[Originally appeared in Impose in February 2016]
Reality is awful. It’s unkind. Bigotry abounds. Let’s agree that we’re more or less directionless meat-sacks cast adrift on this dumb, spinning rock, which feels like a forever trap, though people eventually escape. This is something like the perspective of Gladiators, Are You Ready?, or G.A.Y.R., a transatlantic queercore trio that describes themselves as, “testo-fueled, spandex-clad, and enraged at the core.” Their mission? To clear the foul air of “the suffocating onslaught that claims to inspire something other than dread at the fate of terrestrial life.”
[Originally appeared in Noisey in January 2016]
By the time you read this, they may have already bulldozed much of The Jungle.
French authorities for days have threatened to plow into the migrant camps in the seaside port town of Calais and level any of the hundreds of ramshackle homes that sat too near the busy nearby motorway. This particular incarnation of “The Jungle,” as the residents there call it, houses 5,000 people, maybe more, all displaced from their homes or fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Migrant advocacy groups guess that around 2,000 people live in the part of the camp the government intends to remove. One group working in Calais to organize and relocate people estimates that 300 women and 60 children call that portion of the makeshift village of tents and shacks home.
[Originally appeared in the Washington City Paper on February 5, 2016]
Sure, Sam Rosenberg is nervous. Why wouldn’t he be?
He’s milling around the basement of the Kay Spiritual Life Center, the interfaith chapel tucked at the northeast end of the American University quad, and soon his band, Two Inch Astronaut, will hoist instruments and play its brand of well-honed post-punk in front of a few dozen college kids. It’s a few weeks before the band will drop its third and most anticipated record, Personal Life—an album that could, all cosmic winds blowing the the right way, propel the Colesville, Md. trio into a higher indie rock strata. So yeah, Rosenberg is nervous.
But amid the din of soundchecks and chattering teens—before a series of well-timed premieres would expose the new 10-song LP to the public—he explains why: He just wants to know what people will write about it.
[Originally appeared in the Washington City Paper on October 23, 2015]
Laurie Spector typically wakes around 9 a.m. By 10, she’s out of her parents’ house in Bethesda and off to meet her clients. There’s Charlie and Sophie, Bella and Gabby—a collection of diminutive friends who rarely need to venture beyond their respective fences. There’s a rowdy group who gets so excited to see her, one of them pees on the floor every time she arrives. They burst with energy, this bunch: Maddie and Cisco, Carmella and Csilla. In their inexplicable excitement, they often pull her down the street. They have loved her from the very beginning. She finds such unearned attention—love for a stranger—baffling.
A month or so ago, Spector hadn’t yet met these new friends—toy poodles and springer spaniels and vizslas and, in one case, a jack-a-bee. Back then, Spector was struggling with the tedium of a desk job at a nonprofit in Foggy Bottom. She has a college degree, and the office-worker path felt predetermined, she says. Spector would burn her eight hours and then go home, drink a beer, watch a movie, and fall asleep.
“I need to live on money, so I started working there,” Spector says. “After a while, I was completely miserable.”
Originally published in Noisey on July 15, 2015
The music world loves a band that has earned its keep—tour van veterans who only found recognition after they’d played a thousand VFW halls and recorded a dozen demos, and that’s far from some dumb trope. It happens. Other bands—shit, who are we kidding, basically all bands everywhere—toil in local scenes for years only to fade out as the years pile up. “Making it” in whatever modern way that turn of phrase still exists is chimera to most bands, even as the amount of music (and music journalism, natch) available and accessible to the world expands without end. But some bands, seemingly upon arrival, come equipped with such big hooks and jab-at-your-heart lyrics, they rise quickly to the surface. People notice.
Diet Cig are the poster band for that success story, taken to its preposterous extreme. Earlier this year, the band played its first show at a friend’s house in New Paltz, New York, a sleepy college town two hours north of New York City, and recorded a five-song EP two weeks later. Now, a half a year on, the first single from their upcoming record has landed on Spin, Vanity Fair, and—here we are—Noisey, all in the same week. That hyperspeed success would be enough to give anyone whiplash, but perhaps especially singer Alex Luciano, a 19 year old college sophomore who, before Diet Cig, had never picked up an electric guitar let alone played in a band.
[Originally published in the Washington City Paper on June 15, 2015]
It’s a quiet Friday afternoon, and G.L Jaguar paces through his apartment, pointing out a box of tapes, record sleeves, a tape-to-tape recorder. Then, the nattily-appointed guitarist for the D.C. punk quartet Priests moves towards a closet, lit bright by a window with a decent view of the Capitol. “Well, here it is,” he says.
There in the closet sits a short shelf with an orderly library of identical records and tapes, each stacked one next to the other. Here in Jaguar’s 16th Street Heights apartment lives Sister Polygon Records, the tiny but disproportionately influential label jointly owned and operated by the four members of Priests. While it can’t approach the size and scope of Dischord, an independent label synonymous with underground music in D.C., Sister Polygon might very well be more significant in today’s tight-knit world of underground punk.
Bands on the label, including Priests, have rattled the gates of the popular music kingdom, collecting acclaim from critics and deals from bigger record labels along the way. And they’ve done it while shunning buzzy bands, hot sounds, and pleas for coverage. Sister Polygon is a DIY concern through and through.
[Originally appeared in DCist in April 2015]
In the years since his former band Career Suicide released what became its career-defining album, Matthew Miller’s life has changed.
He had two kids. He moved to what bandmate and Career Suicide singer Martin Farkas calls “the literal middle of nowhere”, in the expansive prairies of Manitoba, Canada. He now steers an 18-wheel truck through long stretches of highway crisscrossing the continent.
So when Farkas called Miller to extend the invitation to play D.C.’s Damaged City festival, when his truck was frozen in a repair yard in the middle of the awful Canadian winter, the offer to return to his former life, however briefly, must have sounded appealing.
[Originally appeared on DCist in May 2015]
The charge of Downtown Boys’ new album begins immediately, with a quick military rattle of drums and a low, rhythmic blurt of saxophone. The lyrics burst in, all shout and howl, first from guitarist Joey DeFrancesco and then from Victoria Ruiz, the band’s singer and the owner of an urgent and generational voice: “Coming in on a wave / On a wave of history!” And with that, Downtown Boys announces itself, unveils its motivations and plans.
On “Wave Of History,” the opening track on the band’s debut LP, the band at once damns centuries of oppression while using it as a trebuchet to sling a message at a world they believe needs to hear it.
It only makes sense that an album called Full Communism should open with such a raucous and ringing manifesto. From those first shouted words, Downtown Boys make clear their intention to take generations-worth of wrongs and insult, dump them on a skiff, set them ablaze, and kick them out to sea. Pivoting effortlessly between Spanish and English, Ruiz’s lyrics shred social maladies from racism and queerphobia to police aggression and unchecked male privilege, all woven through a rollicking, horn-infused brand of punk that looms above a sometimes stayed genre.
[Originally appeared in Bandwidth in October 2014]
As the sun dipped behind the Fort Reno towers on a July evening, John Scharbach pounced around the grass, jumping in and out of a Frisbee game. From a distance, he looked like your standard campus disc thrower: He wore sweat shorts, a baggy tee and a Nirvana trucker cap that restrained a tangle of long blond hair. If someone said Scharbach played on a college Ultimate team, you would have shrugged. Sure he does.
Ten minutes later, Scharbach swapped the frisbee for a microphone. He bounded onstage, pumped up to play D.C.’s Fort Reno summer concert series for the third time with his group, GIVE, D.C.’s most boundary-pushing hardcore band. It would be another three months before the band released its debut LP, Electric Flower Circus.
After ample time in the studio, a wait at the pressing plant and many dollars spent, that record has finally arrived.
[Originally appeared in Noisey in December 2014]
They were unarmed, Ice Cube says. That’s what still bothers him. It’s the only thing that really felt different.
Mike Brown was unarmed when officer Darren Wilson shot him to death last August. Eric Garner was unarmed when officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in an apparent chokehold before Garner died at a hospital an hour later. It didn’t used to be this way.
“You used to have to have a gun to get shot, or a weapon, or a knife or something,” says O’shea Jackson, who has gone by the stage name of Ice Cube since his rap career began in the mid-1980s. “Now, the police are just executing people in the street. No weapon, even for a little altercation or a fist fight or whatever had gone down. They’re just gunning people down.”