To the casual observer, the tough city of Oakland might seem like an unlikely birthplace for a group like Beats Antique, whose fusion of Middle Eastern, gypsy, electronica and hip-hop music sounds more inspired by DMT than DMX. But Beats Antique drummer/keyboardist/producer Sidecar Tommy (a.k.a. Tommy Cappel) says he and his bandmates—guitarist/violist/saz player/producer David Satori and composer/arranger/producer/belly dancer Zoe Jakes—are right at home in Oakland’s vibrant warehouse scene, which also includes conscious-minded electronic musicians like Bassnectar and Heyoka.
“People from all over the country and all over the world come here just because of the sheer number of people that live here that are attached to the Burning Man scene and music production, music performance, visual art. It’s just bubbling up on the East Bay,” Cappel enthuses. He adds that Oakland’s low cost of living makes it a practical choice for the bohemian on a starving artist’s budget. Its edgier side, however, can be a shock to such a person’s aesthetic sensibilities. “I walk out of the compound that I live in, and there’s serious stuff going on out there. That’s why I stay home and make music!” Cappel notes.
Oakland’s juxtaposition of the urban and the urbane is reflected in Beats Antique’s sound, which is exactly what the group’s name implies: a braid of ancient music and modern synthetic beats. Apparently the world is ready for Cappel and company’s sonic hybrid: Beats Antique has attracted a surprisingly large following for a band that formed a scant three years ago. Recent conquests include a string of shows with Primus’ Les Claypool in February (ending at The Catalyst, where the group returns on Friday, April 9 to play with Kilowatts, The Great Mundane and Aligning Minds) and an appearance on the same bill as Muse, Metric and Toxic Avenger at Austin, Texas’ South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in March.
Cappel says he, Satori and Jakes used their spare time at SXSW to work on the group’s forthcoming fourth album. He claims the group has been spending eight to 10 hours a day crafting new material. “When we go out on the road, we have all of our stuff, and we set up a studio in the green room, or we set up a station at somebody’s house or the hotel in the lobby when we’re waiting for the airport guy to come pick us up,” he notes.
Beats Antique’s latest musical experiments include the creation of loops and drum samples that sound like typical hip-hop, but that are actually played on live instruments. Cappel, who played in bands like Crash Worship, Extra Action Marching Band, Eenormus Sidecar and Yard Dogs Road Show before joining Beats Antique, says the group has also been doubling synth parts with instruments like accordion, clarinet, saxophone and Turkish saz. “It’s more ensemble playing, more based on live music, yet still fitting into the electronic music category,” he offers.
Cappel, whose studies at Boston’s Berklee College of Music in the mid-’90s included electronic music classes (“Back then, it was very simple: ‘You can play this note, and it will play on the other keyboard!’” he recalls with a laugh), admits there was a time when he judged musicians for using preprogrammed material in live sets. Since then, he’s come to appreciate the value of the laptop as a musical instrument. “It gives you the ability to play things that you can’t play live [otherwise],” he observes. “When you combine [that with live instruments], you get the best of both worlds. I think that’s what Beats Antique is about, in a sense.”
Beats Antique plays at 9 p.m. Friday, April 9 at The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $17 in advance or $19 at the door. For more information, call 423-1338.