We love music, and as Portlanders know, there is something entirely magical about having access to a diverse and plentiful music scene. From psych rock to hip hop to folk, there is no shortage of creative energy in this city. The long history of DIY culture has given birth to a new era of Portland that still carries the inventive and nerdy spirit we love. In this edition of Forces at Work, we chatted with Matt Singer, music editor at Willamette Week, about the Portland music scene. Thursday night, Willamette Week is showcasing three local acts in the second edition of Pulse, a celebration of Portland sounds. This week’s features amazing hip hop artist The Last Artful Dodgr, electronic duo Pleasure Curses, and the collaborative work of local rappers Ripley Snell and Grape God under the name Wine + Coffee. It is free to the public, so don’t miss out on this display of local talent.
What was the first band you were obsessed with?
Although I was a burgeoning punk kid growing up in a Southern California beach town, the first band I ever went totally nuts for was Nine Inch Nails. I bought Pretty Hate Machine, Broken and The Downward Spiral on cassette with birthday money when I was around 12 or 13, all on the same day, and from there it was on. I gradually acquired every single, which they made deliciously collectible by labeling as a series of numbered “Halos.” I had five shirts that I cycled through the full school week. I printed off a NIN FAQ from an early fan site—my family had the internet pretty early on—and memorized every weird little bit of trivia. To this day, I don’t really know what obsessed me. I was a fairly happy kid not even in my angsty teen years yet, and a couple years later I’d be super into ska. Being a kid is weird. (And if you’d like to know more about my Nine Inch Nails obsession—and see a photo of me with my horrible 6th-grade mustache—I wrote about it in a little more detail a couple years ago: .)
How long have you been a part of the Portland music scene? What do you love about it?
I moved here in October 2008 from Oxnard, California, and started freelancing for Willamette Week right away—I applied for the Music Editor job back then and it ended up going to Casey Jarman, but I got far enough in the process to establish a relationship with the paper—so I suppose that’s when I got involved in the local scene.
I think what I love about the scene here is just how enthusiastic people are about it, and how it becomes a lifestyle for certain people. I remember going to PDX Pop Now for the first time and being blown away with how kids were going for these totally homegrown acts. I think that enthusiasm has waned slightly over the last seven years, which is probably a byproduct of the shifting economic reality in Portland more than anything else, but that just makes the dedication of folks like Bim Ditson, who are at shows every damn night, even more impressive.
I’m also super into what I call the “pre history” of Portland—basically, everything that was going on in the years before the rest of the country started paying any attention to the city, when it was a truly DIY community doing shit just to do it. And I’m not just talking about the Satyricon-era punk scene—the jazz, R&B and country scenes going back decades all have this rich history that really hasn’t been mined in full yet. As a person who enjoys telling other people’s stories, that really compels me.
How do you see the scene growing, changing, pushing the edges?
By far the most interesting thing to observe since I’ve been in my position is the in-roads hip-hop has made toward integrating into the scene as a whole. I still don’t think it’s been embraced to the degree that it should—same goes for electronic music—but it’s probably not long until that’s forced to change, thanks to folks like EYRST, Dropping Gems, etc.
As a music editor, what kind of music do you try to feature?
I try to leave nothing out (on purpose, anyway), though it’s true that I have certain biases. I made a concerted effort early on to try and feature more hip-hop and electronic music, because those are the sounds that are dictating the future of music on the whole and have historically been pushed to the margins here. But I still love crazy punk bands and anyone doing stuff that’s intense and weird and (hopefully) funky. Overall, though, I try not to let my personal taste dictate what gets featured into the section. I try to read what the scene is excited about, or what they should be excited about, and show that to the reader.
What excites you about each of these artists being showcased at Pulse?
I truly believe the Last Artful Dodgr is the most exciting artist in Portland, period, and that she’ll be the person from the hip-hop scene that finally breaks through nationally. I only recently got introduced to Pleasure Curses but they hark back to a time when bands like Glass Candy, Chromatics and Yacht were making coolly dark and/or quirky electropop and were some of the most interesting bands in the city, something I didn’t realize I was kind of nostalgic for until I heard them. And I actually haven’t heard Wine and Coffee yet, but there are truly no other artists in this city, rap or otherwise, pushing genre boundaries like Grape God and Ripley Snell, so I’m as excited to check them out as anyone.