Steady breakin'

Jeff K and Kelly Reverb put the needle on the record and dance, dance, dance

Kelly Reverb lives, quite literally, in his studio. The front room of his apartment, just off the Dallas North Tollway and Spring Valley, contains no furniture, no sign that someone actually calls the space home. It's a dimly lit jumble of keyboards and wires, computers and vinyl, video monitors and mixing boards. It's not a studio in the rock sense of the word; there are, for instance, no guitars and drums and amps lying about. But there are instruments nonetheless, this compendium of technology literally at Reverb's fingertips. His bedroom is almost no different: He goes to a wall-length closet, opens the sliding door, and reveals dozens of cardboard boxes piled from floor to ceiling, running the entire length of the room. In this closet lies the history of recorded music--and its future.

These records, thousands and thousands of them, are the templates for the albums Reverb has been making for the past few years. They provide the sounds that make up the 12-inch singles Reverb releases under the nom de funk Southside Reverb and his brand-new full-length disc, Breakneck, released on the New York-based ESP-SUN label. But you would never recognize the bits of music that fly by like Chuck Yeager. Reverb's records are not a game of name-that-sample. Unlike hip-pop producers, whose idea of sampling is wholesale lifting an existing song and reselling it to the sucker audience with a slightly mutated drum beat or a different lyric, DJs such as Reverb--not to mention his better-known brothers of the vinyl, including the likes of Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook, the Chemical Brothers, and the Propellerheads--distort the samples till they are all but unrecognizable.

They tweak, twist, and mutate until the sample--a guitar, perhaps, or a drum beat--would be unrecognizable even to its creator. They layer beat upon beat upon beat, creating a mile-high wall of sound; theirs is what the revered DJ Spooky refers to as a "theater of found sounds...sonic war games in the culture of amnesia." Not only is this a practical matter--hey, it saves money on securing clearance rights--it also turns the resulting music into the DJ's creation; it ain't cut-and-paste art, it's search-and-destroy. Reverb guesses there are "thousands" of samples on the disc, and who could tell? He has distorted the past to create his own present.

Reverb is an example of the progressive artist British critic Simon Reynolds celebrates in his just-published book Generation Ecstasy. Reverb and his compadres in Southside Reverb, men with names like Chad Littlepage and Scotty Marz, are what Reynolds describes as "chronic consumerists and collectors, who nonetheless use their stockpiling expertise as the basis for composition in its most literal etymological sense, 'putting together.' They create a metamusical flow by juxtaposition and segue. As an extension of DJ cut'n'mix, sample-based music at its best is fully fledged composition: the creation of new music out of shards of reified sound, an alchemical liberation of the magic trapped inside dead commodities."

Which is a rather breathless way of saying DJs like Reverb funk shit up: Breakneck is a damned thrill ride, 10 tracks of funky-break dance-floor get-down-get-down. Featuring such tracks as "Go Get it On," "Steady Breakin'," and "I Can't S.T.O.P.," it's a disc you don't just listen to, but hang on to, like a palm tree in a hurricane. It's the play-at-home version of a night-turns-into-morning spent at a rave; the only thing missing are an open field, 13-year-old girls sucking on pacifiers, and a ride home.

The album is the culmination of four years' worth of work for Reverb, who began producing in 1994 as a way of enhancing his reputation as a club DJ. Reverb (not his real name, though no one refers to him by his given moniker anymore) has been a DJ for the past decade. When he was 18, he began spinning top-of-the-pops detritus at the Hard Rock Cafe and working what he calls "high-roller joints" and hotel bars. Four years ago, he moved to the Lizard Lounge and has held a Friday-night residency there ever since. "Then I got into producing to perpetuate my DJ career," Reverb says. "To me, doing records is the best form of advertisement, because not only do you get paid, but it gets your name out there. And I've always loved music."

He has released a handful of 12-inches on his own label, Lone Star, including the impossibly cool "Music! (You Want My)" and "That's What I'm Used to Hearin'," and he's received a decent amount of press--everywhere but in Dallas. In fact, Reverb is a guest critic in the latest issue of Urb magazine, and over the past two years he has appeared at such events as the Zen Festival in Zephyrhillis, Florida (appearing with Josh Wink, Rabbit in the Moon, BT, Crystal Method), and Magnetic in Boston. Reverb has also recently remixed Stone Roses' "She Bangs a Drum" for a forthcoming Jive Records compilation.

Breakneck is actually one of two DJ mix CDs released in recent weeks by local DJs. The other is Killerbeats by longtime local mainstay Jeff K, who, having been spinning electronic music on Dallas radio since 1987, is perhaps the father of the local dance scene (such as it is). But unlike Breakneck, Jeff K's disc features 12 tracks by an assortment of artists--including such luminaries as Cirrus, Gus Gus, and Way Out West, in addition to such lesser-knowns as Vertigo Deluxe and Flammable--merged into a seamless whole. Three of the tracks, including Cirrus' "Break In" and Track Bums' "Computer Dreams," were remixed by Jeff K; the others were licensed from other labels and included on the disc because they're among his favorites.

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