Music Writing in “Riff”

Lately I’ve been doing some writing for a Bay Area music website called Riff, which my friend Danny Willis turned me on to (he’s one of the editors and main contributors). It’s a fun outlet and one in which I can take myself a little less seriously; not to say I don’t try to do my best at everything I do, but since there simply isn’t the time to sweat over endless revisions with a concert or album review as there is with a short story, it’s a different kind of thing. 

This past week I did a write-up of the new Dr. Octagon album, Moosebumps, an exploration into modern day horripilation. I’ve been a fan of Kool Keith and Dr. Octagon since the late 90’s when, as I wrote in the review, “word about Dr. Octagon was passed from person to person, on burned CDs and dubbed tapes.” 

It was really interesting to give their unexpected return twenty years later a close listen. The album is deeply sonically textured, as you would expect from the brilliant producer Dan “the Automator” Nakamura; it’s a sort of forward-looking throwback record that draws from eclectic styles even as it returns to the 90’s underground hip-hop sound of its predecessor.


A few weeks back, I did a concert review of Bay Area artist Geographer performing as part of the Noise Pop festival. Mike Deni put on a great show, and the concert introduced me to some other hard-working local musicians I wasn’t familiar with.


My start writing for Riff was … interesting. Late last year, I went to do a write-up of Ariel Pink as part of his four-night run at The Chapel in San Francisco’s Mission District. The band’s set was captivating, and my review was positive. Then – the comments and Twitter flames arrived, directed not only at the artist but at me and my coverage, and Riff Magazine. When I wrote the article, which was an honest account of what I saw, I was unaware that there was a controversy raging on Reddit accusing the artist of onstage abuse. I didn’t witness any onstage abuse myself, but had to take those reactions seriously and did my best to investigate. 

Eventually it became clear that the onstage antics that had caused the worst offense were on a prior night of the engagement. By then I had already reached out to Charlotte Ercoli, the singer who was the target of the behavior, and posted a short update with her response to the allegations. Ariel Pink eventually issued an apology, covered in Pitchfork and elsewhere. 

It was a lesson in keeping on my toes and that a simple concert review can turn into something more complicated. The incident raised questions about the responsibility of artists to communicate clearly with their audiences; the way online discourse amplifies hearsay and escalates it; and the clash of the old “don’t give a fuck” rock n’ roll attitude with a new style of iconoclasm that demands accountability. None of those questions were answerable in the scope of a concert review but they’re ones that will stay with me a long time.

Leave a Reply