Last week, I joined Video7 for a rehearsal ahead of their performance at Waking Windows Festival. On the heels of their first streaming release, Looplands Volume 3&4, Video7 has established their brand as one to watch. Despite this, I still didn’t know what to expect from the audio/visual collective. Listening to their mixes on Soundcloud, I couldn’t imagine how a group of 18+ members could make this type of sound. When the rehearsal process started, it became clear.
The night began with a group stretch on the front lawn of Ian’s house. Naturally, I joined the warmup activities. Outside, in front of anyone passing by, we formed a circle while Aja and Morgan led us in a series of stretches. After our chakras were thoroughly aligned, and our vocal chords limber, we headed back inside. We dimmed the lights and made some chai tea to set the mood before running through the set.
As I sat back and listened, I was a witness to Video7’s compelling thesis on black music. They are an amalgamation of Detroit’s musical past, present, and future. Listening to their seasons mixes, it’s hard to picture the enigmatic group’s live performance. In person, it all makes sense. Although members of the group have been collaborating and performing for a few years now, the group has been making major strides in the past few months.
Video7 is described as an audio/visual collective. Can you tell me more about what this means and speak on the diverse group dynamic?
Ian Finkelstein: We perform as a supergroup but then also perform as individual artists with the accompaniment of other members of video7, basically. Most of our recordings are compilations of all of our material and some of them are recorded as a group, like Looplands and so forth are all collaborative projects.
Donald “Lex” Roland: We perform as a supergroup but then also perform as individual artists with the accompaniment of other members of video7, basically. Most of our recordings are compilations of all of our material and some of them are recorded as a group, like Looplands and so forth are all collaborative projects.
IF: Right, everything’s in house.
Aja Dier: It’s fresh.
IF: It’s fresh.
Do you want to talk about the collaboration process at all, I read you guys call it producer telephone sometimes. How is your collaboration process with so many people in the group?
Brendan Asante: Well it is called producer house, and it’s like producer telephone. That’s the phrase I use for people to immediately be like, “oh okay I kinda see what you’re doing with it.”
IF: Yeah that describes producer house. We usually collaborate at one of our houses, usually Lex’s house. Which the address to Lex’s house is…
DR: Hey, hey!
Terrell (GDMRW): Alphaland.
IF: Alphaland studios or 7land studios, what is this, and then most of the collaboration happens at one of those houses. Lex’s house’s pretty much operating 24/7 and people are recording.
AD: We also collaborate over the internet, so for “Diasporic Recompense” I had the, “wait til I get my bag bitch.” I was taking a shower, and I was angry about something, and I got out the shower and recorded that memo and sent it to Lex and then he turned it into –
Clay Hill: Dope-ass sound.
IF: Yeah that’s happened with a lot of our shit. With 18 people or however many people in the group at this point, I can imagine it being a unique collaboration process… How are your performances different than your collaboration process?
Rafael “Leafar” Statin: I would say that for instance, when I need help on my tracks or some assistance, not everyone is present at time. I think that kinda flips the dynamic on a live tip where were sort of forced to add dynamics and shit and be spontaneous.
IF: Yeah everyone’s in.
RS: Everyone’s in.
CH: And I feel like through the chemistry that we have when were there live, like we did shows that we didn’t even rehearse and did it for a whole hour straight. And the chemistry we had the vibe that – we were synced with each other – it felt spiritual in a way. But um, it turned out spontaneous. It turned out really great. So, our live performances are really really dope and dynamic.
AD: We just come like… so we’ll if I have a song ill come with like the stock for the soup and then people will add the meat and potatoes and rice and all that good seasoning and salt.
CH: Good gumbo.
Not too many chefs in the kitchen here I can tell. How did you guys build this chemistry? How did you guys come together?
IF: When me and Brendan both lived at this house we would have Sunday sessions.
BA: And then I got kicked out.
Morgan Hutson: Brendan got evicted.
IF: When we were both living here, we had people come over all the time to work on shit. This is when the house was kinda what Lex’s house is now, where people like come thru and be like working on shit pretty much all the time and then yeah… we also performed at SXSW and had a few big performances last summer, so that was like another thing we were doing at the same time, so it was like live performances and we were just consistently working on stuff. So that was… that laid the kinda-
IF: The foundation for what we’re doing now.
AD: Sunday sessions baby.
RS: We do just hang out.
CH: Barbecue, chill.
Like you guys actually like each other.
CH: Family dinner sometimes.
IF: Yeah, we chill.
MH: Friends, friends.
TG: I’m n*ggas barber too.
BA: Oh yeah, this is the barber.
CH: You know we have really dope conversations with the barber sitting in the barber seat so there’s some bond there.
I have seen barbershop, but I don’t know if that’s an accurate representation…
IF: It’s like Barbershop.
Have you guys notice your dynamic or sound change at all since you guys graduated and moved out of Ann Arbor or played SXSW?
IF: Well, pretty much all this happened like after me and Brendan had both graduated from Ann Arbor and moved back here. I think we have gotten a lot more… we gotten more cohesive. We have some pretty big gigs coming up, so we definitely got more focused. Like last winter we had a show where, I think it was like Milo’s show, and we kinda just improvised the entire thing, and it was tight, but now were not really doing that as much. We’re kinda getting things more filed down and edited and
CH: Wax on, wax off.
Care to speak about any of those shows?
IF: We’re very excited about these shows that are coming up.
BA: Yeah, they’ve just kinda been like popping up like *snap snap snap*
CH: Every weekend it’s just been work.
MH: Gig offer.
CH: Potential gig offer.
BA: Uh so yeah, I mean I feel like in the beginning elements of when video 7 really started implanting itself in the fabric of Detroit musical history, as with a lot of starter up stuff too at least myself I didn’t know what I was doing and it didn’t seem as clear as to what needed to be done until it just appeared, you know what I’m sayin? Like for the longest time, you saw tonight Ian and I and everyone else were all running the rehearsals together versus there being a clear one person that just music directs elements. And just everyone being able to assume certain roles and I feel like once that happened then its literally been in the last month and some change shit is just like *snap snap snap snap*.
It’s cool to see that, and it’s very exciting for just like looking forward towards the future – but, you know, all this stuff is happening now just cuz we started putting in this type of energy and this type of work in and all that shit will pay off so it, it it, it is, tight.
MH: It is tight.
IF: It’s polished.
Specifically, what shows do you have coming up?
BA: We are opening for The Lone Survivor, Dawn Richard, and she’s on tour for her album called Redemption, which is really fire. So that’ll be cool. That’s gonna actually be the first video7 opening set, at El Club, specifically. And then we met Graeme on the radio show at Chris Campbell’s Progressive Underground and just from hearing the music he kinda already fell in love with what we’re doing so now that led to the show that’s coming next weekend which is even crazier – Waking Windows fest.
IF: With Dam Funk and Moodymann and Jay Daniel.
BA: We’re actually playing… we’re scoring a fashion show. So, little known fact, Video7’s first gig when it was formed was actually scoring a fashion show. Inspired’s fashion show, at the University of Michigan, so this is the second fashion show. that’s at the African World Festival on August 19?
TG: Tell him about Hart Plaza.
BA: Detroit rocks the runway, yeah, there’s this new thing happening at Hart Plaza it’s a series called Hart Grub x Groove. Charles is playing at it.
TG: I don’t know too much about it I just know my boy King Milo, Goodmorro, Rafael Statin, who else is there? Leafar. Cjay Hill will be there, Morgus “SUPERCOOLWICKED” Hutson on 10 million. Will be there. And we gon’ be setting some shit on fire so that’ll be tight. I think it’s free, it’s Hart Plaza, right?
BA: oh uh, Sidewalk Festival Artist Village August 4th. I didn’t really know about it until we got picked to do it last year.
What is that about?
AD: I don’t know the history, but I played it last year. It’s in the Redford neighborhood, Old Redford neighborhood.
BA: Artist Village.
AD: Yeah, I grew up right down the street from there. It’s a huge arts festival they have like experimental theatre, experimental music, dance, art. It’s just like in the streets like they block off the streets. Have you been to artist village?
I didn’t know Redford was the cool to be honest.
IF: This is old Redford were talking about in Detroit.
BA: I don’t know how long this has been in existence but this is that thing that reminds people. Because nothing else really pops over there, unless this is there.
IF: Also, we have me, myself and Alex White have a Wednesday night gig at motor city wine that members of Video7 are often at.
You guys have your Soundcloud up for about a year with these seasons mixes, how do you make those?
IF: They’re compilations of all of our music that we’ve been working on over a particular period and then we send them to The Webslinger. And he chops certain parts and kinda weaves it into a fine quilt, a fine seasonal quilt.
Are you guys planning more of these mixes, or a debut album at this point?
IF: We are still gonna be doing the mixes, we just released two projects Looplands 3 and 4. That just dropped, what like, two days ago?
MH: On tidal, Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play.
BA: This is our first time going onto the streaming realm. So that’s a cool first.
IF: It’s really the move though.
BA: You can download it to your phone on Apple music.
IF: It’s kinda phat though, having shit on Apple, like people can just listen at their work.
MH: I just want to add that for most of our mixes and shit that we do, Goodsteph does most of our artwork.
BA: And he’s the Seattle extension.
I was just about to ask about your extensions, so you got webslinger in LA and Goodsteph in Seattle?
BA: He does all of the graphics.
Did you meet them all in Michigan as well?
BA: Yeah I met Stef, uhh it was probably like my 2nd or 3rd day when I transferred into the music school at Michigan. He was like standing outside looking lost, I’m like, “hey brotha, what’s happening?”
MH: Hey brotha, you lookin’ lost like me!
BA: So he was at Michigan for a bit, then he felt like it was not for him and then he went to start a new vibe in Seattle, which he has. He just played a dope festival, city arts festival.
IF: He killed it apparently.
You guys used to host cable nights, do you still host cable nights at Marble Bar?
BA: So the first two were there. This third one is actually gonna be at El Club. Just switching it up a little bit. Seeing how it could feel with an actual stage. No shot at Marble Bar. Marble Bar is awesome. Marble Bar low key looks the best.
IF: Marble looks like the shit.
BA: The next one at Marble is September 3rd, put that on your calendar. And then, Ian and I are playing with Robert Hurst at the Jazz Festival the following day. Cofounders going in. Oh shit, I’m so sorry! Damn I knew it. I felt that vibe! Okay, Rafael is also in that band, I’m so sorry. F*ck.
MH: Uh oh, now the group falls apart.
IF: Now you’re gonna see the dark side…
Can you guys tell me more about your forward mindset?
IF: We’re very forward about –
MH: Our minds.
IF: Yeah mental things. No, were just looking forward to the projects of the future.
RS: Right. We’re putting our best foot forward and were trying to be forward thinking.
IF: Looking forward to the pure –
MH: The purity that exists. I think ok here the thing about us I just think that were not trying to fit in a pocket that’s already laid out, I think that that’s played and if you ride a wave, the tide will fall. So, with that being said, you just do your own thing and people will catch up eventually. I think that’s the forward-thinking thing and we just do what we love and do what we feel instead of doing what we feel is right.
Why chase the mark when you can set it?
CH: We don’t follow trends. We’re trendsetters.
MH: We don’t put ourselves in one box. The beauty of working with so many different people with so many different styles is that when you marry those styles a new style comes out. So… that’s about it. That’s what makes it so forward. That we marry all these things and we do it so fluidly.
AD: I think too we make love music. I think our music uplifts, and it cleanses the soul, and lifts the spirits, and it aligns the chakras.
MH: You seen us stretch.
IF: We got all aligned.
BA: Let me just add this last thought about the forward thinking. So…
IF: We have orgies.
BA: The term Video7 came from an old school 60-inch tv that I had in my junior and senior year house. It was a room that was connected to a bathroom – it was a seven-person house but I lived in the basement – and my other roommate actually cut hair, he’s actually the founder of Jerk x Jollof so that’s how that whole thing started off. The tv was always on the channel Video7 because it had an aux cord plug into the back so people would always play music through the speakers on the bottom whenever someone was getting a haircut or when I’m working on music or something like that. And then we got that fashion gig and it wasn’t even as Video7 someone came to me saying they wanted me to put something together, so then I brought Ian together and I brought Webslinger together and I brought Atu – who’s the homie – but he’s in a whole other spot. So this channel thing right – so you press the info button and you go all the way to Video7. So, it said Video7 in green letters in the upper left corner. If you press it one more time you go to cable. So, the running theme – we were thinking of a name for this thing we were doing at the fashion show, I was thinking of some bullshit ass names and Ian looked at the tv he was the one that was like Video7 hmm… and the rest is history because we just went with that.
But we went with it because it was the furthest channel from the cable, so it’s the furthest thing from mainstream, and I think that has subconsciously resonated and everything that’s happened and transpired since then because we see the quote unquote mainstream channel that you can go through being a musician, or a dancer, or an actress, or an MC or something like that but we also see that there is this left path and there’s other channels that we see that we can create on our own and have people view those as well and that I think personifies the forward thinking motion of Video7.
DR: I wanna add, just real quick, on the producer side of it I feel like, in this past, what like year? Since I felt like me and Yakoub and Leafar and who else producing – Von, VTP, I feel like we all kinda we would show each other new techniques and ways we would do stuff and so we would all kinda take it and okay let me try to apply it and do it in my own way. And I think by doing that over and over again we started to create a sound within our sound which, we do our own things but we kinda got a similar kind of energy that kinda goes throughout all of it, ya know?
So, you guys don’t try to fit in any box, and you guys are writing the script. What are some musicians/collectives/artists that might influence, or what do you guys listen to?
BA: I forgot what interview I did, but someone asked that like same question in relation to Video7, and I honestly said that everyone else was the inspiration for me. Because it’s at the point where we all know we listen to so much shit – like we honor the greats, whether it be jazz, hip hop, soul, house, and everything, we know that. But, I think that is the power of having a collective, is that if you’re feeling insecure about something or like not as solid as you feel that you could be with something and you see someone else like flossing at their own thing, and their killing it, and you guys are still like a family, that’s just automatic inspo. Like yo, I’m surrounded by dope people that can do this and do what they can do. So, that automatically just motivates you to be like the best you can be at what you’re doing. And I think that is just a whole different level of inspiration that really hits more home than saying I listen to this 70-year-old artist.
CH: It’s like singing behind these beautiful people and MCs. It’s like singing backup behind Morgan, Aja, and just singing behind my bro, it inspires me, it makes me want to perfect what I want to do with my shows in the future or different things or, the way they direct and the way they hold their stage presence. You know? It just makes me more encouraged to do what I do.
What’s next for you guys?
CH: Trying to travel the world man.
IF: Putting out projects.
CH: Black new wave.
BA: At this point Video7 has kinda transformed. Still a collective, but now were kinda implementing this label element into it. Not even just like digital, I think we actually did already have our first formal physical thing in the form of these USBs that had Looplands 1 thru 4 on them. There were only 50 of them, there’s like 7 of them left.
Photo credits [from top]: Story of Kai, Andre Moore