Red Bull, the millennial mixer of choice, is a multibillion-dollar industry and the world’s most popular energy drink. For music lovers like myself, though, we most recognize the brand for its Red Bull Music Academy, an eclectic series of concerts, lectures, and dance parties that emerges annually in major cities across the globe.
Running from April 29 to May 21, RBMA NYC 2017 is celebrating its fourth year as the city’s premier cutting-edge spring festival. The programming caters to aural connoisseurs by booking a disparate selection of genre-blind artists in informal settings—bars, clubs, museums, and ad hoc concert spaces—throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Why You Should Go: One-time-only performances packed with boldface artists in the fields of jazz, electronic, disco, pop, hip hop, and R&B make it a near surety that at least one of the Red Bull Music Academy concerts is your must-see show for the month of May. Sadly, you’ll need to know somebody who knows somebody to get on the list for the ultrahot premiere of Solange Knowles’s new performance art piece, An Ode To, on May 18, or for the unconventional piano cabaret duet with headlining Southern rapper Gucci Mane at the mic and super-producer Zaytoven on keys on May 16. Here are five upcoming RBMA events I’ll be packing into my evening calendar this spring.
Fluxo: Funk Proibidão
Saturday, April 29
The genre of funk carioca came to prominence in the ’80s and ’90s in Brazil’s densely urban favelas. Funk relies on samplers and drum machines that run at high BPM; American listeners will hear elements of hip hop, Miami bass, and electro-heavy disco. The subgenre of funk proibidâo is akin to gangsta rap in the states or narcocorridos in Mexico; the subject matter tends toward drugs, violence, and generally wilding out. This fluxo (Portuguese slang for block party, literally “flow”) will highlight several of the biggest names in proibidâo, including MC Bin Laden, Leo Justi, and MC Carol. In a sharp curatorial pairing meant to emphasize sonic similarities across continents, they’ll be joined by Chicago rappers Sicko Mobb, Venus X, and Detroit’s DJ Assault.
New Jack Swing: The Hype Dance
Friday, May 5
For those too young to remember, New Jack Swing was a late-’80s/early-’90s fusion of R&B, hip hop, and fashion that reshaped all of the above in ways that continue to reverberate today in the careers of artists such as Drake, Mary J. Blige, and Pharrell Williams. Following a sold-out Q&A with New Jack pioneer Teddy Riley, RBMA will be hosting an all-night dance party at Louie and Chan on the Lower East Side, with major figures from that era including DJ Brucie B and Kid Capri, alongside contemporary torchbearer DJ Just Blaze.
Moodymann Plays Prince
Saturday, May 6
Detroit DJ Moodymann spins a type of hybrid house funk that incorporates classic R&B, jazz, and soul records. Moodymann is famously secretive and only rarely gives interviews, but his love for Prince shows in both his music selection and the outrageous purple decor of his Michigan home. Tonight, Moodymann will play a nonstop, 100 percent Prince set that promises to dig deep into the lost legend’s vast backlog of obscure B sides and commercially unreleased wonders.
GQOM: Durban With DJ Lag, Rudeboyz, and DJ Twitty
Friday, May 12
The newly popular electronic dance music out of Durban called gqom is relentless and dark; a sort of driving industrial house with sparse vocals and forceful, compressed drum loops that fill the track to overflowing. The end result is probably best enjoyed on an overcrowded dance floor. Red Bull has transported a number of South African’s preeminent gqom DJs across the Atlantic for their U.S. debut at Tender Trap in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
The Ecstatic World of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
Sunday, May 21
Jazz fans know Alice Coltrane as more than John Coltrane’s wife; she was a sterling composer and performer of a sort of sui generis, ecstatic spiritual amalgam of lyrical experimental sounds, black gospel, and Indian devotional music. For neophytes, I strongly recommend a listen to “Turiya and Ramakrishna,” one of my all-time favorite piano compositions, off the deathless album Ptah the El Daoud. Coltrane’s diverse influences can be clearly heard among the modern generation, including in the music of her and John’s son, the post-bop saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, and the exquisite harpist Brandee Younger. On the 10th anniversary of Alice’s passing, her legacy will be celebrated with a lengthy set of Coltrane originals performed by the Sai Anantam Singers from Ms. Coltrane’s Los Angeles ashram; Coltrane fils; Younger; and an assortment of TBA jazz royalty.
Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York 2017
Saturday, April 29–Sunday, May 21
We might not give you wings, but we can plan out your entire NYC experience!