By, Kyle Kralowetz
Audio Alchemy, a multimedia event put on by local mega talent Dan the Automator, is an ambitious bimonthly event at Yoshi’s (1330 Fillmore st.) that combines aspects of visual art, projection displays, and of course a cadre of bay area scratching staples in an effort to, ‘explore the role of the DJ in the creation of modern music’, as Dan explains.
One has to appreciate the prognosticative thoughtfulness he brings to this event; a characteristic that served him well in his successful career as a producer/writer. The San Francisco native, who has worked with everyone from the Kool Keith to the Gorillaz to Sarah McLachlan, definitely knows the value of diverse collaboration as a means of moving forward and Audio Alchemy is no exception. Debuting as the series headliner was his longtime acquaintance, DJ Qbert, of Invisibl Skratch Piklz and Rock Steady Crew fame.
The first installation of the event kicked off last Saturday with the trio, Jazz Mafia, taking and setting the stage for a synesthete’s wetdream. Although few in number, the house band exploded out of the gate with a frenetic sound and about seven instruments played between them. I don’t know how, but they had string, brass, and rhythm sections speeding fluidly through time signatures and solos. Like the construction of a steady build up in any good song, Audio Alchemy slowly snowballed layers of media into the multisensory experience, highlighting wall sized projections on either side of the stage, shortly followed by local legend, and headliner, DJ QBert. A third projection screen was brought in behind Qbert’s turntables, playing footage of an aquarium, giving the effect of the deejay spinning under water. Add to the visual cacophony an artist with psychedelic fluorescents painting on an all black canvass and the event became as much an optic performance as a sonic one, culminating in the revelation of Audio Alchemy’s claim to fame for having the first ever 3-D concert, ala Avatar. The projections colorizations worked in conjunction with 3D glasses to make certain images pop out; but, to be honest, after fifteen minutes I saw more glasses on the ground than on the sweaty brows of dancing patrons, but everyone appreciated the spectacle.
Although performing to a sold out crowd, the event felt rather intimate with Dan the Automator playing emcee throughout the night, telling personal stories of growing up in the bay area with Qbert; even claiming, tongue-in-cheek, that he gave up scratching after hearing Qbert battle in a local competition almost twenty years ago. Adding to the coffee shop feel, on stage at least, was local artist Mars-1, casually yet diligently painting amongst monitors and amplifiers. Of course offstage was a writhing mass of fans, Qbert’s zenlike tranquility and comfort on the tables juxtaposed by his dancing disciples and furious hands. The feeling was comparable to seeing a local band play in the garage of an overcapacity high school party. But I mean that as a compliment to the authenticity of the relationship these artists have with their community. The grassroots were almost tangible.
Ultimately the deejay was the star of this sensory smorgasbord, but how could it not be with Qbert on the turntables. He kept the beat accessible and feet shuffling; whether in the last row, top of the mezzanine, or back of the kitchen, I saw necks bobbing. Not to suggest the sum of the show was any less than its parts. Mars-1’s painting organically evolved into a psychedelic Rorschach Test (I saw a deeply rooted tree); Jazz Mafia sank into a trancelike state of instrumentation; ambitious art direction set a high bar; and deejays swam with goldfish thanks to the hard work of a lot of graphic and conceptual artists, but the deejay was the pied piper.
So what’s the role of the deejay in the creation of modern music? Who knows, but tonight highlighted the role of the deejay in creating, or inspiring, other artistic media. We’ll have to show up for the next installation of Audio Alchemy to see how Dan the Automator’s existential series on deejaying unfolds.
Audio Alchemy runs at Yoshi’s in San Francisco on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month through April.