Aaron Albano, a.k.a MING: A History in 5 Parts
1 – Yes, THAT Ming
A lifetime, generation, and musical life cycle ago – aka in the ‘90s – Ming was part of an experimental hip-hop group you might have heard of: Ming + FS.
The duo used breakbeats as the foundation for most of their work, but was best known for eschewing musical boundaries and resisting tidy little labels, freely incorporating elements of house, electro and drum ‘n’ bass into their music. They affectionately dubbed this smashed-up style “junkyard,” a moniker that got picked up in dance music press, and on their own releases (like 1998’s “Junkyard Drum ‘n’ Bass”).
Over the course of their decade together, Ming + FS played over 1,000 shows in the United States and abroad; opened for acts like Sting, Run DMC and Moby; added tracks to video games like Playstation’s “Wipeout Pure” and EA Sports’ “NBA Ballers”; and released four albums, a series of EPs, and countless 12 inches and remixes.
But back in that period of dance music, genre was king: Trance was trance, house was house, electro just wasn’t, and blending too freely was thought to show a lack of identity, rather than a strong one. You could say that Ming +FS was ahead of its time. And when the dance bubble that was only just starting to inflate went pop in the early 2000s, things only got harder.
2 – Fuck It!
Frustrated with the constant battle to make room for creativity, Ming started to apply his musical and studio talents to broader endeavors. He started producing other bands, and learned the nuances of licensing and film scoring, securing musical credits in syndicated shows like “CSI: NY,” “CSI: Miami,” “Sex In The City,” and Showtime’s “Weeds.”
In 2006, he left Ming + FS to open his own company, Hood Famous Music (HFM). The full- service production house develops emerging artists across diverse styles, like metal band Bazaar Royale, hip-hop and R&B maestro Michael Lynche (Big Mike of “American Idol”), and NYC electro-rock outfit 33hz. He also heads up Habitat Music, a new venture providing original music for the advertising community, as well as film and television; and Afire Music, a commercial music licensing company.
“I could have done Ming + FS for another ten years and been frustrated and pissed off,” he says. “Instead I focused on my businesses.”
But amongst the young acts crowding his studio and craving his expertise, Ming found a new lease on his musical life.
3 – Lick The Rainbow
After 2006, “I took some time off and walked my dogs for two years,” says Ming. But by then, the dance music world was starting to seismically shift, and its new, boundary-less ethic reenergized the veteran.
“When I was with Ming+FS, the industry wanted everything to be in a bucket, genre-specific,” he says. “I wanted to stay in music, but not the same type. Working with 33hz, I was exposed to a lot of new dance that isn’t dance the way we knew it, like Chromeo, The Kills and The Knife – a lot of great vocals and actual songs. I’ve always been a songwriter– now you can do that, and do dance music, and it’s not weird anymore. Not since disco have you been able to do song-oriented dance music.”
“I started to hear all the new sounds people were using – the difference between pop, dance and dubstep, for example; it’s narrowed and they’ve all become one – and dance music felt new and fresh again. I fell back in love with dance, the challenge of it. I was excited again.”
4 –The New Shit
Ming’s new inspiration yielded a torrent of fresh material. Take nouveau club tracks like “Hijack the Disco 2011,” an updated take on a Ming + FS classic: It’s a blistering call to dancefloor action with reverberating synths, filtered like classic house and pitch-shifted like the reigning wobble bass of now. “Promenade” sparks like a runway bitch track, with thick bass fuzz. And pop-length nuggets like “Feel So Good” and “Backlash” tip their hats to the new school of dance bands, as well as the legendary canon of ‘70s funk and disco, and ‘80s synth-pop.
Meanwhile, Ming has stepped right back into the remix ring, churning out re-works for pop icons and upstarts that incorporate an even broader palette of sounds. He turned Beyonce’s “Who Runs The World” into a electro-meets-dubstep anthem, framed around Diplo’s now legendary beat. He stripped down Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” to a slapped bass and plucked guitar before building to a rock-propelled dance epic. And for the Black Eyed Peas’ “Rock That Body,” he chose swirling, dubby synths and bass, and warped vocal treatments.
How’s that for new forms?
5 – That’s What’s Next
Armed with a newfound sense of liberation, over two decades’ worth of production know-how and tools, and inspiration from dance music’s bevy of new champions, Ming is looking toward the musical future he always dreamed of.
“It’s exciting to hear this new sonic thing that’s happening, similar to what we had when we were mixing genres in the old days. But now it’s crossing over not just to dance kids, but to metal heads and rock people,” he says. “It’s exciting to see 18-years-olds stagediving at dance shows. I’m inspired by the people who have done something with this genre that was considered dead. We’ve gone past the ‘everybody’s a DJ’ phase: Now people are good producers and good DJs.”
But the sweetest part of all for this musician-by-blood is just being back in the mix. “I’ve got something to say – again,” says Ming. “I felt like it had been said and done. Now I have my voice back.”