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"I'm a laid-back guy," remarks Edgar "Push Button Objects" Farinas as he pulls a long drag of his cigarette. He and Basshead are sitting on the patio of his family's Westchester home, where he's currently staying while in between apartments: We watch torrents of rain sweep onto the lawn, onto the edge of the patio. "I just like making music, you know?"
PBO is a big, burly 28-year-old DJ and producer. Physically and emotionally, he resembles something of a grizzly bear, someone who can comfort you with a soft, whispering voice or rattle your nerves with loud, threatening tones. But he didn't invite Basshead all the way out to Westchester to wax philosophic about life and music. For the past few days, he's been sharing various details about a long-simmering beef he has with Chocolate Industries, a record label he co-founded back in 1998 and helped bring to worldwide acclaim. The tension between him and label head Marvin "Seven" Bedard is threatening to explode into a lawsuit, thanks to several thousand dollars he says the latter owes him for various projects, including Ko-Wrecktion,the well-regarded 1999 collaboration with local turntablist DJ Craze as Ko-Wreck Technique; and the recently released Ghetto Blaster.
By all accounts, PBO and Seven used to be best friends. Back in the late Nineties, the two were associated with Schematic: Seven, a wiry, intensely driven black teenager from Perrine, was a part owner; PBO, a Cuban who moved to the Westchester neighborhood from Queens, New York, was one of Schematic's first artists. "At the time, I had a different idea for what I wanted to do with my music," says PBO, "and I think Seven was kind of feeling me." While Schematic concentrated on putting out experimental electronic music, the duo wanted to explore a mix of electronic and hip-hop sounds. But PBO never invested any money in Chocolate Industries; instead he willingly ceded control to Seven in order to concentrate on making music.
At first the partnership was a good combination. PBO's inaugural album, Dirty Dozen(a joint release with Schematic),sold well, and is now considered by electronica fans to be a key transition point in glitch-hop's evolution from Autechre's breakbeat atmospherics to Prefuse 73's deceptively plaintive hip-hop melodies. But soon after production began on the followup, the two started having communication problems. As a result Ghetto Blasterwould take roughly three years to complete and cost Chocolate Industries a considerable amount of money.
Then there was "360," an all-star single featuring dreadlocked Boston MC Mr. Lif, Oaktown rapper Del the Funky Homosapien, and DJ Craze that was released in 2000. The next year brought the 360 Remixes EP, on which top producers DJ Spinna, El-P, the Herbaliser, and Kut Masta Kurt reworked the original. Both sold upward of 10,000 copies, an impressive number for an independent label. But the "360" recordings proved to be an expensive undertaking, costing tens of thousands of dollars for everything from airplane tickets for the various performers to fancy vinyl jackets with embossed lettering on the covers. Additionally, PBO grew angry over how the guests earned sizable fees for their work while all he received was "a chump advance" on the album's eventual sales.
The Ghetto Blastersessions dragged on until April of 2002, when an incensed PBO disappeared from a Chicago recording studio with the album's master tapes after recording a final track with New Yawk MC Aesop Rock called "Shutdown." After returning to Miami, PBO demanded $10,000 in unpaid mechanical royalties, or publishing fees Chocolate Industries owed him in exchange for usage rights to his recordings. He now says he went after his "mechanicals" because, while "mechanicals" are mandated by U.S. law, royalties from album sales are more difficult to collect: Since royalties represent profit, a record company can hypothetically, if illegally, continue to add production costs to make sure an album never breaks even. "There's always a number that can be changed," explains PBO, "an extra charge you can add."
"What a joke! What a fucking joke! Jesus Christ," protests Seven during a phone interview from Chicago. So it's not true that Chocolate Industries owes PBO ten grand? "No, it's not true!" he answers. "How could that possibly happen?"
It's hard to fault him for being irritated. Since moving to Chicago in late 1999, the 25-year-old has built Chocolate Industries into an imprint internationally known for its forward-thinking aesthetics, graffiti-inspired album artwork, and uniquely evocative stars like chanteuse Via Tania (Under a Different Sky) and Chi-town MC Diverse (MoveEP). There's a new co-owner, too, in Chris Eichenseer. Like everyone else in the Windy City's dynamic, workaholic arts scene, Eichenseer also co-owns a graphic design firm (Some Odd Pilot), a rock label (Some Odd Pilot Records), and plays in a space-rock band (the Timeout Drawer). Finally, the vision Seven and PBO once shared of a label that blurred the genre lines between modern music styles is being realized. But for all his current and future success, the white-hot maverick can't seem to put Miami behind him.
To his credit, Seven takes time out of a busy schedule that includes a stint as guest editor for a "Chicago-themed" issue of the L.A.-based culture mag Anthemto fax over several pages of documents. There is a tally of costs for the "360" singles; "Fly (You Ain't)," a high-powered twelve-inch single featuring MCs Vast Aire of Cannibal Ox, Akrobatik, and Maintain; and recording contracts for Dirty Dozenand Ghetto Blaster. They show that PBO is actually some several thousand dollars in debt to Chocolate Industries. He even reasonably claims that Ghetto Blaster's mounting expenses jeopardized his contract with Forced Exposure, a widely respected distributor of cutting-edge record labels that initially put up the money for the sessions, then began charging them back to Chocolate Industries' account when they dragged on longer than expected.