While I am always aware of how much I blow off while I am in NYC, either because of conflicting events, or simply a lack of energy or motivation, I did manage to check out a few things while I was there. Saturday Anjali, JD and I went to Prospect Park in Brooklyn to watch Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon with a new live score performed by Karsh Kale and MIDIval Punditz. We missed the first minutes of the movie, and there were so many thousands of people at the park to see the movie that we had to find a spot way in the back with a tree blocking part of the screen. As much as I am an enormous fan of Hong Kong martial arts films, I have only seen Enter the Dragon once before, and I don’t remember the original Lalo Schifrin score well enough to compare the original versus this new live Indian tabla and electronics version. The crowd was very demonstrative throughout the movie, huge sections roaring at different scenes, and the new soundtrack credits got a huge cheer at the end of the movie, so I’d say the project was a huge success. Although there were Desis throughout the crowd, I doubt Karsh Kale and MIDIval Punditz were familiar names to most of the crowd before the screening.
After eating at a Thai restaurant called Beet in the neighborhood (I really enjoyed the Khao Soi.), Anjali and I headed down to SOB’s to catch the Argentinian cumbia Zizek tour. I should point out that the only reason Anjali and I had any idea this show was happening was because Uproot Andy (who I met at the show) had put flyers out at Turntable Lab where we had been shopping earlier in the day. None of the NYC entertainment publications mentioned the show at all. I assumed that we were going to totally miss the tour, as the Zizek boys were playing Portland while we were in NYC, and I was unaware of a New York date while we were there.
They were scheduled to start at midnight after the regular Saturday Brazilian show at SOB’s. When we arrived at 12:45am, the DJ for the Brazilian event was still playing Batucada and other Brazilian sounds for the people who were there for the early event. The crowd was very thin, and they mostly appeared to be hold-overs from the Brazilian event. No real Latino presence, and no vibe that I was in a room full of cumbia fans at all. I feel like it was after 1am before the Zizek DJ setup was complete, and one of the DJs began playing a very slow, minimal cumbia beat. The crowd had been dancing to really fast, dense batucada percussion tracks, and there was a grinding gear shift as the Zizek crew began. It took a while for the crowd to find the groove, and it seemed to be a new one for most of them. There were two DJs who performed, and their tracks were very minimal, with only a hint of cumbia flavor in a sparse electronic rhythm. The Argentinian rap group Fauna then hit the stage, and their hype, rockish vibe really seemed to clash with the sexy people vibe in effect on the floor. I think they are talented, but they needed to be performing at an outdoor Summer concert to a mosh pit of young males, and not the crowd that was in attendance that night. During their set Anjali spied Maga Bo in the crowd, and he then introduced us to Geko Jones and Uproot Andy, both of whom I plied for any new info I might glean on scouring NYC for obscure international dance music. It turns out that Uproot Andy has taken over weekend DJ duties at Mehanata, after Joro finally decided he had had enough of the place.
The DJ who backed up Fauna played for a while after they left the stage, and then Uproot Andy took over at 3am. He leaped into a blindingly fast set that was radically different than the minimal electronic cumbia that had been playing before. Even though it was 3am, and Andy began with such a radically different sound and tempo, the crowd exploded with energy, and I could only guess that Andy knew the crowd, since they responded so enthusiastically. Other than a kuduro track, I had a hard time even guessing the genres of the hyper-speed tracks he threw down. Anjali and I left exhausted at 3:15am while Uproot Andy was still adeptly working the crowd.
Sunday Anjali and I went to see Santogold, Diplo and A-Trak at SummerStage in Central Park. The line to get in was probably not even a mile long, but it was quite an epic walk to the end of the queue. Apparently we were not the only ones who were impressed by the length, because as we waited a half hour or more to get in, we watched several people walking the length of the line and filming as they went. Here’s one video I found online:
Can you spot DJ Anjali and The Incredible Kid in the line? The crowd to get in was highly diverse, and there was a real gathering of the tribes feel to all the different people who were hoping to get into this show.
We were still quite a ways from the entrance to the concert area, when several staff members walked by us explaining that the line was too long, and none of us were likely to get in. People didn’t seemed fazed and kept waiting, including us. The DJ music we could hear from off in the distance was comprised of Baltimore club tracks, and even a bassline song. Hearing these sounds was getting us hyped and anxious to get in.
We did make it in, and the line was held immediately behind us. Eventually more people were let in, but as we walked to the stage area, we turned back and realized that we were the last people let in at that time, and felt very relieved that we had managed to make it in. The place was full of all types of youngsters, and A-Trak was onstage playing quick clips of hip-hop standards. Yawn. Far less interesting than what we were hearing as we approached. A-Trak didn’t do anything to interest us much during his set, and Diplo did no better. The only brief moment of interest was his opening track, a fast drumbeat with a looped middle-eastern sounding horn over the top. It got me hopeful for some interesting international flavor, but it was a false alarm. Just club music, and none too interesting club music at that.
People were lethargic and disinterested during the DJ sets for the most part. Yes, it was hot, but people were waiting for Santogold. And when she came out, the crowd was hyped. She had a backing DJ, but said that on her next tour she was going to have a full band, which I think will suit her songs and energy far more. She had every color of kid singing along, and I was amazed at how she has captured the hearts of such a wide range of people. She only performed for about a half hour, and then it was time to herd out.
That was the last time Anjali and I made it out. I’m sure there were tons of cool things going on every night, In fact on our last night KRS-One was giving a free show in the amphitheatre featured in Wildstyle while at the same time a gaggle of original hip-hop DJs were playing a free park concert up in the Bronx. Meanwhile Anjali and I were out in Crown Heights Brooklyn scouring soca and dancehall shops for chutney soca, only to learn that we should have been out in Jamaica, Queens for that particular search, which we knew already, but I thought we would turn up some in Crown Heights anyway. And we did, but not much. Our best find was an instrumental chutney soca CD that had some incredibly sick and unique polyrhythmic beats that floored both Anjali and I.
I had been in correspondence with Carolina Gonzalez, hoping to find new sources of Latin music in NYC, especially underground merengue de la calle (mambo) and underground reggaeton mixtapes. She recommended a corner in Bushwick, where I managed to find some of both, but even after walking away with some big stacks of music, I still feel like I barely scratched the surface of what I think is out there.
Of course no trip to New York is complete without a stop (or several) in Jackson Heights, but the music shops are mostly closed up these days. Jackson Heights used to have music shops all up and down 74th St., and along all the side streets as well. Most of these have closed down over the years, leaving only four main music shops along 74th St. On my first trip in a year I learned that two of those stores have closed down, leaving a final two. The downloaders have won. The community music shop is dying. The end of an era. Since most of the CDs in Jackson Heights (originals and not just the bootlegs) are five dollars, people really must not want to buy music if they are unwilling to pay even that much for a CD. I only walked away with fifty dollars worth of music, which is a tenth of my usual haul. It was an absolutely unique visit in that respect.
Since Anjali and I will be leaving for India for several months at the end of the year, the NYC trip had a real bittersweet feel. Not sure when I will be back, and since so much of the music I desire is not available online (outside of illegal downloads on sketchy sites), and only available in the States at ethnic community music stores in NYC (And depending on the community, some other large metropolises, but in terms of the music I am after, it is hard to beat New York.), there was a real feeling of loss, wondering when I will next be able to feed my very specific musical hungers.