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BEN & JIM: Pop-Punk & Emo vs. Indie Rock

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Let me introduce you to Ben.

Ben is my sister-in-law’s brother, and ever since we met, we’ve talked about music. The first time I met Ben, he approached me with various questions on what I’ve seen and done in the music industry. Being a former VJ for a well-known music television station, I’ll occasionally find myself knee-deep in these types of situations.

Many times, it seems, people will prod a little to see if I’m really into music, or if I am just a talking head with no clue. More times than not, the conversation will cut straight to the heart of independent music.

That’s where I thought Ben was headed with his series of questions. No doubt the kid had a vast knowledge of music, but I was surprised to find out–when the conversation went full tilt–that Ben was throwing out names embraced by the pop-punk and emo rock world. As I vigorously and passionately threw out names familiar to the readers of Pitchfork Media, Ben did the same for frequent visitors to Absolute Punk. What we had here wasn’t necessarily an argument about whose taste in music was better, it was a dialog about each other’s musical interests, likes, and dislikes.

Do I favor indie-minded acts over bands that frequent the Bamboozle Festival? Absolutely. However, am I still interested in what’s happening on that side of the world? Indeed I am–I just don’t have the patience to sift through piles of albums until I find that one pop-punk gem that I love.

So that’s where Ben comes in. Since we’ve known each other, he has become my one-man, Warped Tour-lovin’ focus group. Because we usually end up talking about music every time we see each other, I thought it would be a good idea–and beneficial to some of our indie music die-hards who don’t know what’s going on outside their own music circles–to share our back-and-forth discourse with all of you:

I stopped going to the Warped Tour a few years ago. The tight-jean, over-grown bang wearing bands became a little too much for me to handle. I’m assuming you attend regularly? Right now, sell me on the Warped Tour. Why should I go?

I went to Warped Tour in ’06 and ’07, but I didn’t go this year. I didn’t go because I wasn’t happy with the lineup playing at my date. I’m not going to spend all day outside listening to bands I don’t enjoy and neither should you. The only reason anybody should go is if they like who is playing.

Bamboozle is a freakin’ 3-day commitment, how are you going to get me to go to that?

First, I am going to make you walk outside of your apartment, because once you do you are practically there. Then I’ll probably tell you that Bamboozle is not neccesarily a 3-day commitment. Bamboozle takes place on Saturday and Sunday, and the festival called “Hoodwink” takes place Friday night. Hoodwink is a group of about 20 bands that play under fake names. You can also buy tickets for just Sunday or Saturday.

Anyway the reason you should go is simple–there are nine stages with incredibly talented bands from all different genres. If you went this year you would have been able to see everything from The Hush Sound and Every Time I Die to Jimmy Eat World, Snoop Dogg, Bret Michaels, Thrice, Lydia, Valencia, etc. There is something for everybody.

When I was in college–crap, you were probably only four or five years old–emo music was an underground thing that occasionally popped up on college radio. A handful of years ago it surfaced to the mainstream. Just for clarification, I’m going to say that “emo” is a brand of music featuring sweet, sing-songy-high-pitched verses, with gruff, Cookie Monster-like choruses–or just to keep with the theme here–emotive choruses. I have a few questions for you, here’s my first, why do you think so many emo bands never wanted to embrace the term emo?

A while ago some kid made a myspace called “Emo Sucks,” or something like that. He friended Hawthorne Heights and then made a blog post bashing them for being friends with someone who hates “Emo”. Hawthorne Heights responded with a blog explaining that they don’t consider themselves emo, because they don’t make “emo” music. They said that emo is basically a subgenre of hardcore punk that became popular in the mid 80’s and ended in the early 90’s. So Hawthorne Heights didn’t want to be defined as something they are not, and I’m sure other bands don’t as well. It also doesn’t help that the word “emo” has such a negative aura about it.

Yeah, but you gotta admit that just a few years ago there was a surplus of bands that had the formula of sing-songy verses with hardcore-choruses, Hawthorne Heights included. Like it or not, they were playing what was defined as “emo” music. Gangsta Rap has a zillion negative connotations and you never heard Dr. Dre or Ice Cube complaining about it.

Yeah, but can’t you say that about every music genre? Turn on any mainstream rock radio station and try to tell me the majority of those bands don’t sound very, very similar.

And I would classify most of those bands as “modern rock radio” groups, but we’ll save the Hinder and Saving Abel conversation for another day. Here’s my second part of the question, is the term “emo” even applicable anymore? If an indie music critic wanted to quickly write off a band by using the term “emo,” would that be lazy of him or her?

I don’t think it’s an appropriate term anymore. It can be used to describe so many different bands in so many different genres. It would definitely be lazy to lump a band into a group with a bunch of other bands that it doesn’t sound like.

Over the last few years, what groups do you think were unjustly given the “emo” tag?

Pretty much every band that has gained the tag after the mid ’90’s. Emo was originally used to describe bands like Rites of Spring and Inkwell. Then it was used to describe post-hardcore/indie bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and Mineral. Now in the 21st century it is used to describe pretty much every single pop-punk/pop-rock band that has somewhat emotional lyrics.

Back to indie critics, I know many of them would consider a lot of the bands you listen to as training wheels for more important bands that you’ll get into once your musical education develops. What would you say to this?

I would say that sounds pretty elitist. I may one day enjoy bands that people deem to be “important,” but that would never mean the talented bands I listen to now aren’t important. I’d also say that those people need to open their eyes and ears because there are a lot of talented bands out there that may not be important or mainstream enough for them to enjoy.

Believe it or not, I have not lost my love for pop-punk. If done right, I can appreciate any type of music. In your opinion, what pop-punk or emo (post-emo?) bands should I be listening to right now?

Fall Out Boy, Take This To Your Grave
Valencia, We All Need a Reason to Believe
Hit The Lights, This is a Stick Up…Don’t Make it a Murder
Four Year Strong, Rise or Die Trying

Alright, what bands are rubbish?

Well generally speaking I dislike it when bands do everything in their power to market their music to pre-teen girls. Bands like Boys Like Girls, Metro Station, and Cute Is What We Aim For certainly fall under that category.

Are there any bands hailed in certain indie rock circles that you think are pure rubbish right now?

There are definitely indie bands I am not a fan of, but I don’t have the knowledge of indie music to be able to neccessarily distinguish the great from not so great. I’ve listened to enough pop-rock/pop-punk/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, to be able to tell you that one band does it much better than another.

But isn’t there one or two hailed indie bands that you’ve heard and thought, “Wow, this totally doesn’t do it for me”?

Radiohead’s Kid A doesn’t do it for me

Me neither, although “Idioteque” is a pretty damn good song.

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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