Category music

Slayer University

The world shifted in 2005 when a few ex-PayPal employees launched YouTube. It accelerated a shift toward becoming a culture of video-based learning.

Of course, they weren’t the first with a video sharing service but the world seemed to understand YouTube instantly. It was simple: turn the video camera on ourselves, record and publish. DIY video was born.

And it’s not all inane cat videos, Kahn Academy launched a few years after YouTube and today has more than 100,000 practice problems and over 6,000 micro lectures online. 

A decade after YouTube’s launch our default for learning has become sites like YouTube. How do you install a deck with no fasters showing? Look for a video online. How do you repair a Patagonia jacket, ditto.

Which brings me to Slayer.

I’m not a Slayer fan and my point here isn’t about them. Videos like the following catch my attention. A ten-year old embraces a video-based learning tool (Rocksmith), masters a complex craft and then posts it for the world to see.

Oh… and her little sister comes along for the ride (sounds like she’ll be fronting a math-Metal band in the near future).

2014. Time stamp.

Mutant mashups: Bee Gees meet AC/DC

This video encapsulates what I love about the era we live in.

Everything is an object and editable into something far from it’s original artistic intent. Love this juxtaposition.

100,000,000 Asaf Avidan fans can’t be wrong

How is it possible that a voice like this exists, is a popular as it is (more than 100,000,000 views on YouTube) and most of us have absolutely no idea that this person exists?

Click play and close your eyes.

You’ll think it’s a modern-day Nina Simone, probably coming from Detriot or an East-Coast U.S. city… I don’t think you’d guess it’s a 34 year old, relatively-thin Israeli guy.

Asaf Avidan info and site.

Stunning piece. Big thanks to the All Songs crew for their constant curation and for pointing out people like Asaf.

Lucius

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When a song is built on a strong foundation of harmonies it brings me straight to back to Bryan WIlson’s Pet Sounds.  This is one of those songs. This is one of those bands… it drags me back to the Pet Sounds taproot.

I love the simplicity and presentation of this song. Lucious comes across as a well-curated blend… if Rilo KIley and Bryan Wilson had twins they’d be Lucius. Check their site here.

The Clash – Audio Ammunition documentary

Must watch.

The Specials, art school and the role of tight branding

specials

It’s hard to put the rise of The Specials into a context that makes sense today.

They (and a few other ska-revival bands like them) formed at, literally, the same time the UK punk scene was coalescing.

It was 1977. The Clash and The Sex Pistols were coming together. In the ‘States bands like The Ramones had been around for 2 – 3 years.

All of these bands were reacting to a 70s Summer-of-love soundtrack gone adrift. The disco era had been birthed and co-opted into something smarmy. The music scene had become full of predictable, ballad/anthem-rock. Milktoast bands like Styx lacked energy and pushed out one derivative song after another.

Punk and ska revival were born from a music scene grossly lacking innovation.

There are a million tomes written on punk and ska so I won’t offer another here, instead I’ll point to the role of art schools and tight branding.

What I see so clearly now is how tightly controlled the band’s brands were.

The Ramones had Arturo Vega, an art designer, who not only came up with The Ramones logo but also helped shape the look and feel of the band. Arturo created a what is today called “a strong UX” (user experience). The Ramones… the entire band… were always, always the same. They illustrated stunning brand consistency. The Ramones all wore slim, shredded jeans, moto jackets and simple graphic Ts and all their songs were simple, fast and funny. In a music world made of bands like REO Speedwagon… The Ramones stood out. The Ramones brand, to this day, is one of the tightest in the history of music.

Talking Heads were all RISD, art school, alums. A quick scan of their covers shows how art-savvy this group was. Has there been a band since with a more-evolved, contemporary art infused visual sense? I don’t know of one.

The Pistols’ image was masterminded by visual artist and clothing designer Malcom McLaren. He was helped by Vivienne Westwood, an art school pal. Malcom sought out a gang of dead-end kids to be his brand puppets. He cheered (and cashed in) as the uber-promoted chaos took over. The Sex Pistols were sculpted by Malcom more than they were formed by band members. Again, the Pistols brand is super tight… ransom notes, torn edges, collage and safety pins. The modern surf brand Volcom owes near 100% of it’s visual brand identity to Malcom and Vivienne.

The list goes on and on. The emphasis of a tight visual brand was so intense during this era that it went too far. Perhaps it was the largest factor which birthed the silly, follow-on “New Wave” era. With new wave, the visuals became more important than the music. Case in point: Flock of Seagulls.

And yet for some reason I keep coming back to The Specials. Take a quick look at the imagery over their career.

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One theme comes to mind, black and white.

The tightness of The Specials brand rivals Apple.

Keep in mind that Apple will spend $1,000,000,000 (a billion dollars) on ads this year to make you think of their products are cool. The Specials spent next to nothing.

Black and white brand characteristics permeated every element of The Specials. They were taking a musical form from black Jamaica (ska, blue-beat revival) and bringing it to a racially-tense black and white England. The band had ample representation of both races. Their songs dealt with issues that divided black and white people. They dressed in black and white. They shot their photos and videos in black and white. All their graphics emphasised black and white (including massive use of a checkerboard theme)… and the name of the record label was 2 Tone.

These bands not only understood the importance of the visual branding they also instinctively understood what many modern corportations have learned in the last decade or so… the importance of a consistent user experience across all platforms.

Enough jabbering about the visuals… The Specials were also a great band. Check ’em out.

Daft Punk: Building on 70s disco schmaltz

A buddy sent me the new Daft Punk album and it kind of stopped me in my tracks. If you haven’t heard it check out this hacked video… splicing it perfectly into Soul Train.

This album is one more proof point to the “what’s old is new” truism… and yet I feel like this record doesn’t simply retread an old trend, it builds on it. Check them out here.

Real is the new slick

As more and more of life becomes pixel-perfect there is a space… and a market for things which are imperfect.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love insanely well designed user experiences like Feedly. What I’m saying is in the midst of the auto-tuned, perfect pitch singers and 24x7x365 killer apps, and homogeneous prepared foods… we sense their inherent shallowness.

Would you rather drink a microbrew or a Bud?

Formica veneer or solid teak?

This isn’t my theory or even novel. From Stumptown coffee to Brooklyn bespoke mini-industries… real is the new slick.

This brings me to films like The Harder They Come.

This 1972 movie was shot in Jamaica for what looks like not a lot of money and traces a simple arc of a criminal who yearns to be a music star. Like many Hollywood films it’s not exceptional because of the story but because of the overall… feel. The Harder They Come reminds us of why we loved Bladerunner’s grit and found Star Wars a tad too antiseptic.

This film goes past many period pieces which deliver visually but fall apart sonically. If the visuals of this film don’t reign you in the soundtrack surely will. The reggae-staple album is worthy from the opening track the the final melodies.

I love films like this. I sometimes find myself yearning for a sense of realness found in films like this one when I watch this seasons blockbuster.

When everything is perfect, give me imperfection… and give it a great soundtrack. Watch this entire film here.

Unlikely, successful covers

Many times when an artist takes on a song that is strongly connected to, glued to another artist… they fail. The end result comes across as campy or worse.

Sometimes that doesn’t happen. I think I first understood this challenge years ago when Sinead O-Connor showed the audacity to take on Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U… and owned it.

Sometimes the alternative version comes close to… or even surpasses the original. Two other examples come to mind.

First up is Polyphonic Spree’s version of Nirvana’s “Lithium.” It should go without saying that if you ever get the chance to see this band… go.

The second band, The Jolly Boys, represent everything I love about Jamaica… which includes a healthy dose of Mento and Rocksteady.

The Jolly Boys take on another song that is literally welded to another singer… they detach it from that singer and deliver a quintessential version that can only be from them. The following is a very tight version of Rehab.

If you liked those… here is a mini-motherload of more gems.

Firewall play thing

Sometimes an art installation goes further. Sometimes it brings you in and captivates your attention… even for just a few minutes.

This is one of those installations.

Ingredients are Processing, Max/MSP, Arduino, spandex and a Kinect.

An algorithm created with the Max controls music cadence and loudness.