Only at Earthwire.net studios can a person attend a reggae-themed live hip-hop concert that begins with a raucous sports talk show and ends with a blues harmonica virtuoso jamming to live techno on stage.
In the clapboard former garage in the heart of darkest Montrose, the atmosphere is loose. There is no booth, no wall between on-air talent and whoever chooses to show up at the studio on a given night. Dreads of all skin colors rub elbows with shaven-headed hip-hoppers, also of every shade. The black-clad espresso set shares the stage with the Fubu-wearing rap crowd. Former pro athletes have a beer with nervous kids whose most athletic endeavor to date has been to comb the seeds out of a bag of weed. The somewhat stodgy medium of sports talk is overhauled into something worthy of Denis Leary. It wends its way seamlessly into hip-hop and then into blues-techno, yes, blues techno, without skipping a beat.
Too bad nobody's listening. Or almost nobody, as Earthwire.net boss M. Martin freely admits. "If I hire a DJ and he increases the listenership of a certain show from two to four, I look at that as 200 percent improvement."
Earthwire.net is former Radio Montrose pirate Martin's redheaded brainchild. Ever since Martin abandoned the radio dial with its pesky FCC regs for the Internet's infinite unregulation (see "Racket," by John Nova Lomax, July 12), the goings-on at his studio/salon/venue/bunker have been getting wilder and woolier by the week, yet also, ever so slightly, more professional.
While Martin is undoubtedly in charge of this concern, recently he has appointed executive producers to run blocks of programming. For example, Domokos Benczedi of Rusted Shut infamy runs the Wednesday program, in which three DJs broadcast everything from old-school punk to Yugoslavian death metal. Sam Delaune, a.k.a. Bluebeard, runs the mainly spoken word Thursday-night block. Fridays are the domain of Al "The Plastic Clown" Pennison, whose most recent gig was as the master of ceremonies at Mary Jane's weekly "Soiree of Illusion." Even KPFT's marked-for-death Sound of Texas gets a turn on Saturday, hosted here by "Kingfish" Keith Collins.
It was Tuesday-night producers DJ Scout and DJ Matador who inspired Martin's newfound willingness to delegate. Matador had been hosting an XTC show when Martin discovered that he and Scout were also hip-hop aficionados. "So we started talking about doing a hip-hop show," Martin says. "And then one night I heard them talking sports, and that sounded really entertaining, so I said, 'Hey, I think we got another show here.' As near as I can recall, we launched Post Millennial Funk and Rabid Sports simultaneously and totally revamped our Tuesday-night lineup."
Matador and Scout's work ethic and independence impressed Martin so much that he realized he could loosen his grip on the station's reins a little. The results have been outstanding. If you're a sports or music fan, there's nowhere you'd rather be early on a Tuesday evening than at Earthwire studios. On Rabid Sports, a couple of attorneys and a few ex-jocks butt heads with each other about the issues of the day with the ferocious abandon of Lawrence Taylor on a blitz. During breaks, while the jock-talk crew grabs beers from the coolers scattered around the floor, Matador plays snippets of hip-hop over the airwaves to tease Post Millennial Funk, which follows Rabid Sports.
One of the ex-jocks from Rabid Sports, Kool B, also happens to be a rapper. B attended Stephen F. Austin on a football/track scholarship, as did his brother Michael LeBlanc, who went on to play running back for the New England Patriots. But now with his long dreadlocks, Kool B looks every inch the street poet that he is. It's B -- athlete, hip-hopper and Rastafarian -- who melds the sports, rap and reggae together.
After B's set, the excellent new five-piece (drums, two conga players, bass, vocals) Dubtex takes the stage. Dubtex -- comprising members and former members of Eye End Result, Rebel Crew, Chemtown and Boom Theory 8 -- put on a balmy set of their self-described "urban reggae," which is a mix of Dennis Brown lover's rock, dance-hall raps and greasy old funk. Vocalist Jeremy Masters is that rare rapper who can also really sing, not to mention rap in that harsh voice much favored by today's Kingston rappers. B joins them for a couple of numbers, as does Captain Krunk, the blues harmonica-playing techno DJ whose show closes out the night. Singer/dancer/model/kung fu expert Thuy Linh also graces the stage, providing backing vocals.
Like Martin, DJ Matador likes to delegate. He sees himself as a facilitator, a host. "We're trying to get an atmosphere where we can get artists in and where they can feel comfortable and creative," he says. "And we feel like we've done that. Earthwire is all about art and artists, and I think they feel comfortable being able to express themselves here any way they want."
Matador is after underground hip-hop, not the "producer music" he hears on the radio. "I don't want to listen to that stuff. They're sellouts. I don't like the term, but that's what they are. I'm not holding it against 'em -- anyone can go make a buck, this is America -- but it's not what I want to hear. At PM Funk, we're after the art, the creativity of hip-hop."
Martin, an IT guy who was laid off in the Enron debacle, is glad to have such able lieutenants. It gives him time to work on trying to think of a way to make his thing pay. For a while last fall, he was running Earthwire as a live music venue and charging a cover, but he ran afoul of noise ordinances. The planned coffeehouse/Net cafe has yet to materialize. Now, he's hoping Net traffic will increase and he'll be able to sell banner ads on his site.
He also has more time to expound his theories on how and how not to run an underground and/or community radio station. The recent KPFT coup amuses Martin, who sees the station's new rulers as suffering from a case of hyperdemocracy. "I don't know a less controversial way of putting it, but the so-called political progressives that started KPFT and Radio Montrose in the first place also fuckin' ruined it," he says. "That's where all the continual backbiting and fighting come from. A lot of the people at Montrose Radio had come from Pacifica radio and left because it wasn't left enough for them or it was too left."
By delegating, Martin has created the sort of -- as he puts it -- "liberal, positive, rainbow coalition" that KPFT's new programmers dream of. "But they'll never get that," Martin says. "Because those aging white liberals can't be around minorities for two minutes without patronizing them or having [KPFT activist] Edwin Johnston call them a crypto-fascist what-the-fuck-ever."
Martin is not open to the sort of democracy that "calls for an open vote every time you want to buy a roll of toilet paper." He wants to make the rules, or rather, one rule. The only law Martin says he's guided by is the First Amendment. It's also his only issue. He declares openly that he is no progressive. "When Edwin Johnston calls me a 'so-called Libertarian,' he's paying me a huge compliment. I am a Libertarian."
Some might call the piratical Martin more of an anarchist. "No, I'm a Libertarian, because anarchists don't believe in property," he says. "You better believe in my property when you're standing in it."
Pacifica just needs to pick a cause, any cause, says Martin. "You can't address too many issues; you can't save the fucking world. You pick a core issue and stick with it. Our core issue is access to media."
The only other issue is the one posted in the only bathroom on the premises, which is upstairs in Martin's living quarters. The sign says, "Attention residents: Please place all dirty towels in the hamper. Do not throw dirty towels on the floor." As there was a soiled towel on the floor nearby, it's clear that even this rule isn't hard and fast.
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