The steady rise of electronic music in NEPA
Industrial, ambient, soundscape, and other genres are introduced to the area through NEPA Electrotribe
For the past year, electronic music has slowly infiltrated the local music scene, an underground movement that has started to leave basements and darkened bedrooms and gain traction in small venues across NEPA.
This emergence from behind personal computer screens onto public stages began when Ron Boyle, who calls himself Hypnotik Infekted Bloodline, encouraged fellow area artists like Kenny Hill to perform live for the first time.
“I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t have the capability or the knowledge or the equipment to do anything live.’ He’s like, ‘Oh, well come jam with us or whatever.’ I went down to his studio and did a couple of jam sessions with him, and he was an amazing, amazing guy and was always pushing me about music. He wanted to do the show.
“I think he gave us two weeks to figure it out, how to put something together, and we did. I was a nervous wreck, but after it was over and I stepped off that stage, that was it. I wanted to do that more. It was kind of cool having people cheer and actually acknowledge the fact that you did something and they actually liked it.”
When Hill says “we,” he is referring to his wife, Stephanie Hill, whose chosen moniker is Lady Hectic. Both were relatively new to creating their own music when they played on Aug. 16, 2013 at the now-defunct Rattler in Pittston, but when they finished that night, the seeds of a new scene were planted.
“It was exhilarating,” Kenny remembered with a smile. “It just took off from there.”
From electro kid to Electrostatik
Kenny has always worn his love of electronic music on his sleeve, or at the very least in his headphones. A self-described “‘80s electro kid,” he grew up in Brooklyn listening to New Wave groups like Depeche Mode and began DJing goth and industrial nights in clubs throughout New York, which made him curious about crafting his own tracks.
“I always wanted to do electronic music because I’ve always been a fan of it for years, but I didn’t know how these people made it. So I got with some friends, some like-minded musicians who were into that music, and they were like, ‘Oh, try these kind of programs.’ I was like, ‘OK,’ so I started dabbling with them a little bit, teaching myself how to do certain things. I was just making up songs just to send to friends. ‘Oh, look at this cool thing I made,’ and then a lot of them started turning around going, ‘No, that wasn’t bad. You should really try to do something,’” he recalled.
“I like to be creative by nature. I’ve done a lot of art and a lot of poetry in my time, but music is something that I was always a fan of, and other people’s music was always the outlet for my feelings or expressions or whatever, so to now actually be able to flip the script and take my creativity and my outlet and make something of my own, it’s just the ultimate therapy, basically. Happy, sad, mad, whatever – I get behind there and I make some music.
“When I’m at the other side of the tunnel and it’s done, it’s a good feeling.”
After moving to Scranton, Quoth, as he was now known after an online friend named him after an early Richard D. James (Aphex Twin) song, made album after album and hosted a radio show on WFTE-FM called Electrostatik that spun both local and international electronic artists. His passion was so infectious that even his wife, who was raised on R&B and country music, caught the bug and started experimenting with FL Studio software.
“My dad was a musician. He played guitar and was in a band, but I never really had the coordination to be able to actually play a musical instrument. I can’t read sheet music to save my life, so I never really had that outlet. I always wanted to, but then when him and I met, which was about two and half years ago, he showed me what he was doing with FL Studio, so then, of course, I started messing with it,” Stephanie explained.
“He would go to work; I’d be off. I’d just be doing random things, and he would come home and be like, ‘You know what? That’s pretty good. You should keep trying.’ And after two months, I released my first album, which was all pretty chaotic. It really didn’t have that much structure to it or anything.
“It was pretty hectic – hence the name.”
Quoth and Lady Hectic established their names and their niche online, but finding acceptance in Northeastern Pennsylvania was a different story.
“We just thought that there’s got to be people that listen to it. We live in a college town – there’s got to be people that listen to electronic music of some sort, but I’ve lived out here for like 14 years now and I’ve never really seen a venue or a lot of artists playing here outside of Hypnotik Infekted Bloodline that were doing shows. I’m from New York – you could walk down the street and trip over an electronic artist or electronic music anywhere,” Kenny noted.
“Don’t get me wrong – I love rock bands. I go out and see people all the time, but it really sucks that I have to take a two-hour car ride to go see a band or something as far as the electronic realm is concerned. I think I want to try to change that and give people that outlet, because if I’m sitting around thinking I’m the only one listening to it in my car, there’s got to be a couple of other people, hopefully.”
And there was. The pair made friends with Hypnotik Infekted Bloodline and The Gary Goblins, and one night, feeding off each other’s fandom, they decided to form a collective dubbed the NEPA Electrotribe to share shows and the music they love.
“Think about it – how cool is it that you can actually put together a show and actually perform the show with other people that you’re such a fan of?” Kenny enthused, adding that members of the group are among some of his all-time favorite artists.
“You get to play it, and then you actually get to sit there and enjoy your favorite people playing right along with you. I tell people I just want to get on and get off so I can sit back and enjoy all of them. That’s my main thing when I do a show. Yeah, I’ll go out and represent Quoth, but I just kind of want to sit with the rest of these people and watch the rest – and I get in for free!”
“I think for most of us in the Tribe, besides Ronnie, none of us had ever really thought of doing this live,” Stephanie said, at least until that fateful show at The Rattler.
“I think all of us caught it that night. It’s such a great feeling to be on stage and have people actually enjoying something that you put so much work into and that you’re enjoying. I think even through everything that we’ve gone through to try and keep this thing running, that’s what has kept us going. We can’t give up on this because we enjoy it so much.”
The live experience and inexperience
It’s easy to give up, particular when reactions have been “a mixed bag.” At the NEPA Tattoo Club in Pittston, they were very well-received, but at Tomaino’s Lounge in Archbald, one confused listener didn’t quite get what was going on.
“Some people get confused and think we’re just DJing and we’re not actually performing, so the one night when we were playing at Tomaino’s this woman came up and she’s like, ‘What kind of music you got?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m playing electronic music,’ and she said, ‘Oh, well can you play some Green Day?’ I was thinking, ‘OK, I have to be nice. I have to be civil.’ I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not a DJ. This is my own electronic music. So she reaches over and pats me on my shoulders and she’s like, ‘OK, you play whatever you want, honey,’” Stephanie related.
“You always get that misconception that you’re just being a DJ because you’re not really holding a guitar or a bass or drumsticks or anything like that,” Kenny added.
“A lot of the reaction has been positive, though. A lot of our friends support us. A lot of strangers have come on board. One of the greatest things, I always thought, was when you finish and you go outside and some random person that was in there says, ‘You know, I never listened to that type of music before, but I like what you guys did up there.’ To me, that’s like the greatest of all things … and we had this said to us many times.”
“Or when they say, ‘I’m so glad that someone is doing something different around here,’” Stephanie continued. “We’ve gotten that comment a lot, even from people that work at the bars.”
Just saying “electronic music” hasn’t always been clear enough for some crowds.
“When I say electronic music, I don’t mean what passes as electronic music on like Top 40 radio. I’m talking about grassroots, like industrial, ambient, soundscape – stuff like that. We want to bring that to people and to let people know that this music exists, one, and two, not only does it exist, but there are people in your neighborhood who are also doing this, in their basements, in their rooms, in their kitchens, making this kind of music, just like any other local musician does,” Kenny clarified.
“In the end, the money means nothing. The consciousness, waking up to the fact that this exists, is what drives me. I don’t plan to be a star or to go on a mega-million-dollar tour off of this. I just want to change here.
“It’s always been worthwhile. Not always financially, but I think any local band can attest to that.”
Aside from those misunderstandings, the last year has been good to the Tribe, considering every venue they’ve played has asked them to come back, and they’re slowly winning over fans, however unlikely, one by one.
“I think the first time it really hit home that strangers were listening to our music, at least for me, was actually a couple of weeks ago. We were playing over at The Keys [in Scranton] for the first time and most of their crowd was a bachelor and bachelorette party there. They stayed and they were listening and they were enjoying it. They didn’t come just to see us; they were just there, and they liked it,” Stephanie emphasized.
“It’s been a little over a year since this whole thing started, and to kind of get everyone on the same page since we are a collective has been… interesting. Plus trying to get the word out there because we are something different. We’re not the cover band or the country band or the rock band. We’re different.”
“There’s a lot more work that needs to be done. For this small underground area, what we’re doing is very underground. It’s not had any really big exposure yet. I was actually told by a member of the Tribe the other day, ‘If you’re really serious about this, I hope you’re in for the long haul. It’s going to take a while for something brand new to be taken notice of here because a lot of people are kind of set in their ways,’” Kenny acknowledged, virtually ignored by local press.
“Not only are they set in their ways, you’re trying to break those people to understand and like this, but also on top of that, you’re trying to search for people that actually would appreciate this and let them know that this does exist.
“And where are they? I’m looking under rocks, newspapers – wherever I can.”
Chaos with a purpose
Why is it so important to convert the uninitiated? Maybe it’s because it’s just who they are now.
“Music is definitely my outlet. If you listen to one of my songs, if you know me you can kind of tell the mood I was in when I made it, whether it’s dark or whether it’s got bubbly aspects. I’m a writer by nature, too, so previous to this, I could never figure out a way to do music, so writing was always the way I expressed it,” Stephanie shared.
“Music, for me, has kind of become who I am, so even though I have however many albums out and I just released one two months ago, I know I don’t need new material commercially, but spiritually I’m missing it because I haven’t had the time to really sit down and do anything new in a long time. It’s the way I express myself. It’s the way I get feelings out. Something that I can’t put in words I can put into music.”
Her tunes, all released digitally, are heavy on the bass and drums with bubbly or darker synth on top, defined by some as “organized chaos” and others as “robot sex.”
“That’s my favorite one, by the way,” Kenny said of the latter analogy with a laugh.
“I’ve listened to electronic music all my life and I cannot classify what she does. She goes through so many different genres, subgenres, in one song.”
Her latest and darkest album, “Spectral Midnight,” even includes imagery and poetry about vampires and ghosts with the download.
“[Kenny is] probably my biggest influence, because if it weren’t for him, I never would be doing this in the first place. Him and I, we kind of feed off each other on the technical side of things. He’ll discover something I didn’t know, or I’ll discover something he didn’t know. It’s kind of a mutual learning process,” Stephanie described, though she still keeps her songs from Kenny until they’re completed to continually surprise him.
“If I start a song, if I don’t finish it in that sitting, it most likely won’t get finished, whether it takes an hour or whether it takes three hours.”
“When she starts doing something, she will not stop until she’s finished, so I will let her. As a musical comrade and husband, you just go upstairs. Let her do her thing and she’ll eventually take her headphones off and go, ‘It’s finished.’ She’s good like that. I can’t do that,” Kenny said, as it takes him weeks and sometimes months to finish his own songs.
“You leave the house. She’s not even coherent to the world, hasn’t had that first cup of coffee. You go to work for six hours or eight hours, you come back and she’s like four songs deep, like what the fuck? And they’re all totally different sounding, each one great. That’s just the gift she has!”
He truly admires her talent, and when she takes the stage, she earns respect in what is largely a boys’ club.
“She demands attention. Her music demands attention,” he affirmed.
“They just don’t see a girl doing this, and when they see a girl doing it, they’re like, ‘Holy crap! She’s right up there with the rest of them.’ A lot of people get excited when she plays. There’s a lot of girls out there who listen to her stuff because they not only do they appreciate her as Lady Hectic, but a lot of them say, ‘It’s awesome to see a girl doing this type of stuff.’”
Kenny’s work also includes drum and bass, but with break beats, industrial elements, and ambient sounds mixed in.
“A lot of times I like to mix them. A lot of my stuff has an underlying hip-hop feel. I’m a hip-hop kid from way back in the day, so I was always a beat person,” he pointed out.
“I’m a fan of all of it, and I try to touch every part of it. It’s about what I’m feeling, and that’s what comes out.”
Always working to reach his next creative level, his music has become darker and dirtier lately.
“Soon I’m going to have to start beating trash cans, I guess, because I don’t know how far I can go, but as far as albums are concerned, that’s when I know I’m ready. I’m experimenting more than actually creating, trying to learn what certain things do and why and apply them to a different sound,” he said, and playing live has only made him a better artist.
“Every move that we’ve ever made, either promotional-wise, live, meeting new people that are appreciating this, it’s coming out musically. Now I’ve gone from being somebody who was just making tracks just for fun to now people are like, ‘I like what you do,’ and now I’m having more of a purpose to doing it. I still have fun with. The day I don’t have fun with it is the day I stop, but now I feel like I have a purpose when I do it.
“There’s people who actually dig this. I have some fans out there that like what I do. I feel like I’m not only doing it for me, but I’m also doing it for them too because they take the time to listen and appreciate, and I don’t want to give them half-assed shit.”
Kenny, 41, loads trucks during the day, while Stephanie, 30, works as a customer service representative for a health insurance provider. By night, however, they’re fierce defenders of the faith.
“Traditionally, people tend to think that with electronic music, you’re not doing anything. You’re not a musician. You’re not doing anything musician-like. First of all, that’s a complete farce. We are musicians. We sit there and we take the time to take the thoughts and sounds that we have in our head and create them or use other things to create that emotion that we’re feeling,” Kenny began, trying to hold himself back from “a 45-minute rant.”
“I could go on forever about that. … It’s finding the right sounds to reflect what you’re doing, lay that out, get a beat behind it, many layers of beats, synth lines, and what have you, and once you get that all together, you kind of just lace it out into a song to reflect what you’re doing from beginning to end, and there’s your song.
“It’s a really easy thing to pick up, don’t get me wrong, but how far you want to take it is up to you. You could sit there and sound like a Casio preset, or you can actually put in the work to actually make it yours. All of what I just explained is no different than a person picking up a guitar, a lyricist writing lyrics down. It’s the same process, just a different instrument.”
They’ll prove that once again when they return to the Irish Wolf Pub (503 Linden St., Scranton) with Archimago, another member of the NEPA Electrotribe, on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 10 p.m.
“Very slowly, it’s gaining some momentum. Hypnotik Infekted Bloodline taught me one thing. He says, ‘You can do whatever you want musically and you can sit there and believe in yourself and you sit there and invite all the people you want and you can claim to do this or do that, but as long as you’ve got that one person who said, ‘Hey, I like that. I like what you do,’ that’s probably the best thing ever.’ I take that mentality to every show,” Kenny stated.
“Every show that we’ve done, every album that we’ve put out, there’s been some kind of momentum added. I want to try to change the mindset and try to change the structure a little bit as far as this scene and try to add electronic music as a viable thing. I’m all in, doing whatever I can to promote it.”
Photos by Keith A Barbuti Photography
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, adequate photographer, podcast co-host, and practicing poet. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.