Aaron Clark

Sweaty bodies, a wall of lights and a sound system that pulls you in and won’t let go. If you have experienced Hot Mass, you understand. Aaron Clark, co-founder of the Pittsburgh party, is in charge of co-curating resident nights Honcho and Humanaut at the after hours spot. 

While growing up in Ohio, Clark wasn’t very active in the music scene. Mostly a bedroom DJ he says “I was still coming out of the closet and trying to pull away from my church. Once I turned 18 I started to hit the parties happening at Red Zone in Columbus and Moda in Cleveland.” Shortly thereafter he moved to Pittsburgh for university, unfortunately right when the city’s rave scene was in a lull.

When it comes to Clark’s background as a DJ, he says “I sort of tripped into it.” He would hear electronic tracks in the background of commercials and scour the internet to identify them, which would turn out to be “stupid stuff like Chemical Brothers. This was Napster days, so I’d download that stuff, but then realize that people made remixes of these things, which led me to more underground producers. It was kind of a rabbit hole situation,” he says. “I know a lot of people don’t believe in folks coming in from the commercial side of dance and landing in a good place musically, but it happens.” In high school he was introduced to his friend’s boyfriend, Rob, who had a full DJ setup and PA. This piqued Clark’s interest and pulled him to the performance side of electronic music which he says “really helped me start separating quality from bullshit.”

Before Hot Mass became one of the most prominent parties for today’s scene Clark spent about eight years throwing large scale events. While seeking a place to throw small after parties for their main events they stumbled upon Club Pittsburgh, a private men’s bath house located in the city’s historic Strip District. The space is relatively small, with small dark spaces for private encounters. 

HOT MASS – PITTSBURGH

He reminisced about the beginning stages of their parties in the bath house. “When we first checked it out, we weren’t even sure how to use it. The space was super weird, not laid out in any sensical way for dancing, lots of hallways and cruisey rooms (as part of the bath house) but we could go late. So we took it, and had Kirk Degiorgio play a second set after his first one. It went off! I think we pulled the plug on a full dance floor that morning around 8 a.m.? Up to that point we would struggle to hold a crowd until 4 a.m. max. We were all really blown away by the crazy energy that room had, so we kept going with it.”

John McMarlin, manager of Club Pittsburgh, proposed that the after party events become a weekly which ultimately brought Hot Mass to fruition. Clark says, “That sounded insane to us, as everyone knows how impossible it is to keep a weekly party going. It’s torture. The idea was that maybe we could pull it off if we had four separate crews as part of the larger collective, and we all took a different week so we didn’t burn out.”

Hot Mass as a whole is comprised by four parts: Honcho, Humanaut, Detour and Cold Cuts. Each Saturday of the month is accounted for. Honcho is held the first Saturday followed by Humanaut on the second. The city’s record label collective Detour showcases the third Saturday and new to the roster is Cold Cuts, an event which curates an affinity for disco and hoagies on week four. I inquired how each of these facets play a significant role not only within their space but also to the scene at large. “This is a tough one to answer. I think all four crews touch different sounds of dance. Humanaut heads straight to techno, Honcho loops in the gays and does all genres, Detour is heavy on live sets as they’re so production-minded due to their label, and Cold Cuts is just a great fucking time. It’s positivity music,” Clark says. “You kinda touch all corners, and funnel everyone into one club together, making it easier for people to figure out what they like and dig deeper. Ideally, we are always giving up-and-comers a shot on the decks as well. It’s something I personally want to push further in 2017.”

HONCHO – PTTSBURGH

The four crews work together to maintain the integrity of the space and progress the continuity of energy and quality talent.

“We’d all vote on the larger rules of the club, keep the door cover consistent, and operate under a unified brand – Hot Mass,” he continues. “We wanted the general public in Pittsburgh to think ‘it’s always a good time there’ and not get hung up on who was promoting the party. Amazingly enough, it worked. And over the past four years we’ve just tried to improve the place one piece at a time as we got the money, knocking out walls, moving the dance floor, new sound.”

But what exactly is it that makes this Pennsylvania party so special? The size of the space is small bringing an inherent intimacy to any party. Sexuality here is open and free and there is an undeniable consistent energy when you make it until 7 a.m. and those lights turn on. “It still feels crazy that we have this beautiful thing. I think being attached to the bath house (Club Pittsburgh) is incredibly important. Right out of the gate, it’s a gay space. That helps with crowd quality immensely and is really an inseparable part of it all. Once you have that base layer, you add the layers of good friends, techno heads, and out-of-towners coming through each week,” he says.

Honcho was established in 2012 while Humanaut was founded in 2005 and run by the collective efforts of Clark, Paul Fleetwood, Paul “Relative Q” Zyla, Benjamin Kessler and Tony Fairchild. Through both Honcho and Humanaut the floor of Hot Mass has seen talent from the likes of Bill Converse, Derek Plaslaiko, Shawn Rudiman, The Black Madonna, Claude Young, Ectomorph, Bicep, DJ Minx, Sassmouth, and so many more. Last summer Clark assisted hosting a Honcho Summer Campout in the West Virginia woods and sometimes you can catch a set by Honcho, which is comprised (give or take) by Clark, George d’Adhemar, and Clark Price.

“[Hot Mass] is one of the only places in town where different peoples bubbles crash into each other. Pittsburgh is not known for being a diverse place, which can feel suffocating at times. Hot Mass is a bit of an antidote to that.” – AARON CLARK

The dance floor at Hot Mass is one of which that allows freedom, tests your limits, breaks borders and pushes boundaries. There is no pretension, and with Club Pittsburgh’s environment these parties bring everyone together by serving to both the gay and straight community. Clark believes that these attributes of a party are “important because these moments don’t happen enough. As we’ve all seen, everyone is content to live in their own personal bubble these days. Gay people need to party with straight people, and vice versa.” He explains that this outcome won’t happen at a typical gay club which serves mostly as a place to get drunk. “I think the important part here is that there’s something for everyone to bond over other than a bar – the music.”

aaron clark

AARON CLARK – PHOTO COURTESY OF THUMP

When he’s not bringing in talent or throwing down sets himself, Clark can be found working as a Cultural Engineer at the Ace Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. Through this position he wears many hats working with community relationships, marketing, event programming and social media. “I was attracted to it because I had respected the Ace brand for years, and I wanted to force myself outside of my comfort zone of just throwing techno parties.” Through this avenue they are collaborating with The Andy Warhol Museum, hosting independent markets and panel discussions, as well as pop-up dinners. Although a small component of what he does at Ace, Clark incorporates small music events at the hotel, with an occasional Hot Mass day party outside.

No matter what Clark does, both day and night, his love and drive for music will run deep and with passion. “Music is one of the only things that can overtake my emotions completely. I remember one time at a Bunker show in NYC, Magic Mountain High was playing live. My partner and I had just gotten to the club, completely sober. We’re standing on the dance floor and we just started crying. The music was so beautiful, it was involuntary. That’s really cool. There’s a lot of beautiful stuff in the world, but music consistently does crazy things like this, over and over again.”

Catch Aaron Clark make his Western New York debut on Saturday for the two year anniversary party of Rochester’s Signal > Noise.

Wax Runoff: Alien Rain [AR 3]

If 2016 did not already achieve the accolade, 2017 seems poised to be the year in which Acid House and Techno retake the forefront for DJs and connoisseurs alike. You may have noticed that European label Get Physical Music has started a pre-order page for their satirical hat declaring “Make Acid Great Again”. And it’s entirely true that if you’ve spent any time in reputable dance clubs in the last six months, you’ve probably heard the squirrely synth work of the coveted Roland TB-303 take an energetic and throbbing lead in techno sets the world over.

As the series name suggests, Alien Rain is a stamped white label limited press Acid series that embodies celestial strangeness. The tracks are foreign, frightening, and fortuitous, making listeners feel all sorts of weird. Alien Rain records lack any sort of accreditation for producers and bear only the entry number and a mysterious extraterrestrial friend on the stamp. The first installment actually came out in 2012, well before the resurgence of Acid styles into the mainstream, and with the current fondness for acid enticing new listeners while making old heads smile, this particular entry from 2013 is ready for any dark and dusty warehouse.

AR 3

The lead track “Alienated 3A” is a true techno purebred that makes no attempts to appease people who need percussion to get into the groove. There is a sole pounding 4×4 kick drum and undulating sub bass that set the vibe from the first measure to the last. The filter on the 303 does not open much, creating a wonderful sense of anxiety. When it does, a very simple hi-hat on the upbeat pays the listener a visit as well, sending the tune into spaceship overdrive – only to land again on a distant planet when it calms back down. Discordant washes intermittently keep up the spacey vibe while the lead synth does its nasty, relentless work. What I love so much about this tune is that the notes in the acid loop itself stay intact for the entire nine and half minutes, which is more akin to classic techno than actual acid roots. Where originally acid was defined by exploratory solos of the 303, this tune causes the brain to naturally pick out different frequencies of the sound over time even when the filters are not changing. This fusion of techno purism with acid bass leads are what make this record sound like an old gem made in modern times. Absolutely scary stuff you’ll want to get abducted to.

“Alienated 3B” has a bit more accessibility to it. The kick drum is still in a straight 4×4 pattern, but is more distorted from saturation. There is a more defined sense of separate sections here thanks to a back-and-forth of the elements. A constant techno clang does, however, keep the pace every four beats but gets louder throughout the composition, and the 303 opens and closes more commonly than the A-side. The tune periodically lets in a sort of gust sound that I would imagine the wind on Neptune sounds like. A cymbal ride sample also adds a new dance floor-friendly dimension to the track, but the strict adherence to the same acid notes from start to finish solidifies the theme set forth by the first on the record. The tune comes off like a soundtrack for illegal street racing in a nebula far, far away – excellent peak hour material.

So if you’ve been excited about the slamming high tempo trip down the Acid music rabbit hole, be sure to set your sights on the Alien Rain entries if and when you come across them. The deviance from the old Acid formula while retaining the best aspects of it make each 12” worth owning.

These tracks are everything Acid Techno should be: hypnotic, terrifying, and of course – alienating; there isn’t a single snare drum on the entire record! As incessant as precipitous downpour, and alluring as Area 51, they’re sure to be pleasing those brave enough to weather the storm for years to come. Of course, they are not the easiest records to find due to the limited run and the fact that most of them have been purchased already. Expect to pay over $12 for Alien Rain III unless of course you are savvy enough to scoop the single copy available through a domestic seller currently on Discogs for $5. Until then, be well earthlings.

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.

Wax Runoff: Frankie Knuckles [VUSLP 82]

Yesterday would have been the 62nd birthday of Chicago stalwart and house music legend Frankie Knuckles. It is difficult to find a piece of written history on house music that fails to mention Mr. Knuckles – affirmatively, he is known as “The Godfather of House Music”. From his early development alongside Larry Levan (of Paradise Garage fame) to his staple appearances at The Warehouse in Chicago, Frankie consistently championed the house music sound, and helped navigate its proliferation through the late ’80s and ’90s. Many consider him to be part of the 101 class on house and club culture history.

frankie knuckles wax runoff

VUSLP 82

In the world of house music where mainstream applicability was immensely doubted for many years, Frankie Knuckles was able to show that house DJs and producers were skilled artists in their own right. A full studio album was – and in many ways still is – rare to see. Yet Knuckles was responsible for three of them, the second of which released on Virgin in 1995: Welcome to the Real World featuring Adeva.

I love this record. The artwork hung in my living room for a long time – Frankie and vocalist Adeva enticingly appear from the darkness, staring at you with their hands out. The blue aura that surrounds them feels like a beacon of light on the otherwise black frame. You’re drawn to it. They’re inviting you into their world – the house music world – that to many is the true real world.

The various influences in the record are numerous. There’s the crisp downtempo RnB drum licks on “Too Many Fish” and “Passion & Pain”. Or the soulful orchestral presence in ballad-style tracks like “You’re Number One (In My Book)” and “Tell Me Why”.  Of course Frankie’s disco upbringing is noticeable in the driven 4×4 jam “Keep It Real” and the gospel is unmistakable in “Walkin’”.

The most important sound in the tracks, though, was the swung-out and somewhat jackin’ drum loops that came to define the term Chicago House. Along with the ubiquitous electric piano phrases, this drum arrangement crept into almost every track in one form or another. “Whadda U Want (From Me)” and the title track are floor movers in this regard.

The record is as brightly produced and genuine as the huge smile Knuckles was known for. The themes of love, acceptance, friendship, and an inability to understand the hatred that seems ever more commonplace are just as needed today as they’ve ever been. The final track on the B-side begins with a eulogy from Frankie about his dear friend Larry Levan. He mentions that Larry achieved success so early because he was took risks musically, and that it took him longer to understand that was a good thing. The entire house music community should remain grateful that Frankie Knuckles was here with us and took those risks, and shared that music with us all. To a great man – Frankie Knuckles – cheers. Love can change us.

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.

Israel Vines

Born in Atlanta, Israel Vines was mostly raised in a small town two hours west of Detroit. By 10 years old he had lived in nearly 12 different houses in six states. After graduating from Michigan State University he moved to Chicago in 1997 where he remained for four years eventually making his way back to Michigan for graduate school. He stayed there for six years before moving to Los Angeles in 2008 where he currently lives with his wife.

He cut his teeth DJing in the early ‘90s and a few years later he delved into production. By 2010 he established his label Borrowed Language and it grew with the help of artists Jeff Pietro and Justin Ivey.

The now retired label nods to the concept that “all music is essentially a borrowed language.” His friend, fellow DJ/producer, Karl Meier came up with that line. For more than a decade the name Borrowed Language was used by Vines for club nights, mixes and the like before creating the label. First and foremost he says that he used this platform to “acknowledge the fact that DJing and making techno isn’t a case of reinventing the fucking wheel. There’s a basic blueprint that hasn’t changed all that much over the years. A lot has changed, but the basic DNA has not. That’s the Borrowed Language part.

“As far as acknowledging the historical background, there are many ways to do that. There are a lot of producers who make sort of throw-back style tracks, which when done right I think is great. Additionally, there are a lot of older DJs who are very much committed to and conscious of playing a lot of older material in their sets – which again, I think is fantastic. I take both of those approaches, but only to a degree,” he says. “I play some classics. I program tried and true electro beats. But more than all of that, I try to keep the original spirit of this music in mind while producing or DJing, and to me that means keeping a sense of wonder, adventure, and tension in the sounds that I’m working with.”

When he speaks about music you will find that he often draws parallels between music and language. Narratives are incredibly present in our lives. In books, film and music we are constantly being told a story. He does so through his sets and productions.

“Without getting too deep, I think that the idea is both basic and difficult. On a basic level, it’s just like anything else with which you create a narrative – words, images, shapes. There are peaks and valleys, there are hot and cool moments, there are things that are soothing, and there are things that are jarring. Fitting them all into a cohesive arc is the difficult part, and there’s no real secret sauce to it. If there were, it would be for sale by now. At the end of the day it’s a feeling that one attempts to translate into something that others can experience with them.” –  ISRAEL VINES

Although music has been a driving force for most of his life he says that he is relatively a wallflower to the scene itself. When it comes to the way music has evolved, particularly in the electronic field, Vines speaks on the way trends have infringed on the underground. “I’ve never been all that connected with the ‘scene,’ as it were – but more primarily with the music. One thing that I can say for sure is that I’m glad that the whole ‘MNML’ and tech-house phases seem to have passed. I mean, we have EDM to deal with now, which is fucking annoying, but at least it’s a lot easier to differentiate the underground from what that whole side of things encompasses,” he says.

Underground electronic music can often be misjudged through the surface mainstream lens to be considered EDM. A proverbial tick for the culture, EDM has more or less had an impact on the more authentic lifestyle of techno and house music. “MNML and tech-house producers were sort of wolves in sheep’s clothing in a way, as they were just watered down and non-creative versions of more underground music – but they were close enough in some cases to pass as legitimate. EDM is, in its own way, honest about its awfulness,” he says. But that’s another story for another day.

What makes Vines unique among many other influential artists is his determination to never compromise his vision. His personal inspirations include Marcel Duchamp, Charles Bukowski, Cormac McCarthy, Stanley Kubrick, to name a few. When it comes to producing music he stays true to that mentality. Vines has releases on labels Cult Figures as well as Semantica Records. He has put out remixes for Erika, U.K. producer Makaton, and Chicago’s Stave. Additionally he has been doing collaboration work with Chicago artist Kit Geary and putting our releases under the moniker KGIV.

His WWKD EP launched the Eye Teeth imprint off of Detroit’s Interdimensional Transmissions. The vision for that label is one that encompasses “American Techno” and explores the genre through a contemporary lens. Per the label, Eye Teeth’s output “is Techno from Detroit and America, not Detroit Techno. We would like to see American Techno evolve, and this new imprint is an attempt to be a catalyst in that arena.”

Vines has a long running relationship that is “both old and new” with the Interdimensional Transmissions family. “I was buying Ectomorph records basically from the time that I started DJing, and I came up around the same time as the extended IT family. I was at the first No Way Back party. I played my first DJ gig with Patrick Russell. I had hung out a bit with Carlos and Erika. I knew Servito and Derek. Brendan was the one that I never really hung out with until later. No particular reason, I guess, but mostly because I wasn’t that social in the scene,” he says. “As far as a professional relationship, that didn’t come until I was running my own label. I had put a few records out, and my friend Sarah, who has always been a big supporter of mine, brought the label to Brendan’s attention.”

After he put out a remix for “Gardeners” by Erika, Brendan M. Gillen (otherwise known as BMG) started talking with Vines about Eye Teeth. “Since then both he and Erika have been my biggest support in terms of getting my music out and promoting me as an artist. As far as my music encompassing anything at all – that’s Brendan and Erika’s vision for the label. If that’s what my music does to their ears, well, that makes me happy. I just make the music that I make and hand it over,” he says.   

Everywhere he has lived he has explored the music world. Particularly while living in Chicago he worked at the legendary Gramaphone Records and learned more of the intricacies of music history while working there. After opening in 1969 it has seen decades of patrons and has been home to some of America’s most beloved house and techno artists. Currently owned by Michael Serafini, employees of Gramaphone included DJ Sneak, Derrick Carter, DJ Heather, Karl Meier, Sassmouth, Garret David, and Ike Release to name a few.

Vines says, “There are hours of stories there, but the most important thing is that the original owners, Joe, Doug (RIP), and Carl were pioneers. They opened the shop long before house and techno really broke, and they weren’t afraid to welcome it. They had specific buyers for every genre of dance music and ‘trusted the kids,’ as it were, to steer the ship. In terms of what came through – and there were a ton of very knowledgeable people doing as much before I got there and after I left. Michael Serafini continues that legacy today.”

Now living in Los Angeles he can be found balancing two different worlds. During his free time he works on music and performs but by day he can be found teaching high school English. “The worlds don’t collide all that much. I rarely miss school for gigs. Sometimes Mondays are rough, but that’s the way it goes with any DJ who has a day job, I’d imagine,” he says.

Vines received his English degree from Michigan State University where he also studied Political Science, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. He earned his graduate degree at Wayne State University in Detroit and from there pursued his path into teaching. “Teaching is great. It keeps me on my toes and the young people today give me hope for the most part. They’re much more open to people who are different than they are compared to the adults running things these days, and I think that in a few election cycles we’re going to see a huge swing in the direction of a more progressive mindset. This is my hope, anyway. With what has happened in the last year it’s very hard to say with any certainty, but this is my hope.”

Clearly of a poetic frame of mind he says that he previously was a creative writer and in the future, when his music career starts to transform, he may live a life of leisure. “I don’t do much creative writing any more, as music pretty much dominates my creative life. I may go back to it when I get older. I joke with my wife that when I’m older and retired I’ll probably spend my days brewing beer, working in the garden, making drone music, and writing poetry. The joke may very well stick, we’ll see.”

Catch Israel Vines and Kamal Naeem tonight Jan. 7 for his Buffalo debut for the Sequencer/Redux party.

 

Kamal Naeem

Amidst the breathtaking scenery of the Finger Lakes sits Ithaca, N.Y. A college town engrained with a grassroots approach, this city is also home to record label Blank Slate. Kamal Naeem, the label’s founder, is an Ithaca native and a graduate of Ithaca College.

“I spent nearly 20 years in Ithaca. It’s where I grew up and where my family is. And though it doesn’t have a tradition of electronic music (besides Robert Moog developing his synth up the road), it’s safe to say it was responsible for providing a variety of very strong musical experiences,” he says.

He was raised in a musical household, dominated by jazz, West African and classical Indian music. “My father is a huge music connoisseur, who has that bug that most DJs have, to search for the next piece of music that explains or predates the why of the current favorite record. I grew up going to concerts with my father, starting from a very early age. Shout-out to my mom, too, because she is always very supportive and put up with a huge amount of awful, very loud music in my formative years.”

Often joked to be “centrally isolated” Ithaca is actually 4-6 hours by car to a major city which Naeem says influences the area with an array of world-class music. “There was always a steady stream of jazz,” he says, seeing the likes of Pharoah Sanders, Joshua Redman and the Mingus Big Band, all at local venues. Additionally, Cornell University’s South Asian community hosts classical Indian concerts, from acts like Zakir Hussain and Hariprasad Chaurasia. Local music festival Grassroots has been taking place in Ithaca since 1991 bringing a gamut of global artists.  

ITHACA

ITHACA, NEW YORK

Naeem says, “When people think of electronic music, I’m sure Ithaca isn’t what comes to mind. In place of the often imagined industrial wasteland, Ithaca offers a gorgeous lake, waterfalls, farms, and some of the prettiest fall foliage you’ll ever see. It’s a place that seems stuck in time and yet, because it’s a university town, every four years, 30,000 of its 60,000 residents are brand new.”

With Ithaca College’s music school there is no lack of talent in the rural city. He continues, “Though Ithacans might not be familiar with electronic music as a concept, we never had to fight for the music to be considered important or a worthy use of our time. And folks were more or less supportive when we started going in the electronic direction. Now Ithaca is slowly developing a tradition of electronic music.” To his knowledge he says there are four labels with ties to Ithaca. Soren went to school at Cornell and while living in the same city he and John Barera wrote the first couple EPs on Supply. Also a native to Ithaca is Mirko Azis who was involved in the Detour Crew while attending Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Penn. Phil Chung and Tahj (Turtle Bugg) Morris, owners of Basement Floor Records, would throw parties along with Naeem during his years at college.

Naeem began development for Blank Slate “out of the desire to contribute to a music scene beyond isolated Ithaca. I had recently returned from my first trip to Berlin, and even in a city where so many people love electronic music, I was surprised to discover I was a fully fledged music nerd there as well.” Solely run by Naeem the label originally was developed with the efforts of Soren Jahan (René Audiard). On the visual side Mathea Millman is the art director for nearly all the label’s B-side art. Azis and Mike Lavigne contributed with design, as well as Max Hull who lent his graceful handwriting for the logo. 

BLANK SLATE

BLANK SLATE 006

“The name Blank Slate does imply a certain level of minimalism. One of the initial ideas was to keep it simple and easy to read in the dark. In retrospect, I suppose the minimal design was another way of letting the music speak for itself,” he says. “There has always been some evolution in the design – the first two records were stamped. We progressed to printed labels, B-side photography was added, and finally color was added for the recent record.” 

While the label was in the early stages Naeem spent a majority of 2013 studying in Berlin. He used this time to network and really explore deeper into club culture. “I’d never really been clubbing (I was too young to go out in the U.S.), and it was amazing to be in this seemingly huge city with so much music happening all the time. I came back to Ithaca to complete school and save some money.” Blank Slate began to pick up and he officially relocated to Berlin in January 2015 with hopes of continuing forward as an artist and label head.

It was a tougher transition than expected, he says. “Though Berlin has so many musical opportunities, working here can be quite the challenge. My initial plan was to try and work in the music industry. I found this quite challenging, as the music industry here has a very loose relationship with anything resembling professionalism and there are so many eager young people that businesses often take advantage of this. You’d be surprised at the number of big name businesses here which operate on a steady flow of recyclable interns.” Currently he is working in online marketing for a Berlin startup.

On a music level Naeem has noticed that Berlin is overwhelmingly populated with electronic music and there can be little wiggle room for other genres. Within the U.S. he says “there are so few things going on that keeping an open mind and going to a concert or show you might not like is often how people expand their horizons. Berlin has such a huge electronic music scene that people’s interests often remain very narrow. Folks seem very comfortable going to the same parties and shows over and over again, and not really broadening their horizons.” With an incredibly diverse background in music, he recognizes that on a technical and cultural level music should be open to variation.

“For me, music is about constant curiosity – so this mindset of being satisfied with only one or two particular styles is foreign to me. For all its many musical opportunities, the Berlin music scene is also incredibly white, which doesn’t really do justice to where this music we all love comes from.” – KAMAL NAEEM

With reflections on the Berlin music scene aside he recognizes that Blank Slate being based in Germany is ideal for his releases. It is ripe with networking and access to artists who live and perform locally. “Meeting artists who are much more experienced and knowledgeable has certainly helped me in the running of the label,” he says. 

There are many factors that discern what fits into a label’s groove. Naeem walked through the process of putting out a record through Blank Slate and the many considerations that go along with it. Varying for each individual release he says “it’s important to remain flexible with the process, because at the end of the day artists are allowing me to release their work. As the variety of music on the label suggests, I’m not listening for a certain sound. I’m after original work, expressing something of its own.” He listens to the track on repeat and always makes sure he is informed on the musical history the artist is drawing on because if you’re not informed “how can you know if the music is actually original?”

The diversity he strives for not only in his music knowledge and label’s output is also reflected when given the opportunity to DJ. “When I am granted the privilege of playing for others, variety and diversity are very important to me,” he says. ”Sure, playing an amazing set of just house music or just techno is one thing. But the DJs that I hold in the highest light have the ability to transverse timing, genre, geography and pretty much any other imaginable boundary. You might start off listening to something you kind of know and by the end of the night you’ve fallen in love with a type of music you didn’t know existed. I aspire to be able to play all my favorite types of music in the same set.”

BLANK SLATE RECORDS

This year he was asked by the Pittsburgh-based Detour crew to play Hot Mass and he “was over the moon to have the opportunity to play one of the best parties in the world. When I took the helm over from White Visitation, I was playing some 135 BPM techno tracks from Soren and the crowd kept an open mind and stayed with me as I jumped around from house to disco to African music and, if memory serves, I even got to play my favorite Sylvester track.” 

He studied politics at Ithaca College but has yet to pursue anything in that direction but says time will tell if he decides to enter the world of academia. “A close family friend told me that one’s early 20s were ‘a perfect time to make mistakes.’ I’m currently putting music first in my life, so we’ll see how that goes,” he says.  

When asked why he loves music, he eloquently responded with relief that he does not have an answer to that question. “My fear is that if I could put the answer into words, the mystery would be solved and my constant curiosity would disappear. A good portion of the credit is due to the household I was raised in. Not only was there always music playing, there was also a steady stream of music from all over the world.”

 

Catch Kamal Naeem and Israel Vines this Saturday, Jan. 7 for his Buffalo debut for the Sequencer/Redux party.