w/ Sientific American, Bumblebee Sat July 5, Baltic Room, doors at 9 pm, $8.
Beans is a member of Antipop Consortium, the Brooklyn-based quartet that formed in the mid-'90s and was quickly recognized for its innovative underground approach to hiphop. Last year the crew released its third full-length album, Arrhythmia, on London's Warp Records, a label known for its experimental electronic acts (like Aphex Twin, Autechre, and Plaid); recently, Beans released his first solo effort, Tomorrow Right Now, on the same label. Like Antipop Consortium's earlier CDs, Tomorrow is not easy listening, but instead involved and very abstract. The disc is so dense it can't be enjoyed on the first listen, but there's enough in that first spin (hints, suggestions, flickers of the rewards that are somewhere deep within the techno-maze of each track) that a second or third attempt could possibly turn into full-blown obsession with Beans' work.
Made up of 14 tracks (the last of which, "Walking by Night," is my favorite so far) that were mostly produced and programmed by Beans and flavored with his taste for layered synthesizer sounds, Tomorrow is a work of retro-futurism. That's to say it's a project that envisions the future in the way it was fantasized about in the past--the future imagined by the dreamers of the late '60s, the '70s, and the early '80s. In this respect, Tomorrow is archaeological rather than futuristic, and diametrically opposed to Beans' contemporaries the Neptunes, who always look forward, toward the future as it is imagined by the dreamers of the present.
Retro-futurism has been around at least since Dr. Octagon's Dr. Octagonecologyst and DJ Spooky's Songs of Dead Dreamer, and is found on CDs like the Beastie Boys' Hello Nasty, Andrea Parker's wonderful and terribly underappreciated Kiss My Arp, Mike Ladd's wrought Welcome to the Afterfuture, Antipop Consortium's utterly terrific EP The Ends Against the Middle, and almost any CD released by the record label Definitive Jux. The future imagined on these CDs is one that exists nowhere else save the old records from bands like Kraftwerk, Keymatic, and Mantronix, who, not surprisingly, happens to be one of Beans' favorite musicians.
"I grew up in the golden era of hiphop, with Mantronix. That's who I listened to and who I'm thinking about when I make my music," Beans tells me over the phone. He is at his mother's house, he has just turned off the TV, and he is, I imagine, sitting comfortably on a family couch as he talks. "I mean, the first record that I ever bought was [Afrika Bambaataa's] Planet Rock. But my biggest influence was Mantronix and, you know, earlier Marley Marl." For those who can't recall, Mantronix was a New York City producer who in the early and mid-'80s worked with MC Tee and made computerized hiphop that blended hard techno with funky grooves. Mantronix was hugely popular in Great Britain, where he visited the Top 10 almost as frequently as Madonna; but in America he was known only among the most devoted of b-boys and b-girls.
Despite my insistence, Beans does not see himself as a retro-futurist, or even as a futurist, which he thinks is an affected thing to be ("That's pretentious, man. All I'm doing is just hiphop"); he believes he is simply an artist who listens to particular kinds of records and reflects, in his own music, what he hears or finds interesting. "It's just basically a self-expression through experimentation, really," he says. "It's not about the future, but about what I hear, here and now. I mean most of my topics are self-reflective, the things that I discuss and what I'm thinking about.... Honestly, I just feel that what we [the Antipop Consortium] are doing is staying in the tradition of hiphop as we know it. [We're] being experimental and open and free and using all our imagination, utilizing all our influences to create newer, interesting music. I mean, that's basically where I'm trying to keep things, in that context."
I explain to him that to my ears and imagination, Tomorrow Right Now is very spacey; it reminds me of the futuristic cities, the moon bases, and the spaceship trips I used to read about in sci-fi stories, or see in the sci-fi comics and TV programs of my youth, which occurred mostly in the late part of the space age (the late '70s). But Beans believes that I have it all wrong. He doesn't use space in the future sense, he corrects me, but space in the immediate sonic sense. "I don't think my music is futuristic," he explains. "I don't think I'm expressing a future world. The only expression of space I create is the gap between stereo speakers.... That's the only space I explore."