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Pop Music

The Tracks of the Past Are Music to His Ears

David Hollander prides himself on unearthing bygone beats he's discovered in obscure music libraries.

July 14, 2002|JESSICA HUNDLEY

Two turntables form the epicenter of David Hollander's Fairfax District studio, and the 32-year-old DJ, artist, filmmaker and archivist flutters around them like moth to flame, digging through hundreds of records and playing beautifully obscure bits of underground rap, '60s soul and mid-'70s Euro-funk.

It's the kind of music that has made Hollander something of a hero in the world of music esoterica--not for performing it, but for liberating it from music libraries in the U.S. and abroad.

Hollander has issued a series of albums under the title "Cinemaphonic," each one drawn from a particular country. "Cinemaphonic: Electro Soul," released in 2000 on the Emperor Norton label, unearthed groovy gems from the few American-based library companies. Moving to New York's Motel Records, he put out "Cinemaphonic: Soul Punch," which culled tracks from the fuzz-guitar soul and bachelor-pad swing of the British libraries of the late '60s and '70s. Motel will soon schedule the release the third installment, "Heavy," consisting of deep bass funk and early electronica rescued from German archives of the late '70s and '80s.

His own releases are, he says, "a sampler's paradise," a mix of infectious funk grind and space-age grooves, crime-jazz bass and sweet '70s soul that could form the potential backbone for a limitless number of hits.

"In the DJ world we have a thing called break records, which are isolated pieces of music which are basically tools to make your own songs," explains Cut Chemist, a DJ in two prominent L.A. bands, Ozomatli and Jurassic 5. "I always felt like library music was kind of the predecessor to that.

"But I think that David chose music for this compilation which is more like finished songs, which is interesting. I liked that, because then I can listen to it without feeling all tense, waiting for the beat I can use. I can just sit back relax and enjoy. I love the period he chose, as well. This kind of plasticy, spacey period in the 70s."

Or in the words of DJ Swamp, one of the world's premiere turntablists and a mainstay of Beck's band, "This stuff is the original beat. It makes gangsta rap look like Romper Room."

Hollander has just returned from a trip to Europe, but he's bouncing around his studio with an energy usually reserved for 5-year-olds. He spent nearly a month there digging through dusty stacks of vinyl at obscure music libraries.

For the past 40 years, the U.S. entertainment industry has used many of these overseas production houses to provide inexpensive soundtrack music for low-budget films and television shows.

"These musicians weren't in the unions," Hollander explains, "so the bottom line was: You want something to lay down behind 'Streets of San Francisco' or 'Kojak,' you buy some tracks from the Italian, German or British library music companies.

"These companies would hire studio musicians, burgeoning pop stars or classical geniuses, and pay them to jam on a certain theme. You know, 'We need some up-tempo action jazz here, some bossa nova grooves over here.' So you have literally thousands of tracks, made by amazing musicians, most of them working under pseudonyms, just wasting away on these shelves all over Europe," Hollander explains.

"I'm unself-consciously a real fan of what I'm involved in bringing out," he adds. "I'm not influenced by the reissue industry per se, because much of what that industry is based on is the rarity of the record. And the fact of the matter is the rarity of the record doesn't always mean it's the best record. It comes down, for me, to personal aesthetics. That's why in terms of reissues, I don't feel like I'm competing with anybody."

Hollander's formative experience as a child actor in the '70s (he was in the 1980 comedy "Airplane!" and spent two years on the sitcom "What's Happening!!") has fueled the fires of both his local DJ performances (spinning under Lil' Earl, a version of his "What's Happening!!" moniker) and his "Cinemaphonic" discoveries.

But his search for the perfect beat is also inspired by his longtime admiration for hip-hop sampling. "In some way, everything that I do is connected to the culture of hip-hop, because hip-hop is where funk, soul and jazz have been immortalized," Hollander says. "It's sample-based beat production. I feel incredibly connected to that. Not that I'm looking for a given break inside a given hip-hop song. It's kind of the exact opposite. I'm looking for the beat that isn't there. The beat that needs to be discovered....

"There are so many things to discover, and one text always leads to the next, whether it's music or film or books or whatever," Hollander continues. "I'm inspired to tell people about it. I'll get so enthused about something that I can't sleep at night, my head will just be exploding and I literally have to do something about it. I think that curating things like that is sort of a lost art form."

Hollander laughs and points to the turntable, where a gorgeous, soulful bass line is floating up into the cool morning air. 'Enthusiasm really is a sort of holy state," he says, smiling. "It's total bliss."

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Jessica Hundley is an occasional contributor to Calendar.

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