A Closer Look: FBK

You know the drill. FBK ran down his track that started it all and gave us a hot mix to get at.  He must still be in the Holiday spirit, because now he is dropping an exclusive track for Local Autonomy for free for all of us.

FBK “Face Defeat”

Now that we got that hot new track we get to delve deep into the stories and insights of a man who has been DJ’in in Columbus since 1988. He is uniquely positioned to help us understand the ebs and flows of our scene historically and point out new ways of thinking about DJ’in, production, and our future as a scene.

Interview:

LA: Few people in our community know who you are FBK, despite the fact that you have been spinnin’ here since 1988. Hell, I had to go find you on the internet to get a hold of you. For those people who don’t know you, Who are you FBK?

FBK: My ‘real name’ is Kevin Kennedy, I have been known as Powerhouse, the Sleep Engineer, and “that fat guy,” “hey you…” and also “oh god…him again…” which to many I’m still known by that last one 😉

LA: How did you get into EDM music and our scene?

FBK: Good question…first off I prefer the term “Dance Music.”  EDM seems to be an ‘industry’ term used to categorize music that isn’t rock n’ roll…popular dance music is considered EDM.  I got into Dance Music by being a child of the 70s and hearing disco (as my mother was a clubgoer at times)…and by hearing all of the music coming out in the 1980s…like Cybotron’s Clear, Herbie Hancock’s Rockit…and all of the hip hop coming out of New York…and also getting mixtapes from Chicago’s WBMX in the mid-late 80s…

LA: You have been DJ’ing in Columbus and around the country since 1988. What is it about the music and spinning that keeps you coming back? What does the act of DJ’in mean to you? How does it make you feel?

FBK: I guess it’s that aspect of performing that has kept me playing records for all this time…I love to perform!  There is an exhilaration and a release that can only be understood by stage performers that may be one of the most addictive substances known to man…The act of Djing for me is like being a drummer-everyone in the audience is dancing to whatever beat you’re putting out…the sense of controlling a crowd, moving people, and creating FEELING-which seems to be lost on many these days-is a form of joy and power that I cannot really describe in words.  Cathartic maybe?

LA: How did you get your start DJ’in?

FBK: I started in the late 80s…collecting records, playing sounds I liked on my home turntable…and then learning how to creatively make collages with cassettes…I then moved on to learning about the art of Djing while watching guys breakdance at the Salesian Boys Club downtown in Columbus.  I got to learn a little bit…began watching a bunch of DMC competition videos…flash forward to 1990, I began to work with my longtime friend Eric Weaver, who had turntables in his basement…I started learning more and more, Kennon Hughes (the incredible Mean Skeme) also played a GIANT role in my development as a DJ-I wanted to be a hip-hop DJ (or a DMC champion)…but that never happened…

LA: Do you remember the first set you ever spun? What was it like?

FBK: Honestly?  I don’t.  I remember the first time I played records at a house party…it was an ele mental crew New Years Eve gig…I played experimental electronic music at the time…not really wanting to play dance stuff (artistic academic bullshitter that I was;)…I remember Mark Gunderson playing after me…and I remember he told me “great stuff…love the sounds…”  I was stoked…and that may have been my downfall!  (laughs)

La: When did you start working on the production end? How did you start building tracks?

FBK: My first production studio was actually a failed attempt at a hip-hop recording facility.  I had all the wrong equipment to make hip-hop at the time-no sampler, no drum machine…okay I had an alesis sr-16 (this is 1994 we’re talking about)…I had very little and no earthly idea what I was doing…so I just made sounds and sounds and sounds…recording things to a tube reel-to-reel (which I had rebuilt while in High School).  I was working in my studio 8 hours a day, 16 hours a day when I wasn’t working…and I made a track or two each day.  I pushed myself the same way I was pushed while in Poets Of Heresy (the hip-hop group I was a part of from 90-96)…and then started meeting people like DAC Crowell, Paul Johnson…and Detroit’s Anthony Shakir(aka Shake) and Dan Bell (aka DBX).  They took either interest or pity in a kid who was all enthusiasm…and showed me the ropes…

LA: You have been putting out tracks at a prolific rate. What is it about producing that you love? How do you keep innovating and pumping out new tracks?

FBK: I record because it’s my escape.  I work because sitting on my hands leads to other problems, like doing nothing and being passed by…or not being ready when someone asks me for a demo…I love to make music to play in my own sets…and making music that sounds great on a loud soundsystem that NO OTHER DJ HAS IN THEIR COLLECTION makes me stand out from the pack a little.  If I was to share every other track I create…well, I think I’d need more space on the web..and people would think I don’t have a real job-which by the way…I do:)

LA: You obviously love Techno music, as it is the genre you have been so immersed in for so long. What is is about techno you love so much?

FBK: I love techno because it is the most broad genre of them all.  House can be techno…minimalistic funk is considered techno…I have no clue what the hell I’m making but people call it techno.  I like to call my music HYPNOTICA…for its looping, hypnosis-inducing power.  I’ve really given up on genrefication…mainly because it pigeon-holes a musician or a group…kind of like what the first settlers did to the Native Americans when they came to this land-put everyone in a box, take away the individuality and attempt to paint a picture with one broad stroke.  But in dance music, genre is sometimes important-except when you are trying to attract a crowd.   I have said and proven several times that if you never tell anyone what they are going to hear…they start dancing and then ask “what is this? Where can I get more???”

LA: Who are your biggest artistic influences?

FBK: Let’s see:  Andreas Segovia, Ludwig Von Beethoven, John Adams, Kraftwerk, Neu!, Can, Terry Riley, Phillip Glass, DJ Premier, Akufen, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Miles Davis…The Buzzcocks, Sonic Youth, Claude Young, Etta James, Billie Holliday, The Bar-Kays, Bad Brains, Howlin’ Wolf, Led Zepplin, Motorhead, Slayer…anything that I have listened to that’s been polarizing, powerful, or just interesting…has probably influenced my work more than I’ll ever know….

LA: You spoke to me about how important other genres of EDM and other styles of music are to your creative process DJ’in and producing. What do all these different styles of music do for you creatively?

FBK: Having a classical background gave me a language to speak…most good dance music deals with first order counterpoint.  Styles of music that people don’t hear by devoting full attention to dance music gives a lesser frame of reference in my opinion…just because you grew up listening to bluegrass, as an example…doesn’t make you an expert on country, does it?  Learning to appreciate all that is available to you that isn’t garbage, mass-produced pop music gives one a perspective and honestly-something to compare emotions to, compare feelings…and maybe contrast or find similar ideas in divergent forms of music.

LA: You just started a record label Absoloop. What has that been like? Are there challenges you didn’t forsee?

FBK: I am now probably more busy than I have ever been…and I have some clue as to what the heck is going on…but I cannot even look at it!  The challenges I seem to face now, are how to NOT be a spammer, yet get the word out…my good friend Daleford Chad has assisted in this manner…

LA: You have gotten a lot of positive feedback from European labels and artists. What has it been like for people across the pond like Marcel Dettmann to hold you down?

FBK: Hold me down?  I think they’re holding me up;)  I’m really overwhelmed with the attention to be honest.  In my day-to-day life, I can look at some of my accomplishments, conversations, and experiences I’ve had JUST IN THE LAST YEAR and really smile..I’m really blessed.  I’ve been working on my sound and my music (as well as my personal self) for 18+ years now…and it’s humbling to be noticed.  Talking to Marcel, emailing him back and forth, and realizing that there are many who wished they could have 5 minutes of his time or get him to listen to just ONE of their tracks-Marcel’s playing some of mine, and then telling me that Ben Klock’s asking him what it is?  Are you kidding me?  That is wonderful!  I thank Paul Mac and Arne Weinberg for giving me a platform when nobody else would at the time…and Anthony Shakir who really started my worldwide exposure.

LA: You have been collaborating with Plural on a new project called The Fallen. What has it been like to collaborate with someone you have known for over 15 years?

FBK: Funny story and fact:  James and I played several events together, knew each others work quite well, but probably said 7 words to each other throughout the 90s.  We talked about this after a session once, and we agreed that it was probably because we saw the other as a ‘rival’…both of us were gunslinger-types…the kind of guys that would play on the undercard of a party-and try to upstage the main act…just to get proper’s from the performers we respected….hell it worked!  James and I both got the attention of people like Shake, Claude Young, Dan Bell, Alan Oldham, Cari Lekebusch and many, many others.  What has it been like to work with him?  Dangerous!  James and I probably work better together than any one person I can mention-it reminds me of all the work that I did with one of my very first mentors, DAC Crowell of the Aerodyne Works (who really gave me some of the best lessons in audio engineering and sound design I’ve ever had).  There will be at some point a live show…where there will be very little preplanning…and about 7 words or less spoken during the entire set…we don’t talk once the music starts…we just get it right and then record it live…it’s powerful.

LA: You are uniquely situated to help us understand how the Columbus EDM community has changed over time. How has our community changed from when you got involved to today?

FBK: When I began to become a clubgoer in 1991-92, I was way young…was already semi-well known on OSU’s campus for my role in Poets of Heresy, and was interested in learning about EVERYTHING.  I learned from people like Charles Noel (Cro2, Archetyp), who was playing in a seminal Columbus group called Body Release.  He and I had met through a mutual friend, and our bands played some shows together…I got into this music for the music itself….hearing things like the ‘days of our lives’ remixes on Reinforced, Enforcers, and even hearing Gabber played.  Most of the people in the scene were not only friendly, but information was passed along and shared with those just learning.  Kids weren’t shooed away-they were encouraged to join in.  During the 90s, there was a period of great excitement-Rock bands were being signed to major labels and getting national exposure, there was a big hip-hop scene, and during that time, I was really involved with all of these scenes in one way or another…either as participant or observer.  I was getting a first-hand education by people who loved the music more than anything else…and then…

    That education process stopped when many of my contemporaries either graduated from college, left the city or got a family and a ‘real life.’  The people that were left in the scene at the time were the younger kids, who didn’t get the message to pass on the history and customs, and the drug dealers (who had the money and the connections to throw events) were left to tell the stories to the uninitiated.  The reality is (and this is my opinion having been there) that the generation that I came up in basically gave it up for dead-and the drug dealers just marketed to these newbies like they were selling them Pepsi or Adidas sneakers-The dealers were taking the risk using their money to throw parties, so they’d book who they wanted, and their friends who were djs.  And if you were on the outside of that game…you had a hard road to get in, if you could at all.  There was a shift that happened, people stopped going to parties to dance and enjoy the music.  Not saying there were no drugs and dealers early on, mind you…but you could say it was maybe 80/20 favoring the music.  The shift happened when Raves started getting busted, when Columbus police (who we used to have as security at our parties, mainly for noise complaints) were no longer allowed to work events, and when many of the south campus bars disappeared (Mean Mr. Mustards, Maxwell’s, The Pit) so that the South Campus Gateway could be built.

At one time, the promoter and the drug dealer were two separate entities.  When money became an issue, and the promoters wanted to bring bigger acts to town, the drug dealers had the money and sometimes would help-since they were around the scene-for them it was an investment…then the drug dealers realized that they didn’t need the promoters to launder their money.  The dealers begin to throw parties by themselves-with the assistance of some of their friends…who were also into the drugs but kinda liked the music.  So now, you had a situation where the drugs became more important than the talent.  You could throw a huge party with a local line-up and make money…the music wasn’t the product they were most interested in selling the people though.  This type of merger/takeover changed the dynamic and the look of parties and shows…artists who were playing all over the world were tired of being jerked by the shady promoters, so it became harder to do anything right…people who loved the music still couldn’t make their money back on shows for various reasons…sometimes because the other in-town promoters were throwing rival parties…it became less community and more cacophony.  The spirit of Peace Love Unity and Rave (PLUR) got destroyed by Cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy.  I moved in 1998, while running a successful weekly at Maxwell’s, moved to Charlotte, North Carolina and gave my night to Jason Lyman (which I believe was his first residency in Columbus). 

     The people who couldn’t get in the game who were watching all this whole time, learned part of the game from the dealers-and whether they did drugs or not, inherited that same sketchy vibe that permeated the late 90s-early 00s scene in Columbus (and elsewhere as well) is in existence today.  Some may not like my view of it, but look at any party or club night from the last 6 years here, and tell me how many names you see once, and how many names you see on nearly every event?  Are those the only people in this town who play music?  No…but they hustle.  No disrespect…but part of the hustle is to keep the hustle going…and inviting new players into a game you’re running can ruin that level of control.

LA: How is it that you have such little visibility in our scene today? Where has the techno music gone in our scene?

FBK: First of all, I work nearly 60 hours a week.  My free time is quite limited, and I don’t have set hours.  I have a lovely home life, a woman who I love dearly, and I have music to make.  I have a label to promote.  When I stopped getting invited to play, I had to do something for myself-so I record and send music out to the rest of the world.  The promoters in town know who I am, at least I think they do, since many saw me playing in the 90s when we began to build this scene together.  Where has the techno gone?  It’s gone to other styles of music.  Some have said that it cannot be done, that like Eminem said: “nobody listens to techno…”  He’s right-nobody listens to it…they DANCE TO IT!!!!  However, when you tell someone “you’re going to hear TECHNO…” it begins a connotation of what that means-techno is bad, house is good, black hat, white hat…good versus evil?  It’s all in marketing.  The easiest way to get someone to listen to new music, or good music, or realize that they should go to an event is by simply expressing that it will be a FUN NIGHT OUT, not telling someone it’s going to be a techno show, a dubstep show or what have you.  You can write a bio and description of what I do and never mention my ‘style of music’ except to maybe say ‘easily danceable, hypnotic, funk-laden bass heavy grooves.’  Allow people to have prejudice, and they will.  Bank on your reputation of bringing great events, and book great Djs…and let them decide whether or not it’s a good time (once they’re in the door:)…less sideshow bob and more P.T. Barnum!  I am however VERY glad that there is still a scene for dance music, and that it has not been erased through time….it’s wonderful that there are young people that still find something in this music I/we love-the future isn’t me-the future is the people who love the music getting others involved for the sake of the music itself!

LA: What would you deem the ideal future for the Columbus EDM community? What role do you wanna play in bringing about that future?

FBK: The ideal future?  I see it in a re-emerging scene like Pittsburgh.  Aaron Clark and VIA are doing some great promotion and throwing great parties that are well-attended, and a blast to be at.  What has been done there is to get the people who have international recognition (Shawn Rudiman for one) to get involved, and bring people in who know Shawn (like my good friend Claude Young, who currently lives in Japan) to play together.  You get three things- a great show,  a bit of respect for your hometown people who do it RIGHT, and top-flight international talent in your backyard.  Ideally, Columbus can do this again-there’s enough attention on Djs here in town and enough great talent here that we can get back to what made this scene so respected in the 90s…because seriously, Pittsburgh’s current situation is rinsing Columbus’-and I want to see that change!  There are a few of us who were not playing locally and just working on sending out our music overseas, creating new friendships and relationships with labels, performing elsewhere…yet staying here in the city for our own reasons.  Respect to those who keep the scene in Columbus going-those people are necessary-I just want to let the city know that indeed there are people who live in town who are known worldwide…and would love to play here…and bring our friends that we’ve met along the way:)

LA: In our discussion, you proposed to me the importance of community, but also healthy competitiveness for the artistic expansion of our scene. what role do you think a healthy amount of competitiveness could play in the future development of our scene?

FBK: Yet another reason to bring in talent from elsewhere.  When I came up, you had to fight to get heard-we used to say ‘sets are short…play hard.’  Everyone was a dj at that time-and all of us were in competition to be on the next lineup, the next club night…the next resident at a bar on south campus…only so that we could have a bigger stake in our own future…or even just a steady gig to play to supplement our record buying habit (me).  Community is important-you get to know who is who and build a social base…but competition makes hungry Djs continue to develop, and young Djs pay a price for not being skilled enough to play out yet.  We have accepted ‘good enough’ for far too long that ‘good enough’ means you have some equipment and the right connectors for the house system.  Everyone now seems to be content with being tied for third in a race.  Djing is a marathon, not a sprint-and yes, in a marathon there’s a lead pack usually, where the leaders trade off from time to time to save energy.  When the final mile comes?  It’s every man or woman for themselves-an out-and-out battle.  None of these guys will try to upstage each other-it’s not in their makeup anymore…it’s like playing out is good enough.  You bring in someone from elsewhere and let them raise the bar for the crowd-and then you, the local DJ, try to either raise it further or at least rise close to it.  Competition is the first casualty of our ‘safer society.’  Children need to know that there are winners and losers, just like in life.  Losing doesn’t make you a bad person or less worthy to be alive-learn from it, and find a way to become a winner.  Ancients like myself believe in this.  Fair is something you go to in the summertime.  A challenge is everyday life.  Survival is real.  Failure is an option-but if you never try to be more than what you are, you’ve failed yourself…and as a performer?  You fail the audience.  This scene was built on people who were REACHING-trying to do something that couldn’t be done or had not been done before.  Now, the only people who take risks are those who have drive.

LA: You also talked to me about the importance of education and the role of the older generation teaching the new generation history and technique. What are some ways that you think we could facilitate this education today?

FBK: Education has really been taken out of the hands of the DJ and the producer…and in many ways, the promoter has taken it out of their own hands by letting their audience tell them what is cool.  Cool is merely a disease…not something you buy, or something you listen to.  The internet, Digital Download sites, and mass marketing tend to educate the new generation, as they are the first to really not have magazines and physical media like we grew up with.  The best way to educate the ‘newbies’ may be to give them what they think they want…and surprise them with something that isn’t what they ‘know’ but something that they can feel, hear, interact with-stop letting them know what’s coming…and give them what they SHOULD hear.  The role of the dj is not to be a jukebox, it’s (in my opinion) to be an arbiter of taste.  Don’t tell-SHOW people what they should listen to, what they should like…maybe that helps, maybe that polarizes…however, it gives a response that’s deeper than “me too.”

LA: Why is this education important to you?

FBK: It’s importance is in the fact that all of us behind the decks and behind the scenes have a responsibility to make the scene stronger.  You can do that by giving energy to people-by going from just merely good to GREAT.

LA: You said Music has been a part of your life since you were 7 years old. What role has music played in your life?

FBK: Music is the only woman that has never left me.  It’s the only thing in my life that has been pure, that has loved me with no strings and no regrets.  It’s my lifeblood.  It is the only thing that I have in my life that isn’t a person that is always real to me.  I have devoted a life to music, and it has rewarded me by allowing me to put my thoughts in a language few understand.  Music has been the one thing besides my faith in God that has stood by me in the darkest hours of my life…from homelessness to depression, to loss, to fears, hopes, desires.  How could I turn away from something like that?

LA: what impact has the switch from vinyl to computers had on DJ’in, Production, and how music is listened to today?

FK: This is a loaded question, and I will answer carefully:  Computers are some of the most wonderful things ever to be created by man on this earth.  It allows me to talk to my business partner, Daleford Chad, who is in the UK (who has seen me play in the US, yet I’ve never met him)…has it made it easier?  Absolutely.  Everything comes at a price and has a tradeoff.  The nice thing is that you don’t have to carry around 3 crates of vinyl now to play a 2 hour set.  You don’t have to carry much at all anymore.  It has allowed people who were never shown the dark art of playing a record-and didn’t grow up with records in their home a chance to be a DJ.  It’s easier to be a dj in some respects than to be a guitarist-you need other people to form a band…all you need is music and a way to mix it to be a dj now.  Does it take ‘artistry’ out of it?  Sure…maybe.  But artistry and the ability to rock a party don’t come from the delivery medium (either physical or virtual)-Showmanship, crowd controlling, and skill come from the performers themselves.  I have played on nearly every style or type of setup you can imagine, and some you’ll never see again. I was one of the first people (according to Fanon Flowers and a few others) to use a computer for sequencing in my live shows, I was an early adopter of Final Scratch (one of the original digital vinyl systems and precursor to Serato) and Traktor, and I used it so that I could play my own recordings.  I love my vinyl, but I love playing my own music more…so I play how best I can deliver it to a crowd-whatever I use, I am going to rock the place…and leave a lasting impression.  Why even leave the house if you don’t feel that way?

 In closing, I want to deliver a message to the scene-THE SCENE IS ONLY AS STRONG AS THE WEAKEST PERSON YOU ALLOW TO KNOW NOTHING.  The participants (Djs, party-goers, promoters, club owners) are only as powerful as we allow.  To those who keep this scene running-Thank you!  To those who want more-DEMAND IT. It’s your right-nobody should be allowed to dictate where you spend your time and your money…if you want more, and it is provided-please support it!  That’s how this scene moves forward!

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