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Also classically trained, Mertens is a beast with the bass. When he straps up, it's with the intensity of an entire cavalry preparing for war. He holds his instrument with authority and brings the underlying element of rhythm that gives all within earshot the inevitable scrunch face. His beatmaking skills (Ableton is his weapon of choice) have earned him the nickname "Murder Mertens," because "the beats were a bit murderous," he says with a laugh.
Back at Appaloosa, each instrument colors the sound in the steadily filling tavern. Folks are making their way to the bar, where the trio's trusty bartender, who answers to "Double Dutch" — and who is also known to get down on the microphone with the guys on the late-night tip — is serving up the drinks tall and strong. Qknox is getting intimate with the keyboard, Check One is tap-tap-tapping on the drums, and Mertens is preparing to unleash a monster groove, going through the routine before the beat opens, silky and funky.
The players make smooth transitions from song to song. There's a sample from Lost Boyz that leads into the second song, inspiring cheers from the group's already tipsy fans. This joint flows smoothly into the third track, which is a remix of a song from MC Bianca Mikahn. Her vocals come in without warning, drawing "Where did that come from?" glances from several people in the crowd, who clearly enjoy the change-up.
It's that fourth element that makes BigWheel Electrosoul seem like an interactive band. The truth is, the guys are happy being a trio — but there's always a steady parade of MCs, poets, singers and other vocalists who want to join the rat pack on stage on Tuesday nights.
"We don't have an open mike," Check One clarifies. "We like to call it a 'guided microphone.' We enjoy being a trio, yet there are plenty of MCs who come down and jam with us. Singers, poets, even drummers and bassists will be invited to play."
It gets a bit complicated, though, when artists become overzealous with the mike. "They just rap because they have the microphone, and they will rap until you take it away from them," says Qknox. "We let people on the microphone, but we're honest with them when they don't pull it off. Damieon, especially, talks to them afterward. We've recently been giving little talks beforehand, like, 'After you do your verse, give us a second. We might have a drum solo or something.'"
Some folks, of course, just can't help themselves, as is the case with the enthusiastic fan who wanted an encore after the first song. Without warning, he makes his way onto the stage, where he then rambles off a freestyle that makes Qknox shake his head with laughter. The bandmembers never skip a beat during his slurred rap, and when the song finishes, Check One gives the rhymer a "Thanks for playing" pat on the back and directs him from the stage. The party-goer yells, "You only live once!" before Jay-Z's "Girls, Girls, Girls, Pt. 2" blares through the speakers and the boys are at it again, doing what they do.