Update 03/10/17 3:55pm: According to the Catalyst Club website, this show has been cancelled.
How does New Orleans’ Russ Liquid Test sound so futuristic, but also so old-school—“Vintage Future,” as the group’s Russell Scott describes it?
Long answer: Russ Liquid Test’s music is driven by hard-hitting dance beats—electronic, but also organic. The grooves bounce while shooting moody chills down your spine, and while it’s certainly danceable, the subtle complexity of the songwriting merits listening on headphones.
Short answer: aliens.
The subject was first brought up 10 minutes into my phone interview with Scott, when I asked him how he and his creative partner Andrew Block met. That’s when things took an unexpected turn.
“An alien visited me this one time I was in Asheville, North Carolina, and told me that I was supposed to make music with Andrew Block. I met him three months later. So that was pretty trippy,” Scott says. “Every time I tell people that they go, ‘something’s wrong with you.’ I keep saying it. Maybe someone will believe me.”
At first, I thought he was pulling my leg, but he insisted to the point where he had to either be 100 percent serious, or was so committed to his prank that he was willing to seem crazy. Either way, I was on board.
“Vintage Future,” I learned, isn’t just a snappy way to describe Russ Liquid Test’s penchant for combining old-school funk and jazz, and mixing it with cutting-edge, inventive psychedelic electronic sound design. It goes right back to the aliens.
“The aliens from the future came to the present—which would be the vintage of the future—to implant the ideas of futuristic music, like little seeds to influence the future of music. These new beings take a little piece of that back to the past, the vintage part, sprinkle a little bit more of that in. It’s a feedback loop,” Scott explains, not stopping to take a breath. “It’s easier if I could draw a diagram, but I don’t have a piece of paper, and you can’t see through my phone.”
It sounded a lot like Back To The Future, when Marty McFly influenced Chuck Berry by traveling back to 1955 and playing one of Berry’s songs at a school dance, and Berry’s cousin played it for him over the phone. How cool would that be if it were true?
What I can verify is that Scott, who’s previously been a solo electronic musician and a trumpet player and saxophonist in jazz bands, met guitarist Andrew Block while they both toured in electronic/hip-hop artist Gramatik’s band. Block’s history prior to Gramatik was strictly in the realm of live music: jazz, blues, funk. Scott and Block immediately clicked, so much so that Scott moved to New Orleans to work with Block on the Russ Liquid Test project.
Scott handed the phone to Block, who talked with me for a little while.
“There’s so many more things you can do in the electronic genre that you really can’t do in jazz. There’s like a hardcore contingent—that if your jazz doesn’t sound like this, nobody wants to hear it,” Block says. “The thing about playing with Russ is I’m just able to use the language of jazz, but through this filter of electronic music, so that it gets heard by people that maybe wouldn’t necessarily pick up a jazz record.”
As he spoke, all I could think about was aliens. There was something eerie I couldn’t quite put my finger on about the debut Russ Liquid Test EP, which is oddly titled 1984. I asked if the title was a reference to the George Orwell book or the Van Halen record. Scott and Block immediately jumped into an a capella rendition of Van Halen’s “Panama.”
Then Scott told me it was about a potential end of the world that we’re spiraling toward. “I want to take credit for these things, but it’s not me. Somebody told me inside of my brain to name it that. Plus, we had this really sweet sample of this robot chick going ‘1984.’ It just felt right, you know, like the first time you eat a grilled cheese sandwich with a tomato.”
Did I understand correctly? The full scope of the Russ Liquid Test is that aliens from the future were sent to our present to tell Scott and Block to form a band so they could make an album titled 1984 to warn humanity about the apocalypse?
Sort of. “They just presented it as one of the many possible paths that we are on. It’s definitely a possible future somewhere down the line,” Scott explains, somewhat flippantly.
As much as I had a hard time believing time-traveling aliens existed, I didn’t doubt Scott’s warning about the end of the world. Just look around. At least we’ll have good music to dance to in the apocalypse.
INFO: 9 p.m., Mar. 15, Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $14/adv, $17/door. 429-4135.