CONVERGING PATHS AT DFA
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“It’s really important to write what you know and express yourself as honestly as you can in your music,” said Ahmed Gallab, the multi-instrumentalist producer who performs under the moniker Sinkane, and who will be coheadlining alongside Photay, birth name Evan Shornstein, at Dance From Above this Thursday.
The two artists currently sit at different stages in their respective fields and genres, and really the only thing tying them together aside from original musical compositions is the fact that they are both represented by the same agency, Windish. But the two artists share a lot more than that, even if it’s derived from a parallel comparison of their trajectories.
For Shornstien, who just graduated from Purchase College, a state university just outside of Manhattan not more than two hours from his hometown of Woodstock, the trajectory has been quick and sudden since receiving his degree. Less than one week following his graduation, he was in Austin, Texas playing a show, and he will head to North Carolina this week to show off his talents.
Gallab, on the other side of things, just returned home to Brooklyn from a trip to Nigeria where he said he stumbled across a lot of great music, was able to meet with William Onyeabor, a funk musician from Nigeria, and also collected some records he would have otherwise struggled to obtain.
Where the two don’t meet, though, or perhaps find an inverse correlation of growth, is how Gallab is traveling back in time to explore the roots of sounds, whereas Shornstein is looking forward – advancing his collection of electronic equipment to explore the ethereal auditory realms of what can be done on synths and organs.
“The Nigerian stuff is interesting,” Gallab said. “You can hear the influence in James Brown and Parliament Funkadelic, but they flip it. It’s very distinct.”
Gallab’s Sinkane outfit explores a netherworld of jazz that doesn’t often get the attention it deserves, perhaps because it’s not of the archetypical sound you’ll hear on jazz radio, but more progressive, oft described as free jazz. Because jazz has roots spreading into so many genres like funk, dance, disco, and rock, breaking the mold of what jazz is and could be seems to be where Sinkane finds both success and satisfaction.
The journey for Gallab has been interesting, but it’s part of what makes the next record.
“In the beginning, everything was abstract – Sinkane was not as developed – it was a lot more romantic mystery,” he said. Tracking the artist from the first album to the latest, it’s easy to see that his initial thoughts on music in regard to expressing yourself honestly must remain constant for both the listener’s and producer’s satisfaction. The latest effort from Sinkane, Mean Love, was released late in 2014, and was described by Gallab as something that speaks about who he is.
Shornstein echoes this, but takes a different approach. Prior to his Photay project, he’s played drums in various bands since he was a freshman in high school, although the electronic element was present early on. Even then he was experimenting with turntablism and scratching. Those early interests have led him to where he is today, which grew from mash-up DJing (think early Z-Trip style) to really focusing on the live-production utilizing tools like Ableton Live and his most recent purchase, a Korg MS-20 mini analog monophonic synthesizer.
“At a funny age I was introduced to Aphex Twin and other early IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) experimental electronic music,” he said. “That was the stuff I was listening to a lot and I didn’t have any idea how they made it at the time.”
But the live performing on drums with a punk band and the fascination with electronic music wouldn’t merge until years later when Shornstein would come to realize that it was the variable of playing before an audience that he loved. However, he ran into some issues when applying to schools because he had a distinct idea of what direction he wanted to take his music career.
“At first, the professors were close-minded to electronic music,” he said in regard to his early years at Purchase. “People started recognizing what I was doing – a Polish professor – he was the driving force of me being able to work on that aspect in an academic setting.”
Shornstein’s education efforts were more focused on the music theory side, although his degree opened him up to musical compositions and studio production, which definitely comes in handy for the solo producer.
Gallab, on the other hand, has worked tirelessly as a musician with all sorts of bands through his label, Death From Above, including Hot Chip, LCD Soundsystem, and Yeasayer, to name a few. This has allowed him, and Sinkane, for that matter, to really develop itself into a unique entity of music, one that steers itself toward personal expression and is less reliant on modern influences found to be so common in pop culture.
And where Shornstein found acts like Squarepusher and the Prodigy early on, Gallab said that he really likes a lot of country music, which is about as close to IDM as Nigeria is to Brooklyn.
“I’m a big Grateful Dead fan, and I found that country music was real big in Nigeria in the 60s and 70s,” Gallab admitted. While on his trip, which lasted right around seven or eight days, depending on the jetlag, Gallab played with musicians around the country, scoured record shops for local music, the likes of which will most certainly influence the next Sinkane album given his journey so far, and rediscovered parts of his own heritage through sounds.
“While I was there I tried to look for music, and those original LPs go for around $500,” he said. He also spoke about the records he brought back, which feature the juju sounds native to Nigeria. As you can hear in his music, percussion plays a significant role, which lends itself to the influences of juju and the indigenous music he sought. Gallab is not originally from Nigeria, but spent some of his childhood in Sudan, which is separated by Nigeria to the east through the country Chad.
These two artists who come from backgrounds unaffiliated have somehow found themselves on a bill for Dance From Above, an event that is quickly becoming the source for music that would otherwise go unnoticed in this region. Whereas Sinkane will bring the jazz elements with softer percussive melodies and soaring vocals, Photay will infuse his near-ambient synth heavy tracks into the night, which will ultimately culminate into a very educating night of dance music.
“It’s a lot of fun going down there (the south),” Gallab said, “the people are nicer and the food is better.” !
Sinkane and Photay play Dance From Above on Thursday night starting at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $10. The show is at The Crown Room in the Carolina Theatre.