By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
Some hip-hop acts sound dope on their records but fall flat on stage. Others complain about the St. Louis scene but do little to actually improve or support it. And then there's the rare hip-hop act that sounds great through headphones, puts on an amazing live show and fully embraces the (thriving) St. Louis scene. Earthworms is just such a group. The four members (Mathias, Black Patrick, Kama and DJ Mahf) live to make music, and while they play to packed houses in St. Louis, they're far from complacent. "We don't want to just be known as a 'local band,'" Mathias says. "Our sound works well out West," offers DJ Mahf. "There are underground hip-hop scenes emerging in Phoenix and all over California."
"We want to tour in Europe," adds Kama. "London. South of France. Toulouse would be nice."
The guys laugh, but they're also dead serious. Earthworms is in this for the long haul, and they've already put in a ton of work. They started on their newest album, Bottle Full of Bourbon, immediately after finishing their debut record, No Arms, No Legs, Just a Head and a Body. That debut sealed Earthworms' reputation as a seriously talented crew, but Bourbon is even better. Drawing on rap, rock and funk influences, these seventeen tracks showcase the group's range. And while such a high track number usually sends up some red flags — as in, oh great, another overly bloated hip-hop album — each song sounds fresh and essential. Earthworms collaborate with STL wunder-producers Crucial and Helias, and an impressive roster of performers (including Chicago emcee Hi-Fidel and the Urge's Steve Ewing) contribute their talents.
Earthworms has found many fans in St. Louis, and they give much of the credit to their label, the locally owned F5 Records. "Everyone respects the F5 label," says DJ Mahf. "They keep vinyl alive by constantly dropping wax."
F5 is taking over digital distribution of Bottle Full of Bourbon, while the Earthworms themselves are hitting the streets to make sure the album is available in record stores. F5 is also releasing Earthworms ringtones. (Thanks to such ringtones, says Mathias, F5 labelmate Nato Caliph "is blowing up in Norway!")
This week's CD-release party — which will truly be a party, complete with a live band and guest performances by Midwest Avengers, 40 'Til 5 and Steddy P, plus on-the-spot T-shirt screen-printing by artists Ben Shepard and Ben Goeke — isn't all the crew has planned. They're planning a fourteen- or fifteen-date Midwest tour and may make a series of music videos (with an LA filmmaker who works with DJ Mahf's brother, the comic artist Jim Mahfood).
The Earthworms are refreshingly humble, but the fact is: Their schedule wouldn't be so packed if their music wasn't so good. The tracks never sound dashed-off. The album is completely free of obnoxious skits. The songcraft is consistently excellent.
"We put a lot of work into our verses," says emcee/b-boy Black Patrick. "We work on them for months at a time."
On Bottle Full of Bourbon, the hard work pays off — and then some. Raise a glass to Earthworms, won't you?
— Brooke Foster
9 p.m. Friday, January 25. Lucas School House, 1220 Allen Avenue. $5. 314-621-6565.
"OK, so imagine this," video-game composer Tommy Tallarico reminisces from his studio in Orange County, California. "We're in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra behind us, and we're doing our show. Suddenly this dude jumps up onstage and starts dancing around, dressed like a purple L-shaped Tetris piece." Absurdity like this would be inappropriate at most orchestral performances, but not at Video Games Live. B-Sides spoke to event producer Tallarico as the multimedia spectacle prepares to ambush the fabulous Fox Theatre on its current 60-date world tour.
B-Sides: What is the simplest possible explanation of Video Games Live?
Tommy Tallarico: VGL is all of the greatest video game music of all time played by a symphony and choir, but what makes it really unique is that everything is completely synchronized to video screens and rock & roll lighting. There's a stage show production, special effects, interactivity with the crowd, and a pre-game festival with a costume contest and gaming contests.
The Video Games Live Web site has a lot of statistics about how video games have become more present in our culture. Is your show a reflection of those stats, or do the numbers legitimize VGL and make it OK to perform video game music at the Fox Theatre?
That's an interesting question, because one drives the other. It can be very difficult to convince promoters and symphonies how big games are. In those instances it's great to have those growing numbers behind us. We may talk to a local promoter and they say "Oh, so it's a kid show." We can say "Well, look at these statistics. The average gamer is actually 33 years old." On the other side of the coin, some non-gamers are finding out about how incredibly huge games are because of our show.
On the other side of that coin, you're exposing younger crowds to the symphony.