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- Music Review: Giorgio Moroder in Red Bull Music Academy Series May 21, 2013Giorgio Moroder, who worked with Donna Summer and other acts, and made his own albums, forged a link between music’s past and its future. […]By JON PARELES
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- Music Review: Laura Benanti Sings Cabaret at 54 Below May 21, 2013The actress and singer Laura Benanti, performing cabaret at 54 Below, emerges as a vibrant free spirit able to leap from one genre to another with ease. […]By STEPHEN HOLDEN
- ArtsBeat: Brian Stokes Mitchell to Perform in New Town Hall Concert Series May 22, 2013
Author Archives: Elsa
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To grow up in Finland, in a small-town of 550 people may not sound like every little boy’s dream. But for someone born with a passion for drumming, this might actually be a wonderful opportunity. With the closest neighbors on a safe distance away, it is only your parents who might stop you from drumming in the middle of the night. Or if you are really lucky, your father might just pick up the guitar and join you. For 22-year-old drummer Oskar Häggdahl, this was exactly the case.
“We would have rock´n´roll jams everyday when my dad got home from work. Once I got old enough I also started having gigs with my dad’s different bands. I was about 7 and everyone else around 40 years old, which was kind of cool.”
Oskar Häggdahl has been playing drums for as long as he can remember. It started as playful banging on pots and pans, until he at the age of 5 got his first real drum kit. Today he lives in New York, one of the biggest cultural cities in the world, with a fresh graduation diploma from the drumming school The Collective soon in is hand.
Since the age of 12 Häggdahl knew that the only thing he wanted was to become a professional drummer. And even if his small-town childhood might have given Häggdahl the background needed to become the drummer he is today, he knew this was not the place he would spend the rest of his life.
“I remember reading the American drum-magazine “Modern Drummer” when I was about 13 years old, and saw an add in the magazine for “The Drummers Collective“, a music school in New York City. I told my parents I wished I one day could go there to study music and drumming,” Häggdahl says.
Now, ten years later, he is one month away from becoming a successful graduate from the same exact school.
Häggdahl admits, that he knew that everything about coming to New York to study would be much more complicated and expensive than for example if going to England. But at the same time he knew that this was the city where he would be able to find everything about drumming he ever could imagine. He adds, “I think I also in a way wanted to make it as hard as possible for myself – to study with the best teachers and really prepare myself for anything that the future could bring.”
The Drummers Collective is part of the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) accredited music school The Collective. Founded in 1977, The Collective, was created by a small group of professional New York musicians, and is still today a quite exclusive learning center. The Drummers Collective offers drum set players and percussionists everything from private classes to a full-time two year long program.
Häggdahl is happy with his experience at the school, and says that the all-star faculty is definitely what makes it special. Specific programs and personal focus on each student is also made possible because of the small amount of students the school allows for each year. Häggdahl also stresses the good vibe that he feels among his fellow students and the teachers as one of the advantages of a small school.
The high level of education provided can also bee seen in the tuition. With a fee of $60,500 for the two-year long full-time program, students at Drummers Collective must be ready to invest in their future. For Häggdahl, the choice of moving to New York did also mean giving up the free education that Finland provides. But for this young drummer, the life in New York has been worth every dollar.
“So much have changed in my life since I moved here. Not have I only become a better drummer, but I have grown as a person and gained confidence. In the music business it is all about making contacts and getting your name out there, and New York is the perfect city to do it in.”
According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics about 189,000 people in the United States work as full time instrumental musicians, and over half of them are self-employed. In New York, only 16,670 out of its 8 million habitats are making their living out of music. But off course, one should never stare blindly at statistics, especially in such diffuse category as “musicians.”
Even if the statistics are on the gloomy side, Häggdahl looks brightly at the future. Being far from done with everything this city has to offer, he has no plans on leaving the city, even after graduation. Häggdahl has already found several bands and artists interested to collaborate with him, and plays both in a studio and up on stage on a regular basis.
Bass-player Brian Holz is one of them who frequently gets together to play with Häggdahl. When asked what it is that makes Häggdahl an interesting drummer to play with, Holz seems to have the answer.
“The best drummers are the best listeners. They provide a strong groove that doesn’t make you doubt your own sense of time. In short, they instill a confidence that makes you play better and stretch your abilities. Oskar is such a drummer.”
“Drumming is pretty much all I have ever done, and it’s also the only thing I could consider my full-time job.” Oskar says with a smile, and continues: “I don’t think there could be a better place than NYC for a drummer to have his work and home…”
If you don’t like noise, stay away from Video Daughters. Because if there is something this experimental band is good at, it is creating noise.
It is drums and hums turning into industrial noises, taking you into dark street corners. It is cars speeding on a highway. Its equally poppy and hard. And it is definitely not always rhythmical, but then again, clearly never boring.
Video Daughters, a Brooklyn based group of four is not a band that could step up on stage at Madison Square Garden. But in a place like Public Assembly in Williamsburg, an old factory building transformed into a popular performance space, Video Daughters fits perfectly. Dressed in plaid-shirts, with their long and unbrushed hair, the four members succeeds with the rough-enough-but-still-cute look, that easily attracts young hipsters from the neighborhood. This Sunday the 17th of April a crowd of about fifty, both female and male youngsters, gathered to nod their heads and swing their bodies to Video Daughters electric rhythms.
While setting up their gear on stage Mike Green, lead singer, guitarist and on-and-of drummer announced that there was a new addition to the band: Randy Riback, taking care of the drums. Prior to this new member, all the other three musicians used to rotate back and forth between the drums and their main instruments. Now John Creedy stays steadily behind the guitar, Scott Townsend jams the base and Mike Green plays around with the keyboard and computer. But despite their more steady roles, the members are not afraid to use their energy, encouraging the crowd to follow their jumps and shaky dance.
Video Daughters starts of strongly, with their newest song “Get Me A Body.” This poppy song definitely brought out some smiles, and in my head it painted up a scenic view of a bike ride in the summer-time. The downside of this tune was its strong remembrance of the experimental rock band Animal Collective’s music. Off course a band can have influences from other musicians, but “Get Me A Body” lacked something different and personal, and could easily have been mistaken for a Animal Collective song.
The show continued with older beats, and Video Daughters balanced the songs well. The longer and more repetitive songs could easily have put anyone to sleep after ten minutes, but just at that moment Mike Green gave out a loud shout – and everyone was awake.
One of the bands most popular songs, “Wild People,” explains itself in the title, and both the band and the audience definitely went wild to this simultaneously steady and off killer beat. It was adrenaline, sweat and beer all over.
The energetic performance of the band was admirable, but it had its downsides. While the lead singer Mike Green shone as a performer, dancing along while banging on the keyboard, the vocals suffered. Throughout the performance it was hard to hear the lyrics, and sometimes the loud instruments made the vocals entirely disappear. But then again, once caught in the electrical waves of Video Daughters, you don’t really need those words. It is all about noises and movement.
The first couple of times it sounded charming. “I am in a band,” “I play guitar,” “I am a musician.” But then I grew older, reality hit me, and today hearing these lines makes me amused, at the most. “Oh, really? Is there anything else to know about you?”
I cannot deny that I may be a bitter ex. girlfriend of a musician or two, but the story that follows is based on purely true events.
“I am in a band.” Oh yes, I’m sure these words still works to pick up girls with, or to be straight – I know it from experience. It is not too long ago when I was a naive teenager, and whoever mentioned “in a band” could probably catch my heart at that instant moment. But I have lived and learned and today I know, that a musician does not always equal a good date.
I love music, I mean, who doesn’t? But I do believe that music is to be enjoyed on a non-personal level, as a listener or spectator. Musicians can be charming, yes, and who has not dreamed about walking to a show saying “”I am with the band.” But just think about it, really. How many of those sitting down next to you at a coffee shop, taking of their sunglasses and proudly announcing “I am a musician,” does much more than play guitar in their friends basement, or write songs they never finish? Yes, exactly – not many. And the rare ones who really does live for their music, well, they live for their music. You got it – the music, not you or anything else. As my friend, himself a struggling musician, once told me: “Never date a musician.” I laughed, ignored it, and got charmed. But that was once, or twice. Now, I need more than a cheesy love song.
Today, when approached by that unfamiliar young man, I am the one taking of my sunglasses, smiling and asking: “So, are you a musician too?” Suddenly, not many wants to brag about their musical talents, but looks a little lost, thinks for a while, and says: “Well, I am an artist!”
Here we go again…
“Here she Comes…” Tamar-kali sings, and yes, you can feel it, and you might get scared. “Pearl” starts with an angry drum-beat, rhythmical and loud. Noisy guitar riffs and the singer’s dark and deep voice screams “girl-power,” like a modern and angry version of spice-girls.
It all begins with one minute of static electro sounds of deep beats and rattling noices. Tom Yorke of Radioheah is moving around in sync with the music: shaking and moving in all shapes and directions, sometimes looking like struck by lighting. Then he opens his mouth and lets out his whiney lyrics – sounding like a desperate cry for help, accompanied by the repetitive beats.
What is it that makes New Yorkers line up outside a big anonymous building before ten on a Sunday morning? The most obvious answer would be a newly released gadget or discount designer clothes. But this Sunday, April 3rd, the reason behind this long stretch of people was something quite different: A Vegetarian Food Festival. This free event was held at the Altman Building in Chelsea, filling up two floors with everything from raw nut-based ice cream to mock-meatballs.
According to a study published by Vegetarian Times in 2008, 3.2 percent of adults in the United States, or 7.3 million people, are following a vegetarian-based diet. The study also indicated that the most common reason behind this choice is to improve one’s overall health, closely followed by environmental concerns. At the first annual Vegetarian Food Festival in New York, the many different sides of a vegetarian lifestyle were represented, bringing out a message from the founders: A vegetarian lifestyle can be both fun and tasty. And with approximately 3,500 visitors and a good 2,000 more that never got further than the line, the interest for the festival had grown bigger than the founders ever expected.
The Vegetarian Food Festival was the brainchild of Sarah Gross, for whom this was not the first act in promoting animal rights and a vegan lifestyle. In 2010, Gross founded Rescue Chocolate, which produces vegan chocolate and donates its profits to animal rescue organizations around the country.
After a trip to Boston’s Vegetarian Food Festival last fall, Gross decided to launch a food fest in New York. She contacted her friend Nira Paliwoda, an event planner, and the two vegetarians began promoting the event on Facebook and Twitter.
The social media sites helped Gross and Paliwoda attract volunteers and sponsors, including animal rights group PETA and Yelp, the Internet search and review engine.
Admission was free, and vendors paid to have stands. In addition to the free food samples given out, the vendors had the chance to sell products and bigger food portions.
“Most vendors were happy to pay a small fee to make the festival possible, and also saw it as a great opportunity to promote their products,” Gross explained. “So in the end, it was a win-win situation for both us and them.”
Sixty-two vendors, including vegetarian and vegan restaurants, offered their wares. Many promoted local products, such as homemade tofu and fruit snacks made in Brooklyn. People were eager to sample the different foods and drinks, and the response was mixed. One young man grimaced after sampling raw kombucha, an ancient fermented tea drink that some people believe promotes health. “I have no idea what I just drank, but it sure tasted healthy,” he said.
Dessert was the festival’s main attraction.
“I always thought vegan food was super healthy and bad tasting,” said Pat Andrews, who describes himself as a “real meat eater” and says he came just to keep his wife company. After sampling a green tea cupcake, he said it was “one of the best I have ever had – and it’s vegan!”
For those with an extra sweet tooth, the festival offered not only one, but two moments to stop even the worst sugar-cravings: Cupcake- and doughnut-eating competitions.
Karen Hoffman won the latter, besting three competitors by polishing off six doughnuts, cheered on by a crowd of onlookers.
The doughnuts were supplied by Dun-Well, a new vegan bakery based in Manhattan, that supplied five dozen doughnuts, with flavors including strawberry-coconut and chocolate peanut.
”We wish we could have had our own stand and let everyone try our doughnuts,” said Dan Dunbar, a co-founder of Dun-Well. “But with the limited capacity for doughnut making that we have for the moment, baking enough donuts for an eight-hour-long event did not seem manageable or economically smart.”
Visitors could also sample heartier fare.
Foodswings, a Brooklyn-based vegan fast-food restaurant, offered variations on traditional American comfort food, with mock meatball sandwiches and vegan mac’n’cheese, with no dairy products. “The creamiest mac’n’cheese I ever had!” a woman in the crowd said, as her friend nodded, forking up another mouthful of gooey macaroni.
Despite all the food-vendors at the festival, the event was about more than eating. Making way trough the crowded festival-space, it felt nice to regularly pause at a stand providing information instead of food. This did not only mean fewer elbows in your sides, but also a refreshing break for your taste buds. Amie Hamlin, executive director for the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, handed out flyers promoting vegetarian, organic and local food in schools. Other exhibitors advocated animal rights, sustainable living and spiritual connection.
The event also featured dance, yoga, live music and lectures, with speakers talking about topics including vegan cooking and sustainable lifestyles. Alexandra Jamieson discussed her books Vegan Cooking for Dummies and The Great American Detox Diet, while Chloe Jo Davis, creator of GirlieGirlArmy, a Web-based guide to green living, discussed eco-friendly fashion.
The Vegetarian Food Festival was a well greeted new event to the foodie-scene of New York. But for the next year, a bigger and even better organized event would be welcomed. An hour before the festival closed, the line still stretched for two blocks, and those outside were turned away. But those who made it in seemed pleased.
“Me and my friend waited in line for over one hour to get in here, but it was definitely worth it,” said 22-year-old Maria McKinley, who came to the festival with her friend Luca Gonzales.” “The doughnut-eating competition was the best. It was gross but fun in its weird way. And who would have thought ‘vegan hippies’ do something like that?”
There are two things that I associate with Indian restaurants: An enchanting smell of spices and an overly eager host practically forcing me to eat at his restaurant. At Pongal, there were hints of both.
Pongal, one of the many Indian restaurants along Lexington Avenue between 24th and 30th street is known for its all vegetarian and kosher menu. The name refers to the harvest fest, which in South India is celebrated along with the withdrawal of the southeast monsoons. But at this Pongal, a South Indian party felt far, far away.
Pongal does have the potential to be a cozy dinner place. The stylish décor and mostly mellow Indian music, combined with the dimmed lighting, is definitely an environment that could feel good on a dark chilly evening. But at noon on a bright sunny day, the quiet and dim surrounding felt more awkward.
The good thing with Pongal is its broad menu of lunch specials. For less than 8 dollars you can get one of their many Thali’s, which are like sampling platters of many different dishes. Besides the more traditional Indian dishes of curries and vegetable-stews served with rice ($9.95), the restaurant also offers a large variety of South Indian specialties, Dosa’s and Utthappam’s ($8.45-9.45). Made of the same lentil and flour-based dough, Dosa’s are thin crepes while Uttahppam are thicker pancakes. These two are then filled or topped with a variety of vegetables.
Overwhelmed by the different Thali’s with dishes that you never heard of, I decided to ask the waiter for some help. I got a quick explanation of some of the dishes, but more than this, I was told what I should order. When I decided to go for the Mini Thali ($6.95), the waiter shaked his head. He persisted to explain why the one-dollar more expensive Pongal Thali, was the right choice for me. The part that bothered me in this act was not the price difference, but why I was refused to order an almost identical dish, but with one less item. I accept the fact that Indian’s like to talk you over to get you into their restaurant, but when it comes to my food, I want to order for myself.
The food itself did go in line with the overall ambiance of Pongal – a good try but not quite there. The first thing that crossed my mind when the Pongal Thali ($7.95) was placed in front of me was that it just looked like a big mix of differently shaped dough. And as it turned out, this was exactly what it was.
The Medu Vada, a fried doughnut, was quite tasty for the first few bites, but became boring in lack of spices other then the fried oil. Then there was the Idly, a total opposite, shaped like a white “cake” of dough that looked and tasted more like stale infant porridge. The highlight of the dish was the Dosa filled with potato and onions. It had a good bite to it, crisp and warm just like you expect a crêpe to be. The filling of potato and onion was OK, but lacked flavor. And with all the dough-y items in front of me, I could not help missing vegetables to lighten up the meal. The three sauces that came with the Thali did not either bring that Indian-kick that my taste buds kept longing for. I was left with one big question – where were the spices?
Being one of my favorite Indian dishes, I had big hopes for the Palak Paneer, cottage cheese cubes in a creamy spinach sauce ($9.95). But again, my excitement did not last. The color itself was already revealing it’s taste – instead of a fresh green color it looked more like pure cream. The cheese was good and not too soft, but combined with the overly creamy base, the dish became hard to enjoy. The brightest moment at this harvest fest was definitely the “Mango Lassi” ($4.45). This rich yogurt drink had the perfect amount of sweetness, and a smooth cooling texture. But after all that dough, I only wished it had came in a take away cup…
This Tuesday afternoon the Newman Conference Center at Baruch College got filled with listening ears and questioning voices. It was time for the annual Sidney Harman Writer-In Residence event, an opportunity for students and others interested to hear a guest speaker talk about her or his work. This time the stage was given to Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, nonfiction writer and author of the critically acclaimed book “Random Family,” now working on a new project about stand-up comedy.
My only prior experience of a book reading happened unplanned, when i was studying in a book store. I wondered why a microphone was set up next to me, and soon I got my answer. Frustrated over the abrupt ending of my study-session, I walked out without even concidering staying and listening to the author speak.
It was therefore with no expectaions I stepped into the Conference Center, and got my first positive surprise in form of tasty snacks. The athmospere was surprisingly good to be after 5 PM on a school day, and I do believe the free food deserves some credit for this. Even if the reading was not going to last more than a rough 1,5 hours, some extra energy would definitely not hurt the ability to concentrate.
LeBlanc herself charmed with a relaxed attitude and a passion for her work. Despite some minor issues like hearing the questions asked by the audience, I enjoyed my first real reading. And to a person hoping to have a future in journalism, LeBlanc’s talk was definitely an inspiring experience.
No, I don’t like ”bodega coffee” that does taste like water, or is filled with cream and sugar even if you order it ”black.” But does this mean that I care where my coffee is roasted, and if it has a bold or round finish? I don’t think so. All I want is a decent cup of coffee that I can enjoy in peace. What I mean by this it that the last thing I need on top of the price and tax of my drink is someone pointing out coffee-facts, as if these should be part of every sophisticated persons life. Welcome to the world of Coffee Snobs.
I have considered myself as a real Coffee Geek for quite a while. Maybe this also is why Coffee Snobs bothers me so much. Because remember, these two types of “coffee people” are not the same. Let me explain.
For a while I worked in a coffee shop here in New York, and enjoyed my job, doing hearts and flowers in the milk foam of people’s latte’s. But then I started to notice coffee shops around me, where both the baristas (the one’s who makes your coffee) and the customers were obsessed with – no, not coffee – but vocabulary. Short lattes, solid foam, organic fare trade coffee ONLY. And not to forget the ”cuppings,” coffee tastings, where you sit around and slurp coffee (the louder the better). Is it tangy and nutty, with a touch of plum and…smoke!? Oh, this means it must be from Guatemala! Coffee had become the new wine – something fashionable and sophisticated. From this day on, I swore to keep my coffee knowledge to myself and never become one of them – the Coffee Snobs.
I am not here to tell anyone they can’t demand their coffee to be steamed at 152 degrees, or forbid people to spend hours debating which coffee roastery is the best in town. If these are things you want to put down energy on, sure, go ahead and do it. I just have one little request: Do not look down at us ”regular” coffee drinkers, and do not correct our orders. And no, I do not only speak to all you latte-art obsessed baristas. All you snobby coffee buyers, this considers you too – especially you. If you know exactly how your coffee should be done, I would suggest you start working in a coffee shop. Or just stay at that one place where you once were served this perfectly smooth-foamed, nutty and earthy soy-latte with a bold finish. Oh, and for your information, the heart in your cappuccino foam was not there because the barista liked you, but because he likes his own artistic hand.
Dear Coffee Snobs, please keep your valuable knowledge to yourself, and let me enjoy my coffee as what it is – a plain drink.
A college drop out, a “Plug Ugly” (slang for “tough guy”). Brooklyn based filmmaker Michael Sladek, sure knows how to present himself. His documentary Con Artist, that got a jury mention at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, is still being screened in theaters around the country and will be released on DVD later this spring. I decided to meet up with this “tough guy” and hear his story from the independent film world of New York.
According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 99,000 people in the United States work as producers or directors, and an average of 20 percent of them are self-employed (year 2008). Michael Sladek, born in Denver Colorado, is one of them. Sladek started out working in the world of theater, both as an actor and director. Upon moving to New York over ten years ago, he felt it was time for something new. Plug Ugly Films was soon born, and so was Sladek’s first feature film, the no-budget narrative Devils Are Dreaming. Five years later, the documentary Con Artist got released, and Sladek’s name started to get know in the wold of independent film.
Con Artist is a documentary about the 80′s art figure Mark Kostabi, who made it big in his own controversial way. He hired up-and-coming painters to create art that he then credited as his own. Kostabi found his way to stardom, but was this enough to make him feel loved? Con Artist dives deep into the world of fame and glory – not leaving anything out, not even the uncomfortable truth.
This revealing documentary got immediate attention and praise from critics as big as The New York Times. I could not help wonder how a colorful person like Mark Kostabi was to work with.
“Working with Kostabi was a great creative collaboration and he was really open to most of what I wanted to do,” Sladek begings. He mentions, that working with an opinionated person instead of an actor can make things difficult. “You have to give your subject space enough to play and be themselves, even if you want something specific or know that what you’re shooting isn’t really relevant.”
While filming Con Artist, Sladek and Kostabi did not always agree on what was to be shown in the film. “We were both trying to manipulate each other in different ways,” Sladek says. Some people that Sladek would have liked to interview for the film also refused, because they just could not stand Kostabi. In the end, it all worked out well and both parties are pleased with the outcome.
After hearing Sladek’s side of the story and reading all the controversial reviews about Con Artist, I was eager to hear what Kostabi, the artist himself, though about the film. I contacted him and asked about his experience working with Sladek, and if Con Artist turned out the way he wanted.
“Michael was a pleasure to work with because of his easygoing manner and sense of humor. He seemed to grasp the irony in my art, my public persona and his film,” says Kostabi. He continues: “He seemed much more casual than most of the filmmakers who have included me in their projects. Sladek knows a lot about film history and popular culture which I think gives him the confidence to be seemingly slacker as he films.” Kostabi even compared Sladek’s relaxed attitude behind the camera with Andy Warhol’s. Ironically Kostabi himself has been described as a “poor mans Andy Warhol” by Diego Costa from Slant Magazine.
Working in independent film might seem like an endless marathon. Con Artist took over four years to finish. During the interview, I wondered how someone has the patience, and Sladek shakes his head: “After four years on the same film I was ready to jump off a rooftop. I love the work, but it is just too long on the same project.” Still, he knows people who have worked on the same projects for twenty years. As one might suspect, the big “stop” for most independent filmmakers is financial problems. Plug Ugly Films was no exception.
Sladek explains that part of Con Artist was shot without any money, and that they still pay back investors. Also, the company, New Yorker Films, that is about to distribute the DVD, declared bankruptcy during the recession. Luckily, New Yorker Films got back up on their feet about a year ago, and Con Artist will be released on DVD in June.
So what is next for Michael Sladek? With Con Artist still playing in theaters, Plug Ugly Films are working on a bunch of new scripts. For now, Sladek would like to concentrate on fictional films. As a former actor he explains having a passion for working with professionals.
Before I let Michael Sladek get back to his work, I ask if he thinks he will keep doing his films here in New York. Despite the vague answer, I get the feeling that this “plug ugly” is here to stay.
“You can make good money and have a career,” Sladek says, pointing to the Hollywood-lifestyle. “In the independent world it is more like, everyday is a different day.”