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[whitespace] Loop De Loop

Artists sound off to maximum effect at bass looping festival

By David Espinoza

IT WAS surprising to see such a large crowd turn out for the "first-ever" Solo Bass Looping Festival at the Rio Theater Tuesday (Jan. 23). Then again, it was a free show. Spread throughout the Rio's vast seating area like teenagers looking for a semiprivate place to get it on, a very attentive audience got a taste of just how many different sounds a bass guitar can produce.

For those who have never heard looping before, lemme just say it's an effect that can be enchanting in all its various textures, but it can also sour quickly. Imagine a single musician playing the same beat or melody over and over, then a second musician joins in with a different but complimentary riff and plays it over and over, then a third, fourth, fifth, sixth--you get the idea.

Goateed opening artist Max Valentino definitely had his moments, laying down clickity-click rhythms by muffling his strings before inserting liquid bass 'n' treble melodies. Valentino did rely a little too much on the chorus-pedal, though, as all the spacey effects (delay, wahwah) began to make his compositions sound like folk art and New Age colliding. Not a pretty thing indeed.

As Valentino introduced more and more riffs, the net effect was a swarming of sound that veered between synchronized brilliance and a drunken orchestra completely out of time with each other. The trick, as producer Rick Walker seemed to grasp, was to know when to press the stop button on the looping effect.

The success of a looper's (doesn't that sound like sci-fi-flick slang for bounty hunter?) composition has all to do with how inventive he is. Walker, for instance, pounded the body of his electric bass with his fist to produce a heavy thunk, then using a bow he played the strings like a cello. Walker was also able to get a tabla (an Asian rhythm instrument) sound out of his bass as well as something akin to the plastic tubing Foley artists use.

In contrast, can't say I had any love for the beefy Scott Kungha Drengsen, who resembled a Fabio stunt double. With bumble-bee tremolo picking and volume effects, Drengsen dished out the sweetest baritone whale-mating sounds any enviro-pornographer could appreciate. It should be noted that bass looping isn't a genre for musicians strapped for cash, as the instruments, amps and effects these dudes used were top-of-the-line--some of us would have to sell our first-born to AOL-Time Warner to afford such toys.

Dos Cervesas, Por Favor

IN A TOWN that has produced more surf/skate/suburbanite punk bands than one can remember, piss-drunk, vomit on the rug, "kick the crap out of you for any reason" gutter punk bands are like the endangered wolverine of North America--no one really cares if the beasts go extinct. What better reason then to defy the odds and start something up like Los Dryheavers? A side project of lead vocalist Hector "El Chivo" of ska-purveyors Cara Dura, Los Dryheavers score a perfect 10 on the Sid-Vicious-"shag off"-o-meter. El Chivo has always been an old school p-rocker to the bone, and he couldn't be more at home as he spits and sputters lyrics in español and English on the band's 13-song demo CD.

The music is simple punk mayhem, three-chord distorted stuff that makes me want to raise a pint of Guinness in salute. The sound is all about Gilman Street during the late '80s or London circa 1978, and will surely get them some well-deserved pit disciples once they start playing more.

This Saturday, the guys play 420 S. Bascom in San Jose with NCS, Waste of Time and Funeral Diner. Also on Saturday, up at the Porter Soundbox, trailer-trash-kid rockers Hate Mail Express face off against Comets on Fire and Teenage Harlots.

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From the January 31-February 7, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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