Programmer Profile: Baron Mind of The Hippy Campus & Virtual Noise

Posted on: December 19, 2020
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The Hippy Campus, hosted by DJ Baron Mind (Brooke Wilton) airs every Friday afternoon at 3. The playlists include songs from all decades with an emphasis on fast paced, infused sounds that boasts the likes of progressive rock pioneers Brian Eno and David Bowie to ska punk (Fishbone) and more modern names like Modest Mouse and Queens of the Stone Age.

“I suppose for me as an artist it wasn’t always just about expressing my work; I really wanted, more than anything else, to contribute in some way to the culture that I was living in. It just seemed like a challenge to move it a little bit towards the way I thought it might be interesting to go.” – David Bowie

DJ Baron Mind hails from Houston where his father was an engineer for NASA but credits the four years of his childhood spent in Austin as his fondest. While his mother worked on her PhD for foreign languages at UT, a young Baron Mind spent his afternoons running around the UT campus absorbing the rich college culture. Soon he moved back to Houston and was accepted to the High School For The Performing and Visual Arts where he spent two years studying Fine Art. After high school he returned to Austin, in his own words, for the city first and his UT education second.

The Baron worked with KOOP as the co-host of Virtual Noise in 2018 but began The Hippy Campus as a way to recapture his interpretation of the college radio experience. Much like fellow Houstonite Travis Scott, the Baron considers himself an alien steward of a greater purpose. More specifically, a brain in a jar (the specifics are important with extraterrestrials) tasked with the role of Anterior Decorator for the Time Being, puns be damned. So it should be no surprise to our listeners that his approach to DJing is no simple task. The Baron believes listeners can only begin to appreciate music after the right neural pathways have been established. Which is why, in his humble opinion, complex music is so much more satisfying. His modus operandi is to seek this music out; catalogue and collect it; shining light into the most obscure corners, and then set it into a mix context that flows organically for others to enjoy. Only a brain from a jar could so elegantly explain the universal experience of listening to In Rainbows.

The Time Being refuses to put DJ Baron Mind in a box, a constant theme of The Hippy Campus show. He also has a clothing line called Flameless Shirt consisting of many shirts with flames (I mean, of course he does) as another outlet for his creativity. The shirts began as an ice breaker for parties and turned into a full fledged clothing line that has been selling custom made shirts for over ten years. He has also founded the East Austin Handmade Arts Market in 2014 as well as creating Surf By Surf East, the largest annual gathering of Surf Rock bands in the US.

As The Time Being willed, DJ Baron Mind took the time to sit down with KOOP to shed light on his mission to expand your mind.

Where are you from and what led you to Austin and The Hippy Campus Show? 

I was born in Houston, but spent the best 4 years of my childhood in Austin while my mother did her dissertation at UT in foreign languages. My parents have been separated since I was three, a few years before the move to ATX, and my dad is a double engineer who had worked for NASA during the Apollo program (even Apollo 11). We moved back to Houston when my mother found work there with her PhD so I spent middle school and high school there.  But when I think about it, my fond memories of playing on the various sprawling grasses of the UT campus as a kid left a lasting very positive impression. I’ve been making mix tapes, and later CDs since I was 6 or 7. I had discovered popular music in a big way when I found a copy of Meet The Beatles at my grandmother’s house that had belonged to my aunt. I fell in love and collecting Beatles albums was my first hobby. Though I had no special amount of allowance, I managed to acquire all the American pressings by the time I was 10 (I still have them, mostly 1st and 2nd pressings), though this was a time just after they had broken up and NO ONE was listening to the Beatles! Hard to imagine, (no pun intended) but there was a Beatles’ backlash for a few years after they broke up and it was really uncool to be into them at the time. I am the youngest, with one blood and two stepbrothers and one stepsister from my Dad’s re-marriage. All of my older brothers made fun of my early obsession with The Beatles, and though this was some very strong and persistent peer pressure, I never let it discourage me. But eventually by the time I was 11 I started listening to other popular 70’s album-oriented radio bands of the day like everyone else (Boston, Styx, Kansas, Aerosmith etc.)

Then one day I had an epiphany when I overheard my brother playing the new David Bowie album Lodger. The first two times I had heard it; I had thought it was the strangest music ever (especially the track that remains one of his weirdest: African Night Flight). The third time I heard it; however, it was the most glorious thing ever! I was forever changed by the experience. Suddenly, I just couldn’t listen to Boston, Styx, or Aerosmith and get any satisfaction out of it anymore. It was much too exciting to be a part of the burgeoning Punk and Nu Wave phenomena of the new decade, and I felt I was already late to the party in 1980, at 13. And living in the suburbs of Houston, the only way we discovered new music, other than hearing it from what my older brother was getting turned on by a couple of his peers, was through KPFT (Pacifica public radio) and KTRU (Rice University college radio). I was among the first generation of “Punkers” these suburbs had ever seen. So my brother, my friends and I started silk-screening our own clothing to fit the new aesthetic. There were very few Punk boutiques in those days, and you had to venture way into the inner city to find them. Punk those days was all about DIY anyway, so we did. And we’d drive around late at night as teenagers. You have to drive a lot to get anywhere in Houston anyway, and this was one of the only ways to be among our own in our fledgling subculture. So college radio was there for us, connecting our generation like nothing else could. Then even when MTV came about, though it was cool at first, it was still missing a big part of the picture (where was Joy Division? Where was PIL? Where was Cabaret Voltaire?) College Radio, especially late at night, was our soundtrack. And remember there was no internet, so we’d have to listen forever to hear the announcer tell us who had made this glorious noise, and we gladly did.

Why a college music themed show?

While I was in the Austin housing coops in the 80’s, my friend Jim Ellinger had this idea of starting a co-operative radio station, and after a lot of hard work on many fronts, he was able to launch KOOP. I was planning on being a part of it then, but it just didn’t come together for some reason. After the early schism that ended up kicking him out, I was glad I hadn’t. I was already pretty burnt out on coop politics by this time anyway.

In the early aughties, I started booking and playing in Prog bands around town. A decade later I started producing multimedia events under the umbrella of the East Austin Handmade Arts Market. And from a number of events around town I was a part of, I became friends with some of KOOP’s programmers, and even organized some events with the Virtual Noise team and guest DJ-ed on Adventures In Sound. So, in 2017 I was eventually recruited into KOOP to be a part of Virtual Noise. And though I still love doing that show very much, I found I was always stretching the boundaries of the progressive rock and adjacent genres we cover on that show, because my tastes are very eclectic and my heart is equally in Post-Punk, Nu Wave etc. Since I’ve been making very eclectic mix-tapes and CDs for most of my life now, and one of my greatest joys in life is sharing music people have never heard but when exposed will come to love, I felt starting a new show would be a good way to share another side of my music collection and knowledge, and perhaps explore this unique niche even more in doing so. And the motif just fell into my brain one day. I had already been calling myself Baron Mind for years as I DJ-ed, so a brain themed pun of a show was only natural, and Campus / College is where you usually go to expand your mind (if you’re doing it right).

It has been shown that music opens neurological pathways, and certain music, if it is intelligently arranged, can help listeners even attain greater intelligence. Decades ago, classic rock radio stations locked in what is “classic rock” and really haven’t changed at all since. Other genres followed suit. Corporate entities like Clear Channel (or whatever they call themselves these days) standardized playlists and removed human programmers from most of the dial, and so what gets on the airwaves has by and large become stale and insipid; unchanging and unchallenging. So this is why I decided to try to recapture the “college radio experience” or at least my interpretation of it, in creating my own show. To be that place where not just off-the-beaten-path, but really good innovative music could be found on a regular basis.

Which song from the playlist is the best representation of The Hippy Campus?

Oh man, narrowing down to very few bests is my kryptonite. Ha Ha! I’m answering that question with every show, really, but off the top of my head I’ll give you three, all of which were on my pilot show:  Kurt’s Rejoinder by Brian Eno off the Before And After Science album, because it’s such a mixture of old and new world, electronic music, jazz, and funk that it defies genre and remains timeless. Then also Breaking Glass by David Bowie off the Low album, even though it is one of his shortest songs ever. It comes in, makes its point succinctly in just one verse and chorus, and gets out. I love its autobiographical lyrics, regarding Iggy Pop; full of admiration and simultaneous regret. And lastly, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Bauhaus, from The Sky’s Gone Out album. This song really stands out to me because it is so different from the rest of Bauhaus’ Gothic-Post-Punk cannon, with the use of the upright bass driving it and the absurd lyrics. And I think the refrain of “Oh To Be The Cream” sums up why I choose it to represent THC nicely. These to me are songs I would want on my Voyager probe shot out of our solar system, because though they’ve never gotten any real airplay, I think they express the breadth and depth of the human condition by triangulation.

A major theme of your playlist is the cautionary tale of following social norms. Why do you think that’s so important for your listeners to understand?

Wow, I hadn’t really consciously considered that, but it totally rings true. That’s in the threads of the Gen-X ethos, I guess. I’ve always been a non-conformist, and I felt that was what my generation was doing, before these genres were tagged and bottled. Even in the day, I criticized those who went in for the new stereotypes, like the wearing of leather jackets or pants, because they were actually conforming to the subculture, instead of the norm, so it amounted to about the same to me. I’ve always felt that to follow anyone else’s footsteps too closely is to deny your own potential. Whereas if you embarked on a voyage of your own discovery, then you might stumble into somewhere no one else has been to before. I think I’m still on that journey, and music is what takes me there.

What’s some of your favorite albums to come out in the last ten years?

Ok, this one I think I can do because I make an end-of-year best-of mix each year for myself and friends. This is in no particular order and I’m excluding live albums, remasters, reissues, and box sets. Ok, go:
David Bowie: The Next Day Extra (not the main 2013 album The Next Day, but the “extra” disk that came out 6 months later in the extended releases, which blows the original away.)
Wolf People: Fain (the best album nobody’s ever heard of.)
Thee Oh Sees: Face Stabber (I love me some good psych!)
Queens Of The Stone Age: …Like Clockwork (simply one of the best rock albums of all time.)
The Heliocentrics: A World Of Masks (It cannot be put into words how glorious this album is. Another one no one else has ever heard of. And the title is prophetic for 2020, now that I think about it.)
Ty Segall and Freedom Band: Freedom’s Goblin (Ty can do no wrong these days.)
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: Polygondwanaland (Do you know these guys? 18+ albums in 10 years so far!)
The Dean Ween Group: The Deaner Album (yeah, I’m a big Ween fan, but it doesn’t take one to recognize this genius album.)
Battles: Gloss Drop (these guys are really mining a new vein here, almost by themselves.)
The Claypool-Lennon Delirium: South Of Reality (I’ve played every track on Virtual Noise during the year it came out.)
Ok that went to 11, but I like alluding to Spinal Tap. Hard to say how really recent releases will stack up just yet. But I will say that the new Elvis Costello album Hey Clockface and the New Iggy Pop album Free are both stellar! Oh, and I would have included The Flaming Lip’s album Embryonic on that list, but it came out in 2009 so I can’t. It really is their Sgt. Pepper’s though.

Looking over the HC playlist, there’s a great selection of fast paced, short songs music. Any favorite ballads?

It’s true, I don’t play a lot of ballads on THC, but I put two in my very first show intentionally: Fortunately Gone by The Breeders off their first album Pod, because though it is a simple song, it has breathtaking harmonies and kinda cooky lyrics. I really have no idea what it’s about, but the emotion it evokes never gets old for me. And Swan Swan H by R.E.M. off their Life’s Rich Pageant album. It was never a hit, but it’s a real standout track for me, and harkens back to America in the 1800’s, which is a very ballady thing to do.

What, in your opinion, is the worst genre of music?

I used to say I didn’t dislike any genre, because once I would say I didn’t like something, I would discover a song or an artist who would defy such statements. But I can confidently say Top 40 Country (what a friend of mine has termed “Rodeo Rock”) I have no use for. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of great country music out there, but what they are playing on the Top 40 Country stations these days is just the rehashed noise of wannabe truck commercials mixed with nationalism. It’s all the same song, so it sounds about as conformist as it gets. And the other I’m not even sure what the name of the genre is, but I encountered it at an event one year in a backwash corner of SXSW. It’s a kind of prefab smooth jazz that isn’t even played by musicians. It’s just sound bytes “mixed” on a console. Think hold music generated by an AI. It was the most horrid group of sounds I’ve ever been subjected to. And artist after artist were plying their skills to produce the same banality. And they all were trying to look like Disco Stu from The Simpsons. Also I have very little patience for anything with auto-tune these days. Can we get over it already?

What shows/movies/artists played a part in building your pop culture lexicon?

That’s a loaded question. Jesus Christ Superstar (the soundtrack) was always around when I was very little, and I still sing it every year at the top of my lungs at some point around Easter; as was Tommy (The Who album); and I found out only when I became an adult that one thing that consistently made me gleeful in the playpen before I was even a year old was Sgt. Pepper’s (the original Beatles album). This is probably the one thing most instrumental in developing my musical ear, with so many interesting sounds going on (in stereo). I saw the movie Tommy when I was 8 (twice!) which was probably way too early, but it became seared into my consciousness. A Clockwork Orange, which I saw for the first time in a high school film class at PVA, if you can believe that. And while I was in high school, I used to get into the inner city to see movies all the time at the River Oaks repertory theater, and exposed myself to things like Harold & Maude (repeatedly), all the other Kubrick films, The Man Who Fell To Earth (David Bowie is pretty central to my lexicon, if you hadn’t noticed), Jim Jarmusch’s early films… Liquid Sky… Suburbia… Repo Man… Quadrophenia… This was all before video. I had a lot of friends re-enacting The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Alabama Theater in Houston while in my teens. I didn’t go often, but it was always a part of the Freak / Punk backdrop.

I started seeing concerts at an early age (for my generation) as well, so I got to see a lot of the best Post-punk / Nu Wave bands in their heyday. I still see hundreds of concerts per year, whenever I can. Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Todd Rundgren, Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, XTC, Talking Heads, Can, and Faust are probably my main supportive pillars, other than The Beatles and Bowie. (I told you I have trouble narrowing down).

Tell me about Flameless Shirt? What about fashion spoke to you? Why flames?

Clothing has always been one of the main methods of setting oneself apart, and being an iconoclast, I’ve always preferred to make my own look. In addition to silk-screening shirts as a teenager, I also silk-screened and tie-dyed some t-shirts to make a few tours with The Grateful Dead happen as a young adult in the late 80’s-early 90’s.

The story of how I created my own clothing label from there is well documented elsewhere so I’ll leave it at that, which includes why the name Flameless Shirt, but as for why flames? They are immediate icebreakers (pun intended). In the form of a forge or crematorium, they are a wonderful metaphor for beginning or ending; the proverbial Phoenix, you know. Flames are eternal, and universal. And when you’re really doing well at what you do, they say you’re on fire!  Also, if I had to stop, I would be rather put out!

What’s your favorite hike in Austin?

Boy, that’s a left turn! My favorite hike in Austin is the new Violet Crown trail, which connects a lot of existing sections of hike & bike trail in Austin, and borders along the Barton Creek Greenbelt for a good section, which is just amazing. Those bluffs / cliffs are as tall as we have around here, and the creek is the lifeblood of Austin, just as Barton Springs are its heart and soul. That recharge I get from being around the creek is a lot of what I love about Austin and have since the early 70’s when I first lived here as a kid. -That and the people here.

What are some of your favorite Austin hot spots? Favorite places to eat?

My favorite hot spots around town change from decade to decade, as unfortunately they come and go, but I’m really digging what’s going on along E. 6th these days and I hope that scene survives the pandemic. The Sahara is pretty special too. -Really for me it’s all about wherever I can find the best live music, and where it’s not a corporate or uptight kind of atmosphere. My favorite eateries these days are Home Slice Pizza, Hopdoddy for burgers, Lucy’s Chicken, and La Mancha for Mexican food.  Oh, and Amy’s Ice Creams is still the best in town!

Interview by Travis Tunnell