Artist Profile: Cool Boy 36

Editor’s Note: This piece was written for print and is the feature writing in the limited edition REUPCYCLE LOOK BOOK Zine, a collaboration between Durham Beat and Cool Boy 36. To purchase the look book, please visit our online shop HERE.

Blaine Wyatt Carteaux. Yes, that’s his real name. You might know him better as Raund Haus co-founder and local fashion artist Cool Boy 36. I met Blaine for the first time in the weeks leading up to Moogfest 2018. As the resident local journalist dedicated to covering all of the local sets, I first started to get to know Blaine in the short, intense burst of time surrounding the festival. I knew from the very first moment I met him that he is an innovator. Quixotic though he may be at times, Blaine is a fiercely self-aware individual who effortlessly emanates an energy of uniqueness.

Born in upstate New York and raised in North Carolina since the age of eleven, Blaine has been making art for his whole life. Through the years he has walked down many creative roads. From his early affection for street art, sketching and drawing, to the design, screenprinting, and VHS video art of his current path, Blaine has been a fearless navigator of “creating something in a non-traditional way.”

“I started as a design student at UNC Greensboro,” he told me over drinks at Criterion. During his five years in undergrad, he dabbled in mediums ranging from photography to etching. Throughout these formative experiences his design process grew, became more intentional, and more inclusive of different mediums. By the time he finished college and had landed in Durham, the spark for Cool Boy 36 had already been lit.

Fashion wasn’t something he studied in school. His passion for it grew over time and took root when he worked in fashion retail. Between flipping through fashion magazines on breaks to the inevitable people watching of the mall, his observations and experiences during this time would help inform his path to come. His first foray into fashion would come in Durham when Cool Boy 36 was little more than a great notion waiting to be born. Thanks to an injection of income from a tax refund, Blaine was able to do his first-ever run of shirts under the Cool Boy 36 brand. Now five years old, Cool Boy 36 is an established presence in Durham.

Cool Boy 36 is as much an artist persona as it is a brand. The aesthetic of Cool Boy is driven by Blaine’s longtime affection for street art–everything from graffiti to busking to trash art and found art. To his core, Blaine is a street artist. While today the Cool Boy 36 brand represents a much larger body of work and artistic mediums, street fashion is the cornerstone. The Cool Boy garments are every bit as unique as the artist who makes them. One of the fundamental qualities of the brand is the non-traditional approach to production. No two garments are ever the same. Cool Boy 36 specializes in limited edition one-of-one garments, each its own unique piece of art, which can never be truly replicated. If fashion is meant to help people express their individuality through personal style, then Blaine’s approach is true fashion sense. Over the last year, Blaine describes himself as having “hit a stride” and achieving “a level of rarity I’ve always wanted.” The Durham environment has certainly aided in Blaine’s creative ascension.

Since Blaine has been living in Durham, the Cool Boy 36 brand has been reacting to the growth and changing landscape of the city. “I’ve been growing as the city is growing,” he told me. Durham is home to a vibrant art scene, some publicly funded, some strictly DIY, but all of it furiously local, and often intersecting. Blaine himself describes Durham as having a “very open artist community” where people are “down to collaborate.” But in the midst of this highly creative space, there exists a particular chaos that goes beyond people and art and community.

Durham is undergoing a transformation for all to see. Construction makes itself known everywhere it goes: orange cones, workers in green and orange vests, fences, piles of dirt and rubble, and dead empty lots. All of these images exist in the daily life of Durham. This is the everyday chaos of tangible change that Cool Boy has captured in his REUPCYCLE clothing line.

For this new line, Blaine designed images inspired by urban development, signs posted, utility work, orange lines spray painted on the street. Bright colors and images of chains, “restricted area” signage, and his own rendition of Durham’s recycle logo, all reflect the face of a space in flux, of a city preparing itself for a massive infusion of new residents, and with them, new cultural values. According to city officials, Durham is currently growing at a rate of 20 new residents per day, or 7,300 per year. The city has grown more than 12 square miles since 2000, and has already seen a 22% increase in population during the decade of 2000-2010.

Durham’s changescape is highly visible, and yet the impending impact of these changes is most often heard in cursory complaints about traffic and parking and housing and road closures and spontaneous utility work–the usual quotidian dilution of a much larger conversation. Still, Durham is fighting the implications of its gentrifying trend, walking the contradictory line between embracing the inevitability of growth, while also seeking to retain aspects of its identity that are at risk of being eradicated by that same persistent change.

The REUPCYCLE line is both a reaction to and reflection of this transformation. Blaine deliberately calls attention to Durham’s changescape through his use of color, color manipulation, and street-inspired imagery. The utility orange color of construction is a bright camouflage for gentrification in Durham. Utility work and construction sites around the city throw up signs, build fences, and spray paint lines on the street, creating a particular visual aesthetic, and, at the same time, an unintended street art. No matter where you live in Durham or even elsewhere in the Triangle, the visual of change and growth, as indicated by this unintended street art, is widespread. Those of us living in Durham breathe that dusty air, drive on those torn up streets, swerve to avoid poorly placed road plates and erroneous cones, and watch the prices for consumables slowly creep up.

This is an appropriate moment to mention bleach. In addition to the unique designs of Blaine’s REUPCYCLE garments, one of his Cool Boy 36 trademarks is his use of bleach to manipulate color and create distortion. While the use of bleach on garments in this way is typical for the Cool Boy 36 brand, it carries special significance to this REUPCYCLE line. Bleach is a product typically used for cleaning, to make clear again that which was distorted by dirt and grime. Blaine uses bleach in a way that directly contradicts its traditional purpose. He creates color chaos. He distorts the original crisp coloring of a garment to imbue a sense of commotion into the very products he makes. Then, by screenprinting his designs on these distorted garments, he has simultaneously created a background of the dusty mayhem of a city wrought with construction, while overlaying his interpretation of the Durham changescape’s unintended street art. REUPCYCLE is very much the embodiment of a complicated relationship between the artist and his space. It is also a rigorous commentary on the fashion industry.

The REUPCYCLE name is meant to evoke the thought of recycling, “something that needs to be continually promoted,” as Blaine said to me. The name is also a riff on the common street term “re-up”, which simply means to resupply one’s stash. The union of these two practices does more than simply tie together Blaine’s passion for street culture and his clothing brand; it is also a nod to the process and the materials used to create REUPCYCLE.

“I’m sick of the waste of the fashion industry,” Blaine told me. An oft glossed over topic, even in this contemporary time when repurposing and recycling have become more prevalent, the waste of the fashion industry remains rampant. According to an NIH study published in 2007 called “Waste Couture”, the fashion industry is second only to the oil industry in polluting. Only a fraction of clothing donated to charities and thrift shops stay stateside for reconsumption by the American consumer. Nearly half of all used clothing is shipped overseas. Between 1989 and 2007, the total weight of used clothing shipped from the United States rose to seven billion pounds per year.

Ever mindful of this reality, Blaine actively seeks out used clothing to serve as the canvas for his designs. He visits thrift shops across Durham to find garments he can give new life to and make relevant again. This practice is uniform across all Cool Boy 36 fashion productions. It is especially relevant to the REUPCYCLE line ostensibly because it seeks to promote recycling and the culture of repurposing existing materials. Similarly, the Durham changescape maintains an element of this “repurposing” of existing spaces. While new development all over the city has popped up at an alarming rate (in light of the population explosion), several small businesses have taken the initiative to use existing infrastructure to house new offices or retail spaces or venues. The Durham Fruit is a good example of this: once home to a fruit packing warehouse originally built in 1926, the former industrial warehouse has since been successfully converted to a multipurpose arts and event space… an old building made relevant again by a new purpose.

REUPCYCLE embodies within it the very heart of Durham’s struggle to grow while still maintaining its authenticity and edge. As a member of the artist community which thrives here, Blaine, through this project, has contributed substantial commentary on Durham’s present moment and its difficulty in reconciling its future self with its present identity. This fashion line is a statement, an authentic and unforgiving reflection of Durham right now. From concept to process to final product, Blaine has produced clothing for people who consume art, while also delivering a solemn, although brightly colored, message to anyone who wears or encounters one of his REUPCYCLE garments: look up, look around, understand where you live.

I am also a resident of Durham and a member of the local artist community. Throughout this months-long collaboration with Blaine, we have shared many moments of mutual lament about the changescape of Durham. Having already been displaced from my home city because of the economic violence of rapid gentrification, working on this project has struck a chord in me. I have already seen what happens when development is not merely left unchecked, but actively pursued regardless of cultural impact. This look book collaboration, from the perspective of your humble author, is a stake in the ground, a declaration to fight for the heart of Durham, to preserve its authenticity, its edge, and especially the creative economy of the local artist community.

Featured Photo: Cool Boy 36 Polaroid by Tyger Locx.

The Post-Show: Real Dad, Case Sensitive, Moon Ruin at The Pinhook, August 3, 2018

I composed this post-show writeup in my head several weeks ago. The demands on The Editor during those same weeks have forced me to carry this piece around with me while tending to the growing business of The Beat. Only now, long after the happenings have happened, have I been able to attach these words to the page. I could list the reasons why it has taken this long, but none of that will matter to the musicians who have been waiting for these words. I deserve to scathe myself because of this tardiness. And yet…

…right at this very moment I am sitting on my stoop with a cold beer, headphones on listening to that Jimi Blues, writing these words on actual paper, and feeling positively grand. I ruminate still on that August 3rd show.

“Look for a black hat with red roses on it, and a tiny pencil.” That’s what I said to Real Dad when I told him how to find me at his show. He had invited me, you see, to come as Durham Beat for his Friday night show at The Pinhook. I got all dressed up in my Editor uniform and casually made my way over to the show.

I rolled into The Pinhook moments before Case Sensitive took the stage. I went over to the bar and ordered a Natty Bo before heading to my usual front of crowd place. I soon realized I was missing something key and scurried back over to the bar for my ritual pre-show shot of Jameson. The bartender poured the last of the bottle out into the shot glass, then opened another bottle and topped off my miniature beverage. The girl next to me at the bar looked over at me and said, “You inspire me.” “Oh really?” I responded skeptically. “Yeah, I’m going to get a shot too.” I threw back the shot of brown and remarked, “It’s a good idea,” then made my way back to the front as Case Sensitive emerged from sound check and began their set with heavy guitar, deep bass, and wild drums. I recognized the song immediately. “Six Feet” is the second track from their two-sided single released earlier this year. I had done a little writeup about the release back then. In fact, it was the first piece I ever published on Durham Beat. I knew the song well, having listened to it dozens of times while dusting off my rusty journalist voice. I had seen Case Sensitive for the first time at a their album release show at The Station. They were every bit as glamorous as I remembered. Sporting casual black attire, the ladies rocked out, at times switching instruments with each other for different tracks. Ethereal female vocals combined with raucous stoner-rock-styled guitar riffs and a general DGAF attitude, all live at the heart of Case Sensitive’s sound. These women are not only inspiringly talented, they are decidedly true-to-self.

By the end of their set, the crowd had grown considerably. Their exuberant cheering for the all-female Carrboro-based rock trio was welcome noise to my ears. I am always gratified to bear witness to outpourings of love towards artists I’ve written about.

During the interim set switch, I found Real Dad over at the merch table, merch-less, and selling on behalf of the other bands. “I know you go by The Editor, but what’s your real name?” he asked me. To be clear, Real Dad’s real name is Nolan Smock. Many of you reading this raggedy writeup know this already, but in the world of gonzo journalism, staying true to character identities is a tenet of this artform’s authenticity. True-to-self was very much the theme of the night, as Real Dad’s set on this particular evening was an expression of personality and vulnerability. But before I get into all of that, I would be remiss to dismiss the second set from out-of-towners Moon Ruin, a synth-heavy four-piece from the midwest (Peoria, IL and Eau Claire, WI), who were passing through our dirty little city in support of an album released earlier this year.

Because of my experience covering Moogfest, the synth-centric art/tech festival hosted in Durham in the springtime, as well as innumerable other run-ins with electronic music, I have been a bit spent on the genre of late. Thus I must admit to you, dear reader, that while I found Moon Ruin to be of sound musicianship and their set of excellent quality, I was in no position to appreciate synth-centric sounds on this night. During their set, in between moments of Bon Iver-esque solemnity and sounds broadly resembling synth-inspired art rock, I fantasized I was in room with some string players and a harmonica. There may have been a piano there too. Lately I find myself craving the familiar noises of traditional musical instruments. I was drawn back into Moon Ruin’s set by their drummer, whose natural rhythm and energy lifted me from my synth-evading daze and yanked me back into the show. I made a point of finding him at the end of the night to thank him.

Following a brief tobacco-stained interlude between sets, I once again found my front of crowd place for what would be a wholly inspired set from Real Dad. In an atypical gesture, he announced to the crowd that “Durham Beat is in the house.” While I usually prefer to slide under the radar of showgoers, I am always happy to receive some public love from artists–since they do so often receive it from me, even if it is a tardy, self-deprecating, oddly poetic piece of prose. Real Dad did a solo set with the technological accompaniment of a sampler, while switching back and forth between guitar and bass. I have seen many one man shows in which the artist employs the aid of tech to make a set come to form, but those sets have always tended to be a bit ostentatious and sometimes overly technical. Real Dad’s setup was comparably modest. The man himself came across to me throughout our encounter as decidedly modest and comfortable in being vulnerable in front of people. I managed to capture on video the moment during his set where he quite literally shook off whatever inhibitions might have been plaguing him and he started to dance, slowly letting himself go, sliding fully into his Real Dad persona. Don’t worry y’all–I posted it on Instagram so you could share in the moment too.

Real Dad’s sound is not genre-specific. Real Dad is not a band. Real Dad is a music act intended to rouse your humanity, your uncomfortable self, the vulnerable you, to bring all of that into the light where it doesn’t matter if you dance like an al dente noodle, or if you cried a little bit during that one song, or if your heart is broken and there’s nothing you can do to hide it from anyone who might glance your way. I walked out of The Pinhook on Friday, August 3rd in an emotional state. Real Dad had summoned in me an acute awareness of some of my own vulnerabilities, so much so that in posting this piece now, as tardy as it is, I am laying myself open to all of you. And that’s okay.

Immediately following the conclusion of the night’s sets, I had the pleasure of conducting a Raw Bites Session with both Real Dad and Case Sensitive in the downstairs green room of The Pinhook. Our conversation touched upon many topics, not the least of which was vulnerability. Please enjoy.

The Post-Show: Waking April, Dane Page, LAIRS, at The Pinhook, July 9, 2018

I went to The Pinhook on Sunday, July 8th by invitation of Raleigh-based synth duo, Waking April. They had written to Durham Beat to convey their regards and to make us aware of the show. As it turns out, I was planning to go anyway, but an invitation from the band? Yes, please.

I arrived at the show shortly before the opening act, Durham-based trio LAIRS, took the stage. One Natty Bo and shot of Jameson later, I found my usual stage front position and settled in to listen to the first of three local North Carolina acts on the bill. With a sound ranging from blues rock, to psychedelic indie rock to occasional flairs of Brit Pop, LAIRS set was high energy, audience inclusive, and straight up crunchy. During one song, lead singer and guitar player Patrick, pulled a friend up on stage to take over guitar duties, while he assumed the role of full-fledged lead vocalist, leaning into the crowd, and–dare I say–flirting with us with his amiable gesticulating. It’s sets like theirs that remind me time and time again how important it is to show up early to catch the opener. Much of the audience at this well-attended show turned up during the second set, missing out completely on an incredibly promising up-and-coming group from right here in town. To paraphrase myself from a previous local band writeup: the easiest way to support your local music scene is to show up. Luckily, you, dear reader, will have a chance to catch them in just a couple of weeks at one of my favorite local hangouts, The Station.

The second set came from the Charlotte-based indie folk act Dane Page. Two guitars, synth, bass, and drums. With sounds ranging from eerie-Bon Iver-esque to upbeat folksy to ambient to straight up swampy, Dane Page has captured the essence of nouveau indie folk. Harnessing the electronic edge that has steadily crept its way into folk music, Dane Page has a balanced, accessible sound that I want to keep hearing. This is all not to mention the utterly delightful and captivating vocals. Charmed. That’s how I felt at the end of the set. This Sunday evening show, as I later discovered when I went to chat with the band, was their first time playing in Durham. Something tells me they will be back soon…

The night culminated with the headlining set from synth pop duo Waking April. Their setup is very straight forward: Alex on electric guitar and vocals, and Bethany on vocals and synth. Rocking a sound ranging from soft and ethereal to super edgy dance pop, this high energy duo weaved between original songs and a few choice covers, including a brilliant rendition of “Blood in the Cut” by K.Flay. Last year, I had been shamelessly blasting that very song out of my car at all hours–stung as I was then by a certain faux feminist asshole who had broken my heart–but on this night, this cover, this set, hearing Alex and Bethany perform this song was very much a celebration. And I was so delighted to hear it live and done with such precision and energy. When I eventually left the venue to head back to my quiet little corner of Durham, I carried with me the residual energy and joy from a night of positively wonderful local sounds.

Immediately after Waking April left the stage, I joined the duo in the downstairs artist hangout of The Pinhook for a Raw Bites session. I invite you to listen to our post-show chat:

Check out the photo series from the show on Instagram!

FESTIVAL FOR THE ENO: Staff Picks (Part Two) for July 7th

The Festival for the Eno is a well of potential–from aspiring local musicians and craftmakers, to inspired food truck chefs, to the Eno itself, a beloved local ecosystem, a source of clean water, and a community space for the enjoyment of local natural beauty. For the 39th Annual Festival for the Eno, the organizers did an outstanding job bringing together excellent local talent, some hella keen visiting acts, and, of course, the community itself.

For the second and final day of the festival, we have put together a robust list of picks for those festival-goers out there. Even if you can’t make it to the festival this weekend, be sure to check out these outstanding local acts!

Staff Picks Part Two–July 7th

XYLEM–10AM at River Stage

When I bumped into Donovan on July 4th at the Eno, he told me his band plays “psychedelic space jazz” and I was, of course, instantly intrigued. Later that day I spent some time on their SoundCloud and that’s when I knew I was going to be at the festival early on Saturday in time to catch their set for myself. I can’t think of a better way to kick off Day Two at Festival for the Eno than with some space jazz down by the river.

Chatham Rabbits–11:30AM at Chimney Stage

A local folk duo rocking banjo and acoustic guitar, Sarah and Austin bring to the stage a reverence for traditional folk music with a flair for the contemporary. Formed back in 2013, Chatham Rabbits have been gracing stages across the South, bringing with them a genial sound and North Carolina roots. This set promises feel-good vibes and a whole lot of dancing.

Nathan Bowles–1:15PM at Grove Stage

A fixture in the local scene, Nathan Bowles is a multi-instrumentalist wandering between “Appalachian string band music and avant-garde composition…” His latest solo album, Whole & Cloven explores this genre-straddling in-depthly. His set at the Eno is one you won’t want to miss.

Honey Magpie–10AM at Meadow Stage OR 1:15PM at Chimney Stage

Honey Magpie is a three-piece all female indie folk band from Chapel Hill who released their debut self-titled album last summer. Vocal harmonies, string instruments, and a wide array of musical influences, they make captivating, graceful sounds. Honey Magpie is a must-see.

Stray Local–1:45PM at Meadow Stage OR 4:15PM at Chimney Stage

Stray Local hails from Wilmington, bringing with them a feel-good indie folk vibe. Like many of the artists on this list, Stray Local’s sound spans the depth of folk music, from its most traditional string sounds to its new electronic edge. This set promises to be as riveting as it is delightful, and certainly dance-worthy.

Tan & Sober Gentlemen–315PM at River Stage

A riotous bunch playing celtic-inspired punkgrass. Having seen this band before, they are nothing short of spitfire fun. The River Stage seems to be hosting the loudest of the music at this year’s Festival for the Eno. Wander over there at 315PM on Saturday and get wild with the Tan & Sober Gentlemen.

NiiTO–3:45PM at Meadow Stage

Jazz meets R&B with a distinct millennial twist. NiiTO has been making waves in the scene lately, playing shows all over the Triangle with hip hop artists to singer songwriters. This band is highly skilled and super fresh. We hope to see you over at the Meadow Stage for this one!

Be sure to check out the full lineup for July 7th at the Eno. Don’t forget to check out the many excellent local craft vendors. The folks at Festival for the Eno have compiled a complete list. If you’re going to be at the festival, then we look forward to seeing you there. If not, then tune into our Instagram pages and follow along with our coverage!

Featured Image courtesy of Festival for the Eno and Eno River Association.

FESTIVAL FOR THE ENO: Staff Picks (Part One) for July 4th

We are very excited to be participating in the Festival for the Eno this year. Spanning two days, July 4th and July 7th, the Eno River festival promises to be a treasure-trove of excellent local talent (with a few choice visitors too!), musicmakers and craftmakers alike.

We have taken some time to go through the entire festival schedule to put together some recommendations for those of you who are planning to attend. Even if you’re not going to be there, we strongly urge you to check out these acts!

Staff Picks Part One–July 4th

Charles Latham–10AM at Meadow Stage

One of the first acts to play at the Festival for the Eno this year, the Durham-based singer-songwriter should be a transcendental way to start the day. Introspective and ethereal, Latham’s music captures a wide range of the human experience.

Violet Bell–12:15PM at Grove Stage

A string duo–guitar and fiddle–Lizzy and Omar are both incredibly skilled musicians with a positively delightful stage presence–something to which we can personally attest as we covered Violet Bell at their recent residency at Arcana. You can listen to our chat on the Raw Bites Sessions as well. One of the most promising nouveau indie acts in the area, Violet Bell is an absolute pleasure to behold.

Lightnin Wells–1PM at Grove Stage; 3:15PM at Chimney Stage

A long-time local icon and keeper of the traditions of local folk music, Lightnin Wells is a must-see. From 1920s blues and folk to the ever-popular Piedmont style, Lightnin’s performances are an ode to the local musicians of old and an opportunity for the present day audience to glide through time with a man who is as much a performer as he is a living archive.

The Birdhorse–1:30PM at Chimney Stage

Toni Hartley is enchanting. Her sophomore album, Fool’s Adventure, released in March of this year, is a big hit here at Durham Beat. Recently featured in our collective long-form album review column, TL;DR Reviews, Fool’s Adventure is a nature walk through a forest of human emotion. We are beyond excited to see Hartley perform live and to experience her lovely voice in person.

Chatham Rabbits–2:30PM at Chimney Stage

A local folk duo rocking banjo and acoustic guitar, Sarah and Austin bring to the stage a reverence for traditional folk music with a flair for the contemporary. Formed back in 2013, Chatham Rabbits have been gracing stages across the South, bringing with them a genial sound and North Carolina roots. This set promises feel-good vibes and a whole lot of dancing.

War Twins–3:30PM at River Stage

One of the few non-local acts to make the staff picks list here–War Twins embody the spirit of rock n’ roll. Their new album American Kids is a profound culmination of diligence and dreams. Gaetana and James got their start years ago in Boston where The Editor, who was working as Managing Editor at Quiet Lunch Magazine at the time, featured them (known as Little War Twins then) in her column The First Act. Several column inches, tours, and life events later, this unexpected reunion at the Eno River promises to be a fervent display of American rock n’ roll in its newest and truest form.

Boom Unit Brass Band–4:30PM at River Stage

It’s hard to go wrong with a brass band. A multi-instrumental ensemble from Chapel Hill, Boom Unit Brass Band is composed of highly skilled musicians, many of whom participate in other local projects. This set promises to be noisy, fun, and inspired.

Simone Finally–4:45PM at Chimney Stage

A Durham-based musician, Simone Finally is one woman with a guitar and a lyrically-driven style. Since stumbling upon her music recently, I have been camping out on her SoundCloud page. Another lovely voice to be sure, Simone’s set will be a most enjoyable way to end day one at the Festival for the Eno.

Be sure to check out the full lineup for July 4th at the Eno. A number of local craft vendors will be onsite as well. The folks at Festival for the Eno have compiled a complete list. If you’re going to be at the festival, then we look forward to seeing you there. If not, then tune into our Twitter and Instagram pages and follow along with our coverage! Stay tuned for our July 7th picks later this week!

Featured Image courtesy of Festival for the Eno and Eno River Association.

The Breakfast Shoppe, Swannanoa, June 19, 2018

This past week, we spent some quiet time out in the mountains of western North Carolina in and around Asheville. The Asheville area is well-known for a vibrant and creative food scene. While many meals were enjoyed over the course of the trip, our visit to The Breakfast Shoppe proved to be the favorite. Here is the #livefooding compilation of The Editor’s visit to The Breakfast Shoppe for some perfect pancakes.


All original photos by The Editor.

Preview: The Bipeds, “54 Stange Words” at The Fruit, June 21-24

The Bipeds is a new project from Curtis Eller and Stacy Wolfson. A combination of musicians, stage performers, and dancers, “54 Strange Words” is not only a performance like no other, it is also the title of their debut album. I hesitate to use genre classifications here because what you will see from The Bipeds at The Fruit is a collision of mediums–live music, theatre, and interpretive dance–coming together to bring your Nightmares to the stage in manner best described as a hypnagogic what-just-happened experience.

The Bipeds came to be after the serendipitous meeting of Curtis and Stacy through their children. If you have recently seen Curtis Eller perform, then you may have noticed the added element of dancers/back-up singers–including, of course, Stacy.

In preparation for this preview piece, I sat down with Stacy and Curtis over coffee at Cocoa Cinnamon. There we conversated about how The Bipeds came to be–everything from the whiskey-fueled creative process to bizarre anecdotes: one day they were playing gospel 78s backwards to generate ideas for sounds when suddenly a mouse ran out into plain view, seized up, and died right there on the floor. “That’s when you know you’ve got something,” Curtis said.

The creative process which produced “54 Strange Words” was every bit the experience as the show itself. “He came in with maybe a chord progression,” Stacy told me. “But we knew what we wanted to do.” “54 Strange Words” is, in the simplest terms, the acting out of nightmares. Members of the group, as well as friends, and various audience members at Little Green Pig performances were asked to jot down their recurring nightmares on notecards–fodder for ideas for lyrics, sounds, costumes, dances. Drawing inspiration as well from psychedelic 60s music and the comedy and body movements in silent film, many dissociated mediums have found their way into this project.

Movement and music: the body is an instrument too. As a dancer, Stacy had not explored using her body as a musical instrument before this project. “The lungs are part of your body. Let’s choreograph that,” Curtis said. This logic struck a chord with Stacy (and with me too). Yes, the body is an instrument, every bit as musical as Curtis’s banjo, but thinking of the body this way brings about a different approach to the diversity of instrumentation. “54 Strange Words” takes the idea of instruments and smashes  it against a wall to see where the pieces fall. Don’t control the process–let it unfold naturally. In many ways, they have not created this project, so much as the project made itself using Curtis and Stacy and the Bipeds cohort as the tools of its own creation.

I went to one of their rehearsals to see for myself this hypnagogic-threshold-of-consciousness nightmare-inspired performance. I sat quietly in a corner writing and watching Curtis and Stacy and two of their fellow dancers work through their routines, bit by bit, coordinating their movements: “what count should we step on?” Communication is key across the performance arts–the mutual understanding of nods and cues between performers can make or break a show. People could learn a lot about effective communication by watching artists from different mediums interact with each other and sort out how to work together. But chemistry, comfort, a sense of being liberated–The Bipeds have this in spades, in part, I suspect, due to the organic nature of the creative process.

Sitting in that rehearsal space watching them go over a part and back over it and then moving forward slightly and then back over it again and then forward a little more, reminded me a bit of my own writing process. I rely heavily on the stream of consciousness method to produce the words you read. From those thoughts to conversations with others to the toil of writing and working through a piece, going back over it, adding a little here, moving forward into new paragraphs, and then back again… I can’t help but feel connected through my own artistic process to the way The Bipeds have come to create their art. What they have created is very much a product of a similar kind of being possessed of an idea, following it where it leads… how to make music mimic movement.

“54 Strange Words” opens this week and will run for four days at The Fruit. I cannot tell you what to expect. “Even the people in the show have no idea,” Curtis said. I can tell you that the album, both ethereal and nightmarish, is wholly inspired. A banjo-led tour de force of unearthly dreamscapes, this album forces you to leave your conceptions of genre at the door. Buy a ticket in advance or pay $15 at the door and go have an experience you won’t be able to describe to your friends. Hell–bring your friends. And afterwards, over whiskey (of course), figure out for yourself what just happened.

Photos courtesy of The Bipeds. Photo Credit: Kim Walker.

Residency Post-Show: M is We, BANGZZ, Sad Fish, at The Station, May 30, 2018

Moments after I got in my car to drive to Carrboro, the rain came. It fell hard and the air was hot. Muggy & wet. My favorite. I made my way slowly through the swampy night to The Station to catch (finally) the M is We residency.

For the last night of their month-long Wednesday night installment, a little band from Atlanta–Sad Fish–opened the night. An out-of-town opener is a bit bizarre indeed, but this final night of the M is We residency was a bit of a tussle itself. Sad Fish is a 3-person multi-instrumental band rocking bass, electric guitar, drums, keys, and a korg. They have a feel-good summer vibe and a vocal presence reminiscent of 80s new wave. Following a few sound-check adjustments, they played for the intimate but enthusiastic crowd of locals.

The night took a turn for rambunctious when BANGZZ took the stage. A Durham-based female punk duo–Blair on drums and Erika on guitar and vocals–BANGZZ is my new favorite band. Putting into song the tribulations of being a woman out and about in the world, all combined with an unfiltered, totally honest and eccentric stage presence, BANGZZ rocks my heart. “This song is called ‘Your Boyfriend Is Bringing You Down,’” Erika announced. You know, that asshole. You have probably met him too–the one who always knows better than you. I had a boyfriend like that once. Talk about toxicity. I will waste no more space on that faux feminist Philly punk. The boys don’t know better. “You know what I mean,” Erika says. Oh yes, I know what you mean. BANGZZ gives me hope for punk rock. There is a lot of female anger out there manifesting itself (and forcing uncomfortable questions) more and more in everyday interaction. Blair and Erika have taken that conversation and put it into song in a most appropriate way. “Take up space,” Erika says. Make your place known–no fucking apologies. I took a minute to take an enraged empowered selfie in the bathroom to commemorate the feeling of the night. Yeah I’m a millennial. I take bathroom selfies. Fuck it. I had a most splendiferous evening with those two, from the set they played to recording the Raw Bites when we were sitting on the sidewalk in front of The Station not giving a fuck. It was that kind of night.

By the time M is We took the stage, I had lost track of time. I was having too much fun. Which is the best way to have fun. After the band assembled themselves on stage, they fell into soundcheck, each one slowly joining in until they eventually crept their way into their setlist. From soundcheck on the music was continuous. Vocalist Michael stepped off the stage, moved into the audience, pulling the mic cord behind him, making his presence known. Bassist Nick, wailing on his instrument moved about the stage in wild unfettered dancing. The boys were having fun, no doubt. M is We has trickles of post-punk, metal, new wave, and electronic, all coming together to form some heavy as fuck dance-worthy sounds, as evidenced by the dancing man in my Instagram story doing his dancing thing during almost their entire set.

Now that the residency has concluded, M is We will enter the recording phase for some new music. Thanks to the experimental setting of the residency format, as the band pointed out, they were able to explore different sounds while also curating their setlists based on the sounds of the other bands playing with them throughout the residency. In my last Residency Post-Show, Violet Bell indicated very similar sentiments about the exploratory nature of the residency format. They too entered a recording period shortly after their residency at Arcana had concluded. I am encouraged to see that some of the small venues around the Triangle have implemented this model. Not only do the bands get a space to explore and experiment, while also interacting with other musicians they may or may not otherwise play with, the locals–us–we get to participate in the creative process, and in so doing, support the local scene, and witness some highly creative sets.

After the show I sat down with BANGZZ and M is We for two Raw Bites sessions. Easily the most loosey-goosey I have yet recorded, I invite you to listen:

A Few Words About Live Writing

Live writing is an experiment in writing as a performance art. A natural evolution of Gonzo Journalism, live writing forces raw reactions and unfiltered thoughts, all being shared through the mechanism of social media as the night unfolds. It is an inherently organic performance in which the writer invites the reader into the writing process itself, and into the experience of covering a live event as a journalist.

Of course, live writing isn’t only what you see on our social media. You will often find us, The Editor especially, out and about writing in public, making the words you will eventually read. Writing out in the world serves many functions. Exposure to the daily ruckus of the colliding lives of the people who live and work and toil in your own city is certainly a well of potential content. Real life often seeds the best ideas.

More than that though, it’s the noise. You might wonder, ‘how can you possibly hear yourself think?!’ Well, that’s just it. Being immersed in other sounds forces the writer to focus only on their own voice. Immersion has many benefits but none more so than learning how to hear yourself amidst the noise of others. This is where authenticity lives. Take away that which is not of you and what remains is what you mean to say.

The Post-Show: Zoocrü, Sidewalk Chalk at The Pinhook, May 23, 2018

Tonight I saw Zoocrü and Sidewalk Chalk at The Pinhook. I had bumped into Alan Thompson, sax and keys player for Zoocrü, at Dashi’s upstairs during Moogfest. My friend and I had been caught in the rain and needed a bowl of broth to recover. Alan, along with recent mayoral candidate and frontman for The Beast, Pierce Freelon, happened to sit next to us at the bar. We spitballed for a minute until they all discovered a mutual affection for anime and descended together blissfully into nerdom. I don’t know anything about anime, but I was content to kick back, observe, and enjoy my broth and mezcal cocktail. Alan invited me to the Zoocrü show at The Pinhook on Wednesday, May 23rd, and put me on the list. It was nice. Thank you, Alan!

I wandered over to the venue around 730PM and spent a few observant moments with the band before their set. Alan greeted me. We all had drinks and then the set started. “We’re Zoocrü. You can find us at zoocrüofficial dot com, #cruworldorder,” Alan spouted from the mic. They really know how to promote themselves. The necessity for self-promotion is a very real struggle for many working artists, but it does sometimes help when your shit is tight.

Zoocrü has been in and around the scene for about six years now. You have probably seen them at some point. (If you were at the Sam’s Quik Shop 70th Anniversary party, then you definitely saw them!) Like many local musicians in the area, they are involved in other projects as well, particularly the guitar player, Russell Favret, and the drummer, John Curry, both of whom are also in the band for North Carolina’s own rising star, Rapsody. Three of the members came out of the music program at NC Central here in Durham–a school known for churning out highly technically skilled musicians, particularly from their esteemed jazz program. Zoocrü’s sound definitely draws upon a heavy jazz element, but it is hardly quantifiable in those terms. “You know–it’s that millennial sound,” Alan said to me at the bar. Yes, indeed–I do know… it’s that fuck-a-genre-I’ma-make-the-noise-I-feel sound. That was very much the theme of the evening. Let’s see–saxophone, drums (oh the drums!), bass (fucking fuck yes, that six-string is beautiful!), keys, electric guitar–Zoocrü is an instrumental band, highly skilled musicians for sure, and masters of sound fusion.

As their set went on, their comfortability set in and made for some wonderfully expressive improvised solos. I spent their whole set in awe. And doing an Instagram Story–the bizarre fuck medium where y’all seem to enjoy eating live coverage. I’m happy to do it though–it feels like I’m constantly writing memes over scenes from everyday life, all in first person present tense–where live writing lives. First person present tense–yes, that’s where I’ve been living lately. Music lives there too in its own way–in the freedom of the moment… like when Russell fell into a lovely little interlude mid-set, eyes closed, moving his body with the sounds of the instrument. Later in the set it was all about the drums. Oh the drums! John is electric. My goodness. My father is a drummer you see, and I grew up falling asleep to sound of him practicing. To this day, I can sleep through anything thanks to the smashing noise of my dad wailing on his drums at 10PM every night. The drums speak to me. I am forever drawn to percussion because of how I was raised and John is a tremendous talent. During the last three songs of their set, the percussion was totally unleashed. I abandoned the Instagram story for a moment and let myself be drawn to the front of the stage to see exactly how that lovely racket was being made. It really was a night of high energy and unfettered improvisation. All of Zoocrü had moments like this throughout their set–it’s that totally raw in-the-moment expression of sound that you can only experience if you go to the show. Sure, you can listen to the music on an album, but seeing a live set… that’s something else entirely.

I had a conversation about that very idea with a gracious gentleman named Malik from the band Temple 5 behind the venue during a smoke break between sets. We had been talking about the stunted growth of hip-hop, its stagnant state of evolution, and struggle to grow beyond the adolescent stage of its former and current done-to-death trends. Malik asked me if I was at the show for Zoocrü or Sidewalk Chalk. I said I was here for Zoocrü but was staying for Sidewalk Chalk after listening to a few of their tunes earlier in the day. Sidewalk Chalk is one of his favorite bands he told me… his own music project being so similar in style and purpose.

Sidewalk Chalk hails from Chicago. They are, like Zoocrü, another millennial fuck-a-genre group drawing influence from many sounds, not the least of which being jazz, soul, and hip-hop. An emcee-fronted ensemble, complete with a brass section, Sidewalk Chalk takes “fuck a genre” to a whole new level. As Malik pointed out in our conversation, the instrumental un-genred music behind a rapper is an unique approach to breaking hip-hop out of the chains of its former trends. There is more room for improvisation, even freestyling (which has sadly waned in recent years), when combining the emcee frontman and the inherently in-the-moment style of jazz-influenced music. Synergy is the word that keeps popping into my head. The marrying of these movements, “fuck a genre” and “breaking hip hop out of its adolescent chains” seems to be a natural evolution in contemporary music, one that is obviously being explored in local scenes from Durham to Chicago. Sidewalk Chalk is an excellent example. Their set was fire. And if you’re reading this, then you likely know that Durham Beat does not cover visiting acts; we are all about the local–but the thing is, Sidewalk Chalk… they vibe with Durham. They could have easily been a band from the local scene. Durham is rich with artists of all types, so much so that the colliding of genres and styles and projects is inherently inevitable. It’s no wonder Sidewalk Chalk has built a bit of a following here.

By the time the show had finished, the fire from those sets was now inside me. Inspired, feisty, and full of energy, I made my way over to Accordion Club–one of my favorite writing corners–and immediately penned this thing you’re reading. That’s the kind of night it was. Between the music and the conversations and the Natty Bo, I had a wave of words dying to get out of me, a bizarre combination of antsiness and focus… I had to get the words down right then and there… yes, I carried the energy of that show with me. Talk about inspiration and the collision of artistic mediums… this is why I love what I do. It jives.