Art is such a powerful way to encourage dialog and to challenge us to think critically about some of the issues that we continue to face in the United States, including the rising tide of neo-fascism, continued police brutality, and economic inequality. I was invited to experience Dust + Dignity, an incredible collection of vinyl record covers that all speak to civil rights and social justice. Dust + Dignity was organized and curated by Bruce “DJ Junior” Campbell, Jr., PhD, who is a professor at Arcadia University. The exhibit included records from some of Philly’s most legendary DJs and record collectors: Cosmo Baker, King Britt, Rich Medina, and Skeme Richards.
Here is the essence of Dust + Dignity in DJ Junior’s words:
Today, we are experiencing on outing of the racial ignorance that has long existed in our city, country, and surrounding world. Born out of this injustice and in response to the ignorance is art. In art, we find sound. Music keeps us together; it heals and connects — it motivates and celebrates. Lyrics give life to our souls, the melodies align our hearts, and the rhythms stoke the fire of our movements. Often overlooked is the powerful connection between an album’s music and the visual artwork that binds it together.
From Gil Scott Heron’s “Moving Target” to Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy Award-Winning 2015 release, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” the evolution of album artwork has transmitted the dynamism of music and social injustices.
Here are most of the covers…
Stay tuned for a NYC Dust + Dignity exhibit hopefully coming soon.
It has certainly been quite a while. I apologize for the long hiatus. I’ve been busy business planning, working at two breweries, home brewing, and focusing on making this dream a reality in the very near future. (I failed to mention my duties as the director of a pregnancy prevention program, husband, and father of twin three year old girls.) I’m juggling it all and happy to be nearly finished with the Bierwax business plan.
Right from the business plan, here is our mission statement…
Bierwax is a craft beer tasting room and vinyl record listening room. We are as passionate about our beer as we are about vinyl records, with a finely curated tap-list mingling with over 3,000 vinyl records. Bierwax is malted grains, water, hops, and yeast mixed with a pinch of 45s, a cup of boom-bap, and a heaping tablespoon of funk. We respect beer and aim to preserve the legacy of analog music.
That’s what I will be opening in a year or two. Here are two bars that have been tremendous influences on what Bierwax will be…
Inspiration Numero Uno:
A few years ago, a couple of friends and I rented bikes in Amsterdam and somehow managed to find our way to Cafe de Duivel. We were intrigued by the description of the bar online and decided to see firsthand what a hip hop bar in Amsterdam would be like. The bar was pretty traditional with the exception of the music. There was a live DJ at the back of the bar spinning early 1990s and underground hip hop vinyl records. He was seamlessly mixing and cutting in and out of each track. The crowd, who I assume were mostly local Dutch folks, was going crazy and even knew the lyrics to some of the pretty obscure hip hop songs. That’s Europe for you! I remember wondering why something like Cafe de Duivel doesn’t exist in New York. Since I don’t travel to Europe with much frequency, I’ve longed to revisit Duivel or another venue just like it.
Inspiration Numero Dos:
Nearly ten years ago, I was invited to spend a few days in Hong Kong with a close friend of mine. We had a layover in Tokyo for a few hours and the airport alone was unlike anything I had ever experienced. One day we’ll stack enough cheddar to actually afford to spend some time in Tokyo. Until then, I’m living vicariously through culinary/travel shows like No Reservations, Parts Unknown, and Mind of a Chef. I stumbled upon photos of this place below, dubbed Jazz, Blues and Soul (JBS). While explaining an early iteration of Bierwax to a friend, he asked if I ever heard of JBS in Tokyo. I hadn’t and was completely blown away when he showed me a few photos on Instagram. This was basically what I had been dreaming up all along, except JBS mainly serves whisky and is on the other side of the world. The sole owner and manager of the bar, serves up both an excellent whiskey selection and an impeccable collection of vinyl records. You might find Kobayashi-san throwing on a Charles Mingus LP or Nas’ classic debut Illmatic. It all depends on his mood at the time.
As I round third base with my business planning, expect to hear more from me. I appreciate all of the support and good vibes as I make something like Duivel or JBS a reality in New York.
I’m having a very difficult time writing about Afrika Bambaataa. Let’s say it’s writer’s block mixed with the pressure to not “f_ck it up.” What more can I say about a legend who has contributed so much to hip hop culture and music in general? The “Master of Records” had an impeccable ear for songs and sections of songs that would drive partygoers absolutely wild. I heard a lot about how he used tape to cover the labels of his record covers to prevent other DJs from finding out exactly what he was playing. I loved hearing about his ability to find funky sections of African records, children’s records, soundtracks, and other obscure or even commonplace records that people either overlooked or just never had access to before. Whenever I discover that sweet spot, a funky break on a record, I often think about Bambaataa.
Afrika Bambaataa recently donated his mammoth vinyl collection to Cornell University’s library. Before the 40,000 piece collection made its way upstate, Cornell archivist and curator Johan Kugelberg linked up with gallery owner Gavin Brown to display the collection. While the collection was inventoried at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (620 Greenwich Street), the public was invited to view Bambaataa’s historic collection firsthand. DJs were invited to spin using the holy grail of records. Unfortunately, I missed the boat on this. The 40,000 pieces of hip hop history on wax are now permanent residents of Cornell. Luckily, my fellow DJ cousin told me about it in time to catch the tail end of this incredible exhibit. You’ll see what I experienced below. I was able to take a few pieces of his vinyl collection home with me. The doubles, which were not needed in the Cornell archive, were for sale at $5 a piece. The three records I purchased will forever hold sentimental value for me, even if they are not the break-laden records I was hoping to score.
“My definition of hip hop is taking elements from many other spheres of music to make hip hop. Whether it be breakbeat, whether it be the groove and grunt of James Brown or the pickle-pop sounds of Kraftwerk or Yellow Magic Orchestra, hip hop is also part of what they call hip-house now, or trip hop, or even parts of drum n’ bass.“
History: The two vinyl and craft beer enthusiasts would often chat about music while sipping on craft beer until one day Chris and Buddy made a decision to unite their two passions. On the first day of 2014, they kicked off BierWAX with a Vinyl Brunch party at the Sampler Brooklyn, a craft beer shop in Bushwick. The party was a great success and only further inspired them to bring their vinyl soundscape to other craft beer venues in NYC. BierWAX’s mission is to forge the connection between craft beer and analog music by DJing at craft beer venues in NYC and beyond. The plan is to spin at a different craft beer venue every month and to document their passion for both craft beer and music here at BierWAX.com.