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Red Bull Music Academy reaches out to local musicians

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After college, Fool's Gold artist Sammy Bananas spent a month in London, playing his then-DJ Shadow-style beats permitless in the subway. When he was inevitably busted, it was by a polite police officer who, after asking him to stop, suggested he might apply for the Red Bull Music Academy.

The program, sponsored and run by the energy-drink company, collects 60 promising singers, instrumentalists, producers and DJs yearly. It sends them, all expenses paid, somewhere in the world (this year's location -- originally Tokyo -- is currently in flux) for two weeks of music-related workshops, seminars and guest speakers. (Past speakers include ?uestlove and Bob Moog.) Graduates include Flying Lotus and British pop star Katy B.

Academy agents referred to as "Mr. X" -- who prefer the term "ambassador" to the slightly heartless "recruiter" -- are set up in major cities. London's Mr. X was Sammy Bananas' polite police officer. Pittsburgh's is DJ Zimmie, who, this past Friday, painted a tempting picture of the academy for the 20 or so generally bespectacled  dudes and well-coiffed girls who gathered around free pizza (and Red Bull, obviously) at Jimmy D's on the South Side. 

MTV's The Real World is used to describe both what the experience is like and what it's not. Applicants are selected based on whether they will be able to work together -- the lengthy and unorthodox application asks, "What do you collect besides music?" and "What is lying beside your bed?" Nobody's mining for drama; no secret reality show is being made.  

Talent is a prerequisite, but Zimmie and Bananas stress that it's not about being the best on earth at what you do. "They want to know, are you creative?" Bananas says. "Are you dedicated enough to fill out the application?"

In 2002, when he was accepted to the Academy, Bananas was beginning a career in biology, and it's unlikely that he'd be making a living as an artist without the academy experience. "I'm living the dream," he says. "I'll be honest: I don't really drink Red Bull, but I'm pretty sure I'll end up talking about it for the rest of my life."

For more information, or to apply, visit www.redbullmusicacademy.com

Academy grad: Sammy Bananas
  • Academy grad: Sammy Bananas

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