By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the best modern proponents celebrating the intersection of hip-hop and jazz, turntable-powered San Francisco trio Live Human has been making its unique sounds for over two decades.
Turntablist extraordinaire DJ Quest (aka Carlos Aguilar) was already well known for his scratching and mixing skills by the time the group was founded in 1996. A bedroom DJ who had graduated to house parties and international competition by 1990, Quest was one of the founders of boundary-shredding Bay Area turntable crew the Bulletproof Scratch Hamsters (along with DJ Cue and Eddie Def) and helped create the pioneering battle record/DJ tool Hamster Breaks.
Quest also was the DJ who coined the term “hamster style” for the way he connected turntables to his mixer in reverse (companies would later invent a “hamster switch” on mixers that would flip the configuration of the turntables with the push of a button). Quest teamed up with bassist Andrew Kushin and drummer Albert Mathias to form Live Human, an experimental trio that explored the improvisational aspects of both jazz and hip-hop DJing into a remarkable new sound.
While the turntable was introduced as an instrument in a jazz context over a decade earlier with DST’s scratching contributions to the influential Herbie Hancock tune “Rockit,” Live Human took the concept to a new level between Quest’s virtuoso skills and the seasoned interplay of the rhythm section (Kushin and Mathias has already worked together in several ensembles).
A self-released live recording would catch the attention of UK label Fat Cat, which released an EP of songs from that first effort before helping the group issue it’s proper debut Monostereosis: The New Victrola Method in 2000. The band would quickly follow that album with Elefish Jellyphant for American indie-rock imprint Matador, earning rave reviews for their mix of hard-grooving instrumentals and more cinematic soundscapes.
The trio would tour Europe and wow audiences at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2001, eventually returning home and tracking another live album — entitled Live Human Live recorded at the Great American Music — that further cemented their onstage prowess. The group would take it’s time with it’s next effort as the members spent time on other projects; Quest collaborated with a variety of MCs and producers while also recording his own solo efforts, while Mathias composed and produced music for dance companies while Kushin sang with Conspiracy of Beards, a 30-member male a capella choir dedicated to the music of Leonard Cohen.
The band would reconvene to record and self-release their Breakseven battle record, a vinyl tool that the trio would give to a host of SF DJs including DJ Centipede, Mophono, DJ Oaty Love and DJ Zeph who produced songs that were compiled in the Breakseven [Remixes] CD in 2007. The group would go on another extended hiatus from releasing material, but periodically performed live around San Francisco, showing they still had not lost touch with their spontaneous style of beat alchemy.
The trio ramped up its activity as its 20th anniversary approached, performing live with more regularity and recording its brand new effort, scratchBop, which the group released in late January. Delving deep into their free jazz and bebop roots with Quest manipulating an arsenal of sampled horn and woodwind sounds including trumpets, saxophones and clarinets, the trio has arguably made its most jazz-influenced album yet. Live Human returns to Amnesia in the Mission District Friday for this special show. The group tops an all local hip-hop bill with performances by DJ Traps, notable San Francisco MCs Eddie K and Z-Man as well as acclaimed underground duo Grand Invincible (featuring DJ Eons One and gifted rapper Luke Sick) prior to Live Human taking the stage. The MCs will join the trio at the end of the night for an epic freestyle session.
Friday, June 2, 9 p.m. $10