Sunday, July 24, 2011

Heaven Malone - Tribe Chicago Suicide Club

Kevin Malone, known by some in the Chicago scene as "Heaven" works in an ad agency by day and DJ's by night.  He is a long-time veteran of the arts communities in the windy city.  As a kid he did the "band thing".  Later on he worked in an advertising office with Alan Morgenstern, a School of The Art Institute of Chicago.  Morgenstern had been an SAIC classmate of Mat Devine.  Devine had also worked at the same agency as an art director and with Morgenstern began creating the Chicago Suicide Club.  Malone joined them as a founder.  The club's main purpose was to promote local arts shows and performances along with providing an outlet to graphics designers who kept the merch store stocked with their t-shirt creations.

CSC was mainly a Chicago thing until they decided to experiment with opening its membership through a website.  It was the early days of social networking before it even had a name.  The group grew, especially when Kill Hannah brought invite cards out with them on tour.  If one was lucky enough to get a card, they had the special log-in information for the site.  Once in, there was the opportunity to connect with all manner of creative people.

However, the Chicago scene has taken a down-turn.  It is now about appearances and who one is seen out with rather than the quality of the art.  Kevin and I mainly talked music as that is where he spends the majority of his time when not at his day-job.  Chicago scenesters are very like their Brooklyn counterparts, hipsters.  However, where they differ, is not looking for the indie music no one else is listening too.  Chicago rock has become very cookie cutter.  When asked, locals claim that it is the "Chicago sound" and they feel a need to stick to it.

There are some clubs around the city that do encourage new sounds.  "The Empty Bottle" has built a reputation of bringing in different artists who make good music in a number of genres.  They have an established crowd who have spread the word that if you're looking for something new you will find it there and you won't leave disappointed.  There is another club that has been around a long time that gives everyone a chance no matter how good or bad.  It is actually the club where the Smashing Pumpkins got their start.  Malone says if you look around you will find smaller venues that have good booking agents and/or are willing to give new artists a chance.

Kevin also says though that as for open mics, they seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur.  He remembers driving miles with this or that band he belonged to looking for open mics.  Each time they would find one, when they went back to try again, there either was not an open mic or the club had closed completely.

So for now, Chicago Suicide Club is on a hiatus.  Mat has moved to New York and Kill Hannah has been off the radar for a while.  Add the deteoration of the Chicago scene, people just lost interest.  Heaven does maintain a Facebook presence to promote shows, including his own DJ gigs.  He keeps an eye out for what other arts groups within the city are doing to keep creativity alive and encourages them in any way he can.  He hopes that there will be a revitalization and that people will get past settling for corporate, production line music along with all other arts.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Flash mobs - when the dance tribes come out to play

Jim Cantiello of MTV posted a link to a YouTube video this morning.  It was of Todrick Hall, American Idol 'almost was' from Season 9.  Mr. Hall rounded up some of his L.A. dance friends and put together a great number to Beyonce's "End Of Time".  It was a great video and a really good performance that included 'steppers', jazz moves and what appeared to be 'Miss Mary's dance class' from a local studio.

That got my brain pointed to that silly cell phone commercial where the guy shows up to "flash" at Grand Central Station but the group has changed the performance time.  I did a search for "flash mob Grand Central Station" just to see what people have posted of performances in my favorite mass transit hub.  I found a choreographed fashion show but not much else in the way of actual dance routines.  However, when I entered just "flash mob" into the search field...I found "Beat It" in Sweden, a Glee medley in Italy, the list went on and on.

Flash mobs are part of street performance art.  It is definitely tribal in its concept and roots.  It is people with a passion (and a bit of talent) for dance who come together, share their choreography and moves to bring to "the people".  You don't ever have to pay to see one of these shows.  However, you do have to be fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.  You will participate in dance that comes from the heart and the soul.  No, it won't be the best routine you've ever seen, but it will be genuine and organic.  It will pull you in emotionally.  So if you're ever lucky enough to be an observer, appreciate every moment.  If you are a dancer, continue to seek out the tribes where you are and share your art with them and with the audience whoever they are and where ever you attract one.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Don't Give Up

Streetsy became my favorite (so far) site to learn about street art around the world.  I've always had an eye for graffiti.  What many people see as tags that deface public property, I find myself viewing as art and critiquing it as such.  Admittedly, some kids just need to put down the spray can.  They're creative talent does not lie in that form of fine art.  Maybe they need to try music, sculpting, dance, just not trying to make something beautiful esthetically and emotionally.

However there are some artists out there who can just make a name or monogram or series of numbers a gorgeous work of art.  Some of them paint entire murals on the sides of buildings or on bridge abutments that belong in a museum.  Other artists make social statements.  This was the type of artist I found in a Streetsy post today.

So enjoy Morely.  His message speaks to me.  We Love Street Art - Posters by Morley

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Breaking Arts | Project Storefronts Wins $100K NEA Grant

Breaking Arts | Project Storefronts Wins $100K NEA Grant

Project Storefronts of New Haven was one of two Connecticut communities to receive a National Endowment for the Arts "Our Town" grant. This grant is to help build communities through art which helps to build and revitalize those communities. It is one of those elements that help tribes to form and grow. Project Storefronts received $100,000 for their program.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

When the underground reaches the surface

Earlier today I did an interview with Kevin Malone, aka Heaven, DJ from Chicago and he brought up the subject of when underground art moves into pop culture.  We were mainly discussing the Chicago music scene and how it has eroded into "more of the same thing" as some of the best pop-punk, power-pop and electronica groups of the city have faded into the rest of current Top 40.  Probably the most prevalent example of this would be Fall Out Boy and it was their "success" that seemed to pull the stopper from the drain that sucked out the organic music scene and left a bathtub ring of scenesters more worried about their clothes and hanging out at the "right" clubs than seeking out the latest, most innovative music in the city. 

From there, I was pulled into a deeper part of this thought when a friend posted a link to the original music video of "Church of the Poisoned Mind" by Culture Club.  This Brit dance-rock band was one of my favorites in the 80's/early 90's, not only due to their unique sound, but George's fearlessness when it came to fashion and being his own flamboyant self.  The hair, the make-up, the hats...Boy George had me wrapped around his little finger.  If I was not in the life situation I was at the time, I would have found a purple flat hat, corn-rowed my hair and wrapped each braid in ribbons and beads.  I would have searched through my old clothes and found all the bright skirts, flowery tops and danced in the streets to "Tumble For You", "Time" and "It's A Miracle" in a pair of beat-up Capezios ballet shoes. 

I didn't see it then but now it is crystal clear how that fashion and music progressed into the mainstream later in the 90's and has come back into pop culture popularity today.  I can go even farther back to my high school years when David Bowie was raising eyebrows and was the recipient of more than one "tch tch" from pearl clutchers.  Even the kids who were trying to be totally rebellious by listening to that "damned rock music" their parents hated, didn't take to kindly to Bowie, Yes, or Andy Warhol.  It would be later, after they were out of college, with their own kids and trying to be more "intellectual" about their art that these artists and designers became 'cool'. 

Today you can turn on Top 40 pop radio or any hip-hop station and hear all manner of electronic enhancements; vocal and instrumental.  Beats are a dime a dozen, sold by the truckload to producers who use them over and over with a myriad of artists.  Listeners turn on the TV, radio or internet broadcast  and are comfortable with this fact.  Most will never call out the amount of auto-tune, layering or re-use of a synth track that is going on. They also have no idea (nor do they seem to care) what the history of these effects are.  They certainly do not want to know where a lot of it made its public the seedier disco clubs and gay bars two decades ago. 

A few purests remain and have maintained their integrity, Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins if we are speaking of Chicago.  Pop culture has tried to assimilate these artists but really have not been successful.  Both have had songs that turned up on the mainstream pop and/or rock stations but for the most part they are still on the fringes.  However, will someone gravitate to them twenty years from now and figure out a way to make them the latest thing at Urban Outfitters, Hot Topic or some other chain retailer trading in the rags and discs of the current "scene"?  If history continues to repeat itself, probably. 

Sadly, the 'lemming trait' of the human species seems to carry on generation after generation.  People don't like to live outside their personal comfort zone which, in reality, is more a case of not being the one swimming against the tide.  In some cases this is not all bad.  As underground cultures of different nationalities, ethnic groups and sexual orientations brush up against the mainstream to the point where numbers of the curious increase and gravitate to them.  What was previously scary becomes less and less allowing the human family to come closer together which is the ultimate goal.

Wanna play with a little fire, Scarecrow?

Inferno: A Fire Circus

The Crucible, sponsor of this event, is an accredited and fully licensed industrial arts education program that resides in the Bay Area of California.  Providing classes and studio time in numerous fire oriented arts such as glass, ceramics, metals and light  "Inferno" takes place on July 15th & 16th at The Crucible in Oakland, CA.  This fire circus will include performances by the burlesque cirque troupe, Lucent Dossier. So if you’d like to spend the night with some real flame throwers, check this out.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Success vs Sellout - hanging on to idealism and integrity

A cup of coffee and a shower got the brain moving into this train of thought...if an artist reaches the point of “success” will it always result in “sellout”.  Can idealism and true creativity survive a record deal, business venture or publishing contract.

In the circles I run in, probably the best known cry of “sellout” gets thrown at Green Day.  These Bay Area punk rockers started with their altruistic mission to share the angst of the young to the point where the kids would sing along.  Billy Joe and his cohorts created musical art that broke the rules.  They felt the simple design atheistic of three or four chords, a solid bass line and a drum track that was the heartbeat of a patient suffering from a severe panic attack and worked it into really good songs.  In the beginning success was getting a gig in a small club and having ten people turn out.  Success was those ten people sharing the emotional experience of Green Day’s musical art.  The boys went home, after calming their adrenalin high with the beer they got paid in, and relived the moment over and over, allowing it to feed the muses.  

Everything seemed to genuine and organic through album after album.  The artistic integrity prevailed until...American Idiot.  Now it wasn’t that Green Day didn’t have any radio hits to that point.  Gods only know how many high school graduations had to suffer through “Good Riddance” (Time Of Your Life)? was still music for the sake of recreating emotions and sharing them with an audience.  American Idiot, initially, was a grander creation.  I’m not saying that it was the band's vision for it to become a massive pop-rock record that would produce multiple singles, massive videos, arena tours and a shit-ton of merch.  I want to believe it was created from the heart.  And maybe Billy did have thoughts in the back of his head about the eventual Broadway musical and that it would be art for art’s sake with nothing to do with the major bank it would all bring in.  But it is obvious that somewhere along they way, American Idiot became a cash cow and the follow up album was just a rehash/sequel.  

With new artists of all genres showing up on the radar screens lately, especially in the current pop culture environment of “cheap art”, what does it mean for them?  First and foremost, it’s easy to separate sheep and goats when it comes to people with talent who just want to make a buck.  They are picked out easily by managers, promoters, and agents.  You hear them on the radio, see them on movie posters (as graphics artists and actors), watch them stealing shows on television or choosing their sculpture from a display at Pier 1.  Could any of them be a real artist?  Yes.  Do they want to be?  Well they think they are but it really is about the dollar signs.

Then there are the people that truly do have the artist mentality and heart.  They start out with the greatest of intentions to change the world through their creations.  Today they take their royalty checks feeling the tug on their guilty conscious, telling themselves that they need to eat and as soon as the car, house, boat, etc. is paid off they will go back to creating art with substance.  They won’t but they tell themselves they will.  Does some genuine art come from this group?  Yes.  Definitely more than the previously mentioned one.

Then there are the true idealists.  They really do love the ‘payment’ they receive in the reactions of their audiences.  They smile watching us walk down the street in their clothes knowing that not only is their name on the label but they actually designed it.  Their hearts melt a little when they hear us humming one of their compositions.  Watching us ooh and ahhh as they hang upside down in the midst of an aerial ballet makes them fly higher and spin faster.  

I want to believe, as more of them enter the mainstream and share their art with larger audiences, that that idealism remains.  Coming from tribes where it has been nurtured and cultivated with added measures of concern for humanity and the planet, there is a strong ethic within them.  But it will take audiences challenging themselves to open up to this level of art rather than demanding it be brought down to a discount store level for it survive on a broader plain and for the artists to make enough money to live without selling out.  To help promote this effort, visit your local gallery, small music venue or summer stock theater.  Don’t break down and turn on Top 40 radio, patronize some big arena tour or buy a framed print at Home Goods.  Help grow a new integrity in the arts and their audiences.