On January 2, the indie music blog Brooklyn Vegan posted a set of photos from a December 30 show that Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings had played at Brooklyn Bowl. Based in New York, they're at the forefront of a widespread vintage-soul revival that also includes the Budos Band, Mayer Hawthorne, Eli "Paperboy" Reed, Kings Go Forth, and Nicole Willis—and of all the artists involved, only Amy Winehouse, whom the Dap-Kings have backed in the studio and on the road, is better known.
Jones, a short, voluptuous, middle-aged black woman, appeared in most of the pics. She wore a tight red dress, and in quite a few shots she'd pulled audience members up onstage with her. In one she was dancing with a smiling young white guy in horn-rimmed glasses; in another she was dancing with a smiling young white woman with a fauxhawk.
It's a pretty typical scene at a Dap-Kings show, but apparently some people have a problem with it.
The first comment on the post reads, "wish she would bitch-slap those hipsters back to the midwest . . . "
The second comment: "Right now, I am so ashamed to be white."
"You know, I read that and it disturbed me," Jones says. "I read it and I didn't want to make a comment, but since you asked, it hurts me to hear. Most of them were about race, not how good it was, not how great this show was—it was about race. That was disgusting."
As Jones and her band close in on mainstream success, the demographic that helped get them there seems pretty divided about the process.
Jones, 54, a former wedding singer and Rikers Island corrections officer, doesn't have much use for the term "hipster." Sidestepping the word's connotations, she calls that demographic "college students."
"I started up with the college students with the Web sites, and they were calling it 'underground' and saying my audience is mostly white college students," she says. "I don't pay attention to it."
"So what's that term mean to you?" I ask.
"Oh, you know, I guess like in The Jeffersons, when the white guy came downstairs in bell-bottoms or something and somebody said he was a hipster," Jones says, laughing. "You know, like a nerd trying to be cool."
Dap-Kings bassist and mastermind Gabriel "Bosco Mann" Roth, 35, who's white and Jewish, doesn't find the word "hipster" so amusing. He cries foul before I even finish asking my question.
"That's bullshit, man. I don't cater to any hipster market," he says.
Roth is an award-winning, Ampex-loving audiophile and engineer (he shared a Grammy for his work on Winehouse's "Rehab") and a cofounder of Brooklyn-based Daptone Records, for which the Dap-Kings are the house band. Among the retro soul gems in the Daptone catalog are all four of their albums with Jones, including I Learned the Hard Way, released last month. Roth says the label is in the business of making music "that sounds good, feels good, speaks to that thing that makes us human."
Roth may not cater to a hipster market, but the Dap-Kings are on the roster of Motormouthmedia, which calls itself a "boutique PR firm specializing in cutting-edge music and pop-culture accounts" and also represents Yeasayer, Bon Iver, Dirty Projectors, and Animal Collective, among others. This goes a long way toward explaining how an Apollo Theater-authentic soul band whose records would make fine Father's Day gifts has gotten so much coverage on the indie blog circuit.
Joe Tangari, a soul aficionado and senior contributor at Pitchfork Media—one of the blogs in question—has another theory. "Let's turn the clock back and imagine them and where they'd be playing 40 years ago," he says. "If the band formed in 1965, they might be touring on the chitlin circuit. Motown was just about to break that door down, and now there is no chitlin circuit and they have to play the same venues all these indie-rock bands have to play. If they play a show at Pianos in Brooklyn or Schubas in Chicago, they might find themselves on the bill with indie-rock bands by default, so it's kind of inevitable that they would ultimately be exposed to an indie-rock audience."