For all of the vaunted democratizing power that the inception of hip-hop introduced into the world of DIY music, there’s been a similar, no less important paradigm shift in recent years, as the proliferation of easy-to-use production techniques have filtered down into the consumer marketplace.
Two turntables and a microphone may seem worlds apart from a MacBook and a copy of FruityLoops, but the software revolution has had an enormous impact on the ability of kids at home to jump straight into the game with nothing more than an omnivorous appetite for records, an ear for a tune, and hours spent doing the drudge work of mastering the new tools of the trade. Noel Munger, 21, a.k.a. M. Constant, an exciting young Boston hip-hop producer who released the intriguing “Bugged EP” (www.jasssite
.com) this week, is one recent example.
The catch is, his music doesn’t sound much like hip-hop at all — at least not in the traditional, popular music sense. Hip-hop has long had a tendentious relationship with electronic dance music, as recent controversies over the electro-fying of the genre have brought back to the fore, but the periodic blurring of genre boundaries has found occasion for the two to meet in harmony when there’s a common goal in mind.
“When people ask I generally just say it’s hip-hop for the simplicity of it,” Munger, a Utah native who moved to Boston in 2009, says of his style. “I’m guessing there are a fair amount of people that would disagree with that classification. It’s definitely hip-hop based, rap beats are my first thing. But I go into tempo ranges that are more in the dance genre. I like to [mess] around with rhythms, sampling records and making beats out of the hip-hop mind-set.”
Songs like “Us Tempenauts” bear that logic out. It’s built on a familiar head-nod hand-clap one-two beat, but swaths of cresting and drawn-out synth notes hold a steady buzz. The melody is laid down by a sitar, and the vocals are stretched-out and effected to the point they become textures rather than foreground. “Transitrip” is a slowed-down track where the sounds of broken glass smashing, car horns, and industrial tool effects accentuate the snare and kick under a glitchy bass line and a sparse, echoing vocal sample.
Prior to this, his only release to date was a collection of idea-track instrumentals built as a foundation for sampling called “Construmentals Vol. 1.” Most of the tracks, all around or under two minutes long, manage to pack in a wealth of cinematic string melody and deep, watery atmosphere.
Some of that inventive sound-collage technique comes from Munger’s experience as a musician — he played guitar, keys, and cello from a young age, he says. For most of the elements of the EP he leaned on live tracks laid down by himself or his friends from groups like the experimentally ambient Sonnymoon (whose Anna Wise contributed the foundation for the manipulated vocal tracks) and Tyler Randall of the electronic music collective ElecSonic (who played the sitar).
“I’ll have basic beat ideas, then get together with friends and have a jam session, record, and whatever comes out I’ll just chop it up,” Munger says.
There are more traditional hip-hop-style samples in the mix as well, “but generally, I try to mangle them beyond being recognizable,” he says. Munger layers keys and guitars over the top to round out the compositions.
The EP is the second release from the Boston and the Atlanta-based label and roving dance party known as JASS. “He definitely comes from hip-hop,” says Patrick Loggins, one of the JASS cofounders, who also produces music under the name Time Wharp. “He has this really interesting aspect to his sound that only could come from being someone like him, kind of an eclectic sound, reaching out in all these different directions at once. His palette that he picks from is very kaleidoscopic. Where a lot of cats will go for a lo-fi sound, his stuff cuts through clearly, all the drums and synths up front right in your face.”
JASS’s previous release, “Companion 1,” was a showcase of Boston and Atlanta production talent in the hip-hop/EDM crossover mold. “It’s about sharing the music with people, it’s from a need of just seeing all this talent in Boston and Atlanta,” Loggins says of his motivation for starting the label this year. “A lot of stuff in the East Coast is not getting as much attention as stuff in the West Coast and across the pond. It’s kind of more just like trying to spread the word to let people know this stuff exists.”
It’s starting to work, as people outside of the local scene are slowly starting to catch on to M. Constant. “I mean, I’ve gotten attention here and there, but for the most part been on the down low,” Munger says. He’s more concerned about perfecting his tracks, the rest can come later. In the meantime he’s also in the process of looking for a home for a nearly complete full-length release.
“I’m just trying to really get the music exactly where I want it before I start throwing my stuff all over the Internet,” he says. “With this release I’m starting to put myself out there. I want to use this to get people’s attention.”
“Wise Words,” the first of five EPs set for release this year from John Morabito, a.k.a. Dark & Stormy, drops later this month on the Hotfingers label. The two tracks here are a blast of progressive tech-house, with insistent hand-clap and high-hat beats pushing through unfolding static and tightly woven bass grooves. The moniker might sound like an overcast downer, but it’s a misnomer, at least on this bright and sunny release. Morabito, who has previous releases on labels like Metamimetic, Mokilok, and PitchBend Recordings, will have an EP release party the week of May 28. Check www.soundcloud.com/darkandstormy for details. . . . Petrol, the popular fourth Tuesday dance night at the Middlesex Lounge continues this month with a celebration of their third anniversary on May 22. On hand will be two big names from the taste-making DFA label, Juan Maclean and Justin Miller, alongside residents James Gerard, Greg Teves, and William John. “Petrol is a night devoted to disco and house catering to those who love the music above and beyond the club scene,” promoter Gabi Aguilar explains. “The crowd is usually made up of MIT grad students, DJs looking for something outside of the overplayed club bangers, fashion taste-makers, and creative types looking for a well-mixed cocktail and music that stands the test of time.” Visit www.middlesexlounge.com for more information.
Luke O'Neil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @lukeoneil47.