Mechanical Vodou

Making the machines come alive

"I just had this sense of frustration. I was living in Miami, and I couldn't hear the kind of music I wanted to listen to," says Seven on the origins of Chocolate Industries in 1995. "I wanted to hear Aphex Twin and A Tribe Called Quest together. Nobody in Miami was doing that. In fact there weren't too many people that dug that kind of music in America then, period." Credited as being one of the first promoters to present jungle DJs to Miami, Seven has carried that groundbreaking approach to his label's output as well. The singles it has released from local artist Guineo, as well as from German drum and bass tricksters Funkstörung, have carved out a distinctive sound for Chocolate Industries. Indeed an abstract hip-hop single from Brooklyn's East Flatbush Project caused such a ruckus that it inspired an entire album of creative remixes from figures as disparate as Britain's Squarepusher and Miami's own turntablist extraordinaire DJ Craze. But Seven isn't necessarily comfortable with the growing level of attention.

"When Edgar [Push Button Objects] and I played in Munich [Germany], we had people who drove for hours to come see us! It was very flattering, but also overwhelming," Seven says. "We get stared at a lot. People go, 'Oh, so that's what you look like. We thought you'd look like computer geeks carrying around little laptops.'"

We're ready for our closeup (from left): Haviken Hayes, Plot, Seven, Steve Castro, Push Button Objects
Brett Sokol
We're ready for our closeup (from left): Haviken Hayes, Plot, Seven, Steve Castro, Push Button Objects

"Every five years or so, you hear about people starting the Miami music scene, whether it's Nuclear Valdez or the Mavericks," says composer Ed Bobb with a touch of controlled anger creeping into his voice. "Not a music scene, but the music scene. People don't seem to realize that music scenes with international significance have always existed in Miami. It's just a matter of ignorance. Unless people see a high-profile artist like Luther Campbell or Gloria Estefan, they think nothing is happening. Since there have been electronic instruments available on the mass market, there has been electronic music in South Florida."

Bobb could just as easily be speaking about his own life. Called "the godfather of Miami experimentalism" by one local figure, Bobb's personal timeline is a veritable history of Miami's bohemian currents. From being maced and tear-gassed by police as a high school senior during the protests surrounding the 1972 Republican National Convention on Miami Beach, to being an active member of the punk world in the late '70s and early '80s, he's had a finger in a bewildering array of projects. Sitting in his downtown apartment, the 45-year-old Bobb speaks slowly and chooses his words carefully. His reserved demeanor intensifies the aura of a mad scientist's lair; his living room is piled with vintage Moog synthesizers and ancient television sets turned on their side, all competing for space with stacks of records and CDs.

"I was working in a closed system for many years. I discovered musique concréte when I was eight," Bobb recalls, referring to the cut-and-paste sampling technique first pioneered by postwar composers such as Stockhausen. "This was precassette days. My father bought me a little reel-to-reel tape recorder, and just by recording sounds, playing with the pitch control, cutting up the reels, and then putting it back together with Scotch tape, I discovered concréte. I didn't know people had been doing that since the '40s," he says with a grin. "When I was sixteen, I remember listening to the Beatles' White Album and hearing John and Yoko's 'Revolution 9.' I didn't realize then how nonoriginal it was, but at the time, it really turned me around to discovering I wasn't alone, that other people were doing the same thing."

Chuckling to himself, Bobb recalls the seminotorious punk outfit Early Warning System, for which he briefly played keyboards in 1980. "I was kicked out for being too weird," he says, raising an eyebrow. "Too weird for a punk band. I wouldn't play anything the same way twice; it was always juxtaposed against the grain of what the rest of the band was doing." He pauses and says, beaming: "It was wonderful!" That mischievous spirit was given full rein in the Happiness Boys, a project with Stephen Nester that released two records' worth of disturbing synth squiggles and eerie tribal rhythms in 1983 and 1985. "The pattern with electronic music at that time was to say 'Yes, we have a drum machine, but we want to make it sound like actual drums. Yes we have a synthesizer, but we want it to emulate sweet strings.' Our approach was the opposite. We were interested in machines that sounded like machines. The Belgian press dubbed our music 'machine vodou,'" he says. Infused with that forward-thinking spirit, the Happiness Boys' music still sounds utterly fresh, making its way into the collections of both Seven (who was amazed to actually meet Bobb in the flesh) and British outfit Autechre (whose members were more amazed to learn he was in Miami).

In the years since, Bobb has been engaged in various projects, from working with noise guru Rat Bastard to heading up the lolling funk crew Satellite Lounge, as well as teaching classes in music and film at Miami-Dade Community College and the Alliance Independent Film Project. The present burst of energy emanating from Miami's younger crop of avant-gardists has inspired him to return to recording for a larger audience. Several of his soundscapes are slated for release on Beta Bodega. You can also catch his inventive video work at Exedra, a Wednesday evening event at Coral Gables' Meza gallerycafé, which stands as one of the area's few live venues for the electronic underground.

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