One of the most buzzed about films on the festival circuit this year was a music movie — sort of. Whiplash is about the the abusive relationship between a demanding bandleader and his student, a talented drummer named Andrew. The film’s director, Damian Chazelle, says he actually thinks of Whiplash as a sports movie — at least in terms of narrative format. Still, the film draws on Chazelle’s own experiences as a drummer, and considers what it takes to harness musical genius. In an interview for The Dissolve, Chazelle talks about music teachers, how practice shouldn’t be enjoyable, and the idea that art could kill you:
Especially toward the end, I definitely wanted to film Andrew in a way that looks like he’s this close to literally having a heart attack and keeling over. I wanted people to worry not just for his sanity, but for his physical well-being. There’s a physical side to this instrument, and a brutality that’s not just emotional, but corporeal.
Read the whole interview here.
When you hear the word disco, you might think of The Bee Gees and Saturday Night Fever. Few people realize that disco was originally an underground culture created by and for blacks, latinos, and gays. This week, Michael A. Gonzalez brings disco’s little-known history to light in a personal essay for Medium’s Cuepoint. Specifically, Gonzalez writes about the night he lost his “disco virginity” at a dance club in Baltimore in 1979. In the process, he also tells the story Baltimore’s vibrant black culture:
Odell’s opened in 1976, back when G.Q.-dressed soul brothers still led their ladies by the hand to the massive dance floor to hustle and freak. In those days, disco was the soundtrack for most of my high school friends and Odell’s was where young, black Baltimore boogied. ‘You’ll know if you belong,’ was their motto, which was broadcast regularly on radio commercials between ads for Champale and jheri-curl juice.
Read the whole article here.
My favorite thing about music is the kind of adrenaline rush I get from listening at its frontiers, spaces where you can hear new ideas take form and ripple outward. Right now you can hear these musical ripples in the strange and unexpected shimmer of Try Me, by the detroit rapper Dej Loaf. Or you can find them in the squeaking sounds of AG Cook’s PC Music.
There are also musical spaces which have the opposite effect, almost numbing in their predictability. This is something I experienced recently when I stumbled upon a playlist in Spotify called “The Pulse of Americana.” Spotify regularly updates the playlist with new releases by artists like Shakey Graves, Devil Makes Three, and Trampled by Turtles. It’s the same kinds of artists that you see year after year on the lineup of Newport Folk Festival. Some of the band names may be new, but the music isn’t. And in folk music, that’s the point.
Every genre has its border patrols, but few musical boundaries are more stringently policed than in folk. Just consider Bob Dylan’s notorious electrified set at Newport Folk Festival in 1963, which horrified folk fans and critics. Dylan couldn’t be folk with an electric guitar because electric was rock, and rock was pop.
Erika M. Anderson makes startling, noisy rock music under the name EMA. She has also just published a digital zine on NewHive called Back To The Void. The zine combines Anderson’s writing with videos, distorted press images, screen shots, and even scans of the artist’s diary. Anderson writes about sexism and commodification in the media, her fear of the internet, Marxist thought, and how all these threads informed her latest album. She also gives the reader an extremely intimate look into her own psyche:
I found myself in a cold PDX basement in the middle of winter, head in my hands, convinced an Artificial Intelligence had generated itself inside my brain. At the time I didn’t know if it was really there or not, but I knew I wanted it gone. And that’s how I started to make The Future’s Void.
The zine is also a multimedia art piece — a little different from most Sunday Brunch Reads — so this week’s edition is a choose-your-own-adventure. If you prefer a more straightforward reading experience, Sophie Weiner has written about EMA for Pitchfork. She neatly summarizes the zine and situates EMA’s work in the broader context of internet surveillance. Both the zine and Weiner’s article are alarming pieces of writing and chances are once you’ve read one you’ll want to read the other.
With the release of John Ridley’s Hendrix biopic All Is By My Side, it seems like everybody has something to say about the guitar god and Andre 3000, the rapper and actor who portrays him on the silver screen. Writing for Grantland, Alex Pappademus juxtaposes the two artist’s careers and, particularly, the way they stand up to audience perception. He also digs into Hendrix’s many afterlives, noting how the musician’s bio has been transmuted by appropriation and the fog of collective memory:
When you strip them of historical context, trim their legacies to three or four hit songs in a Jack-FM playlist, and slap their images on T-shirts to be sold to generations of collegiate stoners, is there really that much of a difference between Marley and Hendrix anymore? Between Hendrix and Jim Morrison? Between Morrison and Tupac? The more tragic the public figure, the more easily they lend themselves to souvenir-ification and commercialized mourning.
Meanwhile, Andre 3000 has outlived his rap group, Outkast. He is living the kind of adulthood that Hendrix might even have experienced himself: High expectations, and the possibility that he has already produced his greatest work.