glam rock

Coachella Band Preview: Empire of the Sun

The first weekend of Coachella is 3 weeks away. Yes three weeks is what separates us from the hot sunny Indio Desert, the greens of the Empire Polo Fields swarming with festival-goers, palm trees swaying to the cool breeze and rad tunes, epic sunsets over the mountains, and the sweet sounds of music from incredible artists entering our ears. I only have a few band previews left before the annual festival begins and time is of the essence so I better get to it.

Empire of the Sun is an electronic/alternative rock band from Sydney, Australia. The band formed in 2007 as a collaboration between Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore. Both had worked together on music for each other’s bands before forming Empire of the Sun. Those bands each performed different styles of music. Steele brought the alternative rock genre to their new band and Littlemore brought the electronic dance music. Their first album, Walking on a Dream, was released in 2008 with the first single of the same name debuting about a month before the album’s release. Both the single and album were charted in the top ten of the ARIA charts. Although their only intention was to create a studio album, they decided to do live performances in response to the album’s success. However the live shows did not include Littlemore, who decided to opt out of touring early on. By the end of 2009, the band received 7 ARIA Awards for the album including Album of the Year.

2010 was the year the band embarked on the festival circuit playing Glastonbury and Lollapalooza for the first time and by the end of the year Littlemore and Steele discussed creating a new album for the band. Production on the album began in 2011 and Littlemore stated he would go out and tour in support of this one. 2011 also involved a North American tour for the band, which included a stop at Coachella.

The duo released their second album, Ice on the Dune, in June 2013. The new album brought more touring throughout 2013 and into 2014. The band made their second stop at Coachella in 2014 and headlined the Sahara Tent. Their music was also featured in the film Dumb and Dumber To, which came out in late 2014.

The band continued to tour into 2015 while simultaneously working on their third album. Their third and latest album was just released this past October. 2016 also marked the first time that the band broke on to the Billboard charts. It was their 2008 hit “Walking on a Dream” that earned the band the number 3 spot on the Alternative Music charts after it was used in a U.S. Honda commercial in early 2016.

Their music, as I said, is a combination of alternative rock and electronic music. It can’t be described much better than that, although some may say the band fits genres like synthpop or glam rock. I feel like their sound has stayed consistent over the course of three albums so if you love the song “Walking on a Dream” or only know music from that album, you’re bound to dig some of their more recent stuff.

I discovered Empire of the Sun in 2011. There’s no significant story of how so I’m guessing it was through a recommendation from Youtube or Pandora because I listened to similar music on either channel. Of course the first song I heard was “Walking on a Dream”. Throughout the past few years I’ve heard their other stuff here and there and I’ve liked it. I’ve also heard the song “Walking on a Dream” multiple times in various circumstances throughout the same time period. It’s no surprise it’s their biggest hit. I never got into them as a band though. Nor have I been dying to see them live, but I’ll tell you why I would definitely check them out at Coachella.

Music festivals give you an opportunity to see bands live who you might like but not like enough to buy a ticket for a touring show making Coachella the perfect time for someone like me to check them out. Empire of the Sun does some pretty cool live performances too. The performances are as much of a visual art as they are a musical art. They wear elaborate costumes, have dancers or other performers, and display mesmerizing visuals often seen as part of electronic shows. They play Friday at Coachella. They’ve already headlined the Sahara Tent at the festival once before so that might happen again. As long as their set doesn’t overlap with some other great performers, it’ll definitely be a spectacle worth seeing. Here’s a few songs to know if you go:

  1. Walking on a Dream
  2. Alive
  3. High and Low
  4. We Are the People
  5. Standing on the Shore
  6. DNA
  7. Two Vines
  8. Concert Pitch
  9. To Her Door
  10. Friends

 

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An Ode to Bowie

This morning when I woke up and checked Twitter I saw that legendary rock music icon, David Bowie, passed away at the age of 69 after an 18 month battle with cancer. I typically wouldn’t make a blog post about someone dying unless it was someone who I really loved or admired or who affected my life in such a significant way, but then something happened. The way I found out solved a 15 year mystery for me and it got me thinking. David Bowie has kind of been a subliminal figure in my life for a while, but especially the last several years. I would never label myself a David Bowie fan so to speak. I never listened to his music frequently, saw him as a personal cultural icon, or followed his life and career, but somehow David Bowie managed to silently sneak into my life at various times. So I figured, I would do a small ode to Bowie blog post as reminder of his subtle influence in my life.

David Robert Jones (Bowie) was born and raised in South London. He took the name Bowie during the start of his career so he wouldn’t be confused with the Monkees’ Davy Jones. He broke into the charts of the music world with Space Oddity in 1969 and released many more albums in the years following to much success. He even released a final album, Blackstar, as a parting gift to the world this past Friday. Bowie was known for his progressive, innovative, unique, and gender-bending persona. He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Throughout his life he was involved with many aspects of music, but also acted in several films. He truly was an entertainment superstar.

As a music fan, I know and have heard David Bowie’s music before. I’ve heard “Rebel, Rebel” more times than I can count.  I, of course, know the song “Under Pressure”, which he recorded with Queen in 1981. I’m pretty sure most people in general know the song, can hum the baseline, and also confuse it with Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”, which caused some legal controversy in the early 90’s. “Heroes”, however, is my most favorite Bowie song of recent years, solely for the fact that it was featured on the soundtrack of a movie based off of my favorite book of all-time, which counts for one subtle Bowie appearance in my life.

Two more of those times involves two music themed movies. One of those movies has already been featured on The Film Playlist series (The Runaways). The other will be featured in the near future I’m sure. Both films have references to Bowie. Thus, two subtle David Bowie life appearances. Besides casually seeing David Bowie t-shirts, hearing celebrity references, and occasionally hearing his music throughout my life (more subtle appearances than I can count), Bowie’s limited acting career includes a few life appearances. One of his acting roles was in the movie Zoolander, a favorite movie of mine in middle school. He played himself and was the judge in the famed walk-off  challenge scene between Derek Zoolander and Hansel. Another movie he starred in back in the 80’s was Labyrinth, a movie I’ve never seen before.

You’re probably wondering how this movie and David Bowie fit in with my life then, right? Well in middle school a girl in my class used to randomly sing this song “Dance Magic Dance” , which at the time I thought she made up because it was so ridiculous. For those of you who have seen Labryrinth, you now understand the Ah-ha moment. For those who haven’t, let me explain. David Bowie played the role of Jareth the Goblin King and sings this song in the film. It wasn’t until the very moment that I found out about David Bowie’s death that I connected the dots on that song. I read a tweet by a celebrity I follow on Twitter that referenced Bowie’s death, the “Dance Magic Dance” song, and Labyrinth. Finally, I made the full connection. Right before I wrote this, I watched a clip of the song in the movie on Youtube. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and shook my head for the entirety of the clip. It was the first time I’d ever heard the real version of the song this girl used to sing in middle school, which was more than 15 years ago. Crazy. Subtle Bowie. So Subtle.

Lastly, I had a Halloween party a few years ago where one of my friends came dressed as David Bowie with the classic Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt painted across his face. Both him and another one of my friends had an appreciation for Bowie and his uniqueness that translated into him being Bowie for the party.

I’m sure there have been other times Bowie appeared in the background somewhere in my life. It’s like he’s photobombed all these life scenes for me. He may very well continue to do that even if he’s no longer with us. So thanks David Bowie. Thanks for being involved in cool things and random things, music things and movie things. Thanks for influencing so many in a variety of ways. And thanks for being subtle yet not-so subtle at the same time. *insert pic of Bowie creeping in the background*

 

 

The Film Playlist: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Since it’s the week of Halloween, I figured an extra blog post was due. I had to feature a cult classic film that inspired a one-of- a-kind theater experience. Let’s get one thing straight though. I hate musicals. However, I love music. Strange right? Eh, a little. There’s just something I find odd about singing the story of your life instead of just saying it. I’m a bigger fan of having a soundtrack to life. You know, like songs you love just playing in the background? That said, there are a handful of musical films I can tolerate (and maybe enjoy a little bit??). Surprisingly, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS) is one of them.

Around Halloween, there always seems to be Rocky Horror events popping up more frequently. Maybe it’s the extremely odd nature of the film, the fact that people like to dress-up as characters from the movie for the events, or that RHPS performances began during the Halloween season, but it’s become a Halloween time tradition. Unfortunately, I never attended a RHPS showing (I have seen the movie though). It’s always been on my list of things to do, but for whatever reason, never worked out. So yes, if I do ever attended, that will make me a “virgin” (seeing the movie in a non-live performance setting doesn’t count). But before I get into these events, it’s best to tell you about the 1975 film starring, Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and Barry Bostwick.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a satirical musical/comedy/horror film that is a tribute to old time science fiction/horror movies. It’s directed by Jim Sharman and based on the 1973 British stage production of the same name written by Richard O’Brien (O’Brien starred as Riff Raff in the film). Sharman and O’Brien actually teamed up to write the screenplay. In the film, a young, recently engaged couple’s (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) car breaks down during a rainstorm. Fortunately, they break down near a castle where they decide to ask for a phone to use to call for help. However, a mad scientist alien transvestite dressed in a corset, briefs, garter straps, fishnet stockings, and platform heels named Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) and his band of eerily costumed creatures/friends inhabit the castle, which leads the couple to become wrapped up in the ensuing musical mayhem. At the time of release in the fall of 1975, the film was a flop, drawing small audiences nationwide (except at the Westwood Theater in Los Angeles). It wasn’t until the film began its midnight showings in the spring of 1976 at the Waverly Theater in New York City that the cult following grew.

At the screenings, the theater manager would play the soundtrack to hype the audience before the movie began which created a fun, care-free, party-like atmosphere. Then, during the film, people began randomly shouting responses to things the characters would say on screen. Audience participation during the movie became the norm. Around Halloween in 1976, people came dressed as characters from the film. It spurred a whole revelation of Rocky Horror regulars lip-syncing the soundtrack before the movie and performing a mini-floor show, much to the delight of all who attended. It became the standard for RHPS screenings.

Now all over the country, and more-so around Halloween, midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show happen on a regular basis almost 40 years after they began. Casts of regular performers dress-up and act out the film as it plays. People shout at the screen, shoot water guns, and throw rice and toilet paper during appropriate parts. There’s also rituals that take place for Rocky Horror “virgins” a.k.a. those who have never seen the RHPS live. The rituals vary from theater to theater but may include dancing the “Time Warp” (it’s just a jump to the left and then a step to the right…) or receiving a lap-dance from one of the cast members. All the virgin initiations are in good fun though because that’s what Rocky Horror is about.

The music in the film is typical of musicals, but features somewhat of a glam rock style. Some of the most notable songs include the “Time Warp”, “Sweet Transvestite”, “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me”, and “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul”. After I first saw the RHPS, I felt like I went through a strange mind blowing experience. It disturbed me a bit at first, but then slowly I became more interested in the songs. I learned how to dance the “Time Warp” and the rest is history. Despite enjoying the songs and catching parts of the movie on occasion, I can honestly say I’ve never seen the movie in its entirety since that first time. It really is that strange and will take a lot for me to watch it again (a live showing would absolutely get me to do it). RHPS is a cult phenomenon though and loved by many. I guarantee there are showings this weekend if you want to check one out. Just search the web. You probably have one near you without even knowing it. Even if you miss out this weekend, there are several places that have monthly showings all over the country. It should be a one-of-a-kind thrilling, chilling, and fulfilling experience.

In case you want to know a few songs before you go, I recommend these (my faves):

  1. Time Warp
  2. Sweet Transvestite
  3. Dammit Janet
  4. Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me
  5. Science Fiction Double Feature