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Photo by Keith MayIf parents and politicians hated Ron D Core half as much as they hate the Eminems and Limp Bizkits of the world, he'd be mega by now. It's not like he's trying to keep his work on the down low. Twisted porno art has regularly adorned his album covers, and his violent songs—with titles such as "He's Fuckin' Dead"—seem designed purely to knot the knickers of crusading moralists. But Core is protected by his artistry and by his independence from a major label.
Too bad: he'd love the controversy and the media coverage, all the better to move copies of his latest CD, Decibels of Destruction.
"People used to say that Ron's the West Coast Hardcore Pervert," laughs the 5-foot-6, balding, 33-year-old Core, who, with his wife, Helen, is probably best-known for owning and running the much-beloved Costa Mesa techno record store Dr. Freecloud's Mixing Lab. His record cover art has included images of warped vaginas and lesbian pixies masturbating. But strangely, the skin is absent from Decibels of Destruction. A sign of maturity, perhaps, which makes sense considering that the easygoing gnome I met up with in a back office at Dr. Freecloud's seems very little like his mischievous, porn- and eardrum-shattering-beat-loving alter ego.
Core makes hardcore, the heavy metal of techno (also called gabber or terrorcore), and he's one of its best practitioners. His reworkings of other hardcore producers' music, such as Sarin Assault's, still represent the best of the genre. To the untrained ear, Core's mixes must sound like a King Kong-sized Energizer Bunny rhythmically stomping across a garbage-can-covered football field. But while the music's spastic, 180 BPM jackhammer soundscapes are the main attraction, Core laces this skull-crushing noise with machine-gun blasts, heavy metal guitar riffs and snippets of abusive, obscenity-laced dialogue from war, crime and porn movies. On Decibels, Core remixed a song called "E-Man," which cleverly features an elephant trumpeting in a call-and-response alongside loud, ornery drums. It not only rocks as hard as any Motorhead song, but it's also a hilarious comment on hardcore's overall mayhem.Decibels (on the Strictly Hype Recordings label) finds Ron at the peak of his techno powers. His mix tapes and CDs often sell out (though few copies are printed; less than 15,000 copies of his first two CDs were made). And he's no studio shut-in, finding time to play raves and concerts almost every weekend, such as the recent Cypress Hill Smoke Out and the upcoming Together As One 2001 New Year's Eve event at the LA Coliseum and Sports Arena. He's spun almost everywhere except liberal, pot-smoking Amsterdam (which, strangely, is ground zero for the genre). And though only 10 to 15 hardcore DJs are able to draw large crowds on the West Coast, Core is the one most likely to rouse a crowd of kids, says DJ/producer Brian Natonski, who works under the name Gearwhore. "He's trying to get under people's skin," Natonski says. "It's stuff that parents are going to hate, but that's what people will remember."
Born Ron Dedmon (close to "dead man," but not quite), Core grew up listening to disco and soft rock, which eventually evolved into a love of such headbanging speed-metal bands as Slayer when he was a student at Huntington Beach's Ocean View High. By his senior year, the metal scene seemed dead. Then a neighbor, who went by the moniker Kool Aid, brought Core to his first rave on New Year's Eve, 1986.
That warehouse party—which, like many an early underground rave, got busted by the cops—quickly shed Core of his Hessian obsession. "The danger thing was so cool," Core says of his first rave, "and the music really did it for me. It had minimal-to-no lyrics—just all these weird analog sounds." It turned out that Kool Aid was one of Southern California's first major rave promoters, and Core soon became a key member of his event crew. He gained some notoriety by deejaying old-school techno at Kool Aid's parties, but the tough work of learning how to produce records was achieved via the time-honored method of mixing tapes in his bedroom.
When the 1990s hit, such producers as Joey Beltram and Phenomania started surreptitiously mixing metal vocals and guitar riffs into their sets. This put Core on the path to rediscovering his old aural love, and in 1996, his Full Metal Hell EP (which included dirty-word samples from the film Full Metal Jacket) sold out its entire 5,000-copy pressing. Core, who minored in marketing during a brief stint at Orange Coast College, figured he was on to something. "The key thing I learned before I dropped out of OCC was to sell yourself and your product with violence and sex," he says.
Sure, it ain't like that connection hadn't been thought up before. A guitarist named Tony Iommi once suggested that the boys in his listless blues-rock band lace their songs with horror-flick imagery, and voilà!—Black Sabbath was birthed. But while it's debatable whether Ozzy Osbourne really ever believed in the devil, sex isn't purely a cynical marketing tool for Core. Porn really is one of his strongest obsessions, one that rivals his love of music. Here's a man who painstakingly catalogued his collection of 300 porno magazines and 100 skin videos, ample competition for his 20,000-strong record collection. Sex is also a political statement for him, a tool to be used as Florida hip-hoppers 2 Live Crew once did.
"They pushed the limits of sex. They were so blatant—they weren't sugarcoating anything. That's what I wanted to do," Core says of the "Me So Horny" composers. Core's desire to unleash a 2 Live Crew furor with his own music may have gone unheeded, but it certainly gave him underground notoriety, which still keeps customers streaming into his store (Dr. Freecloud's grosses about $500,000 annually).
Core's close porn connections sometimes give Helen headaches, but she can laugh about it. "It's Ron trying to sell records," she says. "It's part of the image. It doesn't bother me. But when we had to carry more porn than furniture during a move, then it was a problem."
DR. FREECLOUD'S MIXING LAB, 145 E. 19TH ST., STE. B, COSTA MESA, (949) 650-0909.