DJ Fundo, MAKR, Keith Millions, and Aaron Baum (Night Moves; Pornonono) have all known each other for at least five years. In fact, if you pooled their experience working in Twin Cities music, you’d have decades on your hands. This year, the four of them started what might be one of the coolest projects they’ve ever worked on.
Ultra Suede is a production collective working with Dwynell Roland, J. Plaza, Ryan Olson, and many more Twin Cities residents to make cross-genre music and safe spaces. They book a monthly showcase at Icehouse on Nicollet Avenue, hosting new and old friends, such as Mina Moore and Marijuana Deathsquads, for brief sets and good times.
Curious about how and why Ultra Suede exists, I wanted to get to know its creators better, so I invited them in for an interview. Here are nine facts you should know about Ultra Suede.
The name started with P.O.S’s jacket.
Ultra suede is a synthetic ultra-microfiber fabric. Why name a project after it? “It’s luxurious,” MAKR says, his voice alluring. “It’s very smooth.” But really, the phrase came about when he touched a jacket of P.O.S’s. “That’s that ultra suede,” he remembers crooning. The name stuck.
Anyone can be Ultra Suede.
While the creators of Ultra Suede are four veteran DJs and/or producers, the members of Ultra Suede are anyone who wants to join. “If you work with us, you’re part of it. If you come to a show, you’re part of Ultra Suede now,” Baum says. It’s a completely open collective.
All four creators work at Icehouse.
It wasn’t too hard to book a residency there, given that all four are involved at the venue in some way. But they love the room on its own merits. “The aesthetic of that place is perfect for us,” Fundo says, and the late start times allow for experimental shows.
They’re shaking up distribution strategies.
“The idea is not to release a proper album,” MAKR says. It’s to release a song about once a month, indefinitely. It can be hard to hold people’s attention when there’s so much music coming out every day. The collective would rather take their time, spin some intrigue, and allow for an ongoing conversation with the community.
Ultra Suede aim to push artists out of their comfort zone.
The goal, according to Fundo, is to give people music that knocks them a bit off their axis. “What am I supposed to do with this?” he wants them to say. “Let’s see what you can do with it,” is the reply. Ultra Suede has Nona Marie Invie rapping, Dwynell Roland sounding more experimental than you’ve ever heard before, and Sims hitting some of the hardest patterns of his career.
Their crosshatched symbol was inspired by hobo signs from the Great Depression.
In the early 1900s, travelers would leave each other messages through a set of symbols. For example, if etched on a fence, a circle with an “x” inside indicated a good chance at food. Ultra Suede adopted a symbol that represents protection, a safe space for anyone who happens upon their work.
Ultra Suede is not designed to stay exclusively in Minnesota.
The live shows are significant to the ethos. But if you don’t live around Icehouse, the collective are thinking about you; they envision Ultra Suede chapters popping up around the country.
You’re going to want to see the Pizza Race.
It might not work, MAKR warns. But tonight at Icehouse, Ultra Suede are hatching an ingenious scheme. Nine members of Marijuana Deathsquads will split into three groups, and each one will order a pizza to be delivered to Icehouse. As Deathsquads perform, they’ll project the pizza’s progress behind them; once each pizza arrives, the corresponding trio stops performing and starts to eat. As soon as the last pizza arrives, the set concludes. There will be pizza to share with the crowd.
Above all, Ultra Suede furthers protection and connection.
“A lot of art’s lacking it,” MAKR says about the safety and camaraderie they prioritize. Baum points out that the large-scale music industy ranks success over collaboration. But in a pressure-cooker world, these four artists choose to focus on their community. Ultra Suede is their answer.