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
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
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
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.)