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Introducing New Musical Express, a new column from John's Music Blog

New Musical Express with John's Music Blog

A jam-packed barrage of regional rap, harsh noise, and other cultural ephemera from America's most trusted name in aging millennial hipster music blogging.

By John Chiaverina


John's Music Blog is a twice-weekly newsletter created by an aging millennial hipster and failed musician. John also has bylines in T: The New York Times Style Magazine and Kpopstarz. New Musical Express is an exploration of the fractured and confusing contemporary music landscape, written by someone who is one mental breakdown away from moving to the Midwest and working at a gas station.

At what point in life does it become embarrassing to be obsessed with new music? At what point does that compulsion flip from being something mildly endearing, if it was ever endearing at all, to something that must be managed, hidden, and apologized for? In my life, if I had to guess, I reached that point a long time ago.

And yet, I haven’t found a meaningful adult replacement for this obsession. Not craft beer (quit drinking), not rock climbing (weak, bad fine motor skills), not menswear (broke, self-conscious). I’m not as interested, either, in the kind of music that is “appropriate” for me to enjoy. I like spiritual jazz and deep house as much as the next aging millennial hipster, but when I’m up late at night combing through YouTube, that’s not what I’m checking for. I’m checking for mediocre hardcore demos and plugg&B remixes and Jersey club tracks and gabber mixes. I’m checking for regional rap and third-tier egg punk and rips of New York radio shows from the 90s. I’m checking for Zoomer screamo bands that play gigs in the Pomona Valley.

Most days, it seems like I’m trapped in a state of perpetual adolescence. To actually care about fluctuations in music and culture—I keep a tenuous grasp at best: my interests are dispersed enough as to feel like I’m always crawling around in the dark—is to admit something about some part of myself that, despite trying, I have a hard time letting go of. Welcome to New Musical Express. 


1. xxhardbit3s - “KEEP MY HEART OPEN”

“KEEP MY HEART OPEN” is the perfect accompaniment to a recent article I wrote, for this outlet no less, about a contemporary nü-nü-rave scene that seems to be sprouting up across America. When it comes to this rave shit, “Let Me Be Your Fantasy” by Baby D is about as timeless as it gets: the first time that piano line hit my ears was via a sample on a 2-step garage track, if you can believe it. Here, it gets disrupted by xxhardbit3s with a splay of hardstyle kicks, gunshot samples, and references to 2000s-era rap mixtape drops. 

2. Myaap & Lil RB - “Wham”

It’s been astounding to watch my hometown of Milwaukee develop its own dance-rap sound and attitude. When I was a kid obsessed with Baltimore club and New Orleans bounce, I always wished that the city had a unique style to rival those towns. Now, almost 20 years later, they do. It’s all frenzied claps and big bass and American energy. Here Myaap and Lil RB are in back-to-back rapping mode, rebooting a track from earlier in the year with a new video that highlights the physical component that is so crucial to this music. “Wham” has all the hallmarks of The Milwaukee Thing, plus a good chorus; if you want to figure out what’s going on way up north, it’s not a bad place to start.

3. Trans FX - “Everything Now”

Back when I had convoluted ideas about making music with breakbeats that referenced the Beasties and Beck and Cypress Hill—I’m not sure anybody liked the resulting record, but it now seems mildly portentous—I was also listening to a lot of big beat, the often-derided subgenre of dance music that found its commercial peak with Fatboy Slim’s classic “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.” Trans FX have been on that breakbeat tip for a minute (CCFX, their one-off EP collaboration with CC Dust, remains a frozen classic), but here they up the ante, big time, with a party rock anthem. There’s a little Fatboy here, a little Chemical Brothers there. Regular readers of John’s Music Blog who know about the middling A24 rave movie I’ve been slowly writing in my head will be happy to know that this one would make the soundtrack.

4. Christ Dillinger - “The MVP Of The 203”

Judging by the grip of new rappers clearly taking a page from his conversational style, recent Nina interviewee RXK Nephew is going to have a lot to answer for—he might just be one of the most influential underground rappers of this young decade. (Sidebar: the first time I heard RXK, I thought his rapping was the logical podcast-brained extension of what Uncle Murda had been developing for many years.) On “The MVP Of The 203,” RXK’s imprint on Christ Dillinger is pronounced, with the rapper going nutso over the Chief Keef “Earned It” beat, before switching in the middle and going even more nutso over the Future “Move That Dope” beat. Look, the YouTube commenters are right: That beat switch is crazy.

5. Voyeur - “Ugly”

It’s downright quaint to hype up an indie rock band that has played a handful of shows and has one single out. I feel like I’m cosplaying as a Spin journalist in 2002. “New York City’s hottest new band is Voyeur”—that kind of thing. But you know what? I still love rock and roll. I believe in its tropes and its gestures; I believe in the form, especially when it's focused and separated from the petty myopia of the deep underground, which can be alright, too—I’m too old to pick sides. Voyeur knows how to rock and how to write a song, which seems like it isn’t a big deal until you try to do it yourself.



Raque Ford, You help me forget, 2023 (Set design for MoMA PS1 Warm Up, photo: Max Schiano)

Raque Ford is Brooklyn-based artist whose work uses, among other materials, reflective acrylic, transparent Mylar, welded steel chains, and laser-cut text. Her gallery Greene Naftali says that her art “troubles the line between painting and sculpture.” This year, as part of her art practice, Ford has made not one but three checkered plexiglass dancefloors, for three separate venues. I wanted to know more about these floors, and I wanted to know about what kind of music she was listening to in the studio when she was working on them.

I saw that you made a dancefloor recently?

Yeah, I made three, but one didn’t work, because it was outside of PS1 and I didn’t think about how hot it was, and it all warped and melted. And then I made one in Chicago at this space called Good Weather in February. There’s one up right now at BRIC for this show about 50 Years of Hip-Hop.

Your father has a lot of history in hip-hop production. He co-wrote and produced “The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow.

Yeah, I guess the curator didn’t know that when she asked me to be in the show. But it was nice to mention him.

What were you listening to when you were making these things? Were you in a dancey mood?

I was probably listening to Lana Del Rey, honestly. I also liked to listen to this radio show by Ayanna Heaven—Across 110th St.

Did you do any sort of dance events with the floor in Chicago?

Yeah, it was up for ten weeks, so there were events staggered throughout the whole show. Then afterwards, the dancefloor had all these scratches and marks. I [then deconstructed the floor and] made 16 different pieces, wall works—where they broke or whatever was left behind, that was the work at the end.

Do you go out dancing much in New York?

I used to. I guess I haven’t recently. I was going to go to this Halloween party at Sugar Hill, but I didn’t go. I’m kind of sad I didn’t. But I really like Sugar Hill. They have a light-up dancefloor there, a really small one.

So you’re not an active clubber.

No, not so much anymore.

That was maybe more in the past, and now you are inspired by it, living in New York?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve always wanted to make a dancefloor here, so that I could actually have a party. It’s been a good learning experience, doing these three floors, because it’s kind of complicated—to make it and make sure it can hold all these people and still stay together. The one in Chicago, it worked, but all the cut-out letters on the dancefloor kept bouncing out when people jumped around. Everyone was really drunk and collecting the letters afterward, so I could put them back the next morning.

That’s funny.

I want to do it again, but I want to have more control over who I want to perform and the music. Throwing the party is a lot more complicated—usually I’m just thinking about making the art.

Were you inspired by any dancefloors in particular?

The idea for the dancefloor came from a friend’s story about a party in Mexico City. Everyone was partying, but the floor broke, and then somebody came out with another sheet of drywall and put it down and everyone kept dancing. I liked this idea of a kind of dancefloor that is always changing.

Are there waves of studio listening activity for you?

I’ve been listening to the Britney Spears autobiography, and now I’m just listening to Britney Spears. I don’t know, I feel like everyone’s been talking about her and her conservatorship, and they forget that she is a huge pop star. I’m so happy that she’s not in that anymore, and relistening to her music, I’m like, Whoa. The Blackout album, that’s so good—I mean, I knew, but I hadn’t heard it in so long.

Janza Slope - “Wall Eye Jenny”


JANZA SLOPE "Horse Algebra" by AAD

Charred, circular, and nearly six minutes long, “Wall Eye Jenny” mirrors the inside of my sputtering skullcap. The track’s perma-crackle is soothing, like an encroaching winter chill or an image of a depressed Ben Affleck walking out of a Dunkin’ Donuts. I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall, but it never happens; the sonic frizzle just keeps churning and churning, much like life itself. Janza Slope is an alias of ​​Mark Lyken, a film and sound artist stationed in Dumfriesshire, Scotland.


DJ SWISHA, AceMo, Kush Jones and MoMA Ready B2B @ The Lot Radio 11/1/2023

When it comes to listening to expert disc jockeys play music—both archived and in real time—on small, boutique internet radio stations, we live in a time of abundance. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the amount of good internet radio programming that exists in this world. I’m not sure if that last sentence was a joke or not, but DJ SWISHA, AceMo, Kush Jones, and MoMa Ready are four of the best disc jockeys in New York City, and that’s no joke. Here they start at a modest house music tempo, then work their way up to footwork and jungle velocity.


Just the Right Height - Nina Night - 009 - 6/21/23

One of my favorite Nina drops is this 12-minute live blast from underground legend Kiki Hunt, also known as Just the Right Height. The set is spoken-word beatpunk supreme, broken down into bite-sized chunks. These songs are both conversational and hooky, collaged and rhythmic, punctuated and damaged. They are the perfect way to end the thrilling debut of New Musical Express with John's Music Blog. See you next month.

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