Brooklyn bands are known for their innovation, and Comandante Zero is no exception. This electro-funk group features an artist who creates live music videos during their shows.
“I’m painting the color of the songs,” explained the band’s resident illustrator, 0h10m1ke, over a beer at Williamsburg’s Ontario Bar. The artist, who taught himself to create live drawings with Photoshop, acknowledges that his work is “very Brooklyn.”
The full Comandante Zero experience includes hypnotic music, visual art and dancers who weave their way through the audience.
I dropped by the band’s Gowanus studio this Spring to learn more about their unique set-up.
Not just two turntables and a microphone
The band’s windowless, foam-covered studio is packed with instruments: a drum kit, an iMac, foot controllers, keyboards, a bongo drum and a ukulele. (Full disclosure: I unearthed the latter two objects after snooping in the dark recesses of a shelf).
Clearly, the members of Comandante Zero are not afraid to experiment with new styles. In fact, its founding members have very different backgrounds: Singer/bassist Dan Freeman is a Harvard grad who honed his technique in gospel choirs; Drummer Ken White has led hip hop workshops in the Middle East and is a skilled dancer.
After a chance meeting at a rehearsal space led to a jam session, they discovered a shared love of funk music and a desire to create engaging live shows.
“The challenge is how to meld [recorded beats] with live music and make it dynamic, so you aren’t just hitting play on an iPod,” Dan explained as he simultaneously fiddled with a laptop, foot board and bass guitar in the studio.
With laptops becoming an integral part of bands, Ken added, even “the traditional two turn-styles and a microphone is changing.”
Adding a visual artist into the mix has helped Comandante Zero go a step further; they’ve built an interactive live show that blends digital and analog technology.
‘No line between stage and audience’
“Electronic music has much more of a visual score,” the band’s resident artist, 0h10m1ke (“Mike”), explained in an interview. “I’m trying to give you a music video that goes along with the songs.”
While his technique was originally analog– black and white contour drawings on paper– Mike now creates full-color works with a Wacom tablet and Photoshop. His drawings are projected onto a screen behind the band, and are often cast over the band members themselves.
A social worker by day, Mike became a fan of Comandante Zero after meeting Ken at a Bronx tutoring program. He vividly recalls his “terrifying” first live-drawing with the band at Union Docks in 2008.
“I was so embarrassed… I felt like a total failure.” It wasn’t until he heard whistles, clapping and cheers from the audience that he realized his rehearsal time had paid off.
Advice from Comandante Zero fans has helped the artist develop his craft. “Part of the performance is finding the guy who is the biggest geek in the crowd to help me set up,” he acknowledged.
These live music videos, combined with occasional guest dancers, ensure that there is “no line between stage and audience” at Comandante Zero shows.
It’s not surprising that Mike measures his success by fan reactions to his performance. The ideal compliment comes when “they’re watching [the live drawing], and realizing it’s not a computer program, and looking to find where it is coming from. And they see me.”
Comandante Zero plans to release their latest studio album, “Slouching Toward Babylon- Part 2,” in August and continues to perform regularly in Brooklyn.
Leslie Koch is the editor of DowntownTraveler.com and writes about art, culture and travel. Contact her at lesliekochtravel (at) gmail.com.