[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Thavius Beck might be the least geeky self-proclaimed geek I've ever met. After all, we meet up on a Friday afternoon at Amoeba Records, right before the electronic producer's in-store performance, and -- at least according to the film Empire Records -- record store performances are rarely geeky. Also, Beck, 33, rocks a '70s soul-jazz afro, lip and nose ring. You certainly wouldn't call Del the Funky Homosapien or Lenny Kravitz, two others who can successfully pull off that combo, geeks off the street.
This is a homecoming for Beck, who worked at Amoeba for four years. He's chilling in the Green Room, sipping on Sierra Nevada, surrounded by paper lanterns, rainbow-colored brick walls, and posters of Nancy Sinatra. The live set, featuring a glowing MPC drum pad and triggered samples, surrounds the release of The Most Beautiful Ugly, his debut on the reliable local electronic eclectic label, Plug Research.
"The image I had was a teddy bear hanging out of a Dumpster, with his arm ripped off, and one eye hanging out," Beck tells me when I ask what the album title means. "It's about something being beautiful in spite of its scars and what it's been through."
It's not hard for him to draw parallels between the abstraction and the album itself. A tentative deal with British label Ninja Tune fell through, and there was a stretch when he struggled to find the enthusiasm to complete it. You can hear the bouts of depression and emotional turbulence sublimated in the record. At times, it sounds like elegiac, funeral music played by a forward-thinking extraterrestrial band at C-3PO's funeral. Touchstones are wide enough to include '60s psych-rockers Love, jazz fusionist Jean-Luc Ponty, millennial, sci-fi underground rap, the L.A. beat-scene constellation, and Auto-Tune anguish.
It might be the finest record Beck's made since becoming ubiquitous in the underground scene after moving here from Minneapolis at 16. He originally produced and rapped for indie-rap crew Global Phlowtations, before launching a solo career making instrumental and rap albums on Mush Records. There have been collaborations with fellow system bombers Busdriver, Subtitle and Saul Williams -- the latter led him to a collaboration with Trent Reznor on the pair's 2007 album, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust!
The geekiness seeps in through Beck's fascination with technology. "I'm a total technology whore ... always have to have the newest phone or gadget," he admits.
The trend toward early adapting led to his becoming a certified instructor in Ableton, the computer-software program used by many to make beats and perform live. In addition to composing music, Beck teaches at Dubspot, an online music-production school, where he helped devise a curriculum. There's also the comic strip he draws for fun and his amateur photography hobby. He's played the sax since 9, the bass guitar since 12.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"There's no real creative endeavor that I've never really gotten into. The ability to make something out of nothing is our greatest gift," Beck says. "You just can't take yourself too seriously. I've just been trying to do things that felt true to me and let them be."
Just then, the liaison from the store arrives to tell Beck that he's about to go on. He begins playing ultramelodic funky beats and introduces himself to the modest but attentive crowd. "Hi my name is Thavius Beck and I'm a connoisseur of all things geeky."
He's as good a representation as any.