Great ambience

Getting Sofa-conscious with Roshonnda Red Quotet

Out of the initial chaos of seemingly unrelated instrumental noodling that is slowly rising this Friday night at the State Bar, a sound is taking shape and gathering momentum. It's the sound of a 1957 Cadillac being started in Tibet on a cold day, fed through a sequencer and slowed down a thousand times, then hit with a 100 beat-per-minute drum sample. It's the sound of Roshonnda Red Quotet.

At a table just left of the stage, four young, hip, intellectual types temporarily cease their conversation to lean forward and listen with determined looks on their faces. They know there's something cool about a dijeridoo, two drummers, a DJ, two Moog synthesizers, and a slide guitar playing all at once, but they don't know exactly what it is.

That's OK; neither does the band.
Some of the people at State Bar tonight aren't even aware there is a band playing. They assume that what's coming out of the speakers in the back is merely prepackaged DJ sounds--an assumption supported by the ultra-smooth segue into an actual recorded track by the band Loop Guru as the band takes a break. Although most musicians would consider that an insult, it's actually all part of the Roshonnda Red Quotet's master plan.

RRQ evolved from an ensemble known as Sofa Kingdom that admired the percussion collective of punk primitives Crash Worship; at one time, evoking the name Sofa Kingdom was like summoning a rather obscure god, telling those around that you were cool and down with the local indie-rock art scene. Unfortunately, the band--one of the few in Dallas that employed a stunt man to be immolated every show--ceased to exist about a year ago.

Before the disintegration, however, a new project was already under way to extend--and in some ways totally revise--the Sofa Kingdom dream. Like its predecessor, it would incorporate unusual instruments, musical experimentation, and improvisation, but without the theatrics and sarcasm that were Sofa Kingdom's trademarks.

And--oh yes--it would be techno.
Vocalist Brent Johnson and drummer Domingo Leija thus left Sofa Kingdom, creating Fukaoui (as in "Where duh..."), playing a few warehouse raves as well as weekly gigs at Clearview and Flips. Still searching for further evolution, they hooked up with a young DJ, Patchen Preston, and--of all things--a slide guitarist, Randy Murphy.

What emerged was somewhat vanguard techno, meshing the organic with the inorganic, the very old with the very new. It also allowed room for drifting along the spectrums of jungle, trance, and ambient, inspired by the flexibilities of masters like the Orb. But some of the absurdity of Sofa Kingdom still lingered.

"Our first show was a gay party full of drag queens," recalls Johnson, "and we didn't have a name yet. We wanted something to appeal to the drag queens, so Domingo said [in an exaggerated RuPaul accent] 'How about Rowsh-aaa-nduh Red Qu-ooo-tet?'"

The band in its present form has been together now for about six months, playing a regular Friday night gig at State Bar (as well as some raves), but when they look out into the audience, it's not the familiar Sofa Kingdom faces they're seeing anymore.

"We're playing to a whole new crowd these days," says Johnson. "I doubt if Sofa Kingdom fans even realize we're from the same band."

One of the new faces in the crowd who saw--and was impressed by--RRQ was Mark Griffin, aka MC 900 Foot Jesus and a sometime member of the Enablers, a group that explores improvisation in a more loungey (for lack of a better word) environment. Griffin was so taken with the percussion-based ambience that he enlisted the band to record a song for his upcoming album. "I first saw [RRQ] playing a show at Clearview, I think," Griffin says. "I really liked what they were doing--that sort of improvisation. I like to sit around and jam as much as anyone else, but the bad thing about improvising is that it can just be pointless noodling. Those guys, I've seen them several times, and they always keep my interest."

Griffin invited RRQ into the studio and says he'll definitely use what they laid down; in fact, he plans to bring them back soon for more work. "I've always been into that kind of music; I listen to a lot of Indian music, and I've used Indian instruments and rhythms in the past. [RRQ] is a little more into the World Beat thing than I am--my interest is more in jazz and big band--but I think it'll work well with what I'm doing this time around."

In some ways, RRQ is a good indication of where Griffin has been going lately--a fusing of techno, jazz, and hip hop with ancient, particularly Eastern, rhythms and performed live--paralleling in a larger sense the direction that genre of music is going, whether it's something as simple as incorporating live drum tracks (as Prodigy did on "The Remedy") or as complex as completely live techno produced by the likes of Future Sound of London.

Groundbreaking bands such as Future Sound of London have been a big inspiration to RRQ. Future Sound are pioneers of live techno, broadcasting from their studio via ISDN digital phone links to clubs and radio networks in Europe and America. Equally influential are bands like Dead Can Dance which use ancient instruments and vocal styles.

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