The organization Rock the Vote was founded back in 1992 with the goal of mobilizing young people to exercise their elective franchise, with a PSA campaign involving musicians like Madonna and Michael Stipe telling young folks to get out there. Some 18 years later, the very phrase “rock the vote” has implications for Iowa City’s music-going public, especially younger people, as the City Council’s current War on Alcohol has left music venues feeling like collateral damage. Whatever your stance, November is the month when you get to put your money where you mouth is by filling in those ovals, so do it. Rock the vote.
Like the political debates outside, the music inside the clubs this month will be hot. Four of my most anticipated shows of the fall are happening this month, but rather than waste more ink on them here, let me direct you to Little Village’s Fall Music Preview, which was published way back in September and is now available online at http://issuu.com/littlevillage/docs/. There you can find all the info and write-ups you need about Ghostface Killah at the Blue Moose on the 3rd, Jay Farrar at the Mill on the 3rd, Azure Ray at the Mill on the 4th, Kate Nash at the Englert on the 8th and Wolf Parade at the Englert on the 18th. If you’re thinking, “Jeez, that’s already a pretty full calendar,” then you would be right, but rest assured there are always more options out there.
This month is marked by three interesting under-the-radar artists who you can catch on their way up–and all of these shows are all-ages.
The first of these is Iowa’s own Christopher the Conquered, who I’ve written about before as one of the few people who legitimately fit into the Myspace music category of “melodramatic popular song.” They’re playing The Englert on the 10th. Songwriter and pianoman Chris Ford is the songwriter and lead vocalist of the group, but around him swirls a bunch of talented musicians from the Ames area, including a full horn section featuring members of Mumfords. The songs perfectly match the performances, which range from unabashedly theatrical to deeply confessional, or outrageously joyful–often one right after the other. I know, I know, even the use of those descriptors is somewhat worrisome, but this is highly recommended if you like classic Elton John, Antony and the Johnsons, Patrick Wolf, Baby Teeth, even, dare I say, early Ben Folds Five. It doesn’t hurt that Chris is one of the nicest guys around and has lent his talents in the past to Iowa faves Poison Control Center.
The next band really worth your time and energy is New Zealand’s Fabulous Diamonds, who play the Wherehouse Academy of Hard Art (formerly known as White Lightning, or more generally “the warehouse”) on the 4th. Fabulous Diamonds are a male-female duo who make droning yet rhythmic synth-pop for the experimental music set. Instrumentation is drums and keyboards and each take a turn on vocals for songs ranging from three to twelve minutes, like on their latest record, Fabulous Diamonds II. That record came out this year on Siltbreeze, a label that has put out albums by local and national favorites like U.S. Girls, Eat Skull, Tyvek and Times New Viking–their discography reads like a who’s who of the lo-fi scene. Our own lo-fi/noise guru Shawn Reed will open the show with his Wet Hair project, featuring Ryan Garbes among others.
As an aside, this show highlights just how crazy some aspects of the Iowa City scene are right now. Events like this are a big city blogger’s wet dream, completing some sort of aesthetic grand slam by featuring a) a duo who plays b) spaced-out pop, occasionally released on c) cassettes and played in d) a warehouse. But, for many people in Iowa City, this is just your average Thursday. Which is to say two things: First, it’s not just coincidence, but also hard work and good taste by promoters like Reed that gets this music here. Second, for anyone even just a little curious about what a lot of the discussion in contemporary indie music circles is about these days, this is it. This is what the kids are up to. So go out and see it, also to appreciate the hard work being done by the volunteer staff at the Wherehouse. To get there, go to very back of the parking lot behind the PATV building. Seriously.
Now, if you think lo-fi pop is a kind of minor subgenre (it’s not), then you may think even less of nerdcore, but DJ Chris is one of the arguments for the scene’s continued relevance. Characterized, usually, by white dudes rapping about “nerd culture,” the genre is usually amusing if somewhat gimmicky. Before Auto-Tune was setting the world on fire, DJ Hawking was using synthesized voice technology to mimic the famous Dr. Steve from which he takes his name. DJ Chris certainly has these tendencies–one of his albums is called Dungeon Master of Ceremonies–but his website suggests a more serious turn, perhaps, with the release of the album Race Wars in 2011. Anyway, I suppose we’ll all find out at Gabe’s on the 9th.