Meet Human Agency, one of Denver's fastest-rising electronic acts
Pop music," declares Seamus Moore, "has proven that musical talent means shit as far as being accepted by a musical fan base goes."
Moore and his group, Human Agency, aren't necessarily anti-pop, but neither are they ones to adhere to modern pop conventions to make their mark, relying solely on social media, YouTube video views and gimmicks to build their fan base. Instead, the act is more focused on its music — all of which it gives away free on Bandcamp.
As a result, Human Agency has become one of the most promising and quickly rising electronic groups to come out of Denver recently, blending elements of hip-hop with dance music and rounding it all out with organic instrumentation. But as much as the band's members don't confine themselves to the parameters of pop, they know that much of their popularity depends on their appeal, which means they still need to be mindful of their presentation.
"If you can be provocative on stage but innovative in the studio and have a successful marketing and promotion plan, that gets you stage time," Moore acknowledges. "I think all of those have to be simpatico, or you're just another brilliant musician out there practicing in your mom's basement."
"I think the way we make music in the studio is unique in and of itself," adds Moore, who co-founded the Human Agency with Ryan Kjos. "And that comes from Ryan's and my implementation of vinyl samples, which is obviously the hip-hop side coming out in us." Moore and Kjos performed together in various groups, but the two found a real connection in the hip-hop world. Shortly after forming Human Agency, the two soon found themselves engulfed in a tidal wave of increasingly popular emerging local electronic acts, one of which eventually produced their third member, drummer Jonas Otto, who joined the group in 2010, after a stint in Octopus Nebula.
The three musicians are driven by common goals. While they sometimes followed separate paths to this genre-bending destination, what linked them was their efforts to experiment with sounds and styles and a shared desire to devote as much attention to their craft as possible.
Otto knows firsthand the type of commitment it takes to make music. "I know [this] requires a lot of time," says Otto, who'd put his sticks down for a while after his time in Octopus Nebula. "It's something that if you aren't committed to 100 percent, you shouldn't be doing it, because it's not fair to the music. I've had to really struggle to find a balance...and everything I have left goes to the music."
"I've invested everything into music as far as emotionally, mentally, and my day-to-day time management," notes Moore, who studied audio engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. While they all agree that investing the time is critical, Moore and company also realize they don't have to be in the same place at the same time to get things done. It's "a new fuckin' world we live in," as Moore points out.
"We don't need to sit in a studio together for hours on end," explains Kjos. "Seamus can work on a track for four or five hours, then send it over to me to add my touch, and then we pass it on to Jonas to lay down the drums with his personal flair."
But once the tracks are created, they need to be honed to perform in a live environment, another essential characteristic of the group's overall presentation. Unlike that of so many other electronic acts in the scene these days, the music these guys are making requires more effort than simply pressing buttons and nodding along. Regardless of how it's delivered, though, the goal is the same: to set it off on the dance floor and be able to hold your own.
While touring the festival circuit this past summer, Human Agency consistently found itself sandwiched between electronic producers and DJ acts, and, as might be expected, the guys actually felt right at home with their hybrid approach.
"Ryan and I are very aware of what we want the core of our sound to be," Moore explains. "It's beat-based, yes, but it's not writing bass or European house drums, or one long mixtape that we can modulate for a year." That core sound relies on Moore's and Kjos's choice of samples, which provide everything from a soulful, jazzy beat to a faster hip-hop tempo. "Bringing organic instruments and blending them with the electronic side is our idea," says Kjos, "but getting other aspects on the guitar, the drumming — it's really just blending it all together."
"We are trying to liberate our sound from the digital gear and a computer," Moore adds. "Because just like any other instrument, production is limiting as far as what you can and cannot do. Sometimes it comes down to the vinyl samples we can find, but we also don't want to be a band just playing our music completely bit for bit."
Organic instrumentation leaves room for error, of course, but that's precisely how these three prefer it. Doing things this way maintains the human element and can often foster creativity. An example? "We were doing a soundcheck for our second planned show at Electric Forest," recalls Moore. "Jonas and I were throwing some samples back and forth, and Ryan started to play an element of another song, and sure enough, three different songs that we played came together to form something new."
The members of Human Agency aren't just pushing boundaries with their sound and approach, however. They're also striving to broaden their fan base by playing in more unorthodox settings — like performing for a street full of gearheads, for instance. "Jonas was extremely successful in organizing our involvement with Denver Cruiser rides," says Moore, reflecting on this past summer's mid-week gigs. "We sometimes played in front of 1,500 to 2,000 people."
Being in front of those crowds, who otherwise would just be riding bikes, drinking cheap beer and wearing themed costumes, exposed them to a whole new audience; it also opened their eyes to the growing Denver arts community. "That was a huge step forward," Moore admits. "All of a sudden, it wasn't just playing music for selfish reasons anymore." Indeed. Taking your music to the people: Has there ever been a better way to make a name for yourself?
"I think the last thing we need to think about as Human Agency is if we made it or not," Moore concludes. The irony, of course, is that with that kind of outlook, Human Agency's popularity is bound to just keep increasing.
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