As the world looks to London for champions, we have one coming to town Friday. Ronald K. Keys Jr., a turntablist from Cleveland aka DJ Swamp, took the 1996 U.S. title in the annual DMC DJ competition hosted by Disco Mix Club. The honor earned him a position in Beck's band for a few years; from there he went solo. When we caught up with him last week, he'd just played for a huge crowd at a Las Vegas convention center, using just "two turntables and a microphone," as spelled out in Beck's song, "Where It's At."
"It's old school. I tear it up the old fashioned way," he said, which is not always the norm in today's electronic music scene. "I've been playing beats for a long time as new things came in, the rave scene and that kind of thing -- it doesn't necessarily change what I do. I'm not doing what I was doing 16 years ago; it's evolved. My show has become more like a magic show."
He now includes tricks like breathing fire and draws on horror movie and voodoo imagery reminiscent of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who, he points out, was also from Cleveland. "Must be something in the Lake Erie water we were raised on," he suggests with a laugh. "I come from the days when you had to do something entertaining at your shows to keep people's attention."
Swamp started out playing hip hop-style, "but then I started mixing it with rock, drum ‘n' bass, dubstep, everything." When Serato and Vinyl Scratch hit, he tried that out. "I was one of the first using computers and controller vinyl, that kind of thing. It was cool, but it wasn't like using real vinyl, so I took a step backward. I'm not against using [the new technology], but I'm not giving up my vinyl."
The rest of Friday's "Pitch Black II" dance party at the Red Fox is Humboldt EDM with Deep Groove Society's DJ Touch, plus Grasshoppa and Baggadonuts. The show kicks off a big electronica weekend with World Famous' Battle of the Bass following on Saturday at the Jambalaya, a judged contest with the audience choosing who presents the best bass mix. Steve "Phobophilia" DeRosa aka Astro Tarot is among the entrants. "I mixed 16 artists that did World Famous shows this year, everyone from Slugabed to Schlomo," he explained. If he's selected, he promises, "a savage dubstep set at the Battle." Even if he doesn't make the cut, Phobophilia is playing at the Jambalaya this weekend: He's the opener for a Deep Groove Society "Sundaze" on Sunday, a show that features hot shot beatmaker/sound collagist MatthewDavid from L.A., plus local duo Datablend with CaCaO and Taeo. Be prepared to dance.
Got a note from Gabe Rozzell, a former Portlander now living near Swain's Flat "in a little cabin on the Van Duzen." He says he played electric country folk in a "moderately successful" PDX band but now plays his songs solo, which is what he's doing a couple of times this week. Thursday at the Jambalaya he opens for his old friend from Portland Morgan Geer, aka Drunken Prayer. "He is one hell of a songwriter, but definitely more in a rock and roll vein than me," says Gabe. "He will be touring with David Wayne Gay on the bass, who is sort of a legend himself having played with a number of great bands such as Freakwater and Reigning Sound."
Then on Sunday, Gabe opens a show at the Shanty for Portland heavyweights Pierced Arrows, formerly known as Dead Moon. Gabe noted, "I grew up in the area where Fred and Tooty of Dead Moon had a guitar store; I got my first guitar from them a long, long time ago, so that is pretty epic for me to get to play with them, considering what I do is a lot different from their sound. Only in Humboldt County!" Also on Sunday's bill, presumably after Gabe, Lord Ellis.
Saturday at the Alibi, it's a one-two punch of alt. Americana with The Dirt Nap Band, a Tahoe trio with Jay Swanigan, formerly of Slewfoot Stringband, and Ghostwriter, a dark punk/folk/blues troubadour from Portland with a new LP, Prayin' All The Time, out on vinyl and MP3.
Don't know much about Poeina Suddarth. She apparently lived in Portland and is friends with the Shook Twins, among others. Her ReverbNation page says she plays "subdued thrasher bluegrass," but I'd call it alt. chanteuse, or better yet just forget pigeonholing -- she's good. You'll see when she plays at Mad River Brewing Saturday.
Portland, the city with a million bands, keeps sending them our way. Wednesday the Jambalaya hosts Zouaves, "supergroup of the unknown" on tour with Dinosaur Heart with The Bandage providing local support. Named for the wildly dressed 19th century militiamen, Zouaves includes Swedes Jason Breeden and alt. folk violinist Sara Johanne, who run Aio Records, a Portland indie label tending toward trippy experimental improv. Sounds good to me.
The Durham, N.C.-based neo-old time/alt. folk combo Midtown Dickens plays the Pickathon up in Oregon over the weekend, then stops off at the Arcata Playhouse for a show next Tuesday, Aug. 7. The band has been on the road a lot, touring with folks like The Mountain Goats and Lost in the Trees, but somehow found time to record a new album, Home, a fine piece of work with ruminations on deep subjects like home, family and work. Traveling with the Dickens, and opening the Playhouse show, is the equally fine South Carolina country duo Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, who call their act Shovels & Rope. This is a big week for them as they celebrate the release of a new album, O' Be Joyful, by doing a prestigious Daytrotter Session. The name? It shows up in the opening track, "Birmingham," when Hearst sings about "Makin' something out of nothin' with a scratch and a hoe, two old guitars like a shovel and a rope." Not sure what it means; maybe it's a Southern thing.
HumBrews goes hip hop Tuesday with the Bay Area collective Hieroglyphics presenting the "Hiero Imperium Tour" featuring Souls of Mischief, Casual and Pep Love. Then it's honky tonk/outlaw country Wednesday at HumBrews with Bloodshot Records recording artists Whitey Morgan and The 78s from Flint, Mich., "where the factories are closed, jobs are scarce and the people are bitter."
Wednesday is wild and crazy jazz night at the Arcata Playhouse with the all-female saxophone quartet The Tiptons returning from New York City to play music "inspired by the lonely echo of train whistles at night, scientific findings on bees from Harper's Magazine, and covering genres from micro-big band to gospel, bluegrass to Balkan, whimsical jazz to nocturnal funk."
The Thursday Summer Concert Series at Fisherman's Plaza in Old Town rock ‘n' rolls to a close this week with mad fiddler Tom Rigney and his Cajun swing band Flambeau this Thursday; the father and son Native American blues duo Paul and Rich Steward, aka Twice as Good next Thursday (Aug. 9).
Charlotte Thistle, a self-described "girl with a guitar," is on a "Hobo Radio Tour" playing all over the northwest including a few stops in Humboldt: Friday afternoon she's on KHUM with Larry Trask before heading to Old Town Coffee & Chocolates. After more radio shows and coffeeshop gigs in Mendocino and Lake counties, she returns for shows Wednesday at Six Rivers Brewery and Thursday at Blondie's.
You've probably heard about the trouble with young pelicans getting messed up by fish oil. No? I assure you it's a problem, one that the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center and Bird Ally X have been dealing with. Learn more during Arts Alive! Saturday at the Humboldt Bay Coffee Company visitors center on Opera Alley, where the folk trio Trillium (Jan Bramlett, Mo Hollis and Morgan Cordivay) will be singing to help save the greasy birds.