From The Trenches: Mohawk The Educator

(I have been waiting to do this interview for years now. Mohawk is a luminary in the NYC underground scene, my boss at New York DanceSafe , a spectacular dancer & a generally all around stupendous person. She’s throwing a party that you need to go to, and I’ll be giving two tickets away, so you have no excuse. But before you do, kick back and enjoy this long-form conversation with someone who is fielding a tactical force to keep your sorry butt alive if you’re partying in the Tri-State area.)

Mohawk, Harm Reduction Coordinator Extraordinaire.

1. How is the party coming along? Any new surprises to announce, or should we just show up and find out? The party is pretty much ready to go and we’re in our last week of ramped up promotion. I wouldn’t say there are true “surprises”, however I’m sure many people are hearing about the party through different sources, so beyond the musical talent we’ll have on board, the additional performers, vendors, and workshops might come as a surprise to many. We’ve been making announcements a few times a week, highlighting some of what’s to come. We don’t expect everyone to keep up with these announcements, but we definitely want to showcase all that we have in store. It’s getting pretty late in the game and we still have people wanting to take part in the festivities. Don’t bank on this type of event happening again–we host events with specific objectives and move forward from there. It’s a “launch party” of sorts, so come find out for yourself and see what it’s all about!

2. You’ve been doing harm reduction for a long time, have you seen any changes in the work/scene that you’d see as positive? Any worrying trends you are trying to sound the alarm about? I’d like to preface this answer first: I really only have visibility of what’s happening in NYC. In doing this work with a nationally represented organization, a lot of people assume that we all see the same things or face the same problems. This is not necessarily the case, so I’ve chosen to take the New York chapter in different directions based on what we learn each year. The good news is, people overall are becoming more “hip” to testing. People want kits! The worrying thing about this is that, people forget that drug use comes with risks beyond just the potential of ingesting the “wrong” drugs by accident. An obvious worrisome trend is how much do we need to fear fentanyl popping up in drugs, especially non-opioids? This is one with a lot of hysteria around it right now. It takes a lot of work to keep the most accurate information in circulation and weed out the sensationalism and myths.

3. There’s a big difference between being a volunteer activists & being a manager/chapter leader. What’s the hardest thing about organizing harm reduction volunteers and managing an org that no one told you about? No one told me anything, but I expected a lot of hardship, which is why I held off for over a year on reforming a chapter in New York City. I generally lack patience for unreliable people, but I think the biggest struggle has been managing and maintaining relationships across different chapters. We’re all volunteers–including the chapter heads. There will be a lot of egos and some trouble-makers. It’s rare that we have to deal with anything too intense, but when it happens, you’re usually left to your own devices to do what’s best in order to continue our mission in reducing harm. Making sure we can fulfill that is top priority.

On top of that, New York City is a very unique territory to provide service to. It’s a city of 8.5 million–THE most populous city in the US. There’s a lot of work to be done that can be done in NYC alone. This is our priority–not New England, New Jersey, Upstate, Central, or Western New York. Every year in NYC, the social and nightlife scenes change–venues close, new ones open, management switches hands, attitudes change, laws change, bridge and toll fares increase–it’s a lot to keep up with as a volunteer leading a public health organization in a city with a high cost of living. However with this, it keeps things fresh, it keeps me on my toes, and gives this chapter an opportunity to be pioneers in keeping this organization forward-thinking and progressive.
4. We’ve known for a long time that harm reduction fails sexual and ethnic minorities in this country. For those who might not know what that could be, could you give our readers a tangible example of what that failure looks/feels like? I am an ethnic and sexual minority. If I step out of the rave/EDM or Burning Man scene for 2 seconds, people don’t know what harm reduction is, let alone DanceSafe. When you’re at a Burning Man affiliated event, rave, or EDM festival that has harm reduction onsite (or none at all), can you count in your head the number of black and brown people in the same space? What about LGBTQ? Think to yourself, have you ever been to a circuit party and heard or seen a single person talking about or practicing harm reduction? I know I’ve been offered cocaine as a meal–and that’s not harm reduction. In many cases, I don’t think the problem is so much that people don’t recognize this is an issue, but few know the best ways to try to address it.
TripSit - Drug Combination Chart
5. What dumb-ass behaviors pop up no matter the party, scene, music, age or mix of attendees? Are there any bad things that drug users do that you would say are universal? Mix alcohol with virtually any other drug. Not only does it not potentiate the good effects of any substance outside of maybe THC, it usually decreases many of the desirable effects of the other substances being taken. Drinking is habitual in social settings for many people, so few think about the side effects from this volatile combination. I refer people to the TripSit chart in case they don’t believe me. Some have argued that cocaine and alcohol are a “good” combination, but when I attack these viewpoints, it’s from a harm reduction standpoint. Alcohol and cocaine is a unique combination, as it actually results in the creation of another recreational drug of its own inside of the body called “cocaethylene”. I’m sure many people “enjoy” the mixing of substances as it prolongs the euphoria for marginally longer (like 1 hour in total), however, it exponentially increases risk, as it also carries an 18- to 25-fold increase over cocaine alone in risk of immediate death. With that level of danger involved, my personal recommendation would be to find a different (and cheaper) high.
More Harm Reduction Cards for use with attendees
6. Best place to do harm reduction? Whether it’s a country, festival, party, or branded hang out, where would you always go do harm reduction if asked? Kind of a tough question, as I’ve done harm reduction in several countries and dozens of areas in the USA. I like the thrill of “mixing it up”, and learning from different perspectives and trying to take on new harm reduction challenges. Providing services to the same groups over and over gets stale, and starts to feel ineffective (although it’s an easy fundraising opportunity, no doubt). I would probably have to go with Europe or South Africa. If I had to choose a single country–the Netherlands. Aside from the struggle to find a hairdresser (for the record, Kinki Kappers is the go-to) the attitudes around drug use are far more tolerant, and it blows my mind that I can walk into a public facility to have my drugs checked–in private. North America feels lightyears away from being as tolerant and effective in harm reduction. Cocaine and MDMA deaths seem to mostly occur because the drugs are too strong, not because they are adulterated or misrepresented. Fentanyl is not a “problem”. People with opioid addictions can receive proper treatment and care instead of jail sentences and isolation. The Dutch teenagers are generally more informed than many American adults I’ve encountered, and when they aren’t informed, they’re extremely receptive of the information. I’ve had a conversation with an 11 year old boy and 14 year old girl who know more about drugs and harm reduction than the average person my age (31). I enjoy being intellectually stimulated, so doing harm reduction in a culture where drug use isn’t shamed so much is refreshing. Instead of debating with people over arbitrary distinctions between drugs or people that use drugs that are plant-based versus synthetic, or legal versus illegal, or talking about only misrepresentation, we get to talk more about physiology, behavioral patterns, etc. (I’ve attached two pictures of the card game they use as talking points. A person chooses a card blindly from this deck)Card From Harm Reduction Efforts
7. If I had a magic wand and you could do harm reduction at any party, festival, or event in the world, where would you go? I’d stay right here in NYC and do harm reduction at Electric Zoo because it needs it, but still need a lot of convincing to properly bring harm reduction onsite. I’d rather be impacting my local community.
8. Moreover, if you could make one change to drug or health laws, what would it be? Decriminalize all drugs, and strategically legalize others. But since we can only change 1 law, decriminalization on the federal level is where I would start. In many people’s minds decriminalization means complete anarchy and debauchery, but that’s not what that means. Many Americans can’t wrap their minds around these concepts that places like Portugal have already implemented. An analogy that Carl Hart used in his Ted Talk “Let’s quit abusing drug users”, is that… “decriminalization would be like treating drugs like a traffic violation. Someone might be required to pay a fine if they’re caught with possessing illegal drugs, but they will not be subjected to criminal prosecution”. In the case of Portugal and other similar countries, a jury determines if the use is recreational/infrequent or problematic, and if so, then they are sent to treatment.
9. While building out this amazing event, what have you been listening to these days? I’ve been pretty bored with my normal playlist of electronic music (varying from chill wave and other downtempo genres, dance music like house and techno, and extremes like Shranz and IDM) to listening to electro boogie, funk, and oldies. When you work this hard, sometimes you need a little (or a lot of) Gap Band, Zapp & Roger, Prince, and Earth Wind & Fire and to sing “Love Machine” with all your soul.
10. MLK Jr. said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but tends towards justice. We’ve been doing this for a long time. Do you think it’s getting better or worse out there? I think somehow it seems to be rubberbanding back and forth–but that just may be my limited American perspective. When I travel, I see lots of little good things in the world. It really depends on what timeline you’re living in and what point of view you’re seeing it from.

Don’t miss the party on the 19th, I’ll be there working, dancing and harm reducing with the rest of the NY DanceSafe crew. And, if you want a shot to win 2 free tickets to the event, make sure to follow @terrygotham on Twitter, because more info on that is coming up Wednesday morning!

Aoki & Carnage Make The Sonic Equivalent of a Trump Tweet

I haven’t written about a singular track on this blog in a very long time, but this one requires it. For many reasons, none of which are good. Carnage & Aoki put out something I can only describe as a nightmare of mediocrity and ignorance. If you told me a neural network wrote it, I’d actually respect it a bit more. Thankfully it’s only 2:40, but in that time it manages to annoy, confuse, and disappoint. While being marketed as “Minimal Techno” by the payola industry (You better hope to the Gods of Techno that Jeff Mills doesn’t hear this), the track more closely aligns to cheesy tech-trance that could be produced with a starter sample pack on Fruity Loops around the time the Vengaboys were coming.  Boilerplate EDM snare drums, lead into some vocals that have nothing to do with the title, the video, or much of anything. I’m tempted to believe the only reason they’re structured the way they are is because “North/West/East/Southside” rhymes with Genocide. They feature a vocalist for this, Lockdown, but at this point, Lockdown could very well be the name of the vocoder they used.  The vox push into late 90’s faux industrial kicks and one of the more disappointing drops I’ve heard in the last decade.

To be clear, the song is structurally coherent, the mixdowns are fine, and if it was created by a kid on the Southside of Chicago with some ripped software and a blown laptop in 1999, I’d have loved it when I heard it…in 1999. Instead, we have two artists who have massive amounts of resources and access to a shocking amount of authentic talent & collaborators, squeezing one out in an hour. But, none of this is the worst part. Not even the baby angels having a knife fight is the worst part. The worst part is something that, for the life of me, I simply cannot figure out. Why the fuck did they call this track PLUR Genocide?

A Tweet by @ARPdid911 talking about DJ Carnage & Steve Aoki

Steve Aoki is Japanese and DJ Carnage is Guatemalan. Both of these countries have suffered massively, from internally & externally spawned genocide that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the 20th Century alone. What purpose would there be to naming the track this, especially when you’re discussing PLUR, the aesthetic of the Rave era, the thing DJs like Carnage, Aoki, Swedish Fish Mafia, and GuettaFace killed? There’s something entirely infuriating about a track that could’ve been built by an algorithm fed late 90’s dance music, while actively denigrating the era. Many DJs have rode a wave of fame on the back of parties that would not have existed without communities of poor, queer, black & Latinx artists, which included refugees. Early rave culture on both sides of the Atlantic was a space for the excluded, rejected, and misunderstood. EDM gentrified the shit out of a lot of these spaces, to the point where the original community members were no longer welcome. Over time, “rave culture” gave way to retail festivals, with the safe space giving way to commercialized & exploited spaces.

Then, the culture is packaged and sold back to us at a profit. This track is the Pei Wei version of authentic music that moved dance floors almost 30 years ago now. Which is idiotic when you stop to think about it. This track will get a bunch more traction than a lot of the innovative stuff going on out there. They could’ve named it “Angel Baby Knife Fight” and I wouldn’t have cared. But instead, they called it PLUR Genocide. Even McDonalds has the decency to not call the McRib “Pork Slavery.”

Why call the track this? Why even release this? The only possible explanation I can come up with is that this is the dance music equivalent of trolling. This is a track that a ton of people are going to rail against (myself included), which will drive clicks/streams. This is EDM in the era of the Facebook algorithm. People will have a ton of hot takes in the coming days about it, but it doesn’t matter because they’re still getting paid for it. And while it’s a sound business strategy, I’m just kind of sad that’s where the industry has gotten to. This is what happens when labels decide to start “triggering the libs,” as it were. Trump tweets set the narrative and take the spotlight off people doing real work in our country. This does the same, but on Spotify and YouTube.

A while ago Aoki did this interview where he said that DJs should step aside and let women lead. As Dim Mak doesn’t have any solo producers/DJs on their roster, and Aoki’s work with Carnage sounds like fucking a war crime, maybe he should step aside, book some woke First Nation, Mayan, Japanese, and Guatemalan women & queer artists, let them benefit from his platform, and have himself a think.

10 Questions With Terry Gotham: The Baltimore Rock Opera Society

 

The Baltimore Rock Opera Society –
Interview with Terry Gotham

(If you are proximal to the Baltimore area, I implore you, I beseech you, I beg of you to check out Lunastus. The Baltimore Rock Opera Society has been killing it for literally a decade now, and I was finally able to catch Lunastus, their latest mind-fuck jamboree of awesome, built with their bare hands (and lobster claws). I was so happy to talk to Shannon Hadley, Managing Director of the infamous Baltimore Rock Opera Society and wrangler of what must be a particularly feisty glaring of cats on acid (no shit, that’s what a group of cats is called) They make visionary and expansive rock-drenched stories, pushing the limits of what grass-roots, community and progressive art can be. I’ve been a fan for so long, so please enjoy this conversation, see the show, light them up on social media, and help them get somewhere dope to keep doing dope shit.)

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DJ Suede, Grey, Gospel & Veganism: How To Get People Talking

Grey - Vegan Thanksgiving (Editorial by Terry Gotham)

For everyone still thinking the Mannequin Challenge was the new hot thing, I’ve got an amazing story to tell you about the U NAME IT phenomenon that’s been the highlight of my November by far. If you don’t listen to Hip Hop you might have missed this one, so sit back, relax, and learn how two artists took the raw grist of the internet and turned it into magic, one after the other.

Way back in 2010, a gospel singer named Shirley Caesar uploaded a performance of her singing a gospel tune named Hold My Mule. The epic performance, clocking in well over nine minutes, describes a tale of an honest priest tilling his fields and praising the Lord. When a bunch of idolater & materialist Reverends come from the city in their fancy cars, telling him that he’ll be thrown out of the Church they all preach at for his meager and overenthusiastic ways, Shirley utters these words (~5:55 for those interested), that will forever go down in meme history:

“I got beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes, lamb, rams, hogs, dogs, chicken, turkeys, rabbits — you name it!”

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Elohim & EDEN Prove The Future Of Electronic Production is Live!

We arrived at Webster Hall hours earlier than I’d ever been there on a Friday night. Elohim & EDEN had the 8-10pm time slot on the main floor, so I thought I’d be settling into an intimate show for the select few people in NYC that had heard of my underground favorites. I couldn’t have been more wrong, Gotham was out in force. The dance floor was full at 8pm. All you party producers struggling to get butts on the floor at 10:30pm, know that they pulled almost full capacity at 8:02. If you were in the crowd, you know how palpable the excitement was.

Elohim was on stage, striking the perfect balance between mysterious, alluring, distant, and smoldering. She was also doing everything her fucking self while she struck said balance. I’m not sure how to describe this, but when you see exceptional indietronica being performed, you expect there is more than one person making the stuff live. Elohim thinks that’s adorable. She did vocals, synth, chord, percussion, lighting and visual media…herself. And it was good. Not like “oh wow, jack of all trades” good. Good like “Why isn’t she working in a giant record studio out in LA?” Her effortless moody, synth future pop chill rolled around the main room at Webster Hall, bringing teen conversations to a halt and forcing all eyes (and ears) on her. The cover work, the transitions, the curated visual art that accompanied her songs, all orchestrated hauntingly well. In all honesty, I’ve never been transfixed or enraptured by a live performer before. DJs don’t do it that way for me, and I never got to see Michael Jackson perform live. I’ve been going to live music for 18 years, and she’s the first.

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Monday Music: AlunaGeorge, Shlohmo, Brig, Mall Grab, Hight

truck-secured

This week, like the truck hauling the truck, I’m bringing you a quintet of sleeper hits. Some from artists you know, some from those you’ve never heard of, all quality. Let’s get this show on the road!

AlunaGeorge is one of those eternal talents that you’re glad you’re alive to experience. The swaggering, effective bass saunters along, making room for the soaring vocals that take center stage early on. The tune lurches into some Future R&B that is liberal with notes of hip hop, big beat swing, and some vintage jazz that I’m really digging. This tune speaks for itself as it walks across the dance floor. Enjoy it!
I’m so pleased to be able to bring this to your ears. An unreleased Shlohmo track from 2010 has been uploaded by the maestro himself, and it is a masterpiece. It’s stunning in its dreary beauty and I’m so happy it’s been released. The sloping, syncopated indie bass is something only Shlohmo could make and frankly, your day will be better for it. It’s a B-side to Bad Vibes, an old hit of his, and I can’t wait to know what he called it.
I don’t know where Brig came from, but they’re perky as fuck. Since many corners of the music internet are up to their necks in synthwave, Brig brings a fresh push forward from those decidedly 80’s roots. Extreme is dancey, scintillating bubblegum electro pop, with a little Outrun and space lasers feel. The synth  twangs and slaps are effective, while being fun as hell. Not the most cerebral tune, but honestly, it’ll wake you up better than that oppressively bubbly co-worker. Someone called this Pirate Bass, and I’m kind of ok with that.
Switching gears entirely, Mall Grab slaps. That’s it, in a nutshell really. This is one of those white label records both old school & noob DJs will like. Honestly, if you’re spinning House, you need this track. The classic rhythms roll over the impressive, potent House bass beat so well I had to check to see if I had grown an afro. This is likely to turn a lot of heads on the dance floor, no matter how many people are dancing. It’s a supremely effective mid-set tune, with a bunch of in/out mixing points to ensure you showcase your favorite part of the song. I’m a huge fan, and it takes a lot for me to throw out something so simple on this here blog. Get down to it.
Yo, Hight, is tight. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, this sunny, almost-too-late single by Hight is my favorite of their first releases. The dance pop vibe is nothing revolutionary, but it has fun with itself, and does quite well at what it sets out to do. The odd tonal shifts in the chord progressions kind of make it feel like I’m walking along Venice Beach on cough syrup or something. And oddly, that’s not a bad thing. Vocals piercing through as I push forward…sounds like not the worst day. Enjoy the tune and big ups to VMan for the looks on this.

Monday Music: Clinton Sparks, Monoverse, Overjoy, Robotaki, Kristen Zwicker & James Blake!

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Time for your next dose of tunes! I’m all over the place this week, lots of different stuff to get into. Plus, I had to break my 5 tracks a week rule to make sure to include one off of my dear friend Kristen Zwicker’s new EP. Also known as Dopeshoes, she does some great work in Brooklyn, so you’re getting that plus the other 5 tunes I got into over the last week.

Clinton Sparks did some great work on this song and lyric video. For anyone not in the loop, tunes are frequently given lyric videos before the real music video is released, and they are usually phoned in. Picking up Joey Bandz and pushing the pop indie vibes, we can see Clinton Sparks is really taking a swipe at that LA universe. Honestly, with offerings like this, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be there. This is weapons grade easy listening indie pop that I’d much rather hear on the radio than a lot of other artists. The lyric work stays intelligent, the guitar and synth work halfway through the tune separate it from the middle of the pack where it would be forgotten. Keep going Clinton, they’ll give you your Chainsmokers moment soon.
Monoverse releasing an original on Future Sounds of Egypt? Yes please! Quintessential trance from the NYC native, well executed and impeccably mixed. Monoverse is one of those low-key heroes of the NYC dance music scene that I am really hoping finds all the success he deserves. His mixes are second to none, he graciously opens for the best Trance acts in the world, and produces compelling originals. The break at 2:32 is spectacular and should already be popping up on Trance podcasts all over the world. Play it over something other than Bluetooth.
Overjoy came out of nowhere and shook me. Don’t let the hipster-y opening throw you. Get to 1:45 however you can and enjoy the muddy bass & vocals. This is a deep, deep track that has a crazy video to match. Float along to the groovy indie bass work, drift off and relax. Great work by the trio from LA.
Keeping the “dope video” theme going, Robotaki knocked this track out of the park. I found it in a Gifs With Sound YouTube video, then proceeded to listen to Robotaki for the rest of the day. The fusion between J-pop and potent electro works perfectly, and I want more of it. Like, can we get Robotaki to do some Babymetal remixes with Black Tiger Sex Machine or something?
Oh yea, and James Blake did a new thing. Like, I’m not even sure why you’re reading these words instead of hitting play and letting the 2:47 wash over you. It gets somewhat intense in his smouldering, poetic way, but still shimmers throughout. It’s raw, gets intense and almost dark. Amazing, as always Mr. Blake.

To cool down from some of that heaviness, Drift by Kristen Zwicker is just the thing you need. It’s got a Buddha Bar meets Brooklyn feel to it, which, is both inspired and meditative. Throw this on during the morning after, when you get home, or while you’re trying to not choke someone on the train. Use good headphones that have bass. It might save their lives.