We discuss a wide variety of musical genres on this site, including country, electronic, experimental, folk, hardcore, hip hop, krautrock, minimalist music, no wave, punk, and trance.
If you’re looking for a specific genre of music, you’ll find it in this category. We have broken this section down into the genres that resonate with us at the moment. Whether it’s hip hop or hardcore, minimalist or electronic, entering this category will give you a glimpse into that style of music. We have an entire section on folk music as well as a beefed up section on jazz music as well as its history.
In our electronic category, you’ll find topics like acid house versus techno house music and producers vs live DJs. They’ll help you become more knowledgeable or fill in gaps in your music life that you didn’t know existed.
There are specific genres covered on a very local level in Canada, too. You can follow our article on the best Canadian country music artists of the year.
In our hip hop and rap section, we have tips on how to write a rap song that will make money rain from the sky. You should definitely check that one out. Another is the main genres of music in America, which includes hip hop, jazz, and folk. We love providing our readers with a variety of music genres, and you should be able to find a ton of topics that interest you.
Back in the early 1980s, music began changing drastically. Although it’s open for discussion, the world of rock heavy metal genres saw probably the most diverse changes.
You had anything from soft rock, punk, and up to extreme metal subgenres emerging during this period.
Bands like Venom, Slayer, Metallica, and others took it all to a whole new level and turned it into something else.
All in all, this is the era when many subgenres of rock and metal music emerged.
It was a pretty exciting time, and these same exact movements exist to this day. In some cases, they’re almost unchanged from their early 1980s roots.
But while we’re at it, one of the very specific subgenres that appeared was black metal. This particular movement in metal exploded in the late 1980s and the early 1990s.
But the name comes from Venom’s second album, which was released in 1982. It was only in the 1990s that more people got familiar with it.
And this is also the time of the subgenre’s rise, mostly thanks to the notorious Norwegian scene, filled with some of the most gruesome acts known to the music world.
Not to get too much into these details, it was because of bands like Mayhem, Emperor, and many others from Norway and the rest of Scandinavian countries that the subgenre became so big.
Some even claim black metal strayed from its original pagan path, which is the reason why some of these Scandinavian musicians stopped putting their famous pagan-inspired face paint altogether.
But what we’re interested in here is the rise of female black metal bands, most notably those who are fronted by female vocalists.
After all, the genre is known for its peculiar and screaming vocals. Looking through the list of such bands, we were able to dig up some pretty great names that you should definitely consider checking out. So let’s get into it.
Formed back in 1992, Demonic Christ is a band that came from California. Originally combining death and black metal, they, later on, focused solely on black metal.
This is a 3-piece group, with the guitar and vocal duties done by Dana Duffey.
She is also known for her work in a Pennsylvania-based band called Mythic, a short-lived death and doom metal band where she also served as the lead guitarist and vocalist.
Although active for all these years, they have only one full-length album, titled “Punishment for Ignorance” and released in 1995.
There have been a few additional releases here and there, along with a split record with Horna. Demonic Christ saw some lineup changes over the years, with Duffey being the only constant and original member.
It’s basically her band, and even though she has not released much music under this name over the years, the group is still highly regarded among the genre’s truest fans.
Up next, we’re traveling to the former USSR republic of Kyrgyzstan.
While this part of the world is not that known for metal music, a band like Darkestrah certainly stands out with their strong pagan and folk influences.
You don’t often hear such a band, and especially not with female vocals.
The singing (and mostly screaming) duties here are now done by male vocalist Merkith who’s been a member of the band since 2015.
But before that, since their beginnings in the late 1990s, the band was fronted by female vocalist known as Kriegtalith, who was popular for her special throat singing techniques.
You don’t often hear a band like this one. While there are obvious black metal foundations here, some have even categorized them as post-rock.
They’re definitely worth a listen, and they have six full-length albums so far.
Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult
You don’t often hear a band name like Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult, don’t you?
Well, this innovative black metal band has a mixed lineup from Poland and Germany, with the main vocal and rhythm guitar duties taken by Yvonne Wilczynska.
Known for her stage name Onielar, she added to the band’s very unique sound, something that made them stand out in the European underground extreme metal scene.
She’s been the band’s main driving and creative force, leading them through many lineup changes from 1997 to now.
Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult has released 11 albums so far, with the last one, titled “Mardom,” dropping in 2019.
Taking a listen to the band’s music, we do hope they’ll keep doing the good work and pumping our more great material in the coming years.
Cadaveria is technically a more complex solo project by Italian singer Raffaella Rivarolo. Starting her work in the early 1990s, she became known as one of the first women to ever front a black metal band.
The sight was a bit unconventional back in those days when she joined Opera IX, an Italian band that pushed the boundaries of black metal into symphonic-inspired waters.
After parting ways with the band, Raffaella continued more towards the traditional black metal, showing her real talent for this genre.
Under this name, she released five full-length albums, plus another album that was a split between her Cadaveria project and another great Italian band, Necrodeath.
Her work has been highly influential among the lovers of black metal music.
But while we’re at it, it’s impossible not to include Opera IX, the band Raffaella Rivarolo was a part of.
Although not an original singer, she is considered to be their “classic” member.
As far as Opera IX goes, she was present on their three albums and two minor releases – one demo and one extended play.
Now, this is something for those who love to hear symphonic and classical music elements to such a gruesome and extreme subgenre.
Nonetheless, the combination can work pretty well, and it’s something that this band became very well-known for.
For those interested in female-fronted black metal and this unusual combination of styles, we recommend an album like their 1994 debut “The Call of the Wood.”
They also do a great cover of Bela Lugosi’s Dead.
Even though they’ve broken up in the early 2010s, Ludicra still are regarded highly among the lovers of black metal and some other more avant-garde movements.
To put it simply, it’s hard to find a band that’s like them. Coming from San Francisco, they were fronted by Laurie Sue Shanaman.
The band was formed in 1998, with Laurie joining in about one year later.
From 2002 and 2010, they have recorded and released five full albums in total, before disbanding in 2011.
Listening through their catalog, we can safely say that they’re one of those bands that combined shoegaze music elements with black metal, making them one of the leading bands of the so-called “blackgaze” movement.
Laurie is currently a member of another extreme metal project, called Alis. So far, they have one album, titled “The Unraveling.”
For this next one, we’re traveling to the wonderful country of Greece.
While many think that European metal and extreme metal scene is solely focused on the continental and the northern part, there are actually some pretty jaw-dropping bands that emerged in these Mediterranean parts.
For this list, we’re looking into Astarte, a black metal group from Athens.
What’s really exciting is that they were not only female-fronted but were a full lineup of female extreme metal musicians.
The vocal and rhythm guitar duties here were originally taken by Kinthia. After she parted ways with the band, Maria Kolokouri, known under her stage name Tristessa, took over from there.
Unfortunately, the band ended with a tragedy. Maria Kolokouri passed away in 2014 after she lost the battle with leukemia.
This was automatically the death of Astarte. Nonetheless, Astarte is still remembered as one of the greatest extreme metal bands from Greece.
Technically, Anguished is a one-woman project, started by Ana Niemi. And, of course, she used a very appropriate black metal name for this – the Possessed Demoness. How cool is that?
Anyhow, she has only one album under her belt so far.
However, it’s one of the most powerful black metal albums that was laid upon this world. “Cold” from 2010 is some of the darkest and most crushing music that cuts deep into the soul of the listener.
This is as dark, and as Satanistic, as it gets. Full-on despair and void from Ana Niemi, that’s for sure.
If you’re into it, then appropriately-named black metal project Anguished is the right thing for you.
While Anguished sees one musician doing all the work, Myrkur is led by Amalie Bruun and features a revolving lineup of backing musicians. However, Amalie is a very versatile musician.
Her overall work and artistic output is not something you’d expect from someone who does extreme metal stuff.
Coming from Denmark, she is mostly inspired by Scandinavian folk music and is known for her great talents as a multi-instrumentalist. It’s not unusual to see her playing an instrument like a nyckelharpa.
As far as the Myrkur project goes, it combines soft and surgically precise vocal work, along with some of the most brutal screams and growls ever known in this genre.
There are three albums so far, with the last one, titled “Folkesange,” released in 2020. In addition, there are also two EPs in her discography. You just can’t go wrong with any of these.
If you want really hard and dark, the so-called “blackened crust” movement is the right thing for you.
For this, we’re going over to British Columbia in Canada for a band called Iskra.
The name is a bit of an unusual one, but if we were to look into most of the Slavic languages, this is the word that can be heard in Ukrainian, Serbian, Polish, or Slovakian, and it translates to “spark.”
But aside from having one really cool band name, Iskra are one of the most famous anarchist underground bands. Unusually for black metal, their lyrics follow the themes of punk music.
This is a totally unexpected choice of themes for black metal, as this genre is usually known for either Satanistic or traditionalist pagan lyrics.
And, in some cases, even highly controversial themes, as was the case with many Scandinavian black metal bands in the early 1990s.
However, Iskra are here to shine a new light on the genre and to balance things out both with their music and lyrical themes.
Since their formation up until now, they’ve been rather busy and have quite a few releases between 2003 and now.
The band is fronted by a singer just known as Danielle. Before her joining in 2008, they had a male singer only known as Scott.
Although coming from Chile where it was formed by a musician only known as Frater D, the band Hetroertzen relocated to Sweden after some years of work.
Originally intended as a solo project, it soon grew to become a full band. To this day, Hetroertzen stay true to the traditional black metal style.
Not just musically, but aesthetically as well.
After some early lineup changes, they were joined by a female musician known as Anubis.
She took over both the guitar and vocal duties, giving the band their own unique signature in this style.
And they’ve been a very prolific band, with seven albums released between 2002 and 2017. Just some dark, heavy, and occult-inspired black metal.
Lastly, we would like to include a band from Minneapolis, Minnesota, a black metal band known for their deep exploration of some very dark occult themes.
This five-piece is fronted by a female vocalist and keyboardist just known as Vindicaré.
This mysterious American group has only one full-length record from 2011, titled “Prognatus in Vorago.”
There are also two smaller releases, 2012’s “Where Serpents Dwell,” and 2014’s “Blood Moon Eclipse.” Definitely worth your time if you’re exploring the depths of black metal.
Looking more into the “old school” side of guitar-based music, we also have Mr. John Scoffield on this list. And this is yet another of these “unexpected” mentions.
Nonetheless, this, once again, proves how Pro Co Rat can be versatile. In many cases, this depends on the other pieces of gear, but Rat is capable of creating very unique tones in almost any setting. And having such flexibility is what makes one pedal so great.
So whenever you hear John Scoffield play with distortion on, there’s a high chance he’s using the almighty Rat.
And if you still haven’t gotten the chance to listen to Scoffield’s music, then you’re missing out a lot.
Not many people get to say their dad was a “super-producer”, but in the case of Stephan Plank, son of Conny Plank, it turns out to be true.
Who Is Conny Plank?
While “super-producer” might seem a rather nebulous term to apply to someone, it’s hard to think of a better-fitting way to describe Conny Plank, considering that musicians from around the world to record with him at his abode in Germany, where he had his studio for many years.
Many might call Rick Rubin, or Mutt Lange, two of rock’s big super-producers. Producers like Timbaland or Dr. Dre may have been referred to in such a way as well. Of course, what makes each of these producers “super” is different from one another, as they all have their fortes.
Conny Plank, and his motives for making music at the time that he was fervently doing so, are altogether different again from all the rest.
Conny, in his own way, is surely in the same stratum of certain legendary names in the music business, except he is less associated with mainstream music, never aiming for fame and glory so much as experimentation and purity of sound, so he has, as a result of not playing “the game”, a bit more mystique surrounding him, and credibility as an artist for endless miles.
In his home studio, Conny recorded some of the most sonically expressive, idiosyncratic, and experimental recordings ever to be pressed to vinyl, including many great krautrock albums by the likes of Neu!, Kraftwerk, Guru Guru, Night Sun, Can, and many more, some of whom were native to Germany.
Here’s an example of one of the many ground-breaking albums that Conny worked on, by Cluster (formerly Kluster). It is but one in an long lineage of albums with Conny Plank’s unique stamp of sonic engineering wizardry.
In addition to having a big impact on Krautrock and rock in general, Conny Plank was responsible for some of the earliest “ambient” albums (before the term was coined for such music) as Cluster & Eno, Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, and his wife Christa Fast even sang on Music For Airports by Eno, which could be considered one of the first, if not “the” first, album of this kind.
Conny recorded with many musicians who made their way to his studio from all corners of the globe, and then, from there, these musicians went on to have a deep and lasting impact on music and future musicians.
I’m referring to the likes of Devo in their early years, as well as the Eurythmics, Ultravox, Killing Joke, The Meteors, Kraan, Hunters & Collectors, A Flock of Seagulls, and dozens more artists, some more obscure, some more well-known.
One might wonder how Conny Plank was able to have such a prolific output for so many years and still manage to capture so much lightning in a bottle. To many, it is still somewhat of a mystery, and understandably so.
The recording of various artists went on until Conny’s untimely death in 1987 of laryngeal cancer.
Conny’s Son, Stephan Plank
While Conny lived, he worked tirelessly with band after band at his home studio, while his wife and only son watched him work, and provided a home life, if a somewhat unconventional one.
His son, Stephan, grew up in an atmosphere both strange and interesting, making playmates out of some of the odd house guests who would arrive, stay a while, and then eventually leave, perhaps never to return.
When Conny died suddenly in December of 1987, it was difficult for anyone to process; most of all his family, who was used to Conny being a rather indomitable spirit. Now he was gone.
Stephan was barely a teenager when Conny died, and so it took him a long time to process his death, and reach any kind of closure.
Indeed, it wasn’t until his 40’s that Stephan finally had the urge to look back at who Conny was, and make sense of his legacy as a creative force in the music industry.
This reflection lead him to the creation of his own documentary, called The Potential of Noise, which features interviews with a slew of musicians who knew Conny best, from working with him in the studio.
Here’s a trailer for the documentary, The Potential of Noise.
I caught up with Stephan on October 1st, 2019, to ask him questions about the documentary, his father and his music, and what his life his like now.
YC: Why did you make this documentary?
SP: In a sense, I was liberating myself of my father.I was 13 when my father died, and I grew up in the music industry.My mother then continued renting out the studio, and soon people were approaching me saying, “You’re the son of Conny, wow!”and I would think to myself, “…but I don’t know what he did. How should I reply to this?”
In a way, I made this film to clear this up this mystery, and give myself a chance to talk about it, and also reach a better understanding of my father.
YC: Did you know about his impact at that time?
SP: I suspected the impact. Growing up in the studio, all the people knowing about it…for me, it was not knowing what a producer did and how he worked that bugged me.”
YC: So you didn’t really know this – the extent of Conny’s influence – until you started making the documentary?
SP: Yes and no, growing up in the studio, I had seen how producers worked with different bands, but i didn’t know how Conny worked with bands and how he liberated their thinking. The interesting thing about the work of my father was that he did a lot of “first” albums, so he was an integral part in constituting the bands avatars or egos where his own ego became fused with the bands’ ego.
YC: Were musicians and bands just randomly coming to his studio, or did he somehow advertise for musicians to come to see him?
SP: His records were his calling cards. Lots of people at this time who were looking for a producer, would look at their record collection, and see that Conny had made many of their favourite albums, so they would come because of this.
YC: Was this localized to your area of Germany or were people coming from all over the world?
SP: Everywhere. For instance, Devo from America, Hunters & Collectors from Australia, and many others from around the world…they would hear something like Kraftwerk and Neu! and they wanted to come see him and learn his methods.
He was a lightning rod for bands who wanted to approach music differently.For instance, Devo first wanted to work with David Bowie, and then Brian Eno, who was a friend and frequent collaborator with Conny, so he brought Devo with him to visit Conny.
Ultimately, Brian Eno was thinking to shape Devo to be a little more pretty-sounding, but when Devo realized that Conny was like-minded to them in terms of anti-melody and embracing noise, they decided to work with him instead.
YC: How did Conny come to know Brian Eno?
SP: This was through Neu! that he met Brian, who came to our farmhouse to work on Music For Airports, which featured my mom singing some of the vocals on that album.
YC: All this happened obviously after Brian Eno’s Roxy Music days, but how was the connection made?
SP: Brian Eno heard Conny’s work through Neu!’s first album, which had an appeal to many British musicians.Some of these new Krautrock sounds that my dad was making were very interesting to many British musicians who were looking for a new type of sound at this time.
These Krautrock albums weren’t about “hit” singles, but more about a new mentality towards music.For instance, Michael Rother was in Kraftwerk and Neu!, and collaborated with Cluster, which lead him to Eno, and Music for Airports.
YC: There was not much like Eno’s Music For Airports at the time, really, right?This was a truly groundbreaking album.
SP: If anyone should be found guilty of launching “ambient” music, it should be Brian Eno and Michael Rother.
YC: Did you or do you now listen to any ambient music yourself?
SP: I listened to a lot of it growing up, and I think it’s very interesting to see how it all started.My father was born in 1940 and he grew up in the time of the 2nd World War.
He grew up in Kaiserslautern, or K-town, and this was a place which featured a lot of troop entertainment.My father was friends with a couple of G.I.’s so they’d take him to see some of this entertainment.There is a term in German – “icht” – and he said he was icht when he listened to this troop entertainment.
YC: So he appreciated this type of music a great deal.
SP: Yes, a lot. He loved big band music like Duke Ellington. There is actually a story about Duke Ellington involving my father, where Duke Ellington came to Cologne to do a concert, and he needed a rehearsal space, and my dad didn’t have his recording studio at the time (because he wasn’t yet a sound engineer), but he was working in one.
He asked the studio owner if he could have the Duke come to the studio and rehearse. Conny happened to be able to record this session, and then when Duke finished, he asked my father if he could hear the recording he made of his band, and when he heard it, he told him that he was doing “good sound” and that he liked what he heard.
This was the point where my father heard his hero say he was doing a good job, and then he felt like he could be a sound engineer – this encounter boosted his confidence.I wasn’t sure i this was a tall tale or not, because these things can be exaggerated, but then I went through the archive of our studio, and I found the Duke Ellington tape, which I then made into a vinyl release, and this is now available.
YC: When was this released?
SP: 4 years ago now.
YC: Did it see a big release?
SP: We released it worldwide, but the audience for obscure Duke Ellington releases now is a very specific group of music fans.Some people have even called me to tell me jokingly that Duke Ellington sounds even a bit Kraut-y on this release.
YC: Is there any truth to that?Does it sound sort of Kraut-y?
SP: I can’t hear it, but I like the idea.
YC: This would have been at the beginning of Conny’s career, and the end of Duke’s?
SP: Yes.This was recorded July 9th, 1970.Now it is available on Spotify.
YC: Ok, well I’ll have to check that out.So, once the studio became active and Conny had gone into the business of sound engineering more officially, at this point you were just there running around, being a kid.Did you think the environment you lived in was normal?
SP: Everything your parents do seems normal to you, because at first you have nothing to compare it to.For me, these slightly strange guests being around all the time was normal to me.And, as musicians are, they were very playful people, so they made good playmates for me.
YC: And these musicians would stay there for days, or weeks, while your dad worked in his studio?
SP: Yes, he worked constantly.
YC: Did you see him much?
SP: Well, he was right next door, but it was clear that this is where the big boys played.You have to realize, this was a time before digital looping was possible.
So they had to use tape loops, so they’d be setting up microphone stands all over the studio, which was very interesting-looking to a 5-year-old.So I wasn’t allowed to touch anything, or their work could be destroyed.Therefore, I wasn’t allowed in very often, or very rarely.
YC: At what point did you realize what was going on in there?
SP: Between 10-12 years old, I started to understand the concept of work.But there was no time to really ask my dad about the finer details of his work.
At that time, it just made more sense for him to focus on his work, rather than explain everything to me.I was aware that something interesting was happening, and I was aware that people wanted to meet my father, or to see some of the famous musicians who came there, like the Eurythmics, and to get their autograph.To me these were just normal people working with my father, not stars.
YC: Were you an only child?
YC: So were you very well-behaved then, or more of a brat?
SP: I was basically a brat.I was fighting for the attention of my parents. By the time I was becoming a teenager, although we did not know it, my father had cancer, and would die soon.He died December 6, 1987.
At the start of 1987, around Easter holidays, we went with the Eurythmics to records their Japan Live tour.I was taken along, because my father was very aware that his time with his family was becoming limited.Still, he was working like a madman.
YC: At what point did you realize he was nearing the end of his life?
SP: My parents were optimistic until the last second.I remember I was with some friends, because my father with in the hospital again, and on that Sunday I got a call saying my father had died, and so I came to the hospital to see my mother and brother.It was horrible.
YC: What happened next?
SP: My mother continued to rent out the home studio, and musicians continued to come there to record.It was a nice place, and had a lot of analog gear, and so it was still very attractive to musicians to come there.
Recording studios can often be a stressful place for musicians, because they may have gotten a record deal, and suddenly the pressure is on to make their greatest music in a limited amount of time. In other words, they would feel like the meter was running.
My father and my mother together built this place to ease musicians of this feeling.It wasn’t a fancy place.It appeared a little bit squalid, but this was by design, because it would release some of the musicians’ tensions about being in a studio in the first place.
And then, musicians could let go and really inhabit the music they were making.
YC: Was Conny a fan of live-off-the-floor recording?Is that the scenario musicians were in at his studio?
SP: Conny was a fan of live recording, and he had some movable walls on wheels which he could turn and move so musicians could see each other.He was also very adamant that bands recorded their first version of a song live.
They could do overdubs after, but the live feeling had to be captured.And he was very avid about sound quality.There was a particular way the my father liked the cords in his studio, to be the exact right length with no cable wasted or lying on the floor tangled up.
YC: He was just very organized with his cables?
SP: This was the magic of my father, the way he made the musicians less aware of the recording process just by arranging the cables in a particular way.My father’s goal was to help musicians to let go during their performance, and then he would catch these results, and he made it all seem easy.
YC: I guess Conny was always listening and tuned to the music even if the band didn’t think he was?
SP: Yes, Conny seemed relaxed and the band would also be relaxed, but if he heard a synthesizer reach a point where he knew it was the perfect tone for the song, he would stop the band and tell them to make sure to leave that synth at that setting, because he knew it sounded great.
He would say “Stop, don’t touch the knob again.You are precisely at the hot moment!”In other words, he could always recognize when the band was at the peak of their performance.
He wasn’t trying to force them to get there, but when they got there, he knew.If a band was not getting better as they continued, he knew they’d reached their peak at that point.
He was simply good at hearing when a band was playing their best, or if something special was happening.
YC: So he didn’t intimidate anyone like some producers might?
SP: My father was a little bit like a psychologist, who would ask you questions, and then not tell you anything.He was able to get a band to think about a concept, and then they would get ideas based on what he said.
He didn’t need to tell them anything, just get them thinking about things they weren’t thinking about before.This way, they could conceive an original idea.
YC: Was he trying to guide them, or manoeuvre these bands?
SP: He wasn’t trying to control them. He was just trying to get them to think about what they might want to become, but he didn’t tell them what was, because he himself didn’t know.
YC: Would you say most bands liked his methods as a producer?Were there any bands who didn’t appreciate his methods and left the studio?
SP: Most bands did like his methods, and after his death, he became more of a superhero of german production, and so it was hard to find anyone who would say anything remotely negative about him.
This is why I was thankful to Holger Czukay, who told me “Well, he probably wasn’t the perfect father…”Most people treated him, in the interviews, in a very reverent way, but Holger had the guts to just say exactly what he thought, the way he experienced it.
YC: Why did Holger do that?
SP: Well, Can and Holger were all about authenticity, and Holger realized who was asking him, and to be true, he had to say it like he felt it.He was afraid of nothing, basically, and you learn to live with the consequences.
YC: Did he witness it personally or was he just speculating?
SP: Holger just saw that it was him and my father, and then me and my mother.He knew the band was disturbing family time, but he also knew he wanted to do it because it was so much fun.
YC: How are you now with work?Has any of your father’s famous work ethic affected how you approach work?
SP: I feel like my parents gave me a gift.We all seem to rebel against our parents in some way, and luckily, I am able to rebel by reading night time stories to my daughters every night.
YC: So you are reacting to your parents mistakes in some way?
SP: Yes, I feel like we all, as parents, try to not make the same mistakes as our parents, but mistakes are unavoidable, so even if we avoid some of their mistakes, we will make new, original mistakes.
YC: Are there any qualities of your father you feel like you do exhibit?
SP: Well, I am still quite obsessive, especially with my work, but the fun thing about making this film was to see how my father became almost a spiritual father to some of these bands, because whereas their parents may no have been pleased that they were pursuing music as a career, my father was always very supportive, telling them how amazing he thought they were.
He said “Let’s make this great!” and they would accept him as a father figure.Whodini came to see my father from New York, and they met him, and they met me, and they told me they felt like I was their little brother.So, in a way, the interaction at the studio was one big family.
YC: Was there ever any band that your father didn’t particularly want to work with?
SP: He refused to work with U2.
YC: Why, because he didn’t like their music?
SP: My father said that he worked best as a medium between the artist and the tape.And he wouldn’t know what kind of consciousness he’d have to transfer with Mr. Bono.
YC: What does this mean?
SP: I can only say his words, I don’t know.I just think it’s interesting he called him Mr. Bono.
YC: Well it sounds like maybe your father couldn’t relate to the way that U2 approached him?
YC: Conny obviously had his own specific tastes when it came to sounds he liked, and he also helped to define certain tastes as well.
SP: Yes, and when he died, his life’s work was not compromised.He never reached a stage where he had to make recordings to make ends meet.He was 47 when he died, so this was early enough that he had yet to make any compromises.
YC: Basically it’s fair to say everything was going well and then he met an untimely end due to unexpected health issues.
SP: Yes.Conny is a bit of a mystery because most producers focus on one particular sound, but Conny’s favourite flavour was innovation, and he was thinking in terms of “If this is innovative, I will do it…”
YC: What became of all of his gear, like that mixing desk he made?
SP: It’s in London, and still earning its money at the moment.The last Franz Ferdinand and Hot Chip albums were recorded with it, so it’s still in use, with Dave Allan.I had the choice to put it in a museum, or I could give it to someone to work with it.So I chose to find someone who would use it.
YC: Was it a sentimental thing to have to take the rest of his studio apart?
SP: It was done out of need.When Conny died, we were 4 million euros in debt, and, in 2005, when my mother fell ill, we were 400 000 euros in debt.She somehow managed to fall out of the German health care system, so I had to pay for fixing her brain tumour in cash.
So things needed to be sold, and it eventually was mostly sold.There’s a shop in Hamburg, Germany, and it still has some of my dad’s gear, including our Hammond B5.Sometimes people want to buy it, and I will talk to them.If they are good people, I will sell it to them.
My father was never the sum of his equipment, but he was the sum of the ideas he planted in other musicians minds, which means he’s still out there in a way. I think that today my father’s idea of a nice setup might be a nice laptop, and some good converters.
He’d probably travel with a flight case.He might even have been glad to get rid of the studio eventually, because, to be honest, maintaining all of that analog gear can be a pain in the ass.You constantly need to tinker with it to keep it running.
YC: Like you said, he was into innovation, so he probably would have embraced phones and computers fully.
SP: My dad was really into technology, and he bought the first Macintosh computer available.
He bought it under the impression that he could record a musician in New York, and the quality would be good, which obviously wasn’t the case, but at that stage, people told him it would be possible. He was really on the cutting edge, always curious about it.
He had the first emulator, and he always said stuff like “Reset The Preset”to get the machines to go to the fringe places, the red part of the meter so it would groan a little bit.What happens when you get to the place where they’re not supposed to be.
YC: What would he think of the crappy production work out there today?
SP: He always liked well-producedmusic, and hated badly made music.I think the ratio of good to badly produced music has always been about the same.
YC: So he wasn’t really a snob then?
SP: No, not at all.There a german tradition called Karneval which is 4 weeks before easter. It’s a very christian / catholic thing, where everyone dresses funny and gets blind drunk.
There is a certain kind of music which goes with it.Very basic, in a good way.Conny loved the authenticity of it.He recorded Bläck Fööss, who only did carnival music.He really loved this music.
YC: It sounds like German party music… like polka?
SP: Yes. He loved the identity-finding moments, and he liked Europe a lot – the idea of it.Many bands from Europe would come to him and try to record something in English, and he would try to encourage them to sing in their own language.
These bands give identity to a whole country.When my dad had bands recording at our home, we would sit down to eat dinner, and I remember one of the sins was when a band said they wanted to sound like another band. This was not cool.My dad would say you are not born to be a copy.
YC: What would your dad do if a band really wanted to sound like another band in the studio while they were recording?
SP: Conny was very good at figuring out if a band wanted to sound like another band before they came in, and then pre-emptively not work with them.His goal was originality over anything else.
YC: Yes, which is why I like many of the bands your father had worked with – so many original bands. I was surprised at how many of these exceptional bands there were, when I saw the documentary you made.
SP: As a producer, Conny was very ego-less.Many producers have their particular flavour that they give to a band.Conny was called “Mr. Sound”, because his flavour was that the band sound like the band.
He said that every band gets the sound they deserve.My father really loved Prince, and his album Dirty Mind, and one of the musicians who came to the studio said he wanted to sound like Prince.
So my father said, if you want to sound like Prince, you need to sing like Prince. This musician really couldn’t pull of Prince.
YC: What is your job now?
SP: I do management for Nina Hagen and I’m making 2 more films. One is a documentary called The Truth About The Truth.
YC: Sounds cryptic, what’s it about?
SP: In your brain you have two buckets, one which holds information and one which holds truth.There’s a switch in your brain that decides where it goes.If the info gets into the truth bucket, we’ll be able to debate about it.I want to make a documentary about this mechanism that decides this.
YC: How’d you think of this idea?
SP: There’s a german word “zeitgeist”.In a way, this idea has been explored a lot already.Ad companies think they know how to implant the truth in someone’s mind, and I think that it’s interesting to make people more aware that someone is trying to do this.
I am working with Reto Caduff again, and we are currently gathering funds to help make the movie happen. I also have a start up company that I co founded called Re2you and we are trying to liberate people from technology, since Google and Apple sit on top of all the ecosystems.So we want to emancipate people from this.
YC: All that sounds good and I look forward to seeing the new films when they arrive. Thanks for chatting with me!
SP: Thank you!
Thanks for reading, if you have any comments or questions, pose them below!
As a fan of Twin Peaks, and specifically the music the show has produced over the years, Season 3 had me wondering, like many fans, about some of the musical acts that were featured at the Bang Bang Bar (commonly referred to as the Roadhouse). Many of these performers were indie acts, with a few exceptions.
The full list of musical performers who performed at the Bang Bang Bar during Season 3 include: Chromatics, The Cactus Blossoms, Au Revoir Simone, Trouble, Sharon Van Etten, Nine Inch Nails, Hudson Mohawke, Rebekah del Rio, Moby, Lissie, The Veils, Eddie Vedder, and Julee Cruise.
The Twin Peaks Season 3 Soundtrack expands on the above list with many other tracks from the show, with the overall musical effect of the entire track list being that of a tour de force.
The music of Twin Peaks has always been exceptional, with the main theme song written by Angelo Badalamenti even winning a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance back in 1991.
The music of Twin Peaks remains unique. In this article, I had the chance to interview one of the members of Au Revoir Simone, Heather D’Angelo, now a Bang Bang Bar band alum, and ask her about her own personal Twin Peaks experience. (skip to the interview)
But first, a bit of context…
About The Bang Bang Bar (The Roadhouse)
In Twin Peaks Seasons 1 and 2, the Roadhouse was established as a location on the show that fit into the nuanced plot written by David Lynch and Mark Frost, and would tie into the overall arc of the show sporadically, with drama between the shows’ characters playing out there from time to time.
The concept of the “Bang Bang Bar”, as it was referred to as more so in Season 3, was also the show’s musical center in seasons 1 and 2. However, Julee Cruise and her band were the only act we see play there during the first two seasons.
As viewers, we can only assume that Julee Cruise was only one act of many to pass through there, but we never get to see any other acts play. Perhaps this is something Lynch sought to correct in this latest season of Twin Peaks.
During the first two seasons, Julee appears there several times throughout the entire run of the show (including the movie prequel, “Fire Walk With Me”), playing her soft, angelic music juxtaposed against some dark, depraved drama taking place in the plot, creating a juxtaposition of both tranquility mixed with violence – an unsettling combination to be sure.
With the Roadhouse being such a seedy juncture in the Twin Peaks world, the idea of such a pure and unfettered sound of one such as Julee Cruise performing in such a dark place was and still is an unlikely proposition.
Fast forward 25 years…
Enter: Twin Peaks, Season 3
Enter Twin Peaks: Season 3 (The Return), aired in 2017. The plot picks up almost literally 25 years after the finale of Season 2, where Cooper becomes possessed by Bob and delivers his famous line: “How’s Annie?”
This final episode (called “Beyond Life and Death”) to a beloved TV series was not the ending many fans were hoping for, but that’s the way director David Lynch chose to end the show, when this final episode of Season 2 first aired on June 10, 1991.
The reasons for this ending to Season 2 were perplexing to fans, but no less perplexing than the entire run of the show itself up until that point, really.
Still, while hardcore Lynch fans always appreciate a good Lynch-ian twist, more casual (and probably less fanatical for absurdist cinema) fans of the show were left with mild cases of PTSD from watching their beloved Cooper become possessed by the ultimate evil, and then: roll credits.
Perhaps it had something to do with David Lynch not directing the majority of Season 2, and walking away from the show until the final episode, where he comes back with the express purpose to, in his own special way, put an end to the show he started.
As has been reported by various sources (ie. Vanity Fair), David Lynch hates Season 2 more than anyone else could, with the tousle-haired cinematic maverick having been quoted publicly as saying it flat out “sucked”.
Fans would have to wait until 2017 when Season 3 of Twin Peaks finally reached airwaves to see how things would get resolved, and many were likely hopeful that such a gut-wrenching finale would indeed see some sort of satisfying resolution, once Season 3 finally concluded.
Fans of Twin Peaks might have thought a positive outcome to be particularly imminent, considering this was David’s chance to right any directorial and plot-related wrongs done to the show throughout Season 2.
Well, did he? To answer this question would take us well beyond the scope of this article, and so at this time, let’s now return to the topic of…The Bang Bang Bar, and the music we hear there throughout Season 3.
Back To The Bang Bang
One thing that seemingly had not changed much in the world of Twin Peaks was the Bang Bang Bar.
In the world of Twin Peaks: Season 3, it was still the place in Twin Peaks where various seedy drama and nefarious subplots play out. But this time around, we’re treated to a variety of diverse musical acts.
It was as if the Bang Bang Bar was perhaps doing better business these days, busily booking more bands, and becoming an increasingly hipper place to be, which we, the viewers, we privy to seeing who would turn up week to week. For nostalgic fans, Julee Cruise and James Hurley both come back to the Bang Bang Bar to perform.
Otherwise, we were treated to some fresh faces at the good old Twin Peaks Roadhouse.
Cue: Au Revoir Simone, playing their tune, “A Violent Yet Flammable World”, from Season 3: Episode 9.
Au Revoir Simone
Some of the choices for bands who performed at the Bang Bang Bar during the run of Season 3 seemed to be more in line with the world of Twin Peaks that fans know, while other performers were more unexpected.
Au Revoir Simone, who perform on two episodes of the entire Season 3 run of the show , were at once a fitting, and yet somewhat unusual, choice.
Why fitting? Well, here we have, not 1, but 3 silky-voiced chanteuses playing ethereal, melancholic music in a slow, pulsating manner. This is enough, perhaps, to qualify them as a good fit for the rather happening, and yet fictional, venue.
Why unusual? It seems that in the intervening years between Seasons 2 and 3 of Twin Peaks, the always and forever-to-be stuck-in-the-past environs of the show have been forced to admit that yes, even in a seemingly timeless setting, time is passing.
Hence, Au Revoir Simone have their synths in tow, and there is no particular attention drawn to their synthpop nature. Perhaps now Twin Peaks is a world that has caught up to as far as the 1980’s, rather than being a throwback to the ’50’s or ’60’s.
(The interview begins…)
Interview with Heather D’Angelo of Au Revoir Simone
It seems that curiosity got the better of me. I felt the need to reach out to the bands who played at the Bang Bang Bar during the run of Twin Peaks: Season 3, in order to satisfy my fan-boyish urge to know more about these bands, and how they managed to appear on the show.
And so, here is my conversation with Heather D’Angelo, who is one third of Au Revoir Simone, discussing the bands’ appearance on the show and how it all came to pass. Enjoy!
When did you start writing music?
Au Revoir Simone started out as a cover band, actually, working on covers of 80’s and 90’s songs from different genres.We were just doing this for fun, as friends getting together and seeing how it went.
Back in the early 2000’s, we (Annie Hart, Erika Forster, and I) used to jam together, when we were all living in Brooklyn, and decided to form an all-girl keyboard band, since all of us played keyboards and we thought that all of us playing synths would be pretty entertaining. Eventually, each of us was armed with multiple synths – sometimes we’d have 9 going at once!
As far as our covers went, it turned out that our covers were too idiosyncratic to be just covers – they had their own sound – so that gave us the notion to start doing our own songs.And it all began there!
Eventually, we got enough material together for a little EP called Verses of Comfort, Assurance & Salvation.
Weirdly enough, a Japanese label and a British label picked up the EP, but we didn’t get any attention in the US – no one cared.
Funny thing was that the Japanese label had an english name – Rallye, and the English label had a Japanese-sounding name – Moshi Moshi.
Moshi Moshi already were a well known indie label in England at this point, with bands like Hot Chip on their roster.They were the ones that kind of operate on a new level, by saying “Ok, you guys are going to work with this PR company, etc.”, giving us tips on how to be a bit more professional.
So how did these labels come across your music, which then lead to your encounter with David Lynch?
They became aware of us through an indie music blog from the early days of the internet.
My good friend, Matthew Perpetua, is like the godfather of the music blogs.I think he actually had the very first music blog out there on the web in the late 90’s, called Fluxblog. There may have been one other one at the time, as these things tend to pop up in the zeitgeist at around the same time, but he was definitely one of the first.
Fluxblog was very popular for indie music and Moshi Moshi used to read his blog. Matthew used to write about our band when we first started, as he was a big fan of synthpop, and indie acts, and so Moshi Moshi read one of his features on us.
Steven Bass and Michael McClatchey then got a hold of our EP, which, at the time, was something we were screen printing ourselves in Annie’s bedroom and trying to distribute ourselves.
By the time we got to our first actual mature album, The Bird of Music, that was put out by both Rallye and Moshi Moshi, which had proper artwork and distribution.
The Bird of Music is what eventually ended up in the hands of David Lynch in 2007.
How did that come about?
There was a really cool event going on at Barnes & Noble in New York for some time, where they’d promote an author and then pair that author up with a band.
A music supervisor for Barnes & Noble would seek out a band that they felt would match the author, and the author would do a reading from their new book, and a band would play during the reading, or between chapters.It was pretty cool.
The music supervisor at Barnes & Nobles was trying to get us to do one of these events for some time, but it wasn’t working out, as we were always on tour, or the timing just wasn’t right.
But one day the music supervisor called and told us that David Lynch was promoting a new book, at the time, called Catching the Big Fish, and she thought that our music would pair really well with his work.
The book was about meditation, and she thought we could play some of our more dreamy material.
So we said “yeah”, because this time it worked with our schedules, and plus, it sounded really cool, so we did it!
But it wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for David’s sound supervisor, Dean Hurley, hadn’t heard our music, liked it, and passed it on to David, who also liked it.
So, we then met David at the actual Barnes and Noble event, where we played, and he read from his book.
(cue: a short clip from that show in 2007)
This was the beginning of your collaboration…which would have been about 10 years before Twin Peaks: Season 3 aired.
Yes. Back in 2007.
That’s pretty cool that you encountered him that way. His output is very varied, so to connect with him on a book reading is very cool. Were you aware of all of these things that he does at the time? For example, the books, the albums, the artwork, and so forth.
We were aware of him, generally speaking, but we didn’t know just how many things he was involved with.
The event at Barnes & Noble was amazing. That particular location of Barnes & Noble was something else – it was huge, like 4 or 5 storeys, and jam packed with people. Just a massive, massive, MASSIVE building.
And when he was there, it was unbelievable – every floor, just shoulder to shoulder people, all trying to catch a glimpse of him.
For those who weren’t on the top floor, there was kind of a play-by-play being piped through their sound system, like one big listening party, and everyone was there just soaking it up. It was then that we clued in to just how huge his fanbase actually is.
Were you into his stuff prior to this show?
Yeah, I really liked Blue Velvet, and his movies in general, but I wasn’t really a fanatic. Same with Annie and Erika – we just knew of him, as most people do. I had not watched Twin Peaks, though. It just never crossed my radar. I guess I was just too young.
I didn’t catch the show when it came out either, but a friend of mine recommended I watch Twin Peaks when I was in high school, so around ’95, as he thought it would be up my alley, and it was. Had you seen any of his other movies?
Some of them. I saw Mulholland Drive, which I enjoyed, and I was going to watch Inland Empire, but a friend of mine saw it and he was so traumatized by it, I didn’t really feel like watching it.
Yeah, Lynch seems to be very good at making very unsettling films that confuse and disturb people, as well as anticipating peoples’ expectations (especially fans) and then defying them. I couldn’t make it through Inland Empire either! That’s why I was wondering how Season 3 of Twin Peaks was going to turn out, considering his work seemed to be getting progressively more abstract.
Well, we have had the opportunity to collaborate with David several times over the years, since 2007, and so we were getting comfortable trusting his creative and aesthetic choices. For instance, we worked with him on a retrospective he did for his work in Paris at the Foundation Cartier.
(cue: video clip from that exhibition)
(interview…continued) He had rebuilt a setting from Eraserhead at the gallery, and we were to perform in this setting. So, he managed to incorporate our music into this production, and we were like, “Hell yeah!” and so we did it, and it was great!
Another time he invited us to play at Silencio, his private club in Paris. Again, this is a beautiful club with a red-draped stage, and he was gracious enough to invite us into his world, which we have always been more than happy to do.
(cue: Llorando scene, from Mullholand Drive, filmed at Silencio)
(back to the interview…)
Over the years, we’ve remained friends, and would visit him in L.A., checking in from time to time. He’s been very encouraging, incredibly sweet, and a great mentor to us.
Prior to the return of Twin Peaks, he was mentioning it would be good to work on something together, and we thought that would be great, although we weren’t counting on it.
We knew that historically, David has worked with Julee Cruise, Angelo Badalamenti, and so we weren’t really expecting to work on any major projects with him, per se. He seemed to have his inner circle of collaborators, and so we thought it was nice of him to suggest a collaboration, but, again, we weren’t expecting anything.
But then, we got the call from Dean Hurley, David’s longtime musical collaborator, who informed us that David was going to re-launch Twin Peaks, and was seeking out bands to be part of the show, and he was hoping we’d take part. Before we knew it, we’d said “yes” and we were part of the production.
We’d never really worked with David before in terms of being part of one of his movies, and so we didn’t really know what we were in for.
None of Au Revoir Simone were actors, but we flew to L.A., and we arrived at this house, that looked like a community center from the outside, and we found that they had recreated, in minute detail, the Bang Bang Bar. It was like, “Oh my god, I’m in the Roadhouse!” Even though, outside it was hot and sweaty, this set made you believe you were in the Pacific north west, like Washington state. It was insane!
There were extras everywhere, and everyone was dressed up like it was the ’90’s. There were a few other bands there, like the Chromatics, and the Cactus Blossoms, who were playing that day.
We had no idea what was going on. We didn’t know who was playing, or when, or how to dress. We had no guidance of what to wear, which was particularly odd because the fashion of Twin Peaks is so particular. We didn’t know which decade we were supposed to appear to be from. ’80’s? ’90’s? Now? Rock stars, or not? We didn’t know. We decided to just go with a “classic” look.
We knew he was going to ask us to do two of our songs, which we did. It was lip synched. This wasn’t like Saturday Night Live. We performed our songs, it didn’t take too long, and then we left. Time passed, we didn’t hear anything at first. Eventually, we heard from David, and he said “Great job!”, so we thought “Great!”
We were still very confused as to how this would all play out. We still didn’t know if he was going to be using the footage of us playing, or just use our recordings on the soundtrack. Would it be both songs, one song? Just a snippet?
We didn’t see how any of it turned out until the show aired. Eventually, we were told to keep our eyes open for Episodes 4 and 9. We saw it on TV like everyone else.
(cue: band playing their song, “Lark”, from their album, “The Bird of Music”, during Season 3: Episode 4 of Twin Peaks.
(back to the interview…)
For both episodes, I had Twin Peaks’ parties in San Francisco, but I told my friends that if I didn’t show up on screen, not to be surprised. We weren’t promised anything, so then when we did appear, and we had a fair bit of screen time, I was shocked!
Both songs were edited, but that made sense, for the purpose of the episode sequencing. Still, it was entirely a surprise that we even made it on the show at all!
I guess you didn’t get to sit down and watch the “dailies”, huh?
No, we are not from the film industry, so that didn’t even occur to us. There wasn’t even hair and make-up, so how we presented ourselves was completely up to us. Had there been a hair dangling in the wrong spot, I don’t know if David would have brought it up or not. It all happened so fast.
We had been on photo shoots before, where people fussed over our appearance a lot more than this instance. So that’s surprising, that we were now committed to tape for an iconic show like Twin Peaks, which will be seen by our children and children’s children, and we weren’t really prepped in any way for this. I just knew that we were performing, and David was there, behind the camera, capturing every bead of sweat.
Was the lip synching difficult? What kind of direction did he give you?
We weren’t given any direction, so we just tried to channel our best collective Julee Cruise vibe. We had basic instructions as to when to start lip synching, and that was about it.
You were saying there were other bands there at that point?
We saw some of the other bands, but we didn’t really see too many other bands. For the most part, we were just in and out. We heard there was a shoot for the other bands on another day, but we weren’t there for that.
Are any of you particularly influenced by Julee Cruise, what with the hushed, angelic vocals, and all that? Were you told to emulate her in any way for the show?
No, not at all. We are fans of hers, for sure – especially Erika – but there was no mention of us sounding like her, or us trying to sound like her.
Our influences are Stereolab, Bjork, Pavement, Air…Broadcast is a huge influence. I personally am very into Air and Stereolab.
Definitely, I love Pavement.
Are you guys formally trained musically in any way?
No, we’re all self-taught.
How do you come up with your songs, as a band?
We all have input in each others songs, although usually, someone writes a song, initially, and brings it in. That’s when we begin to shape the songs to fit Au Revoir Simone. Nothing is really off limits for discussion, and it ends up being an equal process in the end. No one has more representation in the band – it’s equal parts all three of us.
No creative differences? Wow, nice.
There are differences, but as a trio, there can always be a critical voice if someone is strongly against something, and we like it that way. We can push and pull the songs until we are all happy with the result, but it’s not always easy to come to a consensus. For instance, if someone doesn’t like a bassline, or some other musical element, we talk about it, until we can all agree on something.
How do you feel now that you are on the Lynch fan radar? Do you consider yourself to be on that radar?
Yes, we are aware that his fans are now paying more attention to us, with many of them being very passionate. It’s cool.
And how has that balanced out with your entire fanbase overall?
Well, our old school fans are the best! Like, if ever there’s any sort of hardcore Twin Peaks fans who don’t approve of us for some reason, our old school fans will jump to our defence. It doesn’t happen much, and besides, that’s just how it is on Youtube. People debate all the time. For instance, why did we get picked for the soundtrack and not some other “dreamy” sounding pop band? Maybe someone more like Julee Cruise should have been picked, some might say. All in all, everyone has their own opinion. We encourage discussion, and we appreciate different views.
Fair enough. Did you bump into any other cast members at all while you were there filming? I happened to watch some interview with Kyle MacLachlan, where he said that he didn’t even see any of the show until it was on the air, or really knew what was going to happen overall? Kind of amazing, since he was basically the show’s star.
It doesn’t surprise me. There’s an element of secrecy to all of this. Plus, I think that everything was shot individually. We didn’t really interact with the cast very much.
Did you talk to Mark Frost (Twin Peaks co-creator) at all?
No, I didn’t.
So you never read any of this Twin Peaks books – The Final Dossier or The Secret History of Twin Peaks?
No, I’ve just heard of them. Haven’t read them yet.
They’re interesting, if you are into the sort of “bigger picture” of Twin Peaks, and the mythology and sort of subterfuge that goes into the show. They act as companion pieces, and they’re really cool if a fan wants to dive deeper into that world, as they let you in on some of the more secretive elements. For any fans out there, I’d totally recommend them! But anyway, what happened after Season 3 wrapped up. What changed for Au Revoir Simone?
I have seen David twice since the show aired. One at the Festival of Disruption in Brooklyn, and another time back in L.A., after Season 3 had aired. When I saw him last, I had just watched all of the episodes of Season 3 and I had a million questions that I wanted to ask him. So it was hard to not geek out on Twin Peaks and ask him lots of questions. I did get a few things out of him, but generally, we didn’t talk about that much.
I did, however, mention to him how much I loved Episode 8, as it was so groundbreaking and probably the best thing to be aired on television ever. I had a chance to dork out with Dean Hurley, but he really doesn’t have the inside scoop on Twin Peaks either. No one but David and Mark know the whole story. It’s always fun to speculate, though.
How did you feel about the ending of Season 3?
I liked it. I am a fan of cliffhangers, though. Besides, if you expect anything by David to wrap up with a neat little bow, you’ll probably be disappointed. So I didn’t expect the show to end in any neat and tidy way. Which it didn’t.
In this article, I chat with my friend Bryan Rogers, self identified ex-mod, about his time growing up in and around the music of London, England, in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, where he experienced the birth of rock ‘n roll in the UK first hand. This was before Beatlemania, so pre-1963…
Bryan Rogers was born on the 10th December, 1940, in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England.
Here he is around age 2.
These were the pre-British Invasion days, and Bryan was there in person as bands like The Beatles, The Stones, and many more started playing small dance halls and theatres in and around London, before heading off to America to make it big.
Venues like the Locarno Ballroom in Swindon, the Lyceum in London, McIlroys in Swindon, The Locomotive Pub, Farr’s, Gaumont State Kilburn Ballroom, and so forth…these were places that Bryan would frequent to listen to these rock ‘n roll groups, whether they played live, or a DJ was there playing records so the teens could boogie-woogie, as it were.
All this was happening around the same time that American rock legends like Bill Haley and the Comets, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and many others were coming over to the United Kingdom to find new fans in the youth of England, and influencing those British bands who would later “invade” America.
In speaking with Bryan over the years, I’d heard tell of his adventures in and around jolly old England (particularly London), seeing all of these bands and having some first hand encounters with a few of them.
Finally, I had a chance to sit down with Bryan Rogers, and chat with him on the topic of early rock ‘n roll in England in the early 1960’s, and what all went down back then – the way it was.
Bryan is, by nature, a curious cat, and usually cats live perilous lives, but this cat has fortunately survived to relate his tale to me, who was very interested to hear about his (mis)adventures and dirty deeds over across the pond.
Hope you all enjoy our chat, and if you have any comments or stories of your own, please leave them below!
On 50’s music and the 1960 British pop music charts
Bryan: So back in the ’50’s, it was mundane music compared to what it is today, like Doris Day and Frankie Laine …for Chrissakes!
And then there was The Shadows, who were the back-up group for Cliff Richards…they recorded a tune on their own called “Apache”, which was a knock off of an American group.
Anthony Newly was another English film star who became a singer, and then there’s Shirley Bassey…
Who else we got here? <scanning the pop music chart from 1960> Roy Orbison’s in there with “Only The Lonely”.
Presley started to pop up around then too. Lonnie Donegan, Emile Ford and the Checkmates.Cliff Richards and the Shadows again, yeah.The Everly Brothers…these people are slowly coming on…yeah, these are the British, not the American charts, mind you.
And then there was people like Tommy Steele, who wanted to be American, like Elvis Presley, but he never was.
YTMS: Tommy Steele, never heard of him.Was he really famous?
Bryan: In England, he was…he was on a merchant ship, and he learned how to the play the guitar, so he sung a few songs…became a big hit.Because people like Bob Dylan were on the go, right?
YTMS: So he was a troubadour kind of guy?
Bryan: He was a folk singer…
YTMS: Big changes in music between 1960 and 1970…
Bryan: Yeah, the whole British Invasion happened.The Animals, Freddy and the Dreamers, The Kinks, and all those groups.I think The Animals come from Newcastle…
Seeing Rock Bands in the Early 1960’s (Pre-Beatlemania)
YTMS: When you were growing up over there in England, you saw a lot of these groups when they first came up?
Bryan: Yes, at the local dance hall, on a Saturday, they’d come and play, and we’d dance to them.
YTMS: What was the place called?
Bryan: The Locarno Ballroom, in Swindon.
YTMS: How big was it?
Bryan: Probably …
YTMS: 1000 people or so?
Bryan: Yeah.I’d also go to the Lyceum Theatre, in London, just off the Strand, in the center of London.It was all mainly records there.
YTMS: Just records?
Bryan: DJ’s, yeah.
YTMS: Any bands there?
YTMS: Ah, it was just a dance club, not really a venue for live bands to play.
YTMS: So where did you start seeing actual bands play, and when?
Bryan: Most of the people from that time, most of the bands…like The Undertakers, that was one of ’em…because of the success of The Beatles and The Stones, bands started coming around to the dance halls to play.
Some of these groups found success, like Freddy and the Dreamers.. I didn’t really like them, but there you go. Uh, who else?There was the Dave Clarke Five.
YTMS: They were a rock group?
Bryan: Yeah. “Bits and Pieces” was one of their songs. <sings a snippit of the song> “Glad All Over” was another one of their hits.They come from Tottenham area of London.
YTMS: So they played at the Locarno?
Bryan: No, but I saw them play in Tottenham.
YTMS: You’d travel around to see bands play?
Bryan: Oh yeah.When I was livin’ in London, I had a scooter, and I’d tour around to the different city halls, dance halls…
YTMS: How far would you go to see a group?
Bryan: Half way across London.
Bryan: Yeah, and London’s a big place.
YTMS: Just scoot on over?
Bryan: Yeah, Seven Sisters Road… just down the road from the stadium, there was a pub on the corner… at the pub, they’d have these dances, play all these pop songs…
YTMS: You were big on the clubs at the time around there?You and your friends?
Bryan: Yeah…we’d hang out at Baker Street, which is in the book about Sherlock Holmes.22B Baker Street.
I used to go to a club called Farr’s.F A double R apostrophe S, Farr’s.We were about 14 or 15 then.So we’d go there, and we used to have tailor-made suits.
Bryan: Ok, here’s the scoop.My friend Dennis and me.. Dennis lived down the road from me.. and he says, “Bryan, do ya want a job?”Paperboy…I said “Sure.”We had to walk two miles up the road, to this place called Ellington’s.We go straight up Carlton Vale, and if you’d continue up Carlton Vale, at the end is a T junction, and that’s Abbey Road.THE Abbey Road.
So, prior to coming to Abbey Road, on Carlton Vale, we turn right on Maida Vale I believe it was, and we’d walk along there, and turn left, across from Maida Vale underground, and there was Ellington’s.So, we were paid to mark up the papers, like, everybody in England had the morning paper.We’d get the address for some apartment building, or “mansions” as we called ’em, take a Daily Mirror paper and a Women’s Own magazine, put them together, write the address down, fold them, put them aside, and a paper boy or girl would come and take them.
So we used to mark up the paper rounds, and we also had a round of our own.Now, let’s put it in dollars, it’ll be easier to understand.They were pre-paid, say, 50 cents a week to deliver papers…
Bryan: Dennis and I would get, say, 3 dollars a week to mark up the papers every morning to deliver a round, and our own round as well.A suit back then, it used to be guineas, would be, say, around about 17 dollars for a tailor made suit.So we were makin’ 3 bucks… what do you think we’d spend our money on?Sharp linen.So when we’re 14, we’d save our money.And another thing, we’d have a con game going.We’d go around to all these different apartment buildings, or mansions, that we knew were the other paper boys’ routes… knock on the door every Christmas, tell ’em we were the paper boy…
Bryan: …and they would give us a tip.Maybe 50 cents or a dollar.
YTMS:That’s pretty good…
Bryan: So that used to go towards our suit fund.Twice a year we’d have tailor-made suits!
YTMS: You bought more than one I guess…had a whole wardrobe full of ’em?
Bryan: Yeah.Dennis had some overcoats made, but I never got those.
On Becoming A Mod
YTMS: What were you guys like you called?
Bryan: Mods.We had the short hair.
YTMS: You were trying to be a mod on purpose?
Bryan: We never thought about it at the time, but yeah.We’d pick up some shoes, they were tapered.Pointy, tapered shoes.Fake crocodile skin…We had flared trousers…
Bryan: …with a little slit on the side at the bottom.And maybe 2 or 3 covered buttons going up the seam on our jackets.Single or double breasted, covered buttons, as well.
YTMS: Hm…This is what it was like to be a mod.Any other defining characteristics?
Bryan: We had short jackets.
YTMS: Does that mean you were cool?
Bryan: Yeah, we were with it.
Bryan: No, no, no.We had our own little clan, and we’d gyrate together, at these dance halls.
YTMS: Yeah, yeah.
Bryan: Now, if there’s any “teddy boys” around, or “rockers”…
YTMS: Is that what the other guys were called?
Bryan:Yes. Now, they wore jackets down to their knees…black velvet collars…and had really tight jeans on.And they had these boots called “chukka boots”.They used to have crimped soles about that thick <gestures>, black or dark blue.
Bryan: So imagine – big pairs of boots and long jacket <laughs> with hair down back, like Presley, you know.. a D.A. .. Tony Curtis, you know.. film star.. he had that down there, and that was called a duck’s ass.Parted down the middle, it all come down.. <gestures> and then a quiff over here <gestures>…So they were teddy boys, yeah.And if we ever met… it was a punch up.Sometimes, we’d get on our scooters, and we’d drive down to Bornemouth or Brighton..south end, that’s on the coast…and we see any rockers, it them or us.. we’d go for it.. like Quadrophelia.
YTMS: Did you go looking for ’em?
YTMS: Were you worried about seeing them?
Bryan: No, there was usually more of us than them.
YTMS: Were there a lot of fights?
Bryan: Just now and again, not that often.
YTMS: People get stabbed?
Bryan: No, no. But, prior to that, the teddy boys…they used to have razor blades, put them in their collar, or in their hat.That was their weapon of choice – a razor.
YTMS: Sounds dangerous…
Bryan. So I come in at the end of the teddy boy era, basically, and at the beginning of the mod era.Which was good…I prefer to dress smart than scruffy with messy hair.
YTMS: Did that work better with the birds?
Bryan: The birds, yeah…
YTMS: Did the girls like rockers or mods better?
Bryan: The mod girls liked the mod boys and same with the rockers.You could tell by looking at somebody who was who.
YTMS: Did mods and rockers ever get together.
Bryan: Probably…well… I doubt it.
YTMS: So for bands at that time, who did you see?
Bryan: Prior to going down to the town Swindon where the Locarno was, I told you before I went to the Gaumont State Kilburn.It could hold 4000 people.
Guy Mitchell was in that early list here <from the 1960 hit parade>.Singin’ the blues, we went and saw him.When I was a young kid, every time I’d go by this theatre, I’d see Louie Armstrong would be advertised, Ella Fitzgerald, all the jazz people, yeah.
YTMS: Did you check them out?
Bryan: No, we were too young.Maybe 10 or 11.
YTMS: Not interested?
Bryan: No.And then we went up and we saw Guy Mitchell.We went and saw Bill Haley.I’ve told you this in the past.
Barging In On The Platters
And then, we saw The Platters.You’ve heard of them?
Bryan: So we said, let’s see if we can get in backstage and see them. Well, lo and behold, the first door we tried – it opened.You don’t usually… We pushed on the door and it opened.As we walked in, The Platters were there, as close as you are…there they were!I thought the girl was pretty.
They stood and looked at us, we stood and looked at them.Nobody said a word.Then somebody goes, “Hey, what the f*** you doin’ here, get the f*** out of here!And we were gone!
But…not only did they have this little stage at the state theatre, but they had this little dance area…and Gene Vincent came in…and he sung there.Be Bop A Lula.And that was another person who I told you before that you are aware of…The Beatles liked him.They all followed these guys.
YTMS: This is pre-Beatlemania?’62?
Bryan: Maybe a little before that.
YTMS: Did you ever end up seeing those big British bands.The Beatles, The Who?
Seeing The Beatles
Bryan: No, never followed The Who.I saw The Beatles and The Stones in Swindon. It was like an Eaton’s store, and they had a restaurant on the second floor…and on a Monday night, they used to have groups there.Or lone singers…and this was prior to The Beatles becoming famous, they were there…The Rolling Stones another week.Long John Baldry was there. He was there, he was talking to this guy, he had a woman with him, and I was there with my friend Dave…and we could hear everything they were saying, we were standing by the bar…
YTMS: Didn’t you tell me some weird story about this guy?
Bryan: Yes, I did.So after a long conversation, this guy says to Long John Baldry, “Who’s the girl?” and Long John Baldry turns to the girl and says, “What’s your name again?”<laughter> So, all these singers at the time, they all knew one another… they used to meet up.Elton John got his name…it’s allegedly said… they were lovers, Elton John and Long John Baldry.I heard this many years later, on the radio.. and…they split up, Long John Baldry dumped Elton John.. his real name was something like “Jimmy”…
Bryan: Reggie something-or-other, yeah yeah…so, he changed his name, and because he liked Long John Baldry, he called himself John…this is the rumour, anyway…where he got Elton from, I don’t know…but it’s been successful for him.
Long John Baldry Reuinion (Many Years Later)
Bryan: So, fast forward to a few years ago in Cambridge. There was a bar over by Soper Park and Highway 8.There was a little blues bar in there.
YTMS: The Cave?
Bryan: No, that little plaza with the pizza place.Around the corner, they had a blues bar.And Martin says to me, cause he was workin’ there…he says, “Dad, come, Long John Baldry’s here! Why don’t you come and see him?” So I went and saw him…he had this hat on, he always had this thing for a hat… and long hair now…When he was at Swindon, he wasn’t wearing a hat when he was talking to that guy and that gal, and he had short hair…blonde hair…he was a tall guy, about 6’4″, maybe taller. That’s why they called him Long John, I guess.He was in this blues bar here and Cambridge and I went to see him…And, as he walked towards the dressing room I went to speak to him…
YTMS: He didn’t remember you, did he?
Bryan: No, no…I just wanted to say “Hey, I saw you in Swindon!”, but he just poo-poo’d me away and went into the dressing room. So Martin spoke to him after the band were done for the night. He said “Yeah, I remember Swindon, yeah” But I didn’t know he was gay ’til Martin mentioned it.
Bryan: I had no f***** idea.
YTMS: He came to Cambridge (Ontario)?
Bryan: Yeah, he came and sung in that bar.
Bryan: To me it’s the end of the road if you’re singin’ there.But, he was known by a lot of people.
YTMS: Yeah, he was famous.
Bryan: Yeah…I’ve got all these books here about all these different musical groups, and now and again they’ll cross paths.
McIlroy’s in Swindon
YTMS: So what was that place that was in Swindon, the restaurant?
Bryan: Yeah, on Monday nights it was a dance club, and during the day, a restaurant. One night, we saw Jerry and the Pacemakers.The place was called McIlroy’s.
YTMS: Was this a cool place to play?
Bryan: Yeah, and it probably held about 500 people.And a lot of the performers came there just when they were getting famous, or prior to.
YTMS: The Stones played there?
Bryan: Yep. This was before they were locked in a room and told not to come out before you write a f***** hit song.
Bryan: If you look up McIlroy’s in Swindon, you’ll see some of the flyers of the Beatles and the Stones.
YTMS: You were allowed in to this place, at 14, 15?
Bryan: Yeah, there was no booze.Actually, maybe there was.You used to be able to drink at the Locarno.I was 19 or 20 then.But you could drink when you were 16…there were no drugs back then.No one talked about them, and they didn’t even really exist to us.The only people doing drugs were the groups – the Beatles and the Stones.In the circle of people I moved with within London, and within Swindon, we didn’t do drugs.We didn’t have a clue.
YTMS: Probably for the best…
Bryan: I remember…I used to hang out with a guy named Eric Heaton.We eventually had an apartment between us, and had all the birds over.We had a friend, Willie, who used to hang out at Locomotive pub in Swindon.
Eric used to go there more than I did.One time, we finished drinking in there, they closed the bar.Willie says “Come on boys, let’s go back to my place and have some carrot wine.” “No,” i said…I’d had some of my mother’s homemade wine, knocks the s*** right outta ya. “No, no,” he says, laughing like a crazy Irishman. So we go back to his place and have some carrot wine, on top of all the beer we drank.Then we staggered up the hill, until we got to the flat we were livin’ in.I laid on the bed, and the f***** room was goin’ round and round.Then I had to throw up, so I fell off the bed, got on my hands and knees, and crawled round to the bathroom.Oh, that carrot wine!
YTMS: I never heard of carrot wine.
Bryan: Brutal.So those groups back then, we’d watch them, and after a while we’d dance to them.They were pretty cool.
YTMS: Were you a fan of the American bands when they came to England?
Bryan: We might have seen a few of them.
Jerry Lee Lewis – No Encore?
YTMS: Didn’t you say you saw Buddy Holly?
Bryan: Buddy Holly was when I lived in London, and went to the Gaumont State Kilburn.
Like I said, the first guy we saw was Guy Mitchell. “Singing The Blues” – that was his big hit song.After that, it was Bill Haley and the Comets, and then Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and then there was Jerry Lee Lewis. I checked on this – he only sung in three concerts, and that was it.
YTMS: In the UK?
Bryan: Yeah, the press gave him a hard time, cause he had married his 13-year-old cousin. But I read many years ago in about 1980, in the Penthouse or Playboy, I was reading that, and here’s an article on Jerry Lee Lewis, and then there was a paragraph about Jerry Lee singing at the State Kilburn, and it said we boo’ed him off the stage, because he married his 13-year-old cousin.It wasn’t because of that.We listened to him…he did his bit, and here’s the reason why we boo’ed him…
Bryan: Why do you think?
YTMS: He sucked?
Bryan: No, he was fabulous.It was because he left the stage, and wouldn’t come back and do an encore.NO ENCORE.And another guy that would not play an encore was Roy Orbison. When I used to ride my scooter around London with my pals, we’d see tour posters with Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers…
But you know, they were the best of times, the 60’s, and all those groups.There wasn’t 1 group, or 2 groups…we used to have parties at my house, with my parents.
After the British Legion closed on a Saturday night, people come over and we’d play records like Little Eva “Locomotion”, The Beatles, The Stones, and whoever else was popular at the time.
They were good parties, they really were, and then we’d sit around and play cards afterwards, drinkin’ my mothers’ home made wine.Then I’d get up and say “Holy f***!It’s broad daylight!” and everybody’d be gone…
And so concluded my chat with ex-mod Bryan Rogers. Stay tuned, we may yet chat again!
History can be a hard thing to discuss, because, inevitably, you probably weren’t there to see the events unfold as they did.
This is especially true when we’re talking about the history of one particular musical instrument with a somewhat checkered past – the banjo.
The banjo, as we know it, dates back 400 or so years to the Carribean in the 1600’s, when and where it was first documented.
By documented, I am referring to the only way anything way typically was documented centuries before now, and that is to say – in books, by way of either sketches or more detailed drawings, since cameras weren’t yet invented.
Sir Hans Sloane – First Documented Picture of a Banjo
For instance, here is an image taken from a travel journal from 1707 by Sir Hans Sloane, called “A Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica”.
This shows the first documented image of what appears to be a banjo, or something like it, in the Carribean isles.
It should be noted that the book from which this picture was taken, was based on events that occurred in 1687, and then transcribed into book form in the 1700’s.
Sir Hans Sloane was a noted Irish physician, and his purpose in the Carribean was to assist the new Governor of Jamaica, the second Duke of Albemarle, as his personal physician.
While visiting the islands, he collected plants for study and also documented other things. He also invented drinkable chocolate (chocolate milk), so you have him to thank for that, apparently.
As you can see from the drawings in his documents of the islands around Jamaica, these “banjos”, as it were, didn’t really resemble the banjos of today. This is because they weren’t, strictly speaking, banjos.
These instruments were, at the time of documentation by Hans Sloane, considered to be simply the instruments the peoples of the Carribean were playing at the time, and in the text you can see them referred to as “lutes”.
One of the defining characteristics of a banjo, which is present in the above example, is the drum-like body.
I should mention that, around this time in history (mid-1600’s), there were dozens of variations of stringed instruments that all appeared slightly different.
With the increasingly large migration patterns of people in 1600’s, it was certainly a difficult task to document what each was called, and what unique traits each one possessed.
Stringed instruments themselves date back 40 000 years, so it’s not as though stringed instruments themselves were new. Humans have been playing stringed instruments for thousands of years.
Plucked lutes, in particular, have been documented in Mesopotamia from around 6000 years ago.
Today the word banjo is loosely defined as: A stringed musical instrument (chordophone) with a round body, a membrane like soundboard and a fretted neck, played by plucking or strumming the strings.
The origin of the word “banjo” can be traced back to several places, including “banja” from Jamaica, “banza” from Brazil, and mbanza from Angola.
I’ve also seen the word “banjo”, used as a verb, meaning “to beat” or “to hit”. As in, “He banjoed that guy in the face.” This usage is, apparently, of British decent. I don’t believe it is commonly used nowadays, but only the Brits know this for sure.
Where Did The Banjo Instrument Originally Come From?
Although the first documented picture of what could be considered a banjo dates back to the 1600’s in the Carribean islands (ie.(the one at the top of this article), this doesn’t mean banjos were “invented” in the Carribean.
Again, if we define a banjo as a stringed instrument with several strings and a drum-like surface, we can trace its origins back even further, and to other continents.
There are many popular perceptions surrounding precisely where the banjo originated, and there are logical reasons for each of these presumptions.
For example, most people who live in North America don’t think first of the Carribean as the birthplace of the banjo. To some of us living in North America, suggesting that the banjo came from the Carribean doesn’t really sound accurate, and I think this is understandable.
The more dominant association that Westerners, I think, tend to recognize between the banjo and a particular geographic location, links the banjo, at least in the Westernized mind, to the southern United States.
This is a fair guess, as much of the lore, not to mention the majority of the popular media from the past 50 years, associates the banjo with styles of music that originated in the southern U.S., such as bluegrass, dixieland, and country music.
In addition, southern banjo players have been prominently been featured on various television shows and movies over the past 50 or so years, and that leads many of us to simply assume that banjo must come from the southern U.S., not the Carribean, as most research points to quite clearly.
Indeed, I’d say that there is a deep association between the instrument we call the “banjo” and states in the U.S. which are considered to be Appalachian.
Appalachian states include: West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
In turn, the history of Appalachian culture traces back to Scotland, Ireland, and Germany, when those peoples moved to North America and began living there in the 1800’s. And so, there are those who might guess that the banjo may have come from these countries, originally.
For example, it would seem fairly logical to think that the banjo may have come from Ireland, where the banjo is still popular today, when Irish peoples migrated into the mysterious and mountainous Appalachian rural regions, when the potato famine and general starvation prompted them to leave their homeland.
As many of us are aware, there are various stigmas attached to the idea of the someone who is from Appalachia, both good and bad, which I need not elaborate on here.
Suffice it to say, Appalachian peoples are considered to be of the land, and there is certainly a connotation that links banjo playing to a more rural type of folk.
In other words, an impoverished people, and this is fact is very much line with the reputation of previous peoples who played the banjo in past decades, where they were of a lower caste.
Here is that famous scene from the movie Deliverance, featuring the classic “dueling banjos” bit, although one “banjo” is clearly a guitar.
The interesting thing about the boy from Deliverance, Lonnie, who was presumably chosen for this unusual appearance (the book depicts an albino negro), is that he didn’t even know how to play the banjo, nor was he recruited from the backwoods of northern Georgia.
This next clip interviews the “boy” himself (now in his 50’s), played by Billy Redden, where he talks more about his role in the movie and his lack of skill on the instrument.
The clip also includes an interview with Ronny Cox (who played Drew Ballinger) talking about the cultural significance of the famous banjo scene, as being one of the defining movie moments of all time.
As more research is done about the history of the banjo, an interesting but rather dark narrative began to emerge from the gloaming of the past.
All that is needed to put this in perspective is a proper view of history and the slave trade in the 1600’s, which historians, by this point, have illustrated rather conclusively, to the point where any educated person would have trouble refuting it.
When it comes to the banjo’s true origins, all research points to it originating from Africa. Specifically, countries such as Senegal or The Gambia (ie. Senegambia), which were the focus of the slave trade.
The original picture which I shared at the beginning of this article, from 1707, shows a version of the banjo that does not yet appear in its modern form.
Banjos made from gourds
When the banjo was beginning to catch on in the Carribean, it still showed some evidence of its past where it was fashioned sometimes out of gourds, serving as a shell for the body. This was then attached to its characteristic long neck, and strings were added.
Before banjos took on the appearance we know them to have today, with a circular body shaped that almost looks like a snare drum, their precursors from Africa were often made from different materials than were available in the Americas in later centuries.
Here is a reproduction of a colonial era banjo made with a gourd for a body. As you can see, this has influences of a style of instrument popular in Africa over the centuries. At the same time, you can see how this instrument below does have characteristics of the modern banjo.
Next, we have an image of a banjo that seems to bridge the gap, between a banjo body made out of a gourd, and one that more resembles a wider circular drum.
Even though it still has a primitive look, like it wasn’t “professionally” built, this banjo begins to take on a more “modern” shape.
The image most of us conjure up when someone says the word “banjo”, was not yet in existence in 1707, and wouldn’t be for at least 100 years.
Here is an old banjo from the 1900’s. By this time, banjos were fully Americanized, one might say. It has the modern fretboard, the modern tuning pegs, and the unmistakable body and neck shape.
To reach its modern form, history would have to wait until the late, great, and controversial Joel Sweeney came along in the 1830’s and “invented” it, or so it has been said.
Joel Sweeney, “Inventor” of the 5-String Banjo
Joel Walker Sweeney was a popular minstrel performer from the first half of the 19th century hailing from Virginia, who was perhaps the first popular white man to famously play the instrument. At the same time, he was said to have been taught by African Americans, which is partly why he could play so good.
Joel Sweeney has been credited with raising the profile of the banjo from an instrument associated with the unwashed masses, and bring it up to a level of sophistication which could be eventually be accepted, and then firmly embraced by the middle class.
Claiming that Joel Sweeney somehow single handedly raised the stature of banjo playing on a global level is almost too ludicrous to say, but it may in fact ultimately be true.
The reason the claim is contentious, is because Joel Sweeney was not just a talented performer who ended up making the banjo more famous because of his adept abilities on the instrument. He certainly was that, but that was only part of how Joel Sweeney shined the spotlight on the banjo, and “brought it” to the higher societal castes, as it were.
Here is a book on Joel Walker Sweeney, if you are interested in getting the full story on the man and what he did for the banjo.
The Birth Of The Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney And Early Minstrelsy
It is more accurate to say, I think, that Joel Sweeney was a multi-talented circus performer who, according to rumour, played the instrument with his feet, while fiddlin’ with his hands, and then playing mouth harp all at the same time, when the mood hit him.
He was also highly skilled at imitating animals, as one of his primary talents for which he was known. Basically, the guy was just a son of a gun who was, by all accounts, very entertaining to everyone who happened to catch his performances.
His influence spread as he and his troupe toured America, as well as Europe, and even played for Queen Victoria in 1843. He then went on and played and showed off his formidable banjo playing skills with his brothers, called Old Joe’s Minstrels.
Joel Sweeney’s influence on the popularity of the banjo cannot be underestimated.
The controversy, which occurs more in retrospect than it did at the time it happened, comes now from the fact that Joel was a blackface performer, a practice which is now practically forbidden in Western society today.
To be specific, blackface is the theatrical practice where non-black performers painted themselves up to look “black” with greasepaint, burnt cork, or shoe polish.
The last time we saw people performing in blackface wasn’t all that long ago. One more recent instance was The Black and White Minstrel Show from 1978.
Consider this – slavery didn’t end until 1865, with the introduction of the 13th Amendment, which declares: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Of course, it is not difficult to see the connection between the racial stereotypes that blackface seemed to promote, and the mistreatment of blacks through the centuries. In fact, the idea of the old style minstrel show, complete with blackface, is a quick reminder to many people, to this day, of the existence of slavery, and various caricatures of black culture.
Of course, where you had minstrel shows in the 17th century, onward, you had blackface, and so then you had banjos. Banjos, the instrument which was beginning to see acceptance worldwide, and detaching itself from various prejudices of the times, was still very much embroiled in what I can only call “racism”.
It is understood that, in the context of the times, minstrel shows were quite normal. Then again, so was slavery.
Perhaps the most famous blackface performer people know today is Al Jolson, who was the highest paid entertainer back in the 1920’s and was, at the time, proclaimed “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” at one time.
Al Jolson, although he didn’t play the banjo himself, helped popularize one of the most well known banjo songs ever – Oh Susanna.
To me, this song represents, in large part, why the banjo is thought to come from the southern U.S., as the lyrics reflect this, and the song is maybe the best known banjo tune of all time.
As you can see above, Al Jolson used blackface makeup, which he often did.
This practice of blackface dated back to, reportedly, the 1400’s, but had become very popular in colonial America at the time in the 1800’s. There are many pictures of blackface performers holding or playing banjos.
The association between minstrels wearing blackface makeup and the banjo itself is a strong one, but I don’t say this to indict the banjo as being part of the history of racism, even though it essentially is a part of that history. That said, you can’t really “blame” an instrument for anything, can you?
Of course, there’s no denying that the banjo probably wouldn’t have made it to the Carribean, to be used by slaves in the Americas, had it not been brought across the seas along with the thousands of slaves who played similar instruments, and who were sold to slavers at the time, in the 1600’s, when the trade was in full swing.
It is worth mentioning that at this time, the banjo was not called a “banjo.” I mentioned some of the other names of the banjo that were used previously, but, back in 1687, when Sir Hans Sloane was travelling in the Carribean, writing his now-famous journals, he referred to the instrument as the “strum strump”. Nice name!
In these African communities in Senegambia, from which slaves were being captured and brought to the Americas by the thousands, there was (and still is) an instrument known as the akonting, which is said to be the precursor to the modern banjo.
Other African instruments said to be precursors of the banjo include the ngoni and xalam, but for now I’ll focus on the akonting, a hide-covered instrument said to be the most similar to the banjo.
The akonting (also known as the ekonting to the Jola tribes who first created them) is a strummed folk lute style of instrument which is similar to a banjo, traditionally made with a gourd for a body, along with two strings for melody, plus one drone string played with the thumb. This makes the akonting similar to a 5-string banjo.
The akonting can be traced back to the village of Kanjanka, Senegal. It can be tuned in different ways, similar to a 5-string banjo, and its tuning, called kanjanka, equates to kan (5th note of a scale), jan (root note of a scale), and ka (the flatted 7th), or 5/1/-7.
Here is a picture of a Jola village, the originators of the akonting / ekonting instrument.
Up next, we have a man named Daniel Jatta, playing a tune written by his father on the akonting in the traditional style.
The downstroke style here, called “o’teck” or “to strike”, is very similar in style to the very first banjo styles in the Americas, the “stroke style”, which was a precursor to the clawhammer or frailing style.
While all of this seems very plausible, that the akonting was brought over to the Americas by slaves, and that is the instrument upon which the modern banjo was based, there is still some controversy around this topic, making it unclear at which point exactly what happened during those harrowing years when the slaves were brought to the Americas.
Banjos on the Plantations
By 1807, there were over 3 million African slaves in the Americas, where they harvested crops like tobacco, sugar, and cotton.
Once the slaves were living in the Americas, they lived on the plantations, worked, and, above all else, suffered. For a more detailed history of what this was like, go here.
As much as the African slaves suffered, their music never left them, and they looked for opportunities to express it, as anyone would.
Although they basically were brought here with nothing, the African slaves were eventually able to have some small respite from their masters, at first through the singing of gospel music, which is something that was impossible to take from them completely and helped them cope.
Then, if they were able, they would produce the occasional musical instrument that they were able to build by hand.
This is where their memories of their favourite native African instruments came back to them, and they were able to make these banjo-esque instruments, in order to accompany their singing, and put voice to their struggle.
That is, if their cruel slave masters allowed it. Some plantation owners certainly did not accommodate their wishes, regardless of how modest they were.
Here is a recent “lynching memorial” erected in Montgomery, Alabama.
In the midst of the tumult that was America in the 1800’s, due to slavery, wars, and other factors, a Baltimore man named William Boucher was busy building instruments, including drums and minstrel banjos. He was the first ever commercial maker of banjos in the U.S.A.
Here is a video which shows a replica of a Boucher banjo being played. Not surprisingly, there’s a little Oh Susanna thrown in for good measure.
You can still purchase original builds of these banjos, although they will can cost upwards of $10 000 nowadays.
While there is plenty more to say about the development of the banjo up through the years, I think it’s alright to stop here.
As we know, the banjo went on to become an instrument that is a major part of the broader musical landscape around the world.
Despite its confusing and controversial history, I can say that in 2018, if a young person wants to learn the banjo, they can do so without having to ponder all of the heavier historical baggage that comes along with it and just enjoy the music.
That said, sweeping history under the rug is never a wise thing to do, especially when we know some of the facts.
No wave is a genre of music and art that came about in 1977 in the Upper East Side of New York City.
Taking some inspiration from jazz and post-punk, it has otherwise turned its back on most conventional genres of music to instead produce its own distinct sound of dissonance, disharmony and nihilism.
We’ve written about it before, in a previous article called the No Wave Moment.
However, in this article, and in no particular order, we’ll discuss the 10 most prominent and influential bands and artists of no wave that have contributed to the movement.
James Chance and the Contortions
James Chance is a saxophonist, keyboardist and singer from Wisconsin, and a key figure in the no wave movement.
Chance was educated first at Michigan State University, and then at Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. While attending school, he joined a cover band called Death, performing covers of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges.
After this band dissolved, however, he moved to New York City and began taking part in the no wave scene, as well as experimenting with free-form jazz.
He created the no wave band James Chance and the Contortions in 1977. Their first ever recording was on Brian Eno’s compilation album “No New York”, released in 1978.
Their debut album “Buy” was released in 1979. It was said by the music website All About Jazz that “through the anger and aggression Chance made a solid record that had a sound nothing before or since.”
They released another album, “Off White”, in 1980, under the name James White and the Blacks. Below you can listen to the full album “Buy”.
What is unique about James Chance is that, unlike some other artists of the no wave movement, he expects and demands a certain instrumental skill-level in himself and his band members, elevating his band in certain respects.
Their music is erratic, spontaneous, and jazz-like but distinctly different from jazz. However, it is easy to see that James Chance was largely inspired by jazz, as any saxophonist often is.
Teenage Jesus and the Jerks
Teenage Jesus and the Jerks formed in New York City and helped to create the no wave movement.
It started when poet and musician Lydia Lunch met James Chance in the popular New York music club CBGB (standing for Country, Blue Grass and Blues). They began living together as roommates.
At this time, Lunch was experimenting with her poetry and acoustic guitar. Being inspired by the New York City rock band known as Mars (who is number 9 on this list of no wave artists), Lunch decided she wanted to start a band. She first recruited Reck as a drummer and bass player. Other band members included James Chance and Bradley Field.
Teenage Jesus and the Jerks were also featured on Brian Eno’s album No New York in 1978.
Although the group was not together long, disbanding at the end of 1979, they still released several recorded albums and singles, and had great influence on the no wave music of the time.
All the songs they recorded were later compiled onto the 1995 album “Everything”. Their music has an intense, slightly angry sound, with repetitive guitar rhythms and unique twists and turns of the music that keep you on edge the whole time you’re listening.
Lunch’s singing is droning and loud throughout the music.
Teenage Jesus and the Jerks were mentioned in the book “Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984” by Simon Reynolds. He wrote that the band “defined radicalism not as a return to roots but as deracination.”
In other words, ripping up the roots and starting fresh. He also said that, rather than rebelling against rock music by turning instead to electronic music, they used the traditional rock instruments (guitar, drums, bass) just in a very different way. Lunch in particular was very disdainful of punk rock and wanted to break away from the genre.
Glenn Branca and the Theoretical Girls
Next on our list is Glenn Branca. Branca was an influential member of the no wave genre, arriving at the scene in New York City in 1976. It was here that he met Jeffery Lohn, who was at the time a member of another band.
The two of them decided to start their own band called the Theoretical Girls. Lohn’s girlfriend joined as the bassist and another of Lohn’s band members became drummer for a time.
The band’s first performance took place at the Franklin Furnace, an establishment that serves to promote avant-garde art. Branca also did a performance with guitarist Rhys Chatham (who we’ll discuss next), a very important experience that would later influence Branca’s style of composition.
The Theoretical Girls played a good number of live shows throughout New York City (and three shows in Paris) and released one single which gained a bit of attention in the UK. This single was “U.S. Millie/You Got Me”.
Although the band was never signed by a record company, their style of mixing classical composition with punk rock did not go unnoticed, and they are considered a cornerstone of no wave music.
Branca also did some solo work, releasing the album “Lesson No. 1” in 1980 under his own name. This album showcases repetitive guitar techniques that Branca learned from Chatham and his fellow band member, Lohn.
The track “Lesson No. 1 for Electric Guitar” was inspired by Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”.
Below you will find the two songs – compare one to the other and you will see Joy Division’s influence on Branca.
We mentioned Rhys Chatham before, as he worked with Glenn Branca, but now we will look at his work in a little more depth.
Chatham is a multi-instrumentalist but is best known for his “guitar-orchestra” work.
In 1978, he performed his single “Guitar Trio” around New York City, with musicians including Glenn Branca and Nina Canal.
“Die Donnergötter” was another single of Chatham’s, released in 1982.
Chatham was inspired by an early Ramones concert as well as many other no wave bands. His music had a punk-rock aesthetic, but he put a lot of thought and quality into his compositions.
Y Pants were an all-female no wave band that formed in 1979. They were a trio, consisting of Barbara Ess, Virginia Piersol, and Gail Vachon. The Y Pants had a unique sound from their acoustic toy instruments.
They had a toy piano, a ukulele, and a Mickey Mouse drum set. They also played with electric bass and electric keyboard. Their poetic lyrics often focussed on feminism which gained them popularity in the scene.
They also sang about relationships and the perils of everyday life, such as laundry and materialism.
In 1980 they made their first four-song EP, recorded by Glenn Branca and released with the record label 99 Records.
Two years later, their LP “Beat It Down” was released by Glenn Branca’s own independent record label, Neutral Records, which also released the first few albums of the band Sonic Youth.
8-Eyed Spy was a no wave band made up of the aforementioned Lydia Lunch (from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks), Jim Sclavunos (who also played with Lunch in Teenage Jesus), as well as Michael Paumgardhen, Pat Irwin, and George Scott III.
Compared to Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, 8-Eyed Spy was regarded as more overtly musical.
You’ll hear Lunch’s familiar, jarring voice in their songs, as well as some crazy instrumentation and jazz influences.
The band released one self-titled album, as well as a live album called “Live”. They also covered some songs, including “Run Through the Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane.
Sadly, the band broke up after the death of George Scott in 1980.
Lizzy Mercier Descloux
In New York she created a performance art duo called Rosa Yemen with guitarist D.J. Barnes and the two of them released a self-titled mini-album in 1978.
It was released by her partner Esteban’s own record label, Ze Records. Later, Descloux released her solo LP, “Press Color”, also through Ze Records. Her style of no wave was minimalistic.
Being a self-taught guitarist, she didn’t rely on heavy or overly-complicated guitar work, but instead on single-string notes that delivered a clear sound and got the message across. Here is “Hard-boiled Babe” from “Press Color”.
Her second album, “Mambo Nassau” was inspired by African music as well as funk.
This album was what won her a contract with the French record company CBS Records. Returning to France, she released a popular single called “Mais où sont passées les gazelles?” (“But where have the gazelles gone?”) as well as her third album “Zulu Rock”, both in 1984. “Zulu Rock” was recorded in South Africa and was an eclectic and unique mix of African folk music and 80s French pop. It was well-received by critics.
All the musicians we’ve looked at so far had been residents of New York City at one time or another, because that is where the bulk of the no wave scene took place.
Judy Nylon, however, while she was an American musician, moved to London in 1970. All the same, she was an important artist who was appreciated by other no wave bands.
In fact, in 1974, Brian Eno released an album called “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)”. This album featured a song named “Back in Judy’s Jungle” – Judy Nylon is who he is referring to.
In the 1970s she was part of a punk rock band called Snatch, along with a woman named Patti Palladin. She then began some solo work as well as some collaborations with other artists.
In 1982, she and a fellow musician Adrian Sherwood released the LP “Pal Judy”, which was praised on the website NME as being “a classic rainy-day bit of sound and song to drift away to”.
Mars was a no wave band from New York City consisting of China Burg (a.k.a. Lucy Hamilton) on guitar and vocals, Nancy Arlen on drums, Mark Cunningham on bass, and Sumner Crane as vocalist.
The band’s sound was ambient, with non-standard drumming techniques and surrealist lyrics. Surprisingly, all of the musicians in this band were self-taught.
Mars was most active between the years of 1977 and 1978. They played many live shows, all in Manhattan.
The band had a unique sound, a little chaotic and all over the place at times, but in a way that was interesting and compelling. They released their debut album in 1978, “3-E (11,000 Volts)”. About a year later they released a live EP, although the band had broken up in 1978.
Last but not least, we have the band DNA, formed in 1978 by guitarist Arto Lindsay and keyboardist Robin Crutchfield, and consisting of a handful of other talented musicians.
The band actually got their name “DNA” from the title of a song by Mars.
Soon after the formation of the band, Crutchfield left to join another group and was replaced by Tim Wright. This switch brought a drastic chance to the band’s music.
It became more abstract, concise and simple. DNA made frequent live performances in the lower Manhattan area between the years of 1979 to 1982, playing mostly at CBGB, Max’s Kansas City and Tier 3.
They developed a cult following especially after the release of their debut album “A Taste of DNA” in 1980.
Their last three concerts sold-out because of their loyal fan base. The band broke up in 1982.
No New York
“No New York”, as mentioned earlier in the article, was a compilation album curated by Brian Eno. It played an important role because it was the first album to bring no wave to an audience outside of lower New York City.
The album featured four bands; all four bands have been mentioned in this article. They were James Chance and the Contortions (known as just “The Contortions” on this album), Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, and DNA.
Honourable Mention: Sonic Youth
While I first thought of the band Sonic Youth as more of a conventional rock/post-punk band, it is undeniable that they rose up out of the no wave scene in the early 1980s and even had an acquaintance with Glenn Branca.
Based in New York City, the band was formed by Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo. They are well known for their genre of noise rock, playing with an unconventional and eccentric guitar tuning as well as altering their guitar’s timbres to create different sounds.
The band played at Noise Fest in 1981 and were signed to Glenn Branca’s record label Neutral Records in 1982, soon releasing their debut album “Sonic Youth EP”, which although was not very popular, did earn some positive reviews.
Here is one of the tracks off that album, “I Dreamed I Dream”.
The no wave scene was very intricate and had a lot of contributors to make it as unique as it was. Certainly there are even more artists who had an influence on the genre but these are, in my opinion, the top ten that every no wave fan should be aware of.
Sauerkraut (literally “sour herb” or “sour leaf”) is a salty cabbage dish from Germany that’s really quite delicious. It’s often eaten with mashed potatoes and ham or sausages. From this popular cabbage dish, the term “kraut” arose as a slang word for a German person, usually in a derogatory sense.
The term “Deutsch-Rock” (German Rock) was used until 1973 for the rock groups coming out of West Germany.
But in the early 1970s, the British music magazine known as Melody Maker coined the term “krautrock”.
It was first used more to ridicule or make fun of the bands, but as krautrock caught on in Britain the term lost any negative or mocking connotations it once had, though many German “krautrock” bands still rejected the name.
It is thought that krautrock was more of a British phenomenon that focused on how the music was received in Britain, rather than how the West German music scene felt about the music.
Characteristics of Krautrock
Krautrock may sometimes be referred to as “Kosmische Musik” (meaning Cosmic Music), which suits its sound in my opinion, because there are aspects of this music that feel otherworldly, like they can’t have been composed here on Earth by other humans.
There are elements of the unexpected – it is unpredictable, slightly strange, a little bit out there. I think it’s also interesting to note that the word “komisch” means strange in German, which is not a far cry from “kosmische”. You could always call the music space-y, and that would fit as well.
But what does Krautrock mean, musically speaking? It is, essentially, a genre of experimental rock which pulls from psychedelic rock, funk, jazz, avant-garde, and electronic music.
It arose from West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The genre deliberately tries to distance itself from the American rhythm and blues genre and instead draws on German influences, while still keeping a distinct rock rhythm.
A band member of the popular krautrock band Faust stated that they tried to forget everything typical of the rock and roll genre, including the three-cord pattern and the usual lyrics. They wanted something totally different.
Here’s a little taste of Faust…
Krautrock is a very experimental genre, breaking out of old, tried-and-true habits and delving into the untouched, the unthought of, the new and strange.
A 4/4 rhythm known as “motorik” is common of the krautrock genre. Motorik means “motor skills” in German. This drum pattern was pioneered by Jaki Liebezeit, drummer of the popular krautrock band Can, and was also used early on by the band Neu!.
The motorik 4/4 beat was later used by many other krautrock bands.
In the 1960’s, the hippie movement and political activism that was rampant in North America and Europe demanded a new type of music.
Avant-garde music was emerging, droning on with ambient synthesizers and other psychedelic sounds. This genre of music largely inspired the krautrock movement.
In 1968 in the city of Essen, a rock festival took place, and this was one of the first places that krautrock was performed and heard.
From here on, the krautrock genre took hold and many bands began producing music with this spacey, ambient and electronic sound.
A Closer Look at the Pioneering Bands
Let’s take a look at Can, one of the pioneering bands of krautrock. Can was formed by two students of the famous and praised composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Stockhausen was called one of the most influential and also controversial composers of the 20th century. He was well educated in music, having attend the University of Cologne and the University of Bonn.
He was known for his influential compositions, his work with electronic music and his theories.
Evidently, his students learned a lot from his unique teachings, and went on to form the krautrock band Can, which was using techniques that were, at the time, very new and unheard of.
It is one thing to see a new genre of music after it has been invented and think, “that doesn’t seem so hard to come up with, the idea was sitting right in front of them”, but it is another thing entirely to create a new genre from thin air.
Of course, Can was not the only band pioneering the krautrock genre, but they certainly had a big hand in it.
Can was formed in 1968 in Cologne. The band mainly consisted of four members: Holger Czukay on bass and Irmin Schmidt on keyboard (the two members who studied under Stockhausen and formed the band), Jaki Liebezeit on drums (from whom the motorik beat originated) and Michael Karoli on guitar.
The group did not have one permanent singer, but rather many temporary ones.
Schmidt, the band’s keyboardist, had been heavily influenced by avant-garde musicians such as Terry Riley, Steve Reich and La Monte Young on a trip he took to New York.
From this, he began to see the new and different possibilities of rock music. In 1968 the band released their first album “Monster Movie” with vocals by Malcolm Mooney.
Then in 1971, they released another revolutionary and unconventional album, “Tago Mago” with vocals by Damo Suzuki. “Tago Mago” was a very influential album, featuring great tracks such as the dreamy “Paperhouse” and the hypnotic “Oh Yeah”. Have a listen to the song “Paperhouse” below.
Another band that helped lay the groundwork for krautrock was the band Neu! (meaning “New”).
If you’re wondering why the band was named “new!”, it was inspired by the rise of advertising in the bigger German cities at the time, and “new” was one of the most powerful words for selling different things to the public.
Neu! was formed in 1971 in Düsseldorf by Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother. Dinger and Rother were two former members of the popular band Kraftwerk in its earliest days, but left to start Neu!.
Although Neu! had less commercial success than Can, it was still a pioneer of krautrock and inspired many punk, rock and electronic bands in the years that followed.
The band’s first album, entitled “Neu!”, was released in 1972 and sold 30 000 copies, which was not very much when compared to mainstream competitors, but a decent amount when considered that they were an underground, off-beat band.
This album has come to be praised by many big names in music such as David Bowie, Brian Eno and Iggy Pop. Songs like “Hallogallo” demonstrated the quintessential motorik beat.
During the production of their second album, Neu! 2, Rother and Dinger began to run out of money. Therefore, on the second side of their album, they simply remixed and played with their already recorded single “Super”, sometimes slowing it down, sometimes speeding it up, and manipulating it in other ways.
The song “Super 16”, one of the manipulated versions of the original song, was used in Quentin Tarantino’s movie Kill Bill Volume 1.
The duo Dinger and Rother were quite different from each other. In their third album, “Neu! ‘75”, they decided to each pursue their own personal style, making half the album a solo album for Dinger, and half the album a solo album for Rother.
This album is seen as a very diverse krautrock album. After its release, the duo split up and went their separate ways.
As mentioned before, Dinger and Rother were originally in the band Kraftwerk in its early days, before leaving to form Neu!. Kraftwerk was another influential band of electronic music.
It was formed in Düsseldorf in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. The band experimented with krautrock in its early days, featuring instruments such as the synthesizer, drum machines and self-made instruments.
Kraftwerk really helped to popularize the lesser-known krautrock genre and make it available to a wider audience.
They released three albums in the early 1970s: “Kraftwerk” in 1970, “Kraftwerk 2” in 1972 and “Ralf und Florian” in 1973. They performed as a duo during the years of 1972-1973, as their lineup was not steady.
In 1974, they had commercial success with their hit album “Autobahn”, which they were able to tour with the financial help of Phonogram Inc.
After this tour, they began working on their next album which was released in October of 1975, entitled “Radio-Aktivität”, or “Radio-Activity” in English. Kraftwerk is still active in 2018, working on new projects.
You can listen to the album “Autobahn” below.
Lastly, we’ll take a look at Faust, who we gave a sample of near the top of the article.
Faust is a band named after the protagonist of a classic German tale. Faust was a popular band that was formed in 1971 in Wümme. Faust paved the way for many other krautrock bands. Although their debut album had poor sales, it did attract a small but loyal fan base, and was praised for its innovation. Their second album, “So Far”, did better than the first and was one of the albums that made krautrock accessible internationally. Here is the title track from that album.
Some other notable krautrock bands include Tangerine Dream, Embryo, Cosmic Jokers and Cluster, among many others.
The Influence of Krautrock
Krautrock had a considerable influence on many genres, including electronic, post-punk, rock and British new wave. A notable musician who was inspired by the krautrock scene was David Bowie.
Bowie, who began living in Berlin in 1976, later created the “Berlin Trilogy”, a sequence of three albums, “Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger” as a tribute to the music scene he experienced in Berlin, which included krautrock and kosmiche musik.
Krautrock, while it may have been named so as a mockery at first, has actually become a highly influential and fascinating genre. It features cosmic, dreamy and ambient sounds and often uses the 4/4 motorik rhythm.
I think the krautrock genre is commendable in its non-conformity and innovation of the rock genre.
What is funk music? Funk is an earthy, rhythmic genre that blends jazz, soul and R&B. In this article we’ll take a brief look at the extensive history of this groovy and influential music.
Here’s a funk drum loop called “Funky Drummer” that originated from James Brown’s band and has been used many a time on hip hop songs, but it was born out of funk. Maybe you have heard it? This will hopefully set the mood for this article…
The word “funk” comes from the latin word “fumigare” which means “to smoke”. Funk was originally introduced into English to describe a strong smell and was first used around 1620.
About a century later, the adjective “funky” was derived, meaning musty. This word was then picked up by the jazz communities in the 1900s and used as slang to describe something that was earthy or deeply felt.
By the 1950s and 1960s, the use of “funky” to describe jazz was common, and this is how the genre “funk” got its unique name.
Funk is a very danceable genre. It is upbeat, rhythmic and, for lack of another word, undeniably funky. Funk puts more emphasis on bass line as opposed to melody. It incorporates a variety of rhythm instruments, with bass and drums playing an important role in most funk songs.
Funk usually doesn’t limit itself to the regular verse/chorus structure of most songs. The song goes where the music carries it, and often each section of the song is given fairly equal weight and importance.
Funk was the voice of a generation in the 1970s. It expressed the struggles of the working-class community, giving them music to share and identify with.
Here’s a band called The Meters that you’ll become familiar with if you stick with the funk. Cissy Strut, 1974…
Beginnings of Funk (Late 1960s)
Funk was born in the African-American communities of the mid to late 1960s. It was heavily influenced by (you could even say it was started by) a musician named James Brown, AKA the “Godfather of Soul”.
James Brown was an innovative singer that started out in blues and gospel-based forms of music, singing in the group The Famous Flames in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Later in the 1960s, however, Brown decided to try something new, and so he shifted to an Africanized style of music. This change in style was launched by his hit singles in 1965, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good)”.
Check out this clip of James Brown performing live in 1965. If you haven’t heard him before, this will help you understand the meaning of funk.
Brown’s signature groove developed into an accentuated downbeat, with emphasis on the first beat, as opposed to on the backbeat which was typical of most African-American music at the time. In other words, his signature groove went like this: one-two-three-four, as opposed to the typical one-two-three-four.
Brown’s style of funk can be seen clearly in his songs such as “Ain’t It Funky Now” (released in 1967) and “Mother Popcorn” (released in 1969), in which he uses strong bass lines, drums patterns and complex grooves to make a rhythmic and danceable song.
Brown also used his voice as a percussion instrument in his songs quite often, by making rhythmic exclamations, laughs, or grunts throughout the music, as a drum might do.
This type of percussive vocals is something the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, adopted later on. Here’s a clip of Jackson doing what he did best back in the 1980’s.
Speaking of drums, another large contributor to the funk genre was Clyde Stubblefield, a well-known drummer who worked with James Brown. Stubblefield was largely influenced by the R&B genre that arose from New Orleans after the second World War.
This played an important role in the development of the funk genre. Stubblefield took up these New Orleans R&B drumming techniques and turned them into the groundwork of funk.
According to Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, another musician who worked with James Brown, “Clyde Stubblefield was just the epitome of this funky drumming”. For an example of his funky style, you can listen to the audio clip we added at the beginning of this article.
The Rise of Funk in the 1970s
After James Brown pioneered this new and exciting type of music, many musicians began to adopt his style. Dyke and the Blazers released one of the first albums to have “funky” in its name: the album “Funky Broadway” in 1967.
In 1970, the band Tower of Power (TOP) released their debut album, “Easy Bay Grease” featuring songs such as “The Price” and “Back on the Streets Again”. The band was a break-through for modern funk because they popularized the genre and spread it to a wider audience.
The band Sly and the Family Stone released the song “Thank You” which hit #1 in the charts in 1970, and their song “Family Affair” reached #1 in 1971.
The Meters, whom we mentioned earlier, was another influential band who brought funk to New Orleans, making it popular in that area.
Another significant funk band was The Isley Brothers, who came out with the hit song “It’s Your Thing”. This group was one of the stepping stones that lay between the jazzier James Brown and the psychedelic Jimi Hendrix.
The 1970s is undeniably when funk had the most time in the limelight. You could say that the 1970s were the “heyday” of the funk genre. It was played on the radio and enjoyed by many people.
Some other big names in funk at the time were Stevie Wonder, Rufus & Chaka Khan, and the Bar-Kays. Here’s Stevie with a funky number called Master Blaster (jammin’).
The 1970’s were also when jazz musicians began blending jazz with different genres. Jazz-funk arose from this experimentation: a blend of jazz and funk. Jazz-funk used electric bass and electric piano, as opposed to the traditional jazz of the time, which used double bass and grand piano.
Herbie Hancock, a jazz pianist who played with the Miles Davis Quintet throughout the 60s, decided to break out into the world of funk in the 70s with a new band of his creation called The Headhunters. Their debut album, “Head Hunters”, was released in 1973 and became an instant hit across audiences, though it was criticized by some jazz musicians because it felt more like funk than jazz.
Here it is! If you want to feel funky, put this on.
Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, one of the most acclaimed jazz figures of the 20th century, decided to release a jazz-funk album in the 1970s, like so many other jazz artists.
The album he recorded was “On the Corner”. He wrote it during the summer of 1972 and released it later that same year. It was an attempt to recapture his young black audience, who were turning to funk and rock instead of jazz.
“On the Corner” is rich with layers and textures, with instruments such as the Indian tambura and tablas, as well as the Cuban congas and bongos. There is also heavy funk drumming and a funky groove played on the bass.
P-Funk (Parliament Funk)
In addition to the blend of jazz and funk, some groups began to develop a funk-rock style. The two bands of singer George Clinton, Funkadelic and Parliament, started experimenting with jazz and psychedelic rock in their funk music.
These two bands are often referred to together as Parliament-Funkadelic, because they shared many band members.
From these two bands, the subgenre P-Funk arose, referring to the music of George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic.
The P-Funk groups became quite popular in the 1970s, due to their exciting new brand of funk and their live performances. Starting in the 1980s, samples of P-Funk were also incorporate throughout many rap and hip-hop songs, including Dr. Dre.
Influence on Disco
Disco music was heavily influenced by funk. Many of the disco hits of that time were sung by artists who started off in funk.
For example, the funk band Rufus & Chaka Khan launched the solo singing career of Chaka Khan, who went on to sing the hit disco song “I’m Every Woman”.
Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” was also inspired by funk rhythms, as was “Kung Foo Fighting” by Biddu and Carl Douglas, and “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross.
And let’s not forget the funkiest disco band of them all, Chic.
1980s Synthesizer Funk
Electronic instruments, drum machines, and of course, synthesizers, began to trickle into funk music in the 1980s. Saxophones and trumpets were given less time in the lime light of songs, and synth keyboards became popular instead. Synth keyboards were also used for the bass lines that were originally played on bass.
In 1980, the band Yellow Magic Orchestra became the first band to use the programmable drum machine known as a TR-808.
Rick James was another artist of the time experimenting with synthesizer funk. With his hit 1981 singles “Super Freak” and “Give It to Me Baby”, we can see that the 1980s brought a change not only to the sound of funk but to the lyrics of funk as well; they became more explicit than before.
Prince was another icon of the 1980s, writing adventurous music with sexual themes and funky instrumentation. Some other synth-funk artists of the time were Cameo, the Bar-Kays, Zapp, and the Dazz Band.
Afrika Bambaataa, a band inspired by Yellow Magic Orchestra, developed electro-funk in 1982 a genre driven by electronic sounds woven into funk beats.
Late 1980s and Onwards
Funk declined greatly in popularity with the arrival of hip-hop, rap and contemporary R&B in the late 1980s. However, it was still used, and is still used today, for sampling in many hip-hop songs.
In fact, James Brown and Parliament-Funk are said to be the two most sampled artists in all of the hip-hop genre. Dr. Dre has said that he was greatly influenced by the psychedelic funk of George Clinton and P-Funk.
Rock bands also used certain elements of funk in their songs. Bands such as Jane’s Addiction and Rage Against the Machine were influenced and inspired by funk.
The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, when they first began, took a page from punk funk acts like Defunkt and The Contortions. Their debut album, “The Red Hot Chilli Peppers” featured back-up vocals by Gwen Dickey, the singer of the disco funk band Rose Royce.
Even modern R&B music has been touched by the splendours of funk. Beyoncé’s 2003 hit “Crazy in Love” samples the funk song “Are You My Woman” by the Chi-Lites, a funk quartet from Chicago.
The song “Get Right” by Jennifer Lopez samples the funk song “Soul Power ‘74” by Maceo Parker, a trumpeter who worked with James Brown in Parliament-Funkadelic.
Women of Funk
Often, the history of funk focusses on men, and on bands consisting mostly of men, but there have been notable and influential funk women as well.
Chaka Khan, for example, who started in the band Rufus and Chaka Khan before pursuing a solo career, has been called the “Queen of Funk”.
Her 1984 album “I Feel For You”, brought her much success and became a platinum album. The title track of this album features a harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder and a rap by Grandmaster Melle Mel.
Dawn Silva and Lynn Mabry are another two big names in funk. They started off as back-up singers for Sly and the Family Stone, and then began working with Parliament-Funkadelic. They then began their own career under the name The Brides of Funkenstein, which was named by George Clinton after the P-Funk album “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein”.
Their 1978 debut album, “Funk or Walk”, was a huge success, selling thousands of copies in the first week.
In 1979, Lynn Mabry left and was replaced by Sheila Horne and Jeanette McGruder. Their second album, “Never Buy Texas from a Cowboy” won them an award for best new female artist.
Here is the title track from that album.
The Pointer Sisters, made up of the four sisters Ruth, Anita, Bonnie and June Pointer, were a quartet that performed music spanning the genres of R&B, pop, be-bop, soul, and of course, funk.
They strived to create original music that combined jazz and be-bop rather than follow the mainstream trend of pop.
Some of their top singles include “Fire”, “Jump (For My Love)”, and “Yes We Can Can”.
Although there is so much more to be said about the intricate and extensive genre of funk, I’ll leave it here for now.
Funk has certainly been a very influential genre since the get go, getting its roots from blues singer James Brown and quickly spreading across North America.
It became big in the 1970s and was fused with many other genres to create sub-genres such as funk rock, jazz funk, electro-funk and psychedelic funk.
Its earthy sound, danceable beats, groovy bass lines and drum beats continue to please and inspire many audiences.
We’ll leave you something with something that comes from a more electronic direction, that being some music by Luke Vibert. Adios and stay funky y’all!
Downtempo is a killer subgenre of electronic music, with little to no vocals and simple beats. It’s laidback like ambient music but has a beat you can groove to, unlike ambient music.
Okay, that is a total lie. At the bottom of the article we have included several of the best downtempo artists and some of them include vocals, but for the sake of this brief introduction to the genre, and to help familiarize you with it, let’s go ahead and say that most downtempo music uses soft vocals for audible texture but not so much to tell a story.
Partygoers, ravers and clubbers will be familiar with this genre, as well as DJs, of course.
The music is a lot more chill than others in the electronica genre. Seasoned DJs will leave downtempo to the end of the set when the party draws to a close.
This music is also played in side rooms of clubs or designated “take five” areas. The beats are slower and super groovy, perfect for a break from dancing or wrapping up a party.
Most clubgoers, whether they recognize and know downtempo or not, will automatically get the signal from this type of music that it’s late into the night.
If you’ve ever seen Portlandia, the theme song is a prime example of downtempo music with a chill beat that is easy to listen to and very enjoyable. There are some vocals but they’re airy and non-dominant.
Non-dominance is a good way to define downtempo. It’s got elements of ambient music and serves listeners the same way: it can be enjoyed either as a focal point or be ignored while still providing an atmosphere. It neither overpowers nor disappears.
It’s a beautiful genre for summer driving.
You will often hear downtempo in lounges.
It’s great for a casual hangout with friends or any time you need to relax.
A bit of history
It all started with the synthesizer. This instrument became more affordable to people in the late 1960s – early 1970’s and so musicians, being the experimental and curious artists they are, ever-searching for the perfect tool for self-expression, fell in love with it. We had the beginnings of ambient music in the 1970s;
Electronic music really came into huge popularity in the early 1990’s. The club scene brought in all kinds of new genres after the : electronica ruled the soundsystems everywhere because it didn’t require a live band and provided dancing crowds with non-stop movement to inspire their dancing.
It was an obvious new experimentation with the synthesizer, which at the time had only been around for a couple of decades. There was plenty left to explore on that instrument with so many options.
Downtempo is usually played on a synthesizer as well as a drum machine and a few other things.
Electronica is typically faster paced, and so downtempo was created not as an antithesis but simply as an alternative for lounge areas and chill-out rooms at festivals and nightclubs.
Dancers could go into these rooms and sit for a while, taking a break from the intense energy of the dancefloor and enjoying a drink.
You’ll notice rather a hypnotizing element to downtempo, the same way electronica brings you in and holds you.
The genre originated on Ibiza, a Mediterranean island, well known for its nightlife and electronic music. Tourists from all over the world come to Ibiza as a destination for this type of holiday.
DJs have always known how to read a crowd (or, they should) and know how to bring up the energy and bring it down. On the island of Ibiza, where they party til sunrise, the DJs start playing downtempo to bring the crowd down after a full night of partying.
Here’s a “Best of Ibiza” chillout downtempo playlist if you want to feel a little bit of that vibe for a while.
Oh, and downtempo is sometimes called trip hop, taking elements from hip hop, drum and bass and ambient music: these are combined altogether over a lower tempo. These days the music also incorporates more melodic instrumentals.
Now that we are familiar with the genre, let’s have a listen, shall we?
Here are some of the best downtempo artists out there. Some were around for the advent of the genre and helped shape it; others showed up along the way and furthered the genre’s popularity by keeping it alive.
Thievery Corporation has been around since 1995. This electronic duo has opened for Paul McCartney and worked with artists such as David Byrne and Wayne Coyne.
They bring an overtly political message with their music and actions, performing at the Operation Ceasefire concert and supporting human rights and the World Food Programme.
Flume is a young’un, born in 1991 and has been making music since 2004. He has risen to popularity rather fast, having remixed several famous songs by artists like Lorde and selling 40 000 tickets for his first national tour.
He is from Australia and his work incorporates many electronic elements from hip hop to dub. Here is his self-titled debut album.
Another duo on our list, Blue Sky Black Death hails from San Francisco, California. They produce their music with a drum machine, sampler, keyboard, synth and guitar. They’ve been on the scene since 2003.
The phrase “blue sky black death” is a skydiving phrase alluding to beauty and death. They got their start making beats to rap over but soon gave up rapping to pursue producing. Below you can hear their third full-length album, Noir.
Kruder & Dorfmeister get automatic points from us for their G-Stoned cover, which resembles the famous Bookends cover by American duo Simon & Garfunkel.
Peter Kruder & Richard Dorfmeister comprise this Austrian duo and have been making music together since 1993. They got their start playing big festivals and were instantly loved by the audience. They have gone on to tour the world and continue producing music to this day. They’ve also put out their own solo albums and albums under aliases. They have at least 9 studio recorded albums available.
Samantha James stands out from others on our list for her vocal style. Many downtempo artists are producers and rarely feature vocals in their work. Rather the vocals are presented as a soft ambience over the beat.
Samantha’s singing is incredibly soulful and gives a whole new life to this style of music. Coming from Los Angeles, she became involved with the underground dance scene there as a teenager.
She has been making music of her own since 2007. Her first single, Rise, was an instant hit in 2006 and she has since toured the world with her wonderful blend of electronic and soul music.
She has two full-length albums and has reached #1 on the US dance charts.
Helicopter Girl is a Scottish musician and has been active since 1993. She gives downtempo a unique spin incorporating elements from several genres, including dance music, indie pop and jazz.
Helicopter Girl is widely revered for her vocal style and the lyrics offer a listening experience that speaks utter truth. Straight badass. You’ve just got to give a listen and experience this for yourself.
We’ve included a link to her video for Glove Compartment but we also recommend listening to her song Angel City.
Glove Compartment is mysterious and fateful; Angel City is rockier than everything else on this list, but the vocals are cool, calm and sultry, chilling you right out with icy proclamations.
Portishead are one of the better known artists on this list. They remind us of Helicopter Girl a bit – with their infusions of other genres like indie rock laid on top of downtempo – and a bit of sex appeal.
This is music you can throw on for driving or grooving out at home, and works just as well in a lounge setting. Portishead has been around since 1991, taking a brief hiatus from 1999 through 2005. They took up music again after the break.
They’re an English band, well known in this genre because they were one of its pioneers. Despite their dislike for press coverage, their music has been successful internationally.
Even Rolling Stone referred to them as Gothic hip-hop. They’ve been around so long making this kind of music that they have been played in all kinds of underground clubs and gothic scenes.