Afro-punk Death to Hip Hop Showcase: Ninjasonik, Cerebral Ballzy and Death @ Music Hall of Williamsburg 10.18

Posted October 19, 2011 in
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Ninjasonic. Photo: Mel Cole
At the tail end of August, the free Afro-Punk music festival was canceled due to Hurricane Irene’s untimely arrival in New York City. Luckily, no pending natural disasters derailed their highly successful and entertaining CMJ showcase.

When I arrived at the venue, Ninjasonik was already a few songs into their set. I knew I had heard of the group before, but it admittedly took me a minute to connect the dots, possibly because MCs Reverend McFly and Telli Gramz were backed by a live drummer, a guitar player and a huge crew that stood at the side of the stage, occasionally jumping in for a guest spot on the mic. Finally it clicked"I had seen this group perform at The Complex last April, and was initially less than impressed by their low energy performance. Thank god for second chances. Seeing the group perform on their own turf (they’re originally from Brooklyn) gave me a completely fresh outlook on their music. It’s hard to classify the music they play. Elements of punk and hip hop often collide in their songs, which on the second go-around felt less like a gimmick and actually made me laugh. “Somebody Gon Get Pregnant” and “Bars” saw the crowd at its wildest, and all members of the group fed off their energy. After seeing them in Brooklyn, it was pretty obvious that Ninjasonic’s lackluster performance in Salt Lake City was probably due to a bad turnout and a crowd that was more interested in standing at the bar than engaging with the music.

Next up was Cerebral Ballzy, currently one of my favorite bands. Cerebral Ballzy channel the energy of ‘80s hardcore bands like Circle Jerks and Black Flag. This was the third time I had seen the band since June, when they opened for Black Lips, and I couldn’t wait to see them play in the city where they come from. Predictably, their set was filled with raw, unbridled aggression, and the crowd combusting into giant circle pits. Lead singer Honor Titus repeatedly invited the crowd to “come party” between their songs about pizza, skateboarding, drug use and not having enough money to ride the train. A few songs in, Titus demanded that the stage lights be turned off, which made it difficult to tell exactly what was happening, but all the more thrilling when Titus jumped on the speakers, the drum set and the railing near the stage. These same antics got him reprimanded when they played Salt Lake in July (opening for H.R. of Bad Brains) so I was thrilled that in Brooklyn, they didn’t seem to care.

The closers of the night were Death, a Detroit-based trio from the mid-‘70s, whose music was re-released by Drag City in 2009. The band initially broke up in 1977, but the re-release renewed interest in the group, which prompted them to reform and begin playing shows again to a whole new fan base. Although I was unfamiliar with Death before the show, their performance was engaging and surpassed my expectations. I’ve seen a number of aging “legendary” musicians in the past years and usually the performances are only mediocre"the idea of seeing the band is typically more exciting than the actual performance. Death broke this stereotype. The performance was engaging and they looked like they were having a ton of fun on stage. Near the end of their performance, they thanked the crowd for “bringing back Death.”

Day one at CMJ was a success. I have a good feeling that the rest of the week will live up to the high standards set by this showcase.
Ninjasonic. Photo: Mel Cole Cerebral Ballzy. Photo: Peter Anderson Death