Artists triangulate accessibility, authenticity and commodification. In the center, audiences mosh.

Up late in the city that’s an enemy (+CHAI and BODEGA for Bowery Presents)

This many blogs in such a short time is… alarming, I know, and you’re right to be concerned. But you’ll have to bear with me as I go completely off:

Rich the Kid plays Brooklyn Steel

Trap music was delivered as if by a well-oiled machine at Brooklyn Steel on Monday night--workmanlike and efficient. 

The DJ asked, “Brooklyn! Y’all ready to turn the fuck up?!” and they were: in between sets, with no one on stage but the DJ, a few excited audience members would stretch out their arms to open up a mini mosh pit, throwing their Golf Wang-clad bodies against one another to, well, anything--Travis Scott, Future, Young Thug, even Drake. 

Out came a roster of Rich the Kid’s Rich Forever label. Newcomers Airi and Yung Bino performed sets of almost punk-like brevity, with Bino gamely stepping up to an early opening set and delivering his semi-viral tune, the syrupy and genuinely-infectious “Trap,” with a sprightly energy.

When the organized and proficient 83 Babies teased their collaboration with headliner Rich the Kid, “No Cap” (not to be confused with Yung Bino’s Rich the Kid collaboration which is also called “No Cap), kids start freaking out, screaming the catchphrase back: “no cap! No cap!”

By the time Brooklyn’s Jay Critch came on, the machinations at play were clear in everything from the dance moves to the way the crew predictably flooded the stage to the savvy calls-to-action delivered by the DJ (“follow us on Instagram!”). Still, the visibility of those seams did not in any way impede the delivery of what was clearly a vision of liberation to the rapt crowd of young fans. 

Sometimes it seemed like not even those on stage could get into the fantasy. During Rich the Kid’s own set, he half-heartedly called to the crowd to open up what felt like an extremely affected version of a mosh pit, and you could almost feel the creaking of routine. In this moment and in many others, I wondered what exactly was going on here. What exactly is it that brought this crowd, mostly white teenagers, to Brooklyn Steel? What was compelling them to transmute the dispassion emanating from the stage to molten energy so white hot they had to throw their bodies at one another? Part of it is just the image economy of 2019 rap, sure. Maybe these kids (like me) couldn’t afford the cost of a ticket to the Astroworld tour: just as you might find on Youtube a “Sicko-Mode-Type-Beat,” this was a “Sicko-Mode-Type-Concert.” 

I’m trying to figure out though, why are you guys moshing? Though I’ve said in the past that

, it’s strange and a little distressing seeing pretty much every rap show mimic punk’s dynamic for seemingly no reason. Trap and punk are merging aesthetics for many historical, geographical, demographic and artistic reasons, and a lot of the time it pretty much freaking rules. Those times, though, as on the Sheck Wes record, it works because of some kind of ideological harmony. It’s when those cross-genre resonances are most openly and curiously explored that trap most successfully imports and even expands the spirit of punk, bulldozing barriers and widening the mosh pit to include a more diverse group of bodies united and empowered by fury and grievance.

But the meaning of “trap music” is in constant flux, an instability wrought by a lack of meaningful resolution to what it means for a genre originally (and arguably fundamentally) about the alienation, powerlessness and angst of the desperate poverty enforced by white supremacy to be enjoyed by blissed-out white audiences. And I think that’s why the moshing struck me as so [Roll Safe voice] overdoing it, because when those conflicts are evaded rather than worked through, the aesthetics are left weightless, and available for the inevitable corniness of commodification. Before you know it, you’re tricking yourself into moshing to “Money in the Grave.”

But I’ve been wrong before, and these kids were going nuts: the crowd, powering through the DJ’s exhortation to “pull up your Snapchat, your Instagram, your Facebook,” was ready to lose their minds to the last two songs, “New Freezer” and “Plug Walk.” And then briefly you could even say it all came together. The set dressings had been tucked away enough that the transportive power-trip of trap music had become real: screaming the lyrics to “Plug Walk” at the very edge of his voice, Rich the Kid, who, for most of the show, seemed disappointed in the size of the crowd (Brooklyn Steel was not even half-full on Monday) had fooled the audience into achieving some version of transcendence. 

Show Me The Body play the Music Hall of Williamsburg

The word “liberation” and its various forms are bandied about carelessly in this day and age, and I’m as guilty as anyone. But there’s some kind of freedom in being compelled to go to the Show Me The Body show mostly for the promise of screaming a single lyric. That lyric was “it was never that to me!” and I have no idea what that means to me, but it’s so important for me to scream that that I took two buses to get to the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday. And when the siren-like guitar riff parted to make way for that sentence and Julian Cashwan Pratt spat it into the microphone, I spat it back as hard as I could. I think it’s something about being misunderstood, or feeling indignant at having values be prescribed to you, and I think, like many of the band’s lyrics, it’s about New York City, and how it’s an evil thing that’s nonetheless an inextricable part of them. But there’s something about being deeply moved by words and letting their meaning come and go without needing to trap it, so, moving on.

As on the album, “Arcanum” is next, and the climax. The crowd reacts to the band’s best song, not by immediately losing it but with the discipline of the devout, pushing open the mosh pit to encompass nearly the entire floor, and slapping the ground as if to consecrate it. Here it comes. The lyrics are a mantra of the band’s unending fury and anguish at the city that birthed them, their cancer that can’t be cut out, their home, their cage, their trap: “Up late in the city that’s an enemy / Visions come awake, the lies and piss inside of me / I hate ‘em. There’s no love in the world for me / Arcanum, the only card I wanna see.”

Okay, yes, all concerts are inherently devotional and this metaphor is nothing new. But there’s something about the impromptu building of a holy site, even in this AEG-owned venue (“there are cameras everywhere,” as the guy working the door said when the person in front of me in line tried to sneak in) and the palpable realness of this safety, so real that it’s brought an audience, notably less white and male than the Rich the Kid show, to Music Hall of Williamsburg (arguably a temple to the ongoing corrosion of New York) to scream about how much New York sucks.

I see someone who looks familiar. “I met you at the Princeton show!” I scream in his face. His eyes are glassy and he groans a wordless reply. And then it happens. The coda hits and the ground opens up and swallows us all, transporting us to the land that was promised, if only for a few seconds.

“This is our fourth time,” a friend tells me outside after the show. “It’s like church.”

Other Stuff

  • I never promised this was my only blog, so you can’t be mad: my first preview for Bowery Presents is of CHAI and BODEGA’s show on 7/15 at Music Hall of Williamsburg, and you can (and should!) read it here:

https://thebowerypresents.tumblr.com/post/186234862342/chaipreview

  • Is this blog in past tense? Present tense? The blog keeps you guessing. That’s called lampshading, and so is that.

  • Full disclosure, the Rich the Kid review was originally supposed to be for Bowery Presents but I got mixed up and missed the deadline. At least now I got to write what I actually felt lol. And I still got two drink tickets (tequila soda and white wine on ice; no further questions).

  • The Bake $ale is in one week! Are you coming through or not?!?! I’m working on my set, I’ll be playing house music, a genre I know next to nothing about. Should be great!

  • Shout out to Phyllis, who I saw outside the SMTB show and now reads this blog! Hi Phyllis! Listen to and buy her music: https://goodie.bandcamp.com/album/analemma-i

That’s it! As always, the Instagram for this project is @CriticalPartyStudies and you can email e-mail me at criticalpartystudies@gmail.com if you want to talk. Subscribe and tell your friends if you think it’s good!

Pulling up in a space coupe (actually, all I got was a free ticket (not even a +1 (like damn, youman couldn’t even comp an Ubz to and from the venue for the boy? (not even a likkle Juno or Lyftaz? (shoutout the B35 bus))))),

Adlan