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The High Key Portrait Series: Noah Selwyn of Agent Zero

Agent Zero | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

About eight years ago, Noah Selwyn began creating electronic music in his studies at The Community College of Philadelphia.

Since that time, the producer’s been advancing Philly’s homegrown dubstep and house scene, as he reimagines traditional EDM with a pop edge and his steady crew of live instruments, and evolves his studio- and stagecraft under nom-de-plume Agent Zero.

In May, Agent Zero released The Awakening, and has been playing a heavy roster of local appearances this summer with a live band — one we got to see in action during their Key Studio Session earlier this year. They just performed at the SENSORiUM Music & Arts Festival at Fishtown’s Ukie Club, and this weekend, they trek up to Northeastern Pennsylvania for the Satellite Ranch Music and Arts Festival.

This conversation with Selwyn took place a couple years back in Philadelphia’s Boom Room Studios, where the ambitious producer had recently taken up residence as an in-house engineer and producer.

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The Key Studio Sessions: Agent Zero

A lot can change in seven years, and for Noah Selwyn, it’s been quite the journey from his earliest incarnation of Agent Zero to the collective of musicians joining him in WXPN studios this week.

In preparing this session, I found myself doing a deep dive on the Philly electronic dance musician’s Facebook archive of live photos and gig flyers, and discovered an early 2011 shot of him and three peers in We Are Psy-Fi productions on a rooftop near the Kimmel Center. Selwyn’s hair is short and spiky, he was mostly clean-shaven, and wore a button-down shirt and tie. It appears this was his standard stage attire at the time, and it seems like he often took the stage solo as well. Today, he’s got long, flowing and vaguely hippie-ish hair, rocks a beard, and dresses more casually to perform, including a stylish bead necklace worn during his Key Studio Sessions performance. And he has a band that takes the stage with him.

Beyond appearances, the more significant change is Selwyn’s music. It was always bright and upbeat, a bubbling concoction of trance, house and dubstep that he honed studying under Slit Jockey Records founder Starkey. Though his skill as a producer has certainly advanced over the past five years, you can still hear the Agent Zero of today in the Agent Zero of 2013’s EP Sound Sorcery Volume 1 — body-moving BPMs, ecstatic synthesizer tones, progressive rhythms that follow a dramatic ebb and flow. Selwyn always had the chops to make Agent Zero work in the DJ realm — potentially a new generation’s Pretty Lights or Quantic — but the big change that between then and now is his pop sensibilities developed and his ambition grew. Continue reading →