Home > Interviews > Paradise Signs Co-Founders Talk Music, Art and the Richmond Scene

Paradise Signs Co-Founders Talk Music, Art and the Richmond Scene

After hosting our launch party at Gallery5 earlier this year, Dust Up has partnered with a group of artists around the city to return to live events with a new series called Paradise Signs. Paradise Signs is a series of three curated shows at Flora in October, November and December. The first show is this Saturday, October 21st, with Anousheh, Sweet Potato, DJ Skrt Skrt and PRSMCAT.

Paradise Signs was founded by musician Zavi Harman and graphic designer Rin Kim, with Dust Up and VALET, a DIY art space on Broad St., supporting and promoting their efforts.

Learn more about the event and the people who came together to create it below…

Rin Kim, left, and Zavi Harman, right. Photos provided by the artists.

Can you both introduce yourselves and talk a little bit about your history with music/art in Richmond?

Zavi Harman: I’m a musician, a marketing coordinator for a local non-profit and I teach DJ’ing classes to young people through ART180.

My history with music in Richmond goes way back to when I was about 3 years old when my dad forced me to practice Mozart for an hour everyday until I cried. I can’t play piano to save my life now because I rejected it after that whole experience. My dad was a hardass on me about piano because he played keys in a lot of R&B bands around town and wanted me to be some kind of prodigy. I got to sit in on a bunch of my dad’s band’s gigs playing guitar while I was in high school and college, so I grew up learning how to play rhythm guitar with really talented, older Richmond R&B guys. I would say that shaped me a lot as a musician and has been the foundation of my guitar playing in Spooky Cool and Majjin Boo. Regarding my secondary musical passions of production and djing, I actually had given up on trying to be in a band for about four years. I was disillusioned with trying to find a band after so many failed attempts, and it led me to bedroom producing and electronic music. I moved up to NYC for a year and took an Ableton Live certification course, then moved back to Richmond in hopes of starting my own recording studio. Although that dream never came to fruition, I did record the Strumpet record back in 2013, and I’m currently working on the Majjin Boo record in conjunction with Stereo Image Recording Studio.

After moving back to Richmond, I got connected with Conley Thurston Billings and Joseph Whitfield through a friend and began DJing at their event series, Animal. I’m forever grateful for those two for giving me the chance to cultivate my DJing chops at their parties. Playing in bands is fun, but I also love being able to play my favorite tunes and have people dance all night to a curated set. It is an incredibly rewarding experience. I had so much fun working with Animal the past two years that I was inspired to create my own event, Paradise Signs. Being involved in both the indie music and electronic scenes in Richmond gave me dual perspectives on two very isolated worlds, and I wanted to create an event that spoke to the participants of both. My goal is to help facilitate the process of creating a more supportive, collaborative and interconnected music and art community in Richmond.

Rin Kim: I’m a graphic designer and visual curator currently based in Richmond. I’ve only been in RVA for a short time, but most of what I’ve been up to in the Richmond arts/music scene has been my involvement with The French House which was an online publication which functioned as a platform for QPOC and POC creatives in RVA as well as organizing experimental showcases such as ONE SEX which was a sculptural and video installation/dj night in collaboration this past year with Chino Amobi, Mary Lai and Boying Chen. Most of my work focuses on the hyperfocused movements of interconnections between gender and ancestral heritage and the particular upheaval of ongoing eruptions of trauma and queer transplanted bodies that re-arrange assumptions about the relationship between subjectivity and identity. Lots of bookmaking, videos, posters and performance art. Shit like that.

How did you two meet? When did the idea for collaborating on a series of shows start to form?

Kim: We met at a rally in RVA through a mutual friend about a year ago and immediately hit it off. I got a text from Zavi over the summer about an idea he had to bring something new to the RVA music scene, and he wanted to invite me to handle the art direction and design. We both are really passionate about the communities we’re in, and it made a lot of sense to bring people we love and want to see thrive creatively together. So we started workshopping an event that would encompass multiple-scenes and here we are now.

What does Paradise Signs mean? What do you conceptualize it as?

Kim: Paradise Signs was an idea I played around with for a while thinking about the start date for the show and what was happening around those times: the Zodiac killings, Jupiter moving into Scorpio, winter approaching with that kind of restlessness that comes when night falls earlier. The coloration all came from the scorpio zodiac affiliations, along with five being a recurring number. The release film was heavily based off the Zodiac Killer films from 1971 and 2007.

I really wanted the premiere video we made with Daniel Mangosing (DJ Mango) to feel this this mashing of fashion film, music video and commercial. I was thinking about how we heavily romanticize violence, and even when we don’t we’re too curious in nature to look away from how carnal it is. How do we make an oasis in winter that’s too seductive to ignore?

I also wanted to alter the way people view how DIY events are marketed. We built branding and iconography that alters your perception of the gravity of what’s coming because we often associate the quality of those byproducts with something a lot more mechanic. These show sets are signals (signs lol) of this dream, this “paradise” of a symphonic heaven on earth where we all are building platforms for one another and creating spaces for great things to happen.

How do Dust Up and VALET factor into Paradise Signs?

Harman: We decided to reach out to Dust Up and VALET because we loved their visions and what these entities bring to the community. VALET was started up by my roommate at the time, Ben Copolillo, who now lives in New York, and our friends Gabe Boudali and Sam Morgan. They found an abandoned space in a parking garage and (with permission from the landlord) turned it into a DIY cooperative art gallery. The goal was to provide a space for underrepresented or experimental artists to present their work outside of VCU and the formal art gallery realm. VALET has been running for two years now and have had a wide variety of shows, artists and events come through the space.

That’s something we’re striving for with Paradise Signs: we want everyone and anyone to play, and we strive to break down barriers between genres and social groups. Our goal is to make different music/art scenes work together in a seamless way and bring the community as a whole a little bit closer to each other. That’s the spirit of VALET that I hope comes through in our events.

Dust Up is basically the Richmond music scene’s supergroup of supportive creators and promoters. They have the team, connections and talent to promote and catalogue almost everything that goes on in Richmond’s music scene, and it’s such an incredible resource. For one, the show calendar is a life saver. Unlike many other publication, they cover smaller shows at DIY spaces that are hard as shit to find unless you are connected online. Like VALET, this group speaks to the vision of Paradise Signs in how they bridge the gaps between different aspects of our community and give people another outlet to immerse themselves in the diverse creative communities in Richmond. It’s a special thing to be able to do that in a city that can often feel disjointed or isolating.

What about the local music scene do you love? Where do you think there is room for improvement?

Harman: I really love the sense of camaraderie within the network of venues. It’s great being able to go to house shows, local venues and more club-like events and run into friends anywhere. I think it’s amazing to have this relatively small community of local musicians, artists, fans and music industry people that really support one another and try to lift each other up. But having a small community also leads to some of its hangups. Access to just a few venues can create these pockets of sound that can sometimes isolate different music scenes from each other and tend to breed the same kind of music within the smaller groups. From my experience, artists who break the mold of traditionally popular kinds of music in town have trouble finding their footing. For example, Jon Hawkins new modular synth project Thumper creates a breathtaking performance, but has been mostly booked on indie rock bills where the audience really doesn’t interact with his work in a productive or engaged way. With Paradise Signs, I wanted to create a space that really highlights unique acts like this and showcases the wonderful, weird and bad-ass music in Richmond that may not fit within the traditional genres and gives them the space to thrive alongside other creators tapping into similar feelings and vibes.

How does Paradise Signs aim to amplify the things you love about local shows and improve upon some of the other points you just mentioned?

Harman: Paradise Signs aims to create uniquely curated events. First and foremost, we wanted to take our time to have our events offer a theme, setting them apart from the standard DJ party. We began the process in June, allowing us time to procure an incredible lineup of artists, design custom graphics, create video content and secure our own light show. Another really important component to this event is that I wanted to book artists in a different manner then I’ve generally experienced as a musician in Richmond. I guaranteed the artists a specific pay rate, which improves the overall experience in a couple ways. One, it makes me liable as a promoter to make sure I get people to attend or else I eat the cost. This forces me to be more inventive and work with more people to create the maximum draw for these events. Also, I think getting fairly compensated for their time, energy and work gives the artists a bigger incentive to amp up their performance.

How does Flora help you realize your goals for Paradise Signs?

Choosing a venue was a considerable point of discussion for us. Because Paradise Signs is a unique pop-up event, we wanted our venue to be distinctive as well. However, we needed to consider a lot of logistics like a legit sound system and a “legal” bar. To me, Flora is a great venue for DJs. It’s not the biggest room, but I think the smaller space adds to the intimacy of the event. When people are squished together, sweaty and not feeling exposed and vulnerable, they are able to cut loose and dance their asses off.

Are you doing anything in particular to make the space feel different than other nights? What sort of curation goes into each event beyond booking the artists?

Harman: The answer to that question is YES. From the early planning stages, making a unique live show was a very high priority. We want this event to stand out from the norm and be a kick ass party that Richmond can come out and enjoy. We were lucky to have lights and projectors donated for our events and my friend Alex Randall, a kinetic imagining graduate, will conduct live visual projections as well as the light show. We will be preparing the visuals/light this week to align with the event’s aesthetic and make for an incredibly fun, intense and intimate dance experience.

Kim: Lol. Curation is like trying to watch National Treasure with the volume really loud while simultaneously learning to play the piano: there’s a LOT going on. Art direction is always this kind of whirlwind of balancing making behind-the-scenes look effortless while still communicating that this is significant and deserving of a viewer’s time and attention. There was storyboarding the film, casting, getting a videographer (shout-out to Daniel Mangosing and Diansakhu Banton-Perry), shooting, editing, illustrating the iconography, laying out and designing the posters, the trillion edits of the posters, printing, scheduling release times, etc. It’s really fun and I love it, but it’s good for people to know it’s not easy to make something beautiful. Artists really put their sweat and tears into making things look incredible and paying homage to that (and paying invoices) is really important. Paradise Signs had a lot of unbelievable artists make it happen, and I think it’s really evident with the scale of the marketing for the events themselves.

What are you most excited about relating to the shows?

Kim: Well first off: the lineup is incredible!!!!! It’s going to be really sweet to see a lot of different music scenes come together to make a night where we can all have an awesome time and make space for one another. It’s corny, but music changes us and facilitates these interactions that are really invaluable, and I want people to be able to take a breather and dance, listen, and just have a good fucking time.

Harman: As Rin said this lineup is incredible, and I can’t wait to see everyone perform. We were so lucky that the artists we reached out to were really receptive to the event idea. I was nervous to ask TrapCry to play because their music is so fucking good, and I wasn’t sure they’d be into it. So getting to see them perform will be a highlight for me. I’m also really excited to see a project realized that’s been in the works since June. Everyone involved has put so much effort into making this party as dope as possible, and I’m elated to see all this labor come to fruition. I want to give major props to Rin and Craig for being amazing at what they do, and I’m so proud to have been able to work on this project with them. Finally, I can’t wait to see all my Richmond homies from different scenes and backgrounds in one space having a good time together. I’m glad I can be a part of this amazing Richmond community and help create a super fun, inclusive event.

Paradise Signs host their first event on Saturday, October 21st, at 9:00 pm at Flora with Anousheh, Sweet Potato, DJ Skrt Skrt and PRSMCAT. Admission is $5 at the door.