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Sam Harmon, aka glacial23, is a electronic music producer, instrument builder, noise explorer, record label head honcho, etc. from that sprawling settlement on the southern reaches of Lake Erie, Cleveland. I have not delved much into the people and sounds coming from this city, but I have been continually impressed by the quality of the events and forward-thinking folks that are up there. Whether it is the spiritual melodicism of Forest Management, the open format deconstructionism of TEXTBEAK, my favorite record store Experimedia (run by the amazing sound artist Jeremy Bible), or the 500 other amazing folks and venues up there (That radio station up at Oberlin seems to just churn out amazing events). Like his contemporaries, Harmon has pushed his own singular music vision and has explored the beats, sounds, and musical ideas that interest him most by splicing together elements of noise, house, techno into his productions. However, he is more than just a musician. He also runs a label called Glacial Communications releasing his own and other artists work digitally and in limited run special format releases that would interest any collector of hand made physical releases.

Acetic

I have been following the work of glacial23, ever since his amazing release Acetic in March of last year (Which is available for free for a limited time right now on his Glacial Communications Bandcamp). On that release, he deployed a menagerie of drum machines, synths, and other hardware to explore the sounds of acid. Yet, these experiments weren’t necessarily your run of the mill “acid trax”. His tracks on Acetic took you down the dark, claustrophobic hallways of our existence with the sort of menacing sounds you would envision accompanying a film rendition of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.” The type of sounds that bring to life the sonic environment of the labyrinths that we all navigate in our complex, bureaucratic societies where we are at the whim of authorities and rules we vaguely know and never consented to. I feel this is perfectly captured in “The End Track” where you seem to be penned in on all sides by the methodical machinations of the drum machine and synth, as it chugs on and on creating a whole world before your ears.

Prior to listen to this release, I had only really connected elements of the acid sound with the club tracks of the 1990s acid house. On Acetic, glacial23 still retained some of the dance floor sensibility, but also brought in his penchant for damaged/deconstructed techno/experimental music. I guess thats what drew me to his sound, as he finds much creative fodder by playing sets of formulaic “genre” rules up against one another. Though not as abrasive in his embracing of deconstruction as say Pete Swanson’s recent work, glacial23 brings in just amount of the “damaged” sound and the dance sensibility to bring us to a new place with these sort of acid sounds. This is directly evident in his track “Sense” from the 9/09 EP where he utilizes these sort of crystalline sounds that  jut up against and fight for attention with the infectious acid melody he plays over the top of the track:

His two most recent releases, a compilation of noise-influence techno “Four on the Noise Floor” and “Chute”, explore similar territory and showcase the work of contemporaries up in Cleveland that orbit in similar musical territory. Such work highlights not only Harmon’s approach, but the vibrant creators he is surrounded by in Cleveland.

glacial23 was nice enough to answer some questions for me in advance of his performance at Frequency Friday this Friday, May 3 at Wild Goose Creative. He will be performing alongside Yanktronics, Jazz improv group Brett Burleson/Ryan Jewell/Aaron Quinn, and Sam Hoar. Should be a burner. Event details can be found by clicking HERE.

Interview:

Local Autonomy: What does music and sound more broadly mean to the way you live and experience life?

glacial23: It’s pretty important. I’ve probably been fascinated by sound as long as I can remember, and interested in finding ways to reproduce what I hear, whether exactly through sampling, or in some kind of approximative way through synthesis.

set upLA: How did you get into making music and building your own instruments? Did one come before the other?

g: In school I played trumpet and euphonium from 5th-9th grade. By the time I got to college in 1993 I had a definite interest in electronic music, and had a friend in my freshman dorm who had a “real” synthesizer (a DX7) and drum machine he let me borrow for a little while. By the summer of 1995 I had started acquiring my first couple of pieces of gear- a Yamaha DX27, Realistic MG-1 (the so-called “Radio Shack Moog”, which I still own), and a Roland TR505 drum machine.

Building instruments happened a little later and followed a convoluted path- I tried building a little mixer in high school, but really had no idea what I was doing at the time and it didn’t work. After I had taken a real circuits class I decided I’d try my hand at putting some kits together. The first was a little bass drum synth called the ADV-Bass in 1998. By some miracle it worked correctly on the first try, so I got cocky and bought a couple more – a snare drum synth and a MIDI-CV converter. The snare synth never worked very well, and the MIDI-CV converter didn’t work at all (I finally fixed that a couple of years ago!). Frustrated by these second attempts, I put DIY gear on the backburner except for some very small projects (modding a morse code practice oscillator into a light theremin, for example)

At some point in the 2000s I received a Theremin kit as a gift which I eventually got working, and then in late 2006 I first read about this wondrous-looking microcontroller board called the Arduino(via this article: http://todbot.com/blog/spookyarduino/). By 2008 I knew enough of this electronics stuff to give introductory talks on it at the Notacon and Penguicon conferences. At Notacon that year, I met Pete Edwards (a well-known circuit bender and synth-DIY guy) who provided encouragement and chided me to up my game when he saw the terrible soldering iron I was using at the time.

Also in the summer of 2008, Bob Drake (aka Fluxmonkey, who has been doing this kind of stuff far longer than I have) did a summer workshop on building simple electronic music devices (you can find notes from those at http://fluxplayshop.blogspot.com and http://fluxmonkey.com/electronoize/). Some of the output from that workshop led to Ryan Kuehn offering to put out what became “DIY Volume I” on his label (Everyone Else Has A Record Label, So Why Can’t I?). I decided that the premise of that album should be a release where every instrument used would be either built, modified or repaired by me in order to be used (the “repaired” clause allowed for use of the MG-1 and my 4-track cassette recorder for multitracking), so I had to build the equipment I needed to make the sounds I wanted.

LA: When did you start Glacial Communications? Were you releasing music before this?

g: The label officially started around 2002. Before that I had put out a few things with The Button, a band/collective that had emerged out the radio show I did on WRUW from 1997-2010. Our first CDR came out in 1998- that group was more of the Negativland/ECC sample-heavy collage variety, so I decided to start my own little imprint for my solo synth-oriented material.

My earliest unreleased (or barely released- some were on mp3.com for a while but are now not online) date from late 1995/early 1996. At some point I’ll probably reissue some of them.

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LA: Being an engineer and a musician, What does it mean to you to be able to make music on instruments you have built yourself?

g: Initially, some of the reason was cost- I wanted synths capable of certain things, but the commercial version was prohibitively expensive, and after trying software synths for a while(I really did!) those interfaces weren’t what I was looking for. DIY just seemed like the right way to go. It also provided me with a reason to use some of the hardware end of the Computer Engineering degree I have.

Nowadays, my day job doesn’t allow me to write code or things like that as much I’d like, so some of that creative urge to build has to come out in other ways such as building synths or working on projects at the hackerspace.

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LA: I was drawn to your work, because it trudges across the terrain of noise, experimental, and more traditional dance forms (like acid) and shows how they are all connected. What has prompted you to explore the interconnections between these music forms people often try to separate?

g: That’s been a weird journey. Some of that has come from being influenced by the intersection of the “industrial dance” scene and the techno scene of the early 90s, and by my own research into the history of what came before those (i.e. learning about the industrial scene of the 1970s, or the history of techno & house in the 1980s)

I started off making sort of off-kilter techno & industrial, as that was what I wanted to make and was sort of dictated by the gear I could afford at the time.

Since I was friends with a lot of people in the Cleveland experimental/noise scene, I decided I’d give “the noise thing” a try for a little while and put the more straight-ahead dance stuff on the backburner- so I’d be doing things like playing a x0xb0x (TB-303 clone) and modular synth together in an odd way- sort of acid house without beats. In November of 2010 I went to see Oneohtrix Point Never and Laurel Halo at a house show here, and was utterly blown away by Laurel Halo’s performance, which was straight-ahead techno, and the crowd seemed to at least be digging it a little bit. I had a show of my own a week or so later on a noise night at the now-gone Bela Dubby and whatever I had been planning wasn’t working in my head, so I decided to try adding the drums back in. It got kind of a mixed response at the time, but it did lead to my getting suggested to open for a huge show at the Grog Shop a few months later.

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LA: You, like myself, have been an Ohioan for some time and have picked through many of the same bins in record stores I now go through, gone to the same venues, etc.. I am incredibly inspired by our state. Does the landscape, architecture, and terrain of Cleveland and Ohio more broadly influence your work? How?

g:  I’ve been a lifelong Ohioan- the first half or so in greater Columbus, and then I came to Cleveland for college and liked it here enough to stay.

There are definitely some Cleveland landmarks I consider influential- some of the interesting terrain you pass by when taking the RTA trains, the Sidaway Avenue suspension footbridge (it’s been closed since the 60s, but you can still see it as you’re driving down Kinsman), the area underneath the Detroit-Superior bridge where the Ingenuity Festival was held for a couple of years, and certainly some of the terrain just on either side of the Cuyahoga River- the so-called “Industrial Flats”. There is something about the look of decayed infrastructure- not necessarily the “ruin porn” you see in stories about Detroit, but more of a mild unkemptness with just a little rust on the girders.

 

Glacial Communications & glacial23 on the Web:

Glacial Communications Facebook

Glacial Communications Bandcamp

Glacial Communications Website

glacial23 Soundcloud

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I did my second spot on Trademark Gunderson & Frillypant’s Sound of Plaid Radio Show two weeks back. You may remember my first spot on the show in November. You can listen to that HERE. This time around we played some local music, some old & new music, talked big ideas, and had a great time. Take a listen when you get a chance.

Tracklisting: Click on Artist Name for more info
(Band — Song)
Jay Dee — Airworks
Elizabeth Waldo — Balsa Boat
A Tribe Called Red — The Road
The Fallen — Raw Times
sKewn — Circling
Jeff Central — The Day Of Attack
Druid Cloak — Sun Elf
Glass Teeth —BB EYEZ (FUNERALS Remix)
tactil vision — illusion
Glacier 23 — The End Track
Walleye — Burn 4u
Mike Shiflet —1917
Mike Shiflet — Zahlentheorie
The Evolution Control Committee — The Fool On The Hill (Major-Minor Swap, incomplete)

I have been getting a great response from a lot of people around the scene from my posts concerning what’s going on in the scene today. All I can say is thanks. Thanks for doing what you do, so we can all have a community and I can help tell stories. This project does not exist without the energy expended by all of you in our community.

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Today, I am continuing these contemporary community-centered posts by shedding some light on the past and present of Mister Shifter. Mister Shifter is an artist that cut his teeth in our scene in the 1990s when the underground and club scene was thriving. He is an accomplished DJ and producer whom made up half of the critically acclaimed Drum and Bass duo Random Movement. Listening to the Random Movement back catalogue, one is catapulted back to the late 90s and early 2000s when the D & B sound was at the cutting edge of dance music and Mister Shifter himself was a key contributor (alongside Mike Richards) to pushing these new bass sounds in our city and abroad. Not only does his story help detail some of the back history of bass music in our city, but also provides a lesson on how an artist changes over time. Over the last few years, Mister Shifter has adopted an open format approach to sound, which has enabled him to continually change up and incorporate new styles and sounds into his sets. This has proved incredibly useful for him, as he has been able to reinvigorate his love of DJ’ing even as he grew bored of past sounds he immersed himself in so heavily. For me, it also makes for better art, as Mister Shifter is able to draw on diverse musical influences to craft soundscapes for dance floors that aren’t pigeonholed to any one tempo or mood.

mowgli Sheets

Mister Shifter will be playing a free show this Friday, February 22nd at Victory’s Live hosted by Squared headman Scott Litch (Event Details Here). Squared has been one of the gold standards of Columbus dance music for over ten years, as Litch has continually tried to innovate conceptually and graphically to push Columbus dance music to the next level. Within the last year, he has brought in new resident DJs to his Future Fridays event like Lower Frequency, Kevin Parrish, Tony Fairchild, and others and collaborated extensively with Quality, Run614, and Push Productions. Together these actions have increased the cohesiveness of our scene and provided artists in our scene a platform to play sounds not often heard. The show this friday is no different. Scott has carefully curated a stellar line up of artists like Mowgli, Mister Shifter, Ill Atmospherics, Lights Out!, and Doctah X that have expertise across the spectrum of bass sounds from Drum & Bass to Dub. In order to get you ready for that show, I provide for you a broad ranging interview with Mister Shifter that delves into his love of music, his time with Random Movement, and what he is up to now.

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Local Autonomy: What does music and sound more broadly mean to the way you live and experience life?

Mister Shifer: It may sound cliché, but I’ve been a music junkie since I was a young child. Ever since I can remember I’ve been obsessed with music. I feel honored to have grown up in momentous times like the golden era of hip-hop, and the grunge movement of rock, even the 80’s (for better or worse). Being engaged and in love with music during those times of my youth really helped shape my life, and how much I appreciate music.

I’ve always enjoyed sharing music that I love with friends, from making mixtapes before there were CD’s or MP3’s, to modern day methods . Eventually becoming a DJ was a very logical progression, and that desire to share music with others has always been the driving force. DJ’ing, for me, was never about ego or because it was a cool thing to do, it was always about sharing what I loved. There’s almost no better feeling than playing the music that I’m passionate about, for tens, hundreds or thousands of people at at time, and watching them experience the same joy that it brought me. It’s a really amazing feeling that makes me never want to stop doing it.

LA: How did you get into dance music? Was Drum & Bass your first love, or did you get into later?

MS: In the early nineties I really started to gravitate towards the hardcore-breakbeat stuff that was emerging out of the UK. Artists like 2 Bad Mice, Underworld, Omni Trio, and Hyper On Experience loosened the grip that hip-hop, industrial, and some other genres had on me at the time.

Soon after, I was full-on obsessed and going to clubs and raves every single weekend, experiencing the full gamut of electronic music at the time. I think most importantly I have the ele_mental guys to thank for exposing me to such quality music, from their core artists, to the amazing local and international artists that they were bringing into Columbus on a regular basis. I’m eternally grateful for people like Ed Luna & Titonton.

Oddly enough, I didn’t gravitate towards drum & bass right off the bat, and primarily favored techno & house music for quite some time. That all changed, and I’ll never forget when drum & bass just “clicked” for me. I was at a rave at the Valley Dale Ballroom in 1997, and Titonton was playing a drum & bass set in the main area. Grooverider’s remix of ‘Share The Fall’ came on and it honestly turned my entire world upside down.

1997 was a pivotal year for drum & bass, so in my mind it’s easy to see how I got taken so hard by it. Artists such as Ed Rush & Optical, Dillinja, Photek and Adam F were putting out some of the best music the genre has seen to this day. Drum & Bass was taking the electronic music scene by storm, and I surely got pulled into the frenzy.

In a way I guess I could consider drum & bass my “first love” as I’d never been full-on consumed by any single type of music like that before. I soon bought my first set of turntables and a mixer, and started buying vinyl in massive amounts. I basically did nothing but practice DJ’ing in my spare time for the next few years.

LA: What were your experiences like in the late 1990s and early 2000s when you were DJing huge dance music events and pushing the Drum & Bass sound?

MS: I was a great experience to be a part of drum & bass in what I consider it’s golden age, the late 1990’s. Playing raves in warehouses before those type of events dried up is something that I’m so thankful to have been a part of.

Once everything started to move into the clubs in the early 2000’s I had made a bigger name for myself by getting into production. Getting signed to an iconic drum & bass label like Breakbeat Science was huge. That really opened doors for me, and allowed me to play some of the biggest drum & bass shows that would come through Columbus. It was a treat to play alongside some of my idols such as LTJ Bukem and Bad Company during those times.

LA: What prompted Mike Richards & yourself to start the Drum and Bass duo Random Movement?

MS: I managed the DJ department at Sam Ash Music Store a long time ago. One of my co-workers who I went to high school with used to have a friend that would visit often and blow my mind while toying around on the synths in the keyboard department. His name was Mike Richards, a classically-trained musician with a background in Jazz. He was somewhat unfamiliar with drum & bass and DJ culture at the time, but was very interested in knowing more. I basically fed him all of my favorite drum & bass tracks to get him initiated with certain artists and labels, and got him instantly hooked.

It didn’t take long before we started making tracks together and within about a year we had an offer from DJ Dara to release a 12″ on Breakbeat Science’s sister label Orgone Recordings. That single, “What a Woman” sold all of it’s pressings and got us out there in the international spotlight.

The success of that release gained us enough exposure to secure a release on Ireland’s Bassbin Recordings. That release contained our biggest hit to this day, “Stars in the Dark.”

Drum & Bass icon DJ Marky fell in love with “Stars in the Dark”, as he famously played the track three times in one set at The End nightclub in London. He later said he was extremely upset for not being able to sign the track to his own label, Innerground, but we worked out a deal and our next release came out on his label.

At the time, Bassbin and Innerground were two of the most popular drum & bass imprints in the world, and we were the first American artists to be signed to each of them. It was a huge accomplishment, and I’m still shocked and humbled by it.

LA: Its crazy to think that you were still releasing vinyl records with Random Movement in the mid 2000s when vinyl was arguably at its lowest popularity. Though vinyl releases have always been a benchmark for success for producers, What are your thoughts on the resurgence of vinyl within the last 5 years?

MS: Yeah, at that time the vinyl market was declining pretty heavily with the emergence of CD decks and hardware like Final Scratch and Serato. Releasing tracks on respected labels were enormous accomplishments for us. At that time, releasing a 12″ was basically what you needed to do to earn the respect of your peers in the DJ community.

I’m not surprised that vinyl is still popular today, albeit more so amongst purists. There is nothing that compares to the warm sound and tactile feedback it provides. I prefer DJ’ing on vinyl wholeheartedly, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love taking advantage of some of the innovations that later came along, like Serato and Ableton Live.

I used to pull my back out lugging over a hundred records to each gig for years, and then all of a sudden I could show up to a venue with thousands of tracks to choose from, and instantly sort by artist or label. It made playing shows a lot of fun, especially since I never had set lists in mind, and would always read the crowd to figure out what songs to play next. Being able to pull out a classic from ’95 because it just felt right at the moment was really gratifying. It’s not surprising to me that the vinyl market took such a hit when these technologies became ubiquitous in the DJ community. That said, I’ll always treasure vinyl, as I loved the many years I played on it exclusively.

LA: Within the past few years you have transitioned into a more multi-genre DJ’ing approach. What led to that shift?

MS: I had always appreciated all styles of music. I would have loved to DJ other genres over the years, but during a large portion of my career DJ’s strictly used vinyl, and it would’ve cost me a fortune to buy enough wax to support that type of endeavor. I reached a point where I had honestly grown a bit tired of drum & bass. That scene was starting to crumble due to a lack of innovation, and tracks were becoming quite samey and cookie-cutter.

Around 2007 the dance rock scene was really starting to blow up. Labels like Ed Banger, and artists such as MSTRKRFT, Diplo, and Hot Chip were surging in popularity. I made a DJ mix called “Selections for Love Making” around that time which ended up getting a lot of buzz, and surprised a lot of my friends who knew me only as a drum & bass DJ. I started playing shows and had a blast enjoying the freedom of not being pigeonholed into one style of music. I loved dipping into techno, french house, 80’s… you name it. It was fun being able to pull from different genres, yet striving to keep a cohesive vibe during the course of the night.

Around that time, Squared and I started a dance rock night called “The Fix”, and soon after I became a resident DJ at places like Bristol Bar and Spice Bar. Things took off pretty fast, and before I knew it I was playing sold-out shows alongside heavyweights like MSTRKRFT, Benny Benassi, and Steve Aoki.

LA: What is next on tap for you musically?

MS: There’s nothing I love more than DJ’ing. I’ll continue to play shows as long as there are people on dance floors.

I just always try to keep an open mind musically, as my tastes tend to change over time. I’ve never tried to jump on any bandwagons, even though my identity as a DJ has altered over years. I like to keep up with what’s new and emerging, but still incorporate it with the sounds of the past. DJ sets only consisting of the top tracks of the moment tend to bore me, so I’m always looking to diversify.

If I like a new song that I hear, there’s a good chance I’ll try to somehow work it into a set. I’m currently enjoying a lot of the future garage/post-dubstep stuff that’s coming out of the UK at the moment, and I’m really starting to come back to drum & bass. I’m glad to see a lot of artists over the last few years break out of molds and experiment with different sounds and tempos. That’s surely what I’ll continue to do myself. You’ll rarely hear me play the same type of set twice, and I find that to be very exciting and rewarding.

See you on the dance floor.

I was milling around on the internet and compiling links for the multitude of work that has come out of our city over the past few months. Man, I was seriously impressed. There were a multitude of mixes, original production, and live events that just blew me away. I figure I would do the community a solid and put together a rough list of some of the recordings that have been posted online from people in our community. This is obviously not exhaustive, but consider this a first attempt to update the sorely outdated archive. All the listing are in alphabetical order and numbered so you can see that there are 27 unique pieces of music to explore. These numbers do not correspond with a ranking. They are given more so you can see each piece of music as a unique entity and to give you a sense for our overall aggregate output over the course of 2-4 months as an artistic community. If you like someone’s work try to look more deeply into their other releases and go see them live! (Note:  If I have missed you send me a link and I will put you up here. Also, feel free to point anyone in this direction if they are saying that Columbus doesn’t have a thriving “electronic” music community.)

1.) 9star: “Tangible Thoughts”

2.) Aaron Austen: Promo Mix

3.) The Beat Oracle Radio Show: “Saturated”

4.) Ben Bennett: Spoilage (New LP out on Jeremy Bible’s Excellent Experimedia Records)

5.) B-Funk: Thump Show

6.)  Bohno: Sink Deep

7.) Burgle: Jack Shack TV Mix

Burgle 53 Min Jack Shack DJ Set by Jackshacktv on Mixcloud

8.) Conner Campassi: GRVTY

9.) Creamz: Basement Sessions 002

10.) Crucial Taunt: Frito Flip

11.) Dave Espionage: Jack Shack TV Mix

Dave Espionage 51 min Jack Shack DJ Set by Jackshacktv on Mixcloud

12.) DJ Push: There Was Sun

13.) Doctor Zapata: Promo Mix Enero 2013

14.) Doctor X — His latest mix “Ambient Evening” on his Perscriptions Radio Show

15.) Druid Cloak: The Groove EP

16.) Dustin Knell:BACK & FORTH: A LOVE/HATE Mix

17.) The Fallen: “Live at BLUR”

18.) FBK: “Where Their Love Still Exists”

19.) FBK: “In This Deadly Light”

20.) FUNERALS, Druid Cloak, and Others (BOO SRA Remixes):

21.) FUNERALS: Vessel Mix 2012

22.) George Brazil: Jack Shack TV Mix

George Brazil 59 min Jack Shack DJ Set by Jackshacktv on Mixcloud

23.) Hawstyle’s Most recent mix on his Bus Bass Show:

24.) jMac: January Promo Mix

25.) Kevin Parrish: Squared Online Podcast

26.) Lower Frequency: Squared Online Podcast

27.) Midislut:

28.) Mike Shiflet: “Secret Thirteen Mix”

29.) Mike Shiflet: Three Tracks from new LP “The Choir, The Army” 

30.) NetworkEDM: Post Day-Glow Hangover Mix

31.) Ohioan: “Buoy”

32.) Plural: “The Beatings Continue”

33.) Quality: February Live Recording

34.) roeVy: PROXY – Raw (roeVy remix)

35.) Self Help: Jack Shack TV Mix

Self Help 50 Min Jack Shack DJ Set by Jackshacktv on Mixcloud

36.) Single Action: Bus Bass Mix 55

37.) Sybling Q’s most recent mix on his Q Factor Radio Show

38.) Tactil Vision: “savage”

39.) Titonton Duvanté: Live Mix 2012

40.) Todd Sines: Live at Mister H

41.) Tony Fairchild: February Jack Trax

In my post on the infrastructure of the Columbus scene I posted 2 weeks ago (Read That Here), I delved into how people bring our music to life through their interactions with one another and the use of the music and traditions we love. This is an important point to make when you are talking about a music community, because our scene is only the sum of all the individuals that are spinning, producing, listening, or dancing to the music. The problem with this approach is it makes scene analysis a much more complex matter that defies easy categorization.

As humans, we do not like complexity. It makes us feel uncomfortable. We like to feel like we have a handle on the world around us. Psychological research has shown that we seek to try and streamline our interpretation of the world around us by placing things in simple categories. This is an essential coping mechanism for living in our highly mediated, complex world, as we have to be able to put blinders on and easily categorize things in order to carry on the basic tasks of being human. I see this happen in our scene. Its much easier to place the trajectory of our scene in the Right or Wrong box by saying, “Oh, the scene is going in the right directions, because of X, Y, & Z” or “The scene is going in the wrong directions because of X, Y, & Z”. Just as it is also easier categorize the crews that populate our scene in different boxes, “Oh that click’s sets and shows are played out, commercial, and this crew over here is authentic and underground”. (Genres also work in a similar way).  We all fall into this trap since we are taught from a very young age to put things neatly into categories (Race ,Gender, Sexuality operate the same way). By becoming active in the scene, you quickly learn the relevant categorizations you need to be a member of the community.

The problem with these categorizations is that they do violence to the rich complexity of the practices, rhythms, and art we make on an everyday basis.  Our scene is never going in a right or wrong direction. Crews are not commercial or underground. We always exist somewhere in the middle. The scene shifts and evolves as the people in different crews enter,  exit, and re-enter the scene, change their tastes in music, or try to adapt different artistic concepts to their practices in a scene. For this reason, no one person could give an accurate assessment of what the state of the scene is at any one moment, because you just don’t know what everyone is doing at all times.  There will always be another pocket of people working with the same ideas and rhythms in a different way that you didn’t even know existed or have been forgotten.

I seem to gravitate towards these people on the fringe, because I think it helps us understand our scene in a much richer fashion. For instance, there is a rich history of improvisation and experimentation in our music community. Did you know that the individual first credited with creating the mash-up lives in our city? (Trademark Gunderson of the ECC) Did you know our city has housed multiple experimental/electronic tape labels that have released almost over 150 distinct pieces of music over the last 20 years? (GMBY, Exoteque Music). Just as shocked as most people are that their was and still is a thriving dance scene in Columbus, it may be shock to people in the dance community that there is still a thriving experimental scene working with beat-driven and beatless electronic music. I have already delved into this part of our community with interviews with Alison Coleman (director of The Fuse Factory Electronic and Digital Arts Lab), Mike Shiflet (Noise/Sound/Electronic Musician), & Jeff Chenault (Ten-Speed Guillotine/ Noise/Sound/ Electronic Musician). Yet, that was just skimming the surface.

One of the most interesting developments I have been following over the past 2 months is Jeff Chenault’s work to restart his Exoteque Music Label.  When I got to the Blur show in November, Chenault handed me a piece of paper announcing the re-emergence of the label and a list of releases forthcoming in 2013.

Release List

To say I am excited about the re-surfacing of this label is a gross understatement. I think local record labels are such an integral part of the infrastructure of our music scene. Not only do they give local musicians the ability to understand the creative process of putting together cohesive pieces of music and sharing it with the world, but they also send a beacon to the rest of the world that creativity is streaming out of our city. It furthers our artistic dialogue, and enables all people in the scene to have a file or physical object they can hold on to and enjoy. I sent Jeff a few questions, and he was gracious enough to provide me some insight behind the history of the label and where it is going now:

LA: When and how did the Exoteque Label first get started?

JC: Exoteque Music originally started as a DIY cassette label in 1983. It was a release platform for my own music that gradually expanded to include other artists as well.  The label was originally known as the International Terrorist Network, or ITN, but wisely decided to change the name.  Exoteque Music was chosen because it represents my dual interest in exotica and technology.

LA: What is propelling you to bring it back now? Is there something brewing in Columbus and across the country that is inspiring you?

JC: Since getting back into music a couple years ago I have been doing a serious amount of recording, both live and in the studio.  I’ve also joined the Fuse Factory organization to help bring artists to Columbus for their Frequency Friday events.  Exoteque Music allows me to showcase not only my own work but other people’s work that I highly respect and admire.  Columbus has a huge electronic and underground music scene.  It is a virtual hub of creative sound artists.  People like Mike Shiflet, Joe Panzner, Mark Gunderson, Mike Textbeak, Steve Wymer, John M. Bennett and Kevin Kennedy are doing incredible work.  These are the people that inspire me.

LA: Your release note that you recently passed out at BLUR notified the world that you already have a full schedule for releases for the upcoming year. It also said that the releases will be available in various formats. What drove your choice of release format for each of the releases?

JC: I love physical objects.  Records, cassettes, and CD’s were formats that I grew up with.  I loathe the digital download but do see its advantage for people who want portability.  It also helps to preserve these recordings as well.  When I decided to re-launch the Exoteque Music label I wanted to make available any and all formats that I could afford.  Everything released will be in some kind of physical format as well as having a digital download.  

LA: I think it’s a great idea to also bring back past releases from the initial run of the label from the 80s and 90s. How did you make the choices what to bring back?

JC: Over the years I’ve been slowly digitizing some of my favorite releases.  A few things like the Stimulus and Response compilations are simply amazing.  The choices were simple.  If I loved it and deemed it worthy of re-mastering then I’m going to reissue it.  This stuff is too good to let sit in the basement collecting dust.  My most anticipated reissue is a cassette that I never even released.  It was a privately pressed cassette, released in the 80’s, by Paul Steinborn aka/Shame, Exposure.   Paul lost all his master tapes and all that remains are the cassettes that he sold locally and a few tracks he did for the S/M Operations label.   I owned one of these cassettes so we meticulously re-mastered it and gave it new life, all with Paul’s permission of course.  The CD will contain all his known recordings and come with original artwork made by Paul specifically for this release.  

LA: What are your hopes for this run of the label?

JC: Exposing people to new music has always been my hopes for the label.  Some of the best music I have ever heard comes from independent artists.  If I can turn people on to this music, and preserve some of these vintage recordings at the same time, I have fulfilled my goal.

Below is a list of scheduled releases for 2013…..

1)     Shame, Exposure; Werkshau – CD and download

2)     Circuitry Room; Tuned to Tomorrow – CD and download

3)     Best of Frequency Friday Vol. 1 (various artists) – CD

4)     Jeff Central; Primativa – 25th Anniversary Edition – CD and download

5)     The Escargonauts; same, Vinyl LP, CD and download

6)     Jeff Central and Friends – Multi Collaborative LP and download

7)     ZOA / ZOA Mike Textbeak/Paul Von Aphid collaboration – CD and download

8)     Highly Funktioning Kult – CD and download

9)     Jeff Central solo – cassette

10)  Dan Rockwell solo – CD and download

11)  Circuitry Room collaboration with poet John M. Bennett – CD and download

12)  Jeff Central and Hal McGee collaboration – CD and download

There has been much written about the boom and bust cycles of dance music ( i.e. when is the edm bubble going to burst?). The boom happens when certain strands of dance music attract wider “pop” audiences and bring new listeners into dance communities. During this time, audiences swell, more records are sold, and it is “cool” to be associated with that music community. Much like other “pop” fads, these boom-time periods always come to an end. The bust of a cycle results when the luster of dance music fades and many of those new listeners abandoning dance communities. We are entering what appears to be the tail end of one of these boom periods (Its debatable I suppose), and a lot of keystrokes have been spent trying to decide what is going to happen. The resounding answer people give is that it is natural that dance scenes ebb and flow in popularity, but their survival is not in jeopardy.  The problem is that writers often stop there and don’t explain why dance scenes will survive. Looking to how our Columbus scene has weathered these boom/bust cycles in the past provides one way to provide an answer to this question. By drawing on my conversations about our local scene’s recent history, I want to argue that dance music persists in columbus because there is an underlying infrastructure that is kept alive by the people who continue to use the music, ideas, and traditions we all share even when dance music culture is not popular.

Rewind 6-8 years ago. The underground ele_mental parties had ended, other crews associated with the underground had slowed their activities, and many of the clubs across the city had closed. Both the underground and more obvious club oriented activities had slowed from their once feverish pace. Local dance and experimental record labels like 21/22 and Exoteque Music went into disuse. A whole generation of fans seemed to disengage from dance music as its popularity reached a low point in Columbus and across the nation.  At the surface, it appeared as if the scene in Columbus had died.

Yet, I question whether the scene actually “died”. Did all the people so instrumental to dance music flourishing in our city in the 90s and early 00s leave the scene?  Did all the fans “grow up” and stop liking dance music? Sure some people did leave and others “grew up”, but the vast majority of people that held dance music so central to their lives never left. Consequently, all the know-how of how to build record labels, dance music crews, clubs, and build a scene from the ground up was still in the city. The rich traditions of how a scene is supposed to operate were not lost. The love of the music and the artists need to express themselves never waned.

The scene didn’t die in the early 2000s. The infrastructure of the scene just went into a period of dormancy. Dormancy is very different from death. A state of dormancy is characterized by re-grouping and contemplation that naturally comes about after a common routine has resulted in stagnancy. Activities continue, but in a much less pronounced way.  Death is, well, its death. An end of a form of expression or life. Culture doesn’t die. It carries on in the cracks of the system. After some 10-15 years of doing dance hard in Columbus, it was natural for the scene to shift into a slower, more underground phase as the popularity of dance music waned. However, expressing oneself through dance music did not die. The most visible organizations throwing parties became less active and many of the recognized venues had closed, but the infrastructure of the scene was still intact.  All the rhythms, know-how, and traditions were still used by people, but the scene had receded back into the cracks of the city.

Quickly after the disbanding of many of the most visible crews and clubs, other events and crews took their place. By 2006, Sweatin’, Squared nights at Bristol, Restart House, and other underground parties were regular events that gave DJs and fans a space to express themselves. The scene wasn’t filling the newport, Skully’s, or BOMA, but it certainly couldn’t be pronounced dead. A core group of new and older scene members took the lead and brought dance music back to a prominent place in Columbus nightlife. In the short period of 5 years, the Columbus scene went from dormancy to again having 5-10 dance events a week. Our scene is again pushing out in a multitude of directions. New routines have replaced the old. New crews have replaced the old. The dance and experimental electronic music community is again thriving and sharing their music with Columbus and the rest of the world. We have new events, radio shows, record labels that offer you the opportunity to get exposed to new sounds. We have a multitude of innovative, dedicated people still pushing the scene forward into new spaces and concepts. (Check out the links on sidebar to see all the different people working to make our scene great with video projects, record labels, record stores, and events).

What we can take away from this short history?

1.) Well, It is quite evident that dance music persists in Columbus because it matters to us and we want to share it with one another. We are the core elements of the infrastructure that give life to something bigger than our selves: a dance music community.  The boom/bust cycle may affect how many people show up, how many records one sells, or how cool someone may think you are, but there will always be a scene as long as people come together and use the music, ideas, and traditions we share.

2.) Having a scene go into a state of dormancy is not necessarily a bad thing.  Dormancy is vital for weathering those periods when dance music is unpopular in the mainstream and growth is hard to come by.  By receding back into the cracks of the city, we can regroup and find a ways to keep our community together when there is less support in the mainstream. Gauging back the frequency of events can also be really healthy and important for a scene to shed old routines and think about new ways to innovate. It can also help foster community and build the type of committment that is needed to push the scene out of dormancy and back into a prominent part in a cities night life.

I feel these two lessons are important, because they remind us that the scene is in our hands. Its not in the hands of abstract economic, political, and cultural forces. Sure, these influences shape what our scene looks like, but in the end its all on us. These lessons also prod us to have a more realistic assessment of our scene’s development. We do not need to be New York, LA, Las Vegas, Berlin, or London. We need to be the best version of Columbus that our city has ever scene. I for one feel lucky to be a part of our scene. Our community is constructed of a teflon-tough DIY fabric that has endured the tests of the Boom/Bust cycle.  We have done more with nothing than all those many market cities have done with immense financial resources.  Just look at all the dance music related record labels, radio shows, events, and organizations that are now active in our city. If that doesn’t give you faith in our community then I do not know what will.

Introduction:

So you may be asking.. where have you been?  Or you may have said, I was glad he stopped talking and flooding my facebook newsfeed with posts. Whether you missed me or not, the last month has been very important for the long-term longevity of the Local Autonomy project. I do apologize that I did not have any content for you all, but I had to do some soul searching about LA and where it was going. I reached a cross-roads that all people seem to arrive at sooner or later when they immerses themselves in a music scene.  I got a bit bored and disenchanted with what I had been doing and I had to decide how I was to press forward. Rather than just ignore why I was disenchanted, I decided to use this post to explore the roots of disenchantment that we all face at some point when immersing ourselves in a dance music scene. I know this seems a bit odd, but bare with me for a few paragraphs as I think this seemingly mundane feeling that we all encounter at some point reveals bigger issues about the role of authenticity in dance music scenes.

A Tentative Beginning: How Disenchantment Led Me To Think About Authenticity

As humans, feeling disenchanted and questioning ourselves is pretty run of the mill. In our everyday lives, we don’t have legions of people encouraging us that what we create, listen to, and do is important. Thus, it is easy to feel like all your efforts are for nothing. The same goes for our dance music scene. There is still a degree of factionalization and single minded ambition that separates a lot of us into our own pursuits within the city. In such a context, it makes a lot of sense that people in  our dance music scene end up feeling disenchanted at some point. Even if you do have a great group of friends in the community to support you, its easy to question whether all the hours spent promoting, practicing, and listening are worth it.

I know I am not alone, as discussions of disenchantment always comes up in my conversations with people from our scene. Due to the normalcy of this phenomena, its strange that more has not been written about it.  To me, this disenchantment is such a big issue, because it leads some people to gravitate away from the scene as time goes on. where does this disenchantment come from and how does it influence how we view the scene around us?   All my time spent thinking about this question led me back to one concept over and over again: Authenticity.

Once I began to think about and define authenticity, I realized that there were two key ways people in our scene thought about the authenticity of Columbus Dance Music. Something that is authentic is defined as genuine, of undisputed origin, or made or done in a traditional way.  I kept asking myself, ” Is the Columbus dance music scene authentic, genuine, and pure?” I quickly surveyed all my conversations with people from around our scene and realized that there was not just one answer to this question. In fact, people’s views on the authenticity of our scene can be roughly grouped into  two different, competing viewpoints: realists & romantics. (Note: not everyone can be roughly placed in these two boxes, but I think it is useful for the argument to discuss them as ideal types of a stereotype.)

Realists & Romantics: Definitions

Realists are people that look to understand how our scene works by delving into how events are constructed, how mixes are put together, what tracks are used. They don’t usually stop there though. They often try to understand how the scene is also shaped by the the world the scene is enmeshed in. Whether coming at it from an academic perspective or one of pure musical curiosity, realists often use rational thought to create very opinionated views on the authenticity of our scene that has been shaped either by time in the scene or extensive reading. These individuals often view the authenticity of our scene as a very difficult thing to achieve, because their curiosity has shown them how capitalism creates and recycles the authentic and sells it in order to make a profit. Such a perspective makes it very easy to get disenchanted about the authenticity of dance music today when many releases, events, and new artists are praised as the best thing the scene has ever seen. Often times, this results in realists harkening back to a more pure era in music creation and scene development or dismissing the entire music community altogether. You can place my recent efforts to track capitalism influence on our scene in this category.

Romantics are people that praise the the purity, fun, and artistic merit of the work that is going on at this moment in our scene. They look less at the intricate machinations that are at play within a scene and are less apt to delve deeply into how things work. Romantics spend little time developing complex rational systems of thought that express their views on the authenticity of the scene, because they assume that the art being created comes from genuine and pure places. These people hold that the art of listening, creating, and putting on shows is inherently authentic, because it comes from the heart and the need to express oneself. Thus, they often take the proclamations of people at face value when shows, releases, and djs are announced as the next best thing. Whereas realists harken back to a past time, romantics look forward to the future of the scene and foretell of a coming music utopia where the scene is collectively pushing the city forward. Whereas realists seem to question authenticity,  romantics strongly adhere to the scene because they believe it is one of the few places where authenticity exists in their world. You can place many of my posts in the first three months of my project within this category.

I am sure if you think about these abstract descriptions you can see how some people’s perspectives in our scene fit along a continuum between a romantic viewpoint on our scenes authenticity and realists questioning the authenticity of our scene altogether. It is easy to see how realists can get disenchanted and move away from the scene altogether, but it is endearing to see the romantics devotion to art keep them tied strong to the community. No doubt, people are usually somewhere in the middle of this continuum and use both romantic and realist perspectives when talking about our scene.  A case in point are the people in our scene who are skeptical of our scenes authenticity, but still create music and push dance music events for the fun and artistic merits of the actions.  These people may question the authenticity of our scene at points, but at their core they still believe in the power of art, creation, and community. In our age of hype, I want to argue it is essential that we, like the skeptical realist embrace both realist and romantic viewpoints on the authenticity of our scene because it is the only way to let go of phantoms of who we think we should be and push for an authentic version of our scene.

The Age of Fabricated Authenticity: Realism & The Drive to Remain Romantic

I scarcely need to describe to you the age of hype that we have entered into. You see it float down your newsfeed everyday, appear in youtube videos, and written about on your favorite blogs. Saavy PR people and Cool Hunters have cleverly extracted the ideas, styles, and event formats of the 90s rave era and are now mass producing it for a whole new generation of romantics who just want to be apart of a movement like that. You can not really blame the romantics or the people who are trying to profit off of this new consumer niche. This is how the system of capitalism has operated for some time, as people will always try to meet the demands of consumers by rehashing ideas of the past under a new name and slogan. Slap a big sticker on the sucker that says new and exciting and you have all the trappings of what appears to be a movement. The problem is that it is all fabricated. We are not see the re-emergence of the rave era. The rave era was destroyed through legislation and police intervention and dance music was funneled into clubs. We are in the era of fabricated authenticity.

You may ask: what is fabricated authenticity? In his 1997 book Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity, Sociologist Richard Peterson coined the term to refer to the process of individual artists and corporations recycling elements of a past musical scene to give their music and their performances the appearance of genuineness and purity. I think this idea is so interesting, because at some level drawing on the past to show ones connection to a style of making music or an approach to performance is what building a music scene and paying homage to the past is all about. For instance, I see nothing wrong with an artist or a promotion company drawing on the ideas, music, and event styles that came out of Detroit techno, Chicago House, or numerous other movements because of a devotion to the ethos and work of an era. Richard Peterson would argue that Fabcricating authenticity in this way is just drawing on authenticity as a renewable resource for music scene development to connect ones current actions to the actions of others in the past so they are recognizable by an audience.

Fabricating authenticity becomes a problem when corporations and clubs, motivated solely by the profit motive, rehash ideas of the past in order to cash in on the resurgence of dance music. We have reached a point where the actions of corporations, promotions groups, and clubs have begun to exert an influence unheard of in the history of dance music communities. These actors and organizations see a potential pay day and have responded by crafting music festivals advertised as raves, cloistering dance music in exclusive clubs in “dance music meccas”.  One of the most blatant attempts at commercialization has been Robert F. X. Sillerman’s recent endeavors to buy up all the promotion companies across the U.S. and Western Europe in order to create a dance music promotion conglomerate (See Article In New York Times). There is something distinctly different about the brand of authenticity these corporations, promotions groups, and clubs are pushing. They are wolves in sheeps’ clothing claiming to love the music and want to push the scene forward. Yet, all their actions scream a cheap attempt at fabricating authenticity to make a dollar. That is why I don’t buy into the model of music scene development that huge festivals, like Electric Daisy Carnival or Ultra, or clubs in dance music meccas like Ibiza, Miami, or Las Vegas. Its just a cheap rehashing of the past with a more expensive price tag, more capital behind it, and savvy PR people.  They can talk all they want, but their rhetoric is full of so much hot air that you could fill a fleet of hot air balloons.

Due to these recent developments, I advocate that we all approach our current dance music landscape with the healthy skepticism of the realist. You cannot believe all the hype about every event, club, and artist. Not every artist is the godfather of a new genre. Not every event will be a timeless classic. Not every club with be legendary. I do not say this to dampen your enthusiasm for going out and enjoying dance music, or to have you dismiss dance our scene altogether. I say this to show you that you can let go of your hopes for our scene being like Las Vegas, Miami, or Ibiza. You don’t need to be upset or disenchanted that your efforts have not turned Columbus into a carbon copy of one of these Dance Music Meccas. These places are just illusions of authenticity that are created as the pinnacle of dance music by blogs, magazines, and PR professionals. Being skeptical allows us to let go of the idea that we need to be like other scenes and allows us to chart our own path.

Once we let go of the idea of who we think we should be as a scene, artist, or listener we are then free to get reacquainted with the romanticism that drove us to want to innovate, listen, and dance. It is slightly scary to let go of models we thought were gold standards for scene development, but when we do an opportunity is opened to build a pure, genuine scene of our own choosing. I feel we are already on the way to building this model as we have a flourishing underground full of DJs and promoters exploring new ideas and a cadre of listeners and dancers enjoying the art. I just hope we continue on this path, because their is nothing more inspiring than working with people in your community to create just for the sake of expression and enjoyment of art. I know that when I went on my path to refind my romanticism I had to call a lot of things into question, but at the end of the day I found too much to be proud of in our scene. I believe too much in our community. I believe too much in the power of the music we create. I just hope you too will let go of the ideas of who you think you should be. It is only at that point that we can collective repel attempt to commercialize our scene and foster the type of wild creativity that becomes the basis of legends. It is only at that point that we can all collectively decide where to go from here to create a scene of our choosing.

Ten-Speed Guillotine, Cassette Culture, Exotica Music, Noise Music.

Have you heard of any of these before? Good question. I would be lying if I said I did before two or three months ago. Luckily,  my conversations with Jeff Chenault and countless others have opened my eyes to another world of sound in Columbus that was on a parallel, if not the same, trajectory as dance music in the 90s. Each of these bands, music scenes, or approaches to music creation or distribution had a formative influence on Jeff or on Columbus electronic music more generally. Thus, I think it is essential to give Chenault the space to discuss his life, his art, and his thoughts, but first a few words on Jeff and what his experiences offer us in the dance music community.

Looking to Jeff’s experience reveals the dogged Do-It-Yourself ethos that is encoded on the DNA of columbus electronic music. Though I don’t want to over-emphasize the impact of one man, I think its safe to say that Jeff and his contemporaries like Andy Izold, Carl Howard, Trademark Gunderson, James Towning, Steve Wymer, and many more inspired many people in Columbus to follow their dreams to create art in the broadest sense of the term. For instance,  his work with Andy Izold in the experimental band Ten-Speed Guillotine helped introduce a new generation of Columbus music makers and listeners to think expansively about what music is. No doubt,  his pushing of the ethos of DIY Cassette Culture with his Exoteque Music Label also demystified making art and made it an accessible for a wide audience. I know Jeff’s stories and work today inspire me  to think broadly and never discount a sound. 

I only hope we can continue to think broadly, like Jeff and his contemporaries did, when we curate shows so we can push for a merging of different music scenes with our dance music scene. For instance, I think listeners and artists can gain a lot by going to events where noise/ambient/experimental artists are showcased alongside dance music artists. The Body Release & ele_mental days saw artists fluidly moving between noise, ambient, experimental circles and dance music shows. Today, the merging of experimental and dance artists has been pursued though Scott Niemet’s KVLT events and The Fuse Factory’s Frequency Friday shows (Read more about that here), but I think we need to continue to think about more ways we can bring these two communities together again under one roof in innovative and different spaces. Have you checked out the work of Walleye, Mike Shiflet, Joe Panzner, Ben Bennett, Ryan Jewell, Tone Elevator, OHIOAN, Forest Management, Glacial 23, and countless other Columbus/Ohio Noise/ambient/experimental artists? Go listen and tell me they don’t add amazing musical contributions to our scene.

Yet, why stop at just merging these two scene? No doubt, there has been a general openness to merging scenes in Columbus. The merging of dance and hardcore scenes has been done with Scott Niemet’s most recent KVLT show and My Best Friend’s Party has attempted to bring together jam and dance scenes under one room with the Bass Jam shows. I propose we keep going. What can we learn from Jazz? What about Blues? That same gritty D-I-Y ethos that drives us when no one is watching should drive us to continually innovate, as so many of the foundational members of our scene always have. We don’t need to be the best. We just need to keep learning, listening, and creating  and not get caught up in a rat race that is blind to values and those it is leaving behind.

Local Autonomy: What role did music play in your life growing up? How did you become a musician?

Jeff Chenault:  I grew up listening to music my entire life.  My dad’s first job after I was born was as a DJ in Chillicothe, Ohio so I was constantly exposed to music.  When I was 5 years old I got my first turntable/stereo.  My dad would always bring me records especially the radio station rejects they wouldn’t play because it didn’t fit their format.  So at a very early age I went from the Beatles to The Plastic Cow Goes Mooooog.  I was always fascinated by sound.  The whole punk thing and the spirit of DIY is what really pushed me to make my own music even though I don’t consider myself a musician.

LA: We had a really interesting conversation about how the time period you come up in influences your approach to music creation. How did it benefit you to have to think about how to make music in a time period when studio quality tools and YouTube tutorials were not so readily available as they are for today’s generation?

JC:  Well, back in the early eighties the only computer I had was a Commodore 64.  There was no internet at the time and to make any kind of sound you had to type in pages and pages of text.  Not very fun for sparking creativity in someone who wanted to make music with it.  Eventually I bought a used reel to reel, a Moog Satellite synthesizer and a Roland TR-606.  It all comes down to the tools that are available for you to use.  If I had “real” computer or an iPad when growing up I’m sure composing would have been a lot easier.  We had to approach sound from a purely physical standpoint. 

LA: It seems that your experiences growing up in Port Huron, Michigan really shaped your love of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) music. What is it about DIY music that you love so much?

JC:  Everything!  I blame Lon C Diehlfor my audio issues.  Lon was the manager of Full Moon Records and he would later go on to form Hunting Lodge with Richard Skott in 1982.  Port Huron was a very small town but Lon would order the latest electronic and experimental music that nobody ever heard of. I noticed that a lot of bands would release things themselves.  Bands like Throbbing Gristle, Nocturnal Emissions, SPK, Nurse with Wound, Maurizio Bianchi, etc. were all releasing things independently.  They did everything from recording the music to making the cover art and then self promotion.  This was very inspiring to me.      

LA: You were and still are a member of the cassette culture movement. I think the movement is so fascinating. Can you tell us a little about your experiences trading tapes in the 80s and early 90s and the impact it had on you as an artist?

JC: Back in the 1980’s and 90’s this was the way you could share your music with like-minded individuals.  Labels like Hal McGee’s Cause and Effect, Chris Phinney’s Harsh Reality Music and Carl Howard’s Audiofile Tapes were huge!

(L to R: Carl Howard, Jeff Chenault, & Hal McGee)

They had 100’s of tapes for sale or trade.  Hence I started the ITN/Exoteque Music label so I could share my music as well.  Some of the best music during this time period was made by people working out of their own homes.  For me it was awe-inspiring!  Check out Andrew Szava-Kovats incredible documentary called Grindstone Redux (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!).  It’s the story of the cassette culture and includes interviews with the recording artists and label owners.

Hal McGee at Fuse Factory Frequency Friday Show

LA: What lessons do you think can we take away from the DIY and Cassette Culture Movements to help build our Columbus electronic music scene more generally?

JC:  That if you have a passion for something, do it!  A lot of people who were doing things 30 years ago are still very active today!  Why?  Because they are passionate about something and they feel the need to create things and share them with people.  It’s as simple as that.  I’m hoping that today’s youth are just as passionate.   Getting people to come out and support electronic and experimental music is not as easy.  Fuse Factory hope to change this by bringing in not only artists from around the world, but by supporting local artists as well.  They are a think tank for creative ideas.

Mike Shiflet & Jeff Central From It Looks Like Its Open 5/22/12

LA: You have been intensively studying exotica music for the last thirty years. What is exotica music and why do you think it is important to preserve it and educate people about it?

JC:  Exotica music is a huge passion of mine.  In the original heyday of the 1950’s and 60’s, Exotica music was a form of easy listening that had the ability to transport the listener to an unknown South Seas island all from the comfort of home.  It was a form of audio opium that sometimes included strange percussion instruments, bird calls, and sound effects.   It was definitely music to escape by.  I have been collecting and researching this music so long that I thought what better way to preserve it than by releasing it!  So with the help of Dionysus Records we released The Beachcomber Trio “live” at the Kahiki” and “The Exotic Sounds of Jerry Sun.”

To help with the preservation effort I have also conducted seminars at the Tiki Oasis and Hukilau events.  Through education and preservation I hope to save this very cool tropical music from extinction.  My next seminar will be in Dayton at The Call of the Tropics Tiki Art Show in July.

LA: Ten-Speed Guillotine is cited by Body Release and the ele_mental crew as a key formative influence. I know such thinking is weird to do, but would you indulge me and gauge the impact you had on the late 80s early 90s period of dance music?

Ten-Speed Guillotine Poster

JC:  I don’t think it’s weird to be influenced by other bandsor individuals  that come before you.  I was influenced by lots of different people growing up.  I like the word inspiring better.  As far as having an impact I can’t say.  I do know that back when we were playing out live in the Columbus area, not too many bands were doing what we were doing.

Ten-Speed Guillotine poster

We had a unique sound that combined bizarre loops and samples, dark ambient, noise and electronic dance music. We were actually a combination of all our influences at the time.  Local people also influenced us.  Steve Wymer had his Spine project, Mark Gunderson had the Evolution Control Committee and James Towning was recording under the name Fact 22.  We all knew and respected each other and influenced each other as well.  Hell, Body Release influenced me!!   

LA: It was so shocking to me to learn that in 2005 many of your noise/experimental sound projects had run their course and you sold many of your instruments. Would you be so kind to describe what led you to grow tired or disenchanted with electronic exploration and what sparked you to get back into it within the past two years?

JC:  I think most artists get disenchanted or bored with their work at some point.  For me I just wasn’t having any fun anymore and my sound ideas had run their course with the equipment I had.  I still recorded a few side projects with Andy Izold but for the most part my output was next to nothing.  I’m one who really needs motivation to do something.

In 2011 when Dan Rockwell showed me the iPad and some of the music apps that he had I was completely hooked.   Not only was I hearing new sounds, it was a new way of thinking and a new way of playing.  Since then I’ve completely embraced the iOS musical world and haven’t looked back.

Performance at Brothers Drake–December 2011

LA: Much of your sound work relies on you doing free form improv with your longtime collaborators Dan Rockwell and Andy Izold in a group called Circuitry Room. Why do you enjoy improv and what constraints do vocals and beats put on a “no map” approach to music?

JC:  Working with sound improvisation leaves a huge palette to work with.  No restrictions and no rules are very liberating for a sound artist.  Vocals and beats tend to be restrictive.  Vocals mean words and words have meanings which can be misinterpreted by different people so we tend to keep them out.   Cut-ups and wordless vocals are interesting though and I love rhythmic waveforms but drum beats to me mean dance and we do not want to be a dance band.  I want something that’s totally different and I get that with freeform improvisation.

Wonderful Video Interview with Circuitry Room By Rich Bowers

LA: You and the other members of the Fuse Factory have been looking to merge noise/experimental music with artists in the dance music community in Columbus for your Frequency Friday shows at Wild Goose Creative. I have always thought there was such natural cross between the two groups of artist that became evident to me in events like Scott Niemet’s Kvlt events. Why do you think it’s important to have these two communities playing on the stage with one another?

JC:  It’s important because both the noise and dance communities are not only growing and evolving, they are connected as well.  The artists and performers are actually influencing each other and we think it’s a good idea to bring them together.  I think it will ultimately benefit both communities and will introduce people to new ways of expressing their creativity.

LA: I think this last question really gets to the core of your artistic motivation. What role does having fun play in keeping your artistic spark alive?

JC:  For me personally it’s everything!  I mean, if you’re not having fun then why bother.

Check out Jeff’s Bandcamp page HERE for more of his work.

(Thanks to Jeff for all the pictures)

In the lead up to my interview with Mike Gallicchio, I told you all about how I am shifting my project  to understand the unique economic opportunities and limitations we have in Columbus in building a dance music scene. (READ THAT HERE). Today’s interview with Alison Colman, founder and Director of the non-profit organization The Fuse Factory, is my first attempt to show that our growth and development as a scene is not predicated solely on the typical capitalist model of promoters booking bigger acts in bigger venues. In fact, Colman’s experiences with her technology, music, and art non-profit organization highlight one way that our scene can get around the typical capitalist pressures that prevent us from taking bigger risks in the musical experiences we curate. But first, a quick overview on why capitalism limits risk taking in putting on shows and curating music experiences.

The Capitalist Model: Limits on Risk-Taking

In a small to medium sized market like Columbus, capitalism places strong limits on the ability to take chances on artists at the margins or sounds that have fallen from popularity. This is not anything new. Everyone in our scene knows this. Promoters and club owners in our capitalist economy often have their hands tied. They are looking to at least break even from their shows and be financially solvent. This inevitably leads to crafting events and music experiences that do not take risks. Risks are dangerous in a capitalist organized economy, unless you are Goldman Sachs or J.P Morgan and know you can bet against the failure of the whole economy and still get bailed out. Promoters and club owners aren’t gonna get bailed out if a show flops. They can’t place bets on challenging listeners ears or social values too much, because if the listeners reject the show they will lose money, legitimacy in the scene’s eyes, and their ability to put on shows at all. Sure, you can place one slightly challenging artist on a bill and promote a show without placing a half-naked woman on the poster as long as you have other artists that can carry the bill.  Yet, the capitalist dance economy always wins out and limits the sounds and experiences in Columbus and other scenes around the country. We end up stuck in a race to the middle where hype beasts roam across the club spaces trying to make safe, mainstream music and show concepts seem dangerous, new, and exciting.

I understand this is a very idealized argument and does not map 100% onto our scene. I can see some of you already clicking the ex-out tab now saying: “What is he talking about?” I understand that their are people mounting challenges to listeners ears, but I think its important for us to think seriously about how we are complicit in this race to get bigger and better. Is that truly what we want? Is bigger better? Is growth the answer? Sure, within a capitalist system it is where the race for profit is the new religion, but is that the answer for our scene? In my posts over the last 6 months, I sure thought that becoming the next Detroit or Chicago was the answer. Yet, with time I have begun to question the idea of “pushing this scene to the next level” just so we can be like those big scenes. What do we have to sacrifice in pushing our scene to the next level and who wins economically in a big scene? These are the very questions we need to ask ourselves at this moment as a music community. We need to THINK about what we are doing and not just strive for bigger and better just because thats what the economic system we are embedded within teaches us to do that. We still retain autonomy over where our scene is going and together we can try and find ways to take risks to push the boundaries of peoples conceptions of sound and values.  Luckily, capitalism doesn’t always have to win out and their are organizations within our community that still provide us a venue for challenging ears and values.

One Way Out: The Fuse Factory and The Role of Non-Profits

How do we circumvent such a system? Who is going to take chances? Alison Colman’s experiences curating music, technology, & art events provides an interesting case study to show one way we can circumvent these capitalist pressures through the non-profit organization model. If your curiosity is perked then read on because Colman’s responses show us how non-profit organizations can curate experiences that take real challenges and showcase the margins of sound. Enjoy.

LA: What is the Fuse Factory and how did it start?

AC: The Fuse Factory Electronic and Digital Arts Lab is a Columbus-based 501c3 nonprofit organization focused on promoting the electronic and digital arts in all its guises (visual and sound art, music, movement). I started it in late 2006 at my kitchen table (literally) with a couple of friends interested in contemporary and experimental art and a big stack of books on How to Start a Non Profit. I was at a point in my life where I needed to change directions career-wise; while conducting my research for my dissertation in the mid and late 1990’s, I came across a number of art and technology/technology and culture NGOs and nonprofits in the U.S. and abroad (Eyebeam, Rhizome, FILE, Teleportacia, Waag Society, Sarai) and thought to myself “Central Ohio could sure use something like this!” So, when it became apparent that academia and I were not a good match, I felt that it was time to strike out and do what I’d been wanting to do for some time. The Fuse Factory really didn’t really begin to gather steam until late 2007, early 2008 when we moved back to Columbus and I was able to recruit board members and volunteers in earnest. We had our first juried exhibition in March 2008; the rest, as they say, is history.

LA: What is your organization’s mission?
AC: Our mission: The Fuse Factory is an art and technology initiative focused on cultivating artistic production, research, and experimentation with digital media and electronic tools. Our purpose is to function as an incubator for innovation, interaction, collaboration, critical thought, diversity, and artistic exploration.

LA: What are your thoughts on how art, technology, and music come together?
AC: The fusion of avant-garde art and music is not a new thing, obviously – it didn’t just appear with the advent of computers. Fluxus is a good example of a movement that embraced the intersection of various media and the combined use of everyday objects and sounds to create new objects, sounds, images, texts, and so on. I think much of what we are doing is in the spirit of Fluxus, even though we aren’t explicit about it. Technology simply adds a new dimension and adds to the possibilities. It is an excellent facilitator for bringing art and music together. I experienced this to a certain degree when I was a graduate student at OSU and taking classes at ACCAD. The courses were open to students of all majors, so there were folks from art, art education, computer science, architecture, engineering, and dance all working on cool projects and collaborating with one another. The discipline you were affiliated with came in distant second to your skill sets, your talent, and your willingness and ability to share your knowledge with others. It was all about the camaraderie the cool and interesting stuff you could do with the technology available. It was really great! I’d love to recreate that level of collaboration and interdisciplinarity with the Fuse Factory (albeit with a focus on experimentation, playfulness, and art on the margins).

(Trademark Gunderson of Evolutionary Control Committee)

LA: Much of the fuse factory’s work curates experiences from artists that don’t fit into the mainstream of music or art scenes. Why do you think it is important to showcase artists out on the marigns?
AC: The short answer is: because there is so much good stuff going on in the margins! But of course, that doesn’t fully explain why we do it. The value of presenting the work of non-mainstream artists, to us, is introducing audiences to novel and creative ways artists and musicians are playing with technology. Artists and musicians humanize technology in the sense that they are demonstrating how it can be used in ways that are far afield from the ways it was intended to be used by its original creators. In other words, nearly all technological artifacts come with a set of instructions and predetermined uses, either explicit or implied – and I am most interested in artists and musicians who completely disregard these instructions and recreate these artifacts from scratch. Their imagination, creativity, and inventiveness is what is on full display – their “voice” is what takes precedence, rather than the technology itself. The challenge is finding people who are playing with the technology and producing something provocative and intelligent as well as intriguing to look at or listen to, rather than producing eye (or ear) candy. There are many people who use technology to make art or music, but don’t challenge the technology’s parameters at all – those are not the artists or musicians we are interested in.

LA: Is it difficult to make the fringe appealing and get people to come to shows? If so, why?
AC: Yes, it has been difficult, and the attendance at our Frequency Fridays shows have been disappointing – disappointing in the sense that we aren’t satisfied with catering to a very small audience. So many of the artists we have brought in are just terrific, super talented people, and they deserve a wider audience. It’s high quality music – we won’t do weird just for the sake of doing weird. But getting back to your question – there are many reasons why it’s been so hard. First, we’ve been marketing our shows as experimental music. When people hear “experimental music”, they most likely this of some kind of atonal mishmash that they probably won’t like. Even when we use genre descriptors such as “drone”, “ambient”, or “sound art,” it still only appeals to people already familiar with this type of music. It isn’t enough to pique the interest of someone unfamiliar with it. Our shows are solely about the music – they aren’t parties per se, and they aren’t marketed this way. While our shows are BYOB, we’re not advertising our shows as a place to drink and party. Another reason is that we have been doing our marketing online for the most part, and while this has been reasonably effective in the past (and it still continues to be effective when marketing our educational programs), it isn’t really effective any more. It just gets lost in the online noise. We know we have to do a lot more of the traditional marketing with the flyers, handbills, face-to-face networking with people locally, and so on. The problem is that this is more expensive, and potentially more time-consuming. As the primary caregiver to two very young children (and volunteers who are out of school and working a day job or two), it’s hard for all of us to get out and market as much as we feel is needed. We desperately need interns!

LA: How did the frequency friday shows start and what were you trying to achieve?
AC: There are several strands that facilitated Frequency Fridays. One of the things we highlight in our educational program is circuit bending; as we became more familiar with the work of circuit benders in the U.S. and abroad and got exposed to their DIY instruments and the music they made, we realized that we were leaving out a whole group of people working creatively with technology when curating our Ignition exhibitions. However, because it is pretty hard to include live performance in a month-long gallery show (we prefer not to display documentation of shows, since it really doesn’t do them justice), we had to come up with a way to showcase their work. Around the same time, we started having serious discussions about how to increase our audience, along with the number of artists we were serving. In the earliest days of Fuse Factory, we had a yearly show called AUTOMATON which featured dance technologists/choreographers (Robert Weschler, DOUBLE VISION, Anna and the Annadroids) and performance artists (Queen Mae and the Bells). We thought, hey, instead of showcasing performers once a year, why not showcase them once a month? We thought a monthly experimental-electronic music/sound art/performance series would fulfill our goals of increasing our visibility, increasing our audience, serving more artists, and showcasing a wider range of artists’ use of technology beyond what can be seen in a gallery setting. What really got the ball rolling was me being contacted out of the blue via facebook by Tim Kaiser, an influential Minnesota-based sound artist, circuit bender, and electronic instrument inventor – he wanted to know if we booked shows for experimental electronic musicians. Not wanting to let a good opportunity go to waste, I told him yes. And off we went! After a lot of discussion and planning by several Fuse Factorians over the summer and fall of 2010, we organized seven monthly shows for our first season, which took place from November 2010 to May 2011.

(John Dinger of Ring Toss Twins)

LA: Your organization is interested in bringing in more dance music artists to the frequency friday line up. What do you think they can add to the frequency friday conversation?
AC: I think the inclusion of dance music artists certainly broadens our presentation of electronic music, and widens the range of approaches to electronic music that we can feature in our Frequency Fridays shows. This, in turn, will influence our curatorial decisions when deciding who to include on each month’s bill. While this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the music per se, I’m really looking forward to including more local artists in our shows – I’m hoping some interesting collaborations between the local dance music artists and local experimental music artists come about as a result.

LA: You are devoted to not puting artists in niches or genres when crafting a frequency friday lineup. Why do you take what you call a smorgasbord approach to curating a music event?
AC: A large part of it is our desire to educate the public about experimental and electronic music in all of its forms – so instead of showcasing all ambient musicians one month, all drone/noise musicians one month, all circuit benders another month and so on, we try to mix it up so someone who comes to our shows can be exposed to the large variety of ways musicians and sound artists are playing with technology, both high and low. Another reason we use the smorgasbord approach is due to the nature of a lot of experimental music. Most experimental music, to varying certain degrees, requires a certain amount of intellectual effort on the part of the listener – I don’t perceive it as the type of music that can be played in the background, whether it be in a bar or on the radio. Oftentimes it requires a certain amount of careful listening; sometimes there is a visual component to the music (video, instruments, objects) that the listener needs to pay attention to in order to fully appreciate what the musician is doing. This means that it can be a challenge for some people to sit through three or four noise/drone acts, for example (depending on how skilled the musicians are). On the other hand, we’ve featured experimental musicians whose music is more melodic, whose influences also include EDM or classical music; their music doesn’t always require a similar type of mental effort. This doesn’t make them worse or better – it’s just a different approach. My personal philosophy when it comes to experimental music can be summed up by Louis Armstrong’s response when he was asked for his opinion about popular music: “If it sounds good, it *is* good.” In other words, what all of the musicians we feature have in common is the high quality of the music they make. Quite simply, they are all good! In my opinion, categorizing experimental music according to niche or genre is often not very helpful when trying to convey to others what the music of specific musicians sound like. You can use terms such as “dark ambient,” “drone metal,” “sound art,” “EDM-influenced,” “electronica” and so on, but these terms can only give a very general sense of what a listener can expect to hear. We’ve also featured a number of musicians who, quite frankly, don’t fit into any genre I’m familiar with aside from the catch-all term “experimental.”

LA: In the columbus dance music scene, capitalism impacts what types of music events we can and cannot see. Does your non-profit status afford you special opportunities to circumvent that for-profit model? If so, How?
AC: Sure. For instance, if you are running a club that needs to generate a certain amount of profit in order to remain open, you need to bring in musicians or DJs who are popular enough to attract large crowds. Of course, popular does not always equal high quality, and your main criterion for selecting musicians must include the amount of money they can make for you. As a result, there might be some musicians or DJs out there whose work you really like and would love to expose, but you can’t because they are not as well known and won’t draw a crowd. When you are a nonprofit lucky enough to receive public funding in the form of grants, you aren’t operating under these constraints. The whole premise of using taxpayer dollars for art and culture is that there is value in supporting artists, musicians, dancers, etc. that don’t necessarily cater to the mainstream, and that the amount of profit generated should not be a criterion for determining which artists receive support and exposure. In other words, there is inherent value in broadening the public’s cultural horizons. Another premise is that there is inherent value in subsidizing artists, musicians, dancers, etc. with taxpayer money in order to make the work of these artists, etc. widely accessible to the public. What I’ve just described above is an ideal situation – that an arts nonprofit receives enough funding (operating support and project support) to have the freedom to choose artists and musicians based entirely on the quality of their work rather than the amount of profit they can generate for the organization. The Fuse Factory is in this situation to a certain degree, fortunately – the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Columbus Foundation have been very good to us, and thus we’ve been able to exercise a lot of curatorial freedom when organizing our Frequency Fridays shows. However, due to budget cuts (and thus the limited amount of grant funding available), we are very dependent on our shows to bring in operating funds. This puts us in a bind – on one hand, we’ve received enough project grant money to afford us a lot of curatorial freedom. On the other hand, exercising this freedom has meant (so far) attracting a very small audience, which leads to very little in the way of operating funds being available to us to grow our existing programs. There are a number of sound artists and musicians who we would love to bring to Columbus but can’t because we don’t have enough money. So in order to bring in everyone we want, we have a couple of choices: we can expand our Frequency Fridays curatorial boundaries to include more popular forms of electronic music in hopes of drawing in a larger audience, and we can increase our fundraising efforts. At this point, we are planning to do both. In addition to including more local EDM musicians to our Frequency Fridays 2012-2013 lineup, we are also looking to have more fundraising-type events outside of Frequency Fridays that feature an all (or mostly) EDM lineup. We’re also going to do two Kickstarter fundraising events a year instead of one. Wish us luck!

(Doctah X)

LA: Why are non-profits, like yours, important to dance music communities? What do think they add to the musical or artistic conversation?
AC: I think arts nonprofits like ours can expose members of dance music communities to innovative ways to use technology and electronics in order to make music. There might be something our sound artists/musicians are doing, whether musically, stylistically, or technologically, that EDM musicians can draw upon and be inspired by. In addition, there is a certain amount of musical overlap between EDM and other forms of experimental electronic music, as both groups engage in a certain amount of experimentation with new music technologies; I would say they are on the same continuum of electronic music, just on different ends. Perhaps this could lead to new opportunities for collaboration. We are always happy when our programming fosters new connections and collaboration. But since I’m not really familiar with the histories of experimental electronic and EDM, I’m unfortunately not able to talk at length about their common influences.

In Closing..

Check out The Fuse Factory Website and Facebook for all up to date information.

Also, make sure to come to Wild Goose Creative Next Friday June 1st at 8pm to see how a no boundaries approach to dance and experimental music works first hand. The Fallen (FBK & Plural), Ben Bennett, & Forest Management will be performing a broad spectrum of noise, ambient, techno, drone and all other types of labels we use to describe sound. Event Details

There are a handful of people in the Columbus dance music scene that have been around since the days of Mean Mr. Mustards in the early 80s that are still involved in the scene. These individuals have been indispensable in shaping the terrain of where we dance, what we listen to, and the types of parties we hold (Thats a whole other story I suppose that I will save for another day). Kevy Kev was there in those beginning days and has stayed intimately connected to our scene since. Whether it was playing DJ sets, promoting his Juicy or Church parties, creating event flyers or stickers with Hot Cards Columbus, running Melt magazine, or starting Spin Cycle DJ Academy, Kevy Kev has been always been in some way involved in the artistic conversation in our city through its many ebs and flows. This makes an interview with him an extremely worthwhile endeavor. We certainly can learn a lot about where we have been and where we are going by drawing on his insights. Hope you enjoy.

LA: You have been involved in the Columbus Dance Music Scene and dance music in general since 1984. Was there a track, show, or experience that started it all for you?
KK: Hmmmmm, probably the first time I stepped foot into Mean Mr Mustard’s (one of the ORIGINAL campus bars where the Gateway lives now). I’d always been into ALL kinds of music (Progressive/Alternative, Disco, Rock/Metal, Rap, Pop and pretty much ANYthing/band/song that used a synth). MTV was THE source for new music back then and did NOT differentiate genres at the time. Mean Mr Mustard’s was the first place on campus the open it’s doors playing MTV on the screens inside (which seems like no big deal today, but was HUGE back then), then they made the transition into a REAL nightclub playing stuff you couldnt hear ANYwhere else. The first time i walked the the doors I was hooked.

LA: Having such a depth of year after year commitment to the scene is truly commendable. What is it about this music and this community that keeps you coming back and wanting to put your time and energy into it?
KK: Truthfully it’s the energy that a well-tuned crowd gives back when you’ve really got a hold on them. It’s VERY addictive. Further truth is – it doesn’t really matter WHAT kind of music you’re playing (I mean as long as it’s not making you personally MISERABLE to play it), the feeling is the same when you control the feeling in the room. ‚that being said, it doesn’t hurt if you’re getting off on what you’re playing just as much as the crowd, and they’ll CAN tell if you’re bullshitting or not. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been allowed to play music I love (which is A LOT) for people that dig it as much as I do. Doing this for a JOB can work, but anyone that stays in the game long enough will tell you that it’s the love of rocking a floor, like the FIRST time it ever happens, that keeps them in it.

LA: You discussed the importance of that first phase of DJs that arose in the mid to late 70s to Columbus Dance Music History to teach you and your contemporaries. What is the importance of people Like Mike Swaggerty and the rest of the members of that first school of DJing to the development of dance music in Columbus?
KK: Welp, As far as the FIRST school of DJs on Columbus, and the people that I’ve known personally, Mike was IT. He dj’ed at a place called Streamers back in the day (like late-70s back-in-the-day) that I never even WENT to, but had MAJOR influence in club culture around here. Seems like when I was starting out almost every club owner (straight, gay, campus, downtown, suburban, whatEVER) I became involved with used to hang out there. I didn’t actually meet Mike until a couple of years after I got started (mostly because I was living in the campus/Mean Mr Mustard’s bubble). I’d heard of him and his name was always orbiting around me, but it wasn’t until he threw the first ever Columbus DJ competition, around 1989-90 or so that I met him. You’d never meet a cooler, more-supportive and less-egotistical guy in your life, and his musical knowledge was BIBLICAL. He dj’ed all over the place and was ALWAYS an influential presence on me just because of how all-around awesome he was. But his having started the FIRST on-air radio show of dance music (All Mixed Up on the original CD101), truly cemented him as a legend. There was no internet radio, no do-it-yourself podcasts and streaming soundcloud pages, he did it ALL himself. He busted his butt to strike a deal that had him on the airwaves, doing what we do in the clubs, EVERY week. VERY Sadly, Mike got ill and passed a few months back, but he’s kept his showing going this WHOLE time – and it carries on today on WCBE, now headed up by my buddy James Brown. Not the Godfather of soul, but just as funktastic 😉

LA: What about clubs like Mean Mr. Mustards and Maxwells? What was there importance in the development of dance music in Columbus?
KK: Well like I said before, Mustard’s was the place that started it all for me. Earl “Skully” Webb (yeah THAT Skully) was the head DJ and Music Director there and really SHAPED the dance club sound that everyone around us tried to emulate. Mustard’s was the club that leaned a little more alternative playing everything from Prince and Madonna to New Order and Depeche Mode. But Skully kept things constantly fresh you never knew when he’d drop in an AC/DC track or Run DMC or something darker like Sisters Of Mercy or something straight from the NYC dancefloors like Magazine 60. “Nobody EVER complained about “oh god, this music doesn’t fit the night” or “This doesnt go together” because it ALL went together. The club was TRULY a melting pot of musical styles and a complete cross-section of people.” The only thing we really DIDN’T play there was totally poppy bubblegum stuff like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. Skully was REALLY on top of what was going on GLOBALLY on the dancefloor, not an easy task in an age of no internet and being landlocked in the midwest – think about it. Maxwells’ was also important because we really started showcasing the NEXT groups of jocks that came up after us there. It was owned by the same guys as Mustard’s, and my old roomie and Mustard’s co-DJ Chuck Fay (DJ Chuckstar – the guy that DJs for Skully at Ladies 80s to this day) and myself headed up some Sunday night showcases of rotating local/regional DJ talent that usually included several of the ele_mental crew (ie Titonton, Todd Sines, Charles Noel (aka Monochrome), Doughboy and others). It was the beginning of things like that taking place in Columbus.

LA: The more I learn about the development of Columbus Dance Music the more I see how the Underground and Club Scenes speak to one another. How would you define “the underground” and “the club” scenes and how have they interacted with one another?
KK: Well, in MY experience they’re really one and the same. I worked at the “underground” club and everything started THERE for me. I suppose if you look at the history of another campus-club DJ from that time it might be a different story though. For instance – Mike Gallicchio (aka Mike G), now an owner of the Park Street and Long Street Complex group of clubs ALSO came from those same bars on High St back-in-the-day. His history was firmly rooted in the New York house music and early hip-hop scene and the club he played at back then had a different vibe AND group of people that went to it, albeit STILL underground in it’s own right. He and I BOTH went on to play the major Columbus clubs in the 90s, and then he eventually took the ownership route – but it’s the similar passion for what made music you couldn’t hear ANYwhere else but the clubs that shaped where we’ve both gone. Ya know it’s funny, back then (and when we were all competing in that first DJ competition that Mike Swaggerty threw), we made up shirts that said “No Weak Beats” on one side and “Fuck You We’re From DOWNTOWN” on the back‚ partially because we were smug motherfuckers, but MOSTLY because we KNEW everyone Djing on the outskirts WANTED to be US. Truthfully – we we’re the ONLY ones keepin’ it real.

LA: You are firm believer in teaching aspiring djs the importance of programming in your Spin Cycle DJ Academy. What is programming and why do you think it is the most important skill for a DJ to have?
KK: The first Dj lesson I ever got was from Skully. I bugged the CRAP out of him until he invited me into the booth at Mustard’s at like 8pm on a Tuesday night and showed me the BASICS of cueing, volume control, track-end anticipation and how to work the lights (LOL) He was a master. But it wasn’t until the 2nd-in-command-DJ at Mustard’s, a guy name Bryant Johnson let me sit in the booth ALL NIGHT and allowed me to learn – if by no other means than osmosis, HOW TO CONTROL A CROWD, that things REALLY started to become more clear to me. When you get in front of a crowd, and I mean ANY crowd, you’d better know what to play. Mixing, scratching, looping, effects, mashing and whatever other trick you want to learn will ALWAYS be secondary to programming (WHAT you play). It’s soooo much easier today than it was back then because by-and-large you don’t have to really pay a bunch for music. It’s easier (and cheaper) to try stuff out. But remember when (I) learned, 12″ singles were $5.99/piece and imports were $12.99/piece. I’ve got the wasted student loans and a sky-high stack of vinyl to prove it. So mastering your craft meant FIRST being able to afford your own copies of the records to play with at home. If you were a bedroom DJ that learned how to mix these 20-50 records that you owned and couldn’t vary from those selections if you started clearing a dancefloor you were SUNK. You needed to make SURE you owned what was going to rock the crowd. After THAT point blending different styles and sounds becomes more important. You have to have skills (and the playlist) to recover in case the crowd isn’t in tune with what you’re doing.

LA: You are a firm believer in “Violent Format Shifts” in mix work and live sets. What is it about presenting an expansive, diverse sonic palette that is so important to you?
KK: Hmmm, well it’s partially because of the initial environment (Mustard’s) that I learned to love dance music being so cross-genre oriented and partially because I suffer from a pretty vicious case of musical ADHD I guess. I’ve always LIKED so many different things that I get up in front of people and want to play them ALL at once. But thankfully I’m not alone. There are plenty of DJs and music-makers out there that have always done a great job of mixing genres. Take BT or Celdweller and you have guys doing SUCH a great job of integrating awesome electronics with a sometime heavy rock vibe. That stuff is incredible! But I’ve always loved shaking up the crowd a bit. Whether is dropping in some industrial on an electro crowd, or old-school hip-hop in the middle of a jungle set, it just FEELS right to throw ’em a curve ball every once in a while‚ My partner in my industrial night Travis Boggs (aka broken boy) drops in a dubsteppy version of Katy Perry’s E.T. on the goth kids every once in a while, and at FIRST they used to stare at the booth like, “huh?!”‚ now they just keep on goin’ – i love that.

LA: You have played the role of promoter and DJ in our scene. Over the last few years, you have increasingly played the role of promoting shows like Juicy and Church. What are some of the lessons you have learned over the last few years as you been doing more of the behind the scenes work to put on a show?
KK: Biggest thing I’ve learned is that if the promoters cant coordinate and cooperate with each that you’re starting off in a sinking ship. Anytime ANYone sees something successful going off they ALWAYS think they can do it and it’d be easy to pull it off. Because of that you end up having WAAAAAY too many events (some of them fully professional and some of them half-assed) trying to pop off at the same time. it ends up splitting the crowds and hurting all the events involved. I’ve ALWAYS been a champion of trying to make things gel TOGETHER.

LA: We spoke about the differences in dance music crowds and goth/industrial crowds. What are the differences between the two crowds and how does that impact how you play or who you choose to play your shows?
KK: It’s not really JUST the goth/industrial crowd vs the EDM crowd. It’s actually almost ANY other crowd vs. the EDM crowd when it comes down to it. Basically, the dance music/dj culture explosion has created a new subsection of club patrons that get off on a sound more than they do being able to sing-along to their favorite tracks. This probably started around the time of disco, but has been constantly evolving ever since. This is HEAVILY where my placing an extra importance on programming comes into play. I mean unless you’re Skrillex or Rusko or Paul Van Dyk, if you’re approaching a crowd you MUST do your homework on what goes down in that club. The thing is that indigenously, people like to dance to stuff that they know. There are ways of getting them to go to stuff that they don’t, but they STILL need to be sprinkled with the dust of familiarity or they’ll loose interest. That is EXCEPT for the EDM crowd. As long as you’re dropping something that SOUNDS like they want it to, is produced well enough to push the system to the limits, and can be manipulated in a way to which they are accustomed , you’re golden. So much of that music doesn’t have lyrics anyway that the familiarity-factor doesn’t hold as much weight.

LA: We discussed your desire to stay alternative and always connect with the younger generation. What drives you to embrace the alternative and new in dance music?
KK: I’d like to steal a line as quoted recently in Columbus Alive by my buddy Adrain “X” Spillman, “I like bad music”. I mean – that’s kinda true I guess. I’ve always been kind of an “alt” kid, I like punk-rock, metal, industrial, heavy beats, almost all rap music pre-DMX, electroclash, mash-ups, wearing black, being juvenile and stupid‚ Anything dirty is always good – what did Blank 182 say in their liner notes from Dude Ranch?‚ “masturbate everyday and anything with poop is funny”. I’m all in. Once club kids reach the age of say 27 (they magic age where ALL the coolest people have died ya know), they still go to clubs‚ but they’re, enh‚ more “adult”. it’s hard to describe but jazzy-house? – not a fan. I’d rather bathe in the insanity of a raging room of dubstep ANY day over that crap. Once you’ve hung up the Adidas in favor of some “Fluevogs for men” and start hanging out at Eleven – I just see it as you’ve cashed in. I live in the dark.

LA: You are instrumental in putting out a free music publication called MELT that has released 72 editions and running HotCards Columbus. I feel it harkens back to an age when flyers and printed zines were incredibly important for show promotion. In our age of social media, what is the importance of the printed press, stickers, and show flyers to scene building?
KK: Still super important. Let’s answer that in 2 parts‚ 1) Event flyer printing: A few years back when Facebook really blew up and Myspace staring feeling like a deflated balloon, if your party wasn’t online, it’s likely it was going to be empty. The social media sites changed party promotion FORever, and the good ‘ol print standbys sat idly by waiting to return. We’re seeing more and more back out there now, mostly because there are so many event invites online that people almost see them as white-noise. And where a passive-aggressive invite to a stockpile of Facebook friends worked for like a few months, to get the job done now you got to sew it ALL together. It’s like you STILL have to keep up the online presence, and in some cases almost to an annoying level to really stand out at all. But you’ve GOT to back it up with the old school methods of not JUST getting flyers made, but being OUT, being SOCIAL (like in-person social) and glad handing (genuinely) your potential attendees. With my Juicy parties it’s a MAJOR reason I teamed up with James Castrillo (DJ Kingpin). On top of being a MAJOR dude, he’s completely amped-into the current EDM social scene which is AWESOME. I still try and make it out in-person as often as possible for the stuff all through the week that goes on, but with having to be up at the buttcrack of dawn to get to HotcardsColumbus coupled with the fact I’m old and crusty plus have a DVR full of Storage Wars episodes, it can be tough. He is almost completely the in-person promotional arm of our night, an AWESOME DJ in his own right, and a super-suave dresser ‚and I love him VERY dearly for all of those things. AND‚ 2) As far as Melt goes, welp – people just seem to like it. I’m not sure if it’s the compact size, or the massive graphic feel, the over-the-top opinionated writing or the never-ending typos we leave in the copy, but we never get ANY back. We produced the magazine EVERY month for seven years straight and people just dig it. But it’s a HUGE undertaking, make no mistake. From rounding up writers to getting ad space filled to punching out mind-blowing layouts, the entire staff has never been more than 4-5 people strong at a time including interns, and usually just 2-3. THAT being said, in November 2011 The mag went on temporary hiatus as I’ve committed fully to my business-partner that I’d focus completely on getting the hotcardscolumbus.com website updated and redesigned before I’d TOUCH the keyboard for Melt again. But don’t despair! We’re coming out of the weeds here soon and we should return to full production later this summer/autumn sometime, and Melt will be back to annoy and amuse everyone once again.

LA: You are in a unique position to offer a retrospective on the ebs and flows of the scene historically. How would you assess the impact you and your contemporaries have had on the dance music scene in scene over the last almost thirty years?
KK: Hmmmm‚ well as we’ve gone along each DJ has effected the next, and hopefully in a positive way. I mean as long has you’re staying in touch with what’s going on DJing is something you can do as long as it still holds your interest. I found early inspiration in what Skully and BJ were doing at Mustard’s, then new inspiration the first time I walked into Nine Of Clubs in Cleveland and heard Angela play there and then later at Aquilon with Rob Sherwood. Hearing Pat Finn at the old Garage downtown for the first time blew me away‚ and I never stop having new heroes. I believe thoroughly as soon as you think you’re the shit, you stop developing your craft. Each of us has been inspired by another at one time or another and I for one still find inspiration in the guys coming up today. Matt and Bryan from networkEDM BLOW IT UP – there might not be more bangin BANGERS out here. Basillio Santiago (DJ Egotronic) freaks me out with his diversity (sometimes daily as he constantly drops new stuff on my Facebook inbox). Watching Greg and Zach from Digiraatii work the mixer and decks is like watching some open heart surgery show on the Discovery Channel!‚ and roeVy?!‚ it’s almost like they are not even in the same category as all of us! Their shows are a meticulously woven web of sound and visuals that EASILY rival the biggest production rock tours I’ve EVER seen. These ARE the music makers‚ These are the dreamers of dreams 😉

LA: We discussed our common belief in the specialness of Columbus. Do you think Columbus could be the austin, TX or Seattle Washington of DJ’ing?
KK: I think without question that we kind of already are. There is such a massive pool of performing talent here in Columbus that it’s easy to take it for granted, but all you’ve got to do is look around. And I think that part of it is the city itself – the fact that Columbus is kind of like a large “SMALL city”. Because we have such an enormous school here, everything that goes on is kind of centralized in and around the campus area, and goes out in concentric waves from there (Campus, Short North, Downtown, Clintonville, Grandview, Old Town, etc). Sure there are things going on out on the perimeter of the city, but by-and-large our enormous pool of talent, and the events that they all carry are right on top of each other. It forces us to all KNOW each other, be aware of one another, and be inspired by one another. Sometimes it gets a little incestuous and sparks some uncomfortable competition – but it leaves us with an open create environment we can all draw from – and it shows. You can go to other bigger cities that also have great DJs and electronic producers, but you’ll find the bigger the place, the more fragmented the scene(s). It’s almost like we’re living in a hippy commune for DJs, it’s REALLY cool and I think SIGNIFICANTLY important to our place in the advancement of dance music culture. You can find guys that play ANYthing here – Hip Hop, Electro, Goth, Disco, 80s, Techno, Breaks, Minimal, Funk – you name it. It’s awesome and I’d put us up against ANYwhere else that thinks they do it better.

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