Second Weekend June 29 - July 2
“You can run away from who you are but, ultimately, in the end, you’re going to be who you are,” says Conspirator bassist Marc Brownstein. “It’s time for us to do what we do best, and that’s melt people’s minds with exploratory improvisation.”
Conspirator was originally conceived as an outlet for Brownstein and keyboardist Aron Magner to explore new developments in electronic music, in a way that felt pure and authentic. The project’s other missive was to involve a rotating cast of musicians who were looking to do the same.
“Around 2004, I had this desire to climb up the learning curve of electronic music,” says Magner, who was raised on a combination of jazz and the Grateful Dead before becoming one of the pioneers of the late-‘90s jamtronica scene. Magner met up with a producer by the name of DJ Omen and began commuting to Omen’s studio in Northern Jersey from his house in Philadelphia, multiple times a week, to learn electronic production techniques. “I quickly realized that I wanted to bring Marc Brownstein into the fold. We wrote four or five tracks, and that was the birth of Conspirator.”
As Brownstein remembers, “The thing about Conspirator is that even the name leant itself to the idea that we were looking to collaborate with all these other musicians. All different kinds of musicians -- flute players, drummers, guitarists -- and it was a rotating door from the very beginning.” They played shows with Adam Deitch (Pretty Lights, Break Science), Mike Greenfield (Lotus), KJ Sawka (Pendulum), Darren Shearer (the New Deal), Jake Cinninger and Kris Myers (Umphrey’s McGee), and many others.
At first, they brought in choice material from Magner and Brownstein’s other band, the Disco Biscuits, and converted the songs into electronic tracks. But as Conspirator evolved into a full-time force, complete with its own canon of originals, they understood that the project would have to solidify into a full-time band, with an exciting -- but consistent -- lineup. Enter guitarist Chris Michetti, formerly of the band RAQ. Despite sharing a similar background in improvisationally-based rock music, Michetti had been independently exploring electronic music production, making him ripe to become a Conspirator.
The lineup crystalized into its current form last year with the addition of a permanent drummer -- Torch. “We found a drummer the way that you find new musicians these days,” says Magner. “You go on YouTube and you find that young drum phenom, and that’s what we found with Torch.”
Brownstein reflects that having Torch on the drum kit is indicative of a greater change that’s been happening within the band -- the most exciting development since its initial formation. “In terms of Torch coming in, we’ve come full circle,” he says. “We were getting further and further away from the jam music that we came from, and digging deeper and deeper into the electronic side of things.” Of course, that was the initial point of the band to begin with. Ten years into it, the pendulum has begun to swing back the other way: “When we brought in Torch, we made a conscious decision to come back to the roots,” says Brownstein.
Through their high profile career with the Disco Biscuits, Magner and Brownstein became notorious for their ability to improvise as a unit, jamming out songs in ways that were radically different during each
rendition. When Conspirator formed, almost as a reaction to that, the shows were unapologetically the same every night. Conspirator performed at all the important festivals, including Bonnaroo, Ultra, Nocturnal, North Coast, Electric Forest, Gathering of the Vibes, CounterPoint, Jam Cruise and the Hangout, bringing rehearsed and polished sets to concert fields and dance-floors nationally. But their show is no longer a set-in-stone affair.
“We’re now exploring the music in such depth that each and every performance has become completely unique,” says Brownstein. “Not only in terms of setlist, but even the content; and not only within the improvisational sections but even within the actual songs. We do so much weaving throughout the course of a show -- we develop a theme and then weave that into all the different songs. We’ll hit upon something and then interlace it throughout the course of the show until it becomes what the show is about. And then the next night, the theme will be something completely different. It’s a very fun journey.”
Magner and Brownstein already made history in the late-‘90s as they invented “trance-fusion,” and then defined “jamtronica” by injecting electronic elements into music that was rooted in live, improvisational rock ‘n’ roll. Now, with Conspirator, they’re making history all over again by turning jamtronica on its head, infusing live, improvisational rock elements into tracks that are rooted squarely in various forms of electronic music.
Conspirator have released three albums, the initial release in 2006 “The Key” and 2012’s “Unlocked -- Live from the Georgia Theatre”, available on SCI Fidelity records, then last year’s digital EP, Unleashed. In 2014, the band will embark on a coast to coast “Dynasty Tour,” taking songs that fans are familiar with and playing them in ways that are brand new, both for the musicians and the fans, every time. A very fun journey, indeed.
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