Last night I was at the Calvin College Fine Arts Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for what turned out to be one of the more memorable shows I’ve ever attended. I was there for Tinariwen (on whom more below). I had never heard of the opener, Kishi Bashi, not even via the use of his music (as I now learn) in a familiar Windows 8 commercial, and even if I had made the connection I would not have expected his music to be my thing. Support bands you’ve never heard of are often a bit of a lottery, and as two guys with a violin and a banjo took the stage I was ready for anything, but little expected what followed. Working with an amplified violin, various looping devices, and the assistance for half the set of Mike Savino of Tall Tall Trees on banjo and bass, Kishi Bashi (real name K. Ishibashi) strung together a series of loop-based pieces that defied genre categorization. He is blessed with formidable skills on the violin, a pure and powerful voice, and apparently boundless energy and musical imagination. Picture Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós singing bluegrass-classical-folk-pop-experimental pieces structured like miniature progressive rock epics interspersed with beatboxing and driven by double-speed loops created live and you’ll be half way there.
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Dirty Projectors brought their new album Swing Lo Magellan to First Avenue in Minneapolis on July 15, 2012, and Purity Ring tagged along for the last of their six dates opening on the tour before their debut LP, Shrines, is released on July 24 via 4AD. I came home from the show with Shrines (at first listen it’s as good as hoped), and a Dirty Projectors’ tour only 7″ (limited to 1000) that cannot be purchased but is free when you tell the merch booth the secret Twitter word for that show (this time it was “Fuel Vapour Hose”). It has the unreleased tracks “Buckle Up” and “Desire to Love”, and only about 20 are being brought to each show. I passed on the “Gun Has No Trigger” square 7″ that comes in a hard case with the lyrics to the song etched into the case in cuneiform. My wife already rolls her eyes at me enough so I didn’t drop $15 for that. It was seriously cool looking though.
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Founded in 1995 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Rhymesayers Entertainment has risen to the top of the heap of independent hip hop labels. Over the years it has grown from releasing albums solely by its founders, to becoming the home base for most of the surprisingly fertile Minnesota hip hop scene, and finally to being the label home for albums by indie hip hop greats regardless of hometown. In fact, since its founding, Atmosphere, MF Doom, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock, and P.O.S have all called Rhymesayers home.
Despite this success, Rhymesayers continues to expand as it follows its mission to put its “dreams, passions, and destinies in their own hands.” One of those dreams is to continue growing hip hop in the Twin Cities area, so in 2008 Rhymesayers founded the Soundset hip hop festival. Held on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Soundset started in the Metrodome parking lot, but has since moved to Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota.
More important then the location switch, however, the last five years have seen Soundset grow beyond showcasing solely artists on the Rhymesayers label to bringing both titans and the next generation of hip hop to the upper Midwest. 2012 was no exception as Ghostface Killah & Raekwon and Lupe Fiasco joined Atmosphere as scheduled headliners while Action Bronson, Kendrick Lamar, and Danny Brown played earlier in the day with Rhymesayers’ own I Self Devine and Evidence.
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On January 24, 2005, Minnesota Public Radio launched 89.3 The Current with the playing of Atmosphere’s hidden track off the Seven’s Travels album, “Shhh”. “Shhh” is an ode to Minnesota and being proud of where you’re from regardless of what others think of your hometown. It was an incredibly appropriate first track to air on a station who’s mission is to bring its listeners the best new local and national music alongside the music that inspired it.
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