Monday, June 9, 2008

Mental Beats


Mental Beats was a record label I started in North Carolina back in 1995.

Actually it was the second label. The first was called, Worm World Productions. It featured, RotBot, my alterego and sound creating mad scientist audio laboratory. Back then I was making sounds for installations I was building and designing.

Back then I was in a white tower that overlooked an intersection with a single flashing ochre light. Caddy corner was the parking lot for the Jarvis City Market, which was a strip mall consisting of a small supermarket, a coin laundry and two other stores that were rarely open for business. To this day it is the only supermarket I have found that sold chunks of fatback on folding tables. Fatback is an important ingredient in Southern cooking. I was vegetarian, so I never bought it.

The white tower was on a dirt plot flanked on one side by a small coffee shop and on the other by a small apartment complex. In the front was a big oak tree and the back was a dirt parking lot and a rickety wooden staircase leading up to the back porch and kitchen. My room was next to the kitchen and behind the bathroom. Russ's room was down the hall before the living room / painting studio. The front door door led to a shared stairwell that housed bikes and boxes for sitting on when drinking beer on the stoop. This was otherwise known as stooping. It was a common and beloved activity of the house. The other tenants also enjoyed stooping with us. At the time, Russ, was unable to consume anything alcoholic because of his agreement with AA. I was sympathetic and kept my drinking in front of him down to a minimum.

We did, however, go through coffee like most drink water. Up to four pots a day was normal, sometimes four each. One of us would put on a pot first thing and wait for Mark to show up. Mark was this cat who lived down the street. We met him one night at the Beanbag coffee shop next door. He was a troubled soul and found comfort in our morning pot of coffee and conversation. Mark had a habit of wetting a cotton swab before inserting it into his ear. He did this very carefully and meticulously without missing a beat in the conversation. He had a foot fetish and talked at lengths about it.

It was quite bizarre, but I enjoyed it very much. This was around the time I stopped watching TV.

We all played music, but never with each other. I may have jammed with Russ once or twice, but that was all. Russ and I were better studio-mates than band-mates. The paintings were expressions of the conversations we had, or in some cases extensions. The great conversation always had a way of picking up precisely where it left off. Those were prolific years. We both amassed a large body of work and quite often exhibited our work around town legitimately and otherwise.

The level of creativity was fueled by stimulating conversation, caffeine, nicotine, music and the desire to find out what was next in the great conversation.

Mental Beats was born out of this fire. It suffered badly being relocated to Wilmington, NC. The burning flame of the great conversation died down. There it morphed into a video production company named, Lefthand Path Productions. It also joined forces with other local promoters and began to feature live DJ sets of post RotBot soundscape artist as the newly incarnated DJ Worlock.

I played Dark Wave and Industrial Dance mostly, that is until I got my hands on some Drum n Bass. Before living in the white tower, I was a regular attender of club and underground parties, back then called raves (until it wasn't cool to call them raves). Jungle and breaks were my favorite genres. I would go to as many parties like these as I could. It was normal for us to drive up to 4 hours for a party, stay all night and come back the next day. So when Drum N Bass hit the scene, I was an instant fan. My music collection was growing and so was my credit card debit.

So when the Wilmington boys sought me out for some promotion work, I obliged. It was a good run, but it was not profitable for me and thus I moved away from the beach community and onto the piedmont in the heart of the State. This is where Mental Beats as a label developed and RotBot as a musical brainchild got its chops. Working long hours at internet startup companies and coming home and working long hours on my Mac, I forged a relationship with Mental Beats that to this day has been unbroken. During the three years in Greensboro, I made six albums. All independently published and distributed. This music fueled the creative force that allowed me to paint again. Soon I was showing at galleries and at local events, selling work and feeding the great conversation. The fire was raging again.

Then I moved to San Francisco bringing the label and studio with me.

The golden years were over, but the djing days were coming back. My old love of Drum n Bass crept up on me and after attending Burning Man in 2000 I felt it was time to acquire some guns, some Technics 1200s.

I converted the Mental Beats label into a full studio. I still made music and as a matter of fact, I pressed my first vinyl in San Francisco, but my heart had moved into spinning. I spun mostly at parties, many big ones. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to spin at Maritime Hall the day before it closed. However, BT was upstairs and a lot of peeps went up there to check him out. I was also blessed to be able to spin twice at the Great American Music Hall. It would have been a yearly thing if I hadn't moved to Japan.

Mental Beats almost died in my Eastern excursion. I abandoned the bulk of my machines. I still dream of my Ensoniq ASR-X coming home to me one day. All my records are holed up in a friend's storage space, slowly aging. All I had was my laptop when I got to Japan. So I made tracks with Reason and Acid. Mostly glitch and noise stuff. But it didn't feel right using RotBot anymore, so I had to reinvent the concept and this time, KillHandEvil, was born. I wanted it to be more in the line of Digital Hardcore, Atari Teenage Riot kinda stuff, but it still had the Creep Flora Spread period of the RotBot sound story.

Well at long last, Mental Beats is slowly gaining vitality and glimmers of hope and new growth is showing. This journal blog thing is the first of many future steps.

I realize this entry is long and doesn't really jibe with the rest of posts, but I felt it was necessary to drop some old school knowledge and light up the other end of the tunnel. I guess give some perspective.

Perhaps this site will see some posts of my latest passions; cell phone photography and Japanese swordsmithing.

Until then, be good and beat your f'n mental hourly.


1 comment:

Mr. Soul said...

Great story, Matt. I knew some it, but this fills in more of the details. I'm sure there's much more where that came from! Thanks for sharing.