Break Science & Michal Menert 10.19.12
Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom
Words & Photos By Brad Yeakel
To quote the movie Deejay's Aren't Rockstars, the definition goes like this:
"Deejay (Dee-Jay) n. a retarded individual who receives undue credit, extravagant amounts of money, fame, recognition and sexual favors in return for playing music created by other people."
My friends will tell you that I am not the biggest fan of electronic music. The definition above has a lot to do with why I wrote electronica off before I really ever gave it a chance. I have always struggled with this, because there are elements of electronic dance music that appeal to me. I like grooves, dancing, partying and watching people get down. What I don't care for is the repetition, the simplicity and the banality of much electronic music. I have heard the same patterns recycled through much of the electronica I've heard. In fact, I have heard the same sound effect used so much, that I associated the entire sub-genre of dubstep with this one sound. To put it in a word... WHOMP.
Last night, I attended the Break Science/ Mike Menert show at Cervantes and decided to get a little more educated on the world of electronica. When we arrived, a DJ named Mikey Thunder was performing. I tried to start with the things that I do like. I got into a groove that drew from honky-tonk piano and Motown soul. It was accompanied by a bass drum pulse that had the room grooving. One guy was taking head-banging to a new level... he was swinging his entire torso like Gumby... a regular windshield wiper from the waste up. I can get down with that. Cartoonish dances to mashed up genres sounds good to me. Mikey Thunder was followed by an attractive young Denver DJ named Illecia. She blended her own vocal stylings in with the mix to create an ethereal and unique sound. At times, she bordered on my pre-concieved notion of electronica, but at others she had a style all her own. To my friends, it would have come as a shock that I made it this far, but I enjoyed the openers more than I expected to and was getting more curious about what the remaining artists had in store.
The next artist, Break Science was the reason I volunteered for this assignment. I am a fan of Adam Deitch (drummer) from his work with funk band, Lettuce, as well as his production credits which includes albums by 50 Cent and Redman. This is a guy who knows how to lay down some hip-hop beats as well as the funk beats that inspired them. The element of a live drummer interests me with this DJ movement. We are essentially expecting Adam Deitch and other electronica drummers to mimic the precision of a machine. I know musicians are good at timing, but we are talking about synchronization down to nanoseconds. Adam's counterpart in Break Science is Borahm Lee and the two of them have blended live drums with sampling and hooks to seamlessly move between electronica, funk, soul, hip-hop and more to blur the genre lines within electronica and create something that fuses organic production with samples of music we love. I enjoyed the show and I credit it to the fact that the organic element of live drums intermixed with some recognizable hooks was moving forward at all times. There weren't prolonged repetitions, there were progressions and transitions. To put it simply, it wasn't just "Whomp Whomp Whomp" all night.
Michal Menert was the headliner and he also had a precision- driven drummer in tow (A.C. Lao). Menert got his start as a friend, collaborator and rival to Derek Vincent Smith of Pretty Lights. In fact, Menert is a co-producer on the first Pretty Lights release. I wasn't sure what to expect, but assumed it would be similar to the Pretty Lights mixes I have heard that blend together disparate tunes to create something new and unique. I can't think of a specific one at the moment, but something to the effect of Madonna mashed together with Led Zeppelin. Pretty Lights found a niche by creating a unified sound that involved snapshots of a musical tapestry that a generation shares. He will pull a song from your local classic rock station and a tune from the old school Motown library and see how they fit together with songs from our collective radio conscious. It works. Michal Menert is a a little less predictable than Pretty Lights. His tunes had familiar nuances, but rarely a full out hook from a popular song. To add to his unpredictable flavor, his appearance was far from what I would consider the DJ cookie cutter. He had a rugged, outdoorsman appearance when compared to the clean-cut macbook tech dj image I have in my mind. I guess I am saying he was a bit more earthy than I expected. Ultimately, I think that translated in his mix. He created a blend of tunes and breaks that marked a keen ear for good grooves that fall into the deep cut/obscure realm of music. In other words, he played songs that you like, but hadn't heard before.
Overall, I would say that both Break Science and Michal Menert touched on areas of electronica that have turned me off in the past, but they diluted them with variety, drive and innovation. It's sort of like how I feed my dog her medicine in peanut butter. I think she knows it's in there, but the peanut butter makes her forget that she doesn't like the medicine.
I won't lie... I got bored at times, and probably won't become a huge electronica fan, but I am beginning to understand where the talent lies, and also that a lot of the electronica fan-base also understands that there are a lot of talentless hacks giving electronica a bad reputation. I will continue to struggle with one aspect though... My college music professor told me that the most important thing in music is truth. He said that the music that can stand up to the test of time is music that is true. That is where the depth lies, and I am wondering where the balance lies for true artistic expression and cutting edge innovation. Should music be made solely to push boundaries, or should there be an element of universal truth, substance and soul in our expressions? Perhaps there is room for both, but I believe I will always err on the side of truth.