Mad science

Mophono and Salva are searching for the future beat

The Bay Area-to-L.A. party connection is stronger than ever, thanks to new releases this month from Mophono, left, and Salva

Is the Bay Area's experimental beat scene finally coming together? After a few years of lagging behind the explosion of beat conductor talent in Los Angeles, and suffering a steady exodus of potential down south, the Bay Area's time for creating a forward leaning psychedelia — composed from the bass-infused backbone of instrumental hip-hop — might have arrived.

This week, San Francisco's DJ veteran Mophono releases his debut full-length, Cut Form Crush, on his upstart CB Records. It's a colossal experiment in deconstructed percussive patterns and warped synth keys, washed with distorted textures, panning effects, and field recordings. Since 2006, Mophono has hosted the weekly party Change the Beat, guided by only one principle: blow up the soundsystem with unlikely combinations of sounds.

Last week, Change the Beat resident and SF mainstay Salva also dropped his first full-length effort, Complex Housing (Friends of Friends), an excellent dance record that glides across an array of genres infatuated with the interplay of bass, groove, and melody: hip-hop, house, UK funky, Chicago juke, and ghetto-tech all get equal treatment.

Here's the rub: Although Salva insists that the Bay is still home, especially through his SF-grounded imprint Frite Nite, which supports bubbling acts like Ana Sia and B.Bravo, he was practically unpacking boxes in his new L.A. crib when I spoke to him on the phone before writing this article. On the other hand, another L.A. force of sonic gravity, Low End Theory — Daddy Kev's acclaimed weekly, which helped form the social fabric that pushed Flying Lotus, the Gaslamp Killer, and Daedalus, among many others, to international attention — has kicked off a monthly residence in San Francisco. Ultimately, both cities can benefit from creative exchange, so let's just say that California's got it going on.

Born Benji Illgen, Mophono has been rocking parties in the Bay Area for nearly 20 years as DJ Centipede. His early obsession with digging for records — one that's amassed a vinyl vault of around 6,000 records — defied genre and era for a love of percussion in all its forms, including conspicuous absence. "I'm drawn to rhythm, both as a DJ and as this metronome-carrier-guy who maintains turntables," Illgen tells me over the phone, as raucous noise and strange bangs reverberate in the background.

Cut Form Crush could be called a study of drums: percussive patterns unfold and disappear, giving rise to new formations set on their own uneasy path toward self-dissolution. While the drums, crunchy and multilayered, degenerate, a barrage of synth noise and warped textures dance frenetically around the pockets of space jarred open by the percussive momentum. This record alarms as much it disorients.

In many ways, Cut is the product of all the music Illgen has absorbed over the course of the past two decades. From closely following the development of hip-hop and U.K. electronic genres and digging into psychedelic rock, musique concrète, jazz-funk, Kosmische, and post-punk, Illgen became interested in the way imaginative music is made through improvisation. "Bands in the '60s would get in these zones, really rhythmic areas, and they would tap into a minimal expression," says Illgen. "I'm interested in those minimal, odd breakdowns, when these cats just jam out on some craziness."

Rather than just sampling loops and bits from these sources, Illgen decided to reproduce the creative environments that shaped their genesis. "I'd get groups and musicians together in my little studio who aren't necessarily band mates but are involved in the same sort of music community," says Illgen. "Then we'd just vibe out. We'd create these recordings that later I'd access and reconfigure the sounds."

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