Pop Goes The Genre
Evol Intent ruptures the walls of drum 'n' bass
It's a Saturday night, and a tight series of metallic clicks audibly cuts through the club. It's an instantly recognizable sound, the cock of a pistol or three. And it's a sound familiar to Baltimore clubs. For years, DJs have come strapped with records full of martial rhythm and sonic artillery, using the most unsettling sounds of street life to punctuate tracks meant for catharsis, not chaos.
Tonight, though, it's not a local DJ playing Baltimore club music that's popping the shots off at the crowd. It's three guys originally based out of Atlanta, Ga., now spread across the country, but still actively collaborating under the name Evol Intent (or EVLNTNT). They produce and play galvanic, kinetically de-tuning, glitch-hop-tinged drum 'n' bass, influenced by everyone from N.W.A. to Squarepusher. And they are popular in a genre that doesn't get as much press as club music or Philly's "party music," whatever you want to call it, but that is similarly loyal and long-running.
Evol Intent--the trio of Mike "Gigantor" Diasio, Nick "Knick" Weiller, and Ashley "the Enemy" Jones--may have formed elsewhere, but the group's history includes significant ties to the Baltimore market thanks to local promoter Steve Gordon, who runs Steez Promo alongside Evan Weinstein, and has been a fervent supporter of "heavy bass music" for more than nine years. Gordon, who in conversation often invokes the names of prog/house mainstays Charles Feelgood and Scott Henry as DJ/producers/promoters who built up the sound in the Mid-Atlantic, came up in late 1990s rave community.
Gordon initially worked with Ultraworld, throwing warehouse parties and events such as the ongoing Starscape Festival, before eventually joining up with Lonnie Fisher to do shows at Sonar from 2001-'07. It was at Sonar when Gordon first booked a member of Evol Intent to DJ--based on a recommendation from Philadelphia's Dieselboy--and he kept bringing him after seeing how the tunes killed it. Then, when Gordon and Sonar parted ways, he immediately initiated a club night at Bedrock with what would turn out to be the first synchronized live performance of the entire EVLNTNT trio.
It's that first live show that sets this scene. It was full of grit, balls, microedited polyrhythms, and dissident bass, but also some technical mishaps. It was a learning experience for Evol Intent, which found out the hard way how pushing a filter sweep too far can quickly crash a program, etc. But it inspired the three to continue refining how they could use laptops, Ableton Live, and portable MIDI controllers to bring a show responsive to improvisation and crowd energy to the road--which they have been on for the past month. Now, Gordon is bringing Evol Intent back to Paradox for the Fall Massive, featuring monsters of the urban jungle such as Mayhem, Hyx and Houston, Spor, Chris Renegade, and more, alongside house, breaks, and IDM. Gordon feels artists such as Evol Intent sit at the crux of where the local and national scene is strongest.
"[Evol Intent is] incorporating electro and dubstep and multiple types of drum 'n' bass to keep it exciting, and they're doing way more than just DJing," Gordon says by phone. "You need more than a name and to just DJ now to push forward--you need to produce your own big tunes, put on an active show. And Evol Intent has learned how to roll with the crowd. The scene around here used to be really dark, while now it's more jumpy. The music is still aggressive, but now it's also more dancefloor-friendly because electronic music has increased in popularity and not everyone who goes to a show now might be a drum 'n' bass fan. You want to convert new people, and deathstep won't always rock that party."
Indeed, Gordon cites other genres--electro, fidget house, and especially dubstep--as continuing influences on the sound of both Evol Intent and the local parties he promotes. The Dub Nation monthlies, especially, are "smashing it." Evol Intent agrees in a quick phone exchange that it's important to explore away from the typical image of purist drum 'n' bass and to incorporate the squirrelly pirate sounds and grimy melodies of new genres while tweaking them with a personal dubstep relick.
"You can stick to one genre and you'll find you keep trying to push it harder till you smash your head in a wall," Diasio says. "You benefit from having folks go do their own style, and we're always pushing to include anything, as long as it's engorged bass."
Gordon admits that each year, the familiar faces from the Fever events of the '90s, and even his time at Sonar, are now more likely to be found at Brewer's Art than in front of the bass bins, but he sees an even greater number of new young bodies packing the dancefloors. Everyone from disco-house to Disco Biscuits fans are checking out the sound as blogs and jam-band festivals further embrace electronic production, and once insular genres such as drum 'n' bass have opened up to new ideas. Working with local promoters such as Good Vibes and continuing to book modular, adrenalized performers such as Evol Intent, Gordon intends to get the word out that Baltimore goes beyond a corner-bar town and can be a keystone in the national and international club circuit.
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