Take a Look, It’s in a Book: What to Read on Tour

imagesIt is two weeks now until I leave on tour across Europe with Zucchini Drive, and there are still a number of things that need to be sorted out. First on the agenda: what books to bring.

I always bring books on tour. That’s not to say I always read each of the books I bring, but it’s always comforting to have them with me. In fact, I usually bring books everywhere I go, just in case an opportunity arises to sneak in a few pages. However, I often have a hard time narrowing down which book to give my time to, as is evidenced by my bedside table, on top of which is piled a dozen or so varied texts at any given time. To reign-in this indecisiveness, over the years I’ve developed a system to help me pare down the amount of books I carry with me to three at a time. This system mainly consists of classifying the books that I tend to read into three tiers, then limiting the books I bring with me to one of each of these tiers.

The first tier I could call the “heavy” tier.  This group of books are the most dense and challenging, and literally the heaviest. Even though I always have one of these books with me, they probably aren’t read as often as the others, since they usually require  a confluence of three things that I do not excel at: sobriety, well-restedness and ambition. But despite these limitations, it’s important to bring a “heavy” text with you. Sometimes when I’m in no shape to read at all,  I’ll hold one of these books open and stare blankly at the pages so that I can at least appear smart to people who (like me) are always trying to see what others are reading in public. Some favorite examples of mine from this tier would include the 19th century German Idealist Georg Hegel’s “Science of Logic” or James Joyce’s penultimate English-language novel “Ulysses.”

The second tier of books I might call the “intermediate” tier. These types of books are often novels, but can also be less challenging non-fiction books. The intermediate tier is good for when you’re maybe not in the best reading circumstances, such as in a car (motion sickness) or at sound-check, but you have a little bit of time to kill and are not totally blurry-eyed and scatter-brained from a crippling hangover. Examples of these types of books would be something like a Hemingway or Faulkner novel, or a book I borrowed recently from my friend Sam called “Rip It Up and Start Again,” written by an ex- senior editor of Spin Magazine, Simon Reynolds, about the post-punk movement in Europe and the US from 1978-84.

Finally, there are the “waiting-room” options. This tier of books would include stuff that is a little easier to deal with when you are maybe in rough-shape, which can tend to happen on tour, or when you don’t have much time to sit down and focus. For me, “waiting-room” books would be something like Canadian poetry, for example Al Purdy or bpNichol, or anything else that doesn’t require long intervals of concentration. That being said, I am well aware that some people have no time nor interest in poetry, which I can understand. We tend to live in an information-based culture, where we’d rather read about an influential poet than actually read an influential poet. I get it. In this case, another good option for “waiting-room” reads are magazines, like some of my current favorites Wax Poetics, or the Winnipeg-based mag “Canadian Dimensions.”

So these are the guidelines I have set up for myself. I plan to bring three books with me to Europe, one from each of these tiers that I have sketched out. Now I turn to you, and ask for any suggestions you may have for me in terms of books I should bring. I am looking specifically for books that would enhance my European experience, but that of course is up to interpretation.

For more on the European tour, including dates and venues, you can go here.

 

Happy New Year

76789_10151339554541609_1706108828_nLooking back on 2012 I’d say my overall goal was to make my goals more focused,  realistic and attainable. I’ve noticed myself becoming increasingly more driven as time passes. But drive without focus and direction manifests as angst and frustration.

At the beginning of last year I sincerely felt like I was at a beginning of sorts. I had a new direction musically, which was freeing in so far that I felt like I was dealing with something that was so new and wide open. But when faced with such a wide open space, it’s hard to know where your horizon is; and we all need a horizon to situate ourselves so that our movement makes sense.

I put out the “Hearts” EP in March 2012, and I played some pretty great shows across Canada with some amazing people over the following few months. I had plans of doing a lot more, for sure; more shows, more releases etc. But life seems to swallow you up like a body of water if you don’t know which way land is.

I definitely did not make a resolution this time last year to figure out more precisely what my immediate attainable goals are. It wasn’t something that I set out to do and then achieved. It was something I gradually realized over time. I’d say I wasn’t able to really even start to articulate it until the past couple months of 2012. But in hindshight it seems as though I’ve been meandering towards it for the whole year.

I have a plan for 2013. I don’t want to go into too much specifics, since I’m a little scared to share it as a whole from the get-go lest it not come true. But it includes putting out more music, more videos and earning more fans. And maybe going back to school. Oh yea, and more shows, like this European tour that I’m going on with Zucchini Drive:

31st of january: Hafenklang, Hamburg, Germany
1st of february: Old timers garage, Katowice, Poland (PL)
2nd of february: Madame Claude, Berlin, Germany
4th of february: Pod MInogą, Poznan, Poland
5th of february: Cross Club, Prague, Czech
8th of february: Reflex, Kortrijk, Belgium
9th of february: Landbouwbelang, Maastricht, Netherlands
10th of february: Madame Moustache, Brussels, Belgium
11th of february: Le Bateau Ivre, Mons, Belgium
14th of february: Rössli Bar, Bern, Switzerland
15th of february: Helsinki, Zurich, Switzerland
16th of february: Sas-Club, Delémont, Switzerland
18th of february: Chapelier toqué, Clermont-Ferrand, France
19th of february: La dynamo, Toulouse, France
22nd of february: Gazteizko Gaztetxea, Vitoria, Spain
23rd of february: Izar Beltz, Bilbao, Spain

I hope to meet many new friends this year. I think this is a good way to try. See you out there!

 

The Grinch Who Stole Pipmas

The holidays are a two-sided coin.

On the one hand, there’s the fact that winter is still kind of a nice novelty. We still have a little bit of reverence for the beauty of the snow and ice, and a feeling of playfulness that makes the cold much more bearable.  It’s a small window of appreciation before January hits and we swear we’ll never live another year in this stupid city.

There’s also family. For many of us, the season is a chance to re-unite with our loved ones, in cozy living rooms, sharing old jokes and stories with the familiar faces that we may not get a chance to see as often as we age. Of course, some of us hate our families, and this only makes the holidays more stressful. In that case, hopefully there’s at least some good food kicking around.

Finally, the holidays offer parties – and more to the point, booze. You could almost say that no one is an alcoholic in December, because everyone’s an alcoholic in December!

So, there is some good to the holidays. But then, of course, there’s the down side.

It’s begins with the music: an endless loop of those same inane, insidious songs over and over, sung to the glory of God and Jesus Christ. And every year they start earlier and earlier with it. This year they tried to start playing Christmas music the day after Halloween, those conniving, market-pyschologists. After all, the music is just a Pavlovian mechanism to get your proverbial mouth watering, and your actual wallet opening, in the anticipation of the pagan tradition turned capitalist ritual.

And the closer you get to Christmas, the more it intensifies. People become more and more primal, reverting to an almost savage all-against-all mentality, in a quest to get their shopping done before that dreadful moment when all the stores close. And then it’s over with, and we get to breathe for a few days, and get back to what the holidays should really be about: family, food and alcohol.

But then comes the biggest sham of them all: New Year’s Eve! The supposed biggest party of the year, where all the hope and potential of the new year culminate in a feeling of euphoria and common gregariousness.

The reality is that you over-pay to go to a club where some Dj is playing the same ol’ bullshit, and it’s too crowded to use the washroom, but that doesn’t matter too much since it’s too busy to get a drink anyways. And you couldn’t organize all your friends to go to the same place, so you end up talking to the same people that you went to high-school with that you see once a year, every year, on New Year’s, and you have the same boring conversation that you have with them every time.

And the coat-check loses your parka. And it’s minus 40 outside.

Oh all the unnecessary stress that comes with the holidays! What we need is a way out! We need a way to forget about Jesus, to forget about shopping malls, and forget about New Year’s parties! We need a rap-punk show extravaganza!

We need the Grinch Who Stole Pipmas!

 

 

Astronautalis, Busdriver and JEL with Rob Crooks

On Sunday, December 2nd at the Pyramid Cabaret in Winnipeg, I get to open for the Astronautalis with Busdriver and JEL tour. So, put on your backpacks, your hoodies and white sneakers, and let’s hop in the time machine back to 2002 and watch some serious underground rap!

Astronautalis is not a house-hold name yet, but in a year from now, who knows. He’s come a long way since battle-rapping at Scribble Jam. With all the mainstream press, sold-out shows in Europe and endorsements from people like Tegan and Sara, it shouldn’t be long before he’s playing bigger venues than the Pyramid.

Back in 2010, when Magnum KI played Pop Montreal, we got the chance to share the stage with Astronautalis. You could tell by the atmosphere in the place at that time that this guy was onto something. A sold-out, albeit small-ish venue was teeming with excitement over his specific brand of inide-rock meets underground hip-hop. That show had an energy that I hadn’t experienced many times before, and maybe haven’t since.

Astrontautalis would be a good enough reason to get out of the house and stop getting drunk by yourself; but add to it Busdriver and JEL and you have something pretty special. Last time Busdriver was in town it was criminally under-attended. For someone with such talent and experience it seems strange that Winnipeg didn’t take more notice. Mixing top-notch technical emcee skills along the lines of Myka 9, or even Tech Nine, with art-school sensibilities, Busdriver is an artist that any rap fan would appreciate, no matter how deep their crates are. (Note: I have no idea whether or not Busdriver went to art-school. But his dad did write the movie ​Krush Groove.)

But what I am personally most excited for is JEL. I have been a pretty avid fan of JEL since I first heard Deep Puddle Dynamics over ten years ago. Since then the Themselves albums he’s made with Dose One are some of my favorite pieces of music ever. A beat-smith and sometimes rapper, you could easily call JEL one of my favorite producers. But the term “producer” seems limited considering all the things that I admire JEL for. Sure his beats are incredible; but the fact that he plays them live on his MPC makes it even more exciting. I haven’t had the chance to see Themselves live yet (although I have seen Subtle); but lately their sets seem to be things of legend. The fact that one-half of this duo will be at the Pyramid gives me goosebumps a little bit.

So, I don’t know. What are you gonna do? Not go to this show? Stay home and watch Football? Don’t be dumb.

 

 

 

Marathon of Dope Winter 2012 Sampler

With your head down, caught-up in the every day grind it’s easy to forget to take a breath, look around and see how far you’ve come. When you’re knee deep in it, shoveling it, clawing at it, fiddling with it’s most minute details, and it feels like it’s taking forever to get anywhere it can be draining on your mind and body. When you lose sight of the big picture, struggling with the pixels can seem like a fruitless task.

But every once it a while you get a chance to stand back and take  everything in from a bit of distance. That’s when you realize why you do what you do, and you remember how lucky you are to be a part of something bigger. Today I got one of these chances.

The Marathon of Dope Winter 2012 Sampler became available today for free download. It’s a Dj-style mix of songs from all 29 Marathon of Dope releases. It features some of the most interesting artists that I know of making music today. Listening to the mix for the first time this afternoon made me extremely excited about what my friends and I do again. It also reminded me that despite all the difficulties I’ve faced, I’m still very lucky to be associated with creators of this calibre and to have friends like the ones I have. I cannot wait to see what comes next.

Here’s the track-listing:

1. Pip Skid – Tens of Dollars (Dj Hunnicutt Remix)
2. KaeoFLUX – Bots
3. Birdapres – Toothpaste
4. Zucchini Drive – Jaguar Sky
5. Mike Ladd – High Sea, High Field
6. Nomad – Son, If you don’t Know
7. Pip Skid – Cut me Up into a Thousand Pieces (ft. Nestor Wynrush)
8. Speed Dial 7 – Dog Collar Blues (ft. Rob Sonic & The Infesticons)
9. Rob Crooks – Knows How To
10. Elissa P – Paintbrush
11. The Nestor Wynrush Ensemble – Blood Rock Live
12. Tim Dj Co-op Hoover – Two
13. Passage – Stressanomics
14. The Gumshoe Strut – Redrum (Dj Kutdown Remix)
15. The Gumshoe Strut – Beats (ft. Pip Skid & Yy)
16. Speed Dial 7 & Nomad – Stay Cool
17. Tim Dj Co-op Hoover – Nice Work If you Can Get It
18. Pip Skid – Shirley Temple (ft. B-Flat from The Lytics)
19. Infinite Livez – 4ever Smiley
20. Zucchini Drive – Down to the Spine (ft. M Sayyid from Anti-Pop Consortium)
21. Zucchini Drive – Handclap Handclap (ft. Nomad)
22. John Smith – High Magnificent (ft. Yy)
23. Creature – Embrace the Day
24. Birdapres – Rays and Beams (ft. Cadence Weapon & Nestor Wynrush)
25. The Gumshoe Strut – Never Saw It Coming
26. Speed Dial 7 – Jokes (ft. Yy)
27. Cavemen Speak – Save the Day
28. Zucchini Drive – Howler Than Thou
29. Zucchini Drive & Salvador – Children of the Damned

Download the sampler here. For more Marathon of Dope releases, including my Hearts EP, check out the website here.

 

Reviewed in Uptown Magazine

Earlier this month, we learned of another heavy blow coming down on Winnipeg’s music scene. On top of venues closing down at an alarming rate (Negative Space now?), the free arts and entertainment weekly Uptown Magazine published it’s final issue last Thursday. It will apparently re-surface as an insert in the Winnipeg Free Press, replacing the Tab.

As with anything that is meant to represent a scene, we all had our problems with Uptown at one time or another. Sometimes things that were important to us were being overlooked, while things that were important to others were getting all the attention; we’d disagree with the reader’s poll to no end; we’d sometimes question the reviews, and the motivations of the people writing them. But at least there was always something to talk about.

I can’t remember the last time I didn’t make a point of picking up the latest issue of the Uptown from the LC, or from Into the Music or wherever else. I could read about people in my city who were doing things that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise; I could read about almost all of the shows that were happening in town; I could read movie reviews and arts reviews; and of course the haiku horoscope always had me checking out the last page.

And everyone else read it too. It served as a sort of reference point for us to have conversations about our city. And the reason we all read it was because it was there. It was a tangible piece of media that we looked through while waiting for the bus, or waiting for a friend, or to avoid eye contact with some creep. It was written by people in our city about our city, for us. You could always say to someone “did you read that article in the Uptown?” What can we say now: “Did you read that blog article”? Which blog? Which of the 5 billion blogs are you referring to? No, I didn’t read that.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s good that some people have taken the initiative to continue writing about our city online, like Nigel Eggnog at Concerted Trash, Sam Z. Thompson at Witchpolice, or the fine writers at the Spectator Tribune. But the Uptown, in the form it existed for so many years, will be missed.

On a bitter-sweet note, here’s a review of my EP “Hearts” from the last issue of Uptown:

“Hearts, the latest solo EP from Magnum K.I. member/veteran rapper Rob Crooks, is an inspired amalgam of indie rock, hip hop and lo-fi electro that buzzes with urgent, nervous energy. Whether he’s rapping or singing, Crooks’ lyrics are raw, personal and bitingly blunt (see: Knows How To, about a girl who “knows how to fuck but doesn’t know much about love,” or the aggressive Not Cool, which calls out posers). Recorded by Greg Arcade, the EP has a cool, cassette-tape indie rock feel; there’s definitely an emphasis on the high end, which sets it apart from traditional hip hop albums. Crooks’ sound is fresh, and Hearts has a strong pulse.”

– Jen Zoratti, Uptown Magazine.

Here’s the link to the review. Check out Jenn Zoratti and some other ex-Uptown people at the Spectator Tribune’s website http://spectatortribune.com/city/winnipeg/. See you in the funny pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank You to Everyone Who Came Out to Support the MOD Western Canadian Tour!

We returned to Winnipeg this past Sunday, feeling drained and a little more insane than when we left, but  extremely fulfilled. I personally had one of the most successful tours yet. There were so many great times with old homies and new friends. Driving from Winnipeg to Vancouver and back in a car full of such unique and awesome artists, stopping at as many places as possible along the way and meeting up with such amazing people is a very satisfying way to spend the last days of summer.

Dj Co-op flew out from Vancouver after our show there to join Cadence Weapon in Montreal, for some shows they had lined up together, including the Polaris Prize Gala (or whatever it’s called). It was a little sad to see him go, but it’s great to see our friend be able to fly all the way across the country to do something so cool.

That left Pip Skid, Speed Dial 7 and I to close out the final two dates of the tour in Regina and Pip’s home town, Brandon. Driving all the way from Vancouver to Regina with only one stop is enough to make even the sanest person peek over the edge into the abyss a little. But it just gave the final two shows all the more energy .. like a wobbly top, just before it finally tips over.

Speed Dial 7 left back to Belgium on Monday. He met up with his fellow Zucchini Drive member for the European LP release party of “No Food, But Lots of Weapons.” (After seeing the album performed every night for two weeks, I have to strongly suggest you cop it.) I miss the guy already, but I’ll be over there in Europe early next year to play some shows, make some new music and hang out.I haven’t been outside Canada too much, so I’m looking forward to that.

Pip Skid and I were back to work on Monday, organizing the Freestyle Hip-Hop Festival, which is held annually at the University of Winnipeg. (More on that to come.) No rest for the wicked I guess is what they say.

I had such an amazing time on this tour that I didn’t want it to end. It’s great to sleep in your own bed, and re-connect with friends and family back home, of course; but I really love being on the road, playing shows for new people every night. But I’ll be back out there soon enough. In the meantime thanks to everybody who helped with, supported or happened upon our tour: Chris, Chaps, Factor, Soso, Rewind, Manjito, Touch, Epic, Trevor, Bastien, Lou, Roddy Rod, Port Authority, Jay, Rhek, Josh, Murk, Patricia and all the old homies and new ones too. (Sorry if I missed anyone.) We’ll see you again soon!

Marathon of Dope Western Canadian Tour

       Aw yea, aw yea! The headline is true! Later this month Pip Skid, Dj C0-op and I will be bringing our shit-show circus on the road from Winnipeg to Vancouver and back, setting off tornadoes of chaos and terror at every stop along the way. And just to up the ante on this already sanity-threatening week-and-a-half endeavour of liquor, lechery and lawlessness, we are bringing along just the right catalyst we need to bubble us up over the lip of our unattended beaker: Speeddial 7 of Zucchini Drive, all the way from Belgium!

Now, it’s not an uncommon tidbit of knowledge that going on the road with a group of people who have such a high average of insanity between them typically means that you really need to prepare. In anticipation of our launch date I’ve stopped taking my meds and I’ve been drinking every day. I think it’s starting to show it’s effects. I feel the dark, pre-rational, self-destructive force more-or-less latent in all of us awakening inside of me. It’s chemical is slowly seeping into my blood stream, assuring me that I’ll be able to fit right in on this rap tour descent into madness.

The last time Pip Skid and Co-op made it out West was when they toured with the Greg MacPherson band earlier this year. The stories I’ve heard from that tour are what legends and mythology are made out of. Flying cannon balls, belly-flops, threats being uttered, heads being kicked clean off the flimsy necks that support them; it’s only going to be more of a violent, thrashing parade of meaninglessness and despair this time around. I’m not sure anything you or I do can truly prepare us for their horrific brand of road show; all we can do is try. My main concern on this tour of duty will be consoling Speeddial 7 as we veer down these twisted highways through Canada’s heart of darkness.

I’ll be doing a full solo set at every show, with a bunch of surprises for the people who haven’t seen me since last time I was out West. I’ll be bringing three samplers and two keyboards along for the ride, as well as some songs to sing and some raps to rap. I’ll also be performing material with the other guys, including songs from our group project, the Sugar Pill Gang. It’s going to be a lot of fun, that’s guaranteed. Here are the dates, come through if you can:

Sept 11 Winnipeg – NGTV Space
https://www.facebook.com/events/510789352280231/
Sept 12 Saskatoon – Vangelis Tavern                                                                                                                                 http://www.facebook.com/events/426633110705288/
Sept 13 Edmonton – Wunderbar
Sept 14 Calgary – The Palomino
Sept 15 Golden – Jita’s Cafe
https://www.facebook.com/events/338345742921743/
Sept 17 Vancouver – Calabash
Sept 21 Regina – Fainting Goat                                                                                                                                             http://www.facebook.com/events/278969952203103/
Sept 22 Brandon – Lady of the Lake

The Lo is Dead! Long Live the Lo!

      On Saturday, I went to the last ever show at the Lo-Pub. The line-up was great, but that’s really not the reason I was there. I wanted to have one last drink with a terminal friend. I wanted to stay until the end, and see the lights go out; but unfortunately, in my distraught state I drank too much too quickly, and ended up stumbling home alone, a mess. I didn’t want it’s last image of me to of a blubbering, drunken idiot.

I don’t know what the hell is happening to this city. Everyone outside of Winnipeg seems to talk about in one of three ways: the winters are long, cold and bitter; you might get stabbed randomly; and there’s a thriving music scene.

Somehow these three things all went together. The Albert, for instance, wasn’t an outsider friendly venue. It was downtown, where the winds in February seemed to sting even more than anywhere else in the city; and yes, you might run into some trouble that you’ll need to have some street smarts to handle. But if you could brave all of this, there was bands playing there almost every night.

When the Albert shut down, it was a blow to the music community in Winnipeg (maybe even Canada), for sure. But the Lo-Pub, in it’s infancy at the time, was there to take a lot of the burden onto it’s shoulders. It became the new Albert, in some ways. Not because it was really anything like the Albert though; it was a different atmosphere, for sure. But because you could always count on it. There were usually bands playing, and either way, it was always a comfortable place to go for a beer or 15. (And it was certainly an improvement for the city as whole, over the dive bar it was before it became the Lo!)

It started feeling like another home I think, when Dj Kutdown, Cassin Eliott and I started putting on the Mass Appeal Mondays, a weekly show designed to bring the Winnipeg hip-hop community together. Later on, it was the first venue I performed my new style of music at (see “Hey!Hey!“); that was probably the only venue in the city I could even get away with that shit at the time. That’s why I had my Hearts CD release party there earlier this year.

Now it’s gone. The Albert too. And soon, Times Changed. What’s next? I shudder to think of what doom is looming and for whom…

The good news is that it doesn’t sound like Jack (Jonassen, pictured above; the man behind it all) is going to give up. So, hopefully he’ll find a new place, and we will all be able to move on. But until then this is a public thank you to Jack, and all the staff at the Lo-Pub for all the great music, drinks and fuzzy memories!

 

 

FREE SHOW: Two Rocks of Stone and Rob Crooks

      I feel as though Two Rocks of Stone are my true cohorts, as far as Winnipeg’s music scene goes. I consider myself and them to be if not the only, a few of very select musicians in the city to be making no holds barred, experimental hip-hop.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Right around the turn of the millenium, experimental hip-hop was everywhere, or at least it seemed like it to me. It really got to the point, around 2005 or later, where “experimental” was becoming the norm, and thereby not really “experimental” anymore. Eventually, most people got sick of it, and moved on.

Two Rocks of Stone were really out there back then. Way more out there than anyone else in Winnipeg, at the time. When I first saw them, it was a real mindfuck. They had a table set up covered in gear that they played live, making beats on the spot. When a good groove would emerge, one of the members (Ryan or Jordan) would come out from behind the table to rap some crazy shit that must’ve been sent from somewhere on high. It was like seeing a kraut-rock band re-incarnated into a modern day Canadian hip-hop group. Needless to say, I wanted to get to know these two weirdos.

Since then, both members of TROS have been very influential and supportive of what I do, and I try to be the same back to them.  None of us have stopped experimenting, taking music to fringes that people may say isn’t even hip-hop anymore. But no one I know wants to debate what hip-hop is or isn’t. So putting all that aside, why not come and check out some musicians who have been making sampler-based music since before most people knew what a sampler was. This will be the real deal. (Like the real real deal. Really. Or maybe not, I don’t know anymore…Who even cares?)

Anyways, this show will be early. It is the closing party to Ryan (of Two Rocks) J. Carman’s art exhibit at the Zsa Zsa West Gallery, which was not so long ago Ryan’s own gallery, Golden City Fine Arts. It is situated at 211 Pacific, in Winnipeg’s Chinatown. The show is free, but the art is not, so please bring some money in case you see something you like.