In from way out
Ninja Tune's Amon Tobin returns with Out From Out Where
Unlike most traveling DJs, Ninja Tune producer Amon Tobin prefers headlining and label tours, even if they land him in a rock venue.
"It's good to have a sound guy always along and in your corner, battling any resistance," says the Brazilian-born, British-bred sampler surgeon, who now lives in Montreal. "After all, not everybody knows how to handle bass."
Take it from someone who knows. Tobin's been double-tracking the bass since well before the likes of Jazzanova and St. Germain made diced Latin and South American rhythms braised with jazz and breakbeats the boutique sound of the new millennium. Growing up with hip-hop's jazz samples (minus the acid jazz) fueled Tobin's interest in further exploring dense, darkly churning breakbeats without having to align himself with nu_jazz "broken beat."
Tobin differs from other artists in his ability to render his sources irrelevant, not simply reinvent their moods. His shards of dusty swing and strings avoid retro comfort, and should sound futuristic well into the decade. On the new Out From Out Where — his fifth album, if you include a release under the Cujo moniker — Tobin continues to stretch past his initial billing as drum 'n' bass producer. This is the first album Tobin hasn't felt the need to explain. His previous three — Bricolage, Permutation and Supermodified — stated implicitly his process of manipulating organic sounds in a digital environment. With his Canadian home studio — or "cockpit," as he dubs it — transplanted piece-for-piece to replicate his former Brighton base, Tobin is easing into a more left-field creative chapter.
Montreal's got decent weather, he says. But more important, it has a wealth of cheaper, less-picked-over record stores than the U.K. And that factor above all others Tobin says affects his productivity.
It isn't just trolling the Montreal racks for sample sources that feeds Tobin. Touring affords him the opportunity to hit the more secluded provinces and U.S. states for material. But before you get an image in your head of another turntablist juggling "Rock the Bells," or yet another a producer looping the break from Winstons' "Amen Brother," listen to Out From Out Where. Tobin has left much of that jazz behind. Setting aside the bossa nova and batucada, Out From Out Where incorporates everything from Prefuse 73-like verbal percussion ("Verbal") to Mouse on Mars-like spasms and skitters ("Triple Science") to the fanfare funk and seismic cinematic swells of "Chronic Tronic" and "Searchers" — all with the noir-ish tension, clatter, chatter, tumbling thunder and meticulously placed beats that are distinctly Tobin.
Live, Tobin puts an equally personal stamp on his performance. Though he is "DJing," he performs a prearranged set. He doesn't go about reading the crowd and changing the overall set accordingly, but he says he's rarely come across a crowd in which everyone couldn't find something to latch on to. Because while Tobin is beatmatching records, he's also adapting separate melodies to fit, using laptop software technology known as Final Scratch to weave samples in real time.
"I feel the same about DJing as I do when I make my own stuff," says Tobin. "I'm not taking credit for the raw material — just the way I put it together is my creative input. Final Scratch lets me do a lot more because I can take separate elements from my own music in order to make personal versions of other people's music, triggering it all from the decks as I previously would."
In other words, soundmen beware.