On a scorching August day in 2011, in the city of Homs, the Syrian conflict nearly swallowed Monzer Darwish. The 23-year-old graphic designer, who grew up in nearby Hama, had stopped at a cafe with his fiancée, only to take cover in the establishment at the sound of screaming outside. When they finally ventured into the street, they heard a pop—pop, pop, and someone fell. Then everyone ran. “The whole street was literally on fire,” he recalled.
Fleeing the violence, Darwish wrestled with the kinds of questions many face during war. What do you do if you don’t want to take a side? If you don’t want to take up arms? If you want to keep your community from being torn apart? If you can’t escape? Many of his friends found themselves in a similar situation, and they sought emotional refuge through music, even live heavy-metal concerts near the frontlines. Reconnecting with these peers, Darwish decided to film how this alternative community—musicians and fans alike—was surviving amid the country’s three-year civil war.
Heavy metal, with its macabre poetry, thundering elegies, and violent moshing, has often resonated with young people and helped them express solidarity with one another during periods of political and social tension. But Darwish wanted to show how Syria’s “metal heads” and alternative youth, like their peers in Iraq and Afghanistan, are turning to the music not only as a way to cope with mass trauma, but also as a means of conducting a brutally honest dialogue about how to survive war and reform society.
The result: a rockumentary called Syrian Metal Is War. For much of the last year, Darwish has crisscrossed the country to film every metal musician he can find. He’s uploaded a trailer to YouTube, and he hopes to screen a rough cut of the full film in Beirut by late spring.
Read more. [Image: Daniel J. Gerstle]
How many times can you hear gold teeth/Grey Goose/trippin’ in the bathroom before you get a hankering for some vodka? And yes, Lorde may be saying those are things we’ll never have, not being royals and all, but many non-royal adolescents have made do with cheaper alternatives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39 percent of adolescents have had a drink in the past 30 days, and 22 percent qualify as binge-drinkers. In a new survey on adolescent binge-drinking published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers at Dartmouth College and the University of Pittsburgh look at how these tossed-off brand mentions in music could affect young people’s drinking behaviors.
Enough exposure to anything has an effect, and previous research has shown that for adolescents, music is the fastest-growing form of media they’re exposed to, listening to about 2.5 hours a day as of 2010. They hear 14 references to drinking per song-hour, and about 8 brand-name mentions.
Read more. [Image: tmab2003/flickr]
It was 1983, and women were starting to get loud. In the academy, writers and theorists were debating prostitution, pornography, and BDSM. The Equal Rights Amendment was making its last rounds through Congress, passing in the House but not getting enough votes to be added to the Constitution. Alice Walker had just published The Color Purple. Across the Atlantic, Margaret Thatcher was continuing her reign as the first female prime minister of Britain.
And in New York City, a Queens native named Cyndi Lauper was about to make a declaration: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
In the 30 years since Lauper released her career-defining hit, “Girls” has been described as a “rebellious sing-along,” a “feminist anthem,” even a symbol of the “pogo-punk unisex spirit of the irreverent and permissive early 1980s.” Bloggers have written odes to it, dance-recital choreographers have it flocked to it, a movie has been made in its honor. The accompanying album, She’s So Unusual, is being re-released in April, and the liner notes remind listeners that “beneath [the] sparkly veneer was a strong feminist message.”
Read more. [Image courtesy of Cyndi Lauper]
Meet Vulfpeck. They’re a funk band. They’re based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And they just released a new album called Sleepify.
A representative of the streaming music Spotify has already weighed in on the album. This is a somewhat unusual event.
“Sleepify,” the unidentified spokesperson told Digday, “seems derivative of John Cage’s work.”
Indeed, Sleepify is a somewhat unusual album.
You see—like American avant garde composer John Cage’s landmark work 4’33”—the album only consists of silence. It’s 10 impeccable tracks, all impeccably silent. And while Cage’s piece constituted a winking commentary on the beauty of everyday, ambient sound, Vulfpeck’s opus is a little more pecuniary.
But first, a primer.
Gaga’s vomit; Tyler’s riot—the headlines can make it seem like the South by Southwest music festival exists for already-famous musicians to grab even more publicity. But despite the attention-getting presence of celebrities and sponsorships each year in Austin, there are still upwards of a thousand smaller bands in town for five days. The vast majority of them are undiscovered; some are buzzed-about up and comers. Here are the best sets we happened to catch from people who aren’t yet big stars—but might be one day.
Read more. [Image: John Davisson/Invision/AP]
Three months after its release, it’s clear that Beyoncé’s latest album contains one of her most startling messages yet: Maybe she’s wrong.
Read more. [Image: Columbia Records]
Seventy percent of the country’s population is under 25. Can music make them interested in politics?
To outsiders, the loud, aggressive world of heavy metal might seems like an unlikely place to find progressive politics. But any metalhead worth their leather can attest that the genre has often commented on society’s ills. Black Sabbath railed against the Vietnam War, Nuclear Assault offered apocalyptic visions of Reagan’s ‘80s, Sepultura howled scathing condemnations of the treatment of indigenous tribes in their native Brazil, Napalm Death addressed government failures and corruption, and more recently, Cloud Rat roared about sexism and urban blight atop a grindcore soundtrack. Thrash metal, in particular, has a long-running habit of tackling sociopolitical subjects with its rough barked vocals, wailing solos, and frenetic shredding.
In both a geographical and cultural sense, Mumbai seems about as far as one can get from the California Bay Area where the thrash-metal movement reached its apex. But the Indian band Sceptre offers proof of just how widely this style has spread. Inspired by their American forebears in Exodus and DRI and the music of classic German thrash bands like Kreator and Sodom, Sceptre recently celebrated its 15 anniversary, and is distinguished as one of India’s longest-running metal bands. Their latest recording taps into their genre’s liberal-leaning ideological tradition in a way that’s refreshing and urgent in modern India.
Age of Calamity is a concept album that deals with the plight of women in Indian society, and all proceeds from its sales will go directly to benefit a girls’ orphanage in Mumbai. Its haunting cover artwork was created by Indian artist Saloni Sinha, and depicts a weeping woman cradling her head in her hands, surrounded on all sides by crumbling walls and grasping shadows. It’s a powerful image, and in keeping with the theme, the band chose to work with a female artist.
Not every neolithic site can claim its own ’70s pop classic, but, hey: That’s Stonehenge. Countless theories and tools have attempted to make sense of the set of raised stones and earthworks in the south of England, categorizing it as an astronomical calendar, a healing site, a burial ground, or all of them at once.
Now, a study from the Royal College of Art in London has suggested a new possibility: The monument might make music.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Ludwig van Beethoven may have been the most serious guy in all of classical music.
The popular image of him is one of heroism, severity, and backs aching for the lash as musical commandments are delivered from on high. Few works in the history of art are as bracingly intense as a goodly chunk of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, for instance, to say nothing of the late-period string quartets, music that, frankly, the 19th century wasn’t ready for. The opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony might as well be a stand-in for the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, such is their uncompromising primacy. Beethoven’s work, as people tend to think of it, is music that just keeps coming at you, an ever-advancing sea that no coast can withstand.
Most of the time, that is. But there was also the occasion when Beethoven, in the midst of a personal—and odd—life crisis, opted to create a work to please madcaps, jesters, and wiseasses alike.
I’m talking about the Eighth Symphony.