Written by Jackson Resnick
It’s just another Monday afternoon in coastal Virginia, and 26 year old Gum.mp3, is stuck dealing with his 2007 BMW wagon, which is once again having issues. You might recognize the vehicle from the cover of his 2022 release Wagenmuzik, a critically-acclaimed display of UK garage house music that earned him features in Rolling Stone, The Fader, and Pigeons & Planes. Just a few weeks ago, in late September, Gum was DJing to a packed out Elsewhere in Brooklyn to hundreds of people. He’s traveled all around the world as an artist and developed somewhat of a cult following, but he’s “really just a guy”-- a guy who can’t shake the pitfalls of owning a fifteen year old BMW and not having an actual job. In between making French toast and watching video essays on the Empire of Mali, Gum.mp3 took the time to chat with Pulse! Magazine, making his message abundantly clear: “I really don’t know what I’m doing.”
But if you look at his resume, that statement becomes quite hard to believe. Outside of music, Gum.mp3 has devoted much of his life toward education. He’s taught in middle school classrooms, lectured at Georgetown University, worked as a librarian, and curated an online library full of academic readings and resources via his Halcyon.ooo website. Since graduating from NYU as a studio art major over five years ago, he’s taken courses in ethnobotany as well as cybersecurity, not to mention the extensive reading he’s done on various political and academic topics. He’s probably the most overqualified DJ around.
“Something I really like to do and have done since I've been using the computer is collecting files. I'm a hoarder. I realized I can do this in a more curated fashion and really help some people and even help myself. When I think of destroyed libraries at the end of empires, like Alexandria and the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, that's not an accident. There's purpose in choosing what to keep or what to leave behind. We kind of control which paths we can take and what paths people can decide to choose from. And I took that very seriously with the online library and just tried to really curate purposefully.”
Gum.mp3’s dedication to preserving history bleeds into his musical approach as well. A student of the Detroit and Chicago electronic music pioneers of the 90’s, the Gum.mp3 sound has expanded upon those traditions in the sonic and social context of a hyper-modernized society.
“The things that I'm mainly trying to preserve in my music production are these little intersections of music history, where genres kind of bleed into other genres. Blues leads into jazz, into funk, into hip-hop, and then backwards up the line somehow. Music intertwines with itself overtime, and that directly relates to the sociopolitical context. I do think genres as a form of nomenclature are political and they're important to get right.”
Dance music and nightlife has experienced a resurgence over the past few years, fueled by the glamorization of club aesthetics from the 80’s and 90’s, as well as social media. But for industrial reasons, the culture that was originally started as a safe space for black and queer people is now under the control of venture capitalist-backed venues. This new era of nightlife is almost directly antithetical to the foundational politics in which dance music was founded upon. While dancefloor culture has transitioned away from its so-called glory days, Gum.mp3 and his Eldia NYC partners-in-crime, Swami Sound and Dazegxd, have quietly been leading an organic underground scene of their own based out of the most unlikely of headquarters. Mi Sabor Cafe during the day time is a small, no-frills Dominican restaurant directly underneath the Myrtle-Broadway MTA stop, but at night, it turns into one of the most unique club environments around.
“It was the perfect nexus because we could afford to do it, it was somewhere we liked, somewhere our audience could get to, and they had the tech and the space. That's really all we needed. It was just the right time, right place type of thing where we desperately needed space.”
Like most great underground music scenes, it spawned out of pure necessity and a burning desire from the artists themselves to create a space for their fans to come see them in-person. The past couple of years have seen Gum.mp3, Swami Sound, and Dazegxd going on to play much larger shows, even landing a Boiler Room show on a boat. However, they keep coming back to the Mi Sabor, the place where it all started.
“The crux of this relationship is a working class solidarity. And I really hope that's clear to everybody that's on the outside looking in, trying to figure out what's making what we're doing successful. It's because we're working together as a united front, both venue and artist, with a cultural sensitivity and a communal sensitivity. I think it will take more of that kind of active thinking and partnership to preserve or create any future music communities.”
This sort of authenticity and social awareness is something that Gum.mp3 thrives off in his daily life, and has brought him to where he is today. If you haven’t heard his music, then you probably know him from Twitter, where he spends most of his time talking about Gore-Tex jackets and afro-futurism. His music has also been an outlet for these seemingly ordinary interests to be expressed. Wagenmuzik was born out of a newfound lifestyle he took on after purchasing a BMW. The 2021 album Time Traveler revolves around an afro-futurist ideology of escapism and, of course, time traveling. It’s his ability to synthesize his day-to-day life into his art that has come to define his overall aesthetic.
“I think it started out just from a political standpoint where I don't like the feeling of just talking in theory about stuff when I know there's something I can do on a day-to-day basis that will more thoroughly align me with what I'm trying to do. I see people online always refer people to read other stuff like Marx in particular. Everybody's like ‘oh, you need to read this.’ And I was like, ‘okay, well, once you've done that, then what?’ You know? We could sit here and read all day or we could actually go do something. So that kind of carried over into my art. If my day-to-day life and my politics can be aligned in the same way, then so can my art. And also, I'm not a good liar.”
Gum.mp3 has grown to become one of the most notable underground figures around. He’s capable of throwing the coolest party in town anywhere in the country. But when he returns home to Virginia, he makes no effort to hide the fact that his life is still a work in progress. He’s currently studying to get a cybersecurity certificate, figuring out how to pay taxes, and of course dealing with car problems.
“There's no point in trying to create some kind of crazy superstar image to live up to, even though that kind of happens by nature of the internet anyway. You'll never know the full story of somebody just from what they post. So there's always going to be that kind of ontological conflict between you as a person and how you're perceived online. I have such a hard time with lyrics because I don't really have anything to talk about. I’m just a regular guy. The only way I could think of doing that was just kind of bridging my political, socio-political and lifestyle truths and merging those with the fantasies that I have about both of them and the future that I have in mind for my lifestyle. If I could somehow imbue my music with that, then it would be successful. It's definitely a work in progress. You get more articulate over time when you're trying to align your politics, your identity, and your fantasies.”
After releasing his “My Private Virgina” EP in late September, the Gum.mp3 show returns to NYC on Halloween, where he’ll be spinning at Elsewhere with Ying Yang Twins. “My Private Virgina” is out now, available on all streaming platforms.