Red Bull Music Academy Takes Over NYC

Some of music’s greatest minds in one of the world’s greatest cities

The Red Bull Music Academy pitched up to NYC this year for their annual musical extravaganza. If you’re not familiar with the RBMA then it’s one event to note for the diary. Practically each year since 2002 they have set up shop all over the world for one month to provide a handful of fortunate students who applied for the program to learn the ins and outs of the music biz. Cities so far have ranged from Capetown-South Africa to Spain’s Madrid.

Trust and believe that the energy drink giants (who in 2011 sold 4.6 billion cans of Red Bull) nah cut corners at all! Everyone in NYC knew the team had arrived. Taking over coolest spots in NYC for their events, advertising their entire 31-day schedule in the New York subway (and on giant walls in Williamsburg), not to mention supplying a stand of in-house newspapers filled with quality stories by some of the best journo’s in town, printed fresh to pick up every morning.

So of course we went down to see wha gwan… Full Report Plus Videos After The Jump…

First things first the building was a dream for any aspiring musician. The multi-floor HQ in downtown Manhattan had it all from a radio station to a lecture hall and lots of artistically designed recording studios. From color therapy to freaky props—it was all about stimulating the hell out of your creative juices.

Then came the lectures from top music makers ranging from hip-hop legend Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest to experimental composer Philip Glass. Participants got to soak in knowledge & experience from these living legends.

You are talking about creative giants here so you never knew what you were gonna expect. Apart from the somewhat ‘f-ing & blinding’ nothing too x-rated happen. But reggae and dub legend Lee Scratch Perry might have pushed that line just slightly. One of his opening statements was ”I am not anti gay but I prefer to go to bed with a woman cause it clears my head”. Along with all sorts of bible chat, his favorite musical metaphor involved something about a vagina and a penis. Not too far behind was L.A. hip-hop pioneer Egyptian Lover who didn’t hold back on his love for “freaks.” Reminiscing about his heyday at Uncle Jam’s Army, he said “girls with white shorts would have ’em turned blue by the end of the night from the guys in jeans grinding on them all night.” YEP, there was a hell of a lot of knowledge being shared about the place.

Reggae was well represented through the decades at the RBMA. Scratch was joined by UK dubmaster Adrian Sherwood as they spoke about early ska & dub years. When I asked The Upsetter what it was like to work at Randy’s studio in JA—where he began working with The Wailers after they all left Studio One, before Scratch built his famous Black Ark studio—he explained “that studio was a great help to Jamaicans, you could go there and record if you had no money” Seems like it nah easy in them days.

Chris Stein and Debbie Harry of Blondie spoke about their experience of working in NYC during the bleak ’70s. “NYC was so bad at the time,” Debbie recalled, “everywhere I used to go on tour people would tremblingly ask me ‘How can u live there?” Debbie Harry was a secretary for the BBC before she joined the band. (She calls her famous Warhol portrait “my secretary with attitude look.”) Chris Stein pulled no punches when he said that “record companies were and are inherently evil”—talking from experience I’m sure. The two self-described “reggae heads” say they were criticized for having too much reggae on their last album. But they are clearly lovers of the music. When Chris Stein talks about Toots & The Maytals, he gets passionate. “Toots & The Maytals should be in the hall of fame, It’s ridiculous” he says. He also explained to me why Blondie chose to cover “The Tide is High,” a rock steady classic originally recorded by the Paragons that Blondie took to No. 1 on the U.S. pop charts. (I asked them about it during the lecture; which you can see on this video at the 1:22 mark.) Chris explained that they loved the string section in the original Treasure Isle track—which you can tell by listening to the way they emphasized that melody in their cover version, beefing it up with some horns. Not sure if Atomic Kitten did much with that section?

Blondie “The Tide Is High” (1980)

DJ extraordinaire Francois K spoke on his experience of working his way up to DJing at hot spots like Studio 54. “Back in those days New York was real & raw—not Disneyfied” he said. The club music icon professed his love for reggae & dub music, and how it led him to spend so much time on the island and collab with artists like Bunny Wailer (kinda hard to see them two together!).

Francois K at RBMA 2013 NYC

Brooklyn producer Dre Skull came through to chat about his experience of working with some of today’s dancehall stars. He talked about working with the Unruly Boss Popcaan, with whom he produced the recent track “First Time” featuring Megan James from Purity Ring. (Dre Skull said he would be executive producing Popcaan’s debut album, with tracks provided by a range of other producers, including Addi Beats.) He also spoke on what it’s like to work with the lyrical genius and now incarcerated Vybz Kartel, on the album ‘Kingston Story’, and the fine art of mastering “Jamaican Time.”

The evenings offered another way of getting to know music, with gigs galore all month long. My fave was heading down to Brooklyn’s hip strip in Williamsburg, where some of the hottest Hip Hop producers in the game were rounded up at the Knitting Factory for ‘Drum Majors’: Young Chop, Mustard, Bangladesh, Justice League, Mannie Fresh, Drumma Boy, Boi1da— took turns on the decks to throw down their own masterpieces. The crowd wilded out to tunes like “Pop that Pussy” and Chop showed why he’s the best there is, with a hot dancer to twerk her ass off while he threw down his drill beats.

And of course what else would be a better way to close out the Academy events than to see Scratch Perry & Adrian Sherwood performing alongside The Congos—yep, Redbull really pulled it out the bag. The night took place downtown in Mahattan’s ‘Le Poisson Rouge’ (I guess it was a calculated decision to match the venue with Lee’s favourite colour). It wasn’t just a case of “If your name ain’t down you ain’t comin in”  but more of a case of “early bird catches the worm”. Not about trying to be fashionably late for this event—the RBMA team sent reminder emails to warn you that the sold-out night wasn’t gonna accommodate any late comers. (And good luck to anyone who finks they are going to try sweet-talking their way past a New York city bouncer.)

The audience packed inside to hear some roots classic from The Congos before The Upsetter blazed up the stage with reggae-in-a-dub-style classics like ‘Sun is Shining’ and ‘Soul Rebel.’ The night ended in true lighters up fashion.

After the show Scratch blessed me with some more words of wisdom backstage, but if you know Scratch at all you’l know he does and says what the f*ck he wants. While chatting with him about his work with The Wailers he made clear what he thinks of the crew after all these many years —passionately… Oh and don’t forget to peep who else joins the chat #2legendsoneplace

Lee “Scratch” Perry Chats with Clive Chin

For more info and extended coverage visit the RBMA’s official site:

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