This time a dozen years ago I was a gape-mouthed, goggle-eyed, free-spending tourist in New York City. Look up, look down, look all around, as the song goes. There’s something happening all the time no matter where you rest your eyes, although you should never rest your eyes in the one place in New York for very long. “Get outta the road ya freakin’ jerk!” shouted a commuting cyclist as I stepped into the cycle lane on the Brooklyn Bridge in an attempt to snap the most perfectly symmetrical of shots. I needed two goes, on account of the fact the cyclist damn-near killed me during my first attempt. Wow. Even the locals make you feel like you were a bit-part player in some never-ending, ever-changing movie.
One afternoon we took a trip on the Staten Island Ferry. We’d missed our chance at an actual trip to the Statue Of Liberty, but this ferry ride, the Rough Guide book assured us, afforded close-ups of the iconic landmark as the ferry shuttled across the Hudson River on its short journey between New York’s most out of the way borough and Manhattan. In the event, those close-ups weren’t all that close, but we dutifully snapped and posed and what have you like the tourists we undeniably were, the statue a Lego-sized symbol of freedom in the hazy background.
The greatest thing about the ferry ride was happening outside the terminal back on the Manhattan side. A group, a posse if you will, of breakdancing b-boys, all baggy pants and backwards Mets and Giants and Rangers caps were blasting proper old-school electro hip-hop from the largest ghetto blaster you can possibly imagine and were taking it in turns to breakdance; a wee gang of headspinning, robot-walking, toprocking and freezing show-offs. They were terrifc and they knew it. A memory of it will sometimes flash into my mind and I will kick myself for not taking a video clip – or even a solitary snapshot – of the spectacle. The simpler days before camera phones, I suppose.
Ezra Koenig is the vocalist and focal point of Vampire Weekend, one of a slew of weedy bands who grew from the cracks in the wake of the success of The Strokes in the early millenium. If you wore a guitar and size 28 inch jeans and lived within fringe-flopping distance of New York State, chances are you’d be offered a record contract by a label desperate to find the next guitar band to die for. I don’t mind Vampire Weekend in the slightest, but they inhabit that era in time for me when bands seemed to appear from nowhere and by the time they’d played the Barrowlands were onto their third or even fourth album. Where the fuckdiddilyuck did they come from? I’d often remark to no-one in particular. I’m too old, too lazy and too stuck in my ways to catch up. Oxford Comma though. Good tune with funny words. I like that. And Sunflower Bean. I like that too. I bet I’d be properly into them if I allowed myself.
SBTRKT is the shouty and vowel-shy nom de plume of Aaron Jerome, remixer to acts as diverse as Radiohead, MIA and Underworld. Sometimes glitch-itch-itchy and t-t-t-twitchy and sometimes turbo-charged, hi-gloss electronica, his music, much like those bands of the early noughties has pretty much passed me by too. This track has made its mark though.
SBTRKT featuring Ezra Koenig – New Dorp. New York.
IT’S BTY, WTH LYRC FROM ZR BTNW DRP, TWN N STTN SLND THT TKS T NM FRM TH DTCH PHRS FR NW TWN.
Damn! That’s impossible to keep doing.
Fading in on a whoosh of ambient New York traffic (though not on my version above, for some reason!), it’s the bass that hits you first, a proper subwoofing tectonic plate-mover. Almost immediately, the lyric threatens to fall into The Sweet’s …’and she thinks she’s the passionate one‘, but just as quickly falls into its own pattern. The vocals are flat and electronically treated, SBTRKT and an un-named female vocalist doing some sort of spoken word duet about New York and Manhattan and gargling gargoyles (tourist tip: always look up in old Gotham) and Ezra taking over with crisply annunciated words about cities to run and keys to the kingdom and the colour (or is that color?) yella.
‘My girl got a limousine, it’s a full-time job just to keep it clean,’ he says. ‘Got a speaker in the trunk y’know it weighs a ton…‘
Ezra, mate. Play this at any volume while you’re driving and you’re liable to stall and blow the windows in and blow the tires out, or at the very least be travel sick into your lap. I was once sick after a very loud band practice in my kitchen, the subfrequencies from the bass guitar bouncing off the tiles and zapping straight into my recently-eaten lunch, lying dormant in my stomach. Not for long…
I doubt Ezra ever practiced in a kitchen. An Ivy Leaguer from NYC, he’ll have got that record deal without too much bother. I’m glad he and SBTRKT found one another for that tune. Percussive, catchy and the creeping, claustrophobic cousin of David Essex’s Rock On, it’s the very definition of a banger; top of the Rock, top of the pops.