By Mike Appelstein
By Daniel Hill
By Roy Kasten
By Kris Wernowsky
By Chaz Kangas
By Joseph Hess
By Julie Seabaugh
By Mike Appelstein
It may not seem like much to outsiders, but this month has seen an avalanche of releases of the 12-inch-single variety, all locally produced, from labels that know what it means to be a label (meaning that they're setting their gazes beyond the Great Wall that seems to surround the St. Louis area), know how to step up to the proverbial plate and at least take a swing at the fence. Three 12s from three entities, two of which have already caused a minor stink in the overall scheme of things, all St. Louis-based -- now, if the countless others capable of doing the same thing would muster the wherewithal to follow suit, this city could easily transform itself into an electronic mecca.
The Black Lodge compilation, the debut release from Surveillance Records(www.surveillance.net), consists of four tracks by three city producers: Kevin Vogel, Matt French and Randy Hancock. The collection features deep, minimal techno and tech-house, music thick with dubby, synthetic beats that repeat like a leaky faucet dripping boulders. For those who know techno at all, the Surveillance sound is very Eurocentric, deliberate and repetitive. According to Vogel, this is intentional: The label wanted to make an impact overseas and created the sound accordingly. "When we set out to make the record, we spent a ton of time listening to European records," he says. "And we wanted to make the record sound as European as we could, like it was mastered at [lauded London facility] the Exchange -- but get it for a good price here." They succeeded by heading north to Detroit, where the album was mastered by the unsung hero of Detroit techno, Ron Murphy. The result is beautiful.
Already Surveillance is being well received; Randy Hancock's track "Crontab" has been licensed by New York producer Dietrich Schoenemann for an upcoming mix CD, and the initial pressing of Black Lodge is on the verge of selling out (mainly on the basis of orders from European distributors). The Surveillance camp is at work on a follow-up; here's hoping they'll harness the buzz and keep it going.
The 8-Bit Construction Set stands as one of the most interesting audio artifacts to ever come out of St. Louis. Released by this city's remarkable Beige Records (www.beigerecords.com), the record consists of music created on early Atari and Commodore 64 computers. (The RFT featured 8-Bit last year, but unexpected delays held back the official release.) The result is a nearly perfect object containing samples, locked grooves, songs and "data tracks" created to load into C-64 and Atari computers.
The record walks the line between loving tribute and lighthearted ode to yesterday's technology, the groundbreaking original PCs that were tossed on the trash heap as storage space and RAM speed increased. What 8-Bit (a duo consisting of Paul B. Davis, a.k.a. Rick Stryker, and Joe Beuckmann, a.k.a. Cougar Shuttle) does is hit the rewind button and examine the gloriously rudimentary sounds these early computers made. Any DJ with an ounce of creativity will go crazy with the Frogger, Defender, Missile Command and Pac-Man samples within, not to mention the Alan Alda Atari commercial.
Already, big names are lining up to sample the work: The Beastie Boys' DJ Mixmaster Mike has used a few snippets on recent tracks, Luke Vibert (a.k.a. Plug and Wagon Christ) has sampled sounds from it and Matthew Herbert (a.k.a. Dr. Rockit and Wishmountain) is working to license the great "Saucemaster" track for an upcoming mix. The 8-Bit Construction Set is getting the recognition it so deserves.
Glazed Donuts, by MC Deerflesh, is the debut 12-inch put out by the Litterthugz camp, whose Thursday-night residence at the Upstairs Lounge is one of the highlights of the hip-hop, booty and techno week. Although Deerflesh isn't a St. Louisan -- he's from Bloomington, Ind. -- the track was created downtown and features beats by Cougar Shuttle (same Cougar, half of the 8-Bit project) and cuts by Mike 2600. Side A, "Glazed Donuts," is a remarkable hip-hop get-down, with Deerflesh (a.k.a. Steve Davis), who's no slouch in the rhyme game, name-checking Lenny Bruce, Alan Thicke, Frankenstein, Waking Ned Devine, continental breakfasts, L'Oréal mascara and Pantera, among a thousand other bits and pieces. Beats and scratches are equally ace. The release hasn't yet caught fire -- it has charted in Minneapolis, though -- but that has more to do with the glut of hip-hop 12-inches than it does with the quality of the release, which is high.
In essence, St. Louis producers -- and anyone interested in making waves and putting this beautiful city on the proverbial map -- now's the time to swallow that little part of you saying no, boot up that beast of a computer you spent thousands on (admit it, you really, really love your machine) and get to work. What have you got to lose? So what if your work sucks? Maybe it won't, and, you'll have fun in the process. If nothing else, it's something to do, yes?
One show this week is worthy of much more space than it's getting here; alas, there's nothing we can do about that. The Brain Transplant camp is bringing the totally weird Wolf Eyes, "a Michigan based electronics and television repair team" (according to their Web site) that creates experimental beats and utterances. They're performing at the Way Out Club tonight, Wednesday, March 14, with Brain Transplant and St. Louis expat noisefucks Panicsville.