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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


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


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

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’

Let’s drink and take public transportation!

25 Aug


For most big-city dwellers, being drunk on public transportation is no big whoop. But here in Los Angeles, where many residents are still only dimly aware that we have a public transportation system, it’s still somewhat novel. This was the inspiration behind one of my latest pitches to LA Weekly: Let’s do a bar crawl guide to each line in L.A.’s growing Metro rail system.

Unfortunately, another site called Thrillist just barely beat me to this idea. But I managed to convince my editor that if I presented my bar crawl story as us “testing” Thrillist’s map, there still might be an article here. He bought it, so I got paid to spend a recent Friday night stumbling from one Gold Line–adjacent bar to the next. Yeah, I have a pretty cool job. (I bet your pays better, though.)

Check Out Our Metro Gold Line Bar Crawl