Santa Cruz Good Times

Oct 09th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Beats with Brains

music domtreeHip-hop collective Doomtree meditates on technology with ‘No Kings’

Indie rock fans would be forgiven if they mistook the tale of Twin Cities hip-hop collective Doomtree for that of folk strummer Bon Iver.

After all, just as Justin Vernon did with For Emma, Forever Ago, the seven-member crew laid down all the demos for their forthcoming album, No Kings, while sequestered in a remote Wisconsin cabin—far away from the noise and lights of the city and out of cell phone reception.

"We definitely wanted to isolate ourselves from distractions," says Margret Wander a.k.a. Dessa, a singer and emcee with the group.

Armed with copious amounts of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a collection of beats assembled by the group's circle of stellar producers, the Doomtree emcees—P.O.S., Cecil Otter, Sims, and Dessa—headed into the wilderness with a fairly simple itinerary: "We'd write during the days, drink at night, and demo into the early morning," says Wander.

Good Times caught up with Wander and Stefon Alexander (known onstage as P.O.S.) a few weeks back over an echoing cell phone connection. The two of them, plus the rest of Doomtree, will hit the Catalyst Atrium on Feb. 1 in support of No Kings—an album that merges rap and punk rock in a way that is far from corny, and downright danceable.

"I like the club bangers," Wander says. Though the group is often associated with the underground circuit—a scene which often values heady lyrical twists over bowel-rattling bass—she sees no reason why she can't have her deep thoughts and spit them over dance-friendly accompaniments.

Alexander, who also works as a producer in the group, agrees—and it shows. The rhythms on No Kings hit as hard as the record's rhetoric. The 12-song LP stitches together elements of punk, funk, jazz and glitchy 8-bit electronics, without straying from its hip-hop foundation.

The secret to making a brainy album that bumps, Alexander explains, is to treat all the musical parts like individual puzzle pieces, some of which fit neatly together, while others need trimming or elbow grease to fall into the allotted sonic space.

"Hip-hop is all about taking disparate pieces and making a totally different thing out of them," he says.

Alexander plays in a punk band when he isn't working on his solo hip-hop career or with Doomtree. His lifelong attraction to the "urgency" of rock and roll drumming is evident on No Kings, which is brimming with live drum sounds.

You can hear the rattle of the plastic drum heads in the rolling tom-tom intro of "Bolt Cutter," and the overdriven kick and snare on "Punch-Out" are reminiscent of the huge, overly compressed sound of John Bonham's kit on "When the Levy Breaks."

Then there are songs like "The Grand Experiment." A nod to the past and present, the song opens with classic synth horns, which recall the early keyboard sounds of Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" and seem to announce (contrary to the album's title) the entrance of some futuristic monarch. From there, it builds into a triumphant, womping, drum and bass reflection on all the ways the machines we have created hold court over our lives:

"Pushing evolution faster/catching continental drifts/desperately seeking solutions to problems we know we'll never fix," Mike Mictlan raps, "In the belly of a robot/out the valley of a microchip/dialysis in wonderland/Apple-Z the viruses/I've never been myself, there is no human experience/you can't Apple-S yourself/this is the grand experiment."

Doomtree's 10-year-long experiment has been fruitful, indeed. No Kings deserves comparisons to Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Like West's 2010 record, No Kings wraps a perfect balance of self-awareness, self-abasement, and self-aggrandizement around smart, painstakingly crafted beats.

The record is emblematic of everything Wander says she has ever wanted to do:

"Our primary objective is to make un-fuck-with-able music."

Doomtree performs at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1, at The Catalyst Atrium, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10/adv, $12/door. For more information, call 423-1338.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Hot in Here

This ain’t no Burning Man—the MAH’s GLOW festival flames on


Mercury Direct in Libra, Columbus Day, Libra New Moon

Mercury completes its retrograde Friday, poised stationary direct Friday evening at zero degrees Libra. Mercury begins its journey through Libra once again, completing its retrograde shadow Oct. 12. Things should be a bit less complicated by then. Daily life works better, plans move forward, large purchases can be made, and communication eases. Everything on hold during the retrograde is slowly released. Since we eliminated all thoughts and ideas no longer needed (the purpose of Mercury’s retrograde) during the retrograde, we can now gather new information—until the next retrograde occurs on Jan. 5, 2016 (1.3 degrees Aquarius), retrograding back to 15 degrees Capricorn on Jan. 25. It’s good to know beforehand when Mercury will retrograde next—Jan. 5, the day before Epiphany. On Monday is Columbus Day, when the sailor from Genoa arrived in the new lands (Americas), Oct. 12, 1492. This discovery by Columbus was the first encounter of Europeans with Native Americans. Other names for this day are “Discovery Day, Day of the Americas, Cultural Diversity Day, Indigenous People’s Day, and Dia de la Raza.” Italian communities especially celebrate this day. Oct. 12 is also Thanksgiving Day in Canada. Monday is also the (19 degrees) Libra new moon festival. Libra’s keynote while building the personality is, “Let choice be made.” Libra is the sign of making life choices. Often under great tension of opposing forces seeking harmony and balance. There is a battle between our lower (personality) and higher selves (soul). We are tested and called to cultivate right judgment and love. When we align with the will-to-good, right choice, then right judgment and love/wisdom come forth. Our tasks in Libra. 


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Film, Times & Events: Week of October 9

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Seoul Food

Santa Cruz’s new Sesame Korean is a great introduction to an ancient culinary tradition


Is there evil in the world?

Yes, some people don’t think right because they have been treated badly. Milo Robbins, Scotts Valley, Second Grade


Dos Aguilas Olive Oil

Aptos company is letting locals pick their own olives in October


What’s your biggest pet peeve?

When people say they’re “going down” somewhere, and they’re actually traveling north. Julia Ragen, Santa Cruz, Psychologist