Back in 2007 when The Cool Kids first emerged, the world was completely different from what it is now. Rappers were dressed in oversized athletic wear, “Gangster Rap” was what was mainstream, and 50 Cent was king. Then Sir Michael Rocks and Chuck Inglish emerged with their first single “Black Mags“, rapping about BMX bikes, skateboarding, and dressing fly. Utilizing tools such as Myspace that were available at the time, The Cool Kids created trends in both hip-hop and fashion that are still prevalent today. They were so ahead of the game, that kids in school would confront Mikey for wearing fake Air Force Ones, when in reality he was wearing BAPEs.
Fast forward 12 years later, and Mikey can be found still pushing the envelope with his new project, Mystery School. Comprised of Sir Michael Rocks (aka Tony Reed Jr.) and Owen Bones (music producer / DJ for The Cool Kids), Mystery School is challenging the concept of music genres, as well as how musicians and entertainers connect with their fans. We sat down with the duo to discuss fashion, Twitch, and the current state of the music industry.
MN: Can we talk a bit about the fits you guys got on right now?
Mike: Yeah, I got this big ass… might be a 3XL, Target Fruit of the Loom crewneck sweatshirt right here. Maximum comfort and durability. A nice greenish color that I really like. Sometimes it’s just cool to be able to wear blank shit. It’s not just like “GUCCI! LOUIS VUITTON!” screaming off your chest with it. Definitely a chill, basic look today.
The pants are some Sherpa, winter-warm pants. I think these might be Uniqlo if I’m not mistaken. They’re fuzzy, they’re warm, really baggy, nice, chill. And uhhh… which edition of Yeezy’s are these?
MN: The 500s.
Mike: Yeah man, I think Moon Yellow is the color. They’re pretty comfy. I like the silhouette of these. I think they’re my favorite Yeezy mold that he’s made. And yeah that’s about it.
Owen: I got some ACRONYM Air Force 1s, all white, about as flamboyant as I’m willing to go with the zipper on the side. They’re extremely durable. I had these for the Canada tour, so I was trudging through snow and slush and rain and dirt. I’ve only cleaned them off once, I gave them one thorough cleaning. They’re my everyday driver shoes, good for all conditions.
I got some Elwood cargo joggers on. They’re kind of just like a basics brand, really cheap. I’m a fan of the tactical, blacked-out look. Real comfy, elastic waist, elastic ankles, no complaints.
And I got a Boot Boyz shirt on. I have so many Boot Boyz items, they’re probably my favorite brand. I buy something from all their drops. This one’s probably my all-time favorite just cuz it says “peace through understanding” and I’m a very… amicable guy [laughs] so it’s got a special place in my heart. And yeah, I just love Boot Boyz, love the color contrast on this one.
MN: Let’s talk about the music. It’s not really hip-hop, there’s like pop elements to it.
Owen: Yeah, literally everyone from people at huge record labels, A&Rs there, down to like people that would show up on our Twitch stream were like “Yeah, I love this. This is great”. I don’t know what genre it is though, I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know what playlist it goes into. It’s great, but just like… don’t ask me [laughs]. Which has been a really interesting thing to deal with, because in this day and age you—that’s the bread and butter for the music. It’s like there needs to be a little shelf to put it on so that everyone that likes to pull out that shelf will see your music there.
I’m optimistic about it because it’s good to be early, to do something very new. That’s reassuring. I think that’s kind of what defines the sound itself. It’s very eclectic, it combines a lot of influences of both of ours, and it definitely doesn’t fit in one genre. Speaking for myself, that’s just the kind of stuff that I make, I can never be like a genre producer. I can never make a project of all one sound, one tempo, one style. I kind of have to have the gumbo going on, and I’m willing to acknowledge that that makes it a little harder for maybe the average music listener to latch on and understand like “oh, this is exactly what kind of artist you are”.
Mike: I would say there is definitely an aura of randomness and a combination of different influences that we both share. I think that overall, there is a unified sound as well that ties it all together. It’s something… more or less the choice of sounds that we’re choosing. The type of landscapes that we’re creating with these sounds and with the songwriting and stuff. There is some kind of overarching theme that ties all the madness together. We were heavy on concepts when we creating the first batch of songs. We would use a lot of different metaphors for an entire song concept. We would talk at length about what we felt about music today, the industry we’re in, what’s going on with society and how we’re consuming music and how we’re communicating with each other. All of those conversations would lead us to these metaphor versions of songs. Each song was created with a concept in mind that was actually happening in real life in some kind of way. Like a song like “Sus”, it represented a lot of the fast-paced, aggressive, hazardous, hectic confusion that is music right now: like rock, hip-hop, even like pop and shit. A song like that we tried to create a bubble of what it all sounds like. We didn’t approach the lyrics super literally, in any of the songs, they’re all pretty concept-driven.
MN: So how did the whole Mystery School concept come about?
Mike: Man… we definitely did a lot of thinking man. A lot of thinking went into it. I was looking for a better sound, new styles of stuff, because I was beginning to work on solo material. I would get beats from a lot of producers and they would all sound the fucking same. Everybody kind of fell into this warp of “type-beats” basically. Everyone would throw the same trap pattern in between sounds, you know the whole rigmarole, but I kinda was over that and was trying to find a new sound that was more custom, more original, more unique. Something that I could really stand out with and not get shuffled into the waves of “type-beats” that get pumped out everyday.
Owen was DJing for The Cool Kids around this time, he’d always been producing before that even. He would play me a couple of his tracks sometimes and I would really be taken aback by the sound. It was a new sound that was like no one else’s shit. He was really skilled at… obviously the sonics of it and engineering it and having it sound already mixed and mastered by the time it was a two-track. That was a plus too, because most people’s beats usually are just shitty production and shitty quality and you got to get the stems and go take it to a whole nother studio to get it mixed down, but his shit was just ready to go. It was everything that I was really looking for. And uhh… what happened next?
Owen: We went to Hawaii.
Mike: Right, yeah yeah yeah okay.
Owen: The hell tour. In January of 2018 there was a Cool Kids tour that went very poorly.
Mike: Went very south, yeah.
Owen: For reasons far outside of our control. Afterwards our manager sent us to Hawaii to work on what was supposed to be new Cool Kids music, so it was me and him and Chuck. Not all that much got done there.
Mike: Not really.
Owen: I got really sick randomly and we kind of just hung out and had a good time. Then when we got back, our manager called both of us and was just like “you guys should be a group”. I was just like “oh well that’s a cool idea”. Then I think the same day I texted you a couple ideas for names and the one that stood out to me was Mystery School because I just thought it was kind of a funny joke. Historically, a mystery school is a super secret cult of philosophers and thinkers and mathematicians working to understand the secrets of the universe. So I thought it was a kind of funny, tongue-in-cheek joke, that we’re just two dudes making music. Like “yeah listen to us, we know the secrets of the universe”.
MN: Tell the people about Twitch and what you’re doing with that.
Mike: We started streaming on Twitch in the beginning of October. We initially hopped on the platform to do the reveal of Mystery School after we did our fake hack and all that crazy shit. After a couple of streams, it turned it out we were creating a version of late-night TV, similar to Conan O’Brien or Jimmy Fallon and all that stuff, but version 2.0 and in our own way obviously. We began to develop our own version of the late night spiel, equipped with interviews. We make live tracks on a segment called “Sudden Death” where we’ll make a beat, write a song, and record it all on the spot, usually inspired by stuff from the fans and the chat that people would suggest. We used to play games every now and then, we haven’t played a game in a long time…
Owen: We do that on our own channels.
Mike: Yeah, so that’s more on our personal channels, but the Mystery School Twitch is basically Late Night 2.0, that’s how I would describe it.
Owen: Yeah. We think that streaming is the logical extreme of social media. I think it’s the most refined and pointed way to interact with a fanbase or audience. It gives the real diehard fans something extremely substantial to show up to week after week, day after day if that’s what they really want. It also serves as a great net for people that maybe don’t know that much about us that want to see what kind of people we are, see what we like, the music we like, the clothing we wear, the jokes we find funny. I think it’s a lot easier to do this then to put a couple jokes on Twitter everyday or a couple Instagram posts. That coupled with the late-night idea that we’ve hatched, it creates this place for people to come that want to associate with us, which is missing in the landscape of social media and music and entertainment right now.
Mike: I think people increasingly are wanting more and more personal time with musicians, entertainers, actors, whatever the case may be, people want personal interaction. It’s not as cut and dry as it was in the early 2000s or late 90s where you could pop up with music once a year, do a video, and go on TV, and everybody’s happy about that, that’s enough interaction for them. People demand more insight into your day-to-day life or what you do when you’re not doing your “job”.
Streaming in general, but Twitch more specifically, really gives us an opportunity to do that. We’re able to have a layout on our channel that is custom and looks the way we want it to. It’s not like Instagram Live where you just hold up your phone and you see the chat and that’s that. We can really curate the environment, curate the look.
MN: And you guys are also on Discord?
MN: What goes on there?
Owen: It’s sort of like the companion to Twitch. It’s the hub of our community really. We post on our socials, Instagram or Twitter, if there’s something special going on or important. The place you can really find us and really interact with people who give a shit is on the Discord. I think that social media for us is more surface-level, it’s more of the advertisement, whereas Twitch and Discord is where you come to hang out.
There’s all sorts of stuff that goes on there. We have a little community right now of people who day in day out are talking about just everything that they like. We have sections for pretty much every interest. There’s music, TV and movies in one section. There’s books, cooking, kind of segmented interests and then there’s a general chat and areas for people that are creatives. We have a section where people can post music that they’ve made, visual art that they’ve made. It’s kind of just a hangout spot, sometimes we pop in and bullshit. There’s no real blueprint for what we’re doing so we’re always talking about ways to improve it, make it cooler, and incentivize more people to come in. Like previously we used it to source beats for beat battles, like you had to post your beat in the Discord and register for a bracket tournament and we’d have people vote on winners in the Discord.
MN: So the Mystery School EP is out. Mike, you also announced earlier in the year that you’re working on new Cool Kids, Rocks Report 2, Premier Politics 2, Lap of Lux 2…
Mike: All the 2s.
MN: How is that coming along?
Mike: It’s actually coming along man. The Cool Kids project is pretty much done. I sent in one of the last tracks last night actually, to Chuck, so we’re gonna get that mixed in. I’ve started work on the other projects. I usually work pretty methodically, I’ll do one thing at a time. The Cool Kids was the first one, cuz basically I wanted to do shit basically in the other that it came out, so obviously Cool Kids was the first project. Then Rocks Report was the first mixtape I did solo, Premier Politics, Lap of Lux, and all that stuff. I want to retrace that order basically, take people down their Member Berries trails as much as I can, but yeah Cool Kids is almost done. I got some random scattered tracks for the other tapes so far. It’s sounding good though. As soon I’m 100% finished with The Cool Kids then I’ll be able to dive into all the other stuff way more aggressively.
MN: And what can we expect from Mystery School in the future?
Mike: We got some cool shit coming up man, we got some cool plans.
Owen: Yeah, I’m always working on beats whenever I feel like it. I think we’ll just pick from a pool of them and have a couple sessions. The plan is to just keep making music whenever possible, but we’re really hitting streaming really hard, trying to build that out. Perhaps more aggressively that the music in the short-term.
Mike: I agree, yeah.
Owen: The problem—I mean it’s a problem for some people, it’s a benefit for others—the landscape of music right now is not conducive to putting out really thoughtful, long-form pieces of work. You’re either regularly putting out singles or EPs every other month just hoping that something gets on a playlist or gets some traction, or you’re going back to the drawing board. What we found with streaming is that most of the plays and most of the real dedicated fans we’ve made from the music came from the stream. So we think that if we are working on music regularly in tandem with trying to really build out the stream, that’s how we’re going to find our core audience. We got plans to go to E3 and TwitchCon and just try to take the Twitch shit to the next level so that we can expand our reach for the music.
Mike: Yeah, I want the streaming and the communities we built to be new platforms to be able to more-or-less escape some of that algorithm bullshit that goes on because that’s starting to become an issue. It’s going to become a greater and greater issue as time moves forward and I think that the people that are keen enough to know that it’s only going to get way more aggressive—they’re gonna want way more money for promotions and ads, it’s gonna cost way more to get on your playlist or whatever—it’s all a lot of pay-to-play type of shit basically. That model is only growing and growing and growing. The algorithm is only getting more mean and disappointed in you [laughs]. So it would be smart for artists like ourselves to start finding different platforms to house people, house our communities.
With Twitch it’s crazy because I see like a person, not even a well-known celebrity, they’re just a person that streams, maybe they’re good at a game or maybe they’re a musician on there that has somehow cultivated a fanbase. Those same people, when I scaled it to like an Instagram celebrity—there’ll be a person on Instagram with one million followers, they’ll go on Instagram Live, they would probably retain maybe a thousand viewers. Then I would look at a Twitch streamer that maybe has 12,000 followers, nowhere near a million, and they would probably have the same amount of viewers, like a thousand viewers.
Owen: And on Instagram Live you’re live for maybe 45 minutes max. There’s people churning in and out. Twitch, these people are live for 5-6 hours at a time.
Mike: Retaining all those viewers. A light bulb just kind of went off in my head and I’m like “What are we really here for?”. If we’re really here for real numbers and real people and real fans then all that matters is the amount of real attention that you’re getting. It doesn’t matter if it says 1M followers if you’re only getting the attention of a thousand people. All the bots, the numbers are getting jacked up, everybody’s doing little weird shit. At the core, I know that I want real people, real eyes and ears. However I can attain that, I’m gonna try and figure out a way to do that, instead of just being fooled by inflated numbers or invisible bot followers and all that shit.
The streaming and the Discord really give us a chance to engage with real people. It’s not just ghost followers or passive followers, where they just look at your shit and scroll by. A lot of people just want to see what you’re doing and don’t want to invest in you or engage in any type of way that would cause them to do some work. We figured out that a lot of people don’t even like clicking a new link and shit like that. I want to get away from that type of fan, that type of consumer, and meet real people that are actually interested in this and really want to be involved and engaged.
I have a very good feeling that after some type of exchange or some type of promotional event or… I don’t know what it is but there’s gonna be something where we’ll be able to receive an influx of Twitch viewers. I just see the etiquette on Twitch is a lot different than Instagram and shit. People will actually watch for hours. People treat it as podcasts sometimes. There’s actually a different type of person, I would say, that is on Twitch. Those are the type of people I really want to get behind. Those are the people I want to get behind me as well. It’s a real interaction, it’s a little less Walmart. I feel like Instagram is like a McDonalds, Walmart, huge Mega Lo corporation thing, where it’s just like “here’s everything in the world right here!” and there’s no way to really pick out what you like or what’s what, you’re kind of just bombarded with a bunch of shit. It ends up just being a faceless beast, you know, there’s no personality really, it’s just a big corporate thing that’s happening.
I just look back at the Tumblr days and stuff where there were like aesthetics, there were pages that were focused on a certain thing. But now you’ve got so many algorithm hacks that everybody just does the same shit. It’s like if I post a meme, it doesn’t have shit to do with me, or what I’m promoting or selling or what I’m doing, but I’m gonna get 30,000 likes because it’s a meme and everybody just likes memes. If I post a tit or ass, same thing, it’s like you’re getting attention but is it real attention for what you’re actually presenting or promoting. After thinking about that, it was a no-brainer that I needed to find platforms that were gonna give us real people with real engagement that are really looking at what we’re actually doing, as opposed to that insatiable consumer appetite to just “scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, like, like, like, scroll, scroll, scroll” and they’re not really retaining anything. They’re not really consciously thinking about anything. That’s what I feel like when I’m scrolling down my timeline. I do the same shit too, I notice myself doing it. I just wanted to find real people and this is helping that happen.