To help you dip your toes into this bubbling niche, here's a survey of the city's most promising artists. You can find what you're looking for—if you're looking to party with robots, explore space, jam to classical music or indulge in darkness.
Before the San Diego-bred experimental singer Gonjasufi hooked up with DJ / producer The Gaslamp Killer, he was mining murky, abstract instrumentals as part of a larger beat collective called Kilowattz. The duo Skrapez comes from that same collective.
Composed of producers David Lampley and Jonathan Calzo—aka Psychopop and Tenshun, respectively—Skrapez make music built to score the most degrading horror and snuff films imaginable. Taking low fidelity to the extreme, their raw drums are front and center while distorted synths, creepy samples and harsh sound effects amplify the vibe. And when they perform, fans call out their name in a tone somewhere between a war cry and a shriek of pure terror. Illuminauts (see below) even liken them to hardcore punk, which is fitting considering their strict DIY aesthetic—much of their music is released on cassette tape and vinyl that they dub and cut themselves, packaging each release with handmade, psychedelic artwork.
Sounds like: A bludgeon bashing away inside a frozen meat locker.
Latest efforts: Skrapez 666, a 7-inch featuring psychoactive rapper Scatter Brain, available in limited supply here. Skrapez is also currently touring Europe with Gonjasufi.
Like Skrapez, Illuminauts take inspiration from the punk world, specifically the hardcore scene in Chula Vista, where the three members—Santino Romeri, Nicky Castañeda and David Peña—grew up. With their label Kill Quanti, they handle everything in-house—from organizing shows to releasing music by emerging artists like Magical Mistakes to dubbing tapes and printing shirts out of their own apartment. It's this DIY work ethic that's helped make the label a focal point of the budding beat scene.
Though Kill Quanti works from the ground level, Illuminauts sound both underground and out in space. They often juxtapose heavy and heavily compressed bass and drums with gleaming synth lines and cosmic sounds. Their live performance—one of the few avenues to enjoy their music, since they've put out only a handful of releases—relies much on improvisation and synchronicity between members.
Sounds like: J Dilla sampling chandeliers and stars on the Ruff Draft EP, playing it all in a free-jazz session.
Latest efforts: The Little Worlds EP, recently released with limited-edition, hand-screened posters and available via killquanti.com.
The beat scene owes much to Danny Gonzalez, better known as DJ Pound. He not only helped found Critical Beatdown; he also remains one of its most talented resident DJs.
Coming from a traditional DJ background, DJ Pound is more geared toward party-rocking than many of his peers. Pound's foray into instrumental hip-hop was motivated by his search for two things: instrumentals ideal for scratching and better synth sounds. With his massive, diffracted synths assaulting you from every direction, the latter obsession is readily apparent. You can't help but nod your head as your brain gets fried.
Sounds like: A dance party caught in the middle of a laser-gun shootout between an android army and the human resistance.
Latest effort: Post-Haste, a split 10-inch record featuring fellow Critical Beatdown resident eLan, released via Kill Quanti. Stream it at killquanti.bandcamp.com or purchase at Access Hip Hop in Pacific Beach.
While many beat artists are still testing the limits of technology, reaching for ever-fuzzier sounds and distortions, Dan Harumi takes a utilitarian approach. Under the moniker Room E, he works electronics naturally into his music alongside finely chopped samples and a variety of live instruments. Indeed, he recently performed at Tin Can Ale House with three members of psych-rock band A Scribe Amidst the Lions.
While his live performance reveals a darker side to his music than his lighthearted full-length debut, Penguin Child, he displays a knack for narrative composition in both arenas. Playing with Scribe, his set spanned a wide range of sounds—it started with claustrophobic dubstep punctuated by animal calls, segued into minimalist darkness and ended with a harmony of warm synths and strings.
Sounds like: A classical composer armed with a sampler and a drum machine.
Latest effort: Penguin Child, available now via U.K. label Proper Songs. Room E performs again with members of A Scribe Amidst the Lions at The Griffin on Friday, June 8. (Clarification: The band itself will not perform at the show.)
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