“We sound like and look like what New Orleans sound like and look like. Or what it should sound like and look like,” Pink Room Project’s Brandon Ares said. The rapper/producer/visual artist has a signature look, and it’s not the one promoted by the Tourism Board. He’s skinny in an essentially punk-rock way, with short dreads that hang over his eyes like bangs. He was early to our interview at Mojo Coffee House on Magazine St., working on his laptop in a baggy black tee and jeans ripped to shreds, a spiked silver chain looped through his belt and weaving between his legs. “The homegirl Carlisa made this shit,” he said, holding it up to show me the intricate metalwork.
Keith Cavalier (a.k.a. Lil Jodeci) showed up a few minutes after I arrived. His look was less futuristic than Ares’s. His dreads were stuffed into a beanie and a blue work shirt covered his plain white tee. Cavalier and Ares founded The Pink Room Project in 2015. They named it after a pink-walled room in Cavalier’s Gentilly shotgun, where Ares was living at the time. “I was pretty much homeless, so he put me up for a very long time and helped me out,” Ares said. “I was producing for a while, and I couldn’t find anyone that was making the kind of music I wanted to do. But after Katrina, I moved around and came back to the city, and Cav was doing a lot of stuff as a DJ. So he kind of precursored this whole shit that’s going on now.”
“I’ve been throwing parties since, like, 2011. I’ve been around for a minute,” Cav said. “I was doing date parties and events. Some shit at the House of Blues. And we did some shows with artists like Mary Gold and D’lo. And then in 2015, me and Brandon connected on music and we evolved it into Pink Room. We had a bunch of artists we was working with, and in 2016, we started throwing some joints at Poor Boys.”
As hype built around the Poor Boys parties, Pink Room started throwing secret house shows as well. Last year, they started a bi-monthly residency at Three Keys at the Ace Hotel, and recently, they found a more frequent home on Saturday nights at the Hi-Ho. Since November, when Vice ran a feature on Pink Room in their music issue, these events have exploded, packing the venue even tighter than DJ Soul Sister’s legendary HUSTLE! parties once did.
“That night’s just about dancing,” Cav said. “It’s about culture. It’s the bridge from kids in the Bywater to them preppy Tulane kids; bringing them together and then bringing in some kids from the hood, and they all mesh. Now sometimes you might feel uncomfortable, but that’s good. Uncomfortability is how you grow.”
“It was always our idea to bring as many dope motherfuckers together that was from the city and give them an opportunity to get their shit out there,” Ares said. “We really elevate the city, too. We put it on a platform so that this shit can be seen and compete on the world scale, because this is world shit that we doing. This is about pushing the boundary and not getting stuck in the idea that because we’re in New Orleans, we have to do shit in a certain type of way, but also reminding motherfuckers that New Orleans invents and makes everything new anyways.”
“It’s about doing shit on an elevated level,” Cav agreed. “Not just the norm of jazz and bounce. We wanna put New Orleans on the map from that perspective in a real organic sense. It’s really about us loving our city and the culture behind it and embodying that and reaching everybody—inclusiveness.”
Inclusivity is central to Pink Room’s philosophy. Ares and Cav draw on punk, house, industrial, bounce, trap and jazz to create a sound that’s refreshingly edgy in a city with a reputation so rooted in tradition. Their crew, which now includes at least nine other musicians and visual artists, has dedicated itself to pushing that tradition into the new millennium.
“It’s about supporting the idea of the black culture of New Orleans. Because at the end of the day, it’s the only culture of New Orleans,” Ares said. “We can either keep regurgitating the old idea of black culture in New Orleans over or we can actually give the new idea… a time to grow and blossom.”
The Pink Room Project will put on a showcase at BUKU Music & Art Project on Friday, Mar. 9. You can catch them at Hi-Ho Lounge (2239 Saint Claude Ave.) every Saturday. They also throw frequent events at Poor Boys (1328 St. Bernard Ave.) and The Ace Hotel (600 Carondelet St.). Go to Pinkroomproject.com for more information about the collective, and text their hotline (504-517-4747) to find out about their next house party.