Biking the Beat
This is a reprint of the Music essay from Issue #59 of Exploits, our collaborative cultural diary in magazine form. Listen to the accompanying playlist! If you like what you see (and hear), buy it now for $2, or subscribe to never miss an issue (note: Exploits is always free for subscribers of Unwinnable Monthly).
When I moved to Brooklyn, my friend Sadie showed me how to bike in the city. Finding a line around cars not checking their mirror before turning, past bike lanes blocked with stacks of boxes being delivered, through the tourists pouring into the claustrophobic bike lanes in Midtown and listening to ska on a wireless speaker clipped to her belt. We listened through We Are the Union’s ska-punk era while I learned the grids, explored north Brooklyn to Bad Operation’s groovy new tone, and sweat in the late summer sun to the swing and pop of Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra’s far-reaching discography.
I don’t think of biking as exercise. I ride to go somewhere, or to feel the wind and the sun on a nice day. Even when I ride with friends upstate or bike the length of the city in an overnight scavenger hunt, it’s because I’m going somewhere, seeing something or someone. In high school I ran for exercise, and I listened to a bizarre mix of drum corps, pop and soundtracks that veered toward orchestral rock. My playlist rarely changed, and that was a crucial part of my pacing. Riding around different neighborhoods at variable times of day in all weather, there’s no perfect playlist I could possibly make to fit each ride. In a city with seasons, inclement weather, and terrible drivers, no ride could possibly look the same – so it shouldn’t sound the same either.
After biking some 2,000 miles in the city last year, my memories of my new home are tied to rides and their soundtracks: the first time I biked up the entirety of the Hudson River greenway and listened to the jazzy beats of 2 Mello’s Summer In Silent Places, biking from the Bronx to Coney Island overnight running on caffeine and the mathy Latin rhythms of Zeta’s Mochima, biking through a foggy Prospect Park feeling the power behind the chorus of clipping’s “Nothing Is Safe.” It’s also the way the gridded sprawl of concrete looks from the saddle at night when I hear the air around me filled with the brutalist synths of Jack de Quidt’s Partizan OST.
I often turn to lyric-less tracks alone and at night, less worried about finding a line and more about finding the flow to bike across the borough in near freezing temps. It’s about ambience and accompaniment. In Love With a Ghost’s chillwave lo-fi beats, or Crystal Cola’s vaporwave, or Andrew Prahlow’s ambient post-rock soundtracks and singles have been my heavy rotation. But my favorite moments are much louder. It’s sunny summer evenings riding with friends, singing all the slurs and curses in the queer folk punk of Spoonboy together and reminiscing over the expletive laden pop punk choruses of The Max Levine Ensemble, bombing hills and chasing sunsets with crushes and watching the late summer sunset from the bike path on the Marine Parkway Bridge as we rode home from Riis.