Saturday, February 25, 2012

Resurrecting The Stone Roses

 Originally appears in Issue 9

The Stone Roses are back and they wanna be adored once more. Announced last October, the band’s reunion will see the original line-up play two dates at Heaton Park in their home city of Manchester next year before embarking on a world tour.

Tickets for the gigs at sold out in 14 minutes, with some later surfacing on eBay for as much as £1500 – nearly 30 times the retail price – suggesting that anticipation for The Stone Roses is high. Indeed, new songs are being written and, according to the lead singer Ian Brown, an album for 2012 is potentially on the cards.

The band’s eponymous debut, which burst onto the Manchester music scene in 1989, still remains a seminal classic. Songs such as ‘Waterfall’ and the transcendental ‘I Am the Resurrection’ have ingrained themselves into the consciousness of a generation and show no sign of loosening their hold on younger listeners. After 1994’s disappointing follow-up Second Coming, however, the band disintegrated into acrimony.

If there remains hard feelings among the four members, they certainly weren’t on show this October. Speaking at the band reunion’s press conference, Brown joked: “We’ll ride this until the wheels come off, like we did the last time.”

But while many fans are ecstatic at the opportunity to see The Stone Roses relive old glories, others are more sceptical.Was it not only two years ago that guitarist John Squire said that he had, “no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group The Stone Roses,”? Of course, the usual crowd of jeerers accuse the band of shameless profiteering. Worse still, they say, they’re destroying the legacy of a wonderful group.

Perhaps a friend of mine, still disillusioned by the feeble reunion of The Pixies, summed it up best. “Seeing your favourite band reform is like bumping into an ex-girlfriend from years back. The only difference is she is now older, fatter and, yeah, probably even balder”. Wise words, particularly so when you’re talking about Frank Black. But will it be the same case for The Stone Roses?

It is hard to tell at this early stage. Pulp’s reunion last year showed that revival acts can not only be successful, but can also steal the show at several music festivals. But then again Pulp has Jarvis Cocker, a wit of the Morrissey and Mark E. Smith vintage, at the helm. All the Stone Roses have is Ian Brown. Not exactly the finest vocal talent in the world.

Regardless, The Stone Roses will no doubt headline several festivals this summer playing classic track after track. Perhaps it is 2012, and not 1994, that will be known for The Stone Roses true second coming? --SIMON MEE

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Dime Squad #3: Jonathan Bogart

One More Robot Editor Dean Van Nguyen enjoys an e-mail back-and-forth with Nineties Hip-Hop Issue contributor and pop documenter Jonathan Bogart.

Can you remember the first time you heard hip-hop? What was the song that made you aware?

I don't remember the first time I heard hip-hop with any clarity -- there was never any head-turning "what is THIS?" moment, because I had heard it described long before I ever heard it. Because of my sheltered upbringing -- I was homeschooled for most of the 80s, and my parents were evangelical missionaries -- I'm pretty sure I didn't hear any hip-hop until 1990 or 1991, when I would have first been exposed to Christian rappers like dc Talk, Stephen Wiley, Mike-E, P.I.D. (Preachers In Disguise), and others I can't remember on a sampler cassette that filtered into our house from some kind donor. But it would have only been a few months later that I turned on local radio and heard "Ice Ice Baby," which was the first mainstream hip-hop I heard. I remember envying the kids at the Guatemalan school I was going to, who danced to "Ice Ice Baby" and knew all the words even if it was the only English they knew.

You're really well known and respected among music journalists and readers alike but, unlike many of your peers, most of your work crops up on very alternative websites and, of course, your many blogs. Was this intentional on your part?

Well, I've only been writing seriously about music for two or three years, and I think I'm about where that deserves. I don't try -- or necessarily even want -- to make a living writing about music, so I haven't pursued the kind of exposure or access that someone paying bills by their pen needs. I think of my peers as other enthusiastic amateurs; I've never even pitched anything that hasn't been solicited first.

I think I first came across you when I read your 'best of the decade' song lists of every era right back to the 19th century. I used to listen to those lists song-after-song. Can you tell me a little bit about that project and when did you become so enamoured by musical history?

The project actually started as a response to Pitchfork's 200 Songs of the 1960s feature -- and after doing the 60s, I realized that it was so much fun I wanted to do one for each decade. I've always been interested in history, so when I started becoming fascinated by the broad scope of music around the turn of the millennium thanks to the endless availability offered by Napster and the canon-making of end-of-the-century lists, it was natural for me to be as interested in the music of the Coolidge Administration as in the music of the Nixon, Reagan, or Bush II eras. (That's the 20s, 60s/70s, 80s, and 00s respectively, for non-American readers.)
Are you a big time music collector? I'm thinking about the piece you wrote for The Vinyl Issue. Also, it can't of been easy to Napster some of the tunes on your list like 'Russian Scissors' by The Oriental Orchestra or "Rock My Soul" by The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.
I've had my bouts of collector's fever; especially with older material, it's essential to be able to track down reissues on CDs and LPs. But there's more available online (or through certain ahem channels) than you might expect; the tricky part is knowing what information to trust. 
Finally, I just five minutes ago googled both our names and saw this: You call me "The Second Nicest Man in Pop Criticism". And Hendrik is #1! Care to comment on this travesty? I'd come after Hendrik's crown, but I'm actually too nice to do that.. 
There's such a thing as being too nice! You have an editorial judgment which makes you not a pushover.
haha. very flattering.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Dime Squad #2: Miles Marshall Lewis

Second up in our series of interviews with recent contributors is American cultural critic, editor, fiction writer and "bohemian b-boy" Miles Marshall Lewis.

DVN: As soon as we first start talking about a Nineties Hip-Hop Issue you straight away mentioned Hype Williams. Considering the scale of what could be covered, what drew you to Hype?

MML: Contributor Michael A. Gonzales is a close friend. We've had a lot of private conversations about enjoying Belly, the 1998 Hype Williams film. When Michael mentioned the Hip-Hop Issue to me, we both thought immediately of Hype. With his omnipresence on late 1990s MTV, a lot of folks expected Hype to graduate to Hollywood in a bigger way, like former video directors David Fincher, Brett Ratner, Spike Jonze and McG, for example. But his imprint on Nineties hiphop is enormous if you think for even two seconds about the images of the culture that flooded that era.

DVN: Why do you think Hype has never really made that step into Hollywood? Do you think if big screen recognition never happens for Hype it might be something he looks back on and wishes he had achieved?

MML: Right now Hype's supposed to be directing Lust, an erotic thriller written by Joe Eszterhas, who did the scripts for Basic Instinct, Flashdance and Showgirls. In 2004 Hollywood made a live-action Fat Albert film that Hype was tied to at some point. Someone else directed and it flopped. He got hired to direct Speed Racer too, another flop that fell through for him. Researching for my piece in the Hip-Hop Issue, I found another project, a zombie horror movie called Thrilla, that got stuck in development hell for him. The period between Belly and Lust may just not have been Hype's time for Hollywood. Better for him to have spent the years improving his craft than for him to have blown his shot directing flops.

DVN: You were also interesting in doing something on the East Coast/West Coast rivarly, but we already had Charlie touching on that in his Pac piece and Michael in his Bad Boy feature. Charlie describes hearing about Pac's death and MAG talked about crying when he heard Biggie died in a recent blog post. Do you have memories of both those incidents?

MML: When Tupac died, I was headed to a Giorgio Armani party downtown at the Armory. I found out from David Mays, the founder and publisher of The Source magazine. He had just found out somehow, and went through the office telling everybody the news. I was on the phone with someone in the Source's conference room. Dave peeked his head in and said "he's outta here" or something like that. News reporters were outside the Armory asking people about his death as we all went inside. D'Angelo was performing at the party dedicating songs to Pac, and everybody there was talking about it. I didn't cry for Big, but definitely I cried for Pac. I remember that moment, smoking a blunt and listening to "Old School," off of Me Against the World.

When Biggie was killed, I was spending the night at a girlfriend's house in New Jersey: Asondra R. Hunter, the second editor-in-chief of Honey magazine. She was out in L.A. at the party where Big was shot. She called and told me what happened. I checked messages from my answering machine in Brooklyn. My father had called, my best friend Marc and Asondra again. It was numbing.

DVN: Can you remember the first hip-hop record you fell in love with?

MML: My childhood in the South Bronx was full of hiphop I loved: "Rapper's Delight" and "8th Wonder" (Sugarhill Gang), "The Breaks" (Kurtis Blow), "Feel the Heartbeat" (Fearless Four). "Original Human Beat Box" by Doug E. Fresh too. But the first rap record I loved enough to buy was "Roxanne Roxanne." I bought the whole UTFO album. Mix Master Ice could cut.

DVN: The Bronx seeps into your work quite abit, from your first book Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don't Have Bruises through to the title of your publication Bronx Biannual. Looking back to those early hip-hop records you just mentioned, could you tell something special was happening?

MML: Well, yeah. Something special was happening whether or not it ever spread worldwide. I was just a kid in the backseat of the car hearing his parents laugh at the Sugarhill Gang when their records came on the radio. Dad said rap would never last, Mom agreed with Dad, and that was the end of it. From their point of view. But especially once Def Jam Recordings took hold, plus Krush Groove and flicks of that nature came out, I knew hiphop was never going anywhere. I never bothered to see Beat Street in the movies; I lived on Beat Street

DVN: Ha! And I think all Dubliners who didn't see Once can relate to that... So how did you end up making the jump from hip-hop fan to hip-hop journalist?

MML: I'd interned on Vibe's first two issues in the summer of 1993. I published my earliest work around that time in magazines like Noir, Freedom Rag and Eyeball. Then The Source had a famous editorial walkout that I won't get into here, but it left them with no writers, and I was one of the freelancers to fill in the gap. My Grand Puba feature for them was the first time I ever got paid. A year later I was reviewing Erykah Badu's first album for Rolling Stone. Three years later I was the music editor of Vibe. In 2004 I published my first book, sort of a memoir of my relationship to hiphop, including interviews with Russell Simmons, KRS-One, ?uestlove and Afrika Bambaataa.

MML's work can be viewed at and he tweets @futhermucker

Friday, February 3, 2012

Welcome Friends

So maybe you saw the Irish Times piece today and wondering what's this whole Robot thing is about. Well, we're here to show you around a bit.

Firstly, The Nineties Hip-Hop Issue is on sale right now in Dublin City at Trout Records (George's Street Arcade), All City (Crow Street, Temple Bar), The Record, Art & Game Emporium (Fade Street),
The Winding Stair Bookshop (Lower Ormond Quay) and Blind Tiger Collective (South William Street). Anywhere else in the world it's available via mail order. There's also more background information on the issue via the editor's own blog. Back issues are also available and, for a limited time only, we've a good deal in bundle packs which you can check out here.

There's more info about the magazine itself on our About Us page and we're pretty active on Facebook and Twitter so be sure to check us out there and join in the fun.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Dime Squad #1: Michael A. Gonzales

For the Nineties Hip-Hop Issue, I decided to dub our team of contributors 'The Dime Squad' as an homage to seminal hip-hop publication The Source who did a lot of important work during the decade documenting the genre. The Source's editorial team called themselves 'The Mind Squad' and we would be a low-rent equivelent (dime as in ten cents). But by the time we were finished a bunch of the old Source guys were writing for One More Robot too, so the name probably wasn't all that appropriate. Still, to accompany the new edition I'm putting together a series of blog posts where I enjoy an ol' tete-e-tete via e-mail with some of the writers about their pieces and careers in general. First up, its regular One More Robot scribe, and XXL, Vibe and Wax Poetics contributor, Michael A. Gonzales. --Dean Van Nguyen, Editor.

DVN: Your latest piece addresses Bad Boy Records in the nineties. Based in NYC at the same time the label was exploding, did you get a sense that something special was happening?

MAG: In 1993, when it was announced that Uptown Records had fired Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, the entire industry was speculating on what would be his next move. At Uptown, Puffy was the chief conceptualist behind Jodeci, Mary J. and the emerging "hip-hop soul" era. So, when he announced the formation of Bad Boy Records a few months later, I was psyched.

Some of the best black music, be it soul or hip-hop, has been defined by their labels. Be it Stax or Motown, Sugarhill or Def Jam, the branding of these labels begins with the sound of the music. That said, I was a Bad Boy fan from the very beginning. Once their first single "Flava in Ya Ear" by Craig Mack was released, I was smitten by the Puff Daddy sound.

Working with the Hitmen, a crew of musicians, arrangers and real musicians, Puff threw in the attitude and swagger and a few stars were born including Biggie, Faith, 112, Total, Mase, The Lox, Carl Thomas and Puff Daddy. Still, it's somewhat amazing that nineteen years after the formation of Bad Boy, the biggest star Diddy has launched is himself.

Coming from Harlem, I thought the boom of Bad Boy was the perfect 1990s soundtrack for hanging out in bars, dancing with girls and making money. Whereas a lot of hip-hop encouraged anti-social/male aggressive behavior, Bad Boy music insisted you be cool as the winter wind and always have a fine woman by your side. In its first decade, Bad Boy was the James Bond of black music...I'm just saying.

DVN: You interviewed Faith Evans for this piece. How cool was she?

MAG: First, let me say I've had a crush on Faith since 1995 when I saw her signing autographs against the wall of a Brooklyn weed spot. Instantly, I fell in love. Ironically, that same night my friend Raymond O'Neal played me an advance of Faith's self-titled debut and I was smitten for life.

The first time I interviewed Faith was in 1998, when her second album Keep the Faith was coming out. Me and my friend Amy Linden were writing The Source magazines first R&B supplement and I insisted that Faith be my story.

Faith and I went out for sushi in Greenwich Village. Since her husband/manager sat in the car for the entire time, I could pretend I was on a date. But, jokes aside, she was very cool and down to earth and answered every question.

In 2010, with the release of her sixth studio album Something About Faith, I interviewed her again and the singer had lost none of her wit or charm. "The Ballad of Faith and Biggie" was written from the transcripts of that interview. 

DVN: You've interviewed so many of the greats! Like Curtis Mayfield, Barry White, Jay-Z, D'angelo...The list goes on! Is there anyone stand out you've met in your career, for good or bad reasons?

MAG: I would have to say Sade, but she was the not the ice queen I imagined her to be, but a sweet woman who was also very down to earth. During the interview, she and I sat in her hotel room smoking cigarettes. A few weeks later, she had her manager send me a book on how to stop smoking.

I would also put my old friend Tricky in this category, because he was the total opposite of his depressing aural persona and he always had the best weed on the planet.

DVN: Haha. Cool. How did you get into the whole pop journo game?

MAG: From the time I was a kid, I was a music fan. I was kind of strange because I listened to a little bit of everything and a few favorites was Elton John, Curtis Mayfield, Chaka Khan, David Bowie, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, anything produced by Gamble and Huff, Queen, Frank Sinatra and big band music. When I was in 7th grade, I self-published a school newspaper and wrote a review of the movie Tommy, mostly because it featured my man Elton performing "Pinball Wizard."

That said, I started reading pop magazines like Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy and Creem. Later, when I was an English major at Long Island University in the eighties I discovered the Village Voice and was turned on to a writers Greg Tate, Barry Michael Cooper, Carol Cooper, Chuck Eddy, Frank Kogan, Nelson George, Lisa Jones, Harry Allen, Bonz Malone and others who wrote about music in the same crazed way I often thought it.

Although I was well aware from the age of seven that I wanted to be a writer, it was those guys and dolls that sent me on the path to pop. Later, I stumbled on the Brit newspapers New Music Express, Melody Maker, The Face and various collections, which introduced me to an entire other level of pop appreciation in the works of Nik Cohn, Paul Morley, Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons, David Toop, Frank Owen and Simon Reynolds.

While I also write crime fiction, erotica and other types of essays, the world of pop, or "Planet Pop" as my buddy Frank Owen once put, is still appealing. From my long stories in Wax Poetics on Nina Simone and Curtis Mayfield to "The Ballad of Faith and Biggie" in the latest One More Robot, pop documentation remains important to me

DVN: School newspaper aside, when did you begin seriously covering "planet pop" and what publication gave you your start?

MAG: Besides the school paper and a couple of fanzines, my first music writing was done for a newspaper called Cover. It was a freebie monthly that was published by a Lower East Side poet named Jeff Wright. The music editor was a cool dude named James Graham, who taught me a lot about writing, jazz, Fela and the magic of the the Lower East Side. While at Cover I wrote about different kinds of stuff, from MC Hammer to Casandra Wilson to guitarists Jean-Paul Bourelly and Vernon Reid.

It wasn't until 1990, when my friend Havelock Nelson invited me to collaborate on the book "Bring the Noise" (1991, Random House) that the hip-hop writing thing took off. I was occasionally writing pieces for Word Up and Right On, which were teen magazines. A few years later, when The Source opened there New York City office, I began writing for them. My first piece was on Poor Righteous Teachers and my first cover story was about Cypress Hill.

After that Vibe started, RapPages was launched, XXL was established, Ego Trip was hatched and in the matter of a few years I was writing for them all. I might be one of the few writers to write cover stories for all the major urban magazines during that era.

As an aside, I'd like to also point out that it was during this same era that I began writing for a full-figured woman's fashion magazine called Mode, that allowed me to do various types of stories outside of rap. Editors Abbie Britton and Corynne Corbett allowed me to do all kinds of writing including essays on torch singers, Burt Bacharach and female disco artists.

DVN: A lot of writers seem to be defined by their work in one or two publications, but your stuff keeps popping up all over the place, from The Telegraph to Aleim. How do you maintain such a super-human workrate and do you ever get to a stage where you actually have to tell an editor "NO!" lol. Also, is there anything you have coming out soon we should look out for?

MAG: First, very rarely do I say "no" when there might be some mean green attached, but at the same time I'm blessed because editors see my work and reach out to me. I started writing for the London Telegraph, because the editor Nisha Diu saw my work in New York magazine.

There are also other magazines where I've written pieces I'm proud of, like the late great Stop Smiling, that I developed a relationship with because of my publicist friend Tresa Sanders, who convinced the editors to meet with me about doing a Rza feature in 2006 and we worked together until their last issue a few years later.

My interest in pop is varied, and I've become comfortable writing about various subjects including visual arts and literary subjects. As a writer, I think it's important to absorb as much knowledge as possible on as many subjects as one can manage. For me, art, film, music, books and blogs fuels my desire to write, document and push pop culture as though it were a drug.

In the last few years, I've also started writing a lot of long-form music pieces, most of the about 6,000 words,  for Wax Poetics. When I write those stories, be it on Barry White or Nina Simone, I often think of the pieces as though I was writing movie like Ray, Walk the Line, Purple Rain, Velvet Goldmine or Grace of My Heart.

Currently, I'm proud to be a contributing editor for HYCIDE, which is an arts queterly and blog. The next one, which will be out next month, is the sex issue which features my essay "Through the Plexiglass," an article about the decadent days of old Times Square and the Screw magazine art of my friend Guy Gonzales.

I recently wrote the Notorious B.I.G. introduction for the Biggie special issue of XXL, an essay for Complex about the making of Society of Soul's underrated 1995 album Brainchild, an upcoming interview with George Clinton also for Complex and and I'm working with the editor of a classic hip-hop magazine that is about to be resurrected.

One of the upcoming articles I'm most proud of is my interview/profile with guitarist Jesse Johnson, who was originally a member of the funk group the Time. Remember the dude in the pink suit that played guitar with Prince's rival band in Purple Rain, well, that was Jesse. He played with the Time for a while, had a wild and crazy solo career in the '80s, recorded a single with Sly Stone called "Crazay" that and, with the exception of a few independent discs, kind of disappeared for a while. Currently, though, he is on tour in Europe with D'Angelo. Anyway, the piece is coming out in Wax Poetics, which is doing a special Prince issue featuring the purple clad maestro, a few of his collaborators and members from his various side project. Anybody that likes Prince and Wax Poetics will be happy.

Michael blogs at and the erotica blog Open is also a print journal that he co-edits with writer/editor Fayemi Shakur.