The Curious Case of Button-Pushers
Photo by Eric Tullis
To end or not to end: Joe Scudda
The last night of Hopscotch 2014 brimmed with acts who mistook—and at times, benefitted from—spectacle instead of quality. Take this tweet
by WXDU 88.7 FM DJ Zachary Lechner: “Holygrailers slaying via laptop at Pour House." The observation isn't just an exaggeration; it's just wrong. In the colloquial sense, Holygrailers didn’t “slay” anything. Literally speaking, yes, he did deprive his set of life, even if some of his fans in The Pour House feigned excitement for a bunch of broken beat switches.
At best, the performance was exemplary of mannequin musicianship—DJs standing in a still, upright stance for the majority of their sets, tapping buttons in lieu of the arduous toil of actual DJing. This problem has plagued electronic music ever since barriers to entry became virtually non-existent in the realm. Now, festivals like Hopscotch book electronic acts like Holygrailers, whose sets resemble sedentary performance art rather than party-inducers or real shows
like the one that Marley Carroll surfed through during his Thursday night set of vocalism, turntablism and controller manipulation. At least that performance offered a transparent experience, not just an un-engaging pit stop at which you could watch some guy play with his toys.
Raps Like Gimmicks
In late August, Hopscotch highlighted the fact that Raleigh rapper Madison Jay had been promoting his Saturday night Hopscotch performance at The Hive more than any artist in the festival’s five-year history. A large chunk of his campaign was a seven-day “Madison Jay Release Week and Hopscotch Tour," which began with an interview with OnTheSceneNY.com
and was scheduled to end Sunday with the release of a post-Hopscotch freestyle, which has yet to surface.
The strategy wasn’t at all uncharacteristic of Madison Jay, whose reputation as an unrelenting hustler in the local hip-hop scene helped one of his early mottos and past mixtape titles, Raps Like Wrestling
, become a gag-phrase in some circles. It may have been a laughing matter to some, but his street team has always taken his efforts seriously, as was the case on Saturday night. Armed with large placards on wooden sticks, members of Madison Jay’s “County” team stood in front of The Hive’s stage like fervent protestors. Meanwhile, their savior, dressed in a suit and tie, worked through a piecemeal set of tough, aspirant raps. The spectacle of a rapper performing in a suit and tie isn’t a new one, and it’s about as gimmicky as wardrobe choices go in the hip-hop world. At least it adds an air of importance where the rhymes might fall short...
How to Not Give a Fuck
Joe Scudda is cursed. As I reported Saturday
, the former Raleigh “Booze God” emcee-turned-Athens-bar-manager had been relatively inactive in rap before his scheduled Hopscotch performance. He merely accepted the festival’s invitation on a whim, using the opportunity as a curtain call to his rap career. “I’m done,” he told me Saturday night as Hopscotch was in its final moments. Unfortunately, no one believes him. “I don’t give a fuck about any of this anymore,” he says. “But, for some reason everyone thinks that that’s a part of my act. And they love it. But they don’t understand, I really don’t give a fuck. This is it.”
He showcased that apathy on Saturday, only to the extent of it backfiring on him, turning his passive attitude into comedic ramblings in between some of his rap classics. “I got two homies in the crowd who are on acid,” said Scudda to The Hive’s curious crowd. He’s never needed to throw in shock-value statements like that, but it’s been a tactic that’s always made Scudda’s showmanship easier to take—a splash of humor next to cocksure raps to ensure that people don’t take him as a joke.
Most of this year’s class of Hopscotch hip-hop acts could have learned a thing or two from the Triangle veteran. Spectacles should entertain, not merely exist for the sake of their own entertainment. Otherwise, there’s nothing festive about hopping around a city in search of the perfect beat.