What’s next for LATEX is a world of possibility

What’s next for LATEX is a world of possibility

Syracuse music collective transitions from rap shows to hosting techno events at Thornden Underground.

Members of Latex
Keith Kuss and Taylor Kirschenheiter
Members of LATEX (top row from left): Mohamed Djibrilla, Jon Rounsville, Taylor Kirschenheiter, Keith Kuss, (bottom row from left) Carmen Spinoso, Ken Mathias, Noah Jordan-Williams, and Kyle Korbas.

It was an unseasonably warm Friday and the members of LATEX had been running around all day in preparation for their Halloween show the following night.

Between searching for hay bales to decorate the venue and figuring out last-minute costumes, their primary mission was to make it through the day without freaking out about the Saturday night performance.

“It’s gonna be a big one,” Keith Kuss said. “It’s our third show at Thornden Underground.”

Hosting hardcore techno events at Thornden Underground, an up-and-coming off-campus house on Madison Street, has become the group’s latest endeavor. While the members of LATEX are no strangers to putting together a show, they don’t want to let their newly cultivated community down. 

By day, most of these twenty-somethings are working their retail jobs, trying to sustain themselves in an industry that makes it difficult to do so. By night, though, a different kind of workday begins – one filled with endless brainstorming, mixing samples, and ideating future shows. 

In the last year and a half, LATEX has transitioned from hosting hip-hop and rap shows at Funk ‘n Waffles in downtown Syracuse to cultivating a New York City rave-inspired scene in the Thornden Underground basement.

What started as eight friends hanging out and scheming about their creative pursuits became a reality in the summer of 2022. Today, LATEX members have albums, music videos, media packages, and a plethora of shows they’ve performed at and hosted to show for themselves.

They point their success to a single phrase that has carried them through it all: What’s next?

This phrase is written on multiple surfaces throughout their studio in Liverpool and shouted minutes after finishing any party or show. 

“As a group, we all just move so militantly, everything’s a cinema, everything’s a production,” said Noah Jordan-Williams, also known by his stage name “Sleepwaka.”

“Our slogan or I guess our lifestyle is just asking, ‘What’s next?’ That’s how we move.” 

At its core, LATEX is made up of eight best friends who all grew up in Central New York: Kuss, Jordan-Williams, Taylor Kirschenheiter, Carmen Spinoso, Mohamed Djibrilla, Ken Mathias, Kyle Korbas and Jon Rounsville. 

While some members of LATEX like Kuss, Kirschenheiter, and Korbas have known each other since childhood, playing on the same Little League baseball team and attending Roxboro Road Middle School, the LATEX members came together after a rap show at Funk ‘n Waffles in July 2022. 

The show was called  “Rebirth” and featured headline performances from Sleepwaka and Spinoso, also known by his stage name “WXRM.” After the show, what would soon become the members of LATEX, hung out for the first time over pints of beer and appetizers at The Craftsman Wood Grille and Tap House. 

“There was so much love in the air after the first show. I overheard a lot of people saying stuff like, ‘When’s the next one’ or ‘This s— doesn’t happen in Syracuse,’ ” Spinoso said. “It was the first time we realized we needed to continue doing this stuff but together.”

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LATEX members on stage at Funk ‘n Waffles following the “Rebirth” show in 2022.

LATEX declared the “Rebirth” show as a pivotal moment for the group – one where, through coming together as a collective, each member’s own dreams became a reality. They spent sleepless nights on Discord calls, figuring out what their group’s name should be and planning what’s next. 

Rounsville, also known by his stage name “Jonny Tsunamiii,” remembers telling the group their name should be one word, something quick and punchy that got to the point. When WXRM first shouted out “LATEX,” everyone started cracking up. By the end of brainstorming, however, everyone agreed LATEX was the most memorable word that came up all night.  

“We had an idea to do another show at Funk ‘n Waffles, which kind of forced us to brand ourselves,” Kuss said. “We wanted people to buy into what we were trying to do.”  

With a name, LATEX was born and the collective prepared to host their first show together. WXRM got in touch with Funk ‘n Waffles through a family friend who immediately connected him with the floor manager to set up a date for a show. LATEX felt this venue could be their jumping-off point to get exposure in the Syracuse music scene. 

“LATEX is all about coming together and being creative,” Kuss said. “We tried to get into making clothes but we are attracted to the stuff that’s emotional, like when people are together listening to music.

“That’s raw, that’s emotion.” 

Titled “LATEX Digital In Person,” their first official show was at Funk ‘n Waffles in late December 2022. Kirschenheiter remembers how seriously they prepared beforehand: doing photo shoots, creating promotional posters, ordering strobe lights and Bluetooth microphones, and hiring a DJ to transition between sets. 

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Taylor Kirschenheiter
WXRM performing at “LATEX Digital In Person” at Funk ‘n Waffles in late 2022.

WXRM, Sleepwaka, and Jonny Tsunamiii performed high-energy sets that got the sold-out crowd rowdier than ever. 

“We shocked them, we 100% shocked them,” WXRM said. 

Kuss said Funk ‘n Waffles typically books on acoustic or jam bands.

“They weren’t prepared for the rap show we brought,” Kuss said, adding that he recalls an employee remarking the LATEX show was the most people he’d ever seen come for live music there.

After “LATEX Digital In Person,” the group began producing albums and media packages for Sleepwaka in the spring. He released his album Sweet Dreams in June and Sleep Tape a month later in mid-July. 

To celebrate, LATEX hosted an album release party at Funk ‘n Waffles dubbed “Slumber Party” on Aug. 20. Their stage design was intended to invoke a kind of early 2000s nostalgia with two DJs mixing on dressers, a clothing rack filled with pastel garments and old-school toys littering the stage.

This was the first time LATEX hosted a show revolving around one of its own members. Local rap group PHR opened up for Sleepwaka, the crowd was packed with screaming fans. All signs pointed to “Slumber Party” being the most highly produced show to date.

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Evan Stock
Sleepwaka performs at “Slumber Party” show in August.

Everything took a turn once Sleepwaka came on stage. Within 10 minutes of his performance, an unrelated fight began outside of Funk ‘n Waffles, and the police were called. Because of the commotion, one of the employees pulled the plug on the show: the mics cut out, stage lights flashed on, and the crowd was left in a state of confusion. 

“At the moment it was the biggest gut punch ever,” Rounsville said. “The feeling in the air at the end of that show, compared to the end of the other shows, was so deflating.” 

LATEX went home that night with their heads hung low. The venue they’d been performing at for the last year, would no longer be an option. They knew it was time to pivot, and after a trip to New York City to see the Hellp perform in Brooklyn, their focus was set on bringing a house and techno scene to Syracuse. 

“EDM gives me goosebumps,” Mathias said. “I love the small space scene with smoke machines, lasers, and music that is so moving. That’s what I love, that vibe.” 

Fate seemed to play a role when WXRM met Asher Dunlap, a former SU student who double-majored in fine arts and computer engineering, through a mutual friend assisting WXRM with video production. The connection between them was immediate, and WXRM promptly introduced Dunlap to the rest of LATEX.

At the time, Dunlap had moved into a house near SU’s campus and expressed that he and his roommates wanted to turn their basement into a rave space. LATEX immediately showed interest in the opportunity, offering to bring speakers and amps to start working on what would become their next project. 

“When I first met the LATEX guys, I didn’t really know what to think,” Dunlap said. “But as we hung out more I realized we had a lot in common and I really f—-d with their vibe.

“Everyone’s got a creative soul and mind and is always ready to start something.”

A few weeks later on Sept. 2, LATEX hosted their first show in Dunlap’s basement, now known as Thornden Underground. Kuss remembers the night vividly: doors opened at 8 and people started to trickle into the basement around 9:30, their features hidden under milky clouds from the smoke machine.

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Keith Kuss DJing at second Thornden Underground show.

It was a special night for all, but particularly for Kuss and Mathias who made their DJ debut. As members who are usually assisting behind the scenes with WXRM and Sleepwaka’s projects, controlling the crowd with their selected music was incredible. They played a lot of breakcore, jungle, techno, and deep house

“I’ve been seeing the opportunity up here forever and when Asher presented it to happen near SU’s campus, I was like, that’s the best demographic for us,” Kuss said. 

After the show, LATEX went to Denny’s in North Syracuse to reflect on the night they had. Sharing stories about the new people they met, how much love they felt in the sweaty basement, and how they could elevate a second Thornden show they were already thinking about hosting. 

Two weeks later, LATEX hosted a second show at Thornden Underground, followed by a Halloween show on Oct. 27. Each show drew in a larger crowd than the last. By pivoting from trap to techno and businesses to basements, the group had managed to finally find their groove in the Syracuse music scene.

“We’ve always been trying to build a community and it’s finally feeling like we found a home,” Spinoso said. 

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Ken Mathias DJing at the Thornden Underground Halloween party in October.

Ultimately, LATEX doesn’t see themselves doing techno shows at Thornden Underground forever. Long term, their dreams and aspirations are far wider than DJing near SU’s campus. 

In the future, Djibrilla, or “MD,” wants to provide generational success for his family and friends through his work in LATEX.

“I can envision everyone in LATEX being a superstar in their own way,” MD said. “I want LATEX to be known in Syracuse and be able to look back and be like, I witnessed history happen.” 

Korbas has dreams of working as a creative director for a fashion house – as long as LATEX doesn’t blow up of course. In that case, he hopes to be along for the ride with his best friends. Kuss and Kirschenheiter hope to buy a warehouse that will become a hub for fostering new creatives in Central New York and beyond. 

Regardless of each member’s aspirations, their collective goals are, in part, already on their way to coming true. The high school versions of themselves – the ones dreaming of reaching A$AP Mob or Odd Future status – couldn’t have imagined what’s been achieved so far.

“It might kind of sound corny, but LATEX is hope,” Kirschenheiter said. “If we can f—— do it, if we can create an environment where we feel welcomed and understood, then anyone can f—— do it.”