Rachael Pazdan has booked hundreds of shows, more than enough to know there was a problem. Pazdan, 28, was until recently the music director of (Le) Poisson Rouge, the decade-old Bleecker Street venue. She also booked shows around the city under the LPR Presents promotional umbrella. If you’ve been to a show at Baby’s All Right, Murmrr, or Union Pool in the past few years, chances are you’ve seen Pazdan’s handiwork.
But back to that problem. Pazdan was one of only a handful of female bookers working at any of New York’s major concert venues, and soon after starting her role at LPR in 2016 she realized that that gender disparity extended to the acts that were playing those venues as well. “I was just seeing a lot of live music and noticed that I never saw women onstage consistently,” says Pazdan, who estimates that, between work and pleasure, she’s at a show at least every other night in New York. “It’d be one bass player or a singer, but there’d be so many nights where it’d be literally an entire triple bill of only men onstage.”
It was in that spirit of frustration that Pazdan decided to start the Hum, a female-only concert series now in its fourth year. Originally, Pazdan allowed male musicians to play as long as they weren’t front and center, but she eventually realized that she wanted a unique space for female musicians to collaborate with one another and banned men from playing altogether. “I’m a freak for collaboration. I love putting artists together in weird situations and challenging situations and having them collaborate,” she said. By removing male influence from the creative process completely, Pazdan has taken what her forebears at Lilith Fair developed and what her contemporaries at all-female workspaces like the Wing have progressed. She has no intention of making the Hum’s audience a dude-free zone, but she does understand that for many female artists, being able to create in a room free of male influence can be freeing. “I’ve heard many times over that it’s a completely different experience working with only women,” Pazdan said. “The artists feel like they can be more open. They don’t feel like they’re going to get shut down if they say something during the rehearsal or collaborative process. They feel empowered to speak their mind.”
Pazdan grew up in Naperville, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Her father, a musician, had eclectic tastes, filling the house with music from Tom Waits, A Tribe Called Quest, Muddy Waters, and King Tubby. Pazdan was also an accomplished dancer growing up, and credits her instructor with introducing her to artists like Jill Scott, Fiona Apple, and Ani DiFranco. After a stint at Columbia Artists Management, Pazdan landed an artist services job with BRIC, one of Brooklyn’s cultural lodestars. That daily interaction with artists coming through BRIC’s doors gave Pazdan a view into what made local artists tick, and what the scene was missing.
The Hum’s first go-round was at the now-closed Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint, a venue that was dear to Pazdan but difficult to set up the way she wanted. “The first idea was to have musicians collaborating with a visual artist doing projections,” Pazdan said. ”It was hard in Manhattan Inn because it was a square room and the performance was in the round. Where are you going to put the projector? It just didn’t work.” She abandoned the visual aspect of the series altogether, and refocused her efforts on the music. The Hum has welcomed acts like Frankie Cosmos and Kimbra to the stage, as well as members of the Big Thief, Cat Power, and Tune-Yards. “There is a debilitating trendiness surrounding a certain brand of feminism that prizes visibility as its main goal. I’m generally disinterested in that,” said Taja Cheek, a/k/a L’Rain, who is set to perform on the Hum’s second night on May 9. “The Hum has catalyzed new work and collaborative relationships that might not have existed otherwise. I went into the process thinking I would only play these songs once in my lifetime for the performance, but I’m still workshopping them today for my next record.”
This year, the Hum will call Bushwick’s House of Yes home every Wednesday in May. Pazdan knew she could have brought the shows to Manhattan and potentially reached a bigger audience, but she also “wanted to keep building it in Brooklyn.”
The location also has a nostalgic tint for Pazdan. “My first show I ever produced in New York City was in 2012. It was called the Vis-a-Vis Project,” she said. “It was this way overly ambitious thing. The vision was for it to be a DIY arts festival — a three-day thing. It started in this venue that’s no longer there called Vaudeville Park. Second night was at another venue that is no longer there. And the third night was at the original House of Yes across from [now defunct] Shea Stadium.”
The Hum’s fifth installment comes at an especially volatile time, and Pazdan knows that the series is taking on additional layers in the shadow of movements like #MeToo. Along with L’Rain, this year’s lineup includes NYU darlings OSHUN, singer-songwriter Glasser, and the meme-toting, psychedelic rapper Bunny Michael. Jessica Lea Mayfield will open the whole series up on May 2.
For her part, Pazdan wants the Hum to keep growing, but there are no plans to expand it beyond its current scope. She’s focused on impact over imprint. “I just wanted to do the Hum one time as a one-off residency. I had no idea that it was going to become something much more than that,” says Pazdan. “I just felt the need to keep doing it, because people kept asking me about it. I feel like it was the right time for it to happen, especially now.”
House of Yes
2 Wyckoff Avenue, Brooklyn
Every Wednesday in May
May 2: Jessica Lea Mayfield; Ana Asnes Becker and Caroline Yoder (Fruit & Flowers) with Rachel Angel and Rachel Housle; Anni Rossi and Nicole Schneit of Airwaves
May 9: Glasser and L’Rain; Lou Tides and Miho Hatori; Arone Dyer’s Dronechoir; Ziemba, Marilu Donovan, Elizabeth LoPiccolo, and Mara Mayer
May 16: Bunny Michael with L.K. Napolitano and Zoie Omega; Sateen; Xhosa
May 23: OSHUN; LATASHA and Lawlyse; SassyBlack
May 30: THAO and MIRAH with Maia Macdonald, Mickey Vershbow, and more; Katie Von Schelicher and Julie Byrne; Alix Brown, Breanna Barbara, Dida Pelled, Lyla Vander (Roya), and Reni Lane (Fever High)