Finland is a country best known for its heavy-metal and hard rock yet things are changing. The current music scene is buzzing with a new generation of musicians, producers and collectives eager to create great sounds. I spoke with a number of them to discuss this new wave of Finnish music. Continue reading this post…
Late last night Wired published a wonderful piece on Jack Dorsey, the man behind Twitter and Square. Oft compared to Steve Jobs (but essentially nothing like him), it was cool to see such an in-depth piece on him. He’s such an inspiring guy, I mean, he’s only 35 and look at all that he’s done. Here’s a snippet I loved.
Like Jobs, Dorsey has proclivities that have helped him build something of a cult of personality. Every Friday he indoctrinates new employees with a forced march through the streets of San Francisco, beginning at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the Ferry Building, heading into the canyons of the Financial District, and emerging in the startup haven south of Market Street where Square resides. During the walk, Dorsey outlines what he calls the Four Corners of Square. “It’s something that codifies our ethic,” he says. “I really spent a lot of time on it.” But he is mum on the details of this vaguely Masonic concept. “If I told you, you’d have to work here,” he says with a tight smile.
Dorsey also boasts a Jobs-like obsession with design and detail. In early 2011 he became captivated by the idea of using a wallet metaphor in a Square app. William Henderson, a former Apple operating system specialist who now works as a software engineer at Square, says, “Jack got so excited that he came to work one day with a stack of 10 leather wallets.” For hours, Dorsey and his team deconstructed every detail. He was especially fond of the Hermè8s. (He adores the brand and pronounces its name “air-MEZH,” as if he were raised in a duty-free shop.) The team designed a digital wallet that faithfully replicated its austere majesty, down to the stitching. It even carried a monogram, extracting initials from the user’s registration information and dropping the trailing dot after the second initial, just as Hermè8s does. The credit cards, which fit into their slots at slightly asymmetrical angles, were stamped with holograms that changed color when the screen was tilted.
Sometimes I cannot believe how lucky I am. Born in an iconic, rare period of the human evolution. The beginning of the free trade of ideas, data, and art, not purely removed from the analog days.
Contemporary music seems to reflect the problems and beauty of this exigency. For every great musician out there, well, there is someone who can do the same thing digitally. Instruments will never really die (the tactile element cannot be understated/underrated/imitated), but to make music, it’s just not as necessary before. I feel we are blessed with such a wide variety of talents in both the analog and digital world. The extremities of Starslinger and his wild remixies are as relevant to right now as the future funk of Thundercat and, well, just kiss their throne. All are beautiful yet line the different dimensions of the musical spectrum. Are they be that different if they are so similar?
The producers/instrumentalists Blue Sky Black Death ride the same line. Prolific or workaholics, the duo of Kingston and Young God don’t care if it’s analog or digital – the sound is what matters. It ain’t hard to pick apart the smattering of genres. But guitar, bass, samples, APC, MPC, maschine, serato, what have you, are all fair game. The sources are a different story. With Noir, For the Glory, and Lord Of the Fly, their production in the past year is more finely tuned and as divergent as ever before. The question isn’t whether it is hip hop or not, it is whether it HAS to be hip hop or not. So let’s forget all that stuff about categories. Here’s five questions with Blue Sky Black Death.
Alec: When you approach writing music, do you approach songs on an individual basis or in terms of an album?
Blue Sky Black Death: It depends on how focused we are on one single project at the time. Often we’ll be working on several things at once so it makes it more difficult to be like, “let me start working on this and it will definitely be for this album.” As far as our rap productions, we probably work more on an individual basis and then after a beat is a little more fleshed out we’ll say to eachother, “this would be good for so and so.” Whereas when we’re working on our solo instrumental stuff, we will start grouping tracks together that have a cohesive vibe and then when we are closer to completion we are really working on stuff in terms of the album. I think we used to make everything in terms of a specific album, but these days we have our hands in a lot more things, so it’s not as simple.
A: In that regard, is the concept of an album important anymore? Do you think it matters more for the musicians than the listener?
BSBD: I’d say that the listener, or at least the young listener, cares less about the concept of an album than he does about his immediate response to a single track he hears on the internet. There are definitely still people that can appreciate the concept of an album, and generally we make our albums with the intent of it having a singular and cohesive vision, but we’d bet that it’s more important for the artist than it is for most fans.
Do most musicians make music for their own sake and the inherent reward of making art, or is it more for positive reinforcement from others-the listener? Like us, I’d bet most artists straddle that line of holding a high standard for our own sake, and keeping the audience in mind as well. I’ve heard some artists claim that their art was made only for themselves, but I think that’s more wishful thinking than anything else. If you have an available audience, then I’d say its almost impossible to separate your ego from the world around you especially if you have fans. Art and music can afford to be a little self indulgent, but hopefully not at the risk of it turning the listener off. No one is only making art for themselves unless they really don’t show it to anyone else and it is solely for their own enjoyment. I’m getting a little off topic, but to bring it back around, I’d say the concept of an album is still very important for most artists and a big portion of listeners, but not necessarily for a successful business and marketing of the album. Albums have never been a commercial necessity, but the feeling of accomplishment we get from making a cohesive album is worth it none the less. An artist can attain commercial viability from a few “hot” singles, but having longevity from a few “hot” singles is another story. I think people will remember albums as a whole, before they remember that one one or two hit wonder. Hopefully.
A: Noir seems to pull not just from different genres but also from different production styles. What instruments do you play? How do you balance live instrumentation and production gear?
BSBD: Guitar, bass, keys, synth, and drums, but not very well. Our whole mission is to create that “perfect” balance of live instrumentation with loops mixed with samples without knowing what is what. We also always like to keep the listening guessing as to what our influences are. We pull from so many different genres and ideas, and that’s what gives our music a unique quality. Because we aren’t emulating a handful of producers. We love all types of music, and we try use our influences to create a tasteful marriage, rather than a hodgepodge of incongruous styles.
A: I like to consider this a golden age to be a bedroom musician. You can order all your gear online, sit in your room, then upload it all. Your listener doesn’t need to leave his bedroom either. Do you consider BSBD a part of this new group or do you find yourself rooted in the world of “classic” hip hop production?
BSBD: On one hand, we’ve been producing separately and together for a long time so you’d think we’d be rooted in the “classic” style, but we still have our studios in our homes, and we still use the computer as the foundation for producing. So I guess we were at the beginning of this new era of bedroom production. We started making music on our computers when it wasn’t that cool, when a lot of hip hop producers would scoff at not using hardware like an MPC, but we were only ever concerned with how the final product sounded not the means of creating.
A: To conclude, what would you tell someone who wants to start a career as a producer?
BSBD: Good advice is hard to give in this new weird era, but I’d say first and foremost, try to come original. That’s the only way you’ll stand apart. Also, build natural relationships with the people you’d like to see yourself be involved with. Don’t go spamming people’s twitter and emails with solicitation. Be mindful of your professionalism, and of course work really hard if producing is what you really want to do.
Jack Dorsey recently sat down with Charlie Rose and had an interesting discussion with him. He brings up a couple of interesting points, like the constraints shared between Twitter and Instagram, the notion that Facebook is about the past, and how good technology really means no technology.
Giant Robot has set the pace for a lot of things. The Little Osaka based store/magazine/gallery has created a huge new world of lifestyle and culture surrounding Japanese popular culture. It can even be said that they are the brand responsible for the surge of interest in Japanese popular culture over the past ten years. The result has not only helped changed how we view the culture but also what is included in the art world and the idea of showing art and selling products.
We spoke with Eric Nakamura, the man behind the Robot, who had some really fantastic things to say about life, work, Los Angeles, and how to be successful in the modern world. He’s a guy who can do everything, from photographing something to literally building a wall, and is very proud of what he does. He’s a super nice guy with an equally as nice aesthetic and approach to what he is doing. Check out our interview with him here.