Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with JD Samson of Brooklyn-based band and art/performance collective MEN

(Left: Michael O’Neill, centre: JD Samson, dosage right: Ginger Brooks Takahashi)

Take two-parts infectious electro-disco rock, capsule add an ounce of social politics, a splash of über cool haircuts, and a few generous handfuls of electrifying live performances and blend… è voila, you have MEN!

It’s not the first time we’ve featured MEN in Amelia’s Magazine but in case you missed our exclusive interview with the trio back in February, here’s a quick overview: MEN are a Brooklyn-based band and art/performance collective (by their own definition) focusing on the radical potential of dance music and the energy of live performance.

Formed in 2007 by the DJ/production/remix team of feminist electro-punk Le Tigre members, JD Samson and Johanna Fateman, and decidedly left-wing, the band deliver politically-motivated tunes, with an emphasis on issues ranging from wartime economies to the demand for liberties via hypnotic disco beats and creative, high energy stage shows.

With Le Tigre on hiatus, Samson and Fateman have teamed up with Michael O’Neill and Ginger Brooks Takahashi of Hirsute (a band of which Samson also fronts) to form the core of MEN, with Fateman taking on the role of writer, consultant and producer with artist Emily Roysdon.

Although the marriage of music and activism is no longer revelatory in today’s contempory music scene, what makes MEN worth checking out is that beyond the belligerent “rad image” and the “I ain’t nobody’s bitch” attitude, their tunes are pretty damn good and are likely to get you attempting robot moves on a beer-smeared dancefloor, even if the lyrical content may occasionally draw a few raised eyebrows (e.g. check out “Credit Card Babie$” where Samson exclaims “how expensive it is if you have a baby when you’re queer” over funky looped electronic intrumentals and slinky guitar riffs).

Having previously toured with the likes of the Gossip and Peaches, it is to no surprise that the fashionable threesome are being labelled as a “punk/disco/electoclash” band. In truth, their radio-friendly synth-driven sound makes them better placed next to New Young Pony Club, CSS and Ladytron in your record collection, which is certainly no crime at all in my book.  

Fresh from closing a set of UK tour dates, Amelia’s Magazine takes some time out to talk with JD Samson about MEN’s creative direction, the merging of diverse musical minds and how he’ll be spending the festive season…

You’ve just completed a set of tour dates in the UK – how did you find playing to a UK audience compared to a US one?
I’ve noticed over a long time with touring that the audiences change mostly city to city, or even venue to venue, instead of country by country. Some towns can be super responsive and engaged and freaking out, whereas in other places, some can seem a little depressed or inquisitive. We had a great tour with lots of great audiences that seemed to really care about what we are doing and feel very grateful to have experienced it. 

Your have been described as an act who ‘speaks to issues such as trans awareness, wartime economies, sexual compromise, and demanding liberties through lyrical content and an exciting stage show’ – was this always the creative angle you wanted to take as MEN or did this happen organically?
I think it is important to us not to adhere to any preconceived notions of what an electronic music band is. We don’t want to fit inside a box. We want to be fluid beings that move from one genre to another and one area of content to another. We want to be able to push ourselves out of a label and be able to discuss things that bewilder us with new adventures in music production. 

You all come from different backgrounds (JD Samson is from Le Tigre, Michael O’Neill is from Ladybug Transistor and Ginger Brooks Takahashi is from LTTR) – did you find it relatively easy to merge your musical styles?
We all have very different music styles actually and are psyched to be able to merge them together. We are constantly inspired by each other, making mix CDs for each other and drawing from so many different areas of music. 

Your live shows have been cited as one of your most enticing features as a band – how would you describe your shows to MEN gig virgins?
We go for it and give the crowd the energy so that they can give it back. It’s that exchange that pushes us through the set. 

What’s the most unusual gig you’ve played to date?
Hmm, well we played at a friend’s wedding at a poolside in the south of France. That was cool. 

What have been the most euphoric moments of being in the band so far?
Just getting our record finished and being able to tour without a press release or anything. Also realising how many rad fans we have. 

Which bands excite you at the moment and why?
Midnight Magic because I love her voice and I love disco. Kim Ann Foxman because she is rad, deeply cool, a friend and I love her. 

Who would you most like to collaborate with?
David Byrne and Joan Armatrading

Can you describe your new album (due for release in January 2011) in three words?
Body, money, power. 

How will MEN be spending their Christmas this year?
I can’t speak for the others but I will be in Australia with my girlfriend’s family. 

And finally, if there were a tagline for MEN, what would it be?
Humans can be whatever the fuck they want.

MEN’s debut album “Talk About Body” is released on IAMSOUND on Monday 31st January 2011.  

Categories ,Credit Card Babie$, ,css, ,david byrne, ,Ginger Brooks Takahashi, ,gossip, ,Hirsute, ,JD Samson, ,Joan Armatrading, ,Johanna Fateman, ,Kat Phan, ,Kim Ann Foxman, ,Ladybug Transistor, ,Ladytron, ,Le Tigre, ,LTTR, ,MEN, ,Michael O’Neill, ,Midnight Magic, ,New Young Pony Club, ,Peaches

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Amelia’s Magazine | Music Listings: 24th August – 30th August

Having spearheaded the new London folk scene with their debut album, there medical Noah and the Whale are back with their hands full up, releasing a new single, album and film out this summer. We talk school plays, Daisy Lowe, weddings, gardening, Werner Herzog in the studio with the effortlessly charming frontman, Charlie Fink.

Photos by Katie Weatherall

Amelia’s Mag: You’ve got a whole host of new releases coming up – single, album, film – how are you feeling about it all, happy/nervous/excited?

Charlie Fink: All of the above… I dunno, we did the album so long ago… From the last album, I realised the only satisfying feeling you’re going to get is the feeling you get when you’ve finished it and you think it’s good, that’s the best it gets. Reading a review of somebody else saying it’s good is good to show off to your mum, but it doesn’t really mean anything. Likewise, if there’s something you believe in and someone says it’s bad, you’re still going to believe in it.

AM: And the live shows must add another dimension to that?

CF: Yeah. What I’m excited about really is that this record realises us as a band more than the previous one. So that’s going to be really exciting to go out and play that live to people.

AM: And is there anything in particular that has done this or has it been the natural progression of the band?

CF: It’s a million small things, from us playing together more, us growing up, learning our trade a bit better, from what happens in lives and the records you listen to. I very much try to rely as much as I can on instinct and satisfying myself. And this is not a selfish thing because the only way you can supply something worthwhile to somebody else, is if you’re totally satisfied with it yourself. Doing the right things for us and hoping that’ll transfer to the audience.

AM: Was there anything in particular you were listening to whilst making the record?

CF: The things I’m listening to now are different from the things I was listening to when I wrote the record. When I first started the record, I was listening to ‘Spirit of Eden’ by Talk Talk, which is a different sounding record to what we did. Nick Cave, lots by Wilco

AM: So tell me about the film, ‘The First Days Of Spring’, that accompanies the album (of the same name)… which came first?

CF: The first thing was the idea of a film where the background and the pace was defined by an album. But it totally overtook my whole life. It’s one of those things you start for a certain reason and then you keep going for different reasons. The inspiration was sort of how people don’t really listen to albums anymore, they listen to songs. We wanted to try making an all emersive record where the film puts people into it. We’re not dictating that this should be the only way people listen to music, we just wanted to offer something alternative. On a lot of records these days, you don’t feel like the unity of the album gives it more strength than each individual song. Whereas with this record, the whole thing is worth more than the individual parts. That’s how I see it anyway.

The First Days Of Spring Teaser from charlie fink on Vimeo.

There’s this quote from I think W. G. Collingwood that says, ‘art is dead, amusement is all that’s left.’ I like the idea that this project, in the best possible way, is commercially and in lots of other ways pointless. It’s a length that doesn’t exist. It’s not a short film or a feature, it’s 15 minutes and the nature of it is that it’s entirely led by its soundtrack. It’s created for the sake of becoming something that I thought was beautiful.

AM: And Daisy Lowe stars in it, how was that?

CF: She’s an incredibly nice and intelligent person. I met with her in New York when we were mixing the album and I told her I was doing this film… She was immediately interested. And her gave her the record as one whole track which is how I originally wanted it to be released. Just one track on iTunes that had to be listened to as a whole and not just dipped into. She sent me an email two weeks later, because she’s obviously a very busy person. With her listening to the album, a kind of live feed of what she thought of it. Making a film and having her was really good because she kept me motivated and passionate. She genuinely really took to this project. The whole cast as well, everyone really supported it and it was a pleasure to make. I had to fight to get it made and understood. It’s one of those things that people either passionately disagree with or agree with. From thinking it’s absurdly pretentious or beautiful. Fortunately all the people working on the film were passionate people.

AM: So is film making something you want to continue with?

CF: Yeah, definitely! At some point I’d like to make a more conventional film. The thing that really stuck with me about making a film was surround sound. When you’re mixing a film, you’re mixing the sound in surround because you’re mixing for cinemas. You realise the potential of having five speakers around you as opposed to just two in front of you. The complexity of what you can do is vast. So I’d love to something with that. If you record in surround sound you need to hear it in surround sound, so maybe some kind of installation… Then another film after that…

AM: You’ve been put into a folk bracket with your first album, is that something you’re ok with?

CF: I like folk music, I listen to folk music but then every folk artist I like denies they’re folk. It’s one of those things, it doesn’t really matter. We played last year at the Cambridge Folk Festival and I felt really proud to be a part of that. It’s a real music lovers festival. That was a really proud moment so I can’t be that bothered.

AM: I recently sang your first single, ‘5 Years Time’, at a wedding, do you ever imagine the direction your songs may go after you write them?

CF: Wow. That’s really funny. I’ve had a few stories like that actually. It’s touching but it’s not what I’d imagine.


AM: Do you write songs in that way? Some bands set out to write a love song, dance song etc…

CF: I can’t really remember how I write… I was writing last night but… do you drive?

AM: I just recently failed my test.

CF: Perfect! Well, you know when you start driving you have to think through everything – put my foot on the clutch, take it off the clutch etc. Then when you’ve been doing it a while, you just do all those things without even knowing you’ve done them. That’s how it feels with songwriting, I can’t really remember doing it. It just happens how it happens. Or like gardening… you’ve just gotta chop through and it’ll come.

AM: Is being in a band everything you imagined it to be?

CF: For me it’s more about being creative. I do some production for people, the band, the writing and now the film. I just love what I do and just keep doing it. I follow it wherever it goes. The capacity I have for doing what I do is enough to make it feel precious.

AM: So are there any untapped creative pursuits left for you?

CF: At the moment what I’m doing feels right. I never had any ambitions to paint. I don’t have that skill. I think film and music have always been the two things that have touched me the most.

AM: So how about acting?

CF: I did once at school when I was 13. I played the chancellor in a play the teacher wrote called ‘Suspense and a Dragon Called Norris.’ Which had rapturous reactions from my mum. I don’t think I could do that either. When you direct though you need to understand how acting works. It’s a really fascinating thing but I don’t I’d be any good at it.

AM: Do you prefer the full creative potential a director has?

CF: The best directors are the ones that build a character. Building a character is as important as understanding it. It needs major input from both the director and the actor. You can’t just give an actor the script and expect it to be exactly right. You need to be there to create the little details. The way they eat, the way they smoke… That’s an important skill.


At this point, Charlie asks me about a note I’d made on my reporter’s pad, which was actually a reminder about a friend’s birthday present. Which draws the conservation to a close as we recite our favourite Werner Herzog films. Turns out, he shares the same taste in film directors as my friend.

Monday 24th August
Mumford and Sons
The Borderline, more about London

UK’s answer to Fleet Foxes, online Mumford and Sons, visit this celebrate their music video to the first single off their debut album in North London tonight.


Tuesday 25th August
The Troxy, London

If Charlie from Noah and the Whale tells us he likes Wilco, then we like Wilco. It’s as simple as that. It’s time to get educated.


Wednesday 26th August
The Hot Rats
The Old Blue Last, London

Otherwise known as half of Supergrass plus hot shot Radiohead producer, The Hot Rats get their kicks taking pop classics by, amongst others, The Beatles and The Kinks and infusing their own alt-rock psychedelica – worth a gander.


Thursday 27th August
Madam Jo Jos, London

Their blend of durge blues, barndance and freestyle frenzy jazz blues make KILL IT KID a gem to behold in a live setting.


Friday 28th August
Swanton Bombs
Old Blue Last, London

If you like your indie adorned in Mod and brimming with angularity, then Swanton Bombs will be pushing the trigger on your buttons.


Saturday 29th August
South East in East Festival – Teenagers In Tokyo, Tronik Youth, Ali Love, Publicist
Vibe Bar, London

It’s all about South East London – full stop. In this cunning event, it up sticks to East London, where synth-pop Gossip descendents, Teenagers In Tokyo headline a night of New X Rave.


Sunday 30th August
The Gladstone Open Mic Night
The Gladstone, London

As it’s Bank Holiday Weekend and all the bands are at Reading/Leeds Festival, London is starved of big gigs. No fear, The Glad is here – A little known drinking hole in Borough that continually serves up a plethora of folkey talent… and pies!


Categories ,folk, ,gossip, ,kill it kid, ,Mumford and Sons, ,Noah and the Whale, ,Nu-rave, ,pop, ,punk, ,radiohead, ,rock, ,supergrass, ,swanton bombs, ,the beatles, ,the hot rats, ,the kinks

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Amelia’s Magazine | ATP Film – A Review

atp montage1

All Tomorrow Parties, clinic a music festival that largely happens at out of season holiday camps, try celebrates it’s tenth year in 2009 and part of that anniversary celebration sees the release of this film, edited from fans and filmmakers footage on equipment ranging from super 8′s to mobile phones, the viewer is let in to the world of All Tomorrow’s Parties. The ensuing montage, of performances and backstage vox pops, is a cross between a really great music documentary and an advert for the music festival.

The documentary side of this film’s personality informs the viewer that the premise of ATP started with Glasgow’s saccharine indie pop makers, Belle and Sebastien. Along with visionary ATP promoter, Barry Hogan, they originally had the idea of putting on a festival in a holiday camp, curated by artists and did just that for the ATP pre-cursor, Bowlie Weekender in Camber Sands. The viewer also learns that ATP manages to exist independently, without the help from corporate sponsors, adhering to a punk rock ethic.


The advertisement side shows you just how much fun a festival in a holiday camp can be with footage of holidaymakers looking like the cat who got the cream whilst dancing to Micah P. Hinson, or playing a rendition of ‘Maps’ on the chalet kitchen sink.


I’ve alluded here to some of the musical footage that belies the rockumentary. If Kitsune is the indie electro rave that you have to be young to get into, ATP is where you retire, where you give up on pretending to keep up with the rapidly changes fads of NME and resign to sticking to what you know best. And if what you know best hits the Richter scale somewhere between alternative and experimental, then you’ll be familiar with a fair few bands that frequent the ATP line-ups. Not only are there fantastic show-stopping ATP performances from YYYs, Nick Cave’s Grinderman, Gossip, and Mars Volta, you also get to see the spontaneous performances that may not have been billed, like the Grizzly Bear beach a capella and Daniel Johnston regaling his insecurities via music in the grass and from his chalet.


These elements of the film are weaved together with a cinematic collage of artists backstage, like Bat For Lashes dancing down the stairs of her accommodation. And just to remind you where you are, there are also vintage stills and clips of Camber Sands as it is known best, as a holiday camp, including what looks like a dance competition whose contestants could rival anyone down the front of a moshpit.


Having never been to ATP myself (but always having wanted to), I wonder whether this has captured the essence of the festival. But with enough music and merriment to keep you entertained, it really doesn’t matter.


Patti Smith closes the film and I’ll close this article with a quote in the film from her, which is in line with an underlying message of ATP, “rock and roll belongs to the kids and not the big companies.”

Categories ,Animal Collective, ,atp, ,Bat for Lashes, ,Daniel Johnston, ,festival, ,film, ,gossip, ,grinderman, ,grizzly bear, ,mars volta, ,Nick Cave, ,patti smith, ,review, ,yeah yeah yeahs

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