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Photograph by George Sakkestad

On the Record: The Bassic Elements crew has found high enthusiasm for drum 'n' bass at their weekly Moe's Alley club night.

Bump In The Night

With Bassic Elements at Moe's Alley every Tuesday, the local drum 'n' bass scene booms with popularity--and big bass

By Darren Keast

THE BASSIC ELEMENTS crew of Santa Cruz isn't too kind to speakers. The music the DJs push through the sound system each Tuesday night at Moe's Alley, known varyingly as jungle or drum 'n' bass, boasts the broadest spectrum of frequencies of any on the planet. From the extreme treble of the battling high-hats to the most fundamental feature of the music--the subterranean, wobbling bassline--jungle is a speaker repairman's worst nightmare.

On this particular Tuesday night, Bassic Elements isn't booming at its usual level; sound provider Magnetic Sound has had to swap its larger cabinets for a more modest set because of the damage inflicted on them the previous week. The crowd doesn't seem to notice; everyone inside is either dancing to the rolling breakbeats or nodding in half time to the metallic synthesizer burps. Incense from the altar set up in front of the DJ swirls with the morphing visuals performed live by Electroluminescent and Electrorganic. Outside, people play dominoes and smoke cigarettes while the highly syncopated beats provide the background soundtrack.

Drum 'n' bass, a style of electronic music that bubbled out of the downtrodden, highly urbanized East End of London in the early '90s, seems like the antithesis of the organic-leaning youth culture of Santa Cruz, but Bassic Elements has felt nothing but support from local music lovers.

"It's so crazy because we're playing this music that is very, very, very nonhippie," marvels Boyd Christensen, head of administrative affairs and DJ booking. "But they're the ones that are there dancing the most--they've been the most open to it and giving the most energy to it. The Grateful Dead hippie scene in Santa Cruz has only made the party better. That's why these DJs from San Francisco keep calling back, asking if they can play again, so they can come hang out with the hippies."

Incidentally, the six members who organize the weekly party met on tour with the Dead. Christensen moved to Santa Cruz last year after establishing a weekly drum 'n' bass party in Utah and decided, along with Regan Vreeland, to do the same here. They enlisted the help of Casey Plouff, treasurer; Robert May, who holds down half of the resident DJ duties as Iota; Bryan Johnston, a.k.a. DJ Infrared, the other resident DJ, who also performs visuals as Electroluminescent; and Chris Connor, who does visuals as Electrorganic.

Santa Cruz was the ideal spot for them to put down their roots--close enough to San Francisco, a city with one of the best drum 'n' bass scenes in the world, and far enough removed so they could establish their own unique feeling for the party.

"There's definitely a different vibe down here," Plouff says. "The people that come to the club are so nice. The cocktail waitress, the first night we did it, she was like, 'This is so cool! I'm used to people saying the drinks are too weak, complaining about this and that. But your crowd is so nice and friendly.' " The DJs that visit from San Francisco are quick to notice it, too--many are impressed with the number of people dancing, something jaded jungle club-goers in their city seem to have forgotten.

GIVEN SANTA CRUZ'S intimate and dedicated electronic-music community, it is surprising it wasn't until the initial Bassic Elements party on Jan. 4 that the city had its own weekly underground club night. Lizard, a member of the local chapter of the respected full-moon party crew 13 Moontribe, explains the need they fulfill.

"When Bassic started doing things," Lizard says, "people were like, 'Hmmm, drum 'n' bass on a Tuesday, I don't know.' But instead of everyone coming together just once a month as a community for Moontribe parties, they're coming together every week as a community."

Santa Cruz actually holds an important yet little-known place in the history of drum 'n' bass in the United States. Back in 1994, when house was the mainstay of the rave experience, San Francisco-based party organization Funky Tekno Tribe decided to shake things up by featuring the infant and, to many at the time, confounding jungle sound in its main room. The first major event that tested the formula was held at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, and many historians of the genre cite that party as the first time the music was presented to a large audience on the West Coast and possibly the nation.

As a product of DJs and producers who came from London's Jamaican neighborhoods, jungle has always contained strong dub reggae and dancehall currents. Britain's rave scene during jungle's birth was favoring hard-core techno and breakbeats lifted from funk songs--it was a time when the tempos were getting faster and the drum rolls more wicked.

Black musicians, such as A Guy Called Gerald, Grooverider and LTJ Bukem, sketched the blueprint for the music from these sounds and attitudes, but they made it something else entirely by chopping up hip-hop beats and playing them at double-time over unusually deep bass lines. It's a hodgepodge style in which people from different musical orientations will recognize different elements.

"People say that once you go to jungle, it's hard to go back," Christensen says. "Every month it evolves further and further. It's the one kind of music that keeps evolving--it's moving so fast because the technology keeps building on itself."

Bassic Elements is dedicated to hosting the broad range of constantly splintering subgenres--everything from atmospheric and jump up to darkside and techstep--but it wants to keep Tuesday nights focused on drum 'n' bass alone. And while the group occasionally invites DJs from San Francisco to play, its main objective is to showcase local talent, including some unknown bedroom DJs who send in a mix tape and then find themselves behind the turntables the next month.

"We're pretty intent on keeping the drum 'n' bass format," Vreeland says. "That's why we started--we wanted drum 'n' bass DJs to have an option to play around here. There's actually a lot of music around here, but we really want to stick with drum 'n' bass and jungle, it's why we're doing it. Hopefully, Bassic Elements will help the local scene grow."

And, with luck, the group will find speakers tough enough to keep up.


Bassic Elements presents local and Bay Area drum 'n' bass DJs at Moe's Alley every Tuesday at 9pm. TeeBee, Sifu and Honey B take the decks Tuesday (April 11). $5. (479.1854)

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From the April 5-12, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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