Beat city: Producers flourish in collaborative Indy 

click to enlarge KRISTEN PUGH
  • Kristen Pugh

Of all musical pursuits, electronic and hip-hop production might be the most similar to writing. At the very least they both frequently lead to the isolation of the artist. So much of both turn on the artist's willingness to go off on their own and pound away until they've got something worth sharing.

Dave Owen, an Indianapolis-based drum and bass producer says "making friends with my machine" is one of the most important parts of getting better. Working primarily alone with computers, synthesizers and drum machine, there are few (read: no) band practices for producers to attend.

And given the typical personality profile of a producer, the fact that any beats at all are played anywhere outside of the producer's own bedroom starts to seem even more surprising. Sean Stuart, who produces as Lonegevity, puts it best. "Most of us are introverts. I am too. I had to force myself to really get out and meet people and it was painful for me."

But beats are played. And shared, and critiqued, and shared again. What can start as something solitary evolves into a wellspring of camaraderie and collaboration. That is, if the scene is right.

And Indianapolis right now is right. As David Adamson, who produces solo as DMA and as part of duo Tuff Blades, says, "Everybody [in Indy] is encouraging and everybody wants to collaborate." There's an almost compulsive drive to work together. In fact, during the photoshoot for this piece, Stuart and fellow producer Jay Brookinz at one point stepped away from the group because there was business to discuss.

What makes Indianapolis a great place for producers to flourish, then, is the fact that people like Adamson, Stuart and Brookinz aren't just staying in every night, trying to get that kick drum to sound just right. They're also working hard to build infrastructure and to open whatever doors they can for the up-and-coming producers who are themselves willing to push themselves, get out there and get heard.

click to enlarge David Adamson, a.k.a. DMA - KRISTEN PUGH
  • David Adamson, a.k.a. DMA
  • Kristen Pugh

The mad genius

It's easy to believe that David Adamson fits that introverted profile that Stuart describes. As we talk at the Red Key one night after his shift at LUNA Music, his answers are deliberate. I have to lean in just a bit to hear him over the bustle.

As one half of Tuff Blades with partner Chris Madsen, Adamson produces a skewed take on Chicago's footwork music, which is a type of fast, hip-hop influenced electronic music that grew out Chicago's ghetto house and juke scenes. Structured around competitive dance battles, it's typified by tightly chopped samples, herky-jerky rhythms and off-kilter beats.

Though it too takes no small amount of influence from these sounds, Adamson's solo work as DMA is a bit harder to pin down. He calls it "crust-funk."

"I thought it was a good way to describe electronic music that was sort of lo-fi or distorted."

With DMA, Adamson wants to chart the intersection of digital and analog.

"I like that mix of things you can only do with digital technology," he says, "and then with the texture you can get with things like tape and real room reverb and echo."

Like a lot of the producers in this piece, Adamson first came to making music through hip-hop.

"The first thing I ever did was record raps on a boombox over an instrumental side of a cassette single tape," he says. "I think there was an MC Hammer song that I had on a cassette single."

Adamson first rose to prominence with his idiosyncratic indie folk-leaning group Jookabox (formerly Grampall Jookabox). That project ended in 2011. His tastes had changed.

"I think I wanted to do less poppy, more stark and minimal stuff," he says. "I had started listening to footwork out of Chicago, and juke stuff."

Adamson cites volumes one and two of Planet Mu's Bangs & Works compilations, released in 2010 and 2011, as instrumental to his shifting sounds. These compilations featured countless heavy hitters in the footwork genre, including RP Boo, DJ Rashad and even recent Indiana transplant EQ Why, who at the time went by DJ T-Why.

At a technical level, he wasn't quite sure how to pull of the sounds he was hearing on Bangs & Works.

"I had taken this MIDI recording class at IU when I was there, and at the time I didn't really understand how it would ever apply to what I wanted to do."

As it happens, it applied directly. What he learned in that class is exactly what ended up enabling him to make the music he makes these days. Shortly after he made the connection, he put together Tuff Blades with Madsen. Their debut cassette, Marshall Faulk Primetime, came out last year via Indianapolis' Warm Ratio label (which is collaboratively run by Adamson, Madsen and Dan Schmeltekop).

Last year also saw the release of DMA's debut full-length on Indianapolis' Joyful Noise Recordings. Entitled Pheel Phree, Adamson says it took a while to come together; he just kept overcoming technical hurdles, learning more about MIDI programming and the ins and outs of his gear.

"I think [Pheel Phree] finally turned out what I was hoping for. It all started when I was first figuring out how to really use the MIDI stuff, and the way I wanted to make sounds I was interested in."

Adamson echoes the feeling of other producers who value Indy's open environment.

"Maybe because we're kind of an underdog, in a way. On a national or global picture we're not really known for a music scene, and we would like to be. We all just want to support each other and see each other succeed." He continues, "I think we [DMA, Tuff Blades] could play [any venue]. People are pretty open to whatever around here."

Even so, with all the low frequencies and high volumes in Adamson's DMA and Tuff Blades, it can be tricky to play out just anywhere.

"A tough thing to find around town is sound people and PA systems that cater to electronic music rather than a band just running vocals."

One event he mentions is IQ Entertainment's Broke(n) Tuesdays at the Melody Event. He played there back in February, and he thinks they've got the right idea. They do, after all, bring in an extra PA to make sure it's all "really nice and loud."

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