals), takes real chutzpah.

But then I think back to the term 'free jazz' and now I regret using that for the Festival. 'Post-bop' isn't sexy enough and that dates the music even more but it's almost as accurate. Technically, if you're talking about 'free,' you mean that the music doesn't have melodies or steady tempos. That wasn't the case with VF though- there was a lot of free passages but there was plenty of bop and big band leanings in there too. It'd be more accurate to say that the rhythms were 'freer' than your usual smooth jazz combo. As proof that this wasn't as daunting as it seems at first, I've taken a number of friends who would never consider themselves jazz fans and they enjoyed the Fest. Definitely a good sign.

It isn't as if the stage is where all the action is either. Two artists are painting madly to the side of the stage, capturing what they see of the performers on their canvases (and then ready to hang up their creations on the wall immediately afterwards): one of them is Jeff Schlanger, who has his own website where you can see some of his creations. There are also photos adorning the walls from previous festivals, a concession table with CD's, books, pamphlets, postcards, etc.. They'll even feed you a good meal for a few bucks (my favorite being the tuna pasta). This is all done by volunteers in the spirit of making such a huge, un-commercial effort a reality. How could you not admire that?

For all the years I've gone, I can't remember seeing a really terrible set. Maybe some didn't work as well as they should have but nothing that totally fell on its face. This year, the big bands made a particular impression: the Sound Vision Orchestra and William Parker's Little Huey, each of which was bursting with wonderful soloists. Karen Borca is a marvel not just because she happens to a woman bandleader but also because her instrument is the bassoon (know many players?) and that she shows the range and imagination of some of the best sax players also on the bill. Violinist Billy Bang went pizzicato all over his violin before throwing himself into crazed solos and then sweet, moving passages at other times. Positive Knowledge was simply phenomenal: the way that sax players Oluyemi Thomas and Kidd Jordan locked horns was astounded. All of these players provided more sustained climaxes than a Jenna Jameson flick.

Like I said, it's a very life-affirming and sustaining parade of music but the only let-down is to wait 12 months until it returns again, assuming that they have the funding to do so. I already have my calendar marked for it next year.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Help save PBS

OK, granted this is the 3rd or 4th time I've recently provided links to causes and petitions I believe in but I'll be damned if I let Congress take away Sesame Street (which I grew up watching). They're now set to vote on an almost 50% cut in funding for the Public Broadcasting System.

According to a recent L.A. Times article:

'The bill would cut $100 million from next year's budget of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the private nonprofit organization that distributes federal funds to local stations. Money set aside to help local stations convert to digital technology and to upgrade PBS' satellite system would be trimmed. And there would be $23 million less for "Ready to Learn" programs aimed for children, such as "Sesame Street" and "Postcards from Buster."'

Of course, the conservatives ready to pull the rug out from under PBS insist that it's just a coincidence that they recently had the fight over the Buster program and that the current head of CPB (which funds PBS), Ken Tomlinson, used taxpayer money to (perhaps illegally) monitor a Bill Moyers program for left-wing bias. That last one would include calling Republican Chuck Hagel a 'liberal,' which I'm sure he wouldn't be too happy about.

If you have enough sense to believe otherwise, there are a few places you can go to express your dismay and disgust with Congress over this:

PBS petition

Move On Petition

People for the American Way petition

Do you want to tell your kids someday that they didn't do everything you could to save Big Bird? Elmo I could do without but still...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Paul Anka's Gen X&Y Songbook

As my girlfriend pointed out in a recent Metro NY editorial, we have to re-adjust ourselves any time one of our favorite songs gets abducted in a commercial. We have to adjust to the new context and the fact that we're now going to hear and see it again and again to sell some other product now other than the album where it came from. It's no different if we hear an ill-conceived cover that's making the rounds. "You've ruined my song!" many will cry.

While it's easy to draw comparisons to Pat Boone's metal record, another model for Paul Anka's Rock Swings album is Rod Stewart's recent infatuation with classics. While Stewart looked to pre-rock standards, Anka sinks his teeth into 80's-90's rock and pop, including long forgotten bands that only VH1 could resurrect (Spandau Ballet, Survivor), hook-hounds (R.E.M., Oasis), grunge (Soundgarden, Nirvana), Michael Jackson (no doubt in sympathy with his recent trial) and Nicole Ritchie's dad. And for a truly left-field choice, there's the Cure, whose singer knows enough already about over-the-top sentimentalism that Anka puts on display.

While it's easy for hipsters to laugh at such an excursion, at some level, you have to give a crooner in his mid-60's to at least try something like this. Is it any more pathetic to have Jagger or McCartney tour endlessly while they haven't made any albums that people care about for decades now? If they can remain stars by living off their image and past glories, how bad is it for Anka to go out on a limb here? He risks looking ridiculous to the fans who remember and love the original songs and also risks looking pathetic and misguided to any of his old fans who probably don't know these songs.

Still, the song selection does lean towards the overly sentimental and obvious many times. For Van Halen, "Jump" is their best known hit but "I'll Wait" would have been easier (and more logical) for him to tackle. Ditto for Nirvana- "Smells Like Teen Spirit" doesn't even sound funny and "Come As You Are" would have been much easier to cover. As for the sappy stuff, Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven" and Lionel Ritchie's "Hello" aren't any better here than in their original form. Also note that Steve and Edie beat him to Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun." And for every time he does lift the veil of a song that we've heard but haven't really heard like "Eye of the Tiger," he more than often doesn't add anything but new arrangements to other songs (i.e. "Everybody Hurts").

Which isn't to say that it's a bad album, especially if you forget the context and just listen to the music. But do any of these "classics" match what Stewart was covering? It's not even close but then again, we're talking about some of the greatest popular music composers of the 20th Century going up against Billy Idol. As such, the idea is an interesting one that's going to raise eyebrows and get attention from the rock crowd as well as the crooner crowd but he could have done better to go for more substantial material rather just surprise people with song choices. If you think that's too harsh, make a mixtape of the original songs and see what you think.

If Anka had say Rick Rubin turning him onto some more exotic choices, who knows how far he could go? Aussie indie-pop like the Go-Betweens and the Chills, malevolent songsmiths like Magnetic Fields and Mountain Goats (who would be naturals), shameless hookmeisters New Pornographers and Pernice Brothers, sad folkies like Devendra Banhart all await.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Howard Stern, patriot?

While Larry Flynt and 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell both peddle sleazy, they also provide important case studies in the First amendment. With a Supreme Court case (made famous in the movie the People Vs. Larry Flynt) granted the Hustler publisher the right to make gratuitous sex jokes about Rev. Jerry Falwell, Florida courts granted that Campbell and his band had the right to make filthy raps. Granted that these aren't the ideal guys to help uphold the First amendment but as Flynt pointed out, if the law can protect his rights to spout off, then it will protect your own right too.

Anyone who's still grossed out by the idea of foul-mouths upholding our rights might want to remember a few things. Lenny Bruce and George Carlin were also arrested for peddling obscenity and though some people would say that they were being more high-minded that Flynt or Campbell, the same basic issue about individual rights is still key. And doesn't Voltaire's words still hold true today? "I may not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

And so into this lineage comes Howard Stern. Ready to run off to satellite right because he's sick of being pursued by the FCC (though he still might be fined there down the road), he's become the latest poster-boy for free speech. I used to listen to him in high school (this is going back to the early 80's) and thought he was a hoot but noticeably, as I got older, I got bored of him. Funny thing is that waiting in line yesterday, I heard someone else say the same thing: "you listen to him for a while and he just starts saying the same stuff." So even if I'm not a Stern fan anymore, he does fall in line with the cases of Flynt and Campbell. His bad boy persona actually thrives on the fines that he keeps getting- he gets mileage out of saying that he's too hot for the stuffed shirts who want to shut a rebel like him down.

Making a case for martyrdom is a little harder for Stern to do with his audience- possibly, he might think it's over their head. But the case is there for it, if only because his trials and tribulations come about largely because he's an easy target, a lightning rod for cultural conservatives to attack and punish.

And while it's hard for bleeding hearts to swallow, a guy who offers up boobs, farts and weird sex as entertainment might be a... Patriot? At least that's the case that Esquire magazine is making with a petition to the FCC about Stern's fines. It might be more accurate to say that rather than someone who's wrapped in old glory, Stern is a bellwether (doesn't sound as neat though, does it?). Again, just like Flynt's case, what happens to Stern is an indication of what's in store for anyone else in entertainment (or print or even in public) who would dare transgress arbitrary rules of taste and culture. As Esquire notes, this extends to ridiculous scenarios like the TV stations that were scared of airing the movie Saving Private Ryan for fear of crippling FCC fines (which didn't come but also weren't discounted beforehand).

Just as the wing-nuts like the Parents Television Council can try to strong-arm the FCC, why can't saner people try to do so also?

See the Esquire petition for Stern

Friday, June 10, 2005

Village Voice Strike Fund Benefit

Jason Loewenstein (of Sebadoh), Northern State, Supagroup, and DJs Eugene Hutz (of Gogol Bordello), Fancy (of Fannypack), and Tommie Sunshine to perform at Village Voice Union Strike Fund Benefit!

Wednesday, June 22,
doors at 8 p.m., $10 Rothko
116 Suffolk Street @ Rivington Street

Members of the Village Voice union (Local 2110 UAW), which includes the paper's writers and editors as well as the art, production, sales, and classified staff, are about to enter into contract negotiations with management. The contract expires at midnight on June 30, and if management refuses to meet the union's modest demands for fair raises and improved benefits, Voice union members will be forced to go on strike on July 1. On Wednesday, June 22, Voice union members are hosting an eclectic night of musical entertainment.

Donating their time and talents are Sebadoh's Jason Loewenstein, who is currently recording the follow-up to his critically acclaimed solo debut, At Sixes and Sevens (Sub Pop); the beloved Beastie-influenced local female hip-hop trio Northern State; New Orleans's own over-the-top AC/DC worshippers Supagroup, who will blast the night off with a short, early set before running up the street to CBGB for another show; Fancy, Svengali behind the astoundingly jump-ropable Brooklyn booty-brat rap threesome Fannypack; mad Ukrainian genius Eugene Hutz, whose Eastern European-American combo Gogol Bordello are on the verge of releasing their new Gypsy Punks: Underground World Strike; and Tommie Sunshine, legendary house DJ extraordinaire.

The nice folks at the fast-rising L.E.S. club Rothko have offered their space free of charge to the Voice union for the event. All proceeds from the door will benefit the union's strike fund, which will provide financial help for union members in the event that there is a strike. If there is no strike, the money will be held until the next union negotiations.

Any and all coverage will be much appreciated. Thanks.

Press contact: Ken Switzer, 212-475-3300, ext. 13220,

MoveOn PAC: Tell the Truth About Iraq

"Last month the Times of London published a “smoking gun” memo on President Bush’s lies leading up to the Iraq war. Six months before the invasion the administration admitted to British officials that, contrary to what the American public was told, the White House was determined to go to war and was “fixing” intelligence on WMDs to justify the move."

"Bush has refused to address the evidence in the "Downing Street Memo," but pressure is building from the people and the press. Representative John Conyers has launched a citizens petition to demand answers. When we reach 500,000 signers Rep. Conyers will personally deliver your comments to the gates of the White House. Help get out the truth – please sign today."

MoveOn PAC: Tell the Truth About Iraq

Friday, June 03, 2005

Real Niggaz? West Coast rap as indie-rock fodder

During a Public Enemy panel at NYU, one reason thrown around for the band's quick commercial demise and failure to reach a mass audience was the emergence of the West Coast sound in the late 90's. NWA obviously had a more presentable package for the mass audiences even if they were, in their own way, trying to be incendiary as PE. The crucial difference is that while Chuck and company were haranguing about injustices, inequality, racism and the media on a broad level, Dre and company's politics confronted their own harsh realities with a harsh reality of their music and lyrics, attacking targets on a more local, personal level- the police that harassed them (though PE talked of that too), the hoochies who frustrated them (ditto), other neighborhood toughs they'd encounter, etc.. Unlike PE, there wasn't an overall agenda there other than getting paid, just the same as any other artist.

While there was already strong support among the black community, what made rap into a best-selling phenom was the support of a white suburban audience. No doubt that they were captivated by the danger and thrills they could experience vicariously in the lyrics and the whole outsider status that the music could still instill in them despite the fact that it was topping album charts- they could still piss off their parents by listening to it or at least ID themselves as fellow toughs and put-upon outsiders (again, despite the money that they and their heroes had).

But what happens when the (almost exclusively white) indie-rock nation wants to included there too? Granted that two recent examples aren't exactly a trend or the first time that this has happened but it's instructive to see how each of them approach the music.

So, is it any improvement to turn gangsta bluster into indie-rock irony? You be the judge.

- Ben Folds' version of Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit"

- Nina Gordon (Veruca Salt) version of NWA's "Straight Outta Compton"