We have become so used to the unheard female voice in the music industry. There is an irrefutable gender gap between the number of male musicians who succeed and the number of female ones…I don’t need to tell you about who’s in the lead. But if you think that making it as a non-male musician is hard, imagine the world of curation, booking, and promotion. It’s a tough industry to traverse, but tastemaker Rachael Pazdan of Hypnocraft Presents, LPR Presents, and The Hum, is quite frankly kicking its ass.
Pazdan wears many hats, utilizing her background in dance and the non-profit arts sector to inform her positions as music director for Le Poisson Rouge and talent buyer for Manhattan Inn. Twice a year, Pazdan lets her love of music and interdisciplinary collaboration run wild with The Hum, a month-long weekly series that features super-group-like pairings of all female musicians jamming at Manhattan Inn.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Rachael to discuss the rift between dance and indie rock audiences, the importance of collaboration, and the problem with saying “female musician.”
Audiofemme: The Hum is approaching! What are some collaborations you’re most excited about?
Rachael Pazdan: I’m really excited to see Yuka Honda
With actual drones?!
No, using women’s voices. It’s a choir of women singing different notes and they have ear buds in and they’re triggered to know what note to sing next. I think that they’re really gonna love working together and find a lot of commonalities.
I’m really excited about Boshra AlSaadi from TEEN-she’s an amazing bass player-with Felicia Douglass from Ava Luna, Lindsay Powell from Fielded and Nasimiyuu from Baeb Rxxth. I get really excited about bigger, ambitious quartet projects.
Kendra Morris with Allison Miller and Domenica Fossati. Domenica is in Underground System which is an awesome Afrobeat band, she sings and plays flute, Kendra Morris is this pop-soul singer, and Allison Miller has a project called Boom Tic Boom and she’s a jazz drummer…that will be really funky and fun.
I don’t half-ass this. I go after artists that I am personally really excited about. I freak out about this project…bringing all of these different women together that I’ve always wanted to book.
What were some exciting moments you’ve witnessed in the past? Musical or other?
I feel like [The Hum] builds a real sense of community between women, and there are lots of women who have done it and said to me, “I’ve never played with other women before,” which is kind of crazy.
That gives me chills. That’s ridiculous.
Becca Kauffman from Ava Luna told me that now whenever she’s working on new projects she’s going to think of women first. Jen Goma [A Sunny Day in Glasgow] and Teenie from TEEN – that was the first time they’d ever played together and they’re best friends now, they’re constantly collaborating. I think one of the most exciting things for me is this effect that happens after the series and the network of everyone who’s involved growing.
You’re like a matchmaker!
Kind of like dream band matchmaking…
You are often nurturing cross-disciplinary collaborations with other projects as well what do find that collaboration brings out in artists?
Sometimes it really doesn’t work. My original vision for The Hum was to do more poly-genre collaborations and it’s really challenging…artists can be less excited about that. Sometimes I’ll do it-I’m putting Kendra together with Domenica. But even though that is crossing genres, there is so much that makes sense between those two worlds, and it works. It’s really hard for artists because it’s really limited preparation. I haven’t been able to support artists where I’m paying for their rehearsal time, and I feel like if I want to think of some really tricky collaborations I want to be able to commission them.
Looking at some of your previous work like 3:1 and Liquid and Still – you seem to get excited by the idea of creating art out of traditionally uncomfortable situations, and breaking the fourth wall…
Totally. It’s something I naturally do. That’s such a great observation because as a curator I’m really interested in collaboration and challenging artists’ comfort zone. I’m always looking to give artists special opportunities that are outside the normal presenting zone. Now my job is to just be booking straight shows all the time. But any opportunity I get I’m putting together some kind of weird show. For Liquid and Still, my job is to bring music and dance audiences together so that people who go to concerts feel more comfortable watching dance, and people who see mostly dance are more comfortable going to a concert the next time.
It’s crazy that they’re totally separate audiences.
It is the conundrum I am thinking about all the time – my background’s in dance and I love dance, but it was too hard for me to work in dance as somebody who wasn’t the dancer. I feel like dance is slowly dying because their audience is so insular and people get so intimidated by dance, which is strange to me because dance seems to me to be the most accessible art form…it’s just moving your body and everybody understands movement.
I want to start doing concerts where in between sets there would be a ten-minute dance piece on the floor in front of the stage. And I think that might be the solution…literally putting them in front of a new audience.
I think people look at dance as a stem from the modern dance and ballet world but it has so many different facets.
Yeah, like having to sit down and be quiet for an hour and try to really understand something that’s heavy and pick it apart, and I don’t think dance has to be like that. The reason music is so accessible is that you can go to a show late, you can be drinking, you can be talking during the show, it’s totally social. To make dance more social is maybe the way that it is going to survive.
Classical music has this older, subscription-based audience that would go to Lincoln Center and buy a whole year’s worth of subscriptions to shows and people just aren’t doing that anymore. Our generation is used to being able to customize all of their experiences and do whatever they want all the time, and to commit to a year’s worth of shows is something people aren’t doing anymore.
One person who is bridging that gap is Nils Frahm.
Yeah, love Nils Frahm. He plays LPR all the time.
He’s completely unpretentious and is like, “oh! I’m going to play something with a toilet brush!” Or, “oh! If someone texts during my set, it’s going to be in the recording!” And maybe that’s the approach dance needs to take.
Yeah, breaking down those walls and making dance more social and accessible to an audience that doesn’t want to go to a ballet.
How did the name “The Hum” come about?
“The Hum” was named by Hannah Epperson, who was in the first and the third series. I was originally going to name it something that had “femme” in the name, and through conversations with almost every artist who was in that first series…I decided that I didn’t want to have The Hum be something that screamed “Women!” in the title or marketing, because the more I work in the music industry, the more I want to get rid of the fucking double standard of having to say a musician is a woman. It bugs the shit out of me! Even to see “female-fronted,” it bugs me! The word “woman” adds nothing what the music actually sounds like.
There’s no “Man Band” classification.
Yeah, you would never say, “male-fronted” or “male-backed.” If you’re a musician you’re a musician. If you’re a carpenter you’re a carpenter. It doesn’t matter. I got really pissed off about this and posted something on Facebook the other day and my friend Cooper had a really good response. He said, “It’s leftover from a sexist industry. We don’t need to imply that “white male” is the norm and everything else is “other” and needs a further classification.” Also, I think that sometimes when people are using “women” it’s like a marketing ploy of sex appeal in some way.
Exactly! But there is another side to it, which is using “woman” or “female” can be really empowering sometimes. My good friend Mindy who runs Tom Tom Magazine, her tagline for the magazine is “A Magazine About Female Drummers” and that’s really empowering. I think that it’s a balance of using the word “female” as an empowering description and also just deciding to drop it. I see extreme value in both perspectives.
Manhattan Inn has traditionally housed a lot of jazz music, which is so male-dominated, and LPR has had a fair share of electronic, which is similarly a boy’s club…have you run into any issues because of those two genres?
Jazz has been a really sexist genre.
To be fair, I noticed in one interview you said, “Don’t get me started on jazz,” and I thought, “I’m going to get her started on jazz.”
It’s starting to happen. Allison Miller is a fucking awesome drummer and she’s really done her own thing. I just feel like it’s really hard for women to rise in that musical genre, maybe because unless they’re the sexy girl singing Ella Fitzgerald…it’s hard for female musicians who are playing bass or drums to get ahead in any genre.
Electronic music…I don’t know. I really wanted Discwoman to get involved…they’re a collective of DJs that are women…I will get them involved one day. I feel like every electronic musician-
Yeah, I think that’s the question. These musicians exist, right? Or are there actually way less electronic artists that are women? Or way less jazz musicians that are women? I don’t think it’s that, I think they just have a hard time breaking through and making shit happen.
I was reading about Vis-à-vis and the importance of the Brooklyn DIY scene was mentioned-but in the past few years we’ve had so many closures: Glasslands, 285 Kent, Death By Audio, Secret Project Robot…
You know what’s funny is that every venue that Vis-à-vis took place in-
Is gone. Are you hopeful for the Brooklyn DIY scene?
The cops really don’t want it around. Very few landlords want it around. Many of these places close because of lack of codes. Manhattan Inn feels very DIY to me. I’m like running out and buying Christmas lights from the dollar store because none of the lights work in the back, you know? I love DIY venues. I think it will always exist. It’s going to migrate neighborhoods…five years ago there were probably 12 venues in Williamsburg and now there’s like, four.
I think it will always be a thing in New York because the music scene is too big here. There are too many kids trying to make it in music here, and that sense of community is such a New Yorker sense of community, it will always be here. It’s just going to move around.
That’s why I like LPR. It’s a very independent music venue. We run our own ticketing, we have amazing relationships with these artists and nurture what they’re doing. It’s sad when a Cameo or Zebulon goes away, because those spaces were really well-run, and the sound was good and it was an amazing place to meet people and hang out and see great music, and those places closed, not for coding but just because the neighborhood got too expensive.
What are some holes in the NYC/Brooklyn scene and music industry, and how do you hope to help fill them?
The idea for The Hum came from a hole I saw a lack of representation of women playing music. I think there’s a void in venues that facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration. What I’m trying to do in dance and music, trying to bring in a bigger audience for dance, I don’t feel like I have space to do that. In most music venues there’s no space for dancers to actually perform in.
You have to have a flat floor, preferably sprung. You have to have enough space, and it’s hard to find places like that, so I’d really lose my mind if I ever found a place like that. It would be a place that every night of the week there would either be a show, or some kind of performance art/comedy thing, or collaborations, dance performances…
Would you consider opening one?
I would love to have a venue. I would love to be a part of something like that, definitely.
What would your dream collaboration for The Hum be?
Karen O, Annie Clarke, Lianne La Havas. Those are my HEROES. I think it’d be cool to put a seasoned older artist with somebody who’s hot right now who’s clearly a derivative of that older artist-
Like Kate Bush.
Yeah, like Kate Bush with Karen O (gestures that her head would explode). Cyndi Lauper with Kimbra. PJ Harvey and Annie Clarke. But that’s how I want to grow The Hum. I’d like to do a mini-festival where the footprint of what I’ve been doing remains: four weeks of new collaborations at Manhattan Inn, shows around town, and then getting enough money to commission one amazing night of big artists collaborating, where I have money to pay for their rehearsal. That would be the vision.