This article originally appeared in the February 2004 issue of SPIN.
Usually, when we music geeks talk about Next Big Things, we’re referring to bands and artists that fall into three categories: (1) People who major-label execs suspect can earn bags of cash, so bags of cash are spent to get their videos on MTV and their songs on the radio, on the soundtracks of Jerry Bruckheimer movies, and in iPod and car commercials (see everyone from 50 Cent to Jet); (2) people we know are cool and talented and have a chance to be popular, if anybody could hear their music above the Hoobastankin’ din (see everyone from Ms. Dynamite to Bright Eyes); (3) people we think are cool and talented but have absolutely no chance of being popular, at least not until they’ve been around for a while and start to seem less weird (see everyone from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Dizzee Rascal). So how do we categorize our Next Big Things of 2004? Well, to be blunt, our cover stars are solidly settled in (2), skirting the edges of (1), and in dread fear of (3). The best of the inside crew are tentatively perched in (2), occasionally flirting with (1), and a stiff single away from (3). The rest are trapped in (3), clawing for their lives. It’s dog-eat-dog out there, kids. But it always has been, and that’s why we recommend that you (a) trust yourself, (b) ignore the haters, and (c) keep listening. And remember what the ladies on The Bachelor say: It’s all about the journey.
Get ’em before they’re too hot! The lead singers of rock’s most exciting up-and-coming bands discuss insanely huge tour buses, taking over the world, and needing a cheese sandwich
If you owned a Geiger counter that measures rock-star energy instead of radioactive ions (we have one: it’s Japanese, and it’s rad), it would pulse intensely in the presence of the four individuals we’ve chosen to represent 2004’s Next Big Things: the Distillers’ resilient punk heroine Brody Dalle; Geoff Rickly of New Jersey emo saviors Thursday; Justin Hawkins of witty British metallurgists the Darkness; and Paul Banks, the haunted voice of New York City post-post-punkers Interpol.
Even hanging out at a Manhattan photo studio, their eyes crossed with fatigue thanks to jet lag, and, in Hawkins’ case, a half hour of grilling by federal officers (apparently, there’s another catsuited dude with the same name who’s done something very bad), these four radiate the all-important “it” that separates your White Stripes from your White Light Motorcades. Still, you’d need one of those high-tech instruments (ours is pink and covered with kitten stickers) to notice. Although all four bands are enjoying success after years of bubbling beneath the surface, their lead singers, with the possible exception of Hawkins, can still walk down a busy city street without incident. This probably will not last. As their window of anonymity rapidly closes, we asked them about life on the verge of a major breakthrough.
I. THOSE THREE WORDS
JUSTIN HAWKINS: The “Next Big Thing” always makes me think of the “Last Big Thing.” What was it again?
GEOFF RICKLY: When I’ve heard the term “Next Big Thing” applied to Thursday, it makes me feel like there’s some kind of strange pressure on us to do something different from what we’re doing now. Like we’re not a big thing now—we’re gonna be a big thing.
BRODY DALLE: It’s always, like, next week. It’s always a week away.
HAWKINS: It’s always the next drop of water that [the media] are going to lead the horses to. Then you find out whether or not they’re gonna drink. It just means we’re gonna be in everyone’s faces, and then we might stick around, or we might not. The Strokes were the Next Big Thing, weren’t they—for a while? And they’re still a big thing.
PAUL BANKS: I think the Strokes and the White Stripes are great. There’s a shitload of great bands that keep coming up. I don’t know if the new bands are dominating the radio like all the shitty music has been, but there might actually be hope that things are going to get better.
RICKLY: Every so often, I’ll hear a record [after reading about the band] and it’ll be totally revolutionary to me and I’ll be so psyched. Whether or not it has the impact on culture that it’s been tipped to have is irrelevant to me. It was just my way of finding out about the music. So even though I feel cynical toward the hype, any time you’re introducing something new to people, it’s a positive thing.
II. HYPE + MAJOR LABEL $$$$$ = CRUSHING EXPECTATION?
HAWKINS: In the U.K., it’s especially bad. The Next Big Thing syndrome is really acute there. Every fortnight there’s a new Next Big Thing, your new favorite band. The British market is said to be the tastemaking market, but it’s losing a lot of kudos, because a lot of the stuff that’s hyped doesn’t sell—people don’t like it. The bands get all the exposure they could ever require to sell a record, and it still doesn’t sell.
SPIN: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, for example. [At press time, their Fever to Tell had sold 102,000 copies.]
BANKS: Maybe the record labels shouldn’t be putting so much money behind it. But in the end, that record got made. From our point of view of making music, it isn’t a business venture.
SPIN: But Interpol are on an indie, Matador.
BANKS: We are, yeah. We don’t have the pressure of having to sell this or that many records. But from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ standpoint, their record got made. And they’re not going to lose any money as individuals. I’d like to believe that [their label] Interscope will be aware that [the musical climate is] changing, but maybe it will be slower than they hoped, and they should stay behind a band like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, because they are great.
DALLE: Also, these major labels understand what they are getting themselves into. They understand the type of band that they are signing. When we got signed, the president of our label [Sire’s Seymour Stein] was like, “I understand that you’ve basically built your own culture.” It was ours—that’s what it’s about, and it’s about building your band slowly.
SPIN: Justin, the Darkness have sold a million copies of Permission to Land in the U.K., but you haven’t sold too many here, even though the album has been out for quite a few months.
HAWKINS: We clearly don’t expect to take over the entire world just like that. I expect a band with longevity to do what it does over the course of several albums, rather than suddenly be in everyone’s face, everyone’s pocket, and everyone’s record collection. That’s not going to last. That’s when you’re a novelty act.
RICKLY: I was very into the D.C. bands of ten years ago. I saw what happened to Jawbox and Shudder to Think [when they signed to majors]. There’s definitely something like, “Well, I know how this goes. We’ll see how this goes.” Maybe we’ll get some money, and when we’re done, I’ll be able to put it into our own indie label and put out our own records again. That’s what our producer said: “Don’t think about whether the song will be a hit, think about whether you’re going to be proud of the record when you get dropped!”
III. EVERYONE IS HIP
SPIN: Thanks to the velocity of pop culture, new bands are getting hyped more and more in the mainstream media. It’s increasingly common for the average person to be able to name-check a Next Big Thing without hearing the music.
HAWKINS: Kind of like some of our reviewers. [Laughs]
RICKLY: After being around Brody, I realized that I had seen her face and heard about her for probably two years before I listened to the Distillers. I was already familiar with the sort of style she was representing. I feel like Thursday is one of the less stylized or image-based bands. I almost feel like it’s productive for the media to have our images out there before our music, because we don’t have a very striking image.
BANKS: [To Spin] The theoretical listener that you are talking about is an empty individual. I don’t even want them. The people who count are the people who actually listen and care.
IV. THE BLONDIE SYNDROME
SPIN: As the singer, you’re frequently identified as the face of the band. Does that create any intragroup strife or ego problems?
RICKLY: No. Most of the guys in the band are psyched that they don’t have to do it. If you’re going to do an interview that’s based on lyrics, you’re probably gonna want to talk to me. So, by default, I’m always going to be more of a spokesman. And [traditionally] when bands are loading their equipment and taking care of their stuff, the singer is kind of standing there doing nothing except meeting the press, so…
HAWKINS: The band don’t mind it, because it means less work for them. The nature of this group is that everyone has their own look, attitude, music style, and preferences—and mine is: I wanna be the star. And if you asked them seriously, they would say that they didn’t. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s gonna be a ride, but in some ways it’s gonna he more intense for me.
DALLE: We’ve tried to keep our identity as a band, but magazines have cut me out and put me on the cover alone, which is frustrating because it’s out of our control.
BANKS: It’s a great thing to be on this cover because of the publicity for the band, and I like all the other bands in this piece. But we [in Interpol] had a discussion about it. The band had to approve it, because it’s not like us—we never even take photos where I’m in front. We never would have done something like this seven, eight months ago, but we feel we’ve established the fact that we’re all equally relevant, so this isn’t going to fuck up everyone’s perception of who we are.
V. THE BONO STANDARD
SPIN: When you talk about a band that have maintained their hugeness over time without ever really sucking, U2 seem to be the perennial standard-bearer. They might have been our Next Big Thing if Spin had been around in 1980. Whose career do you admire?
RICKLY: You’ve nailed No. 1 right on the head. That’s also partly because they’re my favorite band. They also had a hugely profound effect on my family life. When I was younger, my mom was seriously depressed all the time. I made her take me to see U2, and she totally fell in love with it and got really passionate about music. It just gave her some kind of hope or happiness back in her life. Anything U2 do is a model of what a good band can possibly be—with Bono being involved in politics and being able to translate lofty ambitions to actual real-world political change.
HAWKINS: In terms of [experiencing] lineup changes and still maintaining credibility when you hit back, it’s Aerosmith. They all had their differences. One of the best things about the Stephen Davis biography [Walk This Way] is that there is no happy ending. They’re all still bitter, and they’ve still got issues with each other, but they’re still working it. And it’s still a valiant, enviable position to be in—to be a member of Aerosmith.
BANKS: The ideal model for me would be R.E.M., as far as longevity and success [are concerned]. They stick to who they are and do whatever they want to do. Another band would be Radiohead, because they managed to go experimental and still be on the radio and debut at No. 1 with Kid A. That’s an example of a band doing whatever the fuck they want and yet somehow managing to keep everyone’s curiosity.
DALLE: No one’s career will suffice. Actually, we’re all going to grow long, white beards and see if Gillette will pay us a million dollars to shave them.
VI. THAT MAGIC MOMENT
SPIN: When did you first notice your band had made it into the big leagues?
HAWKINS: When we realized we shouldn’t be expected to carry our own gear. When you first have someone to carry stuff for you, you think, “Oh, that’s a relief. I’ll have perhaps a bit more energy for the show.” And then there comes a point when you may have to carry it again and you’re like, “Fuck that, I’d rather just leave it in the street.”
RICKLY: We always had this joke. The band would say, “You’re the singer—you don’t carry anything!” But I say, “Hey, you guys carry equipment—I carry the band!”
BANKS: For us, I guess it was moving up from a Dodge Ram to a tour bus. But that’s a practical thing. When you’re on a grueling tour, those practical things really pay off. We haven’t been swimming in Cristal or burning money. There’s no Learjet yet. There’s no Learjet only because they’re working on the airbrushing—the Interpol logo.
RICKLY: Seeing our first huge tour bus was insane. When we started touring, we didn’t have a trailer, so we were sleeping on top of our equipment and in the clubs after they closed up for the night. They’d lock us in all night long and come get us in the morning. And sometimes they’d forget, and we’d be sitting around the club all day, trying to figure out how to get out.
HAWKINS: In everything we do, it’s not even want anymore, it’s need. Where at one point, I might have said, “Please, may I have a cheese sandwich?” you just say to someone, “I’m gonna need a cheese sandwich.” That’s totally arrogant [laughs] and a bit bullshit as well.
DALLE: We don’t ask for much, and we’ve watched too many VH1 Behind the Music specials to know better. Trying to find a balance between conservatism and hedonism is a hard one. My grandfather was a world champion wrestler in the ’50s and ’60s and spent all of his money on costumes. He ended up living in a trailer park in Florida until he died, and that’s enough for me.
VII. PERSONAL STYLE vs. PERSONAL STYLIST
HAWKINS: The way we do it is we employ stylists to realize our vision. I mean, I’m not a seamster. [Laughs] I can scarcely stitch a sentence together at the moment. If you have that strong an identity, nobody can tell you what to wear. To be honest, I’m quite a contrary person. And if you told me to wear something, I’d rather forfeit the cover of the magazine than wear it if I didn’t want to do it. Generally speaking, you just have to maintain a little control.
BANKS: I don’t accept any styling. We’re not fashion models. We’re not actors. We’re a band. We dress ourselves. We don’t really need any help. For me, just having someone touch my hair—I don’t like it.
RICKLY: Every so often we go to a video shoot and you dress the way you dress and someone says, “Well, that’s great, but here’s your outfit.” You’ll say, “No, I’m not really interested in that.” And I don’t know what to do, because I don’t want them to get into trouble. I’m very uncomfortable wearing clothes that aren’t mine. It’s funny, because in my personal life, I’m more stylish than I am with Thursday. For Christmas, my girlfriend will get me something and say, “Look! It’s Marc Jacobs! It’s great! It fits you so nice!” And I’ll say, “That’s pretty nice. Thank you, sweetie!”
DALLE: I usually request not to have a stylist or a makeup artist on a shoot, but it goes with the territory. My style is not the most original or anything special, but it’s me. It’s important to maintain your own style on your terms, and if it means prima-donna-style tantrums in the dressing room, so be it.
VIII. HOW TO STAY SANE WITHOUT KABBALAH
BANKS: How do I avoid getting a big head? I listen to a good record and get humbled. It’s perspective: How many people have achieved massive bodies of work? And here we are with one little record. [Laughs] I just think about Bowie.
HAWKINS: We did a show in Brixton and [Queen guitarist] Brian May came down. It was the third time I’d met him. I said to him, “Brian, with everything you’ve been through—being in the most important band that Britain produced that decade, probably, playing the biggest record-breaking shows and selling millions of records, and then having a singer die of an AIDS-related illness at a time when AIDS was a real buzzword—how can you get through all that and stay the most down-to-earth person I’ve ever met?” I’ve met gardeners with bigger egos than his; he’s astonishingly grounded, a real inspiration. You know, half the people hate you, half of them love you, and eventually it amounts to nothing. Obviously, I don’t take a lot of this seriously. I take the song-writing seriously, and that’s about it, I think.
RICKLY: One thing that helps is being on tour so much, because every night it’s like a reset button, and it clears you of everything that’s been getting you bent out of shape all day. You’re just back to playing music, and no matter where you’re playing or how many people are there, it’s still just you guys playing together, just like it was in the beginning.
Personnel Sam Fogarino, drums; Paul Banks, vocals/guitar; Carlos D., bass; Daniel Kessler, guitar
Formed 1998, New York City
Album Turn On The Bright Lights (Matador, 2002)
What Banks Says They Sound Like “I always prefer to say rock’n’roll. A band never has that concrete sense of what it is they do unless they are a fabricated, manufactured act where there is a concept behind what they are doing.”
What’s Next? They expect to begin recording their second album by March, for release this fall.
Banks’ Pick for The Next Big Thing Brooklyn’s The Double. “A bunch of guys playing their instruments in ways you haven’t seen before. The singer’s got a huge voice, and the drummer looks like a fucking cartoon octopus when he plays.”
Personnel Tony Bradley, guitar; Brody Dalle, vocals/guitar; Ryan Sinn, bass; Andy Granelli, drums
Formed 1998, Los Angeles
Albums The Distillers (Hellcat/Epitaph, 2000); Sing Sing Death House (Hellcat/Epitaph, 2002); Coral Fang (Hellcat/Sire 2003)
What Dalle Says They Sound Like “I’m still trying to figure out how to answer that question. It’s not like I can step out of the box and look at it. I just like to say we play rock’n’roll.”
What’s Next? They’re heading to Europe in February and will continue touring throughout the year.
Dalle’s Pick for The Next Big Thing L.A. punks The Bronx. “Like Black Flag Meets Led Zeppelin.”
Personnel Frankie Poullain, bass; Dan Hawkins, guitar; Justin Hawkins, vocals/guitar; Ed Graham, drums
Formed 2000, London
Album Permission to Land (Atlantic, 2003)
What Hawkins Says They Sound Like [Sarcastically whispers] “’80s pastiche metal.”
What’s Next? In March, they’ll embark on their first major U.S. tour.
Hawkins’ Pick for The Next Big Thing London scuzz rockers Ted Benson. “I just think the bloke’s [Chris Teckkam’s] lyrics are amazing. He’s a really bright guy, but he comes across like a complete idiot, which is great. I love ‘Rock Cottage.’ I love the way he rhymes ‘rock cottage’ with ‘hot cottage.’ Which is the same word, obviously, and he says, ‘Yeah, you can’t beat a rhyme, can you?'”
Personnel Tom Keeley, guitar; Tucker Rule, drums; Geoff Rickly, vocals; Steve Padulla, guitar; Tim Payne, bass
Formed 1998, New Brunswick, New Jersey
Albums Waiting (Eyeball, 1999); Full Collapse (Victory, 2001); War All The Time (Island, 2003)
What Rickly Says They Sound Like “It’s music that came from hardcore. It has a lot of new-wave influence. Contentwise, it’s really passionate, honest, and urgent.”
What’s Next? They’re touring with AFI through early April, then headlining the summer’s Vans Warped Tour.
Rickly’s Pick for The Next Big Thing Omaha emo art rockers Cursive. “They are just amazing, and I think they are making more and more of an impact. Hopefully, it’ll come to a boiling point soon.” ■ DOUG BROD & MARC SPITZ
Jay-Z’s favorite producer shows off his own rhyme skills
Kanye West has success written all over him. With a list of his more memorable production jobs literally tattooed onto his forearm and an iced-out Roc-A-Fella logo medallion dangling from his neck, it’d be hard to peg him as an underdog. But despite being the favored beat-smith of everyone from Jay-Z to Talib Kweli to Ludacris; despite having several mix tapes that showcase his ever-improving lyrical abilities burning up the underground; despite the fact that his debut album, The College Dropout, has been ready for release since fall 2003; despite his first solo single, the Chaka Khan—sampling “Through the Wire,” getting play on MTV2, West is still working like an unproven outsider.
“I paid for my video,” he says. “I got an independent promoter to help get radio spins. I wanted to get it to the point where Def Jam would say, ‘Okay, we gotta get behind this.'”
If his record company (technically Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam) needs any convincing, it may have something to do with the confusion over how exactly to market the 26-year-old Chicago native—bling or backpack? As a producer, West provided the felonious thump for tracks like the bruising Beanie Sigel anthem “The Truth,” but his solo material tends to be somewhat more conscious.
“I’m one of the only rappers who has both his parents and all his grandparents still alive,” he says. “My father was a Black Panther. My grandparents were involved in civil-rights marches. So I have a responsibility to reflect them.”
West does his roots justice on such tracks as “Jesus Walks” and “Breathe In Breathe Out,” which tackle spiritual faith and materialism. “I want people to scream these songs back at me,” he says. “I want to bring back the feeling for people. Like the feeling I had when I had Saturday detention back in school and I would pop in [A Tribe Called Quest’s] The Low End Theory.”
That’s a high standard, but West is primed. “I love the challenge,” he says. “I do music for the sake of showing off. I got the Harlem Boys Choir [on the song “Two Words”] not just because they sound good, but because I could. Some people are like that with cars, like, ‘Look what the fuck I got.’ I’m like that with music, like, ‘Look what the fuck I did.'” CHRIS RYAN
3 MORE HIP-HOPPERS ON THE VERGE
9th Wonder/Little Brother
A couple years ago, Durham, North Carolina’s 9th Wonder was just a little-known beat maker for a little-known underground trio called Little Brother. But since being publicly big-upped by the Roots’ ?uestlove, 9th has released a bootleg remix of Nas’ God’s Son album (dubbed God’s Stepson), laced with his distinctive jazzy keyboards and head-nodding snares, and landed a coveted production slot on Jay-Z’s The Black Album. Next on the plate: a follow-up to Little Brother’s 2003 indie sleeper, The Listening (probably on a major label); Atlantic is among the interested.
The Roc-A-Fella family continues to bring up heavy hitters from its Philadelphia farm system (see Beanie Sigel and Freeway). With their breakout hit “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” Young Gunz—Young Chris and Neef—showed that they knew how to fill dance floors from the window to the wall. But if numerous mix-tape appearances are any evidence, their debut full-length, Tough Luv, will have plenty of the souped-up soul and crime rap that’s the Roc’s bread and cheddar.
Drafted out of high school by his Yonkers, New York, neighbors the Lox, J-Hood has been dropping snippets of his so-called life all over the underground mix-tape scene for two years now. He earned a rep with his appearance on Sheek Louch’s “Mighty D-Block (2 Guns Up),” the unofficial street anthem of 2003, that combined the best of his D-Block brethren: Jadakiss’ punch-line savvy and Styles P’s concrete realism. Check for his solo album later this year on D-Block/Universal Motown. CHRIS RYAN
WHO Dirt-rock threesome from suburban St. Louis comprising the Lost Boys-ish Berlin brothers (Lillian, Eve, and Bosh), whose politics roar as loudly as their instruments. Says singer Lillian, 25: “In our house, it was more about Noam Chomsky books than Beatles records.”
WHAT Their full-length debut, Black Skies in Broad Daylight (DreamWorks), was recorded by Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies) and includes a dozen songs that pair AC/DC’s guitar aggression with Fugazi’s humanistic fervor (“Where do all the dead boys go? / No solutions / Just bombs below!”).
BOYS NAMED SUE The brothers’ unconventional parents named the first two boys (Lillian and Eve) after their grandmothers. “It did cause trouble,” says Lillian, “those names in the conservative Midwest. But, you know, back in the 1800s, men were called Lillian. It was no big deal. It’ll come back in fashion.”
ARMY OF NONE Yes, all three band members are registered to vote. Yes, Lillian starts mini political debates during concerts, inviting fans onstage to share their views. No, they’re not happy with the Bush administration. “Something needs to happen,” Lillian says. “If all of us get drafted in two years, there’s going to be no fucking bands to see.”
THE TAO OF STEVE On a whim, the trio looked up Albini’s number in the phone book—he was listed. “And he answers his own phone!” says bassist Eve, 21. Adds Lillian: “We sent him a tape and ended up recording our first EP [Turn in Your Friends & Neighbors] with him.” Albini, no stranger to bands on the verge, had one piece of advice. “He said for us to call our lawyer and get off a major label,” Lillian says, laughing. “Quickly.” JENNY WILLIAMS
FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND
WHO A ragtag, working-class Welsh quintet who somehow wandered into the world of American hardcore punk. After collecting Lifetime and Gorilla Biscuits CDs and producing zines, singer Matt Davies formed the group in early 2002, later touring with Yankee peers From Autumn to Ashes and Cave In. (The band’s name is taken from a song title by Illinois emo dudes Planes Mistaken for Stars, not from the Elton John song.)
WHAT FFAF’s latest release, the ragingly maudlin yet compelling EP Seven Ways to Scream Your Name, combines the start-stop fury of Thursday with occasional bursts of Britpop and ferocious metal breakdowns (which led to an opening spot on Iron Maiden’s Dance of Death World Tour). Their debut album, Casually Dressed & Deep in Conversation, is a surprise smash in the U.K. (it will be released here on Atlantic this year). For now, FFAF are virtually the only British act bringing emo to the home folks.
THE EMO-PEAN UNION? “The U.K. is starting to label everything emo-core or screamo-core,” says singer Matt Davies, laughing, on the phone from Berlin. “But it’s whatever-core in my neck of the woods! This is just the music we grew up on. I come from a coal-mining town, and there’s nothing there, just two streets, some mountains, forests, roads, and fields. Oh, and sheep. Lots of sheep.”
AMERICA GOOD, AMERICAN SNACKS BAD “All the American bands we’ve played with have been so cool; there’s a real camaraderie there,” says Davies. “But your snack food—I think it’s laced with something, maybe cocaine. At every truck stop, I’d look for something different and then say, ‘Okay, I’ll take a Twinkie.’ They’re horrible, but I’m stuffing my face with them.” ANDY GREENWALD
EMO RAP UP FROM THE UNDERGROUND
As mainstream rap becomes shallower, a new generation of hip-hop kids from places like Minnesota and Maine are winning over a new generation of fans with their diary rhymes and sensitive steez. Emo rap is already huge in the underground. On the coattails of Eminem and new sensation Slug, it may blow up in your hood, too.
Slug is having a moment, and he’d like to share with the rest of the group. On the tiny stage of the Cincinnati club Annie’s, which barely contains his rangy six-foot-three-inch frame, the Atmosphere frontman leads an audience of about a thousand underground-rap loyalists through a fist-pumping round of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”— with apologies to Bonnie Tyler and Conor Oberst. Your average hip-hop head may take one look at the self-deprecating, yet oddly charismatic, headliner (modestly outfitted in a white tee and cargos) and write him off as a patsy. But this isn’t MTV hip-hop, and these aren’t its fans. Instead, led by a coterie of ladies who look like they got lost en route to a Death Cab for Cutie show, the crowd fervently shouts along, eventually drowning out the 31-year-old pied piper onstage. “Turn around, bright eyes! / Every now and then, I fall apart.”
Every August since 1997, thousands of backpackers from the Midwest and beyond have converged on Ohio’s third-largest city for Scribble Jam, the closest thing the independent hip-hop scene has to a yearly convention. The 2003 edition features vendors hawking bedroom-made albums, T-shirts advertising labels that barely exist, and battles of all forms—B-boying, DJ’ing, rapping. But the big draw this year is Slug and producer Ant’s Minneapolis crew Atmosphere, here to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their Rhymesayers label with an all-night concert. For the assembled fans—disaffected, middle-class, and overwhelmingly white—Slug is Chris Carrabba and Justin Timberlake rolled into one. And Scribble is his Giants Stadium.
On this and every other night, the Atmosphere set sounds like the private agonies of a lovelorn coed. “What do you do, feed your issues to fucking vampires?” Slug asks the crowd between songs. “Well, I fucking rap.” During the heart-on-his-sleeve screed “Fuck You, Lucy,” he screams, “I want to stand on top of this mountain and yell / I want to wake up and break up this lake of hell.” After the self-loathing “God Loves Ugly,” he wraps the mic cord around his neck in a mock hanging.
“So what—you don’t like us,” he concludes. “Your girl probably does.”
In 2004, the hottest thing going in below-the-radar hip-hop is that most foreign of rap concepts: feelings. Feelings of love. Feelings of insecurity. Feelings of despair. For an increasingly vocal niche of the underground, rap bravado is a relic of the past—fear and loathing have replaced bitches and money. You could almost call it emo.
This taboo strategy has been responsible for some of the most exciting music of the past five years and hints at what hip-hop may sound like—and look like—a generation from now. Of the new wave, Sean “Slug” Daley is the best known. He began rapping in earnest in the early ’90s, around the time a number of like-minded artists (Rhode Island’s Sage Francis, Ohio’s Doseone, Nova Scotia’s Buck 65, and Maine’s Sole) were also testing hip-hop’s boundaries. For years, they toiled in relative obscurity, but the loosely connected scene is now threatening to break through. Atmosphere sold almost 100,000 copies of 2002’s God Loves Ugly and, after eliciting interest from half a dozen majors, are distributing 2003’s Seven’s Travels (which has spawned the MTV2 hit “Trying to Find a Balance”) through punk stalwart Epitaph, which also has signed Francis to a three-album deal. Buck 65 has been a surprise success for Warner Canada (selling 25,000 albums to date), which has reissued his back catalog and recently released his latest head trip of an album, Talkin’ Honky Blues.
But don’t let the moody introspection and the light skin fool you—these aren’t art-school dilettantes or irony-rich post-punks. They’re hip-hop kids raised on Public Enemy’s political bromides and the feel-good bohemianism of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul—hip-hop that was humane and bookish, not mookish. And they’ve built their new template on a solid foundation of sampled breakbeats and polysyllabic rhymes. The music can be noisy and agitated, minimal or soulful. Ant cuts Atmosphere’s tracks with buoyant, warm soul samples. Buck 65 deploys a steel-guitar player. But even at its most avant-garde, it’s definitely hip-hop. And if rockers chafe at the term “emo,” these rappers are twice as nervous. “It’s a cage,” says Francis of the tag. Slug echoes the sentiment: “It’s like saying, ‘Yo, call me a bitch!'”
For 25 years, hip-hop has protected its burly, bulletproof image against just this sort of vulnerability. But times have changed. Representing the burbs or the boondocks, these MCs wouldn’t feel right rapping about a thug life they haven’t experienced. Instead, they fill their records with lyrics about family troubles, self-interrogating therapy sessions, or love notes to the ones that got away. On his 2002 album, Personal Journals, Francis, 25, floated sentiments like “I played connect the dots with your beauty marks, and I ended up with picture-perfect sheet music” and rapped about a girl who cuts herself because she can’t reach out for help. “That’s what I’m most comfortable doing: the stuff that felt like a diary entry,” says Francis. “If people feel vulnerable listening to my music, that makes sense to me.”
Though emo rappers often cite black hip-hop stars like Tupac, Scarface, and Ghostface Killah as avatars of the confessional style, the obvious touchstone for emo rap’s mass appeal is Marshall Mathers. In 1997, Eminem was just another anonymous tape slinger at Scribble, the runner-up in the annual rhyme battle. Months later, he was in the studio with Dr. Dre and cleaning out his closet.
That kind of potential—as seen at Scribble Jam, as well as on the Internet and college campuses nationwide—is pretty exciting, but it can be jarring. “Everybody’s kind of freaked out about it a little bit,” admits Slug. “They feel they might be doing a disservice to hip-hop. They didn’t know the white kids were going to relate to white rappers, and suddenly, unjustly, Slug is out-selling [black underground rappers] Murs and Jean Grae.” “Slug is ushering in a movement that can gain real traction,” says Craig Kallman, copresident of Atlantic Records. “We want to sign acts that appeal across demographics, and he can do that.” Says L.A.’s Busdriver, a black rapper who explores similar themes in his music: “It’s just an easy point of entry to latch on to one of these acts. People who seek out this kind of music are kids who are trying to rebel, college kids, mostly white kids, and there’s a class issue as well.”
“My whole life I’ve always been a white kid who, for the most part, didn’t think like a white kid,” says Slug, who is of mixed-race parentage. At 2002’s post-Jam barbecue, Slug and Sage faced off in a friendly half-hour rhyme battle. But these weren’t your usual barbs. “You’re a studio art fag,” Slug needled Sage, who countered, “What are you gonna do when your fans find out you’re not white?”
Buck 65 will never have to worry about such a dilemma. Hailing from Mount Uniacke, a rural outpost near Halifax, Nova Scotia, Rich Terfry always felt like an MC in search of a scene, putting out traditional hip-hop albums but feeling out of step with the music he loved. “I’m almost 32,” he says. “I’m white. I grew up in a very rural and remote place. I love to read Russian novels. I have a university degree. That’s not your typical hip-hop experience. But the more comfortable I get with who I am, it shines through in my music.”
By the time he released Vertex, his third full-length, in 1998, Buck discovered that the standard Native Tongues-style rap he’d been doing just wasn’t going to cut it. On his next album, Man Overboard, he dedicated one suite of rhymes to his mother’s struggle with cancer. “The emotions were so real, so raw,” he says. “The stuff people responded to and which made the most sense is the stuff you really feel, so I made it a rule not to write unless I had passion for it. Ever since, writing songs has been easy.”
As Buck was self-distributing an early, cassette-only incarnation of Vertex in the late ’90s, similar pockets of resistance were developing in other out-of-the-way locales. In Maine, rapper Sole, of the crew Live Poets, was laying the seeds for what would later become Anticon records, the main source for the scene’s key releases. And in Providence, Sage Francis was trying to figure out how to combine the naked emotion he conveyed in his spoken-word performances with his braggadocious hip-hop. (Francis, a Scribble Jam regular, skipped the 2003 edition to participate in the National Poetry Slam.)
“When I was 20, I was filling out an image, rocking the Iverson jersey and fatigues and steel-toe boots,” says Anticon’s Doseone (a.k.a. Adam Drucker). Now 26, he’s tried everything from stutter-rap confessional poems to jokester narratives about hanging in a café with Jesus. “I didn’t relay any personal truths [in my lyrics] until I met Slug,” he says. Indeed, much of Dose’s best work has been free verse—rooted in hip-hop, but not stuck in it. ‘There’s no room for sanctimonious hip-hop selfishness,” he says. “We have a certain education and opportunity. I find myself rapping about personal truths, and people are attracted to that.”
Until the Anticon collective’s breakthrough release, 1999’s bombastically titled compilation Music for the Advancement of Hip-Hop—which includes a Buck 65 track and one of Atmosphere’s most moving songs, the Midwest-melancholic “Nothing but Sunshine”—the emerging scene was little more than a casual network. Not surprisingly, given its demography and distribution points, this hip-hop splinter group would soon come to be known as “Internet rap.” Says Francis: “I attribute a lot of my success to the Internet, to Napster, and to free music trade. It was huge for me. I was touring, and I didn’t even have an album out.”
In a sense, the career path of these artists is decidedly punk: low-budget albums, self-booked tours. For a time, when the regular hip-hop community in his hometown was rejecting him, Francis sold his tapes at local hardcore shows for $5. “My mentality changed,” he says, “as did my conception of who my audience could be and how I could get to them.”
“[Sage and Slug] grew up on Run-D.M.C. and A Tribe Called Quest; hip-hop matters to them, and they’re not trying to exploit it,” says Andy Kaulkin, president of Epitaph. “But there’s more to it. Sage is lyrically a punk rocker, and Slug is socially a punk rocker. Because of that, their music is very viable on both of those fronts—hip-hop and punk. I believe this is possibly the future of rock’n’roll.”
Just before Scribble Jam, Atmosphere closed out a three-week run on last summer’s Warped Tour with a date in Cleveland, playing on the same stage as emo-rock faves Coheed and Cambria and Brand New. While many in attendance clearly showed up at Warped to see Atmosphere, an equal number were curious punks, spillover from the Vendetta Red set that had just ended on a nearby stage.
Slug knows how to convert the newbies: He inspires a mosh pit one minute, a hug-in the next. At one point, he jumps into the crowd and pleads, “Do not tell your friends, your siblings. Do not tell anyone about us. This is big enough. I don’t wanna have a nervous breakdown.”
When he launches into “Modern Man’s Hustle,” Atmosphere’s poppiest number, the guitarist from political punkers S.T.U.N., who’d been watching stageside, grabs an eager young girl in an intimate embrace. They don’t stop kissing until the song is done. After the show, fans cluster around the Atmosphere merch table. Diminutive Vendetta Red singer Zach Davidson drops by to request a T-shirt in “youth medium.” A lanky teen with plaid pants, studded belt, argyle socks, checkered Vans, and a lip ring gives Slug a pound, telling him, “You’re probably the first hip-hop I’ve listened to,” as he plunks down $10 for a CD. When the crowd thins, girls angle for a moment of conversation with the weary rapper. “Sean,” cries a voice from the edge of the crowd, “I want a hug, too!”
He’s happy to oblige. “I don’t care about being the ‘lyrical miracle spiritual’ anymore,” Slug says, mimicking the rhymes that entry-level battle rappers spit. “I want to be Billy Joel, and I want to be Prince. Except I want to do it with hip-hop. I want to make hip-hop that when you listen to that shit, it’s there for you.”
THE SENSITIVE TYPES
Who’s Who in the Emo-Rap Revolution
Aesop Rock: A member of New York art-rap syndicate Definite Jux, Aesop pours disappointment, claustrophobia, and B-boy bratitude into his slurry, intricate rhymes—”Life’s not a bitch / She’s a beautiful woman who won’t give up the pussy.” Recommended: Labor Days (Definitive Jux, 2001)
Sage Francis: Spoken-word vet turned rhyme slayer. His new group, Non-Prophets (with DJ/producer Joe Beats), brings surprisingly tight vintage hip-hop. Recommended: Personal Journals (Anticon, 2002)
Doseone: Court jester of the avant-underground: posing for photos in leg warmers, rocking hair dye to match his outfits. Recommended: Circle (Mush, 2000)
Buck 65: Nova Scotia’s storytelling mic rocker has dropped rhymes on Sesame Street, but on his latest album, Talkin’ Honky Blues, he’s a hip-hop Tom Waits. Recommended: Man Overboard (Anticon, 2001)
Busdriver: A junior member of the Los Angeles set that spawned Freestyle Fellowship and the Pharcyde, this tongue-twisting MC tackles politics and the contradictions of life in the hip-hop underground. Recommended: Temporary Forever (Temporary Whatever, 2003)
Mac Lethal: Kansas-bred 2002 Scribble Jam battle champ who cracks jokes about his mom being signed by Dr. Dre and then gets deep on the war in Iraq. Once toured with Insane Clown Posse proteges Twiztid, but don’t hold it against him. Recommended: The Love Potion Collection (Beyond Space/Lethalville, 2003)
Pigeon John: An often hilarious rhymer with a gift for sly self-deprecation. On his two solo albums, he’s played the fumbling everyman, grappling with absent parents, racial confusion, and the impossible quest for true love. Recommended: Pigeon John Is Dating Your Sister (Basement, 2003)
Awol One: Los Angeles MC who offers up throaty, free-association jams about solitude and agony. Once rapped as “Awalrus” and offered solace in lyrics like “Don’t be afraid to admit your downfalls / We all got ’em / And I think that I got ’em all.” Recommended: Souldoubt (Mean Street, 2001) ■ JON CARAMANICA
25 TO WATCH
From rock to Brit rock, from metal to electronic, more new bands you need to hear
More seductive screaming about death, blood, and ex-girlfriends
WHO Frontman Brandan Schieppati screams as if his insides were being sucked out by a high-powered vacuum cleaner, but his band’s death-metal barrage is given a haunting ambience by the keyboards of female member Marta.
WHAT The California sextet’s third album, 2003’s This Is Love This Is Murderous (Trustkill), impressed AFI singer Davey Havok, who wore the band’s T-shirt on MTV and invited them on tour.
WHO Tucson, Arizona, metalcore wiseasses whose heart-quaking thrash stirs up a volcanic mosh pit. When the band’s singer quit after the recording of some early demos, they turned to guitarist Jeremy Talley’s roommate James Muñoz to fill in as lead vocalist; he’s now full-time.
WHAT Sounding like a more accessible Converge, the Bled’s debut, Pass the Flask (Fiddler Records), hints at a melodic heart, especially when Muñoz eases up on the shrieking.
BANG-UP JOB During a California show last year, Conor Oberst look-alike Mike Celi swung his bass guitar a little too enthusiastically and smacked Muñoz flush in the face. The singer kept performing—even when he found a puddle of blood at his feet. He needed 13 stitches.
EVERY TIME I DIE
WHO Poll almost any member of any band whose sound is defined by the suffix -core, ask them to name their favorite new group, and most will quickly declare: Every Time I Die. The Buffalo, New York, thrash-metal provocateurs, led by brothers Keith Buckley (vocals) and Jordan Buckley (guitar) are revered for their roiling breakdowns, pummeling, punky guitars, and poetically sarcastic lyrics.
WHAT Second album, 2003’s Hot Damn! (Ferret), recalls Glassjaw and the Dillinger Escape Plan, with its hurtling emotion and intricate musicianship.
PEEK-A-BOO Upon removing the cardboard cover on Hot Damn!, you’ll find a revealing photo of a pair of SuicideGirls types going at it Britney-Madonna style.
POISON THE WELL
WHO Underground teen-punk prodigies in the late ’90s, this Fort Lauderdale fivesome are now likely to succeed the Deftones as the major-label metalcore band that average civilians can appreciate. They convincingly balance bouts of psychotic heaviness with sweeping, almost tender melodies, maybe because guitarists Ryan Primack and Derek Miller cite both Slayer and the Smiths as influences.
WHAT You Come Before You (Velvet Hammer/Atlantic), was one of 2003’s most merciless yet listenable assaults (check the near-stately “Apathy Is a Cold Body”). Producers Pelle Henricsson and Eskil Lovstrom—who worked on the Refused’s ground-breaking 1998 album The Shape of Punk to Come—helped the band incorporate touches of vibraphone, organ, and harmonica.
WHERE’S THE BIKINI TEAM? The Well lived in a bungalow in a former Swedish mental institution for a month while recording You Come Before You.
Boston’s Give Up the Ghost had to change their name from American Nightmare after a Philadelphia band of the same name threatened a lawsuit. Their 2003 album, We’re Down Til We’re Underground, has a hardcore fury that any of their peers would envy. ■ SARAH LEWITINN AND CHARLES AARON
Emo drama queens and folk-punk anarchists
WHO The exclamation point in their name is not false advertising—singer/songwriter Tom Gabel delivers every line like he’s trying to save the planet from imminent ruin.
WHAT On As the Eternal Cowboy (Fat Wreck Chords), the follow-up to 2002’s anthemic gut-churner Reinventing Axl Rose, Gabel’s revolving backup cast give his anarchic folk-punk broadsides an almost new-wave/power-pop sparkle—imagine Phil Ochs fronting the early Jam.
GAINESVILLE CONFESSIONAL Like fellow Floridian Chris Carrabba, Gabel inspires fans to desperately shriek along with every word of his songs.
WHO New Yorkers who formed in 2000 after organist Walter Martin got an agitated call from cousin Hamilton Leithauser. “I didn’t like the singer of his new band and told him so,” Leithauser admits. After his cousin’s harangue, Martin agreed, and the Walkmen were born. People have said they sound like U2 meets Neil Diamond. We are those people.
WHAT A self-produced second album, Bows and Arrows, will be released in February on the Warner Bros.-affiliated Record Collection label; the unforgettably fiery call to arms “The Rat” is the first single.
PAST LIFE Drummer Matt Barrick, guitarist Paul Maroon, and Martin were members of perhaps the most-publicized major-label bust of the ’90s—Jonathan Fire*Eater.
MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE
WHO After September 11, Gerard Way had an epiphany. Stuck as an animation artist numbly hustling his work to the Cartoon Network, he says, “I had no direction. I thought, ‘I need to make a difference in my life,’ and music was my answer.” Soon thereafter, he formed My Chemical Romance.
WHAT These flamboyant New Jersey boys’ dark, goth-tinged 2002 debut (coproduced by Thursday’s Geoff Rickly) earned them a high-profile, career-boosting spot on tour with the Used. The follow-up, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, due this summer on Warner Bros./Reprise, is a concept album about rising from the dead to seek—you got a—revenge. It’s “violently happy and ironically bleak,” muses Way.
HE NEVER DRINKS … WINE MCR has a strange fixation with creatures of the night. Each show begins with Way shouting, “Unleash the bats!” and one of the band’s signature songs is titled “Vampires Will Never Hurt You.”
WHO Hipsters from rock ‘n’ roll-barren Las Vegas who dress like the Strokes but sound like Interpol covering Duran Duran.
WHAT Their ridiculously catchy songs about girls, jealousy, and—yes—murder have started a blogging/downloading commotion. The band’s debut album, tentatively titled A Hot Fuss, will be released later this year on Island Records; the U.K. import single “Mr. Brightside” is out now.
HE’S LOST CONTROL An ex-Mormon, singer Brandon Flowers did time as a bellhop at Vegas’ trashy Gold Coast Hotel & Casino. He also appears to be Ian Curtis’ bastard son.
Electrifying Czech trio Sunshine have signed to Pink producer Linda Perry’s Elektra-distributed label, Custard. Straylight Run is a new ballad-oriented group from ex-Taking Back Sunday guitarist John Nolan (with sis Michelle on piano). Atlanta garage rockers the Hiss boast a U.K. buzz. ■ SARAH LEWITINN AND CHARLES AARON
The new Coldplay, the new Scottish rock gentry, and a touch of social unrest
WHO A post-punk, pan-European coalition—its four members hail from Scotland, England, and Germany—that now lives and practices in Glasgow’s answer to Andy Warhol’s Factory: “The Chateau,” an old courtroom and jail converted to a communal art space.
WHAT Their swaggering, erudite, and noisy five-track EP Darts of Pleasure (Domino) recalls the Kinks and Sparks at their most shamelessly tuneful.
AMBIGUOUSLY AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN POP STARS Dandies of the Brit-rock scene, Franz Ferdinand dress like self-proclaimed “gay superheroes,” have formed their own book club, and are named after the Austro-Hungarian archduke whose assassination sparked World War I.
HOPE OF THE STATES
WHO This eight-headed (six musicians, two projectionists) prog-rock collective wear matching military jackets onstage and were inspired by the spacey noisescapes of Mercury Rev and Sigur Rós (yes, they have a violinist). “We’re not a ‘the’ band, and we aren’t a garage-rock band,” says frontman Sam Herlihy. “We’re total outsiders.”
WHAT Currently in Ireland recording their debut album for Sony, the band finally will tour the U.S. this year.
MORE DEPRESSED ABOUT THE WAR THAN THOM YORKE? Hope’s video for their debut single, “Black Dollar Bills,” was banned by MTV2 U.K. for its images of “war, soldiers, warplanes, bombs, missiles, and social unrest.”
WHO Sounding like Television after being rolled by a posse of Camden hookers, Razorlight are led by the current poster boy of London’s rockerati: scrawny, urchinesque Johnny Borrell—who was briefly a member of the Libertines.
WHAT Their first single, 2003’s “Rock’N’Roll Lies,” hit No. 56 on the U.K. charts, and the band’s debut album will be released later this year, possibly with distribution from Universal. Their U.S. tour in March will include a gig at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.
HONESTLY, THAT’S HIS NAME Razorlight’s Swedish lead guitarist is Bjorn Agren.
WHO Dubbed the new Coldplay by fans and the new Ultravox by detractors, this trio of pop romantics—vocals, piano, drums, no guitar!—had strangers embracing on street corners upon the release of their swoony debut single, “Everybody’s Changing.” Baby-faced singer Tom Chaplin’s voice soars like he was bred purely for pop, and an international bylaw prohibits us from mentioning Keane without including the words anthemic and epic.
WHAT In between touring Europe and the U.S., the trio has recorded its 2004 debut for lnterscope, which beat out at least ten other labels to sign the band. Even Eminem’s main man, lnterscope chairman Jimmy Iovine, caught a then-unsigned Keane at Los Angeles’ Viper Room last July.
WHO A trio of Belfast, Northern Ireland, natives who met at Scotland’s University of Dundee in the mid-’90s and released two critically adored albums on influential U.K. indie label Jeepster. In response to flagging sales and poor label support (according to the band), singer/songwriter Gary Lightbody formed the Reindeer Section, a Scottish indie-rock supergroup featuring members of Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai, and Teenage Fanclub. Now, armed with a major-label budget and a second guitarist, Snow Patrol once again will try to make the teen girls care.
WHAT Final Straw, due on A&M this year, is dreamy, emotionally intense pop rock that sounds like a lusciously produced ode to Sebadoh. The sonic perfection comes courtesy of Jacknife Lee, former guitarist for Irish post-grunge punks Compulsion, who’s reinvented himself as a pop-savvy producer for Basement Jaxx, TLC, and Eminem.
Echoing the Bunnymen, British Sea Power were the band du jour at New York’s 2003 CMJ Music Marathon; the 22-20s, a manic garage-blues trio, released a live EP, 05/03, last fall on Astralwerks. ■ SARAH LEWITINN AND IMRAN AHMED
Emo refugees, kooky Germans, and reborn rave blokes
WHO Side project from vocalist Daryl Palumbo of emo-metal crew Glassjaw and eclectic hip-hop producer Dan “the Automator” Nakamura (Gorillaz, Dr. Octagon). While the Automator churns out dance floor-ready, industrial-strength modern rock, Palumbo’s Chris Cornell-inspired wail and garage-punk guitar ensure this as party fodder for hard-drinking, softhearted white boys.
WHAT Debut album, Tokyo Decadence, was recorded at the Automator’s studio in San Francisco (with guest vocals from Rancid’s Tim Armstrong) and will be released in March by Warner Bros. Live, the band’s lineup expands to seven members, including drummer Larry Gorman (Glassjaw) and guitarist Vinnie Caruana (the Movielife).
CALLING MR. SELF-DESTRUCT The spirit of Trent Reznor definitely stalks Head Automatica, especially on “Young Hollywood,” where Palumbo implores: “You get down on your knees / And tear open your heart / So I can love you and your disease.”
WHO London dance producers Andy Meecham and Dean Meredith started making tracks under the Lips tag in 1999, gradually getting high-profile DJ play from Josh Wink and Fatboy Slim. Their singles and remixes, with live drums and bass guitar, are like high-spirited disco dubs of early-’80s New York funk (or, more specifically, ESG’s “Moody” and “UFO”). DJ Steve “Fella” Kotey was added last year as a third member to handle the group’s heavy DJ calendar.
WHAT Recently released a DJ-Kicks mix CD (!K7) that blends their own songs with a crate-diggin’ array of geeky gems from Nina Hagen, Jimmy Spicer, the Congos (via Carl Craig remix), and the Raincoats.
BUG-EYED SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET Meecham and Meredith were formerly Bizarre Inc., the early-’90s breakbeat rave pros whose U.K. hits “Playing With Knives” and “Raise Me” were club/radio staples.
WHO Playfully pretentious Berlin DJ and producer who compares her collagist beat-programming aesthetic to the dadaists of the 1920s. She earned her dance-floor props by starting the label BPitch Control in 1999 and by promoting/DJ’ing Berlin’s influential Boogy Bytes parties.
WHAT Allien’s second album, 2003’s Berlinette, is Teutonic funk with a surprisingly warm, melodic pulse, as if she sifted the beats through an electro-techno defibrillator. Distorting and dicing up her own icy, sensual vocals, she gives electroclash vixen Miss Kittin a run for the honey. Her latest, Remix Collection, was released in January.
HELLO, NASTY We hear the “B” in BPitch Control stands for “bitch.” Grrr.
WHO The Stiv Bators of techno, Berlin’s Marco Haas thrashes around like a dirty dance-punk performance artist, trucker hat bobbing. Live, he does everything short of tossing his laptop into a wood chipper.
WHAT Haas’ third album, Radio Blackout (Novamute), grinds synth stabs against sax squeals, mimicking ’70s cop-show car peelouts, while his exhilarating schaffel (shuffle) beats spew smoke, especially on the club hit “Monstertruckdriver.”
WHAT’S IN A NAME? Haas cofounded the Shitkatapult label in 1997 and took his alias from the Germany title of William S. Burroughs’ short story “The Dreamcops.”
Montreal duo Chromeo look like a DJ version of Tenacious D, and their DFA-remixed electro single “Destination: Overdrive” is a serious hoot; their debut album, She’s in Control (Vice), out in February, bubbles with addictive goofiness. Detroit DJ/producer Matthew Dear crafts meticulously minimal, delicately funky tech house on his second album, Leave Luck to Heaven (Spectral Sound/Ghostly). ■ ADRIENNE DAY AND CHARLES AARON