Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Shine of DJ Simone*Steppa*DuJour

http://www.faceforwardmn.com/

“The dance floor is a shared space where each person can express a personal connection with the music. It’s a non-judgmental area because dancing isn’t about moving a certain way. Dance is about letting go, shaking the blues away and connecting to mind, body, spirit, and your community.”
–DJ Simone DuJour

Before I interviewed Simone I was swayed to consider myself alone when it came to frequently feeling uncomfortable in crowds at live shows. I often feel like my connection with live music is disarrayed by the nous of other commotion and speculation of the people around me.

There’s the token drunk dude that steps on your foot each of the seven times he goes back to the bar, or the pack of girls that scowl at people who come close to their exclusive group bubble, and you can’t forget the guy creepily peering behind the shoulder of every female, in search of a partner to grind his midsection on.

My discomfort with concert crowds became real earlier this summer when I attended a Flux Pavilion show (I afterwards entitled my ticket as, “My Resignation to Dubstep concerts”). At first I felt somewhat comfortable with my locale in the audience, and was freely moving to the songs. It seemed like we were all there for the same purpose – the music. Then, I watched a shirtless guy in cargo shorts pounce on a tiny girl dancing in front of me, and in one fluid motion they began ardently grinding with one another. His perspiring torso had swallowed this young woman completely out of my sight. I turned to the girl dancing on the other side of me, hoping she had also witnessed this epic turn of grindage. She had also been swallowed by a sweaty torso, which she was now making out with.

We were no longer all there for the same purpose.

For the remainder of the show I continued to scan the people around me and wonder if they were actually connecting with the music, or just bidding time before someone came along looking worthy of dancing/hooking-up with. This inner dialogue made me want to crawl into a hole.

* * * * *

I can’t explain how elevating it was for me to speak with Simone, someone who understood the discomfort I was growing accustom to feeling at concerts. Simone handles the dance floors of her gigs in a very thoughtful manner and recognizes that the experience of an audience member is just as, if not more important than her own as a performer. She believes it’s necessary to create and have a sanctified space for movement at shows. Simone has even gone as far as saging dance floors to help construct an optimistic, uplifting atmosphere for engagement.

“Dance cultures are being lost because I think people forget how liberating dance can be. People get wrapped up in their own agendas,” said Simone. “I have a vision to bring some of that tribal culture sense back, and remind people what dance can really be about. Sharing sacred space together makes you feeling recharged and connected.”

The love Simone has for dance roots all the way back to her childhood, when she remembers dancing to “Hip Hop Hooray” by Naughty by Nature with her mom in the kitchen. Moving to the sound of music was automatic for Simone.

“I’ve been dancing since I was in my Mother’s womb,” said Simone. “I was always dancing. I’d wake up in the morning and immediately start dancing in front of my mirror, even before changing into my clothes or eating breakfast. Dance was always a part of my routine.”

Dancing regularly helped Simone form a bond with music and how certain sounds could provoke people to move in certain ways. Through traveling to places like Spain and Peru and absorbing the dance cultures, Simone’s passion for dance cultivated. She was ultimately introduced to the house music scene (the music and culture she is inspired most by) during a short living stint in New York City.

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House music derives from tribal music and evokes people to come together and share a transcendent connection through dance. The genre is different in every city, but most house music is manufactured to inspire people to move freely to the beat. Anyone with two functional legs can dance to house music. Simone said she learned a lot of her dancing techniques from styles she picked up from other people.

“I would approach people dancing in clubs in ways that looked new or interesting to me and ask, ‘How do you do that?’ and they would usually show me.”

Seeing people strongly connected to music while dancing inspired Simone, and she soon realized she could be the spark to that connection through DJing.

Simone was first introduced to DJing in college at Macalester, where she had a live show every week on the campus radio station (WMCN FM). Since she believes radio should be a medium that speaks to listeners, and not something they can predict, Simone improvised her sets and followed whatever flow she had developed.

“I used to dig through the Chicago House records my boyfriend had at the time, stuff a bunch into my backpack, go to my last hour class, and bike over to the studio just in time for my set,” said Simone. “I never planned out a set-list. I liked to go with whatever I was feeling at the time. Chicago, Latin, techy, tribal, SanFransisco – all different styles of house music, you know, the stuff that makes you feel good.”

It was in the studio where Simone surmounted a strong understanding of how to work with vinyl, as she elected to only play records during her 2-hour sets. For anyone not familiar with DJing vinyl, transitioning flawlessly from record-to-record on a turntable is an art in itself. DJ’s who work with records have more overall control of the music and how the sound resonates, but the slightest mishap leads to trainwrecking the entire musical flow.

DJ Simone’s skills only heightened after her radio show at Macalester, and she’s since DJed everything from staff get-togethers to brimming dance parties. Her sets range in style, and she remains reliant on her improvisation skills and knack for understanding crowds to continue the streak of satisfied listeners. Simone is open to DJing all genres, too, resisting the ease of repetitiveness.

“I don’t dive into any one style of music because I like all genres, and I can learn from them all. I try to blend into a lot of things,” she said. “Different people like different styles of music. I like to let everyone hear something they can possibly relate to.”

Understatement of the year: Simone is an extraordinary artist. She’s immersed in enhancing the world through music in a very profound way. Her acclaim takes a backseat to her integrity as an artist. She feeds off the energy she gets from the people she collaborates with and performs for. She studies facets of music that are perhaps overlooked, like the correlation of the human heartbeat with the beats per minute of a song, or the symbolism of how certain chords and compilations are structured. Simone believes the impact music can have on our society is immense, and I believe her.

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And Simone’s journey as an artist is only beginning. She’s so far mastered the ins-and-outs of DJing, as well as providing welcoming and liberating environments for her crowds. Right now Simone’s sets consist of existing songs she mixes to fit with each other, but eventually she’d like to create and produce her own house music – when she feels ready, of course. I have a hunch the music she creates will be something special.

For now she just wants to keep learning. Collaborating with a diverse group of musicians (right now she collaborates mostly with her DJ partner, Frank Castles), leading local youth in dance and music workshops, and lastly incorporating even more variety into her sets are all part of Simone’s plans.

A couple of years ago after a George Clinton concert at First Avenue, Simone met a videographer who worked with Parliament-Funkadelic, and he left her with insight she remains contingent on pursuing. He showed her a video he had shot while she was dancing in the crowd and said, “See that? You have a light that shines. It shines from inside of you and reflects onto the people around you.” He told her the impact she has on people resides in spreading that same shine.

 “I guess I’m always just trying to share my shine,” said Simone.

* * * * *

Simone is currently involved with the awesome non-profit organization IDEAWERKS, which was formed to help pave the way for the next generation of inspired individuals. Her unique love for music is spread with the youth she works with.

Most recently she’s been planning the IdeaWerks Community Concert/Fundraiser, which will take place on September 22nd, 3-7:30pm at Powderhorn Park. Mark your calendars and don’t miss a chance to support the youth in our community, and all the beautiful people involved in making it happen.  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ideawerks/275163766896

 **Photos captured by Sally Nixon

—Noah Fish

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Kids, Keep Dreaming

http://www.faceforwardmn.com/

Even in the broadminded society we live in today, pursuing an artistic career means disregarding the uncountable times you’re told the dream you’re in pursuit of isn’t a realistic one.

Acting gigs won’t pay for all your student loan debt. There isn’t a niche for the type of music you make. People don’t buy paintings anymore. Newspapers are dead.

At some point in development, I’d say starting in high school, we start telling kids to be realistic about their dreams. Parents begin to stress financial security, counselors inform on the current job market, and colleges prompt interests to be narrowed down. I realize accentuating a sense of accountability at this age is important, but overindulging practicality can motivate kids to opt out of passions before they are even ready to cultivate them.

This stage of development illustrates how our society vastly overvalues money and work, and undervalues the importance of arduous challenges and righteousness, along with following your instinct. Money will never fulfill all your dreams – we know this. It’s time to start showing we do.

My enthusiasm over this notion is perhaps why I always feel moved when involved in helping our youth embrace their artistic side; I know if I hadn’t found my passion for art so early, I may have been persuaded away from it later on.

Two weeks ago our Education Director, Lauren Miller, coordinated and emceed our Face Forward KidVenture show. The show was performed for about sixty East St. Paul elementary school kids, and included breakdancing (New Heist), an Afro-Caribbean music and dance performance (OSO’s Bomba Umoja), and a drum and dance ensemble (Earthshake World Rhythm Ensemble). It ended with the kids (and a few Face Forward members) dancing onstage with the performers. Lauren dancing cheerfully alongside these beaming young kids will definitely serve as a favorite summer memory.

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Events like KidVenture are so important, and I’m grateful to be a part of an organization that realizes the significance of helping youth form the mentality needed to stay persistent in following an artistic passion.

I found out afterwards that KidVenture was unable to receive the grant they needed for summer planning this year, which was necessary to afford all the performance expenses. Face Forward put on the show anyway, with the help from everyone involved in our partner campaign. KidVenture was the first Face Forward show funded entirely by our donors, who’ve all made it possible to maintain our mission of helping the community prosper through art.

Let’s keep art alive, and let’s allow people to continue following their dreams, regardless what the average income is. A dream is something you can make reality.

And don’t forget to check out Lauren’s great piece on KidVenture, http://arielsimone.com/2012/07/30/a-toast-to-spontaneity-and-being-unpredictable/

–-Noah Fish

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Welcome Home

http://www.faceforwardmn.com/

I’m wholeheartedly convinced I have the brain of a journalist. My mind is wired in an assess-first fashion, and I’m relentlessly evaluating my presence amongst the company around me. The faucets of my mind work mainly to evaluate the significance and connotation of whatever activity I’m engaging in.

I know – this is weird, but I can’t help it.

I’m constantly restless, I over evaluate frequently, and I’m sometimes nostalgic of moments while they are occurring. My brain is an ongoing fracas of assessment. Uncomfortable has become my contentment. I find most of my wellbeing in irony, wit, and of course, sarcasm.

My tangled awareness sometimes makes it challenging to find comfort in groups, particularly during concerts. My mind is bogged with the distractions of the crowd around me, and how well I mesh with people in my vicinity. I often have these anxieties constrain me from enjoying myself completely. Rarely do I get the chance to fully assent with an environment and feel true importance within it.

With all that being said, this weekend at Project Earth I felt like an integral piece of the environment. I’ve never felt such reliance and faith in strangers. The gratitude was immeasurable. Strangers doesn’t even seem fitting to call them, they are more like a provisional family.
My Project Earth family.

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Knowing I would eventually be writing about the festival I devoted two full pages of my journal entitled, “Welcome Home” – the premise and tagline of the weekend. The final product of my notes was my standard crowded paraphrasing and scribbles, but overlapped in highlighted sharpie was the expression:

Most days I feel as if the world is working against me.
Here, the world is working with me.

My top memories from Project Earth 2012

 The visual spectacle of Harmony Park. Entering the festival grounds and seeing the sun polish every gap between the beautiful grandiose trees will now serve as my personal explanation of sublime.

 While watching Medicine For the People sound check before their Friday night set, I chatted with the girl next to me about how fantastic Harmony Park was. When I told her it was my first time at the park, she rousingly gasped and said, “Oh my gosh, you’re so lucky. I’m really happy that you can be here,” and tightly hugged me.

 While avoiding the “tent setup” of my group (sorry guys but I know my strengths, and setting up tents is not one of them) I explored the park for the first time, and encountered an adorable little girl dressed in a shimmering princess dress. She skipped a circle around me, handed me a heart-shaped card and skipped back to her campsite. Inside the card read: LIVE WITH A HEAVY HEART

 During a meander through the campsites we joined a group of kids surrounding two guys plucking guitars and singing songs. One of the guys wasn’t familiar with a song someone requested (by The Head and The Heart, I believe), so he offered our friend Emily the guitar, and without thinking twice she beautifully serenaded the small crowd. It was wonderful on so many levels.

 A pair of lovely women working the community kitchen flagged down my attention and served me the most magical rhubarb-strawberry-marshmallow pancakes, which I later acclaimed in every conversation I participated in for the rest of the evening.

 I learned that 100% of the festival profits go towards WookieFoot Charities, and supporting deprived communities all around the globe. Not a cent goes to anything else but relief efforts.  http://bethechangecharities.org/

– Getting to bond with the amazing Face Forward family, as well as meeting a handful of brilliant Face Forward artists. I remain fascinated by everyone involved.

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– Leaving the festival a little before six in the morning, towards a glowing orange sun peaking out for the first time of the day. Sleep deprivation and mud-coated shoes had nothing on my cheerfulness. 

I’ll be attending Project Earth next year, and hopefully years after that. Following a tedious routine in a demanding environment can result in losing serenity in day-to-day life, but one experience with the right people can snap you right back to tranquility. Happiness exists in helping others, and it always will. We’re all here to work together. I’m positive there isn’t another message out there with equal significance.

***All of these beautiful photos were captured by Wandering Skunk Photography (http://www.facebook.com/Wanderingskunkphotography)

–-Noah Fish

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Greetings From the (giddy) Summer Intern

http://www.faceforwardmn.com/

I understood very little about Face Forward pending our first intern meeting. I mean sure, I read through the blog, browsed YouTube videos, and incessantly asked my friend already involved, “Yeah but, what exactly do we do?”

What we do, exactly, is inspire you to do. We arrange performances, uncover local talent and offer direction to artists looking for a stage. But those are simply the undertakings that form a lesser part of our purpose. Our underlying mission centers on a much more personal layer, a layer that bequeaths people with creativity, originality, and the audacity to share their art.

I didn’t realize this until our first meeting when we examined the artistic process. Art isn’t a skill or craft only a select few of us are gifted with –art is truth. It’s spilling a particular view or sentiment onto a canvas for display, or over a microphone to a crowd, and so on. It’s putting your life on a pedestal in hopes someone can relate and benefit from it.

Scattering this notion inside our community and art scene will set the groundwork for a progressive platform, free of predisposed criticism. Face Forward evokes a standard of integrity. All artists that create with integrity are significant and can bring us closer to understanding humanity.

This conception of ideas floated around in my head until Face Forward landed in my lap and articulated the message. Now, I’m inspired to inspire.

My name is Noah, and I’ll be writing most of the Face Forward blog posts this summer.

Some things about myself… I’m new to the cities, which means I’m still getting on city busses that are traveling opposite my destination, still scrambling for my camera phone whenever I see a clear view of the skyline, and still riding my bike on sidewalks. I came to the Twin Cities from a beautiful small town in Minnesota called Winona, where I studied journalism and wrote for the campus newspaper, The Winonan.

Aside from having no money or general sense of direction, my life is great. I come from a good family and was raised by parents who taught me the importance of kindness, something I’m utmost grateful for. We have a mischievous cat named Ella, and an unstable yet still adorable dog named Gracie.

Writing is my art of choice. Journaling my thoughts helps me facilitate the interminable clutter that is my mind. I strongly believe in a search-for-truth type of journalism that is reliant on impartiality. I think we have too many harsh critics, and not enough writers that can provide evaluation without inclination. Through Face Forward I’d like to gain an impartial, beneficial approach to evaluating and writing about performing arts.

Other things I like: Porches, Kanye West, live music, dogs, NPR, making lists, dancing, book trades, wood floors, and rummage sales.

As I professed already, I’m thrilled to work with Face Forward this summer. My hope is to spread this excitement with all of you, because I really do believe it’s an excitement worth spreading. Make this summer memorable.

Oh and, follow us on Twitter – @faceforwardmn

–Noah Fish

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