Stan Chisholm's laptop sits under one of his pieces: a cartoonish foam carrot hanging from a log. The construction dangles above his work area — just out of reach, but always propelling him forward. Foam is stacked knee-high around his room; the pieces that have since become his NewPopI and NewPopII exhibits, which opened over Labor Day weekend at the St. Louis Artists Guild and Hoffman LaChance Contemporary.
Drinking a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Chisholm talks about his art and his music. The two are inextricably linked, the double helix of his DNA — paint, foam and pencil, spiraling with phat beats, Björk tunes and Aphex Twin remixes. Without art, he wouldn't survive. Without music, he couldn't create. He talks about both with such hyperbolic intensity — and peppers his speech with F-bombs and guileless laughs — that it's safe to assume without art and music in congress, Stan Chisholm would simply cease to exist.
"I'm always jealous of musicians because you can experience music while you're doing something else," he says. "Shit, you could fall in love, discover your new favorite drink, do your homework, write the best paper of your life, hang out with your grandma for the first time in a long time, drive your Jeep in the sunset, all while music is playing in the background. You can't do that with an art show."
Chisholm's NewPop pieces show his evolution as an artist and as a human being. In a similar sense, so does his recent foray into DJing. Chisholm DJs as 18andCounting, but that's not just his DJ name. He chose the moniker as a youngblood and considers it as much a part of his identity as his given name. He had "18" tattooed on his right arm and "aC" on the left in 2009 to celebrate the opening of his show at Laumeier Sculpture Park. And this summer, he began releasing eighteen-song mixtapes on the eighteenth day of every month.
Despite his ambition, Chisholm isn't afraid to make mistakes — and he's not afraid to make them in public.
"With DJing, everything is, like, really exposed," he says. "From the start, it's out in public, it's on the Internet, and people are talking about it. Every notch of improvement or decline is there, I'm vulnerable, and I like that."
Chisholm dabbled in music in high school. He made beats on a PlayStation music generator and would play his sounds with friends while they freestyle rapped. Chisholm credits part of his musical development to the people he's surrounded himself with — from the grade school friend who fed him Portishead and Primus to his college buddies Lorn and the Great Mundane who DJ, produce and make their own music.
"I paid attention to how their nights went — and house parties versus clubs and all this — so I've been following the DJ scene for a while but never actively DJing," Chisholm says. "I just really fucking cared about it. I seriously just look at crowds and DJs and setups like people walk through museums. I'll just zone out and stop talking to people and just, like, float around and look at shit, consider crowds and crowd flows and think about what the night is and what it could be."
After he graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009, he again turned to music for solace. "School let out, and I got here, and I no longer had a DJ-producer family," he says. "I got kind of depressed when I came back, and I think that was a lot of it — I didn't have my music heads with me. I started DJing because I was lonely, and I got a lot of fucking jams that people need to hear."
His public DJ career started with a simple desire: He'd been working on some jams and wanted to hear them on a badass soundsystem. He shot Josh Grigaitis at 2720 Cherokee an e-mail and a "janky" hourlong demo. In an insular city such as St. Louis, the DJ community is small, and there's competition among DJs for the best nights at the best clubs. But Chisholm's reputation preceded him. "When someone as creative and talented as Stan wants to do something in public onstage, it's most likely going to be good," Grigaitis says.
Chisholm is modest, though. "If somebody did have a problem with me playing, I would understand, because I don't know shit," he says. "I'm not super into it technically, and I can say the same thing about art — there's a lot I don't know. It keeps me brave and not afraid to fuck up. I try to fail sometimes; it's a learning experience."
The first time Chisholm played out as 18andCounting, he did well enough to earn a weekly slot as part of 2720 Cherokee's Cheapy Tuesdays, joining a rotating roster of electronic, beat-heavy DJs.
"Stan has brought a bigger crowd than most artists performing, including veteran DJs and producers from the more popular clubs," Grigaitis says, adding that most of the bigger touring DJs he books don't incorporate visual art into their performances, as Chisholm does. "Soulful, eclectic, universal, genuine and passionate come to mind. Not your typical genres, but Stan is not your typical human."
On a recent Tuesday, Chisholm debates whether he's going to continue in the dubby vein of the DJ before him or take it a different direction by repping the 314 and opening with a Rockwell Knuckles track. He decides on the Knuckles cut when he takes the stage, back-lit by huge projections of one-liners he's been collecting in sketchbooks and on scraps of paper since middle school. The one-liners are thought-provoking and at times mesmerizing — they're conscious, deconstructed thoughts jumbled with pop culture satire and pithy statements that resound in the echo chamber of modern thought. At 2720, they cut through the nightclub static, inciting conversation and appreciative nods: InsignificantTerrorism. Don'tGetCaughtChewing WithMySteezInYourTeeth. AudibleSmiles. ConceivedReady. YouThistheOnlyTrueGift. TemporaryJourneytoHellForTheExperience. Can'tStopaManWhoAin'tOnAMission. UrbanOutfittersPre-PissedJeans.
"These one-liners, once they're read, they become pretty anonymous, like it could be coming from anyone," he says. "It's unclear if it's supposed to be a quote that you're saying, that someone said to you, but I just think that people relate to them in different ways, so it's kind of like this magical thing that happens."
Under dancing red, green and blue lasers, his intelligent energy is palpable and extends effortlessly to the dance floor. He experiments by layering über-hip new cuts such as Sleigh Bells' "Rill Rill" and Lloyd Banks' "Beamer, Benz or Bentley" with tried-and-true club bangers: Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'" and Cajmere's "Percolator." For good measure and local flavor, he plays Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," one of the last songs you'd expect to hear in a club full of spinning rave hula hoops, heady electronic trills and filling-shaking bass.
"There's plenty of room for me to have flaws," Chisholm says. "I mix visually sometimes; I'll play a song and imagine how it's going to sound. I play in an abrasive way. Sometimes I'll blend them just to be nice, but I like throwing songs in there real hard.
"I like playing at least one ridiculously rowdy song, like, 'Well, this one might clear the dance floor!'" he continues, laughing. "I got a couple songs that I'm just like, 'People have to deserve it. If it's rowdy enough, it will get dropped.'"
Chisholm knows his audience. Its members are, by and large, just like him. They're "too broke for beer"; they're struggling to find the delicate balance between having fun and getting shit done, walking the perilous line between personal or creative fulfillment and not getting evicted. It's the plight of the modern twentysomething, especially for this chronically underemployed generation. His one-liners reflect how Chisholm has successfully created a life around his passion for art and music, which is an accomplishment few 23-year-olds can claim.
"I just want to frustrate the shit out of everything," he says. "You can get away with shit in this city, and I feel like people trust me and know that I'm back. I've been waiting to have the time here in St. Louis to test things out and, like, force things upon people in a way. I believe in a lot of motherfuckers in this town."