Listening Post

BERRY MEDITATION: Although musically the underground political-punk scene and the lesbian-associated "women's music" community couldn't be more different, their social workings are pretty similar. Each buzzes under the radar of the music press, each has a substantial streak of social activism, and each barely knows that the other exists. From the intersection of the two springs Blueberry.

This local girl-with-a-guitar is currently working on her second CD for her own Girlcorn Records (P.O. Box 63305, St. Louis, MO 63163). The first, Heart Stops, is filled with the kind of angular, melodic-but-not-poppy hard folk that Ani DiFranco brought to the masses. But DiFranco's loping demi-funk style is absent here, replaced by a conciseness that reveals Blueberry's punk roots. Her lyrics make a mockery of the old love-song/protest-song polarity; to her, all passions are serious and important. If the live versions of the new songs are any indication, the new disc will be even sharper.

By the way, Blueberry is her real first name, although a third-grade substitute teacher didn't think so and sent her to the office for it. Maybe it's that kind of experience that gives her such audacity, which anybody who has seen her live shows can testify to. She may be playing basements and coffeehouses, but her intensity and wit are big enough to fill an arena.

Blueberry's also working on some stuff with a band, and, indeed, she first learned her craft in a punk band in her hometown of Springfield, Ill. When that dissolved, she discovered that she could put across her bitterly clever songs just as easily by herself. "It's a whole different energy when you perform (solo), and I love it," she says. "I'm still learning, of course, but I'm excited to make mistakes." (JT)

HIP-HOP FROM THE TOP: It took a while for the do-it-yourself spirit of indie rock to infiltrate the hip-hop world. The genre has, especially recently, been dominated by larger-than-life personalities who need a costly image-making media machine to do their frontin'. Now, with literally hundreds of DJs and MCs seemingly fed up with the state of big-time hip-hop, an entire culture of indie hip-hop is starting to emerge. Technology is permitting artists to make their own records at low cost and allowing them to distribute their wares through nontraditional means. The hip-hop fan no longer has to be satisfied with the mainstream offerings at the local record store but can surf the Internet straight into the previously obscure world of underground hip-hop. This often-impenetrable realm has been buried so deep that getting even a whiff of all that is out there was, until now, nearly impossible. Even if you did have your finger on the pulse of this burgeoning scene, most underground mix tapes and records were only available at shows or big-city record stores, if at all. Not anymore.

"We're struggling to keep up with demand," says Ed Wong, president of Sandbox Automatic (www.sandboxautomatic.com), a Web-based record store specializing in bringing underground hip-hop into the daylight. "And it's all been from word of mouth."

Sandbox Automatic began in 1995 as a source of information on the NYC hip-hop scene, but in 1997 it began to sell records over the Internet. Last year, the company moved a half-million dollars of merchandise but is expected to do between 50 and 75 percent more business this year. According to Wong, Sandbox now does about 1 percent of the sales for a major album like Black Star and between 15 and 20 percent for more obscure artists.

If you're after 12-inch singles, vinyl LPs, CDs or mix tapes, Sandbox has it all. Their catalog has everything from well-known hip-hop labels such as Rawkus, Tommy Boy and Hip Hop Slam to obscure CDs by artists such as Eligh, the Grouch and Abstract Tribe Unique. Some of these undiscovered artists' CDs look as if they had been made at home; the sound, on the other hand, is fresh, hard-hitting and thumping. For lesser-known acts -- and, believe me, a quick scan of the Sandbox catalog will give you an idea of just how many there are -- Sandbox provides reliable and cheap distribution, and saves the artists the hassle of having to keep track of orders themselves.

The look of the Web site is bare-bones, but don't let the simplicity fool you. The staggering diversity of titles reads like a who's who of underground hip-hop. Many of the listings have "abstracts" that, in addition to listing the album's tracks, give a brief description of the music. If you want more information onSandbox-affiliated artists and labels, there are extensive links to individual artists' and labels' Web sites.

One word of warning for hip-hop fans who steer their browsers in Sandbox's direction: Be ready to drop some cash. (MH)

ATTN: INTELLECTUALS: Joe Toohey is a man obsessed ... with prog rock. You know, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes and, in his not-so-humble opinion, the king of them all, Triumvirat. And this weekend he's creating his own field of dreams: He's bringing in some of his favorite progressive-rock musicians -- Barry Palmer, Par Lindh and Alaska -- to perform on two nights: Saturday, June 5, at the Centenary Church (replete with full use of its pipe organ) and Monday, June 7, at Off Broadway. "I dreamed this up about a year ago," says Toohey, "and the odds were totally against it ever happening. I just believed in it, and it all eventually, slowly worked out."

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