The Pursuit of Grooves

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:13

      BARCELONA IS A misunderstood city. Some folks believe that the entire town drinks wine all day. But really they don’t start till 11 a.m. And everyone thinks people party all night in Barcelona.They usually only stay out till around 6 a.m. One thing, however, is a stone fact:To survive complete immersion into the Barcelona lifestyle you’re probably going to need a Red Bull. So when the Austrian energy drink announced that the heart of Catalunya would be the site of the 10th annual Red Bull Music Academy—a yearly, month-long open-ended global exchange—it seemed like a natural synergy. In Barcelona—where primitive and postmodern occupy the same block, and “artisan” has been a constant flavor (not a recent fad)—innovation congregates with ease. For the Barcelona 2008 edition, which hosted 60 handpicked international participants mid-September through mid-October, Red Bull’s local scouts came upon a former textile factory in the Sant Andreu district.Thanks to the location, metaphors abound, as there’s no doubt that the Music Academy weaves together an international cast in order to find the common threads.

    The second session’s lecturers included Public Enemy’s Chuck D, digital dub’s architect Moritz Von Oswald and riddim section legends Sly & Robbie, among others.

    Continuing a tradition of also steeping the Music Academy in local personality, Red Bull also commissioned art curators Hector Ayuso and Oriol Rosell to install works by local artists throughout the space.

    Among those participants pushing past the walls of convention was Pursuit Grooves, a.k.a. Brooklyn’s Vanese Smith, an independent fan of cross-culturalism working in the breakbeat medium. For Smith, the drum n’ bass groove is universal—the backbone from which to state where you’re comin’ from and what you’re leanin’ toward.

    “The most interesting cultural element was hearing a number of language at once,” Smith reflects later. “Otherwise, we were really connected through the music.We were all creatures of machines, electronics and everything in between. Some with live instrumentation added. But we all made our music through electronic means. Style-wise we were coming from hip-hop, dubstep, house, electropop…I’m even inspired to create within some genres I’ve never tried before.”

    By attending the Music Academy, Smith had the opportunity to jump from studio to studio stocked with late night atmosphere and enthusiasm, plus bang out her own socio-political focus and funk-fed hocus pocus in the clubs. But among the most important moments were those that reinforced what Aretha Franklin’s been sayin’ since the ’60s—it’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

    “There were a few themes that seemed to run through most of the lectures,” says Smith. “Stay true to yourself. Continue to press on because music is what you love even if no one gets it.” But the ultimate potential of cultural exchange may be bigger. “Music is a very powerful medium, something that I think we’ve forgotten of late,” says Smith. “Of course, people want to dance and have fun, but if you can throw in a message or two while that’s happening, I hope they catch it.” Were any of her fellow Music Academy participants to visit New York, however, Smith says there would be more than just reflection on world events and hiding behind sequencers.

    She’d take them to her favorite club, APT, and use the opportunity to recapture the rampant energy that fed participants on Barcelona’s pedestrian artery Las Ramblas.

    Looking back, there was more than liquid invigoration to be found in every nook and cranny of the Music Academy in Barcelona.

    And the space will live on, turned over to the City Council of Barcelona to be used as a cultural center. But most important is the collaborative energy artists such as Smith have left in their wake. “I left thinking and feeling a bit more upbeat, and I’m sure that will reflect in my future projects,” says Smith. “Technology brings us closer, but a modem’s handshake is no substitute for the real thing.” -- Red Bull Big Tune producer clash Dec. 3, Highline Ballroom, 431 W. 16th St. (betw. 9th & 10th Aves.), 212-414-5994; 7, $7. For information on future international assemblies, visit [](