Three Nights in France

22 05 2008

By Derek Beres

There comes that moment when you realize why you do what you do. As a music journalist, it often happens at a live show. Unsuspecting, you’re standing in the crowd, enjoying, perhaps dancing, perhaps relaxing, and suddenly you’re pulled into the vortex, the “sacred space” that solders the connection between sound and human, that the musicians create and invite you to step inside of. Some call it trance, hypnosis, divine; it is the reason they play, the reason we go, the reason that doesn’t need reason.

After an overnight flight (delayed four hours on the runway) and a full day canvassing the streets of Paris, we were exhausted walking into the basement of La Maroquinerie. I had just interviewed Les Primitifs du Futur co-founder Dominique Cravic at his studio, nearly passing out in the 18 Euro cab to the club. I was pleasantly surprised to see the supporting band on the ticket stub—Londoners Transglobal Underground. We grab inexpensive wine (which my friend Jason assures me is better than a lot of expensive wine in the States) in plastic cups and head inside. The room is no larger than the Bowery Ballroom, but it is packed, throbbing, the sound equivalent or better.

Transglobal sounded good, which I expected. Their records have always been hit or miss, usually a bit of both on each. Songs like “The Sikh Man and the Rasta” and “Stoyane/Male-Le” stayed on constant rotation in my iPod for months, while a lot of their latest, Impossible Broadcasting, was forgettable. The banging dhol, the pulsing bass, the British patois—it certainly set the stage for what followed.

Before coming to Paris—a trip centered around the Les Printemps de Bourges festival—my friend Cecile at the French Music Export turned me onto Watcha Clan. I was excited to check them out live, via the strength of their MySpace page. They reminded me, in some way, of Ojos de Brujo. Little did I know how correct that assumption would be. Their show was much different in scope; Ojos travels with over a dozen people, while Watcha had three, and another rotating in on guitar and vocals. Musically they were also worlds apart, though fragments of flamenco did seep into Watcha’s set, and both use hip-hop as a foundation for part of their material.

Click here to read the full article on PopMatters


Einstein, Atheism and One Big Bowl of Rice

20 05 2008

By Derek Beres

On Sunday, the NY Times website listed two articles back-to-back in the Science section that, at first glance, seemed unrelated. In terms of content, that is true; in terms of how we understand and experience the world, they are too close for anyone’s comfort.

The first was titled “Einstein Letter on God Sells for $404,000.” Much to the surprise of everyone involved in the auction — twenty-fives times the original estimate, in fact — a 1954 letter that Albert Einstein wrote to philosopher Eric Gutkind pulled in close to a half-million dollars. The text had been circulating online, with Einstein citing the Bible as pretty naïve and childishly superstitious. He did not outwardly deny the existence of a god figure, but did say such “is too vast for our minds” — a claim that aligns him more with agnosticism than atheism.

The second article in the section was titled “World’s Poor Pay Price as Crop Research Is Cut.” It uses a recent agricultural tragedy in the Philippines as an example of what is occurring globally: there is not enough money to back proper research and planting procedures to stave off droughts and, as this piece discusses, insect damage. One such bug is the gnat-sized brown plant hopper, which recently destroyed large rice crops that feeds an already-impoverished population. The tragedy is that it could have been avoided, had the money been given to scientists that could have bred a more resistant crop.

There are too many “could haves” in the world right now.

Read the full article on the Huffington Post.

Idiocracy: A Depraved and Hilarious Tale of Corporate Conspiracy

12 05 2008

By Jill Ettinger

In Mike Judge’s movie Idiocracy, America’s future is overrun by a country full of, well, you guessed it (hopefully), idiots. A garishly branded White House is home to a porn-star president championing the nation deeper into a terminal identity crisis and a terrifying degree of blind patriotism for corporate agendas.

The anti-intellectual future-culture lacks ambition outside of watching monster truck racing, TV programs like “Ow, My Balls!” while getting cracked out on tubs of junk food glop, shopping in city-size Costco stores (character “Frito” went to law school there) or stopping in a Starbucks where they serve up sex in addition to lattes. Judge’s message, like in his classic flick Office Space (or any of the Beavis & Butthead episodes), is a goofy and colorful over-dramatization, and although this theatrical flop is set several hundred calendar pages still to come, it clearly parallels today’s state of the nation.

In his humorous stay-the-course commentary on our relationship with corporations, Judge depicts a future that is a conglomerated landscape where virtually everything is branded with some obscene corporate logo, as big businesses have grown even bigger and more invested in our dependency on their products, regardless of whether they’re safe or effective. Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator is the Gatorade-like green beverage of choice found everywhere. Water is relegated to importance only in toilet flushing while drinking fountains dispense Brawndo to a subservient nation, half of whom also work for the manufacturer.

Read the full story on Reality Sandwich here.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Files Lawsuit Against Major ‘Organic’ Cheater Brands

9 05 2008

[re-post for our good friends at Dr. Bronner’s]

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Files Lawsuit Against Major ‘Organic’ Cheater Brands

The family owned Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court today against numerous personal care brands to force them to stop making misleading organic labeling claims. Dr. Bronner’s and the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) had warned offending brands that they faced litigation unless they committed to either drop their organic claims or reformulate away from main ingredients made from conventional agricultural and/or petrochemical material without any certified organic material. OCA has played the leading role in exposing and educating consumers about deceptive organic branding.

David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps says, “We have been deeply disappointed and frustrated by companies in the ‘natural’ personal care space who have been screwing over organic consumers, engaging in misleading organic branding and label call-outs, on products that were not natural in the first place, let alone organic.” Dr. Bronner’s has determined, based on extensive surveys, that organic consumers expect that cleansing ingredients in branded and labeled soaps, shampoos and body washes that are labeled “Organic”, “Organics” or “Made with Organic” will be from organic as distinct from conventional agricultural material, produced without synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, and free of petrochemical compounds.

For example: The major cleansing ingredient in Jason “Pure, Natural & Organic” liquid soaps, body washes and shampoos is Sodium Myreth Sulfate, which involves ethoxylating a conventional non-organic fatty chain with the carcinogenic petrochemical Ethylene Oxide, which produces carcinogenic 1,4-Dioxane as a contaminant. The major cleansing ingredient in Avalon “Organics” soaps, bodywashes and shampoos, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, contains conventional non-organic agricultural material combined with the petrochemical Amdiopropyl Betaine. Nature’s Gate “Organics” main cleansers are Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate (ethoxylated) and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Kiss My Face “Obsessively Organic” cleansers are Olefin Sulfonate (a pure petrochemical) and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Juice “Organics”, Giovanni “Organic Cosmetics”, Head “Organics”, Desert Essence “Organics”, and Ikove “Organic” all use Cocamdiopropyl Betaine as a main cleansing ingredient and no cleansers made from certified organic material. Due to the petrochemical compounds used to make the ingredient, Cocamidopropyl Betaine is contaminated with traces of Sodium monochloroacetate, Amidoamine (AA), and dimethylaminopropylamine (DMAPA). Amidoamine in particular is suspected of causing skin sensitization and allergic reactions even at very low levels for certain individuals. Organic consumers have a right to expect that the personal care products they purchase with organic branding or label claims, contain cleansing ingredients made from organic agricultural material, not conventional or petrochemical material, and thus have absolutely no petrochemical contaminants that could pose any concern.

Dr. Bronner’s products, in contrast to the brands noted above, contain cleansing and moisturizing ingredients made only from certified organic oils, made without any use of petrochemicals, and contain no petrochemical preservatives. The misleading organic noise created by culprit companies’ branding and labeling practices, interferes with organic consumers ability to distinguish personal care whose main ingredients are in fact made with certified organic, not conventional or petrochemical, material, free of synthetic preservatives. Lawsuit Also Names Estee Lauder, Stella McCartney’s CARE, Ecocert and OASIS

Ecocert is a French-based certifier with a standard that allows not only cleansing ingredients made from conventional versus organic agriculture, but also allows inclusion, in the cleansing ingredients contained in products labeled as “Made with Organic” ingredients, of certain petrochemicals such as Amidopropyl Betaine in Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Even worse, despite Ecocert’s own regulations prohibiting the labeling as “Organic” of a product containing less than 100% organic content, Ecocert in practice engages in “creative misinterpretation” of its own rules in order to accommodate clients engaging in organic mislabeling. For instance, Ecocert certifies the Ikove brand’s cleansing products to contain less than 50% organic content, noted in small text on the back of the product, where all cleansing ingredients are non-organic including Cocamidopropyl Betaine which contains petroleum compounds. Yet the product is labeled “Organic” Amazonian Avocado Bath & Shower Gel. Another instance is Stella McCartney’s “100% Organic” CARE line certified by Ecocert that labels products as “100% Organic” that are not 100% Organic alongside ones that are; the labels of products that are not 100% organic simply insert the word “Active” before “Ingredients.” In allowing such labeling, Ecocert simply ignores the requirements of its own certification standards. Furthermore, the primary organic content in most Ecocert certified products comes from “Flower Waters” in which up to 80% of the “organic” content consists merely of just regular tap water that Ecocert counts as “organic.”

Explicitly relying on the weak Ecocert standard as precedent, the new Organic and Sustainable Industry Standard (“OASIS”)-a standard indeed developed exclusively by certain members of the industry, primarily Estee Lauder, with no consumer input-will permit certification of products outright as “Organic” (rather than as “Made with Organic” ingredients) even if such products contain hydrogenated and sulfated cleansing ingredients such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate made from conventional agricultural material grown with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and preserved with synthetic petrochemical preservatives such as Ethylhexylglycerin and Phenoxyethanol. [Reference: OASIS Standard section 6.2 and Anti-Microbial List] The organic content is required to only be 85%, which in water and detergent-based personal care products, means organic water extracts and aloe vera will greenwash conventional synthetic cleansing ingredients and preservatives.

The OASIS standard is not merely useless but deliberately misleading to organic consumers looking for a reliable indicator of true “organic” product integrity in personal care. Organic consumers expect that cleansing ingredients in products labeled “Organic” be made from organic not conventional agriculture, to not be hydrogenated or sulfated, and to be free from synthetic petrochemical preservatives. Surprisingly, companies represented on the OASIS board, such as Hain (Jason “Pure, Natural & Organic”; Avalon “Organics”) and Cosway (Head “Organics”,) produce liquid soap, bodywash and shampoo products with petrochemicals in their cleansers even though use of petrochemicals in this way is not permitted even under the very permissible OASIS standard these companies have themselves developed and endorsed.

Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director of the OCA, said: “The pressure of imminent litigation outlined in cease and desist letters sent by OCA and Dr. Bronner’s in March prompted some serious discussion with some of the offending companies, but ultimately failed to resolve the core issues.”

Life Lessons at Coachella (cont.)

4 05 2008

By Jill Ettinger

Friday: The Raconteurs are great. Jack White is a most creative and generous performer, and though they’re mostly a bluesy rock band, their sound is unclassifiable. They rock like Robin Trower or Ten Years After but with a Smashing Pumpkins covering NWA superfreakiness. All you want to say while watching this band is “Hell yeah!”

The Verve is absolutely awesome. It’s shocking that they were opening for Jack Johnson instead of the other way around. They sound like what the Beatles should have sounded like. Richard Ashcroft is as brilliant a songwriter as Bob Dylan or Ben Harper. “Lucky Man” is better than all of Jack Johnson’s songs put together. But apparently, Johnson is not the musical equivalent of a sleeping pill, as I’ve long suspected. I actually saw people who looked wide awake (though they were probably on ecstasy) dancing to his music. Even though the rush of people heading for the parking lot was forceful enough to knock them over, his cool chillness was potent enough to keep them upright. To each his own I suppose. (I’d post a video but I don’t want you to fall asleep before you read the rest of this blog.)

Saturday: Though not a fan myself, there was a hyped-up crowd of un-hyped, uber-cool European looking people packed together for Kraftwerk. (They’re like Daft Punk’s grandparents or something). Whatever. Electronic robot dudes are always cool by me as long as they don’t pull some HAL shit and start killing people. (Actually after watching this performance, I take it back. They pretty much suck.)

I was there if for no other reason than Portishead. Third is their first studio release in eleven years, and last in their label contract obligations. It’s uncertain whether we’ll ever hear another Portishead album, let alone see another tour. Coachella was their only scheduled US concert date this year, and absolutely stunning.  A guy standing next to me fainted half way through their second song.

Just a week before this performance, I was standing in Bourges, France watching another one of my all-time favorite bands, Fat Freddy’s Drop. As Portishead took the stage, I realized just how immensely important music and art is to having a better relationship to the mysteriously magical world I keep finding myself a part of. So many good songs to choose from Saturday night, but I settled on “The Rip” off of their latest.  It’s gorgeous, even if the sound quality isn’t the best.

There is probably no other circumstance in which Portishead would open up for – or play with – Prince, but I guess that’s part of Coachella’s craftiness. As Beth Gibbon’s voice dripped in my head, I was jolted back to “1999.” In any other situation I’d probably welcome Prince, but it was kind of like eating sardines (or any of these foods) while having a mouth full of chocolate. (I tried to find a video for posting but they’ve all been deleted from YouTube. The Prince is apparently also a money hungry dictator.)

Sunday: I think it’s a done deal that Gogol Bordello has officially signed on to do every music festival on earth in 2008. They were also at Printemps de Bourges in France the week before, and are at a bunch of others, including Bonarroo (the poor man’s Coachella), Popped, Lollapalooza, Vfest and Austin City Limits. They’re like the non-boring-but-still-boring version of Jack Johnson.

My Morning Jacket sounds kind of like The Raconteurs covering Wilco, but weirder and at times softer and/or heavier as heck. Jim James has a voice I like to call “dreamy,” but “awesome” works as well. They haven’t had that perfect album yet, but stay tuned, it’s coming.

This brings us to Roger Waters, aka that dude from Pink Floyd. I lamented most at his headlining, since he hasn’t written any new material since like 1980. But my friend Jody reminded me that maybe “his message is so important it needs to be repeated every generation.” Yah, I guess there’s no harm in flying pigs and laser light shows. My first LSD trip was when I was 15. We went to see the movie The Wall, only the acid didn’t kick in until after we left the theater. But nonetheless, I guess in a lot of ways, if it weren’t for Roger Waters I’d probably not even have gone to Coachella. I’d  probably be too busy working in a cubicle somewhere, or at a mall shopping. I’m kind of sorry I was walking out to the parking lot while he was earning his paycheck. Despite Coachella 2008’s slightly lackluster lineup, here’s to never ever ever finding ourselves Comfortably Numb.

Life Lessons at Coachella

3 05 2008

By Jill Ettinger

Sean Penn is a strangely compelling man. As he took the stage in Coachella’s Gobi tent last Sunday afternoon, his voice cracked and cascaded like a nervous teenager, while he perched awkwardly on a stool. His message began to reveal itself through a muddled attempt at a joke about his reason for being there: “A cappella Celine Dion covers,” he insisted. The crowd looked confused and intrigued.

“Revolution is a job for the young,” he announced. “This is the smartest, most technologically proficient generation of all time.” He blasted not only Bush, but also all three (yes, Obamaniacs) presidential candidates for their support of the no-end-in-sight Iraqi invasion. Bob Dylan once penned, “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” Sean Penn is that guy; he exudes a righteousness most like his character Mick O’Brien in the 1983 film Bad Boys, who stood up for justice against the resident prison bullies, earning status and prestige as a trustworthy inmate.

He asked the crowd who had been at Prince’s performance the previous evening. “Awesome, wasn’t it?” He went on, “Now imagine glaciers melting into the ocean, soldiers dying, people starving, forests being destroyed. Because it was all happening while Prince was playing.” His point was sharp, humbling. Yes, it’s true, while thousands gathered in the desert to dance, drink and laugh, the word-at-large is not unanimously joyful. He called to Coachella’s mixed crowd with an earnest invitation: “We have three bio-diesel buses here. They’re leaving the parking lots on Monday, and we want you to come with us.” The buses are part of the Dirty Hands Caravan, a cross-country excursion setting out to lend hands where needed, all the way to New Orleans for Jazzfest, then back to California.

This was Sunday afternoon, the last day of Coachella, and quite a departure from previous years. Overall attendance was down 30% from 2007, due largely in part to the lineup. This year’s headliners were Jack Johnson, Prince and Roger Waters. (Last year was Bjork, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine.) Penn’s buzzkill message seemed to echo the emptiness and despair of the festival. Though there were certainly shining moments (more on those later), the mood was best summed up in his pensive tone. One can only wonder what a post ’08 presidential election will hold in store for Coachella, or any festival next summer.

Art is that je ne sais quoi of the human psyche. We are curious creatures, after all, and best express ourselves as abstractly as we feel compelled. That means something different to everyone. Just in the way that our expressions are unique, so are our interpretations and responses to other’s offerings. One person’s poison is another’s panacea. As true as that is, there is still a collective acceptance of what is mind-blowing, versus a so-so lineup of musicians and talent. Compared to 2007, 2008’s edition was just a notch more exciting than any city Memorial Day picnic festival. Last year was so good it was painful. One simply could not see all the amazing artists at any given time. Abundance overwhelmed. Did you go see Amy Winehouse or Stephen Marley? Red Hot Chili Peppers or Gotan Project? Bjork or DJ Shadow? In comparison, 2008’s nail-biting choices included: Tegan and Sara or Vampire Weekend, Flogging Molly or Sasha and John Digweed, Sons & Daughters or Modeselektor, Serj Tankian or Pendulum? Ugh. How about a quiet nap tent?

Coachella’s Do-lab side show and leftover Burning Man installations were not enough to rally attendees in lieu of ass-kicking lineups. Though there were about 100 performances, the top three nightly headliners are what drive sales. Some of the more impressive day time performances included Les Savy Fav, The Breeders, Yoav, Man Man, Cinematic Orchestra, Rogue Wave and Little Brother. As for the main stage nightly headline acts, they went something like this… (continued tmw)