Welcome to Artbound's new music series Hear and Now, where we explore songs with a sense of place. The idea is simple: put Southern California musicians in the locations that inspired a song, and document a performance of the song, in that place. Through this juxtaposition, Hear and Now aims to paint a rich, multidimensional portrait of the creative process and draw connections between musical inspiration and the environment that nurtures it. Look closer. Listen in.
Six songs. Five locations. One day. For this installment of Hear and Now, we commissioned DJ Cut Chemist to make a mix for our city; a collection of songs that represented a few of the many neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Then during one crazy day, we drove across town, setting up guerrilla performances in each of these locations.
We started in the heart of Los Angeles, downtown, nestled in a snarl of our arterial freeways, and headed west, down Wilshire Blvd., that linear city lined with skyscrapers all the way to the Pacific. From day break to sun down, we explored a fraction of this sprawling city -- just one road among many - but witnessed the way L.A. neighborhoods blend together, the same way the sound of two records becomes blurred and interwoven by a DJ's mixer. As the sun tucked behind the ocean, in an almost post-card-ish, "Endless Summer" kind of sunsets, we had half the city behind us, leaving us with memories of pineapple paletas at MacArthur Park, burning sage in Little Ethiopia, parking tickets downtown, and the never-ending bustle of Venice Beach. Songs for our city. Enjoy.
I called up Cut Chemist again recently, and we reflected on traversing Los Angeles, and broke down our journey, song by song.
What was the basic premise of our insane day?
I get the many facets of Los Angeles in a day. From downtown to MacArthur Park to Little Ethiopia to Venice Beach to Santa Monica beach, there's so many different ethnicities in this city. It's such a melting pot and such different landscapes. It's almost like being inside a different city every day. For me, being an Angeleno all of my life, I definitely wanted to show how that impacted my art over the years, being in Ozomatli and doing stuff on my own, going to school here. I'll always live here. I was born here. I'm fascinated with this city. This piece definitely illustrates that for me.
"California Soul" by Marlena Shaw - Downtown Los Angeles
Why did you pick Marlena for that location?
I thought I'd be nice to set things off with a hit, recognizable song about California. I got it at a parking lot sale in the 80's. "California Soul" is a hit song that got remade by a lot of people. Her version got sampled by a famous hip-hop group called Gang Starr, the song was "Check the Technique." So it had some hip-hop relevance as well as relevance to California, so that's why I chose it.
Cumbia - MacArthur Park
Why did you chose to play cumbia in MacArthur Park
It's a cumbia record on Fuentes, which is a label. Colombian cumbia is my favorite right now. There's a strong Latin community in Los Angeles and I thought I would share it in a location that would probably have a strong Colombian community, like the MacArthur Park area.
"Patrona de los Reclusos" by The Latin Brothers
I remember when you put the record on and seeing how the park engaged with it. How did that feel for you? How is that different that a concert that you usually do?
It's cool. Seeing people be affected by street art is always something that has intrigued me and street theater. It goes back to the Sun-Ra approach which is that music can and should happen anywhere. Art could and should happen anywhere. Sometimes it's annoying to people. Sometimes it's a nuisance. Sometimes it's pleasant. To see people are affected one way or another; that's what I like. [Later in the day at Venice Beach] people acted like, "this is affecting me but I'm not going to let people know." They were like "I'm just going to go about my business and act like its not even happening." That's a weird reaction to spontaneous street art.
I thought it was, particularly to see you perform at a park, where it really interacted with the public. It was fun to see how random people were starting to dance and get into it, even walking into the shots!
Yeah. Definitely. I think you are going to find, that area has a lot of liveliness to it. So, I wasn't surprised to see people take notice and have a good time with it.
Little Ethiopia - Girma Beyene and Mulatu Astatke's "Emente"
You have a particular interest in Ethiopian music, how did it feel to play Ethiopian classics there on Fairfax?
Merkato is my favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Little Ethiopia, in L.A. I wanted to explore a little bit of the mix called "The Sound of the Police," [which premiered as a prelude to Mulatu Astatke's 2010 L.A. performance]. That was a reenactment of a section of that mix. I wanted to demonstrate my love for Ethiopian music. It's probably one of my favorite styles of music for the last seven years. It was cool being in Merkato playing that stuff and watching the management bug out because I'm not Ethiopian and you know that's such a closed community. I think a lot of those times probably, I wonder if they think that music has reached other ethnicities.
When I went in there to pitch them about our series, you know, getting you to set up there during their busiest hour, they were a bit skeptical. Then I mentioned Mulatu, and they were like "yeah, we're all big Mulatu Astatke fans, sure, you guys can come in.
That's the secret password isn't it.
"Outro" - Cut Chemist - Venice Beach
"Outro" is my own composition. I thought it was fun to not really sneak that in there, 'cause you can't really sneak "Outro" anywhere. It just comes in like a bat out of hell. Especially coming out of that jazzy, hypnotic vibe of Ethiopian music, then you're hit with raw American, naughty punk.
Where did the beats in "Outro" come from?
It's a sample base and it comes from a few things, a drummer named Anthony Park who plays for Mars Volta, doing the drumming behind a composition of drum programming I'm doing. The bass is played by Lonnie Marshall who is part of an L.A. group called Weapon of Choice. The rapper is named Blackbird. He's an L.A. emcee, vocalist, artist. The guitar sample comes from a group, the song that they did is kind of punk, called Fine Art and they're from Minnesota. The song is called "Big Kids in the Alley," where I chopped up that guitar to mix it. It's kind of an industrial, slam it, jam it, punk-rap song. It's my latest single so I thought I'd be nice to pub that and terrorize the boardwalk of Venice Beach with it.
How does it connect with Venice?
Venice Beach is a home for a lot of artistic endeavors. You see a lot of artists playing, painting, skating - there's a lot of energy and a lot stimulation there. Always has been. "Outro" seemes to be the best fit for that kind of energy. For me, I just see Venice boardwalk as just a frazzled kind of, over-stimulated. It's just moving so fast. I always envisioned "Outro" being closely tied with skate culture, to the movement. Initially we wanted to do it at a skate park but we thought the boardwalk would be a little more suitable.
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Setting up on the Venice boardwalk was kind of insane. That was our most guerilla session.
The set up had to be done so quickly to not disrupt the vibe of the boardwalk. I'm not even sure it can be disrupted because it seems like that's what makes Venice boardwalk, Venice boardwalk. It is seemingly disrupted with things going on here, there. I think we set up in record timing except the whole sound system we broke it down in five minutes.
The funniest thing is we went there set up gigantic speakers and we're playing super loud music and very few people turned around. It felt like it was just a part of everything there, in a sense.
Yeah, That goes back to what I was talking about where its big city life, anything can happen anywhere. Everybody is braced for that possibility, so it doesn't even really affect them. At a place like Venice Beach, where anything and everything will happen, I think people are almost immune. It's like the crowd that's there is as punk rock as "Outro" is, you know, because they're like, "So what? We get this all the time."
"Stranger on the Shore" - Mister Acker Bilk -Santa Monica Beach
For Santa Monica, I chose the classic 60's song, "Stranger on the Shore" by Mister Acker Bilk who is a clarinetist. That is the cliche, romantic song from movies set from the early 60's, late 60's where there's a romantic scene. They always play that song. Like Flamingo Kid, the Wanderers, movies like that. That song is saved for the pivotal romantic song scene. I love the song, also. When we were talking about doing something possibly a beach, I thought, there's no better song than "Stranger on the Shore." To recontextualize it in a DJ sense would be something I've never really done. That was a lot of fun. It was right there on the wet sand.
Remember having the lifeguard come up and be like "Hey, you guys going in the water with this stuff? No? Okay, take as much time as you want." They weren't trippin'.
That was probably my favorite part of the day. Seeing the truck come up and we we're like, "Oh shit we're busted" and the life guard was just trying to go home, and let this group of guys with a generator, a loud PA, and turntables do whatever. It was pretty amazing.
He was like, "I don't want to deal with it but as long as you guys aren't trying to kill yourselves and electrocute yourselves, fine."
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