Free Music

21 05 2007


By Jill Ettinger

Saturday night I saw one of my favorite bands at The Bowery Ballroom in NYC. Brooklyn-based Si*Se sums up what the modern fusion of musical genres can sound like, when done right. It was a nice homecoming reminder of why I love New York City; after spending two weeks bouncing from city to city and hotel room to hotel room, nothing settles the soul like an intimate musical performance – Manhattan style.

Earlier that day I read an interesting article about the 40 years since the “Summer of Love.” Growing up listening to (rather, force-fed by my Pops) The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Dead, Bob Dylan and the rest, I knew more ’60’s musical trivia than that of my own generation. That is up until 1987, when I wore out U2’s Joshua Tree, Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill and The Cure’s Staring at the Sea, thinking all the while that both my father and the ’60’s were passé. A year later electronic “rave” music would drop into American culture, again changing the landscape of our psycho-spiritual terrain, and ultimately having a huge influence in redefining music in the manner as pioneers two decades prior.

Now, at the fortieth landmark of the “human be-in’s,” I see more similarities now than two decades closer to their origin. Take, for example, Carol C and U.F.Low of Si*Se. They are perhaps modern versions of Grace Slick and Paul Kantner of legendary ’60’s supergroup, Jefferson Airplane (and later Jefferson Starship, and even later than that, just Starship). The generous performance of smiling, sexy vocal-goddess Carol C ties together the ethnic-urban holohedral orchestration of viola, percussion and beats in much the same way the Jefferson crew transcended the folky-pop mixed gender outfits of the sixties.  The dynamic chemistry between Slick and Kantner reinvented the relationship between men and women performing together and for the first time, put a powerful woman vocalist at the front of a rock outfit. While the do-drugs-until-you-pass-or-freak-out days might be slightly more outmoded, the same unrelenting innovation in musical exploration sparked in the ’60’s has ramped up about a million notches. In fact, its efficient evolution even replaces the need to do all those drugs that were used to enhance the experience (save Burning Man of course). As IC co-founder Derek Beres explores in his book Global Beat Fusion, our current musical options are not only a more accurate reflection of our world cultures past and present, but for the first time, creating a truly global future. Music today is epic in ways we could never have imagined before the computer, and that is psychedelic.

So while Si*Se on the surface bares little resemblance to Jefferson Airplane, one need only look slightly further to see the similarities. While Slick was a woman where there had been none before her, Carol C is a pioneer in that she sings in both English and Spanish, but not in a Shakira-hips-don’t-lie kind of way. Si*Se’s songs bend between electronic and pop, rock and soul, trip hop and psychedelic. Sometimes they’re gut-wrenchingly painful, yet you can’t help but move your body in a sway of surrender.  In the same way Grace Slick’s penetrating vocals urged listeners to answer questions like “Don’t you want somebody to love?,” there’s a sensual prod from Carol C as she insists  “Just tell me how you love me.”

[Interesting note: As I was halfway through writing this piece, I randomly had dinner Sunday night with a fellow whose father was one-time manager for Jefferson Airplane. No joke.  So while I was considering dropping in a Si*Se video at the end of this piece to show the progression since the Summer of Love, I’m suddenly inspired to revisit the classic era that helped create these opportunities for us to explore our musical expression and “human be-ins” as this world continues to shrink. Ok so the video is actually from 1968, but it’s on a New York City rooftop (how could I resist?)….and when they shout, “FREE MUSIC!” it reminds me that the issues we face now with sharing iTunes are concepts that long  precede digital downloads. And the cops breaking it up at the end, a stale reminder of a system that continues to attempt to stifle human expression is a system that will eventually fail.]



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