For nearly three decades, Joel Davis has been collecting and disseminating the very best independent and non-commercial sounds on Colorado community radio airwaves. The “minister of music” is the voice and mixmaster behind the global freeform mix show Terrasonic, which he created in 2002 at the University of Colorado’s Radio 1190 and moved to KGNU in 2007. He’s also one of the hosts on the Afternoon Sound Alternative, KGNU’s weekday freeform show that’s “host driven, not data driven,” meaning it allows each host to play anything they want. Davis sat down with us last month to talk about his philosophy, his role as resident DJ at tech startup Dojo4 and his take on the 21st century, stream-ready, art of the playlist.
What can listeners expect from a Joel Davis set?
There are no hard and fast rules, but, in general, I look for music with rhythms and textures that “swing.” This is hard to explain but, basically, it’s something in the music that moves the listener, physically, emotionally or both. Really, that “swing” feel can apply to anything, from dead slow ambient to 160 BPM techno. Mostly, I play songs and artists who are largely underheard, overlooked or not-yet-discovered by the mainstream. That’s not to say I don’t drop a classic in here and there (I do), but my main intention is to “bring the new.”
You’ve been doing this a long time, right? What drew you to radio, and to community radio specifically?
When I was six or seven, I fell in love with the sound of NPR and Pacifica thanks to my grandmother who listened to them while making dinner. In 1990, I had an in at KBCO and interviewed for a DJ job there, but they said I needed more experience. I went to KGNU to get it by taking the radio training class (that I now teach). After a couple of weeks soaking up the vibe at KGNU, listening to the shows and getting lost in the massive music library there, I pretty much abandoned any thoughts of working in commercial radio. I’ve been on the air at KGNU ever since and I have DJed a variety of shows there over the years.
You are also the “resident DJ” at Dojo4, one of Boulder’s top socially conscious tech spots. What does a tech startup do with a resident DJ?
I’ve wondered that as well. I get to test a lot of new music at Dojo4. I was introduced to the Dojo4 crew last fall and they invited me to work out of their office instead of my basement, to queue up some music on the in-office sound system and generally be part of the team. Dojo4 is also where Conduit was born. Conduit is a new human music streaming service that came about through connections I’ve made at Dojo4. I’m the Minister of Music and Chief Creative Officer of Conduit, a project that’s really a dream come true for me. Conduit is a human-curated response to the inundation of algorithmic, focus-grouped, hyper-researched playlists and recommendations offered by the mainstream music services. We want to offer an alternative to that—a streaming service where you can basically choose a channel, press play and tune into some sounds you probably haven’t heard before.
So what makes Conduit different from other streaming services?
Conduit is an extension of my philosophy of music sharing in general. My philosophy, my mission rather, whether it’s via my radio shows, the record labels I’ve managed or owned (Sounds True, White Swan Records, Black Swan Sounds) or Conduit is to turn people on to the music they didn’t know they love. There is a whole universe of music that receives little if any major commercial exposure. This “other” music is where the art is happening. It’s vital, it’s creative, it’s devoid of the corporate sheen that coats much of the entertainment that passes for culture these days. Conduit curators have their ears attuned to the underground and that’s what we are going to offer.
So when does Conduit go live?
We’re in the Beta-testing stage right now so if folks want to be a part of the process of perfecting Conduit, they can go to conduitmusic.co and enter their email to get updates and a beta tester invite. It’s an exciting time. We are just about to launch!
Conduit isn’t the only reason you are the resident Dojo4 DJ, though. You also host and DJ a monthly dance party, “Gateway (to the weekend)” on the last Thursday of the month there. How did this come about?
Gateway (To the Weekend) is a response to the question: Where is there to dance in Boulder without the drama of a scene? Just a casual place to get your freak on? (The answer: nowhere.) Christopher Seelie at BMOCA floated that question to Ara Howard, CTO at Dojo4, and me. Dojo4 generously offered the space and Chris and I took it from there. Our first night was in June. Our next one is November 17 (earlier due to Thanksgiving).
Can you leave us with any final thoughts on Gateway?
I’ve lived in Boulder a long time and think there’s a big gap in the nightlife offering if you’re not a student or a high dollar foodie looking to make the scene. We want Gateway to be the go-to place for unpretentious, friendly people to get down to some cool, funky music and have a good time. No fashion requirements, no “scene” to fit in with, no VIP rooms or hipster quotas. It’s not techno or house or classics or disco night. It really is a very different vibe than anything else happening around town. Everybody’s welcome.
TerraSonic airs Saturdays, noon to 1:00 p.m. Davis hosts the Afternoon Sound Alternative the second Thursday each month, noon to 3:00 p.m.