Talking with Shadowpact

LEO Weekly

Speaking with the members of Shadowpact, it’s easy to understand their appeal. Comprised of emcees Sleye Kooper and Modern Marvill, and producer Artemis the Archer, they are engaging and kind, which is reflected in their work. While it may not be an intentional aesthetic, there is almost no hint of that hip-hop braggadocio so part and parcel to the genre — replaced instead by an earnestness and passion for what they do, and backed by an undeniable confidence.

They got their start as you do, one foot in front of the other. Kooper and Marvill gravitated towards hip-hop in high school before meeting up with Artemis, gathering their skills along the way.

“I took my rap career from being drunk at high school parties to Dragon Ball Z puns,” Kooper said.

It escalated quickly. Since 2012, the trio has been performing and releasing records at a steady clip, including a string of singles, a full-length, an EP and some especially amazing sets.

“You look at our first show at Solidarity: It’s the same people dropping stuff. Dundiff. Touch. The scene really evolved at Forecastle. If the Louisville scene was a volcano, then that Mercury show was the start of that, then that Forecastle set is when it blew. What helped the scene evolve was the attention that the media [gave] after that Forecastle show,” said Marvill.

The members of Shadowpact have a deft handle on their pen, crafting some of the cleverest and pop-culture fluent rhymes in the game, a fun Easter egg hunt with each repeat listen. They know a clever turn when they hear one.

“Going into a Shadowpact track, we [only] curse a little bit,” Kooper said of their choice of words. “So our curse-to-verse ratio is already pretty low. I don’t know — when I curse, I want it to mean something. I’m not editing that shit out, because I put that shit in for a reason.”

That sharp wit cuts both ways. Sleye recalled a quick change made at a show that called for a little softer language: “So, we were playing an all-ages show, and this shit made me laugh mid-set, drop my mic, and walk off the set. On ‘No Comment,’ Devin goes ‘So I pooped on a loose leaf.’ We didn’t prepare for that. And I looked at him like, ‘You didn’t say this.’ I just died. I couldn’t breathe.”

That tension between pursuing art and keeping the lights on is very real for Shadowpact, and in limiting their time, it impacts their work.

“Some people look at it like, if you really love it, that would be success,” Marvill said. “Success to you would be to work off music. They might think that success is filling a venue. I don’t think that I will ever be 100 percent happy with a job. That’s our major goal — to be able to live off our passions.”

Our six favorite local songs from June

LEO Weekly

Dom B. Feat. Shadowpact – “2016 Untouchables”
Is it possible to feel like something is too classy? Spoiler alert: no. But I challenge anyone out there to listen to this, and not feel like they need a smoking jacket and/or monocle. Well, that may skew a bit too “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” for this set, so let’s just picture that classiness in the back of a neon-lit bar, the cigar smoke in the air tinged pink, something on the rocks clutched in your hand and ill intentions on your mind. This is the kind of hip-hop that would inspire Frank Sinatra to ball — the sort where you imagine that a deal is being cut, and you might not like it, but dammit, you’ll respect it. Dom B has a measured flow, and paints a helluva picture, accompanied by Shadowpact, who compliment his work perfectly. Are they untouchable? I can’t speak to that, but this track will certainly make you think twice.

Our 6 favorite local songs from May

LEO Weekly

Shadowpact – Ballad of Fallen Angels
Fuck yes. It’s been a minute since a new Shadowpact track, and apparently they’ve only been eating their lyrical Wheaties, so that they could come back stronger. As always, Modern Marvill and Sleye Kooper come hard with the clever rhymes and references, to the extent that requires your full attention to catch all the little bits. They’ve mastered that perfect balance of serious and fun, which somehow manifests itself in consistently excellent production, here by CAVE DWLR. Feel obligated here to put your shades on, and roll your windows down a little, when you hear the heat off this, which is less a measure of any kind of posturing, as the pair tend to eschew that particular hip-hop trope, and more about outwitting your problems.

Our 8 favorite sets of Forecastle 2015

LEO Weekly


Parker Millsap
Every day the first set I caught stood out as one of my favorites. And on day one, Parker Millsap, an early-’20s-something that carves out wise-beyond-years Southern gothic folk, impressed me. I’ve known of him for a while and have always been pretty fond of his stuff, but live, he was even better, focusing on his more upbeat songs and using his fiddle player and upright bassist to keep the energy up. Some young musicians have trouble translating their solo roots music to the stage. Not him. On top of that, he has a voice that carries like Sturgill Simpson’s.—Scott Recker

Coming into the festival to a cacophony of dance music and blues-driven guitar rock, it was a breath of fresh air to hear Alvvays, if only figuratively given the brutally-humid Kentucky summer atmosphere. They had an airy kind of dream-pop feel that engendered a relaxing vibe of the sort that would have lent itself to sitting in a lawn chair, preferably with a fan on you, quietly nodding your head to the beat; maybe this is all just wishful thinking brought on by what I believe now to be a mild heat stroke. You could practically feel the cool Canadian air off their music, which I wish would have been a literal sensation. The lead singer kind of had a Maria Bamford thing going on, this fragile northern ego that seems brave in the face of overwhelming odds, of which there were many considering how many people were there. She was cool but aloof, but never off-putting in how she dealt with the crowd, and the band mirrored that easy stance.—Syd Bishop

The illusion of the music critic is that they know everything about all the cool things ahead of time, but insomuch as that applies to Houndmouth, that just wasn’t the case. It’s not that I didn’t familiarize myself with the music, but just that it was a little outside of my wheelhouse in terms of things that might pop randomly on my iPod. Catching them Friday night, I get the hype, even more than talking to their delightfully-friendly guitarist on the phone a few months back. They were a sight to behold, with at least what looked like 8,000 people there to show that kind of hometown support. Their homespun Americana seemed well-earned and sincere, the sort made by folks that just want to tell a good story through song and that they did well. They had some tender moments of the sort that you have to earn, those kinds where you somehow manage to get that many people to settle down while you play your music, which is a remarkable feat in and of itself and a testament to their prowess as performers.—Syd Bishop


Mariachi El Bronx
This was the set for me where I had no expectations going in because I’ve never had the chance to listen to any of their records, but after a friend talked them up, I went to see them. And, when you just stumble on a set and it happens to be great, that’s one of the best experiences you can have at a festival. Clean and cohesive, Mariachi El Bronx — a side project of the L.A. punk band El Bronx — made it obvious that they’ve been playing music together for a while. And with a charismatic frontman who knew how to work the crowd, it was one of the most memorable sets of the weekend.—Scott Recker

Dr. Dundiff and Friends
Dr. Dundiff is a boss producer and as a result of his work has garnered him a number of supporters in the local hip-hop scene. His solo productions are remarkable works of art, a pastiche of jazz and R&B sounds in a manner befitting Stones Throw or Def Jux alumni. Dude knows what he’s doing is the point, so when he brings in the Smoke Shop Boys — the live band that he drums for — it’s going to be undeniably awesome. And it was. This wasn’t just the output of one artist, but a showcase for Louisville hip-hop as a whole. That love and care for everyone involved was apparent from start to delightful finish, whether that involved Shadowpact, 1200, Touch AC, or anyone in between. As a person who has willfully not thrown up the W at a Wu-Tang show (they aren’t the boss of me), I can’t say I am usually moved to crowd participation, but I’ll be damned if a day later I still feel compelled to throw my hands up.—Syd Bishop

Twin Peaks
In the middle of day two, I was ready for some rowdy slacker punk and Twin Peaks delivered. A band that seemed to have dropped and broken all of their collective give-a-fucks, Twin Peaks blazed through a set packed with waves of distortion, jangly leads that were just the right dose of sugar and Mick Jagger-like vocals that always stayed smooth and collected, even on the edge of out-of-control. One of the few bands of the weekend that sounded significantly better live than on record, this was easily one of the best sets and certainly one of the most fun.—Scott Recker


Twin Limb
I’m not sure that there is a band that resonated with me more at this Forecastle than Twin Limb, although there were many that held my interest. A power trio, Twin Limb manages a delicate balance between pre-orchestration and free form goodness; they seem to use sequencing with an equal fervor to live play. The thing for me though, is that they have a laser focus on just writing great music, and don’t seem to give a shit about how they get to that point, be that with computers or acoustic instrumentation. They were a remarkable thing of beauty live, a lithe amalgam of visceral accordion riffs, gentle guitars and triggered drums, all the vehicle for the wonderful vocals. Twin Limb exemplifies the best in Louisville music and do so with a style and grace uniquely their own. For my money, they’re set was one of the absolute best in town, and I only hope that their star keeps rising.—Syd Bishop

White Reaper
Easily one of the most anticipated sets from the weekend, White Reaper delivered exactly what you would hope for. Singer Tony Esposito was all punk fury and youthful sneer, as the band ripped through their set with a breakneck pace that matched the intensity of their music. Their set started off easy enough with someone I didn’t recognize announcing the band, before jumping into the crowd and clobbering audience members in his path, while the band launched into “Cool.” White Reaper are a picture of American cool, of not giving a shit or more precisely in giving just the appropriate amount of a shit in everything that they do, which is primarily directed at just kicking out the loudest jams possible, stacked with the catchiest, most hook-laden riffs around. There was an unforgiving heat during their set, with virtually no shade to be found and any sort of breeze a distant memory, but they still made you want to get off your ass and move.—Syd Bishop

Time delays, hometown heroes and The War On Drugs: Four writer’s recap day two of Forecastle

LEO Weekly

Syd: A slow heat death suffocates us all. The air is a squalid mess and respiration is more like drinking than breathing. The hippy kids there aged high school to maybe-not-high-school are drinking and smoking like it’s their day job, which, given the fact that it’s summer, it might be. All I know is that it’s hot and humid out, and by the time I arrive I feel like I need a shower. Apparently everything is running a little behind. I didn’t know this, because that would imply that I can access their website via my mobile device, or that there was any kind of announcement posted anywhere else, be that digital or physical. This is good news, as my 4:00pm arrival time now means, is that I have an opportunity to meander a bit before I catch Dr. Dundiff and Friends, now scheduled to slay at 5pm. I find the media tent and disappear two bourbons; life’s been good to me so far.

The good doctor and company are all that you want them to be. I can’t say they’re more, or that I was in love with their set entirely, as the sound was, like the ground after last night’s rain, a little muddy. That’s not good news since I posted up near the sound booth, where folks ostensibly should have a good sense for what is and isn’t working for the crowd. Too many of the rappers present — which were most of them from Louisville, at least — didn’t seem to use their microphone voices and rap into the mic. It’s a unidirectional device and you have to coax sound out of it, at least if you want to project. It was either that or the sound was just rotten. Either way, it made the whole set fall just a little flat for me, but only just a little. Highlights included up-and-comers Shadowpact, Dundiff collaborator Touch AC, and the mighty 1200; it was one for the books one way or another.

In the interim, I caught a number of other bands. Broncho and Twin Peaks both held down the chimy indie rock shreds at the WFPK tent, with Twin Peaks especially standing out. Cherub put on a delightfully danceable show that owed more than a little to Prince. I wandered over to catch The War On Drugs, and they were as reminiscent of ’80s Springsteen as I recall, which I process as neither good nor bad.

My night ended up splitting my attention between Sturgill Simpson, and My Morning Jacket. Simpson plays a traditional brand of country that definitely has no qualms with its outlaw status. MMJ made an enormous sound that filled the air all the way to Crescent Hill. It sounded to me that they played a lot off their new record, which is always nice as evidence of a band proudly forging ahead. As the headliners, they were given a wide berth, and ended up with an enormous amount of space to fill, which they did admirably. That space was filled with a beautiful noise soaked in the natural reverb of the Ohio River, perhaps perfect in every way as an attribute to their music. It was an ideal close to the evening.

by John Miller
by John Miller

Scott: The festival gates didn’t open until after 2 p.m., something that I have no sympathy toward Forecastle for. It’s a major music festival that’s been around for a while now and storms happen. Figure your shit out. Have a contingency plan, so people don’t pass out in line waiting for you to open behind schedule, which one person did. Now that that’s out of my system, I’ll move on to the good: let’s talk about Mariachi El Bronx, Twin Peaks and Sturgill Simpson.

Mariachi El Bronx was the first set of the day that I saw. A side project of the LA punk band The Bronx, Mariachi El Bronx just twists mariachi music into their west coast punk sound and it’s great, both in terms of concept and energy. This might be the best book of the festival, having them play the opening slot on Saturday.

Twin Peaks was the epitome of the kind of band that’s essential for your middle of the day pick-me-up punk, dealing in a fuzzed-out slacker punk that gave preference to distorted hooks and Mick Jagger-like howls. Easily one of the best shows of the day.

Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson’s voice carries better than any I’ve ever heard at a festival. I was by the taco truck, two football fields away from Sturgill when he started and I could hear his barroom ’70s-style country completely clearly. He’s someone you should see every time he makes a trip into town.

Twin Peaks by Nik Vechery
Twin Peaks by Nik Vechery


The good: Lower Dens, The War on Drugs, Dr. Dundiff
The bad: N/A
The ugly: Stifling heat

That feeling when you realize you might be old.

Music festivals are great at making you feel old even when you’re not, for so many reasons. Watching really young kids go apeshit for some EDM dude who sounds like Prince after getting hit by a TARC bus you’ve never heard of is one of them (his name may or may not rhyme with Terub). The other is the physiological effects. The heat, the long periods of standing and lack of sleep because you also went to the late night shows… it all hurts, man! Festivals are hard. Why do I do this to my body, which is my temple? Why do we? I’ll explore that at another time.

The woman out there is feelin’ me though, as she fainted from heat while waiting outside festival grounds when the gates were held for 45 minutes. Because of last night’s Biblical smiting of Sam Smith via freak storm, the crew had extra work yesterday morning and pushed My Morning Jacket’s soundcheck back, and in a packed festival day, that set the domino effect in place. As a principle, I don’t cover Jacket shows because, speaking of apeshit, Louisville loses their minds so vigorously and unequivocally when it comes to that band that I feel it’s everyone else’s place. I’m good here. It was nice hearing “Gideon” though, I like that song. Some of my photog friends were admonished for snapping some shots of the early afternoon check. Bummer, but I get it. Image control, fam.

Lower Dens kicked off the day, thankfully at the Ocean Stage under the bridge. They’re not an act appropriate for a sweltering afternoon that felt, to quote my main dude Rob Thomas, “seven inches from the midday sun.” The moody and nocturnal disposition of Nootropics and even moreso on their latest, highly cinematic Escape From Evil deserves a bit more ambience, but Jana Hunter and company took care of business. They stuck pretty close to their synth-heavy latest effort, exposing a whole new audience to Hunter’s resonate, incandescent vocals. “Company,’ toward the end of the set, provided Forecastle with probably the festival’s lone true blue blast of krautrock.

Later at the same stage, Dr. Dundiff was the local hero. Continuing the tradition started by The Pass in 2013 and continued with Jalin Roze last year, Dundiff did it right – get all your dang friends in a supergroup and throw the smorgasbord on stage. And so he did, rounding out his left-field full sound brand of hip-hop with members of 1200, Touch AC, the aforementioned The Pass, and oh hey, Jim James too because why not?

My personal favorite moment was The War on Drugs. I swear to the Baby Jesus that this is not meant to sound braggy or like a discarded line from LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge,” but last time I caught them, supporting Slave Ambient in early 2012, was in a 200-capacity all ages, no beer room in Bloomington with Sharon Van Etten (who also played last year). Now Adam Granduciel is fielding myriad Chaco-branded beach balls in front of thousands at the Mast Stage. Though a lot of the subtle, shoegazing-informed textures that answer the question “what if Bruce Springsteen blazed really good ganj” got lost in the festival atmosphere, the songs of Lost in the Dream were a gorgeous accompaniment to the fading sun on the choppy Ohio River. They had me feelin’ some kind of way last night.

I’d also be remiss to not mention that ILoveMakonnen is really awesomely stupid. I loved that set, and I’m confident in believing that guy is self-aware. It was so incredibly dumb but really fun. Also, King Tuff, another self-aware artist, greased up Headliners during the Forecastle Late Night Show in all the right ways. Catch him this evening!

My Morning Jacket by Nik Vechery
My Morning Jacket by Nik Vechery

Zach: While the blistering heat tried to win Day Two of Forecastle 2015, a few bands somehow overcame the exhausting conditions to put on a great show.

Lower Dens from Baltimore had a beautifully restrained set and at times my dehydration was mixing with the bands dreamy guitars…putting my mind in a desert oasis mirage state at the Ocean Stage.

The best surprise set of the day also happened at the Ocean Stage as Dr. Dundiff and Friends displayed the wide range and talent of the Louisville hip-hop scene.  Dundiff’s friends included Jalin Roze, 1200, BirdZoo, Jack Harlow, and too many more to name.  Backed by a full band and with a surprise appearance by Jim James…Dr. Dundiff showed that one of the best sets of a major festival doesn’t have to be a huge name.

My night started to hit its high point with two much needed wind down, chill out sets.  The War On Drugs and Sturgill Simpson couldn’t be more different in the way they sound, but both acts had this calm beauty to them and showed off why Forecastle is so special.  The festival offers a diverse array of genres which challenges the festival crowd to go outside their comfort zones and enjoy all walks of music.

Concert Review: Jalin Roze, 1200, Touch AC & The Smoke Shop Kids, Shadowpact at Mercury Ballroom


Anymore it’s a herculean effort to drag my sorry ass out of the house. I have a baby girl at home. I’ve tried to teach her to cook for herself, and have even signed her up to Career Builder, because she’s got to pull her weight, but she’s just ornery like that. And at four months old, so you know, she isn’t always exactly sleeping, which means neither am I. That also means that the idea of going somewhere has landed somewhere near the bottom of my list. Regardless of the fact that the show Saturday night featured some of best hip-hop acts in the city and that it was free, this dude just wanted to doze off watching Twin Peaks at 9:30, because that’s how my life is now.

But, I ended up actually dragging my sorry ass out of the house, even convincing my gracious wife to make it a date. We got to the Mercury Ballroom early, like the un-cool codgers we are. The venue wasn’t quite so packed as I figured it would be, although that wasn’t an issue for long. The folks at DO502 had a Wheel Of Fortune-type game set up, which I gladly played because “free drink” was one of the prizes. And I got it, because the power of my mind is fierce.

The show opened with Shadowpact and goddamn those kids brought it full-force. The crowd wasn’t quite fully formed yet, as people were still slowly filtering in, but they played like they were performing in a stadium. As is often the case, the sound man wasn’t especially generous to the opener, giving them something noticeably quieter and with less impact, as if there was some kind of premium on volume or righteous beats. This seems like a common practice, and one that ought to be retired at this point.

Touch AC was up next, joined this evening by the Smoke Shop Kids, a live hip-hop/funk group. It was great, and built on that energy established by Shadowpact in a complementary way. Touch balanced his own material and collaborative work, which made for a nice mix throughout. Jalin Roze brought a similar energy, backed by many of the same members for a set that was equally memorable.

It’s safe to say that 1200 stole the show — surprising when you consider his time spent performing is, I believe, less than a full year. Like Shadowpact, 1200 was backed by DJs, but he also brought back-up singers, and had all sorts of fun crowd participation moments — and it was more than the traditional throwing of your hands in the air, a good thing as my inner-punk rock kid bristles at being told what to do. And it was incredible. His set was such a rowdy banger, with beats thick with sub-bass combined with his background in classic composition and untouchable emcee style.

Whether he was jumping into the crowd or having roses thrown into it, 1200 commanded the audience like a fucking boss, and brought the hype to my tired old bones, despite it being well passed my bedtime. It was truly a banner night for local hip-hop.

The six best local songs of the month


This January has been the worst. I have a newborn daughter who I’d love to play in the snow with and a job that would potentially grant snow days, which are like Christmas miracles after the fact. Who doesn’t want a surprise day off? But this month has been gray and moderate temperature-wise — generally not warm enough to be nice, but not cool enough for any substantial precipitation, which at least looks nice. So it’s really easy to slip into this all-encompassing melancholy, which if you’re me, manifests itself in watching bleak dramas and listening to drone records or “Spiderland.”

But Louisville music is the gift that keeps on giving. A hundred years ago when I was twenty, it felt like there were two speeds for records in this town: brooding indie and breakneck hardcore. And while both of those approaches have a special place in my heart (I’m looking at you, The Shipping News), I’m definitely happy to report that by 2015 our musical landscape has broadened to include all sorts of wonderful gems, some of which are perfect for staving off the rotten bleakness of stupid January, while others are an ideal complement for everything being gloomy and awful outside. So here I sit, writing my first column ever, for the first month of the first year of my daughter’s life, smiling that there are so many wonderful opportunities out there for kids both young and old to get into.

Shadowpact – “Miami Vices”

I hate to discuss age or any other outside factor to the music I write about, but these kids in Shadowpact have their shit together in a way that I cannot fully fathom. If I was half as talented in my early twenties, I would’ve been proud. Emcees Modern Marvill and Sleye Kooper squeeze in more clever references in the first minute of this track than more-celebrated rappers manage in the course of an album. In the first third of the song alone, there are nods to Star Trek, comic book characters and Street Fighter, all set to guest producer FilthyRich’s dope-ass beats. This is the perfect pick-me-up to fight off all this ugly gray weather.

Introvert – “Cold Beats”

“Cold Beats” is off the forthcoming album by Introvert, aka Karass member, Dennis Stein. Without a doubt the most electronic thing I’ve ever heard come out of this city, “Cold Beats” is a stand out for its marriage of the kind of glitched-out, Autechre-level weirdness that would make Warp Records fans squeal, with an incredibly catchy beat that just drops mid-track. After an opening volley of techno noise, almost like an electronic jazz improv, the track settles into hard electro-groove that demands you nod your head. I also demand that. Nod your damned heads, you heathens, and try to shake away this winter funk.

Twin Limb – “Long Shadow”

With “Long Shadow,” the duo — whose debut album is set to be released sometime in spring — make a huge noise, spacious and elegant, one of the finest gems in our fair city. What defies all logic is why and how this band isn’t nationally or even internationally famous. (Though they’re hitting the road with Houndmouth, which could possibly get them there.) Everything about this track is lush and beautiful, from the airy vocals and reverb-drenched tunefulness of the song itself, to the hi-quality presentation of the recording, all packed into a pop song that clocks in at less than three minutes.

A7A – “Past Present Suture”

One of my favorite pieces of music ever composed is “Octet” by minimalist composer Steve Reich. Combine that with a love of most things drone and ambient (Sorry, Enya, you don’t make the cut), and it’s easy to understand why “Past Present Suture” by A7A, aka Another Seven Astronauts, is right up my alley. The second track on the recently-released “Aptsonatmix,” “PPS” does a wonderful job of blending A7A founder JC Denison’s disparate tastes into one synthesized whole for a track perfect for quiet contemplation.

Lofts – “Just People”

Comprised of two producers — Bird Zoo member TinyForest and Columbus, Ohio, native Paperwolf — Lofts is a hazy afternoon spent at the precipice of sleep. This is no wonder, considering TinyForest’s history of employing some of the creamiest, freshest beats in town. And, yes, I wrote “freshest” with a straight face; while there is precedent for this sort of vibe (see: Clams Casino), it’s still a wonderful breath of fresh air, and a concept that Lofts makes their own. Best exemplifying this is the track “Just People,” which has an easy charm, combining trap music and the most luscious indie around, like an ephemeral sound fog that just envelops everything, inviting and warm.

Plastic Bubble – “Sol Invictus”

The outlier on my list, if only in context to everything else. Plastic Bubble offers the most traditionally rock thing on this list — a colorful and bombastic indie-pop number that lives up to its chorus of “good morning, sunshine.” The second track on their impending release “Big Day Parade,” “Sol Invictus” is a joy to listen to, and a well-crafted pop song. If “Sol Invictus” doesn’t at least make you a little happier after hearing it, you are probably some kind of monster that just doesn’t understand fun. I mean, who doesn’t like a nice gang-vocal chorus with big guitar riffs and even bigger drums? Probably Hitler. Or maybe Dracula. I don’t know.

The Narrative Shadowpact (Self-released)

LEO Weekly

There is a certain early-’90s quality to the production and raps on “The Narrative,” the debut album by Louisville hip-hop duo Shadowpact, and this is a good thing. The beats, courtesy of Artemis the Archer, are a little gritty, with plenty of jazz qualities thrown in for good measure — like a lost Digable Planets or A Tribe Called Quest record. The music skews toward minor key changes and thick bass lines, appropriate accompaniment for the personal rhymes laid down by emcees Modern Marvill and Sleye Kooper. That the two rep nerd culture, with references to “X-Men” and “Star Wars,” alongside raps about serious subjects like relationships and oblique political nods, is a testament to the breadth of the album, which cleverly jumps from subject to subject, remaining fresh throughout.