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A Smell of His Own

Nosaj Thing finds his place in the new IDM

Been waiting for the IDM revival? Nosaj Thing is here.

By Michaelangelo Matos | Posted 2/17/2010

Nosaj Thing

Bourbon Street Feb. 23

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This is reductionist, but here goes anyhow: The easiest way to think of the pack of similarly minded, laptop-focused post-dance artists coming out of Los Angeles--three of whom, Daedelus, Nosaj Thing, and Jogger, come to Baltimore this Tuesday--is as the new IDM frontline. Like it says, reductionist--the major thing that these artists, as well as Ras G, Daddy Kev, Shlohmo, and Flying Lotus, have in common is a city and a method. And, of course, fans of this stuff rush to point out the many other streams that feed these artists' music--loopy hip-hop a la Madlib, taffy-stretching post-dubstep of acts such as Zomby and Rustie.

All of which points up the way the Los Angeles axis tends to aim for the dance floor as much as the inner ear--certainly that's the case with Flying Lotus, whose 2008 Los Angeles (released, not coincidentally, on Warp Records, which is to IDM what Sun was to rockabilly), the bellwether album, thus far, for this particular hub of activity. And it's true as well of Nosaj Thing's Drift, issued last June on Alpha Pup, Daddy Kev's label. Both albums traffic in similar kinds of cracked beats, mucky bass, and pixie-dust synths, but Drift's tracks are straighter and more obviously song-like--leaner, more immediately shapely, and easy to dive into.

Nosaj Thing--Jason Chung by birth--was born in Los Angeles 25 years ago. Chung was a musician who started young. In the third grade, he took up saxophone; clarinet came in junior high, and in high school, he was part of the drum line. At 12, a friend's older brother taught him the rudiments of DJing the hip-hop he'd picked up from an elementary-school bus driver's radio habit; he nurtured tastes for dance music, noise, and indie-rock as well. "When I was in high school, I think that was '99, the music software thing was kind of booming," he says over the phone from KEXP-FM studios in Seattle, shortly before a live radio set. "A friend gave me a bootleg version of some music-production software. I installed it in my dad's computer, and I never looked back. It was just having a little bit of musical background and being really familiar with software and programs. It's easy to for me to figure out the software and start doing music. It's pretty much all I did."

Chung kept his tracks to himself until the middle of this decade. In 2005, he began playing at the Smell, downtown Los Angeles' anchor of rock acts such as No Age, Abe Vigoda, Mika Miko, and Wavves. "The Smell was more of a DIY noise-punk venue," he says. "I always kind of felt a disconnect--it wasn't fully my thing, but I loved the music from that. But we had different influences. But when Low End Theory, which is a weekly [party] more suited for instrumental hip-hop, dubstep, electronic music, started, I thought it was the Smell for me, with guys like me. That's where I met Daedelus, Flying Lotus, and Daddy Kev. And we found out just through the internet that there were other similar things going on in places like Scotland."

Chung self-released a first Nosaj Thing EP, Views/Octopus, in 2006, the same year the earliest cuts on Drift were recorded. The album was culled from dozens of sessions over a three-year period; once the producer figured out the album's basic shape, he wrote a couple of new tracks to fit. "I think my lifestyle has a lot to do with how my music comes out," he says. "Things that happen with family and friends affect my music. Like 'IOIO'--that's when I was just hating my day job. It just kind of sounds like fast-forwarding through a routine week, that's what I had in mind."

"IOIO" is Drift's highlight, a circling mass of shiny synth pads over a beat that's both bustling and subdued. The undulating "1685/Bach" moves in a similar manner, shaping laptop static into curving arcs over gummy kick drums and glutinous bass. The spaced-out synths of the short, enchanting "2222" seem to hover overhead. Still, Chung's best moment may be a non-Drift remix of the xx's "Islands," in which he remodels the sketchy postpunk song as a slinky dubstep track by rearranging Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim's vocals to fit his new beat.

"I think I spent like probably about six or seven hours on [the xx remix]," Chung says. "I'd just come back from Europe, and just hearing so much dubstep, and really liked the half-tempo feel of it, and wanted to incorporate that with one of my own. For the next record I started working on, a big thing for me was just working with different tempos. Drift was more cohesive with one style, but this one will be more of an exploration."

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