"Beats" with DJ AO, OC Notes, Ear Dr Umz, Wizdumb, Al Nightlong, SpecsWizard
DJ AO (left), Absolute Mad Man (right).
Saturday, January 7
Where Los Angeles has its Low End Theory nights with its growing cast of beat scene pseudo-celebs, Seattle has also grown a small community of like-minded beat heads who come together semi-regularly to network, and showcase their hip hop/electronic musical vision and technical aptitude. While not as prolific or well-documented as say, L.A.'s beat community, our set of local producers commanded a solid audience at Vermillion Gallery/Bar on Saturday, and provided an atmosphere that was enjoyable in the immediate and the potential. An event like this (a free-form showcase at Vermillion Gallery/Bar in the heart of the Capitol Hill swarm, which was simply called "Beats") is not only quality entertainment for onlookers, but, as there was no real element of competition as with a "beat battle", is also a great opportunity for artists to become familiar with one another, and establish creative alliances.
Without a traditional focal point (the DJs were encamped behind floor-level tables that were piled with electronic equipment, and there was a guy named Absolute Madman live-editing visual footage on the opposite wall), people in the audience were free to mingle without being chained to the stage, and check back in with the performers periodically. If you were paying attention, however, the talent was putting on quite a display.DJ AO freaked a mini-effects pad and cued tracks on his laptop, which were run through a sequencer. His proficiency on the hardware was impressive, and his set ran on for some time, which was quite okay with the growing crowd. He blended movements seamlessly, and tweaked samples live. While ambient, his tempos and boom-bap drum tracks were accessible, and made for a killer set that I couldn't pull myself away from.
OC Notes' arrangement involved a keyboard, guitar-looking pedals, a few knobs and a laptop. He played sitting down, which furthered the idea that the focal point was not necessarily the DJ, but the sounds he produced. He played a mid-length set filled with down-tempo grooves and a little dub-sounding material, all of which was predictably awesome.
A few other quality performers went by (Ear Dr Umz, Wizdumb, Al Nightlong presumably), and then it was time for SpecsWizard. Also known as Specs One, the enigmatic dusty digital studio sage of local hip hop is responsible for a ton of classic beats and raps, and has been kicking around the scene since forever. To be completely honest, Specs was one of the main reasons I came out to the show. To my memory, I had never seen him perform, and I wanted to see the man who makes such brilliant music on record recreate some of it on stage. Something was off though. Maybe it was a down night for Specs, but things didn't quite pan out for him. Hunting and pecking on his MPC, his levels were uneven, and he stopped and started a few times. When he got going, the sounds were pretty nice: heavily treated samples with artful depth. I'll have to catch him again to give him a fair spin, and I will undoubtedly catch another local beat night. All in all, that shit was rad.