Last night I had the pleasure of attending a DJ set by the esteemed DJ Krush at the Bowery Ballroom. A few months ago, I got to see him with Method of Defiance, the atmospheric-nerd-core supergroup featuring Bill Laswell, Bernie Worrell, and others. Zorn was there. The crowd was a mite thin for my druthers, but, you know, that’s avant hip-hop for ya.
The more recent experience held many moments of nostalgia. Specifically, I was reminded of those days in the mid-to-late 1990s when hip-hop was creatively suffocated by an industry that preferred glorified tales of violence and the publicizing of bitchy artist in-fighting to producing culturally relevant records. Underground dance parties became prominent as DJs sought venues for experimentation, and huge crowds sought fresh beats and groovy drugs. One fed the other, I suppose. Charged with youth, illicit experiences and perhaps some chemical enhancement, we learned to go all night, and that making a dance floor happen was everyone’s responsibility.
Many of these underground DJs inspired the visceral, psychedelic sounds that informed the best hip-hop of the early oughts. I’m always happy to recall the many wonderful experiences of my former days as a drum-n-bass/jungalist, and am grateful that the underground beats scene has been around to keep progressive sonic collage alive while the big players continue to annoy us with mediocre hype.
Krush himself straddles that grey area between DJ Shadow (he played some tracks from groundbreaking works such as Entroducing and the mysterious Private Press) and Susumu Yakota. There is a tenderness, a dark interior space, like wandering through the forest of the Soul. Krush is noted for his use of both sound samples from the natural world and traditional instruments in free-jazz inspired fills. He creates a spontaneous symphony of scratches, layered drums and rhythm textures that have a distinctly narrative feel. It is the cold, interior world of sorrow without self-absorption, isolation without hopelessness, a landscape of dreams and hauntings, occasionally punctuated by frenetic beats and looming, cracked bass figures.
At the same time, Krush is firmly rooted in the hip-hop tradition. He was instantly inspired to become a musician having seen Wild Style, shortly after which he abandoned his brief fling with the Japanese mafia. The mesmerizing tones of Krush’s soothing and downtempo set gave way to some choice vocal tracks from the Pharcyde, Cypress Hill and others. Over the years, Krush’s work with some of the finest MCs around has gotten many dance floors greasy, and last night’s crowd of sonic-soaked beat nerds were no exception. Essentially, it was an evening to listen, to be moved from the inside out and the perfect scene for a dark January evening.
I look forward to what Krush comes up with next, as his productions are always transportive and engaging. Certainly, I’ll make the effort to see him mix live at any opportunity. I don’t want to understand why the forest is dark and haunted, but I still want to wander through it. So I’m glad that Krush scatters beat-heavy breadcrumbs along that spooky moonlit path. I will leave you with one of my favorite tracks: