Tag Archives: EDM

The Music Lesson You Never Got in School

May 3, 2018 by
Photography by Amy Lynn Straub
Illustration by Derek Joy

Through my time as a DJ for the past 16 years, it’s been my career and passion to study music. And I’ve learned one important fact along the way—the modern legacy of American dance music owes its roots to black, Hispanic, and LGBTQ spaces.

Most folks probably know that genres like hip-hop, jazz, and R&B originated from African-Americans, but what about EDM or rock ’n’ roll?

Let’s explore that.

As a teenager, I caught the tail end of the ‘90s rave era. At these all-night raucous gatherings, I assumed what I was seeing and hearing was completely different, edgy, and transformative. And while the crowd was eclectic, it was mostly white. The DJs I played with and the friends that we got down with were mostly white. So I came to think about dance music as a white cultural expression.

Turns out I was wrong.

Everything we were into could be traced back to “The Godfather of House,” Frankie Knuckles. Born Francis Nicholls, Frankie Knuckles was a gay African-American man. Growing up in the Bronx, Knuckles frequented discos as a teenager during the 1970s. He eventually began working as a DJ, playing soul, disco, and R&B at two of the most important early discos, the Gallery in Manhattan and the Continental Baths, a lavish gay bathhouse on the Upper West Side. In the late 1970s, Knuckles moved from New York City to Chicago at the behest of Robert Williams, who was opening the now-legendary Warehouse nightclub.

When the Warehouse opened in 1977, Knuckles was invited to play on a regular basis. His style was a mix of disco classics, unusual indie-label soul, European synth-disco, the occasional rock track, and other rarities. This would all eventually become the genre we know as “house music,” (derived from “Warehouse music,” of course). Knuckles was so popular that the Warehouse, initially a members-only club for largely black gay men, began attracting straighter, whiter crowds who normally might not have gone there. Knuckles left to open his own club, the Power Plant, in 1983.

House music went on to birth techno, trance, and electronic dance music (aka EDM and those pop-ish dance tunes produced by Calvin Harris, Skrillex, and Avicii). But house music is actually disco reincarnated. The July 1979 radio campaign against disco, which some perceived as being anti-black and anti-LGBTQ, culminated in a promotion at Comiskey Park in which a crate of disco records was blown up on the field. While many saw this as the “death of disco,” house music rose from the ashes, hence why some people cunningly call it “disco’s revenge.”

House music doesn’t owe its roots to raves, and disco wasn’t created by a white guy in bell bottoms. As journalist Barry Walters wrote in Billboard: “The history of dance music in America and the history of LGBT folks—particularly those of color—coming together to create a cultural utopia, was and still is inseparable. Neither would have happened without the other.”

When I figured this out, I was blown away. Did my friends and DJs know this info? No one seemed to talk about it. It felt like I was let in on some secret history of American dance music.

As I went further down the historical path of music, the revelations kept coming.

Before disco was called disco, it was known as danceable R&B. Danceable R&B is an amalgamation of things like funk, soul, and jazz. R&B, of course, breaks down to rhythm and blues. All of these genres came from the African-American experience.

What about rock music?

Let’s take Elvis Presley—a man who we call the “King of Rock and Roll.”

His massive hit, “Hound Dog,” came out in 1956. Presley’s version is a remix. In 1953 Big Momma Thornton, a black woman artist, wrote and performed, “Hound Dog.” Whether it be his lyrics, aesthetic, or melodies, Elvis was just mimicking African-American artists, as he himself acknowledged. And for the record, Ol’ Man River declared that Chuck Berry was actually the King of Rock and Roll.

All that to say, without the cultural influence of African-Americans and the LGBTQ community, American music would be incredibly estranged from what we know and appreciate today. And if we’re to be fair, we need to recognize, honor, and share the origins of our music, the circumstances that brought it about, and the people who made it happen.

I’d like to address the role Hispanic music plays in this as well, but that’s another story for another time.


To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

Digital Daredevils

June 15, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The masterminds behind Omaha band Glow in the Dark—Lawrence Deal and Aaron Gum—have always had an affinity towards musical instruments and toys. Since they were young, Deal and Gum surrounded themselves with a variety of ways to create sound, which consequently led to their obsession with electronic music. While the passion for it was easier to harness, coming up with a proper band name took more of an effort.

“It was really difficult to settle on something because it is important to have a name that really captures what you’re going for,” Deal explains. “I think Glow in the Dark does a great job of that because it has some elements of nostalgia, but also has some duality between light and dark. That sort of captures our musical style.”

“A band name becomes part [of] your identity,” Gum adds. “It can inform artistic choices beyond the music.”

Gum and Deal loved the contrast of something lighting up and coming alive in the dark. Gum, in particular, was drawn to glowing monster models/kits from the 1960s, and the name tied into some of the electronic instruments they use to create their music. From the sea of blinking LED lights on the modular synthesizers to the LCD screens of their vintage drum machines, light plays a starring role in what they do.

“It’s synth-based, so it’s definitely an electronic act,” Deal says. “However, it’s not just your typical ‘press play’ DJ act. Aaron plays all of the parts organically, and we use drum machines in the same manner.”

“It’s easy for some people to write off synth-based music as ’80s or modern electronic music as whatever latest sub-genre is popular at the moment,” Gum adds. “It’s OK to draw inspiration from your influences, but important to develop your own style.”

With its heavy synth sound and explosive melodies, Glow in the Dark earned an opening slot for famed ‘80s actor Corey Feldman’s group, Corey Feldman and The Angels, at Maloney’s Irish Pub, which drew a huge crowd due to Feldman’s bizarre behavior during a performance on the Today show in September 2016. The gig was the catalyst for getting their live show together, which they admit wasn’t exactly figured out yet. Up until this point, they had only been a studio act.

“We had barely talked about how we would go about performing any of [the music] live until news broke that Corey Feldman would soon be coming to town,” Gum explains. “Suddenly it was a real thing. This project that we had been slowly chipping away at in between our other projects had its first real live show, and we had two months to figure out how to transition a studio project into a live show. We discussed bringing in some friends to play parts, or even add parts, but eventually we kept it simple with just the two of us.”

Despite several hiccups, including Feldman running three hours late, their inability to set up their equipment ahead of time and countless last-minute changes, they managed to pull off the set, which Gum believes is a testament to the importance of being able to improvise and adapt to the situation as it develops.

“The crowd seemed to enjoy us,” Gum says. “It wasn’t your typical Omaha show crowd. A lot of these people are at this show only to see Corey, so that’s cool to be able to entertain them.”

Although Glow in the Dark is in its infant stages, it’s quickly gaining its footing due to Gum and Deal’s extensive experience in the musical realm. Despite the industry’s competitive nature, they’re clearly up for the challenge.

“We have both played music for most of our lives and probably wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we didn’t,” Deal says. “We don’t really concern ourselves with how oversaturated it can be, we just focus on making the best music that we can for ourselves.”

For now, Glow in the Dark is putting the final touches on its seminal full-length album and sending its latest video, “Digital Lust,” into the web stratosphere, so there will be more from the duo in the near future.

“For me, this is probably the project that I have been the most proud of to date,” Deal says. “It’s a group where I feel that I can really express myself, and we don’t put a lot of rules or limitations on each other. That is very refreshing.

“Making music is very special to me,” he adds. “It has the ability to really touch people, and that is a powerful thing. Even if it doesn’t, expressing yourself with music is a very positive outlet. I think everyone needs that in some regard.”

Visit facebook.com/glowglowdarkdark for more information.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.

Sammy Sunshyne

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The most surreal event of Sammy Sunshyne’s life happened last year, at the Electric Forest Festival in Rothbury, Mich.

“It was the biggest show of the festival,” recalls the Omaha acrobat, “and I got to go inside of a giant inflatable bubble and crowd surf.” The plastic ball made for a rough ride with such a big crowd (she estimates there were 50,000 people), but it was probably the most awe-inspiring thing she’s ever done. “It was only six minutes, but it was the best six minutes of my life. I ran back and hugged my friend, and she spun me around because it was the most beautiful thing.”

Just two years before in 2010, Sammy (Samantha Mixan) had attended a different music festival that introduced her to hoop dancing. “Hula hooping was where it all started for me.” Today, she’s a professional acrobatics performer with shows in Downtown Omaha clubs, at festivals and concerts all over the United States, and at international events. Though she will graduate in December with a degree in psychology from University of Nebraska-Omaha, it’s her performing career that has captured her focus.20130503_bs_3087_Web

While Sammy’s current proficiency is in hooping and fire dancing, she’s training in contortion as well. “It’s all about increasing my flexibility, mobility, arm strength,” she says. “I’m working on a contortion act with fire for this year.”

She’s debuting the act on her summer tour with Quixotic Performing Arts Ensemble, the same troupe she performed with at last year’s Electric Forest Festival. Except for a couple weeks off here and there, she’s traveling with them as a fire dancer for most of May through August.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity to work with a group on their level of performance,” Sammy says. “They’ve been so inspiring, and they’ve taught me a lot about performance. They’ve taken me to the best places I’ve performed, the biggest places. It’s a huge part of my career.”

When Quixotic contacted her to work as a performer, “it was a dream come into motion for me.” Sammy gives the credit for that connection to the tightly knit community of acrobats in the Midwest. “It’s small and interconnected and people know people. That’s how most opportunities present themselves, through people you know.”

“I’m trying to push the art aspect of performance. I want to make it into a work of art that you refine to be something impactful and beautiful as opposed to the sexy entertainment aspect.”

Attempts to train alone are things of the past since she injured herself trying for more complexity on a tour in India in 2010. “There’s a subtle strength that’s needed to control the body in those really intense poses,” she says. Sammy now travels to Kansas City frequently to train at Quixotic Performing Arts, perfecting the lessons at home in Omaha. She practices yoga, takes ballet, and is what she calls a six-day-a-week vegetarian. It also helps that she has access to a great training facility locally, thanks to her position as a tumbling instructor at Elite Cheer. When she can, Sammy trains with circus performers she knows from Montreal and San Francisco, such as Haley Rose Viloria.

In Omaha, she attends hoop jams, little get-togethers of amateur and professional performers around town, such as Circle of Fire at McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe and a group at Elmwood Park. “We get together to show off our skills, and there’s usually a drum circle.”

Professionally, Sammy’s performed at Sokol Auditorium electronic dance music (EDM) parties. “They have their own show going on, and I’m a bit part of that.” She worked at the Mayan New Year’s Eve at House of Loom and last year’s Omaha Fashion Week after-party at the Burlington. Sometimes, you can catch her work at clubs like Red9 in Lincoln and Halo and Rehab in Omaha. She’s also performed at the Bourbon Theater in Lincoln, both with Quixotic and her fire-dancing partner, Ken Hill.Maybe-_Web

“She’s amazing,” Hill says emphatically. “I’ve seen her since the beginning up to this point, and it’s been awesome to see.”

She makes all her own hoops (out of polypropylene) except for her fire props, which are custom-made. Sammy dips the fire-resistant Kevlar spokes into a white gas fuel before performing. “You shake off the excess fuel, and then you light them,” Sammy explains. “It burns the gas, not the Kevlar. So when the gas runs out, your fire prop goes out.”

Little scars run up her hands and arms from fire spinning. “I don’t get burned every time, but it’s just something that comes with it. Obviously the more proficient you are, the less likely you are to get burned.” Sammy uses safety precautions such as putting up her hair, wearing lip balm when she’s fire eating, and perhaps squirting a water bottle on her hair and clothes. And when she gets burned during a performance, she doesn’t give it away. “Sometimes, you don’t even notice them until later.”

Sammy estimates she performs about twice a month in the off-summer months. “The community’s really growing,” she says. “It’s slowly getting bigger. More people are getting interested in it.” She feels two urges: to experience the performance scene in cities like Oakland, Seattle, Portland, and New York City, but also to bring that scene to the Midwest. “Event planners are only now realizing performers could add so much to their shows, so they’re just now starting to hire them. They add so much atmosphere.”20130503_bs_3073_Web

Sammy’s signature performance style is breezy and fun. Constantly smiling, she never makes poses look taxing or difficult; hence her stage name given to her by a friend. “There’s no possible way I could do this without a support system helping me,” she says. “I wouldn’t have these opportunities if I didn’t have the connections. You have to go out there and meet people who can make your dreams happen.”

While pursuing her dream on tour this summer, Sammy’s put a lot of thought into instilling her performances with a message. “I’m trying to push the art aspect of performance,” she says. “I want to make it into a work of art that you refine to be something impactful and beautiful as opposed to the sexy entertainment aspect.”

For her summer tour, she’s created a backstory for her fire-spinning piece. “So I’m a lost girl looking out over the audience, with my one light,” Sammy explains, “and she’s looking and searching, not knowing where she is. Then she becomes possessed by this inner being, this other side explodes through her personality. She’s confident and doing things that don’t seem possible for humans to do.”