The Afro-Punk Festival: not your mama’s punk show

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

You think you know what punk is. But you haven’t seen anything until you’ve joined the thousands of head-bangers who make the pilgrimage once a year in June to Brooklyn’s Afro-Punk Festival.

This two-day celebration of music, skating, and film has become a Mecca for the burgeoning movement of Afro-Punk, a collection of African-American bands, fans, and misfits who are embracing hardcore rock culture and making it their own. Launched in the summer of 2005, the festival was the brainchild of record executive Matthew Morgan and filmmaker James Spooner, who wanted to give voice to the growing popularity of indie and punk rock in traditionally urban communities. It has ever since been a focal point of musical and cultural cross-pollination, fueled by an audience as diverse as the music itself.

Each day of the festival features bands ranging from eclectic rockers like Houston-based American Fangs to genre-bending artists like crooner Janelle Monae, that by turns, awe and electrify the crowd. Afro-Punk is the wild, weird alternate universe where anything is possible (I personally will never forget seeing bass guitarist Ahmed of Brooklyn’s Game Rebellion strut onstage sporting a fan of giant peacock feathers). Want to learn more about the Afro-Punk Festival? Keep reading below…

For first-timers, the Afro-Punk mashup of grunge guitar and streetwise swagger can be overwhelming. But have no fear: punk is a contact sport, and no one can stand still for long. Crowd surfing is encouraged, from the tiniest faux-hawked kindergartener to the heaviest thrasher, so dive away! And if you yearn for the days of good ole-fashioned moshing, you’ll have no trouble finding a scrum for a little full-body ping-pong.

Other thrill-seekers can get their kicks on the festival’s custom-built skate park. The dizzying array of jumps, ramps and rails is also the battleground for the annual URBANX skate and BMX competitions, where pro-skaters and bikers defy gravity and common sense for a coveted $5,000 prize.

Listen for the distinctive clink and hiss of spray cans and you’ll also find a one-of-a-kind outdoor art exhibit. At Afro-Punk, graffiti is king, and true to form, the artists work at lightning speed, to the delight of onlookers, tagging a rich tableaux of original pieces along a 30-foot wall of wooden panels.

On Sunday, the festival closes with a block party featuring live DJ’s, fashion, and food. But before you go, take a moment to enjoy the greatest spectacle on display: the crowd itself. Revel in being someplace where piercings outnumber iPhones two-to-one, and ‘business casual’ means keeping your shirt on. There are few places on Earth where dreadlocks and leather chokers so seamlessly co-exist. Afro-Punk is the center of a movement that defies definition. In the end, what could be more punk than that?

The 2010 Afro-Punk Festival hits New York June 26th and 27th, and will this year open in two new cities: Chicago and Atlanta. Check out for dates and updated details.

Ten musical destinations that will rock your world

Music has a way of taking you on a journey. Like any great trip, the songs that inspire us are filled with joyous highs and sobering lows, unexpected revelations and exotic uncertainties. It’s only natural then that each of us seeks out music during our travels. Whether it’s a CD stand in a bustling market in Morocco or a classically-trained violinist playing on a street corner in Paris, music offers travelers a visceral way to cut through the confusion of language and custom, revealing the true essence of a destination.

Wherever we go, melodies both familiar and exotic burst out of speakers, vibrate in concert halls, groove around city streets and drip off the walls in sweaty dance clubs. Yet it’s only in a few select spots around the world that the culture of music becomes a truly tangible attraction. These are the special places where a unique confluence of cultural cross-pollination, inherent creativity and a critical mass of kick-ass musicianship coalesces to create something truly special.

In the course of our journeys here at Gadling, we’ve uncovered some of the world’s most unique and memorable destinations for music. The following list is by no means the end-all-be-all of musical places to visit, but each of the ten spots we’ve chosen is without a doubt one-of-a-kind and a true musical hotspot. Did we choose any of your favorites? Click below for our picks…
Number 10 – Mali’s Festival in the Desert
At first glance, it would be easy to mistake Mali’s Festival in the Desert as a cruel mirage. Yet every year this wind-swept country in Northwestern Africa puts on one of the continent’s best musical events, featuring traditional Tuareg tunes as well as music from around the globe.

Number 9 – Pitch-perfect karaoke in Manila
Love it or hate it, Karaoke has spread its melodies around the world, from the drinking dens of Tokyo to the back streets of New York. But to truly experience Karaoke talent, head to Manila. Filipino cover bands are legendary for their pitch-perfect renditions of Western pop songs. In fact, if you closed your eyes, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference from the originals.

Number 8 – Concert hopping in Austin, TX
They like to say everything is bigger in Texas, and Austin’s annual South by Southwest music festival certainly doesn’t disappoint. Each March, over a thousand bands from around the world descend on the state’s capital for four days of drinking, dancing and music industry schmoozing. If you’re hoping to catch rock’s next great thing or simply looking for a good time, South by Southwest is definitely one of the USA’s best music events.

Number 7 – Tokyo Record Collecting
Tokyo, Japan is one of the world’s great cultural epicenters, consuming and re-creating pop culture trends at a furious pace. This intense consumption is particularly true of music, where the Japanese excel as the world’s consummate music collectors. If you need proof of Tokyo’s status as the crown jewel for record shopping, one need only stroll the back alleyways of Tokyo’s bustling Shinjuku district. Along the narrow side streets you’ll stumble upon hidden second floor record shops packed floor to ceiling with obscure vinyl and out-of-print rarities.

Number 6 – New Orleans gets Jazzed

New Orleans is known as the birthplace of Jazz music. It was the city’s unique mixture of French, Spanish and African traditions that allowed the city to develop this particularly unique musical heritage, one that is evident even today. One of the best ways to experience the Big Easy’s Jazz culture is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, perhaps the world’s best showcase of this distinctly southern-tinged style.

Number 5 – The London Remix
London has a reputation as a musical chameleon, a city that takes on the world’s constantly evolving musical styles, remixing and reinterpreting in a uniquely British way. Whether it’s Punk or Techno, Indie Rock or Dubstep, London has something to suit the tastes of about every music lover. Check out this list of London music venues, this rundown of record stores, or top-notch dance clubs like Fabric if you’re looking to jump along to the beat.

Number 4 – Kingston sound system parties
Jamaica holds an outsize reputation in the world’s musical lore, having birthed world-famous artists like Bob Marley along with hundreds of other equally talented Jamaican singers, producers and musicians. Though the laid-back vibe of Tuff Gong has long-since morphed into the raw sounds of Dancehall and Ragga, you can still experience Jamaican music at its finest at some of Kingston’s weekly sound system parties like Passa Passa and Weddy Weddy Wednesday. These rough and tumble affairs take over Kingston’s parks and streets with huge speakers, raucous dancing and plenty of fun.

Number 3 – All night techno in Berlin
Something happened when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. As a divided city was slowly mended together, music fans began to take over the city’s abandoned buildings and spaces for semi-legal dance parties. It was the beginning of Techno, a music scene that would soon sweep the capital and most of Europe. Berlin today is ground zero for electronic music fans, with some of the world’s best DJ’s playing parties that can last all night and into the next day and beyond. Check out the events list at Resident Advisor for a good listing of what’s happening.

Number 2 – Shake to the rhythm of Brazilian Carnival
Much like New Orleans and Jamaica, Brazil is the product of a unique confluence of cultures, bringing together Portuguese, African and indigenous influences. Nowhere does this unique cultural history make itself better felt than during Brazil’s annual Carnival festivities, when cities across the country like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador erupt in wild displays of samba dancing and furious drumming. Check out this Rio Carnival guide to get started.

Number 1 – Find what’s new in New York City
It’s hard to even describe how important New York has been to 20th Century musical innovation. Jazz. Punk. Disco. Hip hop. Whatever your preferred style of music, you can find it here…whether its an Indie Rock show at the Bowery Ballroom or killer night of Jazz over at Blue Note, New York’s got it all. Spend a day browsing through record stores like Other Music and A-1 Records before catching a show at Mercury Lounge, S.O.B.’s or Lincoln Center.

Did we pick your favorite musical destination? Think we forgot one of the best? Leave us a comment below to continue to the debate.

A guidebook to New York Hip-Hop (Remixed)

Though New York has given birth to any number of musical movements, it’s only the last 30 years that have given rise to Hip-Hop, arguably one of the more defining cultural movements of the late 20th and early 21st Century. Though Hip-Hop is alive and well in New York City, it’s not necessarily something that’s easy to pinpoint on a map for out-of-town visitors, especially not like the Empire State Building or Central Park.

Yet a new interactive online database, called Bronx Rhymes, promises to challenge this assumption. The new project takes a closer look at the Bronx, the Borough best known for jumpstarting the movement, categorizing some of the most famous places and people on an interactive map. A corresponding poster has been placed at the physical location of each map point in the Bronx, offering details of what happened there. Visitors can respond to the poster with their mobile phone by SMS, offering a comment on what they’ve read or providing a hip-hop “rhyme” of their own for inclusion in a database.

Anyone interested in learning more about hip-hop luminaries like Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc or KRS-One can find the artists’ entries listed on the website, along with the text message comments of anyone who’s contributed. For instance, an entry for DJ Kool Herc reads, “he was kool like a king threw one two punches in the hip hop ring.” It’s an interesting and participatory approach to creating a tour guide, one that is just as dependent on the input of the visitors as it is on the project’s original designers. It works especially well for Hip-Hop, a movement that is highly dependent on the remixing and blending of sounds and voices for inspiration. And with high-powered mobile phones and Google Maps becoming ever-more pervasive, we can expect to see more of these type of tourist mash-ups coming soon to a vacation hotspot near you.

[Via PSFK]

Silent raves come to Madrid

I’ve never understood how the concept of a silent rave ever got popular. People in a club listening and dancing to their own music on headphones. The hook is around the fact that you can dance to whatever music you want in a social environment.

How is this fun? Why wouldn’t you just do the same at home? It’s a social thing, but when do you talk? On drink breaks?

The concept originated in the Netherlands some years ago under the notion of “going wild in silence”, and ever since has been floating around Europe. A couple of months ago, Union Square in New York held a huge “Silent Disco“, apparently the first ever in New York.

In Madrid, it’s come on a small scale. Organized by a youth center at their premises, I can’t imagine it to attract too large of a crowd, but then again, it’s Madrid — you just don’t know.

According to the CNN, the DJ’s involved in introducing the concept say that they are confident that in the ever changing world of clubbing, it’s better to be seen than heard. Hmmm.

I’d go to watch, but I doubt you can get away with just being a spectator to this silliness. Maybe I’ll just go and join in.

A Canadian in Beijing: Floating at Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday worried me when I first heard about it. I thought it might be a hardcore women’s event that discussed menstruation and girl power, which to be honest is not for me. I mean, I’ve ‘been there, done that’ and it’s no longer my speed. No offence to all the blood sisters out there who are currently reclaiming their bodies, self-worth and sisterhood; it’s wonderful to experience this kind of transition and learning, especially about patriarchy and empowerment. For me, time passed and now I look back on that time in my life, raise my fist in solidarity and realize I’ve moved on. No crime in that. Part of that very movement is thanks to the empowerment, so credit given where credit is due.

Now, along a different empowerment path, this monthly event is about connecting the arts community here in Beijing. A woman named Pauline organizes the night along with several friends and volunteers. She works full-time in the gallery district of Beijing and is interested in combining arts media together to form alternative gathering spaces in this city. Pauline is from Belgium and she has lived here for many years and so she is very connected to the ex-pat community. We met through my friend Sarah (who I told you about in this blog.)

Anyway, Pauline asked me if I wanted to take part in May’s “Bloody Sunday” event and I agreed to play some songs. This month, it took place in the beautiful Ritan Park ??????????? at the Stone Boat Café, a small restaurant set on the water across a small bridge. It was built about twenty years ago to replicate the traditional structures often built into the water as permanent boat-shaped entertainment spots. (I spoke about a famous one of these structures when I visited the Summer Palace.) Ritan Park itself was built in the year 1530 and is one of the oldest parks in the city. I was told that it once served as an altar site where the emperor made sacrificial offerings to the sun god. By the time I learned that, it was too dark to go exploring. Maybe next time.

I arrived in the early evening to do a sound check and, of course, nothing was ready. I had brought my Chinese textbooks, however, and I was thrilled to sit on the restaurant’s patio working on my reading comprehension while the sound system was slowly assembled on the outdoor platform that would double as the evening stage. I sat right next to the water’s edge and intermittently lifted my head to peer over the railing at the families fishing or laughing as they sat on the rocks around the small lake. I even watched one man successfully pull in a large fish. I have no idea what kind of fish it was but I did notice that he took it home with him, smiling proudly. All in all, everyone here seemed peaceful and the energy was infectious. I felt my muscles relax when I hadn’t even realized I’d been tense.

I sipped tea, translated a text, eventually had some dinner at a very leisurely pace and then it was time for me to plug in my guitar and test the levels. Everything worked out fine and I sat back down again and chatted with the strangers that had taken up residence at my table. It was more of a communal table, really, since there were perhaps eight possible seats (an estimate considering two sides were benches built into the stone boat’s “deck”) and so several people came and went, almost wholly non-Chinese but from various countries. English was our common language.

Some other individuals arrived from the organizing committee and began to pull a large sheet between two trees on the shore. These were the people in charge of programming visuals for the night. As the sun slipped out of the sky, their images lit up the area and gathered a crowd of Chinese migrant workers and Sunday park-goers who gathered on the rocks and watched the silent film clips for several hours as though hypnotized. They were hypnotic, I must admit, and coupled with the music that was spinning by several dj’s including NARA (whose mixes were exquisite), they became hard to ignore.

When it came time for my set, a few of my school friends suddenly appeared to support me and I was grateful. The small area that I was facing was otherwise filled with strangers, so seeing some familiar faces was a treat. Behind me just a few paces was the water and this platform had no railing. I’m sure it was beautiful to see from the perspective of the audience, but I had visions of falling backwards with a splash and electrocution. . . and so I mostly stuck to the microphone and didn’t look behind me!

My voice carried to the tables and chairs on the shore as well, but the performance was really directed at this small area on the restaurant’s patio. The visuals continued throughout my set as well and I occasionally found my eyes pulled to watch while I sang as though I were simultaneously in two different roles: performer and audience. I had to consciously pull myself back and focus on what I was doing because the images were so compelling!

When my set was finished, (and it was very casual and consisted of both English and Chinese – quick spontaneous translations on my part – considering the very mixed audience), I walked around the site more and discovered a brilliant display of items for “exchange.” This was a pile of items that anyone could take, like a free garage sale. People were sorting through the clothing and sifting through smaller items and I’m not sure if much was taken and given a new home, but I love the concept. There was no expectation to actually “exchange” item for item, but the idea of giving away things to others is always positive, both for the person who is minimizing their possessions and for the person who is happy to acquire something new. In this way, it’s a “win-win” exchange, so aptly named.

The best feature of this restaurant was its upstairs room that truly resembled an enclosed upper deck and/or sleeping cabin in a mid-sized leisure craft. Climbing the super steep stairs was also interesting (treacherous?!) and when I got to the top, I found a young man sitting cross-legged on a couch directly facing the stairs who was offering tarot card readings. I asked how much he charged and he told me (with a French accent) that it was 100 kuai. I answered him in French that I’d be happy to have a reading if he’d take a barter of one CD. He smiled and agreed. I sat down to a fairly accurate description of my current life by a complete stranger. I do love a good fortune and this one was fairly encouraging.

I slipped him a CD later on in the evening by ascending the stairs enough to show my head above the landing and then extending a CD through the railings. I leaned it against the chair within my reach. He was in the process of giving someone else a reading and he smiled at me quietly and nodded. Another exchange.

I left the Bloody Sunday event feeling relaxed and smooth, as though the whole event had been a giant reefer for my spirit. I don’t smoke, but this kind of event felt the way I have heard friends describe that feeling; I sort of floated away into the dark night air of the park. I fell asleep soundly that night and dreamt colourful dreams filled with water and travel and painted rafters.

I felt fortunate.