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IT’S LIKE THAT: Where’s the B-B-Bass in Indie Rock?

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Whenever I think of the word “bass” (the sound, not the fish), I automatically hear Public Enemy’s Chuck D in my head, distinctly proclaiming, “B-B-BASS!” His voice has been sampled so many times, even if you don’t know who Chuck D is, you might be familiar with the “B-B-BASS” snippet. As a nation, bass is something that we embrace. When teenagers are looking to buy their first automobiles, they could give a crap about how many cylinders are in the engine or if the vehicle has front or rear-wheel steering. All that matters is if the car has a boomin’ system. If so–sold!

Some people love bass so much, they’ve cut out treble from their lives completely. How many times have you been at a stop-light next to a car with a bone-trembling system and tried to figure out what song was emitting from their stereo? Get music-whiz Matt Pinfield in a car and even he might be unable to identify a song if the bass is played loud enough.

I’ve always been a fan of bass. Let’s face it, hip-hop wouldn’t exist without bass–neither would funk (nothing to slap). Where would electronic/dance music be without bass? No booties are going to be shakin’ in Miami with a bunch of treble and mid-ranges. Though guitar is the “sexy” instrument of rock-n-roll, let us not forget that the bass has given us stars like Paul McCartney, Sting, and Flea (don’t be telling me Sting ain’t sexy). Today’s current bass pin-up, Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, has also been known to get his share of “oohs” and “ahs” from the young ladies.


If bass is such a good thing, why has it become such a no-no for several indie rock bands? Why have groups like The White Stripes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Kills, and The Black Keys (among many others) sworn off bass players? From my rock knowledge, drummers are the difficult ones to deal with, bassists are usually more than happy to sit back and play the supporting role. If two heads are better than one, wouldn’t logic lead us to believe that three heads are better than two? Strength comes in numbers, right?

Well, if you’re a shy indie kid, numbers probably scare the crap out of you. There’s also a certain comfort in having intimate friendships. That’s why a lot of us only marry one partner–and let’s face it–all couples get into arguments, but if you find the right person, they’re going to love you on your worst day the same as your best day. Maybe that’s the appeal of not adding an extra band member? Though the White Stripes’ frontman Jack White has more talent in his belt buckle than most bands combined, it took hiding behind an under-average drummer (sorry Meg), for him to muster up the courage to step into the spotlight. If there was a bass player messing with the Stripes’ chemistry, there’s a good chance Jack could still be upholstering furniture in Detroit.

The Kills, the duo comprised of Hotel and VV, began as an innocent overseas pen-pal correspondence. The two awkward art enthusiasts eventually found strength in each other, created a band, and have been side-stepping “…are you two going out with each other?” questions ever since. If Hotel and VV had a third wheel, we probably wouldn’t be talking about them right now (and they’d be known as Jamie and Alison instead of Hotel and VV).

You’d think that after a band gets over their initial wave of self-consciousness, they’d be more open to adding another member to the group. However, for anyone who has ever played in a band, you know that’s not as easy as it sounds. At the most recent SXSW I asked the duo of Matt & Kim if they would ever consider adding a third member to their ranks, and Kim’s response was, “I don’t think our fans would like it.” It’s no secret that enthusiasts of indie music do not like to share. If a band jumps to a major label, it’s usually their most die-hard supporter that’s first to cry “sell-out.” Mess around with a band’s line-up and you may never have a good blog written about you again.

I’m actually a big supporter of all the bass-less bands mentioned above, and it’s pretty amazing to think about how far they’ve come without a bass player (which at one time was a necessary ingredient for rock-n-roll success). Where would The Beatles have gone if they were only a two-piece? Would Green Day be selling out stadium shows if their line-up consisted of just Billie Joe Armstrong and Tre Cool? What’s really scary to think about is where these low-end-intolerant bands could be right now with a bass player to fill in the missing grooves. Considering mainstream America loves its “B-B-BASS”, here’s how things could have turned out for indie rock music:

Mates of State and the Dresden Dolls support The Black Keys (the world’s “loudest” power-trio) on their 30-date sold-out arena tour of the United States. Pat Carney is injured when he falls 60 feet from his drum-kit, which was suspended in mid-air during a “big rock” drum solo. In the ER, Carney mumbles, “If we never recruited a bass player, we would have never gotten this huge, and I would have never been talked into doing a Tommy Lee-like drum solo.”

The Kills’ Midnight Boom albums sells 1.5 million copies in its opening week. The band sees little of the income as their manager and a jealous bass player (who claims Hotel and VV never pay attention to him) flee town with their money–and drum machine.

Matt, Kim & Steve (their bassist) sign the most lucrative recording contract in the history of music. Michael Bay agrees to direct their next music video and claims that it will have, “more explosions and CGI graphics than Transformers.”

After their mega-platinum-success from their Fever to Tell and Show Your Bones albums, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs appear on American Idol, prepping contestants to perform their music. David Archuleta sings “Maps”, which causes Paula Abdul to break down in tears.

The White Stripes finish their third straight sold-out stadium tour of the world (and ooh goodness do “Seven Nation Army” and “Blue Orchid” sound nice with a bass-line!) . Following the tour, the band announces its breakup. Jack White buys a monkey, gets plastic surgery, and builds an amusement park in his backyard. Some critics begin referring to him as “The New Jacko the Whacko”.

Okay, so maybe bass isn’t the answer to everything.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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