Thursday, January 16, 2014

Square Zeros #4: Keenan Houser (Spaghetti Blacc, GNATS, Blacc Ski Weekend Industries, Gods On Safari)

"Cubic centimeters of disgusting sauced-up spaghetti realness." That was Keenan Houser's unrehearsed response when I asked him what Spaghetti Blacc, his nom de guerre, means. If it doesn't make sense right off the bat, drop the needle anywhere on his already large and growing catalogue, listen to some tracks, and I think you'll agree that it might be the best — or at least the most accurate — way to describe the madness that is this dude's music. 

In plainer terms, Spaghetti Blacc is an MC and producer from Kingsbridge who's been on a recording tear since last spring, aiming to release an album a month over the course of a year. I first heard him a few weeks ago through DatPiff and was instantly bitten by his music. A lazy listener might give it the "experimental rap" tag, but it's more complex than that, especially because he's been so prolific. Think jazz-rap cut with all the glitches and data fragments of the .gif age — a choppy, spaced-out sound that draws from the likes of Souls Of Mischief and Kool Keith, but skews darker and more chaotic.

Keenan, 23, has been rapping for several years now, but didn't start laying his stuff down until around 2011. The first track he shared with Square Zeros, "The Rap Sphinx (Flawless Victory)," is a vampy, head-nod number that features some of his earliest sampling and beat making. At the time, he says, he was a lot more comfortable with his writing chops than his production skills. 

The next track, also from 2011, features a similar production style, but you can hear how Spaghetti Blacc's song craft had progressed. The sampling is creative, the mix is smooth, the vocals are confident (calls up a little Del for me). The song's called "Third Rail," and Keenan ended up putting it on a compilation of his best material from that period. 

It's rare to find an artist as lucid about his own music as Keenan, even in a town brimming with talented musicians. As abstract and jagged as his production gets, everything in his family of projects — which include GNATS, Gods On Safari and the Blacc Ski Weekend label, in addition to Spaghetti Blacc — is done with serious intention. Constantly writing and recording has allowed him to get the big ideas out and sharpen his technique, focusing more on the fine details of the weird. He says his approach is partially inspired by Sun Ra, whose free-spirit, cosmic imagery and other-worldly sounds are a clear driver for Spaghetti Blacc.  

"It's just that whole ethos of — it's not really what you play but making sure every note is alive and roaring and just like ferocious," he says. "That just scared such a crazy energy within me."

(Further reading/listening/viewing: Sun Ra's Space Is The Place.)

Y'all can check out the full range of Keenan's work on Bandcamp, Ephem-Aural, and DatPiff. And stay tuned for a string of new albums dropping regularly from Spaghetti Blacc.

This episode begins with "Goulash Colossal G4 Mix," a cut from GNATS/Spaghetti Blacc's 2014 release, the romance of business, and closes with "Sold Out Food" from the same record.


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