I’ve always loved to write but I never knew I could be a writer.
There is a story my mom is fond of telling that involves my geography teacher in junior high telling her I had a talent with words. The earliest memory I have of writing is trying to create a make-your-own-adventure book while in primary school. I must have been seven or eight. I had a notebook filled with maps and paragraphs and ideas for a fantastical adventure full of monsters, castles, and mountains. And then I grew up, music became a bigger interest, as did basketball and the English language. I needed a way out of Nice. It’s a nice place to grow up but it wasn’t as exciting as the rest of the world seemed to be.
In 1998 I moved to England to study at the University of East London and began a decade long relationship with London that involved music, writing, and media (and a heavy dose of raving). While in my third year of university I realised I could write about music as a subject, something that had never really crossed my mind before. I knew I wanted to work in journalism but despite doing some internships at The Sunday Times Magazine and Marie Claire I never really thought that hard about what I would or could write about. I ended up writing my thesis on turntablism, which seemed so exciting at the time. After graduating in 2002 I started working in the publishing industry and freelanced on the side, writing about hip-hop, electronic dance music, and DJ culture. I built websites about turntablism and DJ culture, produced podcasts before podcasts were a thing, and spent too much time on message boards. Thanks to a much needed push from my girlfriend at the time I packed it all in 2007 and moved to Tokyo to teach English.
Turns out teaching English in Japan wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, but my trainer was right and the kids were definitely the best part of it. The 18 months I spent living in Tokyo changed my life. It refocused my love of music and writing and strengthened a lifelong love of Japanese, and Asian, culture. I left Tokyo just as the 2008 economic crash was happening. I travelled around South East Asia and North America before landing in Milan for six months. I was that 29 year old guy who crashes at his mom’s place while trying to figure out his life.
Milan wasn’t the one. It reminded me too much of things I had left behind or was trying to leave behind. One good thing did come out of my time in Italy though: during regular visits to friends in Bologna I co-founded Original Cultures, a crazy idea about connecting cultures through art that turned into something real and beautiful.
And so I moved back to London, and spent another five years there. I moved full time into digital publishing and media. I quit my day job. I went freelance. I involved myself in the music scene again, still with a focus on electronic music and hip-hop.
I returned to Japan in 2011 for three months. I was excited, it had been three years. Ten hours after I landed the Great Tohoku Earthquake hit. Transfixed by the human tragedy unfolding around us, some friends and I produced the first music compilation from within Japan to raise funds for the victims, totaling over $30,000 in two years. I also had a short story published in a book collecting stories about the earthquake. I travelled up and down the country, and returned in 2013 for another three months and more travels. Once again Japan changed my life.
In 2014 I left London for Brussels in the wake of rising rents and cuts to the arts. Before I had even moved in to my new place I met the woman who would become my wife during a trip to New York City. I spent 2014 in between Brussels and NYC, and on the road throughout Europe tour managing Shigeto, a friend and amazing live performer. In December 2014 I got married and moved to America, where I continued to somehow eke out a living by primarily writing about arts and culture.
Sometime before I moved to America I had a revelation. I was writing about music technology, researching various facts and histories online when it hit me that the Red Bull Music Academy lecture archive was an invaluable tool for this kind of work. I’d been working with the Academy as a freelance writer for a while and in conversations with my editor I began to mention this revelation and its implications. In 2016, my editor approached me to take on a much needed job: to update the lecture archive and bring it all online, in video and text (only a small portion of it was fully available by that point). The archive included over 400 in-depth interviews with music luminaries. I said yes. That decision would eventually lead to my quitting the freelance hustle and joining the agency responsible for the Academy full time in 2018, shortly after moving from NYC to LA. In late 2019 the agency closed and the Academy came to an end, at least in its current form. It’s been a wild ride and beyond the great people I’ve met and productions I’ve been a part of, I’m just glad I was able to be there at the right time to help make the lecture archive a reality.
While first living in Japan in 2007 I started thinking about the links between the hip-hop beats I grew up listening to and the music I’d grown to love as a (young) adult. How DJ Premier’s beats or DJ Shadow’s instrumental sample-quilts connected to the electronic experiments of edIT, the wildstyles of Dabrye and the then nascent worldwide beat scene. Those ideas became a feature for a Spanish magazine in 2008. A year later they became a mix that squeezed ten years of production and over 150 tracks in 90 minutes. By 2012 it had become a public talk, which I gave in England, Ireland, Germany and Italy. And then one night in Berlin, in the dark of a bar somewhere in Kreuzberg a man I’d just met told me I should write a book. It seemed like such an odd idea but I took his advice, and since then I’ve been working on this book. It should finally be published in September 2020. It’s been a challenge. After all, I never knew I could be a writer.