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Searching for Pearl

We buy cheap tapes, chat with the Fiery Furnaces and drop a fatwa on Big Brother

DJ Trackstar's One Dollar Mix Tape Vol. 4 could sell itself without the ridiculously low price. The fourth installment of the self-produced, low-priced series is an extensive guide to the rich local hip-hop scene and could probably sell for five times what Trackstar charges. The dollar price is tradition; what began as a marketing ploy has grown into a staple of the St. Louis hip-hop scene. Trackstar first made a name for himself in the local scene by throwing hip-hop battles for charity in the foyer of the midtown house that he rented with five of his friends, known better as The Mansion. The mixtapes started as publicity for the battles, and the low price was an obvious way to move more tapes. Volume one was a simple mix of good rap. On volume two, Trackstar began focusing on exposing some of the artists he'd met at The Mansion battles, with four MCs recording original tracks exclusively for the tape. Building on good feedback from the exclusive tracks, he decided to go all local and all exclusive for volume three. It sold over 2,500 copies.

"[The sales] brought a lot of MCs to my attention," says Trackstar. "By the time I got around to making Vol. 4, I had so many MCs trying to get on, I realized I could make it a real strong, comprehensive look at the St. Louis hip-hop scene."

Now home to The Mansion Studios, Trackstar's home base has become a recording hub for local rap. The diverse range of styles that come through the studio inspired Trackstar in preparing for Vol. 4. He denies a specific St. Louis sound, noting how Vol. 4 includes everything from SLU Crew and D-Mac's radio-ready street shit to Honors English's revolution rap to Abex and Wattson's more abstract styles.

"There's too much division in the local hip-hop scene," explains Trackstar, "so I wanted to make a mix that united all the artists that come through The Mansion, whether or not they sound like everyone else on the CD. There's a lot of artists rapping side-by-side on this project that probably wouldn't have collaborated otherwise." -- Andrew Friedman

DJ Trackstar's One Dollar Mix Tape Vol. 4 is available at Vintage Vinyl (6610 Delmar Boulevard, University City), Sound Revolution (7751 North Lindbergh Boulevard, Hazelwood) and the Hi-Pointe (1001 McCausland Avenue).

Critical Fatwa
On your knees, unworthy sinners, in memory of Janis Joplin. Praise her beyond praise! There are those amongst us who would sully her memory, and for that we must declare a fatwa.

Shame on you, Big Brother & the Holding Company, for pitching a reality show in which you search for Joplin's replacement. Firstly, the title of your show, Searching for the Pearl, is better suited to an oral-sex technique. Secondly, you are withered and old and should be quiet and content living off the royalties of songs you were lucky to be playing on. Before she died, she set you up for life, and this is how you repay her? Thirdly, Joplin left your band a year before she died! She was through with you, and yet you are still humping her corpse 35 years later.

Dogs! Blasphemers! Join the ranks of the accursed such as INXS and the Doors of the 21st Century, who live in the shadow of a shadow. Hear me now: Joplin is not the only member of your band who is dead, for your souls have no life in them. Fatwa a thousand times!

It is written. -- Ayatollah of Rock

Sibling Revelry
Last year the Fiery Furnaces flummoxed listeners with the odd but beautiful Blueberry Boat, their second full length. On it, the brother-sister team of Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger created a self-contained world somewhere between an early Who rock opera, Patti Smith's "Rock N Roll Nigger" and a John Ashbery poem. Eight- and ten-minute songs told curious stories, structures shifted mid-riff and then jump-started later, like a basic rock song viewed through a kaleidoscope. The Furnaces recently released a self-titled EP and are touring in support of it.

B-Sides: What was the first record you ever bought?

Matthew Friedberger: I bought Van Halen I on tape, and then I bought [the Who's] Who's Next. I didn't really buy records until I was eleven or twelve, and then I decided I was only going to buy what it said in a book was a good record.

What book?

The Rolling Stone Album Guide. I bought [Public Image Ltd.'s] Metal Box and Gang of Four's Entertainment! because it said that those records were five stars. But there are some things that don't make any sense. Like, [editor] Dave Marsh hates Queen. When I was younger I wasn't a Queen fan, but it's unfortunately arbitrary -- to not see the hard work and intelligence, even if you think it's misguided hard work and intelligence. There was a canon. The Band were good. Queen was no good. Black Sabbath -- not good. Then you get older and you say, no, Black Sabbath was good, and the Band only made one-and-a-half really good records.

If the Fiery Furnaces were to cover an entire album, what would it be?

Well, it's interesting as an extension of listening. You'd want to do a whole record and treat them as songs in the older sense, as standards. I guess [we would] do one of the Ramones records -- say Leave Home. Those songs are so perfect. They're perfectly written songs. You can do so much to them, and the songs could still stand it.

The Ramones didn't do any guitar solos. You do a lot of guitar solos.

Yeah, well, I wish we were the Ramones. I wish we were a band with a great idea, and then you do it. There's a discipline involved. Other bands, when they imagine they're playing in some more minimal way, there's no discipline. It's arbitrary, what they take out and what they leave in. With the Ramones, there were very good reasons for what they did and didn't do.

You don't think your band has a great idea?

No. We do lots of little things slightly differently, and it adds up. It's legitimate to do that kind of thing, but what's your excuse for making rock records at this point when there are so many good ones to begin with? There isn't really an excuse. You just try to come up with lame justifications on why your record is a worthwhile appendix to some other two records.

What about pleasure?

Sure. That's why I do it. It's compulsive, in a good way. You can't help but make up songs. -- Randall Roberts

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