[19 March 2009]
The Mohawk has what seems, on paper, like a really interesting juxtaposition. On the patio, a heavy dose of R&B and soul, inside, the experimental hip-hop and electronic of Anticon and Ghostly labels. Nothing doing on the hipster side when I get there, but NeckBone, an Austin based funk and hip-hop band has taken over the patio stage, so I watch for a little bit. Neckbone has got three singers, a couple of keyboard players, a drummer a guitarist and one hell of a bass player, digging in for funky slap and pop. During a break, the singer, who has a little chip on his shoulder about musical popularity, says that his bass player, who is blind, plays 17 instruments. “If a guy who can play 17 instruments without seeing them, can’t get paid in this industry,” he says, “We’ve got to take it back.” Good point, Neckbone’s slow, funk grooves are exactly the kind of thing that crate diggers are always borrowing beats from, but which never seem to get much respect on their own. I’m looking for backpack hip-hop types in the audience, out looking for another breakbeat, but the audiences at the two venues seem to be sharply separated.
Inside, Restiform Bodies, has gotten going. David Bryant, in sunglasses inside at night, is spitting out long, complicated strings of verbiage, wading out into the crowd as far as the mic cord will allow, and bobbing up and down, side to side, swinging his arms like a track athlete. Behind him, Matt Valerio hovers over an array of electronic keyboards, laptops and synthesizers, huge blots of sub bass overlaid by percolating, synth popcorn. “It’s all too much, it’s all too much,” Bryant chants, leaning in and away from the audience, before launching into another pop-culture redolent tirade that speeds along recklessly, somehow hitting the rhymes in all the right spots. Later, Valerio straps on a tom tom and pulls out a snare, adding an organic layer of percussion to the synth wavery beat. Sweat is pouring off both Bryant and Valerio, as this is clearly not just, or even primarily, an intellectual exercise. There is a physical stress and strain to making big beats and twisted rhymes, heavy lifting alongside mental gymnastics.
Michna next, out of Brooklyn, has the most complicated set-up I’ll see all night, three television sets and a big screen, a turntable, a drum set, two electronic deck/keyboards, a trombone, a saxophone, a fog machine and laser lights. The band, and it really is a band, is led by DJ Adrian Michna, plays an intriguing blend of hip-hop, jazz, downtempo, and rock, always blurring the lines between organic and electronic instrumentation, between sampled recordings and live improvisation. Everything is anchored by a steady rock beat, a live sound that meshes in interesting ways with the glitches and bleeps of synthetic instruments. Occasionally, Michna breaks off from his deck to hold up the trombone, coaxing out long, jazzy crescendos, and his partner does the same with sax. The show is quite visual, with a stream of images feeding into the television sets and green and white laser beams striking through the fog. Towards the end, Michna asks if anyone wants to play the video game Pole Position, and for the next few minutes, his band’s trippy, half-free, half-locked in music is accompanied by the visual of a car driving through videogame curves, occasionally crashing. It’s a fitting metaphor, I think, for the element of the unexpected, of human choice, within the boundaries of electronic space.