TAPE SOUNDS-VORTEX EP REVIEW

ORIGINALLY APPEARING IN PIONEER VALLEY UNDERGROUND 10/25

By Chance Viles

PV Underground’s own Nate Kellogg, known as Tape Sounds, dropped his new EP Vortex this August.  The EP overall is pretty psychedelic in sound, utilizing odd synths and filters similar to groups such as Animal Collective, while maintaining an entirely unique personality.  Characterized by it’s lo-fi crackle, Vortex is also reminiscent of one-man indie groups, such as Wavves’ earlier noise albums.

Vortex opens with “Grown Up”, a somewhat down-tempo noisey indie track with boom-bap style drumming covered in layers on synth sounds among guitars and bass.

“Drippy” is the next track, taking a more psychedelic approach to the music.  The timing of the drums is odd, but works with the layers of lo-fi instrumentation.  Much more relaxed than the previous track, “Drippy” takes a more chill-wave sound.

“End Day” breaks the EP up with ethereal synths and and distortions, creating an ambient ambience.  Only a minute long, “End Day” changes the pace of the EP moving onto the track “After Days”.  “After Days” sounds more like a song to accompany a boss fight in an early arcade game, taking on an almost 8-bit sound with break-beat drum patterns.  About a minute and a half in, following a short down period in the track, “After Days” picks back up into a climax mimicking the earlier half of the track while adding more layers to create a more encompassing environment of sound.

A quick interlude, “Funny Faded” leads into the last track.  “Yau” is one of the longer tracks on Vortex, as well as the slowest.  Relaxing guitar riffs and base lines layer over a slower and more discordant drum-beat.  While the track can drag a bit if you weren’t in the mind set for this kind of listen, the patterns and riffs in “Yau” are easy to get lost in, and when you get lost you will be surprised and possibly disappointed the track is over.

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First Annual Amherst College Hip-Hop Festival

ORIGINALLY APPEARING IN PIONEER VALLEY UNDERGROUND 10/27

By Chance Viles

October 22nd saw the Amherst College Hip-Hop Club’s first festival.  Free cookies, hot cider, and hot chocolate were enticing, but the real draw was the music.

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ERatt of DarkWorld kicked off the festival as the opener.  ERatt once again performed on a chair, with hype man and good friend Rider dancing and moving around the stage in the background.  ERatt was filled with off-key punk energy as he was screaming into the microphone.  Unfortunately, it was hard to make out the intricacies in the beats or lyrics for a large chunk of the set due to poor acoustics in the venue as well as clipping and fuzz from the sound system.  The fuzz was even more of an issue for the next performer, DroBrown of Ugly Family, and new member Gabe Gill.  Once again, high amounts of energy and some cool weird dudes, disrupted by poor inaudible music.

At points there was some tension, as the DJ was claiming it was due to the poor quality of the recordings the performers used for beats.  Unlikely, as each of the performers have done shows in many places and different kinds of venues without such troubles, so it was most likely the lack of a proper sound check at the start of the show.  The venue itself, as mentioned before, didn’t have a  very good soundscape either. This was out of anyone’s control since this was a last minute venue change due to inclement weather conditions (hella rain). But, the show must go on.

The next act was Jerome Heka of New York City.  At this point, most of the crowd had slimmed down to around 10 people. Despite this, Heka still put on a good show, encouraging crowd engagement and interluding his fast lyric heavy tracks with acapella raps.

In between Heka and the next performer, the DJ actually took to the mic to perform some spoken word.  Drawing on words the crowd had provided, the DJ created a spoken-word poem using each word, focusing on issues such as police brutality and the poor treatment of black people in America.

Next up was Mal.  Mal had taken a darker sound, using beats sort of reminiscent of Earl Sweatshirt’s “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside”.  Mal had more of a sinister, darker energy than the past performers, definitely contrasting the DJ’s spoken word.  It was during Mal’s set that the crowd began to thicken again, filling up with all kinds of people outfitted in unique clothes.

Last but not least were the Delivery Boys, a four-piece group from Brooklyn, New York. Bringing it in a sense full circle, the Delivery Boys brought a less-traditional hip-hop sound, returning to a weirder performance like the openers.

All around, the crowd was a good size and the show ended up not entirely falling apart despite the rocky start. The treats were a plus, and the drinks helpful as each performer at one point had water brought to them on stage.  For the Amherst Hip-Hop club’s first festival, it turned out to be much better than it was ramping up to be, drawing in acts from the local scene as well as New York City.  In the future, I hope that there is a better venue choice and more effort into making sure the acoustics and levels are right for each performer.

eGOmaniaks and DarkWorld take Greenfield

ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN PIONEER VALLEY UNDERGROUND 10/28/16

By Chance Viles, photos by Sarah Robertson 

The Wheelhouse Arts Block is a quaint mill themed bar and music venue tucked away in an alley in Greenfield, Mass.  At night, Greenfield is a quiet city, entirely asleep by 10 PM.  That wasn’t the case at Wheelhouse which was throwing one of the most energetic shows I’ve been to this year.

Walking in one sees a pong table, a door man, another room outfitted with low tables and leathered benches running along the walls.  The bar is attractive, with warm backlights accentuating the varieties of alcohol the venue has.  Everyone was relaxing and hanging out, as the DJ and hype man for the first act was setting up the equipment on a podium spray painted with an art aesthetic that is reminiscent of 90’s Hip-Hop culture. 

The first performer to take the stage is Amherst-based rap collective eGOmaniak’s Riqqy Welch.  Rocking a flat-top haircut and a gold chain, Riqqy took the stage with his DJ and his hype man, bumping out jams that sounded like instant classics, while unique enough to be distinct from the rest of the hip-hop world they were also sporting a classic hip-hop sound.  The crowd clearly felt his energy. Everyone in proximity of the stage was jumping with the music. 

https://vimeo.com/189197542

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The classic hip-hop vibe was solidified when during Riqqy’s track, “1996”, Riqqy requested “90s babies put your hands up”.  The majority of the crowd rocks with their hands raised unsurprisingly, given the younger fan base, as Riqqy chants the ending chorus “I’mma a 90’s baby going crazy!” towards the close of his set.

https://soundcloud.com/riqqyw/1996a

Up next was Machakos Kyalo, hailing from Machakos, Kenya.  Despite proclaiming his exhaustion, Kyalo went into ramping the crowd up by leading everyone into a chant.  This did the trick and the crowd was ready to rock.  Contrasting the fun sounding Kenyan background music during the chant and Machakos’ generally friendly demeanor, his beats were hard and aggressive.  With each bass hit people were leaping in the air and singing along.  Machakos played a number of favorites including “100 or so”. He hardly seemed tired while leaving the stage to get close and personal with the engaged crowd. Eventually the exhaustion returned, and Machakos closed with a more dance inducing track leaving everyone completely psyched and warmed up for the next three acts.

machakos.jpgLuieGo took the stage next, another member of the Ugly Family collective and eGOmaniaks.  Like those before him, LuieGo brought a lot of energy to the stage, keeping the night active and wild.  LuieGo performed a tribute to Lil B the Based God by performing his track “FUCK THE WEEKND (BASED FREESTYLE)”, giving shout outs to Lil B who was a clear inspiration as well as dissing Lil B’s long time enemies Kevin Hart and Kevin Durant.  Luie brought energy like the past performers, but brought a lot of the weirdness Ugly Family is known for.  LuieGo called fellow Amherst rapper eRATT of Darkworld onto stage, performing an unreleased track called “Riding Low Pt. 2.” The whole crowd was singing along chanting “You are not my bro, I do not trust you like you are 5-0,” Bringing more crowd engagement and increasing the hype of the crowd dramatically as eRATT leaps around LuieGo on stage. 

luiego.jpgDroBrown of Ugly Family took the stage next.  Dro kept the energy up, rapping passionately as he moved around the stage flaring his hands to match his words, similar to a conductor keeping the pace of an orchestra.  Other’s joined the stage like Riqqy Welch and his hype man, and at times eRATT as well.  The crowd was consistent during the show. Everyone was wilding and dancing out during Dro’s set.  People started standing on the benches at the side to get a better view.  The music was non-stop, only ever broken up by Dro’s promotion of him as well as the other artist’s Soundclouds and odd, hard to hear banter.  Dro went into the crowd, pushing people around a bit creating a near-mosh pit stimulated by the rough bass and and Dro’s energetic flow.  Eventually the music ceased and the room seemed oddly quiet once more, at least until rapper Cal took stage.

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Cal, also known as Czarquan, a member of New York City based rap group Jaguar Pyramids (also a part of DarkWorld) towered over everyone else once getting on stage.  Tall and lanky, his appearance was more demanding than the earlier performers.  Once the music started, the crowd turned things up and did not stop until the end of the set.  Cal brought the same energy as everyone, and every performer was talented.  However, there was something about Cal that set him apart.  Possibly his appearance (but I doubt it was just that), or perhaps him being from New York City, he seemed to have the most amount of active onlookers as he performed.  The production was much like the Amherst based members of DarkWorld, but changed slightly to fit Cal’s more cynical sounding flow and tone. 

cal.jpgEach rapper was in the crowd for one another’s set, and each rapper plus their  surrounding people seemed to be familiar with one another’s work as they were rapping and hyping for each other from the crowd.  Every rapper fed off of another and hyped each other, showing a connection and respect that is not common at the typical show.  It seemed that everyone was in sync, and there was a larger community feeling at play that kept the energy and harmony alive.

Perhaps this were also intensified by the business and venue itself too.  The owner’s of the Wheelhouse Arts Block are family members, and from conversations with them one can see the pride they have in running a business.  All of the shows remain affordable and premiere local talent on the bills.  I think the communal and good initiatives of the business only helped encourage the rap scene’s energy and sense of unity, all adding to be an intimate, tight-knit and energetic show.

NLITEN, ERATT, JAKE BUDDY, DJ LOWKEYISH at D’Juice Bar

ORIGINALLY APPEARING IN THE PIONEER VALLEY UNDERGROUND

by Chance Viles

“Where are you going tonight? I am going to Djuice Bar.”

Friday night at D’Juice Bar was packed.  Bodies were pressed from wall to wall under the cover of the heavy and humid air illuminated by pink lights set behind the stage.  Amherst one-man-band Jake Buddy took the stage, starting off on a unique note.  Jake Buddy played his own jams, while at times doing funky renditions of songs such as Will Smith’s “Big Willie Style.”  At first it was hard to take the scene seriously.  Kids cramped in a basement dancing to a kid singing 90’s favorites among lesser known originals, but it was when the guitar playing took off the attitude changed. 

What went from a goofy funky version of a jam would turn into a spiraling shredding guitar solo that perfectly fit every tune that he played.  I am not sure if the solos were improvised or well rehearsed, but they were seriously impressive.  The guitar solos turned the goofy dance floor into a serious jam, so intense that it was not hard to forget that there was just one kid centered in the front of the room on guitar. 

The sound was perfect, you could hear every note in the basement with clarity, and even upstairs every intricacy of Jake Buddy’s guitar shredding was audible.

The scene shifted as Amherst rapper NliteN took the stage.  Outfitted in all white, NliteN immediately stood out in the pink lit room, among all the students adorned in all black or some sort of flannel.  Despite the change from playful funk to some seriously intense hip-hop, the crowd rolled with it seamlessly.  NliteN tore it up as he rapped so fast some could only react by yelling or suffering some sort of seizure movement and leaping to the beat when their dance moves could not keep up.

NliteN performed for awhile, never faltering in his words or seeming overwhelmed at all.  He performed some of his newer tracks, including “Drink” which was just released on Spotify and premiered on WMUA earlier that day.  The new songs were performed with such intensity it was weird when the music stopped as they began to set up for the next act.

D’Juice Bar resident and Amherst native ERatt of DarkWorld took the stage next.  ERatt too stood out, with a t-shirt half on and a long blue kimono draped over his body.  ERatt took to the stage and immediately climbed a chair putting him above the entire crowd, and performed nearly the entire show from this high-point. 

Before the start, ERatt delivered a message of positivity, crowd freindliness, and a must for a good time.  From the positive and friendly messaged,  ERatt jumped into a hard-hitting, intense rap set.  At times his voice ran the line of screaming, and his set bordered punk music on top of hip-hop.  Members of his DarkWorld crew took next to him, adding to the intensity of the scene.

The show capped off with a set from DJ Lowkey-ish, performing club favorites and dancey EDM tracks. 

Overall, each set was so different from one another yet fit perfectly. What seemed like an odd-fitting bill ended up being a memorable night laced with drinks, dancing, and most importantly great music.

RAP AND HIP-HOP IN THE PIONEER VALLEY

ORIGINALLY APPEARING IN THE PIONEER VALLEY UNDERGROUND 

By Chance Viles

10/8

The Pioneer Valley heavily contrasts that of Hip-Hop hotbeds.  Places like New York City, Los Angeles and Atlanta are characterized by the buildings and heavy population.  The Pioneer Valley is on the other side of the spectrum, Amherst is in the boonies.  Farms, trees and colleges are far more common than clubs or music venues.  Rap is scarce, and punk-rock has had a solidified scene here for a long time.  Rap does exist however, and the Pioneer Valley rap groups that compose of the rap scene such as DarkWorld, Ugly Familia, and EgoManiaks draw on all of these characteristics that make the Pioneer Valley.

DarkWorld rapper eRATT, Amherst Native and UMass student has lived his whole life in the area.  Family friends of Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, eRATT had long been exposed to the punk music and scene of the area.  Starting out his music career with Elementary School band Blackberry Jam, punk music was definitely an influence.  According to eRATT, bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth are the classic Western Mass. sound, and the punk sound and ethos is apparent in his music as well as performances.

I Scream a lot in my songs.  I perform like I did when I was in a punk band.  I show my ass to the audience, and rappers don’t do that.  The closest relation to punk is definitely in the feeling” eRATT Said.

The punk ethos is common place to DarkWorld and the related rappers.  The projects are very DIY based and most of these musicians are self taught and based on learning from mistakes, very similar to the approach many punk bands like Black Flag took in the past.  DarkWorld producer Ghost taught himself graphic design and beat making, both now heavily utilized by the DarkWorld group.  According to Ghost, eRATT records through a webcam and DarkWorld “captain” and founder DJ Lucas records through a RockBand video game microphone, perhaps the most DIY approach to recording rap possible. The videos are filmed on old VHS cameras, converted to a digital format and edited by DarkWorld videographers including DJ Lucas’ brother Weird Dane.  In a way that many punk groups such as Trash Talk utilize their own resources and friends to produce content, everything DarkWorld produces and puts out is undeniably their own. 

“It’s not just hip-hop, punk out here is very special too and there are some sick punk bands” Amherst raised and Ugly Familia’s Dro Brown said.

“Our rap has very similar ethos to punk in a way.  We wouldn’t be making this music if we didn’t start with punk.  A lot of our style comes from teaching ourselves, almost just trial and error” Ghost explained. 

In the acceptance of punk as the driving influence behind their rap music, honesty takes the forefront in important concepts to each rapper.  Hardly will one ever hear anyone involved rap or sing about a reality they do not live.  eRATT and Ghost have embraced their Amherst base, and are very open about it.  Dj Lucas has taken on a farm-boy aesthetic, even working in banjo sounds into his production.  Ugly Familia, another Amherst based rap-collective also preaches honesty. Dro Brown utilizes weird sound bits such as Pokemon sounds in his songs, embracing his roots in weirdness and video games. There is never a concern about authenticity or any sort of front being put on by the groups.


“I’m honest.  I don’t rap about what I don’t have unless it is surreal.  I’ll rap about something like driving a giant tank with sparkles or something, it’s weird but never trying to be something it’s not” Dro explained. 

(Shouts out to both of my parents.  They have a wonderful marriage and I’m not embarassed, that’s the shit that you cherish)-DJ LUCAS

“For whatever reason people in rap are reluctant to be honest.  For whatever reason people think it is cool to hide where they are actually from. We are not from any hood, we know and are honest about our background” Ghost explained.

Ugly Familia and DarkWorld keep the weirdness that shapes them visible.  Their music videos run the line of ironic and absurd. The videos may feature odd dancing, heavy editing and nearly all take place in recognizable Pioneer Valley areas like parking lots on Route 9 or the Amherst Cumberland Farms. 

Another unique aspect of the rap in Pioneer Valley is the shared resources.  Groups like Ugly Familia and DarkWorld consistently work with one another and play shows.  Another Amherst based rap group, EgoManiaks, shares members like eRATT and are featured on their songs.  DarkWorld, which consists of up to 15 consistent members according to Ghost and eRATT. DarkWorld has smaller groups in it as well.  Club Casualties is formed by Ghost and artist Lucy.  DarkWorld has artists that aren’t even hip-hop, singer/musician Sweat Enzo makes music that runs a line between pop, country, and rock.  Musician Gods Wisdom fuses noise and avant-garde with hip-hop, while Morimoto fuses saxophone playing with hip-hop.  This sense of community and shared resources and cohesiveness despite genre is not only due to their related music tastes, but most of the members are from the area and have been friends for some time.

“I’ve known Eric since 7th grade, Dj Lucas since like 4th grade.  We were all friends before the music which is where the community comes from” Ghost explained.

What really makes it Western Mass. rap is the aesthetic that they push.  Members of DarkWorld can be seen in their videos wearing “WELCOME TO DARKWORLD” patches that parody the state highway signs for Massachusetts.  DJ Lucas references Massachusetts specific things like EZ passes, and often makes the Massachusetts identity known in his lyrics.  As DarkWorld grows however, they do more shows in New York, DJ Lucas having recently played shows in Canada and recently toured  all the way out to California. Despite their growing audience, the small town feeling of Amherst will stay in their aesthetic and sound.

“The town is small and weird, it’s all we know.  Amherst is so slow if you are into art, it’s all you do other than work and school” eRATT said.

“I think we have a distinctively Western Mass. sound and attitude that will stay because it is us.  We do this all on our terms and this is our sound.  It is what we know” Ghost explained.

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Humble Digs: The non-stop feel good machine

ORIGINALLY APPEARING IN THE PIONEER VALLEY UNDERGROUND 9/16/16

https://pioneervalleyunderground.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/humble-digs-the-non-stop-feel-good-machine/

Amherst at times is a sleepy slow moving town, swallowed by the mountains and trees that fill the pioneer valley.  This is directly contrasted with Amherst in September, a bustling hub for returning college students.  The bus lines go from empty to entirely packed seemingly overnight, and the number of available parking spots downtown becomes non-existent.  Even when busy however, Amherst does not lose it’s small town charm. 

 “Kinetic psych-folk” band Humble Digs personifies the general mood of this setting.  Humble Digs is comprised of four very laid back members who, once plugged into their amps, becomes a booming mixture of funk and groove, with the ability to bust into a jam at any moment.  The band is comprised of singer/guitarist Jake Slater, Bassist Riley Feeney, guitarist George Condon and his twin brother drummer Henry Condon. 

Humble Digs has been active for about 3 years.  Originally just Slater, the band naturally formed together as the members had met over their college career.  Since then, Humble Digs has put out 3 mix-tapes as well as a few singles and EPs, with 3 EPs expected to be completed over the next few months. 

The band is self-described as kinetic psych-folk, combining the dance of funk with their influences of Tame Impala, Steely Dan, and White Denim. 

“We are also influenced by those weird 90’s Tarentino movies.  You know, the movies that make no sense until it all wraps up in the end, following all of these crazy characters.  I picture each instrument as a character telling their own story, which in the end wraps up into one thing” Slater said.

One can hear this “Tarentino” approach in their live performances, every instrument has seemingly a mind of it’s own while coming together to form a neatly done song.  This is possible due to their high chemistry.  Not only does the band consist of a pair of twins on top of the fact that they have been playing together for three years, but 3 of the members share a basement which doubles as their musical space, with Feeney living in the upstairs of the same house.

“That’s kind of what Humble Digs is.  Digs is where you live you know, and this is humble” Slater said, as he sat shirtless in a laundry basket on his mattress made of cloth and wooden dowels behind a set of drums, stretching his arms to gesture the humbleness of the tight space the band shares.

“We like each other as people, we decided we were going to play and work on this for the long haul, and you don’t just do that with anybody.  We had to be friends before we could be in a band.” Feeney explained. 

It wasn’t hard to imagine how the band could play together constantly on top of sharing a home.  Every member had the same philosophy and attitude towards music.  Humble Digs has something to express, and while they make the music themselves, they believe it to be selfish to not share.  The band reiterated how important it was to them to see people dancing.  Humble Digs aims to share the energy with people, hoping to give people fulfilling experiences at shows or parties.  While the music is exciting, the lyrics convey a different message.  The lyrics are often about loneliness, trying to communicate that everyone feels a little lonely and one is not alone, according to Slater.  Overall, the band hopes to communicate their energy as well as a positive message.

“The message of Humble Digs is a reassurance to the people who don’t fit a mold and are kind of out there.   Fuck it, dive into the offness, that weirdness creates something that nobody else can” Feeney explained.

“As far as the music, I feel what I play, and I want to communicate that and have others feel it too” drummer Henry Condon explained.

Humble Digs aims to book larger shows in order to express their message of dancing and positivity to larger numbers of people.  This goal is quite possible, as their first show at the Raven in Worcester had 6 people in the audience, as opposed to the hundreds of people who showed up for their last show at the Unitarian Universalist church in Downtown Amherst. 

“We play a good amount of parties and house shows.  We played a show in the woods recently and spent two hours lugging our equipment back and forth in the dark through this shifty cornfield, but that experience was funny and brings us together” Slater said, as he slapped a large amp indicating the physical work it took to move the equipment through the field.

While Slater is a UMass alumni, the remaining members are still students and have so far been able to find a way to balance school, work, and the band.  It is clear it’s a grind to keep the band going, as Feeney had been so busy he was eating dinner during our interview.  George Condon even declared his independent study for his STEPC major as Humble Digs, working on a write up on class/gender/race in the music industry, using his time working on the band as the necessary hours for the study as well as where he will draw the experiences for his study from.  On top of playing and recording music, the band’s time is divided up into designing posters, hanging flyers, and eventually turning the pile of blank t-shirts in their kitchen into Humble Digs merchandise.  They explain that nearly all of their time goes to the band, whether it’s school, their personal lives or even their friendships.  

“All of us living together is nice, we can come home and play and work on the band.  It increases our productivity for sure” Henry Condon explained.

As for the future of Humble Digs, the band hopes to book some larger music festivals for the summer, showcase more local art at their shows, and finish their upcoming album.

“The fact that our band setup is a part of our house means we can’t escape our responsibilities as band members. It forces us to always be thinking of what we can do next” Riley said.

Long Shadows of Small Ghosts: How we talk to sources

I had recently read the book “Long Shadows Of Small Ghosts” by author Laura Tillman.  The book chronicles Tillman’s journey in reporting on a triple murder in Brownesville Texas.  About 10 years ago, John Rubio and his wife killed their three children in their home.  Believing that the children were possessed, the couple carried out a gruesome murder that shocked the community. Contributing factors to the murder may have been: consistent drug abuse, stresses of poverty (common in Brownesville), and mental health issues stemming from experiences in the past as well as possible birth defects caused by parental drug use.

Initially, Tillman was sent to report on what would happen to the building.  While semi-beat up, the building itself was standing and was in comparable condition to many of the buildings in the neighborhood surrounding.  Many people wanted it torn down, potentially us ing the building as a scapegoat or rather a resolution.  Regardless, there has yet to be entire closure on the death of three children.

The author, Tillman, in reporting eventually got in mail correspondence with the father/husband in prison (the wife refused to talk).  The author refused to buy him gifts as to avoid the potential that he saw her as a way out and a friend.  Eventually the author visits the murderer on death row.  The author refuses to smile, believing that Rubio would view this smile as friendship.  She does, however, buy snacks and drinks for him, as on death row there is a vending machine in the meeting room and every convict is eating food their visitors supplied. Tillman spoke, and I asked, what is the difference between a smile and a treat, and how does one draw the line? Does it ever get easier?  She believed not giving the treat were cruel since every other visitor

My question to the class is: the “no gifts” policy very important to a journalist?  What if cruelty comes into question, regarding norms of the surrounding environment (every other inmate is eating).  How do you interact with the power dynamic of you as a journalist being free, and the inmate waiting to get killed with nearly no rights?