BRKLYN calling: El-P comes to the Low End Theory
In his decade and a half making music, El-P can lay claim to a long litany of achievements. The dirty dusted minimalism and abstract invective of Company Flow’s “Funcrusher Plus” essentially served as the blueprint for late '90s “underground rap.”
His Definitive Jux imprint ranked among the next decade’s most influential, releasing everything from anti-capitalist polemics to gonzo comedy rap records to soulful sampledelica. He made an excellent jazz-fusion record for the Blue Series Continuum series. And both of his official solo albums are certifiable classics.
But his most impressive achievement may have come last month, when a Twitter in-joke with XLR8R magazine forced him to try his hand at remixing Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” Splicing in a sample of Paul McCartney and Wings' “Live and Let Die,” and tarring and feathering Bieber’s teen pop with heavy dubstep rhythms, El-P set it loose onto the Internet.
Creating an aesthetic far closer to decaying industrial rot than Disney Radio, he induced the best response imaginable: He forced his legion of hard-core fans to admit liking the Bieb.
Wednesday night marks another milestone in El-P’s career: his first performance at the Low End Theory. While he’s too self-effacing to admit it, the Brooklyn-based producer has had a salient influence on the Los Angeles beat scene and bass music writ large. Though grimy beats unadorned by rhymes have only entered vogue in the last couple years, El-P has been releasing instrumental albums on the low since 1999’s “Little Johnny From the Hospital.”
His most recent is “Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3,” the first officially released volume of a series that had previously only been sold on tour. They're a mixture of his outside production work and sundry unused instrumentals, and El-P has sutured them into a series of short suites that range from apocalyptic nail-bomb beats to Zapp samples rendered mutant and hostile. It’s a stopgap release intended to hold fans over until his next full-length rap record (expected next year), but it also reflects a further refinement of his trademark style.
In a nod to the Low End Theory’s growing popularity, the quintessential New Yorker will be celebrating his album release party in Los Angeles with an all-instrumental set, consisting of new beats, unreleased material and maybe the occasional rap or two. In advance of the performance, he discussed his love of dubstep, the evolution of hip-hop instrumental music and his forthcoming full-length.
You probably could’ve made a lot more money by performing at the Echo or the Troubadour, but you decided to do your album release party at Low End Theory. What led to that decision?
I like the scene and the people involved. It reminds me a lot of the scenes that were happening in the mid- to late '90s in New York, stuff that caters to real hard-core beat heads. I could’ve gone somewhere and gotten some more money, but I wanted to do an instrumental set and that’s what they do, so why not go straight to the source, to the people who love it. I also really like the dudes that came out of the Low End. Plus, if I were to do a show at the Troubadour or the El Rey and sell it out and just stand onstage and play beats, they’d probably want to stab me.
Have you ever been there?
Nope, but I’ve seen it on YouTube and it looks crazy. I know Flying Lotus and Gaslamp Killer pretty well and they’re dope dudes.
Do you listen to a lot of dubstep?
Definitely. I’ve always been about noise and thumping drums and when I heard it, I was vibing with it pretty instantly.
Do you have any favorite artists?
I really like Lotus and Gaslamp. I’m definitely a big fan of Glitch Mob, especially their podcasts. I really like Hudson Mohawke. There’s a lot of cats that I’m into, but I wouldn’t call myself an aficionado.
What sort of set are you planning on doing?
I’m not bringing a band. I’m just going to rock some [stuff] that no one’s heard and some [stuff] that people have. I’m also going to be testing out some new beats and [stuff] like that. Maybe a little bit of stuff from the new record.
You’ve been making instrumental records since the late '90s, but it seems like their popularity has exploded in the last few years. Why do you think that is?
It goes in waves. When Company Flow turned “Little Johnny From the Hospital” into Rawkus, they looked at us like we were crazy. Our first album had given no indication that we’d do something like that and before that the only instrumental hip-hop had been done by Scott La Rock and a few others, so we were one of the first.
There was Shadow, but that seemed almost trip-hop.
Shadow was right around the same time. He definitely was part of that first wave. It’s interesting to see the resurgence of instrumental music’s popularity. I’ve been dropping instrumental records on the low for my whole career, so it's been weird and cool to see the genre really coming into its own for the first own time.
It would seem that there are a lot of parallels between the music you’ve always done and the aesthetic of the Low End Theory and other branches of contemporary bass music. Heavy bass, hard drums, loud noise…
I definitely think the what I came up on was hard beat stuff. Boogie Down Productions and Ultramagnetic MC’s, Mantronix, Run-DMC and Public Enemy. It’s ingrained in my music and that will never change. It seems that people fall in and out of love with that sound in waves, and it’s interesting to watch people wanting to be crushed by drums. Mainstream hip-hop is not bringing that -- or at least it’s not what’s in vogue right now. So the dubstep dudes are taking the ball and running with it -- like, “OK, you guys aren’t using these hard-core drums, you’ve leaving them on the floor? Cool, we’ll take it.’
What’s up with your forthcoming record? There was a blog post about a year and a half ago about how you lost a hard drive but then you recovered it.
I did recover it, but I’m probably only using one thing from there on the new album. I’ve got some [stuff] that I’m working on, some lines in the water, people I’m talking to. But I don’t want to name names. That’s like tattooing the name of your girlfriend on your arm. My future’s wide open right now and I haven’t been this excited to make music in a long time.
The last official Def Jux release is the forthcoming posthumous solo record from Camu Tao. Obviously, he meant a lot to everyone affiliated with the label. What do you miss most about him and what does getting to put out his final album mean to you?
Everyone deeply loved Camu and felt that it was a crying shame that he passed away so prematurely. The music that he was working on was so off the wall and so new, it was nothing that any us had ever done or could do. We all wanted Camu to blow up. He was the most talented dude I know.
I had to put in a million hours of work just to do what Camu could do sitting and joking around. That’s just the truth. Putting out this record is something I promised myself I would do. All the profits are going to his family and his fiancée. I’m trying to do everything in my power to get this dude heard, and obviously my power isn’t that vast. I’m just trying to do my best to show that he existed and he was brilliant.
It’s bittersweet. He didn’t finish the record, so it’s rough around the edges. But I wouldn’t put it out if I didn’t think it was beautiful. For me it felt like, the best and most important thing that I could do right now to honor him was to put some sort of exclamation point to the end of a great time and a great era. I didn’t want there to be only a question mark.
MP3: Justin Bieber -- "Baby" (El-P Death Mix)
-- Jeff Weiss