Tag Archives: interview

An introduction to ballroom beats with genre innovator Vjuan Allure

The ballroom community is an underground culture that harks back to days when gay dance parties were strictly private affairs. But don’t let the name fool you: these functions aren’t formal waltzes in black tie, they’re LGBT catwalk performances and battle dances set to a hyper-kinetic blend of electronic beats. “The music is very dramatic, very to the point,” says DC-based DJ/producer Vjuan Allure. “You don’t have time to warm up: you get out there and bring it, and the music comes out that way. As soon as it starts, it’s already hot.”

For most people, their experience with ballroom began and ended with Madonna’s 1990 hit “Vogue.” But like all underground scenes appropriated by mainstream provocateurs, the culture lived on and continued to evolve. Ballroom is currently undergoing a renaissance, as producers and DJs like Vjuan craft tracks for the function and beyond. And it all started about a decade after Madonna’s crossover hit.

Back in 2000, Vjuan Allure was playing a ball in Detroit. He had hauled cases of vinyl from the DC suburbs for the event, but was dismayed when the host only wanted to hear six songs. This was a tipping point. Vjuan had been frustrated with the scene’s musical stagnation, i.e. balls that played the same music, function after function. Upon returning home to Beltsville, Maryland, Vjuan remixed seminal hit “The Ha Dance” by Masters at Work (the original is below). With that, the ballroom beats genre was born: music written and remixed specifically for the ballroom, and for the exciting vogue femme style in particular. “I started making hot beats, period,” says Vjuan, “and the ballroom went along for the ride.”

Vjuan Allure is the epitome of the DJ-as-world traveler. Born in Puerto Rico, he grew up between New York and Atlantic City. A dancer first, he started clubbing in New York around when he was 11 years old; with his mother traveling for business, he stayed with an aunt who was more liberal towards his nighttime activities. Despite his young age, he befriended dancers and bouncers, immersing himself in the scene. In college, he moved to Naples, Italy as part of a cultural exchange program, and his wealth of stockpiled music began his DJ career. “They wanted me to play hip hop, which is fine, but I wanted to play house,” he says. He started to build a following, but had to come back to the states as things were taking off. Almost on cue, he returned to Italy in 2002, just as his career was taking off stateside.

On the second day back in Italy, Vjuan had a revelation in the club. “That beat sounds real familiar,” he thought. “And then my voice came on.” Spinning his head in time with the record, he saw his name and realized the extent of his growing popularity. What followed has been a career as a leading figure in the re-energized ballroom scene.

Although he lives just outside of DC, Vjuan has recently found greater affinity to the music of Baltimore. Vjuan has worked with Scottie B, remixed for Unruly Records, and became a resident at Ultra Nate’s Deep Sugar party. “When I heard Bmore club, I was immediately in love with it.” Although club music isn’t played at balls, there is similarity in the hard-hitting, non-stop beats; Vjuan’s remix of “Lose Your Fvkin Mind” by Schwarz is a perfect example of this symbiosis.

After creating the ballroom beats genre over a decade ago, the underground is again breaking through. But instead of Madonna, the heralds of this crossover have been DJs like Kingdom and MikeQ and labels like Night Slugs and Fade to Mind. Vjuan provided a remix for MikeQ’s debut EP on Fade to Mind, and his remix of Bok Bok’s grimey “Silo Pass” will be released this year. His frenetic tour schedule will bring him to Japan, Sydney, London, Italy, and Miami, but rest assured, no one will be asking to hear hip hop or the same old ballroom standards: “They’re bringing me for me.”

[wpaudio url=”https://postcultural.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Vjuan Allure – Exclusive Mix for Postcultural.com.MP3″ text=”Vjuan Allure – Exclusive Mix for Postcultural” dl=1]

1. Throw Ya Hands – Vjuan Allure
2. En Na Er Gi Bounce – Vjuan Allure
3. Gurlz – Vjuan Allure
4. Getting In – Vjuan Allure
5. 10,000 Screams – Vjuan Allure
6. What Are You Lookin At – Vjuan Allure
7. Colon Loads – Vjuan Allure
8. Lose Ur Fvkin Mindz – Schwarz (The Vjuan Allure Lobotomy Mix)
9. Wanna Carry – Vjuan Allure
10. Big Nasty – Vjuan Allure

The Verge: Phonic Riot

It’s been over thirty years since someone at Sounds magazine invented the term “post punk” to describe Siouxie and the Banshees. Maybe it’s time to come up with something new to describe the strain of introspective music, distorted and dissonant, that flows from Joy Division through My Bloody Valentine to the present. Because let’s face it, “shoegaze” and “noise rock” still sound derisive to me.

With that in mind, there’s something admirable about DC act Phonic Riot describing their music with the portmanteau “psychodramaticgaragerock.” It may be tongue-in-cheek, but it says something about the band’s approach to their craft. From the unrestrained wall of sound on “Run Nikki Run” to the psychedelic sprawl of “Libertina,” Phonic Riot seem content to draw from their collective consciousness, smash it together, and see what works.

I spoke with the woman behind Phonic Riot, vocalist-guitarist Angela Morrish, about the band’s various configurations, tape-only releases, and being one of Fan Death’s favorite DC acts.

Where did you grow up, and how did you end up in DC?

I grew up in Michigan and ended up in DC through a set of ridiculous circumstances completely unrelated to music. I’ve randomly moved around a lot, i.e relationships, boredom, family. I’ve been here on and off for five years now, mainly because there is a really supportive, albeit small, musical community here that I wanted to be a part of. It felt like a really good place to get my feet wet, and it has been.

Have you played in other bands or with other styles of music?

I messed around a little with a post-rock band and dabbled in bass when I was learning guitar a few years back. I’ve sang in various projects (even some pretty embarrassing metal stuff in high school), but I’ve only seriously pursued writing my own material and putting it out there over the course of the past couple years. It’s all pretty new to me and has come together super fast. I’ve always been a writer, and written songs in my head occasionally recording them, but live performance and the professional end to being a musician is very new thing for me.

I’ve seen various configurations of the band, including you playing just with Nathan Jurgenson, or with a full band. What’s the current line-up, and how did everyone get together?

A lot of the line-up switches were circumstantial. Everything here is pretty tight knit, and people are constantly jamming with other people. Sometimes that sticks, sometimes it doesn’t. My entire approach to music right now is to do what I do, and fill in parts where they’re needed.

I’ve currently been working with Sam Chintha (Antiques/Alcian Blue), John Wood (A Cricket In Times Square) and Alex Rizzo (Dark Sea Dream) for a set of live shows. They’re all super talented and it’s been a privilege to work with them. As for the future, I guess we’ll see what’s in store. The project is definitely still in it’s infant stage.

The bands you name as influences (My Bloody Valentine, A Place To Bury Strangers, Echo And The Bunnymen, etc.) cover the usual post-punk territory, but one thing that sets you apart is your voice. As you developed your talent, who are other singers you’ve looked to for inspiration?

I grew up with a lot of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, which is where I get my roots in being a lyricist. But that aside, I listen to everything. People who’ve inspired me throughout the years range from Jonsi (Sigor Ros) to Nick Cave; I guess that comes off in my music and my voice. Artistically, I like to experiment with everything.

Recently, there’s been a glut of female-fronted indie bands that make darker music. Who do you feel your contemporaries are, locally and globally?

Zola Jesus is the first name that comes to mind, if we’re speaking in terms of females. Admittedly, I can’t say there are many other “dark” female artists in the mainstream I’ve come across and particularly taken to.

As for peers, one band that everyone needs to look out for is We Are Hex (Indianapolis). Their front woman Jilly Weiss has a killer set of pipes. You don’t get any better than that live. Period. Talk Normal (Brooklyn) is also an insanely good female duo. I’m sure I’m missing others…

With your release on 2,632 Tapes, you’re officially one of the few DC bands Fan Death’s Sean Gray likes. What was the thought process behind a tape-only release?

There’s just something really aesthetically-pleasing to me about tapes and records. Not to mention, CDs just seemed like a waste of money. Everyone just ends up putting them on their iPods anyway. We included mp3 downloads for people without tape decks, but there’s just this rich low-fi sound you get from tapes. When a Phonic Riot album finally drops there is no question the main focus will be on records for that very reason. The quality is just so much better. But, I am also a person who prefers bookstores to Kindle. Hands down.

Speaking of Sean Gray, Fan Death and musical shoutouts: Clockcleaner and Puerto Rico Flowers. Anyone who hasn’t checked them out DO IT. Talk about music that has inspired me recently. Props to him (and that label) for putting that music out there.

What’s next for the band, as far as new music and releases?

New music is always in the works, but I have plans to record all of the songs currently worked into the live sets this fall. I’m still looking into where all of that is going to happen, but it absolutely is.

What can audiences expect from a Phonic Riot live show?

It’s pretty incredible to me to see how much my music has evolved in little over year, through the contribution of other people and performing. On that note the performance is constantly growing and changing, and hopefully keeping the audience intrigued. The songs at the core however remain the same, and people can count on seeing them – and the overly emotional girl who wrote them – every time.

Phonic Riot plays the Velvet Lounge on Monday, August 22, and in Silver Spring on Thursday, August 25 as part of the Sonic Circuits festival. In the meantime, preview the tracks off their 2,632 Tapes release, or better yet, dust off your tape deck and buy a copy.

An Interview with Freddie Gibbs

“Rolling a blunt as we speak.”

That would be Freddie Gibbs, on the phone from California, right before doing an interview with TGRIOnline on – of all days – 4/20.

As we’ve written before, true fans of hip-hop need to get familiar with Gibbs, an MC whose talent far exceeds his growing buzz. Gibbs is an unapologetic gangsta rapper, a throwback to an era that seemed to end with the back-to-back deaths of Biggie and 2pac. Repping Gary, Indiana, Gibbs weaves together real life tales about one of America’s toughest cities with a slick cadence that is always on-point, whether with a Pac-like staccato or Bone Thugs-influenced rapid fire.

Gibbs has already had a career-making 2010, being named to XXL’s Freshman Class and burning up SXSW. And his star continues to rise: his next mixtape, Str8 Killa No Filla, is slated for a late May, early June release, and an EP with The Alchemist (The Devil’s Palace) will follow. For an artist dropped by a label – and not looking to make another deal – XXL and SXSW are essential parts of making his own way in the game. “It’s vital. Without that, without blog exposure, I wouldn’t exist,” he confides.

Getting asked to play SXSW was a “blessing,” one that Gibbs didn’t take lightly: he played three shows a day and even did two studio sessions (one with DJ Burn One, and an exclusive for Ruby Hornet). His grind paid off: Entertainment Weekly put him in their “5 bands you should know” – the only rapper in their list. Gibbs enjoyed his first time at the Austin festival: “It felt like Woodstock or some shit… There were shows everywhere. It was trill.”

Now based in California, Gibbs insists it won’t affect his writing. “I’m Gary all day. Born and raised in Gary. Ain’t nothing bout my music will change.” He attributes this to a universal sound that defies regional pigeonholing: “Most people can’t put their finger on it.” While a lot of peers only listened to Midwest rappers, Gibbs became more well-rounded by listening to everything, guys like Rakim and Scarface.

The strength of Gibbs’ mixtapes is that they sound like fully-formed albums. “I do that shit on purpose. I sequence in a manner that tells a story, so you can let that shit ride.” Str8 Killa looks to be another one you can just let ride. “Crushin’ Feelin’s,” produced by Statik Selektah, is a piano and guitar driven slab of Southern-fried g-funk, where Gibbs coolly and confidently dismisses the rest of the game: “Rap ain’t nothing but talking shit, I’m just the best at it.” “Ghetto,” over the beat from Milkbone’s classic “Keep It Real,” Gibbs gets political: “Government funds fill my city up with guns and drugs.”

Rather than the self-described “bullshit” that most rappers put on mixtapes, Gibbs would “rather give a cohesive piece of music that tells a story.” For a reason: “Not enough people know me. I still have to tell them who Gibbs is. Whether it’s about robbing and jacking, or pussy, I incorporate the story in the rhymes, like you could put it to a movie.”

On 4/20, the subject of weed was bound to come up. A few live performances have been scuttled when the MC reached for a blunt on stage. “I’m used to smoking on stage, in hole-in-the-wall clubs. All these grimey-ass clubs in Gary… everybody be in that motherfucker smoking.” Smoking on stage is “taking it back to the crib,” so while some cities will pull him off stage, it doesn’t sound like he’s gonna stop. He even dropped a new track at 4:20 on 4/20 for weedsmokers, “Personal OG,” that he was putting the final touches on when we spoke.

In 2010, Gibbs will keep grinding. “I’m not dead or in jail for a reason,” he says. “As long as I keep my integrity and represent my area, the checks will come.” Apart from the mixtape and the EP, he’s also working on a project with Bun B, Chuck English, and Chip the Rippa. “I’m willing to work with anyone who has hard shit that I respect.” Gibbs will also continue collaborating with fellow XXL Freshmen Pill and Jay Rock. He has some shows in the works for this summer, and will be at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. But this is just the beginning of a journey for Gibbs. “I’d rather have a twenty year career than a two year career in this shit.”

DJ A-Mac and the Moombahton Movement

We can’t stop talking about it: moombahton. Bubbling just under the surface, moombahton is poised to be the Next Big Thing on dance floors everywhere, in places that might surprise you. Dave Nada‘s serendipitous slow down of Dutch house has even found an evangelist 2,000 miles away: Calgary’s DJ A-Mac. I had a chance to talk with a DJ/producer whose moombahton edits are already annihilating playlists and setlists.

The basic biographical: where are you from and where are you based now?

I’m originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, but have been living in Calgary, Alberta for the past 4 years.

How long have you been DJing? What’s the basic trajectory of your tastes and style?

Ive been DJing for 7 years now and really have only been working on production stuff during the past year, even though I bought an MPC way back before I even owned a pair of turntables. I started out playing hip hop / funk / disco jams and have gradually moved into playing house music and rave bombs that I used to never touch. With the introduction of Serato, I’ve found my musical tastes going all over the map.

How did you get on the moombahton tip? What’s the reaction been when playing it out?

I was up in Vancouver for the Olympics and all the homies were in town for various gigs all over town. We were up at this Monster Energy party on the top of a mountain overlooking Vancouver. It was earlier in the evening, so basically the place was just filled with the DJs that were going to be playing and various other people who helped throw the party. Dave Nada got on the decks and started playing these joints and everyone just got up and started to get down on the dance floor. My homie Neoteric was telling me that Dave had just played a radio show with him, and had introduced him to Moombahton. He knew what type of music I am into and was like, “you are gonna love this shit.” We all got down to it super hard, and afterwards, I grabbed the edits that Dave had made.

My first couple of edits, which include the “Heads Will Roll” joint, were originally just to have more of a crate to play a set with. I got a lot of really good feedback from those so I sat down and started putting some work into making some tracks with a lot more of my own personal touch. I have played it out a few times, and I find that it can get a dance floor going hard. It works especially well if the crowd knows some of the original house tracks in the back of their heads, but are more inclined to dance to slower tempo music like hip hop or reggae.

Any hints as to what is next to get “moombahton’d”?

I’ve got a new one in the works, as do a few other producers I have talked to, and I know that Dave Nada has some heat that he is going to unleash on Austin and Miami (PUNK ROCK LATINO!). I just finished up my latest track titled Long train to Moombahton. (Ed. note: this track is dangerous!)

What are the top three artists that everyone needs to know right now?

The local Calgary DJ super group Smalltown Romeo have an upcoming release on Plant music – home to your local destroyer Tittsworth – that is going to be huge! I can’t wait for them to get some big shine, as they have provided me with so much inspiration over the years.

They have a stranglehold on the scene here in Calgary, as they own the Hifi Club and have a weekly that has been going for 10 years. Its called Hai Karate, and over the years, they have hosted pretty much every big DJ in the game. I’m really excited for DC, as they are going to get a taste of how awesome it is to have visionary local DJs own the best club in town. I can’t wait to come check out the U Street Music Hall.

Neoteric has been killing the game lately with his mixtapes. His latest projects include a mix for Crookers.net and the next installment of his Mystery Mix series (mixed by Brodinski) can be found on Discobelle. The Mystery Mix idea is a really original concept that he came up with and I love where it’s going.

Stirling Agency is a new DJ booking agency that my girl Miche started this past year and things are really starting to blow up for her. They are throwing a massive jam down in Miami for WMC.

Check out A-Mac’s tracks and mixtapes, and if you’re in Calgary, check out his weekly Friday gig at Habitat.