by Claire Tran
Photography by Adrianna Tan
East Meets Beats is clearly a DIY project—chunky speakers and an Ikea lamp sat right on the floor as the DJs played from plastic folding tables, their laptops perched upon milk crates. But that’s what makes EMB so honest: they don’t need the glitter and glam. It’s all about the music.
The monthly EDM showcase highlights local talent, including past performers such as TEK.LUN, Elaquent and Flamingosis. The show is hosted by EMW Bookstore in the heart of central Cambridge. Founded in 1998 as a Chinese-language bookstore, it was later revitalized in 2004 as a “hub of art and activism,” according to their website. The team, a diverse mix of mostly 20-somethings, hosts biology labs, art showcases and the longest Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) open mic on the East Coast.
Local producer Ludjy Derisier, aka Hollowz, kicked off the night. Heavy bass juxtaposed light, cheery synth. A gif of Dragon Ball Z looped the projector screen, illuminating off the shiny hardwood floors. He seamlessly transitioned from ambient to groovy, keeping the audience on their toes. Occasionally, Hollowz used muddled vocals, which echoed throughout the house.
Hollowz also serves at the organizer for East Meets Beats, scouting local DJs and advertising to the EDM community.
“You could have a really chill beat set followed by some high-intensity future funk and the crowd just vibes with it!” he said. “I feel like this type of environment allows for that barrier between the audience and the performers to be broken down, allowing for a more social experience.”
Halfway through his set, the worst happened.
“It’s lit! My laptop died! Shout-out to Microsoft, we out here!” exclaimed Hollowz. After some troubleshooting and crowd banter, Hollowz left the table, letting Rah Zen take over.
Jake Gilman, known as Rah Zen, shifted the mood to dreamy and deep. He draws inspiration from the likes of Pete Rock, MF Doom and Flying Lotus. The drawn-out synth and talking vocals sent the audience in a trance.
“I always felt an internal creative energy that wanted to get out, and making beats made sense to me as the way to express it,” he said. “Making beats became like therapy in a way, allowing me to transmit my emotions and clear my mind.”
His visual projections truly set the tone; celestial, abstract images matched his swirling synth. Throughout the night, the projector flashed a meditating monk in space, a neon flashing brain, and twirling starts. A New Orleans artist Britt King, aka Metasonik, creates Rah Zen’s visuals, to create a “cohesive sonic and visual experience that brings you into lo-fi cosmic dream world.”
“I love performing live because it allows me to more directly connect with people through the music outside of the internet,” said Rah Zen. When his set ended and the crowd cheered, he placed his hands in a prayer position and mouthed, “thank you.”
The intimate crowd of 30 or so stood sheepishly around the perimeter at first, though when the next DJ, Rah Low, took the stage, everyone migrated towards the middle. His jazzy keys and funky bass let off R&B vibes, utilizing vocals much more than the previous DJs. He grinned and grooved behind his laptop, though hopped into the crowd twice to dance along.
“The goal is to shake your romp,” said Rah Low. “If you’re not, I’m not doing my job.”
Rah Low remixed fan favorites such as Disclosure’s “Latch” with energizing double claps, and Migos’s “Bad and Boujee” with delicate synth, like water droplets. Everyone in the audience was at least nodding their heads, if not dancing around the entire room for his whole 30-minute set. Sailor Moon floating on a pastel cloud shined off the projector screen.
Justin, a Harvard sophomore, said this was his first time at East Meets Beats.
“I like that it’s a really small show,” he said. “It feels more intimate with the DJ and with the rest of the audience.”
The last DJ, Still Haze, delivered the most variety, transitioning from gentle pop female vocals to rap to smooth R&B. He hunched over his laptop, stoic and concentrated, though the crowd was anything but still. Dance circles formed and couples twirled each other around the room. The old colonial building vibrated along with his whining synth and relentless hi hat.
At one point, Hollowz popped his head in from the room next door, glanced at Still Haze behind his laptop, and shouted, “Damn!” The last song of the night was reminiscent of vintage video game soundtrack; imagine drunk Mario dancing on a table.
Half of the crowd shuffled out of the building, while half helped clean up and move around furniture. Hollowz reflected on how he wants to grow East Meets Beats in the future.
“I'm definitely looking towards EMB having more of an educational aspect to it,” he said. “Having jam sessions where people can share and create beats together will foster a strong community for Boston's beat scene.”