Foto — Theo Jemison The Gaslamp Killer
Founded in 2008 by producer and composer Steven »Flying Lotus« Ellison, Brainfeeder has always been into experimentation. Past albums by SAMIYAM epitomized the label’s sunshine-drenched »beats music« approach, their unconventional rhythms supplemented by farfisa-sounding synth lines in the spirit of The Beatles acid classic »The Word«. Teebs’ ambient soundscapes, meanwhile, flirted almost with New Age, their washes of electronic color diaphanous to the point of shimmering.
Yet if Brainfeeder once seemed to jump back and forth between the dance floor and the ashram — and Flying Lotus, in his latest Warp Records album Until The Quiet Comes (German review in SPEX N°340), continues exploring his instrumental mix of lounge and Beach Boys circa Smile — in two recent releases the label has positioned itself perfectly in the middle. Both The Gaslamp Killer’s Breakthrough and Jeremiah Jae’s Raw Money Raps join acid rock to rap to create a new form of music one might call Hippie Hop. Combining psilocybin with street smarts, they take the music of the inner city on a trip. Perhaps equally important, like that 6/9-inverting psychedelic-warrior Hendrix himself (»If 6 Was 9«, 1967), in musical terms they create a new post-racial landscape.
In this new acid-hip-hop paradigm, The Gaslamp Killer is the hippie in caftan robes. Equal parts spacey and beat ready, his deep bass grooves go in multiple directions while recalling reggae at its most stoned. Occasionally the pace is heavy, as if the listener were walking through a hazy — some might say purple hazy — dreamscape, yet due to Gaslamp Killer’s exotic instrumentation even these slow passages ultimately become exhilarating. Rife with Middle Eastern flavors, twisting guitars, and a sitar or two, Breakthrough is at once anachronistic and thoroughly modern. A song like »In The Dark,« for instance, takes the listener on a journey through a welter of repeating cello lines while at the same time encouraging a kind of somnolent, sleepwalker’s dance step. Others like »Veins« combine a similarly repeating cello pattern with the otherworldly vocals of label mate Gonjasufi to create a veritable mash up of The Beatles »Eleanor Rigby« and Captain Beefheart’s »The Clouds Are Full Of Wine (Not Whiskey Or Rye)«. Meanwhile, on »Peasants, Cripples & Retards« with SAMIYAM, Gaslamp Killer takes Brainfeeder’s »beats music« approach and phattens it up so that the usual sunny day bleeps sound more like something dark-edged as in an eclipse. And in »Nissim« with Amir Yaghmai, he punctuates the Turkish-marketplace-on-hash affect by placing a plucking tambur amidst a background of loping drum and bass loops. He ends the album with the previously mentioned »In The Dark«, a more frightening take on the typical Pink Floyd freak-out, its doom-laden bass coming ever closer before resolving in a plaintive horn pattern that evokes a funeral at sunset.
The number of collaborations on Breakthrough attests to the breadth of Gaslamp Killer’s vision. This is world music in the truest sense, taking in the cultures of many peoples and making something new of them. Then again, one might say that it is otherworldly music, a vision of the beyond seen through a beaded curtain hanging somewhere between Baghdad, San Francisco, and the dark side of the moon. With his Turkish-Lebanese-Jewish father and Lithnuanian-Jewish mother, and his much older siblings who turned him on both to psychedelic rock and early rap, Gaslamp Killer has a kaleidoscope-eyed view of the world that makes him multicultural and multidimensional, and he credits Brainfeeder as being open to his diverse music, which is reflective of this. »The psychedelic scene never left California,« he says. »This place has some very magical, spiritual qualities that make for a good community. I try to tap into that spirit when making music. It’s just the vibe here.«
Like The Gaslamp Killer, Jeremiah Jae uses the psychedelic vibe to move beyond strict categories, taking his music into a dream space that is almost pure sound. A producer and DJ originally based in Chicago, Jae relocated to the city of angels to be part of the Brainfeeder scene, and his debut album Raw Money Raps has a dream logic that is perfectly suited to his new surroundings. Like the best psychedelic albums, it’s meant to be heard as a whole, a concept album evoking a world in miniature. Yet if Sgt. Pepper’s painted a picture of pastoral English life that was ultimately romantic, Raw Money Raps dreams out loud about the dream factory, tuning the listener in to the dark side of its celluloid come-ons.
Raw Money Raps starts with »Man (Revolution Pt. 1)« and wends its way eventually to »Guerrilla (Evolution Pt. 1)«. The pun on »gorilla« is indicative of the album’s goals, for Jae is concerned with the animal in all of us, the un-evolved part that lusts for money and power. »When I was a kid, I didn’t really listen to hip hop because all that bling shit didn’t speak to me,« Jae says. »I didn’t really get into it until I heard Kayne West. College Dropout talked about the kind of things that I could relate to. Going to school. Trying to get by. Normal everyday life.«
Again like The Gaslamp Killer, Jeremiah Jae is in some sense post-racial, moving beyond narrow definitions on both a musical and personal level. To reflect the multifaceted nature of his experience he doesn’t just keep it real – he takes his music into the more complicated and symbolic realm of the surreal. Consider »Raw Money (Passage)« in which his inner monkey debates his waking self only to end up in a Monty Python skit about gold lust. Like the best Surrealists, Jae makes his waking world understandable by translating it into the symbols he encounters when asleep.
Other songs on the album do much the same, joining the beat of the streets with the rapid eye movements of the shaman. In doing so, they put story secondary to feel, functioning less like rap tunes than musique concrète. That genre of music emerged almost a century ago, tapping into the possibilities offered by recorded sound. Suddenly the musical palate was open to more than pure instrumentation. Birdcalls, bits of feedback, and samples of factory noise could all now be included in compositions. The studio became an instrument in its own right. The orchestra was no longer the end all be all.
The first-generation psychedelic rockers knew this. Picking up where Boulez, Stockhausen, and Varèse left off, they abandoned the stage for places like the Abbey Road studios. There the sonic textures were conceivably endless and the journey less to the dance floor than the center of the mind. The Beatles, as so often, were the great avatars, making altered sounds their byword and experimentation their raison d’être. Play it backwards? Sure. Cut it up and throw it in the air? Why not? Filter the voice through a Lesley speaker? Okay. It was all fair game in the big mirror ball sweepstakes, and as they pushed — like Ken Kesey in his bus — ever further, the public followed. To a point.
With »Revolution 9« the Beatles finally found their revolution not ready to be televised. Musique Concrète in the truest sense, this piece had no real melody, rhythm or instruments, just a series of found sounds loosely tied together through the leitmotiv of a mellotron loop and the repeated phrase »number nine«. Even »worse«, it wasn’t »fun« like the old Moptops. As such, it took that proverbial bus well past the last stop where most listeners were ready to get off.
Will The Gaslamp Killer and Jeremiah Jae find their listeners ready to do the same? Will their experiments with both sound and identity leave the audience behind, unable to follow? One hopes not. Amidst the more conventional beats and lyrics, these albums contain some of the best experimental hip hop now out there. Call it psychedelic or simply unconventional. But whatever you call it, make sure you experience it. Or better yet, make sure you are experienced. Both of these albums most definitely pass the acid test.
The Gaslamp Killer Breakthrough Brainfeeder / Ninja Tune / Rough Trade
Jeremiah Jae Raw Money Raps Brainfeeder / Ninja Tune / Rough Trade