No one would ever describe the fun-loving boys of Lazer Sword as dour, but Antaeus Roy and Bryant Rutledge become downright giddy at the mere mention of a still-in-the-works marijuana strain that is set to bear their band's name. The electro-crunk duo was caught off-guard when a local high-end cannabis producer contacted them over the summer, asking for permission to name one of its new breeds Lazer Sword. "They're really anxious to make this happen," Roy says. At first the guys seem a little skittish about spilling all the details (yes, free samples will be involved), but Rutledge quickly drops his guard: "Whatever, it doesn't fucking matter. It's weed." He excitedly continues, "I'll be happy to know people are smoking Lazer Sword," wolfing down a plate of pupusas at El Zocalo, right around the corner from the group's Mission headquarters. (Full disclosure: Roy and Rutledge are former XLR8R employees, where this writer works as managing editor.) "Honestly, I'm surprised someone didn't think of it sooner."
When custom pot strains are being named after you, it's usually a sign of smooth sailing. Things are certainly going well for the duo, but they've also recently become a lot more complicated. After spending his entire life in the Bay Area, Roy relocated to New York in August (we sat down for an interview in September, while he was in town for some West Coast shows). Yes, there's a woman involved, but the move had been in the works for a long time, since all of Lazer Sword's travels in the past few years opened his eyes to possibilities outside of San Francisco. "The chance to spread the Lazer Sword sound, that's a big thing for me," Roy says. "I love the fact that it's [now] on two different coasts ... because it's definitely lacking on the East Coast. New York has a void to fill; there's nothing like a monthly or weekly or anything that goes on with [our] kind of style."
The roots of that style date back to 2006, when Roy and Rutledge were just a couple of beatheads who met through a mutual friend and bonded over a shared love of instrumental and underground hip-hop. After moving into the same house and taking their band name from a setting on their Kaoss touchpad, early Lazer Sword shows found the pair pounding away on drum machines and a microKORG with backing beats provided by a laptop. Their energetic sound, which they borrowed from hip-hop and electronic music, wasn't easily categorized, so they would share the stage with local rappers like Trackademicks one night and hyperactive dancefloor experimentalists like Kid606 the next. "[During] the early stages, there was really not a place that an act like us fit in," Rutledge says, "before things like 'glitch-hop' shows, dubstep, or any kind of scene of live danceable producer showcases had really picked up in the Bay."
That said, Lazer Sword's sound wasn't immune to the influence of its members' home turf. The two honed their craft in the midst of the Bay Area's hyphy movement, when local rappers began fueling their underground party tunes with a full-fledged electronic bounce. "[Hearing] other people, even if it was more straightforward rap music, using electro elements and more synthetic sounds, as opposed to just relying on samples — that was pretty inspiring," Rutledge says.
The marriage of hyphy and hard-edged electro still works for those looking to describe Lazer Sword's sound, as their discography to date consists almost entirely of bootleg remixes and re-edits that layer raps from the likes of Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, and M.I.A. over chunky, chopped-up beats often pilfered from hard-hitting electro acts. Their style has been called turbo crunk, future blap, and, unfortunately, "lazer bass." Dreamed up by the New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones, the term was meant to encapsulate a new breed of artists fusing crunchy synths with heavy bass and hip-hop beats — artists like Megasoid and Ghislain Poirier in Montreal, Hudson Mohawke and Rustie in Glasgow, the Glitch Mob and Nosaj Thing in Los Angeles, and Lazer Sword in San Francisco. Not surprisingly, none of these artists took too kindly to the name, yet it was particularly frustrating for Roy and Rutledge, who had named their band long before Frere-Jones' attempt to put his stamp on their sound. "It's definitely a made-up term," Roy says. "I don't even really think it's sticking with people as much as we thought it would."
So, for now, Lazer Sword remains a band without a singular music scene to call its own. Oddly, one scene that has embraced them — the dubstep community — is one with which they have no concrete affiliation. The shuffling, bass-heavy genre has roots in London's garage scene of the early 2000s, but has mutated over the years and gained an unfortunate reputation as the face-melting music of choice for the white, dreadlocked nature-rave set. Given Lazer Sword's electro-crunk party vibe, this admiration is a bit confusing — both Roy and Rutledge claim to be "over" a lot of dubstep, especially the seemingly nonstop parade of booming wobble-bass stuff — but Rutledge can understand the connection: "Since long before I even heard of dubstep, the concept of using heavy bass over slow [beats per minute] was totally exciting to me."
That sonic similarity perhaps explains why dubstep figureheads like the U.K.'s Mary Anne Hobbs have taken notice. The BBC radio host has become the scene's premier curator, and has spent much of the past year espousing her love for West Coast experimenters like Daedelus, the Gaslamp Killer, Ghosts on Tape, and, yes, Lazer Sword. Fueled by Hobbs' support and the overwhelmingly positive response to its cleverly titled 2008 mixtape, Blap to the Future, the group's profile has quickly grown. Its production setup and live show have also been refined, as Roy and Rutledge have dug deep into Ableton Live software and the world of MIDI controllers. Their second European tour starts later this month, and the two are finishing their as-yet-untitled debut album, set for release early next year on Innovative Leisure, a new L.A.–based, Stones Throw–affiliated label. Those expecting a Blap to the Future sequel are in for a surprise, as Rutledge explains: "Our album won't have any samples, and if there are, they will be totally unrecognizable. People don't generally know us for releasing actual entirely original material, and that's the exciting part."
The excitement doesn't stop there, as the two plan to spend much of the next year adjusting to their bicoastal status. While they admit that the distance has made communication more difficult than when they lived down the hall from one another, their Internet skills are strong, and their work continues. Roy is already talking with fellow New Yorkers (some of them recent transplants like himself) Machinedrum, Mike Slott, Jimmy Edgar, and the soon-to-relocate Rob Sixtoo from Megasoid about getting a proper party going in the Big Apple.
East Coast touring will certainly be easier with New York as a second home base. In short, Lazer Sword is still moving full speed ahead. As Roy explains, "We're both too enthusiastic about our progress and growth with our music to let anything get in the way of the Lazer Sword craft."
Music Awards Feature
Music Awards intro by Jennifer Maerz
Music Awards: Crown City Rockers by Ezra Gale
Music Awards sidebar: Should I Stay or Should I Go? by Ezra Gale, Jennifer Maerz and Shawn Reynaldo
Music Awards: Jukebox Roundtable by Dan Strachota
Music Awards Program Guide
Music Awards intro by Jennifer Maerz