I’m happy to announce a second week of special guests, this time in the form of Isaac Basker of Thema Recordings. I’ll let the e-mail interview below speak for him, as well as the hour-and-a-bit long mix he has contributed to the show. Very pleased to feature him. Look out for his debut electronic release in the coming months. I end of the show with a look at some of the new releases in the disco circuit, along with a few older cuts. TIP!
Interview with Isaac Basker
You were a part of the Impossebulls group, can you tell us something about that, where it came from, what it was, what the scene was like at the time?
Well, there’s a bit of background to The Impossebulls because the group really started when some fans of Public Enemy were linking up on their website’s forum and decided to collaborate together for a web based compilation in 1999. I ended up creating my first turntablist based track called ‘The Sensationalism Scratch’ for it, which was complete silliness. Anyway, after people heard some of the artists songs and then heard that Chuck D had collaborated with either Vanilla Ice or P-Diddy — I can’t recall which — One of the fans said to Chuck if he can do that then why can’t he can make a song with one of the artists from the compilation, named C-Doc (The Warhammer). Chuck agreed, and then it took off from there. I was able to do the scratches for the first track called, ‘We Don’t Need U,’ which was about the record industry and the mp3 revolution that was happening with Napster at the time.
As some may know, Chuck D was at the forefront of promoting that revolution because he believed it would democratize the record industry, increasing access, help promote artists who major labels wouldn’t sign, etc. It’s funny now because I know there has been some recent revisionist takes on those changes and the affects of non-paid for mp3 downloads on the music industry, especially independent labels, but our group vehemently believed in this idea as helpful to underground acts. The reason that’s important to mention is because the entire basis for The Impossebulls was to be a web based group that used the power of the internet to collaborate and make music that was often directed as criticism of the major music industry in the United States. Impossible, or Impossebull — there was a punk group with the name we wanted — to start, because all of the members were from different regions: NYC, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Cali, and London. Over time it ended up changing to mostly North East based cats.
We did two full length albums and a lot of mp3 releases on Chuck D’s label Slam Jamz. Some of us ended up working directly with Public Enemy on a couple of their albums, and even music videos after we developed a really good relationship with the group. That was a point I was still deeply into hip-hop, as I came from the underground hip-hop culture, a scene which seemed to be thriving in the late 90’s and early 00’s. The whole Napster thing allowed people to get exposure to a lot of acts and it was a counterpoint to the continued commercialization of hip-hop music and culture.
What drew you into the electronic music scene?
I think I first was drawn listening to late night radio in NYC as a younger teenager in the early 90s, hearing Tony Humphries, and this dude Glenn Frischa, who was more commercial, but did the big electronic dance music show on Friday nights on the hip-hop station Hot 97. They used to play tracks I liked, and then when I started going out to the clubs, you know the spots everyone here talks about, Limelight, Palladium, The Tunnel, I’d hear those tracks too and just loved that NYC deep house, garage sound. Reality is I enjoy going fairly crazy on the dance floor and house and techno are there just for that. I love that with a lot of electronic music, in that you don’t have to know the lyrics or some chorus to dance. I also have a cousin who visited in the early 90s with cassette tapes of Moby and Prodigy that I promptly dubbed with my cheap stereo and loved.
I wanted to learn more about electronic music when I started DJing, but going into record shops like Vinyl Mania and figuring out what artists or labels to buy other than the few I knew was intimidating because there were no listening stations…well 8 Ball Records did, but I felt weird about going through the bazillion records of which I had no idea how to select. Hip-hop was more familiar to me and cheaper to buy singles, so I stuck with that mostly. What changed for me was when I started getting more into downtempo from guy like DJ Shadow, UK artists off of Ninja Tune, and later Broken Beat and NuJazz artists like Jazzanova and [Motor City Drum Ensemble]’s older moniker, Inverse Cinematics.
Not to spend too much time going back to what you asked before, but I believe it might have taken me a lot longer to learn what I learned about electronic music had it not been for Napster. It was a goldmine for learning about artists because you didn’t have to be afraid to ask, you could just download what you were curious about. If you liked it you kept it, and later would research that artist. If not…delete. Anyway, I’m being a bit tangential, but I know there are some issues in the electronic music scene about mp3s, particularly on the underground, and I definitely think concerns about the negative effects are those I share too, but I also think it helped some of us get into the scene and support artists and labels that we do now as well. Was it a Faustian deal? That’s a more difficult question to answer.
What are some of your inspirations when performing or creating music?
There are plenty. For performing I definitely feel inspiration from the energy that Public Enemy had on stage from when we toured with them, my cousin who’s a producer and DJ, Jake The Rapper, and Danny Tenaglia with his 8 hour sets every week at Vinyl. For creating music it often comes from various styles of music, most of the tracks I make now are inspired by Chicago, Detroit, and New York forms of house and techno, as well as hip-hop, which holds an important place in my life even if I don’t play it or produce it as much. Often songs I make are based on something going on in my life or head at the time. Actually, almost all of the titles of tracks I make have a story behind them.
What can you tell us about your podcast, Indelible Beats?
I did a radio show in college playing underground hip-hop and after it stopped I really missed doing radio. I actually considered doing that as a career. As I got more into electronic music and when I learned about podcasting in 2005 I got excited about the prospect of doing a show again. I noticed that there were very few doing mix based podcasts then, and I was really into mixing various styles of music together. With Indelible Beats I’d go from downtempo to drum & bass, to bossa-nova, to funk, to bhangra, to house, to broken beat, old school Detroit techno, to hip-hop in an hour set. I used to scour the Creative Commons site CC Mixter for tracks to promote less known artists. The concept was to mix anything with a good beat to dance or nod your head to, and expose people to different artists they may not know. I stopped it in 2008 after I was getting more into playing more house and techno for DJing, because I wanted to focus on that as well as producing more.
Any new releases/projects on the horizon?
Well my first solo release as Isaac Basker should be coming out this summer in digital format, and I expect to have a vinyl release, or two, out later in the year. I’m also about to restart my Indelible Beats podcast which will be me and some other resident DJs along with guests every episode. The idea is to sort of emulate a more Panorama Bar/Berghain style for podcasting with a few rotating residents along with special guests.
What did you want to showcase in this mix?
Pretty much the sound of electronic music that I love now which influences my productions and interests as a DJ. Nothing too sophisticated, but with some soul. I know some record podcasts that are more for listening at work or whatever, but when I used to make Indelible Beats I always wanted to make something that moved a bit, still had some range musically, and you could throw on at a house party if you wanted to groove.
How has New York affected your artistic output, and what do you make of the scene over the years?
There’s no question this is the case. I grew up in a low-income artists colony in the far West Village which may be hard to believe existed for more recent arrivals to the city, but the areas by the waterfront in New York used to be pretty creepy, crime ridden, and desolate…Yes, even in Manhattan. That’s why artists got to live there for cheap! I was surrounded by artists all of the time, primarily being my mother who is visual artist and art historian. My rather weird NY arts connection is that I used to sing in the children’s chorus at the Metropolitan Opera, which was a lot of fun, and exposed me to professional music performance life. However, being exposed to the early 90’s house and techno in New York is a clear influence on me musically, as was going later to Danny Tenaglia’s party.
The scene has certainly made a lot of changes over the years. We suffered from a terrible drought under Giuliani who basically did everything he could to destroy club culture that had thrived for so long, coming out of the post-disco era and blighted world of the early 80s. I was exposed to that some being taken to wild art openings as a kid in the Lower East Side where I remember once seeing a car with metal fins set on fire that someone then drove off in…I’m not kidding, but it’s becoming harder for that kind of stuff to happen now. I do love New York, although we’ve had a conflicted relationship sometimes, and I sometimes wonder how much longer it can survive as an underground artist center given the rising costs that pushes people farther and farther out to find a place to create and live.
One other thing I notice that I’ve been interested in the apparent progression of folks from the underground hip-hop scene towards electronic music, increasingly. Some have chosen other styles of music, but more than a few of those I know who were deep in the NYC hip-hop underground, led by guys like Stretch Armstrong & Bobitto and stores like Fat Beats have have gone this route. I sometimes have conversations with people about it, and I also know it’s not necessarily a New York City exclusive thing as much as about other factors.
For now, there has been a nice electronic music scene developing in the past few years of folks who are involved and I am really happy to be connected to that. I’d love to see this last, and grow further, and I am most definitely interested in helping maintain it.