The Impact of Music Collectives on Local Scenes and Their Musicians
By: C Blake Parker
In the independent world, artist collectives are one of the most powerful tools available to almost any group of like-minded musicians. The ability to band together for the purposes of creative space, collaboration, and a combined network is more valuable than even the best accomplishments done solo.
One of the countless artist collectives thriving today is the Sine Wave Surfers, a group of D.I.Y. electronic artists and creators based in Southwest Virginia and the greater Central East Coast. The collective formed under the direction of Adam Wirdzek, who creates music as Electrobro. Wirdzek has been writing and producing music since his teenage years, but initially never felt welcomed into any communities of musicians online.
“People were always flexing on the internet about their knowledge and never offering any help. They were very pretentious. At the same time, I was in the class Sociology of Popular Music in college that broke down the corruption of the music industry and how it negatively affects communities of musicians. And that seriously pissed me off.”
Wirdzek had, until then, sought to break into the music industry, but after this realization he simply made a Facebook group.
“I was like ‘I’m going to share information and help people out.’ It just started with some friends, and then it was suddenly way bigger than that.”
As the Facebook group grew, Wirdzek casually shared music tips and encouragement for its members. Roughly a year afterwards, he stumbled onto the concept of music workshops where musicians and producers get together and share creative methods. He began hosting his own under the context of this Facebook group, and though often only one or two people would show up, he could tell these kinds of informal classes were having a positive impact.
Slowly, the Facebook group grew larger and had enough musicians that Wirdzek released a compilation of music by the members. Once he realized this was possible, it seemed that something powerful had been tapped into through these musicians and creative people stitched together by a casual Facebook group. At this time, Wirdzek was returning from Northern Virginia to Blacksburg, his hometown, as he completed college. Having a larger base of friends and connections in the area, Wirdzek started striking up performances under the collective group, now named the Sine Wave Surfers. The collective held showcases with rapid-fire sets by numerous acts in one night, and began to plug themselves into the hip venues of town like the vegetarian bistro and the hookah lounge.
“It was a good way to tap into communities. It would bring out valuable members of the community that I could work with in the future. We could talk on an intellectual level without any reservations.”
All of this transpired over three or four years, and since the beginning the Sine Wave Surfers have put out numerous compilations on a seasonal basis, appeared in dozens of shows from damp cold basements to high-profile community festivals, and organized and put on an entire festival specific to the collective just earlier this month. The Facebook group that started it all now has nearly 500 members and their Soundcloud bio touts a list of artist membership that takes scroll after scroll to see in full.
In talking directly with Wirdzek about the Sine Wave Surfers, its full significance came into view.
Did you have a concept of what a collective is when you formed the Facebook group that became the Sine Wave Surfers (SWS)?
Wirdzek: No, the idea just came to me – not that I pioneered it, but I just hated the music industry and this was something that had the power to topple it. It was a hybrid of all my passions, and it empowered other musicians. It was a win-win-win.
Do you think being a musician yourself is an advantage in terms of managing the collective, or does one hinder the other?
It’s definitely an advantage because my music can push the collective forward, and the collective can also get almost anyone in it gig in Blacksburg and lots other places, too. But there is an ebb and flow; for the festival we just put on I was so busy making that happen that I couldn’t do a whole lot of preparation for my own performance, but for other festivals that I’m just a performer at I can make a completely fresh set.
Is there one task in keeping SWS running smoothly that you can say is the most difficult?
I really like keeping up with everyone, but it’s hard to do that when there are so many people in the collective. But the hardest thing is getting people to come out to concerts. Lots of people like being fashionably late, myself included, but that’s the point of having openers, I guess.
SWS clearly supports artists performing and playing shows, and supports the recording and production side as well. Is one more important than the other?
That’s a great question, because I don’t really do workshops that regularly as I used to. We do have something similar called Beat Cyphers where I give out a curated sample pack and we all make a beat from it right there. But like I said, it’s hard to get people out and involved in stuff.
How would you say the collective has positively impacted the local music scene? Have there been any negative impacts?
I’m a big believer of leading by example, so I think just existing in the scene we can show other people a way to approach this thing; that successful shows can happen anywhere. It definitely called for more venues and places that could host live music – even just someone’s house. I think it facilitates growth in the scene.
If you could have a dedicated SWS minion, what would you have him do?
[Instantly] Watching the door. Collecting money at the door [Laughter]. But at the same time, he has to be social and have a good vibe. Also, trash-picker-upper.
Is the existence of SWS dependent on the internet, or would it still be around without it?
Wow, I don’t know… the internet is so pivotal but it sucks in so many ways. I do think I’ve been able to use it positively but it has been crucial for the collective.
In the same vein, does the rise of computer-based music play a role in the collective’s success?
It allows easy entry for so many musicians; people can just make shit and put it out. It does provide a great platform to find these people, and SWS is totally riding that wave, like, that’s the point of the metaphor [Laughter].
What is the biggest hurdle SWS, or any collective, faces today?
Capital, definitely. You need money and you need a sound system to put on a show. I’m lucky to have a network of people who support my music and the collective, and because I’m so fortunate, I put so much time into SWS and making music – it’s the best way to say thank you.
Lastly, what’s the next big thing can we look forward to from SWS?
Our Fall 2017 compilation is almost out, and we’ve got loads of upcoming shows with acts like Panther God from Ashville, NC and Stimulator Jones who’s signed to Stone’s Throw Records and is based in Roanoke, VA.
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