Oliver Hall raps with radical traditionalists Faun Fables.

Originally published in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)

The airwaves are so saturated with false memories of childhood you can’t walk around without a helmet or you’ll become a legal idiot—I mean the playground loves of heartstruck emo people, the barely fetal fancies of Radiohead stillborn colder than forceps, the general irresistible reflex contractions against dilation of the idios kosmos, not to speak of Michael Jackson, Jon Benet Ramsey and her twin that lived, Britney Spears.

The urge towards the nubile has expressed itself nowhere more strongly than in folk music. Once a deeply weird idiom devoted to the mysteries of hardship, tradition, games, abundance and death, questionable politics have transformed folk music on the one hand into dead pledges of allegiance to corpses of the Stalinist left, on the other into personal confessional songwriting so banal as to make you yearn wholly and bodily for a gruesome fatal mining disaster. But there are a few musicians who have the brains and guts to struggle with the old questions, the old answers; in other words one thing you can do on a Friday night is witness the miraculous music of the Bay Area’s Faun Fables.

Mainly you should do this because Dawn McCarthy, the Faun of Faun Fables, can totally, cruelly possess an audience like no other performer I’ve ever seen except maybe Clevelanders David Thomas and Robert Kidney. Most recently I saw her do this at Spaceland in Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day, but I’d seen her do it—participated in the thrill even—seven or eight times before, in all kinds of situations. In bars throbbing with the old procreant urge, I’ve heard Dawn raise her voice to a pitch and volume no one could ignore, shutting up the whole meat market; at Faun Fables’ recent concert at downtown L. A. rockhole the Smell, she began the show walking through the audience yodeling, winning hearts and minds one by one with voice and presence. Continue reading

Le Tigre: Superheroes from some weird feminist alternative reality (2004)

Superheroes from some weird feminist alternative reality: JD Samson, Johanna Fateman, Kathleen Hanna

Life On Their Island
Oliver Hall talks utopian pop and practical politics with electro-dance bullhorn radicals LE TIGRE

Originally published in Arthur No. 13 (2004), available from The Arthur Store for $6 postpaid

The October issue of Harper’s reprints something I haven’t been able to get out of my mind for days now: a passage of instructions, from a handbook for members of a Japanese student club, for gang-rape. The men of Super Free, “a now defunct club for students at elite Japanese universities,” gang-raped hundreds of women between 1995 and 2003. “Take away the woman’s shoes, purse, and cell phone so that she cannot get away before we have finished,” it says. “Take photos or a video of the rape and threaten to expose the woman publicly if she opens her mouth about what happened.”

To say nothing of rape, shame and humiliation are the secret weapons the powerful use in the everyday battles lost by women—and queers, nonwhites, the poor, weirdos. “Are you gay?” asked a girl I had just met at Club Screwball a few weeks ago; I was too drunk to articulate Gore Vidal’s thesis that “gay” and “straight” properly refer to sexual acts, not people, so I just said, “Well, not really.” “Then why are you funny? You must have been beaten up at school.” “Yes.”

Unlike Kathleen Hanna’s previous band, the great and legendary Bikini Kill, the band that inspired the thrilling Riot Grrrrrrl movement of the early ’90s even as it distanced itself from that movement, Le Tigre is not a punk band suspicious of its audience. All the members of Le Tigre, as I interviewed them independently from their locations in New York—JD Samson in Brooklyn, Johanna Fateman uptown, Kathleen Hanna downtown—spoke of their audience with a kind of awe, and I sensed that providing a special, free place for all those who have had to develop a sense of humor to live in the world, who have to cherish joy because it is a privilege rather than a right for them, gives all the members of Le Tigre a lot of pleasure.

This Island, Le Tigre’s new album and its first ever for a major label, is the kind of pop music you haven’t heard coming from your radio or TV in years—not retro, just painted in primary colors—but that’s where it belongs, making the carwash fun again. “X-out all self-supervision, get your keys out now start the ignition / We’re on the verge of. . .” what?

Rumors are circulating that there will be a Le Tigre float at next year’s New York Gay Pride parade. I begged JD to give me the details, but she said I’d just have to come see it. See you there.

ARTHUR: Your single “New Kicks” uses sounds JD recorded at the February 15, 2003 Iraq war protest in New York City. I was there, but I couldn’t get to the speakers’ stage where much of “New Kicks” was recorded. The police held us immobile between barricades, diverted the march away from the stage, and beat up a lot of people. Was the protest as fun as the song makes it sound?

JD: I think of the song as cinematic, dramatic—kind of an anthem in the sense that it’s for all the people that were there and have been protesting in the past few years, but I don’t really see it as a celebration-type song. My experience was more positive than some of my friends who were arrested and had mace in their face. I just kind of jumped over fences and tried to make my way to where I could hear the speakers. That was kind of my number one quota that day.

The part in the song where [Amy Goodman from Democracy Now]’s naming the list of places, that’s pretty exciting. That was actually from the radio broadcast of the event. When I came across that I was like, “Oh my god! What a good build.”

JOHANNA: What was amazing and made me really happy was realizing how huge it was. That’s what was sort of exhilarating about it, is that we felt really unstoppable and it was really out of the control of the police or anyone, and it felt like it couldn’t be denied because a whole huge section of the city was shut down. I don’t know if I feel like the song is a celebration of that, but we didn’t want it to be, like, a bummer song [laughs]. The song was actually played on Democracy Now. That felt good, it sort of came full circle.

Le Tigre’s appearance on Carson Daly’s late night show is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen on TV. What was that like for you?

KATHLEEN: We were really bummed when we got there, we were totally exhausted. You have to bring your equipment to that shit at like ten in the morning? And we don’t really have a crew, so we were doing it ourselves, and we got stuck in traffic for like two hours, and we hadn’t slept cuz we played a show the night before — we were just totally exhausted, and we were like “Why are we doing this? It’s so ridiculous.” And then we look on the TV monitor, and Carson Daly goes, “. . .and Le Tigre!” and we hear everybody scream! And they pan the audience, there were all these friends of ours that we hadn’t seen in forever that showed up, there’s all these girls in mustaches, and we’re like “Okay, we can do this.”

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They Are Afrirampo
Oliver Hall encounters Osaka’s number one freedom paradise rock duo.

Originally published with photography and design by W.T. Nelson in Arthur No. 18 [available from The Arthur Store for $5.00 postpaid]

When Oni and Pikachu arrived at the Smell in downtown Los Angeles there was nothing about them that suggested the powers they would soon deploy on stage. Certain performers have a way of carrying themselves in venues that tells you not to approach them unless you have something important to say about the sound system or how many drink tickets they get, and Afrirampo, despite looking road-weary, and dressed down in floral prints with naked faces, held themselves with that kind of authority. Not that it stopped (male) fans from approaching the two, or the band from receiving them graciously. But they did not look like the creatures you’d expect to see after reading any of their press: sex demons, noise futurists, musical athletes, punk sibyls who, when asked for their favorite three albums of all time responded, “1. AFRIRAMPO 2.AFRIRAMPO 3. AFRIRAMPO”. . .

Here is the description of Afrirampo on the band’s website:

young Japanese girls rock duo from Osaka JAPAN!
Naked rock!!!!! Naked soul!!! Red red strong red dress!! Freeeeeeeeedam
paradice rock! Jump! With improvisation.
Sooo fantastic & wild performance!

Afrirampo’s recording career began with A (not to be confused with A’, presumably to be read “A-prime,” a collection of early recordings), a shrieking garage-thrash record with guitar, drums and two girl voices; if the music on this record has any antecedents, it’s the startling moments of weirdness and the playful, conspiratorial spirit of the ealry ‘80s Swiss female punk band Kleenex/LiLiPUT, who, like Afrirampo, enjoyed letting music wreak havoc with familiar vowels. Afrirampo’s latest release, Kore Ga Mayaku Da on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records, is similarly playful but more elaborate and scary, like classical theater. I interviewed them around the corner from the Smell, before they were in costume and makeup; a little over an hour later, their set came to a close with the crowd bearing Pikachu from the stage to the front door as Oni took over the drums and sang Sayonara! Sayonara!

My intention was to interview Afrirampo at the bar behind the Smell on Main, but as we turned from Harlem Alley onto Third Street, Oni exclaimed, “Japanese food!” They had identified something that would relieve their homesickness: a plain burger restaurant with a marquee-style menu behind the counter, sparsely decorated with objects whose strangeness I wouldn’t have noticed if Oni had not been so taken with them.

“I like frogs,” she said, pointing to the giant ceramic vase in the shape of two frogs on the counter. There were plastic pieces of fruit spread out like a rebus on the shelves in one wall and a painting of two ballerinas in a dance studio hung opposite.

“Looks like Japanese,” said Pikachu.

“European,” said Oni. They seem to contradict each other often in conversation in this breezy way, just as one of them will suddenly, frighteningly take over a song in the middle of a performance. When I asked them how music in Japan, especially in their hometown Osaka, is different from music in America, Pikachu frowned, “It’s the same!” “Very different,” said Oni. “Especially in Osaka, like underground scene? Noise? Strong, and also more deep, especially in Osaka, for now. Interesting, more than America.”

Oni seems to love the words “strong” and “deep,” referring, for example, to Keiji Haino, Acid Mothers Temple and the older generation of out Japanese musicians they’ve played with as “deep, deep, crazy old guys.” Despite these connections, Afrirampo does not see itself as a noise band. When I tried to argue that American noise aesthetics have more in common with Japanese noise’s love of pure sound than the conceptual abstractions of European, industrial noise, they seemed to think I am calling them a noise band.

“Not only noise music,” said Oni.

“Actually, not noise music,” said Pikachu.

“Strange music,” said Ono.

“I want to know more about strange music of America,” said Pikachu.

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