Low End Ballers: Five Parties Taking Beats Into The Future

Laurent Fintoni assesses the impact of five foundational parties – Sketchbook, Low End Theory, Turbo Crunk, Baller$ 5ocial Club and Deviation – that updated hip hop from a boom bap ghetto into the future: beats.

When Myspace became the de facto virtual hang out for music producers in the mid-noughties, the social network brought together a diaspora of beat kids that existed in various corners of the world, yet weren’t always aware of each other’s existence. Alongside Jay Dee’s passing in February 2006, Myspace acted as a catalyst to solidify a new era of instrumental hip hop and beat making into a scene, one that wasn’t afraid of putting the focus on the producer and experimenting with new, modern influences in the music – from video games to rave. While Myspace played an undeniable part in the formation of this new scene – or as Mweslee once put it to me, “Myspace changed everything,” – the importance of physical parties and hang-outs, where people who’d met and were talking online could do so in real life, only became more vital as excitement and music spread virtually.

Starting in 2004 in Los Angeles, a string of parties – spanning four countries and two continents – would become central in providing foundations for a new generation of producers and artists that passed through their doors. They evangelised a new aesthetic that celebrated the evolution of instrumental hip hop in its various forms, from weeded head nod to shameless club fun and everything in between. You didn’t need a name for the sound, you just needed to be there.

“They evangelised a new aesthetic that celebrated the evolution of instrumental hip hop in its various forms.”

Sketchbook | Los Angeles | 2004-2006

A precursor of things to come, Sketchbook was a low-key, weekly night started by adopted Angelino Kutmah alongside Take (now

Sweatson Klank), Eric Coleman (of Mochilla fame) and “a guy named Orlando.” Sketchbook originally ran at a spot called The Room in Hollywood before moving to Little Temple a couple of years later. As Take recounted to me in 2009, “It was the first beat night. This was back when we were playing all instrumentals of hip hop records, and then the first Dabrye came out, Prefuse 73, all that stuff. We were looking for stuff every week that was dope and rooted in hip hop but taking it to the next level without MCs, all instrumentals.”

As the night’s reputation grew it soon began to attract local producers, and as legend has it one of those producers – Mr Dibia$e to be exact – brought a boombox and, according to Take, “It would suck to DJ by that time because everyone was outside smoking weed and playing their beats! So, we started letting people play their CDs inside and that’s where it all began.” Alongside the music, Sketchbook also provided pads and markers for people to draw while drinking, hence the name. In terms of importance, Sketchbook picked up from Aron’s Records (a legendary record store where Take was the buyer for a few years) and is where the likes of Flying Lotus, Ras G and more LA luminaries all hung out, bonding over a common love of instrumental hip hop and the possibilities afforded by a format that had no real name and was full of potential. “Producers would hear what other people were doing,” Take continues. “And all of a sudden everyone got on this instrumental beat shit. Everyone used their own influences, from psych rock to dub.” The influence, and stories, of Sketchbook have become part of beat folklore, and when the night ended in 2006 it made way for the next wave, as things started to expand beyond locality, powered by the internet.

 

Low End Theory | Los Angeles | 2006-Present

Picking up where Sketchbook left off, Low End Theory set up in October 2006 at The Airliner and became LA’s newest beat and hip hop weekly. Founded by Daddy Kev, a long standing member of the city’s hip hop and electronic community (he had a hand in the early Konkrete Jungle parties alongside Hive), LET started with a resident line-up comprised of Kev, edIT, DJ Nobody, The Gaslamp Killer and MC Nocando (with D-Styles replacing edIT a few years later).

In its six year history, LET moved from the Airliner a couple of times, including temporarily relocating to Little Temple, before returning to its home and staying there since. In a bout of internet reminiscing following their recent sixth anniversary, the flyer for their first month was posted online. Looking at its line-up, which included a young Flying Lotus (fresh off his debut album for Plug Research), Kutmah, Daedelus, The Glitch Mob and a mix of legendary LA MCs and producers such as Busdriver, Omid, 2Mex, Thavius Beck and Awol One, you can see how in its first years LET brought together LA’s past – people who had often come from the hip hop scene born out of the Good Life Café – and its future.

Low End Theory’s first flyer Low End Theory’s first flyer As the night grew in popularity, and the internet became its primary promotional vehicle, it continued to promote and foster local upcoming and underground talent while extending its reaches beyond LA to include, literally, a worldwide who’s who of producers and DJs from the new beat generation passing through its doors. Attracted by the party’s cult underground status, and the growing popularity of its residents and regulars, high-profile guests also started appearing on the line-up, including Mary Anne Hobbs, Erykah Badu and Thom Yorke. Despite a move away from its roots (so to speak) towards a broader remit of hip hop-influenced beats and electronic music, it still remains the best known ‘beat night’ in the world, with a regular beat invitational and successful expansions to San Francisco and now Japan (as well as a short-lived NYC incarnation). It still is mostly an LA thing though: what FWD>> and the DMZ nights in Brixton were to dubstep, Low End Theory is to beats and the West Coast scene.

 

Turbo Crunk | Montreal | 2006-2009

As Low End Theory started to take hold on the US West Coast, a group of DJs and producers from Montreal, Canada, came together to put on their own parties spurred by a similar ethos of – in the words of its founder Robert Vaughn, aka Sixtoo or Prison Garde – “pushing forward-thinking laptop music, centred around hip hop and club sounds at the places where they intersect.” The monthly party had a line-up that, in hindsight, was indeed quite special: Megasoid (the duo of Vaughn, who then went by the name Speakerbruiser, and Hadji Bakara, member of indie rock unit Wolf Parade, who were regularly joined by rappers and members of Holy Fuck), Mofomatronix (a DJ duo that has since become Jacques Greene and Seb Diamond), Blingmod, Lunice and Ango. As Vaughn put it, “In retrospect this was the greatest team of DJs I can think of for a night, save maybe some heyday Detroit or New York parties. We were really lucky.”

Lunice at Turbo Crunk Lunice at Turbo Crunk There are two sides to what made Turbo Crunk such an influential party. Firstly, as Vaughn rightfully claims, their strain of souped-up hip hop meets club music was a blueprint for what’s come to be known as modern bass music. So exciting was it, that in 2008 the New Yorker’s Sasha Frere Jones made them central characters (alongside LA’s The Glitch Mob) in his coining of this new bass-heavy, club-friendly hip hop sound as ‘lazer bass’. Secondly, Turbo Crunk acted as a halfway point in a triad of influential parties between ‘07 and ‘09 that included LET on the west side and LuckyMe’s Ballers $ocial Club on the east side. Artists that passed through the Turbo Crunk doors – such as Machinedrum, Lazer Sword, Lorn, Rustie, edIT, Hudson Mohawke, and The Bug – would often be found in LA or Glasgow, too. This interaction between the three nights helped to cement bonds and friendships that have lasted to this day, especially as many of those artists were appearing in those cities for the first time amid kindred spirits and receptive audiences. With a fetish for punishing sound systems and wild abandonment amid the crowd, Turbo Crunk took residency in Montreal’s Zoobizarre and Coda Social Club with guerrilla-like skirmishes in other parts of town and in Toronto.

 

Baller$ 5ocial Club | Glasgow | 2007-2010

Started by a then little-known collective of artists called LuckyMe, the Baller$ 5ocial Club was a monthly night that ran at the Glasgow School of Art (and a few other spots including Stereo and The Ivy) and helped to cement the collective’s name in the minds, and legs, of beat fiends and open-minded music fans. The BSC parties became the stuff of legend between 2007 and 2010, providing the UK with its own equivalent to Low End and Turbo Crunk, and taking the shine away from London by putting Glasgow at the centre of the beat renaissance. The night was originally started and run by Joe Coghill and Rustie with the simple premise of providing them with an outlet to hear modern hip hop in a club environment. Its resident line-up over the years included pretty much every LuckyMe artist from the time: Hudson Mohawke, Éclair Fifi, American Men, Jay Prada, The Blessings, Dema and Tiago.

As with its LA and Montreal counterparts, BSC soon expanded its musical horizons beyond merely contemporary hip hop towards the growing amalgamation of cutting-edge electronic and dance music that has come to define the multi-genre club aesthetic that is now taken for granted. Ras G, edIT, Kode9, Jamie Vex’d, Milanese, Flying Lotus, Mweslee, Fulgeance and more all passed through the doors of the School of Art, Ivy and Stereo, and slowly but surely LuckyMe became the European focal point of the new scene by taking its love of hip hop, and its mutations, as a base from which to explore and push ahead. Talking to many of its past guests and old friends, BSC still holds a dear place in many hearts, not least for the stories many of them have to recount – Hud Mo’s first ever live show, Ras G blowing the speakers at the Ivy and speakers falling from the sky and injuring Mweslee’s laptop or shaking Krystal Klear’s decks. A glance at their ghostly Myspace page (the first result in Google) shows only a gallery of flyers that four years on still seem cutting edge and quite unbelievable for a UK city that isn’t London. As Joe put it to me recently, he’s just proud to see how far everyone has gone since those days.

 

Deviation | London | 2007-present

Last but certainly not least is London’s Deviation, the brainchild of Benji B and physical incarnation of his then BBC 1Xtra show of the same name. What’s most interesting about Deviation – and similar London parties like CDR at Plastic People and Hugs N Thugs – is that they weren’t necessarily the centre of worldwide attention you’d expect them to be, considering the capital’s reputation as a home for cutting-edge, ground breaking sounds. However this doesn’t mean they weren’t any less important. Deviation especially has a special place as the London party where many of the younger producers from that era would go to meet up, listen to new music and see acts that were otherwise hard to catch in London.

In its five years, the monthly sessions moved around venues in typical London fashion, including stints at The Gramaphone, CAMP and Fabric. Musically speaking, Deviation was also quite broad, reflecting the show’s own remit, though it was its penchant for new school hip hop and beats that made it so essential in the late noughties for many heads. With the likes of Flying Lotus, Hudson Mohawke, Harmonic 313, Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Floating Points, Waajeed and more all gracing the stage, Deviation was – and continues to be – London’s stronghold for forward thinking hip hop beats and good music.

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