And the Final Jeopardy answer is – a drummer, a bassist, and a guitarist. The question? According to Musical Groups for Dummies, what three performers do you need to start a band?
The “learned treatise” is apparently not a book that David Satori, Tommy Cappel, and Zoe Jakes, collectively Beats Antique, have spent much time perusing. The eclectic trio does include a most-of-the-time drummer (Cappel) and a sometime bassist (Satori).
But aside from that slight nod to the conventional, the threesome throws caution to the wind by masterfully merging modern technology and live instrumentation – as well as Zakes’ belly dancing bent – to create their seductive blend of electronica and world music.
And while there are some music connoisseurs that may find Beats’ musical approach a little hard to, ahem, stomach, it doesn’t prevent them from making great music – not to mention a live show that is beyond description.
Since the group’s beginnings as part of San Francisco’s diverse performance art scene, they’ve been notorious for making it nearly impossible to sit still. They’ve melded their mediums as attentively as they’ve fused the cultures that inspire their sound, creating a unique collage that blurs the lines between the provocative, the spiritual, and the artistic, while still maintaining an allegiance to the muses of class and beauty.
Satori and Cappel both trained classically before venturing to locations such as Bali, West Africa, and Serbia to expand their musical experience. Their extensive backgrounds in multicultural music production enable them to command the spectrum of live and digital instrumentation, born from Hip Hop and old school jazz.
Jakes adds a third dimension as the multi-cultural/disciplinary dance counterpart to Beats’ world fusion sound, building on her work with two major dance troupes, Miles Copeland’s Bellydance Superstarsand Rachel Brice’s Indigo Belly Dance Company.
In a prolific five years since their inception, the group has released four full-length studio albums, including their most recent release Elektrafone. The new effort is the follow-up to 2010’s Blind Threshold, which debuted at #2 on iTunes electronic charts and was celebrated by MXDWN as “meticulously crafted with an array of sounds and a variance of melody.”
In between gigs on their current tour, Satori took the time to discuss the new record and Beats Antique’s music with Examiner.
The band’s musical diversity presents challenges for those attempting to adequately describe Beats’ music, often settling on “world music” or “world fusion.” Satori’s elucidation of their sound was brilliantly nuanced.
“Well, I always like the word ‘electro-acoustic’ because we’re using heavy electronic music influences and then, we’re very influenced by the acoustic as well, as far as just straight violins with banjos and acoustic drums.”
“I don’t necessarily mind using the word ‘world music.’ It’s not the most accurate or the best word, but it gives people a sense of sort of worldly influences. I mean it’s crazy. We have so many influences.”
The band’s genesis in global music is rooted in the trio’s similarly widespread musical tastes and backgrounds.
“We definitely all enjoy certain aspects of different musics. I’m heavily influenced by just traditional world music from India and from the Middle East and North Africa. I had a chance to study a lot of those musics growing up.”
“We all have that basic love for traditional music. Zoe studied Eastern European and Middle Eastern music and Tommy has studied Eastern European music. I went to Bali and Africa and studied music there.”
“We all have a straight up love for classic rock and Pink Floyd – and then electronic music, just strange eclectic. So, it’s all over the board and I really feel like that’s what gives us our sound. But we all do enjoy a lot of the same music.”
Cappel, Satori, and Jakes share the songwriting duties for the group. While the collaborative approach can result in fantastic musical diversity, it can make the song selection process for their albums doubly challenging. But the band manages to take it in stride.
“Well, each album’s been very different,” offered Satori. “There’s three writers in the band, Zoe, Tommy and myself. All write music, so we try to balance it out by each of our voices being represented. So, that’s something we take into consideration when we, we pick our songs.”
“The other thing is a few songs have a life of their own. We try ‘em out at shows and we see what reactions are like. We also just see what ones are the most developed. And then the other thing is just balancing an album – trying to have a diverse sound on the album, having some high energy songs, some mid energy songs and some more slower songs too.”
“So we try to create – have a diverse range, you know? It really just has a life of its own. And we just respond to creative and then we have a pile to pick from. We just sort of vote on which ones feel the best and which ones are representing us as far as three different writers and which ones are ready.”
In addition to the tuneful variability that it affords, Beats’ “electro-acoustic” focus presents opportunities for the band to evolve in other aspects of their musical experience as well – the freedom to improvise, for example.
“I believe we’re learning how to do that right now. I mean, we all came from live band backgrounds. And there’s a lot of room for improvisation when you’re just in a regular band, because you can riff and just vamp off each other.”
“But when you’re playing with electronics, you have to create loops and you have to create spaces for that to happen. It’s more challenging to get away from the grid in a way, to get away from the machine.”
“So we’re learning how to do that and it’s been a challenge, but we’re definitely doing it. There is definitely improvisation in places where we get to do that. I hope to delve into it more and create more places to do that.”
“It’s really exciting what you can do as far as looping and using the technology to enhance that. There’s like a wild frontier, honestly, because all these new technologies are always coming out – all these new toys.”
Given Beats Antique’s superbly atypical musical attitudes, you might expect a skeptical audience in some U.S. venues. But it might not be the locations that you’d expect.
“I would say the one thing that I’ve noticed is that in the South, these kids have really latched on to eclectic music. Sometimes in New York or in Portland, we’ll get people that are – more of the world music has been, you know?”
“But down here (Lexington, Kentucky), we’re getting more of the straight electronic, ‘cause we’ve gone on tour with Glitch Mob there for a while – there a big electronics artist. And so, we’ve got a lot of that audience down here.”
“I think it’s more of an opportunity to get their ear to turn to a new direction and give them some music from some cultures that they’ve never listened to before. So it’s actually an opportunity to bring in some new sound for people. And they’ve been really responsive. They’ve actually been some of the rowdiest crowds we’ve had.”
Beats Antique’s live shows are matchless musical marvels. And for Satori and the rest of the group, that’s exactly how they like it.
“Yeah. I definitely have had my like, ‘Whoa! What are we doing next?’ But the thing is, that’s the greatest part of our job – to come up with more and more ideas, you know? And I honestly like that challenge because I’ve seen shows that just do the same thing over and over again – that have been really big shows and great. But you get sort of stagnant and bored.”
“And so, I would say that our biggest challenge is sort of the greatest part of the job. Like, ‘What are we gonna do next? How are we gonna top that? We already did that, we’re gonna have to hire an elephant for our next show.’”
Sounds like the Beats Antique circus is coming to a city near you…