Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Creative Class Assembles!

A recent (unfortunately well-researched) survey of 'Large City Creative Rankings' placed Washington DC as the 8th highest creative metropolis in the United States, bestowing upon this humble non-state a whopping Creativity Index of 964. By comparison, New Orleans, a city long documented as a bastion of debauched creativity, ranked 48th, with a piteously low 668 C.I.

Enthralled by this news, the local heads of All That Is Art decided to host DC's first official Creative Assembly, a gathering of the area's most successful left brains for a three hour summit on the current state of affairs in the Metro area. For a date, they chose May 14th, the anniversary of the opening of the famed Philadelphia Convention (and, as the delegate from the Society for DMVinyl preblogged unironically, the release of Chicago's multi-platinum hit maker '17')

The day's event was sponsored in part by thirty four local businesses, record labels, non-profits, alternative media outlets, mid-level faux-trendy corporations, as well as a few well-known conglomerates in the midst of mid-life crisis makeovers. The event's promotion was handled by the team at the Hip Hop Embassy, who designed and printed twenty-five thousand oversaturated, gloss coated windshield stuffers; re-printed and paraded said design on the sides of a fleet of loud-speaker powered passenger vans; and, in an inspired fit of last minute can-do, told everyone that girls would drink free with a valid I.D. The assembly was held at an upscale fusion restaurant in Dupont Circle with a maximum seated capacity of 80. It was guest-list only.

None of these men were on the list.

The event's schedule called for seating and opening remarks at 6PM. As the various esteemed media outlets gathered around the entrance way, cell phone cameras clutched in anticipation, the mood was palpable. In any second, the elite members of DC's Creative Class - those torch-bearing descendants of Duke Ellington, Dischord Records, and Jim Henson - would cross this red carpet and convene for the most important summit this city had ever hosted in its history, ever.

The stroke of 7:30 saw a rainbowed herd of fixed-gears, decked out Mini-Coops and Prii, and a congealed mass of Diamond cabs stampeding down towards the stylishly converted row-house with the intensity of a massive, multi-species migration on a Planet Earth rerun. For five minutes, there was pure fucking chaos as the various delegates jostled for real estate on Mass Ave's bifurcated lanes and limited walkways. The Graphic Design Envoy tussled with the Virginia Coalition of Rastafarian Rockers over a prime parking spot three blocks away. A spray painted bike was locked up vertically to a parking meter, spokes to the sky in a spiritually symbolic gesture of goodwill or something. It is photographed and retweeted instantly. A blogger notes that the air is already thick with the musk of unbridled creative energy and American Spirit aftershave.

The situation settled and the arrivals quickly piled into the restaurant, sparing only minutes to pose for the society magazines and part-time paparazzo. The open bar, it would seem, only lasted another hour and let it not be said that DC's art aristocracy is lacking for the creative juices that have fueled so many of History's finer minds.

Being a recent DC immigrant and a fringe member of the creative community, I managed to reserve an outlying seat at a corner table by the coat check, sandwiched between the pleasantly neutered Maryland Beadcraft Contingent and an unnamed Oregon transplant with an insufferably pungent vegan cologne and the jaundiced fingers of an implied lifetime of Drum smoking. He didn't represent any group present at the Assembly and had somehow fandangled his way in on the DC Shoegazer's plus one. He proceeded to drink all the local microbrew and complain about the lack of free-trade coffees throughout the evening. I drowned him out with Jameson shots.

There were a few noticeable absences. The Unified Dance Party did not make an appearance at the Assembly, having moved up to New York in April and shit. The local chapter of weBComics was heard but not seen, having chosen to Skype the proceedings from a group home in College Park due to finals. And sadly, last but not least, the Associated Embassy of Go-Go declined to participate due to a previously scheduled What?! Band cookout in Landover. All in all, a good majority of delegates of the Creative Class were in attendance however, and shortly after 9PM, the meeting got under way.

Similar to this, only with more beards.

The opening statements were marred by general disagreement. One cannot simply place so many radiating egos in a room and not expect them to quarrel over the quality of the establishment's deep dish pan fried noodle Andouille or the lack of a good gluten-free beer. Furthermore, the long-seething tensions between Actors Unite! and Stagehands Unite! boiled over into a brief shouting match that was only sated once they both realized they were just repeatedly shouting 'No, fuck you!' at each other.

The first matter of business was brought to the Assembly's attention by the representative of Publicly Funded Murals, Inc. It was promptly criticized, altered, repainted in a harsh light, and vigorously scratched at until the original statement was barely recognizable. At this point, the Assembly agreed to deconvened for a smoke break and to update their Twitters.

A strategically placed photo backdrop in the lobby allowed members of the local press to catch their only glimpses of the various high ranking members of the community during downtime in the session. Delegates entertained themselves with a hi-definition Kinect setup, perused the various charity tables with the air of interest but no change for a five, and picked up a custom, commemorative t-shirt from the Vitamin Water screen print station.

At approximately 10:55 PM, the General Assembly reassembled and agreed upon a measure to expand Facebook promotion to include that one guy who's never going to show up anyway. It was hotly debated and passed by just a single squeaking vote, later attributed to the de facto leader of a cabal of well-meaning yet meandering Adams Morgan anarchists.

The third and final point of contention for the night revolved around how best to allude back to DC's once thriving hardcore scene without overtly alluding to DC's hardcore scene like some goddamn poseur. The conversation stretched into the late hours of the night, with every major and minor attendee giving their two cents worth of disagreement; it was finally and firmly resolved in an undecided outcome with room for future debate at the next Assembly.

Delegates celebrate the Assembly's decision

At this point, the baron of World Elevator Muzak, LTD, the self-appointed moderator of the Summit, called the Assembly to a close so everyone could make it over to the waterfront after-party in Georgetown where a DJ planned to spin ambiguously ethnic dubstep until last call. The entire event was deemed a monumental success, a shining triumph and testament to the motivated propulsion of the Metro area's invigorated Creative Class.

I told all my friends about it and they just kind of nodded and went on with their lives.

No doubt, a critical eye might be inclined to fact check the validity of some details presented in the notes of these proceedings. For reference, please refer to the two hundred and forty six thousand photos and videos soon to be uploaded and gratuitously tagged across the social network following the publishing of this piece. -navi

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Cipherstock

So I was asked by BloomBars to write about our monthly hip-hop jam session Cipherstock in preparation for the six month anniversary. This is the uncut version of what may be truncated to fit BB's newsletter format. To sign up for the newsletter, please go here.

On Cipherstock

Once upon a time the process of creating music was a community event, grounded in our budding society's campfires, marketplaces, and natural amphitheaters. This was - mind you - well before sheet music, recording studios, MIDI and digital downloads; music was solely a group-created rhythm that entranced the strange human animal to move, bonding families and tribes under a blanket of sound on cold nights. Of course, society and its technologies grow exponentially. Creating music in this era is like taming another creature entirely: a complex, multifaceted beast wrought from analog and digital veins, given unlimited boundaries and imbued with the blessing/curse of world-wide connectivity. Today's musician, for example, can make a thousand albums without ever getting out of the bed, without ever necessarily touching an instrument. Furthermore, said musician would never have to actually see and interact with anyone who was listening to the songs. Extreme? Yes, but entirely possible.

Take, as a slightly more grounded example, me. When I started creating music, the live experience was mostly an alien thing to me. I never went to many shows as a child, so a good portion of my musical knowledge came from the recording: vinyl, tapes, in its polished form, designed to be enjoyed in the comfort of individuality. The only true live experiences I had came in the form of my family's baila sessions, a jam that usually followed a massive dinner get-together. Someone would grab a guitar, a keyboard would manifest out of the woodwork and then the family would seamlessly transition to the baila. Of course. there was always that one hero who would reveal a glorious stash of hand percussion so everyone could participate regardless of musical talent or, in many cases, rhythm.

But as much as I enjoyed these, I was always a self-proclaimed solo musician. When I played with the family, I noodled around on instruments, never quite getting into the concept of playing with them. As I grew up, I evolved and expanded, finding my niche in hip hop – although I soaked in an healthy blend of the spectrum – and the art of production and rapping. I was a one man band who had never played for a physical audience. Interesting, considering that hip hop is a musical genre deeply rooted in the community experience. Nowadays, however, anyone can make a beat on their computer, write and record some lyrics with a microphone and post it on the internet for the world to ignore. Trust me, I've been there.

And then there were two moments of epiphany that completely evolved how I approached music. The first happened in my first cipher, that age old hip hop tradition of freestyling and battling. When I began freestyling in a cipher, it turned my notions of verbal ability entirely on end. Now I had to think on my feet, work with and off of other emcees, and entertain a crowd to boot! This was a radical change from the comfort of armchair lyricism. Still there was something so invigorating about the cipher as a musician that I couldn't stop. I freestyled everywhere I went, regardless of how good it was: in the car with friends, at parties, on the bus; anywhere we could make a beat, we ciphered. And then, one day we sat in on a friend's band rehearsal and it happened. They began to stray from their songs into the realm of freeform music and we followed. We began to freestyle and everything clicked. There is no greater live energy than that generated by talented musicians of various branches coming together in a cohesive jam session.

Sure, we weren't all cohesive at first. A good jam musician will tell you that there's a vast difference between a session where everyone is listening to each other and one where everyone is too busy stroking their egos to play well with others. A good freestyler will tell you the same. That cohesion comes with time and experience, today's new musician being able to channel the ancient communal roots of the art and work within the group. For years, I itched to throw an event that would fuse the jam session and the cipher and allow budding musicians like myself to reach that level of natural interplay and have fun doing so. Then, I found BloomBars, a space dedicated to revitalizing the art of community in this individualistic world, and so Cipherstock was born.

At Cipherstock amateur musicians of varying degrees of experience and talent begin to understand the complexities of playing with other musicians, listening and feeding off their ideas and making something wholly new out of it. Likewise for the blooming freestyler. On that stage, everyone is learning how to be a well rounded artist together; sometimes it'll sounds like a cacophonous noise and sometimes it'll click and become amazing music. Still, people don't come to Cipherstock expecting a top notch production. More often than not, the audience are community, friends, family, and random strangers who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The pressure of performance is dulled by the intimacy of the venue and the avid participation of the crowd. The one response I've taken away from each Cipherstock is that everybody had fun. And really, that's music at the most base level.

This Thursday, we'll be throwing the 6th Cipherstock, celebrating half a year of eclectic and dynamic performances. If you've read this far, that means you're actively interested in what we're doing. I encourage you to come to Bloombars on the third Thursday of the month and actually experience what I can only describe so well in words. Bring your guitar or bring your unadulterated lyrical prowess. Maybe just come to watch. Either way, you might find yourself caught in the moment – that instant where everyone involved is moving in the same key. All of a sudden, we're back around the fireplace, making the music as one.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lo Fi Muey Thai Released!

Greetings fans of free music!

Nine months after the release of my debut album GRAYSCALE, I present to you - fresh off the presses - my second digital mixtape Lo Fi Muey Thai!

Never one to stick to a defined style, I’ve begun branching out into new sounds and textures, expanding the limits of what I consider hip hop. Fear not! You will still find my traditional lyrical repertoire intact and the beats, as always, are home-brewed to the finest levels of quality. Be prepared, however, to hear strains of dance and industrial music, conceptual science fiction, and instrumental overtures added into the mix. Yup.

This mixtape features collaborations with electronica producer SGX (Right Back Up), DC emcee Reemstarr (Sack This City), and producer Danny Fal (The Incredible Human Putty, Chewing up the Scenery). Furthermore, I tackle some remake/remixes with my own versions of Cee-Lo’s Fuck You (featuring Kurt ‘Fingerbang’ Canfield), Dutch’s California Cloaked in Wool, and Roisin Murphy’s Overpowered.

As always, this digital mixtape is free for your listening or downloading pleasure. All I ask is that if you like what you hear, spread the word to as many people as you can! Please link to my website on the facebook/myspace/twitter/social media black-hole of your choosing and pass the love on. If you don’t like it, hey I can’t fault you. Feel free to tell me why.

Go download it and I hope you enjoy!


Monday, March 8, 2010

Show Rap Up: Album Release Party

Spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!"” ~ Robin Williams

Two days have passed since the Grayscale Album Release party exploded at Velvet Lounge; my body is still aching, my voice is still raspy and my head is still somewhere up in the clouds. Let's face it...that was a damn good party. Now in this post, not only will I talk about how amazing it was, I'm gonna thank people who helped make it possible. If you're the kind of impatient son of a bitch who skips past the credits in a movie, you might get bored of this. Just a warning.

So yeah, 126 heads showed up to pack the Velvet Lounge. Now there's no doubt in my mind that at NO point were there actually 126 people upstairs at once - i'm pretty sure the entire row house would have caved in on itself if that were the case - but the fact that 126 people came to this event and stayed for one portion or another...that's amazing! Thank you, all of you, for coming out and supporting live local music with such enthusiasm and energy. When we move up to a larger venue, I promise there'll be more room for you to dance!

Without descending too deep into the realm of critical masturbation, all three sets were high-energy, intense and fun as hell. Watusi Cultleader - an underground force in the DC hip hop scene - brought a frenetic rage to the stage, pumping up the crowd to an almost mosh pit-like frenzy. The New Retro - the kings of suit-funk - sounded tighter than I've ever heard them before, thriving off the energy of a packed room. And I guess, I - me - was pretty good as well.

Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves! Velvet made off with BANK again, thanks to the creative, promotional powers of Sleeper Cell Productions. Of course, behind every great event, there are many people responsible for its success. Since it was my party - and everyone kept calling me the man of the hour :/ - I'm going to go through and name them all now so they get their proper credit.

First of all, thanks to the rest of the Sleeper Cell production/promotion team: Oscar Martinez, TJ Toohey, and Michael J O'Brien. From the inception of this party as an idea through the planning, promoting, organizing and stressing, these guys have worked their asses off to make the show a success. Without them, there would have been no show and no possibility for bigger, better shows in the future. Thanks are also due to Leah Matthews for consistently being a organized and dedicated merchgirl/shirtsgirl. Thanks are also due to Debra Greenspan for helping with all of the merch throughout the night. Way to hold it down!

Thank you to the other artists who contributed to this party. First and foremost, thank you to the other Michael O'Brien for his awe-inspiring artwork for the fliers, posters, and prints. The moment we saw the design for those fliers, we knew that this show was going to be a success. The man is hard-working, extremely talented and probably still has screen prints of the show poster for sale. You contact him and go buy one. Secondly, thank you to the members of New Retro: Enoch R, Weymouth Spence, Aubrey Che Adams, Dave Matthews and Jason Stewart. As a band, the New Retro have trimmed off some of the fat and become a lean, mean funk machine. They rocked the house, justifiably. Last, but not least, thanks to Dave Watusi Cultleader for the raw energy that he brought to the stage. In any circumstance, cold opening a show is a trial of nerves and will, but Dave was up to the challenge. And it worked amazingly.

I'd like to also thank the rotating members of my band/ensemble for sticking with me through my many attempts at rehearsals, notes, frantic emails and text messages, etc etc. First of all, credit to Chris Sandler and DJ As One, Artit Sriboonruang. As the backbone of my set, my drummer and DJ held it down incredibly, meshed perfectly the first time meeting, and killed it whenever we had a rehearsal (twice). I can't wait to work with such talented individuals again. Next, thanks to Josh Baker, my crooner, for playing with me just about every show I've done. That Don't Call Me jam worked out perfectly at the show. Let's try and one up it for the next one, eh? Also, thanks to Jesse Veihmeyer, Byron Cole and Becky Larion for their contributions to my set. You guys were awesome, and I can't wait to embarrass you on stage again next time!

And now for some miscellaneous and assorted thanks! Thanks to Matt Toohey, Jeff Buchanan and the rest of the RoboNation crew for not only coming and supporting, but recording the show as well! Your bootleg will not be forgotten! Thanks to Alex, the photographer whose last name escapes me, for taking some grimey looking photos of the night! Thanks to Brandon Bush for letting us rock his amazing camo djembe. Thanks to Elise Johnson for not slapping me for wiping my sweat all over your purse during the set; thanks to the Jersey kids for coming down en masse to [escape Jersey] see the show! Your dedication to the cause is noted! Thanks to all the Dirty30 Staph members who risked life and limb to come out and see me with so much else at stake. Thank you to the staff of Velvet Lounge for putting up with us yet again! And finally, once again, thanks to each and every one of you that came out! Without you, there wouldn't be us (in the form of live partys, not in the existential sense). If I forgot anyone, please remind me so you can get your just credit!

It was so much fun. Let's do it again soon, ok?


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Backtrack: Sameeha

Long 'Behind the Music' post on this track. Feel free to skip it and go listen to the rest of the album instead, ok?

<a href="">Sameeha by Navi</a>

Last year, Callan Holderbaum (Grayscale co-producer, ie. the one who had to record take after wheezing take) gave me a short CD of instrumentals he had produced on his MPC1000. Of these, there was one track that instantly stood out in my mind, the instrumental for what would go on to become 'Sameeha'. That day, I had the final 'verse' written out - it bares the distinction of being one of two tracks on the album unchanged from the day it was written. Upon recording the first demo cut that night, I came to the -intoxicated- epiphany that this song was the justification for my dreams of being a hip hop musician. Every word seemed to write itself; the song came together cohesively on the first try. There was no drawn out writers block, hours of faux-editing bullshit. No forced struggle to try insert meaning and poignancy into otherwise vapid lyrics. Everything fit. And then, I grew to hate the song.

There were a lot of reasons for me not to put this track on the album, the most obvious being my own fear of exposing so much of my inner sanctum. By nature, I'm withdrawn when it comes to my family. I haven't engaged with them in any meaningful way since I was in middle school , and as a result, my relationship with them is distant to the point of non-existence. My sisters (one of whom this song is directed to and takes its name from) and I did not associate on similar planes. To them, I'm a specter who floats in and out of their lives on occasion. And as I kept on listening to this song, I began to doubt its message, and through that its necessity on the album. 'There's no reason for anyone to hear this', I figured. 'Do I even believe this myself?'

Of course, over time any artist will come to scorn the works they praised at inception. I don't know where I'm going with this but allow me to ramble a bit longer.

'Sameeha' was the last track to get mastered for the album. Up until a day before release, the song was still in limbo, still on the brink of the cutting room floor. Finally, I swallowed my doubt and threw it on. Now it seems like you (the ever-loving and ever-judging audience) have grown quite partial to it, against my predictions.

I still rarely talk to my sisters. Does that make this song less meaningful?

Again, just rambling.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thanks for listening!

Thank you for listening to the album and sending me all your comments! If you haven't downloaded to it yet, why don't you go here and spend 45 minutes of your life grooving to my ramblings.

I've been working to push the album both online and in person. Sending it out to college radio, XM, blogs, news sites, etc. If you, the wonderful listener, know of any spots in the real or virtual world where this album could possibly be appreciated or critiqued, feel free to link to my bandcamp site.

In other news, I'm in the planning stages for a music video of Flametongue. I've been working with Mike O'Brien of to come up with a concept and hopefully in the next few weeks you'll be hearing a bit more about that.

Furthermore, I've released the acapella for Snakecharmers online. You can download it here and work on your own remix of the track (72 bpm). If you come up with something that you're happy with, please send it to me at swamisound (at) gmail (dot) com. In the next two weeks I'll be releasing a Snakecharmers megasingle featuring five (5) submitted remixes. Maybe one of them will be yours?

Keep on checking back in the coming days for more remixes, news, and word on the upcoming CD Release party!


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On production...

First, to redirect any curious listeners, the GRAYSCALE album is available here. Enjoy!

If you're easily bored by the technical aspects of music making (as many of my friends tend to get when I drone on for hours about this shit), skip this entry and go listen to the album. Now, onto production...

As my own producer, I'm lucky enough to have the ability to craft my instrumentals exactly (to a degree; the artistic process is a nitpickingly tedious occupational hazard) how I want them to sound under my lyrics, or vice versa depending on how I'm writing the song. The digital age has allowed artists like myself to explore and experiment with all aspects of the song-making process, once a Herculean task divided amongst a legion of producers, song writers, house musicians, engineers and technicians. Of course in the digital micromanaging of production, much of the finesse, the time honored and honed techniques of the old are lost in the jack of all trades (master of none) mentality, but I don't see that as necessarily a bad thing. Just the rise to prominence of a new age of music.

I am a musician and the computer is my instrument. Through it, I command an army of synths and samplers, I wield guitars and microphones, I have at my fingertips an old school arsenal of drum machine and turntables that I mash, trash and chop into new forms of traditional sound. I am the one man band in the age of hip hop and iPods.

Did that sound too pretentious? I kinda envisioned Hans Zimmer's score to Batman Begins in the background as I was typing it. Anyways, all delusions of grandeur super-musician status aside, let's talk about the production behind Grayscale.

For anyone unfamiliar with the majority of my production setup, let this outdated picture do the talking.

Bootleg basement setup, I know. Abbey Road it isn't.

A majority of my music is made using the computer and two MIDI controllers pictured above. One of them, an AKAI MPD24 (the bastardized version of an MPC) serves as my drum pad/loop controller, with definable knobs and faders for tweaking synths/adjusting mixing levels/etc. The other keyboard is my baby, an M-Audio Axiom25 with 8 pads and definable knobs as well. These two tools (as well as FLStudio - I've been on that software since it was Fruity Loops v2) are the basis for my production. Furthermore, I have microphones, guitars and a turntable all running in through my EMU 0404 DAS into FLStudio. I love that program.

On Grayscale, I made sure that every track represented a different aspect of my production (or via collaboration, my influences in production). Tracks such as Soundcheck, Don't Call Me and Grayscale are built around live guitar recordings but sampled, chopped, and padded with other samples to fill out the soundscape. On Grab Bag, I sampled from vinyl and drum machines, mixed with digital synths and samples to create a strange collage of sound. Flametongue, Sameeha, and the Station Break Interluude are my collaborations with producers who utilize the AKAI MPC to craft their music, one of the most traditional mediums of hip hop music. The Swami Interluude is my attempt to digitally recreate what hip hop producers do on the MPC on the computer. This Room and Encore are also pretty much entirely digital sampling while Snakecharmers is all original synth sequencing. With this album I wanted to explore the limits of my production creativity, draw from all aspects of the spectrum.

Most producers have a sound that they stick to, the sound that defines them. I'd like to think that my lack of a defining sound is what makes me unique. Who knows? All I know is that I'm trying to take a genre of music I love and put the art back into it.

And in this age, with this much control of the music, maybe it's possible. Maybe it's a pipe dream in the septic system that is mainstream ultra-polished commercial rap music.

Who knows?