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The CHIRP Blog

Mike Nikolich writesThe Present Elders Heal and Inspire Through Live Pop-up Performances

[from the Present Elders Facebook page]

The Present Elders is an electronic music duo with a hip hop foundation that specializes in unforgettable live performances where all of the music is composed and manipulated through synthesizers, samplers, sequencers, drum machines and FX. Featuring Brother El and Radius, two veterans of Chicago’s electronic and hip hop scenes, the duo has been playing pop-up street shows throughout Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and now in Portland, Oregon.

Formally trained as an audio engineer and graphic designer, Brother El runs The Beat Bank, an independent record label. His unique style has been described as “Chicago’s pulse, the breath of hip-hop, and the clashing fusion of South Side meeting ancestral roots.”

Radius started crafting beats in 2001 with a focus on multi-dimensional “post-genre” based compositions. After producing tracks for local rappers, he began to hone his skills as a producer/live performance artist by winning Chicago area beat battles and later performing in various hip hop and electronic showcases with Moment Sound Crew (Garo, Lokua & Slava). Radius runs ETC Records, a forward-thinking, progressive label for Chicago artists.

The two artists became a duo after Radius was inspired by one of Brother El’s performances at Chicago’s Oakwood Beach to coin the name. He felt like Brother El was a present elder unlocking jewels of the universe with the wisdom of the ancestors and representing progressive cultural movements now. As The Present Elders, the duo’s goal is to heal and inspire by tapping into the frequencies of their audiences.

Their sound is percussive and persistent, but never boring. Brother El and Radius add layer upon layer of synthesizer, beats and sound effects to produce a hypnotic, yet soothing sonic landscape that is not restricted by song titles or even structures. Instead, the duo simply starts playing, adapting their sounds and textures to the frequencies and colors emitted by the audience. The result is organic and often amazing.

If you want to experience one of their live performances, check out their recent set at the Vinyl Dreams record store in San Francisco.


Click to listen to the set.

Since they perform for free, The Present Elders have established an Indiegogo fund-raising site called Operation Streetwork Cali. You can become part of their movement by spreading the word about The Present Elders or by becoming a backer.  The choice is yours. But either way, if you want to catch one of their pop-up live performances, you’ll need to follow them on Facebook or Instagram (@ThePresentElders).

CHIRP DJ Mike Nikolich (listen to Mike Wednesdays from 6 am to 9 am) recently talked to Brother El and Radius before they headed out to Portland, Oregon for a series of live pop-up shows. Here’s what they had to say:

Q. What is the mission of The Present Elders?

Brother El: We are grassroots performers with a mission of inspiring and healing our audiences. We like to perform in areas that are vastly untapped and this may include tough neighborhoods that experience a lot of violence and high unemployment or places where there are large numbers of homeless people forming their own communities.

Radius: We want to make a new outlet for people to come together as a community, especially in underserved communities. We are on a mission from Chicago and perform in areas and near venues that haven’t always been kind to us. We realize violence happens everywhere and we want to heal and inspire audiences through our performances. Music is much more powerful than words.

Q. How did you two meet?

Brother El: We met through Chicago’s hip hop fraternity. I have been around for more than a decade producing and recording. But I never did anything with Radius. I used to run into him at random places around the world and we began to talk.

Radius: The idea of performing on the street evolved from the fact that we weren’t getting the bookings we needed to sustain ourselves. Once we got out there and started performing, something happened. People realized what we were doing was different. We didn’t want to go through traditional venues and booking agents. We bypassed the whole thing. That’s how the movement started.

Brother El: Essentially we removed the power from the venues and booking entities, took matters into our own hands and brought our healing stage show directly to the people.

Q. How did you come up with your name, The Present Elders?

Radius: It came to me in a moment of inspiration, out of respect to Brother El. He was performing at Oakwood Beach. When he finished his first set, I approached him and said he was the Present Elder, someone people could look up to. An elder doesn’t need to be old, they only need to be making an impact, and Brother El clearly had a huge impact on that audience. 

Q. Describe a typical performance.

Brother El: There is no such thing as a typical performance. We start each set with some basic ideas and motifs and evolve them based on the feedback and vibes we receive from the audience. The music often combines elements of hip hop, dance, house, techno, samples and beats, but since everything is improvised, no two performances are the same.

Radius: Our approach is completely organic and builds off the audience’s response to what we are playing. We see the colors and tune into the audience’s frequencies. Then we cut, mix and move around our sounds using the electronic tools we have to put everyone on the same level.

Q. Where do you perform?

Radius: Anywhere, man. We have played in parks, on beaches, in record stores, at clubs and outside of street fairs and larger events like Lalapalooza. Many of the traditional booking agents and venues haven’t been kind to The Present Elders but that’s okay. That’s why we decided to take our sound to the streets to build our audience on a grassroots level.

Brother El: Last summer we set up outside of several festivals including Lalapalooza and North Coast Music Festival in Chicago, and drew huge crowds. People kept asking us, ‘Why aren’t you playing officially on the main stage of these events?’ We acknowledged each other with a smirk and usually would say something like, ‘Because we wanted to play right here, right now . . .  it’s important to bring our music to you unfiltered.’

Q. It’s fascinating to watch audiences respond to your music. Have you been pleased by the reaction from California and audiences?

Brother EL: They’re primed for us. California has an openness and a culture of respecting differences more than what we are used to seeing. They are ready for the Present Elders and we we’re able to build some strong support for our movement. I give thanks to the Chicago environment made us what we are but the California audiences and exposure are pushing our performances to another level.

Radius: As an artist, you want to connect with the audience. You want to build off their energy and frequency. A lot of people make beats. We are taking an electronic vibe to the streets, where it isn’t always easy to power our instruments. We have played in California before but not as pop-up artists and we are definitely inspired and encouraged by the reaction of California audiences, so far.

Q. What is Operation Streetwork Cali and how can CHIRP listeners become part of the movement?

Brother El: Operation Streetwork Cali has a goal of raising $10,000 and we set up an Indiegogo fundraising site to make it easy for people to become part of the movement.  We have lots of ways for people to contribute and donors can receive digital albums, tee-shirts and more expensive packages like personal workshops and private shows.

Radius: While we perform our free pop-up shows, we need financial support to pay for travel, equipment, food and production. We have been self-sustaining for a long time but now we need help to sustain our mission because we are literally out there. The youth and homeless resonate with our vibration because we are honest in our efforts and perhaps arguably close to homelessness ourselves by following our dreams. We need your help to stay out here and perform.

Upcoming Shows

The Present Elders
Tuesday, February 21 at 9 PM - 2 AM PST
Del Monte Speakeasy, 52 Windward Avenue, Venice, Calif.

The Present Elders YouTube Channel

The Present Elders on Instagram

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Categorized: Interviews

Topics: the present elders

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