If New York City had a voice, what would it say? Roman Grandinetti, aka DJ Manero, and his innovative creative agency CNNCTD+, aimed to find out. Together with his partner Bibi Cornejo Borthwick (daughter of fashion designer Maria Cornejo and photographer Mark Borthwick), they sought out 100 individuals who define the creative lifestyle, and asked them to record audio snippets of their lives. The roster list of audio and visual recordings includes a whole lot of New York notables—Santigold, Cindy Sherman, Pharrell Williams, Yoko Ono, and Paz de la Huerta, just to name a few. Passerbys can listen to the recordings on customized Playbuttons (a lapel pin that doubles as an MP3 player) both at the New Museum and on Sound Graffiti boxes installed around the city, utilizing foot traffic and urban architecture to connect to a vast population of city dwellers in a meaningful way. We talked to Grandinetti about his mission with CNNCTD+, his ideas for a magazine of the future, and getting 100 legends to take part in his vision.
The Creators Project: Okay, first tell us a little something about what CNNCTD+ is and some of your most memorable past projects.
DJ Manero: CNNCTD+ is an NYC-based creative agency and all around fun company. We try to have fun with every project that gets thrown our way, but we are also looking to break a couple of rules here and there. I think a lot of recent marketing efforts have been getting stale and people are making the mistake of directing everything to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—all that. Nothing is hands-on and in-your-face anymore, so we are trying to breathe some life back into things. Don't get me wrong, social media has its place, but our first line of attack is always the real world.
Probably our most ambitious recent project was CNNCTD+100, where we asked 100 creative leaders and cultural icons to create an original work of "Sound Graffiti" for us. Sound Graffiti is a concept we developed that incorporates an audio and visual element in a package that can be displayed indoors or on the street. For CNNCTD+100 we wanted to showcase a cross-section of NYC culture while introducing the concept of Sound Graffiti to the world. Contributors included huge names like Yoko Ono, Spike Lee, Pharrell Williams, Mario Sorrenti, Cindy Sherman, and Santigold, but also NYC-based influencers like Katz Deli, The Meatball Shop, Ricky Powell, and Bill Powers.
What’s unique about the upcoming CNNCTD+ online magazine?
I started the magazine when I was basically still a kid. I was a horrible writer, a bad photographer, and I was dead broke. But I had a vision and some friends that believed in me. I went to art and design high school so I kind of rang up some friends and some kids out of Brooklyn that I was doing a sneaker event with at the time to pull in some advertisements. I was working at Bathing Ape and Universal Records. I figured if I got a cool cover then the rest would come together, and it did. In our first few issues we had Mark Ronson, 50 Cent, Pharoahe Monch, and Swizz Beatz on the covers of the magazine.
Now that we're re-launching online, we're taking a different approach. We recently had the pleasure of sitting with Mr. George Lois and he basically ripped the idea of just putting celebrities on the cover and told us to really think more than the next person. It inspired us to rethink the idea of a magazine and come up with a new approach. We aren't ready to announce what we're doing but we think it's going to stand out and change the way people think about magazines a little bit.
When I first did the magazine I didn’t have two dimes to rub together, and I distributed around 65,000 issues out of a basement in Chinatown. I'm proud of that, but this time around we are going to be creators!
The New Museum
How did you decide who to ask to do Sound Graffiti for CNNCTD+100?
My father used to tell me stories about NYC nightlife from years ago when people who didn't really have anything but ambition and creativity would intermix with the people who were already making it. Everyone, whether rich or poor, was there to dance, be inspired, and get discovered. I'm a DJ and I can tell you that nightlife has changed a lot—not just nightlife—everything is about status, even art. With CNNCTD+100 we wanted to do something where the established creative people were intermingled with the young kids we have a lot of faith in. Everybody in the show has had some measure of success, but we really tried to show a cross section of what we think is really happening downtown, so you can see works by Dave White and Jason Woodside, two amazing artists at different stages of their careers, side-by-side and it all makes sense. Maybe even the established artists will take a little inspiration from the young up-and-comers.
Paz de la Huerta
Were you particularly surprised by the content of any of the Sound Graffiti that came back to you?
We were a bit surprised by some of the more creative or personal ones. For example when Pharrell agreed to do one, we expected he would send us some music, but he actually sent us a really personal story and perspective on what makes him "other." But really they were all creative and surprising in their own ways. More than anything I think we were a bit surprised and honored that all these busy, amazing people created something for us. We are a new, young company with bright ideas, but getting 100 people to say yes and actually do something are two different things. There were times that we were scared we wouldn't get the full 100 that we set out to get. But before long our fear became that we would have too many! Overall we couldn't be happier with the way it all turned out and have decided to start traveling with the show very soon.
How do you think the +100 project will differ from city to city?
It will always keep the same core, but we hope it will change and grow a lot and take inspiration from each city. The show was focused more on NYC-based people, but now that we are doing LA, Paris, Japan, London, and looking to make some noise in Miami as well, we will be adding ten new works from each city. The show has gotten a lot of attention but we want it to still have some of that element of surprise, like whose work is up next to Yoko Ono's? If we don't keep inspiring people with the show then what's the point?