Sunday, February 24, 2008
Return to New York City
Discovering New York last summer was amazing, but it left me wanting to return. Seven month later I got the chance, alongside Dusk, to investigate again and of course, to DJ the mighty @ Dub War. This time the weather was extreme, in the opposite direction though. Despite this, the city felt much more familiar and yet just as enthralling.
So here are a selection of thoughts, recommendations and memories from our trip to NYC February 2008…
While’s they’re world class, I don’t spend a huge amount of time in museums in London. And the art scene isn’t really my thing. I prefer a little more sub- with my culture. That said, there’s something about being on holiday in a foreign city that opens you up to all types of experiences. Undoubtedly it’s also the large amount of free time, but we spent quite a bit of time in New York’s big museums and galleries.
The Met is the equivalent to London’s British Museum, and we hit some of the ground floor, more well known bits first, like the Egyptian section, arms & armour and also a temporary fashion/blogging exhibition that I wasn’t so sure about the concept of.
The Arms & Armour section was pretty cool, not least because of the contrast in the decoration of weapons across different cultures worldwide. As a European, the classical knight’s armour and straight swords are familiar, but the curved scimitars of the Middle East or the Japanese armour, complete with built in moustache, are something else.
But it was when we went upstairs that The Met really came into it’s own. Away from the crowds, the Japanese and Chinese art section was fittingly serene, with screens depicting detailed battles and counter-battles, seen above and blended together with gold clouds.
We wandered out of the Chinese and Japanese section to look for the Islamic art section. In contrast to the Ancient Egyptian section (before they were Islamic) - that covers many rooms, including one massive warehoused-size extension featuring an entire temple rescued from Egypt and re-assembled facing Central Park – the Islamic art section is housed in one small set of casings, tucked away on the balcony above the main entrance. And while it’s clearly being treated like a backwater, one real gem stood out. The most amazing signature I’ve ever seen: that of Suleiman the Magnificent (photo above).
There’s a delicious rhythm about it, not least in the main body of the signature, but in the additional script below it, as it folds and counter-folds below it. There’s also something so enjoyably different to Islamic calligraphy, balanced yet off-centre, flowing and organic yet also quite alien to someone who’s used to European characters.
A few days later we were mooching around Williamsburg in northern Brooklyn, NYC’s Shoreditch/Brick Lane equivalent (minus the Bangladeshi influence of the latter). On particular record store had this amazing Indian/Arabic/Persian section, so naturally I’m straight in there.
Farrah, Keysound’s singer and herself a Muslim, (who flew out to NYC to join us, the nutter ;) ) had, in the past, made some comments about the scarcity of Islamic music, especially beyond the religious context. Whether it’s just hard to find in the UK (By contrast Hindu or Punjabi music is in total abundance in the UK if you check places like Raj Deep’s or ABC Music), or just there isn’t much of it, I’m not sure, but needless to say when I stumbled across a whole series of Celestial Harmonies CDs – 12 volumes or so – of Islamic music, I jumped right in.
As I flicked through, there it was on the cover of one of the later volumes: the signature of Suleiman the Magnificent again. Had I not found it two days earlier in the Met, I might not have looked twice at it.
Turns out there’s quite a few in the series, though I only bought volumes 12 and 13…
THE MUSIC OF ISLAM:
Volume One: Al-Qahirah, Classical Music Of Cairo
Volume Two: Music Of The South Sinai Bedouins
Volume Three: Music Of The Nubians - The Aswan Troupe For Folkloric Arts
Volume Four: Music Of The Arabian Peninsula - Mohammed Saleh Abd Al-Saheb Lelo And Haitham Hasan
Volume Five: 'Aissaoua Sufi Ceremony
Volume Six: Gnawa Music
Volume Seven: Andalusian Music
Volume Eight: Folkloric Music Of Tunisia - Lotfi Jormana Group
Volume Nine: Mawlawiyah Music Of The Whirling Dervishes - The Galata Mevlevi Music And Sema Ensemble
Volume Ten: Qur'an Recitation - Various Reciters
Volume Eleven: Music Of Yemen
Volume Twelve: Music Of Iran - Sadjadifard, Djamshidi And Sahihi
Volume Thirteen: Music Of Pakistan - Ustad Bary Fateh Ali Khan
Volume Fourteen: Mystic Music Through The Ages - The Galata Mevlevi Music And Sema Ensemble
Volume Fifteen: Muslim Music Of Indonesia: Aceh And West Sumatra (2cd) –
The Music of Islam (Sampler)
Flying home on the plane, I returned to my book. I’ve been reading “A Brief History of the Middle East: from Abraham to Arafat” by Christopher Catherwood to try and understand a little more about Islam, where it’s come from and how it’s various different factions are aligned. As I awoke from an uncomfortable sleep, I began slowly wading through the mid-section of the book before who should I stumble upon, but Suleiman the Magnificent again.
“In 1520 Suleiman the magnificent became Sultan; regarded by historians as probably one of the greatest Ottoman rulers, he held the throne until his death in 1566.
In 1526 he was able to recommence serious war against the West, and in the same year his forces annihilated the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohacs… Hungary, which has always seen itself as an impenetrable shield of the Christian West, became an Ottoman domain for the next 170 years.”
Suleiman, are you following me? ;-)
While were there, turns out it was Chinese New Year: year of the Rat was upon us. So on the Sunday, we headed down to Manhattan’s Chinatown. While we’d missed most of the parade, the place was still teeming with people. Kids were buying these kind of party poppers-on-steroids that shot multicolour glitter into he air with a loud bang (Chinese New Year is all about noise). Some of them propelled little red parachutes about 20 feet up, which would float down, causing mild panic and squeals as kids would try and be the one to catch them. I’m guessing it’s lucky.
We ducked into one of the music stores that were about and instantly I went into sample-mode. Finding the right foreign music CDs to sample without wasting your money is a skill I’ve begun to develop over the last few years. Without the ability to listen to them nor sometimes the ability to speak to the vendor, it’s often very much a case of judging a book by it’s cover.
So I ignored all the ones that look like modern saccharine pop and try and focus on anything traditional. Pictures of obscure instruments on the cover are a winner, though I did nearly get caught out in Thailand when relying on this by almost buying some covers of Smoke On the Water in a gamelan style. Eek. I’m hoping the CDs end up some mad drum ish.
One additional oddity of this shop was, right next to the kids CDs, was a waist to eye level porn DVD section. My Mandarin/Cantonese is non existent but you didn’t need it with this lot, given the exceptionally graphic covers – even by porn standards. I wonder how porn is culturally perceived in China? It certainly seemed casually arranged in this shop…
Out to all the mini dragon mandem, and dads with '70s porn 'taches...
As we stepped outside the Chinese music/porn shop, it began to snow. The wind chill was already viscous, so we decided to head uptown and shelter in the Guggenheim museum. I had no idea the Chinese theme was to continue.
The main exhibition, filling the six-floor spiral gallery in the Guggenheim, was by Cai Guo-Qiang, an artist who was born in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, China and works with a variety of mediums
Some of his work uses that most influential of Chinese inventions, gun power. The effects of his explosive creations were interesting because, unlike a painting, the medium used to record them becomes the only evidence of the work. In some cases this is charred paper, but more impressively, one video installation showed a where Guo-Qiang extended the Great Wall of China by 10km using gun powder detonations alone. The effect, as the detonations disappeared towards the horizon at dark, was mesmerising.
Guo-Qiang’s father was a painter in a classical Chinese style, and examples of his paintings of tigers (like these) are hung next to his son’s amazing life-size models of tigers frozen in contortions after being shot down from hundreds of angles at once. The symbolism, especially towards Taoism was heavy.
Guo-Qiang’s tigers in another context…
Naturally, we had quite a few good nights out while we were out there. One evening we went to Boxcar Lounge in the East Village to link (Dubwar’s) Dave Q and Loefah. The place was a real wander from the subway, narrow and pretty tiny, so imagine our surprise when, before Loe and Dave had arrived, we hear the DJ telling his mate he recommends “Dusk, Blackdown and Loefah at Love this Friday… .”
Luckily for our egos, it was no coincidence, as the DJ was Mike Woolfe, friendly music editor from Time Out and longtime Dubwar supporter. It was also great to finally meet Craig I-Sound. Happy “hour” ran from 6 to 10, serving the most vicious spirits measures we’d ever seen: you basically got two half a pints of gin with a little tonic for the price of a normal drink. Needless to say, by the time Dave and Loefah turned up, thus began one of the messiest, most amusing nights I’ve been at in a while. There was an in depth discussion of fruit machines, there was some heated debating of Cassie v R Kelly, there was some impromptu vet consultation of slightly aging dogs and there may or may not have been some wrestling. There were most definitely some hangovers from hell.
We also reached Carl Craig at Cielo’s, which was pretty funny. The crowd was pretty dressy, including one couple that looked respectively like they were the head of the Football team and prom queen of some Southern college. Cielo’s itself is a bit like a log cabin that glows with a big glitter ball, but it was good to see Carl Craig again.
Dusk seemed to think it all sounded “a bit 90s” but I was feeling the textures and depth, tiny details and deep synth washes. Even some of the (cross)rhythms seemed a bit more interesting than I’d expect, though I do think bass drops provide real dynamic contrast lacking in dance music.
Towards the end, I wandered up to the booth, slipped Carl Craig a ton of Keysound beats, gave him a salute and wandered off. Well, the man’s a don and used to be a massive hero of mine: so you gotta try these things, right?
We also spent several great evenings with Sekkle, the city’s most amazing enthusiast, historian, tour guide and evangelist. One night we ate at Elephant which was pure French-Thai vibes and amazing food. Highly recommended, if you can find it.
He also took us to Fat Cat's, a (literally) underground games hall. It was pure NY vibes, hundreds of pool tables (I’m still shit…), shuffleboard (kinda like French boules but with sliders), table tennis tables and a jazz band giving it some parp. Find the narrow doorway if you can, I recommend it highly: perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday, or in our case, a lazy post-Dubwar Saturday.
And so on to Dub War, the real focus of the week. I guess firstly I gotta shout Dave Q and Joe for taking the leap to book us. We hope you did you justice.
Before the night kicked off, it was fun soundchecking with the Bomb Squad, catching jokes with Hank Shocklee about Mafia weddings he’s DJed at (“When the really old dude at the back requests a tune, you play it!”). Apparently I missed another soundcheck earlier in the week, where Dave, Loefah and Hank hung out with Q-Tip. I asked Hank if Q-Tip was into dubstep but it doesn’t seem so. The booth at Love is also crazy old-school with a Paradise Garage-style reel-to-reel tape player, enough channels to allow a 120 piece live band play, and some old school live reverbs.
So on to the night proper. Joe and Dave warmed up with some classics, before the Bomb Squad too to the side stage. Their new live setup seems to mix reggae classics with dubstep biggies alongside their own material, which is kinda glitchy hip hop. Then it was our turn.
We’ve done FWD>> twice, Mass@ DMZ, The End, New York and Herbal in the last six months: yes, it seems totally nuts. And with gigs right now, I can seem to tell quite quickly whether it’s going to be fun. And with Dub War, put it this way: by dub three I was skanking like a loon. People seemed to get what we’re doing, with the 2step tracks going down a storm and our grime hitting the spot too.
Clearly vocals were the one for Dub War, because even deeper tracks like “Con/Fusion ft Farrah” got a reload. People seemed to feel my remix of Martyn’s Broken. Then as our closing tune dropped, the engineer came over and turned it down saying to me quite directly: “if you want the club to stay open, don’t touch that gain again.”
Turns out the cops we sniffing about, giving people – including Hank Shocklee – tickets outside for noise violations and threatening to come in to the venue. Harsh for Dave but it felt like “yeaaah boyee, we shut down New York!”
After that Loefah dropped some bangers before heading into Mala deepness. Joe followed up before it was freestyle time and I got to play some tunes we’d not had the chance to drop in the main set.
Then Joe took it to the next level, getting out the Luther Vandross 7”s. It was pretty funny until he got out the Phil Collins and Wham. Me, humourless? Pah. It was time to go to some Ukranian place Sekkle knew for banana pancakes.
New York you fucking rock.
Juniors cheesecake in Brooklyn might be "soulfood institution" according to Dave Q, but I for one wasn't man enough to finish a whole piece. And I can handle me cake!
Found this graf in Greenwich Village.
Builders in Williamsburg.
Found this in the Lower East Side, down an alleyway.
Lower East Side by night.