By Alex Tebeleff
I recently read a fantastic piece of music journalism by Jem Aswad for NPR about David Bowie’s cocaine fueled transition from Glam Rock Hero to American R&B obsessive in the mid 70’s. The article was particularly focused not only on the shift in the style of music Bowie was making at the time, but also on the elaborate live show he developed through the post-Ziggy Stardust era that mirrored the drastic change in sound. The period of time is of significant importance for music fans, marking one of the most daring stylistic shifts ever done in music by an artist who is now rightly regarded as one of the most influential and creative in the history of popular music.
I was struck as to how little I knew about much of the information given in the article, especially as someone who has read books on David Bowie and considers him as a primary influence on my own music. Besides the fact that the author was unusually and incredibly knowledgeable on the subject, he points out that there was very little visual documentation of Bowie’s live show. I imagine this is a big reason why this aspect of a period that was so creatively focused on the visual isn’t spoken about much in comparison to the other periods Bowie had in the decade, such as Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke. Though in all fairness I have to say that the two albums from this time period, Diamond Dogs and Young Americans, are probably his two least inspiring albums of original music from the decade (not including the awkward covers album Pin Ups, which is a pretty uninspired affair). Regardless of the artistic merit of the music (I still think both are incredible records by almost anyone else’s standards), it’s pretty obvious that this period of Bowie’s live shows had a huge impact and influence on the culture of the time, yet Bowie’s live show during his development into an R&B artist is one of the least talked about aspects of the artistic golden age of his career (1970-1980).
The significance of the lack of documentation on this subject leads me to think about my own music, and in particular, the scene with which it’s grown, right here in DC. There is an obvious growth in the number of bands, house venues, and fans in the music scene across genres. Most importantly, the quality of the music is growing rapidly as well, which tends to have a reciprocal relationship with audience appreciation and attendance. This is a very important time to have the growth of our music scene documented.
So far, I see a ton of people taking pictures. The DC Standard has been taking photos at shows like at our space, The Paperhaus, for years, and recently I’ve seen an influx of really skilled amateur photographers coming to most of the DIY shows I attend. This is much more preferable to photographic documentation with people’s cell phones, which can really kill the intimacy of something so immediate as a live music show. Recently, there have been a lot of bands requesting no cell phone usage at all at shows. Though I’m certainly not one to tell people what to do, it seems to me like a lot of shows could benefit from it. Then again, I find myself doing it too sometimes! I think it’s probably just something that’s part of the experience for most shows at this point. Regardless, if you host shows at your house, and I know many of you reading this do, it’s always great to have someone there to photograph the show if you can.
Video is just as important, though I see it being done much less frequently compared to photography. Just take a look at the documentaries about to come out about DC punk and Positive Force. DC punk was and is a uniquely strong musical movement, and luckily people were there to show future generations how to make music with integrity, spirit, and feeling, and still have it reach an incredibly large audience. I only wish somebody was there to film the Baby Bry Bry show at The Paperhaus last Saturday, it was really something special. We could really use some people stepping up in this regard!
We’ve started to professionally record all the shows at The Paperhaus, with pretty fantastic results so far. Not everyone has two serious engineers with great gear living in their house, but there’s no reason you can’t pick up a simple field recorder and leave it in the room. The reality is that recording technology is so accessible and cheap now, it wouldn’t be difficult financially or take long for most people to get the gear needed to record the shows in surprisingly high quality fidelity. Once again, I think the example of DC punk, and specifically Fugazi’s recent live show album series documenting nearly every show they’ve ever done, demonstrate how wonderful it is to have a live recording as a document for the future. I never got to see Fugazi, but listening to these recordings, I can at least get an idea of why they are considered one of the greatest live bands.
Last, one of the biggest things lacking in DC is in the media department, which is a very under appreciated form of musical documentation. There’s plenty of information out there about what shows are happening, but we need people to really write more about the details of the way that all these different scenes are growing in DC. Musicians tend to dismiss music journalists, and many times that’s warranted as some simply don’t warrant being an authority on the subject, but I think it’s misguided to dismiss music criticism outright. They can perform a very positive and powerful function for music. It was reading the writings of Lester Bangs that led me to Television, Richard Hell & The Voidoids The Velvet Underground, and Patti Smith when I was a kid, and his writings really help to preserve an incredible period in the history of music. His writings really changed my knowledge and understanding of music for the better.
Articles like Jem’s serve as an incredible example of how much of a service a music journalist can give to the music community, musicians and audiences alike, and to history. Not only does good music journalism help preserve the story of the growth of the bands individually and scenes as a whole, it can also play a huge role in helping gain awareness of it in the present. I can only hope to see more local music journalists start to turn their attention to the incredible number of bands starting to make vital, interesting, and important music in DC. Right now is the time.
Now onto the shows…
A comedy and variety show at Hole In The Sky from Robot Butt to help raise money for the city wide DIY house venue festival Infest happening at the end of the month! Playback The Tape and will be screening VHS tapes, and Projectile Dysfunction will be featuring a film screening of the always classic “This Is Spinal Tap.”
A very eclectic rock bill at The Lab in Alexandria.
An aggressive punk show at a new house venue in NE DC, The Slam Pad. Pure Disgust is one of DC’s best punk bands at the moment. Buffalo’s Newish Star and DC’s Aloners open with less aggressive sounds, though still punk.
It’s been a pleasure as a member of our DC music scene to watch The Sea Life grow from an endearing group of guys with some very enjoyable and catchy songs, into one of DC’s best Indie bands. Their recent EP shows a big growth in songwriting, and their live show now mirrors that growth in performance. This show is their single release, and also features a couple of openers definitely worth your time, DC’s Humble Fire and Baltimore’s Sun Club.
A particularly great bill of heavy music at The Pinch. Baton Rouge’s Thou headlines with their particularly heavy brand of sludgy doom metal. DC’s Pygmy Lush will open with what I would guess would be a hardcore set version of the band, as will Portland metal band The Body, NYC Black Metal band Vilkacis, and one of DC’s best current Post-Hardcore bands, Jail Solidarity.
Well that didn’t take long! Brandon Wetherbee is rebooting his 8×8 series with a really strong bill of performers, now at Gibson Guitar Showroom. Looks like the show will be filmed now as well to go along with the new venue. If you want to go make sure to RSVP!
A free show at Bourbon in Adams Morgan featuring Loud Boyz.
Another great experimental bill continuing a really strong run of shows at Back Alley Theater.
Nashville Blues artist Cody Brooks and gypsy groove ensemble Black Masala play this Thursday night show at Tropicalia, also featuring DJ Crown Vic spinning music from all around the world.
A bill of fierce hardcore punk at The Rocketship.
A matinee show at The Pinch featuring minimalist, ambient, and experimental music.
Locust Honey performs traditional and original old-time, bluegrass, and folk music at The BumperDome, a house run by local band Bumper Jacksons.