by Dave Segal

Bobby Karate

w/L'uisine, Herzog, DJ Veins

Wed Jan 29, Chop Suey, 9 pm, $6.

It's about time Bobby Karate got some respect. Since 1999, he's been making a rarefied brand of electronic music that has few peers in Seattle. He gamely hosted the Portable Getdown laptop-electronica night at Nation in the first half of 2002. And he's about to drop a debut next month (on the Woodson Lateral imprint) that could be one of 2003's finest local albums.

Speaking from the basement studio (dubbed "The Pinky Ring") where he creates his riveting microsound compositions, Bobby Karate recounts his unusual musical odyssey, bathed in the radiant glow of five computers.

Before he was Bobby Karate, Steven Ford, now 30, drummed for a Dallas speed-metal/punk band called Voice of Reason. They toured and recorded in the early 1990s, before Ford gave up playing instruments for five years. He moved to Seattle in 1998 "to escape a tyrannical girlfriend," bought a computer, and returned to music with a vengeance. Ford and his friend Darren Benson (who briefly played keyboards in the Spits) started a computer-based rock project. "The stuff we were doing was electronic, but it was tongue-in-cheek--new wave, almost," recounts Ford. "It was way before electroclash. We were more making a joke about Trembling Blue Stars [a British heart-on-sleeve band on Sub Pop] and people like that, although we really liked them. But their lyrics were just ridiculous."

But hearing Exitos, the 2000 album by Electric Company (AKA Medicine guitar god Brad Laner) really flipped Ford's wig. "I'd listened to typical electronic stuff like Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, but it wasn't until Exitos that I was really inspired."

Exploring "the limitless possibilities" of the Max/MSP and Reaktor software programs, Ford forged enough material to do brain-scrambling live sets. Former I-Spy promoter Counter Commons booked Bobby Karate's first show in the summer of 2000, "freaked on it," and became a huge supporter. "I can't stress enough how important Counter Commons and Frank Nieto [of the Crocodile Cafe] are" to Seattle's electronic-music scene, says Ford. Through their largesse, Bobby Karate has opened for such renowned acts as Welsh psych-rockers Super Furry Animals, popular Icelandic IDM group Múm, ex-Spacemen 3 legend Sonic Boom, Kid606, and many others.

These activities led to Ford helping Commons put on the Portable Getdown night. The concept: Every Tuesday, fill Nation with laptop-generated music aimed more at altering minds than shaking booties. Despite Ford's expert mixing of the world's top sound scientists with his own tracks and an ideally spartan space, the event struggled to draw more than a dozen customers per night. "There are plenty of people in Seattle who appreciated it," says Ford, "but Seattle is really rooted in the dance electronic community." (Ford pleasures that clique with his tech-house alter ego Bruno Pransato.)

During this time, Ford recorded the nine tracks that compose his upcoming album, Hot Trips, Cold Returns. Full of odd time signatures, acutely chiseled tones, and ear-tricking production, the disc equals much of the output on Germany's Mille Plateaux and Oakland's Tigerbeat6 labels. If you have to pigeonhole Ford's music, call it microsound or glitch, genres that revel in digital "errors" and minutely fragmented sound design. For such a minimal electronic album, though, Hot Trips offers much food for thought.

But Ford is already looking ahead to his remix of hiphop mavericks Dälek's track "Antichristo" and to his next record; while he's stoked about Hot Trips, he considers it old news. "I want every track to be diverse [on my next disc]. I'm not afraid to have a pop melody as well as a huge wall of noise. With Hot Trips, I focused to make everything consistent. But I like albums where each track is unique and dynamic in and of itself, so it's more a display of personality than of your gear.

"I'm starting to pay more attention to my influences. I've been listening to tons of speed metal this year. And I've been on this huge Merzbow kick lately. But tied into all that are the basics I always return to: My Bloody Valentine and Gang of Four.

"I don't think my music's challenging like [microsound pioneer] Kim Cascone's, where it demands a degree of musical knowledge. On the one hand, there's a great deal of chin-scratching that goes into my tracks, but I don't want to present that as all my music is. I want everyone to get it."

Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer: Jan 13-Feb 14 at Bagley Wright Theatre
Part theater, part revival, and all power, this one-woman show will have your head nodding and hands clapping!