Home base: Portland, Ore., and Oxford, Miss.
Primary software: Ableton Live 8 and Digidesign Pro Tools LE
Field recorder: Zoom H2
When the old-school among us think of the art of sampling, visions of vintage wax, turntables and Akai S1000s dance to the fore. But 20-something musician and producer Deepak Mantena says he feels limited by the prospect of just mining records for beats and melodies; to him, the process is much more encompassing. It's a virtual sound journal that describes the world and informs the collage-based textures of his debut EP, West Coast (Illegal Art, 2009), under the ironic and aptly chosen moniker of Junk Culture.
“The sound element is what I'm interested in,” says Mantena, fresh from a promotional swing through the Pacific Northwest that has paired him with Illegal Art label mate Girl Talk (aka Gregg Gillis). “Obviously a room recording of a record that's playing over someone's stereo is going to sound different than a sample taken direct from the turntable. That's part of it, but I also like the aftermath. After I take these samples and layer them together, they really start to sound like something wholly different, and that's where it can get really wild.”
The action begins with Mantena's handheld Zoom H2 recorder, which he uses to capture anything from his brother Nitin playing drums to snatches of '70s rock classics blaring over the speakers at a local coffee shop. In between, he'll record himself on guitar or keyboards, and then he'll dump a cluster of WAV files into Ableton Live, where he edits, tweaks and zaps the results with all manner of effects and filters. After a song begins to take shape, Digidesign Pro Tools LE serves as his overdubbing and mixing platform. It's a simple, bare-bones setup, but Mantena is up to the challenge of squeezing a lot out of it.
“I know it's a cliché to say it, but Ableton Live has totally changed the way that I write and work on music — especially in the session view,” he says. “It just seems so natural to me to take a section of a song and try it out in a different place, or to try a bunch of different beats with a certain melody. That's something I've always done with other pieces of software, and it's been way more tedious until now.”
West Coast opens with the stop-start melody of the title cut — a jaggedly funky lilt that turns almost mournful when the key changes from major to minor, while sampled voices and synth pads repeat throughout in a trance-like rhythm (see Web Clip 1). A Roland Juno 106 synth line anchors the frenetic percussive parts of “My Two Hands,” which segues into the Ableton-enabled wet distortion of the 30-second piece “Watson's Glassy Stare.” An alien chorus of chopped vocal samples including whispers, croons, and guttural Tuvan throat singing drives the tempo of “That's Not Me.” That theme of strange juxtapositions finds its apex in the closer, “Carmel Valley Girls,” which jumps jarringly from Middle Eastern-sounding flutes to rocked-out guitar lines and flaring organ and Rhodes chords.
Taken as a whole, Mantena's music surges with an emotional complexity that isn't easy to fake with only editing software and a stack of samples as your creative tools. “A year or two before I started making music as Junk Culture, I made a conscious effort to stop caring about what gear I should be using or what the fidelity of my recordings was,” he says. “Instead, I really focused in on what the basis of my music is. For me, the goal is to make people feel something. That's why when we play live, my brother is on drums and I've started singing over some of the newer songs. We want to bring more human elements back into what people would refer to as a ‘laptop band.’”