Saturday was a bit of a music bust for me — Beyond the Machine festival was sold out, as was the “secret” Erykah Badu show (figure that one out).
Fortunately, on Friday I made it to Brooklyn Bowl for performances by The Ruby Suns and Chazwick (Chaz) Bundick, known as Toro Y Moi. Toro Y Moi’s debut album for Carpark, Causers of This, takes sincere and personal songwriting and frames it in a reverb-heavy, summery wash of electronic sounds. Although the album knowingly or unknowingly references an overwhelming array of sources, the most heavily present are the filtered sounds of French house. The slower tempos and heavy compression have also drawn comparisons to J Dilla and Flying Lotus, who performs in New York this Wednesday.
Chaz was kind enough to spend some time with me before the show for an interview, which I’ve transcribed below. After that is my review of the event itself.
Bijan: So you’ve played at Brooklyn Bowl before. How do you like it?
Chaz (Toro Y Moi): It’s fun. They treat you really nice…they give you food.
B: Could you describe your live setup?
TYM: I run Reason live. I have a MIDI controller up there with me, and then I’m also controlling vocal effects, doing a live mix pretty much.
B: So do your sequences come out pretty different from what’s on the album?
TYM: Yeah, I redid a lot of the songs – not all of them, but some of them – to have a different feel when they’re live.
B: Are you going for something harder on the rhythm, or…
TYM: It’s more up-pace, and then it’s also more like a conversation, more involved, as opposed to me just pressing play and singing. There’s lots of looping and tempo changes. I try to keep it as organic as possible while using software and still try to maintain the integrity of the song.
B: What’s your main musical interest and background then? Electronic music, or…
TYM: No, I started playing guitar and writing songs on guitar when I was 12, piano when I was eight years old. So seriously my first songs that I was writing were folky and rocky.
B: I read in some interviews that you’re working on a few albums that are oriented differently.
TYM: Oh, yeah… well I’m not a DJ, I’m not into that much electronic music, just pretty much house. So I want to try that other side that I’m more involved in too. Before Carpark came to me and there was pressure to finish an album and put stuff out, I was working on what was soon to be Causers of This at the same time that I was working on this current album that I’m working on now, which doesn’t sound electronic at all. I get bored pretty easily, so I’ll do an electronic song and say, “That goes for this album,” do like a folky song – “that goes for the other album,” and go back and forth. Causers of This just happened to come out first.
B: So how did you get into electronic music and production, then? I’m curious to hear of any specific influences.
TYM: Seriously when I was a freshman in college I got a laptop for the first time, and then I found out about electronic music. My friend gave me a program, Fruity Loops, and I started messing around with it. I figured out how to sample with it, which was pretty much all I wanted to do with programming stuff – I just love manipulating samples. That was about when I was 18.
B: How do you decide which album you’re working on?
TYM: It’s really whatever comes out that day. My whole spiritual connection to the song is more with the lyrics. Granted I will write a fast-paced song if I’m in more of an uppity mood, or some sad song if I’m upset, but it’s mostly just whatever comes out.
B: Will you then tour with this new material? You’ll have to deal with people expecting a certain sound…
TYM: I’ll try it, but it’s really hard. I don’t know a lot of musicians yet, and I don’t live in a place where there are a lot of musicians there into what I’m trying to do. It’s like – if I moved to New York, I’m pretty sure I could make an album and find musicians who would be totally down to help me out with it. So touring it would be awesome, but I don’t know if it’s going to work yet. The album’s not done yet, and it’s kind of weird-sounding, and I don’t know how or if it’s going to work live.
B: Are you considering moving anywhere?
TYM: I lke the South, but I’m pretty much ready to move out of Columbia [South Carolina]. I’ve been there for 23 years, and I still live there now. My lease runs out in August, so I’m looking. I don’t know where. I don’t know if it’s going to be New York or out West or where.
B: You have a pretty aggressive tour schedule. How’s that going?
TYM: It’s kind of ridiculous. I’m really new to this lifestyle. I was in a band before where we toured, but it would be DIY-booked, two-week long kinds of things. We didn’t even leave the east coast. So this is a total change for me. I’m not used to it at all.
B: Have you encountered anything unexpected?
TYM: I’m surprised by how many people I’m meeting. I don’t know if that’s as juicy as you want it to be, but I’ve met so many people within the music business and musician world, and it’s so ridiculous how small it is. You would think, being on a small label like Carpark, “yeah, you have to work your way up>” I’ve met publicists and artists that I never thought I’d meet. It’s crazy how connected it is behind the scenes.
B: I see you’ve done a lot of interviews in the past year or so. Is there anything that you’re sick of answering?
TYM: Well, there’s lots of questions, but I’m not sick of it. People want to know what’s up, but it can be tiring. But the questions I get the most are obviously about chillwave…
B: Oh yeah! I wanted to ask you about that, and I thought that would probably be the most annoying question…
TYM: It’s the most asked. The most asked question is “what do you think about chillwave,” or “what do you think about being labeled as that,” and I always say it doesn’t bother me, because I’m not one of those sticklers who’s like “ahhh, I don’t put labels on things!” If I was listening to a new genre that was unclassified I would probably go with the first thing that the majority of the people are calling it, so I’m not going to bash it. It just helps people connect to your music and your sound, even though I don’t sound like Washed Out, I don’t sound like Memory Tapes, but people are going to get the idea “okay, it’s sort of poppy, new wavy, summery, one man kind of thing.” So all of those things get put into chillwave, and I’m fine with that. But then again I don’t want to disappoint people when the next album comes out and it’s not really chillwave. But that’s fine.
B: One more thing that I’ll press you on again … you didn’t name any specific electronic musicians.
TYM: Oh, yeah. When I first started listening to electronic music it was seriously like Daft Punk, all the French house crew, like the whole Feadz and Oizo and Ed Banger Crew and Digitalism. You know, DJ Falcon. I like French filtering, samples…
B: I can definitely hear that in your sound. Alright, well…. thanks.
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For those unfamiliar with French house’s filtered sound, check out one of Thomas Bangaltar’s early Chicago-influenced classics (Ventura / Trax on da Rocks / Roulé / 1995),
trace it through 10 years of Daft Punk (Bangaltar + Homem-Christo) (Emotion / Human After All / Virgin),
and find it in Toro Y Moi (You Hid).
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As for the event, I got to Brooklyn Bowl at 6pm. I live in the neighborhood and had been by a few times but never inside. The place is immense. We had dinner. We bowled.
I’ll start with the good things: Chaz’s music is plenty of fun, and his live performance techniques seem like all the right moves for the music he makes: live sampling and looping of his own voice, heavy reverb effects, live keys, dancing, guitar, and a playful stage presence. My primary critique is that he simmers the crowd in various genres but never once lets the music explode. More “digital love” than “rolling n scratchin,” but I suppose that’s why it’s called chillwave.
It could have been enjoyable, but it wasn’t. I’m going to skip the minor complaints and get into the bigger ones.
The sound was TERRIBLE.
True, last week I was in a place quiet enough for two performance monitors to make the audience want earplugs, and this week I was watching a show in a bowling alley. I get that TYM uses plenty of reverb, a word that usually gets paired with “wash,” or “haze,” but this stuff was muddled like crazy. I’d see Chaz on the keys and not be able to hear what he was doing. The bass was imprecise and unpleasant. It just sounded really bad, at least where I was standing (front and center).
This could have been Chaz’s own mix. It could have been the sound guy. The system and acoustic space were definitely a big problem. Ultimately there was no denying the fact that the sound coming out of the speakers and into that huge space was just poor. Proper sound still might not have made up for the fact that the place itself is LOUD. I blame the crowd.
I don’t know why the people surrounding me were at the event, but it certainly wasn’t to hear music. It’s a concert, people talk. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with everyone around me, at the front, talking loudly throughout the entire show. Why?
Why do they do this?
Why do you pay money, come to the front, and spend your time yelling your resume into my ears? TYM deserved more from the audience. So did I.
I didn’t stay for The Ruby Suns. I crawled back into my cave.
Here at Thirteen.org, we’ll be producing more written content. I’ll be writing about music, often covering events happening in the city, sometimes discussing broader musical topics.
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Last Friday Yuka Honda and Nels Cline, best known for their projects Cibo Matto and Wilco, united for their third or fourth performance as Fig, a sort of electro-acoustic experiment pairing Honda’s diverse sound sources and computerized rhythms with Cline’s genre-crossing guitar work.
I first encountered Nels Cline performing in an impressive revisit to Coltrane’s Ascension with ROVA Orkestrova, Otomo Yoshihide, and a group of Downtown artists including Fred Frith and Ikue Mori about five years ago in San Francisco. I had never seen Yuka Honda live, but had enjoyed her solo releases on the Tzadik label. I came to the show curious to see what the pair would produce.
A long line quickly sold out East Village experimental haven The Stone, where I somehow landed in the chair closest to the performers just before people started sitting on the ground. Calling The Stone intimate is probably an understatement. With no refreshments, a bathroom positioned to be off-limits during performances, and two small sections of fold-out chairs, it reaches capacity quickly.
After some setup trouble, the duo went downstairs and re-emerged, Honda wearing a sort of black leotard-jumpsuit-dress-with-fabric-cubes-down-the-shoulder, ready to perform.
The hour of music was well-programmed, beginning with a playfully simple moment of bells and kalimba with unprocessed flute tones. The set energized with Honda on keys and drum patterns, Cline on guitar, both using noisy electronic toys of all sorts.
What Cline described as a “Mickey Mouse setup” came with early technical miscues. One microphone had a series of violent feedback interjections while a PA monitor died repeatedly. The troubles were disruptive enough to make Honda scream and have Cline jokingly chant into the microphone “We were paid for this, we were paid for this…”
Fortunately, the performers and Stone crowd had the right sense of humor about equipment trouble, which often comes hand-in-hand with any experimental, improvised, or rough electronic music. The musicians managed to work through the technical issues and play the set for which we had all come.
One of my favorite pieces was a song called “Tokyo Night Janitor,” which began with a visual, evocative poem of a janitor leaving for work as everyone else returns home, set to Cline’s sweet and inviting guitar melodies. A mention of the janitor’s thoughts and daydreams erupted in a pummeling noise jam as aggressive as any other.
Most songs developed around Honda’s machined drum patterns, allowing the duo to meander their riffs loosely and then tightly around a reliable groove.
Just when I was ready to criticize one of Honda’s electronic rhythms as a plodding bore, she used a Tenori-on to develop an infectious skittering sequencer rhythm to which Nels played along. For those who can fit their sequences and fingers into its somewhat cramped form, the Tenori-on is a great performance piece from the audience perspective, as its transparent backside allowed us to watch the pattern sequence without requiring the awkward but effective back-slant of a setup like Daedelus’ monome.
Another song featured a more traditional drum palette and heavy guitar riffs that reminded me of King Crimson. The set ended softly with a sublime guitar-poetry duet.
Ultimately, it was a set of playful, enjoyable music that could probably gain from some tech polish. Although they functioned beautifully in a live environment, these explorations would sound great on a studio album, something I’m hoping we’ll hear about soon.
Speaking of recordings, Yuka Honda has a new album out on Tzadik that I recommend, Heart Chambers. Great sounds and guest contributions. Nels Cline always has a lot going on, which you can check on his website.
For those who don’t know (those of you who know already know), The Stone is a fantastic space for music.
Next Show: Friday – The Ruby Suns & Toro Y Moi @ Brooklyn Bowl + Interview w/TYM