Periphery @Exit/In Tonight #MetalIsMusicToo

Periphery will be melting faces at Exit/In (not Rand) tonight.  Doors open at 7pm.
Periphery will be melting faces at Exit/In (not Rand) tonight. Doors open at 7pm.

For those of you there on that fateful afternoon in Rand almost two years ago, you remember it as one of the oddest sensory juxtapositions in your Vanderbilt career.

It was, at first, an ordinary lunch hour for the students in our campus dining hall.  Some were studying, their laptops and notebooks strewn about, taking up four-person tables all by themselves.  Others were casually munching on their Randwiches and “gourmet” Chef James meals and chatting with friends.  Many were multitasking.

Then, the music started.  At first, it was just a rush of distortion in the background, barely registering in ears so unaccustomed to hearing it.  But it soon became clear that this was no mere technical accident.  The speakers in Rand were playing metal–replete with screams and growls of vocals and guitars and lacking any consistent melody or rhythm.

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The Evolution of Matisyahu

Matisyahu, mid-2000s (top) and 2014 (bottom).

Today, Vanderbilt will host its most esteemed musical visitor, excluding Rites and Quake, since Billy Joel (and Michael Pollack) captivated a sold-out Langford Auditorium almost two years ago.  Matisyahu burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s, delivering a powerful reggae sound laced with traces of rock, hip-hop, and his trademark Judaism-inspired lyrics.  It was a wonder to behold him commanding the stage in traditional Hasidic dress, complete with yarmulke and full beard, while performing in a style that broke the mold of Jewish orthodoxy and tradition.  We listened in awe as “King Without a Crown” leapt to #28 on the Billboard Top 100, easily the highest a song with explicitly Jewish lyrics has ever charted.  We sang along to the powerful “One Day,” which was remixed with new verses by Akon.  And then those of us outside the reggae community allowed Matisyahu to slip from our consciousness.

The Matisyahu who will be walking around West End today looks far different from the Matisyahu of ten years ago.  Gone is the beard, as is the yarmulke–he wears a clean-shaven look topped by a mop of graying hair.  The music, while it still contains Judaism at its heart, has become more secular and more diverse in style, reflecting the man’s continuing spiritual journey.  But Matisyahu is as active as ever, having released his fifth studio album Akeda in June and touring extensively in support of the LP.  In light of this metamorphosis, let’s take a closer look at some of the highlights of Matisyahu’s decade-long career.

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Kid Freud: A Rising Vandy Band

Kid Freud, formed five months ago, is poised for a successful 2014-2015 campaign.
Kid Freud, formed five months ago, is poised for a successful 2014-2015 campaign.

It’s rare that you find a prodigious band coming out of Vanderbilt.  Vampire Weekend met at Columbia and Tom Schulz met his Boston bandmates at MIT, but here the music scene centers around singer-songwriters—Belmont produces the bands, they say.

With Kid Freud, though, Vanderbilt may have these rock titans’ future equals on its hands.

Despite forming only four months ago, the three-piece outfit is taking its place at the head of the burgeoning music community on West End, regularly packing venues like The End and fresh off earning the opportunity to open Rites of Spring after winning the festival’s Battle of the Bands.

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A First Look at the Rites of Spring Battle of the Bands

The Rites of Spring Battle of the Bands provides a great opportunity for local bands to play on a big stage--and for you to discover their music!
The Rites of Spring Battle of the Bands provides a great opportunity for local bands to play on a big stage–and for you to discover their music!

It’s that time of year again at Vanderbilt.  The Student Alumni Board is passing out free shirts at Rand; there are dozens of garbage bins lounging pell-mell on Alumni Lawn; the fraternities are gearing up for their crawfish boils and pig roasts; fierce debate regarding 2 Chainz’ arraignment echoes across campus.  What else could it be but Rites Week?

Love it or hate it (and, as always, there’s been a lot of both emotions in reaction to this year’s lineup), the week of Rites of Spring is the best time for music at Vanderbilt every year.  Though the main event will be an epic spectacle that should trump last year’s in terms of debauchery and Dionysian life force–after all, NEEDTOBREATHE probably played before the most sober Rites crowd ever–my favorite part of the week is the Battle of the Bands, which will take place this Thursday at 7:30 PM in Rand Lounge/Dank New Rand.  The Battle of the Bands is easy to overlook, especially with the winners’ prize being the chance to play on Friday afternoon before most students will want to arrive, but it’s a great showcase of some local talent (including a number of Vanderbilt-based acts) and winning would be a tremendous affirmation for any of the competitors.  And this year, you as an audience member have an opportunity to play a pivotal role in determining the battle’s victor, as the crowd’s vote will account for two-fifths of the final decision (alongside the three judges).  The idea seems to be that the winner should be able to draw a crowd to Rites as early as possible, with the ability to do this on a Thursday night supposedly predictive of the ability to follow suit the next afternoon.  So if you are friends with one or more of the contestants, the most important thing you can do for them is to show up at the battle on Thursday night and bring a pack of friends along for the ride.

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Rap for a Reason: A Conversation with Shadower

Shadower is a Nashville-based rapper who released his single "Bully Me" last Tuesday.  All proceeds from the single will go to charity.
Shadower is a Nashville-based hip-hop artist who released his single “Bully Me” last Tuesday. All proceeds from the single will go to charity.

It’s safe to say that regardless of whether or not you think Kendrick Lamar got robbed at the Grammys, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis accounted for a significant shift in the scope of issues dealt with in mainstream rap music.  Into a culture dominated by the elegant hedonism of Kanye West and Jay-Z was infused a dose of reality–”fifty dollars for a t-shirt” (or, as famously offered by Yeezy, $120) is beyond the fiscal considerations of most Americans and shouldn’t be a standard to which ordinary folks are held.  The challenges that The Heist issued to the industry’s status quo opened up lines of dialogue that had been confined to the independent outskirts for much of the past decade, particularly regarding the materialistic, misogynistic, and heteronormative culture that has dominated mainstream rap.

In this rapidly changing paradigm, any social issue can be captured and crystallized into a song with the potential to move millions of affected listeners and inspire the unaffected to take corrective action.  With his new single “Bully Me,” Nashville hip-hop artist Shadower attempts to take the serious issue of childhood and adolescent bullying and preach empathy as the cure.

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Introducing…Your All-2000s Bad Music Squad!

Mathematicians call this the "empty set."
Mathematicians call this the “empty set.”

I spent the majority of my spring break plastering the walls of a cinderblock building in the Puerto Rican rain forest.  The only way to possibly get through a task as mind-numbing as plastering walls is to have an upbeat, driving playlist of music blasting from a decent set of speakers.  Luckily, for the most part, that was the situation; our work crew leader had impeccable and eclectic taste, and about 100,000 songs in his iTunes library.  One day, though, we made the call to switch it up.  My buddy Matt had concocted a playlist entitled “Ridiculous Rap,” mainly comprised of one-hit crunk wonders from the mid-2000s.  The first couple songs were hilarious and everybody sang along.  By song five, the high had disappeared and it dawned on us that we had been ingesting pure crap for the past fifteen or so minutes.

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The Case Against the Star-Spangled Banner

Why do singers mess up these words so frequently?
Why do singers mess up these words so frequently?

It’s Olympics time, and that means patriotism is at a relative high here in America.  So is the potential to wile away the hours in front of non-stop sports coverage.  It’s taking all my willpower to keep my eyes on my laptop as the American hockey team plays the Czechs on the television in front of me.

But there’s one thing about seeing the United States in international competition that bothers the hell out of me: our national anthem, when compared to those of other countries, just doesn’t cut it.

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Super Duped: The Decline of the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Flea, your bass is unplugged...and since when did Chad Smith look like Bruno Mars instead of Will Ferrell?
Flea, your bass is unplugged…and since when did Chad Smith look like Bruno Mars instead of Will Ferrell?

If you grew up a rock music fan in the first decade of the 2000s, as I did, the Red Hot Chili Peppers likely provide much of the soundtrack of your formative years.  Songs like “Can’t Stop” and “Dani California” populated your early-generation iPods, and you familiarized yourself with the oldies that stood the test of time: “Give it Away,” “Under the Bridge,” etc.  Listening to these songs probably invokes a good deal of nostalgia.  They stand the test of time, too; listen through Californication again today, and relish in the tight, emotionally thick beauty of its fifteen tracks.

Given these assumptions, you were probably just as pumped as I was to hear that the Chili Peppers would be joining Bruno Mars for the Super Bowl XLVIII halftime performance.  By the time the teams headed to the locker rooms and Seattle had ensured that the game would be akin to watching a monster truck run over the same poor car for three hours, you were probably relieved that some good music would interrupt the tedium.  Bruno Mars, sure, cool, but the CHILI PEPPERS!!!  I was so excited, I had even set up a betting pool with my family, trying to pick the three songs they would play.

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