DJ Rashad Passes Away at 34

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Earlier this week, Chicago-based DJ Rashad (Rashad Harden) died at 34 from a suspected drug overdose. Rashad, along with his crew Teklife, pioneered Juke music and played a prominent role in expanding the sound internationally.

This news is especially saddening as DJ Rashad was just beginning to become a household name within the global electronic music community. After years of establishing himself within a small and regionally isolated juke scene, it seemed that he had finally found a way to bring both his music and the work of his close peers into the limelight. It’s tragic to have lost such an innovator at a time where his career was just taking off. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, here are a few of my favorite Rashad tunes. RIP.

 

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Random Thoughts I had on the Train

I’ve mentioned through previous writings on the Berklee Blog about how I am starting a record label with a good friend of mine outside of the school practicum. Being in charge of my own project has been exciting and far more hands on than working within the Berklee Record Label practicum, specifically in terms of artist/musical direction. Most recently, I’ve received a new remix for a 12” single we plan to put out in the next few months and have begun to develop the preliminary album cover designs for our first few releases.

The 12” single, a tune called Hang On by Sasquatch, will include a remix from Distal, an electronic producer and record label owner operating out of Atlanta. Both my friend (label co-owner) and I have been big fans of his production and label (Embassy Recordings). Admittedly, the first few drafts of the remix that were sent to us needed work. We were unsure how he might be able to fix the remix so that it was in line with our vision for the release. Some artists become turned off and disinterested in the project they are working on after receiving constant (and seemingly never-ending) feedback, however much to our delight, Distal handled our criticism professionally and has turned in a new draft that I’m very excited about.

As far as artwork goes, we’ve started to work with a Hong Kong based artist and designer. His work with Archie Pelago initially caught our eye. A lot of his designs resemble strange dreamscapes and seem to incorporate unspoken stories that relate to the music. We are currently working on the first two album covers (both of which are in the draft stage) and are using old Gong record sleeves as references. Slowly but surely we are developing a product that we feel will best suit the direction for our label.

Starting out, it seems the most valuable asset for my label is time. We are not in much of a rush to get anything out and are trying to make sure everything is top notch before we share our music with the public. While working with the Berklee label has been an exciting and interesting experience, sometimes I feel as if our final products might be compromised by deadlines created from the academic schedule. It’s extremely difficult to maintain a consistent aesthetic and level of professionalism when records need to be cranked out in such a short period of time. No matter, I have confidence that we, as a class, will be able to best represent our artists and put out records they are proud of. In the end, working with the Berklee record label as well as a label of my own has proved to be an excellent learning experience. 

That’s it. No more ramblings for now. 

Some Bizarre Mix I did that is now on HighOnBeats.com

Occasionally I’ll throw together DJ mix of tracks I’ve been digging at the time. This particular mix was recorded late last summer before leaving for Berklee. All of the tracks featured are dance tunes that are slowed down to 2/3’s the speed of the original tempo. It’s kind of like a DJ Screw mix with club songs rather than rap. 

I thought I was onto something at the time, however both Boston Bun and Dubbel Dutch (two of my favorite producers at the moment) had put out mixes of a similar fashion that are both killer. Oh well. 

The mix has been posted to HighOnBeats.com with a slightly exaggerated yet semi-detailed description of where the selections are coming from. I hope you enjoy the mix. I had a blast making it.

Solange/Saint Heron

All eyes are on Beyonce. Always. There is no doubt she’s doing great things for Pop music. However, many fans often forget or overlook Solange Knowles. Perhaps overshadowed by the colossal success of her sister, Solange operates within the indie realm, making records with iconic producers like Blood Orange, DJing internationally, and heading her own record label, Saint Heron. Last year, Saint Heron released its first compilation and, in many ways, pushed the envelope within R&B. 

The compilation (titled Saint Heron) features a rich cast of relatively lesser known artists as well as tracks from both Solange and Cassie. Many of the newcomers on Saint Heron are already making a splash in the pop music scene; Kelela has been gaining press for her work with the Night Slugs label while Sampha and Jhene Aiko are heralded for their collaborative efforts with artists like SBTRK Drake. Additionally, some of the most exciting tracks on the record come from both BC Kingdom and P. Morri$, a R&B vocalist/producer and beat maker who are bubbling up within their niche LA music scenes respectively.

Saint Heron was one of my favorite releases of last year. Each song on the compilation takes traditional R&B norms and turns them 180 degrees to create a futuristic and gritty aesthetic that is both suited for the car and the bedroom. Even though music headlines will often praise Beyonce’s latest musical efforts, be sure to pay attention to Solange in the future. It’s clear that her tastes and connections could very well generate tomorrow’s classic R&B record. 

Review: Mo Kolours LP

The following is a version of a review I’ve written for http://www.highonbeats.com. For more info and links you can visit the website in the next few days:

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At a time when it’s so easy to get lost in the endless ocean of Jersey Club edits and trap bootlegs, discovering a standout electronic artist with a truly unique voice is unbelievably refreshing. Enter Mo Kolours (Joe Deenamode): a half-Mauritian/half-English producer, percussionist, and vocalist representing the One-Handed Music collective. Those of you familiar with One-Handed Music’s catalogue will surely remember Mo Kolours’ series of three EP’s, featuring remixes from Shafiq Husayn and Beautiful Swimmers gaining praise from the likes of Giles Peterson, Joe Goddard (Hot Chip), and Jack Savidge (Friendly Fires). Following his March, 2013 release of EP 3: Tusk Dance, Deenamode has compiled an endearing and organic self-titled debut LP that is simply a must-have.

The album serves as a continuation of Mo Kolours’ previous work, mixing spirited vocals over chopped samples and hand percussion drum patterns. The tracks on the album are not overly complex, and they maintain a sense of authenticity that allows the listener to comprehend and connect with the music. If you close your eyes you can envision the artist himself tapping out beats and cooking up lyrics; each song sets a vivid scene that gives the release a valuable element of depth.

Some of the highlights on the album, Little Brown Dog, Mike Black, and In Her Eyes (Funk Heart), best represent the free wheeling and fun energy that Mo Kolours is able to achieve in his music. As a whole, the 18-track release almost feels like a conceptual audio-journal. The final product is one that gives the listener a sense of spontaneity while still sounding complete and well conceived. Those of you who felt his previous EPs were too short will be delighted that this full length-debut places Mo Kolours’ captivating sound in a more complete context.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the soundtrack to your sleepy Sunday afternoon or the aural backdrop of your long trip to work, the Mo Kolours LP will temporarily transport you to a place where drums and expression are paramount and your troubles melt away. This record extends beyond the post-Dilla beat model and offers listeners a genre-defying blend that is so rare in electronic music. For fans of Project Moon Circle, Brainfeeder, or My Hollow Drum, this release will be right in your wheelhouse. It’s a shame we had to wait so long for this full-length album, however it’s clear that One-Handed Music and Mo Kolours should be on enthusiasts radar screens as this talented artist continues to produce exciting and compelling music.

Did I mention the LP is free?

Berklee Record Label Thoughts

Okay, so my last post was a little negative. This time around, I’ll try to be a more upbeat and optimistic.

 

If you’ve read some of the previous blog posts from my fellow students, you’ll know that Berklee is working towards building an in-house record label. The process, so far, has been fun, frustrating, and everything in between. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how this experience compares to some of my favorite labels as well as the construction of my own record label with a friend from back home.

 

One of my favorite labels for years has been Stones Throw Records. To me, Stones Throw epitomizes what it means to believe in what you put out. Over the years, they have offered opportunities to some amazing new artists that have gone on to do big things (Mayer Hawthorne, Aloe Blacc) and have dusted off and repackaged works by legendary artists that otherwise might have not be introduced to a younger digitally inclined audience (Steve Arrington, Gary Wilson). Stones Throw is a label for DJ’s, by DJ’s, and I believe much of their success can be attributed to their creating a diverse, yet consistent, catalogue.

 

I am trying to emulate the same sort of spirit with my personal label, YoungBloods, based in the US. My friend ( co-owner) and I both have similar tastes and know what we like when we hear it. To that end, we are signing artists we believe in, regardless of the size of their fan base. As I’ve found with DJing, if you love what you are playing, chances are someone in the crowd will understand what you’re doing.

 

Disrupcion Records (the Berklee Valencia run label) has offered a different sort of experience. Naturally, it differs in that I am not working towards putting the label together with one close friend. Instead, I’m working with a large group of friends, all of whom have different tastes and expectations. While it is complicated to coordinate with everyone and come to a consensus regarding operational methods and music, it has been an exciting challenge to try to establish a consistency.

 

Things have been slightly tumultuous lately. There has been miscommunication that has caused confusion with who is doing what. However, I think that after we get in the groove of things we eventually might be able to achieve the same sort of organizational consistency that is present in a label like Stones Throw. It may be more difficult than working with a few close musically likeminded friends, although it will be interesting to see how the rest of the semester turns out. 

MBF Woes

This last Friday, we were lucky enough to have Jose Maria Barbat, President of Sony Music Iberia, come participate in our program’s professional interview forum. There’s no doubt Barbat is an interesting and knowledgeable guy. Experienced in myriad facets of the industry, he has insights that are valuable to someone trying to build a professional foundation and get a foot in the door (i.e. Berklee business students). Unfortunately, any substantive tips Barbat might have had for us were obscured by a poorly conducted interview. Color me unreasonable and harsh, but the questions asked of Barbat were one-dimensional and failed to elicit any advice exclusive to our unique opportunity.

“Where do you think the music industry is going?” “How can entrepreneurs be innovative in a struggling market”?” Obviously, Barbat has a personal perspective on these sorts of broad questions. The truth is, however, that he doesn’t really have the answers. No one does. There is no one answer. Everybody has an opinion about what went wrong or where the money might lie. At the end of the day, an educated guess is still a guess and just something to consider as we try to navigate the music industry.

I would have much rather learned about specific work experiences that Barbat has appreciated over the years. How did he deal with problem X during the release of Y album? What methods of communication proved to be more effective than others? How does he balance his workload? Which experiences have been pivotal in his career and which has he learned the most from? Students are in the GEMB program to learn how to function in a broad range of music industry positions. Anecdotes from a successful music industry executive would perhaps have been more relatable to students and have given us insight about approaching future professional challenges. I certainly don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Hearing Mr. Barbat speak was a privilege. Though there were valuable take-aways from this week’s Music Business Forum, the interviewer and speaker would do well to examine what would be most beneficial for the audience to hear.

MIDEM: The Ultimate Music Conference

Before MIDEM I had been to two other music industry conferences: IndieCon (London) during the latter part of 2013 and Winter Music Conference (Miami) in 2010. Though I feel as if I could have better prepared for MIDEM this year, I believe having previously been to conferences gave me insight as how to navigate the three days of panels and lectures.
I particularly enjoyed the marketing competition and the presentations on negotiating and sync (both of which were in the training room). In retrospect, one common theme linking all of the presentations and showcases together was the idea of creating value for all participating parties in projects and creative ventures.
In the marketing competition, many of the presentations focused on the results of each individual campaign. The speakers highlighted the benefits generated for fans, brand sponsors, and artists and were eventually judged based on the equity produced by their marketing plan. The winning marketing campaign was able to reach the greatest amount of people by producing and sharing engaging and meaningful content.
Similarly, Andrea Johnson’s presentation regarding new methods for effective synchronization emphasized the importance of relevant participation in audio/visual projects. Johnson used two examples of effective audio/visuals (Beyonce/Pepsi commercial and a Redbull/Cranberry mini doc) to demonstrate how all of the participating parties in the projects were able to ultimately gain brand value. In contrast, a Justin Bieber endorsed Macy’s commercial was cited as an ineffective final product as it failed to establish a connection between the cologne that was being sold, the brand (Macy’s), and the celebrity feature (JB).
Attending an industry conference is difficult as a student. You don’t necessarily have much to offer other more experienced professionals and much of what is being presented seems far beyond anything that might be attainable with your current skill set. Regardless, I think that students can take away important messages from panels, lectures, and presenters even if they have trouble directly connecting with the content. Creating value is imperative in the music industry and is the grease on the wheels of virtually any creative project. Being able to effectively identify, design, and communicate value to co-workers and clients is a necessary skill that anyone can fine tune, no matter what stage of their professional career.