Forefront of the electronica genre


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It didn’t take long for Derek Pulliam to realize acoustic guitar open-mike nights weren’t for him.

Instead, he took a big step in a new direction. His new project, started more than a year ago, is a fully electronic, self-produced one-man show, with the occasional cameo by a local musician.

The musical endeavor known as Johnny On Point will perform its signature “live-tronica-jam-dance band” compositions at Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington St., at 8 p.m. Saturday, with guests Die Sloe and DJ Smiley.

Pulliam’s interest in electronica goes back several years, and his penchant for the experimental was fostered during a five-year stint playing bass in a local jam band. That the electronic scene was in its very beginning stages was further motivation to turn his musical goals toward the genre and its emerging fan base in Iowa City.

“I just wanted to try something completely different,” Pulliam said. “There’s nothing like it around here, so that’s what inspired me the most.”

Andrew Edmark, a booking agent at Gabe’s, agrees that the electronic scene in Iowa City is on the rise and that Johnny On Point is one of the acts that will be a vehicle for its growing popularity.

“I respect the scene that’s going on in this town — it has a lot of potential, and the music is something that’s really appreciated,” Edmark said.

The love Pulliam has for the music does not mean his influences are limited to only one facet of the musical spectrum. With sounds ranging from jazz to funk to reggae and more, he’s influenced by “a little bit of everything.”

He noted the two acts that have influenced him the most are the Postal Service and Beck.

“Beck influenced me especially in his diversity — it helped affect the song-composition part of the music,” he said.

Because there is a lack of live instruments, the creation of Johnny On Point’s catalogue is a slightly different process. In mostly late-night stretches, Pulliam will start with a pre-created or purchased drum beat and from there pull together other instrumental layers, such as bass, guitar, or keyboard.

There is no set rhyme or reason to his method, only a personal instinct and “whatever he is feeling at the moment.”

Even with only a year under his belt when it comes to live performance, Johnny On Point’s maestro has found several ways to improve his performance.

“Lately, I’ve been meditating before I play,” he said. “I used to have really bad anxiety before I’d go on stage, and it just helps to clear my head.”

Through the musical innovation and pre-concert nervousness, the chance to make people happy makes the effort worthwhile. With a day job assisting mentally handicapped persons at Employment Systems, Pulliam experienced one of his most rewarding moments as a performer.

“One woman, who doesn’t really respond to anything actually smiled and started moving her head when I was playing,” he said. “It’s the positivity behind it all — I just want to bring smiles to people’s faces and show them that they can do anything if they just go for it.”

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