6. Kindergarten Records Discuss The Future of Electronic Music
By Global Art Daily Editorial Board
Published on February 20, 2021
Originally a party series, Kindergarten has become a fixture on Brooklyn’s electronic music scene since its rise in 2017 and has since grown to encompass a radio show and a record label. The record started off the new year with a deep dive towards our intimate, digital futures; courtesy of Despina - who rings in 2021 with a solo four-tracker entitled Data Soft. The coronavirus pandemic has posed unforeseen challenges to the way in which the music industry operates and as a consequence, Kindergarten has come up with new ways to ride out this moment in the pandemic. We met up with Ma Sha, Drummy, Despina, and Ayesha, the team behind Kindergarten, in Ridgewood, Queens to get a sense for where the collective is heading and what has come out of lockdown for each of them on an individual level.
Global Art Daily: Tell us a bit about yourselves and what you do.
Ma Sha: My name is Masha, I’m originally from Russia and currently living in NYC. I’m a DJ and producer. I run Kindergarten, alongside parties and a radio show on The Lot Radio. I also co-run Hone Social which is a free weekly DJ workshop and I’m one half of the band Ma Sha Ru. I also work as a digital sales manager at K7 records, a record label and music company.
Jesse: I’m Jesse, aka Drummy. I grew up in Florida and spent a long time working with other artists on their projects, but have recently shifted to putting out more original music on Kindergarten and Sorry Records, as well as self-releasing tracks.
Mica: I’m Mica, aka Despina, I’m a producer, DJ and a composer if we want to get fancy. I’m from New Jersey and am releasing music on Kindergarten Records.
Ayesha: My name is Ayesha, I’m a DJ and a producer and I moved to NYC from DC about two years ago. In DC, I worked in international development for a little bit and then started DJ-ing, mostly professionally. I became a full-time DJ for a couple of years and I started producing on the side and I also used to work at a music venue called U street Music Hall which recently shut its doors, very sad, and nowadays I make music in my studio in Greenpoint and I have a day job where I work in the royalty-free samples space at a company called Splice.com.
GAD: Tell us about Kindergarten, as a label, as a party, and as a radio show.
Ma Sha: Kindergarten originally started as a party series. It went through different forms from the backyard to h0l0 which is actually right in this building [points], then to Elsewhere, where Mica used to work. The last party was a rave in a warehouse in February 2020. The process of Kindergarten becoming a record label felt very natural simply because there was already a community around Kindergarten. We just started releasing music! The radio show went through many different forms as well. It started at Newtown Radio, where I currently host a Hone DJ workshop. Then we did a show on Balamii Radio, when they had a representation in NYC and now we do our show on The Lot Radio.
The process of Kindergarten becoming a record label felt very natural simply because there was already a community around Kindergarten.
- Ma Sha
GAD: What have all of you been up to during lockdown?
Jesse: I’ve been in New York the entire time, initially I went upstate with my roommate for two months and did nothing but mix and try to slow down. It was calming to get into some deeper music and actually have time for that at first. Then I came back to NYC and it’s been just a lot of working on tracks inside the house. Trying to make the most of it and stay sane! I think it’s also been a time to reconsider my place in the music world, and really think about what might be the best way for me to have space moving forward. That’s basically where I’m at now.
Mica: I’ve also been in NYC pretty much all of Covid, I’ve been working a full time job constantly prior to lockdown and I was always spending all of my days and nights at the job. I had to work 14-hour graveyard shifts and I feel like once Covid hit that was such a goal for my life because I just didn't have anything to do. I think at first I didn’t really make that much music, I stopped listening to dance music as regularly as I used to but eventually I settled into a rhythm where I would start making music at a much more productive pace than I used to. Just having time to think about everything I was doing and really reflecting on the music I was making pushed me to learn how to take it easy and enjoy every moment instead of focusing so much on the future and the immediate nextness of everything.
Just having time to think about everything pushed me to learn how to take it easy and enjoy every moment instead of focusing so much on the future and the immediate nextness of everything.
Ayesha: I was in Brooklyn for the whole lockdown. I haven’t left actually, I haven’t gone anywhere since February 2020. It’s crazy. I was in India in February 2020 and then I came back. Shortly after that, I went into lockdown. I had to isolate myself earlier than a lot of people because my roommate’s doctor told her they were putting her on a list of suspected Covid cases, which sounds like such a novelty now. There was not much testing at that point, it was not easily available. She was just in this limbo for several weeks until she was finally able to get a test. Because of that I went into quarantine in late February and during that time I was preparing for my first EP. I dropped it on March 16th. It was just one of those EPs that I felt like just went into a black hole because of timing.
The situation was getting out of control here in the US, and in NYC in particular. I put my head down for a couple of months and tried to figure out what I wanted my voice to be as a producer. I’ve been making a lot of different kinds of music. I feel like if I go into my hard drive I have up-tempo sounds, more boom bap stuff too and then just weird bassy-stuff. I think that the project that I’m going to talk about is very much a product of unfortunate situations that I was able to overcome as the city shut down. I basically started renting a studio in Greenpoint with another producer who now became a friend, who has a lot of great equipment including an e-rack and synthesizers and drum machines. Long story short, I spent a lot of time in the studio over the last couple of months. Thankfully, Despina heard my record, my first three-track EP that came out in March, so it didn’t completely go into a black hole. They passed it on to Ma Sha who reached out to me about collaborating in some way. After a month or two in my Greenpoint studio I worked with some e-rack sounds, slightly more experimental sounds, and passed it on to Ma Sha. Together we’ve been planning out this record which we released today.
I put my head down for a couple of months and tried to figure out what I wanted my voice to be as a producer.
GAD: You’re all in the music industry in different capacities and we just wanted to know how, from your perspectives, how you see the impact of Covid on the music industry here in NYC?
Ma Sha: It’s interesting to see how each country reacts to an emergency situation. Different governments have approached the situation in their own ways. I can only compare the places that I’ve been to during lockdown: Germany, Eastern Europe and the US. In NYC, all the initiatives to support art came from the community rather than from the government itself. The situation in NYC was much harsher than in Germany where legal parties were facilitated with some measures in place, as well as state funding.
In NYC, on the other hand, the music industry has had more difficulty surviving Covid. A lot of musicians have thought about alternative ways to make money during this time because most of the artist income comes from performances and DJ gigs rather than from selling your music. During this time when gigs are not possible and livestreams don’t generate pretty much any income, many of my friends started mastering tracks and producing for other people, or tutoring online. I think that Covid made a lot of people discover ways to make a livelihood outside of the music industry. People understand that, as an artist with no gigs during Covid, when people sporadically buy your music and only listen to it on streaming platforms, you don't get enough money. During this time, I am coming to understand what parts of the music ecosystem work and what parts don’t work. And it’s not just me. People around me started to think how to change the industry. It’s a nice development but it’s also sad that we had to wait to reach a dead end for people to really think about it. I do believe that after Covid we’re going to see completely new formats of the music scene. Many clubs are going to be in a new place. The way we receive music will also adapt. I think many people started buying much more music than before. We’ve all started to understand each others' situations and support each other. That’s a positive side effect.
I do believe that after Covid we’re going to see completely new formats of the music scene.
- Ma Sha
Jesse: At least from what I can see in NYC and in the US, Covid has brought the music industry down to its bare bones. It has shown people what parts actually survive in the worst circumstances like Ma Sha said. Some producers in NYC have started to go to ridiculous levels of output and are putting out amazing projects once a month. That’s definitely not a requirement, but I just think it’s crazy to see how the focus has shifted because we can’t have club nights. Maybe the four of us have experienced something similar to that too. Working on stuff became kind of a coping mechanism.
It can be daunting to have to release music to make money instead of being able to DJ and do live events, but ultimately I hope it has shown newcomers as well as fans of dance music how they can participate and support the industry in other ways besides going to the club and paying the cover. These DJs are actual people who work hard on tracks or mixes, and they have a long backlog of 30 albums or so that you can support, that you can buy. DJs are being venmo-ed for their time spent streaming online — as it should be! You’re seeing listeners buy directly from the artist and it’s a great time for that. So Covid has definitely shaken things up and given people a closer look at the platforms they may not have questioned before. I look forward to seeing more positive change when venues are back on. I’m inspired by the people giving their all to help keep this alive, just because they believe in the music being made and the artists.
Ultimately I hope [the pandemic] has shown newcomers as well as fans of dance music how they can participate and support the industry in other ways than going to the club and paying the cover.
Mica: I think that from my perspective, I have been working at a pretty large club called Elsewhere. My role was both administrative as well as on the floor. I’d work very closely with the bookers as well as the night managers. I started seeing a pattern and reading about it. In the global DJ scene you’d have these situations where, up until recently, if you were trying to be a professional DJ, you’d also maybe have a record label or you’d throw parties or you owned a venue or you had some other job on the side to help support yourself. Now that the scene has grown, you get a lot of DJs who realize they can make a living off DJ-ing, flying around the world for bookings, and the result was a massive inflation of DJ fees and of booking agent fees. There were really toxic practices around how these artists would get booked, all about trying to garner the most money possible out of DJs.
I think that in an “effective capitalist system” — big quotes because I don’t think capitalism can be effective — whichever party takes on the most risks should typically be able to reap the most reward. But we got to this point where all the promoters and the venues were putting out all the money up front. Tens of thousands of dollars up front. From a venue perspective, it was almost impossible to profit from that. Every promoter was just keeping this front because they loved doing it, which is a great reason to do things but I started to realize that the whole global dance music market was a bubble that was ready to pop. Something was going to topple it. There were too many economic factors at play, around the whole world. Rich people kept on getting way richer, opportunities to make a middle income started drying up, and eventually you started having these people codified at the top and everyone else at the bottom. I think that Covid really took a sword to that bubble. “Oh you got a bubble? I’ll pop that for you!”
The whole global dance music market was a bubble that was ready to pop. I think that Covid really took a sword to that bubble. “Oh you got a bubble? I’ll pop that for you!”
Right now it’s sad to see how many clubs are going to close, how many DJs are going to lose their livelihoods. It’s horrible but at the end of the day, we needed a big change because that route was just unsustainable. If you're trying to fly in DJs from around the world because you love the music and then pay exorbitant booking fees, as well as pay for their personal driver, a five star hotel, airfare, meal buyouts — pay for all of that in addition to fees, it makes it impossible to be a promoter. I think we’re going to see a lot of these larger clubs falling away and I think we’re going to see a lot of DIY spaces cropping back up, especially in New York because NYC has always had this great DIY energy. A lot of small clubs with big new ideas.
The main thing that most decent people have learned during this pandemic is that we need to be more focused on interdependence and relying on each other as people in society rather than as people who just want to acquire individual wealth and status, people who just want to continue their own hustle. We all need to rely on each other and find strength in our communities so I hope that after all of this is done, we’re just going to have DIY spaces that feel like great community spaces: great parties, great art, great activism, great ideas, that are not stifled by these ultra-wealthy investors or ultra-wealthy agents. Just pure, raw, uncut talent and ideas.
At the end of the day, we needed a big change because that route was just unsustainable.
Ayesha: Well everyone has pretty much touched everything that I feel that I can share. Everyone here is more of an expert on NYC nightlife, I feel like I just broke into nightlife in NYC maybe a year ago and when I started getting more immersed, things shut down for me, I will say one thing though. I’ve noticed that this has been an interesting time for clubs to test out virtual models of merchandising and selling. Clubs are selling experiences to stay afloat and I feel like I want to shout out Nowadays for their Patreon-tiered subscription model which I think is really novel. I don’t know if this would have ever been tested out until now, I don’t think there’s any circumstances that would warrant something like this. I wonder how this model will evolve after Covid and whether certain learnings from being able to sell experiences virtually will continue to exist when clubs open back up. It's also been great to see people come out and actually virtually support the clubs and DJs that they care about.
I’ve noticed that this has been an interesting time for clubs to test out virtual models of merchandising and selling.
Mica: I feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the fact that while we talk about artists and scenes and venues, most of the time, no one ever talks about the workers in these spaces. DJs are workers too, but bartenders, the door people, the security, everyone else involved in running these spaces should not be forgotten. These workers have no support whatsoever and I think because nightlife is very much taboo, they’re not seen as people with “real” legitimate jobs. I feel that no one in government is talking about that, nobody is focusing on that and that’s sad. Just think about the workers.
GAD: Let’s move on to particular questions. Ayesha you released Natural Phenomena. Tell us about that and your inspiration for the record.
Ayesha: Natural Phenomena is the EP that Kindergarten Records dropped today. It’s very exciting to see months of hard work manifest in something like a record. It’s something that is like a memory, something that you have to share hopefully for the rest of your life and it’s always a way to channel all of this work into something that other people can experience too. The record is a product of a very introverted time, a very lonely time, a very — in some ways — freeing time creatively because I had no other commitments other than trying to learn new things and experiment with new pieces of equipment. It’s a four-track EP and it’s my first release on an actual label. The record is made with sounds that, to me at least, emulate nature and also are sounds that draw from South Asian cultural memory and musical traditions. When I say “cultural memory” I mean there are vague references to certain parts of my childhood in the record. There are field recordings from when I was last in Goa before the pandemic. I went out with a zoom recorder and I recorded a lot of street soundscapes and birds — I think the birds were more what you’ll hear on the record. I also recorded wind that I pitched and turned into more melodic tones, something that you might hear on one of my tracks, called “The Club is the Sea”. That vocal is actually wind that’s pitched up and down, so the inspiration is very much trying to channel where I come from into a club experience while also channeling my love for organic and soothing sounds. I wish I could give you one pitch for the record, but the record’s stems from a lot of different inspirations.
GAD: That’s beautiful. Zooming out of NYC and thinking global, we have a last question for Ma Sha. In 2020, you were in Belarus during an interesting political time and your work reflects that in some ways. Could you share more about what was going on at the time in Belarus?
Ma Sha: The president has been in power for 26 years. There was widespread fraud during the elections that happened on the 9th of August and it came to light shortly afterwards. The government claimed that the president had won 80 percent of the popular vote — but there were major indications of fraud. This period involved a lot of violence from the government and so the protests gained momentum — and they are ongoing. If you would like to learn more about what’s happening in Belarus and how it affects the music scene, my friend Spurge Carter and I have been working on the article “Music Under Pressure: How Minsk's Club Community Thrives Amid Anti-Government Protests” that just came out this early January. Also, the time we spent in Belarus made a big impact on our project Ma Sha Ru. The lyrics to our songs tend to be quite poetic and abstract but during our time in Belarus we made a track “Feel The The Future, Belarus!” which describes what’s going on there politically. We also self-released the EP this month called “White Red White, Keep Up the Fight!”. Witnessing a repressive government which keeps its power at any cost, we wrote three tracks telling the story of people fighting for their freedom and rights. For both of the releases we send all the profits to the Belarus Solidarity Foundation that helps the people and affected families. I would definitely say that it’s an important time for us musically, creatively and on a personal level, because I feel so much connection to this country. I also participated and helped to organize the festival called Music Festival In Solidarity With The People of Belarus by the promoter group called Disco Tehran.
Kindergarten Records is a Brooklyn-based record label, rave, radio show specialising in cosmic club workouts with wigged-out rhythmic structures.
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