|"Untitled Co-Artifact" by Bobby Griffiths and Eric Johnson|
Bobby Griffiths has made beautifully haunting ambient music for nearly 13 years, has made visual art much of his life, and has run a cassette label since 2006, but his most recent project, Gear Two Thrift, has brought Griffiths into the strange world of pop-up shops and instagram retail. An outlet showcasing products that range from vintage horse t-shirts to “Where’s the beef?” enamel pins and 1980s Buffalo Bills mugs, Gear Two will host a pop-up event this Friday, February 22, at Allentown’s Pine Apple Co. from 6pm-10pm.
This thread of secondhand use runs deep in Griffith’s programming, most easily found in his strange tape-based music as “VWLS”. Griffiths’ music, from ambient soundscapes to lo-fi hip-hop, often pulls samples from thrifted tapes and records, reusing old tape players from the Library of Congress created for those with visual impairments. Griffiths then pushes these samples and modest equipment to the furthest points of abstraction, creating something entirely new out of what may have been “junk” to someone without this frame of mind. Griffiths attributes this unique sound largely to his gear: “Part of what makes my sound is that everything is old and kind of dirty.” The result of a thrifty mind, a talented ear, and dirty old gear is eight releases of brilliant tape music, perfectly listenable for any situation, be it a long drive or background sound to meditate or relax to.
Griffiths began exploring this type of sound as a “way to make the most annoying thing possible” to show his friends, juxtaposing clashing samples on Fruity Loops and playing them in the car to the point of driving the songs into others’ heads. While not a trained musician, Griffiths found a way to carve out his own sound using what he had.
“I didn’t have a lot of technology, this was 2006 and 7 so there weren’t iPads and I didn’t have a sampler. I didn’t have any gear other than tape players. I just started recording loops the sides of tapes and mixing them from there, so that’s been my main focus ever since, really.” After a decade of refining this sound, Griffith’s VWLS tapes improved each time, each with more layers than the last, and each with a more lush sound. Griffiths uses this sound to lull audiences into a trancelike state. “Since I don’t know anything about making music per se, like I don’t know music theory in any way, everything is sort of based on a feel or a mood … I think of it like a soundtrack in a way, just trying to build up a mood or suspense or do something blissed out and kind of meditate.” Griffiths recalls that at his first live show a friend fell asleep, a response Griffiths lovingly appreciates, happy to “chill somebody out that far” to transform a concrete floor into a place of rest.
Griffiths has most recently been adding more hip-hop-sourced and inspired beats with a more rhythmic sound, and continues to chip away at new tracks; however, VWLS has become less of a main focus for Griffiths lately, as his visual art and Gear Two have become more pressing. Currently, Griffiths has been working on a series of freelance illustrations for educational children’s books in the works. Griffiths enjoys this project as it’s something outside of his normal field of work, and the deadlines keep him motivated to create more regularly, producing a book each week.
Griffiths lives and breathes art, working at Gutter Pop comics, and spending much of his time drawing and painting. Recently, a collaborative piece Griffiths created with Eric Johnson, “Untitled Co-Artifact,” has been added to the permanent collection at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center. Griffiths also took part in Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center’s “A Mid-Winter’s Draw,” a live drawing event featuring some of the area’s most talented visual artists.
While VWLS has no live events planned currently, Griffiths remains hard at work in other realms of art. In addition to visual art and ambient music, Griffiths has been developing Gear Two Thrift, his online and pop-up based thrift store. “I’ve wanted to do something like that since college. I’ve always been into thrift stores and that sort of thing, so I just thought it’d be fun to do that sort of side game … I hate wasting things, so if I can find a way to double up and reuse stuff, that’s always good for me.” An environmentally-friendly modus operandi, Griffiths continues to find new uses for old items, both in passing them to new owners, and in creating art from them. Gear Two Thrift items can be purchased through direct messages on the store’s Instagram page, or at various pop-up events, the next of which will take place this Friday at Pine Apple Co. from 6pm-10pm.
Written by Jesse James Kaufman