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Nyansense: Music scene

March 8, 2012

Five words guaranteed to break my heart: The Pittsburgh music scene sucks. Now, don’t get me wrong. Pittsburgh is no New York, Boston, or Los Angeles – there is not a constant stream of popular musicians catering to the musically savvy here — but by no means does that legitimize the devaluation of Pittsburgh and the eclectically talented musicians who have contributed so much to the cultural revival that has been occurring here. Remember that whole “Pittsburgh is the new Portland” thing? Thank the music scene for that — maybe not for the hipsters but for the opportunity to discover amazing live music that has yet to be cuckolded by Ticketmaster.

I wanted to write a sarcastic joke here about artists refusing to play in Pittsburgh but pretty much every artist I tried using has played here. Red Hot Chili Peppers is playing at the CONSOL Energy Center this summer. Weezer graced us with its presence at Stage AE last summer. And do I even need to mention Lady Gaga or Kanye West and Jay-Z? But let’s forget about them for a second. Let’s forget about the almost insulting ease by which we can hear about those musicians or the jaw-dropping price of their tickets.

What makes Pittsburgh so fantastic and so unique in a musical culture that is continuously torn between profit and art is the underground music scene. Venues like Belvedere’s, The Shop, the Thunderbird Cafe, Garfield Artworks, and Shadow Lounge all feature amazing musicians for relatively cheap prices. It is a bit more challenging to delve into the music scene here, but for any musical adventurer the reward is well worth it. Classical, noise, hip-hop, electronic, folk: There is almost no audience that Pittsburgh fails to cater to. Even the fact that you have to try in order to find music here is amazing. There is no feeling better than stumbling upon a band you’ve never heard of and coming away with a new love.

Pittsburgh is not New York, nor should it try to be. As someone who has loved music for most of his life, I came into Pittsburgh feeling cheated because I could not see M83 or Fleet Foxes live. A year and a half later I feel more strongly attached to the music here than I ever did back home. You can be happy here too, if you only shut up and listen.


Phutureprimitive – from Dub to Dubstep

March 7, 2012

Phutureprimitive (aka DJ Rain) has been a favorite of mine since his debut album “Sub Conscious” came out on Waveform Records in 2004. It features a dark psy-ambient dub style that invites the listener on a journey filled with reverb, echoes, and deep pulsing bass. It could be called electronic dub (as in the dub that comes from reggae), but it would be inaccurate to call it dubstep or even “bass music” (a more generic term for dubstep and similar styles). Compare his tune “Rites Of Passage” on that album with a dub remix of Grace Jones’ more recent offering “Corporate Cannibal”:

Phutureprimitive – Rites Of Passage

Grace Jones – Corporate Cannibal (Ivor Guest Dub)

Aside from differences in the actual bass instrument (electric bass vs. synthesizer), the two tracks have a similar feel in the bass, the drums, and the heavy reverb/delay (echo) on everything else.

Fast forward to 2011, when Phutureprimitive releases his second full-length album, Kinetic. In the seven intervening years, the world of electronic dance music has embraced dubstep and made it popular. DJ Rain has obviously been paying attention. Check out the difference in the way the bass moves and it’s more aggressive “acid” sound, and the “two-step” drum style (both key dubstep ingredients) in Kinetic’s title track, which still features the signature Phutureprimitive psy-ambient landscape:

Phutureprimitive – Kinetic

Phutureprimitive will be opening for Shpongle in Pittsburgh at Mr. Small’s Theatre on Thursday, March 29.

-DJ Firefly


Got It Covered: “Paper Planes” (M.I.A. vs. The Clientele)

February 23, 2012

The best cover songs put a new spin on a song without rendering it entirely unrecognizable. Sometimes they are better than the original, sometimes not — while covering a song invites comparison, why not enjoy both?Here’s a song for you to consider from angles both recognizable and unfamiliar.

Now hold up a minute. I know that to mention M.I.A. — especially on the wide world of the internet — is to provoke an immediate war of opinions  Her music and her public persona (ahem) are polarizing: She’s either avant-garde or an annoyance. However, I propose a compromise in the form of a cover song that replaces M.I.A.’s boldness with an otherworldly vibe.

Those who find M.I.A.’s music to be unpalatable are invited to skip the following video. The rest of you: For purposes of comparison, here is the track “Paper Planes” from her 2007 release Kala. It is highly likely that you have heard it before, as it received heavy airplay in addition to appearing in the film Slumdog Millionaire.  Classic rock fans haunted by a sense of familiarity might also identify the sample from The Clash’s song “Straight to Hell.”

As a part of the A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series, British band The Clientele opted to cover “Paper Planes.”  The ethereal, somewhat breathy music of The Clientele makes this an odd choice, and the diversity of styles produces a truly strange cover song. M.I.A.’s gunshot and cash register sound effects are replaced by tambourine and xylophone hits, while The Clash sample is transformed into a fluttering violin intro.

In this reimagining of “Paper Planes,” what was formerly a gunshot-riddled, hip hop-inflected jam becomes sunny and slightly psychedelic. Whether you love the original or took pleasure in skipping it in the section above, The Clientele’s cover takes it in an unexpected direction. The best part is that instead of forcing you to choose between two like versions of the song, the cover builds upon the original to create an entirely new experience.


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