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Recent Episodes and Articles

Inside Joy Division With Peter Hook

Friday, August 22, 2014

The British post-punk band Joy Division existed for less than three years -- all told, from January of 1978 to May of 1980. But its influence on music over the last 30 years has been enormous, heard in the sound of bands from U2 to Interpol. Joy Division’s story is also a sad one; the group’s singer, Ian Curtis, took his own life just days before the group was scheduled to make its first US tour.

The other three members soldiered on under the name New Order -- changing from the dark, intense sound of Joy Division to something more dance oriented. New Order went on to rule '80s radio, but Joy Division never really went away.

Peter Hook, who played bass in both bands, tells his side of the tale, with his book Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. Along the way, you get a tale full of humor, dopey pranks, perseverance, fights, friendship, and a band that changed the sound of rock.

This segment originally aired on Jan. 31, 2013.

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Watch: Trixie Whitley, Live On Soundcheck

Friday, August 22, 2014

Trixie Whitley is one performer who has made quite an impression on us here at Soundcheck. You may have heard her in the studio a few years back singing with Daniel Lanois in the group Black Dub. Or, you may have listened to a recent Check Ahead album stream of her brand new blues-soul record, called Fourth Corner. In fact, a lot of you did, and told us how much you liked it. Now, she returns to the studio to play music from the record, and tell us more about her triumphant debut.

This segment originally aired on Jan. 31, 2013.

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Electric Zoo EDM Festival Returns To New York

Thursday, August 21, 2014

One of the last events on the summer concert calendar is the Electric Zoo Festival. The electronic dance music gathering returns for its sixth year in New York City this Labor Day weekend. But last year, the festival was shut down early after two festival-goers died. Both of their deaths were attributed to their consumption of “molly,” a popular term for a drug that people often assume to contain pure MDMA, or ecstasy -- but often contains other adulterants and contaminants as well. 

This year, several drug-related deaths have already been reported at EDM concerts and festivals across North America. This month alone, two people died at the VELD Music Festival in Toronto, and two more died at the Mad Decent Block Party in Columbia, Maryland. Two others died in July at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas.  

In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Missi Wooldridge, executive director at DanceSafe -- an organization that works to promote health and safety within the EDM community -- talks about what Electric Zoo is doing this year to try to prevent fatalities, and about the limits that festivals have when approaching drug education and on-site testing. 

DanceSafe is holding a "Zoo Survival Night" on August 28 near Union Square.

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Summer '94: Oasis' 'Definitely Maybe' At 20

Thursday, August 21, 2014

This summer Soundcheck is looking back to the summer of 1994 to explore the hits, defining albums and pop culture of 20 years ago.    

The song “Wonderwall” by the British rock band Oasis was a massive hit in the fall of 1995 and carried the loud and sometimes controversial group to super-stardom. But before “Wonderwall,” there was the band’s 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe. Lead members and brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher talked-the-talk with self-inflating lyrics on songs such as "Rock N Roll Star" and "Live Forever." But they had the sales to back it up. Moving 86,000 copies in its first week, Definitely Maybe became the fastest-selling debut album in British history at that point. Even now, the record endures for many people -- it was recently given the 20th anniversary deluxe box set treatment and documented in a new 33 1/3 series installment.

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Video Premiere: Elephant Stone, 'Knock You From Yr Mountain'

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The fusion of traditional Indian sounds and Western pop is perhaps less eye-opening than it was when George Harrison first introduced so many to the sitar on “Norwegian Wood.” But the way Rishi Dhir melds those Hindustani classical elements together with psychedelic rock has made him one of the most sought-after sitar players around the scene. A former member of The High Dials, Dhir has recorded and performed alongside The Black Angels, The Horrors, and even Beck. Yet as the singer, sitar player, and spirit guide for Elephant Stone, Dhir can truly express his full vision, thanks to an approach more textural than melodic, using the instrument as another rich, evocative color in his music.

On the Montreal band’s third album, The Three Poisons, Dhir’s songs are soulful and psychedelic, spiritual and heartfelt. Yet underneath the droning layers, the buoyant grooves, and tripped-out noisy flourishes that paint the corners of each song, is a songwriter with an ear for incredibly catchy, singable melodies.

And as you can see from its latest music video -- a live in-the-studio performance of “Knock You From Yr Mountain” recorded at Studio Plateau in Montreal -- Elephant Stone is a formidable live band as well.

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Download This: Baby Gramps, 'Casting My Spell'

Thursday, August 21, 2014

ARTIST: Baby Gramps

DOWNLOAD:

Baby Gramps, "Casting My Spell"

GIG: Thursday night (9:30pm) at St. Mazie in Brooklyn

The singer known as Baby Gramps is an amalgamation of salty old pirate, story teller, vaudeville performer, joker, and folk singer. He’s actually been called the Salvador Dali of Folk Music – which can only mean totally bizarre and equally captivating. Listen to Baby Gramps work his magic on the song “Casting My Spell.”

Catch Baby Gramps live tonight at St. Mazie and tomorrow night at Terra Blues. 

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Electric Zoo Preview; Liam Bailey Plays Live; Oasis' 'Definitely Maybe' At 20

Thursday, August 21, 2014

In this episode: The Electric Zoo Festival returns for its sixth year in New York City this coming Labor Day weekend. But last year, the electronic dance music festival was shut down early after two concert-goers died after taking "molly," a drug often assumed to contain MDMA, or ecstasy. Missi Wooldridge, executive director of DanceSafe -- an organization that works to promote health and safety within the EDM community -- talks about the steps that Electric Zoo is taking this year to ward off fatalities. Plus, we get a musical preview of some of the DJs and producers who will be performing at this year's festival on Randall's Island. 

Then: Liam Bailey is a British singer and guitarist of Jamaican extraction. Hear him play some of his Hendrix-inflected soul from his latest album Definitely Now, in the Soundcheck studio.

And: Marah Eakin, editor at The A.V. Club, is a rare breed indeed: a music writer who isn’t embarrassed to love the British rock band Oasis. She discusses the Brothers Gallagher's fiery 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe.

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Demystifying EDM: What Do House, Trance And Dub Step Mean?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Whether you’re planning on attending the Electric Zoo Festival or not, there’s plenty to talk about when it comes to the artists and music that will be featured there. EDM, or electronic dance music, has become a hugely popular and commercially successful genre in the past few years -- so popular, in fact, that it's even been parodied on Saturday Night Live

We talk with Michelle Lhooq, editor at Thump, Vice’s dance music channel, about the acts to catch at this year's Electric Zoo Festival -- plus, she explains what terms like "house," "trance," "dub step" and "techno" mean, and how you can tell one EDM sub-genre from another. 

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How To Be Smarter About... New Age Music

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Let's face it: as much as we all know and love about music, everyone has at least some blind spots. In our new series, "How To Be Smarter About…" Soundcheck aims to help you become a more impressive conversation partner at cocktail parties and around the water cooler.

Lately we've been asking guests to reveal their musical blind spots. When Christopher Barnes of the Massachusetts band Gem Club visited the Soundcheck studio, he told us that he wants to know more about New Age music. To help, we turned to Mike Rubin, a frequent contributor to the New York Times, to help us get smarter about the largely misunderstood and poorly-defined genre. Rubin, who recently wrote a piece for the Times called "For New Age, The Next Generation," tells Soundcheck host that Barnes isn't the only contemporary indie musician expressing an interest in the long-derided form.

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Alejandra Ribera: Sultry Polylingual Pop From North Of The Border

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Her father was Argentinian, her mother was Scottish. She's Canadian. She sings in Spanish, French, and English. Words like "cosmopolitan" and "eclectic" seem permanently attached to her repertoire. Singer and guitarist Alejandra Ribera's music lives comfortably at the confluence of her many cultural inputs -- an easier-said-than-done feat that often waters down the work of artists seeking to make "eclectic" records.

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Download This: Alejandra Ribera, 'I Want'

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

ARTIST: Alejandra Ribera

DOWNLOAD: 

Alejandra Ribera, "I Want"  

GIG: Wednesday night at Joe's Pub ($15)

The Canadian singer Alejandra Ribera says her life is heavily influenced by three B’s: Bjork, Bette Midler, and Billy Connolly. The “B” influence is also evident in the title of her new album, La Boca – or, “The Mouth.” It’s an appropriate name for a collection of songs that bounces from Spanish to French to English. You probably won’t need to translate this one, it’s called “I Want.”

Alejandra Ribera plays at Joe’s Pub tonight. 

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How To Be Smarter About... New Age; Boyhood's Solo Beatles Mixtape; In The Valley Below Plays Live

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

In this episode: Soundcheck continues its occasional series How To Be Smarter -- in which we help people address their musical blind spots -- with a particular doozy from Gem Club's Christopher Barnes. Barnes wanted to know more about New Age music. To help, Mike Rubin, a frequent contributor to the New York Times, walks us through the evolution of the much-maligned genre and some of its contemporary disciples.

Then: The Black Album is the name of a mixtape of solo material by The Beatles that has been making the rounds online, in part because it’s featured prominently in the ambitious Richard Linklater film Boyhood. Soundcheck host John Schaefer listened to this three-disc monster and discussed it with John Hockenberry of The Takeaway.

And: Sunny West Coast harmonies meet irresistible hooks and moody synth pop in the music by L.A. band In The Valley Below. Hear the band perform in the Soundhcheck studio.

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Josephine Baker's Subversive 'Rainbow Tribe'

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

American-born singer and actress Josephine Baker rose to fame as a risqué hot jazz act in 1920s Paris -- and it's this period of her life that she's best known for today. Performing in her trademark banana skirt (and sometimes not much else), Baker became enormously famous -- acting as a muse for artists and writers, like Langston Hughes and Pablo Picasso.

However, Baker's life was filled with unexpected twists and turns: during World War II, she gathered intelligence for the French Resistance and was eventually awarded a French War Cross. In the 1950s and '60s, she became a figure in the American civil rights movement.

But there's one part of Baker’s story that most people have never heard. In 1953, Baker adopted twelve children from around the world in a quixotic attempt to assemble a family with children from all races -- and quite literally put them on display.

This chapter of her life is explored in Josephine Baker And The Rainbow Tribe, a book by Matthew Pratt Guterl, professor of Africana Studies and American Studies at Brown University. He joins us to speak about the "rainbow tribe" she attempted to create, and his personal view on the matter as an adopted child himself. 

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How Well Do You Know Your Middle-Aged Pop Stars?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This summer, two middle-aged artists hit No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart, each for the very first time in their long careers. In July, 54-year-old "Weird Al" Yankovic scored with Mandatory Fun. Just two weeks later, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (average age: 63) topped the chart with Hypnotic Eye.

Pop-chart guru and Soundcheck regular Chris Molanphy  wrote about these "senior moments" for Pitchfork. Even though this year's other No. 1 albums were released by relatively younger artists, Molanphy writes, Yankovic and the Heartbreakers are the latest in a decade-long string of acts reaching the penthouse for the first time -- or for the first time in decades. It's partially about older fans still buying music, but many of these older acts are also working every possible angle to score a hit. 

Before you read his piece, take Molanphy's pop-chart quiz!

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Hear: Liam Bailey, In The Studio

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Liam Bailey’s recent performance in an opening slot at Central Park Summerstage introduced the fiery English singer and guitarist to many in the New York audience. But Bailey has been tweaking his fusion of rock, soul and R&B across the pond for the past decade, first with his own bands and later in collaboration with the electronic duo Chase and Status (on the UK dance hit “Blind Faith.”)

Bailey’s career path has led him through a series of contracts, including the late singer Amy Winehouse’s label, Lioness, which released two of his EPs.

Now, the Nottingham-based songwriter is releasing his full-length debut, Definitely Now, through Winehouse producer Salaam Remi’s Flying Buddha label on Aug. 19. He joins us to play three songs from the album in our studio – and discuss his love of Pink Floyd and Oasis with host John Schaefer.

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Listen To This: Run The Jewels, "Run The Jewels"

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

ARTIST: Run The Jewels

LISTEN:

Run The Jewels, "Run The Jewels"  

GIG: Tuesday night at SIR Stage 37

Rappers Killer Mike and El-P made one of the best hip-hop albums of 2013 -- and then they gave it away for free, as a download. The album was called Run The Jewels, and made many year-end best-of lists -- a highly-anticipated followup, called Run The Jewels 2 is soon to be released. As it happens, the duo calls itself Run The Jewels, and the name of the first song on that debut...is also called "Run The Jewels." Take a listen.

Run The Jewels is at SIR Stage 37 tonight.

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Senior Moments On The Charts; Benmont Tench Plays Live; Josephine Baker's 'Rainbow Tribe'

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

In this episode: Chart analyst Chris Molanphy presents Soundcheck with a quiz inspired by his recent Pitchfork column about middle-aged artists (like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and “Weird Al” Yankovic) who are scoring No. 1 albums for the first time in their long careers.

Longtime Heartbreakers member Benmont Tench recently released a solo album for the first time ever, and performs in the Soundcheck studio.

From her banana skirt to her civil rights activism, the story of the singer, actress, and activist Josephine Baker is infamous. But you might not know about her quest to construct a “rainbow tribe” of 12 adopted children. Matthew Pratt Guterl discusses his book about Baker’s idealistic family.

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The 'Garden State' Soundtrack: Still Changing Lives After Ten Years

Monday, August 18, 2014

Love it or hate it, Zach Braff's 2004 film Garden State had a killer cast and a soundtrack filled with indie royalty. So why hate it? Because the film tended to overstate its own capture of the quarter-life crisis zeitgeist, and the soundtrack introduced multitudes to many bands that were -- until Garden State -- niche favorites. And your general reaction pretty much hinges on what you think of this scene:

Still, there's no denying that Braff curated a mix-tape that became a totem for a certain kind of early-aughts indie sensibility. Reggie Ugwu certainly thinks so; the deputy music editor for Buzzfeed wrote an essay -- "Listening In The Abyss: The Lasting Legacy Of The Garden State Soundtrack" -- extolling the virtues of Braff's prescient music sensibility.

In a conversation with host John Schaefer, Ugwu talks about the Grammy-winning collection, and to explain why, in the age of Spotify, Soundcloud, and Tumblr, the success of the Garden State soundtrack probably can't be reproduced. 

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Pick Three: Matthew Weiner

Monday, August 18, 2014

Many know Matthew Weiner as the creator of critically acclaimed AMC drama Mad Men, the groundbreaking show which is currently in the middle of its seventh and final season. But Weiner is now dipping his toe into unfamiliar waters, the big screen, with his film directorial debut, Are You Here. The film, which comes out Friday, Aug. 22, stars big names such as Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler, and Zach Galifianakis, and follows the story of a womanizing local weatherman who joins his best friend on a trip to their childhood hometown after the death of his friend's father.

Aside from creating incredible television and film, Weiner is an avid music lover known for having a keen ear which has translated into songs playing a key role in specific scenes on Mad Men. Still, because of limited television budgets, Weiner says there are major between working music in television and in film.

"You can have more than one song in a movie," Weiner explains in a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer. "Usually we have financial concerns on the show and we can never really have more than one cue that's not a composer or what we call a library cue. But I had some of these songs that are in the movie in the script." 

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In The Valley Below: Synth Pop With Sensual And Swampy Ambience

Monday, August 18, 2014

In The Valley Below could probably just do bright synth pop, but what you get instead is something slightly more subversive. The Los Angeles duo -- Jeffrey Jacob and Angela Gail -- create pop songs built around edgy guitars and dark, swampy ambience that lurk in the shadows. And with lyrics that allude to sex and religion and death, its clear that beneath the fizzy hooks and sensual boy-girl harmonies, there's some real weight in this music.

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