Tag Archives: insomniac

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)


Breakcore breaks out

7 Aug


I’m having a lot of fun writing these sum-up-a-whole-genre-in-1,000-words-or-less pieces for Insomniac. After shining a light on the awesomeness that is electro-swing, I’m going the other end of the EDM spectrum and tackling the difficult, highly experimental and frequently aggro style called breakcore.

As I learned in researching the article, breakcore’s meant different things to different groups over its 20-odd year history. But what I love about its present moment is that it’s become something of a catch-all for any style of electronic music that features lots of crazy, chopped-up drum programming and random snippets of other styles of music, from classical to death metal. It’s the anything-goes genre of electronic music—which is why, for my money, it’s where some of the most exciting new stuff is happening.

Because breakcore covers such a broad swath of styles and influences, I decided to devote most of the article to mini-profiles of 10 currently active breakcore artists—starting with the godfather of them all, Venetian Snares (pictured above). I also devoted a fair amount of space to Anklepants, who’s newer to the scene but definitely shaking it up with his demented stage show.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Breakcore

Why Neil deGrasse Tyson should be an electro-swing fan

20 Jul


Here’s a quote that didn’t make it into my article about electro-swing for Insomniac, mostly because I didn’t feel like explaining it: “House music,” said Buck Down, one-half of electro-swing duo Gentlemen Callers, “is the tardigrade of electronic dance music.”

For those of you who have no idea what a tardigrade is (and I counted myself among your ranks until Buck explained it to me): It’s a tiny, water-dwelling critter that’s been around for over 500 million years. They’re about as close to indestructible as any life form yet discovered; you can freeze them, dehydrate them, even expose them to the vacuum of space, and after their ordeal, most of them are fully capable of reviving and reproducing. Neil deGrasse Tyson uses them several times on Cosmos as an example of the diversity and resiliency of life.

So how is house music the tardigrade of dance music? Because no matter how many other styles and genres of boom-tss music come and go, house music always makes a comeback. It’s having another moment now, thanks to the popularity of acts like Disclosure and Duck Sauce. And, as Buck explained to me, it’s ultimately the foundation of Gentlemen Callers’ highly addictive take on electro-swing.

Technically, electro-swing doesn’t have to follow a house template. Plenty of European electro-swing bands and producers bring elements of breakbeat, electro, hip-hop, techno and even dubstep to the party, as well. The real common denominator is jazz, preferably of the “hot” variety popular in the 1920s and ’30s. But for the music to take hold in America the way it has in Europe—and in Europe, it’s huge right now—it’ll probably need that four-on-the-floor house bounce.

I hope it does take off, because at its best, electro-swing is just crazy fun. After writing this article, I finally got to go to a party the Gentlemen Callers performed at, and I danced my ass off. In full speakeasy attire, I might add. Which at my age only adds to the fun. I can’t pull off raver chic anymore, but I look pretty good in a vest and porkpie hat.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Electro-Swing (Insomniac.com)

Songwriting sneaks into the dance charts

15 Jun


“Dance music” and “singer-songwriter” are not terms that usually go hand in hand. But Matthew Koma has been changing that. Over the past three years, this guy has collaborated with at least half a dozen of the biggest names in electronic dance music, including Tiësto, Hardwell, Zedd and Afrojack. Not primarily by producing beats or singing hooks—although he can do those things, too—but by writing lyrics and melodies that can ride atop their tracks.

My Q&A with Koma is my first piece for Insomniac’s new website. Yep, America’s biggest rave EDM event promoter is getting into the content business, and I’m pretty psyched to be along for the ride. I remember when Pasquale Rotella was still out and about at underground parties, flyering for his own events. It’s crazy to see how far he’s taken Insomniac, and I have no doubt he can take it even further. Hopefully I’ll be along for the ride.

Matthew Koma: The Voice of EDM