In this brave new world of electronic music, you can build a synthesizer that responds to weather patterns. MIDI keyboards can control your computer. And an array of touch-screen, grid-patterned and otherwise futuristic-looking devices make MIDI keyboards look as outdated as the harpsichord.
But Rebuilder mastermind Jordan Leal didn't need any of that at Tin Can Ale House on July 17. All he had with him onstage was an old Roland SP-404, your basic sampler, no fancier than an acoustic guitar. And yet he still delivered some of the finest beats I've heard in a while.
Looking like a Saved by the Bell extra, with his colorful windbreaker and matching high-top sneakers, the 22-year-old producer dished out one somnolent, sunny, piña colada-sipping hip-hop groove after another, tapping pads and twisting knobs to color his beats with snatches of sampled piano, vocal harmony and tinkling glass.
Reared on an eclectic mix of black-metal, post rock, vintage jazz and '90s hip-hop, Leal originally hails from the Imperial County border city of Calexico. He moved to San Diego earlier this month to go to school and find better opportunities.
"There's nothing over there," he says about his hometown. "Usually when I would play shows over there, it'd just be at friends' houses."
In previous solo projects, he's offered up dark ambient soundscapes and scorching guitar riffs. But now he's into boundary-pushing beat heads like Flying Lotus. On Rebuilder's latest album, Dusty Tracks (which can be downloaded at rebuilder.bandcamp.com), he mixes potent beats with loopier elements like syncopated jazz guitar and wild-eyed rhymes.
Along with his SP-404, at home he uses the software Ableton Live, a turntable and a vintage synthesizer. And for live shows, he wants to get a MIDI controller to link to his computer and tap out live beats.
But at Tin Can, all he needed was that SP-404 to please the smallish crowd. While fellow beatmakers nodded their heads in approval, others just nodded along to the beats. They were graceful, easygoing, totally refreshing—like a cold brew on a hot summer day, no frills necessary.