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Don't Call it Dubstep

music Baths3Electronic artist Baths crafts glitchy beats for introspection—and a bit of dancing
Every once in a while, Will Wiesenfeld gets mistaken for someone else, and it makes him uneasy. The 22-year-old southern California musician, who performs and records as Baths, recalls one such mix-up clearly:
"This guy comes up to me after the show and goes, 'Hey, bro! I've never heard dubstep with vocals before.' I felt really weird about that."

Although his music can be glitchy and dance-floor friendly, and while he performs hunched over his laptop, twisting knobs and punching the rubber trigger pads of his MIDI controller, much like stadium wompers Skrillex and Deadmau5, those who check out the show at Kuumbwa Jazz on Dec. 16 will see that Baths is not exactly a dubstep project.

"I'm not trying to make bass music," Wiesenfeld says. "I'm doing my best to separate myself from it." And he's succeeding for the most part, as Baths is often too tweaked to be danceable.

Take "Apologetic Shoulder Blades." The first track on 2010's Cerulian sounds like a machine becoming self-aware through the recital of some sacred digital hymn. It begins with wordless chanting—the disparate voices falling into harmony, but only by accident; the drum machine sputters to life and presses urgently forward in fits and starts for the duration of the song. Clicks, blips, bleeps and found sounds, mark the passage of time as the tune lurches along like some wild Rube Goldberg contraption, until it finishes as awkwardly (and as marvelously) as it began, with that fragmented and haphazardly harmonious chanting.

If a Baths track is too spastic to get anyone's feet moving in a comfortable pattern, it may very well be too mellow. Such is the case with "Rain Smell," a slow and mournful meditation on separation, which is composed of little more than a single repeating lyric over faraway piano tinkering, a spare beat, and the sound of rainfall.

These aren't songs for raving, though each might work for the kids in the cool-down room, who took too many hits to move their bodies in any coordinated fashion and have left the dance floor in search of some plush couches to recline on, while examining the beams of light filtering through their fanned, outstretched fingers.

Wiesenfeld's music is very introspective, which he attributes, at least in part, to his upbringing in the "unremarkable" suburbs of the San Fernando Valley, where he learned to lock himself in his room and search for inspiration in faraway places that he could only imagine.

"There was a longing for something more beyond what was around me in my environment," he explains, noting that neither of his parents were musicians and he learned music by listening to records. Early on in high school, Wiesenfeld got hooked on electronica, which sowed the seeds for his first solo project, [Post-Foetus], and ultimately Baths. "The first time I heard Bjork—that was really ear opening."

Still, try as he might, Wiesenfeld has not managed to fully divorce himself from the recent explosion of electronic dance music that is currently creeping into pop music. And perhaps he isn't as averse to wobbly bass drops and mainframe-malfunction breakdowns that have been showing up in songs by Top 40 stars like Rihanna, Kanye West, and LMFAO. "It's good in some ways," he concedes.

Though he says he doesn't like being associated with the brand of electronic music that is played on the radio today, Wiesenfeld occasionally incorporates some of the genre's trappings into his music—the robotic hiccups, the slowly escalating whoosh filter, astral synthesizers and bass-heavy beats that might even get a crowd (gasp!) dancing.


Baths plays at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12/adv, $15/door. For more information, call 427-2227.

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