Local music geek (I use this term with reverence and affection) Denman Anderson recently declared to me that, within the boundaries of Washington D.C., hipsterism was dead. And I must say, that I agree. There is no one really “cool” in this town. Our music scene has been in dire need of rejuvenation for years, without the inventive bands, and amazing show makers our history has provided. However,if you missed the Socket Records five year Anniversary show at the Black Cat, then you my friend are not part of the new anti-hipster collection of weird ass people that actually like music in this town and are willing to support it. Seriously you missed the first music event of the year, and something very special and LOOOOOOOOOOONG overdue.
Quick overview of Sockets Records. This dude, Sean Peoples, he made lots of weird music, and knew other people who did too. So he put out CD-R’s of crazy weird shit. He met a lot of people that way that also made music and people liked what he was doing. Then he started putting out a few records by some non-conventional, but less bedroom bound groups and people got interested. Now, pretty much he’s got his finger on the pulse of what’s going on in this town and making shit happen. Thank you Sean Peoples.
So, for the show, first up for the evening was Big Gold Belt. Imagine, if you will, that Mark Mothersbaugh is in the studio, a little high on laughing gas, and he’s producing a record by Madonna circa 1985. But this Madonna is self aware of her career and decides to make an ironic, semi humorous album. Then, after the studio closes for the evening, Thurston Moore sneaks in and remixes everything in his devilish manner. Yeah, that’s Big Gold Belt. I am not sure if I loved them or hated them, which means they are doing something right. Fronted by Christina E., I can’t help but be reminded also of Tiffany, Samantha Fox and of course Sheila E., as she pops her hips on stage delivering a sweet, sugary vocal. The soundscapes, lovingly looked over by guitarist Luke (last names people, last names) are replete with lots of pop music essentials, but they’ve been skewed just a little bit. A band like this is hard to pin down, because they are so saturated in the influences of the 80’s. But the music was bold and daring, too much so to be ironic. Big Gold Belt may be giving a nod to the goofy shit of that goofy decade, but it did not feel insincere.
For my money Buildings owned the fucking evening. A fairly new band and, instrumental to boot, the DC Trio did what could be called post-rock with DC punk flavors. But honestly that description seems to undercut them. Frankly it’s been a long time since I was instantly taken by a band, but everything they did was intense. Mike Watt says that the Minutemen played 100% each time because they thought it would all come to an end and Buildings seem to have adopted that sentiment for themselves. I’m not sure how many people were familiar with them, but I guarantee when they play again, this town is gonna post up and it’s gonna be an amazing time.
In the wake of Buildings full out onslaught, Imperial China had a lot of room for failure. My first interaction with this band was from their Dissonance Radio show a few months ago. I liked the play list, and the conversation engaged me, but the track they played left me wanting more. However, I opened my mind to the performance and was pleasantly surprised. The trio approaches music much the way Black Eyes used to. Imperial China is more economical however, and they use that to their advantage, making for a much more pleasant, but equally intense live show. Of all the bands that played this night, they seemed to be the best link to DC’s post-punk past of the last two decades, but their utilization and adoption of influences beyond the diamond district was executed with more precision than any of their forefathers.
The showcase has been getting a lot of press from the DC press machine this week. Personally, I think this is a really good thing. It means we are on the cusp of something big and lots of people are not only taking notice, but are generally interested. It could be the case of right place, right time, but of course it’s always more than that. The bands that played this night were really really good at what they did.
One of the bands that seemed to have a lot of hype was Hume. The brainchild of Britton Powell, Hume has become a group of wonderkids with the recent adoption of Christian Brady (Mass Movement of the Moth, Antlers) and Joey Doubek (MMotM, Ingrid). Rounded out by Wilson Kemp on drums, this was the band that everyone came to see. And with a line up like that, you know at the very least the musicianship is going to be very good. Which is how I felt about the performance. Of all the bands that played, Hume was the most accessible and probably has the best opportunity to introduce Sockets to a larger audience. And they are all exceptional musicians. I mean crazy fucking good. Doubek is the the kind of kid I hate, because he is not just good, but amazing at every instrument he picks up. So even though the songs didn’t really grab me, just watching him play bass for 35 minutes was fucking outrageous. Complemented by the playful Christian Brady, who knows the guitar well, but has the decency to approach it with child like glee, Hume definitely set out to impress. I do feel though they could use a little more grit and a little less self indulgence. For my tastes a punch to the gut and a little less meandering would make Hume unstoppable. But I don’t suggest they listen to me, because the sound they have now is sure to wow more people then me.
Closing out the evening was The Cornel West Theory, a hip-hop band that’s been making waves in the Districts recent 1st wave of hip hop. For mainstream tastes, they are a bit on the edge. But they blend soundscapes with hip hop in a nice, laid back way that comes to party as much as it comes to chill out on the couch. I’ve been wanting to see this band for a long time, and was very pleased that this was the night I got to take them in. However, I am calling out, right now the 50% of the audience that appeared to have bailed out between Hume and The Cornel West Theory. Because seriously, you are a fucking IDIOT if you left. This really does make me wonder if indie rock and hip hop can be bead fellows. Sometimes genre mixing on shows does not melt well together. But The Cornel West Theory being on this bill was not only vital, but closing out the night was the only way it could be. While all the other bands were really confrontational in their own ways, The Cornel West Theory was inviting. This is what Hip Hop has that rock music seams to lack. rather then steam roll over you with power, The Cornel West Theory invites you in. I left wanting more, and glad of that. DC Hip Hop is on the map, The Cornel West Theory deserves props for doing their part.
After the show, I hit the merch table and bought three CD’s. I can’t remember the last time I went to a show where I felt as engaged and uplifted as I did by this Sockets Records Showcase. Every band existed within their own musical plane, finding their own sounds and presenting it with conviction. And while shit was deadly serious, it was also fun as hell and most importantly it was really good. Washington D.C. so desperately needs a new musical voice, and I believe that Sockets Records has that ability. After this evening, I instinctively trust the curating of Mr. Sean Peoples. In this new climate of musical distribution, the only thing an independent label can do i create a trustworthy brand. I am not talking brand loyalty like corporations seek, but the kind of affinity that a label like Dischord or SST created, by producing legendary music that was accessible to it’s fans, even as it grows. I shook Mr. Peoples’s hand last night as he handed me my new music. But as taken as I was by the evening, I could tell by the enthusiasm of his grip and shake that he was just as awestruck.