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In the Booth

[Photo Courtesy of Carlos Bell Photography]

Introduction:

We are lucky to have Atlanta based DJ, producer, ndatl label label founder Kai Alcé coming to Columbus to perform this Friday (8/2) at Big Bar alongside many other amazing artists (Event details HERE). Alcé has been in the thick of U.S. dance music for over twenty plus years and has used this pedigree to craft his own and Atlanta’s distinctive house sound. He has his roots sunk deep in numerous cultures and communities, as he came of age in what he termed the Golden Age of dance culture in New York, Detroit, and Chicago. Alcé talked about how he got his grassroots education in sound immersing himself in the dance cultures of these cities in a recent interview with Juno: “Well in New York I grew up in the midst of disco and the emergence of hip-hop, then in my pre-teen years I moved to Detroit and got into the high school party scene. I linked with Chez Damier, we were hangin’ out at the KMS/Transmat/Metroplex building and eventually worked at the Music Institute. I was also travelling back to New York and also checking out Chicago, so I saw the main three breeding grounds of this sound during their golden years. I was seeing Ron Hardy in Chicago one weekend, the heading back to Detroit and checking the MI, and going to New York places like MK’s Red Zone Mars.” It is evident from this statement that Alcé got much more than lessons in dance music. He garnered a PhD in the chemistry of sound, as from an early age he was influenced to synthesize diverse musical sounds and ideas. As he traveled from city to city, his was immersed in teachings on the fundamental elements that each city drew on to create his own distinctive voice and sound. These lessons would serve him well once he moved to Atlanta, as he was able to refashion these building blocks he learned across the country to help build a community and sound that would cement Atlanta’s reputation as a house music destination.

This deep appreciation for synthesizing diverse elements into his mixing and production has never left his work. All of Alcé’s mixes, that are readily available for listening, reveal this fact . Take the mix he did for vice magazine [more mixes of his are available connected to his Juno and Little White Ear Buds interviews]:

Thirty-five minutes or so in, Alcé weaves together tracks from Detroit’s past and present by playing Rhythm is Rhythm right alongside Kyle Hall. Such programming/selection creates a rich historical conversation between two records separated by decades of time. However, rather than showing some stark juxtaposition between the two records, this programming reveals the commonalities that Hall’s music still shares with the founders of the Detroit sound. Not content to end this strain of sound exploration right then, he tops it off with a sizzling track called “On It” from his new ep World Causes [previews here]. You can feel the same energy and ethos coming out of Alcé’s track. Just like Rhythm is Rhythm and Kyle Hall, Alcé lets the track run wild in a sort of controlled creative chaos that tips his hat to Detroit, but carves out propulsive properties all its own.

On the street

[Photo Courtesy of Carlos Bell Photography]

Above the nods to Detroit, his technical chops, his musical pedigree, the real magic I find in Alcé’s music is in his belief and use of the power of music to heal and uplift people. Throughout all his mixes, there are inspiring messages to help us get over in our daily lives. Let’s be honest, life is beautiful, but the obstacles we all face can at times feel insurmountable. When I listen to Alcé’s mixes, the sun starts to crack through the clouds, and I get back some courage to take that next step to just keep going. I can take refuge in his mixes and let them fill me back up with the love and patience I need to go back out in the world and try to make a difference.  However, this isn’t just secluded to his mix work. In his productions like “feeding” or “Willow,” he has created works of art that call on us to think deeply about how we can make ourselves and other people better. What a special quality! I am truly inspired by Alcé’s emphasis on taking the power he has as an artist to share a positive message with other people seriously. I think he  really prompts us to ask a few questions to ourselves: What messages are we sharing with the world? How are we treating one another? Are we a force for peace and love in the world or are we just continuing to perpetuate cycles of fear, hate, and greed?

I think a fitting way to close this introduction is to take an excerpt of the lyrics from the closing track in his Vice mix, Romanthony’s “Hold On”:


“So your thinking that its over. You coming off another put down. Your feeling life is on your shoulders, No love around. You say your in for stormy weather. The sun ducked away behind the clouds. Can’t seem to get your thing together. Can’t get turned around. There is a reason for the madness. Someone got to tell you “It seems all hope is Gone.” There is one thing you might miss “Hold On.” You never know what’s in store for you. You never know what dreams might come true. Hold on you’ll see a brighter day. Hold on and I will show you the way. Hold On.”

Hopefully, this message helps you get through your Wednesday. Just Hold On Ya’ll help is on the way. Friday will be here soon enough and we can all convene at Big Bar and recharge together with Kai Alcé, Jay Daniel, Seth Dedikate Carter, Craig Huckaby, Toby Tope, Aaron Austen, Tony Fairchild, True Skills, George Brazil, Ginsu, Bombay, Jenny Arcade, and Fran Fiction. All the details you need are available by clicking right HERE. In the mean time, check out Alcé’s exclusive interview below.

flyer

Interview:

Local Autonomy: How does sound and music influence the way you live and experience life?

Kai Alcé: It’s probably more the other way around, my life and experiences influence my sound. Hence the name of my label NDATL which stands for New York, Detroit & Atlanta the 3 places I’ve lived (with heavy influence from Chicago as well), have curated the sounds you’ll hear from me & the label.

Local Autonomy: Your track “Feeding” has this amazing spoken word poetry in it. I love the whole thing, but especially this section:
“Who’s feeding the children? Who’s feeding them? Who’s feeding them knowledge and freedom? Feeding them. Who’s feeding them that we are a part of the whole? Feeding them. Who’s feeding them purpose? Feeding them. Who’s feeding them that revolution revolves around itself and evolution is change? Feeding them. Who’s feeding them be yourself? Feeding them. Who’s Feeding them diversity? Feeding them. Who’s feeding them faith? Feeding them. Who’s feeding them spirituality? Feeding them. Who’s feeding them differences and preferences? Feeding them. Who’s feeding them culture? Feeding them. Who’s nurturing what they begin to feed themselves? Freedom. Feeding them. Seeding them as a root of their own.”
These sorts of questions seem so important in our day and age. Do you think House music and music more broadly can provide that sort of nourishment, insight, and courage the next generation needs to survive the world we live in?

[Kai Alcé’s “Feeding”]

Kai Alcé: Those great words are from Kemi Bennings a talented poet/activist here in Atlanta. Good House music by nature should make you feel better so when it’s also accompanied with inspiring lyrics it’s all the better. Something that I would like to see more of not only in dance but in commercial music in general, when you have a voice such as music you shouldn’t take that power & influence for granted.

Local Autonomy: You have been doing a lot of community building in Atlanta around house music with the House in the Park & Distinctive events and your NDATL label. In past interviews, you have discussed how it was special for you to help shape the Atlanta sound. I can only imagine how fun that was to be a part of that. What prompted you to want to help build the house music community and help shape its sound in Atlanta?

[Footage from House in the Park 7 from deephouseatl.]

Kai Alcé: It really came out of necessity, shortly after I moved to Atlanta the only two guys that were playing dance music Ron Pullman & Tedd Patterson moved away & so the an empty slot that need to be filled and so I did, & I also worked at Satellite records store for about 10 years furthering the deep sound.

Local Autonomy: In many of your interviews (Such as the ones with Juno,  We Dig and Little White Ear Buds), you discussed how vital it is for you to connect with the music you play and the crowd around you are playing for. Why is getting lost in the music and connecting with the crowd important to you when you play live?

Kai Alcé: It’s just what you’re supposed to do as DJ is to connect. U have to pay attention to the energy in the room, many DJ’s get caught up in the mix u have to be aware, one eye on your floor at all times. I usually take a stroll on dancefloor while I’m DJ’ng just to really feel what they feel.

Nob Level

[Photo Courtesy of Carlos Bell Photography]

Local Autonomy: You have been creating art with music for some time now with your DJ’ing, Producing, and community building. What do you think you have learned about living life from these artistic practices?

Kai Alcé: That nothing is given you must work for it all.

Lookout for the latest NDATL release “World Causes EP” by Kai “KZR” Alce OUT NOW!

World Causes EP

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Photo Mixing q[photo courtesy of Ray of Hope Arts]

Much of how I judge my connection with an artist is based on the lessons Kevin Kennedy taught me about one’s musical compass. In a candid conversation we had on how we both relate to music, he shared with me an insight that has become a core idea to how I approach music. He said that one knows very quickly if a track or set speaks to them. If the music grabs you and leaves you bobbing your head then you know that you have a connection with that creation. I have carried this insight with me and it has helped me immensely in understanding and refining what I call my musical compass. This inner compass is pretty important in our time period of increased “connection,” screaming NOISE, and endless mounds of “news.” Like the magnetic forces of our north pole has provided a form of navigation through endless horizons of land and sea, our inner musical compasses now guide us through the mounds of information that we all have to move through to find the art and people we connect with most and want to learn from. It was this compass that has led me to a deep appreciation for Tony Fairchild’s work and his desire to take the long, scenic route through the valleys and mountains of skill building rather than the direct route of instant gratification.

Anyone present the the first time I heard Tony Fairchild spin could see how I instantly connected with his work. Prior to seeing Fairchild spin live, I had not heard much of his work. I knew from the little exposure I had with his mixes online that we had a common musical vocabulary and were interested in the same constellations of sound. However, it was not until that set that it really clicked for me. It was not until I turned off all the distractions and just opened myself up to that experience that my musical compass confirmed how much I connected with his vision of the world. From the minute that needle hit the first record, I could not stop bobbing my head and was soon propelled into strange, trance-like convulsions around the dancefloor. However, its not surprising that I connected with his work.

At that time, my musical compass had me exploring the darker spectrum of techno and house, which primed me to look deeply into the imagery behind Fairchild’s set. Fairchild spun a set that weaved together a string of sounds that evoked the dystopian soundscapes that seemed to really be capturing my imagination at the time. The set ebbed and flowed through an exploration of the space in-between precision and spastic syncopation. It moved from propulsive energy to the sort of deconstructed sputtering so characteristic of the music of the past 6-7 years. In this set, I saw the richness of our organized world revealed. I saw the “perfectly ordered universe” of our bureaucratic lives set against a backdrop of the contradictions and dysfunctions of the very human systems we have created. I saw past the rhetoric of how our world worked to see the simple realities of municipal bankruptcies, the convulsions of the world economy, and our inability to deal with simple social problems in a direct and non-partisan fashion. In his soundscape, I saw him revealing simple truths about the nature of our reality and the common space and organizations we share through the synthesis of sound. Quite pointedly, I saw that despite our best efforts to make things work the way we want them to we will always be human and have to adapt to the paths presented to us when life doesn’t go according to plan.

Aside from my connection to his music, it is quite obvious that Fairchild has embraced his own inner music compass and has let it guide him to construct his own path through the sound. His inner compass led him to not shy away from the challenge of embracing vinyl. He has embraced a deep respect for the music format and the lessons it can teach someone. His inner compass guided him to not shy away from making the transition from the “dubstep” that gripped him in the mid 2000s into “house”, “techno”, etc. He took the lessons he learned on how to focus on a single genre that he picked up listening to these artists and applied it to other constellations of sound he had yet to explore.  His inner compass led him to not shy away from the long, scenic route of attempting to master the craft of DJing. In our age of instant gratification, this is a powerful act. Fairchild rejected the seductive lure of building a social media following and its accompanying HYPE. Instead, he invested his time in building a toolkit of skills that would help him express his voice. He took on the never-ending task of mastering a skill, and in that act dropped out of the rat race of EDM. He just followed that inner compass and opened himself to what the experience will teach him. Is that not what all of us should do if we are truly paying attention to our collective soul and seeking to connect deeply with the sacredness of our community and the art we all love?

Photo mixing 2

[photo courtesy of Ray of Hope Arts]

Luckily, Fairchild was kind enough to do an interview and a mix for us all to share some of his art with our community. I hope you have the chance to check out the mix and interview. It really captures the deep respect and reverence Fairchild has for the artform we all love. I hope you too will show this same respect for this mix as more than just another 54 minutes and 6 seconds, but as an opportunity to see what Fairchild is trying to teach and reveal to us. Don’t come at it ready to judge. Come at it with no judgements at all.  Respect the music and the artist and amazing things can happen and you can allow the music to lift your mood, your spirits, and your heart. I know this mix he created has done that for me numerous times over the last two weeks as I let it float into my world. You can connect with Fairchild on his Soundcloud page and through his association with local dance organization Squared. He plays on a regular basis for Squared’s monthly at Victory’s.

Mix:

Interview:

Local Autonomy: How does sound and music influence the way you live and experience life?

Tony Fairchild: There are two sides to this coin. First, music inspires, stimulates and opens my mind to new ways of perceiving reality or giving shape and sound to a reality that may only exist in your head. Dance music, techno in particular, tends to either paint a picture of the reality in which the artist exists or create an alternate reality that the artist has dreamt up. Detroit techno is the textbook example of the first; guys writing tracks about the decaying, technology-driven city in which they lived. The whole minimal-Perlon-Ricardo Villalobos camp really exemplifies the second; guys writing tracks to give shape to some exotic alternate reality or future that exists in their head. Both approaches allow me to experience realities and aesthetics that aren’t my own and open my mind to a bigger world of ideas than the one I naturally inhabit. It’s a great experience to listen to a piece of music that conjures up the image of another time and place in your mind.

On the other hand, music distracts and consumes me. I have a very obsessive personality and the thought of the next record I buy, the next artist I discover, etc. can take up a bigger portion of my thoughts and attention than they should. I have to consciously temper this, otherwise I would have no friends and my only chance of getting a tan would be from the light coming off of my computer from the Discogs home page. It’s a double edged sword.

vinyl

LA: How did you get into dance music?

TF: Listening to a lot of electronic music in high school in and early college. Traditional music production (ie bands) lost its appeal and I sought anything that was produced electronically. At first I listened to a hodge podge of genres, trip hop, IDM, techno, it was all just electronic to me. Around 2007-8 I got really into dubstep coming out of the UK. The sound was so novel at the time. It all sounded like the music for a film noire score. In retrospect it was a good entrance into the dance music world because it was more cerebral than dance floor oriented and that’s the kind of stuff I had always been into. Guys like Skream, 2562, Hessle Audio and Digital Mystikz narrowed my focus to a single genre. Around 2009 as dubstep DJs started to slow their tempos and mix in house and techno, I followed suit and started exploring those genres. You’d heard a DJ mixing a 130-135 dubstep track with an Anthony Shakir cut for example. I loved those blending of genres. Basically I listened to Ben UFO mixes and played whatever he was!

LA: There has been much written about the resurgence of the popularity of people of our generation going back to vinyl. What got you into vinyl and what keeps you loving the medium?

TF: I had a really strong conviction when I decided to start spinning that I wanted to do it the hard way, the way all the old school guys did. I thought that if I took the hard road I would end up being much more skilled in the long run. There was also a gravitas I felt from the DJs I liked that spun vinyl. They had the dubplates and the super-rare old school jams. It showed commitment and I respected that.

Chain Reaction2

What keeps me at it now is the desire to master the craft. That and I am obsessed with buying and collecting records. I get sweaty hands every time I go to the records store. “What goodies will I find this time?” I was up in Toledo this past weekend and found some crazy shit on this German label, Chain Reaction. You can’t find those records anywhere, and here I got them for 50 cents from the back of a used record crate in Toledo! I used to think that you couldn’t find house or techno in Ohio, but its just a matter of digging hard enough and having the knowledge to recognize worthwhile artists and labels. Digs often end up fruitless but finding the occasional gem more than makes it worthwhile. I heard records referred to as the Black Crack lately. I’d say that’s a suitable description. If any of you readers want to unload, you know who to call!

LA: Each set I have heard you spin I hear the presentation of older house/techno tracks right alongside new, which I find extremely gratifying as I feel the music always holds up next to the “new”. What approach do you take to weaving together music of different eras?

TF: Its not really a conscious act for me. It might be a techno record that came out last week or an acid house tune that is older than me. If it complements the track that is playing or takes my set in the direction I want to go, I’ll mix it in. This is very much a Midwestern mentality that I’m proud to associate with. All the old school guys I look up to spin this way. They’ll mix a disco track into slamming techno back into a Kraftwerk tune. The contextualization is fun as a DJ and it usually makes for an engaging, diverse set.

LA: We are both from Toledo. I know that city influenced me in ways that shaped the type of music I listen to and who I am today. Did Toledo shape your tastes in music or your interest in music?

TF: If Toledo is responsible, its only because the Airport Hwy library branch had a copy of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works that I rented when I was 14! Much more is owed to the friends I had in high school. They were all in a band and I got to hang around while they wrote songs, practiced and shared other music they were into. They turned me onto a lot of the music that would have a large influence on my tastes. Radiohead, Four Tet, MF DOOM. I have them to thank.

Later in life, I have come to have an affinity with Detroit and its music. I actually used to live further up in Michigan, about 30 minute away from the city. It blows my mind that I grew up so close to such a powerful cultural revolution but only realized once I moved away. The Midwest is the birthplace of all the music I love so much and, despite its lack of popularity these days, I am very proud to be from the same fertile lands.

LA: You have begun dabbling in production doing what you term “Sketches”. What has been the most surprising thing you have found in that creative process?

TF: Its embarrassing to even talk about because of how undeveloped and uninspiring my stuff has turned out so far. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that loops are easy to make. Arranging them into dynamic, fleshed out tracks is hard as hell. Also, a lot of work goes into refining your overall sound. Just because you have 909 samples, a Juno and a 303 doesn’t mean its going to sound old school. Regardless, its been a fun experience and I look forward to learning how to use my gear in new and interesting ways. Also, big shout out to Kevin Parrish for all the knowledge he’s shared and patience he’s had showing me how to use my own equipment!

Musicality flyer

Stop. For real. Just hold up a second. Now Click HERE to go to Whodat’s Mixcloud and press play on her “No Requests Mix” from June 5th. After that, navigate back here and get the full experience of Whodat’s wonderful art. I want you to hear her mixing while you are reading her thoughts and words, because you got to feel her music if you want to feel her words

Whodat is a detroit-based DJ, producer, record store owner of Ya Digg Records that specializes in tapping into the heart of the rhythms and grooves that propel us all forward and give us a reason to live. Sure, that seems like a high billing, and I am sure you want me to tell you what “genres” she spins. But that does not matter. She spins music. She spins hope, love, and an assortment of all the emotions that we all experience in our lives. Just listen to this No Requests Mix I told you to listen to above. Like Jaco Pastorius with the fretless bass during the Jazz Fusion era, she steps right into the pocket and bends these disparate bits of vinyl into an ever-unfolding groove that just grips you and compels you to move, feel, and be human. Her production work is no different. This past March she got her first vinyl release on London based Uzuri Recordsand it shows her incorporating key elements from all those hours listening to and spinning vinyl into new works of art that show her finding her own way to speak to and build on those jazz, house, soul, disco, pop, etc. recordings.

I obviously feel her music is on point, but her art transcends it being just a musical experience. What oozes out of everything she does is a love and reverence for the dance music community, vinyl, and music in general. Now I am being purposeful in the use of the word reverence, because I feel she does more than just enjoy and live her art.  It goes deeper than that. She has a deep respect for the rituals of finding records, mixing vinyl, and creating music, which reveals how she thinks that all these practices are incredibly sacred and deserve to be respected and honored.  What an important and thought-provoking idea to think of all of the actions we take to build our dance communities, share our art, and create as sacred acts that get us in touch directly with what it means to be a living, breathing human on this planet. Are we treating our listening, dancing, mixing, community building as sacred? Are we protecting these practices and teaching others how to do them? These are important questions that whodat’s approach and thoughts bring up for me, and I was struck by how they got me to see the deep beauty in all that we do.

Whodat will be bringing all this goodness to Musicality this coming Friday (6/28) at Double Happiness and I hope you can attend. I know I will be there with everyone else trying to find a little bit about the world and myself in the sacred practices of dancing with others to the same beat. The show is $5 at the door. Support your scene, by paying for the artistic and musical experiences you go to! Event Details can be found on the Facebook. In the meantime, enjoy her thoughts and check out more of her mix work and her originals on Soundcloud.

Interview:

Local Autonomy: How does sound and music influence the way you live and experience life?

Whodat: Music and sound influences everything in my life. While I’m cooking, washing dishes, driving, walking, reading, resting, doing laundry, everything. (LOL) I can even hear sounds while I’m sleeping. I don’t dream much but there are a lot of soundscapes going on. It’s what keeps me going. I don’t know what I would do without it. Music has saved my life. I think music keeps me in sync. When I feel off balance or out of sorts, I just listen to something that will get me back on track.

On decks 2

LA: How did you get into “dance music” (house/techno/etc.)?

Whodat: The Electrifying Mojo, The Wizard and The Scene.

On the decks

LA: I have been listening to the products of your 303030 project on Mixcloud where you did one thirty minute mix a day for thirty days. How has that experience shaped your music production and mixing over the last 1-2 years?

Whodat: The 303030 project helped me learn my strengths and weaknesses. Showed me where I needed to expand my record collection. I found out what tracks I zone out to. I like most of the stuff I have but there are some that just make me lose it. The 303030 Project also let me know there are some tracks that I need to know more deeply because even if I’m not feeling it a certain way, I can hear them in certain way.I would like to understand those tracks better, which just means I need to study andlisten more closely. Also, how putting all of my records and feelings together is going to be lifelong process. (SMH, LOL) As far as production goes, I did not remember anything after I had surgery. So I had to start over. It was extremely frustrating at first because I could remember that I used to do it but could not remember how to do anything. Which turned out to be a good thing, cause I relearned what I use to know even better and picked up somenew things along the way.

Ya Digg

LA: You own a record store called Ya Digg. You spin records. What does vinyl mean to you and the art you create?

Whodat: Vinyl is a treasure. You are always on the hunt for it. It’s played with diamonds and made from petroleum. Vinyl is the longest existing medium for recordings. The frequencies and vibrations that come from the cut grooves of vinyl encompasses you when you hear it. The warmth of it is incredible. Being able to touch what you are hearing. Being able to see that break coming up. Sensing how much time is left on the track just by looking at the grooves. The challenge of mixing, blending or just bringing in a track at the right time every time you put on a record. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. (LOL) There is a ritual for everything that has to do with vinyl. The process of making vinyl is a sacred ritual. Digging, listening, selecting, carrying and playing vinyl are all sacred rituals. When creating art, you should consider your talent as a blessing and develop a sacred ritual for producing your art. Never take it for granted and don’t allow others to take it for granted either.

Personal collection

LA: You live in Detroit, a city steeped in musical history. Now the simple question would be to ask how that city has influenced you, but I want to ask a different question. How do you think the music you and your contemporaries make influences the city of Detroit?

Whodat: Honestly, I’m not sure if it is or how much it is. It’s not very visible in Detroit, you have to look for it. I can see our music influencing people on the outside of the city, state, country but not as much the in city. I see it influencing people that already know about our music. So I guess we have to work on changing that. There have been a lot changes over the years with the decline of radio, record stores and the pressing of vinyl. But I think artists from Detroit need to work more collectively to have our music influence people in Detroit. We need more record stores, venues, workshops and lectures that specialize in what we do. Not just events and parties. We still need those too but there needs to be more than just that.

Restart 3[Photo Courtesy of Ray Of Hope Arts]

Got a treat for all ya’ll today. It is a long awaited interview with three of the core members of the long running Restart House Music crew that has been keeping house music pumping in our city and providing a place for up and coming DJs to play for almost a decade. It seems apropos that this interview come after the interview with Seth Carter a few weeks back, as these folks have been pushing the soul and funk of dance music along in our city for some time. This sort of longevity is vital for our scene as it provides a bridge for individuals from past iterations of the scene to dance and perform alongside newer members. No doubt, such bridges are vital as they allow those seeking to learn more about the history and sounds of our community a conduit where they can learn about the soul of the music and our community’s history.

Soul & historical considerations aside, their devotion to keeping the event alive is truly inspiring. They have helped build the infrastructure for dance music in our city and because of their efforts in the early 2000s they helped keep the scene afloat in a time when the popularity of the music was starting to wane. True, they weren’t the first EDM/dance/etc. event of the early 2000s, nor were they the only show taking place in town. However, their show was an integral part of keeping the scene alive by providing a place to keep house music playing. Its even more remarkable that Sparrow, ORORO, and DiNGO8 have been able to keep it afloat for all this time.  I hope you enjoy their responses and make sure to check out the ReStart House Show tonight (Monday, June 10th) at 8pm at Brothers Drake Meadery in the Short North. 26 E. 5th Ave. (just east of 5th and High) Event Details and Lineup HERE.

June 10 Flyer

Sparrow’s Responses:

Nathan[Photo Courtesy of Ray Of Hope Arts]

LA: How did you get into spinning and creating dance music.

SPARROW: I got into spinning about a year or so after my first Rave in ’99 when I really heard House music for the first time. The first mix tape I ever bought at a party was Terry Mullen live in Toronto, and I played the fuck out of it. It drove me crazy that I loved this music but didn’t know who any of the artists or song titles were. So I started buying records from the local store and a friend of mine let me practice on his turntables. I bought my own decks shortly after that and had my first public performance after two months.

LA: What is it about Dance Music that has kept you so interested over the years?

SPARROW: House music has just never stopped being a source of happiness for me. I couldn’t tell you a specific thing about it that has made it stick. I like that it’s this under-the-radar source of positivity in a world that’s mostly dominated by superficial commercial music made for the lowest common denominator. Good House feels like a genuine celebration of living that’s not driven by any kind of selfishness.

Restart Imagery

LA: When and why did you start ReStart?

SPARROW: Me and Ororo started Restart because we weren’t seeing that many House weeklies any more. When I first started going to parties there was a house night at Northberg Tavern, there was Clockwork Sundays at Red Zone. But by the time me and her met and started doing tag-team sets, you really didn’t see those weeklies anymore so we weren’t really getting a chance to play as often as we wanted to. Drum and Bass was getting really popular around that time and most of the weeklies you’d see were for that. If you wanted to hear House you had to find flier for a party somewhere outside of town. So we were drinking beer together on my front porch one night talking about how we should bring that back again and I said we should call it Restart. We actually picked Northberg Tavern as our spot when we started.

LA: ReStart is credited by many to be the 1st EDM night that existed in the early 2000’s, when there weren’t many clubs nights in town. In such a context, what role do you think the event has played in the Columbus Dance Community?

SPARROW: We were definitely not the first EDM night, but I think you could say we were the most resilient. I don’t know of any other night that’s lasted as long and kept the same level of heart. We never charged a cover and we always did it for the love of the music.

LA: How has ReStart changed or shifted over the years?

SPARROW: While I was still in Columbus the only thing that really changed was our location. Apparently after I left Brian added a shitload of sound equipment. I’ve never seen that many speakers in one car. Jesus.

LA: Where do you see ReSTART in the future?

Sparrow: Hopefully still in smaller dimly lit venues with no cover.

ORORO’s Responses:

Chris[Photos Courtesy of Ray Of Hope Arts]

LA: How did you get into spinning and creating dance music?

ORORO: First, let me say, I don’t create dance music, I just pick the types of music that I like and play it out for people, lol. I got into DJ’ing about 2 years after I got out the Army. I was stationed in Germany for 6 years and that’s where I first heard house music and fell in love with it. The clubs over there didn’t play too much Top 40 (thank God) and house was played there 24/7, clubs, radio, just all over the place. When my time with the Army was over with and I came back home, I didn’t like the music that was being played in the clubs here and a friend of mine (shout out to Fabyan) said I should start Dj’ing. I bought my 1st table from Doughboy, who was doing really dope house nights at RedZone on Fridays, and the rest is history.

LA: What is it about Dance Music that has kept you so interested over the years?

ORORO: LOL…That’s easy to answer. For me, what’s kept me interested in the type of Dance Music that I play are two things…FUNK & SOUL. I guess I’m kind of an elitist when it comes to what I play and what I like to hear, but no matter what style it is, I want to hear either FUNK or SOUL in what’s being played. That could mean a really nice bouncy bass line in a DnB track, that makes me want do, what I call the “giddy up” dance, or a Jazzy jungle track that has a nice flute or Spanish guitar in it, that turns my moves to “fluid”…where on the down side of the music spectrum, the new music craze DUBSTEP, has no feeling or soul at all, and is nothing but noise to me, so I can’t stand it and for me it rates up there with other “top40 noise music” that seems to be really big now days. Something about a really great house beat just gets me moving like nothing else.

LA: When and why did you start ReStart?

ORORO: Sparrow (Nate Rouke) and myself, started ReStart around 2001-02. We were introduced to each other at a party we were on the line up for, noticed that the styles we played worked well with each other and that we had a lot in common. We became friends and started playing out together. One of the main reasons we started this night was because, at the time, we weren’t getting gigs and we really just wanted to play out. What better way to do that than to just start our own night! And because of the problem we had getting gigs because we weren’t established, we wanted to have a place where beginner DJ’s could have a place to come and pay and get used to playing out. We also just wanted a night that was focused on just house music.

LA: ReStart is credited by many to be the 1st EDM night that existed in the early 2000’s, when there weren’t many clubs nights in town. In such a context, what role do you think the event has played in the Columbus Dance Community?

ORORO: LOL….I can’t say that we were the 1st EDM night in the city..lol…I would think that, that title goes to the DJ’s who were doing the Friday nights at RedZone, in the 2000’s..talking about Doughboy, Lyman, Titonton and all those heads. But, I think the role that we’ve played in the community was having a place where you could go and hear great house music and be with great people and not have that “Club” feeling. We created an environment in which you didn’t have to get all dress up in order to get your boogie on. It’s almost a Cheers atmosphere, where everyone knows your name and that’s what we’re going for.

LA: How has ReStart changed or shifted over the years?

ORORO: I don’t think ReStart has really changed, we’re still all about HOUSE music, but we’ve had to shift our stance on a few things. We’re vinyl DJ’s, we don’t use computers or laptops and rarely use cdjs, and we (I) really wanted to promote vinyl dj’s only, but because almost all the dj’s we knew moved to digital, and the DJ pool shrunk, and as much as I wanted to, we couldn’t exclude the laptop dj’s. Luckily, the new DJ’s that we’ve had play out, who don’t use tables, have seen us play, and a few of them have even bought tables and wax of their own and are learning the “ole’skool” way of DJing, which I think is awesome. We’ve also relaxed the “HOUSE MUSIC ONLY” rule, but not by much..lol.

DiNGO8’s Responses:

Brian Sayler[Photo Courtesy of Ray Of Hope Arts]

LA: How did you get into spinning and creating dance music.

DiNGO8: I got into making electronic music out of the frustration of dealing with being in a band. I asked a friend of mine who was into computers (big ups to Marshal Hackworth!) to show me how to use a computer to make music. I started making a punk/trip-hop hybrid, influenced by Portishead and Chemical Brothers. I went to a party and heard House Music and fell in love. I poured myself into learning everything about producing house. Learning about disco, funk and soul records (the source of house grooves). Then I got into spinning as a way to play my tracks to a larger audience. I’m still learning all of the subtle nuances of mixing. I love it.

LA: What is it about Dance Music that has kept you so interested over the years?

DiNGO8: The thing i love about dance music is the lack of pop style vocals. Boy meets girl, break-up, relationship drama junk. Dance music avoids this and gives your mind a better place to be. The vocals are more positive and empowering. Sure there are drama filled songs. “I will survive” is a classic anthem. But it is ultimately about self empowerment and a positive outlook. Nothing gets me going like a jack beat with a cowbell and a polka baseline. it’s so infectious. I also like the aspect of D.I.Y. that electronic music encourages. The future of technology will give kids tools to make some amazing things. I can’t wait to hear it.

LA: When and why did you start ReStart?
DiNGO8: I’m not responsible for starting it. i just can’t let a great thing die. Restart to me is constant undercurrent of what’s really going on in the scene. We don’t play what is popular. We just play good music. Period.

LA: ReStart is credited by many to be the 1st EDM night that existed in the early 2000’s, when there weren’t many clubs nights in town. In such a context, what role do you think the event has played in the Columbus Dance Community?

DiNGO8: ReStart has always been a welcoming place for a dj fresh off the bedroom/house party circuit. That place where you could see dj’s really get into the mix and experience the give and take of the crowd. Especially in the round orange booth (BENTO dayz). We still get kids coming in with demos asking to play.

LA: How has ReStart changed or shifted over the years?

DiNGO8: Over the years ReStart has been through a lot of changes. From the concept of Sparrow and ORORO and their venue change-ups. Then Cut Culprit came on board. Then he moved away and I got the honor of pushing it along. ORORO has been the constant tho. She’s amazing. A naturally talented dj and consistent voice for the underground heads. Plus we had help from Aria and Dr.Spilkus. We’re basically a little family, pushing our child along. Hoping for the best.

LA: Where do you see ReSTART in the future?

DiNGO8: The future… Hmmm. Well we just changed venues. AGAIN. lol. We’re at Brothers Drake. Between osu campus and the short north. It’s a great location and should be a good fit for us. Our opening night was Monday, May 13th, 2013. We’re all really excited to be blessed with another opportunity to continue doing what we do. Bringing Columbus the finest in underground electronic dance music.

Make sure to join their Restart Group on Facebook for all the updates and Be sure to check out their show tonight at Brothers Drake Meadery [EVENT DETAILS HERE].

In the moment

Dezi Magby, aka DJ Psycho, is a prolific DJ and producer from Flint, MI. He has been honing his craft  ever since he was 11 years old and picked up the turntable as his instrument of choice and started wielding records like sonic weapons. He is affiliated with the all-important Detroit Techno Militia, which has helped carry the banner of Techno music for that city and for all of North America for some time. He is a part of a new collective of artists called Convergent, which focus on sound production and DJing that pushes the boundaries of arbitrary music rules. They also just found out that their releases will be distributed by Underground Resistance/Submerge. Even with this techno pedigree, he is not one that can be so easily put in a box labeled “techno” and placed to gather dust in this genre classification in your brain. He spins EVERYTHING. I do not exaggerate here. In my short time immersing myself in this form of music, he finds connections in beat and sound that I have heard few people even consider. Take this recent mix he put together called “Scenes From The Closed Doors”:

Or take his appearance on Detroit’s Fox2 where he found an innovative new way to introduce people to his sound through the use of the Charlie Brown Theme Song and another very interesting track I will let you hear for yourself:

His sets for dance floors are no different. One listen to his extensive set of mixes on his mixcloud demonstrates he is adept at taking the listener back to a place where disco, house,  jungle, techno, and Drum & Bass were all part of the same musical language not distinct, unrecognizable vernaculars.   Listen to those mixes HERE. ]

Nebula

Entering DJ Psycho’s world of sound is like stepping into an interplanetary portal and being thrown at light speed into an alternate dimension. A dimension that looks, smells, tastes, and feels like the world we are so accustomed to, but where the development of music took a left instead of a right turn. One might say going left wouldn’t have made much a difference than going right, but in DJ Psycho’s universe the result was dramatic. Gone is narrow minded listening according to the limiting rules of genre classification and the hype machine. Gone is defining oneself according to arbitrary definitions of “the cool” created to push product. Gone is that empty motivation of self-aggrandizement and party culture. What remains is the pursuit of art. The pursuit of self-expression and finding ways to link the power of the music in vast interconnected networks via the turntable device. What remains is Soul; that irresistible force that propels us to Live, Create, and “Point Ourselves in the Direction of Our Dreams”. Seems to me that going left is the only way any of us make it out of this existence with any sort of experience of really getting in touch with the human condition.

Flyer

Luckily, this saturday (May 11) you got a chance to take that left hand turn and enter this alternate universe for yourself with a night of sound curated by Squared. Dezi will be playing alongside like-minded local musicians: The Fallen, Lower Frequency, and Beckett. As excited as I am to see Magby spin live, I am equally excited to see how this night of music unfolds with our local support. I am a huge fan of the live PA sets of The Fallen (We are talking creating music on the spot here and not just spinning), the smooth roller coaster ride of Lower Frequency, and the downtempo sounds of Beckett. All the fun starts at 9 pm at Victory’s and there is no cover. Event Details HERE. In the mean time check out the interview with Dezi below to learn more about his art and approach to music:

Local Autonomy: How does sound and music influence the way you live and experience life?
Dezi: I was taught at an early age that everything around U influences U. Good, bad, pleasant, unpleasant. The oddest things influence me. Watching Looney Tunes. Talking 2 my kids. The news. It all has 2 go somewhere…and it locks its way in 2 my subconscious until it gets pulled out 4 some reason or another. Luckily, I keep my headphones on most of the time, so the thing that gets me going the most is what’s in them. I try 2 take in as much as I can in the course of a day and most times at night, because U never know when something will strike U. I’ve woken out of a cold sleep and made things. Still do.

LA: 2.) It took a lot of courage to end the Irrational outfit and start Convergent. What drove you to start a crew that was more like a family?
D: Irrational HAD 2 end. It had no choice. It reached the end of its course by not having a course 2 begin with. The ideas were there, but there was something holding it back. I kinda had this personal dustup over the winter, and when things like that happen, U naturally want 2 take a different course in life just 2 keep U from going insane. I decided at that point 2 ‘dead’ Irrational, since its purpose was muddy anyway, and true irrationality is just an ugly thing 2 witness, and I didn’t want that connotation anymore with what I was doing creatively. Luckily, as the lineup goes, it was already there. Nano Too Hype has been one of my best friends 4 over 15 years. I’ve had his back since he was 17, and I always accepted him 4 being him. Ryan Start and I are as close as it gets. Our philosophies are in sync. We’re both Geminis – he’s a G II, I’m a G III – so there’s an understanding that goes beyond just simple friendship. Dustin Alexander aka Dayda….he and I have been friends forever as well. We like a lot of the same forward thinking music. Kevin’s my best friend on the planet – we have a 26 year history of bashing clubs 2gether on a cerebral level. Me and Kevin bought records from Jeffrey Woodward when we met in ’87, and Jeff was also the first person I heard play house music in my city – outside of me. It goes on and on throughout the entire lineup. All of us have some sort of long LOYAL history 2gether….so when the idea of putting Convergent 2gether came around, the family unit was the BIG thing that I wanted 2 put forth. The name was thought up by family, voted on by family and perpetuated by family. That’s the key. No one man can take on this all alone. Your team is everything. The name says it all. Convergent. All of us individuals coming 2gether and making something that represents our relationship 2 each other.
What’s beautiful about Convergent is that I don’t dare hold any of the members back from doing whatever they want 2 do – any avenue they wanna explore, I say “go 4 it”. Learn something, get good at it. That just means that the next time we come 2gether, no one is afraid 2 say “I got this” or “I think so-and-so has a hot record” or “I think I wanna put this out”. Our lack of fear combined with our respect of each other makes us all better as musicians and DJs and FRIENDS in the long run….and that’s what it should be about anyway, right?

LA: I loved hearing you share some of your philosophy on music creation and group building when you said at the end of a recent interview: “Forward motion. Don’t settle. Try Anything and Everything.” How does this open-minded, present moment centered approach influence your music?
D: If U take a look at my record collection, U realize that I have very few limits on things. I think of music as a gift, regardless of the source. I get as much feeling from a Public Enemy record as I do a Billy Squier record, or a P-Funk record, or a YMO record, or whatever. People take 2 much time worrying about genres and where things are supposed 2 fit and categories and all that dumb stuff. I don’t have time 4 that. When I go 2 a record store, I’m all through the room. My friend Herm that runs Vertigo Music in Grand Rapids, MI kinda makes a game of what ends up in my pile at the end of my trip. Most times, he is flat surprised. Other times, he’s like “I expected 2 see U pick that up.” That’s my philosophy. That’s what makes me tick. If I stayed in one lane, the people who know me best would think I was sick or something.

LA: I loved working through your back mix catalogue. Everytime I thought, “Oh, I get Dezi.” I was thrown a curve ball and you were spinning late 70s prog rock or you would throw in some disco, D N’ B, etc. How do you fit all these musical pieces together into a mosaic? Where do you see the connections?
D: Musically, everything has a pulse….the trick is 2 find it and make it relate 2 U. My influences are so freakin’ scattershot that writing it down kinda confuses even me. U never think of an inner city Black kid with a good set knowledge on The Beatles or Billy Joel or Todd Rundgren….or could talk 2 U about bands like Strapping Young Lad or Santo and Johnny or what have U. All of those things have a pulse that I can relate 2. I’ve always worked on the theory that the only thing that separates good music from working 2gether perfectly is BPM.

LA: Finally, what are some of the place, moments, people, or practices that inspire you to create?
D: I wish I could say that there was an individual time or place. It’s more like this running series of events. Seeing P-Funk at the height of their musical powers at age 9 at the IMA Sports Arena. Seeing Prince as many times as I have (16 and counting). Again…the cartoons. U have NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO idea how much Looney Tunes inspires me. It’s the whole warped sense of humour that I believe that people have lost touch with, especially in electronic music. The history of that music is so vast and so deep, yet people are happy 2 put them in their little categories, shut off their minds and pay attention only 2 that point in time. I have pre-dubstep records in my bedroom that the hardest anti-dubstep dude would lose his mind over. I can pull out Underground Resistance records that would make the nearest electrohouse fan drop a load of bricks in her pants. It’s all relative…and people need 2 see that. Maybe I’m the bridge. I don’t know. I haven’t gotten that far yet, and I’m the furthest thing from being done.
As far as people, my family comes first. My moms, she was all blues, old Stax and Hot Wax stuff, Sam Cooke, Motown and Atlantic sides, James Cleveland…music that spoke 2 the soul. My dad….man!! His taste was wide. Doo-wop, early rock and roll, anything funky, anything DETROIT, fusion jazz. He would bring back records and tapes from his friends at the shop all the time. He introduced me 2 Chicago “IX”, Bonnie Raitt’s first 2 albums and Stevie’s “Songs In The Key Of Life” in the same day. He and I discovered a lot of stuff 2gether – Frampton, Pablo Cruise, Steely Dan. My uncles gifted me with deep jazz, all the funk stuff that was coming out of Atlanta and Florida, Heatwave, Brothers Johnson. My brother and me were all about Funkadelic and Parliament and Kiss and stuff like that. Both parents sung in the choir, as did I and my siblings. I hated my own singing, so I picked up instruments. Of course mom and dad indulged me there. Drum sets, guitars, build-it-yourself keyboards. I got records 4 Christmas all the time. I didn’t care much 4 anything else anyway. The trips 2 my grandparents were big. Dad would flip the radio and keep driving. That brought me pop and rock. My cousin Jessie in Detroit put me on 2 the B-52s and whatever crazy stuff Mojo was playing. My aunt’s now ex-husband was a cabaret DJ in Pontiac, so whatever was hot, I was on be4 my classmates. He gave me lots and lots of records. Ugh. That’s only the first 10 years of my life….
I could go on forever, really, but again, it’s the whole thing about everything U hear, good or bad, or from whatever source U get it from, there’s an effect…and if U look close enough, there’s a tie. There’s a funk in early Andrews Sisters records that’s as hard as any James Brown jawn or in any of DJ Premier’s scratches. The middle finger that’s strong in Dead Kennedys records is united in spirit with Johnny Cash’s Sun Records output. I see as much syncopation in a Derrick May record as I do listening 2 George Shearing’s piano solos….and if U are listening 2 Kraftwerk and don’t hear Parliament’s playfulness, U gotta listen harder and looser, man. The uniting point of all of this great music is right there.

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

Written Cooperatively with Ed Luna–all mistakes are my own, but all stylistic grace and nuance in the argument is owed to Ed

Ed Luna was one of the founding members of the ele_mental crew in Columbus. He and his colleagues Chris Jones, Titonton Duvante, Charles Noel, Todd Sines, Doug Holmes, Anthony Dandrea (formerly Ramos), and others all saw the capacity for dance music to change the script and raise the level of dialogue in Columbus Dance Music. Due to this, their events weren’t just parties, but expansive, immersive experiences in sound and mixed media collage. It was not uncommon at these events to have art installations backed by DJ or live music accompaniment. Exploring the capacities that both new and obsolete technology held, this group of artists looked to push the boundaries of what a dance music event could be by drawing on avant-garde music and performance events. They tried to take the mold of a dance music event in Central Ohio and reshape it to fit what they wanted with different experiences, sounds, and spaces taken from a variety of sources outside the city (mainly Detroit, New York, and London, as we shall see). This made their underground parties in art spaces, warehouses, meeting houses, and other sites around the city a must-see experience.

For some ten years, ele_mental held down their spot as one of the innovators in events and music in Central Ohio. They played the role of tastemaker for many individuals and forged the path for many of the current event planners and DJs to explore the boundaries of dance music. Yet Ed himself would be the first person to call into question the impact they had in the grander scheme of dance music history. According to him, ele_mental’s events were not particularly unusual or revolutionary, from the point of view of contemporary art, or as compared to the contemporary electronic music scenes of say, London, Berlin, or Detroit. Their impact certainly didn’t reach much beyond their immediate regional confines. But they did make connections all over the country, continent, and globe that remain intact today.

It’s also true that the innovations they instituted were almost singular in the US scene. ele_mental was almost alone among promoters in the Midwest to push electronic music events in the direction of high or conceptual art, while keeping its events rooted in dance music culture. Others, like Richie Hawtin’s Plus-8 in Detroit/Windsor, and the Illuminators in Dayton, did some mind-blowing events with more generous budgets, while Drop Bass Network and Massive in Milwaukee presented some of the most extreme and memorable events ever presented in the area. But ele_mental’s approach was uniquely diverse, minimalist, and often extremely low-budget. It also depended on the vision that each person brought to the collective. Sometimes, this meant presenting a mega-rave with thousands of attendees, but more often than not, it meant creating smaller, more intimate events in unusual spaces. It meant designing events that could question the very idea of an underground event, while remaining fun and affordable to attend. At its heart, then, ele_mental was really about “doing something with nothing” (to paraphrase a phrase that interviewer Stephen Slaybaugh used to describe them in 2003), while making its events both challenging and accessible. It therefore wasn’t so much about making a big splash, it was more about bringing people in Central Ohio the opportunity to experience something different in their lives. This impact Ed and his colleagues had on people in our city makes them and other members active in the 80s/90s incredibly interesting to talk to and learn from.

One of the main lessons we can cull from talking to Ed is the cyclical nature of music scenes. Though there is a new generation of people coming up into the scene, many of the same fundamental ideas that guide music creation, event production, and tastemaking are still largely the same, despite much technological evolution. This invites us to look at what’s come before as a treasure to draw from, a partially buried Rosetta Stone of electronic music forms and tropes that can help us decode the past and build a new scene. But Ed doesn’t want anyone to fetishize or petrify the past. Rather, he’d prefer it if people just enjoyed the process of “reinventing the wheel” one more time, just as ele_mental did, knowing something similar has been done before, in different, unique, and interesting ways. Ed also points out that even though today’s scene is just another round in scene-building, that doesn’t mean that there really is nothing new or novel under the sun (to paraphrase Ecclesiastes). Instead, we are in a constant state of remixing and indexing that difference with a new title, twisting the classic “genres” and events into new forms that are being experienced by new ears, for new purposes, in a new time.

This is why I want to facilitate the sharing of Ed Luna’s story (and so many others), because it provides us a key tool to understand where we have come from and where we are going in a clearer fashion. If nothing else, I hope you at least enjoy Ed Luna’s story. This is the first of a few installments where Ed discusses his experiences. Today, Ed will discuss his love of music and why dancing has been important to him. In such a discussion are amazing gems of knowledge that not only teach you about Ed, but also about our scene’s history.

So much of what has driven you in life seems to be music centered. What is it about music that impacts you so deeply? How do you view the role of music in your life?

I’ve thought about this question a lot. Ironically, I’d say that music, or sound, is not as centrally important to me as I once believed. I think it has more to do with something bigger, like immersive aesthetic experiences in general.

The most relevant thing that comes to mind at the moment is my first exposure to true “industrial” music, around 1990–91. Before that time, I had heard it here and there, either in the background, or in bits and pieces. A good friend’s older brother—a former punk—played me a snippet of a band called Foetus (Jim Thurwell), that was an utterly jarring experience. Another time, I heard some really dank, noisy stuff (it might have been Psychic T.V. or Severed Heads, I don’t quite remember) while visiting a friend’s dorm room at CCAD in 1990 (before the widespread use of the internet, dorms were the primary place to trade life-changing music and ideas). I also had a couple of older acquaintances (Mark Gunderson being one of them) who made industrial music themselves, so I was aware of it on some level, early on. I found something about it unsettling and compelling.

So even though I only had a vague idea what industrial music really was, I felt an instinctive attraction to it. Maybe it’s because I had grown up with a shortwave radio in the house, and had watched a few post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies in my youth (like Logan’s Run, Blade Runner, Road Warrior, RoboCop, Brazil, The Quiet Earth, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and A Boy and His Dog). It also likely had something to do with the fact that I had become a huge fan of Depeche Mode, a band that generously infused their pop music with industrial, ambient, and electronic textures. Either way, it was almost as if industrial music was an inner impulse waiting for me to tap.

When my ears were finally assaulted by the clangy junkyard music of Einstürzende Neubauten, it was a real revelation. There weren’t many places that sold their music, and their releases were always expensive import CDs/LPs from the UK or Germany, so whenever I managed to find one, I treated it like a precious tome waiting to be deciphered. The first one I got is probably their best—their rawest, but also most sophisticated piece of work, called Drawings of Patient O.T. (1983).

Einstürzende Neubauten – “Die genaue Zeit” – From Drawings of Patient O.T. (1983) – audio only

Einstürzende Neubauten – “Armenia” – From Drawings of Patient O.T. (1983) – excerpt from the film Halber Mensch (Sogo Ishii, 1985)

Once I had time to listen to that album on a good system, I became completely engulfed. It was music unlike anything else that was out there. It somehow managed to be environmental, drastic, urgent, hungry, primitive, literate, abstract, epic, and deeply wounded. It was also very European, picking up where older traditions had left off; mainly German currents such as Radio-Activity-era Kraftwerk, the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, the 1920s Bauhaus, and the free-wheeling, experimental, cabaret-like spirit of Berlin during the Weimar republic. Even the very name of the band, which is German for “Collapsing New Buildings,” spoke to this. It also said everything to me.

And then there was Blixa Bargeld, their singer—clad in leather, wild-eyed and gaunt beyond reckoning, with spiky hair and a voice like knives scraping on a chalkboard, singing about his soul being on fire and interrogating volcanoes with a Nietzschian fervor. He was clearly someone who put himself on the line with every performance.

Indeed, everything about the band was a coherent package, inviting you into a world where music somehow lurched into existence out of what was left after the collapse of civilization. As you can see for yourself in their 1985 film Halber Mensch (Half-Man, directed by Sogo Ishii), their music was like a live power line buzzing in a field of rubble, where the only human-like scrawl left is the cyclops-man symbol that they took as their logo, seared into concrete by some long-lost, Germanic tribe (dressed in leather and spikes, of course).

Although I spoke next-to-no German back then (and I didn’t get to visit Germany until the 2000s), I took their world as if I belonged there. And for a while, I got lost in it, to whatever small extent I could in middle-of-the-road Columbus, Ohio.

My friend (the filmmaker,  Jennifer Reeder) told me of their legendary 1986 appearance at the Newport Music Hall. This was way before my time, but it’s a story that ought to be told again more thoroughly. Before arriving in Columbus, Neubauten had asked runners to visit the local scrapyard so they could make their own instruments before the show. They played, and then gave all the instruments away after the show. This inspired me to start visiting a junkyard on the Whittier peninsula, near the present-day Scioto Audubon Metro Park, to buy whatever pieces of scrap I could make noise with. I didn’t have the welding or electrical know-how to really make instruments that were as sophisticated or cool as Neubauten’s, but just having all those pieces of rusting metal sheets, springs, boxes, rods, grates, and other junk laying around really made me feel like I was exploring similar territory.

This also made me more susceptible to other bands of that period, most of whom were almost completely unlike Neubauten, but shared some of their ability to weave their own immersive worlds. We’re talking about bands like Cocteau Twins, Cindytalk, The Durutti Column, The Young Gods, Skinny Puppy, Brian Eno (primarily his 1970s rock and ambient albums), Aphex Twin (especially his early electro and ambient material), Seefeel, Autechre, Sonic Youth, Joy Division, Swans (in their 90s dark folk period), Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (featuring Blixa himself on guitar), My Bloody Valentine, and a few Ohio bands such as My Dad Is Dead (a long-time Cleveland cult band) and the Columbus trash rock scene.

The Young Gods – “Nous de la Lune” (We of the Moon) – From The Young Gods (1987) – audio only

Durutti Column – “Smile in the Crowd” – From Another Setting (1983) – audio only

Aphex Twin – “Xtal” – From Selected Ambient Works 85–92 (1992) – audio only

Cindytalk – “Memories of Skin and Snow” – From Camouflage Heart (1984) – fan-made stills film

Seefeel – “Time to Find Me” (AFX Slow Mix) – From Time to Find Me EP (1993)

Somewhere in there, I also got into other essential Ohio bands like Vertical Slit (aka V3), Scrawl, and Gaunt; as well as the earlier grunt-and-drums period of Swans, the weird chamber pop of Tuxedomoon, the Spanish electro-industrial music of Esplendor Geométrico, the wildly experimental noise music of NON (Boyd Rice), the almost-unknown musique concrète of Étant Donnés, and much later, the vastly underrated electro-punk of the New York No Wave/electronic duo Suicide. (Some of these artists are better known now, while others have faded into relative obscurity, but the surprising thing to me is that most of them are still active on some level, even thirty years later in some cases!) From about 1994–1998, I was also a member of GaGa, a sort of tribal-industrial noise band featuring Mark Gunderson and a rotating roster of other musicians, where I got to use lots of those metal instruments I had collected.

Esplendor Geométrico – “Muerte a escala industrial” – From Eg1 (1982) – audio only

NON (Boyd Rice) – Locked groove – From Pagan Muzak (1978) – fan film

Suicide – “Ghost Rider” (Live c. 1977–78) – concert footage

Anyway, I’ve obviously moved on from that initial impact of Neubauten, but I still follow them here and there and find new layers of meaning in their older work. They and their side projects in theater, experimental ambient music, and fan-sourced composition have continued to influence me, in some obvious but also subtle ways. For example, one thing that strikes me after all these years of educating my ears, is that they were somewhat more “conventional” than I realized. Yes, their music was extreme, and often very skeletal; but structurally, it was just punk rock music, filtered through German avant-garde traditions, and broken into its constituent parts. The band didn’t so much destroy the pop-rock music format it as they reduced and rebuilt it. This is quite unlike the folks in the COUM Transmissions group (some of whom became Throbbing Gristle), whose torrid performances in the early 70s really pushed the envelope into blasphemy and incoherence; or the noise/tape work of John Cage and the musique concrète of the 1940s–60s, which often sounded like utter chaos but was in fact highly composed. Even so, the textures that Neubauten seared into my soul back then remain like permanent aural scars, in a way. There’s no coming back from that. I’ve mostly replaced their music with more atmospheric noise music (such as Tim Hecker, Daniel Menche, Aube, and the recent Cindytalk noise releases), in part, because that type of music echoes Neubauten’s world to some extent, with a bit less of their white-hot intensity.

I realize I’ve spent an inordinate amount of words discussing a single band, but maybe I’m just giving myself the chance to trace their influence on me, and secondarily, on ele_mental. This suddenly seems correct, because the one other thing that stayed with me about EN was how they brought all the elements together into a cohesive, ear-, eye-, and mind-splitting whole. I loved how imposing and post-apocalyptic their sound was, and how that was mirrored in their distressed sense of design, and most of all, in their extreme style of performance (which actually involved destroying a number of venues with a stolen jackhammer, and even fire on one or two occasions!). All of this was also informed by the seething, anarchistic politics of then-isolated West Berlin, which made their entire existence even more meaningful. By the time I started listening to them, the wall had fallen, but I knew their music was drawn from some deep political schisms and cultural currents. It came from a very real place, a contested territory. When ele_mental started coming together, much of this was in the background, and became even more potent when we saw what impact Detroit’s ruined spaces had on techno music.

It should therefore be no surprise that I was attracted to the techno music of Detroit and Berlin. It seems like an obvious connection now: here were two cities that had once been thought of as gleaming exemplars of industry and commerce; both had experienced downfalls and hard times; both were scarred by history, and left with unprecedented levels of neglect; both had deep traditions of arts and music that were given the impossible task of providing a shaft of light in the sulphur-laden gloom. It hadn’t really occurred to me to connect industrial with techno in quite this way until I wrote all of this down, but I’m delighted by the discovery! I suppose that’s as close to an answer to the original question as you’re going to get: I love making connections.

You obviously place a lot of importance on the act of dancing as well. What is it about dancing that is so special to you?

Honestly, dancing didn’t make much sense to me until I started going out to clubs in the late 1980s, in my late teenage years. I grew up under a Mexican mom who loved to dance, and an Ohioan dad who just didn’t. I remember sulking in the corner whenever there was a “Latin” dance party at a family gathering, pretending I didn’t want to get “involved.” But the reality was, I didn’t know how to do the salsa, or the cumbia, or even the meringue (the easiest one!), so I was terribly embarrassed. I always make the joke now that one of my biggest regrets was not embracing that side of dance culture back then. It would have made my two subsequent decades of miserable and almost nonexistent dating so much better. Ah well…haha.

In my early teens, I became totally enamored by breakdancing. This was when the fad was at its peak in the middle of the 1980s, so it didn’t last more than a couple of years, but if nothing else, it exposed me to some phenomenal music (which will surely come up later).

Otherwise, I really didn’t really see myself as a “dancer” until I found my release in the music of late-80s clubs. Back then, there weren’t many places in Columbus that played what we called “progressive” music back then (meaning, alternative or non-mainstream music), but once I found out where I could hear The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, OMD, INXS, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the like, I was ecstatic. I realize it’s ironic to think of bands who were pretty much considered mainstream pop-rock acts in the UK as “underground,” but for those of us who didn’t know better, theirs was a wondrous world of musical experimentation that just wasn’t available on mainstream radio in the US. Listening back, it’s obvious to me that what attracted us to these pop bands (and what keeps me listening to most of them today) was their ongoing exploration of the wide territories of “post-punk,” some ten years after the fact. Even though none of us were around for that first explosion of 1970s punk, there was still some of its direct echo in the music we came of age with in the late 80s.

I could list all the dance clubs in Columbus that mattered to me back then—Flamingo’s, Mean Mr. Mustard’s, 700 High, Purity/The Pit, The Garage, Crazy Mama’s, Wall Street, and others I may be forgetting—but I’ll focus on just a couple of them (plus an influential moment I had elsewhere).

Wall Street was—and remains—a lesbian bar that hosted a “mixed” night every Wednesday throughout the 1990s. The night featured DJ Kevy Kev playing a mix of “progressive” hits alongside techno-industrial stuff like Front 242 and Ministry, and pop-house like Deee-Lite and the B-52’s. Incidentally, it’s funny to mention both Wall Street and Kevy Kev in the same sentence, realizing that even a full twenty-two years later, both the venue and the DJ are still quite active elements in the scene. (How’s that for an illusion of stability?) Anyway, the reason Wall Street mattered to me was because it was the place where I learned to let go and dance. It also taught me what a night club should look and feel like. There were also some hot girls there, including one in particular who looked like a cross between Audrey Tatou and Louise Brooks. I don’t remember her name (Andrea, maybe?), and I never managed to charm her enough to get her out on a date with me, but hers is the face I imagine when I think of Wall Street’s Wednesday nights.

The other place that mattered in those years was called Crazy Mama’s, on the corner of 9th Ave and North High St. Like the rest of old south campus, it was torn down in the early 2000s to make way for the current Gateway. In the 80s–90s, Crazy Mama’s was the second floor bar above a middle-eastern restaurant called Firdou’s (still a legendary joint). Their hottest nights were Thursdays and Fridays. I still remember the dark, narrow stairway to get into the bar, and how small the place really was. There were mirrors all over the black walls (which supposedly inspired Daniel Ash of Bauhaus/Love and Rockets to pen the song “Mirror People”), and a linoleum dance floor surrounded on three sides by black carpet. The music was always hot—a mix of anything from dark electro-industrial to punkabilly to house to full-on disco (keep in mind that this was a time in which disco was still very much maligned, so playing disco was a subversive act). Mama’s attracted every freak in a multi-colored outfit that Columbus could conjure up.

I was always a step removed from the garishness and debauchery of the place, so I didn’t dance as openly there as I did at Wall Street. I often stood off to the side, with a more critical eye, just watching the freak show unfold. But I did recognize that it was probably the most special club in Columbus for a very long time, and nothing has come even close to replacing it (the only place I would even vaguely compare it to is CaraBar, which is a different animal entirely).

Another thing that no one can avoid mentioning in any discussion about Crazy Mama’s was the ludicrously skinny fire escape on the side of the building that somehow served as the main exit point at the end of the night. Imagine a steady stream of drunken freaks in all kinds of getups (goth-leather jackets, chains, platform shoes, feather boas, bell-bottom pants, whatever), attempting to negotiate these precarious black metal steps after being rushed out at closing time. It’s a wonder no one died. Once they were out, people were also fond of milling around in the small parking lot (about the size of that lot behind what used to be Larry’s up at Woodruff/High) for up to an hour, or until the CPD would ask us to move along. This was such a reliable “after-hours” that I often showed up even if I was working my pizza delivery job until close, around 2:15 am. I would rush to get down there and more often than not, people would still be hanging around by the time I arrived around 2:30.

Going slightly out of chronology for a moment, Mama’s also happened to give me my start as a DJ. In late 1993, me and the Body Release boys (more on them later) were given Monday nights (Mama’s slowest night), to do our thing. It never became much, so it only lasted a few months, but it gave us all a chance to practice DJing in a “live” setting. (As a funny aside, my first-ever live mix set the tone for pretty much everything I’ve done since: on one table, I played a drum-and-bass track by Johnny Jungle slowed down from 45 to 33 rpm, and on the other, it was Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. Drumbeats and ambience, mashed together.)

The third place I’ll mention was a party I experienced in Toronto in 1990 or 91 (my dates are fuzzy on this one). On a weekend trip there with my friend Monica Carroll, we listened to Kraftwerk’s Electric Café album over and over. Oddly, this was my first real conscious exposure to Kraftwerk, and my first trip to a larger Canadian city (I had been to Niagra Falls when I was a teenager). One night, we found a bad dance club, and made the most of it. This being Canada, they did play a handful of those “progressive” songs, and I danced wildly, but otherwise the place was just lame. It was the stereotype of what you might imagine a boring club in Canada to be.

The next night, however, was a real awakening. I don’t remember exactly how we ended up there, but we found our way to an after-hours event that was the exact opposite of the other club. At first, I was sort of annoyed at the needless obscurity of the experience. We were in line, about to pay something like $10 (Canadian, which back then was probably more like $7), and I kept wondering what we were supposed to “get” for that. It just seemed like the basement of a department store with some primitive walls, not a proper venue! But as soon as we entered, the first thing we noticed was that the bass physically hurt. With each beat, it was like someone was pounding the soft part of their fist into our sternums. It was fascinating, and the music was minimal and repetitive. Of course, if I heard the exact same songs today, I’d probably recognize a lot of them, but at that time they just seemed like thunderous, anonymous beats coming from nowhere and everywhere. The only song I recognized was a b-side to Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart” EP, called “What Is Love?”

Deee Lite – “What Is Love (Holographic Goatee Mix)” – (1990) – audio only

This song remains one of my favorites, not only because it is a prototypical New York house track—cavernous and gorgeous and minimalist—but because it takes me back to my very first moment of hearing electronic dance music at its loudest and rawest. After maybe twenty minutes, we couldn’t take the pounding bass any longer, so we left. But the impact had been made.

It took a couple more years of clubbing at Mama’s and Wall Street and all the other Columbus nightlife spots (and here I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my few visits to the Garage, a gay club where one night, I confirmed my love of Erasure and the fact that I am a straight man in a vogue dancer’s body), but eventually I started hearing about another kind of electronic dance music party that people were calling “raves.” I was skeptical at first, like I had been at the door of that after-hours in Toronto. I remember asking myself: “So, what’s the difference between this and a club? I don’t get it!” But thanks to the prodding of my friends in Body Release (whose names will inevitably get mentioned over and over in any history of electronic music in Columbus: Titonton Duvante, Todd Sines, Charles Noel, and Mike Szewczyk), I finally went to my first rave in early 1993. I danced. I was immersed. I wasn’t terribly impressed, but I more or less understood. A new form of event, and a new opportunity to dance in an open environment, had arrived.

The rest is probably better discussed in another context, but let’s just say that after about eight years associated with the rave and underground party scenes, I gained a lot of experience as a dancer.

One person I refer to a lot these days is a Detroit native named Gehrik Mohr. I wasn’t very close with him back in the early days, probably because he was too busy dancing his ass off. But he was friends with most of our other Detroit contacts and colleagues, so he was part of the family. The reason I bring him up is because I remember watching him dance a few times, and being utterly impressed by how raw and animalistic his style was.

His dancing, along with a few others, also helped me understand something that I hadn’t perceived before. Back when I was a breakdancer (or the after-school special version of it) in 1983–84, I had fallen in love with the sounds of electro music. I barely knew the difference between Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” and Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” let alone other artists, but I sure as hell knew who the Art of Noise was. I picked up a 7-inch of “Beat Box” (which I still own today, by the way) at a local department store, and it became perhaps the most influential dance record of my entire life.

Kraftwerk – Numbers – Computer World

Art of Noise – “Beat Box” Version 1 (1984) – official video

It was abstract, electronic, mysterious, and most of all, funky. Now I can describe it more accurately as a playful art-pop record with musique-concrète tendencies, filtered through a hip-hop/sampling sensibility with lots of rhythmic syncopation, but back then, I just thought it was a damn cool record (comparable to other electro nuggets I heard back then, such as “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock, “Yum Yum (Eat ‘Em Up)” by Beat Box Boys, and “Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)” by Hashim—all essential electro classics).

Beat Box Boys (Bobby Orlando) – “Yum Yum (Eat ‘Em Up)” – (1984) – audio only

Hashim – “Al Naafiysh (The Soul)”

Anyway, the problem was, after about 1985, I didn’t hear that kind of music anywhere. The message, which had taken over my system so thoroughly, did not get reinforced. It took me another nine years before I was able to put two and two together and realize that only 200 miles away from me in Detroit, electro had never died (and indeed, STILL hasn’t died). Some of it had turned into techno. (All you need to do to confirm this progression is listen to “Alleys of Your Mind” by Juan Atkins/Cybotron from 1981, and then skip to his “No UFO’s,” as Model 500 in 1985. Techno IS electro, in a sense.)

Cybotron – “Alleys of Your Mind” (1981) – audio only

Model 500 – “No UFO’s” (1985) – excerpt from The Scene television show, Detroit

Once I made the connection, I saw a similar evolution in Gehrik’s dancing, which had gone from breaking to…something else. It was like he was inviting people to take up space in a similar way to breaking, with footwork and spins and shoulder movements, but he stayed mostly on his feet. The space was also different. Dancing took place in a more diffused, decentralized way, as opposed to a centralized circle (or “cipher”). In other words, unlike me, Gehrik had been lucky enough to live in a city where there had been a continuity of electronic dance music, and he was the living embodiment of it. In Detroit, breaking, electro, and dance music had become a way of life; whereas in a middling town like Columbus, it had just been a fad, doomed to fade.

Looking at it from the vantage point of today, I was actually at the cusp of something even deeper which I wasn’t yet equipped to see. Luckily, Gehrik was there to catch it as it happened: the evolution of Detroit “footwork” dance styles (most notably, the Jit), which have become better known in the 2000s.

Detroit Jit – Jitting Jesus (Jittin Genius) – (2011)

Gehrik Mohr – Detroit House Dance: – Poseidon (Cymatic Soles) – Session (2010)

By the late 1990s, as ele_mental was winding down, I had one of the strangest moments of my life, when I was offered an invitation into the world of academic dance at Ohio State. The story behind that is a funny one, but I’ll jump right to the part that seems most relevant to our discussion. I remember one of the first things I had to contend with in this world was to tell my dancer friends (and later, my dance professors) that I had no formal dance training—none at all. Sure, I had spent the better part of ten years involved in club and rave culture, and it was because of that experience that the department felt justified in taking me on. But I didn’t feel like that gave me any kind of qualification as a mover.

Yet, instead of the blanks stares I expected, I got nods and smiles of understanding. It hadn’t occurred to me that they would see the worth of my “untrained” experience in their world, but I didn’t yet realize that most of my classmates and professors had done jazz, tap, musical theater, or some other form of popular dance at some point in their careers. To them, therefore, it was perfectly legitimate to “merely” be a club/party dancer. Indeed, they were excited to see what I would bring to their world, which has always found ways to bring various forms of “street dance” into the academic fold.

Indeed, by the late 90s, hip-hop was well on the way to becoming a codified, studio-bound form, so it didn’t take long for me to overhear the term “house dance” being used to describe club dancing (perhaps around 2002–2003). That’s when it all came together in my mind: I may not have had any formal studio training in dance, but I had spent since 1989 dancing in clubs and dedicating a lot of energy to dance and underground music culture, on every conceivable level. That was when I finally felt like I could claim the official title of House Dancer, whether it was strictly accurate or not. And that’s a title I’ve more or less worn proudly ever since.

Thanks to the experience I gained in the university setting, I am now much better at articulating what I do as a dancer—not just in terms of labels, but also in terms of the actual movement itself. At one point, I was pretty heavily invested in learning the terms of movement analysis, an observational system that offers a rich vocabulary to describe and examine bodily movement. I’ve lost most of that jargon to lack of use, but I still embody many of those ideas when I dance in a dark corner somewhere, doing my thing. I think of it as live experimentation, exploring shapes and dynamic ranges on various levels. This is probably why I often prefer to be left alone, to have my own experience of the music and my own movement. (It’s also why I really can’t STAND it when girls try to come up and grind on me. Ladies, please…haha.)

This brings me to say something about the underground music dance style as I’ve observed it over the years. The first thing I noticed about underground parties was a shift in attention. Unlike clubs, where the DJ booth is usually on a stage or an isolated area away from the dance floor, at raves, the DJ was often on ground level, with the dancers. This lent the event a more diffused sense of space, where dancers would spread out more or less evenly across the floor. Some people liked to hug the enormous speakers (which were, at times, up to 10–12 feet tall), while others preferred to watch the DJ closely, and the rest moved around freely on and off the floor. It was a very fluid experience, and the dancing often reflected this. In fact, the East-coast dance style known as “fluid” was itself a sort of extension of this decentralized experience. I never took to that kind of dancing, probably because I was more influenced by the percussive style of electro and breakdancing, but I appreciated the ability to lose myself in a mass of people while (usually) still having room to move.

This is the scenario I tend to prefer the most, even now. That’s why it’s remained somewhat of a foreign concept to have the breakers or “house dancers” (who, in Columbus, are more just breakers in disguise) take over a large section of the floor to make their circle/cipher, as has often occurred in recent years. Dance circles were not really an aspect originally associated with the underground electronic scene, so it can seem intrusive. Lately, however, it seems that a younger generation of dancers has figured out a good compromise, by keeping the circle on the edge of the dance floor rather than in the center. I don’t know if this parallels the development of dance in other electronic scenes, but it seems like a sensible progression. In Columbus, it seemed that sometime in the early 2000s, when the scene was on the wane, the breakers came to house music thinking they would liven things up, but then ended up realizing that house music has its own tradition in dance. As the scene has revived, the party dancers are also less willing to have their floor taken up by the “specialists.” And frankly, at many parties these days, there’s just no room!

I feel it was really courageous to take the step and seek out training in capoeira dance. Why did you take up the training and What did you take away from that experience?

The story of my involvement in capoeira is sort of separate from my time in the underground dance scene, but the parallels are somewhat obvious to me now. The period during which I got more heavily into the form also corresponded with the waning of the underground scene in Columbus, and the time I became a more devoted graduate student in dance.

I got into capoeira as part of my long phase of “dabbling” into various styles of movement that the dance world offered. As a new person in the field of dance, I was surprised to learn about the variety of movement forms that were used to complement many dancers’ training, that weren’t really a part of traditional modern dance technique.

First, I got heavily into Contact Improvisation (CI), an egalitarian form that involves lots of weight sharing and trust between partners, but has no specific choreographic form or “destination.” This introduced me to a sense of play that is also essential to capoeira. I also got into various other forms of dance improvisation, which has quite a number of sophisticated techniques available to it (on par with classical avant-garde or jazz music). Because I saw club dancing as an improvisational form, it was a natural fit. I also experimented with a more “organic” form called Butoh, which is a post-war Japanese style often performed by bald dancers moving excruciatingly slowly, like a gradual force of erosion (incidentally, that Neubauten film I mentioned earlier features some Butoh dancers in it). I also took some classes in aikido, which taught me something about the value of tradition and notions of flow and redirecting aggression.

All of this prepared me for capoeira, but nothing prepared me for how difficult it would actually be. The difficulty was not so much on the physical level, which was hard enough, but more in terms of its psychological aspects, which I have barely begun to unravel even eleven years later. Earlier, I felt like downplaying your use of the word “courageous,” because it really wasn’t like that, but in some ways I guess it truly was.

I’ll summarize it this way. I started training without a formal teacher, and was quickly put in a position to teach others. In that position, it’s tempting to try to be all things to all people, and I made the mistake of mixing and matching too many different approaches. I was a DJ, after all, so I was used to taking bits of music from a wide range of sources. Why not approach capoeira from the same point of view? More is better, right?

Upon finding a solid teacher to follow, a traditionalist Brazilian “mestre” (master teacher) named Mestre Caboquinho (who was ironically based out of Detroit), I was suddenly faced with an unwelcome choice.

Mestre caboquinho Clad in White With Tonho Matéria, one of the original singers/songwriters of the band Olodum

Olodum – Olodum florente na natureza (1987)

I would either have to respect what the Mestre was giving me by giving it continuity unto itself, or I could keep trying the piecemeal approach, taken from a variety of teachers and teachings (who would inevitably only end up giving me their scraps, because I was not formally following their school). After a few months of following Mestre Caboquinho more seriously, which meant driving up to Detroit numerous times, I continued to dabble on the side. This is when the Mestre told me he would no longer allow me to mix his teachings with that of other teachers. I had to follow him completely, or not at all. I resisted this all-or-nothing approach as being too “militant,” but little by little, I came around to his way of thinking. Unfortunately, many of my less-disciplined students in Columbus did not want to be “limited” to just one approach, so there was an awkward transition during which many people left and formed another group. Meanwhile, I was left in a position to start a new group under the formal auspices of a very adept Mestre. It felt right.

I see the wisdom of his approach even more clearly now, because the traditionalist mentality gives its students a real basis in Afro-Brazilian philosophy, upon which one can play in infinite ways. It’s akin to teaching both from the “outside-in” (from technique to philosophy) while also teaching from the “inside-out” (philosophy to technique). The more mixed, modernized styles tend confuse their students by trying to be all things to all people. It’s taught as a genuine, competitive martial art; it’s taught as a fast, acrobatic choreography; and it’s taught as a game, but the philosophy is underdeveloped. The emphasis in modernized capoeira is on competition, performance, and school hierarchy—things that are often actually quite antithetical to the form. (For example: if capoeira was, at its root, a disguised martial art, why is it that latter-day schools place so much emphasis on belt/cord rankings? This is like loudly announcing your level of expertise when whole point is to be ambivalent and secretive about what you know.)

I began to understand much of this far more deeply when I went to Brazil for the first time in 2004. I ended up going three times (twice with the entire group) and staying a total of six months, always in the Northeast city of Salvador, Bahia. Bahia is considered the “mecca” of capoeira, and it’s where there is still a genuinely secretive energy about it. It’s not handed out to just anyone, and having a teacher like Mestre Caboquinho be my guide, opened many doors to me. Very quickly, I learned how hollow the modern styles of capoeira really were. I still worried about some of the cult-like aspects of the traditional style, and even became somewhat affected by its “sorcery” myself. It should be clear by now that I wasn’t very successful at being a “dispassionate” observer of the form, as an academic is supposed to be. But by investing myself more deeply into the form, I believe I came away with a very real, down-to-earth understanding of it that few Westerners—even those who have followed the form for decades—have achieved.

Click here to watch Ed in a Filhos de Angola 9th Annual International Capoeira Angola Encounter, July 2009, Berlin

The main thing I learned was that I had mistaken something very practical about Afro-Brazilian culture for supposedly cultish or voodoo-like behavior. Somehow, in the midst of the depredations of slavery and its chaotic aftermath in urban Brazil, an illiterate, impoverished, and marginalized community of Afro-Brazilian men had come together to create an entire ethical system designed to diffuse and contain aggression. They did this while teaching themselves (and each other) some valuable lessons about the real stakes involved in fighting. They created an entire set of movements, rituals, and rules that are designed to prevent conflict, while also appearing to be a harmless pastime. And they did this under the iron grip of oppression and legal persecution. My teacher, as a person who is directly in the line of this deeper philosophy, was uniquely equipped to give us this reality.

Somehow all of this resonated with the story of dance music in Detroit, setting aside that I was driving up there a few times a month just to take a single capoeira class. Usually, I just turned around and came back home, but by the late 2000s, when I finally felt like I understood something deeper about capoeira, and had absorbed that sorcery into a deeper, less disturbed place in my psyche, I also began to go seek Detroit music again. That’s when I ran into Gehrik one night, dancing to immersive techno music at a tiny club in Hamtramck. There he was, fifteen years after I had first met him, dancing far harder and far better than I had ever seen before. It suddenly felt like I had come full circle. This prepared me to take another look at the scene.

Looking back at my capoeira period (about which I’m just grazing the surface), one thing that always seemed clear to me was that there was some subliminal connection between what I had done with ele_mental, and what Africans in Brazil had created centuries before. It wasn’t just the iconography of the circle—it also had a lot to do with that willingness to make the best out of whatever you have in front of you. I resonated with that immediately, and I still do.

Look out for the second installment in this interview series with Ed Luna that will come out sometime in the next few months!

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