Column: The Month in Drum & Bass - Story by Jess Harvell
Chris Leamy's records as Sileni are perfect for lapsed d&b fans that claim there's nothing new under the sun. "I like the Offshore ones, mainly because they're the closest to the Motherfucking Robotic Bounce Tweaker Beats sorta sound that my dome has been gravitating towards," Leamy says via e-mail.
Motherfucking Robotic Bounce Tweaker Beats is as good a description as any. Sileni's "Twitchy Droid Leg" was the stand out track on Offshore's Troubled Waters mix, sounding like the pneumatic bounce of southern rap crossed with wheezing sonorities of industrial-- but still obviously a drum & bass record. By breaking up the tourniquet-tight syncopation of the 2-step drum pattern, Leamy has made neurofunk that finally lives up the name. His gorgeous revamp of Actual Proof's "Maybe We'll Stay"-- full of psychedelically reversed voices and mottled drum noises-- feels closer to Dominik Eulberg-style ketamine-house.
"It has worked out so far because although the drumfunk/edits/chyoppidge soldiers love old dusty breaks, dubbed out echoes, amen edits, oldskool pads, funk stabs, whatever, they all are still mad open to anything," says Leamy. "Like huge techno influences, breakcore influences, experimental leanings, even stuff that takes mainstream ideas as long as it's nicely done..."
Like many Americans around the same age, his interest in drum & bass was an outgrowth of discovering electronic music for the first time. "For one, you could make crazy beats as complex or as simple as possible, and as syncopated or as straightforward as possible, and I would still get down to it as part of the same sorta environment. Keep in mind I got into this shit around '96 or so, and there were people like Jonny L and Optical making some of the most weirded-out clunky stuff that could still pound a dancefloor to bits.
"In some ways it was like having a simulated band playing instrumentals without guitars," he continues. "Sick bass, sick drums, and usually some weird sound effects or synths on top. [But now] I find myself gravitating back to a singular kinda sound, something that just completely envelopes or mesmerizes you when you hear it, or at least something where the elements are just totally locked in with each other. Every little sound supporting some unified phrase."
Like most people in this column, the "leftfield" tag bothers him not at all. "With the way drum'n'bass is right now, FUCK NO. It's just the best practical measure one can have to distinguish the stuff I do from mainstream drum & bass, which I think is terrible. [Or] just plagued with what I see as a pants-shittingly frightening combination of identity A.D.D., "chasing the high"-ism, aesthetic myopia, and allegiance to sales. Don't get me wrong, shittiness occurs at all levels but I'm way comfier in the margins."
"There is a fragmented but growing global scene and network for this stuff, without a doubt," he says. "There are little nodes of activity all over the US and Europe."
A few months ago the Planet Mu website dropped a tantalizing hint of a Sileni album (along with one from Equinox, as well as the still MIA 0=0 album). "Well, the only thing that's confirmed right now is a single for next year which should be FACKIN' SICK DOOD," Leamy says. "The new stuff I'm working is basically more Sileni-ness, jumpy-bouncey-synco'd-robot-piss-nano-funk with all sorts of weird drums (fake and real sounding) and lots of rubbery wonky bass and cavernous knocks and ticks and staccato-ness."
Leamy's breakthrough records ("'big hits,' you're killing me over here") were all 2004 releases, leaving a fan to wonder what he's been up to for the last 12 months. "Shit man, I feel like in the last 12 months I've gone all the way out to different solar systems and back," he says. "I was making super tweaked techno-y wackiness just using the most ass-backwards primitive editing techniques in Soundforge. Kinda like going into the woods and living off the land for a bit. I played guitar in MILITIANARY (grind/thrash/punk/hc/crossover madness) for most of the year and that was SICK!"
"It's really easy to make twelves when you actually enjoy a decent amount of shit that's coming out," he says. "When the rug gets pulled out from under a motherfucker, it's easier to just go with wherever you're gravitating as opposed to some 12" scene that seems to be totally atrophying. The stuff I did seemed to be a little too messed up for 12" land (even 'leftfield' outlets) and still too pedestrian for, say, weirdy-beardy types. Besides that, a lot of time was taken making weird illustrations (check out http://www.rhinoplex.org/sileni as there'll be more visual wank up there at some point), riding my bike, and trying to scheme up life adventures like living in a shortbus."
Wait, a shortbus? "We wanted a clunker vehicle to bring like seven kids on a crazy 16-day road trip, so we all put in money and scored this SWEET ride for $1800. The road trip was beyond hilarious. Anyway, three of us figured why not pimp out the bus interior to make it liveable and just GO? We had a few places where we could work and make some money, one being in the Ozark Mountains, where we could help our friends' African percussion wholesale business along. It was looking awesome, and completely realistic. I know, I know, "fucking hippies," you say. But we had all been making little attempts at breaking out for the past few years (quitting our normal jobs, getting wackier jobs, going on more insane road trips with time, doing more loopy things in general for lack of a better term) and this seemed to be The Start of the Real Fun."
"Come September, Hurricane Katrina happened. One of the three dudes, Ross, did Food Not Bombs (http://www.hartfordfnb.com, http://www.foodnotbombs.net) for years in Hartford, CT and was like, 'yo, let's raise a ton of money and food and go down south and do our part for a while.' And there was really no better idea we could come up with since we had such a huge useful vehicle. So we ended up raising a bunch of loot, food, and went down with some E.M.T. folks we knew and jumped right in with a bunch of other Food Not Bombs people, activists, Rainbow Family people (google 'Rainbow Gathering'), and other assorted Nice Folks. We worked with large-scale community kitchens, small-scale cooking operations, and mobile meal deliveries. Or simply guarding a house for fear of bulldozing by The Man, dry-walling, demolition, supply runs out to remote neighborhoods not tapped yet by FEMA/Red Cross, etc. I'll be back down in New Orleans in early November to continue working with a big free community kitchen we helped set up. Probably stay there until the end of the year, since it seems to be the right thing to do and we don't actually spend any money by living down there (in fact, we have a free house to sleep in). It's weird, but awesome...and good to help out our unluckier brothers and sisters, ya know?"