Bay Area’s Beats Antique set to bend minds with their new electronic freak show ‘Creature Caravan’ at the Catalyst on Dec. 30 and New Year’s Eve
As the lights dim, a gypsy-style violin plays a slow mournful tune. From out of the darkness emerges a woman wearing a full, eight-point buck rack. As she makes mysterious, elegant gestures, reaching out her arms and swirling her hands under the black light, the energy of the audience builds. Holding off the inevitable ecstatic release, she seduces the crowd for a painfully long time until, finally, the beat drops and a cross-cultural musical frenzy ensues. We’ve just entered the world of Beats Antique.
A glance around the crowd finds that the audience is not as much spectating as they are participating—swirling their own hands, moving to the rhythm, and embracing the role of collaborator. One audience member is wearing a unicorn head mask, another is dressed like a vaudeville ringleader with a long handlebar moustache, a vest with no shirt and a top hat. The woman next to him twirls circles in her long skirt while a wild display of lights dances across the stage and audience. And that’s just one number—the night is still young, and it may include giant inflatable creatures, a cape-wearing bicyclist suspended high overhead, cabaret-style costumes, and carnival-esque theatrics from the performers and audience alike.
“It’s very commonplace for people to decide that they’re a performer as well,” says the Bay Area group’s drummer and beatmaker Tommy Cappel. “They show up like they’re getting ready to perform, and they are. They’re performing for us. We’re on stage performing our music, but we’re looking at them.”
In fact, says Cappel, their audience is the reason they do what they do.
“We could sit here and make music in our studio all day,” he says. “But if there’s no one supporting it and listening to it, we have to do it on our time off from doing other jobs.”
Multi-instrumentalist David Satori, dancer/choreographer Zoe Jakes, and Cappel, the trio that makes up Beats Antique, believe that the more they can involve a crowd in the performance, the better. Far from being simple concerts, Beats Antique shows are full-sensory affairs that are as much performance art as they are musical events. The group blends lights, stage sets and elaborate props with electronic beats, world fusion grooves, samples, strings, tribal-inspired percussion, Afro-beat sounds, experimental composition, hip-hop, and Middle Eastern belly-dance-inspired styles to create something truly extraordinary.
The group members design a world where past, future and fantasy drift like wisps of smoke around, and through, each other. Jakes choreographs transfixing stage shows—which include, among other skills, balancing a brass vase on her head while belly dancing—Satori pulls other-worldly sounds out of his violin, and Cappel drops rhythms that align hundreds of strangers into a common movement. Together, they aim to create an experience with “crazies everywhere.” A great audience, says Cappel, is one where people scream when it’s time to scream, they put their hands up when it’s time to put their hands up, and they pay attention when it’s time to pay attention.
BURNING FROM THE INSIDE
The group’s collaborative, all-in ethos may spring from its roots in Burning Man. Cappel has been 17 times. For him, Burning Man is pure expression—a “vehicle for human expression through many, many, many different ways—almost unlimited ways.”
The members of Beats Antique go to the annual event to see how other artists are expressing themselves, which Cappel says feeds their own creativity. It also gives them a chance to share new music. Where a Beats Antique production may generally take 10 or 11 people to pull off, with sounds and setup and production duties, at Burning Man the group has an opportunity to get back to its roots as a DJ project. When he’s at Burning Man, Cappel puts his DJ gear in his backpack and just takes off exploring, embracing opportunities to play and share his music.
“Our home audience is there,” he says, “so it’s a great time to show a lot of people what we’re up to. Sure, you’re spending a lot of money to go, but it’s a fun way to just give back. That’s how we look at it.”
While Beats Antique is now a big name in underground music circles, the trio has roots in a humble project. In 2007, the three artists collaborated to make music for Jakes’ belly dance performances. When Jakes approached her manager, Miles Copeland, brother of Stewart Copeland (of the rock band the Police) about making a record, Copeland agreed and released the group’s debut album, Tribal Derivations, on his CIA record label.
“[Copeland] wanted tribal belly dance music,” says Cappel. “We tried to figure out what that was and then just kept going after that.”
From there, the group started DJing around, aware that they couldn’t pull off live what they had created in the studio. With dozens of instruments and artists, electronic textures, cut and remixed samples, and intertwining melodies and grooves, it’s far more than three people can handle performing live.
“We thought there was no way to do that,” says Cappel “We cut [the songs] up so much that a human can’t really play those parts the way they sound.”
Because of this, the group was forced to make a distinction between its electronic side and its live band side. Eventually, however, they knew they had to see if they could find a way to combine the two—and they did.
In the recording stage, the group brings in all the artists that will record, and puts together lots of variations for each track, including the live instruments. They then slice and dice, remix and rework the tracks, giving them the Beats Antique treatment. For performances, the group members decide which instruments they’ll play on each track, and pull them out of the recording. Then, when they perform, they fill those parts back in live. They also add additional parts that aren’t on the recordings.
What they end up with are choreographed performance art pieces with a foundation of electronic textures and musical samples that are accompanied and enhanced with live music. It’s a truly 21st century musical experience that bridges the past and the future, and celebrates what it is to be human.
Rooted in world music styles and one-love sensibilities, Beats Antique takes a global perspective to making music, pulling in sounds and influences from a variety of eras and cultures—including blending traditions and styles from cultures that “maybe don’t appreciate each other too much.”
“As people, and as individuals, we’re concerned and aware of the global problems,” says Cappel. “And, on the other hand, we’re aware of the global beauty that’s out there. We have a lot of respect and love for pretty much everything.”
Cappel adds that here in the U.S., cultural issues can be divisive, but at the same time we have freedoms that we sometimes take for granted. He’s also acutely aware of all the extraordinary and diverse creative people there are in the world. The group’s aim is to harness both domestic and imported creative energy for the good of everyone.
“When it comes down to it,” he says, “you look around the world and realize that there are a lot of different people that we should pay attention to and celebrate. There’s the global view from America’s eyes, and then just the global view of how do we get to the love, how do we get to the sweetness with each other?”
THE CREATURE CARAVAN
The group’s current show is Creature Caravan, which Cappel describes as a “combination of all of our music from all of the years.” There’s a particular emphasis on crowd participation and creating a fun atmosphere. Keeping true to form, Beats Antique promises to wow new fans with the elaborate show, and reconnect longtime fans with some of the old favorite songs and styles.
On Dec. 30 and 31, they bring Creature Caravan to the Catalyst, where they’ll perform two different sets on back-to-back nights. The band members are looking forward to coming down to Santa Cruz to take a break and enjoy a couple of days in a “nice city that’s close to home.” As Cappel puts it, “We know that the people of Santa Cruz love us.”
The last time Beats Antique was in town was several years ago for a Halloween show at the Cocoanut Grove. The trio is looking forward to revisiting older material that people haven’t heard in a while, as well as sharing new songs.
“We’re going to celebrate all of the things that we need to remember about this year, and that we need to bring forward for next year,” says Cappel. “It will be a good time for people to come and keep that on their minds.”
To encourage a participatory, collaborative event, the group has masks available to download and print out at choose.creaturecarnival.net/choose. When asked who makes up the Beats Antique audience, who it is that dons costumes and takes up the role of unofficial performer, Cappel describes it as a crowd of people of all ages, sizes, shapes, and styles.
“It’s just people who are living their life the way they want,” he says. “We celebrate that.”
Beats Antique will perform at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 30 and Thursday, Dec. 31 at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $25-$95. 423-1338. For more New Year’s events, see pages 33 and 38.