broklyn beats interview
(October 2001)

Since its inception in 1999, Broklyn Beats has released a slow, but steady, stream of corrupted electronic noise into the environment. While some might regard it as pollution, those in the know recognise that Broklyn vinyl is actually on the side of the angels. It's a sonic anti-oxidant, scrubbing the world's airwaves clear of gloopy, gooey bullshit music. Or is my medication too strong again?

Broklyn Beats was founded by long-time punk, Criterion Thornton. After years of playing sax in Minneapolis punk bands, he turned to electronics and New York for inspiration. Broklyn Beats is anything but the sound of the suburbs, it's the sound of the grimy city streets. Pick any of the records from its short discography. Put it on your stereo. You are now in NYC. A place where scuffed-up, battered funk is forced into an ill-fitting dub suit and made to pound the sidewalks looking for beats to sample. Brutal Police Menace is the label's most recent compilation. This is what we made of it:

Exhibit A, the title, suggested this was never going to be Sting's new album. It isn't. It's a big fuck off to the NYPD. Garth Vader abuses the Force with his Pig Pop, a slab of skunk strength jungle dub featuring Ice T exhorting an officer to fellate the organ he uses to penetrate his mom. Mike Ladd, aka The Infesticons, lays into the doughnut munching fat boys with a granite-hard hip hop tirade of distortion and disorientation with Star Trek on the telly in the background and Jack Clang delivers a minimal treatise on the nature of plastic bullets while a madman lamps seven shades out of a rusty pipe and his two-fingered mate plays the keyboards. Very quickly. Best, though, is Welmo Romero and Splice's savage Si A Plomo Vives where latin and hip hop ram raid drum'n'bass and roar off with tyres squealing.

The current project is called (sic). It’s a series of 7" singles, postcards from the edge, that will eventually be pulled together into another comp, on a sister label. Once again, they are crush collisions of fragments of the city, records fabricated entirely of records, an act of extraordinary creativity which sounds less like creation and more like destruction. But then there's a political side to all the aggro as well. The music is never the full story..

Back in the day Criterion had just moved to Brooklyn from a squat in Barcelona via Minneapolis. "I came back to Minneapolis and decided the only place left for me in the US was NYC. It's just like that here for a lot of people." That was before Broklyn Beats but not before New York had started to pulse to the rhythm of a dirty electronic heart. "It was a place with a burgeoning electronic scene and it was easy to play for a different crowd practically every week. Of course that has changed in the past 4 years as the city has become more familiar."

And familiarity breeds contentment, right? Wrong. Very wrong. Criterion wasn't satisfied by the abstract, unreal nature of the electronic scene. He wanted to bring it back down to earth, he wanted to pull the full-on emotions of real life politics into soulless, impersonal computerised music. "I had cut my teeth working with the Profane Existence Collective years earlier, putting out anarcho-punk like Nausea, Doom and Atavistic, and running a newspaper. In a lot of ways I wanted to do the same thing, but with less constrictions. Mainly, I wanted to create a forum for politically-minded music that wasn't preachy or, well, political."

doily, his partner in crime, is on the same wavelength. "So much electronic music doesn't seem to express any ideas that are relevant to real life. You can say something relevant with abstract sounds and no words. Obviously getting bodies to move is saying something but I'd like to get away from the whole club mentality as well – not that I was ever really a part of it or ever will be. My shit's too weird for that. I'd also like to get away from the whole seclusion of the electronic musician. It's difficult to form a community of bedroom artists who always work by themselves."

So Broklyn Beats was formed. "No-one gets the fact that it's broken beats from Brooklyn, probably 'cos it's not very obvious. The idea was to play with the whole Brooklyn mythology - tough streets, rugged beats, etc. And also address the whole gentrification going on in this borough in the past few years, as well as our place in it all as loft-dwelling inhabitants. Obviously we love the sound of NYC, but we can't take it all so seriously – we ain't BDP or Black Moon – but we ain't some techno offshoot either. Where do we stand? Nowhere! We just make up some dumb name and try to mould it into something tangible with a diverse community of individuals behind it. I think it's safe to say that this is happening."

the initial motivation was to get our own music out to the public; express some ideas which we feel aren't being addressed adequately in the present digital urban culture, a culture which all too often resembles a staid wasteland of retroism, conceptualism, hedonism and fascism in the silent name of fashionism.(from the Broklyn Beats web site)

That's some agenda. "I think the label's agenda is still in its infancy. We want to be a community-based label which pays the artists and supports a genuine community and not just a hedonistic crowd, as the case is in NYC. This involves creating a space for this to grow with a lot of activity beyond the label, not to mention just talking with people. We definitely don't want to just another label looking to get sponsored by a distributor and playing into the music industry games."

It's pretty easy to see what issues are being addressed on a compilation called Brutal Police Menace, but harder on something like Root Canal. Criterion: "I think the other records speak for themselves, as well. Personally, I've always been blatant with the titles I've used and the samples I've appropriated." That's got to the problem with mostly instrumental music, though, how do you get the message across when there are no words? "With sample-based music, it's all a matter of what the context is: the title, the liner notes, the graphics and artist's live show. We aren't DJs and we look for specific stances in all of these areas from the records we do. We try to really organise our releases as packages, the audio, visual and text working and thinking together. We work with a graphics group called Implode who design everything for us and do visuals at our shows. We are all a collective, but still growing together after 2 years."

And the collective is growing into a cottage industry of people feeling musical, political or some other kind of kinship. Doily: "It's rather small, but we all see it growing infinitesimally. From the past, we've been into all DIY punk bands doing their own thing, but they've never broken out of that before breaking up, except maybe The Clash or Crass or something. It would be cool to see musicians, hopefully us, break through to a larger realm while maintaining a DIY business sense and personable demeanour. I think without an entire band, as it is in electronics, this may be more possible."

The Broklyn sound is the sound of the streets, the urban sound like the sound of disco into hip hop was in the 70s. But how will the sound change after the horrendous events of September 11th? Criterion: "Well, we're still dealing with it. Everyone in our crew sat on our roof and watched 5000 people die in front of our eyes. We were supposed to bring France's Peace Off! crew to the World Trade Centre subway station 4 hours later and we're just happy to be alive, as are millions of others here. Our jobs downtown are at a standstill and many label projects are behind now. Almost six weeks later we still smell nothing but burned rubble and bodies throughout Manhattan and the stories keep coming in. The US anti-globalisation movement is dead for the time-being, but I think the label's objectives are still the same. We were never into the glamorisation of terror or violence –well, maybe with cops.. Only a strong, healthy stance against US imperialism and the globalisation of capital which has created what we see now. Will the records we put out be played for thousands at anti-WTO marches this fall, winter and spring? Sadly, no."

doily: "The first step is making sense of it all and continuing to digest the sights that have been put before our eyes here. And that hasn't quite happened for me, at least not in a musical sense. I've already scrapped some of the concepts I had for tracks and track titles that seem inappropriate now. I haven't yet figured out how my sound will change – more soothing for all of those tired nerves or more aggressive to express my anger and jadedness?? It will probably be a mixture of both. I have definitely lost some patience for dealing with people who are "working" with us and have no focus. Not that I ever had much.."

It must go deeper, though. Seeing a tragedy on the scale of the World Trade Centre disaster must cut a deep wound into the New York psyche. "Yes, most definitely. People here understand the fragility of life in a whole new sense, although there are still a lot of dumb muthafuckers. Beyond that, the club scene died here months ago with the closing of quite a few large venues. A smaller loft and free party scene is blowing up and we're looking at having a Democrat as mayor for the first time in 8 years. Things are positive and now more than ever people are looking for something a little more real.. People have been really freaked out. Never in my life have I had so many non-small talk conversations with strangers. People here have been staying in Brooklyn a lot more than before all of this."

This is Broklyn, one tiny piece of the flourishing pocket of individuals using their skills to express dissenting views: squatters, free party people, radical ecologists, black blocs and the various artists who make protest culture a medium for creative expression. We are trying to discover new methods beyond aggression, preaching and escapism. The technology has to be used in ways more beneficial than its own destruction. (from the Broklyn Beats web site)

Sentiments it's hard to argue with. What methods beyond aggression can we expect from the label in the next few months? "We will be continuing our (sic) 7" series with releases from 1-Speed Bike, (side project of the drummer of Godspeed you Black Emperor!) I-Sound and the Broklyn Beats Crew (Criterion, doily and DJ Churchshoes.) You can also expect a doily 12" and a Criterion 12" by April when we tour Europe with dj /rupture. Otherwise, we're thinking of actually going legit and getting a business license so we can write off all of the fucking money we have spent on gear and records and cd-rs and printer cartridges and on and on and on.."

Where ideals meets expense is never a pleasant place to reside. Broklyn Beats are doing their best to bring a bit of community spirit to the neighbourhood. 440 Broadway #3R, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA

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