When one thinks of ambient, stripped-down, bass-heavy Dance music scenes, his or her eyes might rove to Eastern Europe or South Africa. But if Evan Sharfe (Evan Scott, by trade) has anything to say about it, Cincinnati might very well develop into a diverse dance music stronghold of unlikely proportions.
"People don't realize that there's a lot of different, unique things out there," says Sharfe. "There's a lot of good music out there that's not being heard by U.S. audiences."
Sharfe, equal parts DJ, producer and recording artist, has planted the richly reverbed seeds into Cincinnati's freshly tilled Techno soil with his new solo album, Five Style Fists (downloadable at Beatport.com). The idea was derived from Sharfe's love of minimalism and kung fu. It draws inspiration from the 1978 Jackie Chan action film, Spiritual Kung Fu, in which a book inhabited by ancient ghosts teaches Chan the "Five Style Fists" fighting styles: the crane, the snake, the leopard, the tiger and the dragon.
To Scott, it sounded like the fodder of a subliminal concept.
Soon the concept blossomed into a full-length album with a track for each one of the styles. Each is entrenched within the song's dynamic. "Snake" has melodies that often slither in and out, creating anticipation with each crescendo, almost as if the melody is in pursuit of the song's rhythm.
Rhythm is the dominant feature throughout the album, according to Scott.
"I really don't try to concentrate on melodies too much," he says, "because I think that takes away from the bare bones essence of Dance music."
The album became a "labor of love," and Sharfe set to work on transmogrifying muscular, rhythm-heavy tracks dedicated to his chosen animals while working as a DJ at the Covington night club, Clique, and earning his second degree in Graphic Design at Northern Kentucky University.
During his Cincinnati tenure, he has observed a great a deal about people in relation to music.
"I think people in the Midwest generally think that the word 'techno' " means anything produced electronically," says Sharfe, "and it's often lumped in the catch-all category 'Electronica.' "
However, this comparison can garner as many similarities as Charles Nelson Reilly and a cup of baked beans. Like any other genre, Techno branches out into multiple subcategories like "Micro House," "Drum and Bass" and
"Minimal Techno," the genre in which Sharfe is fluent. None of these sub-categories could be construed as basic Electronica to an audience with open ears. Minimal Techno is what the mainstream idea of Techno would sound like if you peeled it, placed in a blender and added a fork: raw, energized, organic.
Part of the Techno prejudice is derived from this inherent lumping together of the multifaceted Techno genres, Sharfe believes.
No longer playing at Clique, Sharfe has become a transient Techno artist, creating music and producing, but performing infrequently. What he routinely performed was not what he was creating behind the scenes.
"It was more like 'party people' shit," remarks Sharfe, a sneer on his face the width of Uganda. He wanted to concentrate on his music, not play someone else's.
Sharfe says, "When I first started DJ-ing, it was a blast, but then it got to be chore" to go to the same club once a month and cater to an ever-dwindling turnout.
Sharfe has had a presence in other Cincinnati music scenes, but the Techno scene was relatively vacant when he first began. He is glad to have had the Clique experience early on, especially since he wasn't an established DJ at the time.
"I was barely DJ-ing three months when I started actually playing out," he says.
Sharfe's ambition extends further than Cincinnati with his label, RaceCarProductions, whose members include founders Ian Roland and Matthew Cooper (aka The Librarian). Since 2005, RaceCar has been producing albums by domestic and international artists such as Bernstein from Tokyo, Mossmoss from San Francisco, Monocle from Boston and Cincy's The Librarian.
RaceCarProductions began in 2004 as a production company with DJs Cooper and Roland as a means to get some exposure for their music. After meeting Sharfe, the trio began bringing larger acts to city and opening up for them, introducing local crowds to their music. They quickly established themselves in Cincinnati as musicians and proprietors of great parties.
However, fatigue soon set in for the trio. While establishing their musical credentials, RaceCarProductions' finances were taking a beating bringing in large acts. It was advantageous to re-evaluate their strategy and focus primarily on producing records.
RaceCarProductions currently has more than 10 acts and has an ambitious release schedule planned for 2007 and 2008, including music by artists Francium, Beta Project and Love Among Equals.
Sharfe's career as a performing DJ remains tenuous. The modern perception of what a DJ does has been blurred with what any person with iTunes can do, and Sharfe is not a Top 40 flunky. Nonetheless, we can expect that he will be responsible for anthemic, ambient music that Cincinnati can be proud to host.
"My job as a producer and a DJ is to take things that I find inspiration from and let it go in one ear and out the other," says Sharfe. "But when it's in there, I remold it into something different and new."
Now if we can only find him a club.
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