Sympathetic Vibrations | Into the Light

Shining A Well-Deserved Spotlight for Local Underground Electronic Music Cultures

DJ Manny at Uptown Arts Bar A monthly EDM showcase at Club Niche, inside the Uptown Arts Bar, has become a haven for electronic artists and their audiences. Here, Chicago's DJ Manny plays to a crowd in March. (Photo | Trae Mayberry)

Those who have only known electronic music as the cash printing, mainstream monolith that it has become in recent years might be surprised to hear that the genre actually spent the bulk of its existence in the underground. EDM is the grandchild of house music – a dance variant originating in the ’80s whose pioneering audience was mostly gay and African American communities in the U.S. urban cores.

In this way, electronic music has always catered to diverse and marginalized groups. But as EDM has become more mainstream, the vibrant culture surrounding electronic music has narrowed – leading to fewer opportunities for underground artists and fewer locations for some of genre’s most ardent audiences to enjoy them.

Fortunately, Kansas City has a few labels and collectives aimed at addressing that issue. And on Friday, April 13 at the Uptown Arts Bar, a few of those collectives will shine a beaming light on those cultures at Spring (In)Formal, a multi-media event that will include musicians, beatmakers, DJs and floral and visual design.

For Peter Anthony, co-curator of the event, supporting the local electronic music scene has been an ongoing effort. Anthony has spent the last four years providing a platform for local electronic artists, both through his indie label, Intelligent Sound, and the monthly event he has carved out at Club Niche – the small venue located inside the Uptown Arts Bar.

Anthony co-founded Intelligent Sound with local hip-hop producer Rick Maun after being inspired by Project Mooncircle and Brainfeeder – two indie labels that heavily promote experimental beat music. And, naturally, the label’s monthly event at Niche grew out of that idea.

“I started following them and it inspired me to have something like that in Kansas City. I met up with a [Maun] and we started Intelligent Sound to put out a release of his, but it skyrocketed from there,” Anthony said. “We started doing events at the same time and those became an outlet for producers or anybody pushing beatmaker or downtempo music to come in and be true to their art form.”

The monthly events have grown considerably over the years – to the point that they typically sell out weeks in advance. In fact, the growing interest inspired next week’s event, which will take place over three different stages at the Uptown Arts Bar and feature a headlining pair of Los Angeles producers with support from a number of local artists.

The event will also provide Anthony and company an opportunity to continue their collaborative mission – this time co-curating the lineup with Zoey Shopmaker, a local rapper, producer and DJ who performs as BTRFLY. Shopmaker is also a founder of UN/TUCK, a collective of local DJ and producers dedicated to providing a performance platform for queer and trans artists.

Shopmaker said UN/TUCK was born in part out of a desire to “reclaim the spaces and styles” of people who had originally influenced electronic music as a genre.

“Over the past 30 years, the electronic music scene has gotten increasingly white and increasingly run by cisgendered men – not that there’s anything wrong with that,” Shopmaker said. “But it was important for us promote electronic artists who are blazing trails who are also proudly visibly queer and trans, and to create more spaces for their audiences to go. Because when you’re facing marginalization on a daily basis, something like a night of 130 BPM dance music gives you a chance to really lose it and be yourself.”

Shopmaker hopes UN/TUCK’s involvement in the event will provide its followers with both a welcoming space to hear a diversity of music, as well as a lineup that represents marginalized groups. Consequently, Shopmaker worked hard to include event headliner Linafornia – a female Los Angeles hip-hop producer who has enjoyed resounding success in a line of work that is typically reserved for men.

Both Anthony and Shopmaker agreed that their efforts in providing an inclusive platform for these artists is crucial to nurturing a strong local electronic music scene.

“It’s taken time. I don’t want to sound rude, but sometimes Kansas City is far behind what is happening in the underground and on the coasts,” Anthony said. “But there is a fresh, young, driving community here, and it’s important that that scene is not divided.”

Anthony’s idea highlights the ultimate power of music to build communities. But there appears to be something particularly special about the unifying power of electronic music. There is a universality to the human reaction to beats and drum kicks that consistently seems to blur lines between seemingly disparate groups.

But given the genre’s beginnings as a cross-cultural, counterculture respite for people looking to let loose, perhaps the unifying power of its music shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

Spring (In)Formal will take place at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 13 at Uptown Arts Bar and features Kiefer, Linafornia, Btrfly, Bucho,Carrie Hunts, The Black Creatures, Dogteeth, Drei Helix, Duncan Burnett, Joc Max, Lady J, Prismada, Rick Maun, and Skurve.

— Dan Calderon is Kansas City native, an attorney, and contributor to Flatland. You can contact him by emailing pdancalderon@gmail.com, or on Twitter @dansascity.

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