Agent Audio: Ypsilanti label AGN7 runs a stealth operation dedicated to drum 'n' bass music

MUSIC INTERVIEW

AGN7 Audio logo

Scrolling through Bandcamp’s releases tagged “Ypsilanti,” it won’t be long before you find a mysterious label called AGN7 Audio that's releasing top-notch new drum 'n' bass songs and albums—along with some techno and dub—by artists from around the world.

Founded in 2015, AGN7—pronounced “Agent"—is one of the few modern labels to focus so deeply on d 'n' b, also known as jungle, which started in the early '90s U.K. rave scene and is characterized by fast, skittering breakbeats and a dystopian-funk vibe.

Despite garnering respect among hardcore junglists, there’s not much AGN7 information or media coverage out there, and the label tends to keep a low profile. So we reached out to AGN7 co-founder and current chief, Aaren Alseri—aka Ronin Selecta in his DJ days—to learn about the label's origin, influences, and future. 

In U-M prof Jacinda Townsend’s “Mother Country,” one woman claims another’s daughter and perpetuates family patterns

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Author Jacinda Townsend and her book Mother Country

“Some people wanted freedom, she thought, and others wanted safety. She’d never find the two in the same place.” 

This reflection by the character, Souria, in Mother Country weighs the impossible choices that characters make—or are forced to make. Jacinda Townsend’s new novel examines the repercussions of human trafficking, the implications of family bonds, and cross-continental ties. Townsend is the Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Fiction at the University of Michigan. She is also the author of the novel Saint Monkey.

In Mother Country, when one mother, Souria, loses her child in Marrakech, another woman, Shannon, becomes a mother, gains a daughter, and brings her to Louisville, Kentucky, even though the events leading up to the switch—and also following it—are problem-ridden. Shannon learns, “The right thing never felt like the good thing.”

Souria’s and Shannon’s lives intertwine in ways made more visible by chapters that alternate between narrating their two separate lives. Later on, the perspective of the daughter—once known as Yumni, then as Mardi—emerges, as well as that of Vlad, who is Shannon’s husband. They all are cognizant of their missteps in life, but there is no turning back to change them. For example, Shannon, who often gets high to blunt the lingering pain from her near-fatal car wreck, perceives her flaws, yet cannot remedy them: 

The book “Kelly Hoppenjans Takes Herself Too Seriously” plays with the poetics of the Ann Arbor indie rocker's lyrics

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Kelly Hoppenjans and her book Takes Herself Too Seriously

Author photo by Autumn Dozier.

What makes a poem versus a song?

Setting the words to music may be an obvious answer, but the difference between the page and the studio are more complex than that. 

In her new book, Kelly Hoppenjans Takes Herself Too Seriously: A Collection of Poems, Music, Lyrics, and Some Real Arty Shit, the indie rock singer-songwriter and graduate student at the University of Michigan draws attention to the lyrics from her recent Can’t Get the Dark Out EP and the divergent forms of poetry and lyrics.

As she told Pulp, “To me, lyrics and poetry are separate forms, and the process for each is quite different.”

Local skateboard lifestyle brand Drive Thru launches with a trick-filled short film

FILM & VIDEO PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A still from the film Drive Thru, which covers the Ann Arbor skateboarding scene. A group of skaters are sitting on the steps of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library on the University of Michigan campus.

Skaters take a break on the Diag in front of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan. A still from the film Drive Thru, which covers the Washtenaw County skateboarding scene.

Drive Thru is a new skateboard clothing, video, and lifestyle company run by friends Austin Roberts, Ramon Rogelio Fuentes, Kaito Osborn, and Luke Turowski. They are part of the passionate skate community in Washtenaw County, which officially counts Ypsilanti’s DIY skatepark in Prospect Park, the Ann Arbor Skatepark in Veterans Park, and the Olympia Skate Shop, with in both Ann Arbor and Ypsi, as gathering spots.

But skaters love to skate ... anywhere.

That’s the focus of this new skateboard lifestyle collective’s debut short film, also called Drive Thru, which captures skaters grinding and tricking throughout Washtenaw County, with a heavy focus on Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

The 25-minute-long Drive Thru premieres at The Blind Pig on Thursday, August 18, with a screening and performances by Michigan punk bands ​​Dad Caps and My Place or Yours.

We spoke with Drive Thru’s Austin Roberts and Ramon Rogelio Fuentes about their company, the film, and the skating scene in Washtenaw County.

Artistic Ecosystem: Hava Gurevich exhibits 20 years of nature-inspired art at Matthaei Botanical Gardens

VISUAL ART INTERVIEW

Aritst Hava Gurevich, standing in a blue and black dress, is next to one of her paintings hanging on a brick wall. The painting features pink-ish flowers on a yellow background.

Hava Gurevich stands next to her painting Desert Sun at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Photo by Peter Sparling.

Hava Gurevich beautifully imagines and creates her own artistic ecosystem.

The Ann Arbor artist blends nature’s vibrant colors with unique lifeforms and hypnotic botanical, aquatic, and microscopic motifs to capture a universal interconnectedness. 

Those stunning linkages thrive and evolve across Gurevich’s latest acrylic art exhibit, Inspired by Nature: 20 Years of Art by Hava Gurevich, at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor.

“My work is very aquatic and botanical, but it’s been more botanical in the last few years because I’m not close to any body of water that has life in it,” said Gurevich, whose exhibit runs through Sept. 11 and includes artwork created from 2002 to 2022.

“There’s an intentional connection to nature and an intentional connection to plants and native plants, like prairies and wildflowers, and it’s all of those concepts that are in my work. They’re all here … and the themes all kind of fit.”

For Stevie—with Love and Squalor: Ann Arbor’s Chirp honors late rodent companion on a funky new single

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

Black and white photo of Chirp performing live taken by Austin S. Grinnell.

Chirp kicks out the jams, from left to right: bassist Brian Long, singer-guitarist Jay Frydenlund, and guitarist Sam Naples. Photo by Austin S. Grinnell.

After his pet rat passed away, Jay Frydenlund was at a loss for words.

Instead, the Chirp frontman decided to honor his late rodent companion, Stevie, with a spirited namesake instrumental.

“Stevie the Rat was the most fearless rat that has ever existed, so I wanted to write something about her that represented that,” said Frydenlund, Chirp’s lead vocalist and guitarist. “I started working on it a few days after she died.”

Alongside bandmates Brian Long (bass, vocals), Sam Naples (guitar, vocals), and Patrick Blommel (drums) in the Ann Arbor prog-funk-jazz jam quartet, Frydenlund penned the playful, ardent “Stevie.”

Buoyant electric guitar, soulful bass, and pulsating drums scurry throughout the melodic funk and psych-rock adventures of Stevie’s past. 

“I think the energy of the tune represents Stevie’s pretty well,” Frydenlund said. “Brian [Long] lights that song on fire with his bass solo. If Stevie were a bass-playing rat, that’s exactly what she would have done.”

Chirp will share “Stevie” and other fresh, funky tracks during an Aug. 13 show in Ann Arbor’s Liberty Plaza as part of the Concert to Shut Down Line 5. It will be the band's first hometown show since playing Ann Arbor Summer Festival: Top of the Park in June.

Muse Over: Emma McDermott finds inspiration from relationships on “She Likes to Fly” album

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Emma McDermott by Jen Geer Photography. A profile shot of a young woman with brown hair, a nose ring, a contemplative look on her face.

Emma McDermott chronicles an emotive journey of self-discovery on She Likes to Fly. Photo by Jen Geer Photography.

For Emma McDermott, people from her past and present provide the ultimate creative inspiration.

The Nashville, Tennessee electro-pop singer-songwriter thoughtfully channels previous relationships and memorable interactions on her reflective debut album, She Likes to Fly.

“I write a lot of my lyrics from my heart … not necessarily as journal entries, but if I’m feeling a certain feeling, and I’m able to put music to it, then it’s almost like being in a musical,” said McDermott, who hails from Ann Arbor and studies commercial voice at Belmont University.

“I do like to write about what I’m feeling, the times that I’ve had, and the people who have come and gone in my life. I write people as muses a little bit, so if I had a relationship in high school, and then I was just reflecting on it during my sophomore year of college, then that’s what fuels the lyrics and fuels the feeling.”

Throughout She Likes to Fly, McDermott chronicles an emotive journey of self-discovery that grooves and glides through life and love. Alongside intimate lyrics, magnetic synth-based instrumentation, and infectious dance-pop hooks, she provides captivating tales that instantly resonate with listeners.

“That’s sort of how it came together, just on its own,” McDermott said. “The songs were written over a span of like two or three years, so it wasn’t like I sat down and said, ‘Oh, I’m gonna write this album about this subject matter.’ It was kind of like a conglomerate sort of entity, and all those songs found their way toward each other to be on the album.”

Out of the "Shadows": Jazz vocalist Olivia Van Goor explores lesser-known songs on her debut EP and returns to Blue LLama

MUSIC PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A headshot of jazz singer Olivia Van Goor. She has brown-blonde bob-type hair and blue eyes and is wearing a blue dress.

Photo by Ryme Media

This story originally ran on February 7. 2002. We're featuring it again because Olivia Van Goor will play Blue LLama Jazz Club on July 30.

For her debut EP, When The Shadows Fall, Milford jazz vocalist Olivia Van Goor unearthed and reshaped five hidden gems from the Great American Songbook and beyond.

“None of them are any of the classic standards like ‘Fly Me to the Moon,'" Van Goor said. "I intentionally chose standards that most professional working jazz musicians know, but not all of them. The two that are standards are ‘Willow Weep for Me’ and ‘No Moon at All. ... I did the Detroit Jazz Workshop two years in a row, and the first time I sang ‘Willow Weep for Me,’ and the second time I did ‘No Moon at All.’ I picked my milestone moments with learning the music.”

Those milestone moments also serve as a timeless journey through a spectrum of emotions ranging from hope to heartbreak. Each When The Shadows Fall track waltzes, swings, and bops from one era to the next. 

“I was really inspired by Veronica Swift, and she’s one of the best jazz vocalists of the time right now," Van Goor said. "On her last album, she took some musical theater songs that haven’t been taken by any of the legends and turned into standards and did them in that format.

“If you listen to an old recording of ‘Shadow Waltz,’ you’ll notice the style is completely different (from my version). I arranged all of the songs, and that’s my biggest originality to it, except I wrote the lyrics to ‘Hershey Bar.’”

The Olivia Van Goor Quartet will return to Ann Arbor’s Blue LLama Jazz Club on Feb. 18 July 30 and will perform songs from When The Shadows Fall as well as some past and new tunes.

Poet and U-M professor Linda Gregerson’s “Canopy” takes its impetus from gratitude and wonder at the saturating intelligence of the natural world

WRITTEN WORD INTERVIEW

Poet Linda Gregerson and her book Canopy

Author photo by Nina Subin

Linda Gregerson’s new book of poems, Canopy, lifts us to the heights of the treetops and also studies those who toil below where “There’s always a moment before the moment when nothing / is ever the same again.”

The single word “canopy” as the title conjures both a place to aspire to and a boundary delineating human limitations. 

Gregerson teaches at the University of Michigan as the Caroline Walker Bynum Distinguished University Professor of English and directs the Helen Zell Writers Program. She is a chancellor emeritus of the Academy of American Poets and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is the author of seven books of poetry and two books of criticism, and she is the co-editor of one collection of scholarly essays.

Trees, land, and the whole environment figure strongly in these poems in Gregerson’s most recent volume. A painting on a panel of oak allows for the identification of when it was created. When shipping was a dangerous, frequently fatal endeavor on the Great Lakes, a relative several generations back “was among the ones / who did not drown. Who sold his ship / and bought a farm.” The land and the trees bring surety and safety. 

The reality on the ground, however, often carries both happiness and disappointment, as a poem asks, “What is it / you love / that has not been ruined because of you.”

Canopy considers not just the ecosystem in which we live but also the current events in it, such as the COVID-19 pandemic threaded through several poems and the murder of George Floyd in “Fragment.” Yet addressing these significant events and issues leave us “bound to act and bound / to be not enough.”

Action is necessary, but the problems are much bigger than any individual.  

Emilio Rodriguez asks who gets to decide what’s offensive in his play "God Kinda Looks Like Tupac"

THEATER & DANCE PREVIEW INTERVIEW

A photo of Emilio Rodriguez, author of the play God Kinda Looks Like Tupac.

Emilio Rodriguez, author of the play God Kinda Looks Like Tupac. Photo via his Facebook page.

NOTE: "God Kinda Looks Like Tupac" has been pushed back from its original opening date to August 5 due to illness.

Emilio Rodriguez, whose play God Kinda Looks Like Tupac opens at Ann Arbor's Theatre Nova on July 29 August 5, says his theater career started early.

Very early.

Donning his mother’s high heels and appropriating her broom and a funnel, he performed “one-kid adaptations of The Wizard of Oz” in the family’s living room.

Perhaps one reason why a movie with the famous line "There's no place like home" resonated with Rodriguez is that he is a self-described “military brat” who grew up on the move. Rodriguez says he didn’t have a sense of hometown until he moved to Detroit in 2012 to teach high school English and drama for AmeriCorps. One thing that informs all his work, he says, is “a loose sense of the idea of home. The plays are not necessarily set in someone’s home [but ask] … how do people make a sense of home?”

When Rodriguez began teaching, he saw the classroom as “an extension of home. … In the younger grade levels, kids spend more time at school than with their families.” He also found that friendships with colleagues gave him a sense of connection, of a mock family, a home. 

Rodriguez set God Kinda Looks Like Tupac in a Detroit high school, where a white art teacher in the mostly Black school has been targeted as insensitive. A Latino teacher offers a suggestion to the art teacher that might help him keep his job: It’s Black History month, she tells him, and there’s a competition; if a student he enters can paint something in celebration of the month and win, chances are good he will be named Teacher of the Year.

And who would fire Teacher of the Year?