Fade to Deepblak 

How an East Oakland native creates space for techno.

Page 3 of 3

Smith and Malik had to go to Europe, where electronic music is constantly being cranked out, to find success. After several self-released records, they caught the attention of German label Moving Records in 2000, who released their full-length Seduction at 33 1/3 in 2001. Their catalog includes seven EPs and LPs, including this year's Slapmatik EP on Deepblak and 2008's Mechanized Soul, which features the vocals of Smith's father, Edward Robinson, on German label Phazz-a-delic.

According to the duo, the album made the best-seller list for soul music on Amazon Germany last Christmas. They've performed all over Europe, but at home they struggle to gain acceptance from their peers, both in their artistic and cultural communities.

"People laughed in our faces," Malik said. "People were just not really believing us. I'd go to a club, like, 'Hey, I do drum 'n' bass, too,' and they're like, 'Yeah, right.'" But their Oakland music peers mostly ignored them. "'You trying to sell this in the 'hood? Are you crazy?'" Malik said people have said to him. "We're some black dudes from Oakland. To people, that's just as crazy as some dude from Iceland doing it," Smith said.

Much of this shock and disbelief is due to the lack of electronic music's representation in the mainstream and, more importantly, in black media. There is no "Best Techno" or "Best House" category at the BET Awards, or at the MTV Video Music Awards, for that matter. As far as black media is concerned, this arm of black music doesn't exist, Bazile says.

This year, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival drew more than 80,000 people. The massive music festival was cofounded by Detroit techno wizard Carl Craig and was headlined this year by veteran English breakbeat techno trio the Prodigy.

"Did TV One talk about it? No. Did BET talk about it? No. Did Oprah talk about it? No. Did Vibe cover it? No," said Smith, a barber whose musical roots run deep. A classically trained sax player, Smith studied under jazz drummer Eddie Marshall. He's also a grandnephew of jazz legend Count Basie. Because of his extensive knowledge of music, Smith isn't bound to one particular style or sound. On one song, he may rap; the next might be a jazz composition. His music background gives him a keen appreciation of Bazile's mission and vision.

"Aybee has been around us and the music," Smith said. "He understands that it's not about all that other BS. It's not about all these lenses that other people see through. And the problem is that they're seeing it instead of hearing it."

"Music, for all of humanity, used to have some spiritual connection," said Malik. "It's not feeding us spiritually anymore — it's tearing us down. It's destroying us."

This spirituality and divinity through music is what all Deepblak artists have in common. As DJ and producer Damon Bell says, they all vibrate on the same plane. But for each artist, the name Deepblak means different things. For Malik, it's a place in his imagination and a feeling that can't be put into words. For Bell, who released his percussive, Afro-tech Kush Music pt. 1 EP on Deepblak earlier this year, it's an ideology rooted in strength, not a description of color.

"It is a goal to let people know who we are and where we come from," said Bell, who uses "black" as a term of endearment. "But in this society within electronic music, we're not trying to be labeled as 'black electronic musicians from Oakland.' Music should speak for itself." And the music from the Deepblak camp is speaking loudly.

Late 2009 and early 2010 will see a heavy slate of releases, including Bazile and Afrikan Science's The Nibiru Projekt, an EP from Oakland's Aku9, the Blaktropolis 2 compilation, and a new live show consisting of Bazile, Afrikan Sciences, Blaktroniks, and Damon Bell on laptops and MIDI-controlled drum pads and keyboards.

For Deepblak's artists, and for Bazile especially, it's not strictly about output; Deepblak is a state of mind. "Some people interpret it as deep black-ness, in terms of culture," he said. "But I was actually thinking 'deep space' in terms of having that silence, just being at a complete void and being able to listen to yourself — nothing but your thoughts, your inner voice that connects you with the Creator. That's what I'm about. It's that exploration, it's that freedom, that internal drum."


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