Professor Murder: Transit Steez
"There's a certain sound or aesthetic that people associate with being a 'New York band,'" notes Mike Bell-Smith, lead vocalist and percussionist for five-borough denizens Professor Murder. "We don't necessarily fit into that whole Velvet Underground/Ramones/Strokes lineage, but what we're doing is a product of living in New York. [It's] the whole idea of seeing a million people everyday in this crazy place and walking through neighborhoods with a million types of people, and how that affects your psyche."
Bell-Smith's assertions are reinforced by the band's cheeky publicity photos, which find the four members clad in "I [Heart] NY" t-shirts. The cover art to their debut EP, Professor Murder Rides the Subway (Kanine), is a cartoonish (yet dead-on) caricature of a crowded subway car occupied by hipsters, hobos, and a Hasid.
But what's most "New York" about P-Murder–who take their name from a skit on the late-'90s comedy show, Mr. Show–is how the band effortlessly incorporates the hip-hop- and dancehall-dominated sound of the NYC streets into their punk rock aesthetic, much in the way Gang of Four, PiL, and The Clash freaked funk and dub 25 years ago. While other so-called "post-punk" acts are still squeezing the last juices out of Entertainment!, Second Edition, and Sandinista!, Rides The Subway finds Bell-Smith chanting "Rah! Rah!" ("Champion") and referencing rapper Cam'ron's obsession with color ("Cam'ron's New Color Pt. 3"), while he and his instrument-switching bandmates accentuate their percussive, bass-heavy sound with timbales, cowbells, melodicas, and blaring air horns. The group has also been known to drop instruments altogether–under the name King Oppression, they rock house parties by performing acapellas of their songs over dancehall riddims like Coolie Dance and hip-hop instrumentals like that of Lil' Kim's "Lighters Up."
While the CD release of Rides The Subway this summer has given P-Murder (as the group members refer to themselves) "it band" status, their non-careerist approach to their future is refreshing. The group will soon release an extended version of their EP on vinyl–featuring reinterpretations of their work by a diverse group of remixers including Tigerbeat 6's Stars As Eyes, ragga jungle producer Murderbot, hip-hop DJs Caps and Jones, and fellow Kanine Records act Mixel Pixel–but they don't have a full-length LP or even a national tour in the works at the moment.
"If you go to a job everyday, you have to do things you might not want to do, or present yourself in a certain way," says Jesse Cohen, the group's keyboard- and electronic-drum manipulator. "Music is one part of our lives where we really want to feel like we're honest, and do the things we want because we can, and it's ours. None of us [is] super-hungry; now that we have a little press, we [don't] feel we have to push it to the next level because that's 'what you have to do.'"