The George Carlin sample about government corruption and news clips at the beginning of “Tyrannology” sets the mood for the song to follow. Jon Ditty and DJ Hurley bring in Blueprint, Ceschi Ramos, Reed Skahill of Ajeva and HeyeYella of Zhudaru Crew in to give some choice words about the collaboration between politicians and the oligarchic class. Seems a bit topical now given the impeachment hearings against Donald Trump. The beat is playful and charged to match the subject matter but even though the topic is heavy Jon Ditty and DJ Hurley make it accessible and relatable with deft cultural references including the chorus of part of Lord Acton’s famous maxim: “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The guest vocals never seem excessive and an excuse to have heavy hitters, it just brings some different voices to something most people of conscience have thought a lot about in the Twenty-First Century. As the title suggests, the song is a kind of character study of authoritarian regimes in the modern era as a classic echo of dictatorial orders of the past. The single is the second from the duo’s album Factory Recall and you can listen to it on Spotify and follow Jon Ditty and DJ Hurley on Facebook and Instagram (linked below).
December 10, 2017. It wasn’t a particularly cold, late fall night when the line to get into the Atmosphere show at the Ogden ran two blocks. The previous time the hip-hop duo played in Colorado it was probably headlining at Red Rocks or a similarly large venue. At the end of the line an unpre-possessing guy who came up to say hello to people. He was dressed like everyone else but he had an artist’s badge on and at first a number of people in line didn’t really knew who he was because he sure didn’t say, “Hey, it’s me, Sean Daley, Slug, you’re coming to see me tonight.” He just talked to people and said thank you for coming to the show and took as many pictures and shook as many hands as he could until he had to leave to go get ready for the performance. Not many artists do this sort of thing but maybe more should.
Later, throughout the powerful and playful performance, song by song, Slug and Ant laid out a sensibiliy in the music that goes beyond the whole “we’re just like you” presentation. More than a poetic stream-of-consciousness diary entry set to beats aesthetic. More than the “we’re only here because of you” gratitude platitude. It was we’re here with our people who identify with our expressed flaws, potentially problematic feelings at different times of our lives because that level of reality and coming to terms with our entire selves is more important and relatable than a manufactured, finely curated image. There is some of that because it’s a show, after all, and not some hyper real documentary that wouldn’t really be interesting to see on stage. But from demonstrating a very human care for fans as people earlier before the show to the beautiful, short-Colorado-tour-specific merch (see below for the t-shirt), Atmosphere let us know they mean it.
Even though Atmosphere is kind of big time hip-hop act these days, it spent many years incubating in the underground either as Atmosphere or in previous projects where grassroots connection with fans is all you have. Good thing to know Ant and Slug remembered what it felt like to have that connection even if you can’t talk to literally everyone after a show and some of the boring merch some bands peddle with just their name and maybe a merely okay design. It’s the details and touches that aren’t so obvious that distinguishes Atmosphere from some of their peers. With an extensive set list that spanned much of the group’s career, Atmosphere didn’t skimp on on the fans in that regard either.
Thursday: December 7, 2017
Who: Atmosphere w/Musab + Ink Well (Mink), deM atlaS, The Lioness and DJ Keezy
When: Thursday, 12.07, 8 p.m.
Where: Ogden Theatre
Why: Though Atmosphere is all but a mainstream hip-hop act these days, Slug and Ant had their roots in underground hip-hop in the 90s. As cofounders of Rhymesayers Entertainment, the influential Minneapolis hip-hop imprint, Slug and Ant participated in that creatively rich and collaborative environment nationally that included the Mush Records and Anticon Records imprints and Slug’s participation in Deep Puddle Dynamics, the alternative hip-hop supergroup that also included Sole, Doeseone, Alias and Jel of Anticon. But Atmosphere slowly started to enjoy greater levels of commercial success after the 90s while still remaining an innovative and interesting project. By the time of 2008’s When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, Atmosphere worked with Tom Waits on “The Waitress.” Each of Atmosphere’s subsequent albums have charted respectably on the Billboard charts. But none of that would matter a bit if the music wasn’t worthwhile. On 2017’s Fishing Blues, Slug has returned to the deeply introspective delivery style that made his early work so compelling. Except the naivete is gone but the need to express his truth from the perspective of an older person who doesn’t find some of the bravado of his youth so charming and who finds the desperation to be oh-so-clever boring. Atmosphere today doesn’t lack for the energy for which it’s become known but it is more sharply channeled. Atmosphere is performing numerous shows throughout Colorado over the next ten days or so, the front range shows shows, in addition to the Thursday, December 7 date in Denver include shows on Saturday, December 9 at The Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins, December 10 again at Ogden Theatre in Denver, December 12 at Black Sheep in Colorado Springs and December 13 at Boulder Theater in Boulder.
Friday: December 8, 2017
Who: Ian Cooke The Flight I Flew album release show and Going Away Party
When: Friday, 12.08, 9 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Ian Cooke is moving to South Carolina in 2018 to be with his partner of the last handful of years. And when you listen to his 2017 album The Flight I Flew, you can tell he went through an extended period of emotional confusion and turmoil ultimately coming to a place where his heart and and head are in alignment and his creative music given a focus that maybe it hadn’t had in such a short span of time that it took to assemble the new record. You can hear in the album’s songs the epiphanies, the self-realizations, the accepting of forgiveness that takes real work on the part of both people, and the commitment to personal accountability that you don’t hear in a lot of pop music even when it is as thoughtful and ambitious as the type Cooke has written his entire career. Friday’s show will be the full band spanning Cooke’s catalog while Saturday’s show will focus on Cooke’s quieter songs in a solo format. Either way, here’s your chance to see one of Denver’s truly greatest songwriters perform before you only get to see him maybe once a year.
Who: Death in Space, Shawn Mlekush and Herpes Hideaway
When: Friday, 12.08, 6 p.m.
Where: Hooked on Colfax
Why: Aleeya Wilson is a Girls Rock Denver alumna who was probably a bit different from her peers as she used her guitar to make noise and ambient music rather than whatever popular musical style was favored among teens of that time. As a musician and writer, Wilson has tended toward conceptual work with a visceral quality making few if any concessions to mainstream accessibility. Supposedly this is one of her last noise shows in Denver though she’ll probably do some more while in grad school out of state. Shawn Mlekush is one of the synth players in experimental electronic band Jackson Induced Mutant Laboratory. No, not making that up. So his set will be interesting. And of course there’s the dark ambient of Herpes Hideaway. That entity is the solo project of Patrick Urn whose contributions to industrial band In Ether, the production on some Church Fire material and his various noise, hip-hop and electro efforts over the years may not be widely known but in the underground Denver experimental scene, widely respected. Herpes Hideaway finds Urn adopting the character of a witch-like being from another dimension evoking the fears and pains of humanity and purging them from the collective unconscious. Maybe not but that’s the vibe of the live show.
Sunday: December 10, 2017
Who: Unsane w/Plaque Marks and Pueblo Escobar
When: Sunday, 12.10, 8 p.m.
Why: Unsane crawled out of the 80s stained by the crushing, avant-garde noise rock of Swans, the organic-mystical industrial of Einsturzende Neubauten and perhaps the punishingly grinding transcendence of Flipper. So much so that the band has been often mistaken for a metal band, though that influence is probably there too through the more early doom and thrash end of that music. These days Unsane’s closest musical cousins are probably bands like Eye Hate God and the current incarnation of Neurosis. Its songs sounding like a Rob Zombie movie feels to watch in their finest moments—harrowing, unblinking in its depiction of the horrors humankind inflicts on itself, all awash in heightened emotions. Philadelphia’s Plaque Marks includes members of Creepoid, Ecstatic Vision and Fight Champ so it’s noisy post-hardcore-ish sound is beautifully disorienting. Like if Butthole Surfers had somehow emerged after the 31G imprint bands and modern psychedelic doom had their impact and its members decided they needed to push beyond their immediate influences. Pueblo Escobar is a Denver-based, metallic post-hardcore band that actually lives up to a name like that with dark, edgy songs played with an exuberant sense of fun.
Who: Ultrametal Presents: The Last King of Poland (10) w/John Gross (11), Meme Girls (11:30), Killd By (9:30), Birth (10:30), Ghost House (8:30), French Kettle Station (8) and Blank Human (9)
When: Sunday, 12.10, 7 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Noise tends not to get much stage time outside of DIY venues and Mutiny so this noise showcase at Syntax, a venue that often has a more open booking policy than most clubs, is a welcome change of setting for a show like this. It’s a broad spectrum of noise and not a whole lot in the way of the harsher side. John Gross of Page 27 is playing a rare solo set. Killd By will make the kind of hyperkinetic dance music that only Colin Ward could make in his manipulation of self-created samples inside his beats. Birth is as much performance art as weirdo breakcore. French Kettle Station will likely be his usual energetic post-punk/synthwave delivered with a visceral energy. Blank Human, a noisy kind of ambient. Touring through from Chicago is Last King of Poland who will bring his beat-driven ambient noise tracks. Set times indicated above in parentheses.
Monday: December 11, 2017
Who: Hunter Dragon birthday/going away party w/Lazarus Horse and Midwife
When: Monday, 12.11, 8 p.m.
Where: Syntax Physic Opera
Why: Hunter Adams pushed in many different musical directions when he moved to Denver in the mid-2000s from St. Louis. You could consider some of what he did in the indie pop vein, but he also made experimental synth music that bordered on the ambient. His restless imagination wouldn’t let him settle for anything rote so some of his later music was a completely unique sort of electronic dance pop music but infused with an edgy emotional honesty that you pretty much never hear in that sort of music. Adams is a true original with a rich imagination that he expresses with his music eloquently and vividly. Now Adams is moving away from Denver yet again and celebrating the occasion, along with his birthday, with Lazarus Horse and avant-folk artist Midwife. With Madeline Johnston of the latter, Adams was involved in Tiny Amp Tapes so hopefully he can still have some involvement with imprint from afar.
Tuesday: December 12, 2017
Who: Panther Martin w/Couches, Male Blonding and Godchild
When: Tuesday, 12.12, 8 p.m.
Why: Panther Martin, the Denver-based indie rock band, has never suffered from a lack of strong songwriting but it’s recent Drats EP finds the band pushing past its obvious influences (The Strokes, maybe some Pavement in there as well as other tuneful purveyors of tastefully fuzzy tone). Couches from San Francisco seems to be coming from a similar place musically but more punk, more from the House of Reatard. Male Blonding may have the greatest rhythm section in Denver indie rock but one that plays to the band’s richly emotive songwriting lead in part by Noah Simons’ commanding yet melancholic vocals.
Who: Hott Mt w/déCollage and Moon Magnet DJ set lost-lake.com/event/1582575-hott-mt-denver
When: Tuesday, 12.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Hott Mt apparently tracked down Wayne Coyne a handful of years ago and got him to work with them on some music and a video. He later became a fan of the band’s ethereal, synth driven pop music reminiscent of Air’s elegantly crafted nostalgia-inducing tonality and The Helio Sequence’s meshing of guitar rock and gossamery synth pop. Maybe think Black Moth Super Rainbow a bit too. Check out the band’s excellent 2017 album AU. Seems a good pairing with déCollage’s playfully colorful psychedelic music that sounds like it’s being channeled from a world where all classic children’s literature isn’t fiction but a wondrous world worth exploring.
Wednesday: December 13, 2017
Who: Empress w/Grass and Paper Knees
When: Tuesday, 12.12, 7 p.m.
Where: Lost Lake
Why: Empress’ 2017 album, Passion Fade, perfectly synthesizes the band’s instinct for dark, beat-driven industrial music, death rock and the heavier end of post-punk—think The Cult and early Death In June. Gritty, borderline abrasive stuff with corrosive atmospheres. In a bit of inspired pairing, Boulder’s lo-fi noise rock phenoms Grass are also on the bill. Fans of Hue Blanc’s Joyless Ones, Eat Skull and the Reatards should check out Grass.
Who: Glasss Presents: The Speakeasy Series 2017 finale
When: Wednesday, 12.13, 6 p.m.
Where: Hooked On Colfax
Why: This will be the final installment of the 2017 edition of The Speakeasy Series presented by Glasss Records with a focus on more experimental electronic acts from Denver. The shows happened in the basement of Hooked on Colfax with Glasss bringing in a P.A. to allow the room to be awash in rich sounds. For this final show of the year in that series, Glasss will bring in various artists to perform. Some of them may even collaborate but, as with the rest of the series, it’ll be quality and interesting stuff.