Sitting in a New york city neighborhood park on a windy and sunny Sunday in early October, Porter Robinson tucks his hands between his legs and admits that, in the decades he’s lived in North Carolina, he’s only been to one area concert. He saw Ratatat at the Cat’s Cradle when he was a teenager.
He had one friend at the small Woods Charter School who went on to become a local musicianthe singer-songwriter Matt Phillips, trying to get into that “folky, indie rock thing or whatever,” Robinson fumbles. When his girlfriend visits town, Robinson confesses, he has to use Yelp to determine where to take her in his own hometown.
In a few hours, Robinson will play the second show of a two-night stand at New York’s massive Terminal 5. It’s the centerpiece of a largely sold-out international tour supporting Worlds, his magnificent debut LP of enormous beats and resplendent melodies. The album was conceived, in large part, in his parents’ house just outside of Chapel Hill, he says. But North Carolina isn’t on the itinerary. He once played a show in Raleigh”a terrible experience,” he remembersbut he doesn’t think he will again.
“I got a lot of tweets that said, ‘Why did you skip your home state?’ It’s not that; it’s that I don’t feel like I’m part of it at all,” Robinson says. “Mysceneis the Internet. I grew up on the Internet. Iliveon the Internet.”
In recent years, Robinson, whose electronic-music star was already rising before he graduated from Woods, has become perhaps the area’s first massive star to emerge by forgoing participation in most any local music infrastructure in favor of an online-only existence. He’s happy with that decision in large part, he says, because it means he can walk around Chapel Hill without being recognized like a Mountain Goat, a Romweber or a former Little Brother.
It’s a remarkable, liberating phenomenon, of course. No matter how playful he may seem onstage later that night, Robinson describes himself as an introvert. He was able to use message boards, chat rooms and websites to elide any social awkwardness and develop the technical skills necessary to make his own billowing electro. What could be more empowering?
But Robinson’s digital ascent also serves as a reminder of the remarkable scenes that have risen in the Triangle during the last several decades, and the power that they still holdas incubators, as crucibles, as catapults. Indeed, despite Robinson’s alternate route toward the mainstream, the year’s local music narrative testified to the strength and importance of such pockets.
The examples are too myriad to mention. But consider, for instance, the network Hiss Golden Messenger’s Michael Taylor has tapped into and expanded during his seven years as a North Carolinian. Through UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection, he met Brendan Greaves, who went on to release Taylor’s breakthrough LP,Poor Moon, on his then-new label, Paradise of Bachelors. That connection ultimately led to brothers Bradley and Phil Cook, members of Megafaun who now, respectively, manage Taylor and accompany him on guitar. They all collaborated on Hiss Golden Messenger’sLateness of Dancersissued by another area institution, Mergeand on Alice Gerrard’sFollow the Music, the Grammy-nominated renaissance of the 80-year-old folk singer. All of these things emerged as direct results of connections within and between real, physical scenes in one small area of the world.
Then there’s Sorry State Records and the Triangle’s teeming punk-plus pocket. The imprimatur and efforts of label and store owner Daniel Lupton have helped motivate a rather small group of people to be incredibly active, forever spawning new bands and making great, urgent music. What once seemed like Double Negative’s world has now made way for Davidians, Bandages, Whatever Brains, Skemäta and several others.
In downtown Durham, the combined efforts of The Art of Cool Project and Beyù Caff have rejuvenated the city’s jazz and soul past, lending a spotlight to the musicians at and around N.C. Central and bringing in big-name players from around the globe.
And in Raleigh, Mikey Perros has used his position as the booking agent at Kings to begin building the groundwork for his own electronic music empire, Maison. Two of his artists, Blursome and Funkss, released very good EPs in 2014, and, throughout the year, you could watch the two actively evolve on some local stage every few weeks. Perros’ work should not only propel his artists forward but, more than likely, help show subsequent young musicians that Raleigh, even if it’s known as a rock ‘n’ roll kind of town, can serve as a home for interesting beats, too.
That’s something that Robinson actually didn’t believe back in Manhattan on that Sunday in October. “Are there actually cool things to do in Raleigh?” he asked, no trace of globetrotting condescension in his voice. “Like, what? Are there clubs?”
Three months have passed, and I still regret not telling him just to Yelp it.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Scene & heard”