Hypnotized…But How?

26 08 2007

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

By Derek Beres

Street art comes in many shapes and sizes, and in New York there’s as much music outside of clubs and bars as inside. Street corners are transformed into stages for the modern bard and bardesses. Over the past decade, one of my favorite and consistent performers has been Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, a collection of brothers that play some of the largest brass sounds imaginable, cut deep in the pocket with heavy, heavy grooves. If you’re anywhere in the vicinity (of a mile, say), you’re liable to stop, listen, and be amazed. Their magnetism matches the integrity of their music.

I’ve been catching quite a bit of their performances outside of Whole Foods in Union Square lately. It’s prime real estate, for certain, which is why Dax and I have been selling our books in the park every Saturday. Inevitably, dozens upon dozens of wide-eyed spectators, shoppers and tourists stop to headnod, snap photos and videos (as indeed I did yesterday; see below). Yet what I’ve noticed about their recent performances left me slightly surprised, and disappointed.

I’ve seen these guys dozens of times in the past half-decade. I would often stop and bob along as they presented near-concerts, extending their songs to six, eight, ten minutes at a clip, segueing song into song with the high timber of trumpets and trombones bottomed out by the drummer and tuba. Always, brilliant. Their manager, or one of the members, would hold up CDs for sale, or walk around the crowd trying to pimp their sonic wares.

(Quick aside: their CDs are decent, but not produced especially well. If they tweaked the tuba and gave the bottom end some more oomph, it would come much closer to countering their incredible live performances. Still, worthwhile, but not the creme.)

Recently, however, they’ve taken to new tactics. Their songs now rarely run over four minutes, and as soon as each song is done, each member holds up CDs and beckons the audience over. Selling street art, in whatever form, is a hustle. I’ve learned that from experience. I have no doubt whatsoever that Hypnotic is selling many more records this way. In fact, I’ve witnessed it, a few times. With each song, they’re selling oodles more than their old manner. And they deserve it.

Still, from an artistic standpoint, I miss their old show, and manner. Sitting across the street in plain sight and sound, they maybe played ten songs in three hours, each one a few minutes long. Remember, this is a band that used to play entire sets in a clip, now reduced to spending their hours outside networking and selling, instead of playing. I watched their visual cues as the songs concluded, and instead of seeing talented artists play from their soul, I’ve been watching talented artists capitalizing on a business opportunity. You can see this in the video, when one of the members pauses and yells something about videos when he saw me taping, and another walks over to hold up their CD for my camera, as if I weren’t going to credit them.

I can’t blame them. Selling your art, as I said, is tough. And if these cats are pulling in more to support themselves, I’m happy for them. They’re skilled in what they do and enjoy the hustle of the streets. In the winters, they hole up underground, adding a greater and louder resonance to each song amidst the flurry and fury of screechy subway cars and tens of thousands of rapid feet. I can only wish that this new formula doesn’t make them forget their origins. As Bill Laswell once told me, a four-minute song isn’t music, it’s a business idea. It destroys the ritual of music, and no amount of money can buy that back.




2 responses

8 11 2007
Francis Macindoe

Hey Guys,
Heard you on Youtube…Awsome stuff!

20 06 2008

hey derik. this is Jafar Baji, trumpet player for H.B.E. i really think you should’ve talked to one of us before some what misguidedly stating your opinions on how we work this engine that is HYPNOTIC BRASS ENSEMBLE. i can tell that this is an old post, but the things you said and feel about our ever changing approach to the streets is a pure example why we converted our street playing into a business. street musicians aren’t given proper credit. so we decided if you want to see a H.B.E show, then you would come to our shows. not pay two dollars to see us solely in the streets and take videos and photos to do with as you please without showing any support for this 100% independent movement. we consider it disrespectful. so instead of leaving the streets completely alone, we turned it into our office. contact us anytime at HYPNOTICBRASS.NET. LATER

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