BY LAUREN FESTA
DECEMBER 15, 2015
It’s more accessible to fly a drone than to make music. Sounds weird right? But a lot of people, you included, might be nodding your head in agreement. That’s because ever since the dawn of the recording industry as we know it, music has placed itself in an ivory tower, high above the local public, almost all of whom consume it. So why not make it ourselves? The Foxgrove is seeking to knock down the walls between musicians and everyone else, with their one-of-a-kind DJ & Producer sessions. In just three hours, you can learn the basics of DJing and create a new track plus cross one off the bucket list. No VIPs or backstage passes required, we visited the lovely Natalie Lam and David Maurice, co-founders of The Foxgrove, and had a spin on the tables ourselves.
If you like music, you’ll love this. The Foxgrove, aptly named after the street where David lived out his childhood, is a safe place to learn what those DJs are actually doing up there. We’ve put music makers on a high pedestal for ages, and until now, what seemed nothing short of music-wizardry is actually a grasp-worthy skill.
David Maurice, co-founder of The Foxgrove schools us on a bit of history. “Before the recorded music industry existed” he says, “at least 90% of the music we listened to was created by amateurs- either at a public gathering or more often in the home where they would play various instruments and sing. Since the advent of the recorded music industry, 90% of the music we have been listening to in the past few decades has been created by professional musicians, thus alienating people from being the creators. There exists a barrier and as a result, people aren’t participating in music. They maybe think of it like, ‘when I used to take piano lessons when I was a kid like ‘this is a nightmare! It takes me three years to get one song right.’ Nowadays, that’s just not the case. Music software has come such a long way.”
In this sleek converted office space just west of Broadway, it’s easy to believe him. When he places his finger on a few buttons, lights and sounds fill the room.
Every ‘student’ gets their own work space, a pair of noise-canceling headphones and what looks like a turntable or keyboard that will help you to make your very own mix. David takes you step by step, showing you what the MIDI controller does, what each button functionality is and so on. With each new button he introduces, he invites you to “play”.
As you start navigating cues, synths, and those knobs that make the treble go up and down – my personal favorite – you start to get addicted. The studio is equipped with Ableton’s, a machine that has seemingly endless possibilities from choosing preset drums, vocals and other layers, and even the capability to create original sounds. Later, David pulls out a ROLI keyboard that looks like it’s from the future, wrapped in a silicone casing that feels like hardened jello but more like what a sex toy would be made of. But that, he explains, is for advanced learners.
“It’s just like Instagram” he adds. “Everyone’s taking photos, but who has picked up a real camera in the last 10 years?” Much like our camera-phones, Ableton is just a tool. It has replaced the traditional crates and needles that DJs used to have to haul around from gig to gig. Now, you can just bring your board and your laptop, plug in and press play.
“Modern DJing has come such a long way from vinyl” he says. David has experienced the changes first-hand.The seasoned produce, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist has worked with a wide array of multiplatinum and Grammy Award–winning artists, like Boy George and Jay Z, as well as composing and producing tunes for TV and advertising. Having spent years helping professionals and becoming a bit jaded with the industry, he now wants to help music hobbyists or help people create a new hobby for themselves, in lieu of bar-hopping, spin-classing and hot-yoga-ing.
“There are still lots of purists out there, but being a DJ is not practical at all” David says, matter-of-factly. “You won’t find one club in New York in this day and age that has a good pair of turntables. Real turntables. Everyone has a laptop now.” I start to see the modern-day replacements; cue points replace old-school tape marks on records. On this machine, it’s not only easy and quick to pick up DJing, but it’s fun and you feel like you are creating something, just by manipulating a few things here and there with a few button presses, and making something called a ‘mix’.
We had only begun to scratch the surface of the potential of Ableton and of our own music-making abilities, but even still, there is a participation in this kind of music experience that is completely void when you go to a club or a concert. “You’re always a spectator but you are never involved” co-founder Natalie Lam poignantly points out. The Foxgrove takes music lovers a step further – or closer rather – into becoming a part of the sounds that move, heal, excite us.
The days of recording something and printing a CD for 20 cents and selling it for $20 are long gone and The Foxgrove is adapting to the change. Natalie and David know that anyone can make their own music and so for them, it just makes sense to democratize it. Technology has been helpful in breaking down the barriers between art and application, but music has sort of remained in it’s own prized bubble. “There always seems to be a wall between musicians and everyone else” says Natalie. “We want to make a community that is art, tech and music related.” The former advertising creative (executive creative director at Razorfish, McCann Erickson, Ogilvy, R/GA) observes, “in every other industry, people have benefited from technology, but music is something that is still ‘not open to the public’ when it comes to making it.”
Sunday’s are reserved for what they refer to as ‘Salons’ wherein music industry pros are invited to bring their own people and drop knowledge. Sundays are also for children’s classes, who have a really good first take on it, given their fearlessness. Plus they suggest new and current tracks that The Foxgrove can add to its ever-expanding library, including Drake, Future and that annoying Justin Bieber song that ‘everyone tries to hate but is actually really good’. 6:30-9:30 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are open to the curious, music-loving public. Mondays and Wednesdays are for the Level II students who already have the basics down.
We know we’ll be going back. And we extend the invitation to you. Instead of hitting the club to de-stress after a long day, why not head on over to The Foxgrove and hop on some “turntables”? It’s sort of like, therapeutic, in a fun, just-let-you-hair-down kind of way. Hardwired for our instant-gratification, The Foxgrove makes you feel like a triple-platinum star in three hours or less. And who knows, with a few (or many) sessions, you might just be accepting a Grammy for real.
Need more info? Head over to www.foxgrove.com.
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