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Prairie Pop: Big Fela

Fela Anikulapo Kuti is Nigeria’s Bob Marley. Fortunately, up to this point, he hasn’t been turned into the sort of dorm-room-poster-trustafarian-Legend caricature that Uncle Bob became. Lost in the bong haze is another Bob Marley–a global political figure who used music as a weapon, sort of like Malcolm X riding a massive wave of bass all up in your face.

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Cracking Up the Culture Code

Back in 1992, Seattle was engulfed in an inferno of hype after the commercial rise of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Kurt Cobain’s little band that could. “Seattle,” SPIN magazine declared, “is currently to the rock ‘n’ roll world what Bethlehem was to Christianity.” The hunt was on for the next big thing, the newest scene.

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Grrrls gone mild

Paradigm shifts typically happen in the abstract–at the level of the Big Picture–not right in front of your eyes, real time. Nearly 20 years ago, I watched and heard the musical-cultural ground move under my feet in the dank basement of my next-door neighbor’s house (typically not the type of place where a shifting paradigm takes place).

“We want revolution, GIRL STYLE NOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWW,” Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna howled during the kick-start of the band’s set. I was standing just four or five feet away, eyes bugged out with jaw on ground. At 21, I had seen a few memorable things in my brief semi-adult lifetime, but never anything like that.

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Fueling the Fire

Prairie Pop: May 2010 – British collage artist Vicki Bennett balances her avant-garde sensibilities with a dose of goofiness–perhaps more so than some of her other peers in the sound collage underground. The British experimental music magazine The Wire describes her music as “a freeform, unfolding imaginary landscape that is liberally peppered with slapstick.” Bennett–who performs under the name People Like Us–demolishes the demarcations between high and low culture, and she has brought her unique aesthetic to highbrow arbiters such as Tate Modern, the Walker Art Center, and the BBC. […]

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Pitch Imperfect

Prairie Pop: April 2010 – Apparently, the naked human voice isn’t good enough. Whether we’re talking about studio gimmickery or vocal tricks not aided by technology–Appalachian yodeling and Tuvan throat singing come to mind–we’re often suckers for interesting oral freak-outs. Voice alteration gizmos soon began popping up in hit singles of the 1970s and 1980s–applying […]

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Prairie Pop: Musical Brew


Prairie Pop: March 2010 – With some musicians and bands, I form a kind of matrimonial bond (though because I like so many artists, that makes me a bit of a polygamist). Long-term fandom is like entering into a marital contract–where you’re with them until the bitter end, even if they get a little ugly […] […]

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Prairie Pop: Wonderlickin' Good

Tim Quirk was the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for Too Much Joy, a poppy, punky band whose career spanned the 1980s and ’90s. His old band is probably better known for getting in trouble than for their music. Over the course of a decade, Too Much Joy was arrested for performing obscene 2 Live […]

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Prairie Pop: Pop Summit

Springtime is here, and I’m ready to rock: in this case, at the Experience Music Project’s Pop Conference, held last month in Seattle. It’s one of my favorite places to be, for a variety of reasons. The event attracts a diverse mix of music-obsessed scholars, journalists, critics, musicians, and other misfits—a strange brew that injects […]

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Prairie Pop: Hip Hop's Media Assassin

For those listening to hip hop 20 years ago, Harry Allen’s name was well known after the release of Public Enemy’s classic “Don’t Believe the Hype,” from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. That 1988 album—with its massive freight train of a title, and rocketing aural attack—established the group as agitprop […]

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Prairie Pop: Major Disappointments

I’m guessing that many of you have never heard of Tommy Keene. He’s a working musician who has accumulated a fairly deep catalog over the past 30 years, but he has never scored major hit and, in fact, the man has had his share of setbacks. Keene’s experience with Geffen Records in the 1980s, for […]

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Prairie Pop: 12 Days…To Drown Out Holiday Muzak with Twisted X-mas Rock.

Organized religion is responsible for more bloodshed than any institution in human history, but Christmas music is its biggest sin. I hate those songs—and the hegemony they hold over the airwaves, public spaces and every nook and cranny of our subconscious in the weeks leading up to Jesus’s birthday. Nevertheless, I make an exception for […]

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