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Alienation, Displacement, and Grant Rock: A Conversation with Vancouver-based Jo Passed

It was neither the first nor the last time Jo Passed had been to Chicago. I met up with the band a humid evening in June at Avondale venue Sleeping Village. Their first time in the city was less than a year ago on Halloween when they played a show at the popular DIY venue Pinky Swear. “I dressed as Nico from the Velvet Underground,” said guitarist Bella Bébé explaining her impromptu costume and commenting on how her bangs made the look easy to pull off. “We also saw the best Austin Powers impersonator I’ve ever seen,” added bassist Megan Magdalena- Bourne. “We recorded the set and when we listened back to it, we could hear a distinctive ‘YEAH, BABY’ every few songs,” said front man Jo Hirabayashi.

Jo Passed is an up-and-coming Indie Rock band (sarcastically self-proclaimed Garage Grant Rock, but I’ll explain that later), originating from Vancouver, B.C. Jo Passed is fronted by lead singer Jo Hirabayashi, born and raised in Vancouver. For Jo and the rest of the band (Mac Lawrie on drums, Bella on guitar, and Megan on bass), being on tour is something they’re more than used to. Though it’s only been a month on the road, this is their second tour already this year. But it helps that they all get along really well. “Every tour is different for sure, and you’ll be touring at different parts of your life when you’re going through different things. But we are a crew, and we really get along,” said Bella.

Jo Passed’s first full-length LP, Their Prime, came out May 25th. The twelve-song album confronts the contemporary condition of alienation and displacement that comes with changing urban spaces. “I was trying to investigate that through this album,” said Jo. “Vancouver is a noticeably changing city. What seems like all of the sudden, neighborhoods are beginning to have large condo duplexes built. “Many of these just aren’t accessible spaces. There’s no understanding that I’ll see this building and be like ‘oh I should go check it out and see if I can afford it.’ It looks like it doesn’t belong,” said Jo. “It’s different in tech cities, but in Vancouver it’s a lot of speculative housing. It’s basically just a way for companies to invest, which means there’s a lot of these high rises being built but they remain empty. It’s basically just a way for people to park money and a good way to make money. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. There’s gotta be a bubble at some point. It seems like there just needs to be a better system for housing in cities. I’m sure the same thing is true of other cities, but I feel like it’s just so hyperbolized in Vancouver.” It’s nearly impossible to find an affordable place to live anymore. “We know so many people who have been displaced,” said Megan. One side effect of this displacement is a diminishing of the music scene. According to Jo, music venues in Vancouver go through a three-year cycle. With rotating venues, it’s hard for bigger bands to tour there. “It’s affected a lot of bigger acts that come too, like our friends in Preoccupations had to play at a dive bar,” said Megan. “The sound was horrible. Promoters are super angry and frustrated.”

“With this album, I just tried to get so much more of the feeling and psychology existing in that, rather than just writing a political punk song that spells out exactly the way it is,” said Jo. “It produces such a weird feeling to be existing in this place where there’s all these pockets that are inaccessible and constantly have this feeling that you’re being pushed out slowly. It’s hard to create a cohesive music or art scene. But there’s a bunch of artists and musicians who are talking about the same thing. It’s funny, I feel like that is the scene. The Vancouver scene is people getting together to talk about issues of displacement and the feelings that come along with that. So, I’m happy there’s solidarity.”

Most of Vancouver’s music scene thrives through the city’s DIY scene, and that’s where Jo Passed grew into a multi-tour band signed to Sub Pop. “I think there’s way more of a divide in Vancouver between the commercial rock bands and the DIY scene. People seek out ‘grant-funding’ and there’s a lot of ‘grant rock’ bands. I feel like there’s a lot more crossover in the states between bands that would be doing DIY stuff then be signed to a label. But in Vancouver, there’s bands that will exclusively play downtown bar areas, then there’s bands that just play the more underground DIY venues. And we were doing that and then the Sub Pop signing totally sparked interest from all the bands that were doing more of the commercial thing, and everyone was like ‘where did you guys come from?’ to them it was like we came out of nowhere,” said Jo.

Later, it became clear why Sub Pop had signed Jo Passed. They played a great set at Sleeping Village, headlining with Café Racer and Dick Stusso (who was clearly very intoxicated, but nonetheless put on a great show). Jo Passed had chemistry on stage. They even seemingly inadvertently shook their hair to the beat in sequence. It doesn’t come across as much when you listen to the album, but their music live was very shoegaze-y and easily puts you in a trance.

You can check out Jo Passed LP Their Prime (and their other LPs) on Spotify, iTunes, and Bandcamp.

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Princess Nokia Slays at House of Vans with Guests Jpegmafia and Glitter Moneyyy

All photos courtesy of Annayelli Lizette Photography

 

The event was curated by the rapper herself and included free admission, free drinks and an airy atmosphere.

Rap duo by the name of Glitter Moneyyy set the tone for the night with goofy and empowering mantras. They brought the hype and humor but it was rather surface level (even though that might have been the point). With a beer or two in me I started to sing along to their track “SCD’ (suction cupdildo) but eventually lost interest.

 

photo by Annayelli Lizette Photography

Glitter Moneyyy photo by Annayelli Lizette Photography

 

Jpegmafia graced the stage next with loud-ass beats and an intense vocal performance. The gutteral base with metal and rap fusion made a punch that was stronger than the weird tasting rose cider being served. The energy in the room was high. Mosh pits were blooming, I was sweating profusely. He went into a track that was dedicated to his hatred to the singer Morrissey. Don’t know what this guy is on; he’s made 5 albums last year but I hope to see him live again.

 

photo by Annayelli Lizette Photography

Jpegmafia photo by Annayelli Lizette Photography

 

Then, the Princess arrived. She was in charge of the room. A few songs into the set Destiny addressed the crowd the way she does with all her performances. At the beginning of her set, Princess Nokia stopped the show to ensure that the space was centered around women of color. She called for all the people color, women, and LGBTQ to make their way to the front, and for everyone else to respectfully allow them to pass.  

Her impact was immediate as she flipped the energy of the room with her words. Her performance was spot on. She didn’t play all the hits from 1992 but she pulled a few. ‘Tomboy,’ ‘Kitsana,’ and ‘Mine’ made the set. She was pretty serious the whole time, making me wonder if the fame has worn off on her. But the tremendous amount of energy that she gave off and put into her performance was not unnoticed. A talented performer and cultural heroine I walked away feeling lucky to have seen her. She’s the baddest. 

photo by Annayelli Lizette Photography   

Princess Nokia photos by Annayelli Lizette Photography

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Vic Mensa, The Pack, and Kami at the House of Vans

Chicago’s House of Vans kicked off their summer House Party series with a stacked lineup consisting of Vic Mensa, The Pack and Kami on May 31st. The venue, located off of W. Randolph Street, acts as a cultural hub for Chicagoans and provides a completely open bar with select cocktails and brews provided by Goose Island, Virtue, and Deep Eddy Vodka for 21+ patreons. Although Vans Warped Tour will come to an end this summer, the company continues to live life off the wall with stellar shows, state of the art skateparks, and a flourishing lifestyle brand.

 

After collaborating with Smoko Ono, Knox Fortune, and other Save Money members such as Towkio, it’s only fitting that Kami would open the show. The unsigned artist donned a orange beanie, making it easy to follow him as he bounced around the stage and eventually into the crowd. Kami hopped over the barricade and into the crowd for his last song, where the crowd politely opened up to host him before hopping back on stage to close out the song. In between sets, Chicago's premier footwork group Teklife (comprised of DJ Spinn, DJ Taye, Gantman and AD) livened up the crowd with juke and tech house tracks.

 

The Pack took the stage next, with no other than Lil B. The west coast group opened their set with fan favorite “I’m Shinin” and rotated around the stage for each verse. Concert goers went wild when members of the Pack sprayed the crowd with water at each adlib. Lil B and The Pack kept the mood lifted with tracks such as “Wonton Soup” and “In My Car”, adn then appropriately closes their set with “Vans”.

 

For the main event, Vic Mensa stormed the stage shrouded in fog and leather. Mensa went on to talk about the album as “for all of Chicago”, including the suburbs and areas not usually included in the city’s narrative. The performance carried on with a mix of songs from his debut album There’s A Lot Going On, The Manuscript EP and second album The Autobiography. Fans jumped at favorites like “OMG”, “Liquor Locker”, and more as Vic stripped down in the summer heat. After the show had ended, Mensa stuck around to meet fans and hit a few tricks while he had the skate park to himself.

 

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WLUW Presents King Tuff, Cut Worms and Sesami at Lincoln Hall 5/25

Lincoln Hall was blessed by the presence of King Tuff on Friday, May 25. His mixture of Ty Segall, Tame Impala and a hint of Bob Dylan gave the audience a great live sound, perfect for a dance and a drink. His latest album, ‘The Other’, was released just over a month before this show, giving  fans plenty of time to memorize their favorite tunes.

King Tuff’s openers, Sasami and Cutworms, held their ground on stage. While completely different from one another, they both emulated certain profound aspects of King Tuff’s work. Sasami owned the stage with a shoegaze vibe, similar to that of local Chicago band Buried in Yellow. Although Cutworms were a polar opposite. The ten-gallon hat on their bassist and happy little drummer boy (my nickname for him throughout the night) added to their already happy-go-lucky sound. Both openers drew the audience in and left the stage with eruptions of applause.

King Tuff dazzled the audience with a whinsicial entrance, fit for a king, of course. As odd bell noises circled around the room, he and his 5 piece band graced the stage. Opening with ‘The Other’, he appeared in a bedazzled ushanka hat and checkered tuxedo. Included in the band was none other than Sasami playing keyboard. Throughout the night, the band was not afraid to show their own personalities. Sasami whipped out a french horn. The guitarist and bassist danced around and jammed with King Tuff making even more solemn and stoic songs into a fascinating act. The room was a diverse group ranging from young teens girls seemingly at their first show to middle-aged dads rocking back and forth careful not to spill their beers. King Tuff’s music attracts audiences of all kinds because of his ability to recreate certain music with his own twist. This show was a perfect example of all kinds coming together for a unique sound and fantastic time.

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A Conversation with bell's roar on Activism Through Music, Genre Bending, & The Art Funds Art Tour

I chatted with Sean Desiree of bell’s roar on activism through music, genre-bending, and the Art Funds Art Tour, a project providing grants to other QTPOC artists.

The project bell’s roar is a reference to the feminist writer, bell hooks and is used as a reference point throughout their music. For Desiree, music is weaved with their identity as a non-binary person of color. After the release of their debut full-length, We Carry Us and the first leg of The Art Funds Art Tour wrapping up, I spoke with Desiree on activism through music, the inspiration for the project bell’s roar and why bell’s roar is definitely not hip-hop music.

“My music is very much linked to my identity as a non-binary person of color and the things that I face, or how I feel about the world- my joys, all that.” - Sean Desiree  

You’ve had a pretty eventful start to 2018, from your debut full-length, We Carry Us to your tour, The Art Funds Art Tour– how did the first leg of it go?

The tour went really well, I definitely learned a lot from the whole process; it was my first time doing it and the first leg of the tour. I went from Albany, NY where I live, down to Atlanta and making stops along the way, like in Philly, Boston & Baltimore. In each city, I connected with local acts to play the show with me, so it was a really great way to make connections with different artists along the way– some of them I knew, some of them I didn’t.

What was it like seeing the Art Funds Art Tour come to fruition?

I think everyone involved in the project was super down with the concept of it which was to give away proceeds from each show to a local artist. There are so many artists out there in need of funds, including me, and that’s how I came up with the idea. I wanted my shows to be more than just about people coming out to see me, but a way to support the community as well. I think it went really well and I have so many ideas to improve it. I really enjoy curating shows as well and having control over the whole experience.

What’s an example of how a tour stop on the Art Funds Art Tour went?

I tried to organize with someone who was involved with local shows in the city. We were able to raise enough money before the show through local organizations for the grant. For example, we were able to give out a grant to Billie Dean Thomas who is kind-of a hip-hop/indie/opera performing artist.

Can you tell me about your activism and how that’s informed your project, bell’s roar?

I grew up in New York City probably around high school was when I really started to think more about world and my place in it, and what I can contribute to it.  I became involved with “Think Outside the System” a queer, trans, people of color led organization which involved thinking of a community without cops, focusing on more community involvement and looking out for each other; so that was really great to get a foundation. Throughout college, I was involved in a lot more environmental issues. Now, I want to use my music as a way to directly supporting people. The Art Funds Art Tour is kind of the beginning of that process and figuring out how my music can be useful for that movement.

The name for your project bell’s roar is a reference to the feminist writer and social activist, bell hooks. How much of your work is informed by hooks?

I feel like the actual lyrics and how I write is not so much directly linked to her, but acts kind of as a reference point for things that I believe in, things that I try to touch upon when I’m writing. My music is very much linked to my identity as a non-binary person of color and the things that I face, or how I feel about the world- my joys, all that.  So it’s not solely inspired by her work but I find her work and the work of others to be very important.

What keeps you honest in your lyricism?

I really do care about that, and I try hard to be genuine because it’s an opportunity to connect people and for people to get something from your music. Lyrics are definitely the hardest part for me. I find writing music easier. The lyrics take a long time for me- I want them to mean something and to convey a message as best as I can. I just try to remember that these are my lyrics and my songs and I don’t really need to overthink it.

What genre would you classify your music in? Do you find people classifying you in a particular genre you don’t agree with?

The only thing that I don’t understand what people are listening too when they’re like, “hip hop”–  it’s not hip-hop at all, so I don’t really know what they’re talking about [laughs]. I think indie-rock makes sense; electronic, soul, and RnB makes sense too. So I think all of those together makes up the sound.


I think people are quick to throw music in one genre box but your sound is definitely a blended one.

Yeah, I feel like it’s hard to place for me. It’s also hard for me to find artists that sound similar to me.

After this leg of the tour, what’s next for you?

I’d like to think about how to bring The Art Funds Art Tour to other cities around the U.S. I definitely want to make more music and I’d like to start producing music for other artists.

How can fans support your tour, and bell’s roar?

The two best ways would be to go to https://bellsroar.bandcamp.com/ and you can get the album there. You can also go to http://artfundsarttour.com/ to contribute to The Art Funds Art Tour and help to make that happen. Either one of those two places are really helpful.

To further support & find out more about bells roar and The Art Funds Art Tour, check out their debut album, We Carry Us here: https://open.spotify.com/album/6gvfUPySiHdW8Ga9XFeYgj ‚Äč& browse their website: http://bellsroarmusic.com/

 

 

*This interview was edited for clarity.

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