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The Williamsburg Music Scene - The Labels, the Venues, the Artists

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The music scene in New York has been in poor shape for some time now.

Is this statement a surprise? It should be because supposedly we are living in the cultural Mecca of the world. What strange times we live in when the music of the burbs (from which most of us "escaped") is surpassing our own in originality and in sheer vitality, for that matter. Where is our Velvet Underground? What happened to Public Enemy? Where is our New Wave?

Howard Fishman Quartet
The bottom line is there is no music scene in New York used-to-be-Fucking City. Period.

Want to see music, go to Chicago, DC, or get out of the country. There is little to be found here.

But thankfully things are not as grim as they seem. In our lovely little neighborhood overflowing with artists, little breaths of originality have finally begun to emerge. Thanks in part to local venues such as Pete's Candy Store (who recently hosted Will Oldham), Sin-e, Galapagos Art Space, Rubulad, and even the Charleston, Williamsburg is slowly giving birth to a rising music scene.

Additionally, Williamsburg is home to various music labels including LuLu Records and Baraka. The growth of these labels has strengthened the local music scene with their symbiotic relationship to local artists.

If you have been a good consumer lately in local establishments such as The Read or Earwax, you probably have seen the most recent release put out by Lulu, Women of Williamsburg. This 20 track disk will be a delight to fans of folk and alternative and best of all, as the title suggests, only local artists are featured. From the alt-folk of local favorite Lizzie West, to the indie rock opener "Not My Valentine" by Suziblade, WOW has a vitality that will be encouraging to local musicians.

WOW CD         

Most importantly, all proceeds go to Planned Parenthood. This alone makes the disk worth buying.

And don't miss Rockets Hip by Chris Stewart, Lulu Record's premiere release. Chris, formerly of Ministry and Alternatives has created a disk filled with offbeat melodies and strong songwriting that will not disappoint. This melodic and mellow disk is a huge departure from Chris' days with Ministry demonstrating his wide range as a musician. Lulu Records is located on 67 South 3rd Street, Suite 4.

Baraka Foundation, whose East Coast office can be found on 255 North 8th Street, is another important label coming out of Williamsburg. Their recent compilation disk The Observation of Ruins showcases an eclectic blend of dub, drum and bass, techno, acid jazz, and Hip Hop.

I picked it up at Earwax for 3 bucks and, though disjointed, I was impressed with the quality of music on this record. Skip the fratboy, Chemical Brothers-influenced opener by Mark Astel and open your ears to a pretty solid compilation.

Baraka Foundation, like Lulu Records, has a conscious and values that transcend the dollar sign as is obvious in their stated mission:

Baraka strives to bridge the artificial, man-made gaps between artist and label, music and visuals, linear and non-local, science and magick. In Kabbalistic terms, "a balanced tree".
The Observation of Ruins

Maybe too blunted or mystical for your average, jaded New Yorker, but refreshing when one considers Big Business competitor Columbia Records whose mission statement should be "pumping out homogenized garbage for mass distribution to the nondiscriminating public."

Regardless, with artists such as Dr. Israel, Headquarter, and Jean-Pierre Sullys, The Observation of Ruins is not to be missed.

Most notably, Williamsburg has seen the rise of a music scene influenced by Old time, Hillbilly, Bluegrass, Vintage Country, and Swing. Most notably, The Howard Fishman Quartet has developed quite a following as of late coming off the release of their haunting new CD I Like you a Lot. Blending the old time sound of vintage country and blues with the improvisation of jazz, HFQ has seamlessly created something vital and new.

If you have not experienced this band live, don't miss the upcoming anniversary show at Pete's Candy Store. They play there every Thursday night at 10pm and were the first band to ever take stage at this beloved Williamsburg venue that is celebrating its one-year birthday. This event will take place Thursday, April 5th at 10pm. For the full HFQ schedule, click here.

The Reverend with an Elder
Other notable local bands include the Goats in Trees with their eclectic melodies that some have compared to Yo La Tengo, the vibrant sounds of Mahogany featured here in Free Williamsburg, and of course the the Reverend Vince Anderson and his Love Choir who sound like the Make-up, born again. And the list gos on with the countless bands we have surely overlooked.

So maybe Williamsburg, or New York for that matter, is not currently revolutionizing music, but there are some hopeful signs that the energy levels are building as the crest of a New Wave becomes visible on the horizon.

--Robert Lanham

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[email protected] | April 2001 | Issue 13