“We’re in the middle of a revolution, don’t you see it?”
One of my friends always gets a little too dramatic and loud about his passion for music after his third gin and tonic. But truth be told, his antics are not only entertaining, but usually quite on point. I am particularly fond of his sentiment when I too have had my fair share of cocktails, so I willingly take another sip at my double skinny straw and allow him to continue.
“The question is, can 2013 follow up the explosion that happened at the end of 2012? We got ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City,’ ‘Trilogy,’ and ‘Latch’ all in a one-month span.”
“What the fuck are you talking about, man?” I retaliate as I accidentally spring load and launch my double straw across the dive bar table. “You’re listing off random releases from six months ago across the spread of three genres like they have something to do with each other. Great music? No doubt. But the presence of three albums by some random up-and-comers doesn’t say anything about the state of music as a whole. It was just a good run and things are bound to cool off again. In fact, they have already.”
“I had a feeling you might say that.” My friend stumbles over the words as he drunkenly stabs his index and middle finger at my chest. “Allow me to prove my point?”
“Of course,” I say, waving my hand between us as if to draw his next argument directly from him.
Instead of words, he stands and, as some sort of British folk hero, gulps down the entirety of his fresh drink. He slams the sturdy glass on the table and stares me in the eyes with a strong look of purpose and mission.
"Follow me," he orders.
I roll my eyes.
"Sit your drunk ass back down and let me finish my drink," I reply, trying to cut off his alcohol-inspired sense of entitlement. This is a friendship and there is no hierarchy worth establishing that wastes good booze in the process.
Five minutes later, we head upstairs and out of the sticky, musty establishment. It's long dark now, and though the springtime day we enjoyed hosted warmth and sunshine, the early April air drops to wintery levels during the night. Practiced and familiar with this bar, we unfold and re-adorn our jackets and scarves on our way up the concrete staircase, creating a racket of metallic echoes as our shoes clap the metal slats added to the stairs for wetter weather.
My friend clearly has an agenda, and as such, I let down my usual guard of direction and orientation to let him guide our route. His fondness for alleyways adjacent to logical thoroughfares have me instantly doubting his leadership capabilities, but I want to see how he's going to use this journey to prove his theory of music revolution.
"Have you noticed how through all of the change that's happened recently - hip-hop returning to a more lyrical place, R&B gaining prominence and becoming more relatable, and electronic shedding its layers of absurdity and instead stacking on pounds of instrumentation and respectable musicality, that all three genres have actually moved closer together?"
Damn. The G&T's have my man feeling some kind of way. I've got to see where this is going.
"Don't you think that this is the beginning of something more than just some trend or coincidence?"
"Shit, I don't know, man," I say truthfully, struggling to add to his drunken poetry.
We meander down more alleys, making turns that seem random to me but meditated and purposeful for my friend. Usually, I'd be questioning the safety of the situation, but the further we've walked, the more gin my mind has absorbed, leading me into a place of deep thought focused solely on the conversation my friend has unleashed.
"So, what if you're right?" I ask. "What does the future of music really look like if all these things are unfolding like you say they are?"
"That's what I'm going to show you," he replies mysteriously.
Again, I roll my eyes. At this point, not even the gin can keep the air out of my jacket. I'm freezing and running low on patience.
"Music trends are cyclical, you idiot," I say simply for the sake of argument. But my friend doesn't bite on the negativity.
"In some regards, you're right," he says, beginning to undress my point. "But there are moments in music - occurrences that forever shift the its future - making it impossible for circularity to truly exist. And tonight will be one of those moments."
April 12, 2013. I think about today's date and the lack of importance it carries with it, doubting that it will ever amount to anything much more than April 12.
Reading my mind, my friend says, "April 13 is the date people will remember. We just happen to be getting a sneak peek."
Walking down the current of countless alleyways, my friend suddenly takes a few steps ahead of me, angles left, and approaches a black, metal door. He knocks and looks back at me.
"Are you ready?"
My sense of drunken contemplation and trust in my friend's knowledge for his destination fail me. I have never been one for uncomfortable situations, and this one seems particularly extreme. But the door opens and an onslaught of flashing lights escape it.
A new sense of comfortability takes over - one not influenced by assurance in our situation, but instead by memory. Many a drunken night entering back alley doors have resulted in memorable experiences that I wouldn’t trade. And more often than not, this exact friend has played the role of the much-thanked devil on my right shoulder when retracing our escapades the next morning.
The club's strange interior is more corridor and less open floor plan than I was expecting. What I was expecting, through our conversations deeply-rooted in the current music scene, was a concert. But this is something else entirely.
As we walk around, I notice that several commonalities seem to be shared amongst all of the club’s patrons. No one is congregating together, and instead everyone is listlessly meandering. The people, neither too drunk or too high, are being driven by another force.
The walls of the labyrinth are dressed in aesthetic works of confusingly beautiful modern art, drawing in passersby one by one. The passersby, I notice, are all wearing a matching pair of radio headphones with large antennae communicating to a central source.
A silent disco. I’ve heard of these but never been to one.
“Let’s go get a pair,” my friend says to me.
At the end of one of the hallways is a booth hosting a stack of the headphones, and we begin making our way.
“What is everyone listening to?” I ask.
“Apparently the guys putting this event together swiped Jai Paul’s laptop and are planning on releasing his unfinished album to BandCamp tomorrow. Tonight is the private listening party before it all goes down. A friend of a friend heard of it and that’s how we ended up here.”
Jai Paul, the mysterious and quiet figure who had only ever released two tracks, was a constant subject of our conversation and the whole world seemed to be holding their collective breath in waiting for his debut project. But still, something about this all seemed so wrong. So much of Jai Paul’s intrigue was his demeanor and tendency to stay out of the limelight. If this was really his unfinished project. It felt like we were breaking some sort of code that made art special in the first place. But really, what could we do other than listen to it?
I grabbed my pair of headphones, pressed the power button on the side to connect them to the greater server, and slid them over my ears. The project was already mid-play, undoubtedly on a loop. I started venturing around, taking in the strange, uncomfortable art adorning every wall while my ears took in the bold, raw, unfinished art pumping its way through my privatized speakers.
Raw and uncut as it is, there is something so innovative and modern about the sound. It is not an element immediately definable by any existing label of genrefication, but instead exists as a collection of sounds walking the line between R&B, electronic, and hip-hop.
I caught my friend looking at me smugly from the other side of the hallway, knowing full well that he had made his point. If the future of music sounded like anything, it was this stolen project that we find ourselves listening to in a strange back alley warehouse full of art.
What a tragedy,