Agent Zero: Honoring a Fallen Agent.
For Noah Selwyn, life in 2016 shows no signs of slowing down.
Since celebrating the release of his latest EP, Mechanisms, with a release show at Silk City, Selwyn, who produces under the alias Agent Zero, has had a heavy roster of Pennsylvania festival dates including slots at Gala in the Grove in Jonestown and Freeform Arts Festival in Honesdale.
When he isn’t performing live, one can find him scoring plays like “Head of Medusa,” engineering at Fishtown’s Boom Room studios or meticulously crafting and experimenting with the sounds that will eventually become his next release.
This weekend was spent playing early morning sets at Mysteryland, but in spite of performing only hours before in upstate New York, Selwyn isn’t phased. Since moving from Connecticut to Philadelphia in the fall of 2008 to work for the non-profit City Year, Selwyn’s had his sights set on the music scene.
“I came to Philly because of the music,” he says. MIDI controllers and studio monitors flank him as he’s seated in front of the home studio in his Fishtown house. “I was really into bands like The Disco Biscuits, Lotus, STS9… so I knew that the Biscuits were from Philly so I’m gonna pick Philly because I like this band a lot and I’m sure there’s gonna be some cool things there.”
As part of working for City Year, Selwyn received aid for college and had originally wanted to pursue a degree in jazz drumming but didn’t get into any program. With community college as a back-up, he enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia, originally for social work before discovering its music production program.
“It turned out to be a really big blessing in disguise,” he’s quick to point out.
At CCP, Selwyn met his mentor, professor Paul Geissinger, better known as Starky, one of the earliest U.S. adopters of U.K. Grime. Geissinger inspired Selwyn to start experimenting with electronic music production in addition to playing in other musical projects. Geissinger’s guidance proved valuable to the budding music producer’s career.
“I gotta give him endless props for not only showing me what the buttons do,” Selwyn says of Geissinger while turning a knob on the keyboard next to him, “but just the drive that it takes to be fast and be precise. How to work on a mix to make it sound as good as it can be with the tools that I have.”
But it wasn’t until the passing of Moses Malloy Jiggets, Selwyn’s close friend and first musical connection in the city, that he found his identity. The two met at an outdoor party during Selwyn’s time at City Year and shortly thereafter Jiggets, who performed under the name Agent M03, and Selwyn played several house shows together and became close friends. When he passed in the fall of 2011, Selwyn knew he needed to honor his friend’s memory.
“[He] was my first musician friend in Philadelphia so I was like, ‘Alright, I need to name my project in this guy’s name,’” he explains. “I came here for the music and this guy was my good friend and his music lives on through the name with me. I took the zero out of ‘M03’ and that’s where the name comes from.”
On New Years Eve of 2011, Agent Zero was born. Over the course of the next year the producer would begin writing and recording what would become his debut album, Sound Sorcery Vol.1, released on Funkadelphia in November of 2013. It was around this time that he met Jason Luber, his long-term guitarist and collaborator.
“I’ve been there every step of the way for the last three or four years,” says Luber over a phone call. The two met when Selwyn joined Luber’s electronic jam band Eudemon, and behind the drum kit proved to be exactly what the band needed. Luber and Selwyn bonded quickly on the way to band practice over their similar taste in music, and soon Selwyn would hit up the guitarist to come over and write with him. Shared musical interests weren’t the only thing that drew him to the budding producer.
“I admire his hard work ethic,” Luber says. “He’s really dedicated and in-it-to-win-it — grinding and grinding every day. We also get along well creatively and there’s very little clashing when it comes to ideas.”
Following the release of Sound Sorcery Vol. 1, the two expanded the live line-up to include Rob “Potter” Green on saxophone, and for the second Agent Zero album, Sound Sorcery Vol. 2, added drummer Ryan “DJ Ha” Aloisi. At the release party for Mechanisms, the Agent Zero lineup grew once more to include vocalist Spenser Michaels.
Considering bands that blend electronic production and more traditional musical performances shaped Selwyn’s aesthetic, it’s a natural progression for him to expand the Agent Zero live show out into a full band.
“It really makes it come alive,” Selwyn says, smiling while pressing play on the live recording from the show. “The fusion of analog and digital is where shit gets real interesting. DJs are cool, bands are cool, but when it’s both, it’s crazy. It’s what I need to listen to.”