Sunday, May 22, 2011
Music Frees All is a concept and saying coined and embraced by Miles Arntzen, one of New York's most promising young musicians. As a drummer, he plays with Superhuman Happiness, Antibalas, and his own band EMEFE. Miles is producing a three-day multiple venue music festival June 1st-3rd in New York to join together as many musicians, dj's and fans of liberating joyful music as possible. I'll be on the 1's and 2's on Friday June 3rd at Drom in the East Village. The details for all three nights of the festival are as follows:
June 1 – Southpaw – Opening Night w/ Turkuaz, Melanie Charles & the Journey, Top Shotta, and Super Osei & Money Jungle feat. DJ Cool Hand Luke 18+, $5, 7:30 doors, 8pm show
The kickoff show with hip hop, soul, reggae and funk to set the mood and celebrate the music.
June 2 – Public Assembly - Horns Take Over w/ Ikebe Shakedown, Gato Loco, Brooklyn Soul Survivors, and Underground System Afrobeat feat. DJ Petra 19+, $10, 7:30 doors, 8pm show
Night 2 brought to you by four powerful bands and four powerful horn sections.
June 3 – Drom – A Benefit for Scotty Hard feat. Mago (John Medeski/Billy Martin), EMEFE, Ben Perowsky’s Moodswing Orchestra, Mokaad, Nyle x Naysayers, DJ Afro-Marc and more TBA 18+, $10, 7:30 doors, 8pm show
The Music Frees All festival concludes with a special night on June 3rd at Drom for producer Scott Harding aka Scotty Hard. Proceeds will go directly to the Scotty Hard Trust.
I interviewed Miles a couple weeks ago about his inspiration for the festival, the goings on of his music career, and a few other topics that came up in conversation:
Marc Gabriel Amigone: So how did you come up with the idea for the festival? Is this something you've been wanting to do for a while?
Miles Arntzen: I hadn't had the idea to put a festival together pretty much ever until this one day, I wanted to bring together all these bands that I love and I know a lot of other people love and that are doing really great things for live music. And wanted to bring them all together for a few nights. Thats really it, I called it a festival. I have this idea of Music Frees All which is all about playing music for the cathartic side of it, the side of music that releases you from anything that's bringing you down for that particular moment. I first experienced that with afrobeat music and that's what turned me on to this whole idea, a lot of other types of music do the same thing, but anyways I just wanted to bring together a bunch of bands who fit that mold.
MGA: Word up, so it's a benefit festival as well right?
MA: Yea the third night of the festival, on June 3rd is going to be a benefit for Scott Harding, who is an old friend of my dad, so through my dad he's basically been a part of my family. He's an amazing producer and engineer. He was partially paralyzed in a car crash a few years ago. Since then a bunch of his friends, he knows so many people in the music industry who have played on records he produced or just friends of his, there's just so many people that know him that have been coming together over the last few years to help raise money and keep the support going and so I thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to do that.
MGA: So he's got a foundation?
MA: Yea his close network of friends set up the Scotty Hard Trust which is a website where you can go straight in and donate money or help plan an event or anything like that. The website is scottyhardtrust.org. Basically its just his close friends keeping track of him getting the support that he needs because something like that is such a drastic change of life style that he really needs people around him to help out. And luckily he has a lot of amazing people around him to help out, so that's what the Scotty Hard Trust is.
MGA: That's really cool. Who are some of the musicians with whom he's worked?
MA: That I know of, Antibalas, Wu-Tang Clan…I need to do my research a little, he's done a lot of underground hip-hop, Sex Mob, Medeski Martin and Wood, Charlie Hunter, DJ Logic, just this whole circle of people, Michael Blake is another one.
MGA: So he's still doing his thing musically? He's still able to work and produce and stuff?
MA: Yea, it's obviously been hard for him, but he has kept working. Since the accident he's gotten a studio together and adapted to his new situation. It's really inspiring because his spirits are so high and he's such a positive person that he's such an inspiration to all of us to keep doing what you love no matter the obstacles.
MGA: That's really awesome that he keeps moving forward like that. So tell me a little more about what you're up to these days, you were just down in Miami with Antibalas this past weekend?
MA: Yea I was in Miami with Antibalas on Saturday night. Playing with them just keeps getting better and better for me just because I'm such a huge fan of them and I love playing that music so much. That was an amazing show.
MGA: What was the show? It was part of a festival or something?
MA: The Antibalas show was part of the Heineken Trans-Atlantic Music Festival or something like that. And it was at a bandshell on North Beach, with one opening act and then Antibalas played a long set. The weather was beautiful. With those guys…they're one of the reasons why I'm getting all this together just because of their whole group of friends and musicians that play together to me is really inspiring. Just the fact that there are so many people in their circle that make music, as a side note the music they make happens to be the best music out there.
MGA: Yea I totally agree with that. But I think that whole Daptone, Brooklyn, whatever you wanna call it family, definitely ascribes to that mentality of Music Frees All, and is in it for the right reasons for that cathartic release.
MA: Yea what they have is so great and I want to create that with not necessarily a specific group of people but just to keep that feeling going of having a circle of people that have each other's backs and at this festival cross contamination with each other's bands is highly encouraged, someone playing with one band and jumping in with another, just getting the whole feeling of community is really important and something that really sustains for a long time.
MGA: How did you start playing with Antibalas? Was that through your relationship with Stuart?
MA: Well, with Antibalas it's kind of a full-circle story. There was a benefit for Scott a couple years ago at The Highline Ballroom where there was a ton of amazing musicians where I went with my parents because he's a friend, and my dad who plays trumpet sat in a little bit, so I was just watching. Antibalas was the very last band to play at 1am or something. I wanted to leave but I couldn't find my dad because he was off backstage or something, so I just ended up staying and watching. And that was the first time I heard afrobeat or Antibalas and that night it was just like BOOM, something got in me, from that day on, I listened to them all the time, I checked out Fela, so if it wasn't for Scott I wouldn't have even known who Antibalas was and then a few years later I got in touch with Stuart Bogie of Antibalas as well as Victor [Axelrod] separately and kind of told them about how much I love their music and basically started meeting up with Stuart a lot to play in my basement and also met up with Victor here and there and started becoming friends with them and simultaneously learning all about the music. Stuart kind of became a mentor of mine and teacher and then I started playing with his band, Superhuman Happiness, then eventually Antibalas needed a sub and Victor contacted me. And they saw how much I listened to their music and how much I listened to Fela's music and how consumed I was with it so I think that's what made it a good fit.
MGA: Did you study with Victor at The New School? You go to the New School right?
MA: No, I go to NYU.
MGA: Oh word. So you didn't study with Victor and Aaron Johnson's afrobeat ensemble at the new school or anything.
MA: Yea I did actually sit in once and watched him teach that class, just because I would meet up with him weekly just to talk about stuff, and I did sit in on that class, but no I didn't formally take lessons with any of them, it was purely just on our own time.
MGA: Yea the night we first met at Southpaw last summer I think Stuart was telling me you guys met through Facebook or something. Is that how you first reached out to him?
MA: Yea after I saw the FELA! show on broadway I messaged Stuart on Facebook and that was our mode of communication for trying to find time to meet up for dinner or something.
MGA: I think that just speaks to Stuart's personality, he's one of the most open-minded chill dudes. You can just straight up be a fan and just hit him up and he's totally open to it. Not that many musicians in the world, but especially New York where people tend to have really big egos and would let that get in the way of that sort of thing. I just think that's such a telling story that you guys just met from being around each other and then eventually you're playing together. Not everyone would be so open to that experience, you know?
MA: Oh yea, I know. I owe so much to Stuart after only knowing him for only a couple years, I feel like I've known him for so long. He's really taken me and introduced me to so many people. It's because of him I'm playing in Antibalas and meeting a lot of other people, doing sessions, it's true he's a great guy. You can't really say anything else. I'm really grateful to know him.
MGA: That's really cool, man. So what are you doing with Emefe these days? You guys put out your first full length album Music Frees All like six months ago or something like that?
MA: Yea, we put out Music Frees All, the first record, also we put out another EP called the Europe EP, we basically have been playing as much as possible the last few months, trying to spread our music to as many people as much as possible and build up a fanbase which has definitely helped us out a lot. I think the next step for us is to move out of New York a little bit and start playing in Boston and Connecticut and Philly. We're pretty soon going to be honing in on our new songs. I really think we'd like to record a new album on an indy label or something like that. For me Emefe is a really amazing thing to write songs for, play amazing shows, it's actually because everyone in the band is so in love with playing in it. It's not just some band where I take every gig and I get all these subs to come in just so I can play my music. That's not really the situation. It's more like we actually have this tight knit group of eleven people and everybody is at every show. And everybody is totally committed and its becoming a brotherhood. I couldn't be happier about it because I'm all about that.
MGA: That's really exciting. I've seen that dynamic play out in a lot different ways in a lot of the different afrobeat bands I'm friends with, because it's just so hard to keep such a big group of people together. That's really cool you guys have such a good thing going.
MA: I owe so much to the guys, they make it so easy for me.
MGA: How do you all know each other? Do you all go to NYU?
MA: Half of them I know through NYU and half I have been playing with my whole life basically. Me and the bass player have been playing together in a lot of different bands forever. A couple of guys like that. But yea it's kind of half and half. It's kind of putting together musicians from my past and my present. That's what exciting about it for me I could put tougher these two sides of my career as a musician and luckily they all get along.
MGA: So you're saying you're trying to get out of New York a little bit and spread the music around and what not?
MA: Yea, little by little we're seeing opportunities to come and play, and other colleges want us to come up there. We had a really successful weekend in Boston recently, and we're gonna possibly go down to Florida this summer. We have stuff in Chicago down the line. I just want to spread the word, spread the vibes around. I just want to bring our amazing show that we have here in New York, I want that to happen everywhere, every night of the week.
MGA: That's dope man, I definitely hear the passion in your sound. You guys really have that youth, that youthful energy and that's something you really have to hold on to and stuff. I don't mean to be cynical, but I've seen other bands start out like that and then lose their stride. You can hear that in the music when a band is passionate and energetic, it comes through on the records for sure.
MA: You have to be energetic and passionate. In my eyes you have to let other people into that. Include the audience in that feeling. There are a lot of great bands who play a lot of great music, but they kind of have an attitude like you know, when they're playing on stage and then you can hear that, like they're not letting it go too much. The way I like to do things is to let it all out there every time, include the audience in it, creating a unified feeling in the room get everyone on the same wavelength on the same page and its all kind of swirling together. I always try to get that when I play. That's definitely something playing with Stuart has taught me and Antibalas has taught me and playing with Superhuman Happiness and I took that and wanted Emefe to get that same feeling, where you're out of breath, and you just say let's keep doin it, I don't want to stop.
MGA: I think that's an afrobeat thing. When you're at a live afrobeat show, there's so many musicians in one room and there's so many elements where the rhythm section meets the horns and it's such a unique genre like that. That's the way it was designed. When Fela invented afrobeat he created it in order to make people just go nuts and unleash this frenzy in the shrine or wherever he was playing. Whenever someone really does it, because not everyone can really pull it off, but whenever someone unleashes that energy in a room its so evident. You can really feel it.
MA: You know Fela was making music for more serious of a cause. He wasn't lying when he said Music is a Weapon because he was making music to help deal with all the pain they were going through where they were in Nigeria in Africa in that time. He made his music to have a release from that and also fight it. That can't be forgotten either. There's still that spirit of getting together to fight and unite.
MGA: Absolutely, so before we wrap up, tell me a bit about the bands you've got going in the festival, you've got Mokaad, a seriously nasty funk band, your band, Emefe, who are some of the other cats you want to shout out a bit.
MA: Well on Friday night at Drom I'm excited to have John Medeski and Billy Martin playing, Billy Martin is another person who I've learned a lot from. They go way back with Scott so I'm excited to have them playing. As well as Nyle, the rapper who's a friend of mine. As well as DJ Afro-Marc, cutting it up all night.
MGA: Haha yea I'm pumped for that.
MA: And then the other nights we have some awesome bands including Ikebe Shakedown, Turkuaz, Gato Loco, Melanie Charles and The Journey, just a bunch of different bands, differing in genre here and there. Just all musicians that are making great music.
MGA: Yea, it's a really dope lineup. I'm looking forward to feeling the energy in the room because like you said it's not all just afrobeat, so as the dj I'm looking forward to playing with the energy between all the different acts throwing a lot of different stuff out there and seeing how it sticks.
MA: It's going to be a really special night. I only have the resources that I have, I mean it's not going to be Bonnaroo or Coachella but it's definitely a start and I want to make it something that people depend on every year to not pay that much for tickets and see the same energy shows that they would at some big name festival if not more energy or more connection to the people that are playing. So I think it's going to be a really special few days.
MGA: Word up, well thanks so much for asking me to be involved I'm really looking forward to it. I'm going to do my best to bring some people out, and it's going to be a really good time that's for sure.
Posted by Marc Amigone at 12:05 PM