Fort Knox Five: How To Build Your Career And Make Your Destiny

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Photo by Jesse Justice (jessejusticephotography.com)

We’ve always been really organic, live instrumentation-based. Moving forward... we’ve been experimenting with virtual instruments. There’s a lot of bass music that’s appealing to us. We want to take organic elements and meld it with these glitch-y virtual bass elements.

“World Music” such a dirty phrase, isn’t it? Conjures up the aural impression of weirdo flutes, oddly shaped string instruments and strange tongues chanting cultish slogans. Fort Knox Five is determined to polish this tarnished image. The Washington D.C.-based quartet has made its name with a grounded approach to electronic dance music that focuses on the implementation of live instruments into a breakbeat framework. The foursome possesses in-depth knowledge of an impressive cross-section of music. This spans eras as well as genres allowing Fort Knox Five to bring an authenticity to what they create, be it original music, remixes, sound design, their imprint Fort Knox Recordings, or their mixes.

For three and a half years, Fort Knox Five had a monthly radio mix show on Seattle’s KEXP and Radio New York called “Mo’ Glo.” That nose-wrinkling abbreviation stands for “Modern Global.” The intention with the show was to find party-friendly music from around the world. Combing Africa, Latin America, Bosnia, the Balkans, and other unlikely locales, they put together a collection. With each installation, another sheen is added to the slowly un-tarnishing image of world music.

Roughly a year ago, “Mo’ Glo” was discontinued, but its fanbase was in place. Continuing what they started, but adding a touch of funk in place of the slower vibes, Fort Knox Five have started the Funk The World series of mixes. These mixes, along with many others of Fort Knox Recordings artists, are cloudcasts on Fort Knox Five’s Mixcloud page. Also found on this page is every edition of the “Mo’ Glo” shows. All this has placed Fort Knox Five in the top-50 cloudcasters.

“It’s you broadcasting to the world,” says the group’s cloud-haired Jon Horvath. “It’s like your own radio station. In this day and age, you’re really in control. With social media and networking, you could be completely underground and no one’s heard of you, but you would be able to get your music out.”

Funk The World Mix 02

Funk The World functions as a music history lesson as much as an indication of what a Fort Knox Recordings release sounds like. Music vaults are culled for selections from the likes of Louis Armstrong and Fred Astaire. These are updated with homegrown remixes from the Fort Knox stable. Music from Empresarios, Nappy Riddem, See-I, and other Fort Knox artists are included in the mix alongside Wiley, Jack Beats and Nick Thayer. Glued together with funk, there are almost as many music genre tags attached to the mix as there are artists featured on it.

“We try to put a lot of DJ mixes up because it’s a way we can keep relevant and stay in the picture without making new music,” states Horvath. “For the last couple of years we’ve really focused on the record label side of things.”

The abovementioned Empresarios, See-I, and Nappy Riddem have had full album releases on Fort Knox Recordings in the last year—all with notable success. 2012 has already seen the release of the Lift-Off album. It is very incestuous in the Fort Knox camp—with the Thievery Corporation as their immediate cousins. The Latin/funk/dub/cumbia group Empresarios’ leader, Javier Miranda, plays percussion for Fort Knox Five. The roots/reggae/dub/rock group See-I is Fort Knox Five’s Rob Myers’ project. Myers plays sitar and guitar for Thievery Corporation. Also in See-I are Rootz and Zeebo who are in the Thievery’s live band. The ragga/soul/electro group Nappy Riddem features Rex Riddem and Mustafa Akbar who sings with ESL Music’s Thunderball, which is the side project of Myers and Fort Knox Five members Sid Barcelona and Steve Raskin. Lift-Off, a departure for Fort Knox being along the chillwave lines with melodic vocals, is Myers, Raskin and his wife, Ms. Johnna M who also sings for Thunderball.

Don’t concern yourself about maintaining this family tree in your mind. Fort Knox Recordings is first and foremost about DJs. No matter what the style of the artists, there are always remix packages that are geared towards the dancefloor. After all, that’s the only entity who buys music these days, isn’t it? DJs?

Mo' Glo Radio

Electronic dance music is such a wide spectrum, it’s not really a genre… we’ve always felt the genre thing was a marketing ploy to market music in a certain direction.

“The whole streaming thing is amazing because you with a free membership, or even a cheap membership, and you can listen to any song you want, any time you want,” says Horvath. “But the DJs need to actually have a version of the song that doesn’t go off. In my office that I’m sitting in right now there is close to 20,000 records. Sometimes I buy a record and it’s $15 for one song because I need that one jam. Now, I can go to Beatport and buy 20 songs for $30 and every song that I get is amazing.”

Fort Knox has tapped into this less is more mentality with the remix packages they release alongside each artist album. “With a four-track EP, people are most likely going to listen to all four of songs. You’re going to get a better ear than if you drop 15 songs. What we noticed is we can break the remix compilation into three different EPs and go Beatport all the way. Then drop it on iTunes as an album and still sell quite a few albums.”

Countless remixes are one of the main activities that keep Fort Knox busy. Another is scoring video games such as Sims 3 and NBA Live 10. For the latter the foursome put their remixing skills to task reworking the classic Time Zone track, “Zulu War Zone,” with Afrika Bambaataa himself, as well as Mickey Factz and Why G. Unrelated to video games, Fort Knox also remixed a rework of “More Bounce To The Ounce” recorded by Uberzone and DJ Dan featuring Zapp’s own Big Rob.

“The last few remixes we’ve done have been really inspiring for our album,” says Horvath of the next work-in-progress Fort Knox Five long-player. “We’ve always been really organic, live instrumentation-based. Moving forward we’re going to keep that, but we’ve been experimenting with virtual instruments. There’s a lot of bass music that’s appealing to us. We want to take organic elements and meld it with these glitch-y virtual bass elements. The funk stuff always appeals to older people, trying to get the youth on it is how we stay alive and relevant.”

Instead of trying to fit into what’s current, Fort Knox has created a scene around what they already do. Citing Diplo as an example of someone who has made the same type of moves, it is less about genres and more about cultivating a scene that encompasses any and everything you might incorporate into it over time.

“When people think of electronic music they think of crazy electro or dubstep or something,” says Horvath. “Electronic dance music is such a wide spectrum, it’s not really a genre. What we’re doing is still electronic. But we’ve always felt the genre thing was a marketing ploy to market music in a certain direction. Those genres might be the sound of the week, but things change.

He continues, “You are really in control of your own career nowadays. It’s tough and there’s a lot of things that you have to get through, but the fact of the matter is, if you use common sense and some business, you can build your career and make your destiny.”

Bob Marley "Soul Shakedown Party" (Fort Knox Five Remix)