Dr. Plotkin’s Majikal List X-Perience: Top albums of 2014 and more

2014 was an excellent year in music and I couldn’t just write about all my favorite albums this year or I would end up talking forever. Instead, I broke this post down into five expositions on my favorite albums and short blurbs about some other ones. Finally, I couldn’t just sit back and not mention some of the great albums I’ve been digging on this year just because they didn’t come out in the last 12 months, so I threw a final couple of sentences at the page hoping they’d stick.

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Electronic Music Marathon Part 3: Rounding 3rd and coming home

A month after WKDU brought back the annual Electronic Music Marathon, I think I’m finally ready to get back into the swing of things, radio wise. I held off of posting this because I wanted to give myself some time to decompress and reconcile the INSANE 75 hours of DJing, dancing, and fun over Columbus Day weekend. We are working on posting the sets, so stay tuned to our Soundcloud page for those. In the meantime, feel free to read the play by play I wrote during the final day of the marathon.

Jersey Dan kicked us off at 11 AM, playing stuff like Crystal Castles and Nenah Cherry. It was dark, it was moody, it was exactly what I needed. Highlights of the set were the “Open (Jeff Samuel faded mix)” by Rhye and the DFA cover of “D.A.R.E.” by Gorillaz, where I got a chance to turn introspective more a moment and think for a bit. If I had to pick one word to describe his set, it would be contemplative. His set really gave a chance to look inwards at my own soul for an hour. Fun fact: Dan uses a free version of Virtual DJ to mix. True the college radio ethos he chooses free when possible, making the most out of what he can. Bonus fun fact: Dan used to be a professor here at Drexel back in 2008, great to have old faculty on board!

Maxwell Knubee from Brewerytown Beats, one of our proud sponsors of the event, stepped up to the decks next, spinning all wax. I spoke with him before he got on and he told me about the evolution of his set. Originally he wanted to spin psych-funk and go into 80s electro funk, but decided eventually to go with positive hip-hop. We talked about how the best songs are the ones that talk about how good music is, or how a specific brand of shoes is just super cool (when he told me that, I was hoping he would play “My Adidas” by Run DMC, and he did not disappoint!). His set definitely lived up to the expectations, and brought the funk and hip hop beats for all to enjoy, leading nicely into King Britt’s set.

As I’m writing this, I’m surrounded by King Britt’s crew, including members of The Village and Playback Radio. Many of these guys and gals have been here in the past for previous marathons and it’s an honor to have them back. For the newcomers, let me just say this if I haven’t already: welcome to WKDU and enjoy your stay!

King got on the mic at 1:00 PM to talk about his time in high school (Central High reppin’!), coming up in music, and some of his major influences. Look for the full interview online soon. About half an hour later he stepped onto our decks and started laying down the beats. If you ask Es, he’s a beat wizard. If you ask me, he’s a beatsmyth. Whatever your preferred nomenclature, he’s really something to watch perform. He combines magic on the deck with music in the air, forging tunes, sounds, and rhythms out of nothing. I’m writing this during his set, which is conjuring some deep images in my head, floating me along a soundscape of immense proportions. I’m envisioning vast rolling hills of dark earth colors, pulsating along with the beat. The second half of his mix got a lot funkier, throwing some soul vibes out there. I was busy doing my homework during this set and it made for some great jams for concentrating.

King Britt's gear
King Britt’s gear

Matpat popped up after King, to take us into the final 5 hours of the marathon. Bringing the club beats back into the building, he got me moving once more. Funky piano, soulful saxaphone, and sexy synthesizer. Matpat brought the funk and didn’t just warm up the decks: he got them blazing hot, closing his set with “Deep Inside (Shadow Child remix)” by Hardrive.

Matpat hits center stage
Matpat hits center stage

Risky Disko hit the decks at 5 PM for 2 hours, throwing down the low BPMs with some trip hop vibes. Despite their name, I didn’t think they had that disco of a sound, though I enjoyed the set nonetheless. As with Jersey Dan’s set, it was much more contemplative and I got some nice thinking done. I really enjoy the sets that take me on a musical journey, as opposed to the straight dance stuff. Peter remarked that the whole set had a Todd Terje vibe to it, which I’m inclined to agree with. They sounded very disco influenced, but with a very clean production and modern twist.

Risky Disko
Risky Disko getting up close and personal with Roberta Flack

And now I’m faced with the monstrous task of doing justice to Dave P’s set with words. I’ll try my best, but honestly your best bet is to listen to the set and check it out for yourself. He started out slow, and I kind of just sat with my thoughts for awhile. Bringing the energy up slow, all of us at the station started to jam with some really swampy sounding songs, getting some retro-futuristic synths (my favorite synths!) going. His mixing technique is really good, too: he handles CDJs like he was born clutching a pair in his hands. His slogan of “futuristic sounds” is pretty damn accurate, the songs he spun sound like they came from a club in a cyperpunk movie. House jams through and through, solid 4-to-the-floor beats to groove to. He wasn’t laying down just future sounds though, some of his tracks sounded like classic disco house jams, with some beautiful piano and synth pads for added spice.

Dave P
Dave P deep in the mix

His set just kept amping up over the last hour. There was a certain charge in the air- everyone there knew we were reaching the end of something huge and the excitement was palpable. The room we have in the studio where all the DJs performed over the weekend isn’t that large- we were able to tightly fit our equipment table, speakers, and a few people hanging out listening to the DJs perform, but at this point we had over a dozen people crammed inside, all dancing. Dave kept the energy rising, too- by the end of it, I was sweating (almost) as much as him, just from dancing around the room. When he finally closed out at 9:00, he said some wonderful words over the air and, surrounded by applauding DJs, finished off both his set and the 11th annual electronic music marathon.

I’d like to thank everyone who tuned in, everyone who performed, and everyone who donated their time, effort, and money to our cause. With your help we resurrected a long-dormant WKDU tradition. Not only did we get the chance to party in the station for 75 hours straight, but we had a chance to connect with the community and raise money and awareness for some fantastic local non-profits. The work Musicopia and The Village of Arts and Humanities do is truly noble and we are honored to have helped play a part in their dedication to arts education and empowerment. Having pulled this off in approximately 5 weeks (90% of the work on this marathon was begun on Labor Day), we learned an incredible amount and are already looking forward to next year, where we hope to make the 12th annual electronic music marathon even better. Thanks for stopping by, and of course, keep those radio dials locked!

A final jump for joy before we all promptly fell asleep

Electronic Music Marathon Part 2: Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning

Day 2 of the Electronic Music Marathon kicked off with a heartwarming start from the Musicopia crew. Musicopia is one of our nonprofit partners who focus on arts education in schools. I wasn’t there but heard they were absolutely adorable and amazing overall. Stay tuned for the full write up.

I woke up late and unfortunately couldn’t come in for Musicopia’s set. Scandalous, I know, but I need some sleep otherwise I might never be useful to the station again. I woke up instead to multiple texts from my brother and sister both informing me that the DJ who got on afterwards was super dope. I found out that was Billy (M//R) from Great Circles, who once I threw on the radio got me motivated to take the quickest shower and make the fastest eggs just so I could get down to the station and see him during the performance. As I sit here writing this, I’m enjoying the hell out of the set, even though I missed most of the live performance. It’s a lot more progressive than the sets from last night, which I like because I feel like I’m being taken on a musical journey down in the station as opposed to just “untz-untz-untz”. Justin closed off the Great Circles set, keeping it abstract and weird. Much more mood music and less danceable stuff. Honestly I thought it was great, took me on a whole new level.

Nigel Richards from 611 Records came by next and once again I had a great chance to chat with him before he got on. He discussed his time spent on college radio at University of Rochester WRUR, how he learned the technical side of DJing, and more (I was a big fan of how he didn’t crap over me for relying on the sync button on modern DJ controllers: “Hey, no one can blame you for using technology. If they’d had that when I was coming up I probably would have used it too”). His set started in funky with some acid sounds, much more “hands in the air” than before. Brought the energy in the place back up real nice.

Nigel Richards going wild on the decks
Nigel Richards going wild on the decks

I spoke with James and Thom from Broadzilla and learned all about the difference between club DJ-ing and radio DJ-ing, how they came up, and what drives their current style. They also brought a guitar pedal with them, so they were able to get some really cool effects with the microphone (it’s the little things in life). They recorded some super whacky station IDs for us, full of pitch shifting, echo/reverb, and all around weirdness. Keep your ears tuned to the airwaves to hear them again. Their set had lots of synthesizers and some great 80s sounds. Sounding super cool Broadzilla took us on a musical journey until 7:00 PM.

Matthew Law, aka DJ Phsh (from Illvibe Collective) popped in next, and while he was really fun to talk to, everyone at the station went a little nuts over his shoes. He dropped the hip hop (trip hop?) beats, with a groovy (I keep saying that word but I really can’t help it all the DJs really have been) low BPM set. Matt pumped up the energy in the second hour of his set, going in a whole new direction. Not club style but definitely more danceable than his earlier set. The whole set overall was really good jamming music- I was manning the phones most of the time during that set, just nodding my head along. Best part though: Matt’s grandmom called in during the set, and let us know she was jamming along!

Passion of the shoes
Passion of the shoes

Jay, aka Telequanta came by to lay down his tracks in a special live set on the air. His stuff is supremely chill, reminds me of a trip-hoppier version of Gold Panda (and then he even played Gold Panda after his own stuff, too!) I now totally see why he was always tuning into my show last summer. After his live stuff, he just played some of his favorite songs, which were the ultimate chill out tunes to lead us into the beginning of the late night sets.

Telequanta rocking his own stuff live
Telequanta rocking his own stuff live

As I write this sometime after Telequanta finished, I’m starting to fade fast so I’ll keep it short and sweet. Patrick Richards stepped up to the decks at 11 PM (holy hell how is someone so young so freaking talented?) and rocked us until midnight. Tight transitions and a choice song selection, my favorite being when he played “Walking With Elephants” by Ten Walls and Tchami’sPushing On” remix.

Jansen and Sylo popped in for the midnight to 2 AM slot. They took it to a new level, with some dark tech house. I didn’t recognize any of their stuff but damn was it cool. I finally tapped out some time after 1 AM, struggled my ass to Wawa, and thankfully was able to nab a cab just before I stepped onto the subway platform #luxurious. I was still listening to the marathon the entire ride home until I finally passed out to the sounds of Enrique Villacis’s guest mix around 3 AM, ready to get refreshed for the next big day.

Electronic Music Marathon Part 1: Friday night to Saturday morning

As I sit here recovering from my wisdom tooth surgery, doped up on oxycodone, I can’t really do much more in the running of things for our electronic music marathon and figured it would be a good time to do some write ups. Rob Paine and Will Putney from Worship Recordings kicked us off from 6-9 PM, with our favorite listener Spread Love calling in for the first time of hopefully many times.

Rob and Will from Worship Recordings
Rob and Will from Worship Recordings

Noah Beresin (Noah Breakfast) walked in at quarter to 9, for his triumphant return to the WKDU airwaves: the first time he’s been in the station since 2009. We talked a bit about what he’s listening to right now and he told me his favorite beat maker right now is Mr. Carmack- who I’ll be sure to check out ASAP. He gave us the low down on what it was like for him coming up making beats as a student and a bit of history of WKDU from before I even came to Drexel. He’s a pretty chill dude, and I really enjoyed the behind the scenes rundown he gave us before the show. And holy damn did he bring the noise!

Noah Breakfast bringing dancehall vibes
Noah Breakfast brings the dancehall vibes

Brad Henley AKA B-Rilla came next, for his first (but hopefully not last!) appearance on the WKDU decks. He played a set of drum n bass, a genre I know nearly nothing about. What I expected was something sounding like 90s Prodigy- what I got instead was fast paced, breakbeat goodness.

Next up, a name we’re all familiar with stepped up to bat: Chris B from The Hot Mix took the first all wax spin of the night. A few minor technical difficulties aside (hey this is college radio after all- it wouldn’t be any fun if it all worked the first time!) he threw one funk of a set. Slowing the grooves back down was the perfect lead up to Fich from Young Robots.

Michael Fichman, DJ Apt One from Young Robots, actually got here about 40 minutes early, which gave Sam and I some great one on one (on one) time with him. We talked shop about breakfast and fast food: who makes the best fries (the consensus seemed to be Shake Shack, though I still think Five Guys and their massive sized portions offer the most bang for your buck), and where you can get decent Mexican food in the north (apparently Norristown is quite good for that). Fich and I also swapped some painkiller stories. I won’t spoil the surprise or befoul his good name, but he definitely got into more trouble when he got his wisdom teeth removed than I did.

DJ Apt One gives us an education in classic italo-disco
DJ Apt One gives us an education in classic italo-disco

Did I say Chris threw down one funk of set? That’s totally true, but Fitch freaking KILLED IT on the funk and grooves. Going back to the roots of electro and synth pop he hit all the buttons to keep me dancing, painkillers and all. His set of italo-disco was the coolest thing I’d heard all night, taking the cake for my favorite set so far. Even more impressive was that he had come from a 4 hour set earlier in the night and still had that kind of energy until 2 AM.

Sam from Blueshift gave me a tour of his Vestax board, showing me all the cool shit he’s programmed into it. Really gave me a new motivation to get a controller of my own and start experimenting. His set was much deeper than Apt One’s, a lot more chill, but no less awesome. Really good jams for 2-4 AM (the best time for jams).

For the last few hours of night the pain in my jaw had been getting steadily worse (basically from B-Rilla’s set until Blueshift’s began), but I had been holding off more painkillers (I’m afraid of addiction/constipation). Eventually I just said screw it and took another pill, lay down for a few minutes, and arose feeling refreshed and ready to enjoy Blueshift’s set.

Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation or maybe it’s the drugs but I’m feeling pretty good about the state of WKDU’s Electronic Music Marathon. With the first night behind us, I’m ready to face the rest of the weekend. I’ll be back on the blogz daily over the next few days, and be sure to follow us on Twitter @wkdu for updates, giveaways, and more.

“Music is Universal:” An interview with Shabazz Palaces (August 22, 2014)

My friend Thomsen Cummings and I (Dr. Plotkin, if we haven’t met before) had the extreme pleasure of seeing Shabazz Palaces at the Union Transfer last Friday and were lucky enough to spend twenty minutes talking to them after their sound check. We headed out to the parking lot and listened to the Seattle-based duo, led by Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire, speak to us about their influences, their approach to creating music, and the future of Shabazz. They are currently touring their new album Lese Majesty, which you can check out on Sub Pop.

Left to right: Ishmael Butler (The Palaceer Lazaro Shabazz) and Tendai Maraire (image: Reality Check Berlin)

KDU: Just looking around, I’m seeing some interesting stuff here. What is that instrument on the back of your car?

TM: That is called an mbira and it originates from Zimbabwe.

KDU: Cool, can you tell me a little about it?

TM: I can tell you that where it derives from is a very spiritual place in Zimbabwe. It’s used to channel to the ancestors and to communicate with them and to communicate with other human beings. And also to party.

 KDU: Of course to party! I read that for your previous material, you guys would rehearse, perform and record, and then change of the recording as it went. On the new album, was there any approach to recording it?  Some of the lyrics and rapping kind of seem to go into the background.

IB: We don’t really subscribe to most notions of recording or approaches to music. So foreground, background, I understand what they mean in terms of the mix but not in terms of what one might focus on in any given song. It’s all one entity that’s moving forward sonically into your ears, and then hopefully into some categories and compartments of emotion.

We usually try and mix everything clear, so that there’s a certain undertow of subtle things, or sub-mixes if you will, that add to the groove. But to say the lyrics take the background, never. We’re rappers and we say everything we mean, but I understand what you’re saying. Sonically, you might hear it less loudly than you would in a normal thing but again, if you make music you should develop your own sound. It shouldn’t be a standard sound you try and fit into and that’s how we see it.

How Tendai parties (image: Twitter)

KDU: I was reading through the lyrics for They Come In Gold and I noticed a lot of contrasting ideas. The line “sepulchre, a stage alive by ghosts” seems to be hinting at a self-destructive nature, maybe about a lot of hip-hop music that’s out there.

IB: Some of it is self-destruction, some of it is destruction from outside forces that want to come in. Some want to moonlight inside our culture. They feel like because they dress up and wave their hands in a hip-hop style that they’re legitimate. And we just reject that notion. Self-destruction can be one destroying one’s self through some legitimate mechanism, but it can also be allowing destructive things to infiltrate something that should be held sacred. So that’s kind of what that song’s about.

KDU: I noticed you focus a lot on the idea of the self. Not in an attack on individualism, but you seem to be rapping against self-obsession.

IB: Well, it’s like this. Music has always been a universal thing. The individual thing is a directed plan by marketers in order to sell products. It’s not really individualism, it’s really everybody doing the same set of things disguised at individualism or told that. We’re not really trying to pick A or B in terms of what our platform is, we see it for what it is.

To have the calling of being a musician is a gift. We don’t really know where that’s from but we understand it as that. We don’t say it’s us making this music. We physically do it, the ideas come to us from somewhere, and we feel good to have the blessing of those ideas to come to us.

A lot of motherfuckers came before us that were just as good, if not better than us. So we understand where our place in the pantheon is, if you will. And we also know some motherfuckers that are hella filthy, but will never get the light of day – people we’re close to that haven’t experienced the notoriety, but have a lot of weight in our spheres of influence. We’re just seeing it for what it is, and that’s what you’re hearing in the music.

KDU: I’ve always been struck by the sound of the scream that runs through the entirety of An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum. How do you go about creating some of your trippier samples?

IB: You can come to a conclusion or a result of a sound in any way that you can. It’s not really by chance, but what happens is you record something or you sample something and you got all these processes at your fingertips. You can stack them, you can run them concurrently, you can turn them around, you can slow stuff down, speed it up… There’s an endless combination of things you can do to a sound. Also, whatever studio you’re in, whatever speakers you’re listening to, what headphones you’re using, it all affects how it might sound. When you’re doing it you’re not thinking “Okay I ran it through this, let me write that down. Then I ran it through that, let me write that down. And I had these headphones on…” The environment comes second to the instinct.

KDU: What are some musical acts that you’re listening to that are currently blowing your mind?

TM: I’ve been listening to this guy out of Zimbabwe called Jah Prayzah. And this kid out of Seattle called Porter Ray. Jah Prayzah plays contemporary Shona music [music from the Shona people of Zimbabwe] and Porter Ray does hip-hop.

IB: I like Ariel Pink, I think that’s the coolest shit I’ve heard in a while. I like the weirdness of it, the daringness of it, the creativity of it, and how all those things collude to make these songs that are poppy, but at the same time anti-pop.

KDU: What do you think the future holds for you guys?

IB: We’re always in a state of composing and recording. Right now, Tendai is working on videos for Chimurenga and we got videos for Shabazz coming out. It’s always about the proliferation of the instinct and the ideas that come from our instinct and just trying to share them. We been growing and there’s people that say they like what we do. There’s a conversation between them and us, where we put out some music and then we go on tour. We had a ceremonies of shows, we meet people, do shit like this, so we try and do our part by making some music and artwork. We got partners that are just dope. Cats that make clothes, cats that direct videos and films, so we look forward to working with them as well.

KDU: On the new album, you have a track with Catherine Harris-White from THEESATISFACTION, are you touring with them as well?

IB: No, that’s pretty rare. Obviously it’s fun as fuck when they’re around and we get to perform together. Hopefully we’ll get back through Philly, this is a good town to perform with them. We did that once at the Kung Fu Necktie, it was phenomenal.

KDU: This question has nothing to do with your music, or how you create it. If you were trapped in a room filled with food and you had to eat your way out—

IB: No, that’s a question I always ask people!

KDU: Oh, well then I definitely want to hear your answer then, you must have a good one!

IB: Watermelon man! Nice ripe watermelon. I ask girls that, seriously. But I say buried, buried alive under food. What would you want to eat your way out of? Is that your line too?

KDU: I think that opens the mental conversation a bit.

IB: It gives you a chance to see where someone’s coming from.

What are you going to do, eat your way out of a room of stew? (image: Baltimore Sun)

KDU: Thank  you so much for taking the time to have this interview with us. Do you have anything left you want to say?

IB: I just appreciate anybody listening and checking us out. If you get the chance, come see the show one of these days.


Check out Shabazz Palaces’ dope new album and catch them on tour at a venue near you.