New Sound 029 \\ Astralblak are front and centre of Minneapolis’ new sounds

27th August 2019

You wouldn’t be foolish for thinking that Astralblak are new on the scene. Following a name change from ZULUZULUU to their current moniker – deeming their previous name to be ultimately misrepresentative – some have considered them to be a shiny new outfit. However, they’ve been front and centre of Minneapolis’ music scene, the city that was home to Prince. Given, the city hasn’t been as visible as (relatively) nearby Chicago or New York City, but with a new crop of artists gaining universal attention, the city is becoming more prevalent on the International music map; Astralblak – whose members include Proper-T, Just Nine, MMYYKK, Elliott. and Greg Grease – are right there amongst it. 

Their 2018 album ‘Seeds’, second for the band and first under their new name, travelled slowly but burned intensely. Its exploration of funk, afrobeat, jazz and hip-hop made the record, brilliantly, a hard one to box. 

Now, following their dance-worthy underground hit ‘Funksters Prayer’ they’re getting ready to present more new music to the world. We chat to the band to get the low-down. 

\\ Tell us about how you connected; what did you bond over in order to develop your sound?

We all pretty much met through art and music making in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN). Elliott (elliott.) and Greg (Greg Grease) became friends in high school bonding over music and graffiti . Shortly after, Greg, and Elliott met Ken (DJ Just Nine) at a local underground music venue and quickly became friends, joining other local emcees (the late Free One and Ak Right and I.B.E) started a rap group together called The Usual Suspects. Collectively we began making music in 2014 after Mychal (MMYYKK) and Greg met at a local producer showcase and began a near instantaneous series sonic and visual collaborations (Mychal is an incredible filmmaker who shot and directed the ‘C.R.E.A.M. Dreams’ video for Greg). All of us definitely bonded over our deep love of music and our social and cultural consciousness and justice.

We weren’t initially thinking of ourselves as a “band” so to say, rather we wanted to create a space to channel our collective creative force in multi-dimensional ways. We started connecting over cannabis infused cosmic studio sessions at Greg and Benzilla’s studio in Northside of downtown Minneapolis. The sound is really a result of us being beat-makers and electronics nerds. Trying to leverage new technology and techniques to make the most innovative and high quality sounding music we can. Never repeating and keeping everything as original as possible.

\\ How was the track ‘Out In The Woods’ born?

The song ‘Out of the Woods’ was one of the first joints we conceptualized musically during our initial session for the new project. Greg and Elliott were grooving out on drums and bass while Mychal was messing with the effects on the mixing board and doing these wild distorted vocalizations over the groove. From there we cut a demo and then went into the writing process. Lyrically, the song speaks about the importance of having foresight, as well as using your mind’s eye to see beyond the basic understanding of any situation. Mychal brings urgency around living smarter, opening up more time for seeing the world and being exposed to new perspectives, with Elliott and Greg covering the astral-logical perspective.

\\ You went through a name change. Tell us why and also, has it changed your creative approach to music-making, identifying with a different name?

The original name for the band (ZULUZULUU) was a name that Greg coined with reference to Black Power. Looking at Zulu and Americas Zulu Nation as kind of the quintessential example of the strength and power of African people, the idea was that ZULUZULUU was black power stacked on black power. We wanted to be unapologetic with our Identities and message of pride in our heritage as African people’s of the diaspora, which continues to be a common theme throughout our music, especially with the single from our debut EP ‘What’s The Price'(2016).

With our initial name referencing Zulu, and none of the members being descendants of the tribe, we wanted to be respectful of their culture as well as fully represent our own identities and narrative. As individuals we all come from different ancestry and have heritage in many parts of Africa and elsewhere in the world. ‘Astral’, being of or relating to the universe; and ‘blak’, relating to the diaspora of people from the continent of Africa. Through the process of self-realization and education, we are given the opportunity to fully understand our roots as people who are indegeinous to the lands of Africa and reclaiming that the universe of the black diaspora. The way we look at it, Astralblak is just one constellation in the universe of the black experience.

\\ Tell us what we need to know about the music scene in Minneapolis; any special collectives, live nights or scene we should check out?

Minneapolis is an extremely art-focused city. Probably, the most well known of its children being the late artist Prince Rogers Nelson. Currently, there are so many artists doing incredible innovative things with music and visual art and we have had the privilege of collaborating with many of them. Our record label, Sound Vérité Records, has a unique collective of musicians focused on representing High Value Black Art. The roster contains several vanguards of the new generation of Minneapolis music from Muja Messiah, Lady Midnight, Nazeem and Spencer Joles, Yon, Sarah White and the members of the band ourselves as solo artists. The current scene itself in Minneapolis is amazing right now. We have a collection of artists that are making international headlines and changing genres. We have been extremely fortunate to have associations with such talented and incredible artists. Some of the artists who are doing dope and creative new things in their genres are; Sophia Eris, The Lioness, Dem Atlas, Dua Saleh, Lady Midnight, Yon, Tufawon, Javier Santiago, Izell Pyramid, Nazeem and Spencer, Sarah White, Maria isa andMuja Messiah

We also make it a point to collaborate with local visual artists for our artwork and designs. Some visual and textile artists we’ve worked closely with who we’d recommend checking out are: Andres Guzman who has designed many of the Sound Verite Records Covers as well as done animation work for Tame Impala and others. Shaina McCoy an incredible painter who has done some amazing collaborative work with the UK’s Kojey Radical. Photographer Bobby Rodgers who is certainly someone you will want to know of and is doing truly mind blowing work in portraiture. We’ve worked closely with spaces such as Public Functionary, First Avenue (the purple rain venue), the Cedar Cultural Center, Pimento, and Ice House to create immersive performances that aim to awe, inspire, and heal. Because the artist culture is so strong in Minneapolis we have been given an immense amount of creative freedom to curate and facilitate our collective artistic vision.

\\ What’s coming up for you guys for the rest of 2019 and early 2020?

This year we have made our initial headway onto the international scene and will be continuing with this in other parts of Europe and Japan. Currently, we have been commissioned by the Walker Art Center to work collaboratively with avant-garde filmmakers to score and perform original compositions. Be on the lookout for shows on the west coast specifically San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. We are also working on a follow up EP ‘Time & Space’ in which we will return to more electronic sounds.

Order Astralblak’s latest album, ‘Seeds’ via Bandcamp

Read our interview with future-funk trio IGBO ft Sly5thAve

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