Aftermaths 2: The Noise in Indonesia

At the Voice of Valley festival in West Virginia last year, my friend J. Guy Laughlin was telling me about the noise scene he had become involved with while living in Indonesia, describing wild stuff being played at these shows popping up in all sorts of tiny spaces and strange corners. Less than two months later, a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit the city of Palu on the island of Sulawesi. It was the deadliest earthquake of last year and one of the fastest earthquakes ever recorded.

The Aftermaths series is intended to do the double duty: illuminating exciting music scenes while raising awareness and money for climate disaster. A compilation that could hip Western ears to a bunch of really sick music happening in Indonesia while also raising some money for people affected by the disaster seemed ideal, so I hit J. Guy up to see if he could help me source some tracks. Graciously, he did.

Shortly after, Sean Stellfox got involved and did a lot of the heavy lifting reaching out to artists and getting music sent my way. He also made the savvy suggestion that I reach out to Insitu Records since I was interested in some getting some gamelan music on this compilation (I’m really obsessed with gamelan music).

The result is a sprawling compilation of harsh noise, industrial music, improv, synth jams, and gamelan featuring musicians either living in, born in, or significantly connected to Indonesia. The artist Ayam Kaili was directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami in September, and it took a few days before other folks in the scene heard from him.

Continue reading Aftermaths 2: The Noise in Indonesia

How Can We Get Upstream of of Spotify’s Shit?

There’s real conundrum for the music person in these times of the microprocessor. Right now is that it’s easier than ever for musicians and labels to do things that once required heavy music industry machinery or lots of money — e.g. use synthesizers, master an album, distribute a record to thousands — but they increasingly find themselves at the mercy of corporations. Being independent in the music industry often means depending on a product offered by a massive, capital-turgid corporation all by yourself.

Spotify is a prime example. This will be an essay asking why we so reflexively use Spotify as listeners and distributors, and advocating for an alternative to a cooperatively owned and operated alternative Spotify, where the people making the music have control over servers and revenues. At the heart of this all is a challenge to the assumption that we need start–ups flush with capital to build beneficial technologies since, more and more, it seems like they don’t.

By sheer convenience, lots of people use Spotify to listen to music. Musicians and labels put their music on the platform so that those people using it out of sheer convenience will listen. Kind of like with Facebook, it’s just one of those technologies that lots of people use because lots of other people use it, even though it has a godawful interface, is impossible to navigate outside of algorithmically generated suggestions, and is a notoriously raw deal for creators. Much like with Amazon, it’s one of those sinful conveniences that we’ll get around to cancelling tomorrow.

In turn, smaller operators in the music industry — say, the creative class equivalent of the 99% — tend to feel like they have to forsake rightful access to compensation in return for exposure. We often see tweets by audio engineers or graphic designers razzing prospective clients for wanting to “pay” them in exposure, but it’s rare to hear the same complaints from people making music and forking it over to the algorithm.

Why Do We Put Up with Spotify?

There are three explanations here, as far as I can tell. The first is the most cynical, some form of platform realism.

1. Well, it’s there.

The first explanation is the one people seem to cite the most, often punctuated with a sigh. People listen to music on Spotify, and it’s better that they’re listening to it than not. Hopefully, those listeners are aware that Spotify is a raw deal, and will go on to buy the albums they like. This is a fair take, and I think, much like with the try-before-you-buy justifications of music pirating, it’s valid and does indeed lead to people buying the actual albums. In a way, this model is even a bit fairer to the consumer who, 20 years ago, would have had to buy a CD blind and maybe never listen to it again.

But this is an argument for streaming, not for Spotify. The justification for distributing on Spotify specifically often boils down to an admission that the thousandths of a penny per stream is better than earning nothing — better than the $0 royalty an artist or label gets when someone pirates the album.

For two decades, the majors have been wailing that there’s no way to make money off of recorded music because the market has collapsed. It’s something independents have internalized because, indeed, we’re not making much money off this stuff. Ultimately, many people play ball with Spotify in the off chance it will lead to lucrative opportunity, like a plum tour or someone licensing their music. In other words, music people have swallowed “for exposure” bit hook, line, and sinker, and are just hoping for the best. Again, it’s cynical, and not even half the story.

Continue reading How Can We Get Upstream of of Spotify’s Shit?

100% Pro​-​Monarchist X​-​tra Kone Radio

Your host is positively thrilled to serve up the first item on Groove Cafe’s 2019 menu, the phenomenal digital album/radio broadcast by Goodiepal & Pals, 100% Pro​-​Monarchist X​-​tra Kone Radio. It’s a mind-boggling two hours of, as the tag says, “pure anti-totalitarian communism straight to your radio.”

That means talk about Denmark’s racist refugee policy and the long tail of colonialism, blistering tekno rock in that’s sort of sounds like Henry Cow, musings on Gabber, demented electronic jams, anti–police poetry, and a half-hour of totally warped free music. It’s a journey, very worth your $10. Hell, play it on the actual radio if you want. I’m sure the Pals would appreciate that.

The collaboration between Goodiepal and Groove Cafe started when I put together a screening of The Goodiepal Equation at Digital Art Demo Space here in Chicago. While listening to an episode of the Are.an podcast featuring GP&PLS, I learned that the band is traveling Europe to work with refugees seeking asylum (state-sanctioned or otherwise) in the EU. That podcast is really worth listening to for some information about their activism. They talk about buying phone cards to refugees can contact their families and shoes for when the refugees must run from police, of the members of the bands who can’t tour with the GP&PLS since they are forbidden from leaving the refugee camps where they wait in legal purgatory.

Continue reading 100% Pro​-​Monarchist X​-​tra Kone Radio

Aftermaths: Chicago Stands with Puerto Rico

Hello and welcome to Groove Cafe. You’ve stepped in because you want to learn a little more about this big compilation Aftermaths.

Aftermaths is a digitally released compilation featuring 40 Chicago artists. There’s ambient music, improvised house, deep fried rock, free jazz, footwork, and ONO, the most important band in America. Lots of other stuff too. You don’t need to listen to it all in a big 3-hour chunk. Start anywhere and keep your ears open.

This is a fundraiser so let’s talk money. This compilation was released digitally, keeping overhead minimal. Thanks to a kind donation to Groove Cafe a few months ago, there was a small budget for mastering and art.

The vast majority of the revenue from this compilation is going to ISER Caribe, who has a really cool mission of helping Puerto Rico rebuild in a sustainable way. Some of the revenue will be reserved for a few months as a small budget for mastering another fundraiser album. If another album never materializes, that money will just get donated to ISER Caribe.

Groove Cafe will post the exact amount of money raised at various points in the near and longer-term future to Twitter, as well as receipts of donation to ISER Caribe.

Aftermaths is the first release on the new Groove Cafe music label. All releases on this label will be released as fundraisers for a specific organization doing important work. Albums by individual artists will split revenue between the artist and an organization of their choosing. Again, a small portion will be reserved for Groove Cafe costs.

What does music have to do with a hurricane?

There are three reasons why a sprawling compilation full of awe-inspiring artists across genres works well to aid a hurricane relief effort that’s almost a year old.

Continue reading Aftermaths: Chicago Stands with Puerto Rico

Groove du Jour: Long Live the Hideout

Hey groovy people, long time no see. Host has been hard at work on an exciting Groove Cafe project that’s a little more than some text, but don’t you worry there’s plenty more to be published!

The Chicago Reader broke some upsetting yet unsurprising news this week that Live Nation is planning on bringing a number of new venues to the imminent Lincoln Yards development helmed by Sterling Bay. Guess what, it’s evil shit!

Lincoln Yards? That’s Sterline Bay’s new name for the area by North and Elston here in Chicago that the Sanitation Department currently inhabits. It’s also (much more importantly) home to The Hideout, the best above-board venue in the city. You know what Live Nation’s plans don’t include? The Hideout staying put.

Instead, we’ll get up to five new venues, owned by the behemoth monopoly Live Nation, which also owns TicketMaster and conducts a whole bunch of shady business on behalf of the superstar live acts it represents. Live Nation is an incredibly terrible corporation and we may well be fighting it (and Rahm) on behalf of our beloved Hideout Inn.

Long live The Hideout! #LongLiveTheHideout! Here are some of the really interesting things the Hideout has been up to the past few years under the leadership of young, savvy, darling talent buyer Sullivan Roger Davis.

Helltrap Nightmare

The only good comedy under the sun?? Sarah Sherman has made a name for herself in Chicago, largely thanks to her exquisitely programmed night of alternative comedy and weird music.

The Hideout Dance Party

This has been happening for a long time, but it’s always one of the best dance nights in the city. Every Saturday, like clock work, you’ll freaks, queer folk, and run of the mill party people boogieing beneath the taxidermized fish. There are few especially notable parties that happen under this general Hideout Dance Party banner.

Ariel’s Party is hosted by club music mangler and DISCWOMAN affiliate Ariel Zetina. These are great showcases for the paradigm smashing experimental side of Midwest dance music.

Midnight Resonance is the dance arm of the Resonance Series, which means this is where you’ll get your more noise-adjacent folks or legendary experimentalists.

Resonance Series

This was one of Sullivan’s first big contributions when he started booking at the Hideout, and in the past year (or more? probably more) he’s brought Ben Baker Billington into the fold. Top notch out there music, month after month after month.

Month-Long Residencies

This post really only scratches the surface, admittedly, but might as well shout out the residencies that The Hideout hosts. Every now again, a certain artist will play every Tuesday of a given month with a variety of collaborators. This one was either from a Bitchin’ Bajas residency or a Natural Information Society residency. Idk!

 

The Essentials for a Safe, Successful DIY Show or Party

Is there anything missing from this guide? Do you have suggestions for bettering the advice listed below? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with host@groove.cafe.

A well-planned show basically runs itself, and it can feel like the easiest thing in the world when everything is going smoothly. Barring a scheduling hiccup, a tweeter blowing in the PA, an attendee violating others’ boundaries, the neighbors calling the police with a noise complaint, a fist fight, a recklessly intoxicated person, a recklessly intoxicated promotor, an inattentive door person, or openly expressed bigoted hostility, a DIY show can be a walk in the park.

But just because something goes wrong doesn’t mean your DIY show automatically becomes a conclusive failure. In fact, you have to go into throwing a show with the assumption that something is going to go wrong at some point. If you throw enough shows, you’ll really see

Parties are the long-time cornerstone of underground music, which means people have been doing this for a long time. Many folks who start throwing shows in a local loft, warehouse, basement, or gallery treat it like they have to start from scratch and figure it all out themselves. Fortunately, that’s far from the case. There are a series of best practices for making your show easy to run and safe for everyone involved.

Barring the fact that providing a safe, enjoyable environment is an obligation to audience and artists alike, a better planned, better run show is a better show, plain and simple.

Do This for The Right Reasons

Before to brass tacks, it’s worth saying that you’re throwing a show because you know there’s a community of people who will turn up to play it and hang out enjoying the music. This is going to go a lot better if your #1 priority is making an incredible community event that everyone is stoked to be involved with.

If your #1 priority is getting paid, getting fucked up, hooking up, being seen, or indulging any sort of your own bullshit, just remember you can do that any other day of the week on your own time. If you’re bringing people together, you have a responsibility to those people.

Make something joyous. Create a little haven for a few hours where people can enjoy music and enjoy each other. The world is pretty much hell these days. Keep that outside of your party.

The Basics of Prepping with the Hosting Venue

The first step is booking the show. That’s for another article.

But just as important is coordinating with the venue that you’re booking the show at. Put together a schedule for the show and run it by the venue to see if they have any concerns or proposed changes. You’ll need to coordinate:

  • Precise times for load-in and sound check
  • The specifics on the PA. More on this below. If you have a separate person working sound, get them in on this conversation.
  • A line-up with rough estimates of set times.
  • Pay-out structure that details costs for the house and pay for each performer.

Of course, if you’re throwing a show at your own place, you still want to have this figured out and probably discussed in advance with whoever shares the space with you.

Warn Your Neighbors

Dealing with neighbors is the tricky part. If you’re in a residential area and the it’s going to be a loud show running late, you absolutely need to give them a heads up. Obviously, if you aren’t in a residential area, the neighbors aren’t nearly as much of a concern.

Exchange phone numbers with your neighbors so they can text you if things are getting out of hand, which will hopefully ensure that they’re contacting you before calling into 911 with a noise complaint.

Give the PA and any especially loud instrument a dry run during the day time. Play some bass-heavy music or pound on your drums to see if sound carries outside while everyone on your block is wide awake and less likely to get pissed. If things can be heard easily from the street, you’ll want to make whatever adjustments to your PA and show schedule necessary to keep neighbors content and the cops unaware. If the sound can’t be heard from the street, you’re doing it right.

Plan for the Worst (aka, Practicing Cop Prevention)

Read over Groove Cafe’s Basic Resources for Running a Safe Party Space. It has lots of links and embedded materials that you’ll find useful in preventing your need for outside intervention.

When it comes to a party, the police will rarely de-escalate a tricky situation. It’s your responsibility as a promotor to make sure you aren’t endangering vulnerable folks with a police presence. Remember that ICE is running amok these days and that trans folk and people of color are often antagonized by law enforcement.

If you need to de-escalate an issue, find a way to do it yourself or with help from others at the event. 911 really is best left as a resource for medical emergencies, building problems, and dire safety issues.

A guide will be coming soon about steps you can take to make sure cops don’t show up at your show. The big ones, though, include:

  • Being mindful of the amount of noise you’re creating outside of the show space.
  • Making sure attendees aren’t smoking or lingering on the street in front of the venue.
  • Ensuring that any person intoxicated to the point of risk has a safe way home.
  • Having a good rapport with your neighbors.

Gather and Equip Trusted Personnel

The good news is that you really do not need more than a handful to run small-to-medium-sized show. It basically boils down to having the one or two people

You’re going to need the following:

  • A door person with at least $60 in 1- and 5-dollar bills.
  • Someone with good judgement running your bar.
  • An attendant at the merch table.
  • A designated sound person.

You, as the person organizing the show, definitely don’t want to take any of these responsibilities for the entire show. If there’s any sort of issue whatsoever, you’ll want to be available to attend to the situation immediately. It’s certainly fair to sit in on any of these duties for a few minutes though, especially if someone is worn out or needs to hit the bathroom.

With all that said, if you know how to run sound, it’s pretty easy to set levels at the beginning of each set and check in on the sound board every now and again.

Prep Your Sound System

More on this topic to come in a separate article but here are some basics.

Secure a PA. This means you’ll want a system that has, bare minimum, a mixer, a power amplifier, and two mains (the big speakers on that sit vertically stands). Some mains, but not many, have suitable power amplifiers on board.

Run some sound through it in advance. Check to make sure everything sounds alright coming out of the mains. If they sound dull, the tweeter might be blown. If the bass sounds limp, you might have a blown speaker cone. Fix the PA or work on finding another one. Any strange crackling or sound cutting out is likely an issue with the cables.

Make sure your gain staging is set up properly to avoid blowing a speaker or distorting the signal. This is a job for a sound person, but if you want a quick and dirty run down of this process, check out this guide to gain staging.

Go outside while the PA is running. I know, I know, this is the third time. You have to make sure this isn’t going to piss off your neighbors.

Tell your performers if the PA is running in stereo or mono. Even better, tell them in advance. If you can’t tell, ask the person who lent you the PA, or a friend who knows them.

Have a Schedule

This part is simple but crucial. A schedule needs:

  • Time for load-in and soundcheck
  • An idea of set times, especially important to communicate to the venue and the between-set DJ, if you have one
  • The time sound is turned off

Having even the roughest timeline along these points can prevent a lot of conflicts and hiccups.

Pay Out

Pay as many people as you possibly can. Pay the performers. Pay the DJ. Pay the video artists. Pay the door person, the sound person, and the venue whatever was agreed upon.

For some reason, a lot of organizers will only compensate artists. Yes artists should be compensated, but the behind the scenes folks should too. First off, it’s only fair. They showed up, they worked. The show literally couldn’t have happened without them.

Second, you want to ensure that the people making sure you’re show runs beautifully are happy. Things slip through the cracks when a group of people is doing thankless grunt work. Show your team they’re appreciated. Keep them happy. Remember that you’re running an event that’s illegal in one way or another, and full of attendees expecting to enjoy the party in peace and safety. Ensuring that much demands all hands on deck.

Didn’t bring in enough to pay the door person and also make sure the touring band got enough? Hopefully you were compensating your door person in beer and some food.

Dreaming of Music After the End of Facebook

This post is long, so I’ve embedded some music throughout you can listen to while reading.

We have been disgruntled about Facebook for a long time.

It seems like there are two reasons we’ve used it for this long. The first often rings as an exhausted regurgitation of Facebook’s current marketing campaign, that it connects us to our high school friends, people from camp, so on and so forth. Leaving Facebook, we’d be exiting a community.

The second is, simply, Events. You’ll rarely hear someone more exhausted by the internet than when you hear a music lover, musicians, and organizer say they’re only on Facebook for the events.

In neither of these cases is being happy with Facebook any part of the equation. Imagine if you heard a friend say, “I love Facebook.” You’d probably check their pupils and make sure they knew what day of the week it is.

Of course, Facebook just has to keep us unperturbed enough to stay on its platform so it can continue mining our data. Anyone who has used the platform for this long has continued to be begrudgingly on board with that.

Yet the past week’s leaks and exposés on Cambridge Analytica have underscored that Facebook is indiscriminate with how it doles that data out.

But now we’ve learned that Facebook would rather not know what happens with that data once it’s sold — including if that data is then peddled second hand, surprisingly — and will quickly turn around and tell users we agreed to give the data in the first place didn’t we?

It’s as much a pillar of contemporary American life as McDonald’s, Jordans, or Marvel movies, yet is widely considered a terrible product with strikingly limited upsides. Facebook doesn’t look good, doesn’t taste good, and isn’t even particularly entertaining. At least when you go to Target, you complete a necessary transaction and never have to talk to anybody. Facebook just smugly fucks us over.

Continue reading Dreaming of Music After the End of Facebook