It’s been quite a year for Beat Research. At the same time that we struggled to maintain our modest but ambitious weekly, we’ve also had what feels like one of our best years yet. Even during the summer, when Cambridge seems to clear out, full-on dance parties would erupt on the regular, which is no small thing on a Monday night in this town.
Then, right after one of our best nights of the year — when Mungo’s Hi-Fi rocked the joint earlier this month — rumors started to fly about the Enormous Room closing the following weekend. So while we weren’t aware that the night before had been our last jam in that not-so-enormous room, we were content to have gone out with a bang. And we were delighted to find a spot for last week’s interim bash with Venus X and Hatsune Miku, which was a standout session in its own right. Experimental party music at its best. (A few attendees called it their favorite BR of all time; I can understand why.)
Given that things have been going well, Tony Flack and I are stoked to announce that we’ve found a new home for our night — and a new night of the week too, incidentally. Beginning on Nov 8, we’ll be in residency every Tuesday night at the Good Life, smack in the heart of downtown Boston. If you haven’t been there, it’s very close to the Downtown Crossing T stop and just a couple blocks from South Station / Occupy Boston (in case any Occupiers are looking for a drink and a little bass therapy). We look forward to being closer to our Boston brethren & sistren — and to really representing (it’s all too common to claim Boston without being in Boston) — and we sure hope our core crew from Cambridge, Somerville, and elsewhere across the dutty water will be up for the trek. We aim to make it worthwhile.
For those who’ve been there, you know that the Good Life has a SERIOUS sound system. I’ve seen (& heard & felt) some real bass materialists there, from Kode9 to Mad Professor to the Bug — just last month I caught a wicked subwoofer massage c/o Kingdom — and I can report from personal vibrational experience (PVE, henceforth) that Beat Research’s bass bias will assume a new prominence starting soon.
I’m also thrilled to report that we’re getting the Beat Research gang together for the relaunch event on Nov 8. Co-founder of the night and longtime torch-bearer for bouncy Boston, the mighty DJ C, will be coming back from Chicago to bust a champagne-bottle of a set against our Old Ironsides of a party. I’ll be mixing the metaphors and letting the bartenders mix the drinks. I’ll also be playing some tracks of course, as will the venerable Dr.Flackett.
Here’s the story in press-release-ese —
Beat Research began weekly explorations of experimental party music in March 2004 at the Enormous Room in Central Square. The brainchild of multimedia artists Jake Trussell (DJ C) and Antony Flackett (DJ Flack), who teaches a hands-on class at MassArt by the same name, Beat Research provided a new base for the genre-bending sets the two had been playing since throwing parties with the Toneburst Collective in the late 90s. Bridging parochial club divides, Flack and C would overlay dub and jungle, hip-hop and dubstep, dancehall and bhangra and beats from all over. After co-hosting the residency for 3+ years, in 2007 DJ C moved to Chicago while musicologist and blogger Wayne Marshall (Wayne & Wax) returned to Cambridge, bringing his big Caribbeanist ears, YouTube dragnet, and love of “musically-expressed ideas about music” to the mix.
In its 7.5 year run at the Enormous Room, Beat Research played host to some of the best and brightest DJs and producers of underground bass music in the world, gave a number of young Boston luminaries their first gig, and presented an utterly motley collection of tech-addled live PAs. The long list of special guests includes Scuba, DJ Rupture, Kingdom, edIT, Mungo’s Hi-Fi, Uproot Andy, and thereminist Pamelia Kurstin. Consistently topping local polls, Beat Research has been hard to beat for anyone seeking out extraordinary sounds early in the week, and its hosts pride themselves on offering a free weekly session for discerning dancers and enthusiastic head-nodders.
Wayne & Flack were as surprised as anyone when the Enormous Room suddenly shut down in early October, but they are thrilled to relocate the weekly festivities to the Good Life in downtown Boston beginning on November 8–and every Tuesday thereafter. Moving across the Charles seems like the right move for a night that has been putting Boston’s bounce on the map.
And we’ve got a helluva first month lined up. After DJ C on the 8th, we’ve got a trio of off-kilter beatsmiths doing live PAs: Toronto’s Doldrums will be joined by recent Boston transplants Time Wharp (via Atlanta) and Avila Santo (Los Angeles). On Nov 22, we’ve got the one and only Paul Dailey, a native Bostonian who’s been a stalwart force on the house/techno scene for decades and who can throw down a mean electro-funk set to boot (dude’s got crates). And to round out the month, on Nov 29 we’re excited to present NYC’s Atropolis, who released one of my favorite albums of the year (on Dutty Artz), and whose tracks I’ve been weaving in and out of the Beat Research mix for a minute.
December is already filling up with exciting guests, local and beyond, but that’s enough hype for now.
Real quick, tho, here are the basics; help us spread the word —
every TUESDAY at Good Life
28 Kingston St, Boston MA
9-1, 21+, FREE
And when you get a chance, do check the subtle but slick site redesign c/o Grand Webmaster Flack.
I’m thrilled to report that Venus’s partner-in-rave, $hayne (pic’d above), will be joining her on the trip. That means we’re gonna be treated to a tag-team/4-handed Ghe20 Goth1k performance the likes of which Greater Boston has not yet been party to. So get ready, and get to the club by 11, knamean.
(When I told Venus she wouldn’t be playing in the middle of the night, as she’s used to, she sounded happily surprised! Oh yeah, and just in case you’re on autopilot, this is happening at the Middlesex, not the Enormous Room [RIP].)
If you want a taste of what you might expect, look no further than the live mixtape (and, yes, it’s worth noting that it’s live — see next paragraph) they just cooked up for Opening Ceremony —
Ok, look a little further — you’ll hardly be disappointed — and do yourself a favor by starting with Venus’s appearance this past Monday on DJ /Rupture’s radio show, Mudd Up!. (Kudos to Sñr Clayton, btw, on that Wire cover!) I was emailing with Jace today, as it happens, and he offered some off-the-cuff thoughts on Venus’s DJing that really encapsulate what’s so special, and daring, about her approach —
seeing Venus reminded me of how so many DJs just surf the wave of ‘new jams’ and dont really fuck with the form itself. Whereas its so fresh and refreshing to experience Venus going for it, really working the CD-js in a percussive way, pulling and pushing sound around to create a thing in and of itself
Now don’t get me wrong, as those in the know will know, this won’t be the first time Ghe20 G0th1k graces a Cambridge club. Indeed, it was at Rizzla & co’s Nu Life party where I first met Venus, having been tasked with sourcing a couple CDJs for the occasion. Of course, these days, Venus is tweet-lobbying Pioneer to donate 20 pairs for a next wave of rad gal DJs. But big-up Rizzla for balance-beaming across the bleeding edge, no small achievement in this little town that, better or worse, I’ll always call home.
As Hatsune Miku’s team thinks of ways to translate the incredible phenomenon she represents for US audiences/co-producers, I could hardly think of a better partner for the virtual idol. Venus seems to think folks here are ready for the kind of plastic pop culture we can mold and form into our own shapes, and, as it happens, so does Ian Condry, the cultural anthropologist in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program who is responsible for bringing Miku’s team to Cambridge next week (as part of the Cool Japan project). Ian, who wrote his first book about hip-hop in Japan, has recently completed a second book, this time about anime and collaborative creativity.
As he wrote in response to seeing a Hatsune Miku concert this past summer, Ian’s study of anime has led him “to see virtual characters as platforms of generative creativity in their own right.” Taking this a step further into the realm of invitational and reconfigurable culture, Hatsune Miku “demonstrates that there are likely to be many more kinds of platforms out there, waiting to created, built upon, shared, distributed, remixed and extended.”
Everyone was cheering, but at what? There was no one there, on stage, at the center of our attention, just a virtual avatar. And of what? Of whom? Of us.
Miku shows that pop culture, like politics, often appears premised on a leader on stage (or projected on a screen), but impact, and often creativity itself, whatever that means, emerges from broader, distributed collective actions. Miku hints at a world of untapped possibility, a model of crowd-sourced mobilization, and an instructive instance of a media platform that is part software technology (Vocaloid) part cultural idea (the character Miku).
Miku began as a voice on a music synthesizer software package called Vocaloid, created and sold by Yamaha starting in 2004. Vocaloid lets you make music by specifying instruments to play, like Garage Band, but with the added feature that you can write lyrics with melody as well. A separate company, Crypton Future Entertainment, released the Miku voice add-on in 2007, along with a cartoon image and biographical features (16 years old, height, weight, etc.).
Importantly, Crypton decided not to assert copyright control over the image, thus freeing up the character to have a life of her own, or rather, lives of our own. It’s as if we could all write songs for Lady Gaga, and she would perform them for us. Does it matter that Miku’s not real? How “real” is Lady Gaga anyway?
Fans responded by posting hundreds of thousands of music videos online, with a variety of shared costumes and images (e.g., a green onion / leek). In the years since, Miku’s star rose thanks to the energy of the fans amplified through uploading and commenting on the Japanese video-sharing site Nico Nico Dôga. So-called “Nicodo” is like YouTube except user comments scroll by as you watch a video, thus adding an additional layer of participatory viewing.
Nowadays, top MikuP (“producers”) sell their work online, and karaoke spots in Japan let you download and sing along with favorite Miku songs. Crypton has a site online for facilitating collaboration and licensing through a system, Piapro, which they say mimics Creative Commons. Fan work sells through other channels as well. In November 2010, I was one of 7000 attendees at a sold-out fan convention in Ikebukuro, Tokyo shopping from 500 fan groups who gathered to sell Vocaloid-related music, posters, DVDs, illustration books, video games, jewelry and more (see http://ketto.com/tvm/).
Given such fan excitement, it is small wonder that big business wanted in on the act. From 2009, Sega created video games for Miku under the Project Diva title, both for handheld devices and for arcades. Toyota is now using Miku for a series of ads as well, and they even showed a commercial prior to Miku’s Los Angeles debut (drawing some boos, but probably more good will). Ultimately, however, Miku is animated by the energy of fans, and that’s why watching Miku’s steps into commercialization will be interesting.
Miku reinforces some of the lessons for civic media that we’ve heard before: people need to feel a genuine openness to participate; sharing and dialogue are key to building a community; free culture is more generative than controlled-IP systems; cooptation and commercialization are always risks, especially as popularity increases.
But Miku offers a particular schema of distributed creativity, different than both Wikipedia and human celebrities. Miku lacks a back-story. She has no pre-defined personality. She doesn’t exist in a singular made-up fantasy world. This Wikicelebrity makes old-fashioned human celebs look like appliances, when the future is platforms.
Might this provide alternative ways of thinking about democracy and participation as well? If the social realities outside leaders themselves are what generate action and popularity, then questions of media should turn less on representational content, and more on the nature of platforms, how open they are, what forms of creativity they allow.
I’m getting a good feeling about this. Do help us make next Monday the first of many incredible meetings between Venus and Miku. Glowsticks optional.
Beat Research is sad to announce that after 7.5 years of hosting our experimental party music, the Enormous Room is closing its doors. DJ Flack and I were pretty surprised when the rumors started circulating last Tuesday that this past weekend would be the club’s last, but we felt like we went out with a bang with last week’s visit from Mungo’s Hi-Fi, even if we didn’t realize it was a farewell party at the time.
Grateful as we feel toward our longtime home, we’re not feeling much like mourning the past. Rather, we’re excited about the future of Beat Research, which is looking bright. Although we’re not ready quite yet to confirm the details on our new location, we’re psyched to report that we’ll be holding a special interim bash at the nearby Middlesex Lounge next Monday (10/17), in conjunction with friends from MIT/Japan and NYC!
Come join us at 10pm on 10/17 for a chance to dance with Japan’s leading virtual idol, Hatsune Miku, a software-based singer whose biggest fans are also her songwriters! Some of Miku’s creators, visiting from Japan, will be on hand to discuss the phenomenon and to demonstrate a prototype projection method for her live concerts. Here’s a taste of what that looks like (but be sure to browse YouTube or Niconico for hundreds of amazing “crowdsourced” videos)–
To make things even more insane, we’ve invited one of Miku’s fans from NYC, the indomitable Venus X, to come join us and play her signature mix of warped, underground sounds (which I’d love to see Miku dance along with). I’ve been wanting to invite Venus to be our guest for a while now, and when I saw her tweet about Miku, I couldn’t resist making this dream come true.
I’m headed down to the University of Delaware tomorrow for “The African Americas Project,” a two-day symposium bringing together quite a mix of artists, musicians, and scholars to explore the connections between Latin America, the Caribbean and the US.
For my part, I’ll be talking about “Reggaeton’s Afro-American Address,” by which I mean the ways that reggaeton — despite a certain divisiveness — is best understood as a genre articulating a powerful synthesis of Afrodiasporic style which directly (and indexically, musically/semiotically speaking) addresses an Afro-American listening public (and here I use “Afro-American” — an outdated term in the US — in the broadest sense, as a term encompassing Afro-Jamaican, Afro-Puerto-Rican, Afro-Panamanian, and African-American styles and practices).
I’ll make this argument by revealing the secret of the mystery of the mighty dembow. Here’s a hint: the loop that turns up in the lion’s share of reggaeton productions is not sampled from Shabba’s seminal song, despite what Wikipedia and everyone else says. Nope. What you think was made in Kingston actually hails from Long Island! But you’ll have to catch the talk, or wait for a forthcoming article, to get the full scoop.
It’s an honor to be part of a program featuring so many distinguished speakers, among them keynoter Franklin W. Knight, a towering figure in Caribbean Studies. You can see the full program here (PDF), but let me also note, with some excitement, that another participant is none other than Jamaican filmmaker Storm Saulter, who will be screening Better Mus Come and other works tomorrow afternoon (and, awesomely, offering comment on the music panel I’m a part of on Friday).
If you’re in the area, do drop by. Should be a stimulating session.
Also, how refreshing to be described as a “DJ, technomusicologist, and journalist”! Works for me.