Swollen Members w/ guests.
See Calendar for complete lineup.
I-Spy, Sat Dec 22, $12, 7 pm (all ages).

Swollen Members' new release, Bad Dreams, is a contribution to the odd genre of goth hiphop. Goth hiphop is obsessed with death--not with killing, or narrowly avoiding being killed, or even with avoiding death by killing--but with death itself, or being dead. This is the same preoccupation that inspired the Gravediggaz to issue such gruesome rhymes as "You drop into your hole/your mold separates from your soul" (from "6 Feet Deep"), and informed Cypress Hill's conflation of skull symbolism and heavy-duty weed habits.

Swollen Members' spooky inclinations lend themselves to more fanciful goth themes, along the lines of Dungeons & Dragons. (This is how they describe themselves!) The opening skit on Bad Dreams switches back and forth between a live Swollen Members concert and samples from the film Natural Born Killers. "Yo! I need y'all to do me a favor! Take your right hand, put your right hand in the air like this!" MC Prevail demands of a cheering crowd, followed by a booming bass drum and then a sample of Woody Harrelson as Mickey Knox: "A lot of people who walk around out there are already dead--they just need to be put out of their misery." This is how the album begins, and all the activity that follows demonstrates death, not life. The cover of Bad Dreams does not picture the handsome face of one of the MCs, but a blurry skull.

Most rappers use rhymes to fend off the grim reaper found in bad dreams--"Inhale deep like the words of my breath/I never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death," says Nas. Swollen Members choose to examine sleep. On the chorus of the creepy and sedated "Deep End," they rap in unison: "Thoughts start creepin'/people are sleepin'/ pull words out of their dreams/ it's the deep end." It should be noted that however much they exploit the "bad dreams" of death, Prevail and fellow MC Mad Child don't sleep themselves. Either they too are afraid of death, or, more intriguingly, they are vampires, dead but still in the mode of living, like the crowd they face in the opening skit.

Prevail and Mad Child might be vampires, yet the dead-but-animated literary figure most relevant to hiphop is Frankenstein's monster. Like that huge, intelligent, ugly monster, hiphop is not so much music but music assemblage: DJs piece together previously disparate sounds, and some of the best rappers don't so much write rhymes as piece them together (think of the abundance of non sequiturs in every rapper's verses).

The precedent for rap's use of Frankenstein is the Large Professor song "Mad Scientist," where the gorgeous beat begins with laughter in the background (the laughter, we assume, of this scientist in his "lab"--a universal term for the studio in hiphop vernacular), just before Large Professor's rhymes assault the track. Likewise, Swollen Members are dead, the crowd they greet is dead, but through the force of the club's very electricity--electricity, remember, was the thing that brought Frankenstein to life--rappers grab the mic and command the crowd to wave their hands in the air, while everyone dances to the electric sounds being released through the speakers.

Even the guest rappers on the CD--who are usually very lively, like Jurassic 5's cheery Chali 2Na, the dynamic Planet Asia, and the hyped-up (pun intended) Iriscience and Evidence from Dilated Peoples--are cast in this new light of death. Their tone becomes macabre. Indeed, everyone who walks with Swollen Members is rendered undead.

All silly death stuff aside, this Swollen Members concert is going to be an excellent fundraising event for the Seattle Red Cross' program to give gifts to underprivileged kids. Stuck Under the Needle Records, which will be releasing CDs from the Boom Bap Project and other members of the Oldominion crew (the opening acts tonight), are collecting wrapped toys, blankets, and warm clothes at the door, and in return audience members will get $5 off the $12 ticket price and some CDs from the performing groups.

Once you have generously dropped off your gifts and received your heartwarming holiday discount, prepare to enter into the most deathly of Christmastime concerts.

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