Afro-Punk Festival Day 2 feat. Meatloaf Muzik, K-os, Death, Danny Brown, Living Colour, and Chuck D and DJ Lord
Commodore Barry Park
August 25, 2013
The Afro-Punk Festival’s second day was packed with even quite a number of well-known and important acts. And although this year’s festival probably had one of the better lineups in this site’s three plus years, I have to admit that on a certain level, Sunday felt top heavy. I’m talking about top heavy to the point that i didn’t bother catching many of the lesser known acts. Still as a huge fan of Living Colour (who were added to the bill shortly before the festival) and of Chuck D/Public Enemy, my inner 12 year -old, who was too young to catch them was absolutely thrilled. But let’s talk about the day’s events, huh?
I never found out why this guy was dressed up as a chimpanzee but it certainly made for some rather striking photos.
I managed to arrive in Fort Greene’s Commodore Barry Park just in time to catch the last couple of songs in Meatloaf Muzik’s set. And with their insanely tall flattops, infectiously high energy, and their quick paced flow, I couldn’t help but think of Leaders of the New School, the group that put Busta Rhymes on the national scene.
Since I only caught such a small portion of their set, i hope to catch them again because they seemed to be a lot of fun.
I had reviewed one of K-os’ earlier albums for Glide Magazine back in 2005 or 2006, so I had been vaguely familiar with him and his work. When i saw that he was on the bill, I figured I had to catch him out of curiosity – hell, I wrote about the guy’s album all of those years ago, so why the hell not?
In any case, his set was pretty entertaining. He managed to do some of his original material, backed by a live band. But most of his set was crowd pleasing covers, medleys and reworkings of beloved songs. Without explaining what the songs meant to him as an artist, it kind of felt too easy and a bit like pandering to an audience who would be largely unfamiliar with him and his material. Still, K-os seemed extremely likable and his set was pretty enjoyable.
The Detroit, MI-based band Death has one of the more inspiring and seemingly improbable stories I’ve heard in quite some time. The Hackney Brothers – Bobby (bass and vocals), David (guitar) and Dannis (drums) started out as an R&B/funk band until they caught an Alice Cooper show. And as it turns out, that show changed the course of their musical lives.
You see after that Alice Cooper show, younger brother David pushed his two brothers towards a more rock/punk sound, changing their name to Death. In 1974, the trio had recorded seven songs in a recording session reportedly funded by the legendary Clive Davis. Davis had insisted that the band needed to change their name to be commercially viable, and the Hackney Brothers refused. Davis ceased his support and Death broke up in 1977.
The brothers then moved to Burlington, Vermont where they released a couple of albums as a gospel group. David Hackney returned to Detroit and remained there until his death in 2000, while Dannis and Bobby remained, eventually forming a reggae band that they still perform with to this day.
Interestingly, David reportedly had told his brothers that although they were misunderstood in their day, history will prove them and their work as Death as being revolutionary – even if it was after his own death. The younger Hackney’s words may have been remarkably prescient as Bobby’s sons stumbled upon the original masters in their parents’ attic. And when they heard the masters, they were blown away. (They were so blown away that they covered much of the Death material live.)
By 2009, the band’s material was re-released through Drag City Records, and at the time 35 years after it’s initial recording the material manages to hold an important historical place for American music, and most importantly for Black music. You see, their sound which manages to bridge reggae, punk and rock manages to not only pre-date the earliest known punk recordings, it manages to make a convincing bridge between the work of Fishbone, Living Colour and others. And in light of the Afro-Punk Festival, their sound manages to sound remarkably contemporary, as much as it sounds as though it could have only been released in the 70s.
Live, there’s a sense that the two living Hackney Brothers are getting the love and adulation that they should have received over 40 years ago. Naturally, the question that should come up is this: what would have happened with Black music, hell with rock if Death had sold out – or if they were discovered at some earlier date? Would bands like Fishbone and Living Colour been even more popular?
Some young fans enjoying Danny Brown’s set.
I managed to catch Danny Brown’s set and in some way it was indicative of some of the issues that many hip hop fans have with mainstream hip hop. Full of club rumbling beats, Danny Brown’s music is a helluva lot of fun but on a certain level it seems particularly mindless – especially in comparison to Dead Prez or Chuck D. (Granted, those are fair comparisons but you get what I mean.)
The band started out their set with an elaborate but very cool handshake ritual.
Fans enjoying Vintage Trouble’s set.
As you begin to roll in certain circles, the six degrees of separation becomes more like two or three degrees of separation from four or five different angles. A couple of days before Afro-Punk, a concert buddy of mine told me that I needed to catch her friend’s band, a band by the name of Vintage Trouble. And boy was I grateful for the recommendation. Their sound managed to mesh old school rock and old school R&B in a fashion similar to Otis Redding and others. Plus, they have one of the most charismatic frontmen I’ve seen in some time. Seriously, they’re a must see and if they’re in your town, you should catch them.
After Vintage Trouble’s set I wound up catching the legendary Chuck D being interviewed for a website before his Afro-Punk set. When I caught him, he was schooling us on live performance – and if you’re a regular to this site, you know that I posted some video from that interview. As a hip hop fan and as a Public Enemy fan, it was surreal to be about a yard from the legend and just hearing him talk in a normal conversation. But holy shit, was it ever so cool! (And in an even more surreal twist, Chuck Chillout was hanging out with Chuck D and would interject from time to time.)
Living Colour’s Corey Glover sharing a moment with fans during their set. It was rather unexpected to see Glover jump off the stage, into the photographer’s pit and then past us, and the crowd was absolutely thrilled.
As a boy, I was a huge fan of Living Colour. Seeing someone who looked like me, who could play like that was a revelation for me. Of course, i was way too young to catch them live, so that inner 8-12 year-old was thrilled to finally see them. Adding to the unique occasion was the fact that the band was playing their eponymous debut, Vivid live to celebrate the 25th anniversary of it’s release.
In some way age hasn’t been very kind – live Corey Glover’s voice clearly isn’t the same and his stage presence seemed to vary between larger than life and a little reluctant. That isn’t terribly surprising, since I’ve been told on many occasions that the band were somewhat recalcitrant, hating the fact that they were made famous because they were Black, and not because they could really play or that Glover had a great, powerful and expressive voice; or that many of the songs on Vivid are pretty fucking incredible.
Sadly, the organizers did something that struck me as criminal and unfair. They scheduled Chuck D’s set to overlap with Living Color’s set by roughly 10 or 15 minutes. Naturally that left people like me who were fans of both artists in a tough spot – stay to watch Living Colour’s complete set or leave to catch all of Chuck D’s set? As a photographer, I wound up leaving right after Living Colour did “Funny Vibe,” one of my favorite songs off the album, so I could get into the photo pit and cover Chuck D, and believe me, I was deeply upset about it.
Why did the organizers schedule both acts sets to overlap as they did? And why not stagger the sets to let everyone see the seminal Afro-Punk band, and the legendary Chuck D?
Chuck D and DJ Lord
Chuck D lighting a copy of the New York Post on fire during his set.
“Come on, y’all. We need to hide; the police state is looking at our every action,” Chuck said at one point.
Just before his Afro-Punk Festival set, the legendary emcee Chuck D had turned 53. In a genre that’s famously fickle and considers someone of his age obsolete, Chuck has managed to be as controversial, as thought-provoking and as furious as ever, and his work with Public Enemy manages to be startling relevant and as necessary as ever. You see, in an age when most emcees are either too superficial, too stupid or too afraid to speak truth to power, Chuck D is one of the few emcees who will have an opinion on everything and anything that impacts the hip hop community. And although you may disagree with some of his opinions and political stances over the years, you’ll probably find yourself agreeing with many of his points.
The set was originally billed as a live performance of Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet album, an album that’s showcases some of the most powerful political opinion you’ll probably hear over the last 30 years of hip hop, elevating the art to pure oratory behind gigantic, room rattling beats, howling ambient noise, and some of that era’s most inventive use of samples. Chuck did play some of that album’s most memorable songs “Bring Tha Noise,” “Fight the Power,” and others but he also did several songs off Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black, “Can’t Truss It” and “Shut ‘Em Down.” (Yeah, he actually avoided many of the songs where Flavor Flav made a prominent appearance – for the most part, which was a little odd.)
About halfway during his set, Chuck spent a few minutes calling out the current mainstream media establishment – The New York Post, XXL, Rolling Stone, Hot 97 FM, Power 105.1 in particular – for dumbing down the mainstream landscape; for promoting negative images of Blacks and other minorities – and the hip hop generation at large; for not linking hip hop to it’s historical context and showing love to the entire glorious history of the music; for not showing love to female emcees and other artists; and more. He pushed the artist to demand more variety, more music that meant something to them and to change things for the better in a way that would hopefully force every member of the audience to do their part.
Even with niggling issues this was one of the best festivals i had attended during the year, and I hope that every festival-goer found a new act to love and tell their friends about. In the mean time, there’s still work to do, and may Afro-Punk continue to redefine Black music and Black culture. Their mission is absolutely necessary for this country.
For these photos and the rest of the photos from Day 2, check out the Flickr set here: