Recording Academy's 'Pass the Aux' Forms a "Zoomchella" Community
The very spirit of using the aux cord is inclusivity. Rather than a single person dominating the soundsystem, it allows anyone to share—whether that's their favorite song or their latest project. By bringing together talented new members from the Recording Academy Chicago Chapter and Philadelphia Chapter, Pass the Aux embraces that same radical power, reveling in the diverse representation and community of the cities' music scenes. The Recording Academy extends membership invitations annually, and Pass the Aux attendees were all members of the 2020 class. Sharing everything from psychedelic pop to trip-hop, the new members gained insight from each other as well as members of the Academy team and hosts Dan "Dilemma" Thomas and Dani Deahl.
"This situation is like a library, and Dilemma and Dani are like the librarians," said Pittsburgh-based rapper Harvey "Frzy" Daniels. "Everyone has different chapters, but we don't get the chance to read the same book. It's amazing that you've helped us all get together and get on the same page, in the same chapter."
Spread over the course of three weeks, Pass the Aux was designed to shine a light on some of the superb creative minds working out of the Chicago and Philadelphia Chapters for conversation and inspiration. Each night began with the dozen new members being welcomed to the Zoom chat. The artists popped into the Zoom chat one by one, their faces lighting up as Dilemma spun records. With tracks fittingly featuring artists from Chicago and Philadelphia, entering the chat felt like opening the door to Dilemma's club—walking through the gates of "Zoomchella" as one member put it.
The first of the events featured a virtual conversation between Chicago rapper Calboy and New Jersey singer/songwriter Ant Clemons. In the two-part incubator series that followed, Deahl and Dilemma served as perfect hosts, welcoming the new members into the conversation. "We created this for everyone to network and share," Dilemma explained in part two. "I really want to hear some collaborations from this group. Knowing a lot of the creators here, there's some special things in the making."
Sarah Jansen, senior executive director of the Chicago Chapter, welcomed the group and led the introductions, asking everyone to introduce themselves by sharing what music they were currently obsessing over. The question melted any nerves or preconceived anxieties for sharing one's deepest personal work, the icebreaker allowing everyone to get to know one another through music—the thing that lives at the very core. With responses ranging from British R&B vocalist RAYE to baroque pop mastermind Perfume Genius, one could see the creative scope of the artists proved impressive from the start.
The group was then split into two smaller breakout sessions for each member to share new and in-progress work in an intimate environment where each new member's voice could be heard and ideas could be shared freely. Artists from the two chapters were split evenly to ensure fresh perspectives, with one room led by Deahl and the other by Dilemma. The resulting series of stellar tracks nearly cured the "lack of live music" blues, the kaleidoscopic spin from indie pop hooks to house grooves leading to a dozen solo dance parties in their digital boxes. Detroit's Ariel Corley (aka DJ Holographic) offered up a particularly hypnotic cut, sproinging bass, icy synths and burning 808 snares echoing the techno of her Motor City origin as well as Massive Attack chill. Jacqueline Constance's contribution proved similarly powerful in its orchestral funk depth, the Philadelphia artist having played every layer on keyboard herself.
As each track spun, fire emojis and caps-locked exclamations of support filled the Zoom chat, reaffirming the familial vibe. Though everyone was stuck in their own home, the arm-waving, shoulder-shimmying dance moves made up for the lack of high-fives and hugs that one might expect in a creative idea-sharing setting.
Rather than offering these tracks up for criticism, the artists turned to conversations of process, inspiration, and collaboration, always aiming to learn from each other and grow their skills. In the first half of the incubator, this naturally centered on strategies for remaining productive and creative even in the depths of the pandemic.
From his Chicago balcony, Gene Farris shared a jam steeped in the midwest house tradition, explaining that after a burst of creativity at the beginning of self-isolation, he'd felt things start to slow down. "Sometimes I don't even want to look at the studio," he laughed, highlighting the challenges of working from home. (Wrangling a child and expensive recording equipment don't always mix, it seems.) "Robot Scott" Carter used the downtime to build a studio (on impressive display in the background of his Zoom window), while Corley decided to launch a label.
As each member shared their track and discussed their process, the room's hosts provided a sounding board and powerful guidance. While the pandemic may have left many feeling isolated and stuck in their own heads, Deahl deftly encouraged everyone out of their comfort zones and prompted thoughtful conversations on production choices. Dilemma's powerful advice echoed Deahl's: "There are no bad ideas, just bad execution," he shared. While some tracks may take years to finish while you develop the necessary tools to bring them to life, Dilemma explained, that doesn't mean that they were bad ideas in the interim.
These mentorship roles proved particularly dynamic in the second half of the incubator the following week, as the new members were encouraged to either bring in new takes on the track for which they'd previously received feedback, or to share another song that showed a similar editing journey. In addition to breaking down the inner workings of a new track, Deahl shared insight into trends in a variety of genres as well as the industry at large. But perhaps most powerful was her sincere appreciation of the work of the new Academy members. "I would love nothing more than to listen to that track while covered in mud at Lollapalooza," she chuckled after the group enjoyed a new wave-indebted big tent jam from Chicago's Traci Trouble.
And while the guidance of Deahl, Dilemma, and the other representatives of the Recording Academy proved inspiring to the new members, their interactions with each other will lead to even greater inspiration down the line. "If this is something you love, just keep f**king going," Constance insisted, leaving plenty of appreciative heads nodding across the Zoom screen.
"Let's make some really good music and shake up the rest of the Academy," Dilemma added, as the incubator drew to a close. Judging by the diverse and impressive variety of music and even stronger community in this three-part series, the years to come will see plenty of both. While many may be itching to forget about Zoom and return to an in-studio incubator, Pass the Aux masterfully opened up the new members to each others' music, studios, hearts, and passion, building an intense camaraderie. And that's what the aux cord is all about: exchanging ideas, complementing talents, and being together, no matter the circumstances.
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