At last year’s Aura Music and Arts Festival in St. Cloud, Fla., Jared Parfrey had what organizers considered the worst time slot: he was scheduled to play in a side tent during the biggest headliner’s performance. Parfrey, who makes electronic music under the name Ancient Intelligence, had felt lucky enough to have a place in the festival line-up of some of the southeast’s biggest jam-bands and electronic producers.
But his bad time slot was made worse. The band that played before him in the tent sounded so terrible, he remembers, that come time for his own set most spectators had drifted outside to the festival lawn where resident performers were attracting a crowd with their spinning hoops of fire and LED lights.
Parfrey knew that the audience’s energy could make or break the concert experience. And as is stood, he had reason to worry.
Not that he wasn’t used to facing the odds. His rise to prominence in the Charleston music scene was by no means conventional, and fraught with roadblocks over which he had no control.
The evening at of the festival had started out a difficult one. Just hours before he was set to perform, Parfrey received news of the death of his older cousin Shane. Back when the guitarist lived with his family, he would let Jared pick on the strings his collection of instruments, teaching him a chord every so often from a Pink Floyd or Metallica song. Shane remained an encouragement through Parfrey’s growth as a musician in classical guitar to piano, bass, and the drums.
But that, too, was in the past.
Parfrey stood behind the speakers and soundboard table, looking at his laptop through the holes of his ski mask. He adjusted his hat and looked out at the rectangle of grass he would be performing to.
Colored lights exploded through the tent. Ancient Intelligence thrusted between a soundboard and his laptop as he twisted, exaggerated and distorted music samples, pairing them with jagged beats and broken voice tracks.
A group of people walked in. Then a few more. In the flash of a strobe light, he could see a sea of people rocking to the beat of his music, full of infectious energy.
At the conclusion of his set, Parfrey was applauded by a proper audience.
“At the end I was literally crying my eyes out thinking about how great it was that these people loved this stuff,” he said, “It was like being on top of the world. Finally here was a means I could actually perform and let loose completely. And people seemed to respect that…the audience loved the music and I loved making and performing it.”
Flooded with emotion, he thought of Shane. His cousin would have been proud.
Parfrey can’t remember a time when he didn’t want to be a musician. At age two, he made the decision after his mother took him to a violin concert. He dabbled in string instruments and learned the trombone before his cousin Shane introduced him to guitar while living with the Parfrey family in Charleston back when Jared was in his early teens.
In eighth grade he formed a cover band with his friend Tom, who shared his love for classics like Pink Floyd, Metallica, and the Smashing Pumpkins. He and his band mates would switch from song to song, allowing Parfrey to learn the bass guitar, drums, and piano. In high school, the group continued to play for school shows and open mic nights, winning the local Battle of the Bands four years in a row.
“After seeing an entire auditorium go absolutely nuts to our rendition of The Car’s ‘Just What I Needed,’ I knew I wanted to perform,” said Parfrey. “I decided to bury myself in music as much as possible, which included learning every instrument I could and every style and genre.”
Jared saved up the money he made from working at a local movie theatre and bought as many instruments as he could. By his senior year in high school, he had five guitars, a trombone, a full drum kit, a bass guitar, an entire room of amplifiers, and a keyboard, all of which he could play. That fall, he arrived at the College of Charleston with his acoustic guitar in tow. He had other things in mind as a freshman in college, but he looked forward to pursuing his bachelor’s in Music at the School of the Arts.
It was in 2004, the February of his Freshman year, when his aspirations took a sharp turn. This would be the first of many setbacks for the budding musician. Parfrey suffered a debilitating stroke in the left side of his cerebellum, the brain’s center for muscle memory and fine coordination, and the very skills he needed to handle an instrument.
“I went through a time when I ended up selling off most of my gear,” he said. “I didn’t want to keep going because I was so disheartened at loosing the ability to play.”
Nearly a year after his stroke, Parfrey opened a keyboard as a Christmas present from his mother. This one was different than the old Yamaha he had played in high school: it came with a version of Ableton Live, a music software with which he could mix and layer music tracks. He installed it onto his computer and began to sample and manipulate elements of songs and beats.
“When I got into producing electronic music, I realized there were so many more things I could do,” said Parfrey. “I was especially inspired by Radiohead, who had done a lot of stuff with mixing. And so I would take music from my favorite bands and rework it.”
Three years after graduating college with degrees in Music, Astrophysics, and Quantum Mechanics, Jared started the act Ancient Intelligence in 2010. He took the name to represent the talent for music he was taking back from before his stroke.
“There was something lost,” he said. “But through this mixing I was rediscovering that old artistic knowledge and able to channel it.”
With a keyboard to mix notes with an endless supply of beats and sound bites to combine, Parfrey had the power of a band at his fingertips. With the computer and his instinct as his greatest tools, he would mix and layer his music by improvisation, beginning with key sounds and sulter pads on a bass line on which he would mix and layer samples and beats to finish it. Just one song by Ancient Intelligence normally includes more than 35 individual tracks.
His venture into the world of electronic music was a certain departure from his experience as an ensemble player from before his stroke. There was no messing with new instruments or practicing the timing of songs with a band. But in Electronica he found the ability to explore the sounds of all the instruments he once played.
“I try to make the most creative music possible,” said Parfrey. “I like the way deep
bass music sounds and I love harmonies and melodies from classical music. Someday I hope to record music that contains all my favorite elements, like jazz, rock, classical and electronic. I want to make stuff that people can appreciate for its complexity and harmony, as well as its ability to make people get out and move their bodies.”
In his emergence as Ancient Intelligence, Parfrey became part of a generation of producers of Electronica, a genre defined by its use of computer-generated sound. Its music ranges from bass-heavy dubstep grunge to synth-infused jazz, dance, as well as remixes and mash-ups of popular music. More that anything, it’s the mixer’s developed instinct for rhythm, chord progression, melodies and harmonies, not to mention a good understanding of the software, that lend to the final product.
“There’s no boundaries whatsoever,” said Parfrey. “With electronic music you can you anything you want. And it’s not just dubstep. I can take influences from classical music to soul to folk. Sometimes I have a live guitarist or drummer. But I don’t need a whole band to play with. ”
Jared’s big break came back in 2010, when a friend from college put him on the bill to open for Doug “the Emancipator” Appling, another electronic producer known for his low-tempo jazz and hip-hop music. The sold-out show included a live guitarist performing while Parfrey mixed to 300 spectators. The attention earned Ancient Intelligence recognition from the Charleston City Paper, as well as a few phone calls from Music Farm and other interested venues and artists.
“I wasn’t expecting that initial success, but I loved it. It was intoxicating.”
With that, Jared Parfrey entered the small, competitive, Charleston music scene. While he since managed to reach the top of the city’s charts for electronic music, he found difficulty gaining attention along the way. He noticed booking agents and promoters were uninterested in new acts and that many musicians working in Charleston were finding trouble making it onto a national level.
“The entertainment industry does not like competition whatsoever,” said Parfrey. “And since they own the rights they can dictate so many things to kids just trying to start out. There is a lot of money to be made in entertainment, but it’s very hard to do so.”
Through the challenges he faced in making it big, Parfrey was grateful for the recognition he found through performing at events like Aura Music Festival last year. But for as much success he found in performances, he also found is lack of recognition leave the sales of his concerts up to chance.
“There’s another side of that coin when you play a show and there’s nobody there, and even the people who are there are disappointed that no one’s there,” he said, reflecting on his relative luck at Aura.
With that in mind, he imagined creating an event specifically for talented electronic, funk, and hip-hop artists who could use some attention. In the year it took him to plan the festival, Parfrey discovered a festival site to develop at Durhamtown Plantation Resort in Union Point, Georgia.
“Even though I suffered through so much hardship and even lost my will to play music, it came back and snuck up on me and now my life is once again revolved around it,” said Parfrey. “That will never change.”
Emergence Music and Arts Festival will be held on March 29-April 1 at Durhamtown Plantation Resort in Union Point, Georgia.