Genre bender 

Tracking the godfather of glitch-hop

In 2001 hip-hop fans and electronic music nuts alike stumbled upon an album that challenged the conventions and toppled the barriers dividing these two genres of music. Guillermo Scott Herren’s first full-length effort under the moniker Prefuse 73, Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives, was considered a musical landmark—the first album where hyper-edited and chopped up vocal sounds, vintage jazz samples and electronic glitches mixed with unconventional hip-hop beats. The album served as an antidote to listeners who grew bored with hip-hop’s standard formula of looping a few melodic phrases underneath a static beat. His distinctive sound also helped spawn a new genre of electronic-influenced instrumental hip-hop called “glitch-hop.” But despite his pioneering niche, Herren is quick to distance himself from any such label.

“When it came to Prefuse 73, my manifesto was to bring all eras of hip-hop into one thing while accepting outside influences,” he said in a 2003 interview with The Boston Phoenix. “Prefuse isn’t about computer-slicing glitch-hop, click-hop, bitch-hop shit. You listen to the first De La Soul record and you realize Prince Paul was a pioneer who paved the path to what I’m doing now with just a sampler.”

A few years before he started Prefuse 73, Herren, a globetrotter who was born in Miami, raised in Atlanta and splits his time between living in New York City and Spain, kept himself busy under another musical guise. His first official album, Sleep Method Suite, came out in 1997 and was released under the alias Delarosa. Herren would later change the name of this project to Delarosa & Asora and he released a 12-inch single, full-length album and EP under that name. Delarosa & Asora’s later work, Agony Part 1 and the Backsome EP, both released in 2000, would lay down some of the groundwork for the Prefuse 73 sound. Those albums, while different in many ways from his later work, adopted a similar aesthetic of juxtaposing intricately spliced synthetic and found sounds with the solid foundation of an eccentric hip-hop beat. Coincidentally, the first Prefuse 73 release, a 12-inch EP called Estrocaro was released later the same year.

Fast forward seven years, several releases and side projects later (including work under the names Savath & Savalas and Piano Overlord), and Herren’s at it again with Preparations, his latest under the Prefuse 73 banner. It’s an ambitious and impressive work fusing his signature off-kilter beats and sample splicing with a host of densely layered sound sources including strings, woodwinds, percussion and the human voice. While fans will recognize his signature style, there are also a few noticeable differences. For one, his meticulous sound edits have become less abrupt. Thus, the clicks, pops, synthetic buzzes and horn/string/vocal cutups of yore have become a little smoother around the edges. And like his first Prefuse full-length, as well as 2003’s One Word Extinguisher and 2005’s Surrounded By Silence, the latest disc also includes collaborations. But unlike his previous releases, which mainly included guest spots from the world of hip-hop—including MC’s like MF Doom and EL-P—there are no rappers on Preparations. Instead, appearances by the group School of Seven Bells (on the beautiful “The Class of 73 Bells”) and drummer John Stanier of the experimental math-rockband Battles (on the dissonant but funky “Smoking Red”) are evidence that a lack of MCs doesn’t hurt this release.

Perhaps the best example of Herren’s compositional skills comes in the form of a bonus disc, Interregnums, which he spoke about with British hip-hop site ukhh.com (We hoped to speak with Herren ourselves, but he missed two scheduled interviews with the Indy.) On the bonus disk he reprises Preparations in its entirety as a purely symphonic arrangement.

“It’s just a classical re-interpretation of the beats in a weird way,” he told ukhh.com, “where I’ve just played instruments and resample them, put them in the MPC [sampler] and create this whole orchestra sounding CD to match the beats side.”

As far as his future musical endeavors, Herren has indicated he’ll branch out and take production offers from mainstream MC’s, but that he’ll also maintain his other side projects.

“If it’s coming to me I’m dumb for not taking it,” he told the online British magazine rockfeedback.com. “I need to start re-evaluating the whole situation and I need more balance in the hip-hop world. I never set out to make straight hip-hop but I never wanted to be so weird that people couldn’t understand it. I want it to be communicative and fair. Open to people that are more into hip-hop but also indie rock, for example. Just cross the genres and boundaries and preconceptions that people have about you. But unfortunately people are quicker than you are at just placing you under a tag.”

Prefuse 73 plays the Badlander Monday, Dec. 3, at 9 PM. School of Seven Bells opens. $10.
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