The Knocks on NYC’s DJ Scene, Not Producing for Rihanna, and Their New EP

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The Knocks photographed by Justin Bridges for BlackBook.
JPatt wears leather trainer jacket by Coach. B-Roc wears waxed nylon aviator jacket by Coach. Styled by Alyssa Shapiro.

Ben “B-Roc” Ruttner and James “JPatt” Patterson of The Knocks are overflowing with kinetic energy. Now the producers are making a name for themselves.

Sitting in an East Village townhouse cluttered with art, the guys are as excited to tell their story as we are to hear it. A decade or so of running the DJ scene in downtown New York nightlife, writing for the aforementioned powerhouse performers, and releasing a thread of singles and remixes that have made their Internet presence nothing short of pervasive, Ruttner and Patterson are anxious for the release of their forthcoming EP, So Classic.  We talked to the duo about their humble, sometimes frustrating beginnings, the pros and cons of playing music for New Yorkers, and why their new work finally feels right.

How did you two meet and start playing music together?

B-Roc: We were each producers in our own right, making mainly Hip Hop music at the time — like in high school and early college days. We met through a mutual friend actually when I went to the New School, because JPatt had a friend that went there. At that point, we were both kind of new to being in New York City a lot and kind of just played each other beats and sent stuff back and forth on the Internet, stuff like that, just to kind of see what we were working on. And then we both needed roommates, so we moved into an apartment together in the East Village, actually Avenue C. We were still doing our own thing in our own rooms and slowly started to kind of work on projects together. The stuff that we were making was really cool and ended up taking off a little bit.

So you guys could literally hear what the other was working on through the walls?

B-Roc: Yeah, that’s actually how we got the name The Knocks. Because we used to have like a shitty little apartment where the walls were paper-thin and we each had studio-sized speakers in our rooms. We’d each be making beats really loudly and the neighbors would knock on the walls and the ceilings, and we called them “the knocks.” I’d be like, “I got the knocks. I have to stop playing.” I’d turn my speakers off and I’d go into his room basically until he got the knocks.

What kind of work were the two of you doing at the time?

JPatt: I think we were both at the time writing a lot of stuff for other people. We were doing the whole kind of L.A. base producer thing where they’re all sort of aiming for the same Pop record. And it’s kind of unfulfilling work in that you’re not really making anything that’s real, like that comes from any sort of real place. So I feel like we’re both artists…we both love what we do before…I mean we both want to make money off of it obviously, but at least for me I like the fulfillment of the music we make and being appreciated. Like, it coming from somewhere where someone can appreciate what I do, because it is me. So we were kind of like, fuck that. It was kind of an accident, we were just joking around, like jokingly made this dancer called “Can’t Shake Your Love” in our production room of our studio, not even in the main room.

B-Roc: This is like 2008 or 2009. The EDM thing hadn’t really hit.

JPatt: We did that and we literally just threw it up online to some bloggers that we knew and got the most feedback or like the best response of anything we had done up until that point. So then we were like, “Maybe we’re onto something.”

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The Knocks photographed by Justin Bridges for BlackBook

You guys have both been members of New York’s downtown music scene for a while. How has this affected your sound or style?

JPatt: We were both DJs, so we would go out and test stuff in the clubs, or see what people are reacting to so that when we get back into the studio, we could kind of just put that into our music and what we’re aiming for as far as  vibe, if we want to really get the crowd’s reaction. The New York scene is like the scene in my opinion, so it helps to be involved in it in that way.

Do you think it’s the scene for just music or for basically everything artistic?

JPatt: For music especially, because we do music, but really for everything. Like if you ask me, I feel like New York is the place to be but especially for the music, because there’s every kind of scene here and there are open format gigs where you have to play every kind of music in a three hour span, and a lot of DJs are House DJs or Hip Hop DJs, or ‘whatever’ DJs. You have to play to every kind of person while keeping the crowd unified. It’s a really unique skill set.

B-Roc: I think it comes through in our music. You can’t listen to our music and be like, “Oh, they’re a House duo,” or whatever. You can hear a lot of influence from Hip Hop and you can hear a lot of influence from old Soul, and Classic Rock even. That’s kind of what we aim for. It’s like, we don’t corner ourselves …even when I met him, he wasn’t even DJing yet. It was my day job. I was DJing five nights a week at like all those clubs, whether it was like 1Oak or Darby, all those crappy bottle places, and you have to be on your toes and be able to mix a U2 record into a Jay-Z song, and I think seeing reactions and when people react to different parts of it, like “Oh this part of this U2 song always goes off so big in the club, and then this part of that Daft Punk song…” so were always in the studio using that. We’re like, “Oh, this breakdown sounds like Fleetwood Mac versus this breakdown, which sounds like Frankie Knuckles.”

It must be a great tool to be able to so regularly gauge how a live audience is reacting to you music.

B-Roc: At the same time it can be dangerous though, because New York is such a bubble. But it’s almost like running with weights on because New York audiences are even harder in a sense where they’ll just sit there and stare and then you’ll go do the same thing in Boston and everyone will be like, “Woah!” and freak out because they don’t see it all the time. In New York, everyone’s like, “I could go see this show or I could go see this other guy here.” There’s so much shit going on.

As you said, you guys used to be a part of that base producer songwriting process. Contrarily, you’ve fully collaborated with and helped to develop certain artists, like Alex Winston. Can you expand on that?

B-Roc: That’s how we started and that’s what we wanted to do. Like, we had this kid who got signed to Columbia Records at one point and then Winston…she was making us work on music and we made her move to New York and started producing this other kind of stuff for her…But then The Knocks stuff got so busy, and you can’t really balance it all; you have to focus.

But now that our album’s done I can definitely see us going back and doing more of that, but also our album is very collaborative. Like even when it was just production stuff, we worked with a lot of other producers, and whether it’s guitar players, horn players, musicians…Phoebe [Ryan] is featured on our album. We worked with a lot of artists like that. Most of the features are not just guys that we call up and pay. It’s basically people that we know through the scene here and friends, which always ends up being the best songs. Like “Classic” was totally just a collab with a friend. That song “Comfortable,” which is one of our bigger songs, was just a collab with our friend from X Ambassadors. Because we always kind of feel like underdogs. We’ve never been put in the studio with anyone huge, or it’s rare that we get thrown in with massive guys, so we kind of try to create our own path.

How does this type of collaborative work compare to what you were doing before?

JPatt: I didn’t mean writing with other people is unfulfilling. I meant there is like a specific style. It’s like, “So-and-so, a huge artist, needs a record. They want it to sound like these other five records. Go.” And then they send that call sheet out to like a million different producers and everyone sends in what they think will work, and then they end up going with Dr. Luke. That’s the kind of production work we were trying to get away from.

B-Roc: They’d be like, “We need a song like Britney Spears meets Courtney Love meets the Ying Yang Twins,” and you’re like, “What are you talking about?” I mean yeah, it looks good on paper, but it’s not the way music works.

Do you ever feel that people within the industry are trying to force a certain image onto The Knocks, or classify you in an inorganic way?

JPatt: For a while we were on this other label, I won’t even name any names, but we were on a label for a sec that was a little like the nightmare stories that you hear about labels, where they’re like, “You know, we like what you do, but why don’t you try this other thing that isn’t anything like what you do, at all?” It was just a constant struggle trying to prove our points to them. It was just a bunch of older guys who had no connection to current pop culture and just like hear the radio on the way to work and are like, “Oh, this is what kids are listening to.” And that’s what they try to force you into. So we were there for a second but luckily we were able to get out of that with a clean break. So, yeah, it’s hard for us to be put into those sorts of boxes.

B-Roc: [And that’s because] we already kind of built it up. And I’m super hands-on with administrative things, like the artwork and direction of stuff like that. I think as long as you know what you want and you have something secure…like working with a label like Atlantic’s been amazing because they just want to amplify it. They saw us already as a packaged thing, like they saw what we were already doing, and were like, “Yeah, we love this. Let’s just make it even bigger.”

Then in terms of your real style and appearance, what are you guys into?

JPatt: I like vintage stuff. I like old stuff. LPM is one of my favorite stores to go to. And I like the ‘90s era vintage, graphic cartoon tees, and troop jackets, and stuff like that. Mostly dark colors.

B-Roc: I’m into vintage stuff also. I’m a little bit more into the rocker side of things, all the ‘90s grunge, and I grew up as a punk rocker in middle school. That was my whole thing, so it’s funny to now come back [to that]. I wish I had a lot of those old clothes I wore, but I got rid of all of them for like, my Rocawear suits in high school (laughs). I’m big on leather jackets, and I have a vintage Marilyn Manson tee that’s like my favorite shirt of all time.

Can you tell me about the new EP?

B-Roc: The EP is a taste of what we have to come with the album. It definitely is a new sound, but at the same time we feel like it’s finally the right sound. We feel like, you know, a lot of these bands nowadays with the Internet, like you put out a song and overnight it gets big and all of a sudden we’re playing these shows. And we we’re touring with only having like, four songs, and we had to play a lot of live remixes because we didn’t have enough material. I felt like these past five or whatever years that we’ve been on the road a lot and just running around, we haven’t had time to really sit down and develop our sound. We’d just kind of been running with whatever we were doing. And it just felt like over this time, slowly, we’ve been building, and like when we made “Classic” and a couple of these other new songs, everything seemed to kind of click in this way that was like, “Okay, now this is what we’ve been meant to make.”

JPatt: It’s a good showcase of everything that we’ve been through up until now, and everything we’ve learned, all of our influences, you can really hear them and it’s not like muddy in that it’s two-layered.

How does this work feel to you compared to what you used to produce?

JPatt: It doesn’t feel forced at all. Like even with the old label, by the end, we had reached sort of a weird compromise with them and then they folded, but even with the music that we made in lieu of that compromise, still to me felt a little bit forced, like we were trying to please someone else.

B-Roc: It feels right, and it feels good to have that. Because we definitely had a whole album done that was like cool and a good album but like I feel way better about this one. When we were with the last label, we scrapped a whole album and went and made a whole new record, and it was such a blessing in disguise because we’re super proud of this, and it just feels like something that no one’s ever done before.

Grooming by Ashley Rebecca

Oakland Rapper G-Eazy Talks Kendrick Lamar, Learning the Hustle, and Fresh Style

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G-Eazy photos courtesy of Farfetch

Gerald Earl Gillum, better known as G-Eazy, has had quite a busy year, arching from his last year’s debut album These Things Happen peaking on Billboard charts to the sold out shows that have followed such success. The Oakland native had been releasing numerous mix tapes online years before the studio album dropped just last year. It was through the Internet that G-Eazy really reached fans, allowing him to eventually open for renowned performers such as Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, and Drake.

I had the chance to sit down with G at Lightbox Studios in the Bronx as he prepared for a photo shoot with Farfetch, just arriving the previous night from Austin, Texas where he had performed for the massive SXSW Music Festival; thus, closing his worldwide tour.

I know that the hyphy movements and Bay Area movements have greatly influenced you. What’s influencing you right now and perhaps hip-hop itself?

Man, well…Kendrick [Lamar’s] album just pushed the whoooole thing forward. I don’t think we’ve seen anything that powerful, just as a body of work. That’s the most sophisticated hip-hop album anyone’s heard and the most important album in my lifetime almost. It’s so early to tell. It’s just an album that tackles so many things. It pushes the envelope in terms of what a rapper is capable of and what a force hip-hop can be.

The first track I ever listened to by you was “Tumblr Girls”, which for me captured such a generational feel and actually moved me.

Thank you.

 

Through your music, there’s definitely a thread of women in these certain neighborhoods and situations.

I’m very observant, you know? I love people watching and I love stories. I take in things around me and the interesting stuff finds its way back into my music, I guess. It’s kind-of an algorithm of people I’ve met. Just people I’ve seen and been around. [Laughs.] I dream of living in New York, every time I come here, I fall more and more in love with it. It’s just so rich with culture and energy and style. I love to just drink coffee and people watch.

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You dropped mixtapes earlier on, yeah? Circa MySpace…? 

That was like ‘06. That’s what kids my age were doing, you know, in my area… Hip-hop was our outlet. You were either into music or sports. I guess I probably got into music because I just wasn’t good at sports. I was more passionate about that. That was our outlet and our hope.

We were in a group. Those were the practice years. It takes years of practice and work and dedication to your craft. The only difference, in my case, is that my practice years were documented because of recording technology. That’s how we got our chops. Mix tape after mix tape…Learning the hustle. Try and climb.

Since you began with uploading music on the Internet, and social media today has changed so drastically, how has it affected you as an artist?

You’re more connected to your audience. I think that connection’s important in terms of keeping in touch with the fans and what they think. It’s kind of easy in this business to slip out of touch and get removed from the real world. I mean…My lifestyle isn’t necessarily the same lifestyle as those who are listening to it. It can be hard maintaining your sanity and it’s important to stay in touch with reality…but also not let them get too close.

What’s going on now for you? The tour is over? 

We just finished the tour. We got back from Australia two or three weeks ago? I don’t know what month it is. Australia was amazing. To get to travel around the world and go to a country I’ve never been to and perform before a sold-out crowd who know all the words. It’s not like they play me on the radio down there. So, in that case, the Internet is a beautiful thing. To give music the chance to spread… It was beautiful.

I’m also excited to be done with tour and go back into the creative process. I record some on the road but there are a lot of distractions. Now, I’m going back to a hibernating place. I just spent a week in Atlanta in the studio. When I shut off the outside world, I can really dive in creatively and get things done. I’m about to start the same thing here in New York. We just got a studio. So, it’s back to starting over.

It sounds like your traveling has really become part of that creative process. So many cities, so many studios… 

Hell yeah. The cities all have different energies that bring different inspirations. It’s from all those long nights in these cities…

I pay rent somewhere but it’s not like home. But, naturally, for music you’re in L.A. and New York a lot.

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When I see your music videos I’m really drawn into the concepts and I’m curious about your creative input. The creative aesthetics are on point and for “Tumblr Girls” you even incorporated photography. 

I think visuals are important. You can get so much from one song but you can get more from the whole album and the artwork attached to it and the music videos to give you the whole wide experience behind the concepts. As far as the music videos, we have a tight-knit team. Javi, our tour videographer, did the “Tumblr Girls” video. Bobby directed the “Downtown Love” music video. He’s been on tour with us as well.

They brought those original ideas to the table and then we all kind of dive in. Like the “I Mean It” video came to me one night and I said I want to do this satirical Anchorman approach to this song that’s a bit more serious and direct to give it this juxtaposition. We all sit around the ideas and work on it together. We’re very big on quality control and anything we put out has to be top-notch. It has to make sense and it has to work.

You’ve been called the James Dean of hip-hop. In terms of style what do you like?

In terms of style, I want it to be timeless. There’s some contemporary influence of street wear in hip-hop. Leather jackets…Motorcycle jackets…Bombers… Very simple and clean. Saint Laurent —

I love your shoes.

[Ed note: They’re Saint Laurent sneakers, the ones with pineapples.]

Thank you. A.P.C. Phillip Lim. Acne. Brands that take a minimal approach to design but just execute very well. But then mix it up with Supreme or Jordans to keep that juxtaposition and those elements of street wear culture with high fashion. “I spent $5,000 for this jacket and I spent $150 on my shoes…” something like that.

[Shop G-Eazy’s look here.]

When you were growing up in Oakland what album really got you?

“400 Degreez” by Juvenile. I remember Juvenile and Dem Hot Boyz. That and Dr. Dre’s “2001”. That was California music, regardless of what side. That was our music for the whole coast. That album was larger than life. I played the fuck out of it in my car and even my mom loved the album.

Top to bottom: it’s all a masterpiece. What I’ve always admired about Dr. Dre is that care for creating such a cohesive project and striving to create a masterpiece and not quitting until it’s as good as it can be. Just appreciating the concept of an album…That’s why I’ve respected so much with what Kendrick has done with these two albums he’s done… Something cohesive, conceptual, and something really strong from beginning to end. That’s something you don’t see everyone do. I don’t think everyone is capable of that, having that insight or ability to do that. The goal is to strive toward with every project is to create something that matters from beginning to end.

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Cover Story: The Pope That Changed the World

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Pope Francis salutes the crowd in St. Peter’s Square on October 22, 2014. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

Why do children suffer? When a Filipino child put that question to Pope Francis in January, the pontiff saluted her and called it the “question without an answer.” When she began to cry, he took her into his arms and said: “Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question. Those on the margins cry. Those who have fallen by the wayside cry. Those who are discarded cry. But those who are living a life that is more or less without need, we don’t know how to cry.”

In her innocence, the Filipino child pointed to one of the great surprises of our time: Against all secular odds, and even against the hope of chastened religious people, a figure has arrived on the world scene to whom the question without an answer can be put. And when he responds — not by pretending to remove suffering, or by denying it, but only by acknowledging it, and by joining in it — all the world, if despite itself, leans forward to listen.

Two years on from his election, this oddly garbed old man from Argentina has upended the assumptions and expectations of a generation. As a center of cultural and intellectual influence, much less as a moral force, religion was supposed to be finished with, except in the global backwaters of reaction and fundamentalism. In Europe, churches were empty — the most recent Pew data showed that only 25% of Italian Catholics considered religion “very important” in their lives. Among the French, only 15%. In America, Protestantism had been hijacked by science-denying evangelicals on the right, and Roman Catholicism had been crippled by sex-abuse scandals. Who imagined ever again taking a clue, much less encouragement, from a pope?

Make no mistake, this pope, however radical, is a man of the church, whose basic beliefs are in sync with doctrine and tradition. Yet the way he holds to those beliefs is different. By insisting that the culture wars about sexual morality, gender discrimination, and gay rights are not the only moral issues, or even, perhaps, the most important ones, the pope has changed their meaning. The absolutes of Christian ethics are not absolute now in the way they were when this pope was unexpectedly elected. Whether he has meant to or not, Francis, just by changing the ethos of hierarchical moral judgment, has laid the groundwork for a radical revision of how ethics are taught in theory and applied in situations. Mercy, at last, is trumping law. No one intuits this transformation more firmly than once marginal Catholics — the divorced, those unmarried but in intimate relationships, the previously beleaguered liberal nuns, or gay people. Catholic women, though still forbidden admission to the priesthood, also recognize something new at work. It is morning in Roman Catholicism.

Far more remarkable than Francis’s invigorating effect on the Church, or even on religious believers generally, however,
is his effect on the broader world, a vast population long since satisfied to forego any reference to the life of faith. Other popes have been objects of global fascination, most notably the now-sainted John Paul II, who as a participant in the peaceful denouement of the Cold War achieved a rare level of world- wide celebrity. But John Paul II, like his more reticent successor, Benedict XVI, mistook
his geographical perch atop the Vatican hill for a position of all-transcending moral superiority.
That the papal election of Jorge Mario

Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was preceded by his precursor’s stunning resignation was enough, perhaps, to mark a new day. The fundamental reordering of Catholic leadership had already been made necessary, across two decades, by the Catholic hierarchy’s rampant failure to reckon with the sex abuse scandal. But no one could have imagined how different this reordering would be.

At first, observers spoke of the style of Pope Francis, as if modes of papal garb, residence, transportation, and diction were what mattered. But the new pope’s eschewing of the Apostolic Palace, the ermine cape, the Vatican limousine, and the papal “we” was paired with an immediate and emphatic insistence on the meaning of such renunciations. With ringing authenticity, Francis declared his identification with “those on the margins, those who had fallen by the wayside.” Prisoners, criminals, migrants, refugees, slum dwellers, the disease-ridden — he not only spoke of them, but he also went to them. He embraced them. He cried with them. I am with you, the pope said to all these desperate people. And to the rest of the world, he said: That so many suffer, and suffer so much, is wrong!

In his encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel,” published in 2013, the pope not only expressed compassion for the impoverished, but also denounced the structures of free-market capitalism that weigh like granite blocks on the backs of the poor:

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new…. Those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised — they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers.’

This “something new” is not an accident of the human condition, nor is it an axiom of history. It’s a direct consequence of unjust social, economic, and political structures. The structures are legal, even celebrated, but they are wrong. He continued: While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation…. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules…. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

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Pope Francis embraces two children, including 12-year-old Glyzelle Palomar, during his visit to the University of Santo Tomas in Manila on January 18, 2015. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

Charity is not enough, the pope was saying. He demanded justice. For the poor, but also for the planet. Remarkably enough, this un- flinchingly radical social critique, which in developed nations had been mostly missing from economic and political discourse for two generations, has been getting through lately. Is it only coincidence that Francis’s tenure, to take only the American example, matches exactly the period during which savage income inequality has surfaced as
an issue that must be faced? With an eye on elections, even Republicans address it. But the question has international bite. With Francis as its most vigorous critic, the global gulf between a tiny minority of the extremely affluent and the vast population of the poor is increasingly seen not only as a moral outrage, but also as a deadly harbinger of universal catastrophe.

Just this January, Oxfam reported that the share of global wealth possessed by the most fortunate 1% percent had increased to 49% in 2014, from 44% in 2009. This social system will not endure. The rich fool themselves if they imagine their enclaves as gated com- munities from which the unwashed hungry, or any other “them” — Arabs and Africans
in Europe, Latinos in America, Muslims on both sides of the Atlantic — can be walled out. In the 21st century, there are no gates high enough, and all borders are porous.

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Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives for his weekly general audience at St. Peter’s Square on May 21, 2014. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Francis has emerged as the tribune of this new meaning of the human condition. In the past two years, to take only the most dramatic emblem, no prelates from the affluent United States have been elevated to the College of Cardinals. Instead these critical, future-shaping promotions have gone to clerics from places like Haiti, Cape Verde, Tonga, Myanmar, Hanoi, Bangkok, Uruguay, and Ethiopia. A deliberate choice is being made by a once decidedly Eurocentric organization that counts more than a billion members across the world, with potentially game-changing consequences for the whole human family. Francis is doing more than preaching.

Still, his most compelling act, perhaps, re- mains the utterance of a word, the first word he spoke as pope — and that was his name. Even after three years, and endless commentary, its revolutionary significance has yet to be fully plumbed. It is true that the figure of St. Francis of Assisi, a rich young man who renounced all worldly possessions to live as a mendicant, inevitably solidifies his name- sake’s identification with the poor, but that is not the half of it. If there is one global crisis that competes with material inequality as a danger, it is the already unfolding disaster of environmental degradation. St. Francis lives in the Western imagination, above all, as an icon less of human respect for the natural world than of love for it. His 13th-century Canticle of the Sun says: “Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures…through Brother Sun…and Sister Moon…Brother Fire and Sister Water…through Brothers Wind and Air and clouds and storm and all the weather. Be praised!” More than any other saint of the narrowly religious tradition, Francis of Assisi belongs to everybody whose heart lifts at the sight of a sunset or a flowering tree or a winged creature — regardless of belief. Not only churchyards and cloisters, but also front lawns and public gardens are furnished with statues of the tonsured friar balancing a bird on outstretched fingers. But what if that bird is of a species that is in danger of disappearing? The extinction of whole classes of living things is at issue now — tens of thousands of species are known to be endangered — including, in an era of weapons of mass destruction, humanity itself.

Where is the surprise, then, that another major encyclical of Pope Francis addresses the urgent problem of man-made glob-
al warming? Ahead of this year’s historic United Nations Climate Change Conference in December, the pope adds to the over- whelming scientific evidence, and fresh political momentum, an urgent exhortation rooted in the profound responsibility for creation for which the biblical tradition pro- vides the most compelling moral mandate.

It is as though, when taking up the gravest questions facing the human family, the pope asked himself the question: What would St. Francis of Assisi do? The question belongs not to a particular religion, much less ecclesiastical office, but to a profound human intuition in the face of looming perdition. The pope, it turns out, is bigger than the papacy. Neither the prophetic campaign on behalf of the poor; nor the potent sacralizing of the environmental challenge; nor even
the nonmoralistic good humor with which Francis advances his proposals: None of this fully explains his broad appeal. These efforts, and the unfailing air of kindness with which he pursues them, palpably flow from a deep current in the man, an evident fullness of life — a fullness for which many people hunger, no matter what defines their background.

For the Jesuit pope, that fullness is particular. It’s rooted in — how else to say it — a lifelong, if evidently hard-earned, intimacy with Jesus Christ, and the God he makes present. But neither narratives about Jesus Christ, nor even language about one referred to as God, exhaust that fullness,
or explain it. Perhaps, in the realm that extends beyond religious faith, all you can say is that in Francis can be glimpsed
a transcendent horizon that humans are drawn to. There is an ever-elusive longing built into human life, and perhaps that is what Francis so broadly addresses. It’s easy to see why the abject poor see him as an ally, but what about Americans? In a culture rife with material excess, the inadequacy of material achievement and possession as fulfilling that deep human longing can seem blatantly apparent. Without proselytizing in the slightest, without putting himself forward as any kind of model, Francis suggests that a fullness of life — a home on that ever-receding horizon — is available to all people. That is why everyone absolutely deserves respect.

For the people outside Francis’s narrow religious zone of reference, it does not matter, to him, that dignifying fullness is
a gift of God. What matters is simply its givenness, even if taken to be anonymous. And that givenness, above all, is what this good man exemplifies. The religious word for such virtue is grace, yet the effect of the fully honest witness of Francis has reached far beyond organized religion. That is so because he so unselfconsciously upholds the possibility that human life, including suffering, is meaningful, and that history, including tragedy, has a purpose. Francis is a man of explicit faith who makes such implicit hope seem real.

So, yes, a suffering child can entrust him with her unanswerable question. Indeed, most children in the world are suffering grotesquely. Francis knows it. He insists that we must all know it, too — not just abstractly, but in feeling and resolution. Such knowledge is the beginning of change — not only of economics and politics, but also of what humanity expects of itself. Above all, Francis insists not only that such change is necessary, but also that it is possible. Otherwise, he would not have bothered us. Nor would we have taken such notice.

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Pope Francis at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square on May 21, 2014. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

This article originally appeared in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook Magazine.

Art to See Right Now in New York

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Spoke Art presents their sixth annual Wes Anderson art exhibit, “Bad Dads”—a group show of over 70 artists interpreting the oeuvre of auteur Wes Anderson. On view August 7-9 at the Joseph Gross Gallery, 548 W 28th St.

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Courtesy Spoke Art.

 

“Space Between” features cross-generational artists whose works in contemporary abstraction investigate the seams, tears, and edges between two and three dimensions. Investigating the legacy of abstraction in Western art, the group show uses Ellsworth Kelly as a jumping off point. Through August 14 at The FLAG Art Foundation, 545 West 25th Street, 9th Floor.

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Rebecca Ward, clandestine, 2015, courtesy The FLAG Art Foundation

 

Greene Naftali presents their first solo exhibition of new work by Michael Smith, a seminal video, performance, and installation artist. Excuse me!?!…I’m looking for the “Fountain of Youth” engages the tragicomic aspects of American culture and the art world, teasing out facets of loneliness, consumerism, and the personal measures of success and failure in each. Through August 14. 508 West 26th Street.    

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Installation view courtesy Greene Naftali.

 

Brian Leo Is Not A Zombie Formalist displays small canvases in his unique “Garage Pop Surrealism” style, combining brightly-colored images with clever and sometimes poignant social and political commentary. Through August 31. Amy Li Projects, 166 Mott Street.

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Courtesy Amy Li Projects.

 

Marcel Dazma and Paddle8 have organized an exhibit of artwork donated on behalf of an auction to benefit 826NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students creative writing skills. The group show includes works from 40+ renowned artists, on view at David Zwirner through July 31. 537 West 20th Street. 

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Miss Death Disco, 2014, Marcel Dzama. Courtesy of David Zwirner

David Zwirner presents its third exhibition of Richard Serra’s work. Richard Serra: Equal is an installation comprised of Serra’s immense, forged weatherproof steel works. Towering over the viewers, the sculptures are breathtaking. On display through July 24. 537 West 20th Street.

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Installation view, Richard Serra: Equal, courtesy of David Zwirner

Make art, not pipelines: Get in on the Ground Floor. See works by Dan Flavin and Donald Judd (including art, books and furniture), and get a glimpse of how Judd lived at the Judd Foundation, 101 Spring Street, the late artist’s Soho home. The foundation opens to the public from 1-5:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, starting this Friday, June 12. This exhibition runs through September 19.
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Installation view of Dan Flavin, untitled (to Bob and Pat Rohm), 1969. Photo by @alyssashapir

303 Gallery presents their first solo exhibition of new works by Kim Gordon. The collection, Design Office: The City is a Garden, is inspired by the dramatic changes in the New York City landscape over the past years. This exhibit runs June 4 through July 24, 2015. 507 W 24th Street.

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The City is a Garden, 2015, Kim Gordon. Courtesy of 303 Gallery

Jack Shainman Gallery is presenting their second solo show with artist Yoan Capote, Collective Unconscious, through July 10th. Capote’s work investigates the way shared social experiences have an effect on the individual throughout history. 524 W 24th Street.

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Gallery view courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery

Jack Shainman presents El Anatsui‘s Five Decades, a survey of the artists’s work. Anatsui recently won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement a the Venice Biennale. On view from May 17 through September 26, 2015. 25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, New York.
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Gallery view courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery

MoMa PS1 presents a Math Bass solo exhibition, Off the Clock, featuring sculptures, paintings, and Bass’s new video Drummer Boi. On display from May 3 through August 31, 2015. 22-25 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, NY.
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Courtesy of Math Bass

Richard Serra’s Equal, an installation forged in weatherproof steel, opens at David Zwirner Gallery. Open from April 29 through July 24, 2015. 537 West 20th Street, New York, NY.
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In “How We See,” Laurie Simmons draws inspiration from “Doll Girls,” women who utilize cosmetics, clothes, and surgeries to attain a baby doll, anime, or Barbie-like look. Her photographs, on view at the Jewish Museum, feature portraits of models seated in front of curtains, each with her own set of sparkling, oversized, drawn on eyes. March 13 through August 9, 2015. 1109 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY.

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Ajak (Violet), 2015, Laurie Simmons. Courtesy of the Jewish Museum.

See Gustav Klimt‘s much adored Adele Bloch-Bauer I, a portrait done in oil paint, gold, and silver, among many other works by the artist, on view at Neue Galerie from April 2 through September 7, 2015. 1048 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY.
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Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, Gustav Klimt. Courtesy of Neue Galerie.

Visit MoMA for a further look at Gustav Klimt‘s muse and patron in his second portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Ongoinog. 11 West 53rd Street, New York.
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Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer II. 1912. Private collection copyright The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

Is the American Dream Dead or Alive?

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James Marshall photographed by Jaesung Lee for BlackBook Magazine

If you listened strictly to the news pouring out of televisions and newspapers across the country, you’d think America was in the pits. Political tensions run high, incomes are low, and that’s to say nothing of the inequalities rampant in minority communities. It’s bad news all around. James Marshall, whose other projects include West Village restaurant Whitehall, wanted to know if the bad news rang true: Was the American dream dead? Marshall called up Cole Haan and recruited friend and photographer Todd Williams to accompany him on a monthlong motorcycle ride to visit eight American towns and cities and staying along the way with people met entirely through social media. The resulting series, The American Dream Project, shows a more hopeful, persevering side of the United States not often seen in the news. Marshall, by the way, learned to ride a motorcycle only three weeks before embarking on his journey. 

What gave you the idea for The American Dream Project?

I had one too many of those days spent barraged by bad news in the media. This is such a great country. I’m from Windsor, about 25 miles west of London, but moved here seven years ago. I thought, No, I’m not going to just listen to this. Let’s find out if this news is true. Is the American dream dead? That seed grew into The American Dream Project.

What were your views of America before you moved here, what did the American dream mean to you then?

Actually, when I came to New York with a little bit of cash, I was so convinced I would be robbed that I split my money–it wasn’t so much, a few hundred dollars–into socks and distributed it around my apartment. I was living in the West Village. I just had an address and a key, and I moved here with that worry. JaesungLee_JamesMarshall_ColeHaan_BB
James Marshall photographed by Jaesung Lee for BlackBook Magazine

I’m surprised you had those worries about moving to a safe neighborhood like the West Village.

But within a few months you realize it’s the safest city in the world. You realize that Americans like people who work hard; they want you to succeed. And if you work hard, you can go somewhere, you can be successful.

Were you ever afraid this project wasn’t going to happen?

This was the biggest project I’ve done so far. I didn’t fully understand how expensive it was to pull a crew together and go across the country for a month. I approached Cole Haan because their philosophy and mine were almost identical. Like me, they believe that substance and quality mean something in today’s world. Cole Haan is also an iconic American brand, founded by immigrants just like me. This project would not have happened without them.

In filming The American Dream Project you met your hosts through social media.

I wanted this to be as genuine as possible. I wanted to meet real people, and the best way to do that was via social media. We sent out blasts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, hashtagging like crazy in the hope that people would reach out.

Were you surprised at how warm and inviting these total strangers were to the request of hospitality for two guys on motorcycles riding across America?

I was blown away. Complete strangers invited Todd and I into their homes, and in some cases, they put up the entire crew.

We’re all human; we want to connect. Yet it’s always a surprise when you connect with people outside of your normal day to day.

The media fills your mind with whatever they are putting out. We are bombarded with sensational or salacious news that doesn’t really feed us anything positive. If you’re not careful about what to listen to, we do tend to, or I tend to, think we are very different. But actually, we’re not. Most people want the same things: security, safety, validation, and to dream. My experience was that we really do have much more in common than we are told we have. It is kind of liberating. ColeHaan_JamesMarshall_JaesungLee_BlackBook_3
James Marshall photographed by Jaesung Lee for BlackBook Magazine

Was allowing social media and chance to dictate your project a different kind of creative process than what you are used to?

I’m used to having an idea and being able to direct something well produced. Here, I didn’t know what the end was going to be. It was refreshing because it was, “Who am I going to meet today?” It was very exciting and nerve-racking because this thing could have been a bust. It could have been one sad story after another.

How do you view creativity?

The new creativity is freedom–people are making movies on iPhones. Social media allows you to collaborate globally. You could have musicians in one country provide music for a Web series that is being made in another country. Everyone can be a creative talent. That could be good and bad because there is a lot of content out there. We need a creative revolution, which we’re in the midst of. With so many online outlets and cameras on every phone, people can make what they want, when they want, and get it out there.

How has this new wave of creativity altered the American dream?

The new wave of creativity has actually enabled people to dream and be inspired by other people’s work because they can see it within minutes of being made. It’s doesn’t have to be an executive in Hollywood but a kid in bumblefuck nowhere making things happen. There are no walls anymore; the walls have come down. 

Did your idea of the American dream change throughout filming?

It definitely evolved as I went along. But I think before I left, I had a view of the American dream that I think most people have, which is this postwar idea of a big house, white picket fence, 2.4 kids, and a dog. That is a prescribed American dream that is put in the minds of many of us, and that’s gone. But what I’ve seen replace that is staggering because it’s evolved into something better. Rather than people aiming for a preprescribed dream, it’s become an individual pursuit. People have now taken up the mantle to think of their own dream. Now the American dream is absolutely individual to each person, which I think is great. For people to be enabled to really dream is exciting. Discover more about the series here.

This story appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook Magazine on stands now.

The Creators: Ryan Roche

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Ryan Roche photographed by Mark Seliger for BlackBook

The fashion designer Ryan Roche lives on 12 acres in the town of Hurley, about 100 miles from New York. Her studio is in the barn. Despite the distance from the city, she’s managed to integrate herself into New York’s fashion elite–she’s a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist and was nominated for this year’s LVMH Prize for young designers. It’s her deft touch at creating cozy knits for the cool chick that first brought international attention to her designs. Her inventive sweaters envelope the body in ultrasoft crocheted cashmere, and each is charmingly personal from the start. It takes the knitters in Nepal (from the fair trade women’s cooperative Roche works with) eight days to complete just one.

“There’s some magic between me and the head knitters in Nepal who know my work so well, because we’ve worked together for so long,” Roche says.

Roche maintains a high standard of social responsibility in her manufacturing processes, and as her customer base and product lines grow, Roche plans to continue this consciously elevated approach. The shearling Roche introduced for spring is a rescued byproduct of the industry, colored with natural dyes. She’s headed to Peru soon to scout for another knitting cooperative–as her brand grows, she’ll need more hands on deck. These skilled knitters and seamstresses don’t exist only in far-flung locales; there are, as Ryan says, “incredible small factories [in New York] that are holes in the wall.…I love the idea of supporting New York manufacturing as well.”

Don’t think that these small operations will limit the designer. The relationships she has with her manufacturers are built on trust, a quality that allows her creative endeavors to thrive. She’s also looking to learn from the successes of industry greats like the socially and ecologically conscious Stella McCartney, whose company Roche looks to in admiration as she expands business.

Rather than creating fault lines between her brand and the pulse of the world’s fashion capital, the fresh air surrounding Roche in upstate New York allows space for innovation. In her secluded studio, away from the distractions of the city, originality blooms.

This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook on stands now.

The Creators: Roman and Williams

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Roman and Williams (Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch) photographed by Nigel Parry for BlackBook.

When you walk into a room that Roman and Williams has designed, you will feel something. You will discern texture, notice scale, and you may even feel warm or cool. “There’s an amateurism we love to maintain so we don’t end up too professional or too polished.… It’s a lot of emotion, a lot of passion,” says Stephen Alesch, half of the design duo (and husband to his counterpart, Robin Standefer). To them that’s more important than staying true to one particular aesthetic. It’s why visitors will develop an attachment to the glittering, Champagne-filled Boom Boom Room, and the casually bohemian Ace Hotel lobby, worlds apart and brimming with particulars. One is where you dance till dawn looking out at the city lights, and the other is where you take advantage of the free Wi-Fi and get your work done. Same goes for the spaces they’ve created at the Viceroy, Royalton, and Highline hotels, and restaurants like John Dory Oyster Bar and The Dutch.

“Our starting point is love: loving an object, loving a space, thinking of an experience we want to have,” Standefer says. It’s not just about what’s new or in fashion; the two have a humility that allows them to comb over memories and the familiar, searching for aesthetic details and ideas that will make you experience emotions. It’s just going to be a different emotion depending on where you are. Guests at the Freehand in Miami, Chicago, and soon Los Angeles will pick up more on the handcrafted, homey sparseness of the hostel/hotels, while the rarified Chicago Athletic Association, a historic landmark and soon-to-be-hotel, will attract a ritzier crowd. Each project inhabits its proper space. Filled with all the right particulars, they become fully developed worlds of their own.

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This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook on stands now.

10 Spring Wines and the Perfect Lipsticks to Wear While Sipping

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Lipstick: We’ve discussed it before (namely, the best shades to last through a makeout sesh, and the colors you need to get through winter holiday drinks)…But with a new season, comes a new conversation. With the spring comes a new color palette…and as the temperatures rise, we’re celebrating with lighter, brighter lipstick shades. We’re not just looking for pretty pinks here — oh no — we made sure to pair wine with a host of the season’s best shades that also just happen to last through a glass or two. We consulted wine experts, and husband-and-wife team, Josh and Becca Shapiro, of Flatiron Wines, for their expert opinion on the wine side of things.

1. Sonia Kashuk Ultra Luxe Lip Gloss in Sparkling Sugar pairs nicely with prosecco. Keep things balanced: with sugar on your lips, stick with crisp, dry bubbles in your glass. Drink With: Sommariva Prosecco di Conegliano Brut, NV

sonia kashuk2. Sephora Collection Luster Matte Long-Wear Lip Color in Nude Pink pairs well with rosé. All day drinking requires all day lip wear! We recommend this classic french rosé, the perfect choice for sipping straight into sunset. Drink With: Commanderie de Peyrassol, Cotes de Provence Rose, 2014

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3. Marc Jacobs Beauty, Le Marc Lip Crème, Boy Gorgeous pairs well with rosé. A full-bodied, one-of-a-kind rosé is the perfect match for Marc Jacobs’s luxurious, ultra-hydrating and indulgent longlasting lip wear. Both are vibrant, dramatic, and opulent. Drink With: Chateau Simone, Palette Rose, 2013

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4. 100% Pure, Fruit Pigmented Pomegranate Oil Anti Aging Lipstick, Magnolia pairs with champagne. The purest form of sparkling wine–Champagne of course! This elegant and defined Grand Reserve will help any lady feel young. Drink With: NV Clouet Grand Reserve

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5. Nars Sheer Lipstick in Liguria pairs with prosecco. A bone-dry, Italian sparkling from a Ligurian producer pairs perfectly with this translucent and sophisticated lip color. Sheer, lightweight, and ultra-fresh. Drink With: Bisson, Vino Frizzante Trevigiana “Glera”, 2011

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6. Sephora Collection Luster Matte Long-Wear Lip Color, Lilac Pairs with Sauvignon Blanc. Bright, fresh, and ready for spring! This pop of color on the lip is perfect with this zippy white. Drink With: Shinn Estate Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, “First Fruit”, 2014

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7. Gucci Lip Luxurious Moisture-Rich Lipstick, Exposure pairs with champagne. If you’re wearing Gucci on your lips, you better pair it with vintage Champagne. Expose your palate to an elegant wine with richness and elegance. Drink With: 2008 Andre Clouet

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8. TopShop Lips in Infrared pairs with a cool red. Chill those hot, infrared lips down with a cool red wine. Best served with a slight chill, this earthy wine with a hint of tobacco will keep you cool even when you’re looking smokin’ hot. Drink With: DeForville, Dolcetto d’Alba, 2013

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9. By Terry Hyaluronic Sheer Nude Hydra-Balm Lipstick – Flush Contour pairs with red. Even on a warm day you can stay chic in this deeply tinted, moisturizing balm while sipping on this complex cru Beaujolais. This red wine is best served at cellar temp–or 55 degrees. Drink with: Jean-Paul Thevenet, Morgon “Vieilles Vignes”, 2013

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10. Butter London, Teddy Boy Lippy Tinted Balm pairs with white. This bright color is perfect to throw on as you head out to meet friends for springtime brunch. Try it with this lightly effervescent white that has just enough sparkle to get your day started. Drink With: Ameztoi, Txakolina, 2013

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Athos: The Future of Fitness Is Now

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Gabriela (Re:Quest Models) and Mark Sopcik photographed by Fred P. Goris. Styling by Alyssa Shapiro

These compression shorts are made by a start-up called Athos and contain embedded EMG sensors that feed information on muscle effort and activation to an app on the user’s phone, allowing lab-quality monitoring of one’s own workout. The matching compression top launches this spring, alongside special partnerships with some of the country’s most elite trainers, like Stephen Cheuk, whose New York gym S10 is photographed here. Using Athos, Cheuk is able to instruct trainees on how to better activate the right muscles for the right exercise — plus tell if they’re cheating the movement.

Rapid arm movements with the rope create tension throughout the body, providing a concentrated arm workout and also strengthening the core and lower body.

Properly monitoring muscle activation during lunges ensures both legs receive a good workout.

At S10, Stephen Cheuk’s trainees focus on anabolic conditioning work. That means less jogging and more pushing the Prowler.

Few exercises build more muscle quickly than a squat — Athos allows trainers to ensure that the correct sequence of muscles is activated through the movement, essential to both increasing strength and maintaining safety.


Mark wears Athos shorts and his own shoes. Gabriela wear (from left) Athos capris, S10 sports bra, Nike Bonded Woven Bomber Jacket, Nike Flyknit Zoom Fit Agility sneakers; Athos capris, NikeLab x JFS cropped long-sleeved top, Nike Pro Fierce sports bra, Nike Flyknit Roshe Run sneakers

Grooming by Ashley Rebecca

This story appears in the spring 2015 issue of BlackBook Magazine on stands now