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Homegrown Electronica 

Electronic music community rebounds from late 90s over-exposure

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Krause, who performs as Mr. Atomic, says the most common misconception among non-practitioners is that the DJ is simply spinning and scratching records. But watching nKtar will disabuse you of that notion in a hurry. For starters, Jeff Nagel, 31, and Brian Darden, 24, never touch the custom-made vinyl or CD turntables in Tonic's booth. Instead, operating from two laptops running through two MIDI controllers, a digital mixer and the club's PA system, Nagel and Darden take their own pre-recorded basic tracks and alter them on the spot. It's somewhere between a conductor directing a computerized chamber orchestra and the way a jazz saxophonist might improvise off of a standard or one of his own compositions.

"We'll never abandon DJing, we're just using different tools," says Nagel, who's played all over Europe and has two releases on Pyramid Transmission out of London and another on Remote Audio (Sony Europe). "Now we're using computers for everything. You can make a track or song with one program and play it for audiences live with another (program) in the same day."

On this night, Nagel and Darden operate in an electronica subset -- one of dozens -- known as darkelectro. They're taking a bass-heavy loop and adding or removing layer upon layer of percussion and synth sounds at various junctures through a computer program called Ableton Live. Their music ebbs and surges with a grace and logic that escapes most run-of-the-mill electronica, creating a rich, fluid soundscape.

At different junctures, Darden, his tall frame hunched over the laptop's screen, seems to take the pulse of the composition, and combined with a practiced yet innate sense of timing, suddenly drops everything from the mix except an instrument or two, leaving the shell of the tune echoing from the club's massive speakers. The tension builds to a near-breaking point before Darden slides most of the components back into the fray, rewarding the crowd's anticipation with a perfectly timed, thumping wall of sound.

The dancers step it up into another gear -- mission accomplished. And they never used the turntables.

Old School RootsAnd that brings up another common misconception about electronic music. Krause, for instance, grew up listening to soul, metal, punk and industrial before evolving into electronica. That you can shake your ass to his music doesn't make it disco, he says.

And you can look even further back than that to find the roots of this electronic music. A good place to start is the 10,000 records that make up Paul D. O'Boyle's collection. What you will find amid all those slabs of vinyl are reams of recordings from Miles Davis' fusion era, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jan Hammer and Weather Report.

"I was never into techno," says O'Boyle, 42, who's known now for his techno and house mixes. "I knew about fusion."

And it was those jazz fusion acts that influenced 70s electronic music pioneers like Can, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno, who first brought the hybrid music into rock and paved the way, years later, for industrial acts like NIN, Front 242, and Einsturzende Neubauten. These, more so than the Bee Gees or Donna Summer, form the backbone of electronica's experimen-tation these days. But the comparisons extend even further, O'Boyle suggests.

"In a lot of ways it's like the Grateful Dead would do on their tours," says O'Boyle, who began Activ-Analog Records in '95 with partners Max Armah and Keith Cochran, and has put out records by Ja'Maul Redmond, Oliver Long and TrackHeadz, among others. "They had 100 songs and they never sounded the same way twice. It's similar in structure but it all changes. The only things that are constant sometimes are drum patterns and drum sounds."

O'Boyle doesn't play out much, partly due to the fact his old school roots extend to his live methods -- he even uses reel-to-reel for warming sounds. His music may have a retro feel, but it's thoroughly modern in scope and conception, and he's proud of the fact that he and other producers still find "real machines the way to go." And though his live presence in town is minimal, his name in electronica circles is not; in addition to the label's CD releases, O'Boyle goes out of pocket periodically to press 500 7-inch singles made by local artists. It's part of a series of eight he'll eventually compile for release on CD. For now, he's spreading the word that way -- O'Boyle distributes local music, via Internet contacts, all over the globe.

"It's just trying to nurture the scene," he says.

Next GenerationThat scene is again picking up steam. Eric Erwin is a 25-year-old local drum'n'bass wizard (he performs as eRIC E). Along with several other Carolina products, Erwin has helped put Charlotte's drum'n'bass community on the international map. And judging by the level of friendly trash talking between the drum'n'bass community in Britain (where it began in the early 90s) and the US practitioners, the healthy rivalry is resulting in a growing US presence.

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