We are going to continue to do a series of featured label – Underground Resistance, the new one with Cornelius Harris, who is also known as Atlantis.
About Alter Ego Management & Booking
Alter Ego was founded by Cornelius Harris, a long time participant/sometimes artist in multiple Detroit scenes from hip hop to rock, jazz to funk, techno to even video. Alter Ego Management and Booking was formed to serve both the artists represented and the fans of those artists. Founded in Detroit, there was a commitment to seeing the success of clients in a city that, while loaded with talent, lacked the supporting industries to benefit from that talent. As a jack of all trades, he understood that working in such an environment mandated familiarity with many different people with many different skills in many different places in order for his clients to achieve the types of outcomes they were looking for.
Today Alter Ego boasts a lineup consisting of not only established talent, but up and coming artists as well. Alter Ego has also played a significant role in managing not only artists, but specific projects, from video production to licensing to contract negotiation. So while the clients benefit from the work being done, their Alter Ego operates in the background, making sure that they’re set up for success.
Interview with Cornelius Harris by Kazuumi Ishii
First up, how Alter Ego began ?
Alter Ego started as a concept. Years ago I was a writer/performer myself, but never very established or known, in fact, I first met Mike Banks when someone passed on a tape I had made to him. Eventually I decided that I would not do that as a career. Still, I had learned a lot and wanted to use my experience and knowledge to help other people who I thought were much better than me, but some weren’t getting the opportunities that I thought they deserved. Mike and Lenny Burden, who were both in Submerge at the time, asked me to work with Submerge and that started me on this path. I quit music at one point, very tired and "burned out" but a few years later a Detroit band asked me to work with them and I eventually said yes. Then Mike approached me about managing some people in UR and I thought, "this is the time to really do this right", and Alter Ego was born. I still count all those years before because I could not do what I do today if it wasn’t for all the good and bad I experienced learning about the business.
I see booking agents who only care about booking and not if the show makes sense or not for that person to do. I see managers who spend more time worried about their car or their clothes than the people they represent. I see artists who are surrounded by people who just want to get some benefit from their fame, so they will never tell the artist when a performance isn’t as good as it should be and suggest ways to be better. They won’t say anything if the artist wants to do something that will prove to be destructive in the end because they’re scared that if they do, they might not get to go on tour with the artist or some other silly thing. These people aren’t really managers, they’re like umbrellas, saying they’re protecting you from the rain, but if you’re a flower, well, they’re starving you, killing you !
You have a wide range of artists from techno’s true innovators like Juan Atkins and Underground Resistance to house quality guys to independent soul singers like Veronique and Cherrie Amour. What is Alter Ego’s musical philosophy overall as an organisation ?
Good music is good music. The big question is always: can we do something that will leave this artist in a better place than the day they first came to us. With everyone at Alter Ego, I truly believe the answer is ‘yes’. There are some artists who I have really loved, but I thought Alter Ego could not give them what they needed. Rather than have them tied to Alter Ego for no reason, I am honest with them and try to give suggestions about what they can do to find the person who CAN do something for them. Everybody who comes through Alter Ego, even if we do not represent them, should benefit in some way. We are not the biggest company, but we are the best !
What’s your secret to finding good new artists ?
No real secret ! First, Detroit is FULL of talented artists. Again, we cannot help all of the talented people we would like to work with. And more than that, there are talented people all over the planet we hear about and some of them have become part of our family. Shawn Rudiman comes from Pittsburgh and Dex (Nomadico) lives in New York. We’re also working with DJ Duct and DJ Wessun from Japan as well as some other people who I can’t talk about just yet, but again, there are so many good artists who need the help of a manager, someone who can be honest about if things are good or bad and not be scared of success. There are many people who say they want success, but they are not willing to work for it. I can not say names, but there are very established artists who we will not work with because they are too comfortable, they have no desire to work anymore. There are managers for those type of people but not Alter Ego. Since we know the kind of artists we want to work with, it is much easier to know who to work with and who to say no to.
In your opinion, which Alter Ego acts on the label are hot at the moment ?
All of them ! I know, that sounds like ego, but everyone is hard at work on projects. I can say that Shawn Rudiman is finishing up a CD that should wake up all the people who don’t know this man ! DJ Skurge and the Aquanauts are hard at work on some new music, a mix of techno and punk ! Bileebob is working on a new 12" on UR as well as a video to go with it. Model 500…so much is going on with them, a new 12", a new CD, a new logo and look. There’s also a huge project called ODD, that first appeared in Japan in 2006 at Metamorphose. The group includes Mad Mike, Gabe Gonzalez from Funkadelic, and others combined with production by Nick Speed, well known for his work with 50 Cent and Talib Kweli. It will be something special. There’s also a remix project that DJ Duct will be doing with a vocalist, but I’m not saying who ! And much more. Keep checking the site, because stuff happens so quick, sometime I have a hard time keeping it all updated !
You are also label manager for Underground Resistance. UR has started playing live again, as Interstellar Fugitives, Universe 2 Universe… What’s your conception of live performance in electronic music ?
Many people think that if you are in electronic music, that you can’t play, only program. This is not true and the only way to make this clear is to give them the best live performance you can ! I think that live music is not just playing the music you hear on CD or vinyl, but showing people something else, something they might not have thought about before. So sometimes the music is louder or faster, slower or softer, but in the end, it is a reminder that PEOPLE make this music, NOT machines.
I’ve heard from Gerald Mitchell that UR has invited two young new members who play saxophone and keyboard, right ? Can you tell us a little bit about them ?
DeSean Jones (sax) and Jon Dixon (keyboard) are big parts of UR. They’re both young guys, DeSean joined last year when he was just 19 and Jon is only 23, and they bring a very different energy to UR. Some labels or groups are scared to bring in new people, they like to do the same things, all the time, and that might work for them, but UR has always been about trying something new. Jon taught himself how to play piano starting when he was 3 years old. By the time he was 15 he took his first real lesson, so for him, the keyboard is almost part of him. To play is as natural as talking, so to see him really do his thing is amazing ! DeSean has played with so many incredible musicians already. His musical mentor is jazz great Marcus Belgrave, who some people know from his work with Carl Craig. If this is the only way you know this man, please learn more ! It is an honor to work with one of his most talented students. Jon and DeSean also play together in a new jazz band who you’ll be seeing with Alter Ego called Jazzwagon.
So, Gerald said, "they are both great !!! True tradition of Detroit." I’d tend to agree with him, but disagree on one point. There are already some true keyboard players like Gerald. Why did you guys need to find new keyboard player ?
Well, there is NO question, Gerald is definitely a true Detroit musician ! His talent is phenomenal, and when someone like that comes along, you’re just happy to have him around ! But I also know that he has put a lot into the Los Hermanos project and other projects (he works with a lot of people on some quality stuff). We could harass him and try to keep him from doing all this great stuff, but that didn’t make sense. So yes, we have a lot of love for him, but we also knew it was time to give him room to do his own thing.
How did you get involved with them ?
I met DeSean while he was playing with his own jazz quartet in a Detroit club. What impressed me was that he was using a laptop to alter the sounds on his saxophone. Seeing this young man using technology to do something different with a jazz band was like a sign ! I asked him after his set if he was interested in trying something even more outside the boundaries of traditional jazz and he was very open to it ! Later he introduced us to Jon Dixon, and we were so impressed, we had no choice but to add him to the band.
I have to ask: how come you changed from performing live as Galaxy 2 Galaxy to Universe 2 Universe ?
Long story, and that story isn’t done, so I can’t answer that yet !
So, what can we expect at the Metamorphose festival ?
What you will see will be basically jazz of the future! Once upon a time, jazz was known as the most cutting edge, futuristic music around. So we thought, "let’s show how one futuristic music fits with another futuristic music".
You often write lyrics as The Unknown Writer. How do you come up with the lyrics ?
Inspiration ! I can’t explain it any other way…
The lyrics are moving, because they’re absolutely human. As a matter of fact you do highlight the spectrum of techno. ‘Transition’ makes you emotionally so many things and definitely makes you wanna dance.
Thank you for the compliment.
Tell us something about ‘This Is What Happens’ with Mark Flash.
This was actually written by some producers called the Polar Pair. I read it and they came up with a very different and very exciting track, but they wanted a different view. So we got with Mark Flash and he took my vocal and used that as inspiration for his own track and worked it into the music. I guess I should say, "This is what happens when you work with other people !"
What’s up next for UR ?
There are more 12" coming out from Skurge and Bileebob, as well as Nomadico (Dex) and Galaxy 2 Galaxy. After these projects are finished, expect to hear more about the Interstellar Fugitives ! A DVD is being finished from our Japanese tour, and then there will be work on a new ISF musical project. There is also a new group that you may be hearing about soon called Satori 3.
And for Alter Ego ?
Alter Ego is going to continue to try to take it’s artists as high as possible or as deep as nature allows ! Our success is based on the success of the people we represent. You’re going to see some things from people that you never expected, but you’re also going to see some things that you’ve been waiting for a long time.
Finally, what’s upcoming for the rest of your summer ?
Metamorphose ! and hopefully a vacation !