Top of the Class
The Best Electronic Musicians at UW and Beyond
Any musicians looking to establish a rep at the University of Washington have to contend with the area's abysmal venue prospects, legitimate or otherwise. The neighborhood has proved seemingly incapable of supporting more than one house venue at once; recently a group of students sharing an unassuming two-story abode at the intersection of Northeast 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue attempted to turn their home into a hub for DIY shows. Their plan—and the house—has already been ditched. Less than half a mile north is the vacant lot where storied illicit venue Camp Nowhere used to be, now little more than a crumbling concrete foundation and tangles of wild grass, spotted knapweed, and broken glass.
With little in the way of performance-space options, it can be hard for college bands to cultivate an audience. Besides the open mics held regularly at coffee shops like Trabant, the U-District has no real concert venues, and the UW itself has only Meany Hall—though when the Husky Union Building reopens in 2012, it will include a spiffy new 750-seat concert hall and a "night club space."
In spite of these adverse conditions, there's something about the abundance of Wi-Fi, illicit file-sharing networks, and enthusiastic peers that makes campuses ideal incubators for electronic musicians—a phenomenon dubbed "dormwave" by the Seattle Times' Andrew Matson. The climate of incessant stresses, highfalutin pseudointellectualism, and musical fearlessness has already gifted the region with terrific UW-grad acts like THEESatisfaction and Big Spider's Back. Here are the people you'll be hearing about next.
Members: Reed Juenger and Jordan Koplowitz
School: University of Washington
You might not expect two dudes who got their start DJing frat-row ragers to have come up with something as effervescent, shimmery, and Balearically inclined as roommates Reed Juenger (20) and Jordan Koplowitz (21) have with Beat Connection. Juenger is an on-air presence at UW's RainyDawg Radio, and his major, digital arts and experimental media, has an intensive curriculum designed around audio engineering and avant-garde studio experimentation—just the thing for aspiring gearheads.
When their free eight-track EP Surf Noir dropped in July, it circulated around the internet with awe-inspiring velocity, and no one at their packed live debut in August noticed or cared about the band's first-show jitters. The high season for Beat Connection's undeniably summery sound may have passed, but the band's surprise hit "In the Water" continues to resonate, racking up scrobbles on Last.fm and finding its way into local nightclub sets. Beat Connection's blend of club-ready beats, diverse samples, and lustrous laptop synths is a narcotic twist on last summer's "wave" of "chill" performers and has recently landed them a deal with esteemed London label Moshi Moshi. Expect this band to go far.
Aka: Basic, Adrian Juan Swan
School: University of Washington
Under the dual aliases of Kid Presentable and Basic, Adrian Swan (whose older bros Adam and Tyler play in Truckasauras/Foscil) lays down everything from "coked-out '80s" jams to ambient IDM travelogues. Some of the 21-year-old's synth melodies wink in the direction of the Brothers Johnson's "Strawberry Letter 23"; others writhe and spasm with wonky immoderation. Tracks like "Cybersax (Age/Sex/Location)" have their own distinctive haus flavor, like mutant Kompakt B-sides peppered with repeated Italo-disco refrains, talk-box warbles, and king-size bass lines. Throughout, the Kid's ample low end is continence-testing, a booming counterpoint to the android flutter of his vocodered indulgences.
AJ is currently working on a string-bass performance degree at UW, with an eye toward applying his classical erudition to more plugged-in compositions. On the subject of coming up in the dino-sized shadow of his siblings, Swan says: "I personally don't think I'm as good as the Truck—Adam and Tyler would totally beat me up if I said I was—but they've taught me a lot about music and helped me work out some issues I've had in trying to find my sound."
Aka: Charles Harris-White
School: University of Washington
There's a chance you've already seen Chocolate Chuck doing his thing without even realizing it. Local rap goddesses THEESatisfaction rely on Chuck to work the turntables for their live shows, which displays equal parts partiality (he's the younger brother of THEESat's Catherine Harris-White) and practicality (Chuck knows his way around a beat). Like AJ Swan, Chuck isn't one to get tripped up by the pressures of a musical legacy, and he's already produced a wealth of promising instrumental hiphop, all of it available for free via Bandcamp.com.
While Chuck seems satisfied with the number of performance options at UW ("There's a whole bunch of shows and opportunities, but you have to have an 'in'"), his double major has been keeping him too busy to do much gigging or expand his output beyond digital freebies. "Sometimes," Chuck says, "it'll be like, 'I have a final to go to, but let me just finish this beat.'" In spite of his crowded schedule, he contributed to the Christmas on the Moon EP, a megacollab between OC Notes and THEESat under the pseudonymous umbrella Black Power Arrangers (listen for his beats on "World Peace" and "Haute Cocoa Legume"). Chuck says his musical aesthetics and sampling philosophy are primarily informed by the twin touchstones of De La Soul and Daft Punk, and his Bandcamp material, including work with UW Bothell student Milla, has that Champion Sound, running the gamut from next-level beatsmith-ery in the vein of his hero Flying Lotus to sped-up "chipmunk soul" à la Kanye West, all carried out with consistent, Dilla-esque panache.
Aka: Simon Ho
School: Western Washington University
According to one Urban Dictionary explanation, "juke" refers to "when a female is workin [sic] a dude to a beat wit [sic] her ass towards his shyt [sic]," but it's more commonly used as a term for an offshoot of Chi-city house typified by breakneck bpm, crisp hand claps, and thunderous four-to-the-floor kick hits (although the former could result from the latter). Simon Ho (20), has already established himself as the Pacific Northwest's fresh-faced Duke of Juke, doling out jams for Car Crash Set, the web label manned by local impresario Ill Cosby. As Cedaa, Ho's proven to have a supernatural capacity for blending scissored rap verses, caffeinated beats, and sybaritic synthwork into delirious, head-bobbing MP3s.
Bellingham is small, cozy, and discreet—not where you'd expect some of the state's most sinful rhythms to be coming from, which might explain why Ho's tracks (while instrumentally raunchy) skimp on juke's notorious X-rated hooks and samples. Cedaa's already dropped one blistering single ("Tiffany"/"Simba") for the Cos as well as a recent Bandcamp EP called Old Growth, both of which should keep his rank secure for the foreseeable future.
Founder: Alexander Davis
School: Whitworth University
It's both frustrating and perfectly reasonable that Alexander Davis is a hard dude to get a hold of: When the college junior isn't busy with his studies, he's sacrificing his precious extracurricular time to run a small business out of his dorm room. On Davis's Facebook profile, he lists himself as self-employed and adds, "Slangin' tapes ain't easy." No doubt, but in an age when DIY labels are a dime a dozen, MP3s want to be free, and everyone's kid brother has the means to dub hoarse, hissy cassettes, Davis's Leftist Nautical Antiques label/blog/distro project has done considerably well.
An expat from the golden slopes of the lower Sierra Nevada, Davis left the forty-niner legacy of California behind to become a tastemaker in indie music's ongoing virtual gold rush of small-time imprints and boutique labels. Davis has released low-key treasures from the likes of Pure Ecstasy, Carter Mullin, Kevin Greenspon, and local artist Secret Colors, and through LNA's powerful distro arm, he's hawked material by Pill Wonder, Naomi Punk, Prince Rama, Weed Diamond, and Perfume Genius.
Picture this: A savvy Japanese aesthete has purchased a Forest Swords cassingle from Escalator Records in Tokyo's Shibuya ward; this tape at some point passed through a modest dormitory at a Presbyterian university in Spokane before finding its way some 4,800 miles west. Either the world is growing smaller, or Davis is slowly conquering it, one tape at a time.