Nosaj Thing and the abstract beat generation

Though not fanning the flames of political upheaval or drug-fueled counterculturalism, a pocket of Los Angeles tone poets has emerged as a new beat generation of sorts. These laptop projectionists and rhythm scribblers — “beat artists” such as Elliot Lipp, Nobody, Nocando, Samiyam, and Daedelus — have coalesced into a forum for arrestingly engaging cadences. They compose with an ear for spontaneity. Some let their samples and granular synthesis howl, and at least one — Jason Chung, aka the soft-spoken producer behind Nosaj Thing — is inspired while on the road.

Chung says to really understand his full-length debut, Drift, we should drive L.A.’s freeways at night. “Probably the 60 or the 2, or maybe the 134,” he adds. Chung found much of his musical inspiration by navigating tail lights while immersing himself in L.A.’s musical improv underground. Drift’s 12 tracks are populated by a pressurized restlessness that suits sparsely populated byways. Chung perforates wonky reverb with decaying flutters and augmenting chords, producing a sound like the bleed from a jam session among Burial, J. Dilla, and Danny Elfman, heard from a distance.

Driftdraws inspiration from both the underlying lope of South Central G-funk and the bleep-strewn ambience of mid-’90s IDM composers, with a smattering of dubstep. And it’s all wound up on those highways. Straddling multiple musical scenes since his youth, Chung would drive to see noisecore artists such as HEALTH and Abe Vigoda at D.I.Y. venue the Smell, but tune into Power 106 boom-bap and import drum ‘n’ bass on the way. On the journey back late at night, with the city’s arteries and capillaries at a trickle, he would break out Warp Records artists Prefuse 73 and Boards of Canada to soothe his oversaturated senses and mull his future musical potential.

Chung’s next affecting encounter was on the information superhighway. He followed Invisibl Skratch Piklz member and turntablist DJ D-Styles’ Web forum, where Daddy Kev promoted the club night Low End Theory. This weekly Wednesday party held east of downtown L.A. continues to sponsor stylistic arrhythmia: It has launched psychedelic glitch-hop artists including Flying Lotus and Gaslamp Killer, and has become the primary outlet for Chung’s virtual synth-meets-analog sampler aesthetic. “I started experimenting with melodies for 30 people until it became 300,” says Chung, who grew his confidence simultaneously with his sound design.

This real-time, less aggro experience had its influence on Drift, named because it was finished during a time of transition. Chung had been laid off, and decided during his weekly commute to the Low End Theory to commit to music production full-time. He’d build up musical sketches on his home computer, then take his pads and found-sound tinkering to the club to further toy with their layering. He determined where gaps could be played for effect, and where percussive treble and sub-bass needed to be filled in. With an educated ear for integrating abstract frequencies, Chung’s work garnered him remix commissions from Drake, Fever Ray, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and the xx, among others. Next, he intends to toy around with different gears, to continue to rework his beat generation.

”I heard so much raw noise music that the opposite is what draws me now,” he admits. “I still want a cleaner sound, but with experiments in the tempo. I want to keep the feeling new to me, go new places.”

 
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