Friday, March 7, 2008
Village Voice, May 2 - 8, 2001
by Simon Reynolds
Cex, a/k/a 19-year-old Baltimore-based Rjyan Kidwell, is an infamous figure in the world of IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). A recent IDM digest contained an open e-mail to Kidwell and mentor kid606: "Do not bowdlerize our subculture just so you can finally get your goofy looking nerd asses laid." Their crime? Bringing too much showmanship to live performance, which left-field electronica purists believe should be faceless and abstract. The trouble with the purist line is that IDM, because it's not dance oriented, can't count on involving the audience through physical participation; in the absence of visual stimulation, it runs the risk of lapsing into background ambience.
On April 23, a kid606-and-friends night at Tonic showcased various strategies for avoiding the laptop musician's nightmare scenario: that "all is lost" switch point when the audience chatter gets louder than the music. kid606 held the listener rapt through sheer density of sonic events per second (and was helped not a little by Kurt Ralske's ravishing improvised video projections). Matmos usually incorporate an eye-catching performance-art element in their sets, but tonight they simply played tunes from their new plastic-surgery-themed album (A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure) against a backdrop of discomfiting close-up footage: ear canals, eyes, hair follicles, and the like.
Opening the night, Kidwell took the most radical approach. Instead of playing what he puts out on record (plaintive, melodious electronica perfectly suited to the IDM palate), he's got a totally different live set based around the premise of Cex as "#1 Entertainer in the Game." Naked save for his fashion briefs, he looks like an emaciated computer programmer but sounds uncannily like Eminem, his rhymes oscillating wildly from professions of alpha-male omnipotence ("I know you're stressed/cos there's only one Cex/and your girlfriend's pissed/cos it's not you") to touching admissions of terminal dorkhood. Often he's rapping over purloined grooves (like the Neptunes-produced instrumental track from Jay-Z's "I Just Want to Love U"), and like a rap CD, he does between-song skits—like his hilarious fantasy about going to the MTV Awards "the year minimal techno blew up."
"Representin' for fun" versus art-techno solemnity, Cex reminded the audience, "You got booties, let's use 'em," and then vowed to "take your maturity/eat it up, spit it out" (this accompanied by cartoon-raptor gestures of devouring/regurgitation). Surprisingly, the audience lapped up Cex's wiggatronica shtick, avidly participating in call-and-response and throwing hands in the air on cue. As an in-joke/polemic within the cloistered IDM context, Cex's Apple Mack Daddy persona is inspired, although you do wonder how a real rap audience would respond to his not-exactly-fluent freestyles. Then again, only the sternest purist (techno or hip-hop) could fail to chuckle at Cex's adapted-for-PC booty song, which starts by exhorting "Ladeez in the house, get the fellaz in the house, to take their balls out," then extends its equal-opportunity agenda to the inanimate: "Objects in the house, get the people in the house, to take their balls out."