From the dark depths of insane warehouse parties to the light of the best B movies on VHS slung together and flitting across the screen behind the stage at the Phoenix Landing, Austin Stone’s mission for Elecsonic has always been the same: to bring together listeners and performers of electronic music and visual artists in Boston. Stone came to Berklee to study electronic music in 2009 and joined the push to activate Boston nightlife when he and Tyler Randall started Elecsonic at the Phoenix in 2010. Tonight, Stone, Wheez-ie, and resident Earthtones will play the Elecsonic finale at the place where it all started.
Stone is moving to Berlin to work his dream job in electronic music programming and composition, but not before he bids auf wiedersehen to the Boston EDM scene, and tells the Dig what he has learned over the past three years:
What was your experience of the EDM scene in Boston like when you first came here?
I came to Boston to study music, and I didn’t really know anybody. So when I started meeting people I noticed that no one really wanted to hang out with each other [laughs]. Everybody wants to play a gig but nobody wants to be around another artist. It seemed very introverted, very individualized.
What was your vision when you started Elecsonic?
For the last two years I’ve been the curator and director of this group of artists in Boston that grew out of the Berklee college of music people. My goal was to push [electronic music producers] to develop work, to go further … to get them out of their own individualized worlds and to get them out to experience new things.
You started out throwing loft and warehouse parties. What were they like?
Pretty insane [laughs]. We were trying to get all our close friends to do everything: doing the door, serving drinks, running the sound, and playing. And trying to manage this chaos [laughs]. We kept having to move to new places because they kept getting shut down, they were too expensive, or you know, we’d just piss off the neighbors so much. It was always way too big for itself.
How did Elecsonic evolve from that?
For a long time, I wanted the elegance of a place that was alcohol-controlled with a good sound system already established. So I started pursuing the Phoenix in 2010, because the Phoenix is practically the only place in Boston where people under 21 can listen to electronic music.
All of these students were under 21, and it was hard for us to dream of playing a club gig and not some house party on someone’s shitty sound system. So we kept on pushing.
At the time, there were so many “dubstep DJs” that would come up to us and I’d be like, “Hey man, this isn’t a one-themed night. This is for people who are trying out new ideas.” Like one night we’d have ambient, experimental music and the next heavy electro. We tried to create Elecsonic as a night that was an open place to play anything you wanted, primarily focusing on people doing their own, original work, which they got to showcase on a nice sound system.
What were some of the most successful artist collectives who had nights at Elecsonic?
One of the most successful nights was this one called JASS. It was such a hit because there’s no West Coast, hip-hop electronic music scene in Boston other than JASS. There’s nothing like it. So Time Wharp, or Patrick Loggins, came up with the name, did everything from flyer design to booking great artists nine months in advance. He had this whole big plan out, and at first we were trying to slow him down, but then we realized he had his shit together [laughs].
I know Elecsonic is big on visual art, what were some of the craziest works you had there?
We always try to have visual artists showing off their work, and it’s been a great collaboration because a lot of my friends have gotten music videos out of it. Everything from crazy 3D maps to touch screen interfaces to the best B movies on VHS all slung together to make this really interesting movement… I’ve always tried to add some sensory imagery to the music.
I wanted to make each show unique, so it wasn’t just some warehouse party—it’s something they wouldn’t be able to see ever again. Sort of a total sensory overload that would stick with them for months.
How do you feel about the evolution of the electronic music scene in Boston with our restrictive nightlife culture?
I think it’s going in a great direction right now. I think the efforts of people like David Day to push forward with [Together 2012] and Mmmmaven to create new nights and to just keep pushing forward is very influential.
The one thing about Boston is it comes down to alcohol sales. It’s so hard for clubs to get a liquor license, so on Fridays and Saturdays, I can’t go anywhere. Maybe I’ll go see Bassic at Good Life. But other than that I can’t see any electronic music on those nights. It’s usually an underground, warehouse party.
There’s nothing I want to see, there’s no strong night on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s Top 40 everywhere—and people who just want to get wasted. It’s kind of almost a joke. I work on the weekends and go out during the week [laughs]; it’s backwards. I wish it wasn’t like that.
Our whole thing with Elecsonic is to have an experience that’s not dependent on being wasted to enjoy. Where you can just be myself and see something amazing, and feel from that, with new kinds of acts with visual art, something you can’t see anywhere else. The primary reason I’m doing this is for content and content only.
You sound frustrated. Are you moving to Berlin partly because it’s a place that’s more open to this scene?
Yeah it’s a different world in itself. I can go to a club night and they open at midnight and go until the next day. They have great sound systems where you can stay there for hours and not get ear-fatigue. And you’re not going through all these hoops of public transportation to get there, and people have a lot more freedom and independence to choose between what music they’re hearing.
What are the three major things you’ve seen over the past two years that would need to change about Boston to make the EDM scene here better?
- Nightlife in General: some combination of the T being open later, clubs can not worry about selling alcohol because of all the liquor licensing restrictions
- The sound systems are really not great. It’s always way too loud or overdone. I think if places were open later and their sound systems were better, people would stay later and buy a lot more drinks.
- The Venues: without the right venue for electronic music you can’t have electronic music. And I don’t think there’s any venues right now that support it just for the music. Except Phoenix Landing doing 19+ or the fact that Make it New has been at Middlesex for so long, that’s great. Also there’s hope in Naga in Cambridge.
So I mean Boston can open as many clubs or event spaces as they want, but if they’re not supporting the arts, why go out?
Just to get drunk. I think that’s what’s lacking most with all these Top 40 Clubs: this artistic integrity to continually push things and not settle.
Because I have this idea that nothing matters except the content and the heart. And it’s hard to say that and also survive in Boston.
What do you think are some hopeful aspects in the EDM scene in Boston?
The whole Mmmmaven thing, and their DJ school idea, is hopeful. I think definitely a year from now it’ll be pretty amazing.
What about individual producers?
Earthtones. Alec Beloin is basically the man, he’s going to taking over the Phoenix book when I’m gone. He plays the best stuff—everything from house to hip-hop.
One guy definitely is Phil Gringer, Quam, he’s 18 years old and he’s making the hottest tracks and is getting all this recognition for them. He’s a success story, because he came in from the New York suburbs totally open for everything and started going to every Elecsonic night. He blew up. And he’s planning a release off of JASS I think late May early June. He’s very talented, he’s definitely someone to look out for.
There’s also an art space to look out for called Cloud Club in the South End, they have all of these young producers of electronic music. They’re getting a lot of amazing stuff together in a giant green house on top of a roof. And now these really young artists are starting to populate that space with beautiful pieces.
When you go to Berlin what’s your job going to be?
Programming and music writing. I know this doesn’t sound like a job description, but basically I program audio and I compose music. (links) I’ll program video and compose music with collected cellular growth data, these interesting patterns that develop. And then put it all together.
I got a job in electronic music in Berlin; it’s really a dream come true for me.
What’s the deal for the Elecsonic finale tonight?
Tonight it’s going to be me, Wheez-ie, and other Elecsonic resident DJ Earthtones.
Wheez-ie’s actually doing vinyl only from before 1999, and he’s so pumped. That’s gonna be sick, because he knows old school music better than anyone I know in Boston.
He’s a big historian in his own right, and he’s really into looking deep into music to make his own music, and I think that’s the strongest part of his productions skills.
Any last goodbye?
Boston is the best place to develop and work, because I lived in New york, and there was way too much there. Here there’s such a well-defined, small group of people that you can approach everybody and know everybody.
In two years I’ve met a lot of people I’m happy to know. We’re all trying to put these things together. I really like the whole Cambridge scene, how they’re all so close and support each other. And places like Music Ecology.
Everybody here is honestly so friendly and positive, and they want to make things happen.
WITH WHEE-ZIE, AUSTIN STONE, EARTHTONES