Long gone are the nights when mmm-cha, mmm-cha, mmm-cha was the lone techno beat heard in crowded, cavernous clubs across the city. When weekend nights meant Lansdowne Street and Top 40 dance music. And when sometimes you wondered whether you should've just stayed home to play Trivial Persuit. Today, Boston boasts a collection of both new and established über-DJs, inhabiting areas like Central and Union squares and feeding their art to a music crowd that's hungry for something different. Performers themselves, they take familiar standbys and mix them with the obscure or inane, and they're steadily building a fan base in the process. Here's a look at some of Boston's most creative spinners.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Since creating Beat Research in 2004, Duo DJ Flack (aka Antony Flackett) and DJ C (aka Jake Trussell) have been traveling and reaching out to music lovers with eclectic taste from New York to Prague. This month marks their third anniversary at the spot above Central Kitchen.
On any given Beat Research night, Flack of Jamaica Plain, plays familiar pop music and combines it with something more esoteric. For example, he might take the instrumental portion of Kanye West's "Gold Digger" and play it at a fast 45 revolutions per minute. On top of that, he might add a slowed-down "dubby [track]"—a bass-heavy, Jamaican-influenced beat—by Montreal producer Ghislain Poirier.
"Ask a DJ what style they play and they'll say jungle, trance or house." explains C, of Somerville. "We wanted to open it up and introduce people to new styles through the familiar." Blends at Beat Research can range from "Where's Your Head At?" by Basement Jaxx to an instrumental version of Mary J. Blige's "A Family Affair" to Bounty Killa's "Mad Love" before the night is through. One of C's most popular remixes is of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" called "Billy Jungle."
"We've been into the idea of multigenre [blends] since the '90s, but it's just now that the whole genre is becoming popular," says Flack. "We'll play super-poppy stuff everyone knows over a track no one has heard." He says Beat Research isn't a lecture about the coolest music in the world; instead it's a way to expose people to different sounds. He recently releaseed a [mix] on his [website], "Beyond the Balley of the Smurfs," that includees Buffalo Springfield and Yaggfu Front. The title came from music he used to listen to as a kid. "When I revisited that record, I was surprised to find a track that was pretty danceable and even had an electronic reggae bounce to it." Flack explains.
Like all of Boston's DJs, Flack and C use word-of-mouth and scour the internet for new music to populate their libraries. Beat Research's web presence has even earned it international attention, resulting in some highly experimental Mondays. "We have DJs as guests who come from places like London and Brazil," says Flack. "It's sort of gotten a reputation for being experimental, yet still fun... and that's what people appreciate."
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Yes, it's Monday, but sometimes you just gotta party. There's always Beat Research at Enormous Room (567 Mass Ave, Cambridge; 617.491.5599), one of Boston's nightlife gems. Talent from all over the world comes to pay its respects to hosts DJ C and DJ Flack, everything from UK dubstep to ero-crunk. On October 9 you can catch Brazilian baile funk godfather Edu K, whose "Popozuda Rock N' Roll" is a funk carioca anthem.
Jake Trussell and Antony Flackett first met in grad school at Massachusetts College of Art nearly 10 years ago. Although one of them is now a college professor himself, they maintain the student attitude under the monikers DJ Flack and DJ C every Monday at the Enormous Room, where they 've been curing cases of the Mondays since 2004. The evening draws big-name DJs and artists from all over the map, as well as a wide range of weeknight beatheads from all over the Hub. It's hard to describe exactly which genre Flack and C fall into, as they escape any potential pigeonholing by fusing a mix of beats from the worlds of hip-hop, reggae and dubcore, just to name a few. Their blanket tag line is "experimental party music." We don't care what they call it. We just like dancing to it.
Stuff@Night Magazine, November
Beat Research, the party that DJs Flack and C host every Monday night at the Enormous Room, did not get off to a good start. Its inauguration, in March of 2004, was marred by a fight involving someone who worked at the club and someone who didn’t. "We were really nervous that our night was going to be doomed from that night on," laughs DJ C, whose real name is Jake Trussell. He can look back on the incident with a chuckle because now, more than a year and a half later, Beat Research is very much alive and kicking, drawing big-name DJs and artists from all over the world, in addition to a diverse crowd of club kids, electronic-music obsessives, hip-hop heads, and everyone in between — and on a Monday night, no less.
The broad range of people who show up is a direct result of the music that Flack (Antony Flackett), Trussell, and their guests spin from week to week. Since they started collaborating almost 10 years ago as members of the Toneburst collective, Flackett and Trussell have embraced eclecticism. "Traditionally, club DJs would stick to the genre that they were known for and focus on always having the newest in that genre," Trussell explains. "We were always kind of focusing on the best of all genres."
Indeed, just the list on their Web site (www.beatresearch.com) — "ragga, hip-hop, dubstep, bhangra, grime, jungle, bashment, and just about everything else that’ll make ya move" — is enough to send even the most knowledgeable electronic-music scholars scrambling for their genre lexicons. They use the blanket tag line "experimental party music"; it may sound like an oxymoron, but it quite accurately describes the kinds of sounds you’ll hear at Beat Research. "It’s something that people can dance to, but it’s not just the standard club fare," says Trussell. It’s a novel idea that works — music that’s as aurally stimulating as it is booty-shaking.
Flackett and Trussell met in 1995, when they were both students in the Studio for Interrelated Media program at MassArt. Trussell had already seen and loved Flackett’s video work and his art-punk band Soothing Sounds for Baby when a project he was working on for a robotics course caught Flackett’s eye. Trussell was building a midi-controlled sampler out of Hallmark cards, the old ones that were designed so people could record a personal greeting that would play when the recipient opened the card. "I was really inspired by that idea, and then I used it for this video piece I was working on," remembers Flackett. "We became instant friends and collaborators."
Now, in addition to writing and recording music (check out the Beat Research Web site for MP3s, some of which showcase the hot Boston Bounce style they’ve been pioneering), releasing records on their Mashit and Beat Research labels, and, of course, DJing, they both work at their alma mater — Trussell as Web site coordinator and Flackett as a professor. One of Flackett’s courses — the subject of which is "music, art, and culture in the age of hip-hop" — is called, appropriately enough, Beat Research. Over the semester, his students learn how to create loops, homemade samples, videos, and eventually full electronic compositions. At the conclusion of the course, the class goes to Beat Research — the "super-supportive" folks at the normally 21-plus Enormous Room open their doors to all ages on that Monday night — to showcase their work. (They’ll do so next on December 12.) "To hear their music in that kind of environment, really loud, with people getting into it, is pretty inspiring," Flackett says. "And I feel really proud because they’ve done amazing stuff. I feel really good about that." So much for being doomed.
Fader Magazine, issue
33, Oct/Nov, 2005
Jake Trussell and Antony Flackett met in a grad school class at the Massachusetts College of Art's Studio for Interrelated Media. "I was trying to build a MIDI controlled sampler out of Hallmark cards -- you know, the ones that you could record a message onto, and when the recipient opens it , the message plays back," Trussell recalls. "I was super impressed," adds Flackett, who promptly used the idea in one of his video collages. The men otherwise known as DJ C and DJ Flack have spent the ten years since performing as the beatboxing/laptopping/turntabling/video-projecting combo DuoTone, and have also dropped a number of vinyl and CD releases of "experimental party music" on the self-owned Mashit label. But at Trussell and Flackett's weekly Beat Research party, all those theoretical jamz get put to the ultimate test: making people dance.
Held every Monday at Cambridge's Enormous Room, Beat Research has played host to guests ranging from Montreal dancehall deconstructivist Ghislain Poirier to students from Flackett's class at MassArt, where he is now a professor. "I like to emphasize how art that comes from a club or party can be just as important and valid as what ends up in a gallery, if not more so," Flackett says. One regular guest is fellow beatmaker/academic Wayne Marshall. Along with teaching electronic music courses at Brown and Harvard Extension School, ethnomusicologist Marshall records and DJs as Wayne&Wax; his solo album Boston Jerk juxtaposes original, pull up-worthy dancehall cuts with found-sound spoken word interludes and a version of the Diwali riddim made from samples of dogs barking.
Recently, the three were among the artists featured on the (((Re:Sounnd))) compilation, coinciding with a gallery exhibition that studied the links between outlaw soundsystems and the creation of indigenous electronic music scenes from Jamaica to detroit to the UK. That comp was the debut of "Boston Bounce" -- think Baltimore club with a triplet swing beat thrown in -- created by Trussell as Boston's own local contribution to that pantheon. While the Enormous Room isn't quite an "outlaw soundsystem," it does represent a massive two-step away from the ivory tower, and perfectly illustrates how Trussell, Flackett and Marshall have found individual ways to turn academic philosophies into actual, living art. If the people losing their shit to Boston Bounce tracks at Beat research are any indication, maybe all those posters of Garfield reading a book were right, and learnin really can be fun.
Grooves Magazine, September,
Over a decade since jungle's infectious combination of double-time breakbeats, throbbing half-time dub bass lines, and vocal samples of Jamaican patois first exploded out of London's dance music underground, the music has found new life an ocean away in America on labels like Shockout, Rewind, and Jake Trussell's Boston-based Mashit Records. While Kid 606's Shockout may have a higher profile, Trussell's Mashit has been unleasing its equally devastating blend of raggaphonic junglistic sounds by artists like Aaron Spectre, Murderbot, and Wayne&Wax since 2003. Trussell's own contributions to the label as DJ C have been among the label's finest, whith his blistering remix of Capleton's Conscience a Heng Dem and last year's Billy Jungle, which melds spaghetti-western whistling with a Michael Jackson-impersonating Jamaican vocalist, being particular standouts.
Trussell's musical explorations began at an early age, playing in bands covering classic rock, metal, and Prince songs (later delving into John Zorn and downtown NYC jazz, electreic Miles Davis, and James Brown) but it was his parents who planted the musical seeds in him that continue to bear fruit today. "[They] got me into reggae in the first place, durring the early '80s, listening to all that rub-a-dub, and rockers stuff," he says. After receiving a Technics 1200 turntable as a high-school-graduation gift, Trussell used it to incorporate samples into his four-track recordings, but didn't try his hand at DJing until a few years later. "DJ C was born in "92 or '93," he says. "I actually released a series of cassettes under the name Cee, and then just C. They weren't DJ mixes, though. They were my early experiments with electronic music, using analog synths, drum machines, and my four-track."
In the mid- to late '90s Trussell released two albums of electronic-tinged jungle and post-Orb dub as Electro Organic Sound System while also helping to curate a series of experimental electronic music events with DJ /rupture and others as part of the Toneburst collective. "One of the reasons it started was that a bunch of us like-minded experimentalists couldn't get gigs in the clubs—so we had to create our own venues," says Trussell. "Toneburst was always about doing events in alternative spaces. We did one at the Boston Children's Museum that was great: We had live electronic acts playing in a giant tea cup, analong synth experiments in 'Grandma's Attic,' and people dancing all over the place to hip-hop and jungle beats."
While Toneburst is now defunct, its spirit lives on through Trussell and fellow Mashit artist Antony (DJ Flack) Flackett's weekly Beat Research party—which also happens to be the name of Trussell's newest label. "The first Beat Research record, by DJ Flack, has an instrumental hip-hop remix of an indian-flavored Cul de Sac tune, a klezmer/dubstep tune, some Hawaiian-flavored beats, and a tune with Czech folk-music samples," says Trussell. "[The label] is an attempt to spread out into different areas ... When I DJ, I play all kinds of music, and I want my own work to reflect that."
Indeed, head to Mashit's website (www.mashit.com) and you'll hear Trussell's live and DJ sets, which demonstrate his ability to confound strict genre boundaries by mutating jungle, hip-hop, dancehall, bhangra, techno, rock, and folk into a super-virus of mind-bending and ass-shaking sound. "Recently, the DJ C stuff has been less jungle, and more Boston bounce—a sound influenced by grime/dubstep, Baltimore club, shuffle, etc.," Trussell says. "Another project I'm excited about at the moment is the B series of DJ mixes... So far the Breakment and Boots mixes are available [online] ... Future mixes in the series will include Berlin, Bouncement, Bhang, and Boston."
DJ Flack's Meet Mr. Doobie and Murderbot's Fi You 12-inches are out now on Mashit.
XLR8R Magazine, January-February,
Virtuoso - Fahrenheit 9/11 - Raptivism/US/12
Krinjah - Fugees Hand Grenade - Hand Grenade/CAN/12
|Boston Magazine, March 2005
If these innovative local DJs can't find a "Boston sound," they'll invent it themselves.
By Rachel Strutt
Most local DJs fall neatly within specific genres—house, or a mix of trance and techno. But DJ and electronic musician Jake Trussell ignores such labels by fusing a madcap panoply of styles and sounds, ranging from reggae to dubcore to computer-generated speed beats. Whether he's DJing at a club or composing sonic collages on his laptop, Trussell is an alchemist of sound, a guy with a knack for sustaining a danceable groove. Sometimes that groove may subside while a frenetic burst of breakbeat takes center stage, but it reemerges, unscathed and steady.
"I get bored pretty easily if I stick with one genre," says Trussell, who is also known as DJ C. "So I think, What can I throw in? I like taking something that people are familiar with from radio and mixing it with some obscure folk song. When DJing, I do a lot of beat matching. By organizing music by tempo, I can somehow mix it together, regardless of genre."
Each Monday night, DJ C along with friend and kindred spirit DJ Flack (Antony Flackett), spins experimental party music at the Enormous Room in Central Square. Dubbed "Beat Research," the weekly soiree never gets stale, thanks to C and Flack's endless vinyl configurations and a revolving cadre of guest DJs, which has recently included local beat splicer Wayne and Wax, a musician who is currently penning his doctoral dissertation on the connections between reggae and hip-hop.
Two years ago, Trussell launched Mashit, an independent record label that features reggae-influenced electronic dance music make by Trussell and others. The niche label has already put out five releases, available on vinyl and as free MP3s which have been snatched up by DJs worldwide. Although the company moniker refers to the ever-popular genre of "mashups," (the conflation of two or more songs into one), the name has other connotations, too. "To 'mash up' the dance is Jamaican patois for when the DJ plays incredibly rocking stuff and people start freaking out on the dance floor," says Trussell, who is deeply inspired by Jamaican musical culture.
Mashit may fall below the radar for many people in its own community, but BBC Radio 1 presenter John Peel named the Somerville-based outfit Label of the Month last October. Peel, who died that same month, has often been credited with helping launch the careers of rock titans like David Bowie and hot acts like the White Stripes, so his championing of Trussell's label is significant.
This month, DJ C and DJ Flack will launch a Mashit sister label called Beat Research, which will be more laid-back and dub-heavy than typical Mashit fare. C and Flack have also started to explore creating a "Boston sound," a project thy hope will culminate with a CD on the new sister label. "There isn't a distinctive Boston sound," Trussell notes with a grin. "That's what we're reacting to. In a lot of cities, a sound naturally evolves. We're taking a different route. We're artificially creating a sound."
(Monday nights. The Enormous Room, 567 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-491-5550, www.mashit.com.)
|Boston Phoenix April 8-14,
DuoTone in the corner...
By Will Spitz
Jake Trussell (DJ C) and Anthony Flackett (DJ Flack) can usually be found rocking their steady Monday-night experimental-electro "Beat Research" residency at Enormous Room. But now that they’re turning Beat Research into a label (see www.beatresearch.com), they’re branching out a bit, and last Thursday night they barricaded themselves — along with turntables, laptops, and video projector — in the Middle East’s corner room. While F.W. Murnau’s silent-film classic Sunrise played on a projection screen, the pair took turns bouncing from drum ’n’ bass to hip-hop to dub to IDM — sometimes within the context of a single song — without sounding scatterbrained. Then they crammed onto the restaurant’s tiny stage and combined Voltron-style as DuoTone, performing live remixes of Blondie’s "Heart of Glass" and Joe Jackson’s "Is She Really Going Out with Him" and the Buggles’ "Video Killed the Radio Star" with Trussell on PowerBook and Flackett manning the wheels of steel. Later, they ditched the machines in favor of a pair of microphones: Trussell, who looks like a dead ringer for Beck and displays as much guero soul, dropped beatbox science while Flackett played MC. "This one’s about getting around in this crazy city of aahs," announced Flackett before launching into "Driving in Boston." "While some major cities employ a grid system, there doesn’t seem to be a speck of logic in our wisdom," went one verse. "Winding one-ways to learn or get burned, end up farther than you started thanks to one wrong turn." Ain’t that the truth.
|Weekly Dig, September 1, 2004
Make Like A Tree and Live
|Weekly Dig, July 7 2004
Nine Verbs, The Letter C, and Some Flack
|Boston Phoenix, March
Together, Boston's DJ C and DJ Flack have hosted parties with three turntables (as DuoTone) and with none (as the a cappella hip-hop duo Beatboxy and Flack). Their solo work has ranged from DJ C's avant-breakbeat releases on Kid 606's Tigerbeat [sub] label [Shockout] to Flack's multimedia exhibitions at Stockholm's Museum of Modern Art. [Monday, March 22nd, 2004] the two inaugurate[d] a new Monday-night residency at the Enormous Room titled "Beat Research" to showcase the "experimental party music" they've been cranking out on the micro-label Mashit – a way-freaked-out diaspora of dub, dancehall, and beat-wrecking, Amazonian-jungle insanity. [The opening night's] guest is Urb-approved NYC "breakbeat strategist" Kid Kameleon. The Enormous Room is at 567 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square; call (617) 491-5550