DEFINING THE SOUND
When people ask me what kind of music I play on my show, my go-to description is simply "Jazz Funk Afro Soul Breaks". While this doesn't cover everything -- there is plenty of what could be categorized as Rare Groove, or Fusion, or Library Music, or Downtempo -- this seems to me to be an easy way to categorize what you'll hear in a given week.
That said, you wouldn't believe the number of people who need a bit more detail on what constitutes jazz, funk, afro, soul and breaks.
It all starts here. The show is based upon my interest in jazz, in all it's forms, and the way that jazz informs so many other genres of music. My tastes tend towards modal and spiritual jazz, as well as the new stuff often (regretfully) referred to as "nu jazz". I try and play lots of cool stuff from my music archives, music that hasn't been heard in a while in wider circles and deserves some recognition. There is also an amazing wealth of new jazz coming out of Europe that deserves to be heard, and that gets a lot of play as well.
Key Record Labels: Flying Dutchman, Impulse, MPS, Tribe, Strata East, CTI, P-Vine, Schema, Ricky-Tick, Jazzman, Gondwana, Agogo
This is a tricky catch-all, "funk", because it is so broad and depending on when and where you grew up what constitutes funk is going to be very different. Truthfully, when I think of funk I think of Rick James or Prince, both artists I love but not people I play on my show. No, for me when it comes to UM the "funk" aspect leans more towards the funkier side of jazz and straight-ahead 70's funk. Latin funk, disco, Italian soundtrack music ... they fall into this area too. Truthfully, if it makes you want to dance it's probably funk.
Key Record Labels: Favourite,
Irma, Mocambo, Now-Again, Strut, Vampi Soul, Wah Wah 45's, Ubiquity, Record Kicks.
This is an interesting genre of music, if for no other reason than that it was not remotely part of the music agenda of UM Radio when it started. My knowledge of Afro was quite limited then, and while I liked Fela Kuti and whatever else I heard I certainly did not know it's rich musical history nor the degree to which it is, as a genre, so informed by jazz and funk. Afrobeat remains incredibly vital, and there has been a tremendous revival in the last few years around the globe. My musical evolution, as a fan, has been hand-in-hand with what you hear increasingly on the show.
Key Record Labels: Paris DJ's, Colemine, Kept, First Word, Kindred Spirits, Daptone, Strut, Tramp, Luv 'N Haight
The more you learn about this history of soul music in the popular sense the more you see that it exceeds far and beyond Motown and Stax. Like funk, "soul" is a term that gets bandied about without much discretion and frankly sometimes a little too carelessly. For UM, I wasn't particularly interested in exploring the well-tread paths of classic popular Soul music. It's been done, and by radio hosts with far greater knowledge and pedigree than me. But make no mistake, we have been in the middle of a HUGE soul revival in the last decade that is still going strong. Enthusiasts continue to unearth long-lost gems from the past as well as release new music that capably straddles the past and the future. This is the kind of soul you will hear on UM Radio.
Key Record Labels: Daptone, Mocambo, Truth & Soul, Favourite, Freestyle, Legere, MoWest
Electronic music is the worst for trying to pin down a genre, they're changing all the time. I use the term 'Breaks' because I like it better than "Electronica" or "IDM". For me, the music that falls under this category is really simply the stuff that is produced digitally. This is music that often embraces any of the genres cited above, but the production is more geared towards modern dancefloors or at least people who don't mind music with some digital fingerprints. My own music project, Afternoons In Stereo, falls under this category. This style of music is what UM was originally based on, and it continues to be part of the template.
Key Record Labels: Eighteenth Street Lounge, Tru Thoughts, MPM, Switchstance, Timewarp, Jalapeno, Fort Knox Rec, Hiperbole
Like a lot of things, music is cyclical -- what is popular today is sent to the outskirts tomorrow, only to come around a generation later to a new audience who will inhale and exhale it's influence. Urban Modernists will hopefully remain here to carry the torch or lead the way, whichever is called for. It's our ongoing mission to keep this music alive and relevant -- that is what is important.
It will ALWAYS be about the music.
WHAT IS URBAN MODERNISTS RADIO
Urban Modernists began it's life way back in 2004, but interestingly enough it was not as a radio program.
At the time I had a desire to collect some of my favourite music and share it with friends and like-minded enthusiasts. I'd also recently become a professional graphic designer and wanted to experiment a bit, creatively, making cover art for different styles of music.
A series of mixed compilations seemed like a perfect project. and I started compiling the 'Urban Modernists' compilation series. That series, believe it or not, made it all the way to 82 installments, the last of which was in 2008. I'm told they still get traded and circulated on Soulseek, which is pretty cool. They definitely act as a time capsule of not only what I was listening to at the time, but what was happening musically throughout the middle of the '00's. And they are a snapshot of the early evolution of the radio show.
In 2005 I started a weekly radio show at the request of a friend of mine, who had become Program Director at the local university radio station, CFMU FM. I appropriated the same name as the compilation series, and the Urban Modernists weekly radio show was born. 90 minutes a week, late on Thursday evenings for the live-to-air broadcast and then rebroadcast on Tuesday evenings in Europe on Lounge Radio.
It's been almost ten years on the air and it amazes me to look back and see how the show has evolved away from it's original music agenda, and yet how it remains committed to it's original intent. When the show started there was definitely a lot more downtempo, but to this day the last half-hour is pretty chilled out and relaxed.
The show's structure has always been the same, with music spread across ninety minutes. Usually, the progression goes from funky to jazzy, to trippier and mellower as the show winds down. There are three talk-breaks that add up to about fifteen minutes of air time. The talk breaks are crucial to Urban Modernists.
I've always hated the jokey nature of commercial radio, and campus radio is often worse. A lot of DJ's will use the mic as an opportunity to make themselves an on-air personality. That is NOT what I do with Urban Modernists. My goal with the show has always been to play music from the past and connect it with music from the present. I want to demonstrate how music informs and influences itself, how we can hear elements of avant-garde music from the 60's in ambient or drum 'n bass, how the original soul sounds of the USA have informed so much of the soul revival in the UK. We live in an amazing era, when not only has the internet opened up our opportunities to be exposed to so much different music from other parts of the world than where we live, but it's also a time when genres of music have experienced a great deal of crossover, the compartmentalizing of just a few decades ago has given way to a very welcome anything-goes mentality.
As such I want to the show to serve as an assembly of a very certain sound that I hear connected throughout several genres across the last half-century or so of music. This is a sound that you don't hear a lot of in the mainstream, or even in bars or clubs (at least not where I live, dammit). It's a sound endorsed and embraced by select Producers, DJ's, indie Record Labels. and a few other select radio shows or online programs.
To that end I feel like the talk breaks are a chance to turn the light on the releases themselves and the people behind their creation. So, from day one, it has always been my job to bring the following information to each track I play: Artist name, Track Name, Album Title, Record Label, and Year of Release. I also make a point of looking up some sort of fact on the artist or label that I can share with the listener, if nothing else at least the names of the musicians involved and where they are from. I try and keep personal opinion or criticism to a minimum, but it's fair to say I adore every single song I play. If I don't love it, it doesn't get played -- I don't care who it is, or who released it.
Alright, so there is a bit of an education involved -- so sue me. I'm just structuring the show according to what I would want to hear, and the kind of information I would hope would be presented. Musical knowledge comes not just from exposure but from understanding, and knowing where something came from or what informed it's process gives one a more well-rounded comprehension of the creative process involved.
Make no mistake, I am always learning as well. The show serves as an education for me too, as I research the background behind certain tracks or artists and dots are connected across territory that I didn't even know existed.
I'll give you an example: Lonnie Liston Smith.
Now I am a huge Lonnie Liston Smith fan. I covered a track of his, 'Shadows', on my last album. That was not always so, Back in the day, I could have maybe -- maybe -- told you that he is the guy that Stetsasonic sampled on 'Talkin' All That Jazz'. At best. But back in that same day, I was really getting into a lot of late-90's drum 'n bass -- in particular, stuff on LTJ Bukem's Good Looking label. And the more I got into that, and read about it, the more I started to see where that label was coming from. Bukem himself will tell you, Lonnie was a huge influence on him. So I went back and got into his catalogue, learned where Lonnie was coming from. And that allowed me to better understand what Bukem was building on. Consider me educated.
That is the truly interesting thing to me; to see where the music of the past echoes and resonates in the music being made today, It bodes well for the future that there are people out there willing to listen beyond what mainstream radio and the like deem to be reasonable or good music. It is these future music makers who will move forward, carrying the lessons of the past as they write the future of popular music.
I hope, in some small way, that a show like Urban Modernists will be there for those who need it. I know it's cliche, but I get a lot of satisfication from listeners from half way around the globe who take the time to email me and tell me how much the show means to them, and how much new (and old) music they have discovered as a result. That makes it all worth while.
I do believe that we have a very real and very human responsbility to keep each other informed -- spiritually, politically, culturally. But also creatively. I can only look at music the way I do, informed by the way I feel about it, and I know that I for one appreciate it when someone who knows a lot about a type of music that I know very little about is willing to put the time and energy into putting it out there for us all to enjoy. It's a gift, really, this music, and we're blessed to have it. So lets share it, lets revel in it, and lets make sure that others of like mind and heart have access to it too.
In the end I hope this website will finally make the vast archive of UM programs available for people to stream or download whenever and however they like. It's been requested for a long time, and as long as UM keeps going and there are listeners old and new tuning in, we can keep the flame burning bright and put the music where it deserves to be: in our headphones, in our ears, and from there to our minds to our hearts.