Ahhhh, fall is in the air and the colors are changing before our eyes. It’s that time of year again. At our house, this equates to Trader Joe’s pumpkin pancakes, night walks with hoodies, and an unprecedented level of excitement and creativity. October is Halloween month, and that means the time is nigh for a particular tradition that occurs but once a year:
For those of you who are scratching your heads, I offer this post as a means to provide some backstory to something that is as much a self-promise as it is a personal obsession. I’ll be turning 30 come January, and looking back on things today, October 1st, is almost a necessity just out of sheer timing.
The Beginning Of This Mix Series
ELECTROWEEN is a passion project I started back in 2009 after graduating from St. Norbert College with a BA in graphic design and photography. Under the alias VII (short for Souldier VII, my existing DJ name), I began producing a yearly autumn electronic music series consisting of hour long DJ mixes accompanied by custom thematic artwork. The creation process of ELECTROWEEN has kept me up way too late over periods of days, weeks… Hell, even months. It is often a story untold — that is until now, just two weeks prior to the release of the 2016 mixes on October 15th, right here at GAIA BROS.
What started as a rekindling of past house music sets in SNC and Minneapolis basements mutated into the celebration of all the things that go bump (and blip) in the night. But it didn’t just materialize on a whim. The concept started with the confrontation of the much too commonly dodged topic within our clockwork society: Death.
Introducing The Zombie Pub Crawl
With the arrival of 2009’s infectiously popular zombie pub crawl scene (drawing out countless 20-somethings in cities nationwide), being a zombie was not a choice. It was an obligation to your fellow male and female counterparts. Being undead for a single night or two was a privilege, and man did it feel GREAT. Everything was more fun with flesh and blood dripping down your face while out late at night with friends. It sounds strange, but death had a funny way of bringing out the best in friends both old and new while exchanging stories over whisky sours.
In some ways at the time, being “dead” was indefinitely better than being alive. Freshly out of school with very few job prospects, and caught in the aftermath of 2008’s economic collapse (you know, that time where everything conveniently went to complete shit), I was desperately searching for footing admist a world turned upside down.
Nothing made sense anymore. Everything we were told growing up went straight out the window in one fell swoop. There was no longer a logical roadmap for the future, and that’s the undeniable reality that crept into my bones. Waiting for opportunity was something our generation could no longer afford to count on. I realized I had to create it. So I did.
The First Bedroom Mix is Born
While working in a factory in my hometown and taking on my first paid WordPress web design project for a roommate (just thinking about it makes me feel old!), I was constructing an electronic DJ mix comprised of twelve house and electro tracks from the comfort of my bedroom. Being a longstanding retro gamer, film junkie, basement DJ and pop culture lover, I felt a driving need to record samples from my favorite games and movies and throw them in the mix. These audio clips added an additional layer of heartfelt nostalgia, ultimately tying all of my favorite things together in one energy-infused package.
The results of my first mix from October 2009 were initially unpredictable. At the time, it was just a one-off experiment to get myself (and my fellow pub crawlers) pumped for Halloween. What I couldn’t have known was how much of an impact this first mix would have on me for the next seven years to come.
Fellow GAIA BRO’er Matt Konop and I had been co-managers of WSNC radio in undergrad and had formed a close friendship after our modest introduction as station DJs in 2005. Matt’s passion for music, gaming and creativity jived with mine and was immediately noticeable. What occurred was an almost gravitational relationship which still stands eleven years later, even after a handful of moves, career paths and major life transitions.
A Memorable Reception
When Matt first heard my mix, his reception was unforgettable. I still remember the intensity of his texts and listening to his voicemails about how excited he was and how much energy the whole project gave him. It is because of Matt’s love for my work that I have continued this tradition for seven years (minus 2013, the year of my wedding to my wonderful wife, Lindsey). I brought him on to the series shortly thereafter beginning in 2011, and the two of us have been collaborating on these mixes ever since. Recognize the alias “Loveless” on the artwork from previous releases? That’s Matt!
Each year, as the summer fades and the fall emerges from the shadows, I am reminded of Matt’s unquenchable love for this project and our humble beginnings together, and my ideas take flight. I gather these highly charged memories, toy with them in my mind, and form something that (hopefully) connects to that same timeless excitement of all things Halloween that we experienced as kids. When we were younger, all of us were limited only by the boundaries of our imaginations. As we grow older, it becomes increasingly important to tap into these youthful reserves that are just waiting for us to rediscover within our hearts.
Now you see, death tends to lead people to do crazy things. Looking back, 2009 was an opportunity to reflect on death and my mortality in a deeply creative and participatory way. And I am grateful for that timely exchange. Because of it, I’ve come to discover the true value of life and allowed myself to be positively shaped by fear. For me, this meant taking a leap (or two, or five) throughout my twenties and trusting in my creative process above all else along the way.
Steve Jobs once told a graduating class at Stanford University to “stay hungry, stay foolish.” While that means something entirely different to the undead, for the living it is a gift of hope — hope that we can continue contributing to the epic narrative of the human spirit. It grants us permission to try, fail and try again. It points to a universal truth that there is no single path to success. These words are a green light for the lifelong pursuit of cosmos from chaos — order from disorder, something from nothing.
Creation as a form of identity
Each year, Matt and I have tried to do something different with our ELECTROWEEN mixes (or in some cases, drastically different!). I’m lucidity aware that not every mix hits the spot for each listener, and that’s fine. Keep in mind, we don’t make these mixes for you — we make them for ourselves. In the end, your own happiness matters most in life, and the participation of others is entirely at their discretion. If you aren’t working on YOU and being honest with yourself, you’re just wasting precious time that you won’t be getting back later.
ELECTROWEEN is a special part of my personal identity and story. It has taught me that when things go south in life, you don’t stand around moping in agony. Instead, you pick yourself up, rip out the decaying bits of self-doubt from your being and keep moving forward with your goals — whatever they may be. Kick that grim bastard Death and his friends in the teeth if you have to in the process of finding yourself.
For me, this is what it means to create and has been the underlying narrative of my adult life. I look back this fall with gratitude for the unique experiences this project has brought to me. I hope that in some small way it inspires you to create something and see where it takes you.
2016: A Synthwave Odyssey
Come, friends and join us once more in celebrating the season of possibility. This year, we invite you to step inside our hot-wired time machine to relive the glory days of the neon-soaked 80s synthwave scene. For anyone who can’t get enough of Stranger Things, Drive or the 2015 internet classic Kung Fury, you won’t want to miss this.
In just 14 days, you’ll be putting on your favorite headphones, grabbing your shades, pouring yourself a drink and escaping with us once more into the night. We’ve got the wheel, so we ask that you sit back, relax and enjoy the ride that is ELECTROWEEN 2016.
Before signing off, I want to thank Matt and my wife Lindsey for their shared appreciation of the Halloween season and commitment to respecting this tradition. Their enthusiasm for life’s wonder is my mirror reflection, and their patience over the years has allowed us to create from where it matters most. “Because in the end, you are what you create.”
Catch you on October 15th when the mixes drop on GAIA BROS! 😉