The Difference Machine’s psychedelic experience

Tracing the origins of rock and hip-hop’s deeper connection

In 1964 Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert co-authored The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. “A psychedelic experience,” they write, “is a journey to new realms of consciousness.” Yoga exercises, meditation, sensory deprivation, psychedelic drugs, and religious or aesthetic ecstasies can transport the psyche to a state of transcendence. The result of a psychedelic experiences, as the authors state, is that “it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures.” By blending psychedelic rock and hip-hop, the Difference Machine aims to expand the consciousness of its audience. The group’s debut album, and first for the newly launched Psych Army Intergalactic label, The Psychedelic Sounds of the Difference Machine, will be its first attempt at eliciting such an effect.

The Difference Machine is comprised of core members Dr. Conspiracy, who won’t reveal his true identity, and DT (Dustin Teague of Clan Destined). Look through their respective histories and you’ll find two résumés that run nearly parallel in timing and impact. DT, of Clan Destined, found hip-hop through his cousins, who also taught him to freestyle and make beats. Dr. Conspiracy, whose father was a musician, grew up playing drums in various garage bands. Both of them came to Atlanta looking to weave themselves into the city’s underground hip-hop fabric: DT studied under the Vinyl Junkies, while Dr. Conspiracy was with Zone 7 and Expatriots — all groups that reveled in drawing out the experimental outer limits of sample-based hip-hop.

It wasn’t until a few years later that DT found success with Yamin Semali, aka AmDex in Clan Destined, and Dr. Conspiracy broke through with Lee Harvey Oswald, named Creative Loafing’s Best New Group in 2008. As Dr. Conspiracy says, “By the time we were successful with Lee Harvey, Clan Destined was a staple.” Both groups found their niches and inspired their audiences with new sounds for the local music scene. Clan Destined is still producing work, but Lee Harvey Oswald has since dissolved.

Conspiracy and DT did occasionally cross paths over the years. In the early 2000s they competed in beat battles at Mic Club — the historic hip-hop event hosted by D.R.E.S. tha BEATnik at the Apache Café. After hearing one of DT’s beats in a beat battle at the Breaks in 2007, Conspiracy says, “That’s when I was like, yo! DT’s got some shit!”

Dr. Conspiracy was also friends with DT’s girlfriend, who DT says, “would play Dr. Conspiracy shit and I was like, okay. ...”

It was Brannon Boyle of Speakeasy Promotions, that saw the connection between Dr. Conspiracy and DT and said to them, “I’m gonna book a show and y’all are gonna play it.”

The show was with Kool Keith at the Earl in June 2011. They played the material they had quickly assembled for that one-off performance, and songs such as “Psychology” and “Untitled” got the local fans eager for more.

It was DT’s penchant for spinning psych rock music and the release of The Yes Project — an album of Yes songs remixed by DT — that made Brannon see the connection. He and Conspiracy had been discussing the concept of psychedelic hip-hop, and both being familiar with the Clan Destined MC, realized that DT was a perfect match.

“I had all these beats that people would try to rap on and they’d fail,” Conspiracy says. “It was too much for them. Then I started giving them to DT and he would take them on.”

“Psychology,” the group’s first single, is a prime example of their shared chemistry. DT took the instrumental into a studio and penned the lyrics in less than an hour. “I can give DT a beat, the best beat I can make, the most powerful beat, and it’s the perfect beat for him,” Conspiracy says. “That’s why it’s right.”

The Difference Machine’s live performances are events to witness — Radley Fricker plays drums, Dr. Conspiracy pumps out the beat and DT raps, cuts, freestyles, and works a delay peddle for his vocals — an effect rarely seen in hip-hop groups — while Michael Mosca does additional programming and sampling. Along with playing several local shows, including 2012’s A3C and the Trinumeral Festival, they’ve toured the Southeast with Del tha Funky Homosapien and opened for Ghostface Killah. In June, they won the Creative Loafing Throwdown, winning a spot at next year’s CounterPoint Fest.

Like all innovative styles, not everything they’ve done has been met with applause. “After the show was over June 30 show at the Earl a very respected hip-hop cat said ‘I don’t understand it,’” DT says, “He was like, ‘I don’t get this form.’” Perhaps the highest compliment, unintentionally or not, to a group that wants to widen the musical horizons of the audience or as Timothy Leary and his co-authors would say, to create something that “opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures.”

Both DT and Conspiracy use samples in the creation of their music. Conspiracy is a drum break specialist with a record collection numbering in the thousands — as is expected from any respectable producer. Technology as a tool and a concept is evident on the album. Yet, the fundamentals of hip-hop are at the basis of everything they create. In “Futuristic Blast” DT raps: “Get a grasp on the weightless/Infinitely spacious oasis/Far above and beyond the basics/And yet keep the fundamentals sacred.”

Psychedelic rock pervades not only the beats and lyrical content, but the visual aesthetic as well. J. Smiley, a local video artist, does experimental projections at most of their shows, and the album cover artwork more closely resembles that of Cream’s Disraeli Gears, Edan’s Beauty and the Beat, or the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band than anything else.

Psych rock has experienced a resurgence and the blending of it with hip-hop is a new direction for music. With a handful of shows coming up in the next months, the public will have plenty of chances to take the “journey to new realms of consciousness” that the Difference Machine is leading. After years of putting in work and seeing all the angles of the hip-hop scene, Conspiracy and DT are primed to have a big impact and are ready to open up the audience to a new wavelength of life and music.