“Jump in the deep end with us” – Interview with Archie Pelago
It can go wrong. It can go really right. It can go crazy.
This is the mantra of live performance trio Archie Pelago, who in just 3 years together, have launched from their Brooklyn-based studio onto the global EDM scene with their playful fusion of electronic rhythms, jazzy improvisation and classical instrumentation.
Formed in late 2010, the trio of Hirshi (DJ/trumpet), Cosmo D (Cello/Ableton) and Kroba (Sax/Ableton) combine DJ-style performance with live processing of their organic instruments to create tracks with deeply emotive patterns and textures.
Galerie Project had the pleasure to speak with the trio about their collaborative process, playing live vs. programmed, their view on the New York EDM scene, which half of Mr. Saturday they like more, and their artistic plans for the not-so-distant future.
GP: Have you noticed an increase in visibility since you were featured on that RA Real Scenes: New York video?
Dan: When it hit, there was definitely a wide array of feedback we were getting both directly to our inbox and online. We’ve always had a good amount of people internationally that have been into our stuff since Mary Anne Hobbs had our stuff on her mix last May, but Resident Advisor definitely bumped us up. It’s a way people for people who might not have had a chance to see us play live nationally/internationally to check out what we can do in a 90-minute session.
GP: Part of Galerie Project’s mission is to support local artists. As Brooklyn natives, what are your thoughts about the current the state of New York’s electronic music scene?
Greg: There’s definitely is a bed of activity in that area where Output has opened. The Verboten club will be opening. People are gravitating towards these new clubs with upper echelon sound systems….. but not everyone. There’s a higher price point for these clubs, but there’s still stuff happening at more DIY spaces.
“People are gravitating towards these new clubs with upper echelon sound systems….. but not everyone.”
Dan: It’s hard to pin down. There are always people kind of emerging, coming through, and coming on our radar. We feel like there’s certainly plenty of places to see electronic music and dance music. It will be interesting to see how the sort of bigger, high profile clubs that have opened, at least in Brooklyn, with the very expensive sound systems, how that affects things. It’s a little early to tell.
Zach: There’s something for everyone here no matter what kind of music you’re into, what kind of scene you’re with. Electronic music is well-received by all Brooklyn partygoers.
GP: Have you guys been to Output yet?
Dan: Yeah, Zach and I have both been at separate times. I’ve been a couple times. It’s truly impressive. The sound system sounds great. It felt good in there. They book world-class DJs I’ve wanted to see. But I’m pretty picky for the lineups I’d pay 20 bucks for.
“It’s pretty cool how to have a place where you don’t need to dress up or look a certain way.”
Zach: I agree. They have it so there are certain nights of the week you can go and it’s a crowd for the heads or a crowd that’s just going out to dance. It’s pretty cool how to have a place where you don’t need to dress up or look a certain way. You can see any top international DJ that you want to see on a Funktion-One sound system. After being around for several years and seeing a lot of struggle with sound at parties, it’s really nice that there’s a place for it now.
GP: With established clubs like Output opening, where do you see the New York scene moving in the near future. Where do you see Archie Pelago fitting in?
Greg: I don’t have a crystal ball. I couldn’t really predict how the scene is going to evolve. In terms of Archie, I don’t see us as New York-centric as we are right now. I feel like the more we play out, the more we play beyond New York. I’d like to see us transcending our local geography and be more a part of the global scene.
Zach: In addition to that, definitely the exploration of different audience types. I feel like we play more bass-driven environments like we’re doing for Galerie Project. We’re going to be rocking a 3 – 6 pm afternoon set, which we love doing. We love afternoon sets. And different venues too. Concert Halls. More traditional rock venues. I think our music can appeal to intimate or festival settings.
“I don’t want to turn my back on the city that made us who we are”
Greg: I don’t want to turn my back on the city that made us who we are. However, I feel like growth requires a certain amount of getting beyond our horizons geographically. This involves how we present ourselves live, being open to doing unusual settings, interesting configurations, playing afternoon sets, really long sets, playing in cool settings, outside, in nature, I don’t know..the sky’s the limit in terms of how we want to get ourselves physically out there.
GP: Speaking of playing in interesting settings, you guys are billed to play Decibel Festival at the end of September. There are some pretty heavy hitters on that lineup. Any favorites in mind?
Greg: That’s a good question. I’m excited to share a stage with Kink. At Bass Mutations two years ago, he put on an awesome set. I’m really interested in live drum machine work and I really like his productions.
Zach: It’s more about seeing a lot of these people in a different setting. I feel like New York is such a great haven for music that most of those artists have passed through here, but I’d be interested in seeing people in a completely different setting and the culture of Seattle. I’ve never been there before so I’m pretty excited.
GP: What kind of set should we expect from you guys, or for those who make it out to Seattle for Decibel?
Dan: We’re going to have a shorter set time. Obviously we’re not dialing into the 3-hour terrain where we kind of let it flow and there is no telling what we’re going to do. We step up to the plate on a live gig. We don’t plan anything. I’m pretty much choosing tracks and creating beats. We just go. We can do anything really. I think it will be a bit more honed in. We’re opening up the night so I’m going to respect that as a DJ myself. We got to be tasteful in terms of how we’re opening it up— can’t hit it too hard. We’re not going to duke it out. We’re not going to drop some jungle on it. Maybe a little flavor of that. We’ll warm up the crowd nicely.
“We step up to the plate on a live gig. We don’t plan anything. I’m pretty much choosing tracks and creating beats. We just go.”
Greg: We fit the time of day. I think the crowd can in the 3-hour mark expect some curve balls, some fluctuations of tempo, and dips in tempo. Whether it’s a smooth ride or whether it’s a ride that starts real slow or real fast…I don’t know we’ll see. Whether the Cello comes in right there, maybe it will creep in, a very slow 15-minute crescendo.
Dan: I think a lot of has to do with the energy of the crowd. We really try to read what the crowd seems to be feeling in the moment and we try to respond to that. We hold the crowd in high-esteem. We trust them enough so that when we give them a curve ball they will go with it because they trust us. It’s a mutual thing.
GP: We really enjoyed your release on Mister Saturday Night records. What’s your relationship like with Eamon and Justin?
Zach: We heard they were a fan of our stuff. I’d never been to a Mister Saturday Night party before then. I met Justin for the first time there.
Dan: It was a really great party. We met up with them. and they were really in tune with some of the tracks we showed them. We put out the record and we played the Mister Saturday and Mister Sunday parties. It was great! We got everyone dancing.
Greg: There is mutual respect there. I would say that our circles are concentric. I don’t think they overlap totally. We’re going in our own direction. They have their own label. But we run in concentric circles. When we do see each other we are like “Hey, how’s it going? whats up!”
GP: Who’s your favorite? Justin or Eamon?
Zach: When I want to hear that disco stuff, Justin is always coming through for it. But when I want the night to get deeper, I look to Eamon. I really like what Eamon plays in the beginning. Sometimes he’ll put on records before they start spinning at the parties. He’ll put on stuff from Donny Hathaway live at Bitter End to some amazing sitar stuff. It’s really cool.
Greg: They’re definitely a chocolate and peanut butter thing. I like how Justin sometimes sings along to his stuff. He has a really good voice. That’s cool. He’s not getting on the mic like “Hey I’m Justin, I’m gonna rock the mic.” He could if he wanted to. That’s the kind of fun thing that sometimes needs to happen.
Dan: They make a really good team. They are very respectful and they work really hard at that party. It’s really impressive.
GP: Speaking of teams, Galerie Project’s goal [among others] is to showcase great live artist collaborations. Archie is definitely one of the best teams, in terms of electronic musicians, who are executing this right now. Can you describe your collaborative process?
Greg: It’s definitely a flat-management system. The way I see it, we’re all very passionate about what we do. We all have strong opinions and it’s not always in lock step, but sort of compatible and complimentary in style, as well as approaches and viewpoints. There are things that we each bring to the table that you see a little bit of in the collective. There is no de facto person. There are certain things that I think each of us have more of affinity to in the day-to-day affairs of the band. Creatively speaking, it’s all about each of us bringing all of our individual ideas to the table and then sort of feeling like they are always going to be interesting, and us collectively being…”Yeah, how do we make all of that kind of fit together?” Create something bigger than the sum. I think you can compare it to any strong team — sports team, business team, etc.
“It was as simple as Zach stepping in the room, joining Greg and I for the first time and ripping a solo. From then on out, it was just obvious”
Dan: I think that part of the reasons why it’s so strong are the events leading up to us forming Archie. There is a extreme connection between Greg and I as well as independently me and Zach…having met in two different situations and both drawn to the fact that I was DJing some interesting music and I was drawn to the fact that they were talented instrumentalists. It all came together and just worked. It was as simple as Zach stepping in the room, joining Greg and I for the first time, and ripping a solo. From then on out, it was just obvious.
Zach: Our compositional process always varies. We all bring different stuff to the table. We all individually come to a session with our own composition. Sometimes we’ll work on tracks on our own, sometimes we’ll take live sessions that we either have worked on as duos or solo, and work with it. So I think we always keep the composition process interesting. It never really feels dull. I also think it’s real interesting what you said about Jazz, because we all have played jazz before. We all know what it feels to play in a combo. Greg has toured Europe with some really heavy guys, old guys, new guys, just some talented musicians. I studied jazz in college and loved playing in groups. I never wanted to play a solo thing or be a band leader. I wanted to be in the band. I was in bands when I was in middle school and high school. I just wanted to find a band that was into electronic music as much as I was. But, also coming from an improvisational background.
“It can go wrong. It can go really right. It can go crazy. That’s only when you open yourself up to a live performance.”
Greg: My background as a cello player before I got into jazz was playing string quartet. Those are like defacto, this is your role, this is your function. It’s so intertwined with the other three parts and your totally bringing in your own thing. But it needs the other parts and the other parts needs it. Later when I got into Jazz, I wanted to apply the sense of a tightly interwoven group. Where it is equally interesting and complementary to the other parts, and do it in the sort of dance music late-night environment I found myself in.
Dan: In terms of my background, I have a dual thing going on. I studied trumpet throughout my childhood playing orchestras & jazz band. When I went to college, I didn’t want to focus on the performance aspect. I studied music in a more broader sense, got involved in radio and started spinning. Coming from an ensemble background but being a DJ, I was actually able to mesh really easily when performing live as a DJ with other musicians, which some DJs are like wow thats very hard. For me, it’s interacting as I would with a drummer or any member of an ensemble. It’s very fluid.
GP: You guys play live. We’ve noticed an ever-growing trend of musicians hiding behind automated technologies. What are your thoughts on playing live vs. more programmed sets?
Greg: We show how we feel by doing it our way. Ideally, we want to show people that it can be done and it’s more interesting and more rewarding for both us and the audience when you’re live with the instrument bringing it. I think there is a virtue to that. I think there’s a performance connection that is made there. That’s the example that we want to set.
Zach: I enjoy performance. I enjoy seeing DJs playing records or beat-matching. I enjoy seeing classical symphonies performed live. I enjoy seeing jazz trios playing live.
“I enjoy watching people sweat on stage. It’s a cool thing for me. I like seeing the discomfort. I like seeing them dig themselves out of sticky situations.”
Greg: It can go wrong, it can go really right. It can go crazy. That’s only when you open yourself up to a live performance. That is what we like to do and that is what we like to see. In terms of people who do automated stuff — power to them.
Dan: It’s a platform, its a different platform. It’s easy, but I’m not going to diss it. It’s a legitimate way to perform and the best way for some people. But we crave the discomfort zone that we can put each other in. We take turns and challenge each other. It’s really about challenging. And lately, a more automated Ableton DJ set might not be exactly the most challenging thing to listen to if it’s pre-prepared or layed out in front of the performer.
“We like being on the end of the spectrum.”
Zach: We want to continue that feeling we get when playing in live bands or live orchestras, jazz combos, string quartets. I’ve seen Robert Hood use two CDJs and two turntables; he worked it for three hours. I enjoy watching people sweat on stage. It’s a cool thing for me. I like seeing the discomfort. I like seeing them dig themselves out of sticky situations.
Greg: It’s probably useful to note that it isn’t just live or automated. I think there’s a certain spectrum of people who have laptops that are pushing buttons. A guy with an iPad just pushing play and standing back, vs somebody who’s rocking turntables in a very controlled way, vs us where every note is played. It’s a spectrum. We like being on the end of the spectrum.
GP: As both music lovers and performers, how would you describe the ultimate event experience?
Zach: I like to go to shows that are characterized by the promoter’s individual personality rather than the event. I like seeing how they transform a venue. Going to Bunker when it was at Public Assembly or Turrbotax at the Cove were definitely some of the most amazing experiences of my life. In general, I try to go to the darker places. The ones that are really focused on the music, not on the lights or environment.
Dan: For me, one venue I’d love to play is Red Rocks in Colorado overlooking those mountains. That’s definitely a bucket list thing for me.
Greg: I’d love to play at the top of a Tokyo skyscraper, killer view, and do a 3-hour set. I want a 6-hour a set with some Sake & a hot towel, and just do it. For me, it’s sort of a dream gig.
GP: What can we expect to see from Archie in the next year, in 2014.
Greg: A lot more releases. We released our self release vinyl after we came out with Mister Saturday. We had our Well Rounded single earlier this year. You will probably see a full length record in 2014.
Dan: We’re probably going back to South by Southwest, obviously Decibel. Just a continuation of what we’ve been doing and on a larger scale in terms of where we do it & how we do it. I think larger profile shows. A natural expansion.
“It’s refinement over time. It’s refining and getting deeper.”
Greg: Push is a game changer for us in terms of Dan moving beyond the DJ role and embracing a live beat programming role that we all felt he was capable of doing, Push kind of landed in our lap….and we’re running with it.
Greg: That’s an amazing way we’ve been able to evolve our live sound and our produced sound. I think you’re just going to see an evolution of how we play and how we interact. It’s refinement over time. It’s refining and getting deeper.
GP: Very cool. Looking forward to see you live on 9/21.
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