Music News

SONIC BOOMS

He may be only 22, but Denver-based techno/trance artist Jesse Allen (aka Kid Sonic) is already more business-savvy than a lot of musicians many years his senior. He owns a studio, dubbed Savage Land. He oversees his own publishing company, Alchemy Trance International. And he actually understands the kind of contractual fine print that leaves most of us scratching our heads. In conversation, however, he displays a casually ambivalent attitude toward the music industry.

"People used to always ask me why I haven't sent my stuff to a major label," he says. "And I stunned quite a few of them by saying that I would never want to get signed to a major label. The reason was because if a major label pulls you in, they're going to try to make your music more commercial so they can sell X amount of copies. But personally, I'd rather release 200 copies of my own album and stay true to my sound than go commercial. I don't care if I get rich from my music. I have a regular job to pay the bills. I'm not waiting for the golden hand to come out of the sky and grab me and push me toward success."

Indeed, Allen is already successful, at least in an artistic sense; the tribal-techno sounds he makes are vibrant, innovative and (the real surprise) genuinely improvisational. But he's also a contrary sort--a musical renegade who doesn't frequent the clubs and raves where his songs are played and who admits to disliking most techno made by others. He's uncomfortable labeling his own work, but he does allow that he has "rhythm something fierce."

That's an understatement. Kid Sonic's first commercially available recording, a blue-vinyl LP dubbed Mixes From the 3rd World, is as danceable as it is seductive, thanks to five originals with titles such as "Mass Hysteria (Search for a Passion Mix)" and "The Savage (The Bad Girl Mix)." It's also selling fairly well at three area music stores (Wax Trax, Soul Flower and Albums on the Hill) despite the fact that very few people have a clue who Kid Sonic is. And Seduction (12 Inches of Ecstasy), another Allen offering set for release in November, is just as good, even though its two songs don't adhere to the 3rd World format. Rather, the neoclassical "Garden of Eden (Find Yourself an Eve Mix)" and the 160-beats-per-minute orgy "Domination (The Boomshakalaka Mix)" deal with sex in terms that range from subtle to blatant. Better yet, the music is both unusual and extremely strong.

Allen's efforts have gone through an intriguing evolutionary process. His first musical love was syrupy new-age music, and after receiving a keyboard from his father when he was fifteen, he began making it for himself. In the years that followed, Allen invested his own money in additional keyboards, synthesizers, sequencers and samplers. He describes the equipment as "neanderthalic, outdated. Some of the keyboards are eleven and thirteen years old"--yet he continues to use most of it to this day.

While attending high school, Allen became involved in a band called the October Revolution, which specialized in Depeche Mode-style sounds; he also developed an infatuation for drum machines and ethnic rhythms that influenced a subsequent group, Sonic Integrity. When that combo disbanded, Allen produced his first work as the Kid, a cassette tape entitled Technology 101 that laid the groundwork for 3rd World. "I didn't really set out to be a techno/trance musician," he claims. "It just evolved that way. People who heard my tape started dragging me out to these clubs where they played this type of music, and I realized that I had just kind of stumbled upon something that really worked."

Shortly thereafter, Allen made aluminum reference disks of his compositions and began taking them to clubs such as Boulder's Marquee and Denver's Rock Island. Deejays played them. Crowds loved them. KTCL-FM invited the Kid in for an interview or two. And rave promoters from Denver to the West Coast found that Allen's tracks were just the thing to hype up the dancing masses.

Clearly, Allen's profile is on the rise--but that doesn't mean he plans to make any changes in his production procedures. For instance, he insists upon working alone, because he fears his vision will lose focus if it's meshed with someone else's. Moreover, he eschews techno's standard repetitiousness in favor of a compositional style marked by a wide range of textures and his inclination for leaving blemishes in place. "The thing about these old machines is, they are far from perfect," he notes. "Next time you play a sound, it's going to alter a little bit, because when you tune it in the beginning, it's going to tune a little differently. There's a lot of imperfections in the machine--and that's good. I don't go for the purest sound or the hippest sound or whatever. I'd rather go with something that sounds good."

Neither computers nor direct-to-disk recorders are employed in the mixing process: Allen sets his samples and mixes by ear. "I don't even look at my meters nine times out of ten," he reveals. "A lot of times the sound I want may be blipping way up there in the red, and if I went by the meters, I wouldn't get the sound I want. People say I can't mix like this--that it's unorthodox, off-balance. But I don't want to know how perfect or imperfect it looks on the meters. I don't really care. It seems more sensible to me to go for a sound than to try to match a wave form on a little screen. That's not how you make music. Mozart didn't have stuff like that. If it sounds good, then that's it."

It's impossible to guess how far Allen can go using this unconventional methodology. But to Kid Sonic, the only opinion that counts is his own. "I'll keep releasing the stuff if it sells," he says. "But if it doesn't sell, that doesn't mean I'll never release anything again or just fade away. I would play my music even if nobody ever listened to it. I've been doing this same thing since I was fourteen. It doesn't stop me. I'm always growing and going in new directions. Maybe someone is not hip to the sound I'm doing now, but three years from now I'll sound completely different. It always changes.

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Linda Gruno