Monday, March 26, 2007

INTERVIEW: Loto Ball, part 2

Well, it was promised a few months ago, and here it is; part 2 of our interview with Loto Ball of the Loto Ball Show and Phantom Limbs. The interview seemed to lend itself well to this division, as the first part was more of a discussion of Loto's music and ideas about music in general, and the second part concerns itself with Loto's involvement with art and artistic collaboration.
The relevant links you should check out:
Reversible Eye gallery
official Phantom Limbs homepage
the Phantom Limbs on myspace
the Loto Ball Show on myspace

Augenmusik: Let's talk a bit about the gallery. You seemed to get that off the ground as soon you got to Chicago. Was there any motivation to do this besides the fact that you and Elena are both artists and wanted a space to work?

Loto: I remember talking to my aunt about starting a gallery 15 years ago. It's something i've wanted to do forever. My approach to distribution and expression has always been direct and D.I.Y. When I wanted to show my art and writing, I made zines... when I wanted to play a show I found places and set up the entire bill. I've been doing that stuff since the beginning. It seems like facilitating other peoples expression has helped me with my own.

Augenmusik: When I lived in NJ some years back, we had a space (a converted storefront attached to our apartment where our band practiced), and put on shows, parties, and the like. I remember part of it being motivated by trying to put things together we wanted to see, but wouldn't likely find elsewhere. Seems like that's going on at Reversible Eye as well. I was really interested in the Public Image/ Enemy show you recently had. Could you explain what that was about?

Loto: Public Image Enemy was a good concept that probably needs further exploration. This concept started with the idea that diversity in a scene brings about creatve breakthroughs and vital energy, and I felt a need in Chicago for some new energy. I'm a big fan of punk history and was alway very excited by the projects where punk would collaborate with hip-hop. Or that the two would come together without knowing it maybe. Some good examples of this are ESG and the thing John Lydon did with Afrika Bambaataa. I wanted to do a show and series that would bring the two art forms together and also encourage collaboration, with the hopes that something new would start. There was also the hope that people from different backgrounds would find commonality and inspire each other. Public Image Enemy was subitiled “the collision and collaboration of Punk Rock and Hip Hop cultures.”

Augenmusik: When the gallery opened up you mentioned folks from your neighborhood peeking in to check it out. Did the Public Image Enemy exhibit help spur any collaborations with folks in the neighborhood? Did it make anyone interested in what else you were doing with the gallery? Of course, the assumption here is that the neighborhood kids knew more about hip-hop than they do about punk... which is probably a safe one to make. Did you find that as well?

Loto: Yes, the kids in the neighborhood know about hip-hop, but they don't get us. We were trying to get more neighborhood energy in there, audience-wise and artist-wise. This is a puerto-rican neighborhood. We want the gallery to serve the local community, not just white folks. We succeeded in getting a couple local artists to be part of the mural on the walls and we did get some more local audience coming in to check out the art, so it was successful in a small way. It was gratifying when people would come in and appreciate the graffiti art and the hanging artists, such as the portraits of Tupac and Biggee that were done in sugar by Jennifer Salim. People would come in to see the graffiti and come in and be impressed with the different forces that were coming together to create this mural. We had very punk art mixed in with hip hop graffiti art and it came together to be quite a sight. It was great. I think in the future we can go further and it may be helpful to have a guest curator.

THE PHANTOM LIMBS at the Great American Music Hall in SF; taken by Sam Atakra

Augenmusik: So it seems like the exhibit was indeed a success. Congratulations! It's interesting that although it seems rather logical for the two cultures to collide in a number of ways, it doesn't happen very often. Perhaps the Clash paid attention to early hip-hop, and if you can call bands like Liquid Liquid and Konk "punk", then they paid attention as well. But, aside from perhaps something like Ice-T's Body Count, the only interaction between hardore/ punk and hip hop/ rap was a bunch of hardcore kids jocking hip-hop's dress and affect. Did you see any evidence that there could be a deeper interaction between the 2 cultures based on your experience with the exibit?

Loto: Mostly they've existed in parallel worlds with commonalities like the do-it-yourself attitude; self-production, house parties, homemade posters. They both used urban walls as a canvas for their messages. They existed in parallel worlds with some crossover here and there... and there are lots of examples.... just a couple offhand, like Flipper getting influenced by rap in the 90's and that affecting their sound. The guy from Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy was part of both worlds. He had Beatnigs which was a black industrial band, then he went hip hop, then later to reggae with spearhead. Public Image may or may not say they were influenced by punk but their sound definitely would lead one to believe that! Also, what's happening right now, it seems like there are more and more indie-dance-noise-synth bands that are taking from hip hop and more hip-hop groups incorporating sounds from synth and avante-garde.

Augenmusik: I guess it's a bit unrealistic to expect that this collision will occur in the mainstream, which is going to want 50 Cent on the one hand, and Green Day on the other. Although, you’re absolutely right; it does seem that some recent producers have been sampling some heavy, analog sounding synths in their beats. That should account for something....

Loto: Well, I’m making a lot of inferences here without good hard concrete examples but right now when you pay attention to what's happening with the indie culture, if you look at the blogs that document the scene - like 20 Jazz Funk Greats; they are talking about Glass Candy next to Saul Williams next to AIDS Wolf next to DJ Spooky, or stuff like that. If you look at the magazines coming out like Vice; there is a lot of coverage. And it may constitute a sort of separate scene that is interested in a certain kind of hip-hop expression and a certain type of punk expression only, but it is a new convergence that seems pretty prominent.

Augenmusik: It's exciting, for sure, but to me there is always that one-sidedness. Vice will certainly cover hip-hop, but it's really a watershed event when Vibe magazine starts grooving on the new Vanishing record, which is a long way from happening! The way the remix culture is going, though with folks posting podcasts and mixes all over the internet mixing anything that they can beatmatch, it could totally already be happening, and it might just be slipping under my radar.

Loto: There certainly is going to be the desire with the arts cultures of people of color to protect their cultural expression from being stolen, co-opted, watered down, diluted of its roots and message, distorted into something plastic and artificial and you can look at the arts cultures of urban hip whites as the bridge for all of that to start happening.

Augenmusik: It's related to what I was saying earlier in the interview about the co-opting of "folk" music from other cultures... but of course when cultural commodities are at stake it's always going to be like that. There are some interesting things happening, but it's unfortunately limited to those with privileged access to the urban hip(ster) scenes. Those DJs-- a lot of them excellent; let's say the DFA guys for example, since they've blown up already-- might be mixing up dancey-indie rock with hip-hop or dancehall tracks, but it's a long way from tried and true hip-hop DJ like Funkmaster Flex putting a Rapture song (for lack of a better example) on his mix CD that's being sold on Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn. Yet, I find your exhibit a pretty interesting opportunity because it does give people more access to collaboration than most of the “indie scene”.

Loto: Right. It was an attempt; an attempt to spur collaboration. We had the rapper Serengeti there who had a rock band temporarily. I don't think it was because of the series; he was just trying out and eventually scrapped the idea, but he did have a rock band there and was doing "punk" style stuff, though the image of punk from his perspective seemed like a surface impression. We had some other stuff like Mr. Fuckhead, a noise artist brought in Sharky, a rapper, to perform with. One cool thing that might be coming of this is that Hunter of Mahjongg - an indie dance-industrial group, is interested in working with our artist for our hip-hop Reversible Eye Demo Project. We've got this project to help neighborhood kids put out a demo and we've been working with one rapper, Gabriel, from the neighborhood. Hunter was interested in helping out with the Demo Project and working on the demos of Gabriel, and Marcel, another kid that was coming to the Public Image Enemy events. Both of them are rappers and trying to get something going. Hunter is pretty active in the indie scene and DJ scene and would be a good one to help one of them out... so that's something positive that may be happening because of the series. Just considering the collaboration between Hunter of Mahjongg and our neighborhood rappers, I feel like something positive came out of this attempt. Brandon of the Loto Ball Show and I have already been working with Gabriel and developing and recording material with him.

Augenmusik: You recently got started teaching. How did you get involved with that?

Loto: I had incredible art teachers at my school that I graduated from in 2004. The one in particular who made the strongest impression was Corban Lepell. He was very passionate about art and music and it seemed like it pained him internally to see something weak or half-hearted. Why waste your time? He had so many great things to say and gave art such a sacred, elevated status in his classroom . It appealled to my need to feel that I was doing something important, something that had a purpose. He had such a strong personality that these values really became embedded in me; the importance and seriousness of art. I looked at teaching as an option and interned for it by working for another fantastic painting teacher there for a couple quarters and tried it out. I liked it. I also tried helping out at downtown Oakland’s Creative Growth Art center for a few weeks. As for getting into teaching, while I was researching and applying for programs, I met a guy who had come to The Reversible Eye gallery who was working for a studio similar to Creative Growth, the defining characterisitic being that they serve people who have developmental disabilities. I got interested and started working there. I teach differently there than I would in a classroom. It is a workshop, a studio. I am a fellow artist, a consultant; I offer ideas, suggestions, demonstrations, inspiration. It's been incrediby beneficial for me to empower myself by empowering others. I've made tremendous strides in my personal health and well-being. I needed to feel like I was important and having an impact on people's lives in a positive way, and that's happening for me.

Augenmusik: What sort of obstacles or difficulties have you encountered so far in teaching? Do you have any particular goal in mind for the kids that you are working with?

Loto:Mostly I go around to my artists who are already working on their own and I act as consultant. If they run into a problem, I'll help them figure out a solution and I can demonstrate techniques or give ideas. We also have periodic art talks or critiques like any art school. What I would like to do more of is planned projects but I rarely get time to work on these. One goal is more collaboration and more narrative work. I am interested in story-telling and am working on guiding some of the artists work towards a large group project like a puppet show.

Augenmusik: Do you find your art related at all to the activities that you do with your kids? I ask because some of your art (music, performance, and painting) could be thought of dark and at times confrontational (especially the music/ performance), yet certainly you'd like to make it inviting for the students. Do you worry at all about presenting art to students in a way they might find inviting, and yet is honest when it comes to your own expression?

Loto: First of all, I notice the word "kids." It's a common misunderstanding, but I work with adults with developmental disabilities. Yes, it's true that I have a certain foreboding feeling in my own work. But that doesn't come through really in the work of my students. I don't present art in a "dark way". I talk about texture, and form, and composition, and color, and layering, and other concepts.  I happen to like decoration and high contrast and have certain preferred color choices, but I don't have much to do with the content of the artist's work. My suggestions are naturally going to affect the art with a bit of my personal tastes. But, overall, the reaction I get is that every artist's work is very individual and reflective of their personality. 

Augenmusik: Last but not least, over the past year, your nickname has turned from Hopeless to Loto Ball. What prompted this change? Can we read anything into the fact that you are no longer Hopeless? What should we read in Loto Ball, and what can we expect from Loto?

Loto:First of all, it's not over the past year. It's a name that's been in use a few years. It was used on [the Phantom Limbs' album] Displacement. I was pressured to use the old name for the last Limbs tour and the last Limbs release.
A word's meaning comes from associations that are attached to it. The name Hopeless evolved with different associations from the time I was a teen punk to my twenties in the circus to my late twenties in the Limbs. The meanings changed. After 15 years of using the name, however, certain associations became more prominent and strong and the wrong attachments became too stuck. I had to kill Hopeless.  And Loto Ball was created July 11th, 2003. I have associations and meanings for it, but those will change and I want to leave it open to be able to evolve and change my mind about what it means whenever I need to. Expect the unexpected, as you might suspect.

Monday, March 12, 2007

REVIEW: Wierd Records compilation

Misters Schoolwerth and Jeancarlo of Wierd Records did us a real service with this record, as compilations of this sort are an increasing rarity. Stretching the "cold-wave" theme to its absolute limit, they compiled a triple LP set (with what appears to be a bonus 7" on top of that tucked inside) packaged in a gatefold sleeve with an accompanying booklet of liner notes, lyrics, and over 500 pictures. The music on the discs covers about as much of the cold-wave spectrum as one could imagine exists, from sparse minimal electronic to trashy euro goth-disco to the Sisters-meets-the Cult assault of Blacklisted.

The standouts, along with Blacklist, include the likes of 2VM, the Swede Tobias Bernstrump, and Sleep Museum. However, one is almost struck by the idea that "standing out" isn't exactly the point. In listening to these 3 LPs all the way through, with the requisite flips of the disk(s), the bands do begin to take on an anonymity in spite of the number of micro-genres represented on this compilation. It's almost like listening to a bunch of dub singles or hardcore 7"s in a row; part of the beauty in listening to those styles of music is the attention paid to the genre itself with the almost puritanical concern for its form and style. For sure, some of the bands on here might never be heard of again, while I'm certain you'll be hearing more from others. What's all the more impressive is that most of these bands are from New York, constituting a bit of a "scene" surrounding the parties DJed by Schoolwerth and friends obsessively spinning every obscure bit cold-wave/ minimal/ post-punk slab of vinyl they can get their hands on.

In the days when the internet can immediately render transparent what any band from anywhere is doing (to which blogs like this one admittedly contribute, it is nice to see a product like this come along, notable not only in its meticulous praise of the obscure, but also in its veritable excess. (What was the last triple LP compilation you bought?) Some years ago, records like this one were catalysts for scenes; regardless of what happens with Wierd or any of these bands, this record might very well take on that importance as well. And in a cute bit of irony (not lost on the Wierd Records set, for sure), they've produced a record that will one day be as rare as some of the slabs they give lip service to at their parties.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

REVIEW: Audionom- Retrospektiv CD

I recently got my paws on a few of the recent releases on New York based label Kemado, who were originally known to me as the label started by the fellas that put on those Shout! parties on Sunday nights at Bar 13 just below Union Square. Quite fun, though you needed to have a predisposition for all things rock (written in all caps, ROCK!) to tolerate them. I must say, those DJs were quite good selectors, and they put enough T Rex and Bowie into the mix that by the time "Communication Breakdown" blasted over the speakers, even I was well-prepped and excited to hear it. Kemado made a nice name for themselves with the likes of Elefant, one of those NY bands that garnished a good amount of press when all eyes were set on NY in post-Strokes fervor. I was more partial to the Fever and their angular, new-wave-by-way-of-Robert Quine approach. In the past years, Kemado have grown into a nice enterprise. They seem to be doing well for themselves as record companies go; their bands are written about in all the right places, and most importantly, the lion's share of their releases are pretty damn good.

All that is ultimately a different story-- it was this release, a reissue of Audionom's "Retrospektiv" that inspired me to say some nice words about them today. A reissue of this erstwhile defunct band's late 90's to early 00's output originally on Sweden's Ideal Recordings, Audionom manages to unleash a monstrous sound. I imagine the audience that traffics this particular blog (so far) is mostly looking for some jagged post-punk sounds, and while there's hypnotic Neu!-ish beats aplenty, and enough psyched out oscillators to make Hawkwind proud, they dexterously mix that with taut rhythms a la Wire. In fact, the frantic guitar-work is something that wouldn't be out of place on an early Joy Division/ Warsaw track. The songs are meticulously structured around simple, terse themes rather than choruses or verses, and each exudes an addictive nervous energy that gives the impression the band is on the verge of falling out of synch, even though the musicianship is flawless.

The label offers this track as a teaser, one of the more subdued on the album, but it gives you a decent idea of what they are capable of: Audionom- Kein Bock

Word is they're now back together. So much the better for us.

Kemado Records
Audionom on myspace