Ariana Paoletti’s transformative journey through sound has certainly brought her changes in scenery. From her formative gothic years to becoming the DJ known worldwide as Volvox, it has been her undying passion for music that continues to drive her. A Portuguese saying goes, “O amor é algo eterno; o aspecto pode mudar, mas não a essência” – Love is something eternal; the aspect may change, but not the essence.
She was born in São Paulo, Brazil. But when she was two years old her family moved to the United States due to the country’s 1987 debt crisis. “Just days before my family was set to move the banks shut down and kept everyone’s money, including my parent’s entire savings,” she says. “They arrived in the United States with a little more than $2,000 to their names, but my American grandparents took them in and helped them get started in Buffalo (where my mother was from).”In Western New York on the Niagara River sits Buffalo, a small and gritty rust belt city only a stone’s throw from Canada. Not only was Buffalo’s rave scene strong in the early 2000s, the Queen City brought life to various famous underground artists and was also home to a very prominent hardcore scene (most notably Everytime I Die). “I had a great time growing up there and was never bored,” Ariana says. She attended Amherst Central High School, just east of downtown proper. She was a vocalist in a punk band, and from 2001-03 she played keys and performed vocals in EBM-industrial band Process of Elimination; they would open for international Industrial acts locally and in Rochester, N.Y.
“There was a venue called the Showplace Theater that was in a crummy part of town that would let us host our own shows but we had to buy tickets from the venue and resell the tickets ourselves to cover the overhead of the event. So imagine a bunch of goths pushing tickets on their friends, almost monthly. It was a hassle but we loved it! Many times we just paid for the tickets ourselves and let our friends come for free. We were all under 18 at the time so these shows were the best option we had for going out and having a scene,” she says.
A pivotal place that defined her teenage clubbing days was The Continental, a now defunct goth/punk dive bar that was located downtown at 212 Franklin Street. “It had been open since the ‘80s and was the de-facto home of the underground/alternative scene in the area. It had a performance stage on the first floor and a dance club upstairs. It was dark and dirty and smelly and sticky and beloved,” she says. “The funniest thing I remember about the club at The Continental was that the dance floor was the width of the building but relatively narrow, the long side was mirrored and so everyone in their goth finery would dance and preen facing the mirrors, checking themselves out and the others behind them! Eventually my band played there once or twice, which was pretty exciting for me as a teen.”
It was a space unlike any other in Buffalo, where fetishism could be expressed freely and the dark electronic music ranged from postpunk, Industrial, and EBM. “Occasionally they would host touring band shows that were 16+ and I would hide in the bathroom to avoid being kicked out before the 18+ club night started afterwards. I specifically remember an Ohgr (Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy solo act) show in 2001 that was a big moment for me. Ogre was the most famous Industrial music figure after Trent Reznor of NIN and Al Jourgensen of Ministry so this show coming to Buffalo was a huge deal.”
When it comes to raving Buffalo is primed for it. Similar to Detroit, the city relied on manufacturing (particularly with Bethlehem Steel) and saw a rapid socio-economic decline along with deindustrialization. Homes began to disintegrate and many spots in the city became ghost-like structures, only to be inhabited by temporary new life.“Just before I went totally goth I started attending raves in the area with some friends – Buffalo had tons of abandoned spaces along Main Street downtown and also in Fort Erie and Niagara Falls. The first rave I ever went to was in 2000, put on by local promoters Phlux and it was a MASSIVE affair held at the Niagara Falls Convention Center. My parents drove me there and picked me up at noon the next day. I had never been to any dance event on that scale and I still distinctly remember walking into the massive main room, it was so dark and large you couldn’t see the ceiling, or the end of the room. It was a proper classic rave with multiple rooms each a different genre including a chillout room. For a while my parents drove me to and picked me up from these events to ensure I was behaving responsibly. Indeed at this time I was still naive to the world of drugs; I was just thrilled to be able to dance for eight hours straight! There were many raves I attended around that time but Groove Attack was by far the largest and most memorable.”
When school wasn’t in session Ariana would perform The Rocky Horror Picture Show each Friday night at the Amherst Theater on Main Street, a staple to this day for new art films and re-screening classics. “Nearly our entire cast was from my high school. I had very horrible acne on my face and back at the time that I was extremely embarrassed about it but performing in various states of undress with these folks helped me feel more confident about my body and how I looked! My mom would drop me off at midnight and watch X-Files at home until 2 a.m., she’d then pick me up when our show was over. Once I had my drivers permit I drove myself and my friends home from these shows as my parents were very sick of staying up so late,” she says. “I had stellar grades and was very serious about school which is why my parents were always so accepting of my nighttime interests!”
Upon graduating in 2003 she was deciding between Boston or Chicago; she chose to attend Massachusetts College of Art and to continue clubbing unhindered. “I was already well entrenched in the Goth clubbing scene by the time I turned 18 and indeed I chose to move to Boston over Chicago because the minimum age for clubs in Illinois is 21 whereas in Boston it was 19+ at the time. Club life had already become my main interest and there was no way I was going to put that on hold for three years!”
Through Livejournal she ended up connecting with Angeldustrial, a local crew throwing events at Cambridge goth-club, Manray. “They welcomed me with open arms into their midst. I became a part of the crew, eventually joining their fetish-leaning dance performance troupe” for about a year after her move. “That was the beginning of my professional involvement with clubs, as I made the transition from spectator to performer.”
Angeldustrial’s core beliefs include “raising cultural discourse through high technology and blending social circles for greater DIY networking.” These friends got Ariana to start DJing in 2006 with a group birthday gift organized by her friend Jenn – a Numark CD Mix 2. Koren (aka DJ Punketta) helped get her first DJ gig at Redline, a Harvard Square bar that’s now closed. But before she started learning the craft she was being molded on many Manray nights in the dark corners of the club.
Manray was an integral space for the Industrial/goth scene from 1985 to 2005; its name derived from the Dadist artist. Although it has been more than a decade since closing, Ariana can still visualize the space vividly. It was “a sprawling old-school style club with several rooms, a main dance floor, second dance floor, lounge with its own bar and a downstairs with men and womens restrooms, coat check and a large dressing room. Manray’s main dance floor had a second story DJ booth so the DJ was totally out of sight, but looming over the dance floor. There was a phone booth in the corner you used to request songs from resident DJ Chris Ewen. There was a large stage that hosted many famous bands and also the dance/fetish performances. The main room was sonically dedicated to goth, rock, and ‘80s synth. Swishy stuff that trad(itional)-goths loved to swoop around to in a flourish of velvet, point toe boots and clove smoke. The second room was more of my domain, focused on EBM, industrial and alternative electronic sounds with a decidedly more cyber-futuristic and European slant.”
As Manray closed its doors in 2005 the local scene fell along with it, although some of the club’s events continue elsewhere to this day.
Eventually she “made the transition from goth/industrial to electro/techno.” A party called Hearthrob – which took place every other Tuesday night at The Middlesex Lounge – is where she sparked a residency with Make It New. Hearthrob is also where she met “an entire small village of people that now live in NYC all met there, including NYC lighting designers Michael Potvin and Kip Davis, Unter’s Olga Romanova and KUNQ’s False Witness.”
“I ditched the black and went full on new-rave as the noughties rolled on into the blog-house era. Soon after I was asked to become a resident of Make It New, the weekly Thursday party at The Middlesex thrown by the Basstown crew. The people I met there showed me that you didn’t have to be ‘an adult’ or established to throw a great party, and the Boston electronic scene as it was now basically grew up around the Hearthrob and Basstown parties.”By 2008, freshly graduated with an art degree in hand, she decided to attempt living in Berlin. “By then I knew Techno was my life and so I had to get to the motherland. I remember the first time I went to Berghain was in 2008, as I heard it was a pretty sweet fetish/alternative club, like I was used to at Manray. I was still mourning it’s closing so I was excited to get back in black,” she says. “It was so way beyond anything I imagined. I remember I wanted to see Mark Broom play so I rushed my friends to get there at 1 a.m., which to me was very late to get to the club! When I arrived I found out Mark wasn’t playing until 6 a.m. or so…what the fuck!? I had no idea clubs were open that late.. On some later trip someone from Juilliard took my photo outside the club for a school project, maybe one of the earliest such surveys.. I don’t know where those images ended up but I’ve always wondered…”
Her best friend Lauren was working as label manager for International Deejay Gigolo Records, and DJ Hell would invite Ariana to staff meetings. Exploring her local Media Play in Buffalo is where she became familiar with the label and others such as Astralwerks and Hed Candi.
“CD compilations used to be a huge thing and the Gigolo series was second to none. This is where I learned about artists from Terence Fixmer to Derrick Carter. When I was 17 years old I told myself ‘one day I’ll go to Berlin and meet DJ Hell.’ It was an insane dream, as far removed from my teen life as anything I could imagine. Well, I completely forgot about that until in 2008 I was sitting in the Gigolo Berlin office and it hit me. ‘Holy shit.’ I thought to myself. ‘I’m here. ANYTHING is possible!’” – VOLVOX
Three months later in Berlin, she says, “I was 23, recently graduated and jobless, with blue hair, a terrible spat of chin acne and a bogus story of working at a record label. Nobody would rent me a room until one day I met a Brazilian guy whose room I was interviewing for. The lady I was looking to rent from had a giant gnarled ponytail hanging off the side of her head and red lipstick that was all out of the lines. She had a huge dog, hundreds of plants and asked me metaphysical questions about ‘what I wanted from Berlin.’ ‘You don’t want to live here,’ he told me. ‘This lady is crazy. If you don’t find anything else you can come stay with me, I’m moving into a one-bed.’ And that is just one of the many times being Brazilian has saved me in a pinch.” Their chemistry as roommates matched as his job had him up early to work each morning and Ariana would sleep during the day after being out each night.
Until one morning her roommate woke her up in a panic – there was a fire.
“We tried to make an escape but we were overwhelmed by smoke in the hallway and I almost lost consciousness choking in the darkness. It didn’t help I just HAD to bring my DJ bag with me. I started to drift off then I remember thinking to myself ‘No, I’m not going out like this, not now.’ I got up and shouted for my roommate. Just as we were both about to pass out he smashed the hallway window with his bare firsts. Firefighters arrived soon after and took us to the hospital. After this experience I decided I had enough of Berlin and moved back to Boston.”She spent three more years in Boston DJing, throwing events and dealing vintage clothes. Her gigs were frequent, but $100 a night just wasn’t enough. “In the back of my mind there was always this nagging voice telling me that a wider world was waiting for me, and that I was squandering my potential staying in Boston.” In 2011 she made her move to New York City.
Working her way into the rhythm of the city she started promoting at The Flat, and also helped found Moon II along with Michael Potvin. This warehouse art space on Rutledge Street off Broadway became home to a series of raves and events which Ariana says “put our group on the map in the burgeoning DIY electronic scene.” One of the space’s first tenants, Daniel Fisher (aka DJ Physical Therapy), was a nexus figure integrating them into the local scene. Ariana recalls Ron Morelli playing one of the first parties and Mykki Blanco using the space to rehearse.
“Eventually the local Hasidim who owned the space brought those efforts to a close, they certainly didn’t appreciate all the queer party freaks that were hanging outside, smoking cigarettes and carrying on into the morning light,” she says.
Fischer introduced her to John Barclay, owner of Bushwick’s beloved Bossa Nova Civic Club. At the time the bar had just opened and he was looking for a resident on first Fridays of each month. She and John Barera ran the monthly together for a couple years before it evolved into what is now known as Jack Dept. “For the first couple years the party had no name, only hot DJ lineups and little more than a Facebook event. That was the style in Brooklyn at the time, very understated, if you knew the artists you knew what was up. I don’t even have flyers from that time, I guess we never even made any!” Yet, popularity for the party grew.
“When I came up with the name Jack Dept. all the energy we had put into the parties up until then just came together in a big way. I remember one dancer excitedly letting me know ‘I’ve been to ALL the Jack Dept.’s!’ …it was only our second party. That’s when I knew the name was spot on, that it would encourage such enthusiasm and also stand for a consistent level of forward-thinking bookings.”
Some of the party’s bookings include Shawn Rudiman, Kiernan Laveaux and Father of Two, Justin Cudmore, Doc Sleep, Hot Mass residents, Eris Drew, Mary Yuzovskaya, Patrick Russell – and that’s just to name a few. “Over the years I’d say half the people that came to the early parties have become famous in their own right and the party is now informing a new generation of edgy Brooklyn clubgoers,” she says, adding that her and Barera are working to bring in national upcoming talent.
“I deeply appreciate having the privilege to break young artists here in NYC and also to provide an intimate club experience for more established DJs to enjoy. As I play more and more massive events across Europe I have recognized that the intimate dive/club experience is something that brings me back to my roots and lies at the heart of my passion for dancing and electronic music.”
Out of the party grew a digital-only record label of the same name in 2016. Pushing lesser known producers who create techno and acid, the imprint has seen releases from Will Martin, M//R, TX Connect, AAAA, Horos, Innershades & Robert D, and Pete Vai. Ariana handles the art direction.
Additionally, the Bossa Nova residency is where she became acquainted with Frankie Decaiza Hutchinson, Emma Burgess-Olson and Christine McCharen-Tran: the founders of Discwoman. This collective has grown to become a globally-recognized platform and booking agency for woman-identifying artists. As one of the group’s first clients, Discwoman has played an integral role for Ariana not only providing further growth for her DJ career, but in the strengthening of her community.
“Discwoman definitely turned me on to the female DJ mission. I guess what I’ve realized now is how amazing and special my youth experiences were in that all the scenes I’ve described until now were well-balanced between men and women, straights, gays and everyone in between, people of all races and decidedly liberal and creative leanings. I never felt like anything was missing but clearly that hasn’t been the story everywhere. I’m happy that Discwoman can inspire more people to take up electronic music, their support also showed me that there was a wider audience for what I do than I ever imagined!” – VOLVOX
When she’s not at Bossa she also holds a residency with Unter, the acclaimed underground party whose unique aesthetic and high-caliber bookings have brought on a serious reputation. Additionally, for the past few years she has been touring on an international level stretching to 21 countries beyond the United States. Her gig roster is incredibly extensive in review. But you can certainly find her frequenting Berghain/Panorama Bar. Perhaps you caught her performance alongside Umfang at last year’s Dekmantel. Back on Buffalo turf in 2016 she played to an intimate dancefloor for Strange Allure as the city’s underground scene began its most recent surge. That’s hardly close to scratching the surface of how much she has done and where she’s gone.
But, there was one party specifically that focused and refined even further the vision of love that Ariana has for music. In February 2016 she made her way back to Brazil for Dûsk, a party in celebration of Vênus Ácida [Acid Venus]; a party inspired by the planet poetically known for its myths of feminine energy and creating balance. Visiting the motherland reintroduced her to ancestral power. This reconnection to the idea of home helped her understand more so her own essence of being.
“I always say that my love of dancing comes from being born in Brazil. They just LIVE for it there! I’d say it’s the national pastime. It’s in my body and my soul. But growing up away from there I never knew what it was about me that was Brazilian. Since I knew only my family I had little sense of what Brazilian people were like. I only knew that I always felt somewhat different/alien all while growing up. That I had a fire inside me that wasn’t like others around me,” she says. “Finally in the last three years I’ve been able to spend quality time there as an adult, and so much has clicked into place. My passions, my desires, they all make more sense when I see myself in this frame. I am so so grateful for the friendships I’ve sparked there, the fruits of which have been deeply spiritually nourishing. I always come back from São Paulo feeling 100% more confident and embodied.”
Over time, life’s little details changed. No matter the city or sky she is under. No matter the time of the day. To thousands of people or just a handful. Ariana’s love for music is eternal.
“I love music because it’s an internal journey that can take you around the world. Music has nourished me for my entire life and has been the great driving force of my happiness. As you can see my life has been wrapped around music for as long as I’ve been doing things and I’m just dumbfounded by how far it has all gone. I’m a lifer for sure, come find me in 10-20 years…I’ll be on the dancefloor.”
He is particular, precise, and plays with the concept of boundaries. These qualities are the driving force for Patrick Russell as both a selector and a DJ within the underground.
Russell grew up in a rural area outside of Detroit proper. During his early years he became enraptured by sound. In the country he experienced a spectrum of natural soundscapes on a silent background. In the industrial prairie of Detroit, city sounds and acid lines crack through the quietude.
It was here that he started to find initial inspiration in the ambient beauty of nature. “Growing up in a rural area impacted my musical tastes in a few ways. When your sonic existence is mostly silent, especially throughout formative years, I think you greatly appreciate the detail of distant thunder, wind rustling the leaves, even the slight buzzing of power lines when you’re out walking in the field,” he says. “Add to this the visual context of wide open spaces and just nature in general – be it endless trees, approaching storm clouds, or meteors in the nighttime sky – it not only creates a sense of mental space but also allows creative thoughts to move freely. I think this is why I have always been drawn to ambient and psychedelic music, since it matches these surroundings so well.”
Eventually, he was introduced to DJing through his teenage friend Phil, who would visit his sister in 1992 to go to N.A.S.A. raves in New York City. With this exposure and the evolution of his youthful soundscapes, he reached new sonic ground. He began studying the DJs he danced to. Initially he would watch and learn during sets from Mike Huckaby and D-Wynn at a club called Industry in Pontiac, Michigan. Soon Daniel Bell became a guiding inspiration, while Richie Hawtin dropped Russell deeper into a world of strange sounds and acid.
“I’ve always been enamored with music and sound, even as a small child. By age seven I had a tape recorder and headphones, and before that I’d sit in fascination listening to records or playing with the radio dial. This foundation isn’t necessarily unique to me, I realize…but the fact musical experiences can be that personal is, ironically, one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to share it. When I’m moved by music, it’s incredibly powerful and I have a strong desire to pay that experience forward. That transfer of energy and shared consciousness continues to be my sole motivation, even after all these years.” – PATRICK RUSSELL
Meanwhile, he has been crafting his art as a DJ since the early ‘90s. His method: creating a long format, hypnotic music narrative. He makes his choices carefully and in a definitive manner; he plays to bring the consciousness of a listener in and out until, ultimately, in an altered state. By doing so he is able to provide space for others to explore outside of their comfortable boundaries on the floor.
This technique and taste is what brought him deeper into, and eventually a resident of, Detroit’s Interdimensional Transmissions. He says he has been a fan of Ectomorph since their first record on the label. Subsonic Vibrations was a 1995 release of four electro tracks and three loops. Russell says, “To me those tracks were hugely influential, and they carved out a special niche at the time due to the stripped down, minimal freakout factor that operated outside the usual Detroit electro template.” As Detroit worked its way out of a scene slump during the early 2000s – pumping electro, techno and acid brought life back into the city. This motivation is what actually inspired the beginning of No Way Back.
Not only is Russell driven by the permeating beauty of the 303 sound, he (among so many Midwest ravers) live with an understanding that acid stretches beyond. “This is something many of us in the No Way Back crew have said for years, that acid is not limited to a 303; it’s broader than that instrument, but it’s also undefinable to a certain degree. I mean, you can’t always put your finger on what makes it ‘that’ sound, but there is something specific that clicks when you hear it. That intangible element immediately transports you to a different place where genre, and to a different degree, time, cease to apply. You can feel it on a dance floor and just react, almost involuntarily.”
Beyond the imprint, IT is a collective of like-minded folks on a similar sonic mission. Co-conspirators Erika Sherman and Brendan Gillen work along with Derek Plaslaiko, Michael Servito, Carlos Souffront, and others to present both parties and productions.
“I got to know BMG and Erika more personally through Carlos Souffront and the Crush Collision radio show in Ann Arbor, where I would drop by and play from time to time,” Russell says. “Eventually I started frequenting BMG’s place to have in-depth discussions on old Chicago house culture, Italo, disco, and like. I think he saw something in how studied I was in certain areas like this, and as a result started having me play IT parties from the early 2000s onward. Since then, I’ve considered them my home base…my musical family.”
Around 10 years ago Plaslaiko became a resident of The Bunker while Russell was throwing parties in Detroit with Adriel Thornton (FreshCorp). “I’ve known Derek for over 20 years, and we’ve always been supportive of each other’s careers,” he says. “We were keen on bringing The Bunker crew for an all-day DEMF party. This is when I first met Bryan Kasenic, and in the years that followed we got to know each other better through my trips to New York and when he began partnering with No Way Back.” Russell first appeared at a Bunker party in February 2010 for the inaugural Unsound festival. “The response I received in Brooklyn that night was greater than I could have ever imagined, and along with meeting some truly incredible people it was my impetus for moving later that year. After years of regularly playing The Bunker as a guest, Bryan offered me a residency. It’s been a great ride so far.”
As a DJ he has become acclaimed worldwide. He pulls from his realms of sound and clearly follows a “no filler” mantra. This makes him not only a high-caliber selector but one that is able to succinctly navigate the listener through space and time. With a breadth of knowledge he is a versatile DJ and if you have experienced a set from Russell it is beyond clear he is a digger with a streamlined record collection. Maybe you have seen him crank a slamming set to a packed ballroom at No Way Back, or weave intricate soundscapes during his ambient set at Labyrinth in Japan. By harnessing this storytelling and mapping ability it has made him capable to play extended sets, such as the 10-hour stint at The Bunker/Unter 36-hour party.
As a producer he has had a few releases. In 2008 Valt Trax, a collaborative EP with Seth Troxler, was released through Circus Company. Additionally, through The Bunker he put out a 3-track EP with remixes of Clay Wilson, Romans, and Zemi.
On the horizon Russell has some productions in the works. “I have a few things to announce that I’m quite excited about.” A collaboration with Jasen Loveland is recently finished and he says hopes to be out later this year. “In addition, I have a remix of Mr. Loveland out this week on vinyl via LA’s Acid Camp,” he continues. “Also coming soon is a more experimental/dub remix of Certain Creatures on the new Mysteries Of The Deep label, which incidentally also launched this week. Lastly, a remix is also forthcoming in late spring for a major UK artist, which I’m particularly stoked about.”
If you’re in the North East this weekend Patrick Russell makes his Buffalo weekend debut for the next installation of REDUX this Saturday, January 13. Not to mention he will be playing a special ambient set the following night.
In Central Illinois, Justin Cudmore was raised with Midwest sensibilities. His environment, he says, was simple but there were structural bounds that kept him from feeling truly free. When he was in his youth and started to feel he didn’t fit in with the the people around him, he found sanctuary just next door.
“There are straightforward expectations about what you’re supposed to do when you grow up, how you’re supposed to act, what you’re supposed to look like,” he says about his hometown of Springfield. “My family and my surroundings taught me to be genuine, polite, helpful…but anything different or out of character was pushed away. My family was not religious but still clung to conservative ideals on family and politics.”
Around middle school Cudmore started feeling estranged from his youthful peers. “I never opened up to my parents about these feelings, instead kept them inside. My neighbor growing up next door was an old hippie and I think she could tell I was different. She would invite me over for tea and we’d listen to The Beatles, go rummage through junk, make sculptures. That was an outlet for me I didn’t have in other places. She really opened up the world and my mind to let me think maybe it’s OK to be different; maybe there is more out there.”
Her name is Janis and one specific memory he has of her was when he was around 13 years old. “She invited me over and we were going through all the ‘junk’ she collected in her garage. She loved garage sales. We’d go out hunting for items on the weekend. On that day she showed me this collection of all blue glass bottles she had been keeping. Anytime she went to a rummage sale or antique mall there were certain items she looked for and loved to collect. These blue bottles were one of them,” he says. “She brought them out and we used metal pipes stuck into the ground to display them, almost as a bouquet. I vividly remember creating this decoration from nothing with her. It’s still there in her yard as you drive in. I loved these moments of creativity. I don’t think I realized at the time how comfortable I felt around her or how much I could be myself but looking back it was really special. Having that time helped me find myself at crucial points in my teen years. Janis really shaped me. She always encouraged travel, the arts, exploration, fun. Major contrast to my more conservative parents. I don’t think I’d be where I am without her guidance and love.”
Music eventually became a grounding creative expressive outlet as he processed these feelings. He found his rhythm playing drums in grade school and continued until the end of college. “Percussion is something that always came easy to me. Jazz, concert, marching – I did all of it. Band was a place for weird kids to feel at home and have something to concentrate on,” he says. While attending the University of Illinois he played in some jam bands. Inspired heavily by dance-driven beats he would incorporate post-punk sounds when they played. “New wave groups really captured my ear,” he says. “The melodies were uplifting and the bass/drums driving still. That combination stuck with me.”
Cudmore started DJing in college and went on to host a club night called Physical Challenge. “I played a house party sophomore year for Halloween that was a big success. It was probably a mixture of blog remixes, ‘90s house classics, some of my own music, Girl Talk edits. Anyway, it went really well. The owner of the local club hit me up and asked if I’d like to help run this weekly night at The Canopy Club – one of the oldest spots for live music in Champaign-Urbana.” He agreed but only after returning from a six-month study abroad stint in Norway’s capital, Oslo. This trip became pivotal in expanding and fine-tuning Cudmore’s music taste.
“Living in Oslo those six months was a big shift for me. Dance music was just getting cemented as something I really cared for, I was started to dig, buy records – then I left to go live in a place where I could club at 19. I would go almost every weekend to different parties. Blå was my favorite. Locals like Todd Terje, Prins Tohams, G-Ha, this party called Sunkissed – really left an imprint on me,” he says. “Cosmic house but with a groove and a bassline. I returned from Oslo that summer with a whole new perception of dance music. It became clear to me just how little I knew and how much there is to know. It humbled me. I tried to bring that attitude to the club in Champaign every Wednesday, trying different combinations of things – disco, house, techno. I learned you didn’t have to stick to one sound.”
After college he moved to Chicago where he immediately delved into the scene, frequenting spaces like Smartbar, Danny’s, Berlin Nightclub, and warehouse parties such as No Affiliation. Somewhere in the mix he met Steve Mizek, founder and A&R head of Chicago labels Argot and Tasteful Nudes, as well as founder of now defunct website Little White Earbuds. The two started talking and Cudmore started working with Mizek on the website. He says, “I would assist with site architecture, coding, ads – we were trying to make some money off LWE. This is actually when I started first meeting a lot of New Yorkers over email like Bryan Kasenic. He would purchase ads for The Bunker in NYC. My big contributions were two Curator’s Cuts mixes, along with some end of year lists. LWE opened up a whole new world of underground music for me. It was kind of like going to Oslo all over again but even bigger and I felt more connected this time. My record collection at home was starting to grow and I felt confident to contribute a mix that I’d be proud of and one that would suit the style of LWE. To this day that final mix remains one of my favorites.”
At 21 years old and new to the clubbing, Chicago’s Smartbar became influential as he explored his sexual freedom. “Smartbar is dark, it’s seductive, no one seems to care what you do. It’s how clubs should be. That was the first basement club I went to. And really I did all my formative clubbing there. Nothing in Oslo really matched that layout,” he says. “At that time in Chicago, Queen hadn’t started yet. Sunday’s there was this party called Dollar Disco. But Boystown was close and sometimes gays would wander over. It was the first place I felt comfortable dancing with a boy all night to house music. It is a special place. Nowhere else could I have done that. That’s why places like this are so important. They allow us to be ourselves in the dark, in the fog. We can act on our curiosities and let the music take us over.”
From a childhood feeling different and out of place, he felt comfortable enough with himself around 22 years old to come out to his parents, “And it didn’t go well,” he says.
“That started a slow descent in my relationship with my family which wasn’t always the best to begin with. And so when Jordan, this boy I loved and cared for, said he got a job in New York and was moving – I didn’t know what to do but follow him. Also after two years of Chicago I felt like I was ready for more. As eye-opening as Chicago was for me, it does have a level of stagnation that I felt. I could have stayed in Chicago and really buried into my music production. I could have seen myself become a sort of Smartbar hermit – run with the same circles and be a bit of a techno recluse.”
He continues, “I moved to New York only for Jordan, my boyfriend; I didn’t want to lose him. Work/music was an added benefit of moving here. I really had no intentions of a music career coming here. I got a job at a startup, Jordan started his job, and we continued our lives pretty much as is in Brooklyn. I would come home from work every night, get stoned, work on music, dig for music. But not to play – not to release things – music at that point was always a side hobby. Sometimes I think I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing now without all those years of simply going out, hibernating on music, learning things. Too many people jump right to the DJ thing. That was never a motivation of mine. I was curious, just like way back when I was young, hanging with my neighbor learning new things. It was always like peeling back a page on something new – new sounds, new labels. There was always something more to know. In my eyes, it was not my time to be playing in New York. There are plenty of people who have put in their time and know loads more – they should be playing.”
He began networking and connecting to people in the New York City realm, including folks at The Bunker like Bryan Kasenic and Mike Servito. Cudmore met Servito after making a comment on his Boiler Room set. A conversation started and a friendship blossomed.
“I went to see him play at TBA Brooklyn. That’s where I met him for the first time. There was some natural friendship chemistry between us and we stayed in touch. I went to see him play at the Bunker and Out Hotel. And soon hanging every few weeks turned to texting, meeting up after work for a margarita, getting dinner. Our relationship started and remains to be just because we get each other,” he says.
“We had similar problems with our family growing up about being gay. We were both searching for this kind of escape. Our friendship grew stronger because we could talk/share music but Mike was more like an older brother to me. He has shown me a lot, and how to be an adult.” With similar taste in music they would have lengthy email chains of tracks sent back and forth. Cudmore eventually introduced Servito to his boyfriend Jordan and Chris Miller (aka Gunnar Haslam). Miller, Servito and Cudmore eventually went on to start performing together as Hot Mix. He says, “Just three boys sharing stories, laughing about music – we had each other’s backs. I started regularly attending The Bunker probably six months into my friendship with Mike. I eventually met Bryan and the extended Bunker family. He probably wondered who was this kid Mike kept putting on the list.” Cudmore’s introduction to the Bunker were post-Public Assembly days, when parties were being held at Output.
“The Bunker family is made up almost entirely of Midwest expats with a love for Detroit techno. They all sort of welcomed me in. Just as I have seen a handful of new faces welcomed in after me. Having never had a family that supported me for me growing up, here in NYC I had that for the first time, and I could be myself. Everyone had my back and I could be myself. I partied and met people and learned about more and more music along the way.” – JUSTIN CUDMORE
While living in New York City he continues to work on music, perform and push forward with the “Bushwick hustle” by picking up any occasional part-time job to make money on the side. New York, he says, “is an expensive city for an artist. But also all these friendships and opportunities would not have happened if I wasn’t here. I also wasn’t searching them out. I was just following my interests.”
Cudmore was fiddling around with production, sending little demos to Servito for constructive criticism with no real guided intention toward a certain label. “Sometimes he’d give some feedback, other times he’d say what he liked. But I wasn’t trying to make things for him or any label in particular so I just followed my own ear. One time I was playing with this acid line and sample and jammed this track together.” He sent the demo over to Servito. “Unlike other times, he reacted immediately and freaked out. He insisted to have the WAV so he could play it that weekend at Bunker. That was actually the first time Mike used a CDJ – before that he was always vinyl only. The track went over well.”
A huge opportunity came to fruition for Cudmore after Servito dropped that track during a Honey Soundsystem party in Folsom, Calif. Soon thereafter the label members made their way to NYC to chat with him about “Crystal”. A completely inspired Servito and Cudmore started working on a remix together. “We had never thought about working on music together before but it seemed natural – so we sat down and me as his engineer sort of built what he had in mind. The inclusion of Chris was a no brainer,” Cudmore says. “He was our boy and our DJ partner. He was of course extremely happy to contribute a remix. The whole package came together really naturally and nothing about it was forced. I think that’s why it was the success it was. It made sense on that label and came out right before the summer. Timing was on our side.”
Since the track’s official release on HNYTRX in 2016, he has had subsequent releases on The Bunker as well as Interdimensional Transmissions for the Acid Series project. Performing throughout numerous venues in New York City, he has also been booked at TV Lounge and Tangent Gallery in Detroit, Hot Mass in Pittsburgh, and Spybar in Chicago. Abroad he has played at Berlin’s ://about blank, as well as in Barcelona and Ireland. He says he can feel that he’s on the scene’s radar, but at heart he will always cherish being an anonymous rave soul among a crowd of so many others still seeking the comfort he has always been on a mission to find.
“It’s cool but I feel this constant need to prove myself over and over every weekend. Mike says this won’t stop and he still does it to this day. But there is something about just being that kid in the background of the party dancing in the fog that I miss,” he says. “Now I’d be crazy to sit here and say I wish I still had a full time job and didn’t get to do music full time. I feel very fortunate to be where I am and not have to get another job after I was let go last fall. In a way I guess this was my dream and I didn’t know it yet. I feel like life kind of unfolded this path for me and all I was doing was following my interests and staying close to my friends.
“Every weekend I play I learn some things and also realize how much more there is to learn. It can be intimidating to be affiliated with such giants like Mike, The Bunker, Derek [Plaslaiko], IT Detroit. I always think that if I was some kid on the outside I’d be like, ‘Who is this kid anyway?’ I’ve always had some confidence issues and it’s taken people like my neighbor or people like Mike to pull me out of my shell. Mike is truly my mentor and best friend. He shaped me into who I am today. Maybe he saw something in me way back when we first met and groomed me for this. I just hope that everything continues to be fun and I can still have those moments lost on the dancefloor.”
Attendees of Sustain – Release will be able to catch Cudmore play a sunny poolside setting next weekend. His fourth record is currently in the works and has had two mixes recently released from TRUANTS and also through Is Burning with Servito.
“The list of things ahead of me seems daunting. Every weekend is like a new challenge. But would I rather be sitting in my office working on something I don’t believe in? No way.”
NEW YORK CITY – For our only Wrecked @ Analog this Summer we welcome Octo Octa! Her new album on Honey Soundsystem’s HNYTRX label continues to be a crossover hit along with her solid past releases on such labels as 100% Silk, Argot, Running Back and more.
Additionally, earlier in the day we make our debut at PS1’s Warm Up so swing by there as well and make it a whole party day!
Ryan & Ron
After the unfortunate loss of Prodigy on June 20 I’ve been thinking a lot of Mobb Deep’s grand contributions to music and vinyl culture. Prodigy’s counterpart, Havoc, learned the art of MPC sampling around 1993 with help from infamous Q-Tip. In 1995 – smack dab in the middle of the golden age of hip-hop – The Infamous was released to major critical acclaim.
The genius behind the sampling was true to New York City form and undeniably classic. Growing up in New York during this time, it was hard to escape the now classic style cemented in legendary albums like the aforementioned, Nas’ Illmatic, and Notorious B.IG.’s Ready to Die. The producers behind these albums were masters of re-purposing old vinyl tracks for new life in rap, and I can recall it being some of the first impetus to buy vinyl at the flea markets in Chinatown.
As MPCs began to get traded in for Pro Tools, the essence and allure of hip-hop started to be diminished and eventually the golden era came to an end around the turn of the century; many people who were interested in the vinyl aspect of this music lost interest.
But those individuals and artists who are dedicated to a craft, and vinyl culture via production have dipped below the radar. Mixtapes played a major role in the underground music scene in New York during that time, and the ubiquity and ease of burning CDs expanded their reach from corners in Brooklyn to bodega counters across all boroughs. Big record execs with swollen dollar signs for pupils were unwilling to give “old” style mainstream exposure, and mixtapes became the main route of delivery for vinyl sampled music art.
Though I started to explore other genres, these mixtapes always made me smile, reminding me of some of the initial reasons I became infatuated with records and vinyl collecting. In 2005 I came across an unassuming mixtape CD in a West Bronx neighborhood that immediately piqued my interest. The artist credit read Bobb Deep in an identical font that I had seen on Mobb Deep sleeves prior. I brought Queensbridge Meets Kingston home with me and was instantly impressed with the creativity of the samples, and the depth of the drums that are hard to match without sampling vinyl.
The actual engineer behind this project was boom-bap saint DJ Swindle. He took most of the tracks from the heavily pressed and circulated Bob Marley Greatest Hits 12” Legend, and spliced it up to exist around Mobb Deep verses. I played the absolute hell out of this CD, and lost track of where it ended up by the end of high school. But the amazing sound on the record had forged an unforgettable niche in my brain.
Fast-forward to 2017 when I found myself at a rare and odd record fair searching out forgotten disco and funk. I came across a man from Chicago who specialized in impossible to find Japanese releases in mint condition. Flipping through his crate and scoffing at the prices, I was about to move on when I saw it. Bright green cover with the yellow lettering – how could I ever forget? I couldn’t believe it, but someone in Japan had commissioned an off-label pressing of Queensbridge Meets Kingston. Even though it was a tight groove LP (5 tracks on each side!) I had to have it. I managed to convince the Midwestern gentleman to let me have it for $50 and I was off racing back home to turn my amp up and melt into nostalgia.
While admittedly a couple of the tracks are in a way uninteresting, the greater core of the record sounded just as deep, rich, and full as I imagined. The titles of the tracks retained some of the best and most memorable Mobb Deep originals. The true aspect that made me fall in love with this record was how far the re-imagined compositions tended to exist from the originals. From the small guitar scale snippet on “Survival of the Fittest” to the drum ‘n’ bass structure of “Gangstaz Roll”, the record is a beautiful example of the place vinyl has in not only presentation, but also creation. The fact that someone in Japan felt the need to press a run of this record two years after it was released is a testament to how powerful the format can be for the people who can appreciate this music.
This record is essentially non-existent. It has never been sold on Discogs and prior to that record fair, I was unaware it even existed. There are three two-track singles that were released the same year of the CD via AV8, but I couldn’t imagine not enjoying this record from track as it was fully intended. Even so, these singles seem to be the only instances of Bobb Deep circulating on the internet.
The music world lost a great contributor and pioneer when Prodigy passed away last month. However, the inspiration he and Havoc left on youth and music producers resonates strongly. If they had never championed the vinyl sample sound, I don’t think DJ Swindle would have ever engaged in this project. But thanks to him, this stupid-rare gem will be out in the world, floating around, waiting to spellbind another music lover who refuses to dig anywhere except the deepest of crates.
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.
Montreal-based DJ and musician Project Pablo has become something of a leader in Canada’s house music scene. Through strong releases on labels like 1080p, Magicwire, and Hybridity Music, his stock has risen, and in the last few years he has been all over Europe and North America for club and festival dates. Last year, his highly regarded 12” ‘Beaubien Dream’ is making waves on the newly minted Sounds of Beaubien Ouest label that he co-owns.
Max McFerren has been on a similar tear, recently returning from his debut Asia tour, and dropping killer tracks on labels 1080p, Don’t Be Afraid, and Allergy Season.
There is an undeniable passion that drives Derek Plaslaiko, a Detroit native who calls Berlin home base. With more than 20 years of touring internationally, playing extended sets, and producing tracks – in addition to balancing family life – he continues to grow as a beloved head in the scene.
Growing up just 20 minutes outside of Detroit proper, Plaslaiko’s youth was spent exploring and becoming heavily involved in the city’s circuit. He got his start around 1994 when Detroit’s house and techno scene was on a heavy up and he became crucial to both the Analog and Poorboy Parties, along with comrade Mike Servito.
An experience that really brought him into the realm was picking up a job at Record Time. Opened in 1983 by Mike Hime, the acclaimed music shop was a staple for local music lovers. With a couple different locations it became a place where many would converge to explore and discover the multitude of local sounds and music from abroad.
Plaslaiko started working at Record Time around Christmas 1996, he vaguely recalls. Hired by Mike Huckaby he says “I was only supposed to come on for the holidays, but then was kept on until summer 1998, I think? Somewhere around there.”
Other former employees include familiar names Claude Young, Rick Wilhite, Magda, Dan Bell and Rick Wade. The Dance Room at the Roseville location became known as a hub for collecting and selling records from numerous local house and techno producers. Plaslaiko says “the space was was usually pretty hilarious, too. Guys like Gary Chandler & DJ Dangerous would come in and crack jokes with Huck. Have you rolling on the floor laughing.”
Eventually, “I got let go for the same reason 99 percent of the people working there did: being late. They were super strict on it. Even if you were one minute late, then that would be strike one. I then went back to work at the Ferndale location around the spring of 2000 until spring of 2002,” he says. During his time there he was ordering for the dance catalog and remembers it being fun, seeing a range of characters walk through its doors. He commended the staff of Record Time saying it “was nice to see the hard work build into something special.”
The shop was influential in many facets for young Plaslaiko as his passion for music began to transform. “Working there was incredible! Both locations were phenomenal. This music was a lot harder to come by back then. So, working at the source really helped shape my musical tastes. Not to mention working around Mike Huckaby,” he says.
His employment at Record Time helped him earn his weekly residency at Family. Held at the pivotal Motor club tucked away in Hamtramck, this venue played an important role for the scene’s growth and was one of the longest running clubs in Detroit. Jason Kendig and Jeremy Christian were original Family residents. One night at a party in 1998 Plaslaiko found out Christian was leaving his spot and the event’s promoter Adriel Thornton had an opening to fill. Plaslaiko took to the helm and was a regular there for the next four years or so.
It was this residency that convinced Carl Craig to ask him to play the inaugural Detroit Electronic Movement Festival [DEMF], which eventually transitioned to be known today as Movement.
Throughout the years he has found himself playing the annual festival, other parties throughout Memorial Day Weekend and as a resident he can always be found at the otherworldly after-party No Way Back. That is of course with the exception of 2014 when he basically took the year off from DJing altogether with his son’s birth just four months prior. Regardless, experiencing basically every year since the millennium he has seen the festival’s evolution, which is now a pilgrimage for music lovers from around the globe.
“The festival has changed in so many different ways. I mean, the obvious one is that it used to be free. But that was never going to be able to sustain itself. Even still, you can’t beat that first year. The thing about it being free that made it so special was that people from absolutely every walk of life came down to check it out. Every race, every age – you name it and they were down there. But, you start putting a price tag on that, and it’s obviously going to change.”
Prices began increasing, but he says the biggest benefit to Paxahau taking over in 2006 and the higher price tag means a larger scale of production. “Doing something that big down there is a feat unlike any other. I’m super proud of all those guys for doing what they have done with it. And they really do strive to make it better and better every year. I often think they are going to plateau even with the sound systems, but they just keep getting bigger and better … It’s always going to be a super special weekend for me, and I don’t even plan to skip it again unless something major prevents me from going.”
In the summer of 2004 he needed a change of scenery and moved from Detroit to New York City. Eventually he met Bryan Kasenic and went on to become a now 10-year resident of The Bunker parties. During time spent in the city he started producing; his debut output xoxo, NYC was a 12″ released in 2010 through Perc Trax. During that same year, he packed up again to move to Berlin and has since remained. In 2011 he spent a summer residency at Club der Visionaere and frequents the notable and legendary Tresor and Berghain/Panorama Bar among many others in Germany.
Although Berlin remains home he continues to travel extensively playing festivals such as Dimensions in Croatia, Communikey in Boulder, Harvest Festival in Toronto and Decibel in Seattle. He’s shared his music at beloved venues such as Smart Bar, Hot Mass, Good Room for The Bunker, Marble Bar – the list goes on and on.
Still, he maintains his traveling lifestyle as a DJ and balances life at home with his wife Heidi and his son Elliot. Such dedication is no easy feat and I find incredible appreciation for people who are so passionate about their music and are still growing a family. Someone else whom I admire for exactly that is Chicago’s Sam Kern, otherwise known as Sassmouth, who is also good friend of his. I couldn’t help but wonder what sentiments parent DJs must share with one another.
“God, I love Sam Kern. She was actually just in Berlin with Ryan [her husband] and Amelia [her daughter] and we got some great hang time in. I really try my hardest to not let my ‘career’ affect my family life in Berlin. I’ve definitely been more selective of my gigs these days and also very cautious about spending too much time away from home. DJing might be considered a job that I’m doing, but there is no denying that there is quite a bit of fun being had. I tend to feel a bit guilty about it, and feel it’s maybe a bit unfair to Heidi if she’s left to all of the parental duties while I’m out partying in multiple cities for 2-3 weekends in a row. Despite all of that, she is incredibly supportive and is even encouraging me to go out on the road more this next year.”
Elliott will be three in January and since he spends time in daycare and preschool (Kita in Germany) Plaslaiko says things are becoming a bit easier to manage. His wife is able to work consistently at her day job, “so me being gone doesn’t affect her like it would have a year ago,” he says. “Though, I’m sure the early mornings every single day probably wear on her a bit. But, all in all, I’m just trying to weigh everything out so that I’m still doing my part, so to speak. Elliott is at an age where he’s constantly doing new things that are super impressive, so it hurts to be away and missing a lot of these first time moments. I also miss them terribly within two days of being gone. Even writing this, I’ve been gone four full days and it feels like weeks. And I have eight more days to go. So, in short, yeah it’s quite hard to be away from them. Luckily with Skype I can stay a bit connected to them while I’m touring. I have no idea how people would’ve done this 15 years ago!”
For the last stop on his tour he will hit Rochester, NY for the first time at Signal > Noise, which has seen the likes of The Black Madonna, Claude Young, Norm Talley, Mike Servito and more. For a man with more than 20 years of dance floors under his belt he has seen a variety of spaces and crowds. I inquired about his reflections on small city scenes.
“I have never been one to shy away from playing someplace just because it’s scene is ‘small’. In fact, I’m always looking for more cities that fit that description. For years, I have had the approach of hoping to help build something somewhere. It’s important for a scene’s growth to have people come in from outside of the local community and (hopefully) provide a different experience, and possibly inspire those in that community.” – DEREK PLASLAIKO
For almost every DJ that has spoken with Sequencer regarding their insight on intimate crowds and concentrated music scenes the consensus seems to continue. “And smaller scenes usually have some of (like you said) the most passionate crowds. The first two that come to mind are Pittsburgh and Philly! Small scenes for the most part, but I can come in and do seven hours at Hot Mass, or thirteen hours at Inciting HQ and have some of the most engaged dancers I have seen anywhere else in my life! I’ve heard nothing but great things about what has been going on in Rochester, and I’ve been looking forward to it for months now.”
What can we look forward to seeing from Plaslaiko in the future? “I have The Bunker 14 Year Anniversary coming up in January! Definitely looking forward to that. Also, I did a remix for TB Arthur that will be out in late January. I’m also going into the studio with BMG right after I finish this interview, so that’s exciting too!”
Any DJ or avid record collector will agree, it pays to explore the back catalogs of record labels. For me, that’s been the case with classic New York house label Strictly Rhythm. While I’ve always carried a couple choice cuts from the label in my bag, revisiting their output frequently has helped me expand my horizons and pick up records I may have passed on merely six months prior.
Such is the case with a recent score of House of Pain / In The Spirit by Krimp, aka Dana Kelley. Originally from Boston, Mass. Kelley is known for his output of classic deep house and garage tunes, under a number of different aliases, on labels such as Strictly Rhythm, Guidance, and Large. Sadly Kelley passed away in 2013, however, his music lives on in this week’s Wax Runoff.
Opening up the record is the Citrus Mix of “House Of Pain”. A moody late-night jam, this one starts out smooth before layering a number of textures and building tension. While “The Clouds Mix” retains much of the character of the previous mix, the drum beat has a bit more theme to it and the synth has all the hallmarks of a session jam. Crafting a sort of wonky organ style sound, this one has me very excited to play out. On the other side of the record we have two mixes of “In The Spirit”. The first (and my favorite of the release) is the “In The Spirit Mix”. Starting out with a simple, yet effective bassline, the addition of some mellow keys push this into true old school deep house territory. When this one starts lifting off, it feels like the vocal calling out “in the spirit” is the only thing keeping you grounded. Closing out the release is “In the Spirit (The Perk-Us-On Mix)”. Again, the inside track is much dancier with this one having considerably more drive and at times feeling almost like an old techno track. Given the context of the backing track the vocal evokes a completely different feeling.
Being an older Strictly Rhythm release, this is one of those records that you may just get lucky with when digging in a bin somewhere that hasn’t been too picked over. If you’re interested in grabbing your own copy, there’s plenty on Discogs at a reasonable price, but it looks like you’ll have to pay the shipping from Europe.
Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Colin Boardway, of Chicago, is the label manager for Yoruba Records. He has spent the last 10 years developing his sound by digging deep in the bins wherever records are sold.
Like most New Yorkers, Max McFerren is constantly grinding just trying to survive. A South Carolina native with a background in music education, he moved to NYC in 2008 where he began establishing himself further as a DJ and a producer.
Residents of the city are always finding a place to live within their means as the areas and boroughs evolve in cost of living. McFerren currently lives in Chinatown which he says seems to be more affordable than Bushwick, where he spends a chunk of time at Bossa Nova Civic Club. “NYC is such a hard city to survive in. I think you can get addicted to the constant hustle. Being around other DJs/producers who are also making it is super motivating and maybe also a bit enabling,” he says. “I spent most of this past year hiding out, but there is such a strong community here, and I think it’s all centered around a positive ‘fuck it all’ attitude rather than any single ‘sound.’ I think we all just get so wrapped up in surviving and it becomes a part of our identity.”
Starting at a young age he began producing in high school and delved deeper into house, techno and the club scene a bit later on. His early days exploring creativity were spent just recording things onto a computer and playing with sound. The concept of freedom while producing became a driving force. He says, “When me and my buddies would listen to someone like Aphex Twin I think we would give it the same attention as any other recording artist. It was like, ‘you get 78 minutes on the CD to do whatever you want, what are you gonna do?'” The 1992 release Selected Ambient Works 85-92 by the aforementioned and Prodigy’s Music for the Jilted Generation are two very influential albums for McFerren.
After high school he decided to follow the path to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. Higher education in music is a privilege that many do not have access to, especially within the electronic scene. A world frequented with self-taught artists and many who learn to mix or produce by engaging in the creative cloud.
“I think it’s really important to try and give back somehow and engage people who don’t have the resources available. Obviously big institutions don’t exist without funding, but there are other ways. Start small and engage people who want to know things that you know. Share your life with them. Show them possibilities. At the same time I love to talk about music, but I hate the idea of forcing people to do everything my way. It’s so important to understand the idea of process and figure things out yourself. Ask your own questions and take constructive feedback. All of this is hard and I suck at it but it’s true. Be yourself.” – MAX MCFERREN
He began DJing around 2008 when he moved to the city. His friends ran a basement loft in Brooklyn called The Cave and he also played a monthly at Tandem Bar. But he soon established a residency at Bossa Nova Civic Club after his friend Erika Ceruzzi asked him to DJ a party called Worldwave. He says the party was “pretty mixed up sound wise, but that was cool for me because I wasn’t a part of L.I.E.S. or any other established techno thing. Also involved in that party is a dude named Julian Duron, who is a creative consultant for Bossa under his now defunct company Sisterjam (look out for his Creative Support Group coming soon) and now also releases music as Earth Boys with Michael Sherburn.” McFerren began connecting with the club’s regulars and became close friends with Duron, Bossa’s owner John Barclay and the staff. Becoming more involved with booking in 2014 he finds himself closing out the night. “Closing Bossa is probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. It has definitely shaped who I am as a DJ today. I hope I can continue to grow with them,” he says.
Whether performing or producing the NYC artist finds himself inspired by dancing, DJing, the city, friends and lovers, “and more recently just trying to heal” – something we can all relate to. His sound is risky and very human. His edge he says “has always been experimental music mixed 75 percent well.” Currently he has three full-length tapes and one 12″ on Vancouver label 1080p as well as a 12″ and a few other compilations on Allergy Season. Additionally, South London Ordnance caught wind of McFerren’s record Shoot the Lobster and recruited him to his newest label, Aery Metals. Now at a musical crossroads McFerren says he will be focusing on his newest alias Complete Walkthru. “There will be some cool 12″s coming out next year and I’ll probably start working on an emotional full length soon,” he says.
What can you expect from a Max McFerren set? “Context is everything,” he says. “I always try to imagine where I’m playing and who will be there, and how long, and why, and just – everything. I hardly ever play by the numbers which is why it’s usually a varied mood.” Catch him tonight Oct. 15 in Buffalo, NY for the next installation of Strange Allure along with Discwoman’s Umfang. “[We] were discussing going all in with techno and experimental electronic music, so it will probably be very confrontational. But we are multi-dimensional people so who knows!”
Emma Burgess-Olson moved to Kansas by way of the Bronx when she was six years old. During her time at college she discovered techno. Now back in New York City living and working in Brooklyn she can be found under the pseudonym Umfang. As co-founder of Discwoman she has been producing music, mixing records, and continuing the dialogue about feminism.
Her first true techno experience took place at a warehouse in Kansas City. It was in this moment that she became enamored with the genre and was swooned by the sound system. She says, “I remember it being really exciting, being in these old factory buildings with surprisingly beautiful bathrooms and wood floors and meeting all of these new freaky people. The defining moment was really entering the space and feeling a big sound system for the first time and experiencing the physical affect where I just needed to be immediately dancing.”
New York City’s enticing energy and pace keeps her zoned in. “I feel motivated and stimulated here and I get things done. People here inspire me so much,” Olson says. Along with Frankie Hutchinson and Christine Tran, the three work collectively as Discwoman – a platform and booking agent that promotes female, female-identified, and non-binary artists in the electronic scene. Through their events the collective strives to support and provide a place of safety for people of all races, gender and sexual identity. Bringing “discourse to the dance floor” they take a relaxed feminist approach by using Discwoman as a vessel for change in a subtle but effective way.
“We want to keep changing and adjusting as culture moves around us. We’ve never gone into it with a firm plan, we’ve just acted on what inspires us or what bothers us and tried to activate change in a way that can funnel resources toward people that we feel need more exposure and access. It is case by case who we work with and we want to stay open to not making any rules. The definition of woman has changed for all of us in the last two years.” -UMFANG
Since the first Discwoman party held in Bushwick at the Bossa Nova Civic Club, the platform started another New York-based party called Technofeminism, found at festivals like Sustain-Release and Movement in Detroit, as well as presenting artists at international events. The site’s roster identifies five artists but the group brings attention to flourishing DJs beyond NYC. Olson has helped lead a DJ workshop for women alongside Berlin’s Creamcake in the hopes of providing a place where women can feel comfortable learning the art of DJing.
According to Olson, this secluded setting for women is “not a necessity but I think it is more comfortable when people learn in an educational setting – it’s not as high pressure as a club night. Learning from a woman or non-binary person can be more welcoming since it is already intimidating to learn a technical skill. The less things making you uncomfortable the more you will be able to focus and ask questions. Not everyone is confident and that needs to be OK.”
Her creativity and determination has pushed her along and she has found herself not only contributing heavily to NYC’s scene but has performed at Berghain, played a 7-hour set at Pittsburgh’s Hot Mass, and a few Eastern European countries. In addition to all that NYC inspires, she finds creative sources in patterns, sound, people, textiles, synthesis, and constant change. The sound she puts out is tough, leaning more on the harder side of techno and she has a mission to evoke something inside of you.
“This is just who I am. I don’t think of it as a choice to play hard music. I relate to those sounds and I am lucky enough to have been supported in that. Now I can encourage others to release to these sounds and accept that they might identify with some evil and/or alien noises too. I think it’s really positive and healthy to release feeling and emotion with sound. I like to use different rhythm patterns to refocus the dance floor and sometimes utilize pauses or ambient breaks to stay engaged with the present moment. I really try to present what hits me emotionally or physically and hope it can do the same to captivate others.”
Catch Umfang at the next installation of Strange Allure in Buffalo, NY on Saturday, Oct. 15.