Music Spotlight: WHY? and Serengeti
By Alexis Murine | Photographs by Alexis Murine
The Echo/The Echoplex | 1822 W Sunset Blvd | Los Angeles CA
In the highly fickle and competitive world of music, not getting lost in the shuffle can be a daunting task. In a pool of genres and talent, “great” bands that may be incredibly talented but whose sound is similar to other artists in their genre bracket run the risk of just blending in with the static. It is those musicians that straddle genre lines, blending influences to create a sound all their own, that are not only making themselves memorable, but becoming essential to staying relevant to listeners’ eclectic tastes.
Sadie & The Blue Eyed Devils is one such band—distinctive vocals paired with intriguing musical influences and pop culture references, and whose sound defies simple genre definition. Those same descriptors can be used for Anticon artists Serengeti (Rapper David Cohn) and Yoni Wolf’s band WHY?. Often deemed the seemingly cop-out term “Alternative” by iTunes standards, both represent an almost indescribable combination of genres, an amalgam of indie rock and rap, poignant lyricism coupled with unique vocal delivery and diverse musical influences.
Some musicians that put out albums of highly produced (layered/electronic/effect based) material don’t always live up to the same quality of their recordings during their live shows, but both Serengeti and WHY? instantly captivate, drawing you in through performance, turning someone like myself from a casual listener to a devoted fan.
I had seen WHY? perform a few months prior at The Glass House in Pomona, and was blown away by their intensity on stage and infectious likability. I was invited to go with my friends and fellow WHY? enthusiasts to the Anticon 15th Anniversary Party at The Echoplex, was immediately thrilled, and in preparation for the concert, started delving into Anticon’s musical repertoire more in depth.
Anticon is a label that was created in early 1998, and has come to stand “as much for radical hip-hop as it does for pioneering electronic music, left-field rock and outsider pop” and in honor of their 15th anniversary, would be showcasing a variety of their diverse artists including BATHS, Jel, Daedelus, and of course, Serengeti and WHY?.
I had first been introduced to Serengeti by the song “Blood Pt. 2”—a Buck 65 remix of Sufjan Stevens’ “You Are The Blood”. I was enamored with Serengeti’s creative and very relatable lyrics rapped over the original track. At the Anticon show, Serengeti’s set was delayed by almost an hour, partially because most concerts tend to have a 30 minute lag from the scheduled performance time, but also because he was taking the time to sign autographs at the “merch” table, having actual conversations with people, rather than just a forced “pleasant” interaction. That sense of approachability continued during his performance, pulling out some songs “Dennehy” and “Shazam” from his Kenny Dennis album, a middle-aged, married and mustachioed alter ego created as a homage to his Chicago roots, sporting a thick Chi-town accent and referencing iconic/stereotypical staples like “O’Douls” and “The Bears”. Unfortunately, since there were about 10 performances on the evening’s line up, the set was very short, but definitely not lacking in enthusiasm.
The WHY? performance, although also fairly short in length, certainly did not disappoint: a joyful cacophony of xylophone, maracas, keyboards, drums, guitar and bass, playing a range of newer hits and essential classics–the pop tinged rhythms of “Strawberries,” the gritty hip-hop of “Good Friday” and the experimental electronic vibe of “Waterfalls” leaving the crowd begging for “one more song,” until the house lights flooded the stage in preparation for the next performance.
Lead vocalist Yoni and his brother and band mate Josiah Wolf “researched” (internet-stalked) their fans in order to create “personalized theme songs”, or as Yoni explained it: “We would write a theme song for one customer who came to the [WHY?] web store and bought something every month. Like Mighty Mouse. It would be a song about that person. We’d read all about them on Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes even go so far as to contact their significant other to ask them questions. Then I would write the song on piano, and my brother would take the skeleton of lyrics & piano and turn it into a fully realized arrangement.” Besides being available for purchase on CD or MP3, 700 hand-numbered, limited-edition 10” gold vinyl records are being released, one of which has an actual golden ticket hidden inside. The best part: WHY? is going to write a song about whoever receives the ticket. The amazing aspect of the Golden Tickets EP, and WHY? as a band in general, is that the musicians are actively drawing inspiration from those who see them as inspiring, a new level of interaction that engages listeners in a whole new way, creating lifelong fans.
Personally, I have fallen in love with the perfectly weird and endearing music both Serengeti and WHY? create, refreshing in a world of recycled ideas. Both are immensely creative linguistically, their lyrics can be as equally hilarious as they are heartbreaking. They write the type of songs that get stuck in your head for days because of their catchy melodies and hooks, yet the longer they float around in your mind, the more nuances you notice, and the more impacting and meaningful their messages become.