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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Das Racist Relaxes The Roxy - 10/14

Graham Clark |
October 17, 2012 | 8:00 p.m. PDT

Staff Cartoonist

Victor "Kool A.D." Vasquez at the Roxy Theatre, 10/14/12 (Graham Clark/Neon Tommy)
Victor "Kool A.D." Vasquez at the Roxy Theatre, 10/14/12 (Graham Clark/Neon Tommy)
Cog theory was invented by Nikki Sixx. It’s inscribed at length in part nine, chapter one of Mötley Crüe’s autobiographical tome “The Dirt.”

Simply put, it's an abstract description of how musical acts rise and fall in popularity. It argues that the only direction for intentional progression is up through discreet, hierarchical tiers of acclaim.

Moving between phases of popularity requires a decided leap, say, from the "cog" of regional-hit status to market-sector smash.

Without continual advancement, artists immediately tumble down to an unyielding, pulverizing conveyor belt of disgrace. Groups move up in big chunks or plummet clear to the bottom. Anything less than a great leap forward equates to miserable death.

In February, Das Racist performed alongside Philip Glass and the New York Philharmonic to a sold-out Carnegie Hall. On Sunday, the final stop of “American Rap Songs Tour 2012,” they looked out at the Roxy’s crowd and saw a one-third full venue.

According to cog theory, Das Racist is dead. But they’re not. The days of cog theory might be.

The Roxy show was no exalted blowout. It was heartwarming. Das Racist and company merely displayed the creative knack that made them so damn promising in the first place.

Himanshu Suri at the Roxy Theatre, 10/14/12 (Graham Clark/Neon Tommy)
Himanshu Suri at the Roxy Theatre, 10/14/12 (Graham Clark/Neon Tommy)
It was worlds away from their last stop in town. That was a banger at the Echoplex in Feburary, where sloppy showmanship required restarting of several songs, including their opening number.

There, bleary eyed buffoonery brought to mind every friend who's acted like a drunk asshole: Himanshu Suri brashly demanded the crowd to “hand over all your Vicodin, your Percocet, your Lortabs,” while Ashok “Dapwell” Kondabolu murmured in protest.

Sunday’s show was a loveable drunk, the kind that wraps their arms around your neck and slumps over, setting their weight and warmth against you. Epithets were hollered, but they come from a good place. Playful stage banter ran the gamut between extremely silly and Chester-the-Cheetah-grade dangerously silly.

The playbill was knit cozily, an infinite boon to the evening’s positive dynamics. Love was spread between all performers: the droopy-eyed, teddy-bear-cute Lakutis palled around during his set with Safe’s CF Edly. Suri pulled the evening’s opener Robert Raimon Roy back onstage for an applause reprise, and tweeted that Le1f was, “So talented. Inspiring.” 

Lakutis sprawls on the ground in front of Sofia Lopez (Graham Clark/Neon Tommy)
Lakutis sprawls on the ground in front of Sofia Lopez (Graham Clark/Neon Tommy)
As the head of Le1f’s record label, it’s something of a self-serving statement. But however much economic investment motivated that thought, it was genuine.

A relatively small number of popular music groups still rake in most of the cash. Sixx would claim the biggest cog keeps on turning, regardless of what acts and genres hold sway at any given time. 

Das Racist may be pulling themselves along that well-trod route to shortlived stardom. Licensing the song “Girl” for Kmart advertisements was enough of a mainstream marketing maneuver to melt a few fans’ minds.

But there’s a more evidenced reading, projected onto Himanshu and Victor Vasquez’s brand-building strategy by critics since “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” They’re accruing cultural capital of a different, intrinsically digital sort. Dorky critics might call it a shadow economy, but it’s a basic component of everyday reality, especially for working artists.

"I might take my clothes off at some point," Le1f said at the Roxy Theatre, 10/14/12 (Graham Clark/Neon Tommy)
"I might take my clothes off at some point," Le1f said at the Roxy Theatre, 10/14/12 (Graham Clark/Neon Tommy)

Suri's homegrown record label, Greedhead, remains fledgling. Purported critical pans of albums including “Relax” could have spelled doom for the enterprise.

These works are released under something of a microscope, and some listeners expectated them to reach new levels of success. But rather than radically redefining the group, they obliquely and quietly suggested that these artists are alive and trying to function.

Bearing the Greedhead seal of approval is not a be-all-end-all ticket to success. Perhaps no other record label is so clear about the flimsiness of the reed they wield.

All cultural startups fake it till they make it, but none explicitly demonstrate the echo chamber behind a well-designed, vectorized brand like Das Racist. Songs such as “Brand New Dance,” “The Actual” and “You Can Sell Anything” blatantly illustrate this, but man-behind-the-curtain, mirage-deflating lyrics consistently pepper their work. 

After Sunday’s show, Edly stood on the sidewalk in front of the Roxy and expounded on his utter exhaustion. “I got three hours of sleep,” he said, traveling to the venue. “I drove the entire way.”

“Victor is a completely incompetent driver. Dude sucks. It’s like his glasses are fogged up or something. Himu… Dap… he just doesn’t drive.”

CF Edly of Safe at the Roxy Theatre, 10/14/12
CF Edly of Safe at the Roxy Theatre, 10/14/12
If the effort proves worthwhile for Edly, it will stand testament to the power of human interaction and the value of being on-board with a creative enterprise. Being an adept component of a larger system, like a social network, is clearly the only way to grasp sustainable success. 

More people are being brought into the fold and featured as collaborators on Greedhead affiliated projects, cementing the collective long-term legacy of this expansive organization.

Stylistic design is thus ostensibly irrelevant: Himanshu can steep himself in the tough-guy radio rap timbre, Kool A.D.’s solo stuff can combust into totally disparate concrète spirals. Dapwell’s long-promised “Winky Taters” mixtape could contain absolutely anything. There will be lots of people involved. There will be a Mishka logo somewhere. It will live on the Internet forever.

Perhaps cog theory need not be abandoned entirely, simply retooled. Instead of serving to destroy enterprising individuals, cogs in the symbolic apparatus may be locked together, moving things forward in a constructive direction.

One drives the van, one manages the record label, one takes off his shirt and tosses a microphone until the crowd eats him up. Everything’s relatively suited to change, and without the arbitrary goal of the “big cog” looming large, there’s no single direction to fall.

DAS RACIST SETLIST (Roxy Theatre, 10/14/12):

1) “Here Come the Warm Jets” Intro

2) “Who’s That? Brooown!”

3) “Brand New Dance”

4) “Rapping 2 U” Feat. Lakutis

5) “Explosive” Remix

6) Alphabet song sing-along led by Kool A.D.

7) “Amazing” Feat. Lakutis

8) Unreleased song, featuring Himanshu’s first verse from “Relax”

9) Alphabet song revisited

10) “Don Dada”

11) “You Oughta Know”

12) Call and response led by Dapwell: “Yap Yap!” “Grinnagram!” “Shappidyboobidy!”

13) “Michael Jackson”

14) “Rainbow in the Dark”

15) Unreleased song

16) “Simply the Best” Outro

Read more of NT's show coverage here.

Reach Staff Cartoonist Graham Clark here. Follow him on Twitter here.



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