In our year-and-a-half on the information highway, we had the good fortune of witnessing what was at once a very prolific time, a very confusing time, and a very exciting time in underground music. Instead of quoting ourselves, we combed through the 100 features and profiles we've published to bring you some reflections from the folks who inspire us.
Underwater Peoples' Evan Brody
I cite this moment when Sawyer and I were sitting outside our sophomore dorm room at college. We said to each other, "Man, we’re bored. We want to do something more exciting." --Interview with Jenn Pelly, May 2011
I see politics and art as separate trajectories. There's a political dimension to music, to the extent that it would be a disruption of the regime of the sensible... but it certainly isn’t collective mobilization against the state in the name of radical equality. The protest lyric is a poor substitute for radical political thought or a new idea of politics.
AZ: Is that why you have protest lyrics in your music?
The idea there is that sums up the impetus, lyrically, of all genuine art. It's an explosion. It's a Molotov cocktail in the fuckin' police station. It's rights for that which can have no rights, to the extent that it anticipates a world to come-- not this world. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander & Ric Leichtung, July 2011
All of these things operating in synchronicity: like ringtones, flat-screens, theater, cuisine, fashion, sushi. I don’t want to call it “virtual reality,” so I call it Far Side Virtual. If you really want to understand Far Side, first off, listen to [Claude] Debussy, and secondly, go into a frozen yogurt shop. Afterwards, go into an Apple store and just fool around, hang out in there. Afterwards, go to Starbucks and get a gift card. They have a book there on the history of Starbucks-- buy this book and go home. If you do all these things you’ll understand what Far Side Virtual is-- because people kind of live in it already. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander, November 2011
I remember during the [Harald] Grosskopf panel at Unsound Festival, Laurel Halo said something interesting about grappling with a world that is completely and totally inundated with technology. There's something about dealing with period technology that makes us feel more human or more relatable. Something about getting the whole machine purring feels very cosmic and brings technology back in harmony with art. --Interview with Daniel Gottlieb, June 2011
AZ: It’s funny that there are indie bands coming up now that would kill to use the equipment that was frustrating to you back then.
I like the idea of it as well, but there are too many problems! --Interview with Blondes, Emilie Friedlander, & Ric Leichtung, May 2011
People like to ask me where I live, and sometimes I give different answers. There is a new 7” coming on Baselic records, and the label guy asked me what city I was from. I was with a friend, and we were talking, and he said I should say I was from Djakarta. So I did, and then it was on many websites. On the High Wolf MySpace, it says that I am based in Brazil. Many times people think I’m from Los Angeles. When you hide something from people, they really want to know it. --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, March 2011
Cleaners From Venus' Martin Newell
I’m very flattered that people like my old stuff so much but really, it was me and Lol [Elliott, from Cleaners] in the kitchen! We were broke but inspired and enjoyed listening to it. But I think the biggest pleasure we got out of it at the time was that I used to make homemade beer, and Lol used to make these candles, 'cause he didn’t have enough money to pay his electricity bill. So I used to swap some of the beer for some dope that someone else used to grow, and we would make our own music on cassettes that Lol stole. And I thought one night-- stoned, drunk, listening to music by candlelight--, "We’ve thoroughly enjoyed ourselves tonight, and it’s cost nothing!" That was sort of the epitome of anarchy for me: generating our own everything. It was fantastic. --Interview with Richard MacFarlane, June 2010
After getting a sense of his musical tastes, I finally asked [Speculator's Nick Ray] what kind of music he played (I hate to assume genres these days). "Pop," he replied, then let a beat pass before explaining. “But not in the popular music sense. ‘Pop’ is no longer defined by what’s actually popular; it’s defined by a structure. You know, melodies, guitars, catchy hooks.” --Marissa A. Ross, December 2010
AZ: Recently you’ve toured and collaborated with Ariel Pink. How has that been?
He’s one of my best friends, and it was totally effortless. I think artistically we are the same. It’s like "skillful non-skill." The greatest advice that he’s given me was, “Whatever it is that you’re doing, don’t figure it out.” --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, January 2011
The core concept of now age is we're living in “ghost-modernism.” It's not really like post-modernism; it's beyond that now. It's gotten to a point where the past is just recapitulating itself through kitsch and nostalgia. Every new gesture is just an imprint of an old gesture. We're haunted by so many other past styles and tastes in so many ways. I'm interested in the creation of a new relationship to time, where it's not being recapitulated, but instead looking into the present moment and really seeking out music, materials, structures, people, fashion, and whatever is within this lens of the present. --Interview with Ric Leichtung, November 2011
I've always had a powerful sense of the space-- physiological, emotional, spiritual-- invoked by music. I've always used music that way in my life, using it to create, augment, and enrich experiences. I don't think of myself as a songwriter at all, because what I'm after is some distillation of that effect, creating environments with certain properties and relationships. So often those moments in music that have powerful effects on me are fleeting-- like an outro, or a couple bars right before the second chorus. I'm interested in evoking those spaces so that I can stay a while. --Interview with Michael C. Powell, September 2011
NNA Tapes' Matt Mayer & Toby Aronson
Matt: With harsh noise in general we both noticed a shift in the mid '00s. Like Toby mentioned, a lot of the dudes doing the harder noise started doing ambient, which seems like a total 180 shift. It created a lot of interesting results, where the noise influence would rub off on the ambient and vice versa, creating this cool hybrid. And now where we are in 2011, it's all become smeared together.
I feel like the pendulum has to swing back at some point. I’ve always really liked lyrics, and I’ve always really liked vocal stuff, and playing a lot and going to noise shows, I’ve felt in some ways unwelcome. There’s this unwritten rule saying, "You can’t use lyrics that people will understand." I thought there were supposed to be no rules. [Noise] turns into the most codified, regimented form of music, which is not what it should be at all. When Gowns first started off, some people didn’t know how to take us. They were like, "This band might be cool if they didn’t sing." I wonder if it's something about the idea of masculine, abstract sound experiments, and not allowing a range of emotions to come through. For a lot of people who are doing experimental music, at some point it becomes like, "I built this Max patch that does this." It's about the experiment, and the set of parameters. You’re supposed to be tuning out everything but your ears. --Interview with Samantha Cornwell, June 2011
Emeralds' Mark McGuire
We have always somewhat embodied our surroundings and our heritage in our sound. In Ohio, there’s a huge middle class, and a lot of people work their whole lives... there’s always a feeling of struggling, and the feeling that Cleveland's like the joke of the world... We're not a cultural mecca; it's not where all the big stuff's happening. There’s definitely a lot of people out of work, and there’s poverty: it makes people, it's a tough city. But people from Cleveland are proud that they’re from there... It's this kind of tense, dark, and industrial place that has a lot of hidden beauty and a lot to offer, and that comes across in our music. --Interview with Ric Leichtung, February 2011
I got an e-mail once after I was like, "Holy shit, I'm going on my first tour!" I put it on Facebook or something, and Dominick Fernow wrote to me saying, "Congratulations." He had just joined Cold Cave, things were happening for him, and he was like, "Best of luck to you, thank you for having the courage to succeed." It occurred to me that for so many people, it's very hard to feel okay with success, because success is not cool. It supposedly tarnishes your thing; it ruins little pockets of scenes and the self-importance that comes from thinking you're the only people in your town that are doing something. That's what stops a lot of really talented people from sharing their music and turning it into a career. --Interview with Emilie Friedlander, November 2011
[image by Max Capacity]
In celebration of one full year of Altered Zones, we're going back to where we began and observing our very favorite tracks of 2011 thus far. We pulled together all of AZ's contributing blogs' top picks and assembled a 25-song list of cuts that can't missed. --Ric Leichtung, Altered Zones
Balam Acab: "Oh, Why"
Bill Callahan: "Baby's Breath"
Clams Casino: "I'm God (Instrumental)"
Devin Gary & Ross: "Four Corners"
Dirty Beaches: "Lord Knows Best"
Ford & Lopatin: "Emergency Room"
Gang Gang Dance: "Glass Jar"
Holy Other: "With U"
Iceage: "White Rune"
John Maus: "Believer"
Julian Lynch: "Terra"
LA Vampires Goes Ital: "Streetwise"
Light Asylum: "Dark Allies"
Matthewdavid: "Like You Mean It"
Panda Bear: "Alsatian Darn"
Peaking Lights: "Tiger Eyes (Laid Back)"
Pure X: "Don't Wanna Live, Don't Wanna Die"
Purity Ring: "Loftcries"
Puro Instinct: "Stilyagi"
Sic Alps: "Do You Want To Give $$?"
Sleep ∞ Over: "Casual Diamond"
The Weeknd: "The Morning"
Woods: "Pushing Onlys"
Earlier today, MTV premiered the new Puro Instinct video for "Stilyagi." The video features a dolled up Ariel Pink with lipstick, eye makeup, and earings walking alone in the dead of night. Meanwhile, double images of Skylar playing guitar loom over Ariel while Piper toys with one of those sweet balls that David Bowie has in Labyrinth. Straight-faced glam. --Ric Leichtung, Altered Zones
Pick up Headbangers in Ecstasy from Mexican Summer
Update: Girl Unit has unfortunately had to drop out of SXSW due to visa issues. However, we're thrilled to announce that Montreal dream-pop artist Grimes was kind enough to fill in on short notice and will now be opening the showcase on Wednesday at noon. Her debut full-length, Halfaxa, dropped last fall on Arbutus, and if you haven't checked it out yet, you should really do that. You can download the whole thing here for free, and donate if you like what you hear.
Altered Zones is coming to SXSW, and we are basically throwing the party of our dreams. Now it might be our first year repping in Texas, but we're no strangers to the flood of options spread over those four days in March, where another crowded, ass-reeking backroom beckons you at every turn. We wanted to do more than just put some bands we like up on a stage. We wanted to do something that not only supports the artists we love, but also brings the visual aesthetic of our site into the real world. Ideally, something that lives up to our name.
So we thought about our favorite kinds of parties-- the ones you find yourself in at 3 a.m. on your last night in Texas. These are the parties this pilgrimage is supposed to be about, but which we're often too exhausted to embrace by the time they roll around. So instead, we're throwing that party on Wednesday afternoon, deep inside the dark, windowless, neon-blazing wolf den known only as 'ND,' a black box we'll have bursting with massive visuals, flashing lights, and fucking amazing music.
Taking full advantage of ND's potential for sensory overload, we've hooked up with Austin-based multimedia artists Tommyboy and VidKidz, who'll be casting mind-shredding live video genius onto the venue's eye-popping 30x20-foot, floor-to-ceiling HD projection wall. We can barely count the hours we've spent transfixed by these dudes' insane online video mixes, but we always come out the other side feeling like we just time traveled through an internet k-hole. It's something we're pretty sure everyone should experience at least once.
Like AZ itself, the transportive environment is just a visual extension of the music, and we could not be more excited that this party is being graced by performances from these artists who, to us, are among the most creative in the DIY underworld. Their music isn't just 'new' in the temporal sense, but truly new in the progressive sense-- artists we admire for their rulebook-burning approach and dedication to the advancement of the form.
Btw, we don't really believe in too much mystical shit, but we just realized this is our 1,000th post, and somehow that seems like a good sign. Just keepin' it weird, bros.
Wednesday, March 16th
ND @ 501 Studios
E. 5th + Brushy St. (map it)
05:00 John Maus
04:00 Puro Instinct
02:15 Sleep ∞ Over
01:30 Laurel Halo
+ Weird Magic DJs
+ Visuals by Tommyboy + Vid Kidz
In a recent interview with Samantha Cornwell, Puro Instinct's Piper Kaplan turned us on to Red Wave, a compilation of underground synth-pop artists from 1980s Leningrad which has inspired the Los Angeles dream-rock duo both musically and visually. "That record," she said, "had similar aesthetic ingredients to post-punk records that I’ve loved. It was also better, in the sense that it was amateurly and instinctively executed, and just reinforced the whole iron curtain vibe, where there’s a stronghold on information. It's like they’re playing their skewed version of whatever is going on in the Western World." Intrigued, we asked Piper to create a mixdown of some record store arcana she's had on rotation of late. Most of the artists on here are too obscure for Google, but we were pleased to run into a little Red Wave, some Fleetwood Mac, a jazz-rock number from Rah Band, and a cut from music writer Julian Cope's '80s post-punk outfit, Teardrop Explodes. --Emilie Friedlander, Altered Zones
01 Christian Kovolitschke: "I'm on my way"
02 Tesla Boy: "Spirit of the Night"
03 The Teardrop Explodes: "When I dream"
04 Fleetwood Mac: "Ricky"
05 GFY: "My Rules"
06 Rah Band: "Downside Up"
07 Videosex: "Stakleno Nebo"
08 Spontaniac Overfroze: "All About Money"
09 Tony Banks: "Thirty Three's"
10 Al Dimin: "For Better or Worse"
11 All Dead: "Peppermint Lounge"
Read our spotlight on Puro Instinct's Headbangers In Ecstasy LP, and peep them live at the Altered Zones x 5x5x
Puro Instinct is the Los Angeles duo of sisters Piper and Skylar Kaplan, aged 23 and 16. They began making music when Piper, already a fixture on the Ariel Pink-centric freak-pop circuit, DJed a show by home recording legend R. Stevie Moore at NYC’s Cake Shop, and ended up laying down some vox on one of his recordings. Back in LA, the story goes, Piper penned a few bedroom numbers with her sister, christened the project "Pearl Harbor” (and sometimes, “Pearl Harbour”), and recorded some preliminary demos with Cole Greif-Neill of Haunted Graffiti and The Samps. Though they subsequently changed their name to Puro Instinct, Piper’s explanation for the original moniker gives us some idea of what we’re getting into on their debut LP: “We’re an American band, man, and with any luck, we too will go down as a great disaster in the history of the Pacific West Coast.”
It should also ward off facile comparisons to labelmate and fellow SoCal songstress Best Coast straight away. If you’re looking for instantly gratifying stoner-pop, Headbangers On Ecstasy probably won’t deliver. Even on standout singles like “Stilyagi” and album closer “Love Goon,” we cannot avoid the feeling that we’re listening to some bizarre succession of poorly charting ‘70s soft rock hits-- stadium rock classics that failed to hit the stadium, perhaps even failed as songs. We remember the naive approximation of rock that The Shaggs and their starry-eyed stage dad once tried to bring to the world. Or, the ‘80s Russian Red Wave artists who, Piper assures us, fashioned their own new wave out of the limited musical information from the West that managed to leak through the Iron Curtain.
Here and there, we catch a radio-worthy power chorus (“Stilyagi,” “Silky Eyes”), an exquisitely crafted, New Order-throwback guitar lick (“Everybody’s Sick,” “Luv Goon”); but like the music of friend and collaborator Ariel Pink, these glazed confections are too structurally inconsistent to be anything but pleasantly monotonous, like the sound blaring from some one else’s shower radio (no wonder the record is laced throughout with faux station announcements). Instead of hooks or climaxes, we find ourselves concentrating on an overall "feel"-- the satiny, buttery, sugarplum-studded pop patina that Piper and Skyler finetuned in the control room with R. Stevie Moore, Haunted Graffiti member Kenny Gilmore, and even Mr. Pink himself. If you find this record slightly flat, even boring at points, you’re probably right. The Kaplans don't make straight-ahead rock; they make rock music about rock music, about trying and failing, reaching for the glittering transcendence of the perfect pop song (as any self-respecting Stevie Nicks or Chrissie Hynde or Debby Harry might do) and falling just a hair short of disaster. This music is full of smoke and mirrors, and there's some humility in that.
Headbangers In Ecstasy is out now on Mexican Summer. Check out our recent interview with Piper Kaplan at the Hollywood Hard Rock Café
[Piper Kaplan of Puro Instinct at the Hard Rock Café, Hollywood, CA; December, 2010]
By Samantha Cornwell
Last month, just as my interview with James Ferraro at the Hard Rock Café on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was winding to a close, a small blonde entered the restaurant and sat down at our table. This was Piper Kaplan, the front woman of LA’s Puro Instinct, which she founded with her teenage sister Skylar under the name Pearl Harbor in late 2008. Their first EP under the Puro Instinct moniker, out last year on Gloriette, funnels the ethereal essence of '70s soft rock through the darkness and jagged corners of post-punk and goth. While Piper scraped the bacon off a stuffed potato skin, I picked her brain on a wide range of issues, including Russia, their friend and collaborator Ariel Pink, and psychedelic music.
AZ: Can you describe your songwriting process?
Piper: A lot of the time I’ll start noodling on my keyboard with whatever drum presets it has, and if it sounds good we’ll keep working with it. My sister will present me with ideas. We don’t live together, so a lot of times we’ll come up with parts individually, and try to piece everything together from there. Every song is totally different, so there’s really no method behind the madness at all. We’ll get together and jam, and try to flesh something out, but for the most part Skylar’s got a really busy schedule. She’s in school still. I think I just have a lot more time to write than she does.
AZ: What inspired you to cover the song “I’ve Got Some Happiness” by Leland on your recent EP?
Piper: That song carried a lot of emotional weight for me at the time that I found it. I was going through a really insane break up, and I was involved with a new person, and that was going wrong, so that song was the quintessence of how I was feeling. I really just wanted to cover it too, because it’s a fucking awesome song. It's super simple, but satiating in a very deep way.
Brooklyn label Mexican Summer is set to release the next 7" from Southern Californian young girl group Puro Instinct, formerly known as Pearl Harbor. With a little help from Ariel Pink, Puro Instinct craft a hazy smooth dream pop song for mass consumption. --Ric Leichtung, Altered Zones