meta-scriptThurston Moore Talks New Album 'By The Fire,' IDLES, Greta Thunberg & Reagan-Era Privilege |

Thurston Moore

Photo by Vera Marmelo


Thurston Moore Talks New Album 'By The Fire,' IDLES, Greta Thunberg & Reagan-Era Privilege

The Sonic Youth founding guitarist also digs into how living abroad has affected his view of the States and how young people today—especially his own daughter—give him hope

GRAMMYs/Sep 28, 2020 - 07:45 pm

"There is a real social division, and I don't live amongst that anger so much," Thurston Moore remarks over the phone from his London home, referring to the piercing political discord that fuels the upcoming presidential election—not to mention much of 2020 itself. "I don't really believe that that is the majority of the country, let alone the world," he continues. "I think it's just the noisiest. And I say that as a noise musician."

The founding Sonic Youth guitarist, who released his seventh solo album By The Fire last week via The Daydream Library Series, is indeed not just a noise musician, but a leading pioneer of the art form, having gotten his start in the 1980s New York City no wave and experimental scenes alongside bandmates Kim Gordon, Steve Shelley and Lee Ranaldo. At that time, Moore remembers, artists had what he refers to as the "privilege" of "just making fun of and ignoring [politics]," and "protesting to some degree through hardcore bands and stuff." Today, nearly 40 years later, such immunity to current events hardly exists anymore; socioeconomic, political and racial tensions touch every facet of daily life—and it's all taking place in the backdrop of a global pandemic.

In response, Moore has unleashed By The Fire, a nine-track project that, as he puts it, "alludes to a lot of the heat that we see in the streets... But it's also essentially about the idea of communication. I wanted it to be about focusing on sitting around a fire and exchanging ideas and dialogue."

Musically, By The Fire, which features Deb Googe (My Bloody Valentine) and Sonic Youth's Shelley, reflects Moore's penchant for both pop-minded, college-rock cuts (opener "Hashish" and its follow-up "Cantaloupe") and lengthier instrumental musings ("Locomotives" and chaotic album closer "Venus").  

Below, Moore dives deeper into the duel meaning of By The Fire (which he and the rest of the band recorded immediately prior to quarantine), how living abroad has affected his view of the States and how young people today—including his own daughter—give him hope for the future.

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You’ve been living in London for almost a decade now. How has living abroad changed or affected your perspective of the U.S. in the last eight years?

I relocated here at a time when I thought the U.S.A. was in a place of having a bit of dignity as representation, let's put it that way, with the Obama Administration, the Obama-Biden Administration. And so, I don't think anybody at all foresaw the turn of events that happened in 2016, and it was a surprise to just everyone, especially here, living here.

But the fact that it happened at the same time when this country was dealing with this whole selling of Brexit, which was based on this idea of economics, but was sold through this fear of immigration. So, it had this nefarious subtext to it.

I think we just go through these cycles through history, that you can see, where totalitarianism comes to a head. And these fascistic aesthetics come into play, where divisiveness in the culture happens, and through the outpouring of subserving, where people who feather their own nest, as far as being this billionaire elite, and the real estate of the world, and this kind of control mechanisms.

So, in some ways, it's not surprising when you look at it historically, and thinking that, with some resilience and some resistance and with some activism, which we always have expressed, especially in youth culture, that we can bring it back into a situation that's more progressive and humanitarian-conscious. I think the big difference now, and that the pandemic, where we're all in this quarantine state and it's a global affair, that's a big difference, from when you can look at it, and history books, to some degree.

Because it points to a problem that we have that's more essential to the earth. It's about the health of the earth and how we're so much a part of nature, whether we like it or not. And that defines a lot of our existence.

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I think a lot of what's going on with our social crisis is, of just the people who are on the margins, and have historically been on the margins, just through means of being oppressed, having to rise up and be angry. And, in support, so many people joining in with that fight, people who have the privilege of not being in a situation, to join in on that fight, as well.

It almost becomes secondary to the health of the planet. Because with the planet in a mode of destruction for the next 10 to 20 years, that will override any other situation. I mean, if you don't have a habitable world, it doesn't matter who you are. And so, that, to me, is something that's very significant and distinctive to what's going on right now. So when I see young people, particularly a very high-profile person like Greta Thunberg, really coming out and drawing as much cogent attention to this, it just does my heart good.

I saw an interview a few years ago with Naomi Klein, she's an essayist on politics, and focusing a lot on climate activism. And she said, when the U.S.A.'s really swung to this right-wing agenda that was exemplified by what the administration is now, she felt like a lot of people did, very, somewhat hopeless. And do you even deal with such inanity?

But then, to see somebody like this young girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who Naomi said, "I'd never even heard of two months prior, all of a sudden becoming such a force of critical information," that just made her feel good about prospects. And so, I feel the same way.

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I really feel, for the most part, the people that I come across are desirous of living in harmony, and wanting to have some more non-hierarchical socialized way of living, where everybody has equal value when it comes to healthcare. I rarely come across somebody who is so deluded by the fact that maybe it would be better off if we just allowed ourselves to be told what to do by this authority of this billionaire class. I don't really know people like this, but I know they're out there, because I see them on social media, screaming and yelling "Trump."

There is a real social division, and I don't live amongst that anger so much. But I certainly do see it. And I'm not quite sure, I don't really believe that that is the majority of the country, let alone the world. I think it's just the noisiest. And I say that as a noise musician who really focuses on noise. I can't compete with that sort of thing.

"A noise musician who can’t compete with noise." Well, there you go. Would you say that you generally consider yourself an optimist?

Yeah. I consider myself a musician and an artist who realizes that it's very important to be socially engaged in your work. And if your work is about the exchange of pleasure as information, I think there's something very political about that. I consider that to be a responsibility. So when I put together a record like this, at a time like this, I'm very aware.

And I'm very activist conscious when I call a record By The Fire, where it alludes to, certainly a lot of the heat that we see in the streets, in the contemporary streets of fires being lit through it, through anger. But it's also essentially about the idea of communication. I wanted it to be about focusing on sitting around a fire and exchanging ideas and dialogue.

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It's funny you say that, because I was curious if By The Fire had any allusions to, say, Roosevelt’s famous Fireside Chats.

Sun Ra had a record called A Fireside Chat With Lucifer, which I always thought was really intriguing. But I think in a way, it was just, "What an interesting title."

I mean, if there's anybody who was a prophet of peace and understanding, it was Sun Ra. To call a record, A Fireside Chat With Lucifer, in a way it was him wanting to come to terms with everybody having a voice, and realizing that, right?

I realized there's a dynamic of voices in our culture, obviously. But for me, it's just, the activism measure is to keep promoting the voices that you find are to the health of humanity, especially to the health of the earth. People ask me if I'm voting for the Democrat ticket of Biden and Kamala Harris, and I say, "Yes, I am."

It's not so much about Biden being versus Trump. It's more about me being versus Trump. And it's more wanting to bring these voices that I find really, really important in contemporary society, voices like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, these women who have these really political intellects, that are all about the welfare of everybody, regardless of the hierarchy in this society.

It’s progressive socialism, for want of a better genre term. But I find that to be these great voices for the welfare of the country that I was born and raised in. And so, I find at least a vote for the Democratic ticket allows them to have a voice at that table, more so than not.

I mean, that seems to be the promise, and a lot of it has proved the empowerment that Bernie Sanders has enforced in the last decade. I think the Democratic ticket recognizes that voice, and is very wary of it, because it's demonized as being, well, too left of centrist. But at the same time, I think at least it's going to have a welcoming into the government and its future policies, hopefully. I can only be hopeful.

I think anything less than that is without hope. So I see what's going on right now. And as far as the two-party system, when I look at the Republican Party, and how it's been hijacked, I don't see a grain of hope there. I see nothing.

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It’s funny that you bring up both Bernie and AOC. Are you aware of the “Socialist Youth” T-shirt design that has Bernie and AOC drawn to mirror Sonic Youth’s Goo cover? It’s one of the best things I bought this year.

I do remember that. I was really happy to see that.

Had you planned to begin recording a record in March of this year, or thereabouts? Even if a pandemic hadn’t happened?

Yeah. Well, I knew that I wanted to put a record out this year, even before the pandemic became a reality. But when it did become a situation, it was just global, galvanized situation that we all dealt with.

Once I seriously focused on what the aesthetic of the record was, and how I would sequence it, I wanted to have the story on the record be more in tune to what was contemporaneous. So I sequenced it thus. I mean, all the material was recorded before anything happened.

But the record itself was put together while we were in quarantine. So, the material, I just organized it in a way where I wanted it to come out of the gate with these more joyous, short, sharp, rough, sonic rock and roll tunes. And then it moves into more contemplative material.

Then it would go into some darker spaces. And then it had this deliverance at the end—this long instrumental piece called "Venus," which was just this pattern-based guitar piece that opened up into this sound of deliverance, and with hope. And I wanted it to go out the door that way.

I really worked closely with the people who do the distribution and the manufacturing, all of whom were dealing with this sudden shock to their work days, and wondering where their revenue was going to come from, and how they could continue to operate. Summertime is traditionally a time when a lot of the record industry just goes on vacation. So everybody was on staycation mode. And I was like, "Oh, actually, I'll take advantage of that. You're home and you're working, right? So let's get the guts around this."

[By The Fire is] coming out this month, which is really great. It's coming out on the same day as this other community of records that I'm really happy being part of: Public Enemy's new record [What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down] that they're putting out on their old label, Def Jam. And my old friend, Bob Mould, has a record [Blue Hearts] coming out.

There's a local band in London that is really, it's a real strong voice for a lot of people here, called IDLES.

Oh yeah. Sure.

And they have a record also. So, these things are all happening on that day. I just feel, if there's anything I really love about being in a band and playing music through the years, it’s the power of the community. And I've always loved collaborations. I always loved compilation albums. I was always drawn to being on compilation albums earlier, when Sonic Youth was first starting. I was just, if anybody asked us to be on a compilation, I was like, "Yes, of course, of course." The first record I was ever on was a compilation record that Glenn Branca and Barbara Ess put together in downtown New York, of all these different artists, doing one-minute pieces.

That was the first time I was ever invited [to collaborate], was when they asked me to be on that. And that was just at the very beginning of when Sonic Youth was forming. I don't even know if we had that name yet.

Speaking of New York, earlier in the year, New York City was especially suffering from high coronavirus cases and deaths. I wonder what that brought up for you, just as somebody who has such a connection to that city?

Right. I think it's such a—more so than just about any other city I can think of—it's the most street-social city. When I was living there, nobody really had a car. You could actually walk from one end of the island to the other, and during the day, without a problem. I think it's, what is it, 12 miles long and three miles wide? It's all up into the sky, in a way.

The fact that it has such a huge population, and it was so condensed, that everybody's on the street and all the time. And everybody was in each other's way, in each other's face. You learned social responsibility from living in that city. It was gloriously multi-ethnic. And even though there was neighborhood divisions of ethnicities that had been defined from when people first came over from Europe and Asia and such, but they were soft lines, for the most part. And it was all about merging traffic. And I think that, to me, was a model for the world.

It’s the true essence of nature, where migration is so essential to nature. It was like, at the heart of nature, it's always about migration, and the plant life and animal life. With people, it's the same thing. And so, I think the situation where borders start going up, and it tries to stop the migratory nature of people, whatever the causes are, whether it's from climate, or where it's from seeking higher water, or trying to find salvation from war or violence. Or the impossibility of a life, in certain situations. And to prohibit that, through any border or law of movement, for me, it's like, it actually goes against the actual truth of nature.

That's where the problem is. It has nothing to do with anything else. Or anything else becomes, it just becomes bigotry. So I always saw New York City as this great experiment in coexistence from the end of the century. And I loved living there in the '70s, before real estate became more monied, and it allowed everybody to live in poverty, and still create, and be free.

That, and the creative impulse was still available, without having to pay exorbitant rents, but that's really neither here nor there. I mean, the city continues to be this great social city. And to see it have to deal with a situation where everybody has to stay away from each other, it's disheartening, to say the least.

I can only hope that that will fade away, and we don't have a follow-up, a virus coming through. Nobody has a crystal ball on this, that I can see. So, I take value from seeing people be of service to each other.

I have a 26-year-old daughter who lives in Bed-Stuy, and she is very activist, and she goes out daily and helps be of service to people who are living in the margins, or young women who are incarcerated and don't have any funding to deal with their plight, or people who are so marginalized, trans people of color who are just completely ignored by so many of the services of the city, and are at odds with the prejudices of the culture. She's out there helping in that regard. And so, it does my heart good. It makes me a proud daddy.

But she's not the only one. And there's just so many people, she's just in her mid-20s, and there's so many people at that age who are out there doing that. When I was in my mid-20s, we didn't really have such a crisis as this. We had Ronald Reagan who was like, he was really creating an economic division, and especially in the city. [But] it was something that we could actually have the privilege of somewhat just making fun of and ignoring, and protesting to some degree, through hardcore bands and stuff.

What people in their mid-20s are experiencing now, it's such a far cry from what I remember. And it's just, their lifestyles of having digital media, where there's this Internet connectivity of the open library. That's a huge paradigm shift from the reality that I experienced.

I love it. I think it's just completely exhausting. I'm really glad to be alive and witness this kind of world, and just thinking about what it will be in the next couple of decades.

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Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon performing in 2023

Photo: Jason Squires/FilmMagic


5 Songs To Get Into Kim Gordon's Solo Work, From "Change My Brain" To "I'm A Man"

An ocean of ink has been spilled about Sonic Youth's indomitable legacy, which includes a bounty of Kim Gordon songs. With her new solo album, 'The Collective,' out in the world, press play on five great songs from her post-Sonic Youth discography.

GRAMMYs/Mar 14, 2024 - 02:11 pm

The Beastie Boys' Ad-Rock once offered a brilliant observation of Kim Gordon. "Wherever Kim ends up, she is the coolest person in the room," he told The New Yorker in 2013. "But I know her, and I know she'd rather be at home grilling hot dogs."

How much more succinctly could one put it? Since Sonic Youth tortured their first Jazzmaster, Gordon has radiated mysterious cerebral, enveloping art, while never coming across as an arteest.

Gordon's vital contributions to the band, from "'Cross the Breeze" to "Bull in the Heather" and beyond — coupled with cool you could cut with a knife — cemented her as an alternative icon.

So much so, that when she and romantic and creative partner Thurston Moore split in 2013 — which took Sonic Youth down with them — Gordon arguably won the public in the divorce.

The four members of Sonic Youth have remained active with various projects, and Gordon's have been some of the most enticing. She hit the ground running with Body/Head, a collaboration with guitarist Bill Nace — and formed another duo, Glitterbust, with fellow axeman Alex Knost.

Gordon has also released two solo albums — and the last one, especially, is turning heads. The Collective, which dropped March 8 via Matador, is like a T-bone between rap production and the shattering noise she's made her own.

As you absorb this sui generis piece of art — from opener "BYE BYE" to closer "Dream Dollar" — take a spin through five songs that act as entryways to Gordon's solo years.

"Change My Brain" (Body/Head's The Switch, 2018)

At its best, Gordon's noise is tactile, overwhelming; it's like big muscles. "Change My Brain," from Body/Head's 2018 album The Switch, is a glorious, 10-minute thicket of fuzz, with a rounded and iridescent center that undulates like a glow worm.

"Air Bnb" (No Home Record, 2019)

The top comment on the official "Air Bnb" music video is genius: "This is the best video I've ever read." It consists of a black screen, explaining that the funding just wasn't there for Gordon to crawl and cavort through a mid-century modern  rental. Instead, the video describes all the details as Gordon sings about the Air BnB that "could set me free."

But the throttling music is a mindmovie on its own: whatever's in your head is more unsettling than what Gordon and her collaborators would have come up with.

"Murdered Out" (No Home Record, 2019)

In a press statement, Gordon evocatively explained her No Home Record banger "Murdered Out."

"When I moved back to L.A., I noticed more and more cars painted with black matte spray, tinted windows, blackened logos, and black wheels," she said, considering all its cultural implications: "Like an option on a voting ballot, 'none of the above.'"

Like the foreboding whips of its namesake, "Murdered Out" is unforgiving, ominous, devoid of light. It's also utterly gripping; turn it up loud.

"BYE BYE" (The Collective, 2024)

As usual, YouTube randos sum it up better than any music writer could. "This is the hardest shopping list I've ever heard," one writes. Another: "I'm not even surprised that it's 2024 and Kim Gordon has the sickest beats in the game."

Over a serrated trap beat, Gordon relates her itinerary: purchase a suitcase, drop pants at cleaner, call the vet, call the groomer. The final item? "Vibrator, teaser, bye bye, bye bye, bye bye."

"I'm a Man" (The Collective, 2024)

Gender-flipping's been a thing since the dawn of rock 'n' roll, and it's been baked into indie from its inception. But only a select few can make it so funny.

"So what if I like the big truck? / Giddy up, giddy up!" Gordon crows, as if she's instructed ChatGPT to approximate dummy masculinity. "Don't make me have to hide/ Or explain/ What I am inside." Checkmate to the XY-chromosomed: as usual, Gordon has the last laugh.

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Franc Moody
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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billy idol living legend
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring


Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

**Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?**

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

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