We came because of Japanther, even though my friend Nick, visiting from South Carolina, had never heard of them and I barely knew their music. But they’ve made appearances on the mixed CD’s friends send my way, and they went to Pratt like most people doing amazing things in New York these days, and apparently they sometimes share their concert stage with puppets, dance troupes, film montages and swimming pools. Besides all that, it was a good cause, punk rock style. A few months ago Texas-based DJ Ephew got his leg ripped off by a truck (he was biking or motorbiking, one of the two), and like many of us that haunt creative pursuits, he has no insurance and now, no leg. And a prosthetic costs $3000. But local promoter Nick Chatfield-Taylor was on it.
Around 3pm, non-promoter-Nick and I took the G to the part of Bed-Stuy that more gentrified residents call Clinton Hill. After trekking through a leafy brownstone neighborhood, we came to an industrial block. A hundred sticky kids clotted the street, with drums and PA set up right on the sidewalk. A little ways down, a roaring sanitation truck was sucking up stuff and emitting a noxious odor.
We joined the throng, asking random rat-tails-with-forties who’s up, but no one was certain. Kids were passing time, tossing old bike tires around an electrical post. Or maybe they were trying to get down a really great tire already stuck there. In this and many things, I was deliciously, dreamily clueless for much of the evening. There was an inexplicable, gaping hole-in-brick one story up, where the DJ’s were working their magic and the bands were running extension cords. Turns out Ghost Mall is a three-month young electro-punk quartet out of Queens, fronted by a spastic scarecrow in painted-on jeans—high-energy, danceable good times. And at some point the sanitation truck quit slurping, and the hole started spitting cheap Sunday-go-to-meeting hats, in shocking shades of straw. So then everyone was rocking out in southern lady church gear.
Nick got out his book and started sketching, and I ran to get us beer. There was a keg in a stairwell, and a guy handing out cupfuls for a buck. “What is this place?” I asked. He said it was a bike shop, and then I wanted to know if he worked there. He laughed and said, “Not really.”
Muhammad Ali delivered dirty, noisy Houston-love, the perfect soundtrack for spilling beer on new friends, and then more Texas-in-Bed-Stuy, southern rap of the most incoherent sort—basic drum machine beats and a fearless guy named Blackie, flinging himself so rock-tasticly that half of his raps missed the mic.
It was the kind of show where you get on people’s piss schedules and end up waiting in the same bathroom line, same folks, half-a-dozen times, and kids just kept rolling up on bikes or skateboards, and skaters pulled tricks behind the crowd.
Ninjasonik brought it back to Brooklyn with their straight up punk-rock rap, the likes of which I’d never heard before—although later, a bit of ‘net research turns up the term “hipster hip-hop,” and because they rap about PBR and tight pants, I assume Ninjasonik embraces this label. I guess I missed something, because I thought hip-hop kinda went hipster ten years ago—remember the Roots, and how no one comes to their shows but “coffee shop chicks and white dudes?” But whatever else they are, in that moment Ninjasonik was shit-eatin-grin boogie-inducing hilarity.
Earlier in the day, I met Telli—a third of Ninjasonik—who has his Faro-birthed portrait tattooed on his forearm. He told me he wants his next kid to be bi-racial, that he’s accepting resumes. I said I’d pass the word. This is me officially making good.
Then the guy that fixed my beer an hour ago popped a telephone receiver into the mic-clip, and that’s how I found out the beer guy was Matt of Japanther. I couldn’t stay up front. Two minutes into the first song, Ian’s drums had already been knocked over by enthusiastic fans, and a mosh pit was fast in-gear. I am tiny and shock-resistless. All I could think was my surgically-altered knee, and how much I love running and climbing and 80’s dance parties, how much I wanted to keep doing all of those things. I escaped to the gaping hole, and then I had a great view of the pit and the crowd-surfers and those eager, porous mouths shouting and pulsing en mass. Matt and his bass had a sort of half-buffer of amps, but stomachs belonging to some people were constantly pounding Ian’s drum set, while just as constantly, arms belonging to other people were reaching forward to steady a tom or a cymbal stand.
The downside was that I could see much more of the crowd than the band, so I relocated to the roof of Muhammad Ali’s decrepit tour van. The sun-spackled tin was flexible as trampoline, and at one point I think we had six people bouncing around up there. Safety is relative at a punk-rock show.
For a few weeks I’ve been painfully pining for the lo-fi 90’s fuzz that first drew me from my (embarrassing) devotion to the Grateful Dead and the Counting Crows. Why have I not been listening to Japanther all along? An audio collage, flush with samples, punk, noise and heart, they forgo a drum machine for a cassette player, a guitar for tweaked out bass, and mics for payphones.
When it was over, people were slow to disperse. Maybe they were like me, wanting to stay there always, live and die right on the baked and crumbly Bed-Stuy tar, basking in the generous afterglow of happy, organic energy. A girl skipped through the crowd handing out popsicles, and whomever was DJ-ing (maybe Ephew?) slipped in a little Jackson Five. Nick had been drawing more than dancing all day, but right then, he put everything away, and we danced to ole Mikey & company. And then, it was time to move on.