Recap: Soul Time in Brooklyn (AGS in New York)

The last time I went to New York was roughly 2005, it was for a family vacation with my grandparents and older brother. We stayed in Manhattan, saw a show on Broadway, drank some Manhattans in the hotel lobby bar. We spent all of our time together, with the exception of one afternoon when my family wanted to see David Letterman live, so I decided to go check out FatBeats.

I was actively collecting records and making my own beats back then. This was a time before smartphones were everywhere. Asking the front desk for directions to the FatBeats store was a normal thing to do then. Nowadays, forget it — just ask Siri for directions.

The front desk staff and I looked up the address in the phone book, and then they wrote the directions on a piece of paper — go to this station and take this train to this street, then go a couple blocks until you reach your destination — I kinda wish I still had that piece of paper.

Off I went with my skateboard into the streets of Manhattan, some cash in my wallet, and a couple CD-Rs (this was also, of course, a time before Soundcloud).

I don’t even remember what records I bought at FatBeats, maybe a Count Bass D album? I was 18 years old and stoked to be skating solo around town. In hindsight, I’m glad I at least stepped foot in a FatBeats before the company closed up their physical locations. I wonder if someone ever listened to those CD-Rs I left there.

That was 11 years ago. Our trip this year — my second time to New York, and Lei’s first — was much different that that family vacation, mainly because we were much older and freer to do as we pleased.

Moreover, the world we live in has changed a lot since then. We navigate cities with GPS. We interact with strangers through social media. We get a Lyft instead of hailing a cab. At least  people in New York still cross the street whenever they want, regardless of traffic signals. And the streets are still as crowded, dirty, and chaotic as I remember it 11 years ago. I’m pretty sure I stepped in dog poop at 3am on our last night in Brooklyn.

This trip was possible thanks to FLUX Magazine, which invited Aloha Got Soul to DJ at their private event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The event was sponsored by a number of local businesses and organizations, including the Hawaii Tourism Authority, DBEDT, and Hawaiian Airlines.

The gig at BAM wasn’t an ordinary DJ gig, either, which is always a nice thing. The event was, in fact, a promotional event for the upcoming Thundercat concert, happening December 14, 2017 at The Modern Honolulu hotel in Waikiki. Opening for Thundercat will be Aloha Got Soul, Izik, and Front Business. (You can grab concert tickets here).

FLUX tapped me, musician Izik, and visual artist Sean Connelly to create with a collaborative performance for the evening. We spent three months leading up to October working on our performance, which I’ll touch on a little later.

If you’ve been following the progression of Soul Time since 2014, you’ve watched its gradual expansion into other cities around the globe. London and Honolulu kicked it off, Chicago soon followed. Earlier this year we took it to Tokyo, and London’s leader Cedric brought the party to Croatia, Beirut, and elsewhere over the years.

Brooklyn came naturally, then.

I contacted our friend Filipe Zapelini, who director the in-progress Aloha Got Soul documentary. Filipe currently resides in Bushwick. His good friend, Marco Weibel, was vacationing in Hawaii when we were in Tokyo earlier this spring, so our trip to Brooklyn became the perfect opportunity for us to finally connect in person.

Marco is part of the Darker Than Wax label and hosts a weekly radio show on The Lot Radio with his partner Marcus. Spinning some records as a guest on their show was probably the first idea that came to mind when Marco and I started talking about this trip. Soon enough, though, we were figuring out how to make a Soul Time in Brooklyn happen.

Down the street from his place is this cool venue called Black Flamingo, which has a sizable basement built specially for vinyl. Upstairs, it’s a vegan taqueria. Downstairs in the basement, with fog machine and disco ball and customizable lighting, the sound fills the room with such warmth that music just feels good in the space. I’m not sure how else to describe the sensation, really.

We held the first Soul Time in Brooklyn party on a Sunday evening with Filipe, Marco, myself, and Renata Do Valle — a natural fit, since she guested with Cedric at Soul Time in London earlier this year.

Black Flamingo, upstairs.

Downstairs, Soul Time in Brooklyn.

Filipe Zapelini.

Renata Do Valle.

Dancefloor.

Roger Bong.

Marco Weibel.

Vinyl shelf for the DJs at Black Flamingo.

Roger outside Black Flamingo.

Marco borrowed an E&S rotary mixer from his friend Jin. It was my first time on a rotary, and I really enjoyed it! (But wasn’t very good at it, ha!). Fortunately, I tried one out earlier that day at The Mixtape Shop, a small record and coffee shop in Williamsburg. Marco linked us with that in-store gig too, and oddly enough I had ordered a 12-inch from the shop via Discogs a month prior, so instead of having them ship the album to Hawaii (which can take four weeks, it’s crazy), I picked it up in-store. It was faster that way, anyway (thanks, Brian!).

All in all, the party was a blast. Filipe opened with some heady tunes, Renata really got the night going with choice tunes, I gave the crowd a taste of Hawaii with all vinyl from the islands, and Marco took the party to next level with flawless mixing and flawless selection. The latter part of the night we switched off by playing any kine records we wanted. My last tune of the evening was this 12-inch by Arlanda Kealoha that I’ve kind of fallen for after coming across her cassette album last year.

The day prior — the day we landed — Marco invited us to The Lot Radio. I played an hour’s worth of mellow Hawaiian tunes on an beautiful, clear day in Brooklyn. Filipe and Lei were cruising outside in the sun while enjoying the broadcast (jealous!). Following me was DJ Complexion from London — dope set! We also met a guy who was wearing a Sig On Smith t-shirt, turns out he’s a friend of Kuhao’s. The Lot serves beer and coffee. Filipe had a couple of drinks while we hung out. I think I had iced coffee? Can’t remember. You can listen to & watch that broadcast here.

The Mixtape Shop.

Brian of The Mixtape Shop.

Marco and Roger at The Lot Radio.

Tuesday we descended upon BAM with Izik, Sean, the FLUX crew, the owners of Paiko, and chef Sheldon Simeon for our main event.

To make the BAM performance collaborative, we decided that not only would I DJ in between Izik’s sets, but that I would curate songs related to the three themes Izik would sing about — ʻōhiʻa lehua, water, and the heavens. Izik would then select lyrics from those tunes and incorporate them into spoken word interludes between songs. Then, when Izik went off-stage for a quick costume and make-up change for his next set, I would pop in and play those tunes he referenced. It was the best idea we had to bridge the past and present as well as intertwine Izik’s modern musical output with my archival approach to discovering and sharing music from Hawaii.

Sean Connelly created the visuals for our performance using massive amounts of data points related to Hawaii, which in retrospect I still can’t quite explain: buoy data from nearby parts of the Pacific, ahupua‘a of O‘ahu, wind data across the islands, stuff like that. It was mesmerizing to watch as our music filled the room. I hope we can do this kind of thing again.

Izik and his singers, as seen from Roger’s turntable setup.

David Bryant at Smalls.

After BAM we all headed to a bar in Williamsburg, I don’t recall which one. But it was on the ride to our AirBnb from BAM that I asked Alika Lyman for a jazz club recommendation. He messaged me on Facebook and then 30 seconds later texted me — “this is urgent, you must go to Smalls tonight!” Without hesitation, but not without a couple of drinks first, Lei and I split from the group and took a Lyft into the city, walked down into the basement that is Smalls, and enjoyed the fiery, enriching sounds of the Abraham Burton Quartet. We arrived in time for the quartet’s final set just before the after hours jam session began. Thanks Alika for the tip!

Our final day in Brooklyn we made a point to hit a couple records stores. Over to Human Head Records where Phil Sticky Dojah and Shawn Dub welcomed us into the shop and introduced us to the co-owner, Travis Klein. There was also a cute greyhound napping in the sunlit window, but I didn’t catch its name. Picked up a few things, but really enjoyed our conversations with the crew more than anything.

Marco met us there and quickly took to the bins — he stayed behind while Lei and I made our way over to Superior Elevation. It was late afternoon by then, and SE wasn’t far from Roberta’s pizza… and we hadn’t really eaten since the morning… so we bought some wax and grabbed a couple of free stickers from the shop, then made our way to Roberta’s for our last pie before heading home to Honolulu.

Human Head Records.

Roger at Human Head.

Superior Elevation.

Actually, we had a short layover in Seattle on the way back and met my grandparents for lunch at a pizza place in Mt. Baker. It was delicious. They hadn’t been to New York since that trip we took more than a decade ago.

A lot of things have changed since then, in New York and in our lives. Grandpa took a spill earlier this year and was now steadily recovering with daily physical therapy. I didn’t have my skateboard with me to explore the cityscape (lots of records for gigs, though). We had our smartphones this time, and found our way to coffeeshops and dim sum spots with ease — not without worrying about dwindling battery life. We also now have Aloha Got Soul, whereas back then I had a few rough tracks burned to CD-Rs.

After our trip, I was grateful to be sitting there with my family, sharing slices of pizza and trading stories, the autumn trees a bright yellow-orange-red outside. New York didn’t really have those colors — too much concrete, evidently — and Honolulu simply never does. The last leg of our journey allowed us to briefly enjoy the splendor of fall and family before returning home to the islands.

Pizza, somewhere in Chelsea, New York.

Mahalo to FLUX for making this trip possible, and Marco for putting so many of the pieces together for Soul Time in Brooklyn to happen.

We hope to see some of you in mid-December when Thundercat plays his first gig in Hawaii.

Thanks for reading.

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