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Sound by sound

The DMC World Team Championship deejays known collectively as Birdy Nam Nam would rather pour over studio mixing boards than blow through American towns and strip more crews of their battle trophies. The Paris-based vinyl manipulators took the title in 2002 from the Perverted Allies, a mash of the U.K.'s Scratch Perverts and the Allies crew. But they've since abandoned the deejay-battle circuit in favor of a pastime they find far more provocative: recording.

 

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Birdy Nam Nam creates intricate homespun nuggets from found sounds in vinyl grooves, and other than the occasional presence of a vintage synthesizer, their self-titled full-length -- released in March on Uncivilized World -- was entirely generated on turntables. Each member (deejays Pone, Need, chain-smoking Lil' Mike and Crazy B) offers a distinct segment of a track's dizzying infrastructure, so it's easy to consider Birdy Nam Nam a band rather than some renegade deejay outfit. Denis Lebouvier, or DJ Need, says there wasn't any strict band-type of plan when the music started coming together.

 

"We didn't try to do that; we just tried to make music," he says. "We didn't take some kind of real step forward until after doing all those competitions. We were a bit sick of that, you know, working a lot for a six-minute routine. We weren't able to do much more than a twenty-minute showcase. For a long time, we wanted to introduce music. We were trying to compose songs with an intro, stuff like that. Melodic stuff."

 

On the self-titled album, the result of the group's breakaway from the deejay circuit manifests in the weird melodies born out of their manually conducted, often sluggish drum frame. The thick, winding alien grooves on "Too Much Skunk Tonight" sound like something pre-mastering has gone awry, as if the four of them figured out a way to arrange mixing-board feedback so it moves in a grimy but listenable direction. The percussion portion of "Skunk" slips in and out beneath the rather dominant buzz as drum breaks are chopped into sections that creep and crawl, rather than merely provide a base for scratching and sampling. With each minute, the buzz morphs into high-end shrieks and squeals before it dissipates entirely at the close of the track. "Too Much Skunk Tonight" serves as a sturdy example of how the LP was constructed.

 

"The album was completely composed track by track," says Need. "We were in the studio, and someone was finding a bass line, we recorded it -- four or eight or sixteen bars, we'd loop it. After that, all four of us were looking for the next sound. It really came sound by sound. And now we are composing more and more. We are jamming, all of us together, and if something is working on four turntables, sometimes we'll record that base and build."

 

"Kind of Laid Back" breathes the universal love of jazz-oriented jamming that crate-diggers such as Rob Swift seem to revel in: the lump-lump-lumping stand-up bass, the hiss of brushes on a snare, and the occasional sampled whistle or holler from an enthusiastic onlooker. But the band-type aesthetic that Need calls a side effect rears its coincidental head here: The rhythm end serves as a steady platform on which to pile turntable-driven bursts of piano and wafts of church Wurlitzers.

 

Though the Frenchmen hesitate to attest to the album's innovative concept (Need calls this structure "nothing new," citing Ricci Rucker and Mike Boo's Sketchbook LP), they agree that it's easy for turntablist album to lose steam halfway through in redundant beat-juggling and scratch antics.

 

"We were conscious that in doing an instrumental album, we didn't want it to be boring," says Need. "We didn't want to compose 4-track songs that don't move. So it came out like it is. Sometimes a song begins, and the first part of the chorus never comes back, or the big parts at the beginning never come back. That was not done on purpose; it came like this, and we liked it like that."

 

When the members of Birdy Nam Nam performed at Philadelphia's Fire at the end of April, their set came to drunken fruition after Need, quite talkative following some complimentary Heinekens, announced hip-hop's indebtedness to the recently passed J Dilla. The tribute was fitting, because Dilla's Donuts had graced the mostly full room prior to the powering-up of Birdy Nam Nam's six Numark decks and mixers. On stage, the deejays melded rhythmically like the accidental unit they were never supposed to be. Down-tempo stoner blends, cut 'n' paste scratch-fest solos and, remarkably, electro floor burners (the tempos of which being served manually), everything came together in unbelievable X-Files showmanship -- as in, you've got to see it to really take it in.

 

One thing was clear from the show: Not even the group's preference for recording has muffled the energy that these deft hands had once showcased on the DJ battle circuit. Though the album boasts an awe-inspiring climb into the limitless bounds of what can be mangled by a needle and some knobs, Birdy Nam Nam's live set renders its recorded counterpart but an increment, a mere companion piece to the dazzling real.

 

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Birdy Nam Nam Web site

Birdy Nam Nam on Uncivilized World's Web site

"Too Much Skunk Tonight" stream

"Jazz Is at Home" stream


Streaming audio

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