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Chomping at the Books On Tape (& other badassness)

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Dusted's tobias c van Veen chats with Books On Tape main reel Todd Drootin.

Chomping at the Books On Tape (& other badassness)

Books On Tape swept through Montréal with his broken pants and beatpunk sampling techniques in January of 2004, arriving in the dead of winter to scream and freak-out at the little Casa del Popolo, otherwise known as ‘the asylum.' It seems that every ex-pat American citizen flocks to this little watering hole.

Whether the eclectic mash-ups of LA’s Todd Drootin are becoming known for their slegdgehammer composition and obscure sampling or for Drootin’s manic stage presence is debatable. Those who wage the quality beer swear it has something to do with the fact that Drootin yells a lot. Drootin fills the loadtime waiting for his AKAI MPC2000 with patter that ranks his lunacy alongside his assault calibre, heavy hitting brokenbeats. Those who wage the moonshine bet their nut that his success lies in the non-yelling bits, in the apologetic nature he displays when cursing the foreign policy of his Government.

To set matters straight, as words do not describe the beauty=truth complex that well when dealing with drunk & bearded madmen, Drootin’s BOT project isn’t IDM, drillcore, or Kid606 tigerbeats – it’s closer to a heavy metal showdown, a stoner’s grind-out, something so filmic that only a native of the Smog City could love it to its rotten, bass-heavy core. There’s something atonally epic about his tracks which cry out for the whelping he delivers via frantic and heavy use of distortion and fuzz. If Drootin has Napolean syndrome, then it’s rational to claim that he’s acting out some superbly improvised Hegelian master/slave relations that nonetheless juxtapose the timeless themeatic of the body/techne tension, throwing his human, sweating self into the grids of his technological apparatuses with a Wagnerian fury. During ‘performance’ – others call it ‘therapy’ – Drootin punches and slams his EFX pedals, crying out with wanton lust and dancing with utter abandon and glee like a Dionysian at the edge of berserk. It’s a beautiful thing, when it’s not shameful and banned in the lower 48 States.

With a recent album on Montréal’s diverse No Type label – & here I am partisan, for I throw down the wax at their oddball events – appropriately named Sings the Blues (2004), Drootin surpasses his past excursions, above & beyond the beat to explore the themeatics of the beat symphony... Emotional tones, danceable show tunes, and narratological outlines in song structure abound as Drootin laps past the deservedly polemic Throw Down Your Laptops (Deathbomb Arc, 2002). True, Drootin admitted during his spastic stage show that yes, indeed, sometimes he wish he had a laptop (& technically, the MPC 2000 is the precursor – it’s a basic hard-drive & processor). And true to form, however, he demonstrated with the vicious antics of his body that only the flailing arms and hands of a maniac can sustain the energy and pressure his gear requires... no laptop would live up under that heavy damage... it would be left in a heaping, smoking wreck. In a way Todd Drootin follows what Hendrix, The Clash and just about every cool rock band has done at some point – break shit. I’ve yet to hear of him throwing the MPC into the crowd, but damn, that will be a photo-op. As well as expensive. But in this other way, the point I was really trying to make, Drootin has more to do with rock music than electronic[a]. His tunes have been featured on MTV (he does commercial scoring), and he’s down with the serious in-ya’-face presence of the performer. Yah. My bet – Drootin on the upswing as long as he doesn’t fall to the pressures of the dialectics crowd. Watch your back for the Aufhebung!

tobias: How did you get started in music ..

Books On Tape: I've been banging on something or other since I was 5. Piano, then drums, then guitar and, around 1998, samplers and electronics. There's a lot of musical history in my family – my grandfather's brother drummed for Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and others, but it certainly wasn't a matter of being pushed into music because my parents are completely unmusical. I mean, god forbid you have to listen to one of them sing Karaoke...

t:How did your sound get so heavy ..

BOT: Well, I like rock in almost all its forms. And I like things extreme. So when the kids in my clique got into Metallica, I got into Napalm Death. And when it came time for Green Day and Nirvana to take over, I was stuck on early Sonic Youth as well as digging up Raincoats albums and other more obscure things that I had only heard or read about. So whenever I've played an instrument, it has always been with a Derek Bailey sense of "Do as no one has done before you"...the heaviness comes as a result of my dual tastes for the sound/energy of rock and the extreme/weirdo/groundbreaking styles of bands like The Slits, or, for a more current example, Melt Banana.

t: Would you use a laptop in lieu of an AKAI if you had MIDI drum pads that allowed you to do the same thing? An AKAI is just kind of a slow, heavy laptop.

BOT: Hook me up! The idea that I am an anti-laptop guy is really kind of something cooked up because there are so many people who do make great music using laptops. I will say, though, that one of the things I like about the AKAI is that I feel like I'm bastardizing it and using it within some limitations. I like when people familiar with the machine look at me and just shake their heads, confused. With a laptop, it seems, almost anything is possible. And I like the audience to understand – or at least to THINK they understand, what is going on. I find that lacking at laptop shows.

t: Do you make your music more methodically than the performance or just kind of set everything up and bang away on the Korg, the pedals, the AKAI?

BOT:Making the tracks is a completely methodical process that I enjoy far less than the live performance aspect. It usually involves me hovering over a warm sampler for the better part of a day or two, and then countless revisions over the life of a song. I do weird things like program sequences and leave them on mute, in case one day I feel like throwing that in at a show. It may happen, it may not...but I like to give myself that kind of room for improvising on the basic structures when I perform live.

t: Have you thought of doing a noise album?

BOT: I'd like to produce one with collaborators. I couldn't conceive of doing it on my own.

t: Where would you most like to play and with who?

BOT: Tough one! I'd like to play with Sonic Youth or The Boredoms, anywhere...though since I brought up the Boredoms, let's say in Japan!

t: If you were gay would you date T. Raumschmiere?

BOT: I generally prefer indie-rock boys, but Thurston and Malkmus are getting old and I've got nothing for the new crop of heart-on-sleeve kids. But I'm not picky...

t: What's next musically kiddo ..

BOT: I want to remix some rock bands this year. Wait until early next year to do another full-length. Tour as much as possible. Make new musical connections. Hang out with amazing bands like NYC's Parts and Labor. And meet Jay-Z.

By tobias c. van Veen

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