Harlem to World: You Don’t Know Shit About the Harlem Shake

In one of the more satisfying takedowns of memes that aren’t worth the bandwidth they’re using, filmmaker Chris McGuire went to 125th Street in Manhattan—the main artery of actual Harlem—to get residents’ perspective on the so-called "Harlem Shake" video phenomenon. And the reviews, to put it lightly, are not good.

First off, most of the folks interviewed have to be shown an example of a Harlem Shake video, and they react with horrified confusion from the get-go. Many of them note that no one involved in this trend is doing the real Harlem Shake, which originated in 1981 and has its roots in a much older Ethiopian dance.

The advice proffered runs the spectrum: get another hobby, get some rhythm, get some sense of shame, put some clothes on, don’t try this in Harlem itself, study your history and check your privileged white appropriation of a minority’s hard-won cultural capital. All of which is guaranteed to fall on the deaf ears of Matt & Kim fans everywhere. But at least people are talking?   

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Back-To-School Season 2012: The Backpackening

My wife and I live in Morningside Heights, a very special nexus of education, privilege and the occasional triple murder. It’s a zone of the Upper West Side in which half the residents are signing petitions to halt Columbia University’s campus creep and the other half already work for Columbia in some capacity. It’s a fine if uneasy equilibrium—or so we always think, until summer ends and the students show up, their parents’ station wagons packed with the cheap furniture they’ll be cheerfully dumping on our curb come May.

And, my god, what an awful difference they make. Firstly, we’re across the street from the Manhattan School of Music, which means that for any given hour you’ll be treated to a tuba player practicing his scales or a would-be opera star singing arias with the sort of vibrato that makes you thankful for autotune. Giant cello cases take up space on the train. A cappella groups roam the corners, crooning at each other.

Then there’s the Union Theological Seminary. You’d like to think of these students as monkish and polite, unwilling to mix with the broader social scene. In fact, they’re always going on first dates that turn into heated arguments about the finer points of the Book of Revelation. And I am always sitting right next to them at the Italian restaurant when they do. (This is still preferable to hearing a dude explain what “indie” music is to a most unfortunate woman in a tone so pedantic I thought there’d be a PowerPoint display behind him.)

Oh, and let’s not forget the graduate students who live at the International House. Far be it from me to sling unfounded accusations at our guests from the other side of the globe, but it’s hard to imagine that non-Eurotrash individuals are responsible for the shattered bottles of SKYY Vodka on the steps leading up to Sakura Park. Take your brand-conscious hooliganism back to Cyprus, you wankers—here in America we drink out of paper bags. And recycle.

This weekend, of course, was also the beginning of freshman orientation. There were a Matt & Kim songs blaring from a sparsely attended Barnard lawn event and approximately four hundred undergrads blocking the sidewalk around 116th Street due to some kind of free empanada promotion at Havana Central. Here’s to nine months of hibernation!  

SXSW Diary, Day 4: Matt & Kim Crush Monday

If there is any sort of down time in the ten-day span of SXSW, it’s the beginning of the first week as the Interactive portion of the conference winds down, the majority of the film premieres have happened, and local Austinites try to squeeze in a few days of work before most of the city becomes a potpourri of live music, gridlock, and parties.

Not to say that things have returned to normal. Screening lines are still wrapping around city blocks, and there are slam-packed private parties with open bars from 2 to 5 PM. A couple of film sales went down on Day 4, the most notable being the remake rights to the high school football documentary Undefeated, that sold to The Weinstein Company for a reported seven figures after an all-night bidding war.

I checked out Errol Morris’s new documentary Tabloid, about Joyce McKinney and The Case of the Manacled Mormon, which is a fascinating and funny look into how being a tabloid star warps a person’s life. There were a few film parties and ho-hum events after that, but as night fell, there was a pressure building—secret last-minute shows announced, like TV on the Radio at the Whitley, and Yeasayer at the new Austin City Limits stage. I opt out of the huge, insanely packed shows and head to see Brooklyn’s Matt and Kim at The Belmont, a small club nestled between skyscrapers on West Sixth, an area known more for its polo-wearing ex-frat brother bars and Sandra Bullock’s upscale restaurant, than its live music.

The Belmont appears determined to change that, as I caught an acoustic Chris Cornell set there the prior weekend. After a talented warm-up from Chicago DJs Flosstradamus, I was caught completely off-guard by the sheer, ecstatic joy of Matt and Kim as they burst onto the stage. Kim doesn’t stop smiling ear-to-ear for the entire set, except when handing out shots to the front row. It is the first—and probably last—time I will mosh to “Better Off Alone” with absolute glee. As they wrap up with “Daylight,” the only song most really know from the duo, SXSW is revived, and there’s an unspoken energy in the air that says: can we get to the music already?

Music Reviews: From Andrew Bird to Lily Allen

Andrew Bird, Noble Beast (Fat Possum) – On his eighth long-player, this acclaimed Chicago-based eccentric virtuoso fully transforms into the glorious anachronism he’s always verged upon, balancing astonishing performance with consummately literary singer-songwriter craft. In his new material, Bird restrains his violin mastery and one-man-band sleight of hand to concentrate on making the complex architecture of his songs seem effortless. Bird’s chamber-pop comes off as intelligently manicured, to a fault at times. When preciousness threatens to overcome the proceedings, however, he introduces an artful new musical gambit, jolting listeners back to square one with witty, unexpected dissonance. —Matt Diehl

Franz Ferdinand, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (Epic) – As Dostoyevsky’s Kirilov observed in The Possessed, “If you shoot yourself, you’ll become God.” Of course, it’s hanging around and remaining cool that’s the hard part. Just ask the members of Franz Ferdinand, who plummeted from the highest of hipster pedestals to the creative skids in a blinding flash. But cagey gents they are, and on their third studio album they’ve decisively relocated their mojo. Balancing moments that are suavely literate with charming rants about how much boys and girls don’t understand each other (they really don’t), the Glaswegian quartet whip up some of the wickedest, most artfully angular grooves this side of a Gang of Four convention, peppered with dub and Teutonic synths. Heaven can wait, then. — Ken Scrudato

Lily Allen, It’s Not Me, It’s You (Capitol) – Unlike her doppelgänger who likes kissing girls, Lily Allen comes off as thoughtful and free from the tedium of irony on her sophomore effort. It all begins quite morosely with “Everyone’s At It,” a bleak overview of a society strung out to the rafters on meds; and it’s followed by the aching, existential despair of “The Fear.” (Been hanging about with Jarvis, have we?) The oft-piercing lyrics don’t get much cheerier from there, but in one distinctly amusing moment, chirpy piano play becomes a sneering anti-bigotry rant (titled, brilliantly, “Fuck You”). It’s Not Me… distinctly recalls Britpop-era Blur, effortlessly shifting styles while holding on to the melancholy synonymous with Englishness. — Ken Scrudato

Matt & Kim, Grand (Fader) – In 2006, Chicago-based deejays Flosstradamus remixed “Yea Yeah,” the infectious single by Brooklyn synth-pop duo Matt & Kim, giving birth to the best blog banger ever. So good was the remix, in fact, that the original track was rendered blah. So, with their second album, Grand, some advice for the best musical couple since Sonny and Cher: Don’t let Floss touch this! Your tracks are bouncy and synth-ridden enough as is! Matt, your cowabunga vocals begin to grate around track five, but the two of you seem so damn happy and fun-filled that it can’t help but rub off. And don’t ever break up, okay? — Ben Barna

M. Ward, Hold Time (Merge) – In our digital age, Ward remains an analog talent. On his latest album — the follow-up to his 2006 breakthrough masterwork Post-War — this iconic indie bard steadfastly maintains a human pulse, always anchored by his grizzled, otherworldly moan. Resonating with the sound of plucked strings and wide-open spaces, Ward’s latest effort evokes olde-tyme country radio broadcasting hazily from a distant universe. But just when his penchant for expressive Americana borders on Dust Bowl classicism, he throws in a Krautrock texture, say, or some other sonic eccentricity that signals he belongs to no age but his own. — Matt Diehl

Obi Best, Capades (Social Science Recordings) – On her debut solo album as Obi Best, Alex Lilly stumbles into the spotlight as the Miranda July of postmodern quirk-pop. Best known for her soaring and stinging back-up vocals with The Bird and the Bee, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter forgos irony in favor of painfully earnest saccharine fare that recalls influences as diverse as Metric’s Emily Haines and ’70s helium addict Melanie. Clinking piano chords echo like silver spears tapping champagne glasses on “Nothing Can Come between Us,” while towering falsettos create walls of sound as whimsical as they are melodic on “What It’s Not” and the relatively dark “It’s Because of People Like You.” — Nick Haramis

Mr. Oizo, Lambs Anger (Ed Banger) – On Lambs Anger, he of the Banging Eds peppers his third full-length with references to Flat Eric, the puppet character that Mssr. Oizo bestowed upon the world via a series of offbeat Levi’s commercials back in the 1990s. But this latest collection of songs is a dance-track galaxy away from his early pop beginnings. The French electronica wunderkind — née Quentin Dupieux — ebbs and flows through heavy techno-laden tracks (“Hun”), trance-like funk (“Cut Dick”) and bubbly female vocals (“Steroids,” featuring Uffie) to produce a stocked bar of fist-pumpers with heart. Plus, how could anyone deprive himself the jouissance of a song called “Bruce Willis is Dead”? — Eiseley Tauginas
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