In May 2002, Daniel Merrill was at an outdoor music festival in Terra Alta, W.Va. Having grown up in the hills of western Maryland, it was his first such event, and the music he found there changed his life. It wasn’t one of the headliners, though, or even a genre represented at the jam-oriented fest. Rather, he found himself drawn to the progressive house music drifting out of someone’s car at 4 or 5 a.m.
“I had never heard anything that was purely that way,” Merrill says. “It ended up being this Global Underground Sasha stuff. I just sat in the car for probably six or seven hours with this guy.” When he got home, he introduced the music to his friend Mike Folk, who was just as hooked. They had no idea how this music was made, but they were going to figure it out.
Thirteen years later, Merrill and Folk are better known as Aligning Minds, a long-standing electronica duo that headlines The Orange Peel on Friday, Aug. 21. This latest installation in the group’s Waveforms showcase series features a live drummer and dancer as well as sets by Freddy Todd and Chronicles of the Landsquid. In September, Merrill and Folk embark on a 15-date tour with British dub producer Ott. Suffice it to say, these two have done more than simply figure out how this music was made — they’ve mastered it.
With the launch of Aligning Minds’ eponymous label, the duo’s third bit of news, Merrill and Folk display confidence to match. They haven’t taken the expected path to electronic music, so why start now? “We came to this conclusion of, ‘why are we constantly trying to worry about where we’re gonna fit in?'” Merrill says. “We’d like to create a home for other people who don’t feel like they fit in, either.”
He and Folk grew up a few miles from each other, just outside Grantsville, Md. As guitar-playing teens in the late ’90s, they gravitated toward metal. In their corner of rural Appalachia, they didn’t know anyone else with the same interests. When Merrill grew bored with traditional instrumentation, he delved into industrial music, finding its focus on synths and effects processing appealing. Still, it was largely a closed circuit — two friends feeding each other’s musical curiosities.
“We were out in the middle of the woods,” Folk says. The Internet of the late ’90s was a slower, clumsier beast than today. Music and video streaming? Forget it. And Wikipedia was years in the future. They researched new music as best they could, but it was slow going.
Then Merrill came home from Terra Alta with this hypnotically wonderful new form of music — it was what he and Folk had been looking for. Soon Merrill was reading computer and synthesizer manuals and scouring Internet forums. “We had never gone to a rave or an electronic music festival, but we were fascinated by the sounds and how they were created and what to do with them,” he says. In late 2003, during a walk in the woods, the Aligning Minds idea came to them. It was meant to be a collective, a sort of revolving door for like-minded musicians. This idea, at the genesis of their duo, remains as a core concept of the new label.
Merrill moved to Baltimore in 2005, and Folk to Washington, D.C, in 2008. It was this rural pair’s first experiences with healthy dance and electronic music scenes, and they soon found their nontraditional path to this music gave them rare access. Unlike many production teams, they had never identified with any specific genre. Merrill cites an early love of IDM artists like Boards of Canada, Plaid and Aphex Twin, but also an affinity for progressive house and drum and bass. “We would play posh nightclubs in D.C., and then we’d play dirty warehouse raves in Baltimore, and then we’d play psychedelic psy-trance festivals way out in the woods of upstate New York,” he says.
Merrill and Folk are comfortable bridging disparate worlds. There’s been less genre-fragmentation within electronica in the past four or five years, Merrill says, and he’s glad for it. He and Folk see the music they love as existing under one big umbrella, and their new label zeroes in on emotive, personal music, rather than anything fitting a genre-specific formula. In fact, Folk’s 2010 move to Asheville (Merrill still lives north of Baltimore) brought Aligning Minds full circle. If formative years in rural Appalachia resulted in this duo’s sonic diversity, it’s logical they’d land where they started.
“The reason I love it down here is the mesh of culture with the woods,” Folk says. “It gives me what I love about living in a city, as well as the comfortable components of what I grew up in.”
WHO: Aligning Minds presents Waveforms 2.0 with Freddy Todd and Chronicles of the Landsquid
WHERE: The Orange Peel, theorangepeel.net
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 21, 9 p.m. $12 advance/$15 day of show