Sitting inside a mostly empty Churchill's Pub before he is set to perform, Kent Hernandez considers a dilemma facing most artists in the capricious local music scene. How do you get fair-weather Miamians to show more support for our homebrewed acts?
"I think that we have just as much, if not better, talent than what's coming out from the mainstream indie scene from places like L.A. and New York," he says. "There's a lot of things you can do instead of letting Clear Channel think for you.... It requires work, but there are some great [local] artists are out there."
Hernandez should know. Over the past eight years, the 28-year-old producer/musician has lent his skills to Miami artists looking for original, deep-grooving compositions. He has scored documentaries, remixed tracks, and formed various groups with fellow local luminaries. Now his music can be found on Reconstructions, a new collection of keyboard work under the Kentsoundz moniker, to be released Tuesday, July 3, on his own label, Madeira.
A multitasker to the core, Hernandez also has cofounded Junc Ops, a new indie hip-hop duo, with local experimental hip-hop producer Paul Gaeta, a.k.a. PG 13. (The latter was recently named Best Electronica Artist in the New Times "Best of Miami" issue.) The duo's off-the-wall beat collage eschews club bangers to explore mystical themes and end-of-the-world scenarios rather than grills, strip joints, and thrills. "Overall I'm trying to offer a broad palette of music to the people of my city," Hernandez says.
He took his first musical steps in 1996 while attending Coral Park Senior High School, where he enjoyed a rep for being a good guitar player with various heavy metal bands. As the school metalheads began to discover hip-hop, Hernandez started mixing and playing with the local group Zeno.
Zeno played at local venues such as the perennial Churchill's while Hernandez honed his production skills cutting songs for the group. "I tried to be as detailed as possible with our demo production," he says, describing the band's sound as a kitchen-sink blend of hip-hop and prog rock.
In the meantime he earned a bachelor's degree in English at Florida International University in 2002 and met Melissa Herman, a then-aspiring film producer who was working on a documentary called Empire of the Andes.
Impressed by Hernandez's production work with Zeno, Herman contracted him to score the documentary. "It gave me an understanding of how to do music on film," says Hernandez, who incorporated Latin American rhythms into modern hip-hop soundscapes.
Always on the lookout for different projects, Hernandez formed the group Crushdays with Gabriel Fernandez in 2003. This time around, Hernandez experimented with electro and trip-hop, which resulted in the 2005 EP The Art of Forgetting.
All of this work had a domino effect, and along the way Hernandez became a sought-after producer/mixer among independent musicians throughout the city. Still, Hernandez felt Miami's audiences were indifferent to local talent.
"The disparity between different neighborhoods, such as Kendall, Hialeah, Miami Beach, and downtown, sometimes makes it difficult for people from those different areas to check out what's going on beyond their neck of the woods," he says. "People generally tend to become very complacent, and it is difficult to get them to come down to an area, such as the Design District, to see local music, film, and art."
Wishing to find a friendlier artistic environment, Hernandez decided to try his luck in New York City and moved to Brooklyn in the summer of 2004. But once there, he discovered that the city's frenetic, nonstop momentum could prove even more detrimental than Miami's sun-drenched complacency. "Everybody in New York is trying to make it," says Hernandez. "As far as being able to meet other people, people tend to be shot into their own path."
That's when the young producer began realizing the importance of what he left back home. "NYC was fine, but most of my people are in Miami," he says. "I kept my ties with everyone, and when I came back, everybody wanted to collaborate with me."
Once back in town, Hernandez resumed collaborations with his former groups, and more important, he began dreaming up a duo with PG 13.
The results are completely different from all the other projects that either artist has done. For starters, PG 13 and Hernandez take turns rapping. Their lyrics hark back to the golden age of hip-hop, with plenty of surreal imagery and off-the-cuff sampling.
For the multitalented PG 13, the project represents a chance to stretch from his mostly instrumental work. "To me it's a very honest approach to hip-hop," he says. "On the other hand, we are obviously not black, or like thugs who rap about being gangsters or whatever. I mean, we don't really fit into the mainstream rap thing. On the other hand, we live in Miami, and we make music that we hope would fit in right between Trick Daddy and Aesop Rock in a fantasy DJ mix."
And even though Junc Ops has been around for only a few months, they duo has already made a fan out of Miami's reigning IDM king, Otto Von Schirach, who recently took time out from his world tour with Skinny Puppy to comment on his Miami colleagues. "I remember Kent," says Von Schirach. "He chewed on my ears eight years ago in his other project Zeno, and now he chews on them again with PG 13 [in Junc Ops]. This is why I miss Miami: sizzling bass drums."
As the solo Kentsoundz, Hernandez caught one of his biggest breaks recently, when he created an initially unauthorized remix of the song "Pussy" for the celebrated New York City quartet Brazilian Girls. He approached the bandmates at one of their Miami concerts and offered them a copy of his visceral version.
"It kicked ass," says Didi Gutman, the group's keyboardist. "It was a nice surprise to have a rearranged version of our song by someone we didn't know. We'll put Kent's remix on our Website, and eventually it might make it into a CD."
In the meantime, Hernandez's plan remains the same: Sometime after the release of Reconstructions, Junc Ops will release its debut EP under PG 13's Circuitree label. And he intends to continue making connections on the local scene while experimenting with all the good things the Magic City has to offer. "I'm very thrilled about the prospects of Miami's local music scene, including our luminaries like Jesse Jackson, Raffa & Rainer, the Spam Allstars, and Suenalo Sound System," says Hernandez, clearly happy with his current location. "Nothing makes me particularly sad, but I do wish there were more hours in the day. Then I'd get to listen to and make more music."
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