A Journal Of The Dark Arts
“And that’s what Art is, innit? Being free of the world’s heaviness?”
I’m not sure how i got it in my head that 1700 Monkey Ninjas were an instrumental hip hop outfit? Perhaps it was the line “Aside from having the most off-cuff DJ name ever, Ed Purchla (aka 1700 Monkey Ninjas) has a similar penchant for cutting a rug off at the hip, from the website. It is in these moments that i am glad that Forestpunk is a scoping endeavor, smudging out genre lines, and that we make up our own damn minds about what’s good and what’s not. Because if Slagg II is hip hop, and there is a strand in the DNA of 17MN’s beat manipulations, it is of the glitch variety, with steaming formant basslines, muscular breakbeats and chopped ‘n skewed ATARI ambiance bringing to mind The Glitch Mob before they were boring and predictable.
And while it’s easy to imagine The Grouch rhyming over these broken, stuttering grooves, it has a lot more in common with a different king of glitch, most notably the heyday of Kid606 and Tigerbeat Records, and Luke Vibert, aka Wagon Christ, but dosed up with a hit of DJ Shadow‘s soul and Lorn‘s powerful beats.
That’s why i say it’s a good thing we make up our own minds, as it doesn’t seem that IDM/glitch has had anything potent or vital to say since Aphex Twin put a nail in its coffin with Drukgs, but that doesn’t mean that some of it’s tools and techniques aren’t valid.
Most notably, 1700 Monkey Ninjas makes great use of that light and stuttering beat pioneered and perfected by noisy electronic artists in the late ’90s. But while a lot of those artists were more drill than bass, it doesn’t seem like 17MN’s goal is to assault, as his avant beat constructions are inviting, if chaotic. It’s like he wants to lead you down his mad rabbit hole, which is lined with mirror shards and decaying stuffed animals.
It seems that Ed Purchla, the name behind 1700 Monkey Ninjas, is both taking the piss from dance music, and simultaneously venerating it. Slagg II sounds like 12 big beat and big room trance records, run through a cheese grater and sellotaped together. But it is still a big beat record, make no mistake, full of epic builds and noisy breakdowns.
I want to see a room full twitch out to this one.
What is most intriguing about Slagg II is whether or not this it is coaxed out of turntables, hardware, digital detritus or some combination of them all. I hear the distinct sound of vinyl stops and starts, which gives way to tight and precise beats and machinespuzz. When the press release mentions ‘hair-pin turns’, they’re really not kidding, as “Slagg II” seamlessly flows through a dozen genres in 3:30 minutes, with tight, nearly musique concrete tape splices. It’s like the best of all worlds; the soul of analog, with the control of digital.
On top of 1700 Monkey Ninjas, Ed Purchla also makes digital art, and i think these colorful dots and blobs says a lot about his aesthetics as a noisician. They’re like these surreal plastic sculptures, deep in cyberspace. If Vaporwave is the soundtrack for the global shopping mall, 1700 Monkey Ninjas is the altar made out of recycled Powerade bottles and laundry detergent containers that the primates worship at, deep in the jungle.
Honestly, 1700 Monkey Ninjas is exactly the kind of thing i like and admire in electronic music. While, yes, i do enjoy somber, monochromatic Techno, i also appreciate a sense of humor and a spirit of noisy anarchy, which is essential from the scene becoming too bloated and pompous. And, of course, none of that matters if it doesn’t rock the house, (or yr headphones), which 17MN also manages in spades.
I’ve only heard a handful of Purchla’s material, so far, which i am looking forward to remedying. He’s got a bunch of albums available on Amazon, but no streaming love. He DOES however, have a grip of material up on YouTube, which i’ve started to pillage, and enjoy every second of.
The last time we ran into the Portland slow-fi duo Bed., we found Alex Haager and Sierra Frost moving up north from San Fransisco, starting a new life in my hometown of Portland, Or.”Bother” was a rain-soaked reflection of failed relationships and fresh beginnings that was perfectly fitting for the dregs of winter.
Fittingly in tune with the seasons, “Boys” seems way more vivid and lively. Bed have stepped out from the shadows, from beneath the spectral disco ball and emerged, squinting, into a world of sunlight and pollen.
The most notable shift comes from the fact that Alex is handling lead vocals this time, with Sierra providing some haunting harmonies. Makes for a very different beast – less gauzy and ethereal, a little more worn and rock ‘n roll. It seems that Bed. can actually be (at least) two bands. This particular aspect of Bed. is way more in line with classic guitar-centric indie/shoegaze, particularly the kind with male/female vocals. “Boys” reminds me of Psychocandy-era Jesus And Mary Chain, the lysergic interplay of Frank Black and Kim Deal in The Pixies, as well as the slow romanticism of bands like Galaxie 500 or The American Analog Set.
I keep somewhat jokingly referring to Bed. as ‘slow-fi’, but i’m kind of serious, as well. The initial communication from Alex expressed an admiration for slowcore bands like Low or Scottish bummer rock band The Delgados, which caught my interest. You don’t see a lot of new Slowcore bands, and it’s one of my favorite styles. Finding out they were from Portland sealed the deal, and made me a fan for life.
And while i definitely hear roots and traces of slowcore in Bed.’s filigreed romanticism, in a certain removed stance, their music is way too rock or pop for those opiated halls. Bed.’s guitar rings with Dick Dale reverb and distortion; this is music for the beach, even if it is the beach at night. Thus the comparisons to The Pixies, who also had lashings of noise and grit, sand in the smooth vaseline of their pop confections, but ultimately played it clean, letting the pure notes clash, blend and twine in the air.
Bed. also play it clean, or at least not hyper-fuzzed, which let twin guitars and Alex and Sierra’s vocals come together like an aerial ballet.
It’s like Bed. take inspiration from the 2000s reverb rock of Beach House, Vivian Girls and Real Estate, but dial down the echo. Stepping out of the shadows, out of soft-focus and into the limelight. The overall effect is of being more hot-blooded, more lively, more confident, more vivacious. Still shy, still reserved, but capable of speaking, when needed.
Bed. are not hiding behind style, because they have actual substance. They are hellacious songwriters, with simple but tasteful guitar breaks, and all manner of embellishments.
Bed. moved to Portland to further grow and expand their label, Breakup Records. Let’s show them that was a smart move, and give them some love and support. Let’s make Breakup blow up!
All of Bed’s tracks are very short and sweet, so throw one or two on yr next ‘up all night spring makeout’ tape.
If you live in Portland, you have a chance to see Bed. live, on May 18th at The Holocene, at the Single Release show! Opening for other local witchy favorites The Ghost Ease.
More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/612272665510111