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Iowa City sees rise in electronic music

BY EVAN CLARK | FEBRUARY 10, 2011 7:10 AM

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Iowa City musician and Public Property frontman Dave Bess is just beginning his career as a solo artist. Without a drummer, rhythm guitarist, and bass player, one could imagine Bess’ one-man show features acoustic songs.

Yet for him, it’s no band, no problem: His live performances use just as many instruments as any full-band gigs. With the tap of his feet, his guitar changes to a bass. Another flick of a switch, he nods his head as the percussion kicks in. When he puts it all together, he has a full band — and it’s all thanks to equipment that is changing the way artists make music.

“When I bought my loop foot pedal, it opened a whole new world of music for me,” he said. “You can record anything on that pedal.”

For his drums, he uses a Cajon — a wooden box that imitates a kick or snare drum — which he records and loops for his percussion. From there, he lays down the guitar tracks and vocals through his loop pedal, which gives him all the requirements needed for a band.

His loop pedal allows him to continue performing without a backing band, something that would have seemed nearly impossible more than 25 years ago. And as the technology has evolved, electronic music has rushed onto the scene, allowing artists to loop instruments and samples together all with the push of a button.

Of course, local musicians are not the only ones incorporating technology in their music; national acts such as Dan Deacon and Girl Talk have taken advantage of the technology.

Deacon, an award-winning dance-electronic artist, will show off his music at 9 p.m. Saturday at Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington St. Admission is $12. The show is sponsored by KRUI as a launch party for its new website.

Deacon has released two full-length albums to much acclaim, including his 2009 album, Bromst. On it, he explores the genre by using many instruments and looping them together on the computer to create an explosive sound, with synthesizer, drum kits, and various vocal samples. Drew Ingersoll, the music director at KRUI, believes Deacon is the perfect example of what electronic music is about.

“We went for [Deacon] because we want to create this party atmosphere and knew he would be the perfect fit for the students here,” Ingersoll said. “His music is different from what you hear everywhere else. It’s all electronic, tons of loops, and very creative. You’ll hear birds chirping, cats meowing, and his live presence incorporates the crowd in his set; he’s surrounded by the crowd — which is perfect for what we’re going for.”

Though technology lets electronic artists structure their music in many ways, incorporating all the loops isn’t as easy as stepping on a few pedals or pressing a couple buttons. Bess needed a few weeks of practice with all his different looping and effect pedals to get the hang of it. It took a couple shows for him to get comfortable with the technology, but he now feels a different kind of creativity using all the equipment, especially when performing live.

“The blessing, and the curse of it all, is that you have total control,” he said. “There’s a lot more room for experimenting with other ideas, and as far as playing live, that’s definitely one of the benefits. There’s a lot of room for improvisation, and a song can be different every single night.”

The emergence of electronic technology and equipment has not only gained popularity, it allows aspiring musicians to record material on their laptops in the comfort of their homes. Ingersoll sees the spread of electronic music as a direct result of the variety of equipment that’s available.

“I think it’s expanding because of technology in general,” he said. “Kids can record in their bedrooms and on their laptops, and so much is happening with this genre that makes music more accessible for people.”

Kirkwood student Dustin Gustafson is a local artist who takes advantage of the technological convenience and records his music using guitar, pedals, and laptop. He is amazed that through all this complicated technology, making good music is easier than ever.

“It’s crazy all the things I can do with music through my laptop,” he said. “I can layer all my guitar recordings on Garage Band [a recording software for Apple] to give a fuller texture with all different kinds of effects and distortion, and I mix it all on my laptop. The best thing is that most of the equipment needed for recording is rather cheap, and anyone can figure out how to use it.”

One of the consequences that new technology offers regarding music is that it allows anyone to call her- or himself an artist by meshing an instrumental beat with an a cappella vocal track and enjoy YouTube success.

The electronic genre at times appears congested with so many individuals aspiring for glory, something Bess believes can take away from real artists who are using technology to expand on their creativity. Bess, who loops all of his instruments live during his performances, is passionate about the subject.

“I feel strongly about all this DJ music that comes out nowadays,” he said. “They’re not playing music, they’re just making samples, and some aren’t even calling themselves DJ or think of themselves as artists. If you’re playing a computer and not playing things you wrote, you’re a DJ, and there is an art to that whole mixing process. But there’s a line when you’re not playing instruments and just solely depending on technology.”

Ingersoll agrees with Bess about the drastic increase in the number of people in the electronic genre, but he believes that whatever the music, the audience’s preference rules.

“I think we all have an ear for music,” he said. “At first, when you’re listening to electronic music, you have to separate from what’s good or bad. Also, I feel there’s a big emphasis on the live shows, which is where the money’s at for most artists today. But the bottom line is no matter what music you make and what equipment you use, there still needs to be a level of creativity involved in order to be successful.”


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