Forget boy bands, Woodstock violence, or the "Latin" craze. If you're looking for an overarching theme throughout last year's pop music, just one word comes to mind: bass. It was all about bass.
Moment of clarity number one: Midsummer. Sitting in the back of a car with Miami's flagship experimentalist electronic duo Phoenecia, cruising through the glare of South Beach, the radio suddenly belched forth Limp Bizkit's current single, "Nookie," a song that all but screamed "massive hit record." "Listen to that," exclaimed Phoenecia's Josh Kay, with a surprised smile. "They're using an 808!" Indeed. Providing the glue between Limp Bizkit's genre-defining fusion of white-boy hip-hop swagger and guitar crunch was the telltale visceral bass thump of the 808 drum machine.
Once solely the province of Miami bass devotees (for whom the 808's stomach-rumbling shock waves are everything), it's now a sound that has moved front and center. Mainstream hip-hop and its myriad style watchers may have at one time derided Southern bounce and all things bass as clownish (or at best unsophisticated), but they stopped their snickering as the production work of New Orleans' Mannie Fresh gained national prominence. It was Fresh that added that all-important bottom to Master P's infectious jitter and teeth-rattling treble attack, striking chart gold with the likes of Ja Rule, Hot Boys, and Juvenile. When Miami-expatriate JT Money, riding a Fresh-patented beat, snarled, "Who dat trying to get up in my crew?" the answer was everybody. Yesterday's standard-bearers -- from Missy Elliott (who toasts Fresh's crew on her current Top 10 single "Hot Boyz") to the stone-faced disciples of Wu-Tang -- still may consider the purveyors of bass to be painfully "country," but that hasn't stopped them from dragging out their own 808s.
Moment of clarity number two: Early November. The rasin festival ostensibly is a celebration of Haitian roots music, folk culture, and vodou traditions, with several top bands jetting into Miami from Port-au-Prince for the daylong concert. Despite the heavy-hitting lineup, the crowd remained relatively subdued until the between-band DJ suddenly switched from spinning Haitian compas over the PA, to playing Juvenile's Fresh-produced "Back That Azz Up." With a roar the 6000-strong crowd leapt atop the bleachers and obediently proceeded to, well, "back." Whether one views that enthusiastic rump-shaking as a pointed comment on the vitality of vodou tropes, or simply a postmodern tribute to the vodou god of virility, Shangó, one thing is clear. "How low can you go?" no longer is a question, but a sonic imperative.
It's unfair to level a comprehensive verdict on the year in film, since at press time several of 1999's most widely lauded flicks (Magnolia, Topsy-Turvy, 42 Up, Sweet and Lowdown) had yet to reach Miami theaters (and Kulchur's eyes). So let's just say that the next time you find yourself wandering aimlessly around the video store, besides the justly tipped American Beauty and Boys Don't Cry, don't pass by The Dreamlife of Angels, My Name Is Joe, Cookie's Fortune (Altman firing on half a cylinder still is essential viewing), and Spike Lee's criminally underpraised Son of Sam.
For disappointment of the year, Scorsese's latest was edged out by the less-than-illuminating Andy Kaufman biopic Man in the Moon. Anyone still scratching their head over the wonder that was Kaufman should schedule a vacation stop at New York City's Museum of Television & Radio. Proceed straight to the private basement video booths (don't worry, no sliding metal doors or tokens are involved) and settle in for the real deal: a smorgasbord of vintage Kaufman TV clips from Letterman, the legendary Fridays shoving match with a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards, and the sublime 1978 hour special that ABC found too bizarre to air at the time. This is Kaufman's true legacy.
There was life on the small screen beyond the at times insanely hyped HBO offerings of The Sopranos and Sex and the City, and on network channels no less. The single best new program to grace the tube since MTV canceled Austin Stories was NBC's Freaks and Geeks, a cutting black comedy so devastatingly accurate in its depiction of high school life circa 1980, it received the usual reward for intelligent television writing: an uncertain future. After barely surviving its Siberian time slot on Saturday nights, Freaks and Geeks returns from hiatus this Monday evening at 8:00.
Cuban music impresario Debbie Ohanian has promised a number of concert treats for the coming months, which should satisfy both local hungers for live music as well as produce ample mishegaas-chronicling in this space. Affairs kick off nicely this Friday and Saturday evening with the arrival of Cuba's Manolito y Su Trabuco to Ohanian's Starfish club on the Beach. While pianist Manolito Simonet has his roots in folksy charanga outfits, his band's name (which translates to "war machine") tells you all you need to know about his current direction, a modus operandi that takes its dance-floor workouts seriously. A packed, sweaty crowd is a given; the only real question is how on Earth all twenty members of Manolito's band are going to fit on Starfish's tiny stage.
Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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