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Toneburst: sounds of now from the Boston underground
(taken from URB magazine May/June '98 issue)

TONEBURST in URB Clockwise 1) WE mixin it up @ We Will Play 2) Brynmore doin' the same 3) DJ Flack and Splice chillin' 4) Noise Labs workin' the video

Bubbling up from Boston's underground is a loose-knit crew of DJs, electronic musicians, and video and installation artists called Toneburst. Part rave, part carnival, the Toneburst collective produces monthly events that mix the jungle, elecrtonic and hip-hop scenes ordinarily kept separate in Boston. Lush video projections and otherworldly installations complement the sonic and social experimentation typical of a Toneburst party.

A recent event united junglists and punk rockers by their mutual love for extreme drums and harsh bass. Junk (jungle vs. punk) was staged in a church, where Toneburst's wreckstepping turntablists soundclashed against the frenetic energy of quirk-core punk bands. Free rice and beans were served, local artists gave interludes of spoken word and political puppet theater, a live pirate radio broadcast reached a 20-mile radius, and, like every Toneburst night, the seven hour production cost only $5.

"We all love fat beats," confesses DJ/producer Mike Esposito, "but keeping ourselves balanced in the middle ground between fatness and the avant-garde is what might be the closest thing we all have to a common ideal." It makes sense that founding members were brought together by a love of ragga jungle's amen-enhanced experimentalism.

"We threw a few events that featured mostly jungle and experimental ambient music, with video, slide and sculprural installations, and those went very well," notes Splice of the live drum & space ensemble Spool/Embryo. "By last summer, though, we realized that what we were doing was coalescing into its own kind of more or less formulaic scene." Efforts were made to shift the cut & paste ethos onto a social scale and contact a more diverse audience. The collective started inviting performers from different musical scenes. Observes Splice, "It's a very important thing to be doing; Boston is very seregated racially, culturally -- people keep to their own and there's not really a lot of encounters across barriers."

Their last event, We Will Play, served an uncategorizable blend of beats and surprises to a crowd of 900. Downstairs, NYC illbient crew We headlined, and the Toneburst crew represented with their jungle explorations. Upstairs, local hiphoppers Politics of Experience got ill with MC Radio beat-boxing through a pan flute atop musique concrete sampler tweaks. An open jam room equipped with theremins and other oddball instruments allowed the audience to play along.

If rupturing Boston's social and sonic barriers wasn't enough, the collective has three releases on Bliss, a label headed by DJ C. The 1996 debut album of DJ C's Electro Organic Sound System, Herbanism, flows from cozy analog baths to blistering drum & bass, anticipating the genre playfulness that would later characterize the crew. The new Toneburst Collective compilation CD continues down the eclectronic path by strolling between lackadasical dub-hop and chronicjungle paranoia. The E.O.S.S. Wroller Wreck EP recently hit the record stores, and Spool/Embryo ouput is in the works.

So what does the future hold for Toneburst? Video artist Jenn Leong summarizes the collective's goals: "Toneburst is really kind of unpredictable. We are always trying to push ourselves and mix things up." Installation artist Lynn Stabile adds that "these days it seems there's enough ideas and venues to keep us all going all over the place." Side projects spring up, musicians and artists collaborate and recombine, and the TB program remains aggressively open and experimental. "But," she continues, "we still pull the long haul together."

--Jace Clayton