The Libertines

by John Dugan


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Back in the days when the Reader had ample pages to fill it encouraged writers to go long whenever possible. I'm glad I had the opportunity to riff on the Libertines.

 

How Much Chaos Is Too Much Chaos? 

So far the Libertines are still a step ahead of their own cloud of dust.

The Libertines at Metro, 10/9

Must the show always go on? In the late 80s, when I was in high school, I drummed for a punk band called Indian Summer. We had two gigs booked in the last few months before I left for college, but our singer and guitarist both refused to play--they were feuding, and the guitarist claimed to have come down with mono. Determined to leave northern Virginia on a high note, I decided that the shows must go on and enlisted two buddies home from college to fill in. The new guitarist was a local star--a semipro skater who looked like a blond version of Ian McCulloch. He learned four of our originals and added about five covers to our repertoire, turning us from Dischord-model punks into a college bar band with taste. The new singer stood way off to one side of the stage and sang at the wall. Our sets were tight, but the audiences looked stunned--I'm sure they would've gotten angry if they hadn't been so confused. People were still razzing me about it ten years later.

If you've read one word about the Libertines, you already know who they've had to replace onstage, time and time again. Front man Pete Doherty has made such a mess of himself and the band with an excruciatingly well-publicized addiction to crack and heroin that he makes Keith Moon look sensible. Repeated visits to treatment centers in London don't seem to have helped, and this summer Doherty aborted a detoxifying stay at the Thamkrabok monastery in Thailand after less than a week. Upon his return to the UK he was promptly arrested for possession of a switchblade. Last Saturday, when the Libertines came to the Metro, Doherty was an ocean away--his side project, Babyshambles, played a gig in London on October 6.

The Libertines stumbled straight into the big time with their 2002 debut, Up the Bracket, and even without Doherty's antics they'd probably be the most talked-about band in Britain right now--their second full-length, The Libertines (Rough Trade), hit the UK charts at number one when it came out this summer. Mick Jones of the Clash produced both albums, Peter Perrett of the Only Ones has joined them onstage and in the studio, and last fall former Creation Records boss Alan McGee signed on as their manager. The band's been held up as London's "authentic" answer to the Strokes--organic, spontaneous, unhinged, and enthralling. The British music magazine NME, no doubt hard-pressed to find an appropriately hyperbolic metaphor after squandering so many on Starsailor and the Darkness, has said the Libertines rock "like God on an angel dust bender."

Of course, Chicagoans may never get to see the band in one piece. The Libertines have managed a few shows in the States with Doherty: in April and May of 2003 they played New York, Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston, and the Coachella festival in California and appeared on Letterman. But coleader Carl Barat had already been forced to front the band alone before Up the Bracket was even finished, and in June 2003 the band drafted a guitar tech to finish a European tour. Doherty was also absent for the Libertines' first proper U.S. tour that summer, just as he is for the second. Meanwhile Babyshambles missed scheduled gigs in July and August and canceled another in Scotland this month.

But Doherty hasn't been kicked out of the Libertines, and Barat has said that he's welcome back anytime--provided, of course, that he's clean. The two front men are best friends, and though on the records Doherty takes the lion's share of the lead vocals, they're credited as cowriters on most of the songs. Onstage they often share a mike, pressed together nipple to nipple, their T-shirts ripped off--a guileless intimacy that makes these pretty boys look "gayer than the Scissor Sisters" (NME again). In the summer of 2003, Doherty burglarized Barat's apartment and spent two months in prison, but as soon as he was released the pair met for a drink--and the Libertines ended up playing an unannounced gig that night. The British music press has printed every detail of the band's sordid, heartbreaking story, and who can blame them? This isn't some puffed-up scandal about a pop band cuffed by bobbies for public urination--this is actual drama.

Partway through the Libertines' set at Metro last Saturday, my date said, "They're playing as if they have something to prove." And they do. The new record is a mess, a beautiful loser, sometimes sustained by charisma alone. The riffs constantly seem like they're about to fall apart, and the unvarnished production accentuates the plunking of picks on strings. It's lovable in its own way but ultimately a step down from Up the Bracket and the subsequent I Get Along EP. In a phone interview Barat insisted that the band "felt optimistic" making it, but the music tells a different story--the brash confidence of Bracket has given way to hesitation and insecurity. It's not the record it seems to want to be--and it's maddening to hear such a great band falling so clearly short of its potential. Even the mix sounds wimpy next to the sound the Libertines get from their current touring setup, which uses a wall of four amplifiers for the two guitars alone.

Compared to their loose but enthusiastic gig at the Empty Bottle in August 2003, the Libertines were all business at Metro, and they were better for it. With minimal banter between hearty swigs of Jameson's, they stormed through 23 songs in about an hour and a half. Every few numbers Barat, bassist John Hassall, and replacement guitarist Anthony Rossomando would fall into a huddle with drummer Gary Powell, as if it were fourth and goal with seconds to go. And when they cranked back up after each of these little conferences, they nailed song after song with bravado and purpose. (Rossomando, the band's "American cousin" as Barat calls him, is also in Boston's Damn Personals--and, in the interest of full disclosure, seven years ago he played trumpet with my old band Chisel on one tour.)

I've never seen Doherty sing live (except on TV), and I know I'd miss his onstage chemistry with Barat if I'd ever felt it in the first place. But Barat's voice, slightly deeper and coarser, is fine by me, and he has no trouble moving between careless cool, romantic nostalgia, and fevered intensity. As a front man he more than held his own on Saturday: on "What a Waster" he sounded electrified, and to kick off the lead riff of "Last Post on the Bugle" he spun on his cowboy boots like a figure skater.

The band opened with the jangly rave-up "The Delaney," a B side that's also on the EP. "Some run from trouble, some meet it halfway," Barat sang--a lyric it'd be hard not to hear as addressed to his absent friend. For the rest of the night the band skimmed the cream from the new album and combined it with some more top-shelf B sides and the best songs from Bracket. Tunes like "What Katie Did," which sounds tentative and disorganized on The Libertines--it's obvious the band couldn't pound everything into shape during the short stints Doherty was around to record--were absent from the set entirely. The Pogues-y punk of "Mayday" stopped and started precisely, and the brooding "Road to Ruin" was so much better than the album version that I didn't realize it was the same song until I got home and went back to the CD. A year ago at the Bottle the band had met cries of "Where's Pete?" from obnoxious fans, but at Metro nobody heckled at all.

The set wrapped up with "Boys in the Band," "The Good Old Days," and "What a Waster"--huge-sounding songs, with backing vocals from Hassall beefing up the melodies and plenty of Powell's endearingly overdone, tom-heavy drum fills. The encore was even more impassioned, tearing from a snotty version of "Horrorshow" to a blazing "Narcissist" and then into "What Became of the Likely Lads"--one of the brightest spots on The Libertines, where Barat and Doherty trade lines and wonder "What became of forever? We'll never know." Finally the band machine-gunned away that aftertaste of regret with "I Get Along."

Though Barat has proved that he and the band can make it with or without Doherty, he barely seems to have considered whether he could do it without his cowriter in the long run. "I've got a few nice ones on the new record," he says. "But maybe I'll have to. I don't know, we'll see." He may find out sooner than he'd like. Doherty doesn't appear to be making great strides toward recovery. And in September, Babyshambles released a tune online called "Gang of Gin" that calls out both Barat and Alan McGee by name: "I'll tell you my story / The treachery, it bores me / Carl and McGee both promised me / It would not happen this way."

In the Libertines bio at tiscali.co.uk, Mick Jones is quoted as saying, "I think they're the most important band in Britain today." But it's worth remembering that the Clash was hamstrung by drummer Topper Headon's drug problems even as it seemed poised to conquer America with Combat Rock. The Libertines are effectively down a man already, and they don't have anything like London Calling under their belts yet.

 

 

 

 

 


Southern Diplo-macy

by John Dugan


 [I profiled Diplo for Time Out Chicago back in 2005 or so in advance of a visit to Sonotheque, which ended up being Sonotheque's biggest night up until that point. It was bananas.]

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Diplo dabbles in doc film and daydreams of retirement  

Diplo, real name Wesley Pentz, is the main American proponent of Rio's favela-rooted funk carioca/baile-funk culture, which we at Time Out Chicago can't seem to shut up about. So it's only natural that he's joining baile-funk king DJ Marlboro for the MCA's TropicÁlia: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture festival.

With various mix-CDs from his Philly label/collective Hollertronix, his production on M.I.A.'sArular album and new stature as a remixer to Beck, Gwen Stefani and Bloc Party, Diplo has brought the Miami bass–derived homegrown dance music of Rio into the hipster solar system. But he has more music coursing through him, including a new, jaw-droppingly good Fabric mix-CD, slated to be released by the label wing of the London club where, incidentally, Diplo fatefully met M.I.A.

"Basically it's about me growing up in Florida," Diplo says of his latest, as he chats with us on his cell phone while runningerrands in Manhattan. The disc sums up his influences without regard for geography. "All that techno stuff on there, I kinda felt like that was Miami bass until I found out it was from Detroit a couple of years ago," he laughs. On the disc, he jumps from Detroit electro to Rio funk to booty bass back to ghetto tech, then sprinkles indie snippets like Cat Power and Le Tigre.

He plans to release (through Turntable Lab) a live set from an upcoming Brazilian festival, to show his love for pop, his solo creations and Brazilian street music. Tomorrow, he's jetting to Rio, so today he's getting a camera, film, dropping off original tracks for a new 12-inch at Turntable Lab...and ordering a pineapple roll for lunch in Chinatown. "I might hire a cinematographer when I get there," he says.

Just as Diplo is poised to hop from cult figure to star status, he changes mediums. The DJ plans to spend the next few months filming a documentary on Rio de Janeiro's baile-funk scene. "I don't want it to be seen just as a trend," he says. "I want to make sure that people see the energy level as well, not just the drugs and the gun culture around it. It's like kids making a whole music industry out of nothing."

The road to Rio has been indirect. Diplo grew up near Daytona Beach, where he turned on to the rave scene. "I'm talking about the big pants, the glow sticks," he says of the fairground gatherings of his youth. Diplo soaked up Orlando's budding club scene and he picked up a love for "fun, bouncey shit" before Disney dominance and curfews crushed it. The first chance he had, he set off to Philadelphia, where he enrolled in Temple University's film program. He then dropped out of the program to become a schoolteacher, but soon quit "because I was making more money deejaying and I got caught up in the bureaucracy at the school," he says. A teaching-assistant stint in Japan taught him where not to be. "I need spontaneity and it's not spontaneous there," he says. "In Philly, there's always a stolen car running into a stop sign or something."

Establishing himself in the gritty city wasn't easy. "Three or four years ago when I first started getting up there, kids didn't like me," he says. "I couldn't get my own night; they didn't like my style. That's why I started Hollertronix. Now I think I represent what the kids want, so all the young kids like me."

This year, Diplo's southern hemispheric sensibility has come into vogue. Rather than cash-in personally, he wants to inspire a grassroots scene: more white labels and more kids doing club nights. "I think that Chicago is probably one of the only cities that has a real underground, that has different DJs and different followers...but that's about it," he says. "Club culture is dead everywhere else in America." But he doesn't see himself a part of that culture at 40. "I want a life where I can raise kids, catch shrimp and live off the land."

 


Jamie Lidell | Interview

by John Dugan


I chatted with my old buddy Jamie Lidell for TIme Out Chicago, roughly 7 years after I first wrote about him.

The U.K. electro-soul crooner calls Nashville home now, but he hasn’t gone country.

We’ve followed Jamie Lidell from his days as a Berlin-based beatboxer to more recent turns with a full-blown soul band. Now, the U.K. native is back with a self-titled album of aggressively funky tunes recalling early ’80s R&B in the best way. We caught up with Lidell via Skype as he toured his new one-man show in Belgium.

After moving around you’ve settled in Nashville.
It was like a Sun Ra move, you know? Space is the place. We realized, my wife and I, that we just couldn’t afford to stay in Manhattan and grow as artists and a couple. A few people told me to check out Nashville—one of them was Beck, the other was Pat Sansone from Wilco. We’ve got a great place and we spend most of our time at home.

You record at home?
[The new album] was entirely recorded and mixed at home. I never left the house for any of it, which is something I’m pretty proud of because I think I got a decent sound for a home recording. It was a pretty serious undertaking. I don’t think it’s for everyone, working out of home, but it’s definitely for me. The empowerment is something that can’t be underestimated. It’s ridiculous.

The album recalls early ’80s funk and boogie. Is that what you were going for?
Living in Nashville, we got addicted to this radio station called 92Q. Michael Baisden puts on this amazing show, it’s become a huge thing for us, they play these amazing jams. It reminded me of these hidden gems that I grew up loving and listening to that I’d put to the back of my mind. Drum-machine funk. And, because I made a lot of this music on my own, starting with a drum machine made a lot of sense. That immediately put me back in the ’80s in a sense.

Did you have a crisis being pegged as part of a wave of soul revivalists?
When I did Multiply and Jim, I was heading down the road of the blue-eyed soul crooner. To sing like I did on those two albums, I’m proud of all that stuff. When I made Jim, to try to follow with what I thought people wanted me to be, some part of me was a bit dead when I did that. It felt like I was chasing the money. There’s some great music on that record, and I don’t regret doing it. It’s an interesting challenge to stay relevant, stay popular enough to tour and stay true to the music you want to make. You’re always going to shake people off if you take a heavy turn.

What can you tell us about your current tour?
It’s a one-man show, so sonically I’m presenting new material and old material in a made-over fashion. I’m taking people back to the early house days, which always seemed a good setting for my voice, my horn of a voice. I’ve been tapping into my inner diva. I’m just belting it out over house music at the end. I get everything lathered up and at the end we have a wash down. That’s why they call it a rinse. You check your troubles at the door and rinse it out.

Published April 4, 2013

Jamie Lidell

Jamie Lidell


The unpredictable life of Flosstradamus

by John Dugan


Spend a night with the young DJ duo whose name will soon be on everyone's lips-and everyone's playlists. By John Dugan

Photos by Marzena Abrahamik

Photos by Marzena Abrahamik

Chicago DJ duo Flosstradamus (Josh Young/J2K and Curt Cameruci/Autobot) has only been around since Fall of 2005, but the stars (or perhaps the beats) have aligned to make 2007 the group’s national breakout year. With three turntables and the skills to blend a club tempo playlist that treats everything from indie to crunk as fair game, Floss has gone from creating chaos at a non-descript Boystown bar to banging the hippest parties nationwide. Flosstradamus is at the center of the city’s emergent underground dance-party scene, where the covers are low; the beats are fast; and the rappers, DJs and partiers are particularly chummy. We tagged along for a night out with Floss and entourage when the boys made their triumphant return to a monthly residency in Wicker Park. We were not, at any point, disappointed.

7pm, St. Ben’s 
We knock on the door at Flosstradamus HQ, a compact single-family home in St. Ben’s. Inside, J2K sits around with New York–based Fader editor and DJ Nick (Catchdubs) Barat trading music files from laptops while MTV Jams screens a Swizz Beatz video. The conversation revolves around music and fashion. “Whoa, he’s still got ski goggles; he’s still keeping it alive,” says J2K about Swizz’s “uncle” style.

7:30pm, Floss studios (upstairs)
A narrow wood-paneled stairway leads upstairs to Autobot’s bedroom, which is filled with piles of clothes and a neatly arranged ball-cap collection. A remix session is in progress, and Autobot shows us how he puts the Floss touch on a familiar tune, the Who’s anthem “Baba O’Riley”: He throws a steady bass drum, hand claps and some tambourine underneath, then winds it up to a bumpin’ tempo. He wants to use the mutated track as an intro to tonight’s set, the duo’s monthly residency at Subterranean. He spends the next ten minutes tinkering while J2K hunts for his laptop’s power cord. We chat about Floss and where the duo is headed. Indisputably, the star-making moment for the local DJ outfit is right now. The group built its name at loft parties, a monthly session at the Town Hall Pub in Boystown called Get Outta the Hood and eventually regular slots at forward-thinking clubs like Sonotheque.

In March, Floss turned up the volume at numerous gigs at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas. “We seriously made a noise,” Autobot says. An URB cover story and a DJ mix they crafted for Vice Records further amped up the Floss buzz well beyond Chicago.

The duo has largely set aside remixing and producing to hit the road. “We’re striking while the iron is hot and getting our tour on,” Autobot says. The boys recently went to Europe, supporting Craze and A-Trak, though taking an opening slot was “weird” for a duo accustomed to bringing down the house with its three-turntable sets. “We had to learn a bit. It was kind of humbling,” Autobot says. A few minutes later, with turntables packed in the trunk, the group heads for Wicker Park.

9pm, Subterranean, upstairs
J2K’s sister Melissa arrives. Together, they make up the rap duo Kid Sister: quick rhymes with a South Side drawl from the lady, who J2K eggs on. Melissa, radiating star quality, tells us she’s recording one-offs to build hype for her debut album, due this summer. She recently sang on a U.K. house track “about beepers” and joined Floss at the Coachella festival in late April.

9:30pm, backstage
Clubbers start to show up as Autobot spins a warm-up detour into soul and reggae before he turns over the tables to Catchdubs. Kid Sister talks about Tarantino’s flick Grindhouseand graphic designer Dust La Rock. It’s decided that J2K’s tee “is just too crazy” so he turns it inside out, while Melissa’s put-together ensemble (neutrals, jewelry) is a winner. “I’m tired of this hipster stuff, I wanna look like a woman,” she says.

J2K also explains why Floss aren’t the mash-up artists they’re often made out to be: He says  they simply create traditional hip-hop “blends” that “involve putting two tracks on top of each other,” and they usually work live.  Some of those blends include Floss-created samples they dial up with additional beats and rhythms before dropping them into their sets. Some of the tunes they’ve reworked like this include the Beatles’ “Twist & Shout” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

11:15pm
The band area is filling. Chicago rappers the Cool Kids take the stage—or a slice of it, as there’s a growing entourage around the decks.

12:15am, onstage
Just as Autobot is about to step up to the mixer, he’s accosted by a lady who sounds like a feisty ex. He evades her, hits the turntables and works in OutKast’s “B.O.B.” and Green Velvet’s “Shake and Pop” as spazzy local MC Hollywood Holt commands the crowd to “juke,” then get their “hands up.” Melissa tells the crowd it’s her “first sober show” as she takes the microphone and bangs out a set of her animated odes to fabulous living (including “Pro Nails” and “Telephone”) with J2K chiming in.

12:45am, upstairs
After dramatic dead air, Floss comes on, with Autobot’s “Baba” intro working. The stage is crazy, the joint is sticky and a few tracks into the set, folks are asked to make some space just before the duo launches into an updated version of hip-hop staple “Apache,” complete with a blistering synth bass line. A kid in a fedora and white tie boogies a few feet from a girl at the edge of the stage in a classy charcoal frock. Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” comes on at 1am, as bits of Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch” weave in and out.

1:20am
Floss crams in more crowd-pleasers, including versions of “This Is Why I’m Hot” and the group’s ravey “Act a Fool” remix. Peter Björn and John’s “Young Folks” closes out the set as the room lights turn on and security kicks everyone out. The guys have gigs in Orlando the next night, Chicago on Friday, Atlanta on Sunday and New York on Wednesday. They’re running ragged and seem eager for June to come around, so they can hunker down, do remixes and start working on something to call their own, something that lasts longer than a damn good party.


Duran Duran at Chicago Theatre | Live review

by John Dugan


Posted in Audio File blog at TIme Out Chicago by John Dugan on Oct 22, 2011 at 11:08am

Photo by Matthew Reeves

Photo by Matthew Reeves

Birmingham, England was not a glamorous place in the 1980s. The decline of industry in the once prosperous city had led to unemployment, unrest and bad vibes. The city has given us the mighty Move, Black Sabbath, and UB40, but few associate it with yacht-racing and half-naked jungle chase scenes. Somehow, Duran Duran with its fantasies of louche living in exotic locales and marriage of funk, New Wave and indulgence emerged from that haze of decline and neglect, to take the role left by art rock sophisticates Roxy Music and disco hitmakers Chic. It even broke through to America via MTV. So now, with a not so bright future and present before the regular folk of the modern world, is it any wonder that the glam pop outfit is once again on the rise? Of course, there is a successful Mark Ronson-produced All You Need is Now album backed by the almost all-original line-up (guitarist Andy Taylor returned to, then left the fold a few years ago) giving the oft-critically dismissed band a dose of cred that few '80s acts can muster. Also, I tend to think there is a darkness that lurks in the band's pop music that has helped it stand up in the long haul. That darkness isn't imagined, frontman Simon Le Bon is an artist intellectual that has a bitter streak from years of not being taken seriously. A few years ago, the band scrapped a more cimmerian effort influenced by contemporary events called Reportage that would have thrown fans for a loop.

So what we got last night at the Chicago Theatre was the cathartic, charismatic and only a little nostalgic Duran Duran, in a set full of plastic, but fantastic New Wave pop tunes and atmospheric modern rockers executed with the kind of confidence and panache that comes from hard work or making deals with the devil. With Le Bon looking probably better than he ever has (more tan and fit than the pale and soft Le Bon of the early '80s) and John Taylor looking like an Anime avatar come to life (long limbs and famous cheekbones that made him a heartthrob for your sister), the Durans looked the part, sporting slick and shiny clothing that gave them each a lounge lizard vibe. The band's deep reservoir of cool allowed it some wiggle room—John Taylor hyped the live twitter stream on screen and admitted his own twitter addiction. 

With touring guitarist and co-writer Dom Brown, a glamazon back-up singer named Anna and a red-haired percussionist, Le Bon, two Taylors and Nick Rhodes burned through a well-balanced set that never leaned too hard on ancient history. Incorporating fresher material like "All You Need is Now" and "Blame the Machines" with ingrained hits "The Reflex" and "Is There Something I Should Know?" and neglected fan favorites such as "Careless Memory," the band made a case for its mid-period and recent output. Admittedly, I'm not spinning any '90s Duran Duran discs at home, but last night I wondered if I shouldn't give them another try. The likes of "Ordinary World" were pulled off with class, Le Bon's voice sounding more than up to the task and Brown's guitar simmering on the epic solo. Outside of perhaps "Leave a Light On" which features Le Bon on rhythm guitar, there wasn't much slack in the set. The newer number like "Girl Panic!" seemed to fit right in, buoyed by a solid rhythm section of Taylors that's never gotten its due from the music establishment.

As Mondrian-inspired videos streamed behind the outfit, it closed out the regular set with an extended "Notorious," "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Reach up for the Sunrise." Returning for "Wild Boys" and a bit of Frankie's "Relax" before a "Rio." 

It was fashionable at one time to cite Duran Duran as modern music's lightweights, but we hadn't experienced the likes of the Black Eyed Peas at that point. If Duran Duran has had a weakness over the years, it has been that it was all too ready to believe that it was innocuous or tried to hard to be dangerous. What we learned last night—amid Le Bon's between song indictment of Bush/Blair as "war criminals"—is that Duran Duran is at its best when it combines that effortless pleasure and a taste for the risqué, teasing out our decadence and playing up the complications of overindulgence. 

Duran Duran set list, via setlist.fm
Before the Rain  Planet Earth  A View to a Kill  All You Need Is Now  Blame the Machines  Come Undone  Safe  The Reflex  The Man Who Stole A Leopard  Girl Panic!  Is There Something I Should Know?  Tiger Tiger  Careless Memories  Leave A Light On  Ordinary World  Notorious  Hungry Like the Wolf  (Reach Up for the) Sunrise  Encore: Wild Boys/Relax (Don't Do It)  Rio