TALKIN' NEW YORK
Where to begin with New York City and music?
It can credit itself as being the birthplace of Hip-Hop, certainly. Disco, punk rock and new wave all began in small New York neighbourhoods, too. The list of successful musicians to have come from there is extensive; 50 Cent, Jay Z, The Beastie Boys. Billy Joel, The Ramones, Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground; the list goes on. It has some of the most impressive - and important - music venues in the world, such as Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. In short, New York is known as a living, breathing jukebox with kick ass acoustics.
In our New York playlist - which can be found here - we have listed some of the best songs associated with New York, and whether the track is about the city itself, or written by genuine New Yorkers, the relationship between The Big Apple and timeless music has formed an unbreakable bond.
So it is with great excitement that I find myself here again. I'm on NLTS' tour of America, experiencing as many different cultures of music as possible, and New York is the first stop.
I'm on my way to Brooklyn, but before I've even gotten halfway there I'm treated to my first case of live music, and given further proof that this city is home to some of the most talented yet undiscovered artists in the world. As I step off my first train, I'm greeted not by the usual grim faces of the London underground, but instead by happy, clapping, singing New York commuters huddled round a group of three men dressed all in black. There is one guitarist singing, one bassist, and one drummer. The guitarist, though, is also hooked up to a harmonica. The bassist, too, is also playing a tambourine. The drummer - not satisfied with maintaining the band's beat on just one instrument - is alternating between his drum kit and steel pedal, just off centre to his seating position.
As I join the group, the band are halfway through the curious choice of 'Gimme Some More' by Busta Rhymes. It works though, to be fair, and before I know it there's a seamless transition into 'When I Wonder' by The Charlatans, that impressively works even more. I hear around two minutes of this before it begins to fade out, the sound of a harmonica grows louder and louder, and two or three members of the crowd start cheering. It's the harmonica chords of 'Mr.Tambourine Man', with the words from 'It Ain't Me Babe', perfectly interlocking. Fucking hell - It's 5.17PM on a Tuesday.
I pull myself away, and make it to Brooklyn on time. I'm headed to a night of free music, where five local bands are playing throughout the night, and the first group are just about to begin. Throughout the night, the trend that seems to remain constant - at least through the first four acts - is 'Air Pop'. It's a sound that is around a lot at the moment, and as a genre it combines elements of ambient, psy rock and techno pop with calm, soft vocals. Think Lana Del Ray meets Massive Attack.
It's all a very high standard, but I can't say it's particularly my thing. It feels completely devoid of energy, and as I look around the room a couple of tables are chatting, some people are on their phones, and people don't look like they're having a particularly good time.
Our headline act arrives though, and the laptops, keyboards, and synthesisers are removed from stage, and replaced with guitars and a scruffy looking five-piece. The first song's really fucking loud, and it wakes the whole room from their slumber. A muted applause greets the final note, but when the charismatic lead gets onto a table and gestures for the crowd to give him more, everyone obliges, and it only gets better from there on in. 'Say Hello' play six more songs, before throwing their newly produced EP into the crowd, and there's a genuine clamour for the distributed few. The night of music comes to a suitably rock and roll - but undignified - end, when I see their drummer throwing up 10 minutes later, huddled round the toilet in the cubicle next to me.
So that was New York in the present...What of New York's future? This, unfortunately, is where I begin to fear for the city a little.
Countless iconic musical venues have had their doors permanently shut. 'The Roseland Ballroom', which has hosted Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller, Nirvana, The Rolling Stones, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga closed, and was demolished in 2015. In it's place will be a 59-story apartment building. In November 2013 Sullivan Hall closed its doors. One year earlier, Lenox Lounge in Harlem did the same thing. Going back further, in 2006 - CBGB - which famously hosted the Ramones' debut thirty years prior - took its last gasp. The list goes on.
Unfortunately it is not just the music venues themselves that are disappearing. In 2004, 'The Hit Factory', which recorded Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen, among others, closed. In 2007, Sony Music Studios suffered the same fate.
“I think New York is still unique to all big cities in the kind of manic energy it produces,” said cultural historian Roselee Goldberg. "But high rents and luxury development have made it impossible for young artists to feel comfortable in the city. It means you’re not having that real birth of next-generation creativity”.
Still, surely New York will always be New York, and it will forever produce incredibly talented musicians?
Yes, I think so.
As I mentioned earlier, the standard is forever high just along the underground system alone, and I believe that will always be the case throughout the city. While the New York that spawned the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol may seem a distant reality, talent, legacy and passion will always keep New York's head above water. I, for one, will always look to the Big Apple as a musical beacon of the times, and long may that continue.
Now, onto North Carolina...