Some Songs Considered #041: Union Arts, Spring Forward Albums, and the Due Diligence
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
Click titles to jump:
“Spring-Forward Albums” by Justin McCarthy
“Doing Due Diligence on the Due Diligence” by Bryce Rudow
Save Union Arts
(or be a cynical f*ck and revel in the inadequacies of your city)
by Lindsay Hogan (@LindsayHogan88)
Union Arts is fighting for its life. And unfortunately, this isn’t the first that the collective art space in Northeast DC has heard of its possible demise. And this column certainly isn’t the first piece covering its fight for existence this week. But nevertheless, Union Arts’ threat of dissolution and the forces behind it deserve as much coverage as possible.
To give you some background, Union Arts is a facility of studios and practice spaces for artists, musicians, and small businesses that has thrived because of its distant location in a manufacturing district of NE DC. For the city’s music scene, it’s been an important DIY venue free from the threat of noise restrictions and the residential hassles faced by house venues. Many, if not all, of the DC bands we have covered in this column have played shows at Union Arts, hosted touring acts there, or used it as practice space#.
More importantly, it is one of the last spaces of its kind in DC.
However, this utopia of creativity was sold last year to D.B. Lee Development, who informed Union Arts’ tenants last week that they had to be out by September to make way for the building’s transformation into a “boutique arts hotel,” which will ironically brand itself off of the artist culture its evicting by putting aside limited space in the hotel for galleries and studios.
The proposed 8 studio spaces will be available to 20 artists total – compared to the hundred or so artists who regularly use the space now – but regardless of which artists manage to claw their way into the soon-to-be over-priced studio space, you can bet that there will no longer be any accommodation for musicians who like to make a rightly amount of noise (see: most of the bands listed above). The thinly-veiled plans to make it a hybrid arts space only add insult to injury when you realize that the development is not only leveling pre-existing artist spaces but appropriating the concept for tourists and profiting off the safe, luxury, high-end version of that crucial institution.
However, while the local politics are infuriating, let’s explore this micro event’s place in the macro trends of music…
Emerging and indie music is an art form whose success is increasingly determined by wealth and access to influence. For a new artist to receive rapid recognition, pull past the over-saturated obscurity of the internet, land influential press placement, sign a record deal, open for that hot new pop act, and become well-known themselves, its statistically unlikely that they began as a struggling DIY musician.
More likely, they used what pre-existing wealth or connections they had and filled in the blanks to make a mediocre album and launch a successfully-mediocre musical career (e.g. The Strokes, who are the prep-school, Manhattan-raised poster children for the wave of upper-class indie musicians who found success in the aughts). Once the recession and the age of internet streaming took hold of the music industry, any chance of pulling up your musical bootstraps and living a middle class musician life vanished; only those who can afford to put aside the time and the money to be musicians stand a chance at success.
Billboard news editor David Price laid this out pretty candidly in a 2010 Marketplace interview:
”I think of indie music in a lot of ways as the most elitist and the most -ignoring the recession and the economic realities. Because if you have the opportunity to really pursue a music career in this day and age and do nothing else, then you probably have some expendable income.”
The Black Keys get some props for bringing this up in the wake of their Brothers and El Camino commercial success.
After years of real hustling to build his band, Dan Auerbach once told Billboard:
There’s this weird thing that happened with being a successful band, and it has to do with rich, private-college kids who rule the indie rock world – kids who never really have to worry about anything because they always have some sort of backup plan that they can safely fall into…
We come from middle-class families. We’re both college dropouts. Driving around the country, paying for everything ourselves — this is the backup plan. The only plan, really.”
The DIY ethos that propelled the Black Keys in their early days is exactly the ethos that Union Arts is founded on. Except instead of leaving musicians to struggle indefinitely against their economic standing, Union Arts provides resources, community, and a roof over the heads of artists who don’t have a cushion of wealth. Instead of easily accessible, pre-packaged indie crap, Union Arts fosters musicians with uncommon talent, dedicated vision, and often-challenging ideas.
Organizations like Union Arts, which provide reasonable studio space and a brazen creative community (while bypassing agenda-driven patronage and wealthy nepotism) are the real womb of progressive, meaningful music.
An artist in Washington DC already struggles to make ends meet and find affordable housing in a city that lacks in supportive artistic infrastructure. They hold down multiple, benefit-less jobs, sacrificing substantial amounts of time that could be spent on their art.
There’s always the possibility of outside funding or grants, but let’s be honest, the toiling, weirdo, experimental musicians and hardcore punk rockers (who, lest we forget, trailblaze for and inspire our more accessible artists) are not at the top of the list for NEA funding cash.
If you live in DC, you’ve heard the demographic-specific adages: “DC is so boring,” “DC is purely a professional city,” “no one stays in DC for that long.” Well these basic-bitch ideas are an insult to the people who have spent their whole lives fostering art in the District and who struggle to make the District a place worth making art.
DC, at its cultural core is also a progressive city, but one has to be progressive beyond your voter registration and Bernie Sanders memes. To be progressive is to fight back against the profit-driven, culturally-ignorant, short-sighted development that is draining DC of its diversity and artistic heritage.
So do you want to be a cynical fuck and revel in the inadequacies of your city, or do you want to make it better?
Union Arts is gathering support for the second round of Zoning Hearing’s taking place on February 23rd.
The first round of zoning hearings this past week saw swarms of DC’s concerned creative population testify, not just for the preservation of Union Arts, but to bring attention to the city’s incessant drain on artists and musicians.
It’s not just unavoidable gentrification. It’s a lack of community support that leads to the displacement of artists and musicians. So if you live in DC, and care about the trajectory of its growth, you can sit on your ass and watch your neighborhood get consumed by condos and Noodles N’ Company, or you can find the epicenter of arts and defend its right to create.
See you February 23rd.
by Justin McCarthy (@JustinSMcCarthy)
It’s easy to fall in to familiar habits vis-à-vis music listening in the colder months. In the face of winter’s physically and emotionally taxing severities, we gravitate towards our old comfort music, whatever it may be. We don’t go out as much, so we aren’t exposed to the new findings of our peers; we subsist on the reliable and the safe.
This is all well and good, but February is already here, and we need to prepare ourselves for springing forward into the nourishing new albums of the year.
Because it’s almost time to shuffle off the coil of our comfort playlists, and because we as a music community need to focus on something other than the imminent release of
So Help Me God SWISH WAVES the latest Kanye West LP lest we go completely insane, here are a handful of other upcoming albums to get excited about in the next few weeks…
Tinashe – Joyride
Tinashe’s major label debut Aquarius lacked the attention it deserved (save for the rightful praise and spin count heaped on the infectious lead single “2 On,” perhaps DJ Mustard’s finest work to date) so for sophomore effort Joyride, she is going in guns blazing.
Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Boi-1da, and Mike WiLL Made-It are all making production appearances on the album, and initial singles like the crap-I-don’t-hate-Chris-Brown-on-this “Player” and the infectious “Ride of Your Life” feel like sure things in a year where Rihanna’s ascendance to untouchable artiste leaves the field open for a party-starting diva to break out.
Will her awesome take on “I Wanna Get Better” make the album? Is Lena Dunham jealous? Wouldn’t it be kind of perfect if an amazing, talented women of color stole Jack Antonoff?
More on these topics when Joyride hits digital shelves (probably next month).
Yuck – Stranger Things
All signs point to a noisy return-to-form for English 90’s alt rock apostles Yuck following the overly polished and middling Glow and Behold (2013).
Latest single “Cannonball” would feel right at home on the original Tony Hawk: Pro Skater soundtrack, and I mean that as a high compliment. “Hearts in Motion” sounds like the lovechild of Built to Spill and Lit, and unlike your average music publication, we here at Random Nerds are very much here for Lit#.
When Yuck first made a splash in 2011 with their eponymous first LP, pre-millennial guitar rock influences set them apart from your average would-be Passion Pit clone on Hype Machine. Now that it’s 2016, and there are entire scenes dedicated to liberally swagger-jacking the 90s, it seems more than likely that a new Yuck record will make its way to the ears of fresh audiences of the disconsolate beanie-wearing variety.
Stranger Things drops February 26.
Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
You have a little time to bone up on the work of the artist formerly known as Greta Kline before her much-hyped full-band album as Frankie Cosmos sees its April 1 release. Well, maybe not that much time – over the past few years she’s released 40-some LPs and EPs on Bandcamp, mostly of the twee singer-songwriter variety in which an acoustic guitar, a delicate but knowing voice, and clever lyrics are the whole shebang.
Listening to the older pre-2015 material, one gets the sense that Kline is angling for a spot on a breakout bildungsroman# film soundtrack (not that there’s anything wrong with that…)
The latest Frankie Cosmos missive, however, is much more exciting.
Last year’s Fit Me In EP found Kline going full-on bedroom synth pop with songs like “Young” and “O Contest Winner,” which retain Cosmos’ Frank O’Hara-style lyrical poetics but add some much-needed shape to her sonic palette.
If these are any indication of the album’s direction, Fit Me In could be 2016’s The Year of Hibernation#, and the Cosmos could be the limit for Ms. Greta Kline.
Doing Due Diligence on the Due Diligence
by Bryce Rudow (@brycetrudow)
Two weeks ago, I threw the full weight of Random Nerds behind 100 Watt Horse’s performance at Songbyrd Record Cafe here in Washington DC, because while I am a big fan of everything George Pettis and 100 Watt Horse do#, they’re one of those groups that you really just have to experience live to truly “get” (plus I wanted everyone else to weep openly in public with me).
However, while at that show, I had the ironic pleasure of discovering yet another band that, though their studio material is all well and good, you really just have to see live: the Due Diligence, out of Brooklyn, and led by a man named Isaac Gillespie…
Donning a beat-up guitar with a rainbow of colored strings – which I don’t think I’ve ever seen and find superficially awesome – Gillespie and his band put forth a self-professed “confrontationally inclusive live show” that includes handing out tambourines and hand-clappers to audience members, call-and-response screaming, and frequent ventures into the more apathetic depths of the crowd.
Not only does this add a nice bit of punk quirk to the more rhythm and riff-driven garage rock of the band’s music (props to bassist Alex P, whose downplay in the studio mix is one of the reasons you have to see this band live), the frequent breaking of the fourth-wall is also a nice Dan Deacon-esque way to get everyone to pay attention. And given the care it seems Gillespie puts into his sardonically introspective lyrics – e.g. “Party Crasher”‘s “I’m a stock market crash/I like it real low and fast – it makes sense to go the extra showman mile to ensure the eyes stay fixed and the crowd-chatter stays to a minimum.
Gillespie calls his sound antifolk, and though his earlier stuff does venture much more into the twangy, country folk of Neil Young or vintage Dylan – see: “Porch Song” – it also feels like a nod to the way that even when Gillespie is playing loud, tinny surf-rock riffs over a booming disco bass line, he feels intrinsically and intimately engaging.
Maybe it’s just his big, puppy dog eyes and flaming red beard#, but as you watch Gillespie lose himself in his music, you can’t help but feel compelled to do the same. Songbyrd’s “your dad’s basement” feel obviously helped set the mood when I saw them; nevertheless, there’s a palpably vulnerable vibe coursing throughout the Due Diligence’s loud, wild rock show.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a band that can simultaneously remind me of Bomb the Music Industry, Harvey Danger, and Steve Miller Band. But maybe that’s because I never knew I wanted it before.
Unfortunately, after that whole spiel about you having to see them live and how great a show it was, the band just wrapped up their current tour. Fortunately, that’s what Liking them on Facebook and following them on Twitter is for.
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