Beyond the bayou’s Britney Jean, and Magnolia’s Lil’ Wayne, we have something fundamental, something fresh, and something authentically New Orleans in the midst – call it an amalgam, call it NOLA-EDM: a mix of “destruction – kind of – creation, improvisation, taking something very modern like EDM – or what people perceive it to be – twisted up and given a soul:” welcome Hello Negro.
Me: For you I think, you’re kind of rebuilding this idea of a post-colonial sound for a Post-Katrina New Orleans. A lot of people say, “electronic music is soulless,” because there is that preconception of “just press play and repeat” – but you improvise. I guess I want to get your thoughts for how you see your music as an environment, and seeing it as if it were this soundtrack for New Orleans – you being New Orleans’ native son – what does the music say to the environment you’re building?
Hello Negro: That’s an interesting question. In my experience, if you look at some great New Orleans musicians – you bring it back to Jelly Roll Morton, and you look at Louis Armstrong, you look at Kid Orie, you look at King Oliver, you look at Dr. John, you look at James Booker, you know Terrence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis, Duvel Crawford, Troy Andrews, George Porter – who’s a bass player for The Funky Meters – these are all the New Orleans musicians… What we do in New Orleans, and this is going back to “the amalgam,”
what we do in New Orleans is we create, as musicians, we create music as a function of our environment. So, there’s not this “thing” you can do to make your music “New Orleans,” you either understand what that is because of the environment that you came up in – or you don’t.
So, the techniques I use – whether it’s sampling The Funky Meters, or it’s a specific rhythm I’m using – none of it is overly … it’s not deliberate.
It’s the only thing I know how to do, it’s what I came up around.
So, we extemporize as musicians in New Orleans because, that’s kind of how New Orleans even came to be. There’s an interesting book that I haven’t read, so I probably shouldn’t reference it – but there’s an interesting book called The Accidental City and it talks about New Orleans, and how it came to be; and it’s a series of strange circumstances, and luck, and kismet, and it’s just something that probably couldn’t have been recreated. So the environment I try to create with the music isn’t necessarily a – or at least it’s not supposed to be – this “extension of” New Orleans, or kind of a “snapshot” of New Orleans;
[I]t really is an example of what I learned coming up in New Orleans, which is: we celebrate life, through music – which is why I was attracted to dance music.
Another one of the things that’s interesting about the Eighties is, that was an era – and probably the end of the era in the last thirty years – where people were actually playing instruments. I came up in the Eighties so I would watch Saturday Night Live or The Lawrence Welk Show, you sat down and you saw actual musicians playing instruments, and it was a regular thing.
I also remember when the paradigm shifted, when it got to the mid-to-late Nineties and groups like Mint Condition came out and it was so bizarre that people think it was such an amazing thing that Mint Condition played instruments – it was almost like an anomaly.
It was a cultural aberration to see musicians playing instruments – and again, I came up in an era where that’s what everybody did.
It was Earth, Wind, and Fire, it was Tower of Power – these guys played instruments – that’s what I saw. Also, growing up in New Orleans, I saw people playing instruments. So, that improvisational element was just the only thing that I knew. I did my fair share, you know.
I’ve only performed probably six or seven times since I’ve started about a year ago, and the first few times I used the traditional paradigm which was to create a show, and then show up and hit the play button – and I would do some improvising on top of it, but honestly: I was just bored to tears, and I just had not figured out how I wanted to do it. Then, I did some research and realized that, I could deconstruct what I had made to create more of an organic environment, to actively play live with the audience. So, I’ve done one very large show, well, two larger shows – but it’s just interesting interacting with the audience. When I say interacting with the audience I don’t mean pumping the fists and saying, “One, two, three, four – everybody.”
I was just listening to some music recently where I came home and it was like: “Everybody fxxkin’ jump” – if I hear that phrase one more time… You know, it’s like – . I’m not a critic, I’m not panning anyone who does that. I’m only bringing it up because that’s not for me, that’s not what it is I’m doing – I don’t even know how to do that. I don’t know how to stand behind the console for an extended period of time. There is an art to doing that too – you still have to put the music together, and you have to interact with the audience – but,
I came up in a city where you play music, and you sweat, and the audience can feel the sweat and the heat that’s emanating from your body, and you feel the sweat that’s emanating from their body.
The small church I grew up in, I was fifteen feet away from the audience, and I could see them, and they could see me. I was playing off them, they were responding to the music.
It was more of a conversation and less of a dictatorial, ‘I’m going to perform this music and I’m going to subject you to it.’ So, all of that is very New Orleans, it’s also very American, it’s very democratic. It’s a conversation, everybody has a voice.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that your voice is going to be heard, but you have the right to have a voice; and if you can persuade the listener, then you will actually – the soapbox is yours to use.
I started working on this a year ago, and it never at any point was like, “Hey I’m going to be super-New Orleans. I’m going to improvise.” I really just looked at the tools that were available to me. I looked at the time I had to invest in it, and the result is what we have, and it’s danceable music: the tempos fluctuate from 94 beats a minute all the way up to 140 beats per minute – if you consider some of the tunes being double-time – and it really is supposed to be an engaging experience where the audience has a bit of a show because they’re actually watching an individual perform, and
most importantly people are supposed to celebrate, and have a good time, and remember what the human experience is about: sharing with other people and developing relationships with the other individuals in the environment.