Cars That Go Boom

Bass Mekanik breaks beats and windows

Some music genres measure success with hit records, others with critical kudos. But in the world of bass, the sound of breaking glass can be the ultimate compliment. "A guy came up to me at a car show when he found out who I was," recalls Neil Case, better known in musical circles as the Bass Mekanik, creator of stomach-churning, maniacally percussive bass tracks. "'You're the Bass Mekanik? I blew my windshield out with your CD!'" Case laughs at the memory, continuing, "and then this guy shook my hand. He was so happy. 'You killed my system; that's a great CD!'"

Bass music may not share the underground cachet of its parent, hip-hop, but that hasn't stopped its trademark rapid-fire staccato beats and woofer-shredding stomp from garnering a significant nationwide following. The conference room in which Neil Case is sitting is a testament to that fan base. It's just one part of the Pandisc complex, home not only to the Pandisc independent label (focused on bass), but also an in-house recording studio and distribution arm, all under the same roof in Opa-locka. Also notable is Pandisc's growth, which has occurred without the support of a major label. Like Master P's No Limit Records, Pandisc and bass music in general are a grassroots phenomenon.

Arrayed on the walls behind Case are the framed gold and platinum records awarded to Pandisc president Bo Crane for his promotional work with early-'80s seminal rap smashes such as Run-D.M.C.'s King of Rock and Eric B. and Rakim's Paid in Full. Crane carried that street-level marketing savvy over to his own label, and between Pandisc's blizzard of releases in the late '80s, as well as those of Luther Campbell's 2 Live Crew, bass has been stamped internationally with a Miami identity. Cities such as Orlando and Detroit may have their own thriving bass scenes (and many cite Atlanta as home to activity that dwarfs all of South Florida), but the genre is still widely termed Miami bass.

I love the sound of breaking glass: Neil "Bass Mekanik" Case
Photos by Michael Marko
I love the sound of breaking glass: Neil "Bass Mekanik" Case

Neil Case's initiation to the sounds of wall-shaking bass tremors came early. His family relocated from his native England to Kingston, Jamaica, when he was five years old. By his early teens he was working as a DJ at parties, spinning 45s from James Brown and War alongside the latest Jamaican dub releases from Prince Jazzbo and U-Roy. By age sixteen the precocious Case had already wrangled himself an engineering job at Byron Lee's Dynamic Studios, assisting on recording sessions with reggae giants such as Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, and Bunny Wailer, as well as visiting rock royalty like the Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder.

The year 1976 was a heady time for Case, who was working in the midst of one of Jamaica's most fertile periods of musical activity. Part of that energy, however, was a result of the social strife that was engulfing the nation. Michael Manley's vaguely socialist People's National Party (PNP) was engaged in a bitter re-election campaign against the conservative Jamaican Labor Party (JLP). Deadly shootouts between the two factions' supporters were commonplace, and a mood of dread was heightened by growing evidence of CIA intrigues in support of the JLP. In this climate of fear and violence, Case's father, a PNP government official, received a series of death threats. "I came home from the studio on a Saturday afternoon," Case recalls, "and my dad said, 'We're leaving Monday.'"

The family fled to Davie, Florida, but Case was less than enamored with his new home. What particularly shocked him was the state of race relations. "It was so racially polarized here," he says. "In Jamaica you literally were colorblind. There were social divisions, but it was based on have and have-not, not color. You had Chinese, blacks, whites, Jews, Arabs; we were all very unself-conscious about race."

Case tried to continue his music career, but with little fortune. He landed a job at the Sunrise Musical Theatre -- as a dishwasher. Soon wanderlust set in. "After the free and easy ways of Jamaica, everything in Miami seemed so sterile. There wasn't much funk to the place," he says dryly. The next few years would find Case wandering around Colorado, Los Angeles, London, and Kingston. In the early '80s he served as the road manager for Native, a Jamaican outfit signed to RCA that released several albums and toured the world, though the band never achieved a hit.

By 1985 Native had dissolved, and Case was back in Miami working part-time as a recording engineer. One fateful day James "Maggotron" McCauley, freshly signed to a then-nascent Pandisc, came into the studio and enlisted Case to work on The Bass That Ate Miami. McCauley (who has created bass records with such intensely low frequencies he claims they can kill small animals) instantly clicked with Case, and their collaboration became an early bass milestone that went on to sell more than 200,000 copies. Production work on bass sessions for Pandisc soon became so plentiful, it turned into Case's full-time gig. Eventually his fascination with the music he was engineering led him to create his own bass tracks, first under the alias of the Beat Dominator, then later using monikers such as Bass Inc., Bass Tribe, and of course, Bass Mekanik.

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