The other night, something wicked roamed the grounds at Berkeley's 924 Gilman: Punk rockers! Everywhere! With piercings and ripped jeans and backpacks with homemade patches. Man, were they ever angry, with metal studs through their noses and dyed, spiked hair. One girl was wearing fishnet stockings that were so shredded it almost seemed as if she'd done it intentionally! Inside the club, it was chaos, and those lyrics! "F--- this" and "F--- that" -- it's like these wayward kids didn't care for anything! It was totally shocking.
Oh wait, no it wasn't.
Actually, it was kind of depressing, perhaps even a bit alarming. Not in the way that Tipper Gore might be alarmed, but because these kids were very clearly rebellious and ballsy, yet were congregating to celebrate a truly stagnant genre of music. There they were, stranded on Punk Rock Island, like those Japanese soldiers marooned on tiny Pacific archipelagos who, long after World War II, were still waiting for the enemy to show up. It's been well over two decades since Jello Biafra first screamed "California Über Alles," and where are we now? Well, East Bay heroes like Green Day and the Transplants' Tim Armstrong willfully filch the world's pocketbooks with their Orange County-style power-pop, and three of the Dead Kennedys are caught up in never-ending lawsuits with the fourth over royalties and their right to cash in on punk's mass acceptance.
Not to say that punk wasn't great. It was. And it proved that anyone could play, record, or release music. The DIY ethic has since spread to every genre, from hip-hop to alt.country, forever changing the way bands and labels run themselves. But isn't it time we started asking the staid "anarchy" set some serious questions? Like, "What have you done for me lately?"
Imagine the shivers that would shoot down the backs of Bay Area punk purists when told that the answer can probably be found in Oakland's offbeat indie label, Tigerbeat6. Led by Miguel Depedro, aka Kid606, T6 peddles a spectrum of electronica, hip-hop, rock, and experimental music. The upstart is home to exhibitionist computer nerds, awkward MCs, robotic synth geeks, pop-music pirates, and dudes who trade C++ code strings over the Internet. Its roster includes the No Wave dance crunch of SF's Numbers; the swarthy, bargain-basement beats of MC and programmer Gold Chains; the Newark, New Jersey industrial hip-hop of Dälek; and the digital, stolen-pop-music mash-ups of artists such as San Francisco's Wobbly, Spain's DJ/rupture, and 23-year-old Kid606 himself.
There's a reason The Wire magazine put Depedro on its October 2001 cover and Stuff magazine included him in its list of the 100 Most Dangerous Men on Earth. There's a reason why Depeche Mode has tapped him for remixes and why Aphex Twin's label jocks the artists he signs. In the short-attention-span theater of pop culture, where nothing's shocking and everything's been done, Tigerbeat6's DIY approach of "Fuck it" has spawned its own empire.
The label's aesthetic is as varied as the quality of its releases (some stuff sucks, some stuff is amazing), yet there's something about T6's underlying ethos -- shitting on convention, laughing at copyright laws, and generally freaking everyone out -- that'll make you feel like your grandpa listening to a Minor Threat song: "What is this crazy music? Who are these crazy kids? I wanna take a nap!"
Taped to the front door of a large Victorian near Lake Merritt is a sign requesting that delivery persons "knock loud and often." Step inside the Tigerbeat6 headquarters and you'll understand why: Music is constantly blaring. Muffled chirps and warbles seethe between the walls, and errant bass notes shake the floorboards, coloring every conversation with a soundtrack.
The house has the look and feel of a home inhabited by transients -- which in this case means "always on tour." What little furniture there is doesn't match, the wall shelves remain empty, and loads of boxes are scattered about in various stages of being packed or unpacked. The only things that seem organized are the records, hundreds of them, which line the shelves of Depedro's makeshift office. Music gear is stacked everywhere, and his bedroom looks like the deck of the Starship Enterprise: computers, synthesizers, and other knob-addled machinery, with a bed where Captain Kirk's throne should be.
Before sitting down with Miguel Depedro, you may want to consider popping some Ritalin. Less a conversationalist than a compulsive lecturer, his thoughts metastasize out of one another like cells in a tumor. Shorter and chubbier than one would expect, with thinning black hair and a piercing gaze, he appears more like a wound-up nebbish than the thoughtful Calvin Klein cK one model of his press photos. While highly intelligent, Depedro is also, as his musical nom de plume suggests, like a little kid. He's easily distracted, wildly enthusiastic about his own ideas, enamored with all different kinds of music, and prone to blurting things out before fully thinking them through. But one thing he ain't is modest. "It's weird to always feel like you're at the beginning of that domino effect," he says, discussing Tigerbeat6's reputation as a vanguard label. "People just want to call what I'm doing 'new,' which is cool. But it's also the same thing that Jimi Hendrix was doing, and Throbbing Gristle. It's just sound and electricity." That may be true, but so is a vacuum cleaner and no one's calling the maid at the Travelodge the next Bo Diddley. The fact that he's so sure of himself is a trifle disconcerting, not unlike listening to a politician describe his plans for cleaning up the neighborhood.
Buried beneath Depedro's attempt at diffidence, however, is a valuable point. Technology may have changed, but the attitude is still the same. If punk was a matter of challenging culture, then Depedro and his gang are the latest radicals whose music could actually be defiant and progressive enough to be called nonconformist.
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