Echoes and Reverberations: Decadent Dub Team, Fracturing the Mash-Up
DDTers Jason Wolford, EZ Eddie D and Jeff Liles
The puke green exterior made the Mitchell Building in Deep Ellum look like a frightening industrial shop of horrors. Far from being accidental, that's by design -- the place was actually a weapons manufacturing facility during Word War II.
In the early '80s, the dark fortress was reinvented as a squatter's art colony. Painters and musicians braved time and temperature to suffer for their means of expression. Dissonant noise was part of the daily fabric; power saws, compressors, welding torches and the banging of nails blended in with new bands like The Daylights, who could often be heard honking and squealing during rehearsals in the middle of the night.
"Decadent Dub Team began at the Mitchell building, in my old studio space there on the second floor," recalls longtime Dallas musician Paul Quigg. "The building was like a magnet that attracted everything from aspiring artists, musicians, writers, future technoids and the like, to runaways, groupies and meth cooks. The scene there on a weekend night was blast. All the bands loading back in at 3 a.m. after their gigs in Deep Ellum, with their attendant admirers, groupies, and partners in debauchery. The freaks came out at night indeed."
It was in the living room of Quigg's dusty loft space that he and I did hundreds of bong hits and started jacking around with tape loops, sampled beats, and snippets of bad rock records. The cold wash of florescent tube lights cast a tungsten shadow on old chrome and motor oil that had accumulated on the concrete floors of the building. All of our drum machines, analog synths, a shitty Sears turntable and a rack of archaic sampling equipment were stacked on silver hospital gurneys we had rescued from a dumpster behind Baylor Hospital.
Boys making noise in a monochromatic chop shop. Sonic butchers carving beats into sawdust.
Paul Quigg: "When Jeff and I got together the first couple of times, we'd hang out in my space choppin' up stuff 'old school' with tape loops, analog synths, and (soon to be primitive) samplers. I was mostly turned on by industrial grit and squalling analog sounds at that time, and Jeff's vision had a home for that shit. There is nothing really like the excitement of exploring something so new and without rules as the scene was around hip-hop/industrial at that time."
Williams, Liles and Quigg
I came up with the name Decadent Dub Team while in the shower one day; I honestly had no idea what the word "decadent" meant, I just liked the way it sounded. The initials spelled out "DDT", yet I had no real understanding of the dangerous pesticide by the same name. It's not like we were really trying to do anything serious anyway; I mean, who would ever book a show for two guys jacking around with a bunch of electronic gear? Would anybody come see something like that? We certainly weren't planning on it.
After a couple of get-together-and-make-noise sessions, we added a third member: a musician from Denton named David Williams.
All of us knew how to play a guitar, but weren't bothering to bring one to a DDT jam session. As a kid, The Beatles were the most amazing band in the world to me; but unlike most folks, my favorite songs weren't the obvious hits, but "Revolution 9," a bizarre sound collage from the White Album. Like that track, Decadent Dub Team's music was like a giant jigsaw puzzle of "found" sound. No two gigs were ever the same, we rarely used set lists, and no song was ever performed the same way twice. Relentlessly tripping in public; three alpha male cut-and-paste culture jammers jacked up on blotter and bong hits.
Blessed with marvelous luck, we were the last band added to a roster of artists selected by Island Records A&R rep Kim Buie to participate in "The Sound of Deep Ellum" project, a compilation album released in 1986. Our contribution, called "Six Gun," then fell into the hands of a hotshot teenage producer in Compton, Calif., named Dr. Dre. He remixed the track for 500 bucks and it ended up on the soundtrack to the Dennis Hopper-directed film, Colors.
Wow. So far, so good.
The three of us then threw our gear into the belly of an airplane and went to Los Angeles to make a demo with former Frank Zappa bassist Arthur Barrow, a producer (with ties to Denton) who now owned a home recording studio in Venice. When the tone arm on my rinky-dink little Sears turntable snapped in half during load in, I called Dre over in Compton to see if I could borrow a turntable for our recording sessions.
An hour later, Dr. Dre, Eazy E and Ice Cube rolled up in a black Jeep with a replacement deck in tow. That demo session was the first time I had ever used a Technics 1200 turntable to scratch a record. Eazy gave me a copy of the very first NWA EP, and pointed out that they had put my name was on the back of the sleeve. Kim Buie was trying to sign them to Island at the same time; and it looked as though we would all be hanging out a lot together in the future.
The music on that particular demo actually had more of a rock influence than funk or hip-hop. One of the tracks was called "Feel Like Makin' Dub," which featured a repetitive sample from the guitar part in the chorus of a generic Bad Company song. ("Du-nuh duuuh... du-nuh duuuh... du-nuh duuuh... feel like makin'... du-nuh duuuh..." over and over again.) Williams hooked up the loop, Paul dropped in some analog synth bass texture, and I cut the droning intro of Led Zeppelin's "In The Light" on top of it all.
Back then, legal sample clearances were expensive and almost impossible to procure. It was very much an "us against them" mentality; this was definitely outlaw cut-and-paste deconstructionist art. The record company knew we would never be able to sell anything that was so overtly derivative, but we weren't tryin' to hear all that. The three of us were all too busy arguing about everything else under the sun.
In the meantime, Island Records offered us a 12" spec deal and we scheduled a trip to the label's studio in Compass Point, Bahamas, to try and make a proper record.
After the demo excursion to L.A., Paul decided that he had enough of listening to David and I try to drown each other out -- both musically and during conversation. Quigg left the band and quickly regained his peace of mind. (His next band, Vibrolux, would be the subject of major label bidding war, and as a result, he relocated to Los Angeles for three years.)
"Although we ultimately experienced 'band chemistry' issues as so many do, " he recalls, "It remains a strong and positive memory to me."
(Seven years later, Paul and I reconnected with Dre in Los Angeles on the set of a Soul Assassins music video called "Puppet Master." I still remember what he said as a wardrobe girl fitted him for what looked like something the Pope might wear to Mass: "Man, I didn't know if you guys had died or what... you just disappeared and shit.")
Williams and Liles
Without any new copyright-safe material of our own, David Williams and I went ahead to Compass Point anyway. After having serious equipment issues and spending way too much time out on a boat, we came back to Dallas virtually empty-handed. No artistic breakthrough, no new record to release, and nothing to show for our serious lack of effort. We never made another record for the label.
Kerry Crafton (producer/engineer): "The most fun I ever had recording was with DDT in the Bahamas. Jeff had a relationship with an A&R rep from Island and she decided that DDT needed to get away from hometown distractions to record the follow up to "Six Gun." Jeff asked if I would go with them to record; I thought about it for a microsecond and said yes. We landed at the Freeport airport and descended steps that were rolled up to the plane, just like in an old '60s movie. Owned by Island studios at the time, Compass Point is a world famous studio where The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, U2, Eric Clapton and many others have recorded. The place was amazing. The walls were lined waist to ceiling with gold and platinum records all the way down the hall that led to the control rooms. We recorded at night, and that left us the daytime to relax, snorkel and play computer football on David's Mac. We worked on two songs over those 10 days and, to be honest, I think we spent too much time enjoying our surroundings."
When we got back to Dallas, David and I hated each other for another month or so, and then he bailed out on the project, too. At this point my personal taste in music was transitioning from the abstract cut-and-paste stuff to what Dre and NWA were doing in L.A., and what the Bomb Squad was doing up in New York. I wasn't a talented MC, but I knew how to surround myself with people who could throw the fuck down. I did my best to act as a ringleader without coming off as too much of a wigger douchebag. Wasn't always easy. A lot of times it meant standing on the side of the stage and just shutting the fuck up.
Liles, DaJay and Wolford
Over the next two years, a dozen or so hip-heads joined Decadent Dub Team in various capacities; a young KNON DJ named EZ Eddie D joined as a co-producer; fashion designer Tracy Feith, along with a spray can artist named "Ozone", joined as break dancers and hype men. A prodigious teenager from Ohio named Jason Wolford became the star DJ. MCs TyAllen Macklin and Da' Jay brought deep lyrics and serious flow to the microphone. Dallas producer David Castell started overseeing most of our Dallas recording sessions.
And even though members were coming and going, we were all still friends and members of the same creative peer group.
"I met Paul a year or so after joining DDT -- probably two years after his leaving the band -- and he quickly became my electronic music mentor," wrote Wolford in an email last night. "Paul showed me how to use my first sampler and sequencer, and helped me build my first music computer back in 1990. I still owe a lot to him for all the help he gave me over the years. Paul and Jeff had a great influence on me; Jeff constantly turned me onto new music and pushed things in a different direction, and Paul showing me tricks on electronic instruments that I still use every day. I was fortunate to get mixed up with those guys when I was so young."
After leaving DDT, David Williams moved to Brooklyn and met the Jungle Brothers, eventually contributing production and beats to one of their albums. At the same time, EZ Eddie D and I hooked up with KRS-ONE and Boogie Down Productions; Decadent Dub Team ended up co-producing two tracks ("Seven DeeJays" and "30 Cops or More") on their Edutainment album. We were all still moving in a direction.
In 1989 we signed a 12" deal with Triple X Records (home to Jane's Addiction's debut joint) and recorded two new tracks with Mark Griffin, who just happened to be getting his MC 900 Ft Jesus project off the ground. Mark came up with two killer arrangements, then David Castell and I piled into his old black 280Z and drove to Philadelphia for a weekend to remix the new tracks with Joe "The Butcher" Nicolo, a successful producer who had worked on the first couple of Cypress Hill records.
Meanwhile, the trend of cross-pollinating hip-hop beats with other types of popular music was beginning to creep into the mainstream. Bands with names similar to our own started popping up everywhere; Meat Beat Manifesto, Urban Dance Squad, Big Audio Dynamite, Digital Underground; locally, it was Hydroponic Sound System, Billygoat and Hellafied Funk Crew doing damage.
Suddenly a whole gang load of pasty white kids had grown dreadlocks and traded in their cheap Japanese axes for expensive samplers and digital drum machines. It was apparently time to drag the funk out to the suburbs.
You had the good with the bad: Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers were like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin of this particular generation, while shallow shit like 3rd Bass and Vanilla Ice just seemed gimmicky, corporate and disposable.
DDT was really too abstract of a concept to find safe haven with the track-suit-and-Air-Jordan set, so we were more or less embraced by Industrial kids, tech geeks and dance DJs. We played out of town every chance we got. Road trips with Decadent Dub Team were always an exercise in extraordinary risk. Cocky and oblivious, we were the criminals with a conscience; the kids who spiked the punch bowl with real spikes.
In 1993, we were banned from SXSW in Austin for lighting up a joint onstage during a showcase. While opening for Tone-Loc in Oklahoma City, we busted out his instrumental of "Wild Thing" and offered our own lyrics to his song. (Not sure if he dug that or not.) After a show at The Depot in Lubbock, there was a drive-by shooting in the parking lot of the venue; eight squad cars sealed off the block and we were sitting ducks for three hours while they did an investigation.
Liles, Feith and EZ Eddie D
None of this stuff seemed to affect us a bit. If we were gonna throw out precarious subject matter in our songs, then we had to be able to deal with that kind of shit in Real Time.
One of our regular venues in Houston was called The Axiom. It was in an extremely dangerous neighborhood. There was a crackhouse directly across the alley from the backstage load-in door. After we pulled up, I jumped right out with my brand new video recorder and (like an idiot) started taping the people going in and out of the drug store. A lunatic crackhead came running out from the other side of the house and started chasing me down the street on foot. It was like The Twilight Zone; I had never run that fast in my life. I sprinted into the club and barricaded the front door behind me. This was around six o'clock at night, and we still had yet to go back out to the van and load in the rest of our gear. I was positive that guy was still out there waiting to jack me for the camera.
A different trip to Oklahoma landed half of our crew in jail. On the way up to a show in Talequah, a caravan of three cars filled with band members and an extended entourage found bad trouble in Muskogee.
We were pulled over by State Troopers because -- get this -- our headlights weren't bright enough. ("It wasn't even dark yet, officer!") These patrolmen had apparently never seen a Green Checker Marathon north of the Red River before, or, for that matter, a white guy with dreadlocks. We were detained on the side of the interstate and treated like prison escapees. They found a couple of fat bags of weed and we were then handcuffed and detained.
As we were being processed into the jail, they asked the three of us a series of questions.
One of those questions was, "What religion are you?"
The first one processed through was my friend Eric Schwartz. When he answered "Jewish," I saw the cop make a disgusted face. He then asked me the same question. "Southern Baptist," I quickly responded.
I didn't want any more trouble. I was still pissed that we were missing our gig.
Mike Marcoe, our road manager on that trip, wasn't havin' any of that bullshit.
"Hare Krishna," he said.
"What? Hairy Christian?"
Marco got real serious.
The cop looked perplexed.
"You mean like those people at the airport beggin' for money? Really? Well, we've got a special cell for you."
They put Mike right into solitary confinement and he stayed there for two straight days. I could hear him screaming from all the way across the other side of the building. Shit was worse than Deliverance. They kept his Checker Marathon for in the city auto pound for almost a year afterwards.
Before our court date came up, a very nice female musician from Dallas (whose debut album had just gone platinum) hired a big-shot lawyer to represent us at the preliminary hearing. Since I had only spoken with him on the telephone prior to that day, I had no idea what the guy looked like. When a six-foot-seven dude in expensive cowboy boots strode into the courtroom, the judge himself stood up from behind his bench and proclaimed, "Ladies and gentlemen... we have very distinguished counsel here today!"
The charges were dropped about five minutes later.
As we left the courtroom, my lawyer's last words to us were, "If I were you, I wouldn't book any more shows in Oklahoma."
Maybe those Okie cops took offense to our T-shirts that had "Fuck You, We're From Texas!" written on the back. We probably sold more of those shirts than we ever sold records or CDs. When Slash of Guns N' Roses wore one onstage at a gig in front of 50,000 people at the Astrodome in Houston, MTV was there to do an interview right after the show. I had people from all over the country calling me for weeks afterwards trying to find one of the shirts.
People who didn't have a clue as the meaning of Decadent Dub Team were buying the shirts two and three at a time.
TyAllen Macklin (producer/Erykah Badu): "My involvement with DDT started my career in hip-hop. It was the first rap group I was in that was doing shows outside of Dallas. They had fans and a couple of records out that were making a lil' noise. My cousin (aka Shabazz 3 MC Mr. Fatz) called a number on the back of one of those albums because it was jammin' and it just so happened to be Jeff Liles on the other end. He invited us down to a show and the next thing I know, I'm at Trees rapping on stage with DDT. The dope thing about it was that I was able to use being in the group as an excuse to get into the after school work program in my high school. While students got out of school early to go to work at Safeway, I got out to go do underground rap shows in Houston. The teacher in that class didn't like that too much."
Jason Wolford (Teledubgnosis): "I joined Decadent Dub Team back in '89; a fresh transplant from the Midwest. DDT was in a transitional phase. Jeff had a lot of momentum built up from the success of the previous few years. There was a rotating cast of talented people passing through the project before I joined. The unbelievably talented MC Jay (aka "Da Hitman") never really got his chance to shine on record in my opinion, and EZ Eddie D really deserved a full staff and studio to let his ideas manifest. One of my biggest regrets was not being around to join earlier. I would've have killed to have witnessed the DDT/Tackhead show that happened in '87."
Paul Quigg: "The live shows we did in those days are I remember loving the most, especially the one with Tackhead. Our sonic impact was akin to militarized sound weaponry at a deadly setting. Jeff had a rig with a single turntable, a delay, and various other caterwauling nosebleed devices. David would have his sampler cranked like guitar amp crunch/gut punch, and we would proceed to impart much hearing loss to all who attended. My ears would ring for days after some of those shows, actually, they still are."
The Adrian Sherwood-led Tackhead crew out of the UK was an undeniable influence on Decadent Dub Team; Fats Comet, Mark Stewart and Maffia, Gary Clail, Keith LeBlanc and master mixologist Sherwood were our heroes - a twisted collective of politically-motivated culture jammers and aural arsonists. Everything they recorded just leapt off the wax that it was pressed on. They were twisting sampled noise in every way imaginable. The beats were brutal, and the sound bytes were subversive and intellectually radical. Their album cover artwork was always dark and mysterious. I was all over it.
David Williams -- who was also obsessed with the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen at the time -- and I would usually trek up to VVV Records once a week to see if Mark Griffin (MC 900 FT Jesus) had any of their new records hidden for us behind the counter. Anything bearing an On-U label went home with us that day, and usually found its way onto the play list of my "Life Is Hard" late night radio show on KNON.
Tackhead was The Bomb and they sounded like it. You can imagine how thrilled we were opening up for them at Empire (now Lizard Lounge), and then again a year later at Club Clearview. Drummer Keith LeBlanc and Williams hung out together the entire time the band was in town. When Adrian Sherwood took us all out to dinner -- and then asked if he could do the live mix of our show the next night -- we knew we were Living The Dream.
It was kinda like having Salvador Dali ask to direct your screenplay.
Jason Wolford: "There was a Butthole Surfers meets Tackhead undercurrent (sometimes literally) in our production technique. I think it was more present before I joined the band, but the funky noise element was always there. The Money/Gold 12-inch -- the lone stab at straight up Bomb Squad style hip-hop -- was, in my opinion, a precursor to the blunted sound that DJ Muggs would make with Cypress Hill a few years later. The DDT production team, including Jeff, EZ Eddie, Mark Griffin and David Castell, really made some cool noise for the rest of us to work with. Having input from seasoned vets like Kerry Crafton and Joe "The Butcher" Nicolo was helpful as well."
Andy Kravitz (Session drummer): "My involvement with DDT came through my affiliation and close friendship with Kim Buie and Joe Nicolo. As a budding producer/engineer, studio drummer in Philadelphia, these sessions were a great thing to be part of. It was an exciting time in hip-hop; everything was a new discovery. Using live musicians with loops was our 'thing' at Studio 4. At that time we were working with the Boo-Yaa Tribe, Schooly D, Dust Brothers, Jermaine Dupri (who was 14 at the time), Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince, and The 7A3 (DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill). Listening back to the DDT tracks just now, I have fond memories for the energy, heart and soul in this music. I recall tracking drums and recording vocals, plus the phone conversation: 'We don't do rap music...' and all of us just laughing our asses off!"
Jason Wolford: "The stuff Jeff was doing later, the cassette-only release that he did for Last Beat Records, "Will Work For Food", was really great. That was all him and David Castell. Shortly after I joined the band, I recall David politely schooling me on the definition of the word 'dub' at a party. I was just a punk kid in my first band, I had no idea of the bass heavy, processed roots behind the meaning. These days I am all about tape delays and spring verbs... so I guess it was a hint of things to come."
Over the years, I have been asked many times why there wasn't ever a proper Decadent Dub Team album. It's hard for some people to imagine that after so many recording sessions with all of those amazing producers and engineers, we don't have anything other than a handful of singles and a cassette-only release to show for the effort.
It is difficult for some people to wrap their heads around the idea that this was something that we were really only doing as a hobby. Sure, there were people who believed in us along the way, and some of them had very high hopes for the success of the project. They tend to get sad when they filter DDT through the blurry prism of wasted opportunity and misplaced initiative. Who gets offered a record deal based on one single song? Who ends up on a platinum movie soundtrack with the very first track they ever record in a studio? What kind of artist works with hip-hop legends like Dr. Dre, BDP and the Jungle Brothers, and has absolutely nothing to show for it?
Trust me when I say that everything worked out just fine. We had a lot of fun, we made some beautiful noise and pushed a lot of buttons. And like The Residents, Culturcide, Negativland and Material before us, this is a band that has always relished a unique position on the periphery. Anonymity is bliss; privacy is priceless. We stayed sane by dropping the ball. Everything was forever a blessing in disguise. And now that mash-up artists like Girl Talk and Soulwax are selling out big shows and raking in the dough, our music probably doesn't seem to sound so ridiculous in retrospect.
After all, it really wasn't ever our noise to begin with. The music of Decadent Dub Team has always belonged to everybody.
Decadent Dub Team will appear at the "Full Circle" Theatre Gallery reunion show at Gypsy Tea Room on Saturday, December 5, 2009.
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