Red Bull has a tendency to dream big in all their endeavours. From becoming the highest-selling energy drink on the planet, to launching the first human into the stratosphere for a ten minute free fall back to earth, the power-brand has a cultural proclivity to actualise mind-blowing events – far removed from their taurine-laced ambitions – that leaves most of us in awe.
This month was no different, marking the 17th year of Red Bull’s annual world-traveling music academy series that has committed itself to fostering creativity in music by way of cutting-edge music events, workshops, public lectures, and art exhibitions. Try imagining a month-long music university degree course where daily lectures are hosted by your favourite artists (D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Floating Points, Ryuichi Sakamoto to name but a few), world-class purpose-built studios are provided with every synth and instrument imaginable, your personal one-on-one tutors happen to be Just Blaze, Modeselektor and Dorian Concept, and you’re booked for live shows at some of the finest joints in the city. Oh, and it’s all expenses paid, obviously right?
This year Red Bull Music Academy returned to Europe after a four year hiatus, previously coasting around Tokyo, New York and Sau Paulo, to set up shop in the heart of Paris. We were kindly invited across the channel for a couple of days to experience the academy for ourselves, alongside the 61 participants spanning 37 different countries as they work on their own music at the state-of-the-art La Gaîté lyrique facility deep in the heart of the city. With so much going on each day, time management is key. In the three days we were there, lectures were offered up by Nicolas Godin (one half of down-tempo electronic duo Air) and French disco legend Cerrone housed at the top of Eiffel Tower alongside live performances from Floating Points and a worldly DJ set from Jeremy Underground deep into the night – and all of this alongside nightly showcases around town featuring the participants themselves.
Of course the epicentre of everything at Red Bull Music Academy revolves around the participants. Sounding a lot more stripped back than they actually are, eight ‘bedroom studios’ have also been especially built on two sectioned-off upper floors at La Gaite Lyrique for participants to utilise and work on music together whilst at the academy. They are required to attend two lectures a day (‘required’ seems like the wrong word here since participants jump at every lecture offered up). To get accepted as a participant the process is rigorous and RBMA clearly worked hard this year to spread the selection over a far-reaching variety of genres and cities.
From South Korea to Bahrain, footwork to soulful hip hop’, during our stay at the academy we sat down with four of our favourite participants (Miso, HomeSick, COSMO and k2k) that span the entire globe to hear first hand what the RBMA ‘experience’ is like and their place within it.
Based out of Calgary, Canada, HomeSick is a 26-year-old producer harnessing a unique twist of juke/jungle/footwork with a twist, utilising contagious R&B samples to balance his sound between headphone listening and the dance floor. Miso, a multi-instrumentalist hailing from South Korea, brandishes a rugged yet soulful slant on post-Dilla hip-hop with pop sensibilities. COSMO is an electronic whizz-kid from Bahrain, inspired by the traditional folk sounds of his landscape but with a keen ear for forward-thinking soulful grooves. Lastly, New Zealand-based producer k2k is pushing her own brand of textured dreamy electronic pop with a soft spot for Vancouver’s burgeoning balearic house scene and labels such as 1080p and Mood Hut.
Find the interview with COSMO & K2K below and listen to our special RBMA Paris edition of our radio show above including a full recorded interview with Miso and HomeSick.
Hey guys, so we’re in week 2 of the academy. What has been a highlight for you and what are you most looking forward to?
k2k: I actually have barely known any of the people featured in the lectures which has been really good going into a bunch of things and not knowing what to expect. I knew Hudson Mohawke but aside from that I’ve learnt so much, particularly musical scenes I had no idea existed like Papa Wemba and Gil Scott Heron’s pianist – it’s incredible. I’ve got an iPhone note that is so fucking long of music and new genres to check out when I go back home!
COSMO: To be quite honest because I come from a place that doesn’t have much of a music scene and I don’t get to see many live acts, I’ve been very keen on seeing as many as possible whilst I’ve been here, and so I basically haven’t missed a single show to date. To me it’s a huge inspiration when I see someone play live, that connection inspires me because back home I do collaborate with artists but I’m missing that stage performance, that emotional live element.
RBMA has put a big focus on getting the participants to play live. Whilst being here have you engineered the way you mix and master and produce tracks in respect to how listeners may consume them (i.e. headphone listening vs dance floor)?
k2k: I think ideally I want to make people dance, that’s what I would like, but I don’t think when I produce music in my bedroom it actually pans out that way. I can’t imagine my tracks on a dance floor but ideally that’s what I’m heading towards. I just did a DJ set before Galcher Lustwerk and Omar S which was cool but I didn’t meet them unfortunately. Omar started at 4 in the morning and I didn’t see him outback at all but it was mad fun!
COSMO: That’s a really good point. I played on Friday for the Pitchfork after party and that was my first show outside of Bahrain and a lot of the stuff that I played I never thought during the writing process how they would be played live so I had to go back and really re-do all of the elements and actually, that’s the thing Nicolas Godin mentioned yesterday, we are a generation of producers that are performing, we’re not really performing artists per se, we’re not Mick Jagger or David Bowie so it’s really different, but then again, you have control over the music so you just have to experience. So for the show on Friday I realised I wanted to take a different approach, and that worked, but I think I can do even something better.
In the lecture with Nicolas Godin from Air, he mentioned that he enjoyed moving studios a lot because familiarity can sometimes stifle creativity. On that tip, what has your experience been producing in the RBMA studios?
k2k: At first it was a struggle because we have to use their version of Ableton and I’m used to having access to certain presets and soft synths whenever I open Ableton at home, but I think it’s really good to be forced to not rely on a bunch of plugins and instead use real synths and it’s really good to remember how to use those and create new sounds. I’ve been really really loving playing on drum machines here, I’ve bought a 707 back home but it’s really good to have studio engineers here to hook everything up the correct way especially when they’re so old.
COSMO: Absolutely, it’s also getting first hand exposure seeing other artists approach it, their process is very different from my process although we all use the same applications, the same tools, they approach it differently and that results in a different sound, but yeah definitely the space itself changes how I have been producing since it’s an environment solely for production whereas at home in a bedroom studio you are in an environement not specifically for that, so you are there for music and you don’t get distracted.
Keep up with all things at Red Bull Music Academy Paris via the dedicated mini-site here.