The centerpiece live performances will come from production wizard and sonic adventuerer Khari Mateen, electro-pop experimenter Chris Powell of Man Man performing under his Pow Pow moniker, and tech-savvy rapper Lushlife. For more information on The Intersection of Music and Technology, visit its Facebook event page here. Below, watch Lushlife perform “Still I Hear The Word Progress” and talk about his gear fixation in his HotBox Studio / Deli Magazine Choice Cuts Session.
Perhaps it’s because he’s a drummer, or maybe he’s a drummer because of it, but Chris Powell has a knack for juggling multiple things at once. Onstage behind a kit – in present day avant-popsters Man Man and going back a dozen or more years with his formative group Need New Body – it’s rhythms, tempos and even percussion instruments Powell mixes up. In a broader sense, it’s projects: he’s a producer and collaborator with Grant$, a band leader with Adventuredrum, and a cosmic one-man dance-maker in his new-ish electronic project Spaceship Aloha.
Last year, Powell launched the Spaceship with Universe Mahalo: Volume #1, his debut LP on the local experimental label Data Garden. It’s a heady potpourri of body-moving dub beats, exotic tropical instrumentation, futuristic electro-pop textures, and samples of that lean both towards science fiction (humming lasers, pinging radar) and summer vacation (breezy surf and seagulls). The followup, Tropical Information Systems, will be out this summer on Data Garden, and tonight he makes his second-ever live appearance at Johnny Brenda’s, opening for Mouse on Mars – who rang among his electronic music heroes. Powell and I swapped emails to get to the root of Spaceship Aloha.
The Key: The project emerged when you got married in Hawaii a few years ago. Was that trip your first full-on exposure to Polynesian music? What about the music hooked you so much?
Chris Powell: I’ve been obsessed with Hawaii ever since childhood. It’s this beautiful, magical, exotic, tropical destination – I love the vibe of Hawaii generally, and the music is a big part of that. But I’ve been familiar with Polynesian music since I was very young, thanks to growing up in a part of the country with wonderful local radio stations that played music from all over the world.
TK: The sci-fi / spacey electronic element of the band is great, because for the listener, it’s such an unexpected sonic twist. I have a hunch, however, that for you it was a natural fit – of course you’d think to mix the two styles! Is that right – did it come together really that quickly? Or was it more of an evolution?
CP: The sci-fi sonic style comes very naturally to me. I’m a huge science fiction fan – it just makes sense that those sounds would make their way into my music. I love the old sound effects that were used for UFO’s and spaceships. The Jetsons‘ sound design is amazing. And in terms of fantastical and exotic travel, it doesn’t get much more fantastic than outer space. Continue reading →
Wrapping up their 2012 season, the good folks at Shaking Through went out with a fun, bumpin’, goof-off hip-hop track from Grant$, a collaboration between Chris Powell of Man Man (the session’s curator) and indie rapper Tim Fite. Originally conceived as a one-time-only pairing for the series, it quickly grew. From the Shaking Through website:
Tim, whose music has run the gamut of genres, shares one simple goal with Powell: to make art and to have fun doing it. The two came together at Miner Street Recordings in Philadelphia to record “Punch Drunk” – a thumping hip-hop track, true to its own name. What none of us could have expected, however, was that by the time the day was finished, this Shaking Through recording session would give birth to a new project, a collaboration with a life of its own. That’s right – this final episode of 2012 captures not only the birth of a song… here we have the birth of whole new musical project called Grant$.
Chris Powell of Man Man, Spaceship Aloha and numerous other percussive Philly projects recently reinvented a track from local disco-tronica duo Night Panther. While the original has a bouncy piano backing and a bright major-key melody, this rendition mixes a bump-and-grind beat and ethereal outer space synthesizers. Vocal melody is exactly the same, but it sounds like a completely different song. Check out the remix over at PIgeons and Planes, and catch Night Panther when they open for Norwegian Arms at Johnny Brenda‘s on December 21. Tickets and information on the show can be found here.
There’s a point in Jay Bulger’s compelling documentary Beware of Mr. Baker where the filmmaker sits down with Eric Clapton and asks him to pit Cream drummer Ginger Baker against his rock contemporaries – John Bonham, Keith Moon. Clapton makes a sour, disgusted face, and immediately dismisses the notion that they’re even on the same plane. Baker, he explains, didn’t just bang things with sticks. Baker understands music, arrangement, dynamics. This immediately made me think of one of the best rock drummers in present-day Philadelphia – Chris Powell of avant-garde indie luminaries Man Man, as well as side projects Adventuredrum and Spaceship Aloha. Powell is someone who you could watch perform and think, wow, that’s one tripped-out percussionist. But those paying attention can also quickly pick up on the nuances of his playing, his imaginative arrangements and attention to detail.
With Beware of Mr. Baker opening at the Philadelphia Film Festival with a screening tonight at West Philly’s Rave Theater, and another one on Sunday at the Ritz East, I decided to get Powell’s take on this drummer whose career bridged rock, jazz and African percussion – as well as polo, drug addition and no shortage of emotional and domestic troubles. We each watched the film, and met up last night to compare notes. Powell observed the similarities between Baker’s untamed red beard and Animal from The Muppets. We pondered Clapton’s skepticism of rockers who die young. “It’s like you’re preserved in amber,” Powell said in agreement. “You don’t have to deal with real life – things like trends changing, or the music business changing, or navigating a career in an industry that mostly wants young people.” And we had a wide-ranging discussion on this dynamic portrayal of a fascinating figure in contemporary music, which you can read below.
The Key: As a non-musician watching the movie, I responded to Ginger Baker as a versatile drummer but also a fascinating personality. As a drummer, what was your take?
Chris Powell: You know how there’s certain bands you like, and if you really connect to it, that’s when the digging starts? I never really connected with Ginger Baker that way, probably because I never really liked Cream that much. So definitely his personality was pretty shocking, I had no idea it was how he was, manic or whatever. I didn’t know about his background in jazz. Which is funny because Mitch Mitchell, for example, he played with Hendrix, and he’s one of my favorite drummers. Hendrix had a rock band essentially, and Mitchell was a jazz drummer who was doing the rock thing. But I didn’t know the extent to which Ginger Baker was actually straight up a jazz drummer.
TK: It was neat to see this period towards the beginning of rock, where the people who were playing in bands are really schooled people. Not that people today aren’t…
CP: They’re not! A lot of them aren’t.
TK: But in a pre-punk era, its interesting how, wow, a lot of these people seriously know their stuff.
CP:I feel like this comes up pretty regularly, just because of the roots of music in America and those Big Bands. If that’s when you grew up, that’s what you know. You know jazz, because that’s kind of all there was, and you had to take your pick form all these really brilliant bands. Regardless of the arrangements, and what your taste is, you’re around nothing but pure talent. So it created this situation where, at the beginning of rock and roll, there’s just these brilliant players. They could totally play this rock stuff, yeah, but they are also dynamite musicians. Continue reading →
Experimental electronic music label Data Garden celebrated its launch one year ago this weekend by transforming Bartram’s Garden, the botanical garden in West Philadelphia, into an interactive art exhibit called The Switched-On Garden. There were numerous sound installations located throughout the park, and live performances by the musicians whose recordings made up the label’s first releases. This Sunday, to mark its one-year anniversary and to unleash a new batch of albums, Data Garden returns to Bartram’s for The Switched-On Garden 002.
Like last year, the goal is “to explore the relationship between plants, music and technology.” Over a few slices of pizza, Data Garden co-founder Joe Patitucci tries to explain to me what exactly that means. “We want to create an expression of our values that will make a statement about who we are as a label,” he says. “We don’t want to have a traditional record release show at a bar, because that’s not what we’re all about. Instead, we’re creating a place where people can go outside, get together, and experience nature and electronic music at the same time.” Continue reading →