The Story of Think Tree

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.

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Think Tree Interview on WMWM 1991

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.

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The story of think tree – DJ Pace

Rethink Music Remix Project

Rethink Music Remix Project

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.

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Disks Keep On Dying

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Forrester August 2003 Report Audio

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!

From Discoland to Liquorland

From Discoland to Liquorland

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From Discoland to Liquorland

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.

CONTENTS:
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

Mastermind Monstamix: Boston’s Ragamuffin Hip-Hop History

Hey all. Last week I got a short notice request to join flack and wayne at Beat Research tonight. I decided I’d use the night to showcase some of my favorite local ragamuffin hip hop. And when you are doing that, you are basically playing stuff from Jr. Rodigan’s Mastermind Records. Everyone knows the classic ragamuffin hip hop sounds popularized by Bobby Kondors via Massive B Records. Lots of folks also know the collection of stuff on Profile (including the seminal Daddy Freddy and Asher D track) not to mention all the stuff on Nervous. What most people don’t know is that in the mid-90’s, Boston was putting out raggamuffin hip-hop as good as anyplace!!!! Believe it. Like all things hip-hop, Boston’s contribs have gone less recognized than some other places. Until now.

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Mastermind Monstamix

I offer this Mastermind Monstamix to prove that the Bean was rocking the ragga sound as hard as anyplace in the mid 1990s. As usual, its pretty much unedited and done live with two decks and included here warts and all. Its also clearly not ALL mastermind stuff and veers into a little paid in full mini-mashup by the end complete with Wayne flowin’ over a PM dawn IM (which always makes me smile).

Respect to Rodigan and his collaborators including the prolific Bingy Twins who co-produced many of his hottest raggamuffin hip-hop dancefloor burners! I’ll be rocking Boston Raggamuffin Hip Hop Classix tonight at Beat Research for anyone in town.

Bigup to the beantown massive. Stay tuned for the Monstamind Master Mix that will be highlighting some lesser known scientifikal rappers from MA.

peace

P.S.

Last night, I had the honor of meeting Jr. Rodigan and playing a set of his classic 90s track while he sat and listened. Talk about pressure. He shook my hand at the end of the night though, so I guess I did it proper. Listening to his verse on One in the Chamba while he sang along next to me has to be one of my all time best musical moments! More on that track in a minute but for now, keep those Boston beats bumpin’.