Now Playing: The Kleptones - A Night at the Hip-Hopera
Topic: event reports
Last Sunday, I dragged myself down to the Knitting Factory with money that I didn't have to spend to check out a documentary called Afropunk: The Rock and Roll Nigger Experience. I met up with my man Mikal who was hanging out with his friend Brian. Somehow, I knew I was gonna kick myself if I didn't go. I am SO glad I went: the film was amazing. A gang of artists that I greatly respect were in the joint offering various perspectives on what it means to be black and involved in punk and hardcore: Walter Kibby and Angelo Moore of Fishbone, Jimi Hazel of 24-7 Spyz, Chaka of Orange 9MM, members of TV On The Radio, Djinji Brown (never knew he had a punk/hardcore past), Mike Ladd, Latasha Natasha Diggs, and a host of others. Some wicked performance footage of Bad Brains, too. The film focused largely on four individuals and their experiences being black in a predominantly white subculture. All four had very compelling stories, but there was one that totally floored me - not only due to the nature of their experiences, but because this individual is the younger relative of a very good friend.
One of the four artists largely featured in the documentary is a brother named Moe Mitchell, lead singer of a hardcore group called Cipher. Moe is the baby brother of older twins Marvin and Matt Mitchell. I met Marvin and Matt at SUNY Albany. Marvin and I were DJs at the on-campus radio station together. To this day, I still remember him as "Marvin the Martian." I used to refer to myself as "the Space Negro" while on-air. We definitely bonded on some interstellar Nubian type steez. I can remember Marvin introducing Moe to me at a party that I was spinning at and checking out pictures of a show that Cipher had played on Marvin's website. I had no idea that Moe was in this film; I almost fell out of my chair when he appeared on the screen. The trip down on the subway was worth it for that moment alone.
Almost immediately after the flick, I relayed that news to Mikal. It was Marvin who introduced me to Mikal back in the spring of 1999 at what was perhaps the last party thrown at this skate park in Albany. So the two of us began to share with Brian how we connected that night. Mikal thought that he was the only one that went completely and totally bonkers on the floor while raving. I used to think the same thing...and then we met each other. We hit it off right away. He knew what it meant to be the few brown-shaded souls at a rave and have some white kid ask him for ecstasy or weed because they figured he was probably selling (and seeing as how Mikal wears his hair in locks, I'm sure he got asked a lot more than I did). He knew what it meant to be getting lost in the music and have some kid come up to him and ask, "Hey man, what are you on?" It's amazing the looks of disbelief that you get when you simply reply, "It's the music." Mikal suggested that if you were to talk to black people involved in electronic dance music and the rave culture, you make a documentary that would draw similar conclusions, and I know he's right.
Two bands performed after the film: Fillmore Brown (from Philly) and The Eternals (from Chicago). Fillmore Brown were absolutely amazing. I have to catch them the next time they're in the city. A five-man troupe including two vocalists, a bassist, a drummer, and keyboardist, they ripped through tunes with blistering accuracy and intensity. It was Negro punk poetry, it was gorgeous, it was cathartic. I hadn't banged my head in a long time and I was really getting into it. During one song in particular, I was totally caught up. Several thoughts occurred in my mind at once. I thought about how it had been so long since this side of myself had been spoken to and how desperately it needed to rise from its slumber. I thought about dancing on top of a speaker while attending my first rave back in October of 1992. I thought about every time I got caught up in GOD while at church and danced like no one was watching at the pew because I knew that I owed the Creator of the universe some major back payment in praise. I thought of the footage of rituals in Haiti that I had seen on PBS and watching the townspeople become so engrossed in the service that it was clear that something else had a hold on them. I was able to make a personal connection between the spiritual and secular moments of liberation and euphoria in my life. There was no contradiction between the natural and supernatural highs that I had experienced: they all represented a part of my walk through this life. And while banging my head, I started to cry. I'm still not entirely sure why. I was just so thankful for the moment I was in, for the connections being made, for blackness without rigid constrictions (whether placed upon us by others, ourselves, or each other).
The Eternals KICK ASS. A tighter than tight trio that use a various array of sounds and instruments, they're impossible to classify. Sick drummer, a bassist that doubles on keyboards, and a lead vocalist that also plays keys as well as a number of other electronic devices. Sometimes they're dub reggae, other times they're hip-hop, sometimes rock, sometimes avant-electronic...but always challenging. They have releases on both the Thrill Jockey and Aesthetics record labels. Mikal and I were both inspired that night. For him, the whole night confirmed that he needs to have his hands in a number of different musical projects, not just hip-hop. He had gotten away from the other sides of himself and he wants to change that. As for me, a reawakening has taken place. In frenzied and spastic times like these, the audio extremist in me can't afford to die. While I may feel like hip-hop and house today, I could just as easily be free jazz and experimental noise tomorrow. Regardless of the rigid constructs that others have made for blackness, fluidity is essential for my survival. Beyond that, my Christian walk cannot be boxed in either. Christ ought to be the overarching umbrella that covers every area of my being, every role that I play in this life: the husband, the co-worker, the writer, the DJ, and so forth. It doesn't mean that I'm preaching 24/7 while playing these roles, rather that I allow God to take control of me while I function in these roles. That way, my life becomes a sermon - I shouldn't have to say a word.
Much props to James Spooner for making this film. Funny, honest, and very moving, Afropunk is a must-see. If it's playing anywhere near you, I highly recommend it. Click here for more information.