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Interview: Kyle Long
Posted December 29, 2015 by Seth Johnson

If you’ve picked up a copy of NUVO or tuned into WFYI within the past year, there’s a good chance you’ve come in contact with some of Kyle Long’s work. A longtime local music advocate, the Cultural Cannibals co-founder also orchestrates and DJs at all kinds of parties around town as well, exposing dance floors to a unique blend of music from around the world.

Before Cultural Cannibals upcoming New Year’s Eve party (in partnership with Old Soul Entertainment) at Georgia Reese’s Downtown, Seth Johnson caught up with Long to talk about his musical roots and how they led him to where he is now.

Seth Johnson: I know that you’re someone who’s now very passionate about local music. That being said, when were you first introduced to Indiana music, and do you remember if there was anything specific that initially sparked your interest?

Kyle Long: I used to go to shows all the time. I would go to all-ages shows when I was a teenager. They used to have shows out on the Westside at the India Community Center, which was literally an Indian community center. It was mostly straight-edge bands that would come through there. Like, that was kind of the home base for a lot of Split Lip’s early shows. So I would go there, but the main venue that I really loved was called the Sitcom [mentioned in Seth Johnson’s NUVO story on music venues lost to time], which was in SoBro. I saw a lot of local bands there, but I also saw Bikini Kill, Beat Happening, Rancid, Huggy Bear and all these other cool groups play there. So I was hearing local hardcore and punk rock groups at those venues, but what really got me fascinated with local music… and I remember this vividly… is I went to a record sale at the Speedway Public Library. It was in the middle of the day. No one was there, and they were selling used books and records. This was pre-Internet, so you’re just kind of experiencing everything at face value. But, I found this record for a quarter. It was called In This World by Billy Wooten, and Billy Wooten was a vibraphonist who played with the great Blue Note guitarist Grant Green.

So I was curious about this record and bought it, and I was just blown away by this track called “Chicango.” It was just this funky Latin track recorded here in Indianapolis. I was reading all the musicians’ names and reading where it was recorded, and that just set off an interest. I was like, “Wow. There’s this whole history of music here that I never was aware of — things that I couldn’t have possibly imagined happening here.” So from that point on, I just started picking up local albums when I would find them. And over the years, I accumulated tons of local records. I would just buy them because they looked interesting, and that turned into a deeper fascination with the music scene.

 

SJ: I’ve chatted with Rick Wilkerson (owner of Irvington Vinyl) about how you used to frequent his former record store, Missing Link Records. Would you say that was another place that had an impact on you and your interest in local music?

KL: Oh yeah. I think they opened when I was like 14, and I was super impressionable at the time. It was on the Southside then and was like the greatest record store in the history of the universe, as far as I’m concerned. When Rick opened it, he was collaborating with this really eccentric, mystical hippie named Zig, who just disappeared one day. But, I think this guy had grown up in San Francisco during the Haight-Ashbury years, and he had collected all of the famous psychedelic posters. So when you would walk into Missing Link, the walls were just papered with original posters from The Fillmore and all of these venues. And, they were cool posters, like MC5, Captain Beefheart and Sun Ra, and not just the typical run-of-the-mill stuff you see, like Canned Heat or Grateful Dead. So that was the atmosphere when you walked in there. And at that time, they were trailblazers. Like, there was a Krautrock section in the rock record section, before anybody was familiar with that genre. And, they would have experimental and avant-garde jazz LPs that are now extremely valuable, and you’d just pick them up for $3 or $4. So I would go in there, and they’d be like, “Hey. Check this out. This is Patty Waters. She’s this experimental vocalist who recorded in the ‘60s.” And, it was a record of her just screaming bloody murder. Other times I would go in there, and they’d be listening to Godflesh or they’d be listening to Amon Düül or they’d be listening to Ornette Coleman. So yeah, Rick Wilkerson really opened my eyes to a lot of music, and so did his buddies Zig and Jade Hubertz. I can’t emphasize enough how important they were for me, and probably for a lot of other people, when they opened up. It was a record store unlike any other. That’s not to say that other record stores aren’t great in their own right, but it was like a magical place with the whole vibe.

 

SJ: Did you ever play music in bands at all?

KL: I slaved over a guitar for years, and I’m just terrible (laughs). I bought a Moog synthesizer for $5 at a garage sale years ago, and people would be like, “Hey. Join our band. You have a Moog.” But, I was so terrible, and was just like, “I can’t disrespect the music this much to try.” Even in a punk rock context, I didn’t have the skill to pull it off. So that’s why the DJ thing happened. I was so into music and so desperately wanted to be in a band, but I was like, “Where do I fit into this?” I had amassed this huge record collection though, so people just kept pushing me to do the DJ thing. And one day, I realized it just made perfect sense. I was really hesitant to get involved with that because I just had so much respect for people like DJ Topspeed. I think he’s a creative genius in terms of the platform that he has and what he does with his medium. I had so much respect for him that I was like, “I could never touch what he’s doing.” I didn’t realize at the time, but I had my own take on the medium that would be valuable. So yeah, when I started DJing, I was like, “This makes sense. This is what I’ve been living my life to do, and I didn’t realize it.” I had accumulated these records and this knowledge, and this was a place to plug it in and share it with people.

 

SJ: Before you had this fascination with local music, were you still into exploring unknown records?

KL: Yeah. Finding this Billy Wooten record that I referred to earlier was just a byproduct of this obsessive interest I had in collecting records. I think I started out being really interested in ‘60s psychedelic music. And from that point, it just exploded in a million different directions. I would just buy any record basically (laughs). So I would take home lots of crap, filter through everything and find stuff that would send me in new directions, whether that was Brazilian music or Cuban music or Nigerian music. But, it was all kind of rooted in this interest I had in psychedelic music, and it grew from there.

SJ: Talk to me about when you first started DJing. What was that like for you?

KL: I had gone through this really traumatizing personal experience where I lost two people who were very close to me [his mother and his sister] within weeks of each other. I was kind of at a point where I had to just rebuild my life. So I had met this girl, and she had turntables and a whole DJ setup at her house. She committed to a gig at IUPUI [around 2008] for this international festival. And at the last minute, she was like, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I quit.” So I just had to jump in and take over for her. I brought a crate of records, and I was just like, “What the hell. I’ll give it a try.” And, the response was beyond anything I could’ve imagined. People were flailing themselves on the dance floor in this intense way, and I was like, “Wow. I don’t even know what the hell I’m doing.” But, I think there’s power in sharing things with people that are so far out of the ordinary that it really can affect people.

What I played that day was similar to what I play now. I was playing records by the Nigerian artist Fela Kuti. I was playing weird Bollywood music with heavy drums. It went so well that I was like, “I guess I should continue to explore this,” and it just immediately took off. It was crazy. I played a couple little low-key gigs, and then it just kind of took off and developed legs. I realized there was a need for the kind of music that I was doing, and it was bigger than me. The community was growing in ways that the city was responding to, and I kind of just accidentally wandered into that environment, which was perfect for getting what I did off the ground.

SJ: You mentioned how exposing people to music they weren’t used to was something you felt called to do. How did that discovery play into the start of Cultural Cannibals?

KL: Cultural Cannibals is a collaboration between myself and the visual artist Artur Silva, who was born and raised in Brazil. Brazilian music is one of my main fascinations because it mirrors so much of our music here in America in a lot of different ways. There’s a strong hip-hop scene in Brazil. There’s every genre of rock music in Brazil, as well as all of the regional folk music that people are familiar with like samba. I loved exploring all of the different genres and scenes of Brazilian music, so I started doing a Brazilian music night at this little restaurant called Urban Element [now a Dominican restaurant called Paradise] across from Central Library. A friend of mine brought Artur against his will to come to this Brazilian night (laughs). If someone’s going to approach Brazilian music in American culture, you can pretty much guess what direction they’re going to go in. So I think Artur thought I was just another goofball who was exploring that more commercial side of bossa nova music, and I think he was just kind of shook up that I was playing these songs from all parts of the country and all eras and all scenes. He was really fascinated by it, and we developed a friendship from there.

Shortly after that, the restaurant went out of business, and I was just like, “That was my base. That was where I began professionally DJing. I guess I’ll quit and go get a job sweeping floors somewhere.” But, Artur was like, “No, no, no. This is not ending. We’re going to do this big Carnaval party, and it’s going to all work out.” And, he was right. We did this party, and Cultural Cannibals really took off. So we started doing Brazilian events, but it just made sense for it to grow because my interests were larger than that, and his talents are larger than that.

The name Cultural Cannibals comes from the Tropicália movement in Brazil in the late 1960’s. It was a reaction to the government, and it was the ’60s when there was revolt amongst the youth around the world. So the Brazilians had this social and art movement called Tropicália that was based on this text by a Brazilian poet from the 1920’s, and it was called the Cannibalist Manifesto. It talked about this concept that Brazil’s strength was cultural cannibalism, like ingesting culture. It was sort of like a variant of the “melting pot” idea that we have here in the United States, but a more aggressive version of that. So our inspiration was to take that name and use some of those principles of the Tropicália movement, which was experimental artistically. So that was a huge inspiration, and that idea of cultural cannibalism just led to all sorts of other concepts for us. It’s open-ended. So we’ve done all kinds of stuff under that name, and I feel like my WFYI radio show and my NUVO column are extensions of that.

SJ: As far as your journalistic career is concerned, I think I faintly remember seeing your byline in NUVO before you ever started writing your series of Cultural Manifesto columns with the magazine. Is that true?

KL: Yeah. I was just contributing little things here and there, and occasionally they’d ask me to do a review of a show or whatever. So I quickly started thinking, “How can I kind of pervert this to my own interests?” There wasn’t a huge scene for the types of music I wanted to write about here in Indianapolis, but I was like, “How can I find some way to explore that music?” So I just started writing peculiar pieces that weren’t really even music articles.

I remember there was one piece in particular that led to me having a deeper relationship with NUVO. As you go to Bloomington, there’s a bunch of truck stops and a strip club where the interstate meets and you’re on your way to Bloomington. One of those truck stops is an old omelet shop that’s been converted into a Punjabi restaurant. They have a bar there, and it’s the craziest little place. There are rural American people there and there are Sikhs, and they all work and hang out. I wrote a piece about this truck stop, and I was like, “ I don’t even think they’re going to print this. It’s just weird and stupid, and they’ll probably think I’m an idiot and fire me.” But from that piece, they offered me the column. They were like, “You’re doing some stuff that’s kind of unusual and covering some things that we’ve wanted to tap into. Would you want to contribute a weekly piece to the paper?” I have no background in writing at all. I dropped out of high school when I was like 14 or 15, so I never participated even while I was in school. So I was like, “Geez. I can’t fucking write a column at all. I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do.” But, I was like, “Why not?” And now, I’ve been doing that for them for four years.

 

SJ: Through your column, you use the arts as a lens to look at bigger social justice issues, which I think is awesome. Can you elaborate on why you feel it’s important to do that with your pieces?

KL: I feel like why I do that is I have a responsibility to. If I’m going to cover certain types of music, I can’t ignore the issues the musicians are facing. For instance, in the local Latin music scene, a lot of the people are here undocumented, and all of their artistic activity is happening under this hovering threat of getting deported. It’s something they face everyday when they wake up, and it could separate them from their families. So for me to write about that type of music and not acknowledge that would not be honest, and I also don’t think the musicians and the community would respect me. That’s true of black music in America as well.

What I admire so much about a musician like Leroy Carr (blues pianist, songwriter and vocalist) is that he created all this work under intense political repression. He was completely marginalized from society, wasn’t given proper education and was a victim of racism throughout his life. And yet, he was able to create this work in the face of all that. That’s true of every black artist before a certain period of time — that they were facing this severe repression. If we don’t acknowledge that, it’s completely dishonest and phony. So I have a responsibility to do that, and I wouldn’t expect musicians to give me any of their time if I didn’t.

SJ: You now have a weekly show on WFYI called A Cultural Manifesto (stream and download full episodes from the iTunes store), which seems to be an extension of your NUVO column. Can you tell me more about how that came about?

KL: Part of the agreement with NUVO when I signed on to do this column was they wanted me to do a podcast, and I was like, “I don’t know what the hell that means.” So I was just throwing songs together that had some vague connection to my story. After a while, I was like, “I’m doing this, and no one’s listening. I’m just throwing this shit online, and no one cares.” So I started using the dialogue from my interviews. I was interviewing cool people, and I was like, “It’s a shame to just let this footage rot.” So I started editing this horrible audio footage from my shitty Android phone into these little podcasts.

Ed Wenck, NUVO’s managing editor, caught one of these and was like, “This should be on public radio.” And, I’m like, “Well yeah… sure! Let’s do it.” He was like, “Alright. I know the guy over there [at WFYI]. Let me call him.” We went and met with the station. Ed really has a lot of trust built up because he has a career in broadcasting that is extremely respectable, so he kind of vouched for me, which was really cool of him to do. They had no idea who I was. But on Ed’s recommendation, the guy who runs the station was just like, “We’ll give it a shot.” And, it went onto their HD2 station, so it was a low-risk gamble for them because I don’t know how many people tune into that station. So yeah, I put a lot of work and effort into the show, and they wanted to transition it to the FM station in July.

 

SJ: You’ve featured a myriad of artists on your show. That being said, what are some personal guidelines you’ve set for yourself in terms of choosing what you want to highlight?

KL: I cover a lot of international music, so that’s going to be something that I’m drawn towards. And as you mentioned, I also cover social justice stuff. So if an artist is working in that vein, I’ll gravitate towards that. Lately, I’ve also felt like it’s important to have the voices of really young musicians on the show, particularly hip-hop musicians. Aside from very commercial radio hits, I don’t feel like that demographic is often given a platform to speak seriously about their work or about society at large, and I just think it’s important to give them a voice.

For instance, I had Drayco McCoy on the show. I think people might have a lot of perceptions of him based on his music, which tends to be very aggressive and there’s a lot of violent imagery in some of his work. But, the guy had so many interesting and thoughtful reflections to share, and I felt like it was important for the audience of WFYI to hear this guy say, “Hey man. I’m a 6-foot black guy. People aren’t going to respect me if I just say I’m a rapper.” So he told me he wanted to be a doctor, and just getting into that psychology of how he kind of shields himself from certain expectations or certain stereotypes that people are going to have made for an interesting conversation. So I feel like having this range of voices on the show and giving them an opportunity to talk about issues that are extremely relevant is just vitally important. It can be awkward to initiate these conversations because these people are artists and not politicians or social leaders of some kind. But, it’s important that their message gets out there and that people get a narrative that’s different from the propaganda assault we have on TV.

 

SJ: You’re a DJ, you’re a journalist and you’re a radio host. In looking at all of your various pursuits, what are some overarching things that you want people to take away from your work?

KL: That’s a good question, but also a simple answer for me. I’m not necessarily trying to change anybody’s values or change their mind or get them to change their life. I just want people to listen more deeply, whether that’s to music or whether that’s to someone’s thoughts and opinions that are maybe a little different from theirs. I think that’s a real problem — not just in America but around the world. We don’t listen to one another as deeply and as carefully as we should, and we don’t listen to music as deeply and as carefully as we should. So I just hope people listen closer to the folks sitting around them and the things that they’re doing.

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