Late last summer, a pale, willowy young man walked into the vinyl section of a Denver-area record store. He seemed nervous. His glossy black hair fell like ink across his eyes, and he glanced around the relatively empty shop as if someone were about to run up and hit him. And immediately, the few people there did take notice: A couple in the corner near the punk aisle pointed furtively at him and whispered; a kid in the techno section did a double take; an indie-rock dude next to the gumball machine tried to play it cool, but you could tell he was freaking. Drinking all this in, the man squared his shoulders and slowly approached the counter. Looking down from his almost aerial vantage point, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead then cleared his throat and inquired in a polite British accent, "Excuse me, but do you have any Kid 606?"
"Yeah, Radiohead tried to get me to do some stuff for them," confesses Oakland's Miguel Depedro -- otherwise known as Kid 606. "But I didn't really have an interest. I think they're great at what they do, but I don't really listen to them. The musicians I'd rather work with are all crazy, weird dance-hall people. Radiohead's music is, like, already done. They're one of those bands that doesn't need remixes; they pretty much remix themselves."
Saying Kid 606 "does remixes" is like saying James Joyce wrote coloring books. Depedro handles his sampler with all the finesse of a Kool-Aid-amped kindergartener jabbing away at a Game Boy, gleefully mangling bits of techno, pop, hip-hop, hardcore punk, indie rock and whatever else sticks to his fingers. But his aptitude for appropriation is wielded with drill-bit accuracy, and he takes his cut-and-paste nihilism to an almost conceptual extreme. Besides doing chromosome damage to the grrrl punk of Bikini Kill, Erase Errata and X-Ray Spex, Depedro has dismantled the futuro-pop of the Buggles (calling the result "Mp3 Killed the CD Star") and torn up the streetwise sounds of Jay-Z and NWA. Screw deconstructionism: His work is straight-up destruction.
"The reason I never fit in with any one scene is that I kind of listen to everything," Depedro explains. "I was listening to Clikatat Ikatowi at the same time I was listening to Seefeel and Aphex Twin and lots of crazy rave stuff and gabber and noise. If you really want to be a part of a specific scene, you have to close off so much. You have to put blinders on. I was just never willing to do that."
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Depedro moved to San Diego as a schoolboy. He spent the mid '90s breathing in the city's rich atmosphere of underground rock. "I love that music, but San Diego was the worst scene," he says. "I hate to admit it, but it was the most fucking exclusive kind of punk culture." At the time, San Diego was dominated by the bleak, seizure-inducing post-hardcore of bands like Heroin, Antioch Arrow and Clikatat, as well as bigger, more accessible acts like Rocket From the Crypt and Three Mile Pilot. "I mean, all the Locust guys were nice, but their fans were, for the most part, rich white kids acting cool and trying to look like strung-out junkies," he explains. "I listened to all the same stuff those kids did -- Joy Division and the Velvet Underground and the Swans -- but I wasn't trying to do the same thing over and over again for the hundredth time. I was surrounded by all these redundant rock bands.
"People always ask me, 'How did you get into making electronic growing up in San Diego?' I got into it because I grew up in fucking San Diego," continues Depedro. "It's a conservative city, and people try to break out of that by being conservatively rebellious. Basically, everyone just wanted to update the formula, which in and of itself became a cliche. I just didn't want to have anything to do with the formula."
Simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by the scene around him, Depedro -- still in junior high -- began tinkering with keyboards and sequencers. "I was fourteen. I'd never played an instrument before, at all. I just went straight into electronic geekness," he says, laughing. "I was basically in the studio for two years before I ever played a show. It was just me, staying up all night on freakin' painkillers, sitting in front of my sampler trying to make noise. I would do these noise drones for hours. Of course, it was just crude, stupid fucking stuff, but that's how much I felt empowered by it, how much I got off on the sounds. If you've ever lived in an apartment complex where there's some dude who pulls out his guitar and listens to himself play for like six hours straight, that was pretty much the level I was at."
Depedro finally began doing live solo shows -- with dubious results. "God, I've played some horrible stuff," he admits. "I remember doing a show with just tape loops of babies screaming. Then I went to community college and took this electronic-music course and totally blew up their P.A." After his baptism in early projects like Spacewürm and Ariel, he settled on the Kid 606 tag, moved to Oakland and started pumping out records; he's birthed more than three dozen CDs, LPs, twelve-inch singles, seven-inches, remixes and compilations to date. His first full-length, Don't Sweat the Technics, dices the jittery beats of Aphex Twin and Mouse on Mars with sharp shards of treble and lacerating sarcasm. On later releases like the anthemic Down With the Scene and The Action Packed Mentalist Brings You the Fucking Jams, Depedro grinds the punky abrasiveness of Atari Teenage Riot against distorted samples of Top 40 fodder like the Bangles and Mary J. Blige. What's left is a spastic, wise-ass pastiche of styles: the infectiousness of pop, the manic syncopation of jungle, the abstraction of IDM and the brute, robotic fury of gabber.
Equally irreverent are Kid 606's song titles. "Chart Topping Radio Hit," the opening track of Down With the Scene, is an eight-second assault of amplified soda-can fizz, while "Luke Vibert Can Kiss My Indie-Punk Whiteboy Ass" takes a shot at the pretentious sophistication of Wagon Christ. Depedro even manages to invoke Public Enemy and Michael Jackson simultaneously, with the glitchy, funky cut "It'll Take Millions in Plastic Surgery to Make Me Black." And his new single, "The Illness," features an "extended dance mix" that is, of course, half as long as the original and utterly undanceable.
"I can dance to very few things," Depedro admits of his own skills on the floor. "I'll dance to dance-hall and booty bass. But it's really weird; I don't dance to techno, but I'll dance to really good, crazy, hard house kind of stuff. I also absolutely could not dance to Depeche Mode. Ever. I just couldn't bring myself to physically do it."
Depedro's reluctance to shake his rump to "Just Can't Get Enough" is funny, because he himself has done a full-on, legit remix of Depeche Mode; in 2001 he was asked to reshuffle "Dream On," a cut from the group's then-current album Exciter. "I was talking to Mute [Depeche Mode's label] about doing some stuff. I met their head guy, Daniel Miller, and he was really awesome," remembers Depedro. "They were like, 'We want you to do some remixes,' and I was like, yeah, sure, whatever. And then they said, 'Well, the new Depeche Mode record's coming out.' I was just totally floored. I love Depeche Mode so much -- they fucking kick ass."
It's this tension between highbrow calculation and pop-culture scavenging that is the true defining force of Kid 606's music. One of his recent albums, 2000's PS I Love You, was less cartoony and more ethereal than his previous work, but even it seemed locked in stasis between organic hooks and bit-mapped rhythm. Released on the eminent German electronic label Mille Plateaux, PS I Love You was as icy and numbing as a chloroform Slurpee. Still, if "The Illness" is any indication, Depedro's upcoming new album -- slated for release on his primary label, Ipecac, the eclectic imprint run by Mike Patton of Fantômas -- promises to pick up where Down With the Scene left off.
Amid all his label hopping, Depedro also heads his own modest yet prolific record company, Tigerbeat 6. "I used to think so much about where I fit in and where my friends who make music fit in," he says. "That's why I started a record label, to kind of give it all a home and wrap it up in something."
When not recording, touring or living the high life of an industry mogul, Depedro occasionally steps up to the decks at various Bay-area venues: "We have a club out here called Tribal that's really awesome," he says. "Sometimes I deejay with a laptop, but most of the time, I just grab a bunch of records and fuck shit up. I'll play anything from gabber to hip-hop to pop. It's something that I just do for fun; it doesn't mean anything. I don't want to be a career deejay. I have no interest in deejaying just for the sake of it."
Indeed, the inner sleeve of Down With the Scene is scrawled with yet another appropriated motto, this time a variation on the Who: "I hope you die before you become a DJ."
"I just feel like electronic music has gone way too far up its own ass," Depedro explains. "It doesn't have enough of a pop aspect to it. And since I'm not a pop musician, per se, I have to beg, borrow and steal. I mean, I love experimental music, but sometimes you just want to make stuff that people like. Look at the '80s synth-pop stuff; it was so experimental, definitely more experimental than all the by-numbers indie rock that's coming out today. Pop could be absolute, freaky, weird noise if enough people liked it. Pop is just popularity -- the more people like it, the more pop it is."
When it comes to cross-pollinating pop with experimental music, no band jumps to mind quicker than Radiohead. Despite his iconoclasm, isn't Depedro at least a little bit flattered by the fact that the members of one of the biggest, most respected bands in the world comb obscure record stores across the U.S. looking for Kid 606 discs?
"Flattered? No, not at all," says Depedro almost with a note of disdain. Ironically, he's already done a Radiohead remix of sorts; the track "This Is Not My Statement" off of The Action Packed Mentalist is an a cappella piss-take of "Creep," riddled with static and digital flatulence. "I mean, I don't think that stuff matters. People like the guys in Radiohead have no jobs other than being musicians, so they can just buy a hundred records at a time and scan through them all day. And it's all just musical taste; I'm sure they listen to tons of shit music, too. I'd be more impressed to know that some weird kid who listens to Slipknot is into my music than freakin' Thom Yorke."
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