What are DJs and producers of hip-hop, European drum and bass, dancehall, funk, Latin, and jazz doing in Seattle, one of the rock capitals of the world?
Looking for fusion and collaboration under the auspices of the Red Bull Music Academy, which has set up shop downtown for its first session, through Friday, Nov. 18. The itinerant academy, which started as an experiment in Berlin eight years ago, is holding its first of two 12-day workshops for DJs, songwriters, and producers from around the globe, in temporary, custom-designed studios in Belltown. This is only the second time the event has been held in the U.S., following stints in Dublin, New York, London, São Paulo, Cape Town, and Rome.
Academy organizers zeroed in on Seattle as a music boomtown with a diverse, venerable history to tell. The school's brochures cite the Northwest as home to influential labels such as C/Z, Sub Pop, and Barsuk; artists Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain; and groups Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie. Films like Ray and the Cobain-inspired Last Days, and books such as Charles R. Cross' Hendrix bio, Room Full of Mirrors, have served to push the Seattle music scene further into the limelight.
A skim through the organization's Web site (www.redbullmusicacademy.com) gives a glimpse at how this region is perceived by the global music industry: "The soggy Northwest . . . was launched into international cognition most recently through both the rise of grunge music in the '90s and the World Trade Organization riots in 1999. Because of this fame [or infamy, depending on your approach], Seattle is known as both a progressive liberal community and a flannel-sporting, unwashed, and yet pioneering music community."
Though the term "grunge" is frequently derided as a marketing ploy by the local music industry (as it was at a Red Bull session led by Sub Pop's Megan Jasper), Seattle is inarguably fertile territory for DJs, who are all about unabashedly recycling past musical innovations. The goal of the academy is an exchange of ideas, and the approach is eye to eye. Instructors include industry titans such as former Motown producer Leon Ware, producer Waajeed, entrepreneur Hank Shocklee, and rapper/DJ Biz Markie. Students are preselected from 33 countries. And the interchange is sometimes surprising.
When Adam Pavao, Toronto producer and Little Clever band member, arrived at the makeshift academy in Belltown, his current obsession was Marvin Gaye's I Want You. "I only brought one CD for traveling, and that was it," he says. Little did Pavao know he would be talking to Ware, the album's writer and producer, the following day. Similarly, in the course of one lecture, New York DJ and producer Waajeed cited a Monty 500 record that spawned his obsession with vinyl. He played the erratically rhythmed, robotic dance track that grew from the funk tradition. Immediately, a student stood up and put his fist in the air in recognition of the track. Monty 500 had spanned two generations and countless miles.
Academy students are spending their days in lectures and work groups, gleaning pearls of wisdom from industry professionals. In the first week, students were already beginning to collaborate with one another and with some of their heroes, mixing in one of the six soundboard studios late into the night. Both Waajeed and Ware postponed their flights home to stay at the academy; Ware was there one night, recording with one of the students until 5 a.m.
At the end of the workday, there are Red Bull–related club gigs all over town to catch. Among them, on Friday, Nov. 18, is a show at the Triple Door featuring artists on the recent Light in the Attic LP compilation Wheedle's Groove, a tribute to Seattle soul and funk of the 1960s and '70s. (See Notable Shows) While the academy is invitation-only, the shows are public; for a complete list, go to www.redbullmusicacademy.com and click on the music guide. More shows will be announced to coincide with the academy's second and final Seattle session, which begins Sunday, Nov. 27.