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Local music producers gather, find inspiration at downtown nonprofit Midschool Gresham

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Jack Nokleby likes to incorporate a microKORG synthesizer into his music — a piece of equipment available at Midschool. A nonprofit school in the heart of downtown Gresham dedicated to supporting young musicians and producers has become a second-home for 18-year-old Jack Nokleby.

The Southeast Portland resident found his way to Midschool Gresham back in 2019, a few months after it had opened, and connected with the guys creating a place for music makers in East Multnomah County.

"I chatted with them about music, and they showed me all about the programs and ways to get into music production," Nokleby said. "I had played the trombone for seven years, and had been producing some stuff on my phone, but I wanted to dive into more professional methods."

Like so many other youths who have found their way to Midschool, Nokleby took a class and discovered a passion for music production. Now he loves hanging out at the school, connecting with new students, making his own beats, and reveling in the growing boom of music taking place in East Multnomah County.

"It's awesome making your own music," Nokleby said.

Nokleby describes his sound as "all over the place." At Midschool, he creates electronic music with shades of classic British dubstep in a laid-back, smooth format.

"You figure out how to arrange the pieces, master/mix the sounds, and apply the creative thoughts in your head into something tangible," Nokleby said.

Midschool, 45 E. Powell Blvd., is a place in the heart of Gresham where beat makers and music lovers can find a home.

Founded in 2019 by Grant Burgess and Jeff McCall, the school allows members and students to work with different styles of music through Ableton's Live 10 software. The school also offers state-of-the-art and vintage equipment, and has an extensive vinyl and VHS sample library.

All of that combines into a unique maker-space in East Multnomah County, where a growing Gresham music scene is beginning to thrive. Students are now creating hip hop, track beats, grunge music, rap, singer-songwriter, EDM, and whatever else they are passionate about.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Jake Robideau, left, and Grant Burgess both teach music production at nonprofit Midschool Gresham. "We give them the tools to make whatever kind of music they want," Burgess said.

And a recent shift to becoming a nonprofit school — a process accelerated by the pandemic with classes being shuttered — is furthering the goal of connecting with anyone with a passing interest in creating music.

"I want Midschool to reach as many people from as many parts of East County as possible," Burgess said. "By becoming a nonprofit, we can give more access and eventually lower our prices and offer scholarships to prospective students."

Midschool is creating connections and community where before, there was nothing.

"Music production is something you usually do in a basement alone," Burgess said. "But collaborating, bouncing ideas around, can really help the process."

Culture of music

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Tristan Braaten, 19, learned how to produce music as part of the inaugural class at Midschool. Nineteen-year-old Tristan Braaten found a musical home in Gresham.

His interest in music was fueled by his grandfather's extensive and eclectic record collection. The pair bonded through music, but for the longest time didn't have a place in East Multnomah County to share and grow that passion.

"Producing something with my own hands — that has always been a dream of mine," Braaten said. "But I had nowhere to learn."

Then Braaten found Midschool, and joined the inaugural wave of students back in the summer of 2019.

"The atmosphere is so chill," Braaten said. "I can walk in, relax, and make music."

He said the small class sizes at Midschool make the difference, allowing for lots of one-on-one sessions and the ability to have all his questions answered. For Braaten, the school taught him how to create backing beats he could then sing and rap over.

"Even if you don't like music production, you will learn something new (at Midschool)," Braaten said. "I now listen to songs differently — I notice the drums, the instruments in the back, and I understand how it all comes together."

For Midschool teacher Jake Robideau, a 20-year-old music fanatic who went from "intern to professor" quickly, the first step is to show students where the music they love comes from. That gives them a better appreciation of what they are listening to, and allows them to produce better songs.

"It feels right to have a place like this in Gresham," he said. "If music production is something you want to do, but you are nervous, just stop by and chat."

That type of music atmosphere didn't exist when the Midschool founders were growing up in Gresham.

"I wish this was happening when I was a teenager," said Burgess, who is 35. "I used to try so hard to find these pockets of people with similar interests and a love of music production — but they didn't exist."

COURTESY PHOTO: MIDSCHOOL GRESHAM - Jack Nokleby plays his beats during Greshams Third Thursday.  At Midschool, classes feel more like family gatherings. There are genuine friendships being formed, and the beat makers love to hang out and chat.

That camaraderie came to a head Saturday, July 10, as Midschool threw a surprise birthday party for Nokleby at the Gresham Arts Plaza. They got permits from the city, had cake, and spun tracks — with the birthday boy doing a 30-minute set of his music.

"If you told me 5 years ago all the kids at the Splash Pad would be vibing to our music, I wouldn't believe you," Burgess said with a laugh.

Music production is taking hold in the community. For years anyone interested in learning the craft had to travel into Portland.

"Gresham gets overlooked culturally and artistically, even though this used to be one of the jazz capitals of the world," Burgess said. "But now people in Portland are starting to hear our beats and are taking notice."

COURTESY PHOTO: MIDSCHOOL GRESHAM - Classes at Midschool Gresham offer opportunities to learn and create for people of all skill levels.   Meet up at Midschool

To sign up for classes or learn more about Midschool Gresham, visit midschoolgresham.com

Listen to the beats

Check out the music being made by both artists in this article online and on social media.

- Jack Nokleby can be heard on Instagram — @djay_nok — and Soundcloud Djay NOK

- Tristan Braaten can be heard on Instagram — @skulls_music


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