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Bit Player

In a world of rigid conformity and paint-by-numbers composition, the work of experimental-electronic artist Kid 606 is rich with adventure

Kid 606 is in Southern Cali on a passenger train headed from his home turf, San Diego, up to Anaheim, where he's performing later in the night. He's talking on his cell phone, but it keeps cutting out. He gets on a roll talking about performing, remixing or composing his laptop electronic music, and his mind is running faster than his mouth can, but then the signal starts to clip and clutter, break into tiny bubbles of sound, a digitized tin muffle filled with a cloudy satellite hiss, until silence falls, followed by a dial tone on the other end. This happens half-a-dozen times during a half-hour conversation: Clip. Scramble. Cut. What? Dial tone. He always continues exactly where he left off; right now he's talking about opening for the Butthole Surfers, which he'll be doing at the Galaxy next week, and the difference between playing for rock fans and electronic fans.

"Rock audiences don't want to be ignored," he says. "For some reason, electronic music has this thing where it's, like, 'You do your thing, and we'll listen.' For a rock audience, it's, like, 'Sing to us. Giveto us.' It's, like, 'Jim Morrison, you are the lizard king. Touch us with your lizard tongue.'"

Kid 606 (his mom named him Miguel Depedro) is one of experimental-electronic music's It boys. He's just made the cover of the November issue of fancy European music mag The Wire. Internet-mailing-list participants slobber and grovel as they attempt to analyze his output and discuss his record label, Tigerbeat6, and its roster. Depeche Mode recently included his remix on one of their singles. His aggressive electronic record Down With the Scene was released last year on Mr. Bungle/Fantomas kingpin Mike Patton's Ipecac Records imprint -- a few months before the release of his gorgeous techno long-player P.S. I Love You on the German experimental label Mille Plateaux. Kid 606 is all over the place -- even though he's only 22.

In a musical world in which anonymity is the rule and mystery as much a goal as the music, geeks starved for a role model got one when they started obsessing over Kid 606.
In a musical world in which anonymity is the rule and mystery as much a goal as the music, geeks starved for a role model got one when they started obsessing over Kid 606.

The fanaticism, though a bit much, is understandable. Kid is smart and magnetic, and he's got a lot to say. In a musical world in which anonymity is the rule and mystery as much a goal as the music, geeks starved for a role model got one when they started obsessing over Kid 606. Whereas others prefer locking the door to their studio bunkers and lobbing music over their shoulders and into the ears of fans, Kid is out and about, ready and willing to hook up with his people, easy to reach on his cell and seemingly available for mano a mano interaction. This is why he's touring with the Butthole Surfers and why he opened for Fantomas last year on their tour.

Kid 606 says many of his peers in the experimental-electronic community have a defeatist attitude about the deal: "They're, like, 'Why should I tour? People don't like this music.' The reason people don't like this music is because they can't see it live. Someone just has to be, like, 'I know I'll constantly be playing to more people that don't like it than do like it, but you've just got to put yourself out there.' The fact is, the pioneers have taken so much crap for us to be able to even make this music and not get laughed at or just be called DJs, you know? There's way too much of a comfort zone in electronic music. You've got amazing musicians and brilliant people who aren't going to put in any time or effort into making their music something that's going to take its place in the music books."

If his recent output is any indication, he'll be a major entry in the books someday, mainly because of the breadth of his work. Kid's early music was aggressive, a mixture of hardcore techno, jungle and gabber, screaming loudly and lacking any semblance of subtlety -- there was little beauty or melody within; rather, 606 was examining hard texture and deep, nearly subharmonic rhythms. Both his first full-length, 1998's Don't Sweat the Technics, and the follow-up EP, a split with Lesser, show an artist obsessed with sound and beat and ready to tackle his computer. Last year's Down With the Scene was also loud, fast and out of control, but Kid paced the record much more evenly.

After the relative success of Scene, Kid 606 did something remarkable; he released a beautiful, subtle, melodic record called P.S. I Love You. Yes, many electronic artists shift gears, work in different subgenres, examine different sounds, tempos and rhythms. But most do this experimentation under pseudonyms. That way, unadventurous speed freaks don't get thrown for a loop. Many electronic-music heads are notoriously rigid about their tastes; fans of deep house like only that particular subgenre; the same goes for fans of techno and drum & bass. With blinders on, they appreciate only a certain tempo, a certain drum pattern, a certain sound. It's sad and frustrating to artists interested in a well-rounded body of work.

P.S. I Love You is the polar opposite of Kid's earlier output. Where once were feedback and gristle came beauty, melody and muffled wisps of beats, as if the circuits inside his hard drive were pumping honey. "Now I Wanna Be a Cowboy" (Kid's good at song titles) opens with a sparse melody that sounds like ringing tinsel before a hollow, whispered beat arrives to provide a foundation. The rhythm moves at the rate of a hip-hop track, slow and steady but never hard; there's a restraint that, in lesser hands, would seem cowardly and tentative, but in Kid's it seems calm and self-assured. He's not out to prove anything, not out to shock his aggro fans. He's just intent on making pretty, and he succeeds. On "Twirl," a Spanish-sounding guitar stutters, struggling to develop momentum as a house-paced rhythm rumbles like a heartbeat heard through a goosedown coat. The snare sounds like a simple clip of a scissors, and itsy squeaks and pops add texture to the whole. Though the song has only one simple idea, Kid 606 examines it until it's reached its logical resolution, and only then does he tuck it away.

"I wanted to release a record," he says, "that I could give to my mom and girlfriend and be, like, 'Hey, this one's for you.' And also to the audience -- I didn't want it to be an attack; I wanted to have some restraint. Once you get something that does well, you're supposed to keep doing that and fueling that particular audience. I met so many people that never even knew there was music like that, that buy the other stuff, that go, 'Wow.' The worst thing is to have an audience that's stagnating, giving people the same stuff."

For his live performance, Kid 606 isn't going to be taking requests. Nor will he be playing your favorite tracks from his records. No "Juvenile Hall Rollcall." No "It'll Take Millions in Plastic Surgery to Make Me Black." No "606fix." "I'll play live and people are, like, 'Play "Straight Outta Compton," play "Dropkick," play "Buffalo 606,"'" he says. "They'll be requesting songs, and of course I don't [oblige], because they don't want to see you. They want to see what you were. I only play unreleased stuff because if I can play stuff that no one's ever heard before and they like it, that's such an accomplishment for me. And if there was a rock band that was willing to do that, they'd be my favorite rock band in the world, because what most people want is just what they've heard before."

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