By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Mark Ridlen hates karaoke. He begrudgingly bought a karaoke machine two years ago because he was tired of having "some anonymous drunk" mess with his equipment when he was DJing corporate parties and weddings. He figured if they wanted to belt out "I'm So Excited" or whatever, they could screw with the machine, do whatever they wanted to, because, well, he didn't really care. As we said before, he hates karaoke.
Which doesn't necessarily explain why, since last May, he's been hosting a karaoke night (called Scaraoke) at XPO Lounge every Thursday. Or why Ridlen (along with engineer Reid Robinson) put together an album, XPO Gold!, that basically re-creates a Scaraoke night. Ridlen (or DJ Mr. Rid, as he's known) admits he'd like to get back to his own music; he's been a part of the local music scene just about as long as there's been a local music scene, playing with Quad Pi, Lithium X-mas and Spoth, among others. He has a few projects on hold, patiently waiting for him to return. For now, however, Scaraoke gives him an outlet. For what, he's not entirely sure.
"It fulfills some small need for me," Ridlen says. "I don't really play with bands much these days. I keep finding myself the last few years in this sort of philanthropic mode. Just giving a forum to people that have never been on a CD or whatnot, a chance to shine in their own little way. There's no money in this, really. I don't know why I keep doing it. It's an interesting diversion."
XPO Gold! is a diversion within that interesting diversion. The disc (available at Scaraoke, as well as Good Records and a few other local stores) has sold 100 copies in just a few weeks, and the entire 200-copy pressing should be gone in a few more. Ridlen didn't plan on selling any at all when the idea first stuck; he just wanted something to put on XPO's jukebox to promote the night, maybe make a few people put down their drinks and say, "What the fu...." But while he and Robinson were assembling it at Robinson's Devada Media studio, the album became a bigger deal than he ever thought it would be.
"We spent way too much time on it," Ridlen says, laughing. "Reid's a real perfectionist in the studio. He kinda really ran with it, as far as production values. It's like radio-ready, which is even more absurd, because some of these people don't even know how to sing. He had all these incredible mike settings and things to make it blend with the song, you know, whatever hack band did the arrangement."
Thanks to Robinson, the singers sound authentic, though the music never rises above karaoke quality. (Which is the point, after all.) Those vocalists were mostly culled from XPO's staff, but there are a few surprises, such as Kitchen Dog Theater's Tina Parker and The Entertainment Collaborative's Brandt Wood (who turns in a better-than-you'd-think version of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man). And there are a handful of "more or less rock stars" (The Falcon Project's Wanz Dover and Fury III's Steve Nutt), too.
"The only prerequisite," Ridlen explains, "was they had to perform at least a couple of times in front of people." And, fittingly, that's where the second installment will be recorded: live at Scaraoke, in front of a crowd of people who've either had too much to drink or are quickly on their way there. (Also known as: Ridlen's "loyal following that comes out every week.") In that setting, it's hard not to warm up to karaoke, or to resist the temptation to give it a shot. We did just that a few months ago, turning in a rather workmanlike version of Buddy Holly's "Rave On." We were terrified before we took the "stage"--the corner of XPO next to the jukebox--but as soon as we finished, we were trying to find another song to do. Ridlen sees it happen all the time.
"It's like a little kid before a huge roller coaster," Ridlen says. "You know, once you do it, you wanna go back. It's not a big deal."