Just as the physical layout of St. Louis is one demographic cluster after another, members of the music community tend to stay within their scenes of comfort. Or, as local rapper Tef Poe eloquently announced from the outdoor stage of the 2011 RFT Music Showcase, "We live in one segregated-ass city."
The FarFetched Collective is exactly what its name implies, a once-improbable union of musicians across race, gender and genre lines. To its figurehead Damon Davis, the title means something else. "I was trying to think of something that would say what's next, what's left field," Davis says. "I think it really describes what we're doing, something out of this world. I have a real space obsession, like space travel and futurism. FarFetched is like that. We are the weird, we are the innovators, at least in my mind."
The intergalactic fascination Davis speaks of is obvious when listening to the Jetsons-meets-J Dilla beats he produces under the moniker Loose Screwz, one half of hip-hop group Scripts N Screwz. And capitalizing on the global reach of technology that even Isaac Asimov couldn't have imagined, the FarFetched collective includes fifteen artists who hail from St. Louis, England, Philadelphia and both Georgias (the Atlanta one and the former Soviet republic). The group is gearing up for its Brave New World festival, an all-day event on September 8 at Plush that features sixteen performers on two stages. With all of these diverse accomplishments, it's hardly fathomable that FarFetched started less than a year ago, and it was conceptualized simply as a label for Davis' own productions.
"I have produced a lot of different artists and different albums and different genres over the last two years," Davis explains. "I was trying to shop them around and find someone to put them out, so I decided to start a label."
Ryan McNeely, a frequent collaborator with Davis who produces abstract, new-wave-steeped tracks under the alias Adult Fur, describes FarFetched's inception differently. "I think it mostly came out of both of us getting almost screwed by a label," McNeely recalls in frustration. "They tried to sign us, but they really just wanted to fist-fuck us."
What started as an alternate solution quickly became a larger entity. "We put out our first release [FarFetched compilation] Prologue in January, and people came to me with their projects," Davis says. "I was doing productions with Wino Willy. He's from Philadelphia, and he got me in touch with Air Haze from Atlanta. I met Lika Shubitidze from Soviet Georgia filming a movie when she was here with her husband. Most of what happens is me running into people or people coming to us. They hear the range of music we put out, and they say, 'I've got this, can I get in on it?' If it's good, we roll with it, and we push it."
Along with Scripts N Screwz, Loose Screwz and Adult Fur, the local representatives of the FarFetched roster include electro-folk artist Black James, rapper/DJ 18andCounting, funk-soul weirdo Thelonious Kryptonite and eighteen-year-old producer Remi Sorbet. Davis sees common ground between these artists in their innovation. "I really want to get the point across that this is progressive music," he says. "Everybody that's on the label is trying to push whatever genre they're in into the next."
Perhaps an easier thread to latch onto is the varying musicians' use of electronic elements. "I like real instruments, but the future is going to be a lot more android and computerized," Davis says. "Even if you're playing a ukulele or some shit, you'll have a drum track playing behind it."
FarFetched's local crew (sans Thelonious Kryptonite) is performing at the Brave New World festival. The lineup is also supplemented by local artists who are not directly affiliated with FarFetched. This includes hip-hop acts like Midwest Avengers and Illphonics, as well as bands that use electronic experimentation as an aesthetic. Mikey Wehling and the Reverbs is a man/machine hybrid, Ou Où builds organic life forms from synthetic devices, and Downstereo is a live band that sounds like it is computer generated.
"St. Louis has been a hub for forward-thinking music for a long time," Davis says. "This was an important place for rock & roll and blues and jazz. We've still got it going on here, but we forget that a lot of times."
Stan Chisholm, also known as 18andCounting, is inspired by Davis' passion for the city. "Damon's got his head on straight and cares so much about St. Louis and its history," Chisholm says. "What he's doing makes it easier to define what St. Louis is all about and what its sound is. He's great at finding and gathering that specific kind of energy."
Chisholm is about to drop Unstrumentals, a record of unaccompanied raps and his first official album as 18andCounting. He toyed with the idea of a more conventional album, but the support of the FarFetched community inspired him to pursue the more daring venture. "[FarFetched] gets me motivated to go out and do something," Chisholm says. "It's great to have an organization of fellow brave artists to put out these things that are oddball, left field, whatever you want to call it. I don't know who the fuck else would want to put out just words."
The average label would never bite on a release like Unstrumentals, but it seems almost normal in the FarFetched universe. Damon Davis has ambitions for films that accompany albums, Stan Chisholm is a visual artist by trade, and Ryan McNeely is developing an iPod app for the collective. "We try to focus on the full experience," Davis says. "Everything is so disposable now; we're trying to make our art something that you're not just going to forget in two weeks."
For McNeely, FarFetched is bigger than the music or the art it cultivates. "It's nice to be part of something where everyone is supporting each other when they can," he says. "Not exactly financially, but creatively and with our feet. We try to show up at each other's shows and promote each other's shows and albums and artwork. None of us has a huge amount of funding, so all we can do is use our voices. FarFetched is that; it's a voice for me."
"There are other collectives out there," he continues. "But they are usually just people teaming up to emulate what's already out there and make a ton of money. Nobody here is trying to do anything that's ever been done before, and being around musicians like that helps me further myself."
Chisholm is similarly inspired. "Usually I'm pretty standoffish about collaborating," he says. "But it actually feels relevant to work with [other FarFetched artists]. It doesn't feel like this is what I have to do to make myself famous. All I really care about is always having opportunities to make things and push myself. If I want to make music, that's what it's going to be. If I want to switch to some weird art thing, that's what it's going to be, but I'm not going to do it because it's the hot thing. And this group supports that."
FarFetched is more than a collective or a label; it transcends the creative and financial limitations that often stunt artists' growth. The Brave New World festival is a perfect entry point into the FarFetched experience, an event hosted by a group of misfits working to erase the lines that often compartmentalize our city.
"Not being put into a box scares the shit out of people," Stan Chisholm says. "But categorizing music is like categorizing people. It usually comes with negative effects, with people discriminating against different kinds of people. I think with music and art it's the same, and we're doing the best we can to make that stop."