Electric electronicPosted: May 3, 2011
It’s Electric: The Growth of Small Scale Electronic Music and Its Influence on Local Culture
In November of 2010, an event invitation popped up out of the digital ground, appearing on the Facebook news feed of about 400,000 people’s pages. Bassnectar, a dubstep DJ and producer, was coming to Albany, N.Y. on April 23, 2011. Some marked the date, some bought tickets and some didn’t catch the memo right away. About 2 months prior to the show date, another announcement showed up on the webpages of promoter, Greg Bell of Guthrie/Bell Productions. The message simply warned people that this concert was getting closer to selling out the Washington Avenue Armory with each passing day. A month before the show date, the last of the 4,050 available tickets were snatched up. Conversations buzzed about this electronic phenomenon and people got ruthless hunting tickets down; with some dropping $100-$150 on tickets originally docked at $30, without thinking twice.
The Washington Avenue Armory is a huge auditorium, bordered by stadium seats. It is used for hosting roller derby events regularly and for occasional local concerts. The last DJ who played the Armory was Pretty Lights, back in November, around the same time that the Bassnectar concert was announced. Pretty Lights had about 3,000 in attendance, but didn’t quite reach capacity. As recent as 2008, both electronic acts played venues of about 100-200. Bassnectar played at the Red Square in Albany and the event didn’t receive much press. The growth in the past two years alone has been incredible and no one really saw it coming, at least not to this area.
Forward-thinking DJs have been hitting the streets of Albany for at least a decade, with some of the major players in the underground scene at one point collectively owning a record shop downtown. In the 90s, rave subculture was hit with a negative connotation that eventually led to legislation being passed (in the form of the RAVE act – Reducing American’s Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act) that evidentially hindered the popularity of electronic music in the mainstream culture.
A recent article ran in the alternative newsweekly, the Metroland in Albany, that detailed the history of the “rave” scene “back in the day” and only gave a brief mention to a new series of events that have been popping up in Albany like dandelions. Yes, several veteran promoters from the area are still booking events, but not without scoping out the event calendars of the events planned by those a generation younger than them. There is a new wave of DJs and producers in town and they are collectively hitting a huge audience that some of the older, experienced promoters have difficulty reaching; the college age kids.
Two years ago, two new clans, Deep Children and Heady Productions, hit the airwaves of WCDB, UAlbany’s college radio and developed a small but bustling following. In the past 6 months, they have grown out of playing house parties in basements that always got broken up by Albany police, to packing venues to capacity, such as the Fuze Box, Red Square and Cabaloosa’s (in New Paltz).
Deep Children, the brainchild comprised of two Albany natives, Scott Birdsey (Mycon) and Ryan Looney, host the new monthly series at the Fuze Box, OutPost1, a dubstep and house assortment, after hooking up with the editor of local culture blog KeepAlbanyBoring.com, Andrew Franciosa. Together the partnership has helped gain each other’s projects local recognition from the mainstream media, while remaining independent and alternative in their business models for both their music, blog and event planning.
Franciosa’s blog tied with mass media outlet, the Albany Times Union, for Best Local Website and came in 3rd for Best Local Blog, behind Friday Puppy and All Over Albany. Deep Children ranked in as 2nd Best Local Club DJ, behind veteran arts scene DJ Trumaster. Following the Metroland Reader Poll results was the Keep Albany Boring’s infamous coverage of the Kegs & Eggs phenomenon, which landed national attention and locked in a solid, daily readership. Ever since, DC+KAB have gone nowhere but up, bringing in DJ acts from San Francisco and New Jersey in the past 2 parties alone, with an eye towards the future.
Franciosa attended Bassnectar, as a photographer to review the concert for his blog, and reflected, “I was a little bored.” A few of his friends felt the same way and neither could really place their fingers on it explaining why.
“Maybe it was too long, but it was too much original content and live PA shit,” he said. “Same recycled formula of bass drops for what felt like hours. It was a weird experience for everyone in attendance.”
Franciosa, who also DJs under moniker Party With Tina, shared some insight about why the OutPost1 parties are going to be mixing things up in the next few months.
“What we are all doing is important for Albany because we’ve never done parties before and the only people in our eyes that we compete with are the dudes in other cities. We don’t look locally to see what people are doing.”
Parties in San Francisco hosted by ICEE HOT and in Brooklyn, hosted by Trouble & Bass, have gotten large recognition in alternative music culture and inspire the parties of the new generation.
“If you are an electronics manufacturer, and your goal is to build the new iPod, you are limited to what Apple is doing,” Franciosa explained. “You’re doing the best you can in second place, but that’s not the goal.”
“What we’re doing isn’t the same recycled acts that others have been doing for years,” he said. “We’re operating under the young business model, using Twitter and Foursquare, for an example, and others are working under the old model. We don’t give a shit about making money.” All of the profits made off of one party, are carried over into hosting the next.’
The cultural contrast between the nationally known DJ of Bassnectar and the noncommercialized values behind Deep Children and OutPost1 opens up an electronic can of worms: fact being people are attending these events, it’s just a matter of what we all make of it. It’s all relatively new.
Promoter Greg Bell has booked nationally known bands of the jam, live improv, rock and electronic genres to the main venues in the Capital Region for the past 19 years. He is very experienced and has all sorts of stories to tell. After Bassnectar, he said that this show “reinforces what I do.” He discussed about how he hasn’t seen more growth in music and in attendance than of the electronic variety and those who have adapted to the tools and promotion ability that computers and the Internet provide.
“I sometimes can’t believe that a DJ can gather more of a crowd than a band that has 5 studio albums under their belt and book national tours,” he said. “It’s definitely the best way to bring people from all different walks of life together, but each show surprises me.”
Bassnectar’s sold out spring tour spanned the east coast from Providence to Burlington to Portland to Boston, with a final stop in Albany. He turned the Armory upside down and inside out, creating a one-night mini festival. People were dressed to the nines in festival get-up, proudly revealing stomachs, arms, legs and faces covered in messy neon paint. People wore glittery fairy wings, various shades and styles of wigs, leotards, capes, masks, neon sunglasses, swirly skirts, and all sorts of LED infused items.
Bassnectar worded it best himself, saying “Holy shit!” as he glanced at the wild, roaring sea of people in front of him. He was centered on the stage and sandwiched between two large LED screens, an even larger screen behind him and layers of multicolored spotlights poured down on him and out into the audience. The silhouette of his constantly swaying chest-long brown hair contrasted with the random, distorted visuals projected on the bright screens. Sometimes the visuals matched up with the music, such as during his dubstep remix of “Pink Elephants On Parade,” (from Disney’s Dumbo) but sometimes they didn’t make sense at all. To say it was a bit intense is to put it mildly; the visuals and light show were straight up crazy. People were blissfully struggling to get closer to Bassnectar, viewing him much like a queen bee in a dance party hive of a bass-induced frenzy. People had their hands up, rocking to the music for 100% of the show, from the very front all the way up to the bordering bleachers.
“I don’t know shit about music,” said Looney. “I mean, I’m kidding. But basically, we always want what we’re doing to have a local focus and to remain rooted in the area. People will follow us off the radio, and come hear us play parties but we really enjoy playing on WCDB and think it’s an important part about what we do.”
Birdsey and Looney DJ every Friday night from 8-10 pm, and recently began streaming their radio show on UStream, where people can chat while listening live to a broadcast. It’s both cool and community building.
“I think because we live in Albany, which is pretty out of off the map, I think we’re responsible for coming up with something new in order to get any kind of attention,” said Birdsey. “We feel a tighter connection to our city than most and are inspired by it.”
“I have more fun going to the OutPost1 parties than any other bar that hosts live music in the area,” said Albany native Molly Dorrough. Dourrough has roots in hardcore and acoustic music, and listening to this new type of music is something that she is interested in, because she is now exposed to it. She’s not the only one by any means.
Albany is currently in a state of alternative revival with electronic music and people are growingly excited about it. These electronic musicians are sweeping Albany by storm, gaining new listeners and attention from the local leading cultural leaders, whether they are national acts that sell out stadiums, or DJs from our own backyards. Stay tuned because this is electronic shift is cultural history in the making, whether old school Albany is ready or not, it’s coming to a small scale venue near you in 3 weeks in the form of OutPost1!
Deep Children on UStream: