Intense, surreal, remote, dynamic. Come along with us as we chronicle the adventures of the soul through psychedelic, drone, noise, experimental, pop music based around Chicago bands in particular and local bands everywhere.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Oppose the Bucks Arena

Dear Common Council,

As a Milwaukee native, I implore you to oppose the Bucks Arena financing plan when you vote on the matter. The arena itself is a prime example of irresponsible public spending, and the corresponding development plan does not address the City's economic and residential segregation. 

First and foremost, given the revenue that the Bucks owners will earn from the forthcoming NBA television deal, and the surge in franchise sale values that will impact the Bucks, the City does not stand to proportionally benefit from the arena. (And, there is not a demonstrable need to assist the owners. Why are they unable to finance their own arena and development?) 

Not only is it questionable whether the arena and development will create jobs that benefit Milwaukee's citizens, but it is also questionable whether the arena and development itself serves a vital role in the city's economy. Access to the arena will be preserved for a small percentage of the regional population, without corresponding gains provided to lower and middle class residents of Milwaukee. It is not clear that the proposed development will also be accessible to citizens from all walks of life.

Since it is unclear how the State's partial repeal of the prevailing wage law will impact the publicly financed arena, what measures will you enact to ensure that local residents and firms gain valuable, well-paying contracts? Will Milwaukee firms be able to win these contracts?

What percentage of residential units in the corresponding development will be mixed income, or subsidized for low income families? 

How will the necessary debt collection practices associated with County's portion of the arena legislation affect families and residents within the City? 

How will you amend the proposal to ensure that the City benefits from this project? Will you be able to use future measures to impact the corresponding development to ensure equitable outcomes for the City's residents?

Without clear answers to these questions that define the City's benefits from this project -- let alone countless other questions about the corresponding development and economic impact for the City -- there is no reason for the City to subsidize the Bucks ownership group and their multi-billion-dollar entertainment industry.

I understand that the State Assembly's vote places you in a difficult position, but you still have your chance to defend the economic interests of the City and the vast majority of its residents by rejecting this deal.

Respectfully Submitted,

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Circuit des Yeux

Haley Fohr’s voice is the first, clearest, most obvious reference point for Circuit des Yeux. Fohr’s delivery is deep, measured, powerful, and fierce. Her potential is fully experimental: my first live experience with Fohr placed her alongside fellow Chicago vocalist Panoptic Prism (Carol Genetti) at Elastic. Here, Fohr and Genetti used multiple approaches, including primal hollers into a wide open piano, which provided the ultimate acoustic amplification and reverberation for their abstract cries.

I provide this example because it serves as a perfect counterpoint for Fohr’s work under her Circuit des Yeux moniker. On Wednesday, July 15, Fohr led a quartet of supporting musicians at Schuba’s, and atop their polished, powerful playing, Fohr exemplified commanding presence with her powerful voice. Her hollers were unrestrained and sustained, presenting a droning quality that matched the strings, woodwinds, and reeds that stood stage left. While singing, Fohr’s deep, bellowing timbre is singular beyond description, stopping her listener with a wide range and stunning emotional clarity. Fohr effectively uses experimental and traditional deliveries to color her live performance and match the power of her live band.



The quartet of players paired a range of acoustic instruments stage left, with electric bass and synth duties working stage right. By pairing viola (violin?), bass clarinet, and flute with Fohr’s acoustic 12-string guitar, this live version of Circuit des Yeux performed a hybrid sound that matched the abstract intensity of the latest LP (In Plain Speech) without as much of an “electronic” feel. By manipulating acoustic instrumentation, the band’s drones bled through borders of rock, folk, and experimental tropes, which resulted in a blissful range of reference points. It is as easy to describe Circuit des Yeux as building on the tradition of Mayor Daley or Spires That In The Sunset Rise, or harnessing the classic ideals of what something like Led Zeppelin should have been (during the most progressive, extended midset instrumental performance, the powerful electronic low-end and ornate acoustic flourishes suddenly gave me the feeling that this is the “ideal” that a song like “Kashmir” pushed for: progressive (in the best sense) rock that melded diverse instrumentation into a perfect whole).

Some of the best surprises of the sets featured an extended introduction that paired reed and strings, and I also found myself marveling at the energy created by Fohr’s guitar work and the electric bass: whether Fohr was processing her 12-string, or was simply locked in with the bass, both players produced a sound that was heavy and intense. Ultimately, the band effectively built on themes established on In Plain Speech, but used their performance to spin that album’s synthetic and folk passages into a well-rounded interpretation. Circuit des Yeux played on the audience’s sense of familiarity with the power of classic or progressive rock, and built their extended, droning, experimental deliveries on that friendly, welcoming feeling.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Autobiography #5: Algiers & ONO @ Schuba's


"We will live again:" so goes the incantations that close "Oxblood," one of ONO's most powerful songs from their most recent album, Diegesis. The line transcended its name, or its invocation, to take embodied truth last night, as two fiercely experimental and powerful Gospel / noise acts shared the stage at Schuba's. The deck was stacked against both acts, as more than three hours of nonstop downpour (and funnel clouds!) tormented Chicago, expanding rush hour to 7 pm and flooding out the city. Chicago's beloved Blackhawks were also attempting to win their first Stanley Cup at home in three generations, the significance of which was instantly noticeable in Schuba's external bar (outside the concert area). Against the imminent threat of euphoric sports fan riots -- a palpable display of white privileged professional rage and an open act addiction to a strong entertainment opiate -- Algiers and ONO promised to tend to wounds suffered by those in the name of justice and emancipation. Throughout the show, as each performer's intense and thorough delivery raged onward, I wondered about my own choice of opiate, and why I felt music would get us any closer to achieving emancipation than ice hockey.



The answer is redemptive in every form. One may be surprised by the easy link between noise and Gospel music, for one form seems so brutal, unforgiving, and impenetrable, while the other may be equal parts praiseworthy and graceful; seeking glory. What Algiers and ONO proved together is that Gospel need not be openly about salvation or even praising God, but rather seeking the word or the truth, or redemption. The idea of redemption readily links noise and Gospel traditions, for redemption is necessarily collective, a collective search for a new start or a new chance. As noise obliterates the senses and therefore cleanses them, Gospel heightens the senses, to perceive injustice, chains, and obstacles to our collective truths. There should be little question why music acts can use noise and Gospel together to produce powerful, affective walls of sound, but where Algiers and ONO succeed is absolutely resonating with the demands that we achieve something greater -- or, at least recognize where our own shortcomings intersect with our desire for something new, or better.

ONO opened the night with a set that I expected to be "the most ONO set." Since the ensemble will announce their program before hand, it was clear that the group would offer something special with one of the most stripped down line ups I'd seen:
ONO Opens For ALGIERS
ONO: For This Performance:
PMichael/Rebecca/DaWei/Ben/travis
Schuba’s Tavern
3159 N Southport CHGO
773.525.2508
LINEUP
=8PM =ONO
\u0010=9:15PM =ALGIERS

ONO PERFORMING
=Introduction / I Been Changed (Traditional)
=Invocation / The Nigger Queen (ONO1980)
=Fatima Police (ONO1980)
=Oxblood (ONO1984)

The traditional delivery instantly flooded the room with vocals that matched the percussive power of the march/dirge, and Franklin James Fisher, singer for Algiers, also offered his own voice alongside that of travis's. From there, Rebecca's keys carried the tunes alongside PMichael's bass, while DaWei's guitar manipulations and Ben's drums added textures to that funky low-end. In this format, ONO was soulful, even playful, with travis jumping from hollered greetings-as-directives ("Greetings from Chicago South Side") and certain testament ("We will live again"). The redemptive spirit of that line answered the bewildering calls that open "Oxblood," and the vocal power of that song took new meaning in a new arrangement produced by the band. PMichael noted that the song was modeled after a popular Drake offering in this form, which amplified the band's underlying soul tensions instead of the noisy, monolithic version that appears on Diegesis.

ONO once again proved that their beauty and effectiveness is in the moment, and in their undying love for reinvention and exploration. Their soulful song variations added a catchiness, or hook, that gave their work a new dimension. There is always a promise of something new with ONO, which I suspect is one of the reasons that so many of us love and follow the group in their continual resurgence.

On their self-titled debut album, Algiers use programming, noisy guitar, rhythm & blues structures, and Fisher's voice to deliver their openly political message in textured, intense bursts. In a recent interview with me, they explained their live formation and planning, and with the addition of a live drummer, Lee Tesche, Ryan Mahan, and Fisher each were able to double down on the noise. It turns out "the man behind the curtain" not only was Mahan's and Fisher's use of programmed samples, but also what sounded like entirely new patches of manipulation, loops, and synthetic noises. Mahan himself worked on a stack of synthetic noise makers, as well as bass, while Tesche used a range of reverbed-manipulated effects and percussive instruments to attack his guitars (bows added metallic squeals, drumsticks invoked harmonics,  and that's before Tesche's own winding playing style took to the instrument!). Fisher added guitar, samples, and other percussion and electronics, alongside his vocal deliveries.

From show-opening "Black Eunich" onward, it was clear that the group were ready to work themselves to exhaustion on each and every song. Each member danced and shouted and hammered away at their work, collapsing between songs as ambient shrapnel bridged different numbers. One of the most interesting stage elements was the use of slowed-down samples from the album to hold down transitions between songs, where one previous backing album would be slammed through cough syrup sheen and blasted into blissful atmospherics. As a result, there was an unending tension throughout the set, a power that met with successive cycles of release throughout each song's crescendos and breaks.

While the addition of noise, and the effective use of each possible element on stage, amplified the effectiveness of the attack on "Irony.Utility.Pretext," some of the band's most straightforward rock offerings on the album took on entirely new life live. "Old Girl" was one particular highlight in this regard, as the band heightened every element to its threshold, and Fisher dove into the audience to embrace its members.

From one generation of Gospel & industrial noise to another: travis & PMichael watching Algiers.


As cheers leaked into the room from the adjacent bar, as the Blackhawks won the Cup, Algiers reminded us that the fight for emancipation will place grand crowds against just ideals.  It was impossible not to think about the irony as the crowd overpowered the band at the exact moment Algiers quieted their set for "Games": as Fisher howled about the people that come around to set your house on fire, as we bury our heads in our bottles Bibles, cries of joy continued unabated. Two worlds truly collided, in one of Chicago's most conservative and segregated wards (in this case, segregated for whiteness and power), but they were also ultimately separated by that thin door. The roar of one may have overpowered the cries of the other for a moment, but Algiers answered with a blistering set-closing that overdrove the cheers and ensured that the words of justice reigned.

This single moment provides an unending cycle of feelings that I am having trouble articulating: the banality of evil. The opiate of entertainment. The honest culpability of many well-intentioned people with injustice. The roar of billionaire entertainment industries that drowns outsiders. Mob mentality. The acceptability of white violence. The acceptable white mob. The necessity of drowning oneself from the stress of capital-professional demands. The absolute power of honest, good intentions that obstruct justice. The complete oblivion of that power wielded by that crowd. It's impossible to make sense of these competing narratives, or feelings, in one reflection (let alone from someone who's happy the Blackhawks won!), but it must be pointed out that this was a fitting and striking moment in Algiers' set.

And their power overrode those emotions, ultimately upholding the collective power of redemption. One of my favorite aspects of Algiers is that they constantly remind us that we have work to do: there is good work to be done. Through the power of their voice, through the unimaginable confluence of industrial noise and pure Gospel, they indeed express a sense of emancipation that is impossible to explain in thousands of words, but immediately apparent in each five minute song.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Autobiography #4: Give Me a Break!

I want to write this while my sinuses can still feel it, for my earplugs were even so terrified that they bore through my systems and numbed my senses. Last night was absolutely the loudest night I've heard at Elastic Arts, and probably the loudest, most aggressive jazz show I've ever seen. That Burning Tree and Dead Neanderthals were bookended by Ben Billington/Mark Shippy/Daniel Wyche and Toupee is effective commentary on the flexibility and form of Chicago's outsider/experimental/punk triad. My sinuses disagree, and I'm blessed to experience this internal contradiction of both knowing that I need to go to more shows, while facing the physical reminders of my eardrum limits. 

First, I was overjoyed to watch one of my friends play with one of my favorite guitarists ever, if only so that I can carry a torch of jealousy forever. Daniel Wyche and Mark Shippy both played extreme modulated/synthesized guitar to the relentless and unforgiving scatters of Ben Billington. The effect was unclassifiable, which turned out to be one of the best kinds of confrontational sets. Last night, unfortunately, I only was able to say to Daniel "that set was bananas" as the curator looked for Dead Neanderthals before their set; that was the extent of my comprehension last night. However, as the extended technique / physical limitations of those European reed&drum duos sank in, it occurred to me that Wyche, Shippy, and Billington might have approximated the same effect with their instruments. Billington sat behind his kit stabbing anything he could get his hands on, as Shippy was arrested for pummeling a poor Fender tweed amp with as loud a processed signal as he could find. The range on Shippy's effects swept harmonized wackiness alongside physical, percussive reverb slams, while Wyche complemented his mate with lightning trips around his fretboard. Wyche himself was riding his Moog synthesizers and a set of standalone pedals, too, at one point losing all the bones in his body to manipulate a theramin (?) through his guitar cord. I don't know what crimes this trio committed in a previous life, but surely their souls are bound through eternity by some righteous takes on rhythm, shredding, and atonality. Tweet me @spectivewax in about a week to see if I have more to say about this set, because it was a range of improvisation that was difficult to confront and process, which I suspect is exactly how the trio wanted it. 

I will say this: one of my favorite aspects of improvised sets are these moments of accidental / incidental / momentary grooves. One of the ways to comprehend or process this set is to think about the moments where Billington slowed his attack and changed his pace, or Shippy shifted from shredding to slagging, or Wyche indulged in the wetness of his signal. There was not a single gimmicky moment, as each player showcased their chops through a complete absence of conventional playing. Thank you, eardrum assault #1. 



Eardrum assaults #2 and #3 came from Burning Tree and Dead Neanderthals, in that order. Both duos played with reeds and drumsets, and I believe both reeds were saxophones of one sort or another (I don't know if they have different saxophones in Europe, but if someone had told me that someday you'll be able to grow an amazing beard and use absurd, endurance-stretching breathing techniques if you keep playing saxophone, I would have endured all those early lessons of "When the Saints Go Marching In" with glee and anticipation). 

Both duos might be described  as aggressive, free, progressive, endurance-testing jazz, of the sort that American audiences who dig Many Arms, New Atlantis Records, etc., would appreciate. However, for their relatively similar elements, both duos played off completely different areas of their instrumentation. Burning Tree was much more abstract than Dead Neanderthals, as it seemed their reedist was using his lungs to their greatest extreme, producing an amazing, unending squeal for, oh, 15 minutes? Against this airy, high frequency attack, the drummer scattered across different beats, in a very playful manner. It was impossible to tell if he was losing the beat or merely changing it, which is an excellent trick to play on an audience that is fixated on the hard-blowing reed. This is not a knock or a criticism, but simply a recognition that closely-appreciating improvised music is difficult because it toys with the listener's expectations and sense of boundaries; instead of clinging to the pleasant security of a beat, the drummer skirted the outer edges as effectively as the reed. 

Dead Neanderthals attacked the audience from a different angle, as their set appeared to be more "compositional" than "improvised" (I could be completely wrong about this). Anyhow, after the abstract reedplay, Dead Neanderthals created a series of droning cyclicals through their reed, this time appearing in a much larger saxiphone (baritone?). To accompany these notes, the drummer sticked to one pattern or box of beats, which isn't to say that the beats were predictable as much as they were more recognizable or "secure." The listener could cling to these grooves as the saxophone switched registers, closing the set by dropping to the bass-end, in what I presume is the European equivalent of switching on the hydraulics ("and if I hit the switch / I can make the asssssss drop"). This closing sequence proved an effective crescendo, as though the duo saved energy to throw-it-down with complete abandon to close their set. As the absolutely PACKED audience -- that room was packed to the rafters! -- cheered with delight, the saxophone was raised overhead as a tribute to free jazz international superstardom. We all sacrificed our ears to this loud ass explosion, but the tumultuous sets were worth it. 

Dead Neanderthals and Burning Tree ultimately prove that the range and potential of free jazz is endless, so long as one explores technique and also takes endurance to the total fucking brink of exhaustion. For their near collapse from breathing so hard, I salute both Burning Tree and Dead Neanderthals. Thanks for an unforgettable night. 

Just in case you thought it was finished, Toupee jumped onstage to close the night, exhibiting an astonishing range of control over their chaotic lyrics and wide-ranging vocal deliveries. Punk rock proved to have more limits than free jazz last night, but this is not a negative thing: Toupee brandish those expectations by building muted, lulled passages that extend trustworthiness to the audience, just as they simultaneously blitz the audience with a full metamorphosis of voices and masks. Singer Whitney began the night on bass, but as their set digressed into darker and heavier material, she handed off her bass to engage with the crowd on her microphone. Churning about through sheets, bananas, masks, and carrots, Whitney shrieked, hollered, and restrained her voice into any form necessary, as varying trios of guitar/guitar/drums and guitar/bass/drums built from controlled, muted beginning to wide-open noise. I cannot convey enough how dynamic this band played: at times, their fine-tuned, modulation guitar muting provided a clear background for the vocals to succeed, while others the band opened their approach to compete with and intensify the vocal deliveries. Punk can be many things, but Toupee's strength lies in their ability to play on the slightest bit of familiarity while they seduce the listener into their world. Their delivery shows that they control every moment, which ironically allows them to produce blistering attacks that can be confrontational and fragile. 

Hearing a raucous punk set next to two jazz sets that traced extreme limits and loudness of acoustic instrumentation, as well as an all-out blast of noise, ultimately upheld a constellation of freedom between various musical forms. There is no need for any bullshit theories about the connections between punk and jazz, or the explorations of total freedom in punk versus total freedom in jazz. Obviously there are differences in technique and delivery that separate each of these "genres." The triumph between these forms is in the execution and their adjacent delivery: that one can actively suspend orthodoxy in favor of exploration, love, and challenging listening. 

Photo by Daniel Wyche (I hope it's okay I used your packed audience photo). If transparency matters to you, I have written for Moniker Records, but Toupee are still amazing and everything I said is true, because why would I lie to you?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Autobiography #3: Chicago

Throughout winter and spring 2015, it feels as though Chicago has been bringing their absolute best in performance, recording, and art. Momentum gained in 2014 by the City's throngs of independent labels compounded this year, to the point where one can seemingly turn the corner and run into a fantastic show by Chicago artists. The spring series of ELASTRO at Elastic exemplifies this, but even citing one single space or series feels like a shortcoming. There is simply, obviously, a lot that is noteworthy right now, which is a great for Chicago's labels and artists.

Recently, a weeknight show at Elastic demonstrated precisely the range of energy and acumen exhibited by Chicago experimenters in 2015. Along with touring artist Snails & Oysters, Gardener, Cinchel (with Neil Jendon), and Muyassar Kurdi ranged from self-styled "power ambient" drives to slow, unfolding waves, and ritual vocal experimentation. While Circuit Des Yeux and Toupee rightfully gain expanded press with recent videos, this show is a great reminder that there is more talent lurking within Chicago's spaces awaiting release. So they churn.

Servant Girl from Eryka Dellenbach on Vimeo.

From her stunning album White Noise, Muyassar Kurdi's most recent video release, "Servant Girl," finds the artist visualizing one of the album's most haunting and difficult tracks. For those seeking reference, one might note that Kurdi's delivery invokes Rune Grammofon's tradition of "abstract" vocalization (from Maja Ratkje to Sidsel Endresen & Stian Westerhus to (/and even) Jenny Hval), or Panoptic Prism on the local scene. While Kurdi's album was song oriented, her recent performance at Elastic was grounded in amplified auto-harp (from my view) and vocal exercises that materialized as tests in range, power, and endurance. The set was challenging in that it forced the listener to be consistently aware and on-alert, which allowed Kurdi to open channels of communication without words. "Servant Girl" bridges the gap between some of the album's more "structural" songs and her recent performance, but this time by playing on the perception of silence, or quiet stabs.

Kurdi's album is provocative, but where it draws power is through the immediacy of her voice. Even when one expects that her exercises are the of most inward, and self-searching motives, she undoubtedly confronts a listener who now must accomplish the same.

Muyassar Kurdi Summer Tour
July 23: Indianapolis
July 24: Pittsburgh
July 25: Philadelphia
July 26 (noon): Philadelphia
July 26: New York
July 27: Providence
July 28: Boston
July 29: Portland, ME
July 30: Burlington, VT
July 31: Toronto
August 1: Columbus, OH

In Elastic Arts' new space on 3429 W. Diversey, there is more space between the speakers, and a larger room in general, that allows certain forms of ambient music to simply roll through space. Gardener and Cinchel both took full advantage of this arrangement, the former using synthesizer and the latter pairing his guitar with synth stylings from the aforementioned Jendon.

Gardener released a limited tour tape called Slab, and both sides also appear to be drawn from live sets (Bandcamp confirms this). Here, Gardener places to tape what listeners at Elastic experience during this show, which is subtle and unending waves of sound that appear to roll in sequence, gently coming to the fore and retreating. Even when there is a constant hum or base of sound, Gardener plays with textures and frequencies in a way that heightens the stillness of the performance, calling attention to the slightest changes or passageways. This translates perfectly to the live stage, where the power of PA makes Gardener's technique a much more direct confrontation with the listener. Gardener plays June 15 at Beat Kitchen.

Cinchel's Worry is a tape that also is a fine complement to his collaboration with Jendon, which the artist aptly names "power ambient." By combining delay/echo-flooded amplification and laptop processing to form his guitar sound, Cinchel effectively used stabs of chords and notes to churn rippling sequences throughout the space. Churning throughout the set, the volume developed its own layers or overtones that enhanced the warmth of the delay. This effect also appears throughout Worry, where Cinchel intensely layers sound, which advances some of his softer or more droning approaches, or playfulness with specific frequencies and more prominent "glitching," on other recent tapes. Live, Jendon colored the proceedings with the slightest synthetic charges that added a "beat" or soft punctures to Cinchel's heavy guitar. Worry aligns with this brand of ambient composition to produce a monolithic vision that may be the artist's heaviest work yet. Cinchel plays at Transistor on July 24, and WNUR on July 31.


From Denver, Snails & Oysters presented a stark detour from Cinchel and Gardener, which was a welcome and challenging listen. Using looped electric guitar, tape, and acoustic guitar, Snails & Oysters created layers that were more percussive than atmospheric, and much more distorted than delayed. With this naked feeling, compared to the all-encompassing sound of the other sets, Snails & Oysters placed the focus more on lead-playing and technique. At any given point, the listener could work with loops, lead playing, or distorted imprints from the tape and sustain to engage with a wide set of textures.

This combination of challenging work, heavy, enticing drones, and ranging, abstract vocals is simply one snapshot of a night in Chicago 2015. As exciting as it is to see the recent progression and press related to other Chicago groups, it's even more exciting to see the base camp working harder than ever to maximize their artistic and sonic deliveries.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Radical Spaces: Q & A with ALGIERS



On December 15, 2012, I finally received a long-awaited delivery in the mail. Double Phantom shipped away my late year order of the powerful single "Blood," a song that stuck in my mind since the first time I saw the video on the label's website. Algiers, a global collective with Atlanta roots, presented their blend of spiritual / Gospel vocals, programming, and noise without shying away from the violent imagery that their name hints. I received the 7" record the day after the Sandy Hook Massacre, which shook me to my core, and this physical manifestation of the music now confronted my ears from my home stereo. At such a bleak time, the emancipatory feeling of the music itself never escaped my mind, and Algiers was an antidote to political and existential sadness that can only be provided by likeminded souls. While writing for Foxy Digitalis, I named "Blood" the top song of 2012 in my year-end list.

At the beginning of 2015, Matador Records announced that they signed Algiers, and the label is releasing their self-titled debut in June.  The album itself advances in each direction initially hinted in the "Blood" video. While most songs follow the dramatic mix of rhythm & blues, Gospel, programming, and noise, several songs trend more in one direction than the other. "Irony. Utility. Pretext" maximizes the political potential of rhythm & blues, leading to a vocal-driven climax that surpasses its industrial scaffolding. On the other hand, "But She Was Not Flying" features bright interludes with keys and "Old Girl" employs rock'n'roll drives, ultimately showcasing the band's redemptive side (rather than their protest or confrontational angles). Yet, it may be the album's closing suite, specifically "Games" and "Untitled," that demonstrate that the Gospel approach is not a front, but genuine exploration of (or rumination on) both "self" and "community" (if either of those can be separated). No single style wins out on Algiers, giving the self-titled debut a depth of production that rewards return listens and gives the audience a chance to have a different set of favorites each time around.
Algiers - "Blood" from Algiers on Vimeo.

This spring, I spoke and emailed with Franklin James Fisher, Ryan Mahan, and Lee Tesche about their politics, art, and tour. Given the political and historical weight invoked by the mere name Algiers, the self-titled debut arrives at a salient time of protest. Mahan wrote of the name, "we do strive to discuss these historical movements for liberation in the context of neoliberalism, where the dominant ideology has moved on to other insidious methods of suppressing class consciousness and global solidarity." He added during our phone interview, after I apologized for another political discussion, "with the political and historical element, that’s really important, so we’re always happy to have that conversation. Iteration is one of the most important things in the battle for hegemony.” There is no sense in which politics is a facade for Algiers, as the trio openly embraces historical struggle, protest, and emancipation as their armor.

Fisher firmly placed the band in a politically-minded context, adding, "because everything is politics, you can't extract anything from a greater political context." While music fans may prefer their art to be separated from politics, Algiers arguably could not be released at a better time, since its openly political direction may give listeners a chance to encounter their beliefs in a more productive setting than the news cycle. Since members of the band are stretched as far as New York and London, their tour dates in 2015 have given Algiers a chance to come together once again. “We haven’t done a lot of touring as a band," Fisher noted, adding, "we’ve been apart for so long, so it’s kind of a new experience for us.”

Tesche also echoed Fisher's sentiments, noting of the album, "recording this record was the first time that all three of us were in the same space writing and recording and it was a bit of an adjustment period for us." Together, the album and tour both allowed Algiers to confront the political and personal spaces they constructed during their global writing process. Since the band focuses on layered production that incorporates live and programmed elements, the tour will give the group an opportunity to explore new technologies while embracing their live instrumentation. Over the course of the phone interview, discussions about the band's politics, album production, and tour seamlessly portrayed their vision for their music, videos, and art.

ALGIERS JUNE TOUR
June 5 - The Earl, Atlanta GA 
June 7 - Black Cat Backstage Washington DC
June 9 - Mercury Lounge, NYC NY
June 10 - Baby's Alright, Brooklyn, NY
June 13 - Silver Dollar Room, Toronto ONT
June 15 - Schubas, Chicago IL 
June 16 - Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis MN
June 19 - The Sunset, Seattle WA 
June 20 - Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC
June 21 - Doug Fir Lounge, Portland OR
June 23 - Bottom Of The Hill, San Francisco CA
June 25  - The Echo, Los Angeles CA 



  Phone Interview Key: N = Nicholas Zettel, F = Franklin James Fisher, R = Ryan Mahan, L = Lee Tesche. The interview occurred on May 12, 2015.

N: Your tour seems to be of the time with the open protests lately. You’re touring and your album is very much of the time, how do you feel about that?

F: I don’t want to trivialize anything that’s happening in the world, but with our personal experience and where we fall, I think that we’re extraordinarily fortunate because it gives us a real world context for people to understand what it is we’re doing and where we’re coming from. Now, touring with Interpol, is a different kind of shade. For instance, last night we played in St. Louis, and we dedicated a song to Ferguson, and ideally, it’d be kind of nice to talk about that kind of thing at length, but we have to respect the fact that it’s not our tour and it’s Interpol’s crowd. But, it’s priming us for the possibilities for June, when we’re doing our own tour.

R: There’s an element of hope and optimism, because all these injustices are starting to get publicized more and more in the mainstream press. One of the things we’ve always focused on is the historical resuscitation and reminder of injustices, of silencing the minority, of all those types of violent actions, so to see all those actions be recognized and shoved in the faces of figures of authority, surrounded by a very mobilized, from-the-ground movement, that’s very interesting and fits with our diagnosis of the situation. It’s also something when we were writing “Blood” that we didn’t expect, we didn’t expect this outpouring of protest and reaction against the police state and the violence of American society. We had seen it in the historical context, but we were actually feeling quite disempowered. We did not have the type of language to engage fundamentally with the situation. Now, there were things that were going on like “Occupy” that had a class-based approach and an interesting approach to problems and issues in the world, but as far as it goes, we did not necessarily see this renewal of the civil rights, Black Power, and global solidarity. So in that way, it’s really interesting and hopeful for us.

L: I guess I’ll add, for me too, good art always has the responsibility to question and provoke, and I think that’s always something we’ve been interested in. We’ve been interested in engaging people in general, just as a provocation and interaction you get with people, even with these Interpol shows where you’re playing for an audience that isn’t yours, you have the opportunity to rattle their brains around a little bit. Even if they’re really uncomfortable with it, just that simple act of coming around and provoking a response completes the art.

R: It goes back to when I was a kid in Atlanta, and I was first getting into “alternative music,” all my favorite bands were speaking in a language I didn’t understand or rexcognize, but it forced me to think, and it forced me to work to actually learn about the world. That was the thing that drove me to punk rock and hardcore in general, just that feeling or expression of not knowing, but being able to discover [its meaning] on my own terms. That’s really a part of our project as well. The other interesting thing is, I know you mentioned “Blood” in 2012, people have tended to focus on our southernness, but you were actually positioning it in a global context. One of our ambitions is to introduce a discourse of global solidarity. 

N: It’s interesting to me that people focus on the Southernness, rather than the Global approach, because it seems to me that immediately the name “Algiers” invokes “revolution” and the struggle in Algeria where it was one of the most prominent anti-colonial movements. It just seemed clear from the beginning that with the name and music, you guys had a very clear image to go along with the music. It always seemed to be overtly political. 

In your experience, do you think people understand what the Algerian revolution was about?

F: I think it matters which part of the world you’re in, and which population you’re talking about. Obviously, in France, there are very loaded connotations because it’s so close to home, whereas in America it’s much less [loaded].

R: Even in France, you have a lot of people that struggle with that history, and even in France it’s very repressed. We have interacted and spoken with people in France who have not necessarily come to grips with colonial history. It’s kind of the same way in the United States, people talk about how there’s no class struggle or class warfare in the US, and kind of disavow the history of colonialism in the US, from the destruction of the Native Americans to the war in the Philippines. The whole Algerian Revolution represents so many fundamental things in modernism, in revolutionary thought, in black thought (Franz Fanon wrote extensively about the Algerian Revolution). But also that notion that, after the French revolution after the revolutionary war, those ideals were quashed, that kind of sober moment of failure, because once people were united in Algeria, there was also a violent, destructive, and bloody civil war that followed. Just those forces that were unleashed, not from the people who tell you your house is on fire, but the people who set your house on fire, fundamentally, structurally, in the colonial context it’s very difficult to see any other result than violence.

N: I’m wondering if we can transition from that theme about globalism and political conflict to the great distance you guys experienced while living in different cities. How did that distance influence your recording process? Over the course of this album, how have the songs come together with that kind of physical separation?

R: I guess it goes back to what you were talking about before where you’re looking for people that share similar ideas to yourself, and that you can share ideas and be a part of it. Distance and separation could be something that divides, but it also makes the heart grow fonder. Fundamentally, when we started working on this, because some of the things we were working on were so alien even to us, that being apart, and having that distance to be able to listen to somebody’s contribution without being forced to immediately respond to it or immediately acknowledge it. There is a pressure when you’re in the same space to respond or acknowledge immediately, which puts tension. We’re not against tension, because tension also brings about really positive outcomes, but I think being apart has helped us have that time and space to digest something and do something on our own terms, and be influenced by our own environments. Living in London for me has been quite a complex experience, it has been somewhat a lonely experience, and to be able to do that in a room and exchange without speaking to someone is very powerful. I think Frank has spoken about this a lot, too, with his experiences in New York, but being able to bring those life experiences, and being outside scene politics has helped immensely and helped us grow.

F: I always talk to people about how being in a band since the time I was 13, to the rest of my life, and in high school that served as a protective shield from all the teenage bullshit you have to deal with. You know, we had our own little world, and our own little bubble, and I think Algiers serves the same function. The three of us have undergone major changes since the existence of this band, we’ve all moved to different places, we’ve all had to deal with different stresses. professional stresses, psychological stresses, relationship stresses, and the tie that bonds has always been our shared passion to music, and the fact that we have this evolving and ongoing project. The fact that we’re writing music together, that’s been one of the major things that’s sustained us, I think, on a very practical psychological health level. That’s reflected in the quality of the work, on this album, and one of the reasons it’s so personal for us. Notwithstanding all the other subjects and issues we pour into it, but it’s also our own blood, sweat, and tears, it’s really been a life-saver, a life-preserver for us.

L: I think it’s interesting, geography has influenced the sonics to a great extent. if we were all in the same place, or all in the suburbs of Atlanta where we grew up, it would sound very different. It'd be us all in a room, exchanging ideas differently, with different instruments we’d have access to that were dictated by the space we were living in, which would be a lot of live drums, or live instruments. But when you go back to how our lives have been, and in you’re in these urban spaces where you don’t have a lot of space, and you have access to different things, you will work with loops a lot more, or recontextualizing things, or when you’re an individual trying to get ideas across, you get to layering things like vocal harmonies or vocal arrangements. When we were working with “Blood,” for instance, I was still in Atlanta, and I had this idea more of space. Frank had these ideas and loops he’d hand over, and I was struggling with my environment, and I had this kind of underlying tension, where I’d want to shake things up, or challenge, or provoke, so I was really trying to explore these harsh sonics as well to provoke.

 

 N: I’d be interested to know, working in these separate spaces, were you actually passing along the recordings and working on them in your own spaces?

[All] Yes. Absolutely.

R: I think in a few cases, there’s a few songs where two of us would be together and we would be able to lay a foundation. I know if you look at “Black Eunich,” Franklin and I were in New York together, and we were just working on things, so the basic structures and elements came together. So, it’s not totally about separation, but there’s also that experience of coming together that really influenced us. The things that happened on the record, there were a few songs that we had not written, or there were elements that had been written and brought in, and we had that inspiring moment of working in the studio space.

F: Just getting us into the studio was interesting, because that was the first time the three of us had been together and working on something in years, in the same room. It was also a learning process, because we were fundamentally different people than four or five years prior when we first started passing things in the mail. It’s interesting how time and place can take on these different waves of meaning, and really add and shape the process.

R: “Blood” was really the thing that made us think about Algiers in a real sense, that congealed a lot of the ideas. It is a part of that process of throwing something out into the world, and then being forced to respond to it and react to it. It wasn’t something that was contrived, but we had tried so many songs, and once we put “Blood” out into the world, it also spoke to us in some ways and pointed some directions and opened other avenues we wanted to take.

N: That’s interesting because I was wondering about the timeframe. So you had other songs, but“Blood” was the starting point of Algiers proper?

F: Ehhhh….it was Algiers crystallized. Algiers “proper” was around 2007. For me personally, “Blood” came into existence once I saw the video. The video, to me, is inextricable from the song now. Once I saw that, it was like seeing yourself in the mirror for the first time.

L: It wouldn’t be far off to say that “Blood” was us proper in the sense that we had been working on stuff for three years before that, and in all these different places, it was something that even though we had our adult lives and these other things going on, it was something that was always important to us to have this outlet. A lot of times, we would meet up, at least a couple of times, whether it was London, New York, or Atlanta. With “Blood,” once we did that, that was the first time all three of us had been exposed to the process of how a record was made….I had done that a lot through previous things, and maybe once before with another band with Ryan and I.But it was an interesting thing for us, we had this song and we were living in other places, so the only way to actualize our music if we weren’t performing live at a time was to record something and put it out in the world. We had to assign a visual to it to give context to the pretext of what we were doing, because at that time you could not see us in a live setting. And the video was a road-map that lists the DNA of everything that was making up our sound at that moment in time. Then the three of us did go through to see how it works getting someone to help us mix it, master it, press the records, get the video out there, doing our own press, controlling this entire process gave both Ryan and Franklin this insight into everything that goes into getting your music out there before we got involved with other people who did that.

R: When we put out “Blood,” when we worked on the video, which Lee is responsible for the design and production of our videos, we were very cognizant of this notion of nostalgia and the issues with nostalgia in popular music that consign things to the past, or rip them from their social situation, without acknowledging that these always bubble underneath the surface. They’re still there today, and it’s important that we acknowledge the words and actions, and failures and successes, of iconoclasts, or people who are working toward something beyond themselves. But also acknowledge that nostalgia is a very dangerous concept, but it’s very prevalent in these postmodern times. I think that’s something we were very cognizant of, and the video helped complement that in some ways, because maybe if you first heard some of our music you might think “this is really rooted in the past,” we were working with those ideas, and within that problematic as well.

 

N: I’m curious, if you don’t mind me taking this thread, I’m wondering with this production you put together, with the layers and the writing process, how did you approach your live set up? How did you approach your current tour?

R: It’s forced us to work with different mediums that we weren’t necessarily working with in the past, working with drum machines, loops, and samples. There is  always going to be an element of a ghost in the machine, and I think that is not only by design but also by circumstance.  Since there are so many layered vocals, it almost represents our own…not inability but some of the challenges of bringing ideas to life. We do work with machines and loops with the more organic elements. We have a live drummer, we play bass and synths, but there’s always that undercurrent of maybe a ghost in the machine, a loop, a drum machine, as well.

N: With this approach, what kind of reception have you seen during your headlining and opening shows?

R: The response is different from night to night. People have generally been more receptive than maybe I expected in ways, but there will be an element where it can be polarizing. I think we know that it can be head-scratching, polarizing, or confusing with all these things going on from song to song.

F: Yeah, the response from people has really run the gamut, and polarizing was a word that I thought of when you asked that. We have to be cognizant of the fact that opening for a band like Interpol, even though they are an indie band, their sound is still pretty accessible, and to come from somewhere as left-field as maybe we are, there’s going to be a lot of mixed reactions from their crowds. On the other hand, we played some underground clubs in London where people have heard things that really normalize our sound. So, I guess it really depends on the audience you’re playing to.

L: That’s also the exciting part, too, because we’re not in this to make friends or meet girls, or have this great future in music. We want to really challenge people and push the conversation forward on so many different levels, just to make some sort of ruckus.

R: But to supplement that, I think we are in it to make friends and engage with like-minded people, and share that space together. There are so many like-minded people. There’s been so many discussions in the media of politics in music, and that type of stuff, and there’s actually such an explosion of really interesting and also politically engaging music that influences us. It’s maybe not strung together in any particular scene because of the global situation, I think it’s very difficult to construct physical scenes, I think we are also in it to make friends and be influenced as well.




Algiers will be available from Matador Records on June 2, 2015. Email Nicholas Zettel at [spectiveaudio] at [gmail], or follow @spectivewax on twitter.



Monday, March 9, 2015

6 Economic Thoughts

One of the Chicago Mayoral Election's greatest phantom issues is entering the race: "which candidate will solve the impending economic crisis?" This question sounds innocent enough, for the City of Chicago does face daunting economic issues, specifically with increasing pension payments due. Undoubtedly, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will attempt to paint himself as the fiscally sound candidate, given his background and privileged status as incumbent. On the other hand, even from innocent curiosity, many will pressure Commissioner Jesus Garcia into providing his own economic plan (which is apparently coming this week).

These economic plans will only distract from the stakes of the Mayoral election, for several reasons:

(1) Given the decreasing bond ratings in the City Government (and CPS), anyone can lead this government into economic crisis. There is no guarantee that any plan whatsoever will lead this government out of an impending bond-rating crisis. Furthermore, for his investment background and apparent superiority regarding fiscal matters, Mayor Emanuel has already overseen these recent bond downgrades. So, if the current Mayor cannot currently solve the budget crisis, what would lead anyone to believe that another term will do the trick? (Are bond issues so tricky that they take more than four years to solve?)

When someone asks "What is 'Chuy''s plan for the budget crisis?," say, "Why did Mayor Emanuel's policies lead to two recent bond downgrades?" There is obviously no guarantee that Commissioner Garcia will solve this issue, but one needs to remember that Mayor Emanuel already hasn't solved it (and, in fact, has arguably made things worse).

(2) Mayor Emanuel has already borrowed, extensively, to cover basic municipal bills. CPS already borrowed 2016 Property Tax money to balance its current budget. Any potential heat placed on Commissioner Garcia's plan, or potential fiscal shortcomings, ought to be redirected to the fact that if the challenger takes ahold of Chicago, he will be replacing a Mayor that could not actually balance the budget.

I understand that "Garcia can't possibly do worse than Emanuel" is not really an argument, since Commissioner Garcia obviously could fail to solve these issues if he were to be elected Mayor. However, in re-electing Mayor Emanuel, one ought to ask, "if the Mayor could not solve these issues in his previous four years, why will he solve them in the next four years?"

(3) It stands to reason that property taxes will rise regardless of who takes office. Sorry. It's not an effective argument for or against either candidate to suggest that property taxes may or may not rise, when Alderpersons working on the budget already foresee a tax hike.

(So, you can ask, "If I'm living in a city where my property taxes will increase, whose lifestyle policies do I prefer? Which candidate offers the best controls for citizens?")

(4) There are allegedly Aldermen arguing that Commissioner Garcia will be unable to solve fiscal issues while abolishing Red Light Cameras, and implementing anything resembling a "reform" government on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) policies (or Property Tax issues). This may be true. However, if one assumes that Chicago's economic issues will be difficult to solve regardless of raising revenue from red-light cameras, issues like red-light cameras become valuable lifestyle issues: if the City of Chicago's budget fails and the bond rating continues to fall, do you want to live in a City that continues to reach into your own pocket, or do you prefer to find alternative solutions?

(5) The same can be said for an Elected School Board. The honest truth is that if Mayor Emanuel's government has not been able to solve major fiscal issues, taking a chance on a Mayor that may establish an Elected School Board gives the citizens another potential weapon against the power of their government (if that seems futile, look at Mayor Emanuel remove red light cameras already; if the prospect of a new Mayor is scaring Mayor Emanuel into concessionary tactics, imagine what an angry-and-informed electorate can accomplish with the school board).

(6) Finally, in the context of these issues, pushing TIF reform is arguably the most important of Mayoral issues. First and foremost, as the Chicago Reader suggested after the February election, if Commissioner Garcia can push the TIF issue in debates, he can get Mayor Emanuel to reveal the reality of a reported $1.7 billion TIF surplus. If such a surplus exists, citizens ought to vote for the candidate that is most likely to return those syphoned property tax dollars to taxpayers or municipal bodies (like the parks, schools, etc.).

Furthermore, as the TIF program continually draws property tax money away from schools and parks (and other municipal services), citizens of Chicago ought to repeat the economic doomsday question: if the next mayor cannot solve budget issues, do you want to live in a city that nevertheless takes property tax dollars and applies them to private, sometimes-corporate interests and projects? Is it acceptable to us, as citizens, to see the Mayor of Chicago continuing a TIF program that draws property taxes away from cash strapped citizens in order to grow an economy that is not creating enough revenue to produce a sound budget?

(When you think about comments like that of Senator Mark Kirk, who hinted that Chicago would collapse into "Detroit" if Commissioner Garcia is elected Mayor, think about Mayor Emanuel's use of TIF programs to "grow" an economy that is teetering on the edge of collapse in spite of those apparent revenue spurs to "growth").

These six difficult issues should help voters understand why supporting Commissioner Garcia, and opposing Mayor Emanuel, is a crucial election decision. It is not enough to hint that "Chuy" offers pie-in-the-sky, unrealistic reforms that he can't deliver on. I think we all understand that he won't deliver on everything. But the very potential for civic improvement must be on our minds: Mayor Emanuel's failed budgets, borrowing practices, bond failures, school failures, property tax failures, red-light camera failures, and TIF failures ought to put into perspective why voting him out is crucial for the health of the city. Commissioner Garcia may not solve every problem, but at the very least, the City of Chicago will benefit from the potential absence of the TIF program, the absence of red-light cameras, and an Elected School Board should everything else go south. This is our chance to make sure that should things turn sour, we retain as many controls as possible over our government.

Please direct corrections or comments to @SpectiveWax on Twitter, or spectiveaudio [at] gmail [dot] com.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chicago Election 2015


Chicago's recent election is one of the most exciting I have ever participated in as a voter, and one of the most important I have ever participated in as a voter. Given the difficult divides in our city, as well as the "Strong-Mayor" system and Mayor Rahm Emanuel's controversial and divisive policy approach, I cannot recall an election with higher stakes in my personal voting life.

I believe that there are several fascinating aspects of the run-off that will determine whether challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia pulls together the neighborhoods to win, or whether Mayor Emanuel will escape to govern for a second term. Frankly, there are countless dynamics to analyze:

  1. Will 19 confirmed or apparent Aldermanic Run-Offs energize a lax voting body? 
  2. To what extent will Chicagoans turn out in early April? 
  3. How vocally will the Progressive Caucus support emerging aldermanic candidates that appear in run-offs? 
  4. Where will the votes from Bob Fioretti, Willie Wilson, and William Walls go? 
  5. Will the three defeated challengers endorse Commissioner Garcia? 
  6. Will Commissioner Garcia stick with his recent "Crime Candidate" advertisements, or will he find a new issue to attempt to win-over undecided or moderate voters? 
These types of points could go on-and-on. Frankly, there are multiple sides to these issues. For example, Commissioner Garcia could decide to focus on any number of issues that Mayor Emanuel opposes, and attack the race in that matter (given the widespread electorate support for an Elected School Board, Garcia could use this platform as a starting point). He could also challenge Emanuel on education, Red-Light Cameras, the use of TIF surplus, TIF reforms, etc. It remains to be seen whether Commissioner Garcia will benefit from pushing Mayor Emanuel on one specific issue, or whether he will try a multi-faceted approach. While progressives might like to see their challenger tackle Mayor Emanuel with myriad issues and approaches, Garcia could potentially benefit from sticking to one issue (like red light cameras or an elected school board) that appeals to voters across racial, ethnic, and neighborhood lines. If a candidate such as Fioretti, Wilson, or Walls endorses Garcia, Garcia could benefit from using one specific meeting point with those candidates. 

Voters have many motivations, so I decided to collect three charts, using DNAInfo.com and NBC.com election data. In some places, the data appears to have conflicting reports, so I add "?" next to those numbers. These charts aim to collect a few key points of voter motivation:
  1. How was voter turnout in my ward?
  2. Will my ward have an Aldermanic Run-Off?
  3. How did Garcia and Emanuel fare in my ward?
  4. Which major challengers succeeded in my ward?
  5. Is there a progressive caucus member in my ward? 
  6. How many % points are Garcia and Emanuel fighting over?
Chart One: The Battlegrounds
There are arguably 18 wards that will feature solid battlegrounds: I selected these wards because:

  • They feature some of Commissioner Garcia's best performances. 
  • They feature some solid performances by other challengers. 
  • Most importantly, they feature relatively low turnout, even in this election
(18) BATTLEGROUND WARDS Garcia Emanuel Turnout Alderman Run-Off Remaining % Note
22 70.8 20.8 27.5 No 8.4 Progressive Caucus Alderman (Munoz)
12 67.1 25.5 27.4 No 7.4
35 57.3 33.5 28.4 No 9.2 Solid voting for Fioretti
25 56.4 33.1 30.4 No 10.5
26 53.9 34.4 26.8 No 11.7
15 52.9 29.8 24.5 YES 17.3 Solid voting for Wilson
14 52.7 37.3 33.1 No 11.0
31 51.3 40.5 27.1 YES 8.2 Potential Emanuel rally with Suarez push
30 49.6 39 22.6 No 11.4
33 49.6 39.5 35.5 YES 10.8 Meegan challenges with 35%
1 49.0 39.4 28.8 No 11.5
10 47.5 37.7 35.6 YES 14.8 Solid voting for Fioretti
36 45.2 39.2 28.2 YES 15.8
49 44.1 43.6 34.7 No 12.3
23 43.6 39.8 42.5 No 17.6 Heavy voting for Fioretti
40 42.3? 47.1? 33.8 No 10.6 Heavy voting for Fioretti?
32 41.6 47.2 27.8 No 11.3 Progressive Caucus Alderman (Waguespack)
19 36.1 41.7 51.5 No 22.2 Heavy voting for Fioretti

The Run-Offs in 10, 15, 31, and 33 could be particularly important, given (a) the support for other challengers, (b) the potential for progressive developments in the City Council, and (c) the need for improved voter turnout (specifically in 15 and 31).

One of the most difficult aspects that Mayor Emanuel will face is heading into wards where Commissioner Garcia performed well, and attempting to sway voters that did not hit the polls. It remains to be seen if those voters that stayed home were already Emanuel supporters ("Oh, I won't vote, there's no way he loses"), or if those voters will be encouraged by Garcia's performance ("Oh, he really is a serious candidate, I'll vote for him"). 

Chart Two: Wilson Wards
I think it's easy for a lot of people to joke about Willie Wilson, given some of the reported controversies during the election, and his relatively apolitical demeanor during speeches and debates. Frankly, I was fascinated when Wilson prayed for closing statements, or prayed during his concession speech, and generally appeared to place his political race in the wider context of religiosity and thankfulness. Many of us are cynical, or want to play hard politics, so a Candidate like Wilson may seem less-than-serious, but Wilson's performance in 18 wards was very serious.

I collected these wards, given that they are (a) wards in which (either) Garcia and (or) Emanuel did not perform particularly well, and (b) wards in which Wilson thrived.

(18) WILSON Garcia Emanuel Wilson Turnout Alderman Run-Off
24 23.4 36.4 30.3 26.7 YES
37 21.2 41.2 28.2 26.3 YES
17 24 40 26.6 28.4 No
16 26.1 39 26.6 22.3 Progressive Alderman Running (Foulkes)
28 22.2 39.8 25.9 22.9 No
34 20.7 45.3 24.9 32.4 No
21 22.3 42.2 24.5 33.4 YES
20 26.5 40.3 24.4 25.6 YES
9 22.1 43.2 24.0 32.1 No
6 23 42.5 23.5 30.7 Progressive Alderman (Sawyer)
8 24.1 43.3 22 35.5 No
29 25.1 42 21.9 30.3 YES
7 24.6 43.6 21.2 31.9 YES
27 21.7 48 18.9 26.5 No
18 32.8 38.7 16.6 38.2 YES
3 21.2 48.9 16.4 30.2 No
4 28.5 44.5 14.1 37.7 No
5 33.7 43.9 12.9 39.0 Progressive Alderman (Hairston)

These wards arguably have the most interesting combination of turnout issues / potential turnout increases, aldermanic runoffs, and, of course, endorsement potential for Wilson himself. Should Wilson choose to endorse one of the Mayoral Candidates, and the turnout stabilizes or improves, these wards will shape the results of the election.

Of course, there is the added bonus of watching Mayor Emanuel head into neighborhoods that his policies have not favored during his term. Will reconciliation be enough for the Mayor, or are residents and voters of these wards finished with the Mayor?

Chart Three: Emanuel Land
The biggest problem for Mayor Emanuel appears when one looks at 14 of his strongest wards: the Mayor (unsurprisingly) performed great along the lake, but those wards already featured some of the best voter turnout performances of the election. Granted, a handful of aldermanic run-offs remain in these wards, and given the relative affluence of some of these wards, one might argue that these wards are more likely to improve voter turnout than other areas of the city. However, some voters in these wards did support Fioretti and Wilson to some degree, which leads one to ask whether the voters that stayed home were progressives who did not feel motivated to vote (given Emanuel's strength along the lake); given Mayor Emanuel's performance, it's difficult to imagine that staunch supporters of the mayor stayed home. So, in the worst case scenario, even if Commissioner Garcia does not improve his performance in these wards, he could still potentially pick up votes from Fioretti or Wilson supporters (if those people return to the polls).

(14) Emanuel Country Garcia Emanuel Turnout Alderman Run-Off Note
42 16.7 73.2 27.3 No Moderate Fioretti support
43 18.4 71.9 33.3 No
2 23 64.9 30.7 YES Moderate Fioretti support
44 27.2 64.2 29.7 No Heavy voting for Fioretti
46 31.6 57.4 36 YES Equal Wilson and Fioretti
50 32.5 55.1 31.8 No
48 37.6 52.2 37.2 No Equal Fioretti and Wilson support
47 40.1 51.2 36.9 No Moderate Fioretti support
13 37.3 51.1 45 No Solid Fioretti voting
11 32.5 48.9 34.9 YES Heavy voting for Fioretti
39 37.4 48.2 38.1 No 
38 33.2? 48? 37.7 No Solid voting for Fioretti
45 35.1 47.9 41.8 YES Progressive Alderman Running (Arena)
41 31.1 47.7 41.5 YES

Basically, we have a real fight for Mayor in Chicago. One thing is certain: if you have any grievances with the City government, if you want the City government to reflect a specific political outlook, you have the chance to impact the government. Remember, the City of Chicago is ultimately OUR government. These politicians work for us, and if we believe that the city can improve, we need to vote as such.

Please direct comments or corrections to spectiveaudio [at] gmail [dot] com or @spectivewax (on Twtter)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Rectal Hygienics and Institutional Violence

EDIT (8:55 AM, February 20, 2015): After sleeping on it, I thought I'd add another quick note, and reposition the edits I added yesterday (see the end of the original post). As I did with yesterday's update, I have not touched the original words. 

I want to add a clarification of why I think it's acceptable to frame this type of debate in terms of "feminism." I understand that it is unacceptable to present male violence as a form of feminism, and I agree with that. However, what I did not emphasize well enough in the original post is that I understand Rectal Hygienics to be delivering an institutional critique, which I first note in the third paragraph. The crucial element of my review is to place the spoken word / found-sound snippets from the LP at a level equal to the lyrics themselves; I believe if we take the band seriously, there is a sense that they are delivering these lyrics from the point of view of institutional-professional male violence. Perhaps it would have been better to call this a "critique of power" rather than "feminism," but I do think it's important to push the boundaries of institutional critiques from a feminist perspective; if we are truly to achieve feminist emancipation, one needs to ask whether that can occur within a professional-monopoly capitalist setting. 

I am skeptical that this can occur, which is why I think Ultimate Purity deserves to be taken seriously. I certainly understand that there are people that will not find this LP palatable, I certainly understand that people will feel repulsed, and I do understand that it's a violent LP. I think all of those are reasonable points of view, but I still think those criticisms / feelings can be waged without calling the band "misogynist." I believe a misogynist would expressly endorse male violence, and I find it hard to read Ultimate Purity through that lens. 

(I have changed the title to "Rectal Hygienics and Institutional Violence." The original post was "Rectal Hygienics as Feminism"). 

I think we need to ask this of feminism: can feminist aims be accomplished within capitalist / professional frameworks? I remain skeptical of this, and I believe that we can read feminism as an extremely effective weapon to also move away from professional-monopoly capitalism. 

If you don't think Rectal Hygienics are interesting or worth this consideration, I think that's fine; but, for those that listen to the album, struggle with the album, and love the album, I think it is worth asking these questions. This debate must be important, however, as this original blog post received more than 1300 views -- I find that stunning for an album released to a small scene, pressed in 500 quantities, and especially given that some have freely admitted they will not buy or listen to the album anyway. 

***

Nearly two weeks ago, Chicago progressive Mayoral Candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia visited an outsider venue run by one of Chicago's fiercest noise crossovers. The candidate confessed his love for throwing enter-through-the-alley affairs, or parties in the basement.  Then, he rallied a young crowd to register to vote and vote early, touting his desire to populate Chicago politics with younger people and new ideas, including truly progressive steps to work with Chicago's LGBTQ community. After the speech, Garcia was featured in another profile that outlined a radical platform to house homeless LGBTQ, work with a basically-defunct Human Rights organization within the City government, and other proposals that offered serious bite (rather than the typical politician's "well, I guess everyone can get married and receive their tax benefits now" stance).

This space is run by Rectal Hygienics, a now-infamous band for their allegedly "misogynistic" lyrics. Pitchfork's Jes Skolnik leveled the charges against the band in a one-sided editorial (a member of the band confirmed with me that, allegedly, Skolnik did not offer contact to discuss the group's "misogyny"). I tell this brief story about Garcia's trip to an outsider venue to outline the reality of Rectal Hygienics' politics: they are a lyrically complicated group, but they are also stewards of a scene that helps stage acts by sexually, racially, culturally outsider acts. There is a true sense of freedom among these acts, some of which are also "lyrically confrontational" (here I'm thinking of ONO, Chicago's industrial Gospel legends, who regularly grapple with the experiences of war, racism, history, etc. Incidentally -- and not surprisingly, ONO, one of the most inclusive groups of noise-rock stewards in this city, played at Candidate Garcia's rally.) That there is confrontation in their lyrics arguably reflects that fact that there is confrontation, in some serious forms, in many of these acts' lives.

On Ultimate Purity, Rectal Hygienics' latest album (Permanent), the band's lyrics are disturbing and perverted at a glancing look. Digging deeper into the album, there are spoken-word segments that offer different lenses into the group's vision: a brief, reflective speech about certain afflictions held by culturally powerful, prestigious professionals that run the USA's official institutionalized-monopolized infrastructure (medicine, law, academia); a brief testimonial (spoken by a woman) about the blunt reality that men treat women like shit. If you're going to analyze a band's lyrics (a potentially dangerous cliff to jump off of in any scenario), you need to look at the various clues and lenses afforded to you, the listener. Those two brief snippets on the album, maybe not even occupying two minutes of the whole LP, place the lyrics in an entirely different view: one wonders who the speaker in these lyrics is, or if these lyrics are even spoken. Is this the true distortion of power? Is not all sexual violence inextricably linked to the monopoly capitalism's "institutional" backbone? (I ask this as a serious question: if Skolnik is concerned about misogyny, why is the target Rectal Hygienics, a band with 500 pressings of its current album, stewards of a small-and-devoted music scene with members from any racial, cultural, sexual background one could desire? Why is Pitchfork placing misogyny in the personal context, and not the institutional context?)

I ask these questions because I think it is painfully obvious that Rectal Hygienics are not misogynists. Not in person, and, more interestingly, not in their lyrics, either. Their lyrics are a confrontation with the emotional void that accompanies a political and economic system that castrates almost everyone that isn't white or male. Their lyrics are spoken in an androgynous voice; if you read them carefully, you will realize that there are very few points where the speaker is obviously male, and the object of his fantasy is obviously female. (Nevermind that there are actual sex acts described that are difficult to label "misogynistic.") Even further that that, you will realize that the speaker is extreme: there are fantastical, outrageous elements to some of the songs that are simply unclassifiable. In the exceptional single, "Grandeur," what, exactly, are the bones in the speaker's stomach? Why is the speaker greased and oiled? Taken on the surface, one could easily write a FURIOUS column about Rectal Hygienics' sexual cannibalism; but, obviously, no such column would be written because the emotional viewpoint and experiences told by the speaker are beyond interpretation, tapping into something primal, unspoken, running throughout the blood of society.

If the speaker of Ultimate Purity is a CEO, the album is a critique of the workplace and gender politics in the office. If the speaker of Ultimate Purity is a teen runaway, the album is an exploration of underrepresented loneliness felt by people cast aside. There are many different exercises one can take with this approach, but the ultimate outcome is that Rectal Hygienics are feminist (in the sense that they are also psychoanalytic): they meet their listener in completely undesirable places, they explore the absolute extreme potential of human consciousness, they describe the shadow side of capitalism. If French philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote Ultimate Purity, it would be hailed as a critique of power and heteronormativity.

EDIT: A specific critique has pointed out to me that my second to last paragraph hints that I can find whatever I'd like in these lyrics. This is a valid point, but what I mean to say is that when an artist is writing lyrics, it is crucial to understand the potential perspective. If the singer and lyricist are one, and they are representing their own personal views, that is certainly one thing, and in the case of this album, that's really quite disturbing. However, the biggest issue I have with these lyrics is that they do not necessarily name or place a specific speaker. I believe that the listener can have some degree of authorship, even a small one, depending on who they believe the singer is speaking to / writing about. 

EDIT ONCE MORE: It also seems that there is some confusion about which LPs we're talking about. I am only speaking about Ultimate Purity, the latest LP. I am not speaking about the first LP. I do believe that you are right to point out that maybe they are related, and if you feel that way, I think that that would be an important case to make. I apologize if these words have appeared sweeping and discussing a larger amount of material than I know. 

However, you don't need to be convinced by any of this: be convinced by Chuy Garcia. And ask yourself, Will you vote for Chuy? If you voted early, and you didn't vote for Chuy, who is the misogynist? I ask this because there is actual misogyny manifest in Chicago, and the USA, on much larger scales than independent-outsider music, which in many cases offers shelters for those that are unwanted, searching for a voice, etc. But, the difference here is that a group like Rectal Hygienics actually works to organize a specific political viewpoint, one that will help more people in need. So, what I suspect about most Pitchfork readers is what I despise about the "Rectal Hygienics is misogynist" critique: these readers will return to their positions of institutional-monopolized professional prestige, still stuffing back their addiction to filth, still ignoring the afflictions associated with the underbellies of their institutions. Everybody's got to pay the bills, so I don't blame them, but then again, don't go around personally calling out non-misogynists as "misogynists," and placing their music in the realm of anti-LGBTQ violence when your readership exerts that very prestige and affliction.

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EDIT (2:08 PM Central, February 19, 2015): I have been discussing this issue with my friends for most of the day, and I have also seen critiques on Twitter that I take very seriously. First and foremost, I want to apologize for coming off as combative, and also for insinuating that "Feminism" is whatever I want to make of it. I certainly do not believe that I can decide what feminism is -- I believe, as I have learned, that feminism is the emancipation of women from gender roles (stated simply), and that there are many other complex historical issues and variations associated with that project. 

So, I certainly do not want to make it seem like I believe Rectal Hygienics are feminist just because I say so, or even that they're feminist at all (many people certainly disagree with that notion, and I think that is an entirely valid point). I want to add that, perhaps, a clarification might be that the Ultimate Purity album is valuable as a part of the larger goal of feminism to expose and combat violence. There are points in this article where this simply does not come across as clearly as possible; but insofar as feminists study rape narratives and deal with the realities of gender violence (in many, many different ways), among other projects, I think there are many ways that feminism can address violence. 

(Personally, I should also add that I believe that institutional factors impact human behavior as much as, maybe more than, individual motives. I especially believe this to be the case in our current culture, economy, etc. I believe that there are crucial institutional barriers that need to be addressed in order to achieve feminist aims. This does not mean that I do not think individual actions are important -- they are. But, I believe that critiques of power, gender, sex, etc., can be written from individual and institutional viewpoints. This is something I did not explain very well in this article).

It also bears stating that in no way do I condone gender violence, whatsoever. I abhor the very idea. In this case, I think that the challenging lyrics on the latest Rectal Hygienics record deserves some treatment beyond the basic sense of misogyny; I think there is a lot more going on there, and frankly, I'm also quite sick and conflicted about my own love of the album. I think Ultimate Purity is a brilliant noise album, but I have to personally come to grips with what the lyrics mean, or what the implications are.

I want to apologize to anyone I've offended with this, and I also want to reiterate that I do not mean this as some kind of "appropriation" of feminism. For that reason, I've changed the title from "Rectal Hygienics as Feminism." I also apologize if I've belittled or attacked Jes Skolnik. I certainly did not mean this to be a personal attack, but it is my own personal exploration that I've been concerned about since I first heard the album. 

Thank you for sharing this and reading it. More people have viewed this than actual copies of the LP were pressed. So, I'm certain that this is a challenging issue a lot of people are thinking about. 

With these edits, I did not change any of the original text. I want to admit that I was not as clear as I intended, and what I meant as a potentially empowering critique was not received as such, and that I was wrong in ways I did not intend.