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Black Noize: Remembering Proper Grounds’ anguish rap metal (or ‘Madonna discovers rap metal’)
01.11.2017
03:51 pm

Topics:
Hip-hop
Music

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Remember the record industry? It was nuts, man. REO Speedwagon had their own plane. Black Sabbath had a $70,000 cocaine allowance. Jimmy Page had his own fucking castle. Michael Jackson, that guy...well, never mind. The point is, if you sold enough records, you could basically do whatever you wanted.

In 1992, when she was sandwiched between her 80’s pop-hit peak and her 00’s disco-feminist golden age, Madonna was generating so much income that Warner Brothers financed her own media empire. Maverick Entertainment was formed initially to release her Erotica album and the infamous Sex coffee table book (i.e. the one with Madonna’s vagina and Vanilla Ice’s penis), but they also operated as a subsidiary of Warners, signing bands and making movies. There were, naturally, high hopes for a Madonna-led entertainment company. She was known for pushing the envelope and edging mainstream culture away from the center and into weirder, kinkier territories. So who knew what she would unearth with Maverick? Could be anything. Crazy, mind-blowing shit, right? We already had full-frontal Maddy getting her freak on in Sex, what could possibly come next?

Spoiler alert: In 1995, they released Jagged Little Pill, one of the biggest selling records of all time. Which is great for Madonna and for Alanis Morrissette, but it wasn’t exactly a cutting-edge release. And most of the Maverick-y stuff that came before it was even more underwhelming. Remember Canadian Bacon, John Candy’s last film, the only non-documentary that Michael Moore ever made? That was Madonna’s thing. So were soft-grunge cretins Candlebox. Maverick would eventually be the home of cuddly mainstream enterprises like Britney Spears, Michelle Branch, and the Twilight twinkling vampire movies. The Brink’s truck continued making regular deliveries to Madonna’s house, but any dreams of the company living up to the name were pretty much dashed when they signed the Backstreet Boys.

But there were actually a couple of early glimmers (rays?) of light suggesting that, hey, maybe Madonna knew what was up all along. For one thing, she signed DC hardcore heroes Bad Brains and released their reggae-heavy ‘95 album God of Love. Unfortunately Brains’ mainman HR was on a real tear that year and assaulted a bunch of people, including the group’s own manager, hastening the band’s (brief, but career-tanking) demise. And she also discovered LA rap-metal pioneers Proper Grounds.

Many would cite Rage Against the Machine as the first significant band to tread this thorny path. Rage are not a metal band and they don’t have a rapper, but okay, sure. Ice-T would point you to his incendiary thrash metal outfit Body Count. But that was a just a rapper playing metal.There were one-offs like the Public Enemy/Anthrax mash-up “Bring the Noize”; the lesser-known Sir Mix-a-lot/Metal Church head-spinner “Iron Man” in ‘88, and if we stretch even farther back, the mysterious hooded rapper The Lone Rager, who spat out a brief history of the genre back in ‘84’s ridiculous “Metal Rap” (“And Metallica? Spectaculah!”). 24-7 Spyz offered up funk-metal that edged into hip-hop territory, and Schoolly D, in his bid to wipe out rock n’ roll once and for all, merged metal riffs with hilariously angry lyrics on his 1988 album Smoke Some Kill (“Fuck Cinderella, fuck Bon Jovi, and motherfuck Prince, man.”). All that shit existed, sure. But none of them merged the gritty realities of life on the street with the intensity and velocity of heavy metal in the same way that Proper Grounds did.
 

 
Proper Grounds were, essentially, a panicky Grandmaster Flash with grungy guitars. Or maybe Stone Temple Pilots with scratching. Formed by frontman The Sandman and bass player/producer Danny Saber, they had a deep-rooted social consciousness that neatly subverted the mindless violence and material worship that engulfed rap in the 90’s and their take on metal, was elastic and acrobatic, avoided the genre’s chest-thumping excess. They called their particular brand of noise “anguish rap metal” and that pretty much says it all. Songs like “I’m Drowning,” “Backwards Mass,” and “Money in the Depths of a Plagueless Man” were so dark they were practically gothic. Their sole album, 1993’s Downtown Circus Gang, was a stark snapshot of life on the streets of LA in the wake of the ‘92 riots, bitter and hard and raw and real. Perfect for the 90’s, really.

More after the jump…

Posted by Ken McIntyre | Discussion
Gary Coleman, comic books & other disasters: Raging Slab were the assmasters of the 1990s
01.11.2017
02:00 pm

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Music

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Assmaster cover
 
It sorta all shook out the same way, really. Promising start followed by a long, slow slog to oblivion. While it might’ve been a one-off goof, Gary Coleman’s appearance in a 1993 video by New York boogie-rock champs Raging Slab was essentially the last real flash of light for both of ‘em. It’s probably the second thing on a pretty short list of what most people remember about Gary Coleman and the only thing most people remember about Raging Slab. And that’s a drag, because they both deserve better.

Raging Slab might be one of the most ill-starred bands this side of their spiritual and musical forebears, Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band was formed in NYC in 1983 by husband and wife team Greg Strzempka and Elyse Steinman (vox/guitar, slide guitar). The earliest incarnation of the band included future Warrior Soul riot-starter Kory Clarke on drums and one DJ Dimitri (later of house music legends Dee-Lite), and their aggressively retro southern rock style flew in the face of 80’s new wave and glam metal. Nobody wanted to sound like Foghat in 1983, not even Foghat. But Raging Slab did.
 

 
Despite their twirly mustaches and mid 70’s hustle, the band eventually carved out their own niche, and in 1987 they released their first album, the audacious-in-every-way Assmaster. It came with its own comic book, created by Marvel artists Pat Redding and Pete Ciccone, portraying the band as groovy, muscle-bound superfreak superheroes. It sounded like a comic book, too.  Much like dope metal heroes Monster Magnet, the band embraced 70s junk culture with religious fervor, creating a brightly-colored alt-world splashed with boogie vans, pot leaves and American flag motorcycle helmets with riffs that could topple evil space tyrants from the Forbidden Zone. They were like Elvis, the Fonz and Evel Knievel jamming on “Freebird” at the Grand Canyon forever and ever… And Assmaster was a stone-cold classic. No doubt about it.

Raging Slab signed to RCA and released a self-titled follow-up in 1989. It was a fitting successor to their debut, filled with tasty slide guitar and crunching riff-rock. Lead single “Don’t Dog Me” had a hot hit video, and the band toured the country, sometimes with southern rockers like Molly Hatchet and sometimes with glam-bangers like Warrant. Things were looking up, despite rapid turnover in the ranks, particularly in the drummer department. But RCA hated the next two records and didn’t even bother releasing them, eventually dropping them/pawning them off to Rick Rubin and Def American. Raging Slab been slipping below the radar for years so when comeback album Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert was ready to hit the bins in spring of ‘93, it was preceded by a single so infectious and a video so over-the-top that no one could resist it. “Anywhere But Here” featured the chick from the cover of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain album (sorta), funky 70s puppet “Lester” (sorta) and real Diff’rent Strokes star Gary Coleman running around a magical mini-golf course while the band rocks out in front of a candy-colored castle. There’s fire and bubbles and shiny gold medallions and everybody looks like they’re having the time of their lives. Which is good, because that’s the best it got for all involved.
 

 
Gary Coleman starred in Diff’rent Strokes for eight seasons. Stricken with a rare kidney disease, Coleman stayed kid-size well into adulthood. Piles of sitcom cash would’ve lessened the blow but his parents mismanaged his fortune and left him in the unenviable task of being really famous and really broke. So sure, get dwarf-tossed by a couple of Mexican muskrat (?) marionettes on the set of a rock video, why not? Could be the start of something big.

It wasn’t.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Ken McIntyre | Discussion
KISS, Sparks, & rock ‘n’ roller coasters: The legendary ‘Magic Mountain’ theme park of the 1970’s
01.11.2017
12:21 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Music

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Magic Mountain


 
On an incredibly hot memorial day weekend in 1971, Magic Mountain opened in Valencia, California just 18 months after construction began. The “theme” of this theme park was not entirely clear and it only had one roller coaster, however the park’s other offerings—the fireworks, rides, laser shows, arcade games, and nightly concerts—made “fun, magic, and rock ‘n’ roll” the name of the game. By the time the park was sold to Six Flags at the end of the decade, Magic Mountain had cemented a place in rock ‘n’ roll history by giving many young Southern Californians their very first live concert experience. Its three venues (7-Up / Dixi Cola Showcase Theatre, The Gazebo, and Kaleidoscope) were home to many great acts such as Fleetwood Mac, The Carpenters, Sonny & Cher, The Jackson 5, The Everly Brothers, and KISS who attracted a long-haired, beer can drinking parking lot crowd that didn’t meet Disneyland’s strict dress code and could afford the $5 admission price.
 

Sonny & Cher performed nightly from Sept 2nd-12th, 1971 at Magic Mountain’s 7-Up Showcase Theatre
 
When it first opened Magic Mountain secured a short-term deal from Warner Brothers to use their Looney Tunes characters, however when that agreement expired in 1972 a lineup of very unmemorable troll characters were introduced: Bloop, Bleep, King Troll (aka King Blop) and the Wizard. These bizarre, colorful, psychedelic looking walk-around characters became the most recognizable symbols of the park throughout the ‘70s. They greeted guests, posed for photographs, and appeared on all manners of merchandise and advertising before being discontinued in 1985.
 

“Trolls & Fountain” 1977 Magic Mountain postcard
 
By the mid-1970’s the park begun introducing faster and scarier rides such as The Electric Rainbow, Galaxy, and Jolly Monster. However, it was the Great American Revolution (the first modern, 360-degree steel looping coaster) in 1976 that gave the park its first real thrill factor. At the time Universal was filming a disaster-suspense movie called Rollercoaster about a young extortionist (played by Timothy Bottoms) who travels around the U.S. planting bombs on roller coasters promising horrific casualties to those who don’t meet his one million dollar ransom. The film’s climactic final sequence takes place during a huge rock concert celebrating the grand opening of Revolution. While teen-idol fan magazines Tiger Beat and Sixteen reported to their readers that the Scottish glam-rock band the Bay City Rollers were to perform in this film it was actually Los Angeles’ own Sparks who accepted the role having just relocated back to L.A. from England.
 
Sparks were documented on the big screen prior to their breakthrough commercial success during a strange transitional period for the band when they briefly dropped their quirkiness and demanded to be taken seriously. Concerned at the time that their music may have become stale, the Mael brothers left their synthesizers behind for a more “American” guitar sound on their Rupert Holmes produced album Big Beat. Although Rollercoaster was a modest success despite fierce competition from Star Wars at the box office that summer, Ron & Russell Mael of Sparks now look back upon the film with embarrassment. “Yes, you did see Sparks performing ‘Big Boy’ and ‘Fill’er Up’ in the film Rollercoaster during your last airplane trip,” said Russell Mael in the September 2006 issue of Mojo Magazine. “No, we didn’t know that the film was going to turn out like that. Rollercoaster movie proves that you have to be continually careful of what you do… You never know what’s going to last and what’s going to fall by the wayside, and man, does that last!” Sparks’ cameo in Rollercoaster is brief but fun and energetic, especially when Ron Mael gets rowdy and smashes his piano stool on the stage.
 

Russell Mael of Sparks performing in front of Revolution in the 1977 disaster film ‘Rollercoaster’
 
In 1978 at the height of KISS’ massive popularity, Hanna-Barbera Productions produced a made-for-television movie for NBC titled Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. Filmed on location at Magic Mountain, the film’s poor script revolved around an evil inventor living underneath the theme park whose nefarious plans are thwarted by an other-galactic rock ‘n’ roll group with superpowers (played by KISS). Despite the fact that all four members were given crash courses on acting, much of the dialogue recorded was unusable and had to be re-dubbed in post production. Ace Frehley was said to have become increasingly frustrated with the long periods of downtime normally associated with filmmaking and stormed off the set one day leaving his African American stunt double to finish his scenes (which made for perhaps one of the most noticeable and unintentionally hilarious continuity errors in the history of cinema). KTNQ’s “The Real” Don Steele (one of the most popular disc jockeys in the U.S.) gave away 8,000 tickets to see KISS perform live at the Magic Mountain parking lot which was filmed for the movies big dramatic rock ‘n’ roll concert ending.
 
Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Doug Jones | Discussion
Welcome to the broken pyramid of your brain: The wild, weird & beautiful art of René Brantonne
01.06.2017
09:29 am

Topics:
Art
Books

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René Brantonne’s cover illustrations for French pulp paperback publisher Fleuve Noir are a riot of imagination, lysergic color and unparalleled weirdness. Born in Creteil France, Brantonne started his career as a young artist for hire in the 1920s creating movie posters for French releases of American films. For a brief period, Brantonne lived in the United States continuing his work as a poster artist for Hollywood studios. He returned to France and from the mid-1950s until his death in 1979 produced hundreds of covers and illustrations for sci-fi and adventure novels and popular comic books.

Of the work I’ve seen and enjoyed by Brantonne, it’s his work for Fleuve Noir’s Anticipation series that I find the most exhilarating. The art is filled with energy, movement, wit, trippy perspectives, occult intimations and colors that will slap you silly. And some are the stuff of nightmares in which the future is a constant battle between man, machine and the unknown. The future depicted as a giant shoe crushing humanity like a bug or the grinding wheels of progress (Metal de Mort) making mincemeat of our flesh and bone. Brantonne’s vision was everything but idyllic. If the machines don’t get you the giant serpents will.

Welcome to the broken pyramid of your brain.
 

 

René Brantonne.
 

 
More visionary weirdness after the jump…

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
‘Kool Thing’: Kim Gordon’s 1989 interview with LL Cool J that inspired the Sonic Youth song
01.04.2017
09:14 am

Topics:
Feminism
Hip-hop
Music

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In the September 1989 issue of SPIN magazine, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon interviewed LL Cool J to get a feminist perspective on the male-dominated world of hip-hop. The result was an awkward and unintentionally hilarious conversation that served as the inspiration for the 1990 song “Kool Thing” which was Sonic Youth’s first major label single). At the time, LL was promoting his third studio album, Walking with a Panther, the cover which depicted the rapper posing alongside a cuddly and adorable black panther sporting gold chains.

“I had a thing for male Black Panthers, I also loved LL Cool J’s first record, Radio, which was produced by Rick Rubin.” Kim recounts in her memoir Girl in a Band. She had said publicly that Radio was one of the albums that turned her on to rap music, and that “Going Back to Cali” was one of her favorite music videos because as someone who grew up in L.A. she appreciated “the humorous way it made fun of the 1960s archetypal Southern California sexy white-girl aesthetic.” LL’s publicist couldn’t believe that anyone in Sonic Youth knew about LL Cool J and happily granted an interview which took place during a rehearsal break for an upcoming tour. “I’ve never interviewed a pop star before, and having just seen LL on The Arsenio Hall Show I’m nervous.” Kim prefaced in the SPIN magazine interview titled “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy.”

“When I — the Lower East Side scum-rocker, feeling really, really uncool — arrive at the rehearsal studio, the dancers are taking a break. They’re real friendly; we talk about my shoes for a second. They are three girls — one of whom, Rosie Perez, is in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing — and a young boy. A bunch of other people are just hanging out. LL is preoccupied talking to some stylists, gesturing about clothes. Occasionally he shoots a look my way; I have no idea if he’s expecting me or he’s just looking at my out-of-place bleached blonde hair. LL slowly approaches, checking me out but stopping to talk to friends. I jump up, walk over, grab his hand, introduce myself and say, ‘Can I shake your hand?’ He’s aloof. I marvel how boys who’re tough or cool to cover up their sensitivity keep attracting girls and fooling themselves.” Kim and LL sat down at a nearby empty studio and she began the interview by asking him to sign her Radio CD. She then gave him a copy of Ciccone Youth’s The Whitey Album (a pseudonymous side project of Sonic Youth and Minutemen/Firehose member Mike Watt). When she told LL Cool J that The Whitey Album sampled beats off his records he laughed out loud and said, “I got a CD in a couple of my cars, I’ll play it.”

They began discussing sports cars and LL’s newly purchased home he called “Wonderland,” as LL flipped through The Whitey Album CD packaging. He pulled out and unfolded an insert which featured a photograph of a young girl with dozens of black & white flyers for hardcore shows plastered all over her bedroom wall. “Who’s this girl? It must have been a long time ago for it to say The Negroes.” LL mistook a flyer he noticed for Necros (a punk band from the Detroit music scene.) “That’s the Necros, an early hardcore band. Are you familiar with the early hardcore scene?” “Uh-uh, what is that, like heavy metal?” “No, not at all! It was basically kids talking to other kids. The Beastie Boys were part of that. I remember when they were a hardcore band.” LL processes the information and then quips, “The Young and the Useless?” (referring to an early 1980s punk band that included future Beastie Boys member Ad-Rock, and so, cool points for LL Cool J). “That was another band. The Beastie Boys had their same name when they were a hardcore band. Hardcore was so fast that if your ears weren’t attuned to it you couldn’t understand it. It wasn’t meant for anyone outside the scene. Like rap music, some of it is so fast, unless you’re familiar with the slang you can’t get it. That’s why so many people who were into hardcore listen to rap. It’s something that excludes white mainstream culture.” Gordon explained. “That’s interesting, I never really knew anything about that.” Cool J said.
 

Photo from Ciccone Youth’s The Whitey Album CD insert fold-out
 
While Kim Gordon’s connecting the dots between hip hop and the early hardcore music scene made for a great start to the interview, things then took a dive when she asked him about the females fans who admire him. “What about women who are so into you as a sex object that they take a picture of you to bed with them and their boyfriends or husbands start freaking out?” “It’s not my problem,” LL responded. “The guy has to have control over his woman.” Gordon plays along without confronting LL Cool J about his misogynist comments. “Are there any female sex symbols that you relate to?” Kim asks, “Oh yeah, every day on the way to work.”

“It was totally ridiculous for me to assume that we had anything in common” Gordon later admitted in a 1991 telephone interview with the Phoenix New Times. “That’s why I tried to make the article show how elite and small the downtown scene that I come out of is. I was trying to make fun of myself. I don’t know if that came across.” Six months after the interview was published, Sonic Youth recorded the song “Kool Thing” at Sorcerer Sound Recording Studios in New York City. Although LL Cool J’s name is never mentioned, the song’s lyrics contain several references to the rapper’s music. Kim Gordon sings “Kool Thing let me play it with your radio” (a reference to LL Cool J’s single “I Can’t Live Without My Radio”). The lyrics “Kool thing walkin’ like a panther” are a reference to the LL Cool J album Walking With a Panther. She repeats the line “I don’t think so” over and over again which is also a repeating line in the LL Cool J hit “Going Back to Cali.”

Elissa Schappell, author of the short-story collection Blueprints for Building Better Girls, perfectly summarizes the clash between Gordon and Cool J in an essay she wrote for the anthology book Here She Comes Now: Women in Music Who Have Changed Our Lives:

“Kim was able to take the disastrous interview and elegantly turn it into something much larger than its parts. Working at SPY I was used to putting myself into the path of trouble, and when it found me I took notes. Kim had taken notes and then transformed the experience into a sharp and witty social critique of gender, race and power that you could dance to. ‘Kool Thing’ is more than Kim’s assault on LL Cool J’s ego, but a self-mocking jibe at her own liberal politics. The sarcasm in her voice when she addresses ‘Kool Thing’ (Public Enemy’s Chuck D) in the breakdown is self-mocking — the female voice inflated by privilege and naïveté. (‘I just wanna know, what are you gonna do for me? I mean, are you going to liberate us girls from the white male corporate oppression?’)

More after the jump…

Posted by Doug Jones | Discussion
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