Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Talking Devolution with Burger Boogaloo Headliner Devo

“We're just the house band going down with the Titanic, playing your favorite tunes as we all go down.”

by Nessa Moreno
Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 12:35 PM

Devo is perhaps best known for their hit, "Whip It." - PHOTO COURTESY OF ROBERT MATHEU
  • Photo courtesy of Robert Matheu
  • Devo is perhaps best known for their hit, "Whip It."

The history of Devo, the misunderstood iconoclast multimedia pioneers of punk, is far complicated than scores composed for Rugrats. Reached by phone earlier this week, Devo co-founder Jerry Casale cut into the grit about Donald Trump without hesitation (or espresso). "He's a blustering, idiotic developer-businessman-entrepreneur who hoodwinked everybody, has been bankrupt four times, gotten himself into a mountain of debt," Casale said, sounding groggy but perking up as the caffeine hits. "It's proof of Devolution of our entire culture."

What exactly is Devolution? Let’s go back to May 4, 1970, Kent State University. At the time, Casale was a student organizing with Students for a Democratic Society against the Vietnam War. That's when the National Guard gunned down the student uprising, killing four students and injuring nine. Casale knew two of the slain students, Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller. For the next year-and-a-half, Casale channeled grief into a project with his colleague Bob Lewis and conceived the concept, Devolution. "We were seeing in western society going down, Devolution,” Casale said. “Then one night I decided to make it an art movement, so we wanted to shorten it up. We wanted to do what all corporations did by abbreviating, using anagrams — we wanted to make it like Xerox, rub off letters. … It was Devo from there on out.”

It was then that Casale met up with co-founder of Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh, who was a student part-time taking art classes. “We became friends,” Casale said. “I told him about all the Devolution stuff. He just went nuts. He was already mentally there with us.”

The group elevated their concept from art into music with the help of their brothers Bob Mothersbaugh (Bob1) and late Bob Casale (Bob2), and found their first drummer, the late Alan Myers. By 1977, Devo was ready to leave Akron Ohio behind, and Jerry took a trip to New York booking gigs for Devo at punk clubs CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City and pretending to be Devo’s manager — rightfully so, at the time no one took them seriously. “Once we played those clubs, suddenly we were on the radar. People on the West Coast — the center of the record business world — were trying to sign us. A&M Records had an A&R man, Chip Cohen (he signed The Tubes two years earlier), he gave us money and had to drive out to California. Then we had to showcase for him in Hollywood, and he promptly rejected us.”

Rather than trudging the trail of failure back to Akron, Ohio, they met one last record executive. “He goes, ‘Guys, you could march seven naked teenage girls in here and they're all pretty but one's got a weird mole, one’s got no tits. What I'm trying to say is, you're not my kind of girl.’ I wanted to punch him out. ... That's when we left, and I started venting in the parking lot screaming about him, and Alan Myers, our drummer, goes, ‘Maybe we don't deserve a record deal.’ Ha, and I go, ‘Fuck that. That's bullshit. We're going to figure this out.’”

Word began to circulate about Devo’s distinctive sound and appearance. The same venue of Devo's debut showcase invited the band back, gaining them local recognition, and attracted the likes of Toni Basil and Iggy Pop, who then gave their tape to Neil Young, who then gave their tape to David Bowie, who brought Devo in touch with Brian Eno, who then produced their debut classic, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! Los Angeles has been their base ever since.

With their debut on Saturday Night Live, Devo was definitely perceived as polarizing by right wing America, especially in late 1970s. “When you're a do-it-yourself artist and you're punk in sense that you hate illegitimate authority, you hate all the gatekeepers — you know what? These people hate us, and we're doing something right.”

By 1980, ”Whip It” was on heavy rotation on MTV. But soon, MTV shifted its focus and basically became an advertising tool for Top 40, and Devo dropped off the mainstream radar. Yet, the band remained relevant to the underground. “By the 1990s, they weren't going, ‘Oh fuck Devo, that fucking ‘Whip It’ band,’” Jerry said.

There was a shift, and with that shift, the band came out of a hiatus. With Mothersbaugh composing scores for Rugrats, Pee-wee's Playhouse, and Wes Anderson movies, Devo was rediscovered by a new generation, propelled by the tools of social media. “They're like, ‘Oh yeah, Devo, Devolution is real.’ Of course, it's a foregone conclusion — we're just the house band going down with the Titanic, playing your favorite tunes as we all go down.”

With headlining this Burger Boogaloo this weekend, Devo is influential to many artists on this bill, the Mummies, Quintron, and especially the founders of Burger Records. The band itself remains a relevant soundtrack of society falling apart. “We all proved that Devolution is real,” Jerry said. ”We became the new wave Grateful Dead, with three generations of kids liking our music.”

Devo performs at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, June 30, at Mosswood Park in Oakland for Burger Boogaloo. Tickets here.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Otherwheres Finds Artificial Inspiration for Fifth Edition

The fifth edition of the literary and art magazine gets released Friday.

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 2:20 PM

Virginia Zamora created the cover art.
  • Virginia Zamora created the cover art.

When Joseph Bien-Kahn was a college student, he received a creative writing assignment that has stuck with him years later. His teacher handed out a few opening lines to novels and asked the students to pick one as their own opening line to a short story.

"He told us the first line was always the hardest," Bien-Kahn said. "What was fascinating most of all was all the stories were different. They all went in completely different directions."

Bien-Kahn applied that lesson to his literary and art magazine's newest issue, Otherwheres V: Artificial Inspiration — with an appropriately Bay Area twist. Web editor Aaron Strick found an open source sentence-building tool, so the pair put all of the poetry, first-person stories, and other writing from the first four Otherwheres editions into a database, and the algorithm spit out "an absolutely amazing, bizarre, magical collection of sentences," Bien-Kahn said. A few examples: "I think you grow stale and I am a backpack," "His face loosely stitched over his huge plantation homes," and "But something had raspberry bushes in my tongue."

The magazine team — editor Bien-Kahn, co-founder Aaron Kingon, web editor Strick, and design editor Toby Silverman — picked two sentences ("The Sisters are Dubious" and "You have found a thousand year passed by the ceremony") and found six writers to pen a short story using them as the opening line. They also gave six photographers different robo-excerpts to use as captions for an image.

Contributors include Lexi Pandell, who has written for Wired, The Atlantic, and Playboy; Megan Molteni of Wired; Nastia Voynovskaya, KQED's music and books editor and former Express writer; and Ismail Muhammad of Zyzzyva, The Millions, and LA Review of Books. Given the theme and technology behind the issue, it makes sense that some of the pieces lean dystopian and futurist, but others remain rooted in personal stories. "They still feel lived in and have that truth to them," Bien-Kahn said.

The hefty, beautifully designed magazines are printed at Autumn Press in Berkeley and will be for sale at the release party at 9 p.m. Friday, June 22, at Starline Social Club (2236 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland). With no cover to attend, folks can enjoy live readings followed by a dance party with Voynovskaya and Will Bundy of Wine & Bowties spinning hip-hop and R&B.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Aaron Kingon as the web editor. In fact, Aaron Strick is the web editor.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Pointer Sisters to Headline This Year's Art + Soul Oakland

Lyrics Born, Alphabet Rockers, Gift of Gab, and more will be at the 18th edition.

by Janelle Bitker
Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 1:38 PM

The Pointer Sisters will receive a key to the city. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ART + SOUL OAKLAND
  • Photo courtesy of Art + Soul Oakland
  • The Pointer Sisters will receive a key to the city.

Art + Soul Oakland will return to the streets of downtown Oakland with a fresh lineup on a new weekend. While the festival usually takes place in mid-August, the 2018 edition will see it Saturday, July 28, and Sunday, July 29.

The Pointer Sisters, the Oakland R&B group who won three Grammy Awards during their peak of fame in the 1970s and '80s, headlines this year's festival. At Art + Soul, the trio will be given keys to the city. As with past years, Art + Soul keeps the lineup focused on homegrown talent. Other headliners include Lyrics Born, the rapper who is set to release his tenth record later this year; Alphabet Rockers, the Grammy-nominated hip-hop group aimed at children; and Jazz Mafia with specials guests Tiffany Austin, Martin Luther, and Gift of Gab of Blackalicious fame.

New this year is live salsa with free salsa dance lessons, backed by Mario Salomon's new band Mario y Su TimbeKO.

The festival will also bring back its turf dance battle, world dance showcases, blues stage, arts marketplace, local food and drink, and carnival with activities for kids.

In honor of Art + Soul's 18th birthday, kids ages 18 and under will get into the festival for free, ensuring that this will be an extra family-friendly weekend. Advance tickets for adults cost $12 and $6 for seniors 65 and older. For more information, visit

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Oakland Singer Tatyana Schmid Killed in Traffic Accident

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Jun 4, 2018 at 4:53 PM

Tatyana Schmid (left) wrote songs as duo TATATEO. - PHOTO VIA TATATEO'S FACEBOOK
  • Photo via Tatateo's Facebook
  • Tatyana Schmid (left) wrote songs as duo TATATEO.

Tatyana Schmid died Thursday, May 31, while riding her bicycle along the 7000 block of Skyline Boulevard, according to Bay Area News Group. She collided with a SUV and died at the scene. She was 28 years old.

Schmid was a local singer who performed in Bay Area folk bands, including Oakland acoustic duo TATATEO with Matteo Lovik.  The Minnesota native was also a trip leader for Backroads, the hiking and cycling company.

The collision remains under investigation.

Review: Politics Takes Center Stage at Clusterfest

by Janelle Bitker
Mon, Jun 4, 2018 at 11:11 AM

  • Courtesy of Clusterfest by
  • Michael Che

Comedians brought their wokest material to Comedy Central’s Clusterfest, the three-day comedy festival in San Francisco that wrapped up Sunday night. Nearly every set spoke to Donald Trump, race, or the #MeToo movement — and often all three.

Many comics couldn’t resist playfully jabbing at San Francisco, especially its whiteness. “This feels like a really fucked up Jehovah's Witnesses concert,” said Tiffany Haddish, scanning the VIP section at the start of her set.

Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che spent some time on his feelings about the city as well. “Every time I get here, it gets a little whiter,” he said, as the camera pointed to an all-white section of the audience. “It’s like I’m slowly watching my favorite person turn gray.”

Others were even more direct. Kate Berlant began her surrealist set with a few questions: “Who here works for Facebook? Who here likes to actively displace the poor?” After some awkward laughter, she issued a clarification: “That's a San Francisco joke.” While performing at the outdoor, Civic Center stage, Jeff Jeffries remarked on how festival organizers cleared homeless folks out from the plaza — essentially, evicting them from where they currently live — just so he could tell some dick jokes. Arrested Development's David Cross cheerfully called San Francisco “the human poo capital of America.”

Comics didn’t shy away from #MeToo within the comedy industry, as Louis C.K. was put on blast multiple times. “There are at least 12 comics I know that I would not invite to my home,” said Jackie Kashian. “I call them my work friends.”

Kashian was one of many lesser-known openers who had audiences keeling over, demonstrating the impressive, top-to-bottom lineup at Clusterfest. She also encapsulated the weekend well in a single sentence: “I am surely not a political comic, but I am now, because I’m alive.”

The wokeness continued through Saturday's headlining set, which saw Amy Schumer splitting her time with three other women. Schumer, who is often accused of problematic white feminism, spoke to the importance of intersectionality and promoting people of color in her Saturday headlining set.

  • Courtesy of Clusterfest by
  • Tiffany Haddish
  • Courtesy of Clusterfest by
  • The Lonely Island
  • Courtesy of Clusterfest by
  • Jon Stewart

A less political highlight of the weekend, however, was Lonely Island’s headlining set on Friday — the comedic hip-hop group’s first official live concert ever. The multimedia set was packed with over-the-top silliness, guest appearances, costume changes, and all of their beloved hits. The Berkeley group even debuted a new song, suggesting the possibility of more live shows down the line. The East Bay-centric track paid homage to sports stars Jose Canseco, Mark McGuire, and Joe Montana, and saw Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer dressed in Oakland A’s gear.

Other memorable, unserious attractions included a recreation of Nickelodeon’s game show Double Dare, equipped with green slime; a South Park carnival full of themed games; a brass band-led parade featuring a few men coated in blue paint and clad in cut-offs, which ended at a replication of the Arrested Development stair car; and a slew of hip-hop performances that played up the theme of '90s nostalgia.

But the most memorable attraction was the Daily Show’s Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library, which showcased Trump’s most bizarre and outrageous tweets in an ambitious format that struck the perfect tone between humor and despair. Cast members of the Daily Show served as ideal anchors throughout the festival, which fittingly ended on a political high via Jon Stewart. The former host proved he’s still the master of the form, even weaving in an old Twitter exchange between him and Trump, and gave a shout-out to his former colleague Samantha Bee, who is currently experiencing the president’s wrath.

But as with the rest of the festival lineup, he found a way to make fun of San Francisco, too.

“Is rent so fucking bad we can’t afford a theater?” he asked on the main stage, as thousands stood bundled in the chill. “Or a Google bus or something?”

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