One of the weirdest music and art venues in the world is in, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona. There, the self-described “world’s oldest gay Canadian rapper,” Space Alien Donald, does shows and hosts art exhibits in a little house near the airport called Funny World. We hope to visit soon, because it sounds like the kind of place that The Man could shut down at any moment. Especially in a place like Arizona, where anyone suspected of being an alien is just one broken taillight away from getting deported.
Actually, when Space Alien Donald bought Funny World in 2011, he was apparently told by the city that it would be torn down in six months to make way for a parking lot. But three years later, it’s still there. Even in Arizona, the weirdos are winning.
How did a 70-something gay Canadian rapper wind up hosting semi-legal punk shows in his house in Phoenix? We’re a little hazy on the specifics, but according to this article in something called the Downtown Devil, the man born Donald Roth moved to the U.S. from Ontario in the ’60s to work in electronics. After working in Silicon Valley, where he faked his school records to get jobs, he eventually settled in Prescott, a small city north of Phoenix, where he began developing his sci-fi inspired alter ego, Space Alien Donald.
Donald calls himself a rapper, but that’s not quite accurate. He really just kind of sing-speaks lyrics about science, astronomy, aliens and one of his favorite topics, a hypothetical particle called the tachyon that, like many things in Space Alien Donald songs, may be legit science or may be a bunch of pseudo-scientific hooey. He does this over synth backing tracks that sometimes are just the preset beats and chord progressions built into cheap electronic keyboards. So basically, he’s like nerdcore meets Mission Man meets a less schizophrenic Wesley Willis. Only older and more Canadian.
Donald just released his latest album, Must Be Funny, on Related Records. It’s got songs about how aliens built the moon and it has penises on the cover and it’s awesome. You can stream the whole thing over on Bandcamp and buy it for five bucks if you’re awesome, too. Here’s one of our favorite tracks:
To get more of the full Space Alien Donald story, this documentary, made by one of the residents of Funny World (yeah, people live there, too), tells you all you need to know:
Big thanks to Kai of Toxic Chicken for introducing us to Space Alien Donald’s weirdness.
Polish hip-hop duo Donatan and Cleo went back down to the farm for their latest single/video, “BRAĆ,” and you know what that means: More high-sterical combinations of Polish rural life and hip-hop video clichés. Sexy vixens washing an old tractor like it’s a Bentley? Check! Old Polish dudes doing vodka shots like they’re sipping Cristal in the club? Check! Roosters wandering around for no reason? Checkity-check-check, baby. Slavschool in full effect!
The new video also features a new collaborator: A Polish/Ukrainian band called Enej, who bring the requisite Slavic folk flavor to the proceedings by way of a little gypsy-punk accordion and horns. Here’s what they usually sound like, so we gotta say, Donatan does a good job recasting them in a hip-hop context.
MC Frontalot‘s new album Question Bedtime mostly features fairy tales unfamiliar to us folks raised on Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm. On those few occasions when the good MC does take on a more well-worn story, he always flips the script on it. Case in point: “Gold Locks,” which imagines what the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears would sound like as a bedtime story told to young bears. Needless to say, from the bears’ perspective, Goldilocks (played by rapper Jean Grae) is a horrible monster who, if you’re not good, will sneak into your house and eat all your food. And you, if you’re not careful.
For now, the video is an Entertainment Weekly exclusive, so you’ll have to cruise over to EW.com to watch it there. It’s OK, boo, you’re allowed to see other websites.
In other Frontalot news: Having just conquered America, he’s off to Europe next. Here are those dates:
9/24 in Southampton, EN @ Talking Heads
9/25 in Newton Abbot, EN @ The Jolly Farmer
9/26 in Perranporth, EN @ Watering Hole
9/28 in Bristol, EN @ Thekla
9/29 in Swansea, Wales @ Sin City
9/30 in Stourbridge, EN @ The River Rooms
10/1 in St. Albans, EN @ The Horn
10/2 in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire @ Bucks Student Union
10/3 in Bedford, EN @ Esquires Beford
10/4 in Hatfield, EN @ Forum Hertfordshire
10/8 in Cork, IR @ Cyprus Avenue
10/9 in Dublin, IR @ Café En Sein
10/10 in Newry, UK @ Magnet Young Adult Center
10/11 in Sligo, IR @ 5th on Teeling
10/13 in Holyhead, EN @ Canolfan Ucheldre Centre
10/14 in Liverpool, EN @ East Village Arts Club
10/15 in Manchester, EN @ Manchester Academy
10/16 in Wakefield, EN @ Warehouse 23
10/17 in Cleethorpes, EN @ The Beachcomber
10/18 in Newcastle upon Tyne @ Think Tank in Riverside
10/19 in Glasgow, Scotland @ O2 ABC 2
10/20 in Blackburn, Lancashire @ King Georges Hall
10/21 in Stoke on Trent @ The Sugarmill
10/22 in Guilford, EN @ Boileroom
10/23 in Southend On Sea, EN @ Chinnery’s
10/24 in London, EN @ The Garage
10/25 in Milton Keynes @ The Craufurd Arms
MC Frontalot‘s new album Question Bedtime arrived this week, with its twisted folk tales and hilarious sketches in which Front babysits unruly comedians. (“I’ll go to bed on one condition: Make me a Baked Alaska,” Paul F. Tompkins pleads.) It’s good stuff, but also a major departure for the nerdcore rapper, whose usual subject matter consists of videogames, sci-fi and the occasional stoop sale. We wanted to find out more about why he chose make what is, in essence, a children’s album.
While we sometimes do interviews on this blog, it’s more lucrative if we can convince some other website to pay us to do it. In this case, that website was The Daily Dot, a tech and pop culture site heavy on geek-friendly content. Front’s right in their wheelhouse, so they agreed, perhaps not knowing that we’d spend most of our interview talking about Idries Shah’s World Tales: The Extraordinary Coincidence of Stories Told in All Times, in All Places.
I’m in the Bay Area today interviewing DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist about their upcoming Renegades of Rhythm tour, for which they’ll be playing all vinyl culled from hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa’s 40,000-plus record collection. So I thought it would be a good day to give Bambaataa a little shout-out here on TWBITW. After all, he was in many ways a pretty weird dude.
This 1983 video for “Renegades of Funk” is a nice reminder that, compared to most of the crap on the radio today, early hip-hop could get downright avant-garde. Aside from the Sun Ra/George Clinton Afro-futurist costumes worn by Bambaataa and his Soulsonic Force crew, the track itself is a forward-thinking mix of squiggly synths, stuttering drum machines and Bootsy-style bass. It also name-checks practically every major funk and hip-hop innovator, civil rights activist, and the original gangsta, Sitting Bull. Class is in session!
My DJ Shadow/Cut Chemist interview won’t run here; it’s one of them there paying gigs for another outlet. But we’ll probably link out to it from our Facebook page or something.
Nerdcore hip-hop heartthrob MC Frontalot (c’mon, you know those chunky glasses make your panties drop) has given us all another little taste of Question Bedtime, his not-really-a-children’s-album-exactly LP, which is due out Aug. 26th (we said Aug. 16th earlier, but we were trippin’). “Start Over” tells the story of Little Red Riding Hood—or rather, it tells the story of how we’re always changing up the story of Little Red Riding Hood, much to the consternation of small children who tend to get very, very attached to whichever version they’re most familiar with. It’s a meta-fairy tale, y’all! Remember, even when he’s rapping to children, Front is still nerdcore to the, um, core.
At the moment, you can only hear the track via USA Today’s Pop Candy blog, so take a deep breath and head over there to listen. Don’t worry, it’s way better than that time USA Today tried to make sense of Babymetal. There’s a really good Q&A with Front and everything.
And speaking of Q&As: Stay tuned for an interview I myself recently did with MC Frontalot. It’ll run on another site I freelance for called The Daily Dot but we’ll link to it from here. (Am I mad cuz USA Today scooped me? Nah. I got all sorts of exclusive material out of him. USA Today didn’t even touch on that one time he got really into bookbinding.)
I am not having a good day. Too much government bureaucracy, not enough booze. Fortunately, Crime Killz are here to help. They’re a punk/rap duo from Tucson, Arizona, now based here in L.A., whose label Hit + Run calls their stuff “gameboy punk.” It’s like your old childhood videogames got sent to juvie and picked up some gang tattoos and bad habits. In the middle of the day I’m having, this “FTW” track is providing me a much-needed anger release valve.
There, now don’t you feel better?
For more Crime Killz, check out their website.
It happens to the best of us: We get old, start having babies, rediscover the joys of blanket forts and bedtime stories, and lose our “edge.” Fortunately for MC Frontalot, nerdcore hip-hop was never especially edgy to begin with. So for him to make a children’s album doesn’t sound like a huge stretch.
But wait: He’s not just rapping nursery rhymes. On Question Bedtime, Front reinterprets classic fairy tales with a whole slew of fellow rappers and famous friends, including Kid Koala, MC Chris, Jean Grae, Busdriver and one of the funniest dudes on the planet, comedian Paul F. Tompkins. The album isn’t due out until Aug.
16th 26th, but you can hear a track called “Much Chubbier” right now over at The A.V. Club. Based on the Norwegian folk tale of the “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” it co-stars rapper Open Mike Eagle as the troll. It’s fun stuff, even for us grownup types.
Frontalot has a slew of U.S. tour dates coming up following the release of Question Bedtime. And need I mention that he’ll also be appearing at Comic-Con? With a Star Wars-themed burlesque troupe, no less. Cue the nerd stampede! (Tickets for that show are available, probably not for long, here.)
MC Frontalot 2014 tour:
Aug. 19—Rex Theater—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Aug. 20—Tiger Room at CS3—Fort Wayne, Indiana
Aug. 21—Subterranean—Chicago, Illinois
Aug. 25—TBD—Denver, Colorado
Aug. 26—The Stateroom—Salt Lake City, Utah
Sept. 1—El Corazon—Seattle, Washington
Sept. 2—Dante’s—Portland, Oregon
Sept. 4—Brick & Mortar—San Francisco, California
Sept. 7—TBD—Phoenix, Arizona
Sept. 9—Three Links—Dallas, Texas
Sept. 10—TBD—Austin, Texas
Sept. 11—TBD—Houston, Texas
Sept. 12—Northgate Tavern—Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Sept. 13—Beatnik—New Orleans, Louisiana
Sept. 14—Center Stage—Atlanta, Georgia
Sept. 16—TBD—Charlotte, North Carolina
Sept. 17—King’s Barcade—Raleigh, North Carolina
Sept. 18—TBD—Baltimore, Maryland
Sept. 19—North Star Bar—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sept. 20—TBD—New York, New York
So we kinda blew this one, guys. For the past three years, the weirdest hip-hop band on the planet has been Death Grips. And before we could get around to adding them to the Weird List, they broke up. Oops.
It’s not like they were toiling in obscurity. If anything, I think we were inclined to pay less attention to them because they were getting so much goddamned attention. Nothing that hyped, that embraced by the mainstream—signed to Epic Records, downloaded over 124 million times on BitTorrent, named one of the best albums of 2012 by NP fucking R—could possibly be that weird, right?
Wrong. Death Grips were a defiant, aggro, unheralded mix of rap, punk rock, noise and electronic glitch that almost gets more mind-blowing the longer you listen to it. And for their short lifespan, they churned out material at such a breakneck pace that even now that they’ve broken up, they’ve still promised fans one last double LP later this year, to go with three full-length albums, an EP and a mixtape, all released over the course of about two and a half years.
They were also totally uncompromising in the way they managed their career. Yes, they signed to a major label, but when that major label wouldn’t release their second LP, No Love Deep Web, less than a year after their first one, they leaked it themselves via BitTorrent (hence that record-breaking number of downloads), complete with cover art featuring the album title scrawled across a half-erect penis. Not surprisingly, Epic Records dropped them shortly after that little stunt.
Then came their breakup last week, which they announced via a scribbled note on a dinner napkin, posted on their Facebook page. “we are now at our best,” the noted began, “and so Death Grips is over. we have officially stopped.” This just weeks before they were scheduled to embark on a massive North American tour opening for Nine Inch Nails. Most of the 5,000-plus comments on the breakup note are variations on this one: “WHY?????” But Death Grips clearly felt they never needed to explain anything they did to anyone.
So what happens now? The band’s most famous member, freak-of-nature drummer Zach Hill, will probably go back to any number of his other projects, the foremost of which is his experimental math-rock band Hella. Producer/keyboardist Andy “Flatlander” Morin will probably make a synth-pop album. Tattooed frontman MC Ride can probably do anything he damn well pleases now, although it’s hard to imagine him ever coming out with anything that matches Death Grips’ intensity.
For those (probably few) of you who still haven’t experienced Death Grips in all their craziness, we’ll leave you with a couple of videos. The first features one of the glitchier moments on their debut mixtape, Ex Military:
Now here’s “No Love” from No Love Deep Web, which captures their balls-out live show. Kinda sucks that these guys may very well never perform together again, doesn’t it?
Finally, we must end this post with a shout-out to the many readers who tried to convince us to pay attention to Death Grips sooner: Patrick S., KrazyTrilla, Matt S., Frostoriuss and Steffon R. You guys totally called it. Death Grips is dead, long live Death Grips.
Sorry, Juggalos: According to a federal judge, the cops can still classify you as a gang.
The Associated Press released a story today confirming that Detroit federal Judge Robert Cleland tossed Insane Clown Posse‘s lawsuit against the FBI in which they sought to nullify a 2011 report listing ICP fans as a “loosely organized hybrid gang.” According to the AP, Judge Cleland deemed that the report can’t be retracted because “the government isn’t responsible for acts by local police agencies that use the 2011 report.” Which presumably means that ICP’s only move now would be to literally sue every state and local police department in the country that has any history of targeting Juggalos. Which is probably, unfortunately, most of them.
In response to the judge’s decision, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope issued the following statement via their Facebook page:
Juggalos, our legal team and our partners at the ACLU of Michigan are appealing this completely wack decision to dismiss our case. THIS IS NOT OVER! AT ALL! Rest assured that we’re still fighting for YOU and our entire Juggalo family. Read this press release from the ACLU and you’ll see that we still have a very strong case … and we ain’t stoppin’ SHIT! STAY STRONG, FAMILY! We ain’t goin’ down! WHOOP WHOOP!
The ACLU press release they reference is way less fun to quote, but says, in effect, that they’ll appeal the judge’s dismissal of the case.
As we’ve said before and will say again: Regardless of your personal feelings about Juggalos, this is clearly an important case for civil liberties and First Amendment rights. By claiming that the criminal actions of a few Juggalos make the entire fan base guilty by association, the FBI opened the door for any law enforcement agency to arbitrarily classify any social group as a criminal gang based on the actions of just a few of its members. It’s not a great leap to imagine that if this case goes unresolved, some dipshit state or local police department could cite it as precedent for targeting ravers next. Or metalheads. Or freakin’ Bronies. It’s just a slippery slope into Crazytown to assume that a tattoo of your favorite band’s logo is the equivalent of, say, an Aryan Brotherhood swastika.
So stay strong, Juggalos! Justice is on your side.