Archive by Author

My crazy, awesome new job

18 Oct
I call this my "mug shot"...get it? Oh, I crack myself up sometimes.

I call this my “mug shot”…get it? Oh, I crack myself up sometimes.

I have just survived the first two weeks of the nuttiest, wildest, most demanding and most rewarding job I’ve ever had. On Oct. 1st, I took over from the great Ben Westhoff as Music Editor for L.A. Weekly. I’m a very, very lucky guy. I’m also not getting much sleep, but that’s OK. As I wrote in my introductory post, it’s not every day someone hands you the keys to your dream job and says, “Have fun! Just try not to scratch it.”

I am by nature a cautious man, so I haven’t been driving the new job like a stolen car just yet. (I’m a Jersey kid, so I had to sneak a few Springsteen allusions in here somewhere.) But we’ve already had a few pretty “big wins,” as the bosses like to say.

The first list I curated and edited (and wrote 1/10th of) has blown up even more than our lists usually do. Our resident expert on all things Long Beach wrote what I can confidently say is the best online tribute to Jack White’s touring keyboardist and LBC native, Isaiah “Ikey” Owens, who passed away this week. Among my stated goals stepping into this job were to cover more Latin music and report more local music news, and we’ve already done both. So everything’s off to a good start.

I’ll be updating this website less often now, but you can always keep track of my latest activities via West Coast Sound, L.A. Weekly‘s music blog. And if you live in L.A., you can pick up a new paper copy of the Weekly every Thursday at fine cafes, bars and newsstands throughout the city, and get the ink from our stories all over your fingers, just like our readers have been doing since 1978. How cool is that?

Fei-Fei got me hammered on tequila

23 Sep

Feided 3

Sometimes, to get the story, you have to be willing to go outside your comfort zone. Sometimes, you just have to drink a lot of tequila.

To write about DJ/producer Fei-Fei, I went to the opening night of her new monthly event, Feided, where the tiny Chinese-American dubstep fan proceeded to basically drink me under the table. She bought me tequila shot after tequila shot, and then, when I made the mistake of admitting I didn’t feel all that drunk yet, she bought me another tequila shot. Feided is pronounced “Faded” and, believe me, it’s an appropriate name. This girl likes to knock ’em back. (That’s her on the right in the above photo, still going strong while yours truly was propped up against a wall somewhere waiting for the room to stop spinning.)

Somehow, I still managed to partially document the evening—although a follow-up interview over coffee several days later helped a lot.

Bass Drops and Tequila Shots With Fei-Fei, EDM’s Wild Child

Twenty years of “Abnormalarts”

10 Sep

CarlCrew2-sm

The California Institute of Abnormalarts has been a fixture in North Hollywood for 20 years. Well, except for the time it was shut down for operating without a permit.

Actually, to this day, everything about the “CIA” feels a bit shady, from its out-of-the-way location along an industrial strip of auto body shops and liquor stores, to its collection of preserved human remains, to the way every other thing out of owner Carl Crew’s mouth seems to be a bit, shall way say, embellished. Crew designed the place to be an homage to old-time traveling circus and carnival sideshows, and it captures that feel quite well: There’s an air of mystery and sleaze about the joint, and every performer who takes the stage seems poised at any moment to do something either amazing or disgusting, or both.

It Doesn’t Get Any Weirder Than This North Hollywood Spot

Taking hip-hop’s greatest record collection out for a spin

3 Sep
Photo by Bennett Sell-Kline for Insomniac

Photo by Bennett Sell-Kline for Insomniac

Even on a bad day, freelance journalism is still pretty great. But there are some assignments that really make me feel like I have the coolest job in the world. This was one of those assignments.

Two weeks ago, I flew up to the Bay Area to interview DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist, two of the greatest hip-hop minds and turntablists of their generation. At DJ Shadow’s house. Where they were ensconced with 800-odd records they had hand-picked from the collection of Afrika Bambaataa, one of the most influential hip-hop DJs in history. Yeah, I have a pretty cool job.

We chatted for about an hour about their just-launched Renegades of Rhythm tour, on which they’ll be playing out the collection, and about Bambaataa’s influence on hip-hop and dance music. Then I got to sit there and watch slack-jawed for half an hour while they rehearsed for the tour. For any fan of turntablism, it was basically the equivalent of getting to watch Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy jamming through a few Robert Johnson songs over at Clapton’s house. Or David Ortiz and Albert Pujols taking batting practice—in Albert’s backyard batting cage. It was a privilege to be there.

They’re on tour with Bambaataa’s records now through October. Get tickets and go. The word “historic” gets overused, but trust me—this is a historic tour. It’s so historic I almost called it “an historic tour.”

It Takes Two (Insomniac)

The SoundCloud bootleggers

28 Aug

RemixCulture

Copyright law is a funny thing. Mostly written before today’s digital technologies for creating and distributing music and art existed, it’s selectively enforced by creators, rights holders and content platforms, to say the least. Go on any popular music website, from YouTube to Bandcamp to SoundCloud, and you’ll find copyright violations galore. SoundCloud, in particular, seems like a service that was practically built on unauthorized reuse of other people’s sounds.

I wanted to figure out why sites like SoundCloud, while paying lip service to copyright law, allow so much casual infringement to take place. I never really got a good answer to that question (SoundCloud wouldn’t comment, except to reiterate their anti-infringement terms of use), but exploring the question with remixers, lawyers and music professors was pretty fascinating.

How remix culture lives and dies on SoundCloud (Daily Dot)

Tell me a bedtime story, MC Frontalot

27 Aug
MC_Frontalot_by_Deborah_Lopez

Photo by Deborah Lopez

Question Bedtime, the new album from nerdcore rapper MC Frontalot, features hip-hop tracks based on fairy tales, but it’s not really a children’s album. Although hey, if you want to play your kids a funky song based on a Native American myth explaining why our assholes are wrinkly, knock yourself out, you progressive, hippie parent, you.

We didn’t talk about this, because it was too off-topic, but Frontalot and I are both Wesleyan grads. I’m not always the world’s proudest Wes alumnus, but I’m glad I went to a school that produces smart, successful oddballs like Front with some regularity.

Even though this was also off-topic, we did talk about the fact that the red tuxedo jacket the Muppet version of MC Frontalot wears in the “Stoop Sale” video is the same one my Muppet stand-in wore at my wedding. Because my wife and I (well, my wife, mostly) are huge Muppet nerds. So that was a fun little interview aside that wound up on the cutting room floor.

Mostly, though, like a responsible journalist, we talked about the album, and Front’s bookworm childhood spent poring over dusty volumes of world folk tales.

Behind the fractured folk tales of MC Frontalot’s ‘Question Bedtime’

So I wrote a love letter to Highland Park…

20 Jun
Yes, this is in Highland Park

Yes, this is in Highland Park

Anyone who knows me knows I love my neighborhood, Highland Park, a hilly little corner of Northeast Los Angeles that, up until recently, even most Angelenos couldn’t find on a map. My wife and I bought a house here in 2007 and I haven’t regretted it for a second—even when the housing market took a dive. It’s a great neighborhood with a lot of history and character and it has, against all odds, fought its way back from being one of the city’s most notoriously gang-infested areas to being one of its most vibrant. I’m proud of this place and feel pretty smart that we decided to put down some roots here.

So when one of my editors at LA Weekly asked if I would write an article claiming that Highland Park was the greatest neighborhood in all of Los Angeles, I jumped at the chance. Was the premise of such an article totally subjective and therefore indefensible? Of course, but so what? It’s fun to play cheerleader, especially about a place I truly feel like cheering about.

I thought the article would be a breeze to write. I was wrong. It was agony. For days I sweated out one of the worst cases of writer’s block I’ve had in recent memory. Turns out I was a little too close to my subject matter. I couldn’t decide where to begin, what to say. Self-doubt turned to doubts about the whole premise behind the article: Did I really want to add to the hype surrounding our little tucked-away corner of L.A.? It was already hard enough to score a table at The York on a Friday night. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea, after all.

In the end, as I usually do, I powered through it and managed to cram most of my thoughts about HLP into 700 words. I touched on the neighborhood’s history, the more positive aspects of its gentrification, its importance to L.A.’s Mexican culture (which I did, I admit, in the most reductive way possible—by talking about the food). Most significantly and personally, I tried to explain the feeling I get here that I really get nowhere else in L.A., that it’s a true neighborhood, made up of people who (mostly) care about each other and the community and aren’t merely passing through. Overall, I was pretty happy with the piece.

I had a feeling this one would stir up more discussion and debate than most of my pieces, and I was not disappointed. So far, in the week since it posted to LA Weekly’s Informer blog, “Sorry, Echo Park: Highland Park Is L.A.’s Greatest Neighborhood” has gotten 93 comments on LAWeekly.com; 113 likes and 87 shares on Facebook; write-ups on Patch.com and FishbowlLA; and…well, only 23 retweets, but one of the retweeters was Marc Maron, so I’ll take quality over quantity in the Twitter department.

There were plenty of negative comments, as there always are in response to pieces like this, but I was pleased to see some neighborhood folks standing up to the most negative ones—especially the ones that tried, predictably, to reduce HLP’s gentrification down to some kind of class/race war between Mexican gangbangers and white hipsters. Here’s my favorite response to that tired, sad argument:

I am Mexican, no complaints from me. My street is safer than ever. I walk my dog at midnight without worrying about the homeboys pulling the trigger on me for no reason. Many Mexicans/Latinos on my block feel the same way…even the ones who are not homeowners and are renting. They welcome the safer, cleaner, HLP.

Amen to that, Sanchez. (That’s the commenter’s name: Sanchez. Relax, OK?)

Anyway, here’s the article, 93 111 119 comments and all. Join the discussion. And next time you find yourself in HLP, stop into Scoops for some brown bread ice cream. That was the one local joint I most regret leaving on the cutting room floor.

Oh, and to the numerous commenters who corrected me: I apologize for previously calling my neighborhood “HP.” Apparently the correct abbreviation is “HLP.” Consider me now properly schooled on that topic.

Sorry, Echo Park: Highland Park Is L.A.’s Greatest Neighborhood