When Oakland DJ Brian Walls came to UC Berkeley’s music department in the early ’90s, he had quixotic dreams of launching some kind of “computer music thing.” Walls had recently befriended a bunch of forward-thinking industrialheads who were developing a more groove-driven style, he says, propelling such innovations as acid house, “deep bleep,” and “Kraftwerky-meets-futuristic kinda stuff.” He wanted to apply these ideas to the staunchly classical curriculum at Berkeley.
But the university wasn’t with it. “There wasn’t a lot going on electronically when I first started,” he explains. To be fair, he says, the music department had some things going for it: a cool little basement studio with overpriced, obsolete gear; a few analogue synthesizers from the ’60s; and some fashionable electronic-music teachers who were chopping up samples and using them with orchestras. Still, Walls gradually drifted away from the ivory tower and into Oakland’s burgeoning rave scene. Now he’s trying to bring that rave scene to a higher intellectual plane.
Walls cut his teeth doing visuals at his friends’ parties, using a projector he’d bought on eBay. He’d cull digital photos of black-and-white pinups, glowy anime characters, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or anything else that struck him as “sleazy and nocturnal,” and animate them at 125-130 BPM — the same tempo as most electronic dance music. He overlays these images with 16mm film “noise” like all the fingerprints and numbers and junk stuff at the beginning of a film. Then he has them constantly change colors to create a “glitchy” feel.
Around 2000, Walls started DJing as well. He held court at Oasis’ popular “Aural Confection” party, which later became “Stylus” and eventually morphed into this year’s irreverent “Bottom Feeder.” He also helped launch the popular monthly party “Kontrol” at San Francisco’s Rx Gallery (it recently moved to the EndUp), as a forum to play the new left-field electronic records coming out of Berlin’s underground scene — because, he says, “the Germans are where it’s at right now.”
In comparison, he says, we in the East Bay are still a little, well, backward. While some would point toward the music department at Mills College — widely known as the greatest local incubator of experimental “noise” — most of the artists it grooms just aren’t that accessible to the untrained ear. In reality, there isn’t much love for laptop DJs outside the rarefied world of DJ Shadow and Miguel Miggs, and Walls says the ones who rank aren’t doing much beyond talking about “martinis and love” and thinking their asses are saved. “That’s what pisses me off,” he says. “We have more artists per capita than any place in the world. You would think that our town would be totally cutting-edge, musically. But we’re so behind.” He says that show promoters in Oakland “literally” just cut out a picture of something and stick some handwritten band name on top of it.
Thus, Walls and fellow DJs David Marks and Christine Tocalino developed “Bottom Feeder” under the rubric Move your ass, and your mind will follow. Whereas “Kontrol” can get a little intellectual on the music front, “Bottom Feeder” shoots straight for the booty. “We don’t want people to scratch their heads and wonder what the hell’s going on,” Walls says, adding that his personal goal is to take his DJ set in funkier directions. “We’re just trying to blow everyone away with what we found this week.”