Fade to Deepblak 

How an East Oakland native creates space for techno.

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There isn't a singular term to define Bazile's music, which is why he operates under various aliases. In November, he released his third EP Breads and Circuses under his "Oakland's One and Only" (o 1 o) identity. The album is comprised of progressive hip-hop influenced productions that Bazile refers to as "cosmic slap."

Deepblak's music is as Oakland as Too $hort's, rooted in the same bass-heavy culture that has trunks rattling up and down MacArthur Boulevard. (In fact, Blaktroniks' 1996 debut, Return of the Afronaut, features a dedication to Too $hort, titled "Autobiography of a G.") When making a beat, Bazile makes sure the drums hit him in the chest. He also makes it a point that the next song he creates renders the previous obsolete. "I'm trying to push the boundaries," Bazile said. "Not in an egotistical way, but I'm trying to push my boundaries and what we're bringing to the table."

Now in his late thirties, clean shaven except for a chin shrub, and dressed sharply in a plain white button-up shirt and jeans, he looks like the CEO of a computer software startup. Which, in a way, he is. Bazile views himself not as a label head but an art dealer. Deepblak's artists create the music, and his job is to frame it and expose it to the world. The label provides a platform for its artists and the freedom to express music "free of boxes," Bazile said.

"Imagine all of us sitting in preschool and someone gives this kid a whole crayon box and they only give you four colors," he continued. "You can only color on half the page, and you can only use the blue three times. That's not art." Bazile, who, when not cooped up in his studio, works in the nonprofit sector as a consultant and community organizer, sees artistic constraints as responsible for killing Oakland's music culture. "When you put these limitations on peoples' creativity, you take the power away." By contrast, Bazile has given creative power and an expansive palette to a host of talented local producers.

In Oakland, monthly party "the People," now in its second year and currently held at the New Parish, is helping to broaden clubgoers' musical palettes. The party, led by DJs Cali, Be Brown, and Cecil, is centered around eclectic electronic stylings, from deep house and broken beat to hip-hop and nu jazz. Prior to that, DJ Dedan spun soulful house records for his Brothers and Sisters party at Luka's Taproom, holding it down steady for six years.

Yet few Oakland artists have been daring enough to venture away from traditional rap and R&B. Among the first to do Detroit-style techno in Oakland was Blaktroniks, who recently joined the Deepblak camp.

"Blaktroniks started before I started," Bazile said. "They took a lot of lumps for representing what they represent. Because they did what they did, it gave me the audacity to think I could do what I do."

Midwest transplants Eddie Patrick Smith (aka Edd Dee Pee) and Badi Malik (aka Percepticon) — the duo that makes up Blaktroniks — have grown accustomed to being the odd men out. "We've never had a predominantly black crowd at a show," Smith said. Both came to the Bay Area separately, Smith with his family as an adolescent and Malik for work thirteen years ago, before eventually crossing paths and joining forces, putting out self-released records in the mid-Nineties. Smith ultimately settled in Oakland to be a part of the city's thriving music scene and because it was more "sociable" for a young African-American than San Francisco. He credits artists such as Too $hort, who used a vocoder and drum machine in his early recordings, R&B/pop production duo Foster and McElroy, who produced for Club Nouveau and Tony! Toni! Toné!, and Digital Underground for laying the groundwork for techno and electronic music in the Bay Area. Bay Area-based Fantasy Records, which released albums by Charles Mingus, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and many others, also released works by Cybotron, a Detroit techno group comprised of Juan Atkins and Richard "3070" Davis and credited as being the first techno group, in the early Eighties.

Often overlooked in their own backyard, Blaktroniks have appeared at a number of techno, drum 'n' bass, and electronic events across the bay in San Francisco and throughout Europe. But at a show you might not recognize them as Bay Area techno pioneers. Dressed casually, Smith wears a Blaktroniks hooded sweatshirt, Malik a white long-sleeve button-up and black-frame glasses.

Both Smith and Malik have been making music for twenty years. As a group and individually, they've made everything from broken beat to deep house. But if you ask them, they'll say they're "post-everything."

Blaktroniks isn't just a name; it's their musical philosophy. "It's the science and discipline of production," Smith explained.

"It's an escape for us," added Malik, who had no intentions of being labeled "techno" or "electronic." "We don't have to conform to a techno aesthetic or hip-hop aesthetic. We don't have to make any apologies or excuses, either."


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