Spotlight On: Justin Padro

Scranton Fringe Festival, a non-profit dedicated to creating an accessible and engaging platform of the performing arts, returning for the fourth year (September 22nd – 30th 2018). 

We ask you – are you feeling lucky? This St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th, starting at 9:00 pm), Scranton Fringe invites you to get down with Electric City Boogie at The Bog (341 Adams Ave) for a special Fringe fundraiser!

This spotlight feature is on Justin Padro, co-director / DJ of Electric City Boogie. Learn more about Justin and join us at The Bog!
     Justin Padro is a musician, writer, sound engineer, DJ, and producer from Brooklyn, NY who has performed throughout Europe, Africa, China, Canada, and the U.S. He has published fiction, non-fiction, poetry and some investigative journalism, specializing in urban culture, marginalized communities, and identity often blending realism and satire and stretching the boundaries of form and improvisation. He is the first-ever recipient of the Louis Armstrong Foundation Jazz Scholars Award, Center for Jazz Studies, Columbia University, New York, the founder of the Latin Jazz Hour radio show at 89.9 WKCR fm NY and part of the Maybe Mars Crew that founded the underground punk movement in Beijing, China. He is currently working on a satirical novel reflecting his experiences busking in the NYC subways and a new album under the moniker Dom Pedro.
1. What kind of music do you find really exciting?
Music that is emotive but not emotional. Something I connect with whether it’s jarring and calls my creativity to attention or is warm and welcoming or all of the above. As long it is soulful without being trite and strong without being pompously bamboozling. Don’t tell me about your mom in the suburbs. Unless she plotted a riot at town hall. Having emotions doesn’t make Art–show, don’t tell–avoid solipsistic temptation–blah blah blah. I also love music that is rooted in it’s own history but genuinely reaches for something fresh without resorting to pastiche. That’s harder to do than it sounds.
2. What are your interests outside of music?
I love writing. It’s an art form I can pursue alone–at least to a greater degree than music. I also love painters. I’m obsessed with Abstract Expressionism because I can see, in a sort of synaesthetic connection, it’s similarities to improvisation in other art, especially music–specifically Jazz and Free Jazz. I also love Gerhard Richter, who finds a balance in his work to pursue form and abstraction, much the same way I try to find a balance between form and improvisation. And Jean-Michel Basquiat: My father brought me to his retrospective at the Whitney when I was about 11 years old. Changed my universe. My Dad was good like that–took me everywhere–galleries, museums, clubs, concerts. He KNEW. He’s a hell of a guy. Sang Doo Wop and Salsa and played percussion back in the day and still sings in his church. 
3. What are your creative goals for the rest of 2018?
I have this album in progress that has suffered some significant hold-overs for lots of reasons but especially trying to get things done between Scranton and NYC. It’s totally do-able. Just takes patience. And drive. I also have more fiction-writing to do. The primary focus is on this satirical story based on my experiences playing in the subways of NYC–tying in the Social conditions of Urban life, the class system that’s kicked into full gear in a town like New York and some Art & Anarchy. It’s unruly. Like the experience it’s attempting to capture. Other than those two things I’ve had some amazing collaborations with some very skilled folks here in Scranton. There’s the Electric City Conjunto which is a quartet that plays mostly traditional Puerto Rican and Cuban music that originated from the Puerto Rico Fundraiser Charles Davis (Doghouse Charlie), Stach (Michael Taurus), and I organized at the Riverstreet Jazz Cafe (we also played the Holiday Market at The Globe this winter), a project in the works with Ian O’Hara and Michael Lloyd, who will also be co-producing the ‘Dom Pedro’ album with me, and more Electric City Boogie events!

Photo Credit: Jammi Sloane York


4. What do you LOVE most about Scranton arts scene?

Coming from New York, there’s a pretty significant degree of anonymity I was used to–which isn’t always a bad thing. But there are structures and strictures and cliques and some tightly defined barriers you have to break through just to catch someone’s eye or ear. Of course the D.I.Y scene, in Brooklyn in particular, helped break a lot of that BS down but still, it can take a minute to get the right momentum going. Or it can happen in a FLASH. Depends. Here in Scranton there’s a smaller community that I’ve found immensely supportive and also quicker to lend a hand or just show up. There’s less pretension and people are less likely to be jaded. People in Scranton are curious, especially about anything quirky or beautiful born here! I like that home team vibe.
5. What do you hope to help improve about Scranton arts scene?
I’d like to continue what’s already kind of been going on–or so it was explained to me–for years here–which is the interaction between artists from different mediums and more efforts to developing events and spaces geared toward strengthening the local scene as well as bringing in really interesting artists from outside of the community that aren’t simply covering a bunch of your favorite juke box tunes. I’d like there to be a wave of rediscovery of ORIGINAL music. At D-22, the bar/music venue I worked at in Beijing, we didn’t allow cover bands (not that there’s ANYTHING wrong with that–actually there are great advantages to it, specifically with regard to learning, interpreting, and developing your own “voice”–but that’s a whole conversation to be had elsewhere). We pushed artists to find their own thing–something raw, something true.
6. You busked full time in an NYC subway with a punk and second line Jazz band – how did that come about? Any really crazy stories from that?
Well, after college I tried all sorts of gigs (corporate law records clerk, American Apparel store manager, Broadway copywriter, Pipe Organ Tuning Apprentice in churches and cathedrals in and around NYC–that was a crazy cool one) but was ultimately creatively depressed and financially broken–so, pretty much anything was game. I’d been tested and–at that point anyway–I had nothing to lose, if it meant attempting to push my creativity into overdrive and make my love of music as serious as my life. So I played some gigs with the Himalayas (lead by Kenny Wollesen, drummer for Tom Waits and Bill Frisell) at the old Zebulon (since relocated from Brooklyn to Los Angeles) as well as some outdoor events like the Village Halloween Parades in Manhattan and some immigration policy protest at City Hall (with tons of horns, drums, puppets, a float with absurdist satirical actors and some legit crazy people on stilts) and I met the fantastic trumpet player Mike Irwin–easily one of the KINDEST baddest motha-effers in the music game in NY. Anyway, a friend from childhood who had moved to Africa as a radio journalist fell gravely ill far too young and passed away. I was asked to put some music together for her memorial and recruited Mike on trumpet and my good friend Ben Cassorla on classical guitar. I was on snare with brushes and a small kit. We were still missing a bass element, but I didn’t want to go with a typical line up and I thought, appropriate to a funeral setting–at least in New Orleans–a tuba would fill the spot perfectly. Mike being the cool dude that he is recommended Jessie Dullman AKA Jessie Wildcard. We played original arrangements of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ and Duke Ellington’s ‘Come Sunday‘. Anyway, that was a very moving experience and Jessie and I became friends after. At some point , when he realized the hard times I was having and the toll it was taking on my creativity, he invited me to join his subway busking duo (with trumpet player Josh Irizarry, who I later dubbed ‘Smidge Malone’–we all took on monikers) and we became The Stumblebum Brass Band and hit the trains FULL-TIME. I moved up to The Bronx and became roommates with Jessie and the rest is tumultuous, beautiful, real-life-dangerous history.
Dude, I got stories for days from that. Wait for the book! 
7. Tell us more about Electric City Boogie – how did that come to be and what are you focused on?
Moving to a new place isn’t always easy but in my experience if you stick to your guns, work hard and remain humble you’ll meet “your people” eventually. Whether it was the DIY scene in Brooklyn, the underground punk scene in Beijing or–literally–the underground of NYC I’ve always found music and art-based events the easiest way for me personally to connect to a community. Electric City Boogie fills what I think is a mutual need: for my own selfish reasons it serves as a way for me to achieve a kind of creative catharsis while I connect with the city I’ve called home for the past couple years and to get all the folks down to get a little weird together in a room shaking off their workdays and whatever troubles they may be facing at any give time–that whole Funkadelic ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ ideal. I started DJing at The Bog probably about a year ago, initially on Saturday afternoon/evenings with a solid punk-garage-rock’n’roll set that sometimes veered into some soul and funk. I guess one Saturday a wave of folks came in and Brian Craig (one of the owners and a baddass drummer) had me stick around to keep the party going. Eventually those Saturdays turned into Tuesdays and Saturdays and then I got the idea in my head that maybe there can be something more solid, something with the potential to develop into a local institution–a way to dig deeper and make an impact in a community that’s already given me so much. So I got together with my art partner in crime Sam Kuchwara and we brainstormed this funky thing we call Electric City Boogie. I should give props to Conor McGuigan and Brian Langan, the godfathers of ‘Panked!’, who proved to me that Scranton could get down with the best of ’em and I suppose gave us their unofficial ‘blessing’! And, of course, to the crew at The Bog, who embraced me from day one and run a very, very special place.
8. How would you describe your artistry in just a few words? 
Oh man. How about a word association type deal:
Intuitive, Rooted, F-F-Fresh, Compassionate, Lean.
Cut the fat. Break the rules. 
Meet Justin and the rest of the Electric City Boogie crew at The Bog, Saturday March 17th (9pm) 
Cover: $5.00 at the door 
(21+ Only, with Valid ID)