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Lunatic Calm

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This must be some new variety of techbeat compilation, I thought.

Normally I load 'em up and brace for the artistic death rattles, which tend to arrive with ambulance alacrity.

I waited a long time through White Noise Vol. 2, though. And I'm still waiting.

I was so impaled by the consistent rippingness of these 10 tracks (mostly culled by City of Angels Records from small Brit labels), so piqued by the way each applied its special kinesis to a discrete physical locus in my personal bagobones, that the horror of being plugged into a soulless tech-head network began to seem like fun. Determined to unlock the music's secret, I resolved to subject the artifact to interspecies experimentation. Would other life forms respond to it analogously? If not, they're obsolete. Screw 'em.

Some scientific groundwork was required before the study could proceed. Research disclosed that the cuts had been found (largely via word of mouth) and selected by former London DJ Justin King and former Scottish club promoter Steven Melrose, 28 and 29, who met some five years ago in L.A.'s Snakepit bar.

“We had a couple of quiet drinks,” related speedmouth Melrose in his native garble, “and the rest is misery.” The two raked together a few thousand clams and, in late 1994, launched City of Angels Records, at first dedicated to American licensing and distribution of what Melrose affectionately dubs British “moronic dance music.” The label hit a gusher with the debut album of the now-huge Crystal Method, which has sold some 400,000 units, and City of Angels began developing its own talent, including San Clemente's Front BC, England's Lunatic Calm, and the Orange County dude who calls himself Uberzone, whose “The Freaks Believe in Beats” single, out three months, has moved more than 10,000 copies.

The signees won't be just studio acts. “Live performance is very important to us,” Melrose averred. “We want to build audiences in classic on-the-road fashion.”

City of Angels' big-beat-and-breaks compilation White Noise, released last November on LP and then offered on CD, raised enough wind that the label has had a go at Vol. 2. Considering the White Noise discs are just moronic dance music, it's significant that they showcase refined breaksmen who don't give a fig that intelligent has become an obscene expletive in some circles. (Melrose sees this anti-intellectual trend as a reaction: “Some of the music just became too 'credible,' too cool, for its own good.”) White Noise Vol. 2 doesn't aim for populism or narrow genre identity; its only criteria are beats and quality.

Smart as they may be at times, humans are species-centered, tending to ignore the fact that their behavior increasingly models itself on that of bees, ants and other so-called lower life forms. Since electronic interlinkage is the key to our ultimate conjoining into a universal beehive, it stands to reason that electronically generated music can help promote such a utopia, and that our insect paragons may enjoy it as much as we do. Can this music play to an exoskeletal audience? The answer can come only through scientific rigor.

I drew the subjects of study from my environment.

One small creature that hustles my walkway is commonly called a sow bug (undescriptive) or a roly-poly bug or wood louse (both undignified), but my mother called it a pill bug, and this authority will be followed herein. In fact, this multilegged, hard-shelled crawler is not a bug or an insect, but a terrestrial isopod crustacean. I picked out what appeared to be a family grouping: two slate-gray; one brown and slightly smaller; one, a brown baby.

My house is surrounded and inhabited by thousands of spiders. From a web above the dryer, I abducted a thoughtful-looking specimen with a small body and long, sensitive legs.

Out of the billions of ants that share my life, I chose several small ones from the garage.

I placed each grouping in its own untinted water glass, covered with plastic wrap in which I poked air holes.

We have a cat. I shut it inside the house.

Lacking a human subject, I substituted myself.

I could thus observe representatives of the biological classes crustacea, arachnida, insecta and mammalia.

Before commencement, the scene was as follows. The cat was grooming itself. The spider hung upside-down and motionless on the plastic wrap. The ants scurried randomly. Most directed were the pill bugs – the brown bug and one of the grays had entered into a lascivious coupling that involved assuming a 69 position and vigorously intermingling their multiple legs while rolling this way and that. The human was taking notes. The CD was spinning . . .

1. Wildchild, “Renegade Master (Fatboy Slim Old Skool Mix)” A U.K. Top 5 entry. Synth tweezing over mighty cheerleading chants. Dynamic stuttering false stop. The human was moved to skank, and also applied his foot to the ribs of the cat, which had got its ass where it shouldn't oughta be.

2. Uberzone, “Believe – In Beats” From the Southland boy's strong single. Rapid number with whiny wah-synth breaks, effective drop-outs, “Frankenstein” pitch-wheel freakin', ocean-bottle textural interaction. The human did the skull-dip; his left knee jerked uncontrollably. The spider, its glass placed in front of the subwoofer, was unmoved.

3. Freestylers featuring Tenor Fly, “B-Boy Stance” Brit unknowns with a Tone-Loc vibe, piled in the Pontiac, cruisin' the projects to the strains of a Kingston toast. The human did the shoulder-bang. The spider drifted to the rhythm. Two escaped ants crawled on a Skinny Puppy CD.

4. Junior Blanks, “All About the Beats” London DJ duo with U.K. Top 40 single. Big, woozy waves of sustained bass throbbing through hesitation breaks; duet vox nicely out of harmony. The human pogoed.

5. Lunatic Calm, “Roll the Dice (Fatboy Slim Vocal Mix)” Classically trained South London duo ambushed by the beat. Drop-dead dropouts that build powerfully to determined returns of dense, glowering hunch dance. The human got the midsection shakes. The spider really danced, then cooled out after big bass relapse. Ants teamed up to push a piece of dirt around. Pill bugs finally got enough, disengaged.

6. 2 Fat Buddhas, “Cut the Music” Labelmates of Freestylers (Freskanova Records). Crackly snares; sequencers; sliding gooshy synths. The human experienced neck spasms and shoulder vibrations. The cat, after being pinned in front of subwoofer, retreated for the duration. Escaped ants tried to get back in their glass.

7. Tipper, “Twister (Dynamic Bass Mix)” From London label Fuel. Surround-sound tribal-beat thing with casement-rattling bass. The human's favorite track; it made him freeze and submerge in dense aural consomme. Spider ditto.

8. Environmental Science, “The Day the Zak Stood Still Pt. 2” Remix specialists (Prodigy, Megadeth, etc.), on their own here. Smooth sequencer tag. Sci-fi hip-hop compelled the human to head-bob. Keen, precise highs tickled his knees and ankles. Creatures indifferent.

9. Surreal Madrid, “Insanity Sauce (Elite Force Mix)” Plucked from U.K.'s Fused and Bruised label. Fast, boosterish rave-beat boogie. The human hulked and skulked rhythmically, shook head involuntarily. The spider executed half-time knee bends as a stray ant circled its prison.

10. Dub Pistols, “Bullets 'n' Beats.” Brit trio of performers/remixers. Relentless robot break with space-gun shoot-'em-ups. The human's head and shins rocked in tandem. The ants had all escaped.

Synopsis: Halfway through, the human's primary focus switched from body reaction to auditory concentration. Muscle fatigue? Deliberate strategy of CD sequence? Uncertain. Regardless, he found every track involving. Also, he appreciated the level of abstraction and the absence of song structures – aesthetics that reminded him of '60s jazz. He found the music's emphasis on texture an adequate compensation for its lack of harmonic depth. He felt that this form of expression offered limitless potential for artists who might have been held back by insufficient aptitude for traditional instruments, though he did not think electronic manipulation could replace those skills. And he got all stanky.

The other creatures were returned to their habitats unaffected. The ants' exoskeletons possibly made them resistant to tissue-impinging vibrations. This also applied to the pill bugs, who additionally seem (to an even greater extent than humans) to be isolated from outside influences by their obsession with fuckin'. Best results were observed in the spider, whose fine legs occasionally proved adequate musical receptors. The cat was wrapped up in its own agenda – felines will never assimilate.

Conclusion: This music is primarily for humans. That's okay. We rule.

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