Diplo, Scorpions, Owls, & Belly Dancers At Last Night’s Party

What I thought might be an OK  event turned out to be a blast. The hush-hush Dos Equis event last night at the Masonic Lodge on 24th St. and 6th Ave. had more pleasant surprises than my third wife’s diary. Things that I thought irrelevant or even tacky when I first heard of them at early event meetings turned out to be wonderful. People wore the provided masks and ate the weird bug munchies (scorpions, toasted ants, worms – see above). The belly dancers were actually amazing. One of my event golden rules is to leave whenever a belly dancer goes on. But somehow it worked. The belly dancers were hot. The Masonic Lodge has ballroom after ballroom, all marble and wood and gilded moldings. It is grand and mysterious. Photos of admirals and dead politicians lined the corridors, and the crowd rose to the occasion and behaved while they played. 

In rehearsal, surprise guest Andrew W. K. was like a kid left in a candy store during after hours. He played on a ginormous pipe organ while Diplo provided the beats and texture. Diplo would go on to win the hearts, minds, and bodies of the big crowd. I’m not an EDM kind of guy but after the night, before listening to some of the best over at Pacha, and then Diplo, I have been almost…a little converted. Now let’s not get hysterical; rock is still my genre, but I did enjoy Diplo in that grand ballroom .

 I was asked to recommend some cool promoter types to fill the room on short notice due to the Sandy wipe-out. Seva Granik was asked to fill the place, and he brought a hip Williamsburg crowd to the gala. Seva and I talked about how Manhattan is now a novelty destination for his flock. The Bespoke Group, headed up by Cody Pruitt and partners Doug and Brookes Rand, mixed in their bottle service. Alas, the only bottles were Dos Equis, and no one was complaining about that.

Everyone left with smiles on their faces. David Katz and Sam Valentine and Justine D. offered rock and roll while belly dancers rolled their hips and bellies. It was surreal.

The highlight of my night was the birds of prey room. I had an owl and a kestrel on my arm. I bonded with the beautiful kestrel. I talked softly to him and stroked his feathers, and then he leaned in and kissed me right on the lips. I am in love.

My day started at 7am and ended at the next 7am. I guess I’ll get all the sleep I need in 20 or so years. There were too many great DJs to list here and too many people to thank for bringing their friends. The thing about this event that made it hot and interesting was the mix of people. Give a crowd reasons to be cheerful and they will be…cheerful. Dos Equis and Mirrorball and all the other supportive entities deserve credit for producing one of the best events I have recently attended. 

Tonight I expect you to come to Webster Hall’s Hanky Panky Sandy "Rock- N-Rebuild” benefit. I’m doing a late set. Hanky Panky is very much happening thanks to the tireless efforts of Gary Spencer and the Webster staff. I always have fun there.

As reported earlier, the Lucky Cheng’s space is finally changing hands. I’s have been dotted and T’s crossed and I’ll tell you all about it when they tell me I can. The opening of Foxglove at 242 Flatbush Ave. near the Barclays Center intrigues me. DJ mOma is the draw for me, as is the continuing relevance of Brooklyn nightlife. They describe the space as "reminiscent of the Sub-Mercer" which for years was my favorite haunt.

There’s a whole lot of other stuff to report but I’m way too tired. I’m opting out with some warm milk and a long nap. Will someone please say good night, Mr. Lewis.

Will CBGB’s Ever Really Come Back?

News comes that CBGB’s will be revived as a festival and then a club. Investors and even old CBGB’s hands will try to bring it back to life. Whether it will be a glorious resurrection or a Frankenstein-type thing remains to be seen. CBGB’s couldn’t shine Max’s Kansas City’s shoes on most nights, but it was where I gathered to shoot the shit, mingle, and find love. It always had new blood, new wannabe groupie-types being bad in the big city. Yeah, back then I was always looking for love in the wrong kind of places…and in the wrong kind of faces.

It was long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I was at the Academy of Music—now the Palladium Housing on 14th street where Irving dead-ends. I weighed in at a buck 35, wore ripped jeans, pointy boots, and a Ramones T-Shirt; no, not one of the ones you see every day on today’s streets designed by brilliant Ramones artist Arturo Vega—it was a T-shirt an actual Ramone had worn at a show. Yeah, I had washed it, and, yeah, I was down with that. I can’t remember the big band on the big stage, but I know I was bored. So bored that I did a line with an annoying Staten Island couple. It wasn’t coke. I didn’t do much coke or any other drugs for that matter, but I knew this wasn’t it. What it was made me loopy. I ran home. Home wasn’t my walk-up in the ’30s but CBGB’s. It was there that I would hang my head and bop my head and conduct a very raw social life. I was a regular. A regular that was the subject of much debate from parental units, and old friends but rock and roll is a drug I have never been able to get off of. A couple weeks before at the dirty, dingy, rock mecca, Marky Ramone had noticed some suits watching some mullet hair-band. He pointed out the way they were standing was in the formation of bowling pins and he attempted to strike with a trademark large beer mug. I got him away before it was eight on two, which would have turned into thirty on eight, as the cavalry surely would have arrived. It was like that.

I arrived at CB’s on wobbly legs and a confused brain. I told Don, the door guy, the condition my condition was in. He put me up against a wall and told me to stand there so he could keep an eye on me. A Coke kept me occupied. As the world swirled and a rotten band screamed about how bland their suburban lives were, I noticed two hot girls chatting about me with Don. It was all eye contact, giggles, and fun, and I wanted one of them more than the Coke and the wall. The small one, all leathered and laced and bursting with…energy, came up to me and pressed up against my punk profile. Sharp black nails made her point. She looked up at me with black eyes surrounded by smeared black makeup and asked me, "Are you some sort of rock star or something, or are you just good in bed?” I replied very cleverly that "I was no rock star" and she concluded that I "must be good in bed" I won’t bore you with the next few hours. It was a typical CB’s story. A typical wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am story. My golden rule of the time was to never, ever go home with a girl whose hair could hurt you. But…rules were made to be broken. The Bowery was a littered shoreline of broken rules and hopes and dreams.

Sure, some came for the bands, and a few among the thousands who came and had their dreams shattered on the rock chops of that Manhattan stage did break on through to the other side. You know their names—they are legendary. Everyone came through CBGB’s. The good, the bad, and the ugly all had their place.

A hundred places still have a stage and a room and the ambitions to replace it, but none have come close. None had Hilly Crystal. CBGB’s without Hilly is like Casablanca’s Rick’s Café American without Humphrey Bogart’s Rick. Clubs have leaders and personalities at their helm. McDonald’s can fly without Ray Kroc and Kentucky Fried without the colonel, but Studio without Steve Rubell was never Studio. John Varvatos occupies the old space and does so without being an occupier or invader. When CB’s ended over a rent dispute, it wasn’t near as relevant as the T-shirts still seen everywhere. Everything looks good after it’s gone. Shoot, when Jim Croce died he sold zillions of records. Everyone needed his junkyard dog track after he passed—not so much before.

The CBGB’s Festival talk is about Guided By Voices and that’s a wow. Three-hundred bands will play NYC venues large and small in a CMJ Music Festival-like format. The Cro-Mags will headline a hardcore show at Webster Hall. Williamsburg venues will be included. It sounds like a great idea. Time will tell whether it will just be a bunch of entrepreneurs picking at the bones of a brand or if Hilly’s spirit will somehow be felt. Will the new CBCB’s venue capture that spirit? Is it possible to recreate spirit? I remember all those lame attempts to recreate Woodstock, which of course never happened. The energies of places happen organically. I hate that phrase—it’s so fucking crunchy—but in this case I think it applies.

The success of CB’s, the spirit of it, came of course from the boldface bands that made it famous, like The Ramones, The Talking Heads, Blondie, The Police, and such. I believe that a great deal of its spirit came from the forgotten bands who put it all in what sometimes was the pinnacle of their careers, even though their audience was sometimes nothing more than bored staff and a few drunk regulars. They had loaded up the van with dreams of super stardom and stadiums and all the trappings of fame riding with them. They mostly left those dreams and that energy and their hopes on that stage. It remained there, and those who paid attention could feel it like grandmother’s ghost at Thanksgiving dinner. How many hundreds of thousands loaded in and out? How many trips home were in silence or heated arguments? Everyone left a little behind. I suspect that the rebirth will be merely OK. It’s hard to make money on live music, so there’s a danger that the place will just flitter into a glorified T-shirt store for the tourist trade. I don’t think it will do well if it tries to go back. Tim Hayes, a principal, said somewhere, “We want to make room for some of the legends that came from CBGB, but the primary focus is to support new music.” I think that makes sense and could turn that OK into a WOW.

They’re looking to buy a building so that they aren’t plagued with big rents when they reestablish the big brand. A rent increase closed CBGB’s a year before Hilly passed. All the king’s horses came to perform at benefits to keep it going, but the neighborhood had changed and is now home to new high-rises, fine dining, and scenester bars. Only Bowery Electric, a handful of panhandling stragglers, and a sign that calls second street Joey Ramone Place remind passers-by of the glory. I can’t see neighborhoods in Manhattan relishing this type of venue near their bedrooms and suspect Greenpoint or Williamsburg will provide the answers. Manhattan and certainly the Bowery are not the creative cauldrons that fed the CB’s scene. Brooklyn can provide that.

13 Questions for Friday the 13th

It is Friday the 13th and, yes, I am getting a "13 ball" tattooed on my arm from Magic Cobra Tattoo Society.  The line on Driggs and South 1st was long and totally fun for the inexpensive permanents. They ink for 24 hours starting at midnight and I gave them mixed CDs for the occasion …some biker/tattoo music to ease the pain.

It may be Triskaidekaphobia that has me not willing to write today, to commit to a story, say anything I might regret later. I was up until 8am at Magic Cobra haven and woken at 7am Thursday morning. That question from Dirty Harry keeps banging around in my head "…But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?’” Well I feel anything but lucky today and the entire world away from my pillow feels like a .44 Magnum; I am absolutely feeling like a punk, so forgive me if I keep this to 13 possibly dumb questions with uneven answers.

Q1) Was it the luck of the Irish that got that fabulous Ballinger crew open almost immediately at Webster Hall after a stabbing at a hardcore show, while  Greenhouse/W.i.P. got shuttered harder and longer for a bottle-throwing incident?
A1) I think it’s a matter of a long history of working well with the community that has Webster doing its thing, while Greenhouse has been way more annoying to some. The fact that the Webster stabber and stabbees were white and the bottle throwers and brawlers at Greenhouse were black never crossed my mind.

Q2) Are the rumors that Pink Elephant may close for August true, and was it bad luck or bad planning to open a Euro-based club in the beginning of the summer or was it planned like this all along?
A2) I’m too tired to ask them the question today and you know what will be said anyway.

Q3) Is The Double Seven just being unlucky or is it the weather, or is it just fabulous and not as confused as my personal confusion perceives it?  A source who made me swear to say nothing about what he told me about The Double Seven will be happy that I respect his wishes.
A3) Mark Baker and crew will tell me how wonderful it is over there if I had the strength to pick up the phone so why should I bother to call?

Q4) So why can’t they call it Bungalow 8 and what did Amy Sacco ever do to be the focus of such silliness?
A4) She is so fabulous and smart and fun and if they want to call it "8"…wink, wink, I’m going to go anyway. Hey, they can call it 13 and I’m there.

Q5) Is the Xtravaganza Ball really going to happen next Sunday, July 22, and have they really asked me to be a judge?
A5) OMG ! Yes ! What to wear? I must look …legendary.

Q6) Have those wonderful and erotic Domi Dollz fallen into a pile of good luck now that every skirt on the planet has read Fifty Shades of Grey?
A6) I missed their monthly soiree/seminar this past Thursday at the Museum of Sex but predict they may soon need to get a bigger room to whip those novices into shape.

[Editor’s Note: I went, and it was amazing. Those Dollz know how to whip you and their leather-collared, half-naked boys into shape.]

Q7) Am I really going to do 13 of these?
A7) No, seven is more than half of 13, I think… and considering the condition my tattoo is in, it’s all you can expect. I’m going to crash…get my tattoo from Adam Korothy at Magic Cobra, rinse, and repeat.

Want Some Hanky Panky? Gary Spencer Knows Where To Find It

Friend Gary Spencer has been tasked to carve out a little slice of heaven from mega-club Webster Hall, and brand it as “The Hanky Panky Club.” As creative director, he is opening his ambitious concept with a performance by the New York Dolls frontman David Johansen and my favorite DJ in this world: Paul Sevigny. For me, this is an incredible booking. The influence of the New York Dolls on NYC music, and the direction rock took from their lead, is incalculable. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I wore a suit to an office and listened to jazz. On the way to something somewhere, my cab cut to Park Avenue from another avenue to avoid traffic but got stuck again. As I glanced out the window at the very grey NYC of the early ‘70s, I saw the Dolls stumbling over each other in dresses and such with a wonderful entourage in tow. I had seen a light and got an itch that I have spent the rest of my life trying to scratch.

It was a few years later that the Ramones indoctrinated me into the life completely, but it was the Dolls who showed me the path. Rock and Roll, to its devotees, is a religion. Its anthems rarely get old, and the offerings of ancient bands and rock stars still play well to generations. Rock produced today and a zillion days ago will play well to people who aren’t even theoretical yet. It’s an "old school" genre that still delivers, still sells out stadiums. Gary Spencer is approaching the new Hanky Panky venture with an old- school mentality. I will be there to support and, more importantly, to enjoy a slice of the life I have chosen.

Hanky Panky starts with a bang, with the New York Doll’s David Johansen and my favorite DJ and (perhaps) person Paul Sevigny. Why were they chosen for this grand affair?
Friday is going to be a special night; we’ll have David Johansen from the New York Dolls performing, Paul Sevigny spinning.
I wanted to keep the integrity of not only the space but also NYC, and who better than David Johansen of the Dolls to do that? He’s New York and he’s totally rock and roll. Webster Hall is New York rock and roll history, and we have the club that overlooks it – how cool is that!!! Paul Sevigny is a quality DJ; a guy that really knows his music and is a perfect compliment for the Dolls and the room in general. He’s underrated and he crosses so many eras of music in his set. Plus, he’s an absolute gentleman. Deadbeat Darling will be supporting Johansen;  they are an amazing band whose latest album “Angel’s Share” was produced by Ken Nelson (producer of Coldplay’s “Parachutes” and “Rush of Blood”). Terry Casey, another underrated DJ, will also be spinning and maybe even you Steve, who knows? It’s all a secret!

It’s in but it’s not. The Hanky Panky Club includes the balcony of Webster Hall. Let’s face it… it’s Webster Hall, but a redefinition of part of it. Webster Hall is very music-based. Tell me about the pairings of bands and DJs at The Hanky Panky Club, and the development of a separate brand from Webster.
Lon Ballinger, the owner of Webster Hall, contacted me and said he was looking for a different demographic, a market that he hasn’t been able to tap into, and that he wanted to open the space that was above the main club. After walking through the venue on a Friday night, I was like – WOW – this is incredible; the energy on the main floor was like nothing I had seen in a nightclub for a very long time. Hundreds of people were having a genuinely amazing unpretentious night out. It was refreshing to see, but it was even cooler to see and live it from the comfort of the balcony, which is incidentally attached to – ta da – Hanky Panky!

I really feel that that’s what people will do: they will enjoy all the trappings and service of The Hanky Panky Club but also enjoy the energy that the main room and balcony have to offer, if and when they need it. In pairingup the music on a Thursday, we will have a soul evening, Fridays will be electronic, and Saturdays will be more commercial/house. The bands on these evenings will also reflect the respective genres in the main room. Your career. Tell me about it, and tell my readers about the wonderful nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow.
I was standing in Peter’s nightclub “Stringfellows “ in 1983, and his director of operations Roger Howe approached me and told me he wanted me to work for the company. I had zero experience at the time, but ended up a week later as a bartender at Stringfellows. Later on, I moved on to be the reception manager at the world famous and way-before-its-time Hippodrome. What I always remember from that is when Roger said to the bar manager at the time, “I want Gary to work at the bar,” and the bar manager said “well, we don’t have any positions available.” Roger said “Well find him one.”

Those guys understand image. They know the rest can be taught; they build all their clubs around selling glamour and image. Plus, they know all about programming. He knows his trade. Peter started off in church halls, then booked The Beatles one night and never really looked back.

Peter will always be legendary in nightlife. He understands what nightlife is; it’s fantasy, it’s sexy, it’s escapism, it’s what should be talked about amongst your workmates on a Monday morning after a wild weekend. But not only does he bring all of those qualities to his clubs, he does it with a swagger and a smile, whilst being able to laugh at himself which is a rare but very-much-needed quality in nightlife.

After I worked for Peter, I fell into a very successful modeling career and also produced the Fashion Café fashion shows worldwide. My modeling career led me to New York where I have lived for the past 15 years. Four years or so ago I went back into the hospitality/ nightlife industry and, before becoming creative director here at The Hanky Panky, I worked for Joe Bastianich at Del Posto.  I opened the Rusty Knot for Ken Friedman and was also at private members-only club Norwood.

You told me your approach to nightlife is old school, and you used the word "patience” several times. The need for it …not letting someone who doesn’t "belong" into a party in just because they’re buying bottles… will this fly?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it will fly. If somebody is right for the room and that person decides to buy a bottle, then that’s fabulous. But what I don’t want to do is let somebody in just because they have the money. I’ve seen too many nightclubs ruined that way.

While we’re on the subject, I think service plays a big part as to whether a venue is successful or not. NYC used to be known for its high standard of service, but we’ve gotten so used to everyone coming here for the last 20 years that nowadays, when a cocktail server comes to take your order, it seems like everything is too much trouble for them. Why would anybody want to spend money in an environment like that? That ethic would fail in any other business. The cocktail servers at Hanky Panky will not only be stunningly beautiful, but will also take your order if you are sitting at a table or not. I know many very wealthy people that want to be served fast and efficiently. They don’t want a “table” or a “bottle,” but they don’t want to deal with the bar either – so, they call a server over .

Another problem is that not enough nightlife people are operators in nightlife, so they defer to promotional teams to fill their venues up. Which is fine, but there is no easy fix. It takes just as much effort to fill a room that is promoter-driven as is concept-driven. The difference is that the concept-driven room will probably have far more longevity and be a hell of a lot cooler in the long term, but that’s where the “patience” bit comes into play, and unfortunately the world has become a little too “instant gratification” for my liking.

Tell me about future programming at Hanky Panky and where the name came from.
The evenings will always begin with a live band that will come on at 10:30pm and make way for the DJ around midnight. As I said earlier, we have a soul DJ spinning on Thursdays, so the band will be jazz or soul or maybe even reggae. DJs coming up soon will be people like Christopher Sealy, Bridgette Marie, Tommy D, John Luongo, and hopefully I’ll get some of my English-European mates here as well. And of course, not forgetting your good self, Steve.

When I did the first walk-through – walking up the marble staircase, past the distressed walls – I felt like I was being lead to a naughty secret hideaway. And then I saw this red neon light that was propped up in the corner that said “hanky panky,” and from then on, I immediately named it The Hanky Panky Club. If you read the dictionary definition of the phrase, you will know it’s a perfect fit.

What would you want people to leave HP feeling and thinking?
That they had fun, that they had good old-fashioned fun. That they were served well, and listened to great music amongst good people. There’s not enough of all of that anymore, and I, along with the Hanky Panky crew, intend to change that.

Gary Spencer

Tao Team Opens Arlington Club, Hotel Chantelle is Starting Rumors…

Typically, the period between Labor Day and Halloween is slow in the club world. People are paying down credit card debt accumulated in a summer of WHEEE! Things like the Jewish holidays, flu season, back-to-school, and a dearth of tourists add to the red ink. The change of weather and the loss of daylight as we wind down to the Winter Solstice near Christmas are all negative factors. The season theoretically begins in earnest on Halloween. Sandy literally put a damp on those concepts, but building for an inevitable future is happening all around.

On a small renovation job, an electrician told me that getting even the most commonplace electrical supplies is becoming problematic as the post-Sandy rebuild is taking everything. I can only imagine what getting permits and inspections will be like from an over-tasked buildings department. Still, I hear of a Frank Roberts’ "mostly-a-restaurant project down in lower Little Italy.” I hear of a redux of GoldBar. Marquee nightclub, for a decade the "in" spot for the going-out crowd, is in renovations that will bring it up to speed with its Las Vegas incarnation.

Meanwhile, that Tao team is inviting peeps to the Thursday opening of their Arlington Club on Lexington between 73 and 74th Street.  St. Jerome’s has, of course, been sold to The Bowery Electric crew. That has left the St. Jerome’s "crowd" looking for a new home, and Hotel Chantelle grabbing for that gusto. Chantelle started its weekly Tuesday  “Rumors” party last night, going forward with famously ex-ex-St. Jerome’s honcho DJ Luc Carl joining DJ Ian El Dorado.

There’s all sorts of things happening over at Bantam where absolutely nothing to speak of has been happening. A re-thinking is occurring. Construction at EVR on 39th street between 5th and 6th is almost over – or is that ovr? I was there the other day checking out the progress and was very impressed.

On a final note: Friday I will be DJing the late set over at The Hanky Panky Club, up the side entrance of Webster Hall. It is a Sandy-related benefit called “Rock-N-Rebuild.” Acts/bands like Hits, Roma, Wild Yaks, The Netherlands, Outernational, and Kendra Morris will interrupt sets by Djs iDeath, Gavin Russom and, thankfully, Steve Lewis er …me. This shindig starts at 8pm. It’s hosted by man-about-town Terry Casey and the lovely Flutura Bardhi. Please help where you can. While people are ordering $1000 bottles of booze, many are still without basic necessities.

Johnny Marr Revives The Smiths at Webster Hall

When Jimmy Fallon introduced Johnny Marr—former Smith’s guitarist and co-writer of all of their songs—along with Morrissey, to close his Late Night show on Friday, he referred to Marr as a genuine rock star. And at his Webster Hall concert the next night, Marr lived up to that billing. His virtuosity and performing brilliance was on full display, as he finger-picked simultaneous lead/rhythms, danced, and sang every song from his very Smiths-like new album, The Messenger, as well as a song from Electronic, his post Smith’s group. He also performed an encore of The Clash’s version of “I Fought The Law,” and six Smiths songs. Marr talked to the audience in a thick Manchester accent after every song, a la McCartney.

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Most performers just stand there—but clearly influenced by the ultimate virtuoso stylist playing of George Harrison, Marr went from power chords to the jangly speed roll interplay of picked notes and chords that gave the Smiths such a unique sound. It truly drove a jaded New York City sold out crowd crazy. Everyone went nuts. Unlike Morrisey—his operatic and dramatic Smiths co-writer and former singer, who is a reluctant performer of Smiths material— Marr took a distinct pleasure in doing a six song “greatest hits” of Smiths tunes, interspersed strategically in the set for maximum effect, beginning with song number two, “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” from theStrangeways album. He proceeded to do “Panic,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” and as the song just before the encore, “How Soon is Now?”—which has transcended The Smiths to become an eternal ubiquitous hit.

For these last two Smiths songs, we were treated to a bit of a reunion, as Johnny brought out Smiths bassist Andy Rourke—or as he called him, Andy fuckin’ Rourke. It went in keeping with the hundred or so people who were wearing “Johnny Fuckin’ Marr” t-shirts they had bought at the merch table. After returning from the break, he did “Please Please Let Me get What I Want” and ended the show with the crowd favorite, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.” The Clash song was next to last. Almost every other song was from his new album, and in the context of hearing all of these songs sung by a very good rock singer—other than the very operatic Morrisey—they all sounded of the same mold as the Smiths, but maybe better. It became more about the songs, the performance, and the musicianship, than about a drama queen. I over heard quite a few people saying, “Morrisey who?”

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Coming Of Age With Arctic Monkeys At Webster Hall

It is fall 2005. I am a vaguely angsty teen who comes home from school and reads British music sites in order to, like, dull the suburban ennui (or whatever). I find a demo of a song called “Fake Tales Of San Francisco” by Arctic Monkeys. The real San Francisco is an hour away from me, half a world away from the four slightly older teens from northern England. The track instantly grabs me—its taut, roughed-up riffs landing somewhere between my ongoing obsessions with The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand. I can’t relate to singer/guitarist Alex Turner’s stories of love and hate that take place in bars and clubs, but the wide-eyed boys in well-worn polo shirts and sneakers still feel distinctly accessible. The next year, Arctic Monkeys release Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, breaking the British record for fastest selling debut album. They have a permanent spot in my Top 8 on Myspace and I buy imported copies of their CD singles from Tower Records.

It is fall 2013. I am a music blogger in my mid 20s in New York City. Myspace is a thing that Justin Timberlake tried to get people to like again. Tower Records has been out of business for years. Arctic Monkeys have just released their fifth album, AM, and I am finally seeing them live for the first time at a packed-out Webster Hall. It’s a clear triumph; the line goes down the block hours before the doors open and there are enough people who were in the Kidz Bop demographic when Whatever People Say I Am came out, to prove that the band’s been continually earning fans. While we’re waiting, a teen boy tells my friend and I to look up YouTube footage of a festival that Arctic Monkeys played in 2006, and neither of us can remember if we even used YouTube back then.
 
Once inside, the sense of anticipation is palpable. A set from NYC’s Drowners is well received, the lo-fi quartet managing to make garage pop head-boppers like “Shell” and “Long Hair” fill the sizeable club. Frontman Matt Hitt can’t stop reminding the crowd of what his band is called, but that’s okay–they’ve only got one EP out so far and everyone knows what the main event is, anyways. Then Turner comes out wearing a brown sequined blazer that makes him look like some sort of bizarre 70s lounge singer, while bassist Nick O’Malley and guitarist Jamie Cook are both shaggy-haired in suits. Drummer Matt Helders might still have something with the Adidas logo on it in the back of a closet somewhere, but we’re not in Kansas or 2006 anymore. The band that can’t stop making hits kicks off their set with the smoldering AM opener “Do I Wanna Know?” and the crowd immediately turns into a who-needs-both-kidneys-anyways crush. It’s hard to tell if there are so many hands in the air because of sheer enthusiasm or because it’s impossible to let gravity do its job.
 
If there was a tepid point in the Arctic Monkeys discography, it was 2011’s hit-and-miss fourth LP Suck It And See, though “Brick By Brick” is a highlight of the show. AM sees them bouncing back into fine form, though Turner’s transformation into a lothario rock god isn’t quite hitting the mark, thanks to a penchant for floppy shirt collars and heavy leather jackets that weigh down his slight frame. When he pulls out a comb and slicks back his heavily pomaded hair onstage, it’s frankly a bit comical. But growing up is hard for everyone, and where his look falls short, songs like “Knee Socks” convincingly rise out of a sleazy ooze. “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” is driven by a nasty funk lurch, while “Snap Out Of It” shows a heavy take on retro jangle.
 
Arctic Monkeys are in it for the long haul, and they play like it. Over the span of about two hours, they runs through their entire career, “Brianstorm” and “Fluorescent Adolescent” from 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare remaining obvious favorites. Whatever People Say I Am’s lead single “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” still sounds fresh, though it’s miles away from the the tightly-wound vibe that defines AM. As the night closes with the nostalgia-tinged “505,” I remember that not everyone is looking so far back. It’s pretty difficult when you have three different elbows pressing into your neck.
 
Photo by Zackery Michael

Robert DeLong is an EDM Artist on the Rise

Seattle-born, L.A.-based singer-songwriter Robert DeLong has a flare for the alternative. In a good way. The 26 (soon to be 27)-year-old EDM mastermind, dubbed a Young Artist to Watch by MTV, has the music scene in his hands—quite literally. Indeed, among the myriad instruments he manages to maneuver during performances are Wiimotes and Joysticks, rigged like MIDIs and adding edge to his already memorable brand of booty movin’ tunes.

Seriously, though, this whiz kid’s got the chops and multitasks better than the best of us—in front of an audience, no less. He’s a one-man-band who sings, drums, and fiddles with game controllers and keyboards, sometimes going so far as to incorporate guitar, too. His live set is something to behold, a sweaty mid-twenties talent, hair slicked down in an exaggerated comb-over, putting every effort into churning out original numbers while keeping the beat.

“I’m always writing songs,” says DeLong, whose debut album, Just Movement, drops today. Makes sense, since he constantly rocked out in bands back in high school. Now he’s signed to Glassnote, label to the likes of Phoenix and Mumford & Sons.

Recently, DeLong released a video to accompany his catchy track “Global Concepts.” The visual rendition of this f-bomb laden rhythmic ditty features a foggy interior, warehouse-like, smoke somewhat obscuring the agile dancers in the background. Tube lights suspended from above flicker and flash whilst DeLong engages in various aspects of performing, most notably wandering around and gesticulating with Wiimote or drumsticks in hand, or hitting his steel drum to excellent tribal effect as he marches subtly in place. Towards the end, the space is overrun with revelers, morphing into an all-out party you wish you’d been invited to. (The platinum blonde mop you may glimpse amid the shadows belongs to talented dancer James Koroni, the individual responsible for my introduction to and fast fandom of DeLong.)

Another nuance unique to DeLong is his affinity for orange, which he wears with pride in the shape of an “x,” big and bold on a classic black tee, as well as painted with precision on his cheekbone in the shape of a lightening bolt. More on this defining aesthetic to follow.

New Yorkers can catch DeLong in action on February 15 when, as part of a greater tour, he plays The Studio at Webster Hall. Festivalgoers will have several opportunities to indulge as well, from SXSW to Coachella, Ultra to Governors Ball.

Not long ago I sat down with the confident up-and-comer at The Commons Chelsea, one of my favorite neighborhood haunts, where over iced tea we discussed the multi-instrumentalist’s inspiration, interest in hacking HIDs, and what it all means.

What’s it like being dubbed a Young Artist to Watch?
It’s great. I grew up watching MTV, so it’s cool. Wild ride. Exciting. Surreal.

How have people reacted? Any super fans?
Nothing too weird so far. But, it’s definitely getting weirder. After the video came out, all of a sudden friends from high school started reaching out, sending messages. It’s fun to hear from people I haven’t heard from in years. But, it’s just funny.

I bet. Did you always know you were going to go into music?
Near the end of high school I knew I was going to do music. I started out thinking I was going to be in science or something. But, I was better at [music]. I think people knew I was a musician, but I don’t know if people knew I was into electronic music and that I was going to go that route.

What would you be doing if not this?
Since college, all of my jobs have been music related. I taught drum lessons, so that was my thing. If it wasn’t music at all, I guess I’d be going to school.

To become a scientist.
Yeah, I guess. [Laughs]

So, tell me more about this Wiimote rewiring…
You can hack [a] human interface device, anything from Gamepads to Joysticks, and turn it into a MIDI. Basically, the idea is you’re just sending information to a computer and can turn it into whatever you want. It’s the same thing as having a knob, slider, drum pad. It’s all the same if you can hack it and make it work for you. I found out you could do it, it seemed interesting and it’s cheaper than buying a bunch of expensive musical equipment. And it’s fun, people like it.

How many instruments do you have up onstage with you?
Three different electronic things, two computers, game pad, Joystick, Wiimote, six pieces of percussion, drum set, keyboard. Like, 15-20 things. Sometimes I’ll have a guitar. Oh, and two microphones.

Wow. That’s a lot for one guy to keep track of. So, are all your shows like the last time you performed in New York? No pauses between songs, stuff like that?
The show is always continuous and flows together. When I do a longer set, there’s more drumming. I play guitar sometimes, too. It’s high-paced. Jumping around doing a lot of different things.

I’m getting that vibe. You sampled Moby when you last played live in NYC. Have you been a long time fan of his?
When his album Play came out, I was probably, like, 12. That was when I first started experimenting with making electronic music, because it was kind of accessible, mainstream electronic music for the time. It was kind of something I grew up with.

Aww, an audible homage. Thoughts on our fair city?
I love this city, but Manhattan is a little terrifying. And it’s a little colder here. Do prefer the warm. Other than that, it’s beautiful. It’s awesome. Good people.

Who else besides Moby inspired or inspires you?
The songs on the album especially are an amalgamation of a lot of songs over the last four years, so it’s a wide variety of things. I grew up in Seattle, so there’s the whole indie singer-songwriter vibe that I kind of grew up with, like Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service, Modest Mouse. I think you can hear that whole Seattle sound in the way I write melodies. As far as things I’m listening to a lot right now, I’m listening to Lucy and Sports. I also grew up listening to a lot of Beatles, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Talking Heads. Those are some of my constant jams.

Can you tell me what inspired the lyrics behind “Just Movement”?
“Just Movement,” the first track, is sort of the thesis statement for the album. It was written right after college, a time of mental exploring. Just movement: the idea that, if you take this reductionist perspective, everything we do is just atoms moving around. It’s all meaningless. But, once you break it down, where do you go from there? Just movement, the double entendre. Dancing, philosophy. Take it or leave it.

Have you yourself always been into dancing? I’m thinking, too, of “Global Concepts”…
I go out dancing a lot. Do a lot of jumping around on stage. I think that’s an awesome thing. It’s the oldest response to music that human beings had, so it only makes sense to think about that. For a long time I was in the indie scene and no one dances. Everyone looks at their feet.

[Laughs] Shoegaze. How would you describe the music scene in L.A.?
It’s actually pretty cool. There’s definitely a burgeoning DIY electronic scene in Los Angeles. L.A.’s big. There’s always something happening. You can always see new music. It’s good stuff.

So, how did the face painting start?
The whole thing was a group of me and my friends called the Tribe of Orphans, a bunch of people who hang out and go to dance events and stuff. It kind of just evolved over time. My girlfriend Heidi face paint[s] at shows.

So she’s your professional face painter. Does she paint in real life?
Besides face painting she does studio painting and stuff, so it’s great.

Why orange?
Initially? That’s the color paint that shows up the best under black light. It glows the brightest.

Has anyone ever said something to you about your “x” symbol? How it very much resembles the “x” symbol of The xx?
Yeah, people have said that before.

Does it piss you off?
It does a little bit. It doesn’t really. I didn’t even know about them, that that was their symbol. The “x” just was kind of an organic development. My girlfriend had painted it on my headphones probably three years ago or something, so it was before that first The xx album came out. It was just kind of a simultaneous [thing]. We both did it. And then they became famous first. It’s just an “x.” It is what it is.

Emblem wars aside, what’s the greatest challenge of all this?
I think the greatest challenge is to not get sick all the time from running around. But, I have a lot of energy and this is what I wanted to do, so it’s all working out. So far. I get to do what I love. I love playing shows. That’s what it’s all about.

Photo by Miles Pettengell

Singer-Songwriter Sam Sparro Still Soars, His Music Still Shimmers

It’s possible this sentiment is exclusive to me, but it feels like forever since I got down to a romantic dance ballad that I was head-over-heels happy about. But a catchy tune like “Black & Gold,” with a campy video to match, off of 30-year-old Sam Sparro’s eponymous debut album, is sort of what I’m referring to. 2008 welcomed this Aussie-born, L.A.-raised singer-songwriter to the stage with the record’s release—though he was no stranger to the limelight. Indeed, Sparro got his start as a youngster, singing in the choir and appearing in fast food ads, among other things. The way I see it, this sweet diva was born to be a star.

2012 witnessed his reemergence on music store shelves (oh, who am I kidding—iTunes and Spotify) with Return to Paradise, a sonically upbeat but lyrically somber collection of new originals and remixes. In fact, though the pop disc dropped months ago the globe-over, just yesterday it came out in the states. Unlike his previous outpouring—which was an isolated electronic event comprising Sparro, a producer, and a computer—his sophomore effort hears him break out in a big way with multi-instrumental, layered, and enormous-sounding songs. As he says with a hint of sophisticated cheek, “I like to imagine I make dance music you can think to."

The natural born belter was in New York last week, performing an intimate set at Soho House on Thursday, followed by a headlining gig at Webster Hall Friday. I caught up with Sparro backstage during sound check, interviewing him whilst percussion reverberated throughout the East 11th Street venue. If the talented man weren’t already a riot to talk to, he sported a do-rag and baseball cap, “to flatten my hair so it’s really flat,” he reasoned, so a smile was never far from my face. We discussed a host of things, from his adolescent airs to having his heart broken, from discovering his sexuality, to the eclectic individuals who make up his planet-plodding crew.

Read on for more from one of the most down-to-earth entertainers I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting down with. Then keep an ear out, as he’s poised to punctuate 2013 with still more new numbers.

Congratulations on the record at long last releasing in America.
I’m excited it’s finally out. It was pushed back and pushed back and pushed back. Elsewhere, this album’s been out for six months already and I finished it over a year ago. We’ve just been dealing with a lot of red tape. My label, EMI, was sold to Universal, and that sort of affected the release in the states. The business at the moment is a bunch of ups and downs. Like it always was…

So, in what ways do you feel like Return to Paradise is a departure from the previous album?
I think there are similarities between them. But, I definitely feel like it’s a more grown-up album—a more introspective record. The first album is very much me and a producer in a small studio on a computer, and this one is a lot of musicians playing in different studios around the world making live music. So, it was a very different process. And a really fun one. A fantasy of mine was to record horns and strings and piano and bass. A lot of the music I grew up listening to was that.

Speaking of growing up, you were raised in a musical family…
When I was a kid my father was a gospel musician. He was signed to a Christian label and toured with his Christian rock band. He actually wrote a lot of songs that people sing in churches still today. We used to travel with him a lot and I would sing backing vocals and in choir at church. That was my childhood. I think you can still hear that influence in my music.

Oh for sure. Minus the Christian message…
I’m a spiritual person and I’m pretty open-minded about what that means. I don’t practice a religion, but I believe in a higher power.

In addition to church choir, I understand you sort of got your start in commercials…
I wouldn’t say it was the start of my career as a recording artist, but it was something I did as a child. I was always hungry for attention and my grandmother, an actress, was very supportive and encouraging. She insisted that my parents get me an agent.

How old were you?
Probably about 7. My mom hated it. Eventually, after I did about three or four commercials and some modeling jobs, she got tired of my attitude and pulled me out.

So you were a diva.
Apparently, yeah. Apparently some friends came to the house and I had just been in a McDonald’s commercial and I said, You must recognize me from some of my TV work.

You were, like, 8?
Probably. I think it was for the best that I didn’t continue doing that.

I’ll say! Who knows where you’d be today?! So, fast forward, how did you spend the time between these records?
I was working on this album for two-and-a-half years, spent a year-and-a-half on the road for the first record, and I was sort of paralyzed for a while after that, creatively. I was feeling very lost and stuck and sort of blocked. It took a while for this album to take shape. But, I feel like I’ve picked up momentum again. I’ve been writing so much new stuff. There was a lot going on in my personal life, too. I went through the most major breakup of my life, which really influenced this record. It was a pivotal thing in my life and it took a lot of my energy and my time.

Is it safe to assume “I Wish I Never Met You” is about said relationship, which ended in heartbreak?
Yeah. I don’t really mean that, but I felt like that for a while at the time.

Has the individual reached out since hearing your song?
We’re in touch. It’s not good to hold grudges.

And you’ve found love again.
Yes. I’m in love.

May I ask, did you always have a hunch you were interested in men?
Yes and no. I think I was in denial for a long time, but I always knew I was different. I came out when I was 17, 18. I’ve always been gay, that’s for sure. I was born this way!

Preach! So, how did you assemble this super skilled team?
Some have been with me almost five years. Some are newer. Vula [Malinga, backing vocals] and Charlie [Willcocks, keyboard], they’ve been in the band five years. Everyone lives all over the place, too.

Where?
I live in L.A. My drummer Guy Licata lives in Brooklyn. The other four live in London. But, Brendan [Reilly, backing vocals and sax] is from L.A., Vula is South African, born in Texas, grew up in London. Naz [Adamson, bass] is from London. I’m from Australia. We’re like the United Colors of Benetton. [Said with sass]

Does everyone get along?
Yeah, we hang out together. We really enjoy each other’s company. We have so many inside jokes; it’s hard for people to follow what’s going on. We just laugh and laugh and laugh.

Is that what you did last night after your set?
We just stayed at Soho House and giggled and ate.

Sounds lovely. Is there a diva in the group? Ahem…
The other two singers more than me! We call them L’Oreal and Maybel-mean.

[Laughs] Is the latter hyphenated? How would you spell that?
We’ve never written it down. It’s an oral tradition only.

I’ll be the first to put it in print. I saw you and Vula had a dance-off last night.
We have fun on stage.

Where did you learn your moves?
Oh my god. Vula says I’m a frustrated dancer from way back. She’s like, Oh, you wanna be in a boy band!

Do you?
No, but I do love dancing. I grew up obsessed with Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson and Madonna and all the great pop stars of the eighties and nineties. I used to take tap and jazz as a kid. I wanted to be a hip-hop dancer. I just think it’s in my veins or something. I don’t know.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
Probably nothing good. [Laughs]

[Gesturing to what looks like a stripper pole] What does that mean? Using the pole?![Laughs] Possibly! I don’t think it would be pretty. I think this is what I was born to do and this is what I’m grateful to be able to do. I honestly don’t know what I would be doing. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I mean, I would like to work in other mediums of art. But, who knows. I’ve worked in a factory, I’ve done office jobs, I’ve been a waiter. It’s just not a life I want. I have to be creative.

A factory?
I worked in Surrey in a Toshiba spare parts factory. It was grim. I was about 17. I mean, it’s that dirt-poor-struggling-to-survive-waiting-for-someone-to-hear-my-demo…and working in a fucking factory…cliché. It was short-lived, but it did happen.

And now look at you! You’re in New York, with a show last night and a show tonight. How do you like it here?
I love New York. I’ve been talking about moving here for a while and I think next year my partner [and I] are gonna live here part time. I love New York City. I think it’s the best city in the world. It’s a huge inspiration. It’s such an exciting place. I love being caught up in the pace of it. It gives me a bolt of energy.

As compared to L.A.?
They’re very different cities. I love living in L.A. It has its own interesting history and influence in the world. I think it’s misunderstood a lot—misrepresented. It does have depth and soul, but you have to find it. It’s there. I love California. I think it’s a beautiful place.