Monday, September 1, 2014

Madvillainy: A Recollection

Madvillainy: A Recollection
by Armando Ortiz

I remember when I first heard the initial track. My friends and I were walking into Pennylane Records, a store in Alhambra, which is no longer there, and as we were looking through the cd stacks, some hypnotizing beats, with some gnarly lyrics began flowing out of the speakers. I went directly to the salesperson behind the counter, and asked who it was that was rapping, and he directed my attention to the record, Madvillainy. It was the first time seeing a rapper with a metal mask, which wasn’t the typical image I had of hiphop artists. This experience opened to the door to a diversity within a genre that I believed only had gangster and mainstream rap/hip hop.

No questions were asked about who it was or where he or they hailed from; the music resonated immediately, making me buy the cd. I wanted the album and wanted to take it home and listen to the entire thing. The comic book like lyrics, but clever word play triggered curiosity. In all honesty, this happened ten years ago, so to really gauge that moment is difficult. The cd came with the music video, ALL CAPPS, a comic book like video where the main character, who also wears a metal mask, breaks through the scenes onto other scenes.

Up to that point in my life only a handful of hiphop records had been purchased, and most of them were bootleg. I was in grad school at the time, so I had some loose cash, and enough to splurge on a cd. This happened sometime between March when the album came out and September of 2004, when I moved to East Asia. I do not clearly remember the date of when I bought the cd, but I took it with me to Beijing. I was on my way to study Chinese at Peking University. Preparing to live in China for a year, so a humble collection of music was packed which would be enough tangible things to take from the US to somehow manage to live in a foreign country, so Madvillainy, El Primer Instinto by Jaguares, Morrison Hotel and other albums by The Doors, and some heavy metal albums by Anthrax, and Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction were put inside the suitcase. I couldn’t leave the US without Jimi Hendrix’s Life at the Fillmore East. Mp3 players already existed, but that technology had yet to make its way into my life, but that is another story.

The whole time living in Beijing, the music blasted from the speakers, inside my little apartment while sitting behind the desk, spending hours trying to decipher Chinese characters, and writing characters over and over and over and over again till I had memorized them. The symbols became internalized in my being in the same manner that the beats made me reach that level of energy of focus and creativity. The numerous tracks on the album helped me navigate through the labyrinth of Mandarin, helping to stay focused, giving a musical adventure that I never tired to re-experience.

At the end of the day I was just a consumer, and bought what I liked and never did read on the magnitude of Madvillainy till years later and hours of listening. There was no clue that it was a critically acclaimed production. The purchase had prompted me to find out more about the artists behind the album, but that happened two years later. I discovered that Madlib had produced the beats, and had his own Jazz band, Yesterdays New Quintet, where he played different instruments. MF Doom was the guy rapping and had a wide variety of other albums, such Mm.. Food.  They joined forces, and became Madvillain and produced one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the 21st century.

Not only did Madlib have stacks of beats on his CV, and to top it off back in 2006 when I was teaching English in Korea, I heard his beats on an aspirin commercial that would reappear every 45-60 minutes on the television.  MF Doom had other alter egos which manifested themselves in King Geedorah, Vikto Vaughn. Since then, Doom always appeared mysterious to me, so whenever I came across anything that was written about him I’d devour the words only to leave me with more questions about the artist. Madvillainy is and remains one of my favorite albums, and was key to exposing me to many other artists, and also became a door from where two prolific artist have served as templates of what inspiration, commitment, creativity and hard work produce. In addition they functioned as doors that led to a variety of musical knowledge.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Xochil: Spanish Piece

by Armando Ortiz

Xochil siempre sera morena,
piel de chocolate caliente
y piernas que tocan la tierra.

Princesa con cuerpo de sirena
y ojos de diamantes-
sonrisa de ceresa.

Desaciendo corazones de infancia,
derite tu alma como un pequeno molcajete,
que se calienta sobre un fuego que quema.

Sus manos son de tierra
con corazon de madre
labios naturales que besan mi cachete
y su recuerdo sigue en la mente.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sublime Madness and Vortex of Loss

Sublime Madness and Vortex of Loss
by Armando Ortiz

It’s a religious experience
to lose it all.

A home up in flames,
being emotionally swindled,

everything disintegrating
turning into glowing
charcoal embers.

To be brought
to the edge
of madness

and with delirious steps
fall onto the ground-

tiny sand pebbles
inside a thirsty mouth
and between teeth grinding.

Though you have
the strength
of a lioness,

and the heart
of cotton candy.

Despite your delicate hand
being rough,

and the bones within

your silence is dread.

And when you smile,
inside you cry,

and when you get angry
it’s because you hurt.

And even if you flow
like dancing willows

with a wicked wind
that make branches sway,

And thought it feeds
fires and burning hills

it all passes through you
like a blooming blossom.

Men get lost
in the echo chamber
of their voice,

but you left me
wandering in a maze
of silence.

You were my
soothing song
that opened the door
to dreams.

You demanded affection
and all I had were words.

I fed you iced grapes
that popped within lips,
while I drank your red wine-

but all that is past.

Now, I just stare
at what is before me
crumbling and black,

up in flames
and with sudden
shivers of fright.

turning into ash

At what love
does to us all
when it takes flight.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Antemasque and Le Butcherettes: At the Observatory

Antemasque and Le Butcherettes: At the Observatory
by Armando Ortiz
Two weeks ago, I went to The Observatory, a venue located in Santa Ana, CA, to see Antemasque. The show was off the hook, but reasons for that were unexpected, more on that later. Before I start talking about the show, I will briefly describe what happened before that. I woke up and went to the event being held by the writing club I belong to, Zzyzx Writerz, who for this month are hosting poetry readings across the city. I had no idea it was an early show, so when I got a text from my friend, asking if I wanted to carpool, I figured it was not a bad idea. For this day, Poetrypalooza would be held at DiPiazza’s Italian restaurant, located in Long Beach, CA. I quickly showered, and ate some toast with Nutella and left the house. I wasn’t able to drink coffee so I had a slight headache. The reading event was really good and a lot of poets from Long Beach, CA were there to read. In addition to poetry readings there was a really good artist there showcasing his ink and watercolor portraits, Fernando Gallegos.

By 6 in the afternoon, I was already on 405 freeway and on my way to Santa Ana. I got to the venue, parked my car and walked to the wooden structure that lay hidden behind low lying office buildings/warehouses. I entered the place and was impressed by the lay out of the venue. The floor level was good, but decided to check out the upstairs balcony area, and chose to stay there for the rest of the time. Teresa Suares aka Teri Gender Bender, lead singer of the band Le Butcherettes put on a solid performance. I had seen her last year when she was on tour as a member of the Bosnian Rainbows, and in that instance she was solely doing vocals, but this time I got to see another side of her showmanship, where she used a synthesizer and a guitar.
The music had a different beat; it was faster, and though the long wails from the Bosnian Rainbows debut album were missing, traces were still there. The drummer of the band, Lia Braswell, was also in the pocket the whole time. I recall thinking, “wow, those drum beats are really good and could be looped for hip hop beats.” The fact that the drum set was not in the center towards the back was a bit odd, but it definitively made me look at her and her drumming skills. Lia is certainly very talented. The bassist put on quite a performance by keeping pace and maintaining a tempo.
Le butcherettes

Le Butcherettes sounded very good, and the crowd was visibly pleased to see the great performance. One aspect that makes this band unique is that their sound is very unusually experimental, and hard to describe, yet when you hear it there are traces of many influences that one can call familiar, it made me think of My Morning Jacket, Elevator and various other punk bands. They really blew me away, it was a great performance. Geri Bender was cool and takes control of the stage. With the change of light hues it made the show even more preternatural in the manner they performed different songs creating an atmosphere that blended well with the different hues that were radiating from the flood lights.

The band I’d gone to see finally took the stage, Antemasque. They began their set, and one couldn’t help but feel the raw energy that emanated not only from the instruments, but from the bandmates themselves as they began performing. It might have been the huge fan that was next to the drummer David Elitch, but it certainly could not explain his rapid drumming and hypnotizing beats that blended with the bass player and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez guitars. Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s vocals made the whole show seem as if one was in the different world with vocals that were eerily high pitched, but at the same time short enough to make you want to hear more. At times I felt that their performance was like drinking beer and the more you drank the more intoxicated one became. Their versatility with their music and their ability to produce a wide variety of rock and roll melodies certainly left you feeling that they were one of the best groups you’d ever seen perform.

I’d never seen The Mars Volta so for me, seeing any manifestation of any off-shoot bands from members of that band have always interested me, and for this band it certainly was one that triggered curiosity because most of them had been in The Mars Volta previously. The pace at which they played and the variety of music as pointed out earlier really was pleasing to my ears and definitively made the trip to Santa Ana, CA worth the drive. The show in Los Angeles had already sold out.

The two bands that performed and every single member of those groups really gave me inspiration. They inspired to me to keep working on my passions and interests, and to let my self be carried by the flow of time but also of creativity. They certainly are living a life that most people dream of having, but who is to say that one cannot find the same success in whatever we put our hearts and minds to and that the work and time put in our creativity will not give us the same results.  Hopefully one day, I do get to see The Mars Volta live and that is as pleasing as what I saw on this Sunday evening.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Reflections on a Music Filled Weekend

Reflections on a Music Filled Weekend
by Armando Ortiz

A few weeks back I went to see different performers and bands that played in and around LA back to back. It all started on Thursday July 24th when I went to see Kevin Gates perform at The Roxy and ended my Sunday at the Silverlake Lounge where The Cotton Jones band performed. It was a memorable weekend for me, and hopefully I get to do this again in the future.

That Thursday I drove to The Roxy Theater to see Kevin Gates aka Luca Brasi, who was promoting his album By Any Means. He is a Southern rapper from the roughest part of the US. I was the odd man out, not wearing the right clothes for the event wearing slacks, dress shoes and a dress shirt. Everyone was hip-hoped out, wearing jerseys or shirts with strange start up names of record labels and cliques.

There were two artists before him, the first was King Menz and he was cool. He used a beat from one of Kanye West’s most recent album, keeping it honest and real, showing signs of a good future. Then it was another rapper, Chevy Woods. His beats were too loud for the room, so I had to step out of the venue and chill outside, smoking a bit for a while. I went back inside to listen to his music, but now he was making threats to someone in the crowd - that’s when I decided that I was not ready for his music.

Kevin Gates put on a really good show. He looked like a menacing tiger with the grills that he wore, singing various songs that most of the crowd knew well, and towards the end of his set jumped from the stage, to the ground area and finished his performance in the middle of the crowd that cheered him on. For a moment I feared that he would move towards my direction so I stepped back as everyone else rushed to shake his hand. I met some really cool people there, like the two ladies that were teachers who took photos with him at the meet and greet. It seems that the ladies were smitten by his words.

Santa Barbara Bowl
The next day took me to Santa Barbara. I left Los Angeles at eleven thirty and got there at four thirty in the afternoon, but not before stopping at the Camarillo outlets to buy a pair of jeans and have some lunch. The Santa Barbara Bowl was awesome with stairs made of stone and the amphitheater being intimate, though some would complain about the walking and climbing, but the overall vibe was good and chill. The show started at around six in the afternoon, the audience side of the hill cast a shadow on the ground floor where the fans were, and slowly crawled to the stage, where Stephen Marley, Cypress Hill and finally Slightly Stoopid performed. They put on a great show, giving fans a taste of their music and their versatility in creating punk, rock, and reggae styled beats. It was my first time seeing all those that performed live. One of the highlights of the night was when Damian Marley came out and performed with Stephen. In addition, Slightly Stoopid’s set was diverse and included some really good grooves.
Missing Persons

Saturday I met up with friends in Downtown Los Angeles' Pershing Square. That was where an 80s band the Missing Persons performed a full set of hits and singles like, Destination Unknown. They performed for about an hour, and after their set we went to the beer garden where the booze and other drinks were sold we chilled there, where I tried to talk to some ladies that were in lounge chairs but alas they were in another dimension of thoughts.

Cotton Jones Performing
Sunday took me to the Silverlake Lounge a local spot in Silverlake, Los Angeles there is saw the Cotton Jones band, made up of Michael Nau guitarist and song writer, Whitney McGraw organ and electric piano, and Greg Bender who was on bass, and opened up with his own band. They performed to a packed audience. I was walking to the bar and saw Michael Nau from far away, but thought why bother going talking to him, let him be, but then 20 minutes later he walked into the bar from the front door, so I said hello to him and told him that his music and lyrics were excellent. Later some friends, Ismael and Roxy, showed up and mentioned that they had seen him outside in the parking lot, and that they wanted to take a photo with him, I tagged along and also got a picture with him.

Michael Nau and I

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Foreign Roads: Quasi Poem and Sketch

Foreign Roads: Quasi Poem and Sketch
by Armando Ortiz

He was a desperado bumping gangster rap
down a deserted road.

Playing it loud, smoking that green leaf,
he rode waves of heavens old.

Coasting at 80 miles per hour
the dribble of the tom drums
became echos at the distance.

Wagner melodies spoke
through the synthesizers,
telling of Percival’s epic journey.

He stepped on the pedal
trying to outrace the sun,
sweat beads gathered on skin.

Houston screw overtook the beating
Of his heart and became
one with the blue.

Driving faster,
as the sun set
and the car neared
the evening orange.

He was a desperado driving fast down a deserted Sonoran road. Tobacco smoke and gangster rap dissipated with the desert air. The car rolled fast on the petrified ancient road that once was a Paiute path. A landscape of jagged, sun weathered mountains at a distance could be seen that resembled dried up pumpkin pie.

The gas pedal held the humming motor at 80 miles per hour, the dribble of the tom drums blasting from the speakers immediately became an echo at the distance. To the lizards and snakes on the ground, the Cadillac was an object that was hard to detect. For the vulture and black crow the quick moving creature was an alien on the ground that traced the earth’s contours. In an instant the car was there, and was gone, only the wind that shook everything was evidence of the chariot of fire that seemed to be blasting some otherworldly music.

Antonio, while driving these long distances put on Wagner’s epic symphony, Percival and his journey through life. He wondered if he could outpace the sun. How fast did he have to drive to momentarily beat the sun, and see time paused for an instant was a question he always wondered about while lying on his cot, and looking out at the horizon.

The heat was unavoidable, and that is what he preferred. He carried a cooler on the passenger’s side, and there he kept ice water, and some oranges and apples. Cool snacks to make the sun bearable at times. Nonetheless, sweat beads gathered on his skin. The shimmer made his brown skin look like polished bronze. His was usually like an old weathered penny, but at times like these, it seemed that it had been born that day, fresh off the metal press.

Symphonies of the old German composer became beats from Houston, the slow and half sleep bass gave him a nauseous feeling, but also blended well with the dry oven heat of these areas. At times it felt that he was becoming one with the wind and the emptiness of the blue.

He drove faster, adding a few digits to the steady speed he had kept the last few hours. He felt he was nearing the cool brown mountains of the north, and slowly merging with the evening orange. Night was fast approaching and this is where he would make a bee line to next city. In the darkness is where he felt the car pulled the fastest, and the chill of midnight helped it hum without a problem. At night only he was alive and his flicker gave life to everything from music and to all the thoughts and desires that came to his mind.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Freddie Gibbs and Tech N9ne in Los Angeles

Freddie Gibbs and Tech N9ne in Los Angeles: With Some Distractions
by Armando Ortiz

I came across Freddie Gibbs while looking at something related to Madlib. I am not sure what it was but it was a track from their new album Pinata that opened the doors to Gibbs’ other work. I soon found other albums that were pretty good, Cold Day in Hell and ESGN- Evil Seeds Grow Naturally.  I found myself listening to his albums and mix tapes over and over again for the next few weeks. I missed a chance to check him out at the Echoplex where both Madlib and Gibbs would be performing, so when I saw that he would be touring with Tech N9ne's Independent Grind Tour, and that he would be passing through again in June the ticket was bought now questions asked. The day finally arrived and I had arranged with a buddy from work to park my car in a place I thought was safe, but on second thought the area is quite safe and it’s better to just pay for parking.
I parked the car in a private residential building thinking it was the most convenient thing to do. The security guard claimed to not know the person who was letting me park inside, but then he remembered that my friend had mentioned to him that a friend would be stopping bye. I parked the car and began to prepare some things. I ended up spending too much time in the car and spilled water and other contents onto my legs and on the floor of the car to make matters worse the security guard came knocked on my window and hurried me up.

After medicating and I walked to the venue down Holloway, but I saw a 7-11, so after crossing La Cienega Blvd went inside to get some snacks- a Big Bite dog, a bag of kettle chips, and soda water. I walked out and headed to the venue, but at a distance there was a tattoo shop, The Honorable Society, where I once sold art books to its artists and whose owner, Marco Cerretelli, I knew. I once again took a detour and headed towards the shop. After entering, and asking to talk to Marco, I got to see the lay out of the shop which was akin to a Victorian Era living room/ bazaar. He was not there, so small talk with the guy that was working there ensued, but didn’t last more than five minutes.

I stepped out of the shop and continued on my to the show, crossing the street and climbing Olive Dr., which leads you up a hill and to The House of Blues. But by the time I got there, I’d already spent an hour walking and talking with people. Nearing the venue about 5 guys walked in a row and they exited the theater, walking to the parking lot, where after some seconds a fight began. Freddie Gibbs was already half way through his show by the time I was inside, and managed to hear three songs one of which was from his recent collaboration album with Madlib, Pinata. After his performance Tech N9ne began his set. The gathering was amazing, and the fans for Tech N9ne were decked out in red. He definitively has a loyal following and getting to watch him perform was a very unique and memorable experience, though not as long lasting as missing more than half of Freddie Gibbs’ performance.