Interview with Alejandro Cohen from Dublab
Jeremiah Chiu, the LA-based designer of this very magazine and longtime Lumpen Buddy, talked to Dublab Executive Director Alejandro Director about the almost 20 year old radio experiment that is Dublab. A formal and ideological sibling of Lumpen Radio, Dublab
Jeremiah Chiu: An introduction… What is your name and what role do you play at Dublab?
Alejandro Cohen: My name is Alejandro I am the Executive Director of Dublab. My Role in the organization is to oversee the programming, daily operations, fundraising, staff, DJs, promotion, and administration of the station. It sounds like a lot, and it is a lot, but luckily I have a great team that helps me and I can rely on. Dublab is definitely a team effort and a collective effort, a place by the community and for the community.
JC: How did you come to be involved with Dublab?
AC: I’ve been involved with Dublab in one way or another from the start, back in 1999. Maybe not the very first couple of weeks, but I was there in the very early days. My friend Jose (aka Hoseh) was part of the staff at Dublab and told me about it and how it was this new thing where you could broadcast sound live over the internet. I remember going to the first Dublab studio by Parmount Pictures off Melrose and really being impressed about the idea and how novel it was. It was a new concept, and Dublab from the start was setting the tone on what online radio was going to be like. My first involvement was as an artist that was playing on Dublab, then I started DJing at the station, and then around 2007, Mark “Frosty” McNeill, invited me to join Dublab in a full time capacity to transition and become a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. My first official position at Dublab was General Manager and about 3 or 4 years ago I became Executive Director of the organization, as Mark was going back to school.
JC: Dublab has an amazing and diverse roster of Resident and Host DJ’s that have made a significant impact in LA’s music and culture scenes. For those that may not be familiar, in brief, what is Dublab and how did it get started?
AC: In short, Dublab is a radio station, from there we expand our mission through events, art projects, film projects, out there projects… but our biggest strength is community building. The station is a host, and platform for DJs, musicians, and all around creative people that share a vision and philosophy, but not based on music genres, scenes, age, generations or personal background.
When we started, the station’s slogan was Positive Music Drive Lifestyle, we stopped actively using it years ago, however, it does still reflect the station’s spirit and the people that are part of it. I always credit Mark for setting the tone of the station from the start in a way that is forward looking but looks deep into the past. It’s playful but dead serious in its mission. A selfless organization that is a home to all of us.
JC: I know that in addition to 24-hour online programming, Dublab DJ’s host and perform at events all over the city. Dublab also curates and hosts events in partnership with other organizations like LACMA and Ableton and has sister stations in other cities. As Dublab is entering its 20th year, can you share some insight into how the organization (or mission) is shifting and evolving?
AC: Yes, that’s correct, we do work closely with many of local organizations in bringing the sound of the Dublab soundsystem to places such as Ace Hotel, Smorgasburg LA, Grand Central Market, The Music Center, LACMA and many many other ones. We have also launched affiliate stations in Japan, Spain and Germany. Those stations are very autonomous and create programming that is by their community but holding the same philosophy and spirit as us. We stay all close together and count on each other for mutual support. As we approach our 20th anniversary in 2019 we are looking to open a new chapter for the organization by launching a new website that is designed by Folder Studio. The new website is being built by addressing questions such as: what is the role of Dublab in today’s world? What is radio as an experience? How can we bring that human connection to our listeners during times of robots, AI and algorithms? Aside from that we plan to continue with our regular programming, and always looking to expand our offerings on-air. I think as Los Angeles itself is going through shifts and changes and tries to deal with rising rents, economic inequality, homelessness and low paying jobs, places like Dublab, as a small part of a bigger landscape of non-profit organizations, is also facing its own challenges and tries to do its part in offering a place that contains the community of artists that being pushed closer to the edge on a daily basis.
JC: As we have seen, a significant technological shift has impacted the way we discover and consume music and audio-related programming—why do you think radio is important to maintain today? And what do you think radio can provide to contemporary culture?
AC: That’s one of the most frequent discussions we have at the station. As an organization we are still not sure what is the true role of radio today. It’s an issue that is evolving, and a clear answer is not there yet. I know that as automation, playlist services, robots choosing your music, machines trying to behave like humans and humans trying to behave like machines, the bottom line is that as the social animals that we are, what we all look for ultimately is that human connection that brings us closer together and clusters us in groups of likeminded individuals. My hope is that Dublab can have a role in continuing with the tradition of human connection that seems to be threatened with every new technological advance that tries to replace humans on this planet.
Contemporary culture is built on reactions to what’s already there, and Dublab is definitely reacting to what’s already there, not in rejecting things, but looking forward to what’s next: From what’s coming from new generations to what needs to be valued from the past. We try to make the connection between the past and the future, or as we call it Future Roots Radio
JC: What significant projects/goals is Dublab currently undertaking—anything exciting brewing that you’d like to share?
AC: As I mentioned before, the new Dublab website is our biggest development at the moment, but also the possibility of expanding to other countries, although I can’t say much about that yet. Besides that, lots of projects, ideas and proposals for 2019 that we hope will materialize in the way we envision them.
JC: From a logistical standpoint, how do you keep the station running? I know it must not be easy?
AC: It’s a FULL TIME job!!! It takes over your life, like opening a restaurant, to do it properly, it requires your full dedication and attention to every detail. Our staff is on call at all times. Our broadcast manager, Owen Cole, is always dealing with text messages, emails and phone calls from DJs and potential guests. Aside from that sense urgency, the day to day operation of a radio station requires great discipline, structure and backup plans. Proper staffing and setting up realistic routines that allow you to be creative, innovative and fun, yet not having to re-invent the wheel every day at 9am is the key to make it sustainable. Your facilities and equipment need to be in order, and clean, it needs to be a functional space. We are always working on improving our workflow and the efficiency of the office and studio layout.
JC: How can people get involved or support Dublab?
AC: Send us an email! Let us know if you want to volunteer, or donate! Become a sustaining member at Dublab.com/membership That’s the best way to support.
If you are volunteering, make sure you are serious and reliable. As for joining as a DJ, reach out, we connect with new people in a very organic way and let things develop as they go.
JC: What is your vision for the future of radio?
AC: I see radio as a hub for like minded people and a place for community building, where individuals tune in to put themselves in the hands of others, and for discovery. However it’s distributed, via FM, AM, Internet, or telepathic Bluetooth waves directly to our brains via an app, the important thing is the message and the live connection. The most important thing of radio for a listener is, and will be, knowing that someone is on the other side.
JC: Is there anything else you’d like to share? A funny story? Your favorite record/song/Dublab show at the moment? Sage advice to anyone starting a station… the stage is yours!
AC: One of our most senior DJs, Danny Holloway, who has a long history in the music industry, once told me something that keeps coming back to me. He told me “The human ear likes imperfection.” That is something that not only is correct, but also applies to many other aspects of life. The experience of radio is not a perfect one, not every song played at the station will be your favorite song, not every show, or every DJ at a station will be the exact choice you would have made at that moment of the day, but that’s the beauty of it. You go ahead and you put yourself out there by tuning in, and even with all those imperfections, it is still better than the experience you would get by being on your own with your own perfect choices.