by Stephan Wyatt for Houston Press
The seeds for many ideas occur when least expected. However, when inspiration strikes, it can be difficult to ignore. Kazembe Gray, better known as DJ Elevated, experienced a flash of brilliance while walking with his friend Trevor Piper one evening.
"It was dusk, and I said, 'It looks fresh dark outside,'" recalls Gray.
Trevor caught him in that moment, and the two began discussing their newly coined phrase in visual terms. They ran with the idea and decided to found freshDark Fest, scheduled to begin at precisely 4 p.m. this Saturday at Last Concert Cafe. Houston's newest festival will feature many of the city's most talented, turnt-up producers who share one common thread: electronic music. Funk, acid jazz, soul, reggae and hip-hop will be woven into the mix, leading up to internationally renowned co-headliners Shafiq Husayn and OSHUN. Husayn has done production for a veritable who's who in hip-hop, including Kanye West and Andre 3000 as well as neo-soul legends Bilal and Erykah Badu. OSHUN, on the other hand, has also worked with Badu and recently performed at Red Bull's Sound Select Stage, Brooklyn's Afropunk, and Broccoli Fest.
According to Piper, owns and operates T. Piper Media and has been a promoter within Houston's Hip Hop community for more than 20 years, freshDark required tremendous forethought and hard work to come to fruition. Piper is also a co-founder of the long-running Space City Beat Battle and works with Atlanta's massively successful One Music Fest; he was finally ready to help curate his own festival, he says.
"I was tired of speculating whether or not I could put together a successful festival myself," remarks Piper, a proud alumnus of Prairie View A&M.
In 2013, Piper and longtime friend DJ Elevated constructed a trial run for freshDark at Cafe 4212. A one-off show starring Elevated, Bobby Earth and Third World T.V., the event attracted vendors catering to hip-hop and DJ culture. With little promotion, freshDark developed into a musical collective. Piper enlisted Elevated, who hosts 90.1 KPFT-FM's The Groove on Monday nights from 11 p.m.-2 a.m. The program features established and up-and-coming local and international artists, and since both men knew countless such performers through their various connections, it only made sense to collaborate in order to curate one of Houston's most unique festival experiences.
"We both think alike, and I trust his musical taste,” reflects Piper. “He's rarely steered me in a wrong direction, musically speaking."
In addition to music, a variety of carefully chosen local vendors will feature their unique product lines at freshDark. Food and tasty adult beverages will be also be available, but Elevated says the festival's primary focus will remain on the music. More than three years ago, he won the first DJ Screw award, a proud distinction that lifted his profile within Houston's music scene.
"Everything I do is an attempt to help build a stronger community for many of Houston's talented musicians," Gray says. "Since I won the College DJ Battle at Rice University over three years ago, I got the radio show at KPFT. I haven't been paid one dime in three years for my radio show."
Elevated's altruistic aspirations culminated when he acquired funding. Instead of pursuing selfish materialistic interests, he contacted Piper and recruited him to make freshDark happen. Everything falling into place gradually removed the veil of potential excuses that could have prevented the festival from taking place.
Now, the local artists who have signed on for freshDark include, among others, Josiah Gabriel, Android Genius, Radio Galaxy, Mufasa Enzor and Maya Jae. Most of them have worked with Elevated in the past.
"We left the list to be organic," the DJ says. "We wanted to bring together artists whose performances could mesh together if they were suddenly to collaborate. And it is not impossible for the DJ set to flow into another rapper's set, and they could suddenly collaborate despite it not being announced."
The freshDark festival takes over Last Concert Cafe, 1403 Nance, on Saturday, June 20. Doors open at 4 p.m.