Not being a hip-hop producer, I really had no idea how to review Bridgetown Breaks Vol. 2, the second installment of breakbeats as performed by various Portland drummers and the beatboxer known only as Fogatron. For guidance, I've come to see Marc Petricciani, a.k.a. Mystro, founder of portland hip-hop label Battleship Records. Turns out that Petricciani is old-school. He uses analog technology instead of computer programs like Pro Tools, and, as a rule, he avoids break albums. "You don't learn anything about the artist you are taking stuff from with a break record," he explains.
Petricciani's stance is understandable. Each of the cuts on this record—provided by drummers from such indie-rock bands as Talkdemonic, Menomena, Viva Voce and Binary Dolls—is little more than a short drum track meant to be sampled and looped by producers like Petricciani. And, while the second offering of Breaks is inventive, its tracks can't help but feel divorced from an actual song and, some would argue, the soul of a song. When Mystro digs through crates, he isn't just looking for some isolated percussion, he is looking to steal some feeling and ambiance. For Mystro, the process usually involves chopping the beats up and layering them with his own live percussion, creating a track both throwback and original.
Still, we listen to the Bridgetown Breaks Vol. 2 CD in Mystro's living room in Southeast Portland, where he brings me various imported beers while his ridiculously cute pit bulls chase each other in and out of the house. The producer, dressed in a wife-beater and baggy shorts, is discussing the thrill of hunting for rare vinyl when we are interrupted by a particularly tight Bridgetown break from the Fiction Junkies' drummer, Drew Shoals, called "The Untimely Death of Computers."
"I like that. I'd use that snare," Mystro says. "It's really great to hear these indie-rock drummers kicking some funky shit. One of the main reasons I love hip-hop is you don't get that whiny bitch attitude. Because the thing about a lot of indie rock is, Jesus Christ, you're born in America and you're white, what more could you ask for? Quit crying!"
Mystro can see his point has made an impression on me. "Most of these [hip-hop] cats are minorities that grew up in fucked-up neighborhoods where crack rules everything," he continues, over Charles Neal's Latin-flavored "Freedoggin." "And they're not complaining. They're like, 'I'm gonna make it past this.'"
Before I can say no, Mystro replaces my empty bottle with beer from yet another country. The distorted drums of Danny Seim's "Courtney Taylor-Taylor" bleed into Fogatron's "Rounds Coming Down Range." "I'm always impressed with his shit," Mystro says.
During the boom-chiks of Kevin Robinson's rolling break, "Dark Crystal," Mystro says, "I really dig these all a lot. I just wish they'd vary the recording style throughout the tracks. If they had one track that was crisp, one that was grimey and one where they decided to track it from down the hallway or something, you'd have a variety of different sounds going on."
By the time Amanda Spring's "Roboroboto" shakes its way onto the stereo, Mystro has grown a little impatient. "I've gotta play you something," he says, running down the hall. He grabs a copy of an unreleased J Dilla recording called "Jungle Love." It starts up with a burst. "Those are live drums. What they did is they took one of the floor toms and used it for a kick drum. You hear how grimey that bass is?" I nod in agreement, silenced by the beers. "It sounds like they recorded it with a Radio Shack microphone and stepped on it a couple times." We listen to the beat in silence for a minute or two, our heads nodding in rhythm, then Mystro presses stop. "That's hip-hop," he says.