Music From the Feet Up

Isaac Treece was invited to participate in the Red Bull Music Academy this year.

Los Angeles-based artist Isaac Treece was invited to participate in the Red Bull Music Academy this year.

The streets of Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles have much to say, and 21-year-old  Isaac Treece, professionally known as Swisha, is listening. The electronic musician, who received arts training at the charter school CHAMPS in Van Nuys, combines his Philadelphia roots with the synth beat of hometown Los Angeles, choreographing it all around juke and footwork for an adventurous style that weekly finds its beat in LA’s Little Tokyo.

A painter, computer artist and musician, Treece sees says he is inspired by world music, and also credits his father as an influence. Philadelphia’s Chuck Treece, who pioneered skate punk, was one of the first black skateboarders to go pro.

In October, Isaac Treece was selected to participate in the Red Bull Music Academy, a world-traveling series of music workshops and festivals. Every Tuesday, Treece spins at Tokyo Beat in downtown LA. “It’s the least expected party for a Tuesday night. You won’t believe what’s going down in a karaoke bar,” Treece laughs, explaining his blend of footwork, rap and club music is unique on the L.A. scene. Treece has released two albums — the solo effort Perfecto, and a collaborative work, JBW2K16, made with Los. He plans to keep up the prolific output for 2017. MaxTheTrax caught up with Treece over some holiday down time.

How did you get interested in music?

Isaac Treece: I was born in Philadelphia, and moved to Los Angeles when I was 6. Around 2009 I went to a couple of shows in Philadelphia with the one friend I still had there, Chris. We saw this guy, DJ Sega, who is kind of a local celebrity, what you might call “the voice of Philadelphia” with club music and that stuff. He pretty much started it. I saw him at a block party and I loved the music. I went home and started doing my research, and realized it was a genre that had been around for about 10 years. I was around 13 or 14,
painting, making music but not taking it seriously at all. Then I started a musical project that tried more of a club music take, and my friends seemed to like it better than the other stuff I had been doing, so I kept at it and started taking it seriously. And I started DJing friends’ parties and at school and things like that.

What was it about electronic music that you responded to?

I like that it’s the gap between people who don’t really have musical taste or appreciation, but like to dance – people who go out and party and like background music – and something that can really catch people’s attention. I make a lot of music with the intention of DJing it, not hearing it on the radio, so making people comfortable with hearing new things, and at the same time being familiar with it to a certain extent. Internet radio has sort of reinvented the medium. All over the world, people have created their own outlets, taking very individual tastes online. There are a couple of really big internet radio stations in the U.K., Rinse FM and BBC Radio, and I’ve gotten some play there. They take a bunch of DJs from all over the world and give them a weekly slot, fill up two hours. There’s a lot of time to play a lot of different music. So they’ll ask people to send in a 30-minute mix of their material, and program it in. They’ve used my stuff. And KCRW in L.A. does some great mixes too. I do a monthly show on Dublab.

What kinds of music do you listen to, in terms of genres you enjoy or find inspiring?

I listen to everything, because I use a lot of samples. So I’m always rummaging through stuff to find things I might want to use.

Locally, you’ve achieved a bit of celebrity among your peer group, as someone who is commercially DJing on both coasts. How did that come

My father still lives in Philadelphia, so I would go back periodically to visit, and I started contacting people before those trips – friends in NY and Philadelphia – to get gigs. I know a lot of people that have weekly parties at clubs, and they are happy to invest in new talent. They circulate the parties in social media and can get pretty good crowds showing up. So when I have an opportunity to travel I tell them and see what opportunities are available. And now I have a few people who will fly me out from time to time, to DJ. And sometimes I’ll stay for 2 months and just work as much as I can. I’ve also DJed in Washington D.C.

What was the Red Bull Music Academy like?

It’s literally the best time I’ve had as a musician. They’ll provide any gear you need to make the best music possible. They choose 30 people to participate, but they only have eight studios, so it sets up an environment of collaboration, because you’re always sharing a studio with four or five people. It was in Montreal, and for me, it was the first time I felt like a minority as an American. There were artists from all over the world.

Tell us about the music styles you’re mixing.

(Laughs) Why don’t you listen to it and tell me?

Okay, among them, juke, for which we’ll turn instructively to Wikipedia: Footwork is a genre of related music and street dance that originated in Chicago during the 1980s. The dance involves fast movement of the feet with accompanying twists and turns. The music style has evolved from an earlier musical style, Juke, a change pioneered by R.P. Boo.The style was popularized outside Chicago by inclusion in the music video for Dude ‘n Nem’s 2007 single “Watch My Feet”. Nowadays the terms footwork music and juke music are often used interchangeably.”

Are you still painting?

Not really. I had moved into graphic arts, because it was so much easier when someone would call and say we have this budgeted for an album cover, come up with something and I could create it in an hour or two, rather than working so hard on a painting for days, weeks or months and put it online and have someone say “will you take $20?”

Isaac Treece spins for the crowd.

Isaac Treece spins for the crowd.

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