In March of last year, Greg Heffernan, Zach Koeber, and Dan Hirshorn—the cellist, saxophonist, and DJ (as well as occasional trumpeter) who together make up the hybrid production/live-instrument outfit Archie Pelago—gathered in a well-lit Brooklyn apartment. With Hirshorn (a.k.a. Hirshi) behind the decks and Heffernan (a.k.a. Cosmo D) and Koeber (a.k.a. Kroba) sitting with their respective instruments behind custom Ableton Live rigs, the three piece recorded live audio and video of a 25-minute set which would air on Mary Anne Hobbs's XFM show the following month; for many, the clip also served as the first taste of the Archie Pelago sound. Marrying the more sophisticated strains of bass music with exceptional musicianship, the trio has added an accomplished list of remix duties and a handful of impressive EPs to the abundance of its absorbing live sets that can found on the web. In the wake of all this activity, it's little wonder that Archie Pelago has become one of the most uniquely promising projects to rise from New York's dance-music community.
While each member has his own background in jazz and contemporary classical music, the three met after finding their own paths into the electronic world and frequenting NYC nights like TURRBOTAX® and the now-defunct Dub War. Heffernan and Koeber were pursuing careers as a cellist and a saxophonist, respectively (and experimenting with solo production on the side), while Hirshorn had been steadily building his DJ chops—helming a show at WNYU and spinning around town—when the three began working together towards the end of the summer in 2010. "I feel like I brought these two guys together," says Hirshorn, who had originally enlisted Heffernan and his cello for a project before suggesting the addition of Koeber and his saxophone to the mix. "Zach literally just stepped into the room and did a sick solo [to a track Greg and I had been working on]," tells Hirshorn, "and that's how we finished the first [Archie Pelago] track." From the onset, Archie Pelago was formed with the idea of combining instrumental musicianship with the members' shared fascination for the entire spectrum of bass music. "We sort of just combined our two loves," Koeber explains. "We all came from an instrumental background and fell into electronic music in our own ways." As a result, Archie Pelago took shape as a culmination of the trio's wide range of musical influences, training, and experiences.
After a few months of experimentation and development, the group began officially releasing tracks in 2011, offering up three EPs worth of adventurous, dancefloor-inspired electronic music on labels such as Endfence, Slime, and Car Crash Set over the course of the year. During that period, the group matured into a collaborative process that could be described as both "complementary" and "democratic," its members making space for each other's technological strengths and creative inclinations whilst constantly seeking inspiration amidst busy lifestyles—pointing to iOS apps such as Propellerhead's Figure and others as irreplacable tools in this process. "We all have iPads now and we're digging into the apps," explains cellist Heffernan. "We're on the subway and on the move a lot, so to just be able to act in the moment with an i-device is really powerful." Saxophonist Koeber expands on the idea, "Having studied music and having all these tools at our fingertips—whether it's the ability to improvise melodies or having these i-devices—[it all] helps us get all these ideas out, and makes it so we're just constantly composing."
The ensemble hasn't followed the usual path taken by budding electronic projects, particularly in the sense that Archie Pelago's ascent seems to be pinned as much on its live performances as the quality of its productions. Armed with two turntables, a mixer, and Serato, Hirshorn serves as a sort of conductor, providing the rhythmic undercurrents of the set by controlling and manipulating skeletal stems of the tracks—or even sometimes just throwing in minimal tunes from other artists—while Heffernan and Koeber play, loop, and affect their instruments on top. The group sees its performances as musical conversations, not only between the members interacting with each other's improvisational directions, but also with the audience and its surroundings. "Sort of like a DJ set, we like our sets to be continuous," says Heffernan, "to be about the flow of the dance, and to keep people moving and engaged. We try to keep it open ended because that's when the coolest shit can happen." For those of us not on the East Coast, the many high-quality videos Archie Pelago has shared of its sets (such as the aforementioned one for Mary Anne Hobbs) have illuminated the complexities and interconnectedness of the group—each member is perfectly synced behind an Ableton rig, which allows the music to flow in any number of directions with the simple touch of an iPad or the punch of a foot controller. Again Heffernan explains best, "[The videos] were a way to really lay it out there. We wanted people to see what was possible, and that it wasn't just the music as an end result. It was the three of us having a conversation and interacting with each other."
While last year only yielded one original EP from Archie Pelago—a three-track, self-titled 12" for the label arm of New York's Mister Saturday Night crew—the trio managed to rack up an impressive list of remix credits in the past 12 months, taking on Distal and HxdB's "Booyant" and reworking tracks for the likes of Simple and Helix, Wheez-ie, Wattville, and others. In truth, it seems like Archie Pelago was building its repertoire and gathering resources in preparation for 2013, as the group has a slew of plans and releases set for the coming months, the first of which being a 12" for the Well Rounded imprint, "Subway Gothic" b/w "Lady Markers." It will be followed in the spring by a self-released EP, Sly Gazabo, which pairs two more house-minded tunes with a 15-minute "opus" that Heffernan says, "really lays out everything we're about, all of our approaches to how we write, what we believe in musically, and what we feel is possible in making electronic music. That's why we wanted to put it out ourselves." On top of all this, Archie Pelago has also recently completed a collaborative LP with Grenier (a.k.a. DJG) that is currently being shopped around. Furthermore, the group will be acting as residents for Percussion Lab's new monthly night (set to launch in February) and in no uncertain terms have vowed to make their way to SXSW and the West Coast this year. "Our goal is to do it all, just hit all forms," says Koeber. "We'd love to play to a group of Animal Collective fans, play a bass club for some real heads, develop some contemporary classical stuff, do film scoring—just apply the Archie Pelago sound and approach to a wide audience." Clearly Heffernan, Koeber, and Hirshorn are ready for a busy 2013.
Archie Pelago's "Subway Gothic" b/w "Ladymarkers" is out next month on Well Rounded; preview it below.