As much of a performance art group as a regular rock band, San Francisco's Beats Antique began as backing musicians on an album of belly dancing music. So impressed was lead dancer Zoe Jakes that she decided to assemble a band around multi-instrumentalist David Santori and percussionist Tommy Cappel. Augmented live by other musicians and dancers, the band quickly became a major concert draw in the Bay Area.
That was in 2007. Since then, Beats Antique has released five full-length efforts, including the recently issued Elektrafone, which combines world beat and electronic music.
Speaking from his home in San Francisco and in anticipation of Beats Antique's performance Friday night at Trees, Tommy Cappel spoke with DC9 at Night about mixing and mingling genres and how, the band's live sound and use of visuals can be darn near overwhelming.
What makes the music scene in San Francisco so special?
I think it has always been the place where alternative types go. I think the openness of the city itself lends itself to performance art. The Burning Man Festival is a key component. People feel that they can do whatever they feel like doing.
How did you come up with your particular world beat/electronica mix?
I don't know. The funny answer is we put everything in a blender and press go. The honest truth is that we were actually hired to record an album of belly dancing music. We were just going to do one album of tribal belly dancing music. That genre didn't really exist before. It is live instruments mixed with electronica. It is quite involved. It is a hard thing to describe. Basically, what we do is we have live drums, violin and banjo, sometimes live, we will have horn players, along with dancers and we mix that up with electronic music. We love a huge bass sound and glitched out backing tracks. Our music sounds so good live, coming out of a bunch of big speakers.
Is it music or performance art?
There is a performance art aspect to the music. We get kind of stupid, but we have fun. We have antics that are kind of fringe style and weird. We also do traditional belly dance stuff that can be very beautiful.
How many genres are involved in what your band does?
In the electronic music world, there are a lot of sub-genres involved. There's electro, hip-hop, dub-step, a lot of others. We try to use everything we can.
Is there a spiritual component to your music?
I think the music is spiritual in that traditional world music is spiritual in nature. Our music has its roots in that tradition. It is definitely provocative. Our music provokes a real fun energy.
In music this orchestrated, what do you do when you make a mistake?
Everyone makes mistakes. I think the sign of seasoned musician is that you keep going. You just go for it. One of my teachers told me that if you make a mistake, you repeat it again and again and then it is a phrase. It becomes part of the song and you go from there. Sometimes, you get sick of playing the same songs over and over, but you got to keep yourself in line and put on a good show.
Are there some songs that are more difficult than others?
There are definitely songs like "Caterpillar" that are way more intricate. Live, we remix everything so it's different from the album. The songs still have the same characteristics, but playing a line that has been re-edited and pushed out; sometimes that is hard to remember. But after a few shows, you get it. As a drummer, I play to the click where I can add all sorts of loops and samples. I have to stay locked in no matter what.
Is there a Central European influence to your music?
Yes, I lived in Serbia and all over Eastern Europe. In Serbia, at first, it was scary. You get off the bus and look at the downtown area and it's really shocking. Holes from bombs are all over buildings. I went in there about seven years after the war was over and it was still intense. People know that you are American and they kind of look at you funny. You hear all sorts of stories about things that happened at the borders there. It is scary, but when you get to where we were going, into the Balkan Mountains for a brass band festival, it's everything but scary. It's actually really beautiful and the people are incredible. It's the one week out of the year where everyone comes together and celebrates music instead of hating each other.
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Your stage show has been labeled ambitious. Could there be too much going on for the typical concertgoer?
There is a lot going on. There are a lot more sounds than a straight up band. People may wonder where it is all coming from. That's where we borrow from electronic music and DJ performances. There are some things that can be confusing to a listener. It can be a little overwhelming. But honestly, the overwhelming thing is probably the bass. It is so loud and can take over a room.
How did you get John Popper [from Blues Traveler] involved in your music?
We share the same manager. We met him at South by Southwest. And we were about to go onstage and we asked him if he would like to jam and he said for sure. He jumped up there and played with us and it was awesome. He learned the melody very quickly. We gave him a solo. We kept running into him at that festival. When we decided to record that song, we decided to call him and see what he was doing. He said he wanted to do it, so we sent an engineer out to his house and he recorded his part on his couch.
You have a prestigious background having attended the Berklee School of Music. Who are some drummers you admire?
Buddy Rich is my favorite. I love John Bonham as well. Those two are the heavy hitters.
Beats Antique performs Friday, October 21, at Trees.