I’ve watched The Present Elders online as they’ve embarked on their street performances with a gang of electronic instruments. As they fill the air with their brand of electronic grooves folks gather around and take notice. Being from Chicago myself and having a certain “Chicago’s hiphop underground” thread in common with Radius & Brother El I knew I wanted to highlight their movement.
So, I got a chance to catch up with The Present Elders for an interview. Let’s get into it…
The Present Elders, what’s the name mean?
It means currently existing now with the collective wisdom of the ages. We are guardians of culture and healers though frequency manipulation. The Present Elders are medicine-men, musicians, genealogists, historians, spokespeople, ambassadors, teachers, warriors, interpreters, masters of ceremonies and advisors.
The Present Elders = Someone with knowledge and wisdom that is here NOW, creating their own story in the moment. A timeless being here to inspire and heal. One that is looked up to and has a mission to make an impact on others lives, especially those younger and within a community.
How did you all link up?
We’ve known about each other for quite a while though the Chicago Hip Hop community. We use to bump into each other through our travels but we have only recently started working together. I believe one critical moment happened in Los Angeles where we want to perform in the Little Tokyo mall after a chance meeting.
Unfortunately, we haven’t played there yet, but… we will. The idea of street performing (busking) for us has evolve drastically since then.
We linked up from being within both the Chicago and Los Angeles communities. I first saw El rock back in like 2005 at Sonotheque Beat Battles that All Natural was holding, I had no idea what he was really on, I will admit it was a bit “over my head” initially, because I was more into a rigid/boxed in perception of beat battling, which I am glad I grew out of.
Fast forward a few years later, we would cross paths out in Los Angeles a couple of times. He was living there as well as I eventually. This happened a few times. We decided in 2015 to work together more, this came naturally being on tour each out of Chicago at this time and booking one another for showcase we were hosting at venues both in L.A. and Chicago.
I love that you all will literally pop up and jam on the streets. How’d that all come about and why is this the chosen way to express yourselves creatively?
We needed to see our way clear of the politics of music and booking entities. If we truly wanted to maintain our position of uniqueness and not succumb to the pressure of trying to “make it” on someone else’s term we had to do something. That something was taking our healing show directly to the people who needed us and giving the most pure show that we could possible produce.
The whole pop-up thing started from our conversations of being in L.A. the same time in 2015. We were getting ideas just moving around the city of ways to rock outside of the norm. We both have a huge love for hardware, rocking live and traveling our music between various places. El is one to layout and design certain pieces to hold his gear, plus he acquired a generator some months later. I saw him posting online back in Chicago late spring/early summer that he would be popping up by the beach on the south side. I hit him up and here we are now! This isn’t our preferred/chosen way of rocking, we just really love to rock and will do so by any means necessary to get what we want/need and give the people what they want/need.
Seems like you both have an affinity for electronic instruments, what’s the weapon of choice for each of you and why?
That’s a funny question… We get asked that a lot. We don’t particularly have any. The tools we own serve us well but… it’s never the equipment it’s the operator. We use our electronic instruments in ways most have never even thought about. Why because they truly don’t work to express themselves. They are following the trend of who’s using what. At the moment our equipment is old and beat-the-fuck-up from hitting the streets hard, but you’d never tell from the performance. We learn to excel within our limitations and soar. We also learn from our audiences… it’s a very interactive show. Then again we are
The Present Elders moving from a higher plateau of knowledge given to us by the ancestors. Lastly tools, equipment, processes will change but… our message of healing and inspiration with remain constant. PS. We foresee an unplugged show with no electronics in the near future too.
My current weapons of choice have to do with a combination of things; Lack of funding for new gear, lack of sponsorship and also if it aint broke don’t fix it kind of approach. I love rocking my setup (some devices have injuries hahaha), but yeah Akai Mpc 1000, Novation Circuit, Korg Kaossilator Pro, Korg Kaoss KP3 and Korg Kaoss Mini.
Sometimes I don’t use one or another, depends on location, space, etc. This setup is what I can afford at the moment, it is compact for my travels and it allows me to express myself as honest and direct as possible. I love it. Also we use whatever we can get our hands on!
Any plans for a The Present Elders project?
Yes… plenty. Our cup runneth over with possibilities! Each show that has been recorded has the potential of full on album or Ep with minor tweaks. We have been very diligent about documenting our live shows to preserve our own legacy. We are also looking for great people to help our mission of healing and inspiration…like cinematographers, photographers, audio engineers, editors, etc.
We have a gazillion plans for projects. Many are in the works. Most have been recorded in the streets live without a studio, while others on the road within in stores, live studio sessions, and more, these projects we feel would equal at least 30 albums for us, real talk. We have lots to go through and they are all in the moment. Names for these projects come to us on the regular. We are totally open to working with other labels, so if anyone is interested, please hit us up.
What’s in the works for each of you this year?
High productivity in general: More performances in untraditional spaces, release a barrage of records, networking with other like-minded caring people, acquiring resources to sustain our lives, building our Operation Streetwork Series across the world, and having lots of babies… that we will raise with knowledge of self.
TO STAY ALIVE! As far as solo works, I just released a vinyl EP on Hieroglyphic Being’s Mathemathics Recordings label, titled; “Portal To Canis”, also a split 45 record with my Tokyo beat brother Budamunk on Chicago’ The Secret Life of Sound label and also my collective/label Culture Power 45, we dropped a 7″ lathe split of emcee Sense & I, real limited. I’m planning to get some more biz out by spring both solo and hopefully my other groups; Dia.L, Beyond Luck and LAGOS. Really want to get some more touring in outside of the USA, both solo and with The Present Elders + my other groups as well.
Whatever it takes to inspire, love and heal, I am ALL about it. Let’s go!
Movements and upcoming performances:
If you haven’t peeped… Please check out Operation Streetwork Cali our crowdfunding mission and donate here
Lastly, next week February 21, 2017, we have dope show lined up at The Del Monte Speakeasy with a talent stacked bill!
The Present Elders
Tuesday, February 21 at 9 PM – 2 AM PST
Etc Records Presents: Improvisational Aesthetics Live in L.A.
Pink Siifu – https://soundcloud.com/siiifu
Christina Wheeler https://www.facebook.com/ChristinaWheelerMusic/
Nicole M. Mitchell (AACM, Ice Crystal, Black Earth Ensemble, etc) http://nicolemitchell.com/
LIVE ART VIA Avedon Arcade and The Present Elders aka Brother El & Radius Etc (The Beat Bank, ETC Records, Makers of Sense, Beyond Luck, Lagos, etc)