On Saturday evening we spent a few fun hours at the launch party of the fourth annual Afro-Punk Festival, held at Afro-Punk Skate Park -- the temporary site at the BAM parking lot at the triangle of Flatbush Avenue, Lafayette Avenue and Ashland Place, a place for which great plans have been made and abandoned. At least for these few days, it's a lot more exciting than the parking lot where in the waning days of the Nixon administration we HQ'ed our gold '73 Mercury Comet when we worked as a delivery boy for the around-the-corner Midtown Florist -- whose banner ads still grace the lot's south side fence.
Since 2005, the Festival has celebrated the music, film and fiercely independent individuals that are the lifeblood of the AP community. We entered just before 6 p.m., when the band onstage was nearing their last song, a rendition of the still-fresh "Purple Rain" just as a few people pulled out their umbrellas (and, yes, one lady's was indeed lavender) to ward off what was slightly more than a drizzle but which soon gave way to dry skies for the remainder of the night.
For a while we stood next to a tree on the narrow cobblestoned divider between the bike ramp and the wider eastern sk8er paradise with lots of ramps to challenge the boys (of all ages and ethnicities, but we saw only boys) who stood on a four-foot platform, looking as if they were contemplating the perks of being a wallflower before they took off with their boards to speed through the course and often the air.
During the evening we witnessed several near-collisions, one pretty good crash between a twentysomething white dude and a 9yo black kid which led to no injuries, and at least one 'frohawked teen back wrapping an ace bandage around his bleeding knees. But 99% of the skaters were just having fun.
(Courtesy Myrtle Shuffle, where Alice B. has other great pics up)
Meanwhile, Bulldog Mack -- Bulldog Bikes CEO James ("Jimmy Mac") McNeil, the man who brought BMX out of the 'burbs and into Bushwick -- did the calls from the stage as his crew of bikers performed stunts so amazing and scary that a couple of tough-looking guys near me covered their eyes with their hands, screamed and turned away as daredevils like Jai Rodridguez and Koolie (sp?) defied gravity with what looked like 15-foot leaps into the air.
Before last night, we never knew it was possible to b-boy on a bike but we definitely saw the equivalent of breakdancing as the bikers made mid-air moves so deft that old Evil Kneivel couldn't have imagined it. (And yeah, some bikers flew high over other bikers.)
The Apes, a guitarless garage rock foursome from D.C., took the stage, with one of their number in an orange wool face mask with a red hunting cap looking and sounding like a cross between Darth Vader and Subcomandante Marcos, only nerdish. But when they began to play, it proved to be a long-haired white girl, keyboardist Amanda Kleinman with her distinctive garage organ.
With Erick Jackson's burning bass and Jeff Schmid's bombastic drumming and vocalist Breck Brunson (mostly known to us as an imaginative visual artist) with a glassy tremolo, the quartet performed some wild-sounding numbers, varying from proto-metal to sci-fi-tinged new wave. They got the building crowd on the west side of the skate park, us included, moving pretty good.
We had to move next to the Atlantic Terminal for a bathroom break and a quick snack, and when we returned onstage was -- well, the word legend is tossed around too lightly, but onstage was the guy in the hip-hop history books back in da beginning in da Bronx when even we were youngsters -- Afrika Bambaataa, who along with Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc, comprised up the holy trinity of hip-hop.
With some of his Zulu Nation onstage with him, Afrika Bambaataa proved that he still knows how to put on the most amazing show with DJ skills honed over three decades. (You can catch him this very afternoon at Central Park's Summerstage!) Oooo baby, he makes it look as easy as 1,2,3, A,B,C.
When Afrika called for ladies to come onstage and dance, it took a few "Where they at?" prods -- and one frustrated "This ain't Connecticut, is it? Brooklyn is a bunch of dope people!" -- before a couple of young women got up and made a few nice moves.
Anyway, the legendary (yes) DJ had us signed, sealed and delivered all through his set. Thank you, Afrika Bambaataa, for kindly being yourself again.
James Spooner, the director of the film documentary Afro-punk, came onstage to thank Matthew Morgan and others, and to announce the films in conjunction with the Festival being presented by BAMCinematik, including the New York premiere of his own White Lies, Black Sheep.
On the Flatbush Ave. side of Afro-Punk Skate Park, we watched the artists with their paintbrushes and spray cans do their creative work on the mural project of the Trust Your Struggle Collective, a group of Bay Area- and NYC-based visual artists, educators and friends dedicated to social justice and community action through art.
Brooklyn's the start of their summer cross-country 2008 mural tour ending at the Galeria de La Raza San Francisco in late August. They'll be in the coolest of cities, including the Central Phoenix congressional district where Republican Richard Hussein Grayson is running in the Sept. 2 primary to represent Arizona in the U.S. House.
There was much else to see: the pimped-out black Toyota (a sponsor of the Festival) at the north entrance; the kids running around with light sabers; the table with the "Brooklyn for Barack" sign at which everyone over 18 who wasn't registered to vote, did; and the cool styles and outfits of nearly everyone but us in our old blue Brooklyn College T-shirt.
The standout performer we didn't know about before proved to be Miss Janelle Monáe, who made a diva-worthy entrance amid white smoke and strobe lights and stunned the now-packed-in crowd with her stunning music. The fireworks we'd seen from a couple of miles away the previous night paled in comparison.
As one right-on reviewer noted, not only does she have that
undefinable "it" quality that stars are made of, she also serves up a fresh, genre-blurring style that people are craving right now. She's is like James Brown, Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Andre 3000 rolled into one, and seeing that all play out live on stage is thrilling.
Amen. Janelle sang a surprisingly old-school rendition of "Smile" ("Smile though your heart is breaking") that had us in tears and would have had our grandmothers in tears too, if we could have brought them back to Brooklyn last night. Diddy knows what he's doing with Janelle Monáe, and if we'd had one of those "Imagination Inspires Nation" posters some in the crowd waved, we'd have been waving them too.
But after Janelle's fabulous encore, it was after 9 p.m. and deep fatigue was setting in our arms and the rest of us, as we'd gotten home far too late on Friday night -- well, Saturday morning -- from the delightful July 4th fireworks party at the Cadman Plaza highrise apartment of our good friend, the author/psychologist Susan O'Doherty (Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity; advice columnist at the blog Buzz, Balls and Hype). So we reluctantly gave into our need for sleep and left the launch party early, not even daring to think about attending the afterparty right near Dumbo Books HQ in Williamsburg. We were taking the G to our bed instead.
But the Fourth Annual Afro-Punk Festival is going on until July 13, and if you were unlucky enough to miss last night's party, you can check out their schedule and catch some films, music, etc., which is bound to be worth seeing. We'll be back for more, too. Isn't life wonderful!