Who is Weird Al Yankovic? To Find Out, We Must Go To Spatula City…

Well, here you are – Spatula City.  

That’s all fine and good, but “Who is Weird Al?” you ask.

Alfred Matthew Yankovic, known as “Weird Al” Yankovic, was born on October 23 , 1959, in Downey, California, and is a popular American satirist. 

Al is also notably a singer, musician, songwriter, actor, accordionist, and American television producer.

Weird Al is best known for his parodies of contemporary popular songs. Ethnically, in case you were wondering, he is of Yugoslav origin by his father’s side (Nick), and English and Italian by his mother’s side (Mary).

als-parents-died-together-in-2004-after-a-tragic-accident

Here’s a clip to get you readily acquainted with Mr. Weird Al, by way of one of his biggest songs – Amish Paradise, a parody of Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise”, which itself was a sampling of Stevie Wonder’s groundbreaking track, “Pastime Paradise”.

Biography

At six, Al took some accordion lessons. It was then his saga towards extreme “weirdness” had begun.  Although he intended to become an architect first and foremost, it was during his studies towards that end that his friends advised him to become a musician.  So what could he say?  He said, of course, “Sure, why not?”

Al then threw his architectural schematics into the breeze, and began pursuing this new dream of his, but there was a twist – he would become a satirist, which is obviously not the most commonplace goal of most aspiring rock stars.

weird al live

Be that as it may, he made himself known by parodying Beat It by Michael Jackson and transforming it into Eat It. He did this to another Michael Jackson song – Bad – turning it into “Fat”.  For some reason, there was a little bit of a food obsession going on with Al and his parodies.

Here is Eat It, the song that launched Weird Al into the weirdo-sphere!

As his career skyrocketed, and the years and albums rolled by, Weird Al has gone on to sell over 12 million albums, recording more than 150 songs (parodies and originals both) and has performed in concert 1000’s of times.

He has been nominated nine times at the Grammy Awards and has won three, as well as four gold and five platinum 4 records.  Jeez!

Did you know – “Weird” means “strange”, and also “weird” in French? His nickname “Weird Al” can be translated as “Al [Alfred] the twisted”. Now you know.

Yankovic played in his own film and TV series, directed clips for himself and other artists, including – suspiciously – the mmmBopper’s themselves, Hanson.

He has also made appearances in The Simpsons, Robot Chicken, Transformers, Rock 30 (S6E14), and How I Met Your Mother.

In 2011, Al is again the subject of controversy when he wanted to parody Lady Gaga in one of his songs. The agent of the Italian-American singer refuses but Lady Gaga herself, being an unconditional fan of the humorist, decides to authorize the parody even as she released a new album at the time.

Here’s Perform This Way, a parody of Born This Way.

Songs and Covers

  • My Bologna (after My Sharona from The Knack );
  • Another One Rides the Bus and Bohemian Polka (from Another One Bites the Dust , and Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen );
  • Smells Like Nirvana (from Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana );
  • Like a Surgeon (after Like a Virgin of Madonna );
  • Eat It (1984) and Fat (1988), according to Beat It and Bad of Michael Jackson . Both were Grammy Award winners intheir respective release years;
  • Pretty Fly For A Rabbi after Pretty Fly For a White Guy from The Offspring 1998; she herself parodies in her clip the rappers bling bling.
  • I Want A New Duck by Huey Lewis and the News after I Want a New Drug from 1983 where he does not hesitate to introduce sound effects of ducks.
  • Living With a Hernia (from Living in America by James Brown );
  • Gump (after Lump of The Presidents of the United States of America ), parody of the film Forrest Gump  ;
  • Yoda (after Lola de The Kinks ), description of the meeting with Yoda by Luke Skywalker .
  • Amish Paradise (after Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio );
  • The Saga Begins (from American Pie of Don McLean ), summarizing The Phantom Menace .
  • White & Nerdy (after Ridin ‘Dirty de Chamillionaire );
  • You’re Pitiful , a parody of the song You’re Beautiful by British director James Blunt , whom Weird Al advises, during a show, to listen to the song on his website;
  • Canadian Idiot (after American Idiot of Green Day );
  • He also is the author of Do not Download This Song , first single from her 12 th  studio album, parodying including We Are the World  ;
  • I Love Rocky Road (after I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll );
  • Bedrock Anthem (from Give It Away and Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers );
  • Pie Pot Chicken ( from Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die, which refused to have the song burned on CD because of its vegetarian habits) Weird Al Yankovic performs it on occasion;
  • Headline News (from Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm from Crash Test Dummies );
  • A Complicated Song (from Complicated by Avril Lavigne );
  • Ode to a Superhero (after Piano Man by Billy Joel ), summing up the first Spider-Man  ;
  • Beverly Hillbillies (after Money for Nothing of the Dire Straits );
  • Bob, song composed entirely of palindromes (from Subterranean Homesick Blues by Bob Dylan );
  • Jerry Springer (after One Week from Barenaked Ladies );
  • Lasagna (after La bamba );
  • Perform This Way (from Born This Way by Lady Gaga );
  • The Great Mighty Poo , a boss song from Conker’s Bad Fur Day on Nintendo 64 , in cooperation with Robert Beanland and under the pseudonym Ed Horowitz;
  • Party in the CIA ( from Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA ).
  • Word Crimes (after Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke ).

And more recently, there has been Foil.

The song Polka Power alone accounts for no less than 14 covers of songs, including Wannabe of Spice Girls , Tubthumping by Chumbawamba or Ray of Light of Madonna.

Here’s a live version that should impress you.

We find many in songs as polkas that pop up here for your listening pleasure, like Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly, Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix, Every Breath You Take by The Police, Should I Stay or Should I Go by the Clash, and My Generation by The Who.  

When it comes to turning songs into polkas, Al has done them all it seems.

Appearances and cameos

Weird Al appears in an episode of The Simpsons where he writes a song to help Marge recover Homer. He appears again in the episode aired for the first time on January 27, 2008, That 90’s Show , where he makes a parody of a success of the band Sadgasm (with Homer as leader) calling Shave Me, which is itself a parody of the song Rape Me, by the grunge group Nirvana.

He also appears in an episode of season 1 of Parker Lewis never loses where he sings As Time Goes By.

He also made an appearance in the clip Liberian Girl by Michael Jackson.

In episode 7 of How I Met Your Mother’s Season 7 we see him opening a letter from Ted suggesting that he parody Madonna’s song Like a Virgin.

He appears in episode 14 of season 6 of 30 Rock .

In The Big Bang Theory series, Amy finds a Weird Al CD in Howard’s car.

He appears in episode 12 of season 4 of My Little Pony: Friends is magic (doubling the pony Cheese Sandwich).

He also played the role of Isaac Newton in the battle against Bill Nye in the hit YouTube series Epic Rap Battles of History 5.

He appears in episode 4 of the Wet Hot American Summer series as a hypnotist.

Since 1 st August 2017, he is one of the characters available in the game The Simpsons: Springfield 6.


Other songs

Weird Al Yankovic is also the ultimate eBay expert with his Ebay Parody Song, creating a parody of I Want It That Way of the Backstreet Boys, in which he humorously criticizes the madness of bulk shopping on the famous auction site.

He plays one of the nineteen versions of Daisy Bell (Harry Dacre , 1892) on the concept album released on May 13, 2014, The Gay Nineties.

On February 30, 2018 he released a medley of the Hamilton musical polka version entitled “The Hamilton Polka” as part of the Hamildrops (new works in the continuity of the musical).

Discography

  • Studio albums
  • 1983 – “Weird Al” Yankovic
  • 1984 – “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D
  • 1985 – Dare to Be Stupid
  • 1986 – Polka Party!
  • 1988 – Even Worse
  • 1989 – UHF – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff
  • 1992 – Off the Deep End
  • 1993 – Alapalooza
  • 1996 – Bad Hair Day
  • 1999 – Running With Scissors
  • 2003 – Poodle Hat
  • 2006 – Straight Outta Lynwood
  • 2011 – Alpocalypse
  • 2014 – Mandatory Fun

Movies

Weird Al Yankovic appears in the film Agent Zero, with Leslie Nielsen , where he plays the song of the credits ( Spy Hard ) on a background inspired by James Bond.

We also see him as an actor in the UHF movie , whose script he wrote, interspersed with nods to Tex Avery . In the Weird Al tradition, this film includes a pastiche of Money for nothing by Dire Straits : Beverly Hillbillies.

He made a small appearance in the movie “A Hero in the Patrol” (1997) where he performed some of his songs during a show.

He also made an appearance in Halloween 2 at the time of the Samuel Loomis interview, in “Is there a cop to save the queen?” as he comes out of a plane warmly welcomed by his fans, and in “Is there a cop to save Hollywood?” at the Oscars ceremony.

Bonus Vids:

Weird Al – Behind The Music

Who is Clifton Chenier?

Clifton Chenier (born in Opelousas, near Lafayette , the June 25 , 1925 – died in Lafayette on December 12 , 1987) is a zydeco musician, and among the most celebrated musicians who play in that genre that ever lived, having been called the King of Zydeco music, and King of the Bayou (by Paul Simon).

who is clifton chenier

Zydeco, stylistically, is a mix of Cajun and Creole music with influences of jazz and blues. Clifton played the accordion, and was the first to use this instrument to play blues style music.

Here is a rare clip of Clifton Chenier playing live, and you can see from the video footage that he infuses his music with a spirit that simply makes people want to get up and dance!

Biography

Clifton Chenier learned to play accordion at a very young age thanks to his father Joseph Chenier.

He began playing at various balls and parties on Saturday nights, with his brother Cleveland Chenier, playing a corrugated washboard, which is quite literally a washboard, but can be used as a musical instrument as well.

Here’s Clifton a little later in his life – 1979, with Honeyboy Edwards, and Lightnin’ Hopkins in NYC.

Ok, backing up a ways.

In 1945, Clifton left the family farm to work in the sugar cane fields. He then went to Lake Charles to join his brother Cleveland. There, he met other great pioneering zydeco musicians and refined his style, leading to the distinctive style that won him a Grammy later in life.

His professional career began in 1954 , when he signed with Elko Record and recorded Clifton’s Blues (under the name of Cliston Chanier ) which was a local success. He continued with Ay-tte-fee ( Hey, little girl , the spelling of the Cajun title has had many variations!) which made him more widely known.

Here is Clifton’s recording of Louisiana Stomp as Cliston Chanier.

He toured extensively with the Zydeco Ramblers and signed with Chess Records in 1956 . The Chess label did not do too much publicity for its records, and so he left in 1958, and moved on over to Houston.

He finally signed at Arhoolie Records in 1964, expanding his audience to a more “white” audience. Clifton was welcomed warmly in 1969 at the American Folk Blues Festival, a legendary festival indeed, making him even more famous for this bourgeoning style of music known as Zydeco.

In 1973 he signed the music of the Alain Corneau France film company. In 1979, he was diagnosed with severe diabetes and had have one of his feet amputated.

Clifton’s career was crowned by a Grammy Award in the year 1983 for “I’m Here”, and then in 1984 he was made a National Heritage Fellow for his contributions.

He died in 1987 of a kidney disease in Lafayette, Louisiana.  Clifton Chenier was buried in All Souls Cemetery in Loreauville, Iberia Parish, Louisiana.

king of zydeco

Posthumously, Clifton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, and then later, in 2011, he made it into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

Clifton’s son, CJ Chenier took over for his father, and continues his music producing legacy of red hot zydeco concerts and records.

Clifton Quote

“My music is not complicated. It’s nothing but French dances with a little swing to get people moving.”


Discography

  • Clifton Sings the Blues (2004)
  • Louisina Blues & Zydeco / Bon Ton Roulet (2001)
  • Live at Grant Street (2000)
  • Comin ‘Home (2000)
  • Live at 1966 Berkeley Blues Festival (2000)
  • Cajun Swamp Music (1999)
  • Bayou Bayou (1999)
  • In New Orleans (1998)
  • Zydeco Are Not Dirty (1997)
  • I’m Coming Home (1996)
  • On Tour (1996)
  • We’re Gonna Party (1994)
  • Live at St. Mark’s (1988)
  • 60 Minutes with the King of Zydeco (1988)
  • Bogalusa Boogie (1987) * Sings the Blues (1987)
  • The King of Zydeco (1985)
  • Live! at the Long Beach & San Francisco Blues Festivals (1985)
  • Country Boy Now (1984)
  • The King of Zydeco Live at Montreux (1984)
  • I’m Here! (1982)
  • Live at San Francisco Blues Festival (1982)
  • Blues & Zydeco (1981)
  • Boogie ‘n’ Zydeco (1980)
  • Bayou Soul (1979)
  • Clifton Chenier & His Red Hot Louisiana Band in New Orleans (1979)
  • Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band (1978)
  • Cajun Swamp Live Music (1978)
  • Frenchin ‘the Boogie (1976)
  • Bogalusa Boogie (1975)
  • Out West (1974)
  • Clifton Chenier Live (At a French-Creole Dance) (1973)
  • Bayou Blues (1970)
  • King of the Bayous (1970)
  • Clifton’s Cajun Blues (1970)
  • Louisiana Blues (1969)
  • Black Snake Blues (1966)
  • Louisiana Blues & Zydeco (1965)

The Revolution – The Story Behind Prince’s Band

prince and the revolution

Almost everyone has heard of Prince, but perhaps not everyone has heard of his tighter-than-otter’s-pocket band, The Revolution.

With Prince being as famous as he was, it’s easy to overlook the backing band that played alongside him. But the members of the Revolution were all very talented and contributed a substantial amount to Prince’s music.

Sly Stone, frontman in the band Sly and the Family Stone and notable funk musician, used a diverse backing band during his musical career. Prince, being a huge admirer of Stone, took a page from his book and assembled an equally diverse backing group. The Revolution became known for its diversity.

Prince formed the band after his first album. The band was mostly assembled in 1979, however, at this point, they were not yet known as The Revolution. 

The Revolution was made up of musicians of different races and different genders which contributed to a rich and varied sound and a full musical experience.

The original members of the band were as follows: Prince on lead vocals, guitar and piano; Dez Dickerson on guitar; Andre Cymone on bass guitar; Bobby Z. on drums; and Gayle Chapman on keyboards and Matt Fink (also called “Doctor Fink” as he was known for wearing scrubs on stage) on keyboards.

However, the lineup would see some changes over the years.

The Revolution’s Members

Let’s take a brief look at some of the longest-standing Revolution members.

Bobby Z

Bobby Z

Bobby Z (Robert B. Rivkin) was the original drummer of the Revolution, from 1978-1986. As Prince was adamant about the diversity of his band, he was in search of a white drummer. This was when he decided to audition Bobby Z.

In later years, Bobby Z had to adapt his drumming techniques in order to play electric drums, which Prince was using more and more of in his songs. Talented drummer that he is, Bobby Z was able to master the electric drums as well, in studio and on stage.

Bobby Z also contributed to the composition of Prince’s albums “Purple Rain”, “Around the World in a Day”, “Parade” and “Sign O’ the Times”.

Here’s an awesome interview with Bobby Z by thefivecount, taking you all the way back to the beginning.  Super interesting stuff!


Matt Fink (Doctor Fink)

Matt Fink was the keyboardist for the Revolution.

He is better known by his stage name, “Doctor Fink”, because wore doctor’s scrubs on stage during performances.

Originally, he used to wear a jailbird outfit in the live performances around 1979. However, musician Rick James was also wearing this costume on some of his performances.

Dr Fink

Fink, not wanting to copy this, started looking for a new outfit to wear. This was when he came up with the idea of wearing scrubs. Prince loved the idea, and from then on, he was “Doctor Fink”.

Doctor Fink also helped co-write a handful of songs with Prince. These songs were “Dirty Mind”, “Computer Blue”, “17 Days”, “America” and “It’s Gonna be a Beautiful Night”.

Here’s an interesting interview going deep with Doctor Fink with Prophets Of Rock TV.


Lisa Coleman

Lisa Coleman was only 19 years old when her good friend who was working with Prince’s manager introduced her to Prince. Up until this point, Coleman had  been playing keyboard in her bubblegum pop band, Waldorf Salad.

Coleman auditioned and won Prince over. She was hired to the Revolution in 1980 to play on the “Dirty Mind” album, as well as on his upcoming tour.

Coleman replaced Gayle Chapman as one of the keyboardists.

Lisa Coleman

Soon after, Prince met Coleman’s partner, Wendy Melvoin. Upon hearing her play guitar, he asked her to join the Revolution as a replacement to Dez Dickereson.

Coleman and Melvoin also started their own duo. They called it Wendy and Lisa and over the course of the years released 5 albums. 

Lisa Colemand and Wendy Melvoin

Check out Our Destiny by Prince & Lisa Coleman from the channel PRINCE 4EVER.


Andre Cymone

Andre Cymone and Prince were friends from childhood. In fact, Prince stayed with their family for a while when he had conflicts with his own father at home. 

In their youth, the two were in a band together, also with Cymone’s sister.

In the late 1970s when Prince released his debut album “For You”, he recruited Cymone as bassist for his tour. This would be his last tour with Prince, however, for the two later had conflicts.

Although they were resolved, Cymone continued to work on his own projects, and the Revolution continued on without him.

Here’s a way in depth interview with Andre Cymone from the Prince Podcast.  Check it out!


BrownMark

Brown Mark played bass guitar for the Revolution.

He was especially known for his unique style of funk-influenced bass guitar playing. He played with the Revolution during the recording of “Purple Rain”, and left the band in 1986.

He rejoined, however, in 2016 when the band reunited for their tribute and reunion tour. He now sings most of the songs during performances. 

Here is a sweet interview with BrownMark from Bass Musician Magazine.


Purple Rain

Purple Rain album cover

The members present when Prince and the Revolution released the album “Purple Rain” were Bobby Z, Doctor Fink, Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin, and BrownMark.  

“Purple Rain” was Prince and the Revolution’s best-selling album. It was released in 1984 and instantly went to the tops of the charts.

“When Doves Cry”, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Purple Rain”, and “I Would Die 4 U” all made it to the top 10 of the Billboard’s top 100 list.

You can listen to the title track below. In the music video, Prince gives some credit to Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin for writing the song. 

The album “Purple Rain” won two Grammys. The first was for the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The second was for Best Instrumental Composition Written Specifically for a Motion Picture. The album was written by Prince, but with valuable input from his band members.

“Purple Rain” was a milestone for the Revolution, because it was the first album that Prince recorded with the band, and the first album in which he credited them.

Because the album was recorded with the band, it had significantly more focus on the full band and their different instruments and sounds, resulting in a more intricate album than Prince’s previous one-man albums.  

Guitar was a huge focal point of the album, as well as keyboard and synthesizer. The album was R&B but with rock and psychedelic touches, influenced by the Revolution. It was praised for its stylistic experimentation, crossing over many genres.  

For example, “When Doves Cry” was an experimental and unique song because it didn’t have a bassline. Dr. Fink says that when he first heard the song, “my immediate reaction was ‘Hey, there’s no bassline in this song. Aren’t you going to add one?’”

He continues, “I wasn’t ready for it and it tricked the hell out of my ears. But […] when you listen to “When Doves Cry” today it still sounds so ground-breaking and unique. It never gets old.” This song really has stood the test of time. You can listen to it below.

The same lineup featured on the “Purple Rain” album plus some new additions performed on Prince’s Hit N’ Run Parade Tour.

These new additions were Miko Weaver, Susannah Melvoin, Eric Leeds, Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Blistan and Jerome Benton. They played the jazzier side of things during the tour, such as the horn sections.

The Rebels

In 1979, the Revolution and Prince experimented with a side project. Although it wasn’t named at the time, the side band has since been called the Rebels. It featured vocals by original Revolution members Dez Dickerson, Andre Cymone and Gayle Chapman.

The side group recorded music in Colorado during 1979. However, the project was abandoned, perhaps to focus again on the Revolution. Years later, two of the tracks from the Rebels were rerecorded and given to other artists by Prince.

The track “U” was released by Paula Abdul on her album “Spellbound” and the song “If I Love U 2nite” was added to the albums of both Mica Paris and Mayte Garcia. 

The Revolution Today

The current band members include Bobby Z. on drums, Matt Fink on keyboards and vocals, Lisa Coleman also on keyboards and vocals, Brown Mark on bass and vocals, and Wendy Melvoin on rhythm guitar and vocals.

the revolution today

After the sudden death of Prince in 2016, the Revolution reunited and began performing Prince’s songs together again. It started with them playing tribute concerts to their friend, and gradually turned into a reunion tour that has lasted the past couple of years and will continue into the foreseeable future.

Keyboardist and vocalist Lisa Coleman says that at the beginning of their tour, the Revolution tried not to stray too far from the original arrangements of the songs.

However, as their tour has progressed, the band is starting to go in new directions, shaking things up now and then. Coleman says this was always the way when they used to play with Prince on stage.

She says, “When Prince was around, every night was a different show, really”.  Bobby Z adds, “Every time you play it, there’s something you can add”. Here is a video of them performing live at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

This creates a really complex and exciting performance. Every show is authentic and genuine.

Conclusion

The Revolution continues to be an influential band.

Their diversity and talent make their music unlike any other band, because each member brings their own original style to the table.

They continue to share Prince’s music with the world on their reunion tour, and are well received by their innumerable fans.

Connect with The Revolution on Facebook

Alex Gage’s Flagship Leaves Port For Proverbial High Seas of Art Rock

There’s a lot of bands out there trying to make it today – maybe now more than ever. 

Some of these artists are cognizant of their trajectory to where they would like to be in the scheme of things, whether it be becoming a solid live act with a local following that simply pays the bills, or aiming to be the… yes, the “greatest rock band of all time”.

This aspiration to be considered some of the greatest musical geniuses that ever walked the earth is a level of ambition that some artists seem to possess, and which is more common than the self-identified plebeians among us might imagine.

As well, there are – and these are probably the majority of artists to be frank – those that really have no clue what they’re trying to achieve career-wise or in terms of some grand artistic vision, if anything. 

These ego-less noodlers are content to play a song or two in their bedroom with an old dusty guitar, or serenade aunts and uncles at family reunions.  This, perhaps, is preferrable to these modest music makers.  Not everyone wants to be Bono and The Edge.

Either way, there’s a lot of people making music these days, on various scales.  Some care a lot about what they’re doing, considering it rather important, and some don’t care much at all, considering it transitory and trifling (even if they don’t know what either of those words mean). 

Musical expression – it’s all interpreted on an individual basis, of course, just like everything else in life.  I’m not here to judge!

Just kidding, I’m a bitter, jaded blogger hiding behind a screen, of course I’m here to judge.  🙂 

Also, let me stress again that there are artists out there on the musical landscape who clearly have more drive than others to create forms of expression which try to say more, with bigger artistic goals in mind.  Artists that think that Bono and The Edge are merely “ok”, or might even say “they suck” (gasp!).

These more ambitious people may simply have an undeniable artistic vision that they are pursuing, while still others want to make a grand artistic statement and also get handed a big bag of cash and hang out with the Robert Palmer girls (or Robert himself if you are a girl, I guess).  The fame!  The fortune!  The cars!  The yachts!  Simon LeBon!  Yes!  Yes!  YES!

In any case, there’s really no denying that some artists seem driven to achieve something on a level that perhaps few artists can muster.  And kudos to those people, because without them, we would get some of our favourite albums.

Alex Gage’s Flagship Introduce “Lifeboat” EP Via Live Debut

Enter Alex Gage (pictured below) and his new musical project the Flagship, and their new “Lifeboat” EP.

Now there’s a little word called pretentiousness and you hear it when people speak of what is sometimes called “art rock”. 

Alex Gage, a member of the funky trio The Magnetic Revelators who generally kick out the crowd-pleasing jams in their hometown of Kitchener, Ontario, has now crossed the line into a new realm of expression, which is…I dare say…art rock. 

Could it be that Alex Gage is pulling a Prince, mic’ing his entire home, and recording a concept album on the toilet with a Tele and the red light on?

Having known Alex for a little while and spoken with him many times, I’ve really never known Alex to really ooze pretentiousness.  Musically skilled, yep.  Energetic, quite.  Full of ideas, indeed. 

But now, having revealed to me a new side of himself which I must admit is rather musically progressive and experimental in nature, there is always the fear that art rock will cast a spell of smugness on this normally beautiful, free-spirited soul who seems to love music for its intrinsic values, and isn’t hell bent on being the next Kanye West.

Curiosity piqued, I had to know what was up with the project Alex has referred to lately as Flagship, or rather Alex Gage’s Flagship, as he is the project leader of a host of talented musicians coming from diverse musical backgrounds.  The more I heard about the project, the more I gathered that it was rather ambitious in scope. 

Here is a recent pic of the Flagship working on material.  

From the sounds of it, these people know what they’re doing.  I began to wonder – is Alex on his way to creating the next “Lulu” (Metallica meets Lou Reed, if you recall), or is this going to be something really cool that will blow our minds?

With a debut live show at a venue called The Jazz Room in the Canadian university town of Waterloo, Ontario imminent this Saturday, July 14th, the time is coming to see what Alex Gage has in store for listeners in terms of his new EP. 

In the meantime, I conducted an interview with Alex to see what he had to say about this new project, which he has been working on diligently with his new band, but keeping things under wraps…until now. 

Enjoy our chat!


YC: So, Alex, I hear you got a new band together.  What’s that all about?

Alex: Well, truth be told, it’s been a Chinese Democracy years in the making. By that I mean it was something I was theoretically getting ready for – personally – for a long time before I was capable of the business of actually pulling it off. I write a decent amount and the majority of it isn’t fit for what The Magnetic Revelators (my regular band) do. I’m only a third to a half of the personality in that group so I wanted to create something to serve as a flagship (beg your pardon) for my creative personality and this armada of compositions I’ve accumulated over time. I was craving an unmediated vehicle of expression. It started this time as a recording project. This band was – and still is – my conception of a solo project, but the ideas were bigger than what I could pull off alone – especially live now; it takes seven people to pull off this music without drastically reducing the complexity of the arrangements. I mean, I played a lot of the parts you hear on the album but, even so, I needed a rhythm section in-studio with the chops to hold my ideas together from the outside and the objective curiosity to humour flights of fancy that, honestly, only work in theory  (or the fancies that make no theoretical sense but worked anyways). I guess I’m lying when I say I didn’t want my creativity mediated in any way – it is far more exciting, both in the final musical product and in the process itself as artist, to have collaborators to spark in-the-moment inspirations. But what my Flagship is about is giving me a chance to really captain the ship (again, apologies) and put myself out there artistically; to write whatever I want, for the band to play what I feel strongly about, to be uncompromising live – and to have final edit on everything! to be able to decide what kind of environment, what kind of chemistry, I want to set off. I multi-tracked the hell out of the recordings all by my lonesome but every bandmember really has contributed so much to the live incarnations of these songs. We’re not “playing the album” that’s coming out at the launch show, just its songs. I get to do the mad-scientist thing now with my pick of the elements I think best reanimate my music. Here, that means putting seven very different musicians into one cramped rehearsal space with the songs and…. seeing what happens. I still reserve the license to make executive decisions afterwards about what experiments live and which ones to take out back behind the shed to be shot and never spoken of again. That’s with respects to the “band” aspect of the project.

YC: I hear what you’re saying with recordings vs. live band – they’re two different things, really.  In terms of the live band, who do you have on board, what do they do, and where’d you find them?

Alex: With one exception, these are all Toronto-based musicians, people I met in the music program at York University.

Lennox Campbell-Berzins is one of our guitarists – he’s the one doing all the structurally-necessary guitar parts on the EP – I guess you call that rhythm guitar. He’s my oldest schoolfellow, we fell in fast over prog rock in first year and have played in a few bands together over the years. He’s teaching just about every instrument now, gigging, and just recently retired his main band to work with me on the Flagship and start his new Broken Wolves band (which I am reciprocally a member of). Thick as thieves we are, even if we can’t cowrite a damn thing because of how much we bicker over musical nit-pickings.

Sarah Thawer’s the drummer – and I mean THE drummer. I met her through our other guitarist, Laurent, for a band Lennox and I tried to put together in a past life. We did manage one show together before folding. She’s one of my favourite drummers (and not just of “people that I know”) because of how deeply her inventive playing speaks. She has folded so many genres and cultural traditions into her musical voice. She played the TD Toronto Jazz Festival with her own group last month, she’s sponsored, she plays full-time around the world – actually, I think her arrival from what I believe is two weeks of touring in Portugal is only the day before our show.

Laurent Bergeron isn’t on-record but his guitar playing is indispensable to managing this beast live. I actually met him first at an IMC rock camp when I was a teenager. I was impressed by his speed with highly technical riffs, even then, and he thought I had a good voice. Him being a couple years younger than me, it wasn’t until a few years later that we tried that aforementioned band (though I did sing one show with a band he had as a high school senior the fall after that camp). He and Sarah were quad-mates in residence at York; neither minded the other’s practicing coming through the walls. I knew I needed a gunslinger and since I’d already used up Lennox, Laurent was top of list.

James Atin-Godden is another wizard I met in my first year though we didn’t start to hang out at all until later on. He’s playing bass and keyboards/piano in the live band. I knew him then as a zany piano player and composer of wonderful, quirky, rich fusion tunes for a band he had called Copycat. He’s really a stylistically versatile multi-instrumentalist. He’s savvy on the other side of the studio glass as well; he mixed “Lifeboat” and did a bang-up job, I think. To top it off, the guy loves playing bass and it just so happened that I needed somebody able to switch between piano and bass to take the instrumental pressure off me during songs that were difficult to sing. In addition to composing and teaching he also tours playing keys for The Pick Brothers Band.

Aniqa Qadir, same year at York. She’s a dedicated singer. Again, we were on good terms but didn’t hang out much outside of crossing paths in class, at shows, or on the 196 express bus between campus and subway (a commuter’s run-in which happened surprisingly many times, now that I think about it). A deft singer. As a person, she’s modest but factual, compassionate but takes no shit. Her technical ability, her ear, and her vocal range are of such breadth (how low she can sing is truly mortifying coming out of her small frame) that, since she can sing pretty well anything, she’s spends more time than most singers deciding what she ought to sing. Call it an impeccable exercise of taste rather than dumb muscle, even when she uses plenty of muscle. Recently she released two beautiful albums as the group Aniqa Dear (A project James was also central to).

Luke Griffin is the hometown exception to this Toronto roster. You’ll hear him singing, playing acoustic guitar, and even holding down a little bass. My oldest friend with whom I still maintain an active friendship with – I won’t do the math on how long. He’s basically my arch-foil. We’ve had a theoretical band for years. One summer we did actually gig as an acoustic duo; we had a residency at The Little Bean (R.I.P.) which led to me working there for a season. Most of our playing together was in high school in jazz band and the like. He’s a self-described “saxophone enthusiast,” he plays tenor and we used to take over rehearsals by inciting endless jams of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon.” Luke has an annoyingly great pitch awareness and is one of the few male singers I know who’ll follow me almost all the way up into that soprano register. Our voices are so similar when we sing in harmony it really feels as if we become a single sympathetic instrument. I lose track of which voice is coming out of my mouth. It is a difficult experience to describe but it’s a beautiful sympathy.

Clearly, I don’t feel I can say enough about the musicians I’ve roped into this endeavour. I got my first picks across the board and it’s excitement itself to witness and hear the result of them finding their individual voice’s place in the ensemble and within each composition. I approached each person for a reason and have not once been disappointed by a single member.

YC: Sounds like quite the line-up!  How many shows do you plan to do around this album, and when might that happen?

Alex: So, here’s the thing about a line-up like that: It’s really hard to coordinate and schedule. Right now we’ve got two shows booked; The Jazz Room show in Waterloo to officially fire off everything with a solid hometown show (even though I’m technically from Kitchener), and one show in August about a month later…. the 18th, at Duffy’s Tavern, to introduce the band and the album to what still feels like my adoptive city – and is the legitimate HQ of 5 members. I plan on getting more shows booked in the fall but it’s a lot to manage, putting out an album independently, so I’ve pushed that task into the after-launch future. It was important to launch with this lineup for the sake of the EP and some of the live members’ contributions to it but it was always in my mind to give this music the “living document” treatment in stage conditions. For practical considerations I’ll be doing shows with varying configurations of the current band based who I can get at any given time. Otherwise, we’d never perform. It was hell just to book the first two shows and, even then, Duffy’s Tavern will see us slightly leaner and meaner! I have an LP follow-up half-baked on my computer, I was going to try and have it out in September, but I’ll probably push it back to give this album more breathing room and to keep its motif going for the live shows a bit longer. But the live set is honestly already about more than just the album. 30 minutes is long for an EP but makes for a weak live set, so we’ve extended the live show with songs you’ll hear on the LP and some carefully chosen covers, including a wicked medley I won’t spoil (but I will tell you, it’s liable to make the Grand River Jazz Society’s tech – GRJS does the sound/light at the Jazz Room – weep disdainful tears of sorrow while delighting any old prog fans in the room).

YC: I’m sure it will be quite the event!  What styles / bands are you taking influence from on this whole thing?  Like, is this supposed to be a jazz thing, a rock thing, a jazz-rock thing?  A Yoko Ono wacky art project thing?

Alex: It’s a rock thing. I’d call it a prog rock or an art rock thing. “Prog” these days seems to imply what I’d classify as, like, prog metal – and we’re definitely not a metal band of any description. But for me, it’s always important to take inspiration or influence from as many places as you can understand and make coherent. So, I mean, more directly influences you’ll hear will be bands like King Crimson and Queen but, stylistically, you’ll hear wisps of a few “popular music” genres like soul and folk and a snatch of the Brill Building, even. You can smell jazz chops a mile away, regardless of the genre (think of To Pimp A Butterfly or Blackstar) and, like I said, I’ve got a bunch of jazz cats playing in the band. But there’s also a lot of really subtly “classical” music influence in the way some of the songs are put together on a more technical level, the way we manipulate tempo in the recordings (no click), some of the harmony stuff in voicings and voice leading; I put some very oblique nods to a few of my favourite composers and one of the songs we do live but that I wrote just too late to make it on the record makes a pretty obvious nod to Beethoven. Ha! I’ve also been told there is a part or two of the EP that sound not unlike Nobuo Uematsu, best known for his work as the composer for the Final Fantasy games. But it’s definitely a rock thing in its simplest sense, hands down. A rock blender.

YC: So, for this Jazz Room show, how did that come about again?  Why the Jazz Room?

Alex: It turns out the Jazz Room doesn’t really care who you are or what you do. They just ask that your audience be thirsty and/or hungry enough to consume a grand in revenue for them. Which is alright; it’s attached to the Huether, so I for one am ordering supper towards that end. I kind of assumed there was a jazz bar (no pun intended) you had to live up to in order to play there but when I checked it out, I discovered they were really open-minded to whatever I wanted to do. I picked the Jazz Room because I wanted a venue that was geared towards live music, towards performing and listening to live music at a high level of engagement. This isn’t a band that’s going to work in a dive sports bar where half the people want to just watch the game and hear some Lynyrd Skynyrd (as much as I’d enjoy hearing some Lynyrd Skynyrd, myself), where we’re running our own sound – or off a basement or café floor where we don’t have a proper PA. There’s too many of us doing too many different things and the music is complex enough that the band cohesion would become dangerously tenuous in a bad sounding space – not to mention, I would feel like I ripped-off the audience if we came out to play some of these intricate arrangements and we couldn’t hear each other, and all the audience heard then was a gigantic fart of noise for an hour, coming in six-minute chunks. There are bands that do music that sound good anywhere and under any conditions, or sound even better in shitty conditions; where it’s way more enjoyable for everyone – the whole point really – to trash the space or make wherever the band is a dancefloor. Unfortunately, that’s not us – hopefully we can still move a few people bodily onto the dancefloor but, sound-wise, we’re needy when there’s seven of us! A place that’s experientially calibrated like The Jazz Room makes the night more fun for this kind of music, both for performer and for audience member, because everything will still be intelligible by the time the sound leaves the stage and reaches the listeners’ ears. Plus, it wasn’t prohibitively expensive for me to put a show on there!

YC: Ah that makes sense!  Well, I look forward to the show then ?  Anything else you’d like to add in closing here?

Alex: About this music? Nah, hopefully the rest can speak for itself in more than words on Saturday. Though, maybe in closing – can I get dense for a second? – I will say this on my own account, personally: that I hope this whole project can represent the fact that we, as individuals, must be free to be artists, and to be artists over craftsmen of cultural products (unless, of course, that is, in fact, your calling). Not unlike scientific pursuit, the best art is a manifestation of the process of asking a question, which is the earnest attempt at genuine engagement and understanding with the world and our existence within it, within ourselves, and within others – and all the vice versas of that network. The connection is a true one, an active one – whatever one says of the content transferred over it – so I think it is of the utmost importance for us to make quality art. In philosophy, East or West, the greatest questions tend, as a rule of thumb, to lack definitive answers. Therefore, I’m not saying we’ve got to have any profound solution to make quality art – just live in your question. It can be anything, so long as you mean it. It speaks to the fundamentally political element of art too: it’s not always about including pro- or protest lyrics; politics is all about the organization of relationships in society between people and resources and what-have-you. Well….so is art! so, by extension, all art is political in this way – even in its most abstract and absolute forms – through our engagement with it, (the same can be said of art’s relationship to its creator) when we encounter a work of art and ask it (as best as we can in the context of our individual matrices of being-in-the-world) ‘what the hell are you?’ There is a lot of political and existential disingenuity getting put out there – these days especially! – and that’ll really fuck a body up if you get trapped in the net of false connections that gets strung together. It’s incredibly hazardous to one’s mental, physical, and species’ health to become disconnected, insular, and unengaged (or engaged under false pretense). You don’t need a movement. Just ask good questions; make good art. This EP and our live show represents my best efforts. It’s a matter of survival.

What is Downtempo Music? – History, Characteristics, and Artists

Downtempo is a genre of electronic music. It is similar to ambient music, however, downtempo has a greater emphasis on beats. It is also similar to trip hop, a fusion of hip hop and electronica which emerged in Bristol in the late 1980s. Downtempo also surfaced around this time in the UK, but its rise in popularity began in the 1990s.

In 2010, the Atlantic described downtempo as “a variety of music styles from the 2000s characterized by mellow beats, vintage synthesizers, and lo-fi melodies.” The genre generally includes chillwave, glo-fi, and hypnagogic pop.

Downtempo music is slow, made up of tranquil beats and melodies peppered with synth that flows in and out, presenting an overall retro, dreamy, far away vibe. There are usually few to no lyrics used in downtempo. The genre takes inspiration from many other styles of music, like 80’s pop.

Some artists have also taken a feather from Jamaican dub and reggae and incorporated that into the genre, such as the duo known as Thievery Corporation. Their album “Treasures from the Temple” illustrates their reggae-influenced style of downtempo perfectly. You can listen to the album below.

In addition to Thievery Corporation, some other downtempo artists include Flume, Little Dragon and Tycho.

Washed Out is another prime example of the genre. You can listen to “Feel It All Around” below.

There is a simplicity to downtempo that makes it easy to listen to, and a rhythm to it that makes it enjoyable.  

Tycho album cover

History of Downtempo

Downtempo was often played in Ibiza throughout the 1990s. Ibiza is an island in the Mediterranean Sea known for its nightlife and summer club scene, as well as the electronic music that originated on the island.

Many DJs use Ibiza to try out new songs in the electronic music genre. Often in Ibiza, DJs would play downtempo music to bring down the vibe as the party neared sunrise. After a night of upbeat electronic music, a bit of chill, ambient downtempo would relax the vibe and bring everything to a nice close.  

Throughout the 1990s, downtempo was played in the chillout and relaxation areas of clubs and electronic music events. Later in the 1990s, it grew in popularity thanks to the Austrian duo Kruder and Dorfmeister who remixed many pop and hip hop songs in the downtempo genre. You can listen to their song “Shakatakadoodub” from their 2008 album of the same name below. 

Conclusion

If you’re looking for some chill, ambient music, embroidered with a bit of 80s charm and stitched together with simple beats and melodies, this genre is for you.

Who is Keyboard Cat? Only One of Internet’s Greatest Memes, Dat Who!

Who is Keyboard Cat? I asked myself the same question when I first heard the intriguing moniker. As it turned out, the name is quite self-explanatory. Keyboard Cat is a cat who plays the keyboard and has become quite famous for it.

It started in 1984 when Charlie Schmidt filmed a video of his big ginger cat named “Fatso” wearing a light blue shirt and “playing” an electric keyboard. Schmidt is really manipulating the cat off screen, so it appears as if she herself is playing the keys. She plays un upbeat, catchy little riff with a sort of smug, unimpressed, undeniably “cool” expression on her face. 

In 2007, Schmidt uploaded the video to YouTube under the title “Charlie Schmidt’s Cool Cats”, but he later changed the title to “Charlie Schmidt’s Keyboard Cat”. The video quickly gained popularity. You can watch the original video below.

“Play Him Off, Keyboard Cat” Meme

When Brad O’Farrell obtained permission from Schmidt to use the video of Keyboard Cat on the channel My Damn Channel, the meme “Play him off, Keyboard Cat” was created. O’Farrell used the clip of Keyboard Cat at the end of blooper footage to “play” a person offstage after their mistake or blunder.

Soon after, many people began adding Keyboard Cat’s video to the end of bloopers and other viral videos, usually with the title, “Play him/her/them off, Keyboard Cat”. Thousands of these videos now exist, and Keyboard Cat was ranked no. 2 on Current TV’s list of 50 Greatest Viral Videos.

Beyond YouTube & Tributes

Keyboard Cat’s popularity was such that the meme reached beyond YouTube and made its way into television. Keyboard Cat’s biggest time in the lime light was during 2009. In this year, Keyboard Cat was featured in the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Andy Samberg joked at the MTV Movie Awards that anyone whose speech went on too long would be played off by Keyboard Cat. In a segment of Tosh.0, Kato Kaelin did a spoof of Keyboard Cat entitled Keyboard Kato.

And then there’s Ron Livingston, best known for his role as Peter Gibbons in Office Space and star of Band of Brothers, who made a Youtube channel called Livingstown with exactly one video, where Ron disguises himself as Keyboard Cat, convincing many viewers and commenters that, yes, this is in fact the real deal cat, and not a man at all.  Watch, and prepare to be utterly convinced!

Keyboard Cat also appeared in Weezer’s 2009 tour with Blink-182 to play the band off the stage every night.  We couldn’t find any footage of that legendary collaboration, but anyway, here’s M+M’s by Blink 182.

Appearances

It doesn’t stop at television and music. Keyboard Cat has also made a few appearances in video games.

In the game Scribblenauts for Nintendo DS, a game in which you use your imagination to call upon different objects to help you solve puzzles, Keyboard Cat is an option that can be chosen, along with several other internet memes.  

Keyboard cat in Scribblenauts

Fatso and Her Successor, Bento

Unfortunately, the original Keyboard Cat, Fatso, died way back in 1987, three years after the original footage was filmed. But she left a legacy behind her and will not be forgotten.

In 2009, Schmidt got a new cat named Bento who resembled Fatso. Schmidt continued to make videos with Bento until Bento’s death in 2018.

We hope you enjoyed our little article tribute to the great Keyboard Cat.  If you know something we don’t, please leave us a comment!  

Matt Gray – The Last C-64 Music Ninja

Anyone’s top 10 list of C64 game music is bound to feature a few efforts by Matt Gray, with a long and engrossing list of tracks to his name ranging from the legendary The Last Ninja 2 to the likes of Tusker and Hunter’s Moon.

Quedex

Quedex was his first published work for Thalamus’ puzzler featuring a chrome ball having to overcome a lot of tricky levels in 1987.

Coming a little later to the scene than many of the musical heroes we’ve covered, he knew the bar was set very high and aimed to top, or at least match them with a blistering mix of modern sounds.

Quedex was scratchy, fast-paced, and had an insistent hook with plenty of bass.

Driller

Gray’s follow up was the music for Driller, a 3D game with destructible scenery that helped raise the profile of polygons and set up the 16-bit generation as the must-play system.

Even so, the C-64 soundtrack was an epic that could grace any sci-fi film today, with strident tones and perfect pacing for the levels where mining was a tactical puzzle as part of the game.

Hunter Moon

With more work heading his way, based on the success of those early efforts, Hunter’s Moon was one of the next projects.

With Gray showing he was king of the loading screen and those initial pieces of music that kept gamer’s rapt as the slow but sure tape loader crept along.

Hunter’s Moon packed in plenty of depth to the track with amazing levels of fidelity for the SID chip. The shooter/puzzler lacked in-game music, but every other part of the game was an aural delight.

Treasure Island Dizzy

Most of Matt’s game music was for titles that had a darker, edgier side to them, but he was able to play to a lighter audience with the soundtrack to Treasure Island Dizzy from Codemasters.

The eggy hero has always been one of the jollier characters in gaming, and his music, still with depth and some complexity helped bring this episode of the series to life.

Rambo First Blood Part 2

A lot of Gray’s music has been remade by fans, and the man himself has always worked on remakes of other artists’ work, such as this example of Rambo First Blood Part 2, originally by Martin Galway.

This all helps keep the community alive and interest in both the games and the soundtracks that people loved.

Matt’s story ended on a sour note in the games industry, when working on the NES version of Micro Machines, he was promised a credit and royalty on sales, none of which emerged, causing him to leave the scene.

But, many years on, the man and his music is back, which brings us to the man’s latest project.

Matt Gray’s C64-Era Tunes for the Modern Age

Some musicians faded away from the gaming scene, others went on to do bigger, bolder work in different media. But, once a tune is exposed to the world through thousands or millions of sales, it never dies.

The Last Ninja

So, the musicians are remembered and, sometimes, they bring back their memories for a new listening audience. Matt Gray’s Reformation was a successful Kickstarter project, raising over $100,000 to get the tunes from The Last Ninja and more to a modern composition standard.

Check out some of the tunes on Soundcloud and hear them in a whole new light, while the originals, both his own work and those of other famous C64 music artists, will never fade these are truly something you can listen to in the car on on run without anyone looking at you in a funny way. 

Best of My Music-Related Bookmarked Youtube Videos and Fav Channels – Part 1

Hey guys, Young Coconut here!  I just thought I’d share with you some of my favourite music-related Youtube videos and channels in the form of bookmarks that I have stored away in my Chrome browser from the past several years.  I do a lot of digging for interesting musical content that can be found on Youtube, which now has reached an almost infinite amount as new unseen footage is always being unearthed, new channels are arriving every day, and hours of interviews and commentary is flooding Youtube’s servers on the daily.

I’m doing this little share-a-thon, partly because it’s fun to share (yay!), but also because I’m having to clear out my bookmarks due to the fact that I’ve saved too many (1000+ ?), and it’s crashing my Chrome browser every time I visit the bookmarks section, or heaven forbid I try to add another bookmark at this point.  It’s become completely unmanageable!  

So, rather than just trash all my collection of treasured bookmarks from over the years, which I have grown quite fond of by this point I might add, it’s high time I cleaned house.  As such, I am coming across a lot of stuff of the musical variety that I think some of you will appreciate (emphasis on the some).  Hence, I am giving these videos their own blog post, in the hopes that this might become a regular thing. 

I was going to give this post a real keyword-friendly title like “Best Music Youtube Channels of 2018”, but then I decided, nahhh…since this definitely isn’t any kind of “best” list that anyone will agree upon.  Rather, if anything, it’s just a list of favourite music-related Youtube bookmarks that you who reads this post will either love or have no interest in whatsoever.  I’ve avoided doing things like this on Facebook (ie. sharing things I like) because Facebook’s algorithm has shunned me because I don’t participate in the newsfeed.  I find it to be a waste of time.  Ironically, I think this is not a waste of time, although there’s a fair chance that I’m wrong about that.  In any case, enjoy this selection of my favourite Youtube videos dredged up from my bookmarks collection.  😀  BTW these are not in any particular order.

Rick Beato’s Everything Music

I really like Rick’s channel, which is fairly new, because it goes in depth into a lot of the stuff that I think about when listening to music.  Rick is a super personal kind of guy that knows a ton about music and has the faculties to explain his knowledge in a way that fans appreciate.  His channel is full of interesting stuff, but my favourite thing on his channel right now are these videos he does called “What Makes This Song Great?”, where he dissects popular rock songs in terms of their various constituent parts and talks about what makes the song cool.  It’s a great idea, and I tend to agree mostly with what he says.  I also think it’s refreshing, what he’s doing, because I’ve never really seen a guy take a song and break it down the way he does and explain all the music theory behind it.  Definitely subbed to this dude when I came across him.  

Here’s an episode of his “What Makes This Song Great?” featuring Pearl Jam’s song Jeremy.  Cool stuff.  

Visit Rick Beato’s Youtube Channel here


Nomakills

I came across Stefano Nomakills’ Youtube channel a couple of years ago, and instantly subbed to this guy.  The reason I love his channel is because what Nomakills does is simply shreds along to various albums that I love, including stuff by Metallica, Nirvana, Dream Theater, Meshuggah, Cradle of Filth, System of a Down, and various other heavy bands.  Like, this stuff is not really that easy to play, but dude has no problem with it, plus it’s clear he’s having fun with it.  The concept is so simple, it’s awesome.  He does these play alongs where the album starts, and he just grabs his guitar and plays the whole damn album front to back.  And it’s not like he does it flawlessly, but he can certainly rip on guitar where I can just watch / listen to him and enjoy what he does.  I think that any of the guys he’s covering, including the late great Cobain would have to smile to see this guy play the tunes.  He also does his own music, and the guy has like 15 albums released over the past decade or so, and they’re actually really good too!  Check this guy out, he seriously kicks ass.

I even got to interview him!  Read my interview with Nomakills here


Funny Moments with John Frusciante

As you may know, I’m a huge fan of the band the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and specifically John Frusciante, the guy who, through his uniquely imaginative musical vision, helped the band reach new heights of fame in the early 1990’s, only to retreat into the all consuming darkness of addiction after the band made it super big.  That said, John has always been rather upbeat about his battling with his demons, citing his heroin-using days where his teeth were falling out as some of his favourite times, and creating some of his best music as well.  Well, you can’t keep a good guy down, can you?  Anyway, for a while now, people have been making these compilations of featuring John at his zaniest and silliest.  For someone who’s so nihilistic and philosophical, the dude can be quite a ham.  Here is one of those “Funny John Frusciante” compilations I’m talking about.


Nardwuar The Human Serviette

I’ve been watching British Columbia, Canada’s Nardwuar for years, ever since his stint on MuchMusic’s Going Costal, and I almost can’t imagine anyone who listens to music not knowing about him by now.  As far as music interviews go, Nardwuar has got to be the most entertaining interviewer of them all, and also the most knowledgeable by a landslide.  At this point, like many of his fans, I think the respect for what he does goes deep as he’s interviewed just about everyone imaginable, including some people you’d never figure he’d get to talk to like oh, I don’t know…James Brown!  Some of the biggest icons in music have, by this point, been interviewed many times, like Snoop Dogg, Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, and many more.  It is an honour for someone to be in the super hyper verging-on-annoying presence of Nardwuar, as he is connected throughout the music biz as a guy who can still catch his interviewees off guard with his probing and often deeply personal questions.  How he remembers everything he does is astounding.  It’s always telling just how in the know a musician is by how they treat Nardwuar.  Treat him bad, like Sonic Youth or Blur, and you will feel the sting of his legions of fans for years to come.  Blur drummer Dave Rowntree knows what I’m sayin’.

Here’s a clip (one of many) of Nardwuar interviewing possibly his favourite guest, Snoop Dogg.  

Visit and sub to Nardwuar the Human Serviette’s Youtube channel here


Guided By Voices – I Am A Tree Live @ The Cow Haus

Guided by Voices (brainchild of one R. Pollard), if you don’t know, is one of the greatest bands of all time, and definitely is the drunkest band of all time, not to mention the best thing to come out of Dayton, Ohio, like ever.  (except for maybe the Breeders)  On Youtube, there are thousands of videos of GBV, because the band literally has about a thousand or so songs to play at this point.  Normally, any band that has that many songs would probably suck, but, as it happens, at least half of this bands’ songs are classics, and could stand toe to toe with any other song by any other great band.  The group rocks hard, and goes through cases of bear and many bottles of liquor per show.  The band has quit the stage, and made comebacks, and quit again, and come back again.  The line-up has changed a lot over the years, but the current line-up is probably my favourite, with my favourite guitar player of theirs, Doug Gillard (tough call since Mitch and Nate are also both great, not to mention Tobin).  It just so happens that Doug Gillard wrote one of my all time favourite GBV songs, called I Am A Tree.  Whenever they’ve played it live, it always tears the roof off the mofo, but the video I’m showing you below is probably my favourite version that I’ve seen.  

Visit GBV’s website here


Kittens – Carpenter LIVE

david kelly kittens drummer

Kittens is a band from Winnipeg that you might not guess is a hardcore band, but they sure are…or were.  Until their drummer died, sadly.  But death doesn’t stop us fanboys, does it?  No, apparently not… Kittens are definitely one of my favourite bands of all time, with some of the greatest songs as well as song titles as well as album titles that I’ve ever heard.  I think if you can’t get into Tiger Comet, we can’t be friends.  But that’s ok, chances are that means I hate you anyways.  So yeah, Kittens has very few live clips on Youtube, since they were more of a pre-internet band, despite touring in the 2000’s.  I think it’s fair to say that overall they’re more of a band you’d see live and not be video-taping, but rather experiencing the show, or getting slammed in the pit, and hopefully your phone will get smashed, preferably by your head as it lands on top of it.  One of my favourite clips of Kittens is this clip of them playing one of their songs from Tiger Comet, called Carpenter.  The video quality is shit, but if you’re like me, you don’t watch videos like this and expect high definition.  You get what you get, and you’re lucky you get anything at all.  So, if you’re into having fun, check out this clip of Kittens.

Read my article about the Kittens here


That’s it for now.  Gotta go!  If you like me sharing this stuff, tell me in the comments, and I might just make another one of these.  If you think this is a bad idea you don’t like my tastes, tell me in the comments.  I’ll publish your sassy little comment, I swear!  

May as well plug the Fauxtown Records Youtube channel while I’m here.  Visit, listen, subscribe, turn on notifications – all that good stuff!  Our Youtube channel is where I post a lot of our music, which you can obviously listen to for free, as well as other weird stuff.  Here’s one of my songs I recorded recently.  Bye bye!

David Whittaker – C64 Composer Legend

Last week we took a listen to the fantastic tunes from Rob Hubbard, surely regarded as one of gaming’s more prolific composers. This week’s British video game musician legend, David Whittaker, might not have the range, but certainly packs in the quality when it comes to memory-making chiptune and SID music.

Whittaker was a coder by heart, and started making his own games in the early eighties, before rising to prominence as a musician. Playing on a Yamaha CX5 back in the day, he coded in most of his tunes directly without the benefit of MIDI or other tools. His early works are still popular to this day, including Street Surfer, which has a bit of an Oxygene feel to it, as many of the 80’s digital musicians seemed to like to borrow from.

While he is famous for his C64 and Amiga work, David dabbled on most systems across the generations and could even make the humble Spectrum beeper produce some decent music like this ATV Simulator effort. And if you look hard enough you’ll find games on most systems with his work in the audio department.

Shadow of the Beast

Shadow of the Beast is probably his most famous work, tied to the gorgeous if tricky-to-play Amiga game from Psygnosis. With its haunting use of panpipes and sliding notes, it perfectly set the atmosphere for an alien world that made it all the way through to the recent PS4 update that brought a depth of gameplay that the original was perhaps lacking.

The developers of the new version said that “Fans of the 1989 game’s music will notice many elements and themes familiar to them have been subtly woven into the soundtrack for our modern take. Music is incredibly important to the atmosphere of Shadow of the Beast. Talented composer Ian Livingstone has produced a fantastic dynamic soundtrack specifically designed to complement our take on Shadow of the Beast’s universe.”

While he wrote music for games across many 8-bit and 16-bit formats, this really set the stage for Whittaker, and he took on future projects more sparingly to concentrate on bringing a fully fledged musical landscape. Notable hits include The Bitmap Brother’s Speedball, a futuristic world of chrome and sporting violence.

Panther is another classic, a MasterTronic game of vehicular exploration. It is a much remixed piece, with a fine building backline and commanding keyboards creating a dominating piece of music that begged to be listened to in an era of digital music.

For comparison, check out a recent remix here with a full layer of samples, voicework and more laid over. It just shows how sophisticated the original tune was and how well it stands up to modern music.

David wasn’t just a musician and also worked on sound effects for games at Psygnosis for the likes of Ballistix and Blood Money where the developer’s use of heavy metal and chrome features in the visual design of game allowed him to explore a full world of metallic audio.

Having found fame, David moved to EA and worked in a wider role covering sound effects on the likes of the NHL series, Road Rash, the multimedia epic of Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger and the likes of the PGA games when sports games were more than just a list of licensed tracks. As speech became more prominent in these games, he worked on the likes of John Madden Football, Tiger Woods Golf and others as the technology matured to help give convincing commentaries and immerse players in the games.

He continues in gaming to this day, working for Traveller’s Tales on the LEGO series of games, recently credited as Dialogue and Cutscene Co-ordinator on LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. 

Lots of fans have taken his music and remixed or remade it over the years, you can find a full hour of his tunes below.

And we may as well throw in this great remix of his Enduro Racer tune hat made the Sega racer great fun.

Check out a recent interview with David that discusses the range of his work and how risky life was as a game music writer back in the day.

Thanks for reading!  If you love this stuff, or have a story to share, leave a comment below as we always like to hear from you.

Napster – P2P’s Sacrificial Lamb

Napster was a pioneer in peer-to-peer file sharing services. The service specialized in sharing audio files, especially music files encoded in the still-popular MP3 format.  

The service allowed its users to easily exchange songs through a decentralized file sharing system – the first of its kind, really – which changed the way everyone got their music.  What seemed like an amazing breakthrough in accessibility to all music eventually led the music industry to lay charges of massive copyright infringement against it. Napster then had to cease operations.

The original Napster service ran between June 1999 and July 2001. Although the service was closed by court order, it opened the way for many other peer-to-peer programs: Gnutella, Freenet, Kazaa, LimeWire, Scour, Grokster, Madster, eDonkey2000, and many others. Many of these services were based on the Napster model and implemented the same decentralized peer-to-peer architecture, which has made them similarly despised over the years by those who believe the Napster model is nothing more than a platform for piracy.  The battle rages on…

History of Napster

The idea for what Napster would do (share files in a decentralized system quickly and easily) was the brainchild of creator Shawn Fanning, a computer programmer from Brockton, Massachusetts who came up with the basic code for Napster when he was 18 in a broom closet in his uncle’s office.

It all began when Shawn Fanning, nicknamed <napster> on a hacker chat forum because of his nappy hair (I guess before she shaved his head), had a room mate at Northeastern University in Boston who was having trouble downloading his favourite music from the internet.  Even though Shawn disliked his roommates taste in music, it gave him an idea.  Hmm…

The internet itself had only been in available to the public for a few years by this point, and was still in the “dial up” era, where connections to the internet were quite slow still. 

Some people, like Shawn Fanning and his buddy Sean Parker, had met through early internet forums, and bonded over this new social connection the internet provided.  This way of connecting to people was still a novelty at this time, and Shawn and Sean were like cyber penpals.  Today, people meet in this way all the time and it’s the norm.  Back then, it was rather unusual to make friends in such a way.

Thanks to Shawn’s roommate’s issue with downloading music, Shawn figured he could make file sharing easier, and set about creating Napster by roughing out some code which would constitute the basic gist of what Napster was meant to do. 

After a while, Shawn, his brother John Fanning, and Sean Parker decided to turn Napster into a start-up business and take some serious action on the idea.  Tech start-ups were just starting to become a thing back in those days, and Napster was just another kooky tech start up.

Before Napster, services such as Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Hotline Communications, and Usenet facilitated file distributions over the web, so the idea of sharing files was not entirely unprecedented.  But Napster was subtly different from these communities in a few different ways, even though the code still needed work. 

Shawn then handed the code over to some more expert coder dudes, like Jordan Ritter, who became the chief server architect for Napster, and that’s when the real fun began, because Jordan was able to take Shawn’s idea and make it actually work, even without Shawn showing him the source code which he presumably wanted to keep to himself.  

Downloading in Dorms

Once the Napster system actually worked, Shawn was quick to share his creation with the students at his university, who took it for what it was – a way to get free stuff!  With its friendly interface and growing base of users, Napster began to catch on quickly and soon thousands of kids were using the service.  The MP3 was the new file format which made the sharing of music files super easy, and soon MP3’s were being shared en masse.  

MTV, the gossip hounds of the music biz, were there to interview students about this new “fad” that was starting to catch on.  What was this whole “Napster” thing all about, anyway?  LOL.

The service was an interesting combination of centralized / non-centralized system models.  For instance, Napster had their servers which contained their growing user base, but the servers didn’t hold any songs.  The users downloaded the Napster application to their computer and they became the servers, while Napster just facilitated the interaction of those users.  Hence, once music companies started freaking out, it was hard for them to know who to sue – the users themselves, or Napster.  Well, they of course started with Napster and tried to nail the users later.

It’s A Small World After All

While Napster was starting to catch on with users in colleges and universities, there was, around this time in the late 1990’s, a strong desire for people around the world to connect with each other, and Napster gave them an excuse to do that over sharing music with each other.  This made Napster practically the first successful social network, albeit for more introverted music-loving types of people.  It was no Facebook, and yet it sowed the seeds for such interactions to happen later.

It should also be mentioned that Napster as a company was basically a not-for-profit, in that it wasn’t designed to make money, and it didn’t – the entire time it was online – except for some T-shirt sales.

The MP3

As Napster was going viral (as we call it these days, but that slang didn’t exist then), people concurrently were making new ways to play and store music, so that users could take advantage of file formats like MP3.  MP3 players becoming a big thing, and soon enough, MP3 was the de facto file format for songs to be encoded in, so they could be played or stored on a computer lickety split. 

This was despite them being inferior audio-wise to most other forms of audio that had been created up until that point, such as the CD, tapes, and, of course, vinyl records.  Audiophiles to this day do not prefer the MP3, due to it’s overly compressed nature and loss of audio quality in order to shrink down the file size to be more easily shareable.  Regular people who aren’t listening closely for audio quality still don’t mind MP3’s, and they are still hugely popular today.

Making History

One thing that should be pointed out is that Napster was making available for the first time ever, all of the music that was in a digital form from all of human history.  Never before had this been done, and for free.  It was a moment in time that some saw as a great moment, since it was tapping into everyone’s collective vaults of digital music and exposing them to the world.

As part of this, Napster made it so that if you wanted to share in the fun, you needed to download the application, and so expose yourself and your hard drive to all the other users, who were connected through the application as well.   This seemed rather risky, but since Napster made it seem like you were just joining their fun little community, users didn’t really think much about the risks involved.

Even Shawn Fanning’s friends had their doubts that people would want to share the contents of their hard drive with total strangers, but, as it turned out, music lovers said “OK” to this possible breach of privacy for the chance to search through others’ music libraries. 

As a user of the software, you simply “asked” Napster if the file was out there (ie. typed in a song you wanted to get), and Napster would quickly and easily point you to someone who had the file, if anyone in the network did.  Usually someone did, but their connection might be slower or faster depending on their computer set-up.  From there, if that person was online, you could then download the file from them right then and there, and then you had it as a file on your computer.  Kind of like trading baseball cards, except with songs, and online… and somewhat anonymously… and ignoring all copyright laws. 😉

The Age Of File Sharing Innocence

As the service caught on more and more, the ease of finding and downloading music files quickly made Napster very popular among basically everyone who tried it.  Some liked the service because it allowed them to find copies of songs difficult to obtain otherwise, such as old songs, unpublished recordings and amateur recordings made at concerts.  

Others felt justified in downloading digital copies of recordings they had already purchased in other formats such as albums or cassettes.  Still others used the service to protest record companies forcing them to buy a full album when they only wanted one or two songs of an album.

Finally, many Napster users simply appreciated the opportunity to exchange or download music for free.  Some called it a revolution.  Some called it piracy.  Whatever it was, it wasn’t stopping once it started. 

Free-for-all

Napster quickly created problems for institutions, like colleges and universities.  The high-speed networks in universities and high schools had by this point become overcrowded with file sharers, with Napster hogging up 60% of the traffic to these networks.  Little work was getting done, as people were becoming addicted to the service and downloading all they could in a manic free-for-all.

As a result, many colleges blocked the service because of the congestion it caused on their network, before they even worried about their potential complicity in a potential copyright infringement on their network.

At its peak, Napster service had about 80 million registered users.  The music industry was starting to get wise to the service, and objections were getting louder by the day.  Meanwhile, Shawn was getting his moment in the spotlight as an influencer and game changer.  And it’s not like he wasn’t that – he really was.  He was a kid that had a great idea and made it a reality, and changed the world.  

The ease of downloading individual songs with Napster and subsequent services is often cited as the cause of the end of the era of albums in popular music, which, to be honest, never really “recovered” after Napster.  Like it or not, everyone was forced to look at music differently after that.

Mac Version

Initially, the service was available only on Windows. In 2000, Black Hole Media wrote a Napster client for Macintosh called Macster. Macster was later bought by Napster and named the official customer under the name Mac Napster (Napster for the Mac).  At this point, the Macster name has been dropped.

Even prior to Napster’s acquisition of Macster, the Macintosh community had a variety of Napster customers, developed independently by various groups. Most notable were the client open source MacStar, released by Squirrel Software in early 2000 and Rapster published by Overcaster Family in Brazil.

The release of MacStar’s source code has paved the way for Napster customers across all computing platforms, giving users ad-free music distribution tools.

The Real Problem

The argument for Napster being innocuous and innocent (ie. fun) seemed to stem from a certain naivety on the part of its creators.  The desire to “share” media of all kinds and make it “universal” to anyone who had the Napster software seems like a nice idea, in the same way you might loan an album to a friend.  There seems to be no harm in sharing music between “friends” or “peers”, as this was a peer-to-peer system, with the little smiling Napster guy being the facilitator of all of this innocent “sharing”. 

The problem with the whole concept seemed to come from file duplication, not so much the sharing itself.  Since sharing MP3’s was essentially copying them, which has always been illegal in most forms of both print media and digital media, this posed a problem because it took the idea of demand away from the artists who created that media in the first place.  And so, even though Lars managed to piss off Metallica fans and everyone else by calling them thieves, he did have a point in some way. 

In 2001, Dave Grohl was on the Dennis Miller show and had a decent retort to the Lars argument of millionaire rock stars being pissed at their fans for stealing their hard work from under their noses.  Should music be free to everyone, or a privilege to those who could afford it? 

Clearly, one could argue either way that Napster was good or bad, but, of course, when it comes down to the matter of pure capitalism, the big music companies weren’t about to take this file sharing bullshit any longer, and they eventually did bring the hammer down on the whole situation, and the Napster software was eventually forcibly taken down in 2001, after several years of legal proceedings in the United States for infringement of copyright law.

What happened?  Just to recap, from the outset, the role of Napster in the transfer of music and service efficiency had raised the ire of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which very quickly, on the 7th December 1999, filed the first lawsuit against the popular file-sharing service.

This initial lawsuit aimed at snuffing out Napster ASAP, but only offered it free publicity instead – at first. The media coverage of the lawsuit has inflated Napster’s customer base by millions of new users.  But that didn’t stop various entities from taking the revolutionary idea of making music free for everyone that Shawn initially thought of, and basically beating the shit out of it legally.  As mentioned earlier with Lars of Metallica, certain artists absolutely HATED Napster (Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and many many more), and sided with the music industry in an effort to destroy Napster.

The plaintiffs alleged that Napster facilitated copyright infringement, and filed an application for a preliminary injunction to stop the exchange of musical selections immediately.

Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California  granted the preliminary injunction on the basis that the plaintiffs demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success.  It did take years to grind Napster down, with the help of a memo written by Napster co-founder Sean Parker who mentioned the word “piracy”, basically giving everyone enough evidence in that one word or sentence to assume that Napster was never about anything but theft.

Napster Goes Offline

Napster was forced to shut things down in July 2001, but even after they did that, it wasn’t dead yet because people had Napster appendages running off site that kept the system going even without the main hub being active.  Eventually though, those were stamped out too.

Napster then filed for bankrupcy in June of 2002, they had to raise 100 million dollars to essentially pay people off, including Dr. Dre and Metallica (two of the more vocal and powerful opponents of Napster), including investors and so forth.  In the documentary Downloaded, they said it was about 500 million that needed to be raised and then just as quickly the funds were absorbed back into the industry, as Napster was on its way out the door. 

It was shortly after that that new file sharing systems like Limewire, Gnutella, and eDonkey came about, effectively replacing Napster and being even harder for the music industry to eradicate.

After Napster ended, the co-founders went their separate ways, entering into new enterprises and continuing to explore the potential of the online world. 

Shawn Fanning, for his part, did what he could to try and restore some of the rights that Napster had “taken away” from artists, by creating an “independent copyright database” called Snocap.  The idea here was to give artists a chance to register their work, and then whatever wasn’t registered was then considered “free”.  Unfortunately, this business didn’t take off, due in part to iTunes beginning its ascent at this time. 

From there, Shawn created Rupture, a gaming company, which he then sold off to EA for 30 million dollars. 

Co-founder Sean Parker went on to create Plaxo, which never reached its full potential, and then got involved with Facebook, where his career really took off.

The Changing Music Industry (2002-2010)

In this interim after the death of Napster, many things happened.  For one, music fans started to resent the music industry for killing off Napster, and refused to support them.  Record sales dropped and dropped and dropped, so that by 2010, the record industry as it was 10 years prior was no longer existed. 

As many predicted, the offspring of Napster in the form of various decentralized peer-to-peer networks rose up, taking the place of Napster and being even more virulent and impossible to shut down.  The music business actually took the time to sue the pants off of regular people for illegal downloading using these new services, further instilling a sense of resentment to the big record companies. 

A culture war had begun, and even though the creators of Napster were forced to pay their debts (both real and imagined) and move on, there was no stopping what had begun. 

As people became more tech savvy, the dinosaurs of the industry who wanted to keep the old model of the music business happening were being laid to waste by a new population of creative thinkers thanks to what Napster started.  This battle continues on to this day, with websites like the Pirate Bay being shut down by authorities and re-spawning not longer after. 

Big companies still try to sue people, and file sharing networks get more sophisticated all the time.  Free music and other media (movies, etc) is still very much available, although you may be punished if you download it.

Napster Today

After all of that, you’d think Napster would be dead and gone.  But nope.  Today, in 2018, Napster has 3 different headquarters in different parts of the world (Seattle, Frankfurt, Sao Paulo), and operates 100% legally, with a number of patents under its belt.  Here is their motto on their about page as it stands right now:

“Napster’s leading streaming music services give members ad-free access to millions of songs. Whether they’re listening on their phone, at home, at work, or in the car, Napster goes where they go. Our expert team of editors create a curated music experience that’s easy for members worldwide to gather and enjoy new original content including videos, playlists, reviews, and radio stations — anytime and anywhere.”

This is quite the change from their early days of distributing pirated music, but it is also a 180 degree turn from the user base they once had, who were morally, let us say, flexible.

https://us.napster.com/

Downloaded Documentary

In 2012, a documentary made by director Alex Winter  was released to much acclaim, and gave an in depth look at the cultural shockwaves that resulted from the Shawn Fanning’s original creation.  I highly recommend anyone interested in learning more about file sharing, music, culture, or human rights check it out, as it is brilliant and will give you a whole new understanding of our changing world.

Rent it on Amazon (or torrent it, you sleazy pirate you)

Here’s an interview with Alex Winter about the documentary.  Worth a watch!

Here’s some guy in 2016 trying to use the old Napster client.  Somewhat entertaining if you’re a computer geek!

Well thanks for reading.  Bye! – YC