Manhattan B-Boys And Brooklyn Dreads

Brooklyn, N.Y., has long been America's first stop for reggae and dub, with its sound systems that predate modern DJ-culture by a couple of generations, its large Jamaican immigration, its annual Caribbean carnival and a large number of genuine Rastas.

Recent years in New York have seen the dance floor welcome once-distant

concepts of visual art, spoken word, world music, etc.

It's not just about technology any more -- much of the Big Apple's

attraction for creative types these days stems from the myriad

possibilities presented by marrying established forms of expression such

as acoustic instruments, voices, paintings, with contemporary forms,

such as computers, turntables or videos. A night out at a small Manhattan

nightclub might see as many potential VJs as DJs; it might include

spoken-word artists, breakdancers and a band that has as many "old-fashioned"

instruments onstage as it does "futuristic" ones.

Both Digital Information Ensemble and Trumystic Sound System operate in the

molten core of this melting pot. Neither is a band in the traditional sense

(though both perform live, and very well, too); rather, they are names

under which various individuals with their own outlets gather to share a

collective

perspective.

Yet each act has a primary presence. In DIE's case it's engineer

Matt Stein, who appears to favor a mostly upbeat, cheeky buffoonery in his

music. DIE's eponymous debut opens with a smiley-face groove and a "found

sound" dentistry lecture that makes having "a great piece of cold, hard

steel pushed into one's mouth" seem positively ecstatic. It's a promising

beginning continued by the similar but phatter "D.I.E. Groove 128." That

DIE are capable of rocking the dance floor is apparent, yet the act decides

not to, heading instead in a dozen different directions as if the

collective's members are each vying for an opportunity to promote their own

identity.

The most promising track --- the esoteric trip-hop of

"Dreams" -- features female vocals and is something close to a pop song,

yet it is immediately followed by the pseudo-industrial workout of "Allow

The Sound." This confusion in the shape of experimentation continues

throughout; "Classix," for example, starts with a joyous, looped acoustic

guitar but soon collapses under the weight of a darker orchestral ambition.

"Uh-Oh" is the exception, an amusing, almost cartoon-like dance-floor

groover that shows that Stein learned a thing or two from his work with

Deee-Lite. There are signs of real talent in DIE, but one comes away from

this grab-bag of an album reciting the old adage about "too many cooks."

If Digital Information Ensemble are the sound of white, Manhattan b-boys at

the mixing board, Trumystic are Brooklyn dreads at the controls. Brooklyn

has long been America's first stop for reggae and dub, with its sound

systems that predate modern DJ-culture by a couple of generations, its

large Jamaican immigration, its annual Caribbean carnival and a large

number of genuine Rastas. But Brooklyn is also heavy on the multiracial

vibe, and Trumystic truly embody this, with vocalist Divaship and the

Arabic DJ Mutamassik joining rappers/singers/toasters Soothsayer, O.H.M.

and ISH, along with chief dread Dr. Israel.

Israel's production fingerprints are all over Product 3's

highlights, such as the opening "Livin' in Brooklyn," which throws in

Grandmaster Flash's old message "It's like a jungle sometimes," making the

subsequent "Junglist" a nice piece of segueing. Israel also sings

delightfully on "Jacob's Ladder," treating the fierce drum & bass groove

as if it were the lover's rock it might have been at half the pace.

And while Israel also takes co-credits on both "There He Sat" and

"Life In The Ghetto," these are primary examples of a collective's

realized potential, vocal contributions from Soothsayer (who co-wrote the

former) and Divaship (ditto the latter) making for a most modern mixture of

dub, trip-hop, roots-reggae and heady jungle.

Not every track works quite so well. Mutamassik's two turntablist

offerings, "Babomb" (with echoes of Led Zep's "Kashmir") and "Raks

Sharqi Scratch Mix," sound surprisingly static amid the fluidity of

Israel's productions, and O.H.M.'s "Click Click" would have benefited

from a strong vocal delivery the way Divaship takes control of "Down

Together."

But there's enough here that works well enough to show that

collaboration does not always mean compromise, and that a collective is not

necessarily a conflict.

(DIE and Product 3 were recorded on Mutant Sound System, a

label owned by TCI/Paradigm, the parent company of SonicNet.)