"I'M NOT A GHETTO tech artist. It's called accelerated funk," insists DJ Assault. His tourmates, the Detroit Grand Pu Bahs, aren't eager to claim the label, either: "What Paris and I do is humorous dance music," says Pu Bah uno, Dr. Toefinger. "We're basically just what you call techno," seconds Pu Bah dos, Paris the Black Fu. So whose idea was "ghetto tech" then? Is it yet another case of music critic hoo-ha, a sloppy handle scrounged up for record store bin dividers? Whatever it is, this mix of jumped-up Kraftwerky beats and lyrics that veer from bathroom-wall scatology to haiku-like minimalism certainly seems to deserve a separate chapter—or at least its own page—in the dance music bible. And say what they will, their frantically scratch-tastic mixes (Assault), silly stage antics (Pu Bahs), and NC-17 lyrics (both) certainly make them the square pegs of Detroit's sober scene.
DJ Assault, Detroit Grand Pu Bahs
I-Spy, Wednesday, March 16
Comin from tha D (Intuit-Solar), the all-Detroit-all-the-time compilation currently burning up the headphones of techno's more adventurous fans, showcases this new sound via Assault and the Pu Bahs as well as a dozen other artists. From the mysterious Japanese Telecom—whose entire lyrical output consists of the words "cigarette lighter" chanted over rippling synth stutters—to Maersk, with his thudding underwater menace, "A.M.," the tracks are undeniably related, but not too closely—more second cousins than siblings. Hints of drum-and-bass and even jazz surface on tracks like Tony Olliverra's "Capture," while the Pu Bahs' "If Snow Was Black," culled from a poem written by Paris himself, is stark but surprisingly artful.
Assault and the Pu Bahs happen to be the most successful artists featured on the record, so they've been chosen to represent Tha D on the road. Via phone from his home in Detroit, Assault, also known as Craig Adams, talks about growing up a vinyl junkie.
"I started listening to records and buying records at like 10 years old," he recalls. "I would be hearin' records on the radio and wouldn't know the names of them or who sold them. I hung out with a lot of older guys and they really wouldn't tell me where the record stores were, but finally they mentioned the name of one and I happened to think to call information to get the address." His father would take him to the stores every Sunday, and by the ripe age of 12, he had stopped merely playing his records and begun playing with them; a DJ was born. And that radio show he listened to? It was hosted by a guy who called himself the Wizard, now better known as legendary techno pioneer Jeff Mills.
A detour to Atlanta came at 18, and Adams' record collection followed; soon he had a gig at the biggest club in town. "I'm happy that I went there for a few years, getting to experience college and being away from home," he muses. "But careerwise, I wish I had started a record label as soon as I got out of high school." His own label didn't actually become a reality until a few years later, in 1996, when he joined forces with producer and engineer Mr. De' to form Electrofunk Records. Their debut EP, Terrortec, with the singles "Technofreak" and "Crank This Mutha," put them on the map. That's when the ghetto-tech tag first got thrown around, and Assault was deemed, nearly by default, its king. Since then, dozens more artists have hopped on the ghetto-tech train, but Assault's title remains intact. His 2000 release, Off the Chain in the Y2K, Vol. 6, featured no fewer than 83 tracks—including shrinking-violet titles like "Fuck You Hoe," "God Made Me Funky," and Assault's biggest single to date, "Ass-n-Titties"—with most clocking in at under a minute. The album's unrelenting mix of Miami-style booty-bass and hopped-up techno, coupled with 2 Live Crew-caliber lyrics, does at times literally feel like an assault. Live, however, the vocals are often so distorted by Assault's dazzling deck skills that it becomes comical.
THE PU BAHS SKIP the misogyny and go straight to the comedy. Their underground hit "Sandwiches," with its cheeky couplet "You can be the bun/And I can be the burger, girl/I know you wanna do it/We can make sandwiches," puts a little more charm in the mix than Assault's productions. "The Pu Bahs are basically jack of all trades and masters of none," says Paris the Fu, but the duo are more than a novelty act. Both accomplished DJs in their own right, the pair's action-packed live performances, featuring outrageous outfits and, occasionally, Paris' bare backside, draw crowds weary of the stark stand-and-deliver performances of their peers. Funk and electro rear their heads onstage, warding off the one-note techno beast and imploring bodies to move. Seattle's only other Assault/Pu Bahs joint performance was one of last year's biggest dark-horse winners, and with the Detroit sound so busy wiggling its way into Northwest ears, this second showing will probably outdo the first. Ghetto tech, ghetto schmech—whatever they want to call it, it's working, and, well, if it ain't broke, just mix it.