INTERVIEW BY SAM FRIEDMAN
PHOTOS BY STEVE OWEN
It’s 9:00 a.m. on a warm, overcast morning. The Richmond air is thick, as I stand outside of Lamplighter Roasting Company on Addison Street. A growing line spills out of the door, leaking a rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee. I’m meeting with Steve Owen, a mid-20’s multi-instrumentalist and electronic producer. He wears thin, chic glasses and has a full, dark beard; his demeanor is laid back, yet professional. While we wait for our order of dark roast, Steve enthusiastically talks about music software with an impressive understanding.
Steve is best known as the bassist of the popular electronic jam band SILO EFFECT. SILO EFFECT landed on the Richmond electronic music scene in 2007 as EXISTOR was on the way out—giving listeners a new psychedelic sound to latch onto. SILO EFFECT captured the hearts of electronic music fans with their vivid melodies, infectious rhythms, and progressive grooves.
More recently, Steve has been making bedroom beats on his MacBook Pro under the alias SANTAKILMAGIK. He sees electronic music as a way to escape the barriers of traditional music and explore the boundless possibilities of contemporary production. In an attempt to bring musicians together and shed light on underground producers, Steve began the Richmond Electronic Collective in February of 2012.
What was the initial inspiration behind Richmond Electronic Collective?
The whole thing started because I was making beats, and I didn’t know any other producers in town except for a couple of my friends. As time went on, I started meeting more people, and it became obvious that there are tons of producers in Richmond—I just didn’t know who any of them were. So I started simply just looking on Soundcloud and Reverbnation with the “sort-by-location” feature. I found everybody from Richmond, hit them up and said, “Hey. I got this idea for putting together a compilation CD.” And that’s all it was—just a compilation CD, at first. From working with SILO EFFECT, I knew the benefit of networking and getting to know people. It’s all about who you know. If nobody knows who you are, you could be incredible, but nobody is going to hear you. So this was the important next step if I wanted to get serious. It did kind of start off as a selfish endeavor for me to say, “Hey. I’m here. I’m making music. Let’s get to know each other.” That’s all it was—I just emailed everybody and said, “What do you think about this idea?”
Also, one of the main reasons this whole thing came about is that I felt there were a lot of DJs getting too much hype, but producers were getting left out or not getting the respect due. And sometime it’s hard to tell the difference. So, I wanted to draw a line in the sand to show that these are the guys who are actually making this stuff.
With a REC Room monthly residency at The Camel on the horizon, are there new producers we can expect to see perform?
We’re actually going to be doing a SATELLITE SYNDICATE takeover in September. It’s five guys; they’re all young as shit, like early twenties, and they’re killing it—like dynamite. SITTASINES and BSTFRND are in it. They are fucking phenomenal.
My whole realization over the course of doing this is that there are pockets all over the city. I just found out about these guys like two months ago. It’s all about bringing people together, whether it’s selfish or not. That’s been the effect: getting everybody on the same page.
Ultimately, the goal is to have a website with everybody’s name who I’ve come in contact with. There are people from two years ago who aren’t even [making] projects anymore, so it would almost be like a Wikipedia of Richmond producers.
At the last REC room, there was a projector with an entrancing light show; how important are visuals with the performance of electronic music?
When there’s a live band, there is enough happening in the moment—for example, people actually playing instruments—to make it entertaining. You’ve got that live interaction. The only live interactions when you’re DJing are effects and the interactions between the DJ and the crowd. As a DJ, you’ve got to really have a personality and a presence on stage to be able to rock a room. The visuals, I think, help to fill in the gaps. It puts something behind you where normally a singer would have a band with lots of motion going on stage to make it interesting. For us, having the visuals kind of puts that back. We have a guy named Dustin Klein, who does our visuals. You should see his rig. The dude’s a Jedi. He definitely elevates the whole atmosphere. It also adds another element. Obviously music is vibrations, but lights have vibrations as well. So you’re being told the same story through different wavelengths.
SITTASINES PERFORMING AT THE CAMEL
With two digital compilations and a third underway, are there any plans to make physical copies?
There always has been. The issue has been funding. But also there’s the question: if I’m going to make a physical release, do I make a CD? Do people want CDs? Vinyl would be ideal just because that’s a collectable, and of course it would come with a digital release. At this point, the way the music business is moving with format changes happening faster than ever, I don’t think the physical copy has any purpose other than a collector’s item.
I got some work ahead of me if I’m going to do this, but what I would really like to do is to try to get this funded from various advertisers, and have the back of the record say like The Dominion Collective or The Camel or Turnstyle or Steady Sounds. If we had a bunch of logos on the back—fifty bucks from everyone—that could easily fund the project. I might start hitting people up, and that’s just kind of a door-to-door thing.
When people think of electronic music, they often think of it as synonymous with dance music, but a lot of it is slow, ambient, and abstract. What kind of diversity have you found in the musicians who’ve been involved with REC?
It’s been very diverse. We’ve had some weird stuff. Lately, it’s been a lot of boom bap—very much on the hip hop side of things. We had AKASHA from PARTY LIBERATION FRONT out the other night, and that was definitely a dance show. DJ POSSUM’s stuff is usually a little bit dancier. We had this group 1UPYO, which is Doc B. Wildman and friends. 1UPUO is a weird, conceptual project with characters and time travel, and that was an unexpected dance party. I booked them, and this was early on when I didn’t have a lot of people involved, so I didn’t know what to expect. They [1UPYO] brought a huge crowd and everybody was there to dance. It was really cool.
What is it about Richmond that has inspired you to pursue and promote electronic music here?
I think I’m sick of the separateness of the scenes. Like I said about uniting people, it’s all about who you know, and if you don’t know about them then they don’t exist. For some people, they may see the electronic music scene as disparate or not cohesive. They don’t know about all of these pockets or where everyone is, and I’m starting to get some vantage point on that and I feel like I could do some good by putting them all in one place and making it accessible.
You continue to mention all these pockets that are unknown; do you think that has to do with the fact that many of these producers are creating in their bedrooms?
Absolutely. I did Sittasines’ first show, as well as mahLion’s first venue show. SMOKO, which is BWLR and plaad, had their first show back in February, and BSTFRND will be doing his first venue show at The Camel on July 8th. It’s awesome. I feel really privileged to be the guy pulling people out and saying, “Your shit is awesome. Do this. People will love it.” You need that encouragement. You need feedback; you need positive feedback in order to keep doing it.
MAHLION PERFORMING AT THE CAMEL
Electronic music seems to be dominated by the UK, but it’s going strong in cities like LA, Chicago, and NYC. Do you ever see a time where Richmond will be the map as a prime city for EDM?
I think Richmond will be known for its underground scene because of the size of it. What would be a scene in another city will remain underground here and it’s going to be really good, but it’s not going to have the same worldwide recognition as NY, LA, or Chicago. I see it being kind of a well-kept secret, where if you know about it, you’re floored—you realize what’s going on. It’s possible, but I think the population of the city itself is a barrier. We could develop a reputation of a city like Austin, where it’s a very tight-knit music community that is obsessive about music with a lot of out of towners coming through. Austin is starting to become more of a recording capital as well, and Richmond has a bunch of great studios. I could see that happening.
What are your hopes for the future of Richmond Electronic Collective?
Andrew (MAHLION) and I have been talking about about doing a day festival. We’ve got some really cool ideas. Jefferson (BSTFRND) and I have also been talking about something similar. I actually had the idea of doing a treasure map with different times and locations, even going as far as having a GPS coordinates. We want to do it guerilla style. The whole secrecy thing is fun; it makes it special.
Also, I love the idea of featuring different crews like the Satellite Syndicate takeover I mentioned coming up in September. We may possibly do a Reeverb Entertainment or Just Plain Sounds night in the future. Plus, more out of towners—we’ve got FLITE, a drum & bass producer from Blacksburg doing his first RVA show next month; he recently had a track featured on BBC Radio 1.
Oh, and keep an eye out for Richmond Electronic Collective Vol. 3 out on August 12t!
If someone wants to get involved with Richmond Electronic Collective, what is the best way to go about it?
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Just hit me up. Send me a track or two. Just talk to me. I’m an open door.
For more updates on Richmond Electronic Collective, be sure to “like” them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and listen on Soundcloud and Bandcamp.