Red Bull Music Academy invades OC
Newsflash: Capitalism can sometimes be a force for good. Take Red Bull. The energy drink company has been running a worldwide music school since 1997, offering facilities and guidance from a stable of experienced industry figures to tutor young, aspiring musicians and producers from around the world. Red Bull Music Academy—which originated in Cologne, Germany—also hosts gigs in the cities it visits, gigs typically boasting world-class talent. Tentation Ultra Lounge in Newport Beach hosted one such shindig April 16. Stones Throw Records honcho Peanut Butter Wolf, KCRW disc jockey Garth Trinidad and Sarcastic Disco maestro DJ Harvey held court.
When I arrived at Tentation, an ill-prepared, directionless Q&A session was in progress with LA-based Warp Records artist Flying Lotus and Ann Arbor/LA beatmaker Samiyam fielding questions from the RBMA attendees. The only things I took away from the session are that you have to practice a lot and that a MySpace presence can boost your profile and career. Take note, y’all.
Heading to the back room where a makeshift studio had been set up, I encountered several key players in SoCal’s music scene. Most of these gifted musicians and DJs have connections to Costa Mesa’s Ubiquity Records: Scotty Coats, Nino Moschella, Deejay Cocoe, Patrick Bailey (guitarist for Breakestra, the Rebirth and Allensworth), Todd Simon (horns for the Lions and Connie Price & the Keystones), Dan Ubick (guitarist for the Lions, Connie Price & the Keystones, Rhythm Roots Allstars and others). Also mingling and networking were DJ Rhettmatic (Beat Junkies), the Bizarre Love Triangle crew and Bobby Soul.
I had a good, long chat with Ubick, an unassuming white guy who just happens to have recorded and played onstage with a grip of hip-hop legends (EPMD, De La Soul, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Slick Rick, Wu-Tang Clan) as well as soul-jazz giants like Weldon Irvine, Nawlins funk deity Eddie Bo and many others. He finds himself in the enviable, almost unbelievable, position of accompanying his childhood heroes and playing licks from some of the most sampled songs ever, as Golden Age hip-hop flourished before sampling laws became prevalent. Nice work if you can get it.
Moving back to the main room, I caught Garth Trinidad in mid-set. His mélange of mainstream dance music and mostly middlebrow, chill warm-up fare sort of blended into Tentation’s sleek, modern décor and didn’t really hold my attention. So I returned to the back room, where an impromptu jam session had broken out. Furious rhythms from several percussionists provided a foundation for Bailey to lay down a sinuously funky bass line (on a guitar—clever!). Gradually, the jam morphed into Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You,” with Bobby Soul leading the way on vocals, but Bailey ingeniously plunked out the mesmerizing bass part from George McRae’s “I Get Lifted” (written by KC and the Sunshine Band’s vocalist, fact fans). Brilliant.
Following that highlight, I cornered DJ Harvey, a fifty-ish Englishman who splits his time among London, LA and Honolulu (he co-owns a club called 39 Hotel in the latter city). You don’t meet disc jockey legends every day, so I decided to get my geek on and ask the man, who used to hang with Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan back in the day, how many records he (Harvey) has. He alleged to have 30,000 vinyls stored in London, about 6,000 in LA, and another 3,000 in Honolulu. It would take about $10,000 to ship all those London records to Honolulu, which Harvey’s contemplating doing. Madness.
I also learned that when Harvey performs in Japan (where he’s worshipped), fans photograph the labels of the wax spinning on his decks to identify them. The Japanese—always in the vanguard, even with trainspotting.
Meanwhile, Peanut Butter Wolf commandeered the stage and linked up video footage to the tracks he was playing. This is wildly entertaining in the right hands, and PBW’s hands were eminently capable. He dropped a lot of crowd-pleasing cuts, but the hilariously camp/kitsch visuals ameliorated what could have been considered pandering. Besides, many crowd-pleasers are simply excellent.
PBW moved through styles with alacrity. Vintage funk (the Jacksons, Kool & the Gang), ’60s rock (the Zombies, Bo Diddley), Euro new-wave dance (Yello, Depeche Mode), yacht rock (Toto, Herb Alpert) and hip-hop (Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest). The zenith of his set, however, was a mashup of the Jackson 5’s “ABC” and Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.,” which of course is based on a sample of the former.
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Unfortunately, by the time Harvey took over (12:30 a.m.), most of the crowd was exiting. They missed some deep, coiling, leftfield disco that could unlock serious kundalini. I wish I had a camera to capture the titles he was playing. Anyway, it was painful to witness this dance-music titan performing before a few dozen exhausted patrons. Even the revivifying powers of Red Bull couldn’t save this sad situation.
Nevertheless, props to Red Bull for instituting this traveling sonic university and helping to foster musical creativity. Even if it is an elaborate scheme to increase market share, a lot of beneficial things transpire because of it.
For more information, visit www.redbullmusicacademy.com.