Monday, April 10, 2006

kid koala/mike relm

Kid Koala/Mike Relm/J-Boogie

Have you ever been to a “turntablist” concert?

That’s right: “No.”

You should go to one. If you like dancing to music, and aren’t ashamed to be a geek, it’s likely to be more fun than whatever live music’s available that night, and way better than CSI: Milwaukee (or whatever).

Turntablism: the record player/mixer as musical instrument. A lot of people have trouble accepting the pretense, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone holding onto that opinion about after seeing a show like the one I went to last week.

I’ll skip J-Boogie, because I always get bogged down in the openers. But Mike Relm is more fun than a barrel of Fun-Dip. Seriously, DO NOT MISS HIM IF HE COMES TO YOUR TOWN. He’s a dorky guy in glasses and a black suit, with a sense of humor, a lot of ridiculous things on vinyl, a fairly pointed (but not always apparent) political sensibility, and the innate DJ ability to make any record kill. And in his newer shows, he’s introduced the Pioneer DVJ-X1, which is a scratch-able DVD “turntable." A while back Pioneer developed some kind of algorithm to simulate vinyl manipulation and match it to a physical "scratching" interface, the size of a 45 record. That was a revolution, and now they've applied the same process to DVD audio, and built a parallel system for visual data. Imagine what it might look like on screen if someone was moving the spindles of one of those old reel-to-reel projectors back and forth, and you'll get the idea.

Relm already had made visuals a big part of his show, but with the scratch-able DVD, and a DVD burner, they can become totally integral. Video/audio clips include: Bjork’s “Human Behavior” video (where she sings at her Cheerios and gets chased by a stuffed bear), the “O face” and other scenes from Office Space, a mix experiment using the “Twist” scene from Pulp fiction (you can find video of that here), “99 Problems,” Peanuts/Peewee’s Playhouse, Fight Club, School of Rock…you name it. Plus blends of Led Zeppelin, the Cure, Public Enemy, John Lennon, Rage Against the Machine (two cuts!!), RJD2, etc. etc. etc. etc. I was in heaven. You can get a taste of it on his website , and check out some fan-recorded visuals at YouTube (they’ve even got clips from the SF show).

Kid Koala was also awesome. Folks will know him from Handsome Boy Modeling School, Deltron, and of course Gorillaz. Also Bullfrog. Koala’s set includes elaborate mood pieces, frenetic B-Boy workouts, artsy stuff, and lots of humor. He’s in the vein of other hiphop renaissance men, like Prince Paul, DJ Spooky, etc. He’s a cartoonist and composer, with clear designs on a niche market that has slowly become acceptable in the mainstream: geeks. Which isn’t to say he didn’t rock hard or get everyone dancing. But what stays with me was his Plunderphonics-style reworking of “Moon River,” his performance of “Drunk Trumpet” (in which he uses the turntable speed and vinyl surface to create his own jazz trumpet solo over a rhythm section), and his “spooky” set, which mixes Slayer, RATM – it was a good night for them – and various scary sound effects. It’s impossible not to have fun when this guy is playing. I can’t say enough about his creativity and the freshness of his approach to the instrument. Go get his first LP, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and listen to it with open ears.

And see him when he’s in your town.

I know I say that about everybody. I guess what I’m recommending is more live music. It’s the best possible way to spend your entertainment money. Do you remember any movies you went to in 2005? You’ve got maybe a dim memory of buying Milk Duds, right? Live music is interactive, and it stays with you much longer. Though, by the same token, it takes much longer to wash a bad show out of your brain than a bad movie. So do what I do – once every 1-2 months, spend an hour combing through Citysearch, or the events listings of your local paper. Alternately, you might make a list of the venues that you enjoy in your town and comb through their calendars. Then buy a set of will-call tickets in advance, and write it into your calendar. That way, you’ve already spent the money and blocked out the time, so you’re committed and you’ll make it out the door (which is the hardest part).

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