Festivals are the perfect destination for those whose musical tastes truly can be summed up in one word: “everything.” Preferences abound and favorite genres emerge as your musical palate expands, but Red Bull Musical Academy puts your expectations for words like “electronic,” “DJ,” and “experimental” to the test: It expects you to show up, be open, dance like a maniac, and leave with a list of new favorite musical discoveries, and it won’t leave town until it has completed its mission.
A traveling festival and exhibition, Red Bull Music Academy has hit every hemisphere, and the arsenal of talent it curates collects more stamps on their passports than the show itself. Taking place in New York and Tokyo in 2014, Red Bull Music Academy’s programming reflects an emphasis on experimentation and challenges you to forget what you think you know about hip-hop, jazz, hardcore, drum and bass, EDM, and everything in between. Sometimes, a weeknight in a major city will yield a fantastic set in an exciting venue you’ve never visited before, an inspiring lecture from an artist you respect, a tribute performance by a bunch of musicians you’d never otherwise see play together, or a fruitful excursion to your favorite independent record store. This time around, Red Bull Music Academy delivers all of these things and more in an impeccably put together itinerary of musical invigoration throughout the city over the entire month of May. It can be a lot to take in, so we’ve put together a list of unmissable events in case you have to pick and choose between brilliant beats.
Atomic Bomb! The Musicof William Onyeabor
Howard Gilman Opera House, BAM
What do you get when you throw a Talking Head, the voice of Hot Chip, members of Blood Orange and LCD Soundsystem, and the inspiring work of a mysterious synthesizer impresario into a mix? Nothing short of a night full of brand-new collaborations. David Byrne, Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Pat Mahoney (LCD Soundsystem), Luke Jenner (The Rapture), Devonté Hynes (Blood Orange), and more convene at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House to celebrate the work of William Onyeabor, a Nigerian funk musician who mesmerized fans with his synthed-out explorations before essentially dropping off the map. A star-studded introduction to Onyeabor’s music for the uninitiated, and a worthy celebration of his genius for those still in search of the musical mastermind that got away.
Brooklyn Flea Record Fair
No multifaceted musical affair is complete without a vinyl-diving mission, and the Brooklyn Flea Record Fair seeks to appeal to crate-diggers and tune-scavengers beyond the borough. With Williamsburg’s Smorgasburg acting as Record Fair HQ, shoppers can sift through LPs from revered labels like Domino, Rough Trade, Warp, and DFA while listening to performances from Sandra Electronics (Regis and Silent Servant), Optimo, Autre Ne Veut, Caroline Polachek (Chairlift), and a DJ set from Tanlines.
Round Robin Duets
A musician’s ability to improvise can make or break them, especially when they’re taking the stage with someone they’ve never met or even seen perform. The Round Robin Duets capitalize on the thrill of taking something unexpected and rolling with it, and amplifies it with a roster of talent that’s culled from the remote corners of every genre. Artists repping electronic, rock, jazz, and more experiment and collaborate over the course of two hours at Manhattan’s Town Hall, but not in the traditionally structured sense. The first artist to step up offers up a five-minute performance. They’re then joined by a second artist, and the two compose a five-minute duet on the spot. When they finish, the first artist exits and a third joins in, and the cycle of unpredictable duets continues until the lights come up. Who’s to say these Round Robin duets wouldn’t make for the ultimate remix?
A Conversation with D’Angelo
Cantor Auditorium, Brooklyn Museum
It’s not everyday you get to see D’Angelo, let alone listen to him wax poetic on his creative process and the inner workings of the mind that’s produced some of the most scintillating, soulful tracks since Motown’s heyday. The Soulquarian — who counts Questlove, Common, Q-Tip, Lauryn Hill and pretty much every major name in modern r&b as friends and collaborators — dives into the discourse with journalist, filmmaker, and culture critic Nelson George at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s sold out, but this is one of those events that’s worth pulling some voodoo to try to get in.
Vogue, house, bruk-up, Jersey club: It’s all happening in one spot at Brooklyn Night Bazaar, where a handful of dance styles get meshed into one popped, locked, and fiercely flexed evening of motion. This year’s Bounce Ballroom has four dance crews and four DJs bringing four styles to the floor. Between them, Harlem, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Jersey are represented, and these crews take these geo-specific genres and make you recognize exactly why these global sensations were born in such inspiring places.
The Four Corners of The Clash
Baby’s All Right
Just Blaze is responsible for some of Jay Z’s most sought-after beats: He worked on The Blueprint, The Blueprint 2, and The Black Album. Trouble & Bass is Brooklyn’s premier DJ crew — fronted by Drop the Lime, Star Eyes, and C Slater — and label that specializes in the kind of bass you wish every rave would embrace. Que Bajo’s made tropical bass their calling card, and the reggae stylings of Federation Sound’s Max Glazer and Kenny Mees have redefined how Brooklyn looks at dub. The four forces met last year at RBMA’s Culture Clash, and this year they return to the decks and stage in one rowdy evening that celebrates each of their unique styles.
Hardcore Activity in Progress
A perfect storm of noise is about to descend upon Queens, and the forecast is calling for a relentless downpour of fearless musical risks. Hardcore Activity in Progress is RBMA’s way of throwing together the most intense, dedicated, and unhinged artists they know from genres you’d never expect to see playing the same zip code, let alone the same stage. Hoping to hear some grindcore? Napalm Death can help you out. Interested in some international flare? Scandinavian jazz juggernauts The Thing crossed the Atlantic to satiate you. It’s all going down at the Knockdown Center, a treasure of a spot that was built in 1903 and previously housed a factory inside its beautiful brick walls.
Panda Bear with Dam Funk
Eccentric, electronic, and experimental concoctions have kept Panda Bear pretty busy, especially when he’s delving into projects outside his own solo work. A cornerstone of Animal Collective and a Daft Punk collaborator, Panda Bear specializes in inventive sounds that redefine genre lines while sweeping listeners off their feet. Danny Perez, an old Animal Collective friend, provides the stunning visual components to Panda Bear’s set at Warsaw, an uncharacteristically small spot for this well-traversed veteran of the road and studio.
Hudson Mohawke and Friends
At 15, Ross Birchard, aka Hudson Mohawke, was already booking gigs and turning heads as a premier DJ in Glasgow. By 2012, Mohawke had signed with GOOD Records, Kanye West’s label and the imprint that put out his infamous Cruel Summer collaborative effort. Since then, he’s been tapped for Drake, Azealia Banks, and Pusha T productions as well. Mohawke, a Redbull Music Academy graduate, takes over Webster Hall with a handful of his musical mates and dive into the grooves of his forthcoming record, which he was able to complete in between crafting beats for Yeezus.
Lit City Trax
If there’s any place to get grimy, it’s at a venue that was a strip club in a past life. That’s exactly what Lit City Trax are setting out — and where they’re headed — for the eclectic set they’ve planned at The Westway. A club night and label, Lit City Trax brings DJ Deeon, DJ Manny, J-CUSH, DJ Tiga, and more for an evening that showcases the ambitious endeavors of their enterprise through an ambush of talent pushing the boundaries of grime ‘n’ bass, acid house, footwork, and a handful of genres you probably never knew existed. The Lit City Trax crew are known to collaborate with one another, so standby for some fantastic live pairings.
Red Bull Music Academy takes place throughout the city in May. For more info, visit redbullmusicacademy.com