Making Millionaires: Amsterdam
As I was getting on the train to Amsterdam Schipol at the end of our 3-gig weekend, I heard music. It was Dutch trap song coming from a blue bluetooth speaker in the grip of a 20-something-year-old, tank-topped guy with a few friends in his orbit. It was a nice moment to sum up the trip for a few different reasons. The day before I had been in an Uber with our drummer Adam when our conversation dipped to hear the same kind of music coming out of the car radio. We both nodded in interest. But on this particular occasion, at this not particularly busy station, I smiled as I tilted my head as they walked down the platform. ‘Why is he playing it out of a bluetooth speaker?’ I thought. Then I realised, of course, how else do you share music with three of your mates on a sunny day in Amsterdam?
Dave Waller, a long time Imaginary Millionaire (from back when we used to do a show called Excursions),joined us for the weekend in Amsterdam. Dave loves records. I happened to walk past Black Gold on the way to pick him up at the station and pumped my fist a little realising I knew just where to take him for his first Amsterdam coffee and crate dig. When I told him where we were going, he said, “Ah great, that’s been on my list of places to visit.” Hm, I know Dave well. As we chatted, Dave was telling me about his music-making using samples and a Pocket Operator: “It has this way of configuring what you’re working on into a data burst which saves settings for you to export or load it up again”. We discussed how it was like the configuration tone back in dial-up internet days. Fun fact, that kind of “data burst” was referred to as a ‘modem handshake’. Remember when your computer had to make a bunch of weird noises before it was ready to start s u r f i n g the internet? Remember the long drawn-out digital-bird-squawk dial tone setting you up only to get yelled at moments later when your older sibling wanted to use the phone? Remember when we had to wait for things to load? Ah, my youth. I digress.
A modem handshake, Dutch trap music, and a bluetooth speaker held on a train to share music. What does it all mean?
Getting on the same wavelength. Literally.
A song shared is a unifying force. It fills the space around us with the architecture of an idea. We all take different things from its rhythm, chords, melodies, and lyrics, but it is a shared experience nonetheless. Sometimes it even configures us to feel the same way. The role of “DJ” to me as a youth was “the most important job at a Canadian hockey game”. Though at times hilariously cheesy, the DJ’s role was to get everyone in the crowd pumped up and cheering on the 18 year old boys so they could feel like winners (and elbow the other guys in the teeth). Or, that song that you listen to on repeat putting on makeup with your friends before a night out is a modem handshake to agree on something: “tell the driver close the curtains / bad bitch make him nervous” means ‘we will all be dangerously fine tonight’.
So what did that mean for us in Amsterdam? On Saturday night, Imaginary Millions had the good fortune of being on crossed paths with masenqo player Haddis Alemayehu as he toured Europe for the first time from Ethiopia. His monophonic string sound added something to the gig which honestly made me trip into another dimension on Saturday night. The jam grew along with the crowd. The melody Haddis held at every moment was an idea being communicated. I could nod my head in agreement with it, or have a conversation with it. The music we were making was being heard by so many people. Amongst all the different people there to visit De Ceuvel – as part of an art gallery event, visiting the sustainability village, or celebrating Future Cities and Haddis – there was a shared configuration that was set by their presence at the gig. Then they listened to our music and danced as they reconfigured and reconfigured the message with us over and over again. We were on the same vibration sharing the same idea. What we held was the collective idea of all those amazing Amsterdam folk who came to participate.
Back at The Book Club every first Sunday of the month, we do the same thing. The music brings people together on the same wavelength. Importantly, that modem handshake set by the band at the beginning of the show is not the whole story. The music we make is a configuration. It is an invitation to communicate. Our meeting with Haddis was an invitation to share his melody. Our invitation to Donnie Adams from The Soul Travelers extended the night before brought him up to jam with us at Saturday’s performance. Holding a collective idea is how we work together to share, heal, and shake repressive weight off. It is an invitation for poetry, a verse, a song, a dance, a solo, or a sweet slice of beautiful attention. Therefore, when the band starts playing, it can’t end there. If there is a connection but nothing shared was it ever really a connection? Is a phone call where two people pick up but say nothing really a conversation? No. Is the internet anything without someone’s thoughts on a web page? No. The architecture of Imaginary Millions is nothing without your ideas. You must be brave to show that all of us are born with an instrument: our mind and our ideas. It’s not that you add something to the night, you simply make the night with every moment you allow yourself to be seen on stage, because by standing you stand for something. You have your truth, your melody, and your idea which does not ‘help’ the night. It is the night.
I want to end with an excerpt from Jah-Mir Early’s verse at our gig at ZOKU:
“You see I had no versions of this in the past so I had no names or language to carry forward… There is no grandeur to the glory of knowing yourself if you have no partners to share it with. This is Imaginary Millions where we dream that what we are might make us some money someday.”