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Melding the rave and jam band worlds

Kimberly Nicoletti

BRECKENRIDGE – Jam bands thrive on the fringes of imagination, where anything is possible with the right attitude – even if it involves merging two seemingly disparate worlds.

The Disco Biscuits have created a universe where ravers and hippies unite in a twirling frenzy. They draw from dub, psychedelic trance and jungle beats to fuel their avant-garde, trance-dance grooves.

“We set out to make the craziest music of all time,” bassist Marc Brownstein said. “We wanted it to be crazy, wild, psychedelic music and not sound like everyone else. I don’t think we’ve accomplished making the craziest music of all time – that would be pigheaded. But I think we’ve accomplished the goal of making crazy music.”

The four band members – Brownstein, keyboardist Aron Magner, drummer Sam Altman and guitarist Jon Gutwillig – fold in diverse musical influences ranging from classical and jazz to rock, punk and trance.

The Biscos – as the band is often referred to as – approach jams with a minimalistic style, repeating phrases again and again until the entire band is locked into the groove. Altman lays down the rhythm, Brownstein’s bass implies chord changes, melodies or harmonies for Gutwillig to fill in, and Magner bridges the gap between bass and guitar.

Brownstein can become so entranced with the groove he’s oblivious to the crowd until he looks up and sees a thousand kids going nuts with their arms in the air.

But most of the time, he focuses on crowd interaction – even after the show. He tends to go to parties where his fans hang out.

“I take the time to let the kids know I appreciate them,” he said. “They come to our party. It’s necessary to return that and show up at their party. It’s good to have such a strong, dedicated scene around us.”

Last winter, Brownstein spent almost a month in Vail skiing and living with fans he met on the road.

The Biscos also try to create events such as Camp Bisco in the Poconos – a multi-day festival drawing about 3,000 people that blends the jam-band and rave worlds into a single experience by starting with a live band and ending with DJs. (This year, they canceled the event because they thought the summer was saturated with festivals, but they hope to reinstate it next year.)

Bisco emerged in 1996 when the quartet stumbled into each other at college. For the first two years, the musicians wondered if they’d ever stop sounding similar to the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers and Phish during their jams. Then Magner and Altman brought electronic music into the mix.

The computer-generated music influenced their live shows, as the drummer strived to play the techno-beats.

In 1997, they added psychedelic trance music to their growing electronic repertoire and regressed to drum-and-bass jungle rhythms in the new millennium. Then, in 2001, they began to incorporate dub into their music.

“It never stops evolving,” Brownstein said. “We tend to evolve when we get bored, and we get bored faster than other bands. We’re continuously recording new sounds, and there’s always more styles of music (to explore). We run with about 90 songs in our repertoire, and each can be 10 to 20 minutes long.”

Gutwillig is one of the “mad scientists” of the band, concocting new formulas and motivating the musicians to try new ideas. He majored in electrical engineering in college and invented a self-tinting window that ran off DC power, which engineers thought was impossible.

“He doesn’t believe you can’t do things that normal people believe you can’t do,” Brownstein said. “He doesn’t accept things can’t be done. He calls it suspension of disbelief, and it helps in our music. He’s like a genius, and he’s not just a genius on his guitar. He’s a genius almost to the point of absurdity – he doesn’t mix with the rest of the world.”

But he and the other band members have mixed well enough to perform with Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, Merl Saunders, Morphine, the Black Crowes and the Jerry Garcia Band. And, 100,000 concert-goers grooved to their euphoric styling at the 2002 Bonnaroo Festival. This year, they released a trio of live discs under the header “Trance Fusion Radio.” Each “broadcast” CD features 70 minutes of live material recorded during their 2002 New Year’s Eve run.

And, the trajectory of Biscos continues.

“We never know where we’re going, and that’s why the kids keep coming back,” Brownstein said. “If we knew, it would be predictable. Predictable for me takes all the fun out of what we’re trying to do.”

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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