New Year, New Sounds 

Cities Aviv and Friends take over the Hi-Tone.

The first big experimental show of the year kicks off this Friday night when Cities Aviv performs at the Hi-Tone with Fit of Body, Divine Interface, RPLD GHSTS, and Duma. Cities Aviv has been given ample coverage in this publication since he arrived on the scene in 2011, but here's a quick rundown for those not paying attention. Since teaming up with producer Matt Qualls for his first hit single, "Coastin," Cities Aviv's career has taken off, producing songs for well-known rappers like Antwon and creating genre-bending albums like Your Discretion Is Trust and Come to Life in between touring the U.S. and Europe. His brand of music has been called "backpack rap," "cloud rap," and "black punk," but to me, it just sounds like hip-hop with a lack of pretense, even if neatly packaged, half-real music genres are all the rage these days.

click to enlarge Cities Aviv - TRILL AMERICANA
  • Trill Americana
  • Cities Aviv

After a few years spent living in New York, Cities Aviv (real name Gavin Mays) is once again a Memphian, trading his Bed-Stuy lifestyle for a place at the top of the slower-paced, grassroots music scene that few places other than Memphis can provide. For his first official show of 2016, Mays said he wanted to curate a lineup that breaks the traditional concepts of how Memphis concerts normally go down.

"The whole idea behind this show is to present a contemporary performance experience," Mays says.

"Given the rich musical history of this city, sometimes I feel that the cultural landscape gets stuck in a sort of lockstep motion. Rock-and-roll birthing more rock-and-roll, and so on. Rap and hip-hop for fans of rap and hip-hop, and so on."

Mays says he also considers the show an opportunity for the crowd to interact and be part of the performing experience.

"In curating this, I wanted to invite participators to crush norms that have been lodged in place. I say participators because by attending an event you create the atmosphere, so you are actively a part of the performance."

To get this interactive atmosphere rolling, Mays enlisted locals RPLD GHSTS (his tour partner and cohort Quinton Je-Von Lee), and the new experimental band Duma. After a few shows at unconventional venues, RPLD GHSTS seems to have been more productive lately, performing around town more often and recently completing a European tour with Cities Aviv. Duma, on the other hand, are an up-and-coming band that Mays says is worth paying attention to.

"Duma is the current project of Dominic Van Horn (ex-3D Acid Glasses) and Langston Taylor (a local performance artist). I caught a live set of theirs a few months ago at a now-defunct space off of Madison and knew I wanted to have them involved with this show. What they do is equal parts deconstructed techno and punctual floor noise."

Two Atlanta bands will also be performing, Divine Interface and Fit of Body, both associated with the label Harsh Riddims (home to Nima, Bluntfang, Takahiro Mukai, and more).

"Harsh Riddims is a label based out of Atlanta that houses everything from outsider electronics to off-beat rap," Mays says. "Friday, the label head Fit of Body will be performing as well as the enigmatic Divine Interface. I think what they do is important and a testament to the hidden gems in the South."

With most popular rap coming out of the South being created by club artists like Yo Gotti and 2 Chainz, Saturday's show is an example of how deep the Southern hip-hop well really is. Much like the show that Mays booked for Texas noise artist BLACKIE last year, all four groups on Friday's bill are there to make you think first, and dance second. Fit of Body's now sold-out tape Health is Wealth is an amazing mix of lo-fi, trance-inducing instrumental hip-hop, and Divine Interface creates dreamy beat collages that sometimes sound similar to the old Memphix recording artist Express Rising, minus the vocals of course.

While it certainly seems that Mays is bringing some of the elements of what he saw at New York shows down to Memphis, don't expect him to be a permanent fixture in either city for very long.

"I wouldn't say that I've totally relocated to Memphis, but regardless this is home, and I'm always interested in building here," Mays says. "As far as new music goes, there are a lot of works in queue that will see the light soon."

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