Environmental Dance Music: The Polish Ambassador Gives Back; Envision Magazine, February, 2015
It’s not every day that you see 75 people working whole-heartedly through dusk at Alberta Park in northeast Portland, Oregon, but the group rallied into the cold night to transform an abandoned allotment into a functioning garden. This community achievement, accomplished in only a few hours, comprised only a fraction of the hard work organized and executed by the Pushing Through the Pavement “action day” team on its six-week, nationwide campaign celebrating music, community and permaculture last October.
The permaculture movement can be described concisely in four ideas: to care for the earth, to care for the people, to set limits to consumption, and to return the surplus.
“Permaculture is reverence for the earth,” said Sugalski. “Essentially it is reverence for one’s self and acknowledging that we need to work together to take care of the earth and ourselves.”
Pushing Through the Pavement is a part of a wave of new music consciousness in the electronic dance music (EDM) scene, which has exploded into the mainstream in the past decade. With big festivals and concerts, thousands of fans may gather in a normally secluded area for one weekend, without much thought of the environmental impact of the event.
David Sugalski, also known as The Polish Ambassador, has taken on organizing permaculture action days as a part of the aforementioned tour. “Action days” are free, environmentally-focused events, where participants help to maintain or refurbish an area of the local community in a way that is ecologically friendly. This Portland event was just one of the many organized as part of the Pushing Through the Pavement permaculture action tour.
“Hundreds of people have been showing up to these satellite community gardens that have been opened up to receive helping hands and we’ve done a week’s worth of work in a couple of hours with all these amazing people who decided to come help out,” said Sugalski.
The action days have been held in a range of locations, from inner-city gardens to more secluded locations with acres of land on which to work, and have drawn fans to help out.
The Polish Ambassador is a prominent producer in the electronic music genre, which is known for promoting a culture of peace, love, unity, and respect. However, the genre is also associated with binge-drinking and an excessive reputation.
The Pushing Through the Pavement team says that the smallest event was attended by 30 people, and the biggest event was hosted in Berkeley, Calif., which attracted a crowd of 300 people.
The word permaculture can be broken down into two roots – “permanent” and “culture,” which truly reflects the mission of the movement to teach, create, and develop more sustainable ways of living with the earth. One of the practices embraced by the musicians and permaculturists on tour are the development of waste-filled bottle bricks, which involves collecting typical waste and compacting it into plastic bottles and containers to create a dense, brick-like material which can in turn be used to build sustainable structures.
Sugalski first drew attention within the California Bay Area before developing something of a devoted fanbase across the United States. However, in the past few years, he yearned to create something better for the world, especially as a musician on tour.
“I actually think celebration is a beautiful thing but maybe there’s a way we can insert some impact, or reinsert community gathering and then have a celebration, to merge the two back together so they can coexist with one another,” explained Sugalski. The celebration experienced at a concert is still revered by the Polish Ambassador crew, but everyone involved in this recent tour has been making an active effort to increase conscientious community involvement through the action days.
“I don’t think anyone will change if they feel guilty; it’s not about that,” said Ayla Nereo, singer on Jumpsuit Records, musical collaborator, and partner to David Sugalski. “If every person just chooses to be more conscious day-to-day that would completely change this planet.”
The artists of the tour practice what they preach along the way. At the Portland action day, it was common to see the crew in their work clothes talking to friends and fans, many of whom patiently wait their turn to have five minutes to meet the people behind the on-stage personas.
“We’re still driving a vehicle right now, it’s not like we have zero carbon footprint yet, but it’s just, it’s not about going cold-turkey; it’s about the transition that everyone can make and every little tiny bit that everyone can do,” said Ayla Nereo.
The combined efforts of the permaculture tour are a part of a movement to improve the EDM scene’s reputation, which is associated with the poor treatment of festival grounds.
In 2013, Kaleidoscope Music Festival was hosted at Mt. Pisgah Arboretum in Lane County, Oregon. The event brought thousands of fans together from across the country for one weekend, but the lack of organization of environmental clean-up programs and neighbor complaints meant that the festival was cancelled after its first year.
The Parks Advisory Committee of Lane County’s research showed that more than 85 performers were present at Kaleidoscope, and 20,000 unique visitors came during the 3-day festival. However, the noise complaints, traffic issues, and environmental damage were too much for the Emerald Meadows site, and almost all large gatherings were canceled for the 2014 season, including non-EDM gatherings.
Though many event organizers have overlooked the importance of strong environmental policy enforcement for such events, the Pushing Through The Pavement team creates a welcoming atmosphere for those who wish to gather and celebrate, and improve the quality of their surroundings.
Athan Sparkas, a Polish Ambassador fan and attendee at the Portland Permaculture action day, said, “Work finished early because so many people turned out to help, so we had a dance party and practiced yoga to help our bodies prepare to continue working.”
The events organized at the action days encompassed more than just hands-on building and permaculture lessons or lectures, but allowed for community networking and an open environment to share, create, and learn.
“A simpler perspective is the earth is going to be around whether we’re here or not, so it’s really about us as a species wanting to survive and have the most beautiful existence that we can,” reflected Sugalski, when asked about why he believes it’s important to practice permaculture.
Sugalski recently acquired a piece of land in Nevada City, Calif., which he has been developing with the help of his permaculture team. Prospective plans include holding further educational and musical events for friends and fans to come and participate in the land cultivation. After the six-week, cross-country Pushing Through The Pavement tour has come to a close, Sugalski, Nereo, and many other members of their team have headed back to California to continue working on their permaculture adventures on a more individual scale. Still, the need for more environmentally conscious EDM events remains high.
“I hope that other artists take this up and we’ll definitely be doing our part in reaching out to other artists and doing more with the Jumpsuit Records label,” said Ayla Nereo. “With everyone on that label being part of action days and actions events and such, we’re dreaming big.”
Crescendo! Organic Liqueur Profile; OR Magazine, June, 2014
Walking into the distillery in west Eugene, Oregon the smell of fresh paint lingers in the air. Kyle Akin, 34, the founder and CEO of Crescendo! Organic Liqueurs had just finished painting the warehouse himself the day prior and it is commonplace for this Marine Corps veteran to get his hands dirty for his passion.
Akin was born in Willits, California, a small town tucked away amongst the redwoods. He joined the Marine Corps at the age of 17, opening up opportunities to start a life of intensive traveling and start developing the skills that would later “play an instrumental role” in his approach to starting his own limoncello business. During his time in the Marine Corps, Akin has lived in Asia, Africa, Latin America and all across the United States.
While living in Yosemite, Akin almost died after being bitten by a deadly Triatominae— a “kissing bug”—which can cause parasitic infections. Akin managed to drive himself to a hospital before going into anaphylactic shock. The doctors were surprised he survived; if he hadn’t made it to the hospital, he would have died. This event completely changed his outlook on life.
“I left after that happened. That’s the thing about having an allergic reaction: you don’t have scars, or a recovery time — you’re free to go. It was 6 a.m. and the sun was rising, and I thought to myself, ‘I almost didn’t see this. I almost died. I am so lucky,’” Akin says. “I have remembered that every day since. I’ve had bad news, but I haven’t had a bad day since then.”
Akin started experimenting with limoncello recipes in 2009 after trying some at a vineyard on the California coast. It has taken him years to refine his recipe and incorporate organic ingredients. After years of practice, Akin became more experimental with his recipe, as he not only makes limoncello, but also orangecello, limecello,and mandaricello (made with mandarins). The non-traditional route of incorporating other citrus fruits into the label has opened up a niche market for Akin and Crescendo!.
In January 2013, Akin’s day job as a civil engineer brought him to Eugene, and he decided to buy a house in Oregon.
“Before that I could pack my whole life into my truck and a small U-Haul. I was done with the nomadic lifestyle and ready to settle,” Akin says.
After moving to Oregon, Akin decided to pursue his dream by making a business out of his hobby of making limoncello for his friends and family. “I have three lives; I’m a civil engineer by day, I have my personal life, and I moonlight as the owner of a liqueur company.”
The industry of limoncello distillery is one of secrecy and guarded methods and recipes, and Crescendo! is no exception.
“As far as ingredients go, anyone can guess what’s in limoncello, so I have to keep what little I have secretive,” said Akin, “The government doesn’t make it easy to get into the market of alcohol, so starting up a business isn’t easy.”
Eugene has proved to be a great place to start an organic limoncello company as there are many readily available resources that are certified organic, which makes Akin’s whole process easier, though it still took tremendous amounts of hard work for Crescendo! to be where it is today.
“With enough tenacity and dedication you can get through anything,” Akin says, “This is a dream, no one will give it to you for free, and I wouldn’t want it if it was.”
Destiny has been a true guiding force for Akin, who finds that things just seem to come together on their own over time. “It’s strange, but my life has been full of coincidences.”
Akin’s first bottle of limoncello was finally bottled, labeled, and ready to go in March, 2014. “It’s not a process that happens overnight. [The Oregon Liquor Control Commission doesn’t] make it easy to just start professionally making alcohol. At first I had to hunt for massive quantities of organic ethanol, alcohol permits, licenses — but I figured it out.”
The future of Crescendo! Organic Liqueurs looks bright for Kyle Akin, who aspires to reach the national retail market, but it’s going to take hard work and effort. “Alcohol is alcohol,” Akin says. “There’s always a demand, and I’ve got a supply.”