Art, radio shows, social media, creative collective, clothing brand. How can these elements connect and coexist in a single project? We rubbed shoulders with eclectic Aaron Bondaroff to know more about his polyhedral KNOW WAVE, and about how it contributes to the contemporary cultural landscape.
We found out how it’s like to be part of such an ever-evolving, ambitious project, why subculture is an ancient relic, and why Skepta is the man Aaron blames for making KNOW WAVE tees a smash.
How is running KNOW WAVE, unlike anything you’ve done in the past?
KNOW WAVE is this project that happened naturally for me. My gallery, Moran Bondaroff, is my main project, and while spending time in Los Angeles, I wanted to figure out a way to communicate with people in New York . So I tried to create this conversation platform where I can work, interview and be part of other people’s projects, of artists that I don’t represent.
It’s funny because the spirit of the project is that of what I’ve always been doing. I think that when we create this kind of lifestyles for ourselves, it’s the same from wherever it started out. But at the same time, it’s funny because KNOW WAVE is very different than any other project I’ve done because there are people from different walks of life, it’s not just my voice only. What makes it different is that they got their voice, they’re creating what the project is, and they’re shaping it by what they believe in.
We take the radio shows, we transcribe them, and we turn them into interviews. And then we do parties, and sometimes we make merch. So to me, it’s still very similar to the way I’ve always curated all kind of work with artists, it’s just a different formula of the same thing.
After starting KNOW WAVE, what was the experience like? Was it easy? Difficult?
I think it’s challenging. It takes a lot of energy and people to work on the whole scale of what KNOW WAVE is, as it’s very undefinable, it can go in so many directions. It could be a fashion brand if it wanted to – but it doesn’t want to -, it could be a radio station, more of like a real radio, so it’s a lot of work that goes into it. There’s like organizing the people to do the shows, making the flyers, then making sure that the system sounds good. And the recording, the editing, the jingle, the upload, it’s so many layers to get one show. There’s a lot of people involved that offer their time to do this project so, believe it or not, it’s a lot of work.
Why do you think we’re at a point in time where audio has become so much more important for content?
Content is content regardless, but it depends, music has always been around, and that’s audio. I like to go back to the old format of radio because it’s a simple formula. I like the idea that it’s a bit easier on the production level to have so many comments with no cameras, nothing around, so people can feel a little bit more comfortable and express themselves. There are a little more freedom and a little more safe place for expression. I also like the fact that, with audio, conversation, interviews and radio stuff, as kids, before we had all these social media, we would close our eyes, listen and paint a picture. I like that a picture could be painted in everybody’s mind by listening to these radio shows.
In the past, to self-publish or create your own media platform was obviously much more difficult. What are the pros and cons in this ease of content creation?
What happens now in this world of easy access to social media and creation of social platforms is that it takes away the experience from people. I think a long time ago it was better for people to explore the world, and learn on their own through the experience. So if you can create an experience through the social platforms, that is an exciting thing to build, but also very difficult.
It goes two ways; sometimes I also like following the instinct and don’t overthink things, as if you free yourself from being so locked into a particular aesthetic. And then sometimes people are like “Oh wait, this is very important,” so we never really have a good aesthetic, but then you like cripple yourself of being very creative. So it goes two ways, but it’s a dangerous place to be of too much social media because it makes the world way smaller than it really is. And at the same time, though, they’re such an important platform to educate people of what you believe in and of what you are expressing. It’s a tough balance, and I think everybody’s learning as we go because it’s so new.
The ability for subcultures to grow and connect has been heightened, but are enough people going out and creating and contributing to culture?
I guess that it depends on where you’re at in life in age. Maybe that punk rock, “fuck you” attitude changes and you start doing that less as you get older. And maybe you don’t think that people are doing stuff that is important or impactful. But I’ve always believed that the youth and the kids who are creating the scenes are working, they’re doing whatever they got to do for their generation.
I feel that things are always going to evolve and happen for subcultures. But subcultures don’t have enough time to live and to develop, and that’s the problem right now with the access to social media and the way the world works. An idea comes, and it uploads too quick, it gets too famous fast, or it’s not developed yet. I think that this is a problem because things need time to develop on their own, naturally. For me, though, being a guy who grew up in New York City and who’s way older now, the young kids are working. They have radio shows on KNOW WAVE, so I get to talk to them and see what they’re doing. They’re creating their world; their environment is happening, so something will come out of it. But again, subculture is an ancient relic.
How does KNOW WAVE effectively cut through all the other brands and noise?
I guess that we’re so driven by culture and contents that I don’t think any other brand can do what we do, just because we’re coming from a different place. I mean, we’re having art galleries, creating stuff and environment stuff, I believe that what we do with KNOW WAVE is reacting to what’s around us, and our net is really wide. Our first goal is just to be able to archive whatever’s happening in culture, around our community. The products and the brand come second or even third, to me is really about creating this archival project that can outlive us eventually, and that to me is the brand, more than anything. That’s our goal. Obviously, there’s so much going on, but for us, as long as we do what we want to do and not worry about what’s happening, it will be fine.
What purpose does product play in regards to KNOW WAVE?
Considering where we’re at right now in the world as artists and creative, obviously having a platform, putting on music and conversation is more an arm of getting your message across. I see t-shirts that go back to the beginning of time, and that is one of the greatest ways to get the expression in a message. We didn’t want to make products for a long time. I stayed away; I didn’t want to get back to this whole world of retail and design. I was happy to have the gallery and knew I could do art till the day I die. Influence the youth is not easy, though, and somehow you got to pass the torch. So I got forced to create a product as the community who was around KNOW WAVE was excited, they wanted stuff to represent what we were doing, to align with each other.
I made a few shirts as to give to friends, and then somehow Skepta came to New York, and he did a radio show. He wanted one of those shirts, and eventually got photographed and ended up on social media quick. Everybody got crazy, and I was like “Fucking Skepta man, now I gotta make some shirts!”. But it was good as we needed to put the money back into the project. This is a community project, and everybody here volunteers their time for free to be part of it.
Between physical experiences and audio, how do Moran Bondaroff and KNOW WAVE play off of each other?
The gallery is the main project. Working with artists and developing their careers, placing their works in important collections, being able to create a space for them, that’s the passion that I have. What KNOW WAVE brings to Moran Bondaroff is a new way of expression. Radio is an old format, but for a gallery to have an outlet like this, it makes us different from the others. We’re willing to take chances with different artists and creative people to give them a voice, people we don’t necessarily do gallery business with. And I think that wins.
There’s a lot of cross conversation going on with the artists, the musicians and the creative people from the scene. For example, a lot of times we just put out a record with Onyx Collective, which is a jazz band from New York City. They met Bryan Belott, who’s an artist I work with at the gallery. They became good friends, and Bryan Belott designed the artwork for their album cover. I think KNOW WAVE gives the artists that I get to work with a different and more instant kind of platform to work on, because it’s fast, it’s moving quick. It’s a cross-cultural conversation between the gallery and KNOW WAVE.
The whole East Coast/West Coast/London connection means a different outlook. How does this influence KNOW WAVE?
It’s nice that we got to have a station in London and that we get to broadcast some of the things people are doing there. We’ve done a couple of shows in Tokyo. I just think the world is obviously a lot smaller, and everybody goes about it differently, but at the end of the day it’s the spirit that we all have, and it’s about that feeling of just creating and turning your life into your business, into your art. I think it’s important that everybody has a particular aesthetic and style, that they stay true to their roots and the foundations they come from. And from there, a conversation can be held, because if everybody’s doing the same thing, there’s no conversation.
What’s the most memorable thing KNOW WAVE has done to date?
The best part about this thing is that there’s no result, that’s the exciting thing about it. KNOW WAVE was an idea that I had a long time ago with a play on words towards all the music scene I came up to NewYork in the 70s, that was against commercialism. And as I was working on KNOW WAVE, I had this idea that we were giving knowledge to each other and passing it off, so that it became like Knowledge Wave.
I feel that KNOW WAVE is just this thing that keeps ever-evolving, and it can go in so many different directions. It could be an exhibition, it could be a museum show, it could be a branding and retail shop, it could be so many things, and that’s the exciting part about it right now. We’ll never know what’s going to happen next. I guess it’s about longevity, as most of the time people want to grow with a project and make sure that they’re spending time listening to a station, and buying products, and supporting art. They want to know that that’s going to keep going, add value with the content. So I think for us it’s just about making sure that this has longevity, and preserve the culture that we’re living in right now.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)