Artists of the Year

Iraq. SARS. Jay Leno, Still on television practically every night. Yeah, 2003 was about as much fun as a social disease.

"Be careful," he chides Moneymaker as the novice pushes forward a bet. "Be careful."

Farha's poker play is anything but calm. He tosses chips around like the halfwits on Celebrity Poker Showdown. At one point, Farha informs his opponent that winning the top prize will still leave him in the red for the trip.

Whether that statement is true or not--when during this poker marathon has he found the time to gamble?--Farha's profligacy with his chips should not be mistaken for incompetence. Throughout the five days of the tournament he has repeatedly stared down opponents and--based on some flip of the chip or quiver of the nose--decided to bet or fold with remarkable success. Earlier in the evening, Farha humiliated and busted Amir Vahedi, one of the best poker players in the world, over a failed bluff.

Aaron Horkey

I choose to believe that when Farha recklessly pushed all his chips in just after 3:30 a.m. with a measly pair of jacks, he knew exactly what he was doing. The thought of spending any more time watching Moneymaker grunt and flex was too much to stomach for a measly $2.5 million. It was time to play for some real money.

Paul Demko is a staff writer at City Pages.


Nick Olney

His shows run in 20-seat rattraps in San Diego--not garages and pool halls, where they used to run, but weird little "showcase spaces" in mini-malls. ("I'm next to the abortionist!" my artist of the year once trumpeted; his show played next to a Planned Parenthood site.) He gathers a motley crew of kids in their early 20s: cute girls, goggle-eyed geeks, and maybe even a few sparkplug-sized, sideburns-sporting ringers for the artist himself. In the course of a brief show--40 minutes is generally the max--these cheery youths are dressed as unsexy species of forest wildlife; they speak in long chunks of untranslated foreign dialogue, they crash around the stage to large, thunderstormlike pieces of music ("Magic Moments," say, or Prokofiev's dance of death from Romeo and Juliet), and they foam at the mouth like Italian movie zombies. (This spew is the artist's signature--as much a trademark as Scorsese's red-lit bars or Tarantino's foot-fetish shots.) The work is unstintingly idealess and juvenile, derivative of heaps of trash culture and altogether suggestive of a developmentally disabled child who has eaten one too many bowls of Count Chocula. It is also, I must hasten to add, the first work I have seen by a theater artist younger than myself that makes me feel stale, old, and useless.

Nick Olney, still in his early 20s, is as original in his way as Stuart Sherman, Richard Foreman, or Charles Ludlam. The writer-director-composer-costumer-sound designer of all his shows (he's also intimately connected to the rituals of the box office), Olney has devised a new, abstract language of theater that creates a goofy kind of aesthetic hostility through extreme infantilism. "No swearwords!" is the one sacred dictum of the Olney oeuvre; HR Puf'n'stuf ripoffs, garbage-can frog people, and sub-South Park synthesizer sing-alongs are the order of the day. Olney's shows are rough-hewn, to be sure, but they can be euphoric in the manner of the Wooster Group: aggregates of puerile energy coalescing and then surging.

Note to Minneapolis theater producers (especially the Children's Theatre's Elissa Adams!): Avoid Nick Olney at your peril! Embrace him now, while he's still a relatively benign cult figure, or watch his influence crash over your heads like a tidal wave.

Matthew Wilder is a Los Angeles-based writer and director and a frequent contributor to City Pages.


Lenky Marsden

Dancehall ragga is made the way wedding cakes would be if each layer was frosted by a different chef. The producer concocts a "rhythm"--a typically unadorned backing track--atop which various singers and toasters add their vocals. Named for an annual Hindu festival of lights, Diwali is a rhythm produced by Lenky Marsden that emerged in mid-2002 and soon became the subject of Greensleeves Rhythm Album #27, the best and most popular of the long-running series of recent Jamaican hits. Rhythms are not, nor should they be, rocket science, and Diwali is simplicity itself: a hollow, boinging, irregular kick drum adorned with sideways-shuffling double-time handclaps, a sweetly keening, Middle Eastern flute motif, and a sampled "woo!" every couple of bars. Usually rhythms run their course and are resuscitated later, like Sleng Teng, which dates from 1985 and undergoes periodic revival. But Diwali just kept going this year--underpinning Sean Paul's "Get Busy" and Wayne Wonder's "No Letting Go," respectively peaking at No. 1 and 11 on the Billboard pop charts.

Even in a pop and semi-pop landscape ruled by Timbaland, Dr. Dre, the Neptunes, and Kanye West, that's some achievement. Like Missy Elliott and Timbaland's "Get Ur Freak On" and "Work It," the roost-ruling beats of 2001 and 2002, Diwali passed into elder status almost as quickly as it appeared, showing its stamp on a number of rhythms that have followed, from Marsden's own Masterpiece and Time Travel to King Jammy and Andre "Suku" Grey's fierce, tabla-heavy Sign. (You can also hear its stamp on R&B hits from Lumidee's "Never Leave You" to Missy's "Pass That Dutch.") In 2003, only 50 Cent's "In Da Club" was as pervasive a rhythmic meme.

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