Friday, January 21, 2011
Local 506, Chapel Hill
January 20, 2011
By the time I stepped into the room at ten after ten, Big Hell was already heavily grinding a lot of hip hop into a measured amount of rock with three microphones and enough wires, controllers, and Mac Books to make the Local 506 stage look like an alien synthesizer home world. Towards the left front of the stage to warm up the shutter on my Pentax, I angled just behind a lit up foursome of girls who were animated in dance while the rest of the indie faithful crowd stared on from the shadows with intrigue. Big Hell was burning impressions in the form of lyrical hip hop and electronic rock and had nearly emptied the bar room, everyone was at the stage watching.
Thursday night was a mix and match bill of indie rock and hip hop with Big Hell, who steals the hipness from mainstream R&B and chop shops it into edgy electronic rock beats of their own proprietary post hop brand, and with two decidedly alternative indie rock acts in the Missy Thangs fronted Chapel Hill mainstay Soft Company and newly plied The Big Picture, whom is jointed with members of more Chapel Hill mainstay bands such as The Never and Lost in the Trees.
The billing provided just the opportunity for live action consideration of the importance and impact of local hip hop on the alternative music audience.
The last line in measuring hip hop worth is; if it sounds good, then it is good. While that should never sound simple to the degree of being easy, Big Hell demonstrates that when hip hop meets those requirements it often looks it. Big Hell summoned vast energy with effortless and natural poise. As these match ups offered us, a sincere advantage that deeply talented rock-hip-hop mash up artists hold versus their equals on the other side of the indie spectrum is the unabated creative room to bring it. This form has no tethers to the indie pop expectations of a lyric which sets up a chorus which better have a hook or no one is interested...and it maintains no rock creedo to an electric guitar burning like a shrine for forty five minutes of rock and roll prayer. Big Hell's set last night cascaded genres of mainstream rap, R&B, soul, and electronic indie...stripping the better elements of each and leaving the bull shit behind.
Big Hell is definitely not a fluke instance of legitimate hip hop round these parts either. Lila & the Midgrade Lifestyle is another Durham based underground hip hop act which is intoxicated with charisma and kill you softly charm. WKNC dedicates an entire night of the double barrel benefit to hip hop this year and local flavor indie music compilation promos are burning more hip hop into the mixes as well. So where are the grass roots of the hip hop that is growing around here? It's unlikely that it could thrive in a town built on indie, or can it?
The idiosyncrasies of hip hop is its unwillingness to be underground. Seemingly, everyone on the make in hip hop is a producer, rolling phat, has deals in the works, connections to the big time, and are fully in control of their own destiny and the last thing they want to be considered as is an artist. But fool us not, we know ninety-nine percent of up-start hip hop writing about high living with cars booze and bitches is done from a low rent apartment and not knowing where the next buck is coming from. The paradox continues with indie which romanticizes minimalist poverty. Songs about being lost to the point of despair are being written from mom and dad's comfortable couch in the suburbs and the artists writing them will reluctantly admit that they even own a computer. But here in lies the separation between the two cultures that typically damn themselves to not coexisting.
This is where Big Hell crosses over. They shatter mold across the board and boldly emphasizes reality in their lyrics. Every line is sellable as a life experience and finds an audience readily able to relate. I may be bold, but I offer that the hot bed of indie rock song crafters that dwell here have influenced young hip hop writers in town to throw down their guards and seek glory in the truth, and the brand of hip hop being generated here has tremendous quality in part by it.
As Big Hell finished their set and moved their entourage from the stage area to the bar, we were demonstrated just that degree of influence with Soft Company and The Big Picture.
Soft Company is the stage embodiment of the pure energy flowing in Missy Thangs' veins. Having performed in Chapel Hill for nearly five years now, Missy Thangs has just recently retooled the machine with members of The Huguenots and ramped the energy to a new level of awareness. Missy drives a keyboard controller with a heavy hand and pushes a lush stream of synthy fuzz through the speakers for the surrounding rock rock band to fork into. High energy arrangements with a Rickenbacker lead six string that is not gun shy to the pounding attack of the rhythm section are the traits of Soft Company they offer a baseline for electronic infused rock to shoot at. A fledgling two month old Big Picture rounded things out with impossibly talented vocal melodies that end every lyric with hooky twists and curling falsettos. If The Big Picture didn't possess such ascending ability then young and beautiful would be their trademarks, but with their collective vocal might and dexterity of instrumentation and arrangement...we'll be expecting songs that we wake up singing. --Carrboro Ninja
The Big Picture