By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Photo by Brian CrossWHETHER ETCHED IN VINYL, SHELLAC OR digital disc, every record tells a story -- where the music began, who recorded it, how it traveled across the world, and who bought and treasured it. For funk collectors, no item holds more remarkable tales than the 7-inch single. While a lot of record collectors border on the obsessive, seekers of 45s are an especially intense breed, scouring dusty bins in garages and backyard shacks for the most elusive, obscure 7-inches. As L.A.'s DJ Cut Chemist puts it, "If you find them, they're all one-of-a-kind. When you get a good 45, you just kind of go, 'Wow, that's deep,' and pat yourself on the back."
Adds the Bay Area's DJ Shadow, one of the world's foremost collectors of the funk 45, "There's a million different trainspotting reasons why I like to have the original 45. It has to do with notes that people write on the actual labels. It's reading the labels, and the great label designs and the colors. And the sheer history of it. There's so much lore."
Shadow and Cut should know. When the two teamed up to create the ultimate tribute to the funk 7-inch, a mix CD called Brainfreeze, they unwittingly scrawled a new chapter in the book of 45 yarns. Released in the fall of 1999, Brainfreeze was simply meant to put some of the best funk you never heard onto an album, lovingly mixed by two of hip-hop's most inventive minds. From there, though, the story of Brainfreeze has grown to include everything from exploitation to deception, setbacks to paybacks. All over a little CD that was originally meant to be sold next to the Slim Jim rack at your local 7-Eleven.
This strange journey comes full circle on Tuesday, January 18, when Cut Chemist and Shadow throw "Brainfreeze: Dance the Slurp -- The Last Show" at El Rey Theater. Almost a year after its first public demonstration, Brainfreeze will get put to bed permanently, yet the urban legend it spawned promises to live on far longer.
THE FIRST SLURP
Brainfreeze began life when Shadow and Cut learned of an unusual 7-inch called "Dance the Slurp." Released by the 7-Eleven corporation in the '70s as part of a promotion for its Slurpee drinks, the 45 actually had a drum breakdown on it, making it instantly interesting to the two funk aficionados. Wielding their extensive collecting resources, the pair eventually acquired their own copies of "Dance the Slurp" and began to experiment with an all-funk 45 mix using the song as a centerpiece.
When San Francisco's Future Primitive Sound Sessions, a 3-year-old turntablist exhibition series, invited Cut and Shadow to perform, Brainfreeze began to take shape. They spent a week preparing and practicing with different 45s. Says Cut, "We thought it might be something cool to put out, to get away from the whole corporate structure we had been held prisoner by. We wanted to get back to the roots of putting out underground stuff."
The original Brainfreeze mix debuted at a February 1999 Future Primitive show where Cut and Shadow actually brought in Slurpees. Sound Sessions founder Mark Herlihy recalls, "Before they dropped the Slurpee song, Cut came on and passed out Slurpees to the whole crowd, and got on the mike, saying, 'Hey, it's Slurpee time!'" For Herlihy, seeing the two join forces for an hour was a revelation. "What they achieved there with 7-inches, juggling them, scratching them . . . it was mind-blowing."
BUILDING A MYSTERY
Cut and Shadow assembled the recorded version of Brainfreeze from their favorite practice takes, using two uninterrupted half-hour sets as the basis for the album. When it came time to design the cover art for the disc, they hooked up with L.A.'s Brian Cross, a.k.a. B+, one of hip-hop's most prolific photographers. They wanted to stay with the Slurpee theme, so they took a few shots in a local 7-Eleven, and almost got arrested for their trouble. "The first one we went to was really shady, and they called security on us," remembers Cut. "The next one we went to was right near where I grew up -- I used to play Asteroids there as a kid. I figured, hey, I've been going there for years, they owed me one. And the guy there said, 'Sure, borrow my costume.'"
In fact, Cut liked the 7-Eleven concept so much that he wanted to stock the album in 7-Eleven stores. "I just thought that would have been so boss, to go into a 7-Eleven and see that CD next to the doughnuts . . . my lawyer advised me against it." Eventually, he and Shadow decided to press 1,000 copies of Brainfreeze, but demand was so overwhelming that both agreed to a second pressing of another 1,000. The album's limited availability has caused both DJs no end of misery and complaints, especially from fans who've never had the opportunity to see either artist at a show -- basically, anybody outside of the West Coast and New York. The criticism has some validity -- after all, why create an incredible product only to limit its sale?