This one doesn’t need much explanation. Some time back I slowed down this classic from the Beantown boyband diaspora and did a little live delay work and scratching with a similarly syrupy track from a slightly earlier Boston band (bonus PhDj points to anyone who guesses what I am cutting up). Anyway, this one goes out to all the screwed hearts out there on this Valentine’s Day 2012.
Here’s your formula for success tonight: <3=CTRL+ALT+DEL
Last week after Beat Research, I was so inspired by Trizlam and his “piquito sound system” that I came home and was rockin’ decks into the wee hours (as I do after the best of these nights). Earlier that day I had been to Stereo Jack’s where I scooped up some wax I had not yet digested and I was glad to have them waiting for me when I got home.
Among the new arrivals was a 12″ of Crosseyed and Painless (a personal favorite). When I dropped it on at 33 it was naturally screwed (it’s a 45)! Glad to have stumbled on this little gem (I love naturally screwed records and to find one of an old classic was a special treat), I was blissfully nodding along when my neck noticed it was flexing with a familiar cadence – 95 BPM or thereabouts. Mmmm, nice. Hip-Hop tempo. Perfect for the late hour and mixological ramifications.
Feeling inspired, I snatched up the first instrumental I could find, which turned out to be Mos Def & Diverse – Wylin’ Out. Perfect. The result worked both harmonically and rhythmically (and perhaps in other ways as yet undefined). To me, the combo had special significance because I hear these tracks as two Beat Research classics (or at least Flack classics). Anyway, thanks again for the inspirado Beat Research. I hope you enjoy my Screw Up* of these two tracks.
*I call this a Screw Up because its kind of a mashup where one track is screwed. Not chopped, just screwed. And in this case, nearly naturally (though It did wind up in Live for a little finishing and I slightly reorganized the Mos Def track to make the choruses fit a bit better.)
Tonight I will have the honor of being in the studio at WMBR in Cambridge at the Musenomix show for an interview with hip-hop legend Kool DJ Red Alert!! Clearly the man needs no introduction. Tonight, Dana and the dudes at Musenomix will celebrating his industry-defining career from 10PM – 12AM. From an early start as one of Afrika Bambaata’s DJs with cousin Jazzy Jay, to his 11 year run on NYC’s Kiss FM and much much more, this man has literally been there since the start and helped define the music that defined a generation. A true hip-hop legend.
For me, the night has a special personal significance as well. Although I never got to hear Red Alert live on KISS back in the day, my friend Rob used to tape the show regularly and bring these little time capsules of hip-hop culture back out to Indiana with him where we went to college together. Few memories are as sweet as driving all blazed up with Rob through the winding roads of Richmond Indiana late on a warm spring night rockin’ Red Alert’s show. That was back in 1988 or so.
Somehow, I wound up with one of these tapes and it remained a critical touchstone for me long before I ever picked up two 1200 and crappy Gemini mixer to begin my training. I used to listen to that tape and try to imagine the techniques the DJ’s were using cut, mix and strobe those records. Their ability to remix my favorite songs live in real time, literally made me want to become a DJ, which I eventually did.
Back in the late 1980s, I had yet to see any of those things done live and didn’t know any turntablists personally. So, like many aspiring DJs who came up before the proliferation of internet lessons, I tried to learn from the tapes and records I heard, imagining the techniques and slowly training my hands to do what I heard as best I could. In many ways, this tape has served as a goalpost for my own evolution as a DJ over the years. I have yet to make a mix even half as as good.
It remains a prized piece of my audio collection and a fond memory of my long departed best friend, Rob. Here are the first two parts for you. Headed off to the studio now to hear from a legend!
…was from Boston?!?! Back before Earl Simmons became known as the NY DMX, a Boston Beatboxer by the same name was tearing up local mics. I had not realized that the DMX we have come to recognize was also originally a beatboxer who got his start around 1984. I guess given the timeline, a DMX vs DMX battle was a possibility. Note to the hip-hop historians: Could we still put this battle together as a follow up to the infamous A-Train vs Solo Battle? (Yeah NYC, we won that one hands down). DMX (NYC) and DMX (Boston), you down?
Anyway, a while back I got a request for some Boston DMX and being the keeper of the tapes, it is my responsibility to provide. Here is the classic DMX/LaCarr routine from the Leccos Lemma show ca. 1986. There are so many amazing things about this routine to me. From the quotation of Trans Europe Express, Inspector Gadget AND the Pink Panther to the huge number of people in the background shouting and cheering along to the whistle beatboxing (which according to A-Train we invented) to the seamless tradeoffs between these cousins, it’s another example of how Boston was right there at the start (and all along really).
Simply put, Think Tree was one of the most important and incredible bands ever. They also happened to hail from Boston, MA. The story goes something like this. In 1986, all but one member had been in a short lived punk/keyboard outfit called Psychotech. According to this description from their last interview “It was kind of a hard-core techno band. It was sort of like a hard-core band with keyboards instead of guitars and we used to smash up keyboards and stuff.” In other words a punk/funk/keyboard outfit before the chili peppers OR nine inch nails or any of the bands that later blended hardcore and funk and/or keyboards and samples.
Consider the following historical factoids:
Meat Beat Manifesto formed in 1987 – a year after Psychotech had been tearing up stages at Boston clubs like Chet’s and the Rat and the same year Think Tree had its first show.
Nine Inch Nails started in 1988 – a year after Psychotech disbanded to start Think Tree. Think Tree had already been playing around Boston for a year by the time Nine Inch Nails was formed.
The seminal Chicago based industrial band Ministry was out around that time on Wax Trax, but they never had the groove and punk/funk angle that always found its way into Think Tree sets.
Think Tree included Peter Moore (keyboards), Will Ragano (guitar), Paul Lanctot (keyboards), Krishna Venkatesh (keyboards) and Jeff Biegert (drums). Their music and live performances blended punk/industrial aesthetics with progressive prog rock compositions played live with plenty of electronics. The video above is sadly one of the only ones on the web, but it gives you a good sense of the band at their prime. Just before the grunge tsunami hit and obliterated many lesser keyboard oriented bands, Think Tree represented the ultimate synthesis of keyboards and live punk/prog performance. In their reign as one of Boston’s most progressive and influential bands, they released Hire a Bird in 1989 as a 12″ single, a full length record “Eight / Thirteen” (which included “Hire a Bird”) in 1990, and the full length record “Like the Idea” in 1991. “Hire a Bird” was included in the Boston Phoenix’s Top 500 records of all time in 1999. They were also hilarious and irreverent to the end.
Here is a super funny interview with them on WMWM (Tufts University’s station) in 1991. It gives a good sense of their aesthetic and sonic palette as they keep interrupting the talk with goofy and ghastly electronic punctuations.
To say Think Tree was influential is to put it mildly. Rumor has it that they had a strong influence on early Nine Inch Nails (though they never did perform the Devo/Zepplin live mashup “Uncontrollable Hop” that Think Tree had planned for a special gust appearance with Reznor). Brian Eno was a fan as were many other forward thinking punk/progressive/industrial/electronic tweakers. They literally helped invent the genre “synthesizer oriented industrial prog funk”.
In the classic indy rock band story, their label Caroline Records never really gave them the support they deserved and so they never toured or got the distribution they needed to break out nationally. Once the grunge wave hit, lots of keyboard bands were kicked to the curb in favor of small guitar rock outfits with big narcotic habits. Although Think Tree paved the way for the genre, brainy synth punk was definitely out in the mid 1990s and their distinctly non-commercial aesthetic certainly didn’t help them convince the bean counters of their mass market potential. In 1993, Think Tree played their last show.
Krishna went on to form the even harder sounding El Dopa with his brother, Bassist Alex Smoller and drummer Danny Lee from Cxema. Will and Peter went on to form Count Zero, who continue the Think Tree tradition to this day. The Count Zero story is rich enough for its own long post (they have released 3 full length records, appeared in Guitar Hero, etc etc). More importantly, they are having a CD release party this Friday, May 13 up at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, MA.
Go see them Friday and be sure to scream out the titles of old Think Tree songs. If you are lucky, they might even play one!
Meanwhile, here is a little live mashup I made a while back with DJ Flack’s “The Story of O” and Think Tree’s classic “Hire A Bird”. Enjoy.
To celebrate the recent release of the book The History of American Graffiti by local author Caleb Neelon and co-author Roger Gastman, I thought it would be good to share some additional detail on a piece of Massachusetts’s graffiti history that did not make made it into his book. Though I am still waiting for my copy, I did skim the chapter in the bookstore and was blown away by the amount of history they cover. Neelon and Gastman clearly did an incredible job and I offer this as a friendly addition, both to my own chapter and to his, not as any kind of criticism. As I learned when writing my own version of our local history, there is no way to get it all the first time. That’s why we need to work together to get it straight. [Ed note: Caleb emailed this AM and explained that he was the one who connected Freight Train Graf folks with MAST and that both he and Spray WERE in his chapter on Mass. A real honor given how much he had to include. Apparently, its just me that has trouble getting it right out of the gate and he certainly needs no help from me! LOL and sorry to doubt you from a mere skim, Caleb!]
Back in the 1980s, a Lowell MC/DJ/Dancer/Writer by the name of MAST/Def Rock was rockin’ the Shaughnessy Projects and tearing up the train yards. Back in the early days, there was much less specialization in hip-hop than there is today. Def is a classic example of what I call a 4 elements b-boy. In other words, he could dance, rhyme, rock the decks and get UP…all at the same time. Dudes like him are rare (non-existent?) among the up and comers who seem to focus on one, or at most two, main skills. Like all fields, it seems hip-hop has undergone a degree of specialization as it has evolved. (Correct me if I am wrong about this and there are more young 4 elements b-boys/girls out there than I am aware of).
Back in the day, there seemed to be many more who could do it all. He was (and still is) one of those dudes. As such, he deserves our undying respect as a founding father of the art out here. And like many of the best from Mass, Mast didn’t get the credit he deserved. Luckily, he is still at it and still dropping heat (focusing on the music now rather than the less legal forms of the practice). Go check out his shows up at the Stone Church (recently rocked with Just Ice and Lyrical) and get his latest release Progress/Regress! Its free up on Archive.org fergawdsakes people (but you should really send him a check anyway for helping to create hip-hop for you).
Not only was he the mastermind behind monstamind/megabug and the engineer/DJ behind Excalibur’s 1997 Butta Messenga/Les Miserables (with a young MC Lyrical on the mic), he was also a well known freight train graffiti artist writing as MAST. Living near (and eventually in) the Lowell freight train yards, his early train pieces got him enough recognition to appear in the 2006 book Freight Train Graffiti. The picture above is MAST and his partner SPRAY (rip 1994) rockin’ red jackets in their “iron playground”. Note that like many things Massachusetts hip-hop, the title suggests a low status position in “eleswhere USA”. Come on man, it was right up in Lowell. Elsewhere my ass. Dude was all NATION – besting the hardest of the early MBTA bombers in geographic reach at least.
The book quotes him as follows:
“My house was directly across the street from the biggest freight yard in Lowell. I had anger against the freights because those things woke me up in the middle of the night. I could step out of my house and there I was in my iron playground. I knew every nook and cranny of the freight yard; it was packed tight with trains. You couldn’t even take flicks of most of them because they were so close. The trains would pull out before you could see it too. We had three cabooses we used to hang out in. We brought turntables down and turned it into a writers bench. We had a power supply for the turntables — plugged into the weigh station for the trains. We actually did live in the freights: For a very long time, SPRAY and I were both homeless. We had these three cabooses that we painted, bombed and partied in and brought girls back to and drank wine in. During the cold winter, we stayed inside the engine because they kept it on all night. Graffiti was a big movement; Lowell was crushed out because we wanted it to look like New York.”
Can you even begin to understand having that kind of history in this hip-hop life?! Respect to all the Massachusetts originators out there and peace to my man Def. Give him respect due. Still wondering…go check the Battle Yell video! Underground hip-hop like it always was meant to be. RAWWW!
For the past two days I was hanging out at the Rethink Music conference in Boston. I had lots and lots of reactions, some of which I will share here over the next little while. But the one that sticks out most is that there was so little music there. I know it was mostly about new business models, but does that mean we don’t need a kick ass soundtrack? After the first panel as the wireless mics went down and the canned hotel music came back up (I think it was actually a Muzak version of a Kenny G song (if that’s even possible) I quickly tweeted “Rethink Muzak”. To the organizer’s credit, by the end of day two, I was hearing some Afropop and other less egregiously banal selections. Thanks for listening.
This reminded me of something Wayne said about musicology conferences having very little music. I guess the same could be said for the management conferences I go to (very little discussion of actual issues faced by managers). It also reminded me that back in 2003, when I was finishing up my PhD at Boston College, I was browsing around the database enclosure for music industry info and came across a Forrester Research report complete with AUDIO! I grabbed that fast thinking “someday, I am gonna remix this!” It has languished on my hard drive ever since (though I occasionally stumble over it and always laugh at the “disks are dying” phrase – when were they ever alive???).
Back at the once active Riddim Method site, we used to talk about musical discussions about music. That’s what I love the most about music, I guess. Talking about it while its playing and learning as I listen with others. So that’s what I want to propose here. A Rethink Music Remix Project.
To kick things off, I offer my own rapid prototype called Disks Keep on Dying. (There was lots of discussion at the conference of “failing fast” and I am sure that this will fit the bill). Its a quick remix I did just layering the first bit of the audio over a track I had been working on. More importantly, I include the original Forrester Audio here for all my remixologist pals to play with. I know you can do much better than I can. Have at it. Plus, its pretty interesting to listen to a prediction about the music industry from back in 2003. Not too bad really.
Without a proper soundtrack, I can’t think at all (let alone rethink).
Thanks to the organizers and panelists for a fantastic first year. Thanks also to the hidden labor at the Hynes convention center who kept bringing those bagels and keeping us in water bottles. And most of all, thanks to all my new Twitterypals. I am hooked. Your backchannel ROCKED!
Hey innernets. Here’s a new mix I did for you. It’s the story of a club dancer who grows up in the discos of New York in the late 1970s. Considering herself a genius of love she leaves New York in search of a mystical paradise filled with creole music and coconuts. Along the way she has a run in with some nasty Spanish kids in a rollerskating rink but is saved by the godfather of rap. He introduces her to some nice & smooth Spanish kids who take her in and remind her that she was once a genius of love. About that time she becomes enamored with Chicago’s lights and takes a job at a club where she is paid to move her bottom to the music. Things are ok for a little bit (at least she is dancing again) but every night after work, its bottoms up at the bar. The story gets really funked up when she starts doing it anyway she wants to and falls in love with a freakman who promises her an acting career in Hollywood but leaves her broken down in Liquorland. At least that’s what I was thinking about when I made it.
If this doesn’t make any sense, you can think of it as a postmodern allegory about the death of rollerskating jams. That’s another way to look at it, I guess.
Unfortunately, the title of the mix is somewhat misleading because there is really no disco in there. Its mostly late 1970s and early 1980s funk, boogie and other dance tunes I love to rock. There are certainly plenty of “disco” references though. And it starts with a song called discoland and ends with one called liquorland. That’s the main idea: A trip from discoland to liquorland. Understand?
Anyway, I hope you enjoy listening to it half as much as I enjoyed drinking while I made it. Like Casey said, “liquorland is a real nice place/you might want to visit but you don’t want to stay/cause if you stay you’ll never get away/and you might wind up like me someday”. Thanks for the warning Casey. See you all at the disco.
Lonnie Jordan – Discoland
Gap Band – Shake
Kid Creole and the Coconuts – Going Places
Tom Tom Club – Genius of Love (12″ dub)
Grandmaster Flash – Its Nasty
Nice and Smooth – Hip Hop Junkies (Spanish mix)
Spoonie Gee – Godfather of Rap
LV – Throw Your Hands Up
Trickernation – Rap Bounce Rockskate
Vaughn Mason – Bounce Rock Skate Roll
LV – Throw Your Hands Up
Chi-Lites – Bottoms Up
Bunny Sigler – I’m Funkin You Tonight (With my Music)
Empire – Freakman
Kool and the Gang – Hollywood Swinging
Crave – Bounce
Mighty Casey – Liquorland Pt. 2
Happy Easter and recently passed Passover. Given that my Hebrew name is Pesach, it has always been an important holiday for me. Whatever you think about organized religion, it seems like a good idea for families and friends to get together to talk about liberation at least once a year. Since the Exodus story is at the heart of the holiday, there are lots of ecumenical and inclusive approaches to this one in particular. (We always have an orange on the seder plate and some discussion of the contradictions of a diasporic people supervising the occupation of others).
Here is a musical interpretation I did some years back with my man Darren “The Bass Creator” Beaudet as part of our Dubya project. It was done live with two decks, two Lexicon Jam Man looper/delays and an ancient Mackie Micro 1202 mixer.
We looped up the break (I forget which one it is, but a familiar one for sure) then Darren looped and layered as I rocked away with some Seder records and eventually worked into some ragamuffin hip hop style (a Blood and Fire break I believe and Cutty Ranks’s “Stopper” acapella on top).
Back in 0ught 6 when this was made, Matisyahu was still fresh and I was thinking lots about Hebrew dubhop. We never really went that way, but this track at least gives an idea of some imaginary futures.
Till our next dub-hop Seder, keep on chanting down Babylon.
On March 2rd, 2011 I joined Dana Scott and the gang down at WMBR (88.1 FM) for the second installation of my Boston Hip Hop tribute and Lecco’s Lemma Archive sessions. It was epic, if I do say so myself. I dropped some classic Boston 90s ish by artists like God Complex, Polecat, Tmax, Motion, Prento Kid (not from Boston but with Boston production by Underground Productions) and more. We also rapped about some history, had some laughs and nearly melted the decks with all the Boston heat.
Heads were bobbing off their necks in the studio as always happens when I break out the mid-90s Underground tracks (respect to Brad and Dow, the least appreciated producers out there in the Bean IMHO). Man, people have been sleepin’ on Boston’s lost classics for way too long now. Its amazing to us elders, but for all the really deep underground 90’s stuff (and earlier), there’s a new generation of ears out there who are feeling it hard. Lots of catz and kittens who are down with the underground now were still making macaroni art for gold stars when some of the Best Boston Beats dropped in 1995-1998. Listen for yourself.