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Vibes and Jibes
Abstract Workshop celebrates a decade of funk-da-mental partying
Four white guys, 10 years of underground-hip-hop monthly parties, countless amazing performances—and even more inside jokes among the core co-founders. That, in a nutshell, is Abstract Workshop, which may be all growed up and stuff, but its organizers are still not taking themselves too seriously, even though they've done much to elevate Orange County's rep among discerning heads nationwide.
When they're together, as they are for this interview at Josh One's Long Beach bungalow, Kosta "Cocoe" Tsimahidis, ScottyCoats, Jud Nester and Josh exist in a resinated web of head-nodding beats, resonant laughter and frequent jibes. They are brothers in sound for life—or until the beer and weed run out. Being in their presence, you understand what world-class camaraderie is and how it can sustain artistic/business enterprises through thick, thin and temperamental rappers.
Most club nights don't last 10 weeks, let alone 10 years. The amount of energy, dedication, networking and, of course, musical skill to maintain a quality event this long requires extraordinary gumption. What's kept Abstract Workshop (which happens the last Saturday of every month at Detroit Bar) running so long, even when in the early days they had to lug six 200-pound speakers into and out of the Tiki Bar? Why expend so much time and money on this endeavor?
"It just needs to be done," Cocoe states, as exasperated as if he were asked why he needs to breathe. "Yeah, there are other things going on, but we're on the more grassroots end of things."
So, you had no master plan? "I guess we wanted to have our own YMCA, where we could go every month," Cocoe says. "If Jud wanted to kick a flow or play some new records, it helped us as individuals to do what we do today. Everyone's got mad projects."
"It was an outlet," Coats adds.
"And a necessary one for growth," Nester interjects. "Playing in our own spot is the best-case scenario. We can get our feedback there, everything we need to. You can tell if your new track sucks or if it's cool if people get on the dance floor. It's a testing ground. But it's not just for us. We have to see what's new out there. The emphasis is on 'Workshop,' not the 'nightclub.' It's a place where people can do something they normally wouldn't do and hopefully expand. We give them a cool, comforting place with an accepting crowd that's there to see something unexpected. That's the root core of what we like to be presenting. Sometimes we pull it off; sometimes we don't."
So what started as a public laboratory for these talented DJs and producers evolved into a showcase for elite non-mainstream hip-hop performers. When queried about what's been the most memorable experience during the Workshop's past 10 years, Nester's dog, right on cue, craps on Josh's hardwood floor. "That probably was it right there," Nester quips, before citing an early Zion I gig with the Foreign Legion crew.
It's hard for Cocoe to pinpoint his absolute highlight, but he notes that the 1999 gig with Atmosphere ranks highly. "[LA rapper] Busdriver went up there and ripped those guys a new one, and they just put their mics down."
Nester and Coats recall a show in 1998 at which Freestyle Fellowship member Aceyalone grabbed the mic at 9 p.m. and didn't stop flowing until 2 a.m., even freestyling on his wireless mic about the drink he was ordering during an ostensible bar break. Abtract Workshop also booked the legendary Antipop Consortium before cats really knew who they were—and minds were duly blown.
Cocoe and Coats acknowledge that their employment with Costa Mesa's Ubiquity Records has increased Abtract Workshop's access to top-shelf talent and helped to stock their record bags with club-centric gems. But the Workshop's principals admit that now they're just as focused on their own productions as they are on others' jams. Josh, for instance, has become a studio wizard revered by the cognoscenti, as a platinum record for his remix of Nappy Roots' "Po' Folks" hanging on his wall partially attests. His collab with reggae superstar Sean Paul titled "Fahrenheit" just came out on iTunes, and his Tolerance album should see daylight later this year. J Dilla's hard drive sits in Josh's studio, testament to the work he did on the late, great producer's last album, The Shining (though his name somehow got left off the credits).
Coats observes, "From us doing our night, it's given all of us inspiration as producers trying to make music, so hopefully, one day, we're making the records that the next generation of kids are playing in clubs."
For Abtract Workshop's 10th-anniversary bash, aging-but-still-virile soul crooner Darondo (think a raunchier, West Coast Al Green) headlines a strong bill that also features fellow Ubiquity Records artist Nino Moschella (think Jamie Lidell, but more organic sounding), Rhettmatic (Beat Junkies turntablist) and a Nester live performance (during which Coats may do his vaunted breakdance-and-striptease routine).
So, what's the biggest difference between when Abstract Workshop started and now? "There are girls at the shows," Josh deadpans.
Abstract Workshop's 10-Year Anniversary Party with Darondo, Nino Moschella and the Park, Rhettmatic, Jud Nester, DJ Cocoe, Josh One, Scotty Coats, and others at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Sat., 9:30 p.m. $10. For more information, visit www.abstract-workshop.com.