Following Sound: an Amherst music photo essay

Following Sound: an Amherst music photo essay

“Curiosity and love fills the scene in Amherst, and that is what I set out to capture through my lens,” writes Jamison Wrinn.

I started this longform photo essay because I believe that musicians deserve to be seen. I have spent my life immersed in music, and the only reason I am not a musician is because I picked up a camera. Within Amherst is a bubble of very creative people who are passionate about their craft. This documentation is my way of shedding light on the effort and hours these people have put into their work.

I hope this project will serve as an example of the University of Massachusetts’s rich musical culture and offer an insight into what the scene means to many. Art is open to interpretation, but go with this in mind: the people photographed here have put their heart, soul and energy into their creations. I am just the messenger. Let them inspire you.

Peter Dracos, Greystone band practice, Nov. 2, 2023 (Jamison Wrinn)

The Scene

I have spent an intensive three months completely immersed in the Amherst music scene. I have photographed bands, solo musicians, music-related nonprofit meetings, performances, studio sessions, podcasts, rehearsals, impromptu outside jazz shows, festivals and artists in their daily lives. I have spent hours studying and observing musicians who channel their energy and passion into their music. Most will never see their musical career flourish into monetary success, but the love for their craft will always will be there.

Danny Richard, Greystone band practice, Nov. 2, 2023

I decided to focus on artistic experience of the student musician, and the crowd that follows. Curiosity and love fill the scene in Amherst, and that is what I set out to capture through my lens.

Reservations at 8 classroom show, guitarist in mosh pit, Oct. 18, 2023

Over the relatively short period of time that I followed them, the artists I documented grew into themselves. New musicians felt more comfortable sharing their music. More experienced musicians experimented with various tastes and styles. This photo project was an attempt to glimpse student creativity in the modern music world. Time will go on and new students will arrive at UMass; new musicians will take over and bring something different to the scene. History repeats itself.

Left: UMass Campus Police Officer, Right: Flynn Duffy, Reservations at 8, Oct. 8, 2023.

Local Mojo

On any given Tuesday at 6 p.m. during a semester, go into Herter Hall and up one of the many bleak stairwells to the second floor. Look for the room behind the foggy windows and you will come across a group of students reimagining the music scene in Amherst. I witnessed the meetings and inner-workings of the organization.

Left to Right, Miguel Gomba, Mina Pabst, Em Donovan, Charlie Blacker, Ethan Auritt, Local Mojo team meeting, Oct. 25, 2023

I was introduced to Local Mojo in 2022, what I thought was just some little music club.

Before Local Mojo grew, it was a few college students with an idea talking in the towers of Southwest. They felt the local music scene needed a rebirth, but the question was how. The students wondered how they could connect people to play in bands or promote DJs to the local bars, host house shows to give musicians a chance to play for an audience or market the hell out of local artists. Charlie Blacker, Cashel Davis, Em Donovan, London Cross and Mina Pabst lead the now non-profit organization.

Left to Right: Mina Pabst, Em Donovan, Charlie Blacker, Local Mojo meeting, Dec. 1, 2023

This nonprofit’s mission is music, but as I started digging into their daily activities, I found that creativity was the driving force. I sat in on many Local Mojo meetings, understanding my role as the observer to what was unfolding in front of me. The basic philosophy of Local Mojo is to provide creative freedom with the goal to help build the scene.

Seen Left to Right: London Cross, Blas Cerda, Ethan Auritt, Em Donovan, Alex Parker, Kyle Watts, Local Mojo meeting, Oct. 11, 2023

Nowadays, if you don’t have a following, you must network whatever opportunity you can get your hands on. It’s a game of luck, passion and being in the right place at the right time. These are challenges every artist faces, which is no secret among creative people. Now, tucked into a nook of western Massachusetts, there are people helping to create opportunities for artists. It’s not a group of arts managers; it’s musicians supporting musicians. It is artists promoting artists.

Nyley Moise

Nyley Moise was the first Amherst artist to let me into her creative space. It was a dark and rainy night in October as I entered her studio for the first time. I introduced myself as the photographer like I usually do and saw everyone sit up straighter. This was not what I wanted. I needed people to relax and focus on their music — not me. So I sat, listened and watched. I didn’t touch my camera for the first 30 minutes, and for the first time in my career as a photographer, I was uncomfortable with taking photos. This feeling seemed so alien to me and I felt alone. But Nyley made the difference. I don’t know if she saw my own caution or if she just wanted me involved at that moment, but she pulled me right into the process.

Nyley Moise, Fine Arts Center music studio, Oct. 5, 2023

Similarly, I learned about the audio engineer’s work by, again, listening and watching. His name was Dave, and he seemed like he knew what he was doing. In front of him was a sea of buttons, knobs and screens displaying track lines and audio levels and stuff I didn’t understand in the slightest. But it all made sense to him.

Left to Right: @prodwholesomedave (Instagram), Nyley Moise, Fine Arts Center music studio, Oct. 18, 2023

Dave worked effortlessly, always engaged with Nyley in a positive, forward-moving manner. During my second studio session with them, I was able to see moments of stress and fatigue from him. It was midnight when I captured the moment. He rolled back in his chair and threw his hands over his face, tired from hours of song creation. Nyley was in the booth completely immersed in her music, singing, and Dave finally had a moment of rest.

Left: Nyley Moise, Right: Geivens Dex, Fine Arts Center music studio, Oct. 5, 2023

Nyley and I talked a lot about an artist’s creative space. It is a place we both understand well. She’s cautious of who she lets in, and I felt grateful for her willingness to work with me. We talked about how a positive or negative presence can dictate how a project is formed and finalized. The audience is never in question, but the creators are always turning the scrutiny and criticism on themselves. As an artist, she understands that who she works with is as important as what she is working on. She sees that collaboration is key in the community.

Mojo at The Drake

My first experience with a green room was during the shows at The Drake, organized by Local Mojo. I witnessed the hustle of getting ready for a show, bands calling last minute changes on their setlists, musicians flurrying through their hair and makeup trying to get it just right.

This is where I first saw Flynn Duffy sculpt his iconic mohawk. I stopped, watching him push it into place, nudging gel into certain spots and eyeing his work in the showroom mirror. I watched until he was finished, fascinated by his patience, then took his photo. These musicians were putting every little detail into their performance, whether that was hair and makeup or a tweak in a song, it was clear the musicians here really cared about the details of their work. I knew I was in the right place.

Flynn Duffy, The Drake green room, Nov. 28, 2023

The Drake is one of Amherst’s most prominent music venues. It has the space to hold a sizable audience, and the staff to keep one. It’s usually filled with middle aged couples, tenured professors and average concert-goers tapping their feet, sipping on an artisan beer and swaying to the beat. But on this night, the bands turned it into a real rock house. A head banging, feet stomping, screaming rock house.

Kevin Cafferty, on stage at The Drake, Oct. 4, 2023

I watched the crowd thrash about, wave their arms in the air, shake their heads and hips and simply live in their own present moment. The bands’ stage presence hypnotized the crowd and each act held something new. Some had a keys player, or a saxophonist, outfits that never matched but swam together while playing. The only similar factor, and what I feel as the most important, was their passion. Passion for their music. Passion for the performance. Passion for their audience.

Guitarist: Max Trodderman, Camera: Salvi LoGrasso, Left to Right: Em Donovan, Alex Parker, London Cross, The Drake, Oct. 4, 2023

The folks in the crowd really seemed to reciprocate this rare passion. You could see it in their energy. The way people danced with their entire body (apart from the drink in hand of course). You could hear it in the way people shouted right back at the stage, almost as loud as the sound system. But it was there at The Drake. It was a beautiful example of what music can provide: a space to free ourselves.

The Boiler Room

House music does something to a person that’s hard to put into words and should rather be experienced firsthand. A boiler room is a perfect example of this phenomenon. There is no separation between the spectators and the engineer of the deck. The DJ is set up in the middle of the venue surrounded by the crowd. It can be sweaty, it can get bumpy, but it’s always groovy. I saw the boiler room sets at Monkey Bar in downtown Amherst as an opportunity to study the crowd visually.

As a photographer, I enjoyed observing what appeared to be a large sea of people at first, to find little moments of excitement, passion, love, nervousness and risk. That room held strangers’ stories in a grasp. I would always pause photographing to think about the level of sonder present. What brought these people here to dance and be engulfed by electronic music? As I observed with my camera, colors illuminated the various aspects of life.

Dennis Bruno, Monkey Bar, Boiler Room sets, Nov. 28, 2023

On a different boiler room night, I photographed a man with bright eyeliner, a mesh shirt and tight pants. He was gray haired and looked out of place, but the energy he brought to the room made the age difference invisible. If you look closely, you can see a sense of melancholy in his eyes. It seemed like he was searching for something. The Boiler Room offered him a chance for self-expression.

Monkey Bar, Boiler Room sets, Nov. 12, 2023

The EDM bug has been let loose on the UMass Amherst population. It seems like people can’t get enough of it. One night, I witnessed a couple helplessly in love with each other right in front of the DJ. The young woman’s eyes pierced into her partner. I could tell he was trying to play it cool, but he was doing a terrible job of hiding his affection.

Chloe Springer, Monkey Bar, Boiler Room sets, Oct. 20, 2023

The first month of the boiler room sets brought larger crowds than usual to Monkey Bar.

Monkey Bar, Boiler Room sets, Oct. 20, 2023

Through my documentation, I immersed myself into the crowd. Some nights I was surrounded by show goers, right in the middle of the audience, dancing or standing with my camera. The crowd danced like waves around me crashing into the shore. At other shows, I was on stage with the DJs and musicians. I saw how house music loosens the muscles, tickles the brain and digs for emotions. It is loud and repetitive and sometimes considered distasteful by some folks. It’s the music of the youth right now. It can be rebellion and it can be commitment. The choice is yours.

Steezy Dan (Danny Richard) Set, Monkey Bar, Boiler Room sets, Nov. 28, 2023

Visit Jamison Wrinn’s “Following Sound” in the Studio Arts Building at all hours from March 28-31. The gallery will host an opening night event with live music at 6 p.m. on March 28 in collaboration with Local Mojo.

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