Author Archives: Crystal Eckstadt

Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures–An Enduring Legacy

Remembering Ian Curtis, born on this day in 1956.Ed.

As the gritty 1970s turned into the gaudy 1980s, three friends on the brink of their twenties in Ruislip, a London suburb, Dave, Ken, and Mark, were consumed by music. Home to ancient parishes, Ruislip’s steel-laden sky dims the life beneath it. Dulling the atmosphere even further was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, otherwise known as the “Iron Lady.” Clamping down upon workers’ unions, civil unrest, and racial tensions, the class divide soared and not much since has changed. Existence is an intermix of negative and positive tensions and the most compelling music is a mirror of these forces. Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures is its ultimate reflection.

Unknown Pleasures was released on June 15, 1979. Shoulder-to-shoulder with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division are considered to be pioneers of post-punk and their music was unlike anything heard at that time. The album is a marriage of two genius individuals—lead singer Ian Curtis, author of inwardly perceptive and melancholy lyrics, and studio maven Martin Hannett behind the production console.

As drummer Stephen Morris said in a recent livestream, “Headstock Festival Presents: Moving Through Silence,” a tribute at the 40th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death, “He’d have notebooks full of words. We’d just start playing the riff and he’d go into his MacFisheries bag and pull out a piece of paper and just start singing. At the time, everyone was starting a band, but he loved writing and poetry. He was into T.S. Eliot, and Burroughs, he was very very literate, and very creative. I met his English teacher, he’d sent me a nice email saying how much he thought Ian was very talented, even at school as a writer. If he hadn’t done music, he would have written fiction.”

With a background in chemistry, Hannett understood science but was fascinated by sound. Unknown Pleasures was his great experiment with the latest technology—the first AMS Digital Delay Machine. His control was legendary, drummer Stephen Morris made to play every drum separately on some tracks—an insane process that created the atmospheric space the album is known for. By isolating each member in the studio and also mixing the album himself, Hannett was able to craft Joy Division’s sound and style—the subsequent output a masterpiece that is just as avant-garde now as it was then.

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Needle Drop: GOLDEN, “Callus”

PHOTO: KEVIN W. CONDON | A classically trained pianist since the age of four and a teenage punk rocker, Bailey Cooke is creating music under the moniker of GOLDEN. Landing on Tunecore’s “21 Women to Watch in 2021” list, the creation of her brand of bedroom pop is an organic process with all songs written, performed, engineered, and produced by Cooke alone.

Everything from the her recordings to her music videos are created in her Brooklyn apartment, but this wasn’t always the case for Cooke. In the early stages of GOLDEN, she wasn’t well versed in the “brotools,” her word for more technical recording equipment—you know the stuff the dudes go to school for. Creating demos on her voice memo app, she’d plug her analog drum machine through her Echoplex into a bass amp and her voice into a guitar amp, and with said equipment she’d drag all 250lbs of it and her 100lb self in an Uber just to play a live show.

The weight has lifted since learning to engineer and produce her own songs, a path she never set out upon. “Like most emerging artists I was on the search for the perfect producer, and really by sheer luck I fell in with the crew of engineers at Electric Lady Studios,” she says. Through a friend Cooke was introduced to Grammy award-winning recording and mix engineer Phil Joly, a major collaborator with The Strokes, Courtney Barnett, Violent Femmes, Lana Del Rey, Common, and many more.

On off days, Joly would let her hook up her gear in Studio D at Electric Lady, nudging her to learn more. “I think it’s a dangerous spot to be in—needing someone else to figure out how your music should sound or finish your song. It’s sorta similar to expecting someone to read your mind,” she says.

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TVD Live: Retra
and Death Machine II,
at Maui Sugar Mill Saloon, 7/3

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | A couple of years ago I sat down my favorite LA dive bar, Equal Parts, and ordered a very well crafted $10 whisky sour. I came to Equal Parts for the jukebox: Danzig, Patti Smith, The Talking Heads, ect. There’s nothing better than listening to The Stones’ “Sister Morphine” in a red-tinted, dimly lit bar, drink in hand.

But on this particular night, karaoke was ruining my sanctuary until this enigmatic androgynous being jumped on the bar and smashed “What’s Up” by the 4 Non Blondes. I peered up at her speechless as she stomped from one end of the bar to the other in combat boots and a fresh crew cut killing every high note of the infamous “and I said hey, what’s going on,” chorus. “Holy shit, she’s actually giving Linda Perry a run for her money,” I thought to myself. The packed bar gave her a standing ovation. I wondered about this person with this mega voice, but this is LA proper and good manners dictate not to be intrusive to the talent around us. I sipped my drink instead.

Flash forward to the night before our first 4th of July without Covid restrictions, and everything comes full circle when I walk into the Maui Sugar Mill Saloon to check out Retra, a rebranded version of the Glam Skanks who once toured with Adam Ant. To my great surprise, I find the Glam Skanks’ founding members Veronica Witkin (guitar, synth, vocals) and Millie Chan (bass, vocals) have paired up with the girl with the mega voice, Audra Isadora (lead vocals), and formed Retra. With Shaina Mikee Keiths on drums, Retra did what they came do: glam/soul rock the night out.

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Needle Drop: Deap Vally, “Digital Dream”

PHOTO: KELSEY HART | Deap Vally is known for their raw, high energy, and liberated rock. Lindsey Troy (guitar, vocals) and Julie Edwards (drums, vocals) have consistently brought unladylike rock ‘n’ roll realness to the stage.

Their sophomore album Femejism (2016), produced by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, engaged with a more post-punk garage rock sound after their hard blues-rock debut album Sistrionix (2012). Last year saw the release of Deap Lips, a collaborative project between Deap Vally and Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips. Deap Lips is the first in a series of Deap Vally releases to follow later on this year.

The just released “Digital Dream” EP is a subtle transition to organic collaboration with different artists and friends. Whether it be a mutual fan encounter at a restaurant or bonding over a bonfire at Brody Dalle and Josh Homme’s house, each artist had met Deap Vally’s members during chance encounters over the years. Rather than limit themselves to their customary guitar and drums arrangement, they added whatever instrument a track called for in whatever genre or mood was spontaneously occurring.

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Needle Drop: Dräger, “The Villain You Need”

PHOTO: ALEXANDER THOMPSON | The current diversion into isolation has silenced the hustle of many emerging artists, but not for multi-instrumentalist Dräger—he’s been artistically thriving. Holed up in his apartment with his girlfriend and taking notes on “how the desperation affects us all,” he wrote and recorded 30 songs in 2020. At the recommendation of his publishing company, Bankrobber/ Rough Trade, the songs turned into a full LP, Goths à la Discothèque, set to be released this April on Trash Casual Records, followed by a vinyl release.

Dräger, a Brooklyn based experimental artist, is the superimposed sleek persona of Spencer Drager—writing, recording, producing, mixing and mastering his own music, much like Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker’s single vision driven production. “Dräger allows me to go where I want to go in the moment,” he explains, “I just hate living in a box.” A formidable undertaking done right, Dräger’s lucid dreamworld is a synthpop exploration of the snares of our self-absorbed and anxious digital world.

“The Villain You Need,” the first single off of Goths à la Discothèque, an album he says that is “not super dark but it’s not purely in the bliss of dance. There are a lot of brooding moments and some political moments, but it’s all easy to keep a party going and most importantly, there’s just a lot of attitude while still maintaining vulnerability.” Alluring and introspective, his music is for those who find value in irony but still want to let loose.

“The Villain You Need,” is in stores now.

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Heartache, Mental Health, and Flowers
with Lissie

Often compared to Stevie Nicks, and as flattering as that sounds, it’s a comparison I don’t find apt. Yes, Lissie’s voice is haunting and spiritual like our favorite Gold Dust High Priestess, but it’s the sheer power of her voice, a commanding instrument of its own, that makes her incomparable.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a resident of one genre of music,” Lissie tells me when I ask her what music has inspired her. “When I was in high school, and especially getting my driver’s license with that freedom—my dad had a Dodge Dakota pickup truck—I would cruise around and roll my windows down and listen. I was listening to mainstream country, gangster rap. I was listening to classic rock: Janis Joplin, Fleetwood Mac, Jefferson Airplane. I really was hungry for all of it. I loved Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Fiona Apple, Liz Phair, and I loved Metallica.”

Lissie’s eclectic and diverse taste in music is well represented on her own albums as well as in her choice of covers. And Lissie loves her covers. “Thank You to the Flowers” is her third covers EP to date. As I talked with her on the phone to get to the hows and whys for this new collection of songs, she told me, “I’ve always done a lot of covers. I try to do it with a lot of reverence and respect, hopefully, for the artists who shared these amazing songs that help us all get through life’s twists and turns. And for me, the pandemic, and just everything—it was the politics, and the pain and cruelty. It was just such a heavy, heavy summer.”

Her first two cover EPs, “Cryin to You” (2014) and “Covered up in Flowers” (2012), honored the likes of Metallica, Danzig, Kid Cudi, Joe South, and Lady Gaga—songs that her voice brought entirely new life to. “The Black Album, I was cryin in my bedroom because Danny asked my best friend to homecoming instead of me or whatever… laying on my bed and listening to “Nothing Else Matters” crying, like oh poor me.”

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Save Our Stages: The National with Alvvays
at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, 9/2/19

During this period of historic uncertainty, the fight for the survival of our independent record stores is directly mirrored by the dark stages of our local independent theatres, clubs, and performance spaces which have been shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been cited as well that 90% of these concert venues may never, ever return.

Enter the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) whose #SaveOurStages campaign has provided a spotlight on this perilous predicament with a unique mission to “preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters throughout the United States.” Without help from Congress the predictions are indeed quite dire and TVD encourages you support the S. 3814/H.R. 7481, the RESTART Act, by telling your legislators to save independent music venues via the form that can be filled out and forwarded right here.

This week and next we’ll be turning our own spotlight onto previous live concert coverage as a reminder of the need to preserve the vitality of live music venues across the country—and indeed across the globe—and while we’re at it to celebrate the work of the fine photographers and writers at TVD who are all itching to get back into the pit. 

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | Alvvays is an indie dream pop band based in Toronto and fronted by the enigmatic Molly Rankin. I wasn’t too familiar with Alvvays’ music prior to the show, however Antisocialist and Alvvays, their two recorded albums to date, have produced a substantial amount of catchy music with an even stronger live presence.

In an interview with She Shreds magazine, Rankin said that for both albums she had listened to a lot of The B-52’s, Dolly Mixture, Felt, and The Cocteau Twins—the combination morphing into something familiar yet uniquely their own. Rankin’s voice is airy, the vocals are substantive, and for me, the band feels like an amalgam of post-punk and pop. It’s hard to capture how good this band is live and they definitely won me over. It’s no small accomplishment to keep a crowd engaged before the band they came to see, but Alvvays stood on their own here, and by doing so really set the stage.

By the time the band changeover was finished, every empty seat was filled at the Greek Theater, the smaller sister venue to the The Hollywood Bowl which is nestled inside Griffith park. It’s a venue within a forest—a respite from the chaos of the city and a beloved summer venue among Los Angelians.

This was my fifth time seeing The National here in Los Angeles and I am not alone in frequency—I heard one guy say this was his 57th National show. This band has a cult following much like the traveling fans of Phish and Dave Matthews Band, and despite forming in Cincinnati this show felt like a homecoming for them. I am not sure if it was the intimacy of the venue or the giant spruce trees looming around us, or the unusual amount of time that lead singer Matt Berninger spent in the crowd, but it was apparent that we all felt connected and the vibe was just right.

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Joy Division, Unknown Pleasures–An Enduring Legacy

As the gritty 1970s turned into the gaudy 1980s, three friends on the brink of their twenties in Ruislip, a London suburb, Dave, Ken, and Mark, were consumed by music. Home to ancient parishes, Ruislip’s steel-laden sky dims the life beneath it. Dulling the atmosphere even further was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, otherwise known as the “Iron Lady.” Clamping down upon workers’ unions, civil unrest, and racial tensions, the class divide soared and not much since has changed. Existence is an intermix of negative and positive tensions and the most compelling music is a mirror of these forces. Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures is its ultimate reflection.

Unknown Pleasures was released on June 15, 1979. Shoulder-to-shoulder with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division are considered to be pioneers of post-punk and their music was unlike anything heard at that time. The album is a marriage of two genius individuals—lead singer Ian Curtis, author of inwardly perceptive and melancholy lyrics, and studio maven Martin Hannett behind the production console.

As drummer Stephen Morris said in a recent livestream, “Headstock Festival Presents: Moving Through Silence,” a tribute at the 40th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death, “He’d have notebooks full of words. We’d just start playing the riff and he’d go into his MacFisheries bag and pull out a piece of paper and just start singing. At the time, everyone was starting a band, but he loved writing and poetry. He was into T.S. Eliot, and Burroughs, he was very very literate, and very creative. I met his English teacher, he’d sent me a nice email saying how much he thought Ian was very talented, even at school as a writer. If he hadn’t done music, he would have written fiction.”

With a background in chemistry, Hannett understood science but was fascinated by sound. Unknown Pleasures was his great experiment with the latest technology—the first AMS Digital Delay Machine. His control was legendary, drummer Stephen Morris made to play every drum separately on some tracks—an insane process that created the atmospheric space the album is known for. By isolating each member in the studio and also mixing the album himself, Hannett was able to craft Joy Division’s sound and style—the subsequent output a masterpiece that is just as avant-garde now as it was then.

Read More »

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Needle Drop: Levenbirds, “Codependance” EP

Three brothers from Istanbul grew up in an unconventional environment without any exposure to secular music or television, and they did what most people in that situation would do—they moved to Los Angeles and formed a band.

It’s always interesting to see what music people gravitate towards when free will is exercised. For the brothers, now known as the Levenbirds, The National is a cornerstone and favorite. But for “Codependance,” their latest EP, David Byrne, Mitsiki, Anderson Paak, and house music pioneers, Moloko, were strong influences.

“Codependance” is a distinct departure from their first darker indie EP. While some themes have remained constant such as the confusion of love and lust and the overall temporal nature of life, they have been reconfigured for the modern dancefloor. The EP is a catchy mix of dark disco and melancholy ballads. Find the Levenbirds on most streaming services and playing shows all over Los Angeles.

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TVD Live Shots: Bloc Party at the Hollywood Palladium, 11/19

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | Britain’s NME voted Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm the best album of 2005 when it arrived in stores, yet in March, NME asserted that Bloc Party’s “Silent Alarm” tour will be worthless without its original line-up.

Yes, it’s true original drummer Matt Tong was replaced by Louise Bartle and bassist Gordon Moakes has been replaced by Justin Harris, but frontman Kele Okereke and guitarist Russell Lissack are permanent fixtures in Bloc Party’s DNA. Lissack is solely responsible for creating the aggressive and fun experimental guitar sounds that separate Bloc Party from the pack. Songwriter Okereke with his unmistakable British, soulful punk voice could never be replaced. All that is Bloc Party starts and ends with him.

Bloc Party has often been a band mired in controversy. Liam Gallagher once dubbed them “indie shits,” seething with obvious envy over their rapid success. As such Okereke has had an ongoing public feud with Gallagher, intellectually navagating the situation. In 2005 Kele was outed by the media—as a gay black man fronting one of the biggest post-punk revival dance bands in the UK, he’s been fighting racism and complacency ever since. Despite the tension, one thing has remained constant: Bloc Party hasn’t faded away like so many other acts and they’re still selling out venues.

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TVD Live Shots: 2019 Rock Godz Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at The Canyon, 10/27

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | The Rock Godz Hall of Fame launched in 2009 as a grassroots organization to honor the musicians who are not often in the public spotlight. Over the past decade, the ceremony has continued to grow as these frequently unheralded artists and linchpins of the music industry have received the recognition they quite well deserve.

They’ve made their mark on history as session or touring musicians, songwriters, producers, and engineers of timeless classics still in rotation today. Former inductees nominate their peers making this a highly respected event. Whether it was session bassist Bob Glaub who has recorded with everyone from Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Donna Summer,  or songwriter/ session ace Richie Zito who has produced The Cult, Cheap Trick, and Bad English, the ballroom at The Canyon in Agoura Hills was filled with awe-inspiring talent.

It was an illustrious night of great surprises and performances. Yacht rock pioneers and inductees Peter Beckett and Burleigh Drummond, drummer and founding member of Ambrosia, shined on Ace’s “How Long” and Player’s “Baby Come Back.” Rick Springfield appeared and tore through Little Richard’s “Lucille” with Brett Tuggle who toured with Springfield in the ’80s on the heels of “Jessie’s Girl.” Inductee Rowen Robertson, the former Dio guitarist who joined the Dio band at the age of 17 after simply mailing off a cassette (a story he fondly retold) stood out on Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

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TVD Live: Bastille
and Joywave at the Greek, 10/12

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | In these troubling times Bastille’s music feels like an antidote. Their simple tales of love, heartache, joy, and doom resonate with people worldwide. And it makes sense. Daniel Smith, the group’s lead singer and songwriter, has an English language and literature degree, and is an adept storyteller. They are out on this current tour supporting the release of their latest album, Doom Days.

Openers Joywave, an indie synth pop quintet from Rochester, NY played their entire set in matching neon yellow shirts and Adidas sweatpants preparing for a few up-and-coming shows where they will headline. Opening for Bastille is no easy task. Not that there isn’t enough talent in the world because there is, it’s just that their originality is hard to match. Smith, known for his fascination with film (every Bastille album cover resembles a movie poster) brought stage production values to this tour. Songs were played to easily movable sets much like a Broadway show, each song having its own space to tell its story.

The new album, Doom Days, focuses on our planet’s undeniable nihilistic condition, a theme constant for Bastille. Smith told the crowd that while making the album, they set out to create something optimistic but invariably created something depressing. They opened with a “Quarter Past Midnight” the first song off of Doom Days, and played material from each of their three studio albums including “Of the Night”—a brilliant mashup cover of two 1990s dance classics: Snap!’s “Rhythm is a Dancer” and Corona’s “Rhythm of the Night.”

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TVD Live: Incubus and Dub Trio at the Santa Barbara Bowl, 9/26

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | Driving an hour and half north of Los Angeles along the PCH, California’s coastline road, is a cool thing to be doing. Traveling along this infamous route to see Incubus’ 20th anniversary of the Make Yourself album at the Santa Barbara Bowl? An even cooler thing to be doing.

Openers Dub Trio, a longstanding instrumental group from Brooklyn consisting of guitarist DP Holmes, bassist Stu Brooks, and drummer Joe Tomino, took the early concertgoers on a tour of ska, punk, and metal. They’re a band that has long flown under the radar, but their members can be heard separately contributing to albums from many of hip hop and rap’s greats, such as Tupac Shakur, The Fugees, Mos Def, Common, and even Lady Gaga.

As the day turned to night, a 10-minute documentary appeared on screens highlighting Incubus’ journey from the album that dropped them into the mainstream. 1999 was at the forefront of the burgeoning electronic and rave music scene, and Incubus as an up-and-coming rock band was impacted by the new cultural milieu—a topic touched upon in the documentary. DJ Kilmore has always been an influencer within this band, fusing electronic elements with whichever genre of rock they have decided to explore over the years.

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TVD Live Shots: The National with Alvvays at The Greek Theater, 9/2

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | Alvvays is an indie dream pop band based in Toronto and fronted by the enigmatic Molly Rankin. I wasn’t too familiar with Alvvays’ music prior to the show, however Antisocialist and Alvvays, their two recorded albums to date, have produced a substantial amount of catchy music with an even stronger live presence.

In an interview with She Shreds magazine, Rankin said that for both albums she had listened to a lot of The B-52’s, Dolly Mixture, Felt, and The Cocteau Twins—the combination morphing into something familiar yet uniquely their own. Rankin’s voice is airy, the vocals are substantive, and for me, the band feels like an amalgam of post-punk and pop. It’s hard to capture how good this band is live and they definitely won me over. It’s no small accomplishment to keep a crowd engaged before the band they came to see, but Alvvays stood on their own here, and by doing so really set the stage.

By the time the band changeover was finished, every empty seat was filled at the Greek Theater, the smaller sister venue to the The Hollywood Bowl which is nestled inside Griffith park. It’s a venue within a forest—a respite from the chaos of the city and a beloved summer venue among Los Angelians.

This was my fifth time seeing The National here in Los Angeles and I am not alone in frequency—I heard one guy say this was his 57th National show. This band has a cult following much like the traveling fans of Phish and Dave Matthews Band, and despite forming in Cincinnati this show felt like a homecoming for them. I am not sure if it was the intimacy of the venue or the giant spruce trees looming around us, or the unusual amount of time that lead singer Matt Berninger spent in the crowd, but it was apparent that we all felt connected and the vibe was just right.

Read More »

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TVD Live Shots:
Young the Giant and
Fitz and the Tantrums
at the Forum, 8/10

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | Feel good pop music continues to appeal to the masses. The Forum, an imposing piece of architecture in the heart of Inglewood, is a legendary Los Angeles venue built in 1967 to resemble a Roman Coliseum by the same firm that built Madison Square Garden. The Forum is a prestigious venue to play. But last Saturday, at a venue that has seen everyone from The Eagles to Diana Ross, modern indie pop music prevailed.

Not entirely sold out but close to capacity, the crowd was a mixture of families, fashionistas, and low-key people sporting Vans and Hawaiian shirts; hints to a more laid back Southern California lifestyle. The young children in attendance signaled a night of youthful and joyous, spirited music that only concerned parents would permit their children listen to. I was singing “Shout at the Devil” by Mӧtley Crüe at 6-years-old but hey…we all have different experiences and tastes in life, and that’s just what this show represented.

The night seemed a little motley too. The Nashville trio COIN, who define their music as pop songs with rock instrumentation in an interview with Billboard magazine opened the show and played their most popular hit to date “Talk Too Much.”

Fitz and the Tantrums took the stage bringing the kids to their feet as they danced to the band they no doubt came to see. But it wasn’t just the children who loved this 18-song set, the entirety of the arena sang along as Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs, the vocal duo of the group, powered through the high-energy Motownesque dance songs they are known for.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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