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an interview from decontrol magazine:
by alex haney

It is moments like these that I try to savor in the last few weeks before the end of this all-too-short summer. I'm sharing a bench in Central Square, Cambridge with an inebriated fellow who most likely spends his nights sleeping on this very seat. The air is warm, the streets are busy and the square is full of the sounds of Jungle. DJ C of Boston's Toneburst Collective is manning the decks this Friday evening, as he has each subsequent Friday for the past month-or-so, with his crew of DJ's, musicians and visual artists. The event, which was spearheaded by a local politician in an attempt to bring free, live music to Central Square, is unique to say the least. I can only imagine from glancing at the mixed crowd of students, professionals, wanderers and street dwellers, that this may be the first time many of these people have ever heard the sound of Drum n' bass.

To most DJ's and party promoters, playing to a random crowd, for free, in the middle of town, on a Friday evening, may seem like a strange gig. For the Toneburst crew, however, it fits quite neatly into their repertoire of past events. This group of individuals, who hail primarily from Harvard University and Mass College of Art, have been working together for a little over a year at providing Boston area party people with an exciting alternative to big-budget dance-party productions. The results have been some of the most creative and inspiring underground events of this past year. By combining the sounds of abstract Jungle, Dub, Ambient, and Hip-Hop with live video mixing, environmental transformations and collaborations from the likes of We, DJ Spooky and your favorite-area Punk Rock bands, The Toneburst Collective have swiftly carved themselves a niche as champions of the art-core anti-rave.

As a testament to their passion for future music and a supplement to their one-off events, The Toneburst Collective have even managed to release a full length CD of original material this past summer on their own Bliss record label. The disc, which has been met with critical praise and even featured in a WFNX promo spot, is eighteen tracks of experimental rhythm n' bass, well worth the duckets. To say the very least, the Toneburst Collective: Alex, Anthony, Jake, Rafi, Mike, Lynn Sasha, Jace & Jen don't front on the beats and they certainly know how to throw a party...

How did the Toneburst Crew materialize?

Jake: There was this need for experimental beats to happen in this city. There were a number of us that were doing (experimental) stuff in town and we slowly started meeting up. It wasn't just beats that drew us together either. A bunch of us were at art school, some of us were at Harvard, and playing with other forms of media as well. We wanted to incorporate all of our various interests into something. I guess around some particular point, Sasha, Rupture and I met up and started getting together and we realized that we all wanted to do events. We wanted a venue where we could do our stuff, and there wasn't really one available to us at the time. So it came out of necessity basically. I guess we started around '96 in Gloucester: Electro Organic Sound System vs. Embryo. Some DJ's from WZBC were there along with some other friends as well. Afterwards we all got together and decided that we have to keep doing this. Then Jace and Sasha and I started an email correspondence. Then Jace suggested the name Toneburst...

So was it the idea from the beginning to form a crew that could pull off events as a unit?

Mike: Well, we had all been throwing parties individually before we got involved with each other. Jace and I were at Harvard planning events, as well as DJing, and then these guys were at Mass Art doing the same thing so...it was almost intuitive; throwing the whole party. I was really inspired by Soundlab...

Rafi: I think it was out of necessity I mean, we were all into new forms of electronic music, experimental visual stuff but there weren't and still aren't any venues around Boston that would host the kind of stuff that we were doing. The club scene here was pretty much centered on House and Techno at that point and wasn't providing any opportunity for the kind of stuff we were into. So, we pretty much had to do it on our own. We used to get invited to play at other people's small parties and like, in the middle of our set people would ask "When's the DJ coming on?" (Laughter) It's like, if someone else wanted to throw the parties, awesome! But it didn't seem like we were quite fitting in.

You guy's definitely have a unique take on what can be considered a party.

Sasha: The spirit of the events that we do is that anyone can do whatever kind of events that they want to do. We do this stuff because it didn't exist in the form that we wanted. People weren't necessarily familiar with the kind of music that we were doing, or the kind of visual stuff that we were doing. People were not ready for that so we just decided to go ahead and do what we wanted to do and find spaces to do it in. I would encourage anyone who is out there working on music or art to go ahead and do the same thing, find their own venues and find a way to make it happen because you can do it.

Jake: We stared off in some very small, very alternative spaces. One of the first Toneburst events that we threw at Mass Art was pretty amazing because we had no DJ's that anyone had ever heard of or anything but somehow we ended up doing enough promotion to draw about 400 people. After that we realized: we can really do this.

I guess the difference with a Toneburst event is that it's more like a show than your average dance party?

Jake: Yeah, when we're producing a show we definitely feel like we're all working together as part of this big band to produce this art piece or this art album or something except it only lasts for that one night.

What are some of your favorite events that you've done? They always tend to be very unique?

Mike: They're all really different. When I think about the last event: Childstyle, it was almost like a return to the basics. We had just done Junk and We Will Play and received a lot of criticism for sort of...being all over the place, trying to incorporate too many things. After Junk (Jungle vs. Punk) I remember thinking "That was really cool. Let's get one of those Rock bands to play." Meanwhile they were trying to get WE. We were just trying to do a bit of everything. Then somehow this noise toys theme came up...

Rafi: Our magic roommate, who has since departed conceived the noise toys room...

Mike: Which was the third room...and was just stuffed, he got all his friends to bring any kind of noise-maker they could find. Everyone was encouraged to bring some kind of noise toy. You got a dollar off admission if you brought a noisemaker. And we had a fairly wacky band playing too at that point...

Rafi: In this room which was just...incredibly tiny.

Jake: We had some toy turntables. We had this thing which was like, a giant Theromin which you had to walk around on to make sounds...

Mike: A giant drum, baseball bats...

Lynn: Powertools...

Jake: It was some people's favorite part of the evening. It was other people's least favorite.

Sasha: A lot of people called up afterwards and were like, "What was that?"

Mike: The drum circle was a mess!

It seems like people who listen to electronic music and people who listen to Rock music have sort of separated themselves from each other. Is there a lot of cross appreciation at events like Junk?

Lynn: Yeah, there's a lot. I've seen a lot of people dancing who I never expected to.

Jake: One of the exciting things about Junk was that the sets were really short: a half-hour at the longest? Most of the Punk bands that we had playing were highly energetic. So they would just get up there an go insane and the audience would just be standing there like, bouncing up and down. Then when the DJ's would come right after that, playing these crazy Jungle beats, everyone would just flip out and start dancing.

Mike: A lot of people are into Rock and Electronic and for those events, we have to find those people. The scenes are separate but I meet so many people who are like, "I was in a Rock band but now I'm into Hip-Hop."

Rafi: It's never ourselves fitting too much into any scene.

Jake: I've met a lot of people who used to be in Hardcore bands that are DJ's now.

Flack: I'm still in the same Punk band that I've been in for fifteen years (laughter). We always felt that we never really fit into the Boston Rock, Punk or Underground scene. We've always felt that the people never came out and supported the experimental side of punk. But I feel like Electronic music has more of the attitude of the experimental Rock stuff that we were playing. Maybe we're just jaded because we've been doing it so long but...

What other events stick out in your mind?

Rafi: One great event was that first show that we did stuff with Politics of Experience. It was great because you had B-side which was a live Hip-Hop group sounding like something you might have on a record. Then you had Politics of Experience, which we all sort of expected to do something ordinary, they all came with samplers and stuff. We all thought, "Oh, this will be your traditional Hip-Hop set," and they ended up doing like, thirty minutes of a cappella noise (laughter). When I heard it I was just so excited...it's funny, some people just didn't jibe with it (laughs).

Lynn: One thing that definitely makes the whole experience unique from my perspective is that it seems like the people who come to the party are a medium. The different musicians are also a medium and they're all colliding with all these different sounds which create the overall atmosphere of the party. Sometimes the sound is very dark, other times it's more like noise. So you're totally altering the audiences experience every time you include a musician or subtract one from the equation and it makes it like a show or a piece of art, all together.

Mike: Plus, when we do shows we often have different spaces. Like, someone can walk from one room to another and enter into a completely different vibe. Some rooms are conducive to chilling out. Others are all about going crazy and dancing. But somehow it manages to come together and become it's own entity.

Sasha: The Womb Room at Ultrasound was definitely different.

Lynn: That show hurt me.

Sasha: That show was a disappointment in that we expected a lot of people to show up and not that many did. But at the same time there was this one room, "The Deep Listening Womb", which was an installation that we did. It had this fabric Embryo that Lynn made floating in the middle of this mostly darkened space. There were video clips going on all around it. That made up this shell-out area of the mellow room. There was a moment in there when...there was all this hectic stuff going on outside, a lot of beats and strange energy. We had too many spaces going on for the amount of people we had there. People were just running around from one room to another. But when people came into that room, it was one of the few times, for me at least, when I felt like we had really managed to completely transform the space. When people went in there they became completely immersed in the environment. And they stayed in there for quite a while.

Mike: I was in there for the entire event (laughter).

Rafi: It was pretty powerful.

Why don't you tell us a little about your visual performance technique?

Jake: It's like the true definition of the VJ. Instead of the people on MTV who introduce video's, we do this live video mixing with two VCR's, a whole bunch of really cool video footage an