We're a Happy Family 

If the Ramones proved that you don't have to play an instrument to start a band, then the spazzy computer geeks behind Oakland's Tigerbeat6 prove you don't even need an instrument.

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Which is exactly what Kid606's Vinyl Communications debut, Don't Sweat the Technics, delivered. It was also the sound that attracted the ear of the eccentric Mike Patton, former Mr. Bungle singer and current co-owner of Ipecac Recordings. When Patton heard a recording that Depedro's brother had smuggled in for him at one of his shows (the teenage Miguel was too young to enter the club) the versatile musician was instantly sold. The collection of distended beats and angry glitches was just the sort of weird shit that Patton was into. The resulting record deal yielded Kid606's full-length, Down with the Scene, and bestowed enough cash to found Tigerbeat6.

A veritable circus of avant-'tards, the Tigerbeat6 discography reads like a carnival sideshow. You've got raunchy hip-hoppers, prepubescent programmers, girls who think they're boys, and boys who think they're robots. You've also got music that shifts between soothing ambient electronica, jittery No Wave rock, and downright aggressive noise. "I think being different is the unifying thing," says Depedro. "I mean, you go to an insane asylum and they're not all the same kind of insane, but they're all insane."

Cex, aka 21-year-old computer music prodigy Rjyan Kidwell, released his debut record three years ago. Although his early sound echoed the gentle, atmospheric glitch work of Aphex Twin, Cex quickly tired of simply standing up on stage manipulating his PowerBook. Instead, he took an odd and some would say misguided turn, cultivating a strange brand of hip-hop which featured some dorky freestyle rapping over unimpressive beats that betrayed the talent he'd shown as a programmer. The formula was only a few shakes better than the last Vanilla Ice record. But his genius lay in his self-conscious stage antics, which included berating the audience, stripping down to his skivvies, and lambasting every corner of the music industry. His thoroughly entertaining DIY dive into hip-hop sucked so hard that it was actually kind of invigorating in the same way the Ramones were: It proved that you don't have to know how to play music in order to make it.

Aside from Kid606 himself, the T6 act that has received the most critical attention is Blectum from Blechdom, comprised of the now-defunct duo of Blevin Blectum and Kevin Blechdom, two boisterous female Mills College grad students. Sometimes dressing up as Siamese twins, the women would use a laptop, samplers, and effects boxes to create heavy digital assaults full of pops, squeaks, blithers, blips, and bleeps. Although they used to revel in clearing a room full of people with their questionable musical performances, their finest work came from sampled video and audio footage of TV and movie personalities Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Blectum and Blechdom turned the twins' outsize acting work into a noisy, post-modern critique of television and pop culture by taking Olsen clips and sampling them, almost like drum beats. Needless to say, they felt at home on T6. "The idea was that Tigerbeat6 was a label that would only release music that no other labels were willing to release," Kevin Blechdom e-mails from her home in Germany. "To me, this meant that it was a label of rejects and freaks and people who didn't fit in anywhere else."

Other examples of Tigerbeat's M.O. include artists such as SF's Gold Chains, who essentially presses "play" on his laptop before commencing to flail around the stage like a libidinous Disco Duck; Crack W.A.R., a group whose jilted electro creates a soundtrack for sex, drugs, and a feeling not unlike the strangest haunted house ride you've ever been on; and Zeinbock Koph, featuring former members of art-rock extremists Pink and Brown, who play sexed-up industrial that makes New York's bawdy electroclash sound like the Teletubbies.

They're freaks all right, but because the T6 roster started out by rockin' their laptops, their fan base consisted primarily of a particular kind of person: the IDM fan. Referred to by Lesser as "Gearhounds," fans of IDM, or Intelligent Dance Music, consider themselves the intelligentsia of the progressive music scene. They read magazines such as The Wire and turn out to shows solely to get a glimpse of what gear the practitioners are using. Experiencing a typical IDM musician perform is about as exciting as watching a light breeze: Why would anyone expect people to dance to music that sounds like Beep ........... boop ............ click ............ beep ...............?

From day one, this crowd was the enemy; the chin-stroking tendencies of these wallflowers were exactly what Tigerbeat6 didn't want to be associated with. (Lesser takes a jab at IDM in his song "MENSA Dance Squad.")

But it wasn't just the freaks and geeks who had to talk to the hand. Eventually, as the title of Kid606's Down with the Scene suggests, the label began to reject being directly placed into any genre or association, based on the idea that music scenes inhibit progress more than they foster it. But of course, as Depedro himself might concede, being different can actually be a scene magnet. In the case of Tigerbeat6, where you've got a bunch of dorks trying to one-up each other's skewed vision of music and performance, you not only have a scene, but one that gets accused of being pretentious.

All that creative one-upping has also fostered something that could kindly be described as piracy, aka copyright infringement. In releases from Kid606, DJ/rupture, Wobbly, and DJ Broken Window, the musicians have stolen material from sources ranging from Clear Channel, the megahuge entertainment company, to Sesame Street's Cookie Monster. In order to pull this off, Depedro has released these records through a "subsidiary" imprint, Violent Turd, which is theoretically located in New Zealand. Given the potential for lawsuits, it's a gamble that could cost him his label.

But without renegade sampling we would never have gotten this year's release, The Action-Packed Mentalist Kicks out the Fucking Jams, which comes labeled with the qualification "All songs not written by Kid606." Topping out at more than an hour, Fucking Jams finds Depedro kidnapping dozens of past and present pop paramours -- Eminem, Timbaland, Craig David, the Bangles, Radiohead, Black Sabbath -- and tossing their tunes through his digital wringer. The Kid's bulldozer beats smack the songs around like a tiger toying with its prey. He even goes so far as to take Missy Elliott's lyric, "Copywritten, so please don't copy me," from "Get Ur Freak On," stretching it like digital taffy over an explosion of clicks, blithers, and processed noise. Live, when Kid mans his PowerBook, he turns his butchered pop into harder-than-hardcore techno complete with bowel-bursting bass kicks and overdriven bits of binary noise.

They may be nonconformist, but can a laptop jockey ever be as reckless as a punk rocker? Could there ever be a Sid & Nancy-caliber movie made about a couple like Miguel Depedro and Kevin Blechdom? (The two were actually an item for a short time.) Judging from the behavior on T6's Paws Across America tour -- consisting of Cex, Numbers, and Stars as Eyes, a band that dabbles in spacey electronic ambience -- the answer could be a resounding "Fuck yeah!"

A garrulous Cex tries to relate some of the tour's mania via cell phone from the T6 bus. "We're still trying to sort through all the things that happened," he says, referring to the touring party's dalliance with psychedelic mushrooms, which introduced them to some ancient talking dogs and wise old Indians.


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