This is our thing': Astralblak define the new Minneapolis sound in a gentrifying city
Every member produces on Seeds and, with the exception of Just Nine, every member is a vocalist in some capacity. To participate in the astralblak way of beating an idea to death, you might compare them to the 2004 Detroit Pistons: a group with no clear star player that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
If What’s the Price focused generally on external threats to the continued survival of black people, Seeds turns inward, to themes of balance and perseverance, self-actualization, and keeping your feet on solid ground. On songs like “Sand Houses,” Proper-T and MMYYKK duet, with lush vocals wrapping around and layering upon one another before Grease drops in for a quick, slickly rapped verse. It’s an idealized version of what ZULUZULUU were working towards—life lessons without judgment or dogma, over music that’s historically grounded but doesn’t cash in on cheap nostalgia. Then there are welcome new directions with dance-floor ready numbers like “Jerkin” and “Arms” that draw on the pulsating rhythms of house music.
As astralblak pull inspiration from an increasingly wider range of sounds, that speaks to the expansiveness of black musical expression. While globally minded, they also consciously pay homage to a regional lineage. Pieces of different Midwestern industrial hubs run throughout their music: the Ohio funk of Zapp & Roger, Bootsy Collins, Slave or Ohio Players; the house music of Frankie Knuckles in Chicago; and the different eras of Detroit, from Curtis Mayfield to Moodymann to Jay Dee.
Obviously, one northern city looms largest over the band: their hometown, and its rich history of funk, soul, and hip hop. The continuity was made real when Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis reached out to the band to play at a concert they curated when the Super Bowl was in Minneapolis last February.
“They knew exactly who we were,” says Grease, in a tone that makes it seem like he’s still processing his encounter with the legendary producers. “I’ve always looked at that history on a pedestal, like ‘That was such an amazing time, it would’ve been so cool to be there.’ But it’s like wait, we are that! We’re the continuation of it.”
“You can get stuck romanticizing the past without realizing that we can take it a step further, because it’s been laid out for us,” adds Just Nine.
By building on the legacy of the Minneapolis Sound, astralblak helps preserve a certain kind of civic cultural pride wanes with each additional luxury condo that shoots into the sky. “People come here because there’s something here that makes it special, and you know what that is?” asks Grease. “It’s us. It’s the people that are already here. The artists living the artist life.” His momentum builds with each sentence. “But you can barely do that shit anymore because we’re getting priced out. So it’s also an anti-gentrification thing too, like ‘Nah, this is what Minneapolis is about, this is our thing.’”
With: Night Church
Where: Varsity Theater
When: 8 p.m. Sat. Nov. 24
Tickets:18+; $10; more info here