Ask corporate execs or kids on the street, and they'll tell you: The music business is in sad shape, reeling from dismal sales and file-sharing controversies, not to mention a weak economy all around. The result? A lot of crap thrown at the consumer, with record labels cautiously emphasizing homogeneity over diversity. That's why a troupe of artists associated with the New York-based Ropeadope label will hit the stage of Boulder's Fox Theatre on Sunday as part of the eclectic Ropeadope New Music Seminar.
"We've got 23 musicians on two buses traveling around the country," says Andy Hurwitz, founder and president of Ropeadope. "But instead of playing one after the other, they're doing one big, long, interlocking set. Not only does it display their diversity, it creates an environment for the musicians to actually make something unique and special every night."
The seminar will bring a broad array of noted performers together to weave a four-hour flow of genre-spanning, semi-improvised sound. At the top of the roster are Matt Haimovitz -- the award-winning cellist who's brought classical to the masses by filling clubs and coffeehouses around the country with the suites of Bach -- and jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter, whose adventurous chops and funky soul have thrust him to the top of the jazz charts. Joining them are: Lyrics Born, the erstwhile MC of Latyrx whose 2003 solo debut, Later That Day, was an instant hip-hop classic; celebrated percussionist and composer Bobby Previte; Sex Mob, the irreverent yet deeply rooted jazz outfit; Seattle's long-running progressive funk ensemble, Critters Buggin; the Benevento/Russo Duo, a hot new organ-based jam group in the vein of Medeski Martin & Wood; avant-garde turntablist DJ Olive; and poet/spoken-word artist Rich Medina, who will act as the event's house DJ and host. All, save for Haimovitz and Lyrics Born, are part of Ropeadope's humble yet illustrious stable.
"It's not glorious like MTV. If you came over to my crib, you'd be bummed," laughs Hurwitz, who runs Ropeadope out of his Brooklyn apartment. "I don't have any employees, just me and an assistant. It's really hard to stay alive as an independent label. Every day is a struggle. But we're passionate about it, and we love what we're doing."
Hurwitz launched Ropeadope in 1999 after working as an A&R rep for Columbia Records. Disillusioned by the major-label grind, he envisioned an outlet for radically unique music. "I feel like there's a common thread that runs through every band on our label," he says. "There are some bands I could have signed over the years that would have probably made me a lot of money, but they just wouldn't have fit into the aesthetic."
To showcase the unity of his acts, Hurwitz started the New Music Seminar in New York City in 2001; since then, the biannual affair has been a consistent triumph. "It's exciting, putting all these little pieces together into one big thing," he says. "No one group of musicians plays for longer than 45 minutes, and then they pass the baton to the next group. The energy of the room and the vibe of the people is incredible. The whole thing wound up being so successful that finally we were like, ŒWe should take this outside of New York.'
"We're constantly trying to reinvent ourselves," he adds. "When Ropeadope started, people would ask me, ŒWhat's the deal with your label? What's your identity?' They wanted an easy term to describe it. But I'm scared of people who only listen to hip-hop or only listen to jazz. In this day and age, diversity in music is more important than it ever has been."