Dig the New Breed

Live Human proves that turntablism can learn a thing or two from jazz -- or is it the other way around?

However, the members take pains to point out that the songwriting process isn't calculated. "We're kind of composing in reverse," says Kushin. "I think the music we create is a sort of snapshot of where we're at at the time. We don't really go in with an idea of what we want to come out with. Most of the way improvisation happens is that we're responding to different sound systems," be it at a live show or in a studio context.

Late last year, the group signed a three-record deal with New York-based indie rock label Matador Records, whose representatives caught one live show at 111 Minna and called the band the next day. The signing fulfills Live Human's modest goals of being able to make the music it wants and make it available in a record store in the United States. The first result of that deal, Elefish Jellyphant, was recorded in Oakland late last year and comes out June 6. "Whenever people ask, 'When's the record coming out?' for the first time I have a release date," notes Quest with some satisfaction, though he also notes that it doesn't matter much to him how successful the record becomes, or even if it becomes successful at all. "I don't care," he says. "I really don't. The only thing I want is to keep playing."

Based on a cursory listen, Elefish won't be an easy sell. More so than Monostereosis, it revels in lush grooves spiked with a variety of treatments that make the entire record sound sinister and intense, but also engaging. For the project, Quest, Mathias, and Kushin worked with drum machine triggers and samples, tinkered with gamelan-type sounds and tablas, and for one song manipulated Chinese opera 78s. The result is that like a good break record, the disc's heart is in the variety of rhythms it presents, but like any worthwhile ambient CD, enough sounds are bubbling underneath to make it interesting repeatedly. "I think of the first record [the live EP Improvisessions] as black and white, the last one as color, and this one being Technicolor," says Mathias. "We're always just trying to challenge ourselves live and in the studio. It doesn't matter if we sell a million records or not."

All of which makes a case for Quest being a jazz musician now, more than simply a member of a DJ collective battling others in competition. But even in that case, he's not interested in straying too far from his beginnings. "I'm always a battle DJ," he says. "Even if I'm just battling myself."

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