DJ Sessions: Dark And Soulful In Los Angeles

Oct 8, 2013

Los Angeles boasts artists from Charles Mingus to The Byrds.

KCRW DJ Travis Holcombe gives Here & Nows Jeremy Hobson a sonic tour of L.A., including new songs by Beck, funk duo The Internet, singer-songwriter Banks and electronic producer Kauf.

“It’s all very soulful and slightly dark,” Holcombe said.

Travis Holcombe’s Song Picks

  • Beck, “Where It’s At”
  • Beck, “I Won’t Be Long”
  • The Internet, “Sunset (featuring Yuna)”
  • The Internet, “Partners In Crime Part Two”
  • Banks, “Before I Ever Met You”
  • Kauf, ”Relocate” (Psychemagik Remix ft. Henrietta Tiefenthaler)


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It's HERE AND NOW. And it's time now for the HERE AND NOW DJ Sessions. Today, we're going to focus on a city known for its films but also for its music: Los Angeles.



THE BYRDS: (Singing) And I'll probably feel a whole lot better when you're gone.


RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS: (Singing) Sometimes I feel like I don't have a partner.

HOBSON: That, of course, is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Before that, we heard from The Byrds and Charles Mingus. So what is coming out of Los Angeles today? Travis Holcombe joins us, as he often does. He is a DJ at KCRW in Santa Monica, California. Welcome back.

TRAVIS HOLCOMBE: Thanks, Jeremy. Good to be back.

HOBSON: So we're talking about music from L.A. today. And let's start with Beck, which I'm sure a lot of listeners have heard of. Let's take a little reminder here with Beck's 1990s song "Where It's At."


BECK: (Singing) Where it's at. I got two turntables and a microphone. Where it's at. I got two turntables and a microphone.

HOBSON: All right. So there you go, a recognizable song for many people. What is catching your attention about Beck now?

HOLCOMBE: Well, Beck had a fairly consistent output throughout the '90s and his last album, "Modern Guilt," but he's been kind of quiet for a while. But near the end of the spring he started self-releasing these singles on his website. But he's always kind of been bit of a chameleon.

There's definitely distinct eras of Beck, from the sample-heavy "Odelay" era to the low-fi folk of "One Foot in the Grave" and the psychedelic country blues of "Mutations." The new singles kind of fit somewhere between "Mutations" and "Modern Guilt."

HOBSON: Well, let's listen to one of them. Here's "I Won't Be Long."


BECK: (Singing) I won't be long, I won't be long. I won't be long, I won't be long. I won't be long, long, long. I won't be long, long, long.

HOBSON: A very different sound from the earlier stuff, Travis.

HOLCOMBE: Yeah. I mean, it's definitely a much more mature, grown-up kind of sound. He's not rapping about rocking the town like a moldy crouton or anything like that anymore.

HOBSON: Well, why is he self-releasing, as you said, on his website?

HOLCOMBE: You know, I don't actually know the reason. I think it's just sort of a trend that's going on in the music industry right now where you see a lot of bands like Radiohead. I mean, bands that can, that are that big, can kind of get away with it, I guess.

HOBSON: Well, let's hear one of the other groups that you've told us about, and this is one that many people probably have not heard of. This is The Internet. First of all, tell us who they are.

HOLCOMBE: So The Internet is part of the L.A.-based Odd Future rap collective. I mean, they sort of burst onto the scene a couple years ago. They're mostly known as being a rap collective, even though probably their biggest member, who's known most to the mainstream audience, is Frank Ocean, who actually won a Grammy last year. But they're all pretty much in their 20s. And "Feel Good" is the second album by the Internet and the first to be released under the Odd Future Records name.

HOBSON: And here is the song "Sunset" featuring Yuna.


YUNA: (Singing) So maybe you feel it, maybe you don't. Maybe you love it, maybe you won't. Maybe the sunshine isn't enough to heal your pain. So maybe you play or maybe you fold. Baby, you stay. Baby, go. Maybe you touch me, I'll be afloat or maybe we'll stop somewhere down the road. Put on some headphones, sit at my home, watching the sunset shed its good light on me.

HOBSON: What is it that sticks out to you about this one?

HOLCOMBE: You know, the production is really clean. I feel like a lot of the early Odd Future stuff was sort of released in low-resolution MP3s, but you can definitely see a lot of maturity in the sound. They use a lot of live instrumentation, and it's very soulful - I mean, a lot like Frank Ocean. They don't have as strong of a vocal presence as Frank Ocean, but the production is very professional sounding and very - it's like the next step up for that collective, I feel like.

HOBSON: Well, we should listen to another. This is also by The Internet. This is "Partners In Crime Part Two."


HOBSON: And I can imagine just driving down the Pacific Coast Highway listening to that one, Travis.

HOLCOMBE: Yeah. It's a - I mean, it's just - it's a great kind of daytime album, I feel. And, you know, oddly enough, for an Odd Future album, there's no rapping on the album. It's all pretty much just instrumentals or soulful vocals like you heard in the last track.

HOBSON: Well, let's turn now to another L.A. musician, the R and B singer Banks, and this song, "Before I Ever Met You."


BANKS: (Singing) As for our house, I'll move out. You can keep the dog we trained. Things soon will be like before I ever met you, before I ever met you.

HOBSON: Well, tell us about what we're hearing here, Travis.

HOLCOMBE: She's like a pop R and B singer. She's very new. She just sort of came onto my radar in the last three or four months, but she's got a very brooding, sensual, sexy voice. Apparently, little backstory. She was writing music on her keyboard and recording into her phone. And then one of her friends sent off two of her songs to the person who would become her manager, and then the rest took off from there. And this is all, like, in the last six to eight months. And now she's embarking on this big tour with a group called The Weeknd.

HOBSON: Which some of our listeners may know well. The Weeknd's a pretty well-known group.

HOLCOMBE: He is, yeah. He is sort of - he was Drake's protege, which, you know, Drake is pretty much the biggest rapper in the game right now. But they both hail from Toronto. And The Weeknd has sort of generated some buzz by releasing some mix tapes. And he just came out with his first proper major label debut a couple months ago.

HOBSON: Well, here is another song from Banks. It's called "Warm Water."


BANKS: (Singing) I'll come closer to you. If you come over, I know we'll go farther, farther with you. With you, I'm in warm water swimming down.

HOBSON: Travis, what is so L.A. about all of the people that we've been listening to here?

HOLCOMBE: We were actually talking about that before, trying to come up with like an overarching theme that covers all of the groups that we've talked about.

HOBSON: Well, there's so much in Los Angeles. It's hard to say there's only one style coming out of there.

HOLCOMBE: No. There's definitely several different styles. But, yeah, it's all very, I guess, soulful and slightly dark, let's say.

HOBSON: Well, before we let you go, I want to hear from the artist Kauf. That is K-A-U-F. What does that mean? What is it short for?

HOLCOMBE: It's short - his name is Ronald Kaufman, so it's just the short name of his last name.

HOBSON: And tell us about him.

HOLCOMBE: So a demo version of Kauf's song "Relocate" found its way to Cut Copy, an Australian group. And front man Dan Whitford signed Kauf to his label, Cutters Records.

HOBSON: Well, let's take a listen to "Relocate," the Psychemagik remix.


KAUF: (Singing) What only you can say, we are ready for it. What only you can say, we are ready for it.

HOBSON: That is "Relocate," the Psychemagik remix. And we've been speaking with Travis Holcombe, DJ at KCRW in Santa Monica. Travis, thanks so much as always.

HOLCOMBE: Thanks, Jeremy.


KAUF: (Singing) Do you feel any better now?

HOBSON: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.