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You might be surprised to find how fast the taunting, cocksure voice of Bo Rat gets stuck inside your head. I realized this as I was walking down a crowded New York City street the other day. Without thinking, I began to sing to myself. It was one of his songs that had been in my head since hearing it for the first time a few days earlier. Just as I came to the chorus, I passed a group of elderly women, who shrunk back in predictable disgust as I spat out, “What up bitch?” Whatever your opinion of hip hop culture may be, you can’t deny how pervasive it has become. Forget MTV, pop radio and movies – those territories are claimed. Hip hop has found its way past the suburban malls and into the rural nooks and crannies once thought to be the last hold-outs against overtly urban culture. Bo Rat is a prime example. Born Marshall Payne, he originally hails from Bolinas, California, a small coastal town just past Stinson Beach in Marin County. In general, residents of Bolinas are surfers and organic farmers, with a smattering of blues musicians thrown in for local flavor. Payne himself was only somewhat interested in hip-hop at first. He was primarily focused on being a student athlete until the latter half of high school. In his junior year he began writing rhymes seriously, and by the time he moved to Santa Barbara for college, he was competing in nationwide MC battles. But the hip hop seed had been planted long before, back in 4th grade when he heard Dru Down’s “Pimp of the Year” for the first time. Hip hop analysts (present company included) will have a field day dissecting BR’s style and persona. For one, he is quickly making a name for himself as a deadly talent on the national battle circuit. He won the 3rd Annual Brainstorm Battle in Seattle, competes regularly in Scribble Jam, and is featured on countless DVDs that circulate among the freestyle fanatics. Some argue that battle MCs can’t translate their style onto CD, claiming that it’s all bragging and quick wit. BR is quick to dismiss this; “There has always been a sense of confidence and braggadocio present in some of my songs, as is the case with most hip hop artists - for as long as I can remember. However, this is only apparent in certain songs. My experience as a battle MC may have influenced my ‘battle tracks,’ but I don't think my songs about other aspects of life have been affected in the same way by battling.” Another reason critics may be quick to judge him is because of comparisons to another very well-known rap artist. “When I tell someone I rap they say, ‘Oh, like Eminem, right?’ Many MCs may bristle at the comparison to Slim Shady, but BR isn’t so quick to judge. “All they’re trying to do is relate to me. The statement is a bit ignorant, but I don't believe it's made with bad intentions. They are most likely basing this comparison on nothing more than skin color.” Beyond race, there are certain similarities between the two MCs (whether by chance or design) that seem hard to ignore. First is the voice, that poisonous, smart-ass taunt that makes you feel like he already knows every stupid thing you ever did. This is invariably a product of the work put into all those street ciphers and battles over the years. Both MCs also seem to favor intelligence over fake thuggery. But whereas Em has clearly been influenced by the company he keeps, Bo Rat is still just looking for the most poetic way to tell you that you suck. To that end, Bo Rat is also a much better MC. He benefits noticeably from an education and is able to rhyme more creatively on a much broader range of ideas. While many MCs might try to distance themselves from this kind of background, opting instead for a made-up street pedigree, BR is completely straightforward about his intellect. “I do think my education has helped me as an MC. I’ve always felt that if there's something I understand, I can convey it to others so that they can easily understand it as well. My education has simply broadened the range of topics I'm able to address.” So what’s next for tha’ Bo Rat? He has gained a quick following thanks to the power of the internet, and plans to capitalize on that in several ways. There will be shows across the country, appearances at some of the nation’s bigger MC battles, and a debut album released later in 2006. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When an MC this tenacious and prolific sets his mind to it, you can expect big things. Or as Bo Rat himself says, “Look out for biiiiiiiiiiiig things.” Bitch. Bo Rat is in rotation now on BreakThru Radio. For more info go to: www.myspace.com/borat
Entertainment is a weird business. For some reason there seems to be a fetish for selling things that just shouldn't go together. Sex and murder, Bob Sagat and family togetherness. And now, Playmates and turntables. Turns out the trend in girls who've done centerfolds moving on to spin records is on the up swing. While models moving on to well-established careers as actresses or divas is nothing new, girls who incorporate their pictorial status into a music set is. I first discovered this while working with an event called Hot Import Nights. HIN brands itself as the "leading lifestyle car show" and as such, it comes off as kind of a carnival for the rave/Civic/Playstation crowd. There are the requisite tricked out cars, gaming booths, models stroking engines and getting in and out of Ferraris. The biggest draw, other than the cars, is three stages of club beats and the XM Lounge. All of them are pushing urban music, from hip-hop to house, and that's where HIN starts to get over the top. The two headlining talents for HIN were Miss Lisa and DJ Lady Tribe, two women who list "DJ" and "model" first among their many talents. Miss Lisa was a Playmate in May of this year. Tribe, while not posing for Playboy, certainly seems to have done a lot of calendar work, much of which can be purchased on her website. Both spin vinyl, which at least lends them an air of traditional credibility, though the first picture you see of Lisa in her photos section kind of disqualifies her as a serious artist; wearing a black bikini with Bad Ass across the breasts next to an overweight guy dressed as Superman. But I suppose that's just any Tuesday night in LA. According to thedjlist.com, a self proclaimed authority on the electronic music scene that actively ranks and rates the world's DJ bunch, the Hot Import Nights girls both qualify as one of the top 2,000 DJs in the world. Miss Lisa comes in at number 983 and Lady Tribe at 1643. To give some perspective on those numbers, the DJ List currently ranks over 71,000 DJs, so top 2,000 isn't bad. To add even more perspective, Mix Master Mike, a competitive scratch DJ and semi-official fifth member of the Beastie Boys, comes in at number 1005. Of course, the ranking process for the site is notoriously ambiguous. Most of it is factored by popularity, the rest by a mysterious "DJ Ranking Algorithm", the science of which probably falls somewhere between a Google search and drawing straws. Since the rankings really mean nothing lets step away from that. What struck me at the event is how it all still seems to make sense. I don't like car shows and I'm not a big fan of artificial clubs built into convention centers. I even hated the music, but when you're there it all syncs up. The entire place is in some convoluted back world harmony, where it's okay to go into the rave while your mom and dad are checking out the new Acura. Girls with bubbly voices can rev the crowd up through the loudspeakers and it works. Guys will walk through the curtains, clamor up to the front of the stage, bounce along to the beat for ten minutes, and then step back out and get a hot dog. And the whole time the girls are being broadcast onto the projector screens on either side of the stage, wearing less and less as the artificial night goes on. The music isn't hard to put together - one look at the playlist will tell you that. 50 Cent followed by Ciara mixed next to Ja Rule doesn't take much innovation. It's like setting your least favorite FM station on top of a drum machine. I think then, that its all these absurdities together that make us like them. When you've just paid twenty bucks to see an economy car decorated in tropical colors, which features a stereo that cost more than your house, you're willing to let go of things like opinion and taste and just enjoy the ride. And while it's hard to envision myself enjoying the questionable talent of a Playmate DJ without the giant fake boobs, it's pretty easy to accept both of them together.
One of my long-time dreams is that one day, either by circumstance or my own design, somebody will come to me and say, "We are making a movie about the future. It will be full of space age architecture, flying cars, and pill-popping robots. We want you to be in charge of the music." As such, I've been mentally cataloguing anything I thought might work, just in case that day ever came. But then I heard "The Beeps" and I discovered that Yoko Solo has pretty much done all the work for me. Some of it is way over my head and some of it is hard for me to listen to. But I know it is genius. This album demonstrates his ability to not only think outside the box, but to disregard the box altogether. In fact, disregarding the box seems to be Solo’s modus operandi. Together with fellow freak-hop artist Shaggy Mantee he started the Quake Trap label for just this purpose. Hidden in a dark garage on the border of San Francisco’s fog belt, the Quake Trap studio has been turning out broken beats and bastardized hip hop for over ten years. Those who understand their work hail it as a harbinger of a future in which the human mind has expanded enough to process a staggering amount of urban grit and high-speed stimuli. For those whose tastes reside closer to the mainstream, the Quake Trap sound is generally regarded as scary and weird. Some may be surprised to find that there are quite a few people who fit into the first group. Last year, Solo started hosting “Hail & Ride,” a Tuesday night party held in the subterranean back room of The 222 Club in San Francisco. The club itself is somewhat of a bohemian hideaway, located on the ground floor of an old brick tenement in the Tenderloin District. The parties were promoted mainly through word of mouth. Solo’s ambitions were intentionally humble – almost to the point of indifference – and yet the night has become a success. Says Solo, “I just wanted to be there on a Tuesday night, eating pizza, and nobody would care. We basically said, ‘C’mon down and go crazy.’ As a result, we’ve had everybody here from Ralph Carney (Tom Waits’ horn player) to a transvestite funk DJ. One guy came and hooked up a bunch of Furby dolls to a mic and just let them make noise.” It is in this kind of environment that Yoko Solo’s music sounds best. Driving home after a long day of work, the distorted keyboards and off-kilter sound clips of “The Beeps” would not sit well. But if you’re at some crazy underground club, and it’s three in the morning, and the system’s on blast, there’s nothing better. Alien voices and analogue synths give way to breakbeat funk in a way that no renegade music lover can ignore. The music is empowering in that it gives you the satisfaction of knowing that, when you listen to it, you feel something most people won’t understand for another ten years. Kids who are looking to distance themselves from the boomer generation staples of their parents’ CD collection should go out and buy “The Beeps” immediately. The Quake Trap has worked prodigiously over the years to put out albums and spread their gospel. San Francisco is considered by many to be the home of cutting-edge electronic music. As co-founder of Quake Trap, former member of Pancake Circus, and co-host of “Hail & Ride,” Yoko Solo has unwittingly found himself at the center of a growing scene. The word spreads quickly among people who are ignored by the mainstream media and, as such, have become used to the DIY approach. Solo, however, is not so much concerned with popularity (although he is quietly pleased with these grassroots success stories). He is more interested in making music and blowing your mind. When asked about the scene he has helped create and its influence on his music he says, “I’ve disconnected myself from a lot of that, from trying to impress people. It may be my fault, but I just don’t give a shit.” That’s okay with most of his listeners because they don’t give a shit either. They just turn up the volume, bust out some crazy, interplanetary dance move and put on their over-sized shades. Yoko Solo has shown them the future, and it is fast and bright.   For more info on Yoko Solo or Quake Trap Records, go to: www.quaketrap.com or www.myspace.com/yokosolo
For over three hours, I try to decipher the Saphin psyche. He’s a scene-stealer, whether playing on words with the waitress or addressing certain aspects of the menu. At first, I’m not sure if he’s trying to dazzle me with brilliance or baffle me with bullshit. Wearing black everything, save for a bright orange scarf and a green-striped shirt, he stands out from the eclectic crowd at Veselka, a 24-hour Ukrainian Restaurant in the East Village. He looks a bit like Perry Farrell; clean-shaven and angular, with the same fearless confidence. But the similarities stop there. Saphin’s voice is much deeper, and if you spoke to him on the phone, you might think he was an Italian New Yorker with bumpy knuckles. This seems to raise a conflict between his attitude and appearance, leaving me scrounging for the best way to describe the man. I keep thinking of the last sequence in ‘Scrooged,’ in which Bill Murray’s character destroys the illusion of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by going in front of the camera during the live telecast. The façade of the fairy-tale is revealed through his genuine non-fiction version of the same story, which oddly enough has the same result. So whatever fantastic or realistic components combine to equal Saphin, rest assured they both end in harmony. He is more comfortable with himself than staircases are with stories, and damned if he doesn’t have some good ones. So you have the new album, A Star Called Earth, which is nearing completion, and then a separate one for Tim E.? Well, Saphin is Tim Essquare, starring in Time of the Signs. But you can say it as either Tim Es-square or Tim S-squared. Kind of like a Ziggy Stardust-type thing? Many people have asked that, and for lack of a better reference…maybe, but not really? Tim E. is an ongoing character; I don’t plan on killing this one off. I think Bowie killed off Ziggy, and rightfully so, in many ways. I believe it’s better off that he did. Could you imagine David Bowie at 65 doing Ziggy Stardust? Wouldn’t work. Yeah, so I’ve taken care of that problem by not making him a trans-glam, semi-sexual, over-sexual, hetero, you know…hermaphrodite. He’s not a static character. Not at all. He’s actually a very interactive and inter-dimensional character, and in some ways, kind of flat. He’s not a conversation-horse. I’m not liable to lapse into Tim E. in an interview, like a lot of rock stars have done, you know? I either am it on-stage, or I’m not it off-stage. At what time does Tim E. happen? Tim E. doesn’t take place until 2012. Now, there are lots of references to 2012, the most of important of which is the end of the Mayan calendar. They say time is supposed to end then. Everything? Time, as we know it, is going to end, not time itself. You may or may not have noticed, but time is already compressing. Before you know it, this interview is going to be over, and you’re going to be listening to it back, and hearing me say, “You’re going to be listening to it back.” It’s going to freak you out a little bit, but you’ll realize what I’m talking about. Moving up to the 2012 mark, which is supposed to be December 12th, 2012, the calendar is supposed to alter. Also, there is this program called the MERLIN Project, which was written by a couple of physicists, in order to track and graph time. (http://www.accessbest.com/merlin/timetrak.htm) It’s almost like astrology, but not really, as it has nothing to do with the planets. So, for example, they’ll take the birthday of a person, or the start-time of something, whatever it may be, and graph it out over a period of time, showing dips and peaks in energy. The lifetime of some set person? Exactly. And within these dips and peaks, they also show time itself doing a very strange thing in 2012, all based on very specific, though not related to, programming, with regard to the Mayan calendar thing. So, it’s kind of weird, as they’re both parallel. Anyway, Tim E. shows up in 2012, in Times Square of all places, after walking through a dimensional door. Since Times Square is kind of the epicenter of all media and all interest, it’s perfect for him. He doesn’t really have a name, and on his way to Earth, since he’s already learned how to speak English--but doesn’t know what to call himself– he sees a broken sign that says ‘Tim Essquare,’ instead of Times Square. You know, something came up wrong in one of the scroll bars. So he takes ‘Tim Essquare’ as his name. Alright! His essential purpose, in showing up here at all, is really quite the antithesis of Ziggy. Ziggy was a messiah, and a sexual one at that. He changed the way people thought about the line between male and female. This is different, as it’s a spiritual thing. Tim E. arrives to find God, and it’s known everywhere in the universe, except on Earth, that God lives here. So, in his travels, while seeking and learning, he takes on a lot of the great religions, and soaks up the best of each—spiritual practices, magic, and everything else. By natural process, he starts exuding all this–you know, giving it back to people, which is another irony because he’s giving you what you already knew. There is no surprise ending to the story, or any of this; we are all God. Everyone realizes that we are all connected to the same mainframe, and there is no disconnect whatsoever, ever. It’s not possible. So, therefore, all he really does is drop the knowledge on the people, and prove it to them. Kind of like a midwife. A midwife with great information, sure, absolutely. That’s perfect. So, that’s what’s going on with Tim E. The thing is; it all doesn’t happen on one album. I was going to say, it would be a pretty hefty album. On the first record he only gets as far as becoming famous. The next record is going to take place in Vegas, where he’ll have his Elvis/Vegas time. You know; all schmaltz, all bull, all whatever. That should be a pretty fun record to record, actually. What was the genesis of Tim E.? I needed something to step on stage with that was a little more interesting than just having a TV behind me. Generally when I go on stage with my band, it’s a multi-media extravaganza. Honestly, all my greatest music influences have been character-based rock-stars. I always liked the idea of a highly-contrived character; to hide behind number one, to lie behind number two, and to be an asshole behind number three. Indeed. And also to be a great guy behind, you know, to really use it as a personal developmental tool. Sometimes when you remove yourself, you become a little bit more objective, even through something false, like a façade. You get a better point of view, and a much better perspective on who you are and what you’re doing. I mean, Tim E. is not very much unlike me. I’m deeply into what God’s made of; I’m motivated by that. There’s really nothing greater as a motivator for me. I’m not on a crusade, or a missionary-type thing, or a born-again thing at all. When somebody says, “well I don’t believe in God,” I’m thinking to myself well, I got a funny feeling God believes in you, number one. Number two, I can take all the science and all the physics and I believe in it and it’s all great–I’m an immense fan of Einstein, Quantum Theory, all of it–but it comes down to one thing; the Big Bang. Who lit the fuse? Cause and effect. You have to have a cause. I don’t think that information can be known. I think that information is so obvious it’s hard to think that it can be known. This brings it all back to Tim E. Basically. In the place where Tim E. comes from, it’s accepted fact that if you want to go find your creator, you go to this place called Earth. So, Tim E. is essentially an innocent. I mean, you look at him on stage…I have a habit of being a little bit effusive up there, you know, really loud and brash at times. In your face? I can get that way. It depends on the audience. It does sound like a cliché, but I don’t really know what happens to me when I get on stage. So it really depends on how the crowd is. Oh yeah, no two shows are the same. Like snowflakes. Essentially. That’s the truth; each show is a snowflake. It melts away over time but it is unique. Of course, they can be similar, as the backing tracks may be the same for certain shows and certainly the songs are the same, but, my attitude changes. Actually, I’ve been bored on stage too. It hasn’t happened recently, not since back in the day, when I played at this place called Sin-é on Saint Mark’s Place. Where Buckley played? Yeah, actually I met him there, once or twice. Really? What a sweet guy, oh God, what a fucking sweet guy he was. His hand was soft and warm, and that’s all I remember. He was absolutely the most welcoming, warm dude. He was here for a short time for a reason. I just love the fact that he would go down to Sin-é with his Telecaster and an amp. There would be people around the block trying to get into this little coffee house that held about 20 people, maybe. I played there a number of times, and had a moderate crowd, sometimes a packed place. Nonetheless, I remember a few really bad shows there— Buckley shows? No, no, not Buckley; me. Shows where I’d get the beret-wearing goatee crowd, you know, sitting there with their hyper-caffeinated brains, rubbing their chins going “Wellllllllllllll I don’t know what to think of that…” Ahh. They would just not respond. I wasn’t as good as I could have been, but I didn’t suck. I sang my ass off, and it was odd to see such anemic responses coming back from these people. I remember one moment, I was trying out a new rock band—and it was foolish of me to do this—I tried them out at Sin-é. I think I was probably the only rock band to ever walk into Sin-é and actually turn up all the way. We fucking slammed that place! The window was vibrating to the point where the manager walked by and said into the mic; “Turn it down!” And the guitar player that I was auditioning live that night— Auditioning live? That’s crazy! No no, he couldn’t tune his guitar! So in the middle of the song, I literally took my hand, put it on his guitar and said, “Stop playing! Just pretend like you are…” Auditioning live? What the fuck, why not? It was the best, I love stuff like that. My booking agent at the time was so angry with me…huh, I felt like Christopher Walken there for a second. Saphin proceeds to do a spot-on Walken impersonation. How do you prepare for your shows? I meditate when I get up in the morning and before I go to bed. Those are my pre and post-show rituals. I meditate with same mantra, 20 minutes each time. I get my re-charge and walking orders each day that way. Whether it be consciously or subconsciously, my itinerary is written in those times. Then I report back at the end of the day, as to whether I’ve been in sync or not, and that’s it. Sometimes I get stuck in traffic on the way to a show and get really pissed off. I’d like to break that ritual. Since we’re on the subject of shows, have you ever seen one and thought, “Damn, I wish I had thought of that!” I don’t really look at shows or performances that way. A lot of the great performances or shows that you’re trying get me to refer back to, I wasn’t there for. A lot of them happened before my time, and can only be seen now on DVD. But as long as there is a start, a middle and an end, or some kind of value attached to the show that takes me away from the day, it ranks right up there with the best of them. In terms of escape? Yeah. Your job as a performer is not to remind people of their problems. You’re not a therapist, in that sense. It seems there are a lot of bands that function like that. But that’s what’s happening right now! It’s all very down and woe is me and “What the fuck happened to me?” It’s just ridiculous, and that’s not what it’s about. That’s not what going on stage should be. There’s a large audience for it though. There’s a zeitgeist basically, yes. They’ve taken a lot of people to this place, and they could have chosen to take them someplace else. It goes back and forth; one is suiting the purpose for another. You understand? There’s a zeitgeist desire and need for that kind of crazy shit, yet there is also the responsibility that the artist has to go “Ok, I fit this niche, I can take these people to another place now,” and they don’t do it… yet. It sounds like you are taking up that responsibility. We’ll get it to a higher place. I’m not here to bring people down, I know that. That’s not what it’s about. This is about learning how strong you are, not how strong I am. We’re all strong, all of us. We came here equipped with all the tools we’ll ever need, period. You want to access them, it’s up to you. For further access to Saphin, hit up his website @ http://www.saphin.com/. Of course, you can always hear his music right here on BTR.
Going to see The Fatales live is like a lesson in modern urban sociology. The audience is full of bookish hipsters who keep a respectful distance from the stage. When singer Wayne Switzer asks the crowd if everything sounds ok, he does not get the requisite drunken yodel in response. Instead of the giddy, “woo-hoo!” the front row responds with an enamored, satisfied, “yes.” It appears that as music, and demographics, and society rapidly become more fractured, just as quickly a sound or a movement rises up to meet our new needs. Perhaps you find modern rock to be too superficial these days. Or maybe you’re bothered by college kids citing 30-year-old pop music as an influence. Maybe you are a college kid and you just like a little more brains with your sass. Well, apparently there are others like you out there, and they’ve chosen The Fatales as their band. BREAKTHRU RADIO: As I recall, you guys were all radio DJs together in college, correct? THE FATALES: Two of us were, at Virginia Tech. BTR: Was “Pretty In Pixels” your first album? TF: It was our first proper album. We had several home recordings before that. BTR: I’ve read in several places that you guys are a good example of how to get great results in the studio on a shoestring budget. Do you guys have an affinity for the DIY approach to recording, or just a lot of technical knowledge? TF: We’ve heard that too, which is funny because we’re broke. For us, that album was expensive. BTR: Well, as opposed to a mega-studio production… TF: Actually, the new stuff sounds even better, but we definitely paid for it. BTR: Speaking of the new stuff, it seems like your music has incorporated more electronic elements and has also become more atmospheric. Have you consciously made the change from a song-oriented album to something more thematic or textured? TF: More than a change, it was about focus. That was one of the big criticisms that we had of “Pretty In Pixels” – that it was all over the place in terms of style. We spent more time on the new stuff - developing the electronics, the sounds, and the textures - so that we would have more consistency. BTR: What is your song writing process? (Wayne): Basically we start with a mood. I bring in an idea or a skeleton of a song, and then these guys mess it up. (Craig): We make it better. (James): We run it through the Fatales filters. BTR: Some of the songs on “Pretty in Pixels” – “Nipping At Your Heels,” for example – are pretty much straight ahead pop songs. Are you trying to rid yourselves of that sound? TF: No, we love pop music. But “dark pop” is probably a better term for our sound. BTR: I don’t know if dark pop is a movement by itself, but certainly some people might want to group you guys in with the current movement of fashion bands. I think you’re a little above that, but what do you think? (Wayne): You mean you don’t think we’re fashionable? BTR: No, not at all. I mean, I certainly noticed your scarf… TF: You’re probably talking about the whole skinny tie phenomenon. BTR: Sure, or the “the” bands thing. If somebody told me they like The Killers or The Bravery, I would certainly recommend that they listen to The Fatales. Do you think that’s the right idea? TF: Well, we probably do use a similar pop-vocal structure. But I think we break it down musically – using more symphonic elements, more electronics, different dynamics – and that separates us from that movement. BTR: I would also say that a lot of those bands are intentionally similar to each other, as though they’re trying to be part of a movement. You guys don’t seem to be focused on the trend. TF: That’s right. We want to be timeless. BTR: Actually, I think that’s an admirable goal. To make music that transcends current fads and stands the test of time is an accomplishment. TF: Yeah well, we also thought about dropping the “The” from our name just to avoid the association, but we figured that would be too easy. The Fatales are now in rotation on BreakThru Radio. For more info check out www.thefatales.com