From its Vicodin-zonked suburbs to its ass-shaking school kids, outlaw clubs, rock effigies and primal bounce beats, New Orleans is everything that safe, cosmopolitan cities arent. London, THE FACE wishes you were here
Weve placed $25 on her late husbands lap, so Miss Antoinette will receive us. Shes a pretty lady, in her fifties, leaning in the doorway of the bar she bought with her spouse in Treme, New Orleans. He, the infamous rock-and-roll singer Ernie K-Doe, passed away on July 5 2001. A few months later Antoinette had a life-size dummy of him made. The money is for the mannequins upkeep, she explains. Her husbands effigy is attending a film festival and a bachelor party this week. Youd be forgiven for thinking Miss Antoinette hadnt taken her husbands death well. Yet she happily receives visitors, plays with her lap dog and welcomes everyone to drink and dance here at The Mother-In-Law Lounge (1,500 North Clairborne, www.k-doe.com), which was named after K-Does 1961 hit, Mother-in-law. We open up at around four in the afternoon she smiles, and stay open until four or five in the morning, depending on whos still here. Closing time is anathema in New Orleans. The original city of sin, with the highest murder rate of any American metropolis, New Orleans mixes eccentricity with alcohol, and lawlessness with good times. As quality-of-life policing pushes after-hours glamour from New York and San Francisco, so The Big Easys culture and nightlife has nudged up the list of US travel destinations.
New Orleans stumbles
from one party to the next, says Nik Cohn over a plate of seafood at the
Marigny Brassiere, a fine glass fronted bistro two blocks from the Mississippis
banks. Nik lived in London during the Sixties, where he wrote about rock and
roll for British newspapers. His article, Another Saturday Night,
published in New York magazine in 1976, was developed into the film, Saturday
Night Fever, while Niks 1967 novel, I Am Still The Greatest Says Johnny
Angelo, inspired David Bowie to write Ziggy Stardust. He now spends four or
five months a year in New Orleans, writing during the day and working with local
rappers by night.
There are two New Orleans, says Nik, one that everybody knows about. This all revolves around the French Quarter, with funk and traditional jazz. But 60 per cent of Orleans Parish is black, and the vast majority of these people, at least the young ones, never listen to this music. They listen to rap.
Southern rappers ride the beat, says Che Muse, as we nod to his CD in his truck. In New York theres more attention on the lyrics; in New Orleans its flow first, lyrics second. Che is a friend of Niks. When he isnt working at his fathers car dealership or studying in graduate school, Che makes hip-hop records with his producer friend, William Will Power Nelson. Its Will who ushers us into Loft 523, a downtown club where he promotes R&B nights. We drink Southern Comfort and cranberry juice, while Che talks about his influences. I like the New York rappers, but Ive been listening to a lot of classic albums, he says. Im in the midst of trying to create a classic album myself. Nik suggested both the title and theme for one of Ches catchier recordings: Sweet Sickness. Its about the city. Theres a comfort level here, says Che. Everyone seems to be satisfied. If youre born poor, youre probably going to die poor. You might have dreams, but if they dont work out it doesnt matter.
Please put your hands together, says Pastor Paul S. Morton, for the best music ministry this side of heaven. Sunday morning and were seated in The Greater Saint Stephens Baptist Church (2308 S Liberty Street, www.gssbc.net), a huge ministry a downtown, middle class African-American neighborhood. As overseas visitors, and the only white people in attendance, the pastor personally welcomes us during his sermon, at which point, we embarrassed and self-conscious are asked to stand. We soon forget ourselves, as everyone is dressed so finely and the band is just so tight. If you havent heard a southern Baptist preacher but have seen a Chris Rock video, then picture a slightly more genteel African-American stand-up, whose every punchline is Jesus!, The Lord! or Salvation!. When it comes to earthly envoys, God couldnt do much better.
Sun Valley Death Trap live near the Mobil refinery. Its a suburb just outside the city called Chalmette; you know youre home when you get those carcinogens in your lungs says band member Mickey Rouleau. Mickey describes their work as the uncarved block of music: wonky, white-boy hip-hop and psychedelic rock that sits somewhere between The Fall, Beastie Boys and early Mercury Rev. Sun Valley consider themselves outsiders. When we started out a few years back, the majority of bands around us are really dark, says founding member Brian "MonkeyMan" Richard, when we first came out we were hated by these other groups because we weren't all doom & gloom. Its funny now seeing these ex-metalheads wearing Fubu; five years ago they wanted to kick our asses because we liked hip-hop. Now they work in similar veins with other local artists like Glorybee or Ballzack. Yet suburban life in New Orleans is remarkable tranquil. The majority of the population are cracked out on Vicodin, says Mickey, Im excluded in my family because I dont take it. Instead the boys love drinking on Decatur, a street that runs parallel to the more famous drinking destination, Bourbon St. We stay outta Bourbon, says Brian, "especially on Mardi Gras... its worse than Times Square at New Years. Further Mardi Gras advice: dont pee in public and dont wear any shoes you want to keep. Pretty much any liquid you can think of is on the streets then, smiles Mickey.
Local radio is bumping as we drive around the Magnolia projects, a run-down housing development from where many local MCs emerged. In the car with us are native hip-hop artists Kent Williams and Brandon McGee, also known as Snoop and Shorty Brown Hustle, AKA Da Rangaz. Shorty Brown is detailing the rise of Southern hip hops most distinctive sub-genre, bounce. It began in New Orleans in 1992, with a DJ called TT Tucker, says the short, enthusiastic MC. He made a song called Where They At?
Tucker looped the 1986 hip-hop classic, Drag Rap by The Showboys. Then he got on the mic and just repeated shit, over and over, he says, behind a fuckin beat. The sound of the South was born. Like Lil Jon, where they just chant things? says the Snoop of Atlantas most prominent rapper, thats bounce music. Its strange that the term bling-bling was coined in New Orleans, given its rap is so down to earth. Yet whatever bounce lacks in sophistication it makes up for in emotive power, particular where girls are concerned. They try to give bounce a bad name, because it makes girls shake, says Shorty Brown. But, though Im very lyrically minded, I like bounce, because I like to see a girl shake.
Move your hips,
instructs Nicole, a tall, slim girl in a baggy cloth cap and jeans. Its
3am, and were on the dance floor of Top Of The Mart, a swish, downtown
club on the 33rd floor of Louisianas World Trade Center (2 Canal). I wiggle
my hips from left to right.
No, not like that back and forth, like youre having sex, she says. Thats it. Now, you do that to that girl over there. I know you been looking at her.
Thanks, Nicole. You just taught me to grind: a dance that is to New Orleans what the waltz was to old Vienna. We catch a couple grinding to the jazz band in the citys casino. In the bars on Bourbon Street, sloshed fatties rub together. And, on our final morning in the city, a troupe of school children shake their hips in unison to some local rap tune blasting from a flatbed truck during the annual Martin Luther King Day parade. January 19 has been a national holiday in Dr. Kings honor since 1986. But where Londons Lord Mayors parade is bum clenchingly officious, this New Orleans event trails past like five miles of fun. Teenage marching bands perform Beyoncé covers, floats blast local radio and junior-high students shake their asses in union, to the beat of bounce, commemorating their hard-won civil rights.
Meanwhile, across town, a different kind of party is taking place. Deep within the ninth ward lies the Spellcaster Lodge. Ward is the local term for boroughs, and the ninth is one of the poorest: some sandwich shops vend raccoon meat and shootings are pretty common. But all this changes on entering the lodge. Its a secret rock club. Walk around the back of this three-story, semidetached townhouse, and youll pass half-submerged fairground horses, sunk into the Lodges grounds. Open the back porch, and youre in a marine-themed bar, with seaside tat and a ship-shaped bar. In the main room theres a stage, DJ booth and several exotic keyboards. This is where we meet the Lodges owners, Quintron and Miss Pussycat. Im going to write a book of organ jokes, says Quintron, after we ask to see his. He builds synthesizers and records jolty rock numbers that sound like a Lux Interior performing Screaming Jay Hawkins numbers on in a hotel lobby in Tenerife. His girlfriend, Miss Pussycat, makes puppets; theres a miniature theater in the corner of the Spellcaster Lodge, and a puppetry workshop upstairs. One of Miss Pussycats earliest creations, a band called Flossy And The Unicorns, recorded a Peel Session on Radio One. Pussycat and Quintron fell in love at first sight. Ten years ago Miss Pussycat was involved with a different underground rock venue, The Pussycat Caverns, run exclusively by girls. We did it to meet cute boys, she explains. Quintron, then living in Chicago, had been booked to play The Caverns. He arrived early in the city and wandered the streets, looking for the venue. We were driving down St. Claude, recalls Miss Pussycat, when I saw this guy. I was like, stop the car, that is Mr. Quintron. She had never met him before; she just knew it was him. I got really lucky. Together they bought and decorated this bizarre venue, where they both live. Were sort of a tourist attraction, he explains. Its good for the economy; its part of the culture. Flying back, looking down at those neat suburbs and freeways, youd never guess how much lay beneath the surface. Its funny to look back on those two as were flown home next to snoring captains of industry. Looking down at those neat suburbs and freeways, youd never guess how much lay beneath the surface. Quintron admits he is meant to have a license, yet, in New Orleans this is a mere formality. The police know and they over look it, there are no murders and we only throw parties once a month.
Everyone can have a band play in their house says Miss Pussycat, we just all took it as far as we could. We created our own little world. Which is kinda what New Orleans is, she smiles, its your own little world.
Nik Cohns recommendations: The Maple Leaf (8316 Oak) is a tin shack with banana trees in the back yard, but some great funk bands like Jon Cleary and The Monster Gentlemen play here. The House of Blues (225 Decatur), hosts a good hip-hop night on Thursdays. The Upperline (1413 Upperline) serves inventive updates of Creole dishes. Luizza by The Track (1518 N. Lopez) is the neighborhood bar and po boy joint of dreams- its got a fantastic jukebox. Also Uglesichs (1238 Baronne Street [open lunchtimes]) is the sacred church of the shrimp.
Che Muses recommendations: The best clubs are the holes in the walls. Youll have a strip of buildings with a door. In the daytime youd never think anything was there, but night its jam-packed. New Edition (address to come), Sears (address to come), St. Bernard (address to come); there are a lot of them. They are mainly black clubs, and theyre gonna look twice if youre not black, but after youre there ten minutes youll be OK.
Sun Valley Death Traps recommendations: Go down Decatur street and youll hit Mollys (1107 Decatur), which is good. We play shows at The Hi Ho Lounge, (2239 St. Claude), which is a great place to hear local bands. Magic Bus (527 Conti) is good for old vinyl.
DA Rangaz recommendations: Peaches record shop (3129 Gentilly) is the best place for local hip-hop music. Genes (corner St. Claude and Elysian Fields) is good a good greasy spoon; you can go there for a PO boy sandwich after the clubs shut, as its 24 hour. Friday nights at Loft 523 (523 Gravier) is a good uptown club.
Quintron and Miss Pussycats recommendations: The Spellcaster Lodge welcomes Face readers, see Quintronandmisspussycat.com for more details. Mimis (2601 Royal) is a really good, friendly local bar. Coops (1109 Decatur), serves great New Orleans food, as does Marisol (437 Esplanade).