With the emergence of programs like Ableton Live and Serato, virtually anyone — that is, anyone who can afford pricey software, corresponding hardware and a hot-shit laptop — can be a producer or a DJ. A revolutionary concept, you might think, until you head out to the club and realize that no amount of professional turd polishing can disguise a DJ still playing Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy. The future of dance music is dependent on ideas, not high-tech devices, and Derrick Estrada, who produces and deejays under the name Baseck, is ripping apart the genre with old-school gear, nimble hands and a head full of nightmarish sounds.
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Check out Derrick Estrada’s new interactive Game Boy.
“Modern technology needs money, and that's something I don't have,” confesses Estrada, who will be performing original material at the Cocaine's February 23 event at 2nd Street Jazz in Little Tokyo. Instead, the artist works simply with two turntables, two Game Boys running the four-track sequencing program Little Sound DJ, and a “crappy” desktop computer operating Windows 98. It's a considerably lo-fi setup for 2008, but Estrada, who is best known for throwing parties in abandoned meat lockers with his crew Darkmatter Soundsystem, has always been the resourceful type.
Estrada, 26, took to the turntables as a 13-year-old living in Lancaster, when he, his brother and his cousin became enamored of the scratch-heavy hip-hop mixes booming through radio speakers. Sometimes they would persuade older cousins to take them into Hollywood, where they could buy 12-inch singles on Melrose Avenue. Meanwhile, they picked up Radio Shack mixers that were unintended for DJ use and scoured thrift stores for turntables.
“My cousin Marty was the first one who got turntables,” Estrada recalls. “We would go to his house with only three different records and keep trying them, going back and forth. We didn't know the concept of beat matching, but we knew we liked scratching, so that's where we started.”
Estrada sold some of his video games to buy his first turntable, purchased a mixer after saving up birthday and Christmas money, and finally completed his set of decks, after a year of pocketing his lunch allowance. By the time he had accumulated the gear, techno had exploded throughout Southern California's teenage underground, but Estrada stuck to hip-hop, figuring that if he could manipulate those records, he could pull off anything. The plan worked, and Estrada's hip-hop past still comes into play today, even though he works heavily with breakcore, a frighteningly noisy offshoot of drum & bass, and other forms of electronic music.
“I think that if you have crazy music, you should just slaughter it,” Estrada explains, “go nuts with it on the turntables, instead of mixing it like you're an Ibiza DJ playing an eight-hour set.”
Thanks to his self-proclaimed short attention span, a Baseck DJ set often features 25 to 30 tracks played during an hour's time frame. Estrada claims to need only 20 seconds to pull a record and mix it into the set, something that can be substantiated by anyone who has seen him spin. His choice of beats ranges from the pace of a resting heart rate to a frantic postworkout pulse; the mix of shredded melodies and pure noise can leave those in the crowd wondering if they should be dancing or punching walls.
Estrada's knack for pummeling records has clearly influenced his production style. On tracks like “Pupusa Power” and “Wiggidywackadactul,” he juxtaposes the Game Boy's chirpy, 8-bit melodies with sharp tempo shifts and deep scratches. And with Sonic Death Rabbit, his project with friend Cristina Fuentes, Estrada's Game Boys and Fuentes' toy guitar often contrast with blast beats that sound like a Napalm Death children's album.
“Since we're listening to metal so much, we figured that if we tried to do a serious song made with kids' toys and Game Boys, it would just be ridiculous,” he says, “so we started coming up with concepts.” On “Creatures of the Night,” which Estrada has been performing at recent solo gigs, the duo opted to write about what lurks in children's bedrooms, with growled lines like “I am the one that lurks under your bed/Tickles your toes to mess with your head.”
Estrada acknowledges that while the Game Boy's small size makes it possible for him to create music anywhere, the simple fact that he can work with only four tracks (as opposed to the 64 available with computer setups) is rather limiting. However, the strict technical parameters have forced him to think creatively about his work. So let the kids with the high-tech gear and middle-of-the-road tastes take over L.A. hot spots; Estrada will be curled up in the corner booth, his headphones plugged into his Game Boy, composing the next track to push the boundaries of dance music. After all, he says, “You have to try to use your imagination.”
Baseck performs at the Cocaine's event at 2nd Street Jazz on Sat., Feb. 23.