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MoMA PS1’s Best Warm Up Season Yet Put Focus on Challenging and Diverse Bills

View from the sound booth at the final Warm Up this season.
View from the sound booth at the final Warm Up this season.

Photos by Nicholas Nazmi and Max Alper

Damn, summer in the city is officially over. This could mean quite a few things for New Yorkers: no more drinking the day away on your buddy’s roof, no more getting out of your cool office job early on Fridays, no more indestructible flying roaches or humidity so thick you can bottle it and sell it as “Artisanal Brooklyn Moisture.” And for me and few thousand other New Yorkers, it means one other thing specifically: no more Warm Ups.

Let’s back up a sec.

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Clearly, I should drink more water.

For those of you living outside the five boroughs, Warm Up is a weekly outdoor concert series held every Saturday from the beginning of June to the end of August, located in the courtyard of MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens. The Observer describes Warm Up as “an annual exercise in sweaty sexual contact disguised as a ‘curated’ public concert series that presents ‘the best in experimental music, sound, and DJs,'” which, to their credit, is not not true.

But for me, Warm Up mostly consisted of setting up and breaking down 60,000 watts worth of sound system equipment every sweltering Saturday for twelve straight weeks, while attempting to avoid the inebriated VIP elite who really don’t care if they’re in your way as you start to feel the 50 lbs crate of XLR cables in your hands slowly fall out of grip. Yup, welcome to the life of a sound guy.

 

Behind the scenes w/ DJ Stingray.
Behind the scenes with DJ Stingray.

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Occasionally, however, I was in a relaxed enough state to be able to sit and enjoy the music of the evening. And for this I am truly thankful. The range of artists and styles presented this summer was exponentially more eclectic compared to five plus years ago, when I came out simply as a curious resident, fresh to NYC and living down the street from the museum. From veteran, vinyl-only NYC DJs such as Danny Krivit and Bobbito, to OG Detroit Techno gods like DJ Stingray and Theo Parrish, to local experimentalists Eartheater, SADAF, and SHYBOI.; monotony in style was certainly never a concern to eager listeners each week. This lack of one-notedness and the plethora of aesthetic approaches to “electronic music,” manifested largely by PS1’s Curatorial Assistant and Live Programming producer, Taja Cheek, are highly reflective of the diverse musical gazpacho that has permeated New York City’s clubs and galleries in the past few years.

Through this bold programming, MoMA sends a powerful message to live music communities everywhere to value and foster diversity as the new normal.

Taja was able to utilize the heavy roster of musicians, label heads, and managers on the PS1 curatorial committee to create a concert series that had something for everyone. The Warm Up shows created a necessary safe space each week, especially in the wake of the horrific murder of 49 queer and POC individuals at an Orlando nightclub in early June. This event remained one of the primary conversations between audience members, staff, and security personnel all summer long. With that in mind, Taja made it her mission to make inclusivity the priority of the season.

Discwoman's BEARCAT on the 1's and 2's.
Discwoman’s BEARCAT on the 1’s and 2’s.

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As I said before, the attention paid to diversity in programming and inclusivity in audience this season departed from previous summers’ events, which featured almost exclusively the sub-bass wobbling of EDM and House. You would think that casting a larger sonic net might reel in more fans at the box office every week. But while I can’t speak specifically to ticket sales, subtracting the typical mainstream electronic audience made for a crowd that was typically far more intimate and eclectic. I was constantly pleasantly surprised to see how serious the crowd was about about engaging with both the music and the dancing.

Something here was tapping into the roots of the club ethos, even when the music was too weird to dance to in the traditional sense. When legendary noise artist Russell Haswell sonically assaulted the audience with shapeshifting walls of harsh modular synthesis, sure, a lot of people walked to the back doors. But those who stayed, even the club kids who rolled their eyes and covered their ears out of sheer necessity, were confronted with a serious listening experience. And for many, it made for some fantastic discussions after the set, even if discussions weren’t universally positive…

Soundchecking the spaceship with Palmbomen.
Soundchecking the spaceship with Palmbomen.

This season’s Warm Up concert series did what very little electronic music festivals can or even attempt to do: It created a bridge. It united the noisy with the bouncy, the fist-pumpers with the voguers, the raw with the chic. Hundreds of artists have come through PS1 in the last 19 years, it is an innovative space and they’ll continue to grow and expand every single year. But something tells me that the aesthetic and cultural message of diversity and inclusivity is here to stay, and that’s an important takeaway.

See you next summer, New York.

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Max Alper
Max Alper

Max Alper is a musician, sound artist, and educator living in Brooklyn. He performs under his own name and with experimental RnB trio The Pluto Moons. He currently serves as adjunct faculty at the Manhattan Community College, and is the founder of Sonic Arts For All!, a non-profit start-up whose mission is to bring music technology education to underserved communities throughout New York City.

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