Anti-Theft Device and the Suprize Packidge EP
Reviewed by Charlie Bertsch
Saturday, August 14 1999, 6:34 PM
You know all those in-between parts on your favorite rap albums, the spoken-word intros, the public-service announcement codas, the squiggly sounds that flesh out the beat? Anti-Theft Device may be the best example of how DJ culture brings them from the margin to the middle. The beats are still there, but they recede into the overall mix. If your goal in life is to drive around your neighborhood rattling the teeth of passersby with the bass sounds rumbling from your 1976 Pacer, you'd be a lot better off with the latest third-rate Master P clone than Anti-Theft Device.
A more abstract way of putting this is to say that Mixmaster Mike plays havoc with our sense of what a sonic landscape should be. Tracks like "Rebel Enforcer" sound like the beginning of a song that never begins. If you could plug in to the biggest CD listening station in the world and hear the first fifteen seconds of a thousand songs in a row, you would have a sense of what Mixmaster Mike is all about. There are no lyrics in a conventional sense, no predominant melody that is repeated throughout the course of the song, no instruments pushed forward in the mix. The foreground we have come to expect is almost entirely absent. It's all background, with all the songs' component parts on relatively equal footing. At the same time, it would be hard to construe Anti-Theft Device as an ambient record. There's simply too much going on, too many details that can be picked out of the mix.
By itself, outside of the context of the club, DJ mixes usually remind me of that endlessly repeated description of Asian food -- one that I certainly do not share! -- that "it doesn't fill you up." I can appreciate the ingenuity of their construction but find myself wanting a little more foreground. The fact that this is not the case with Anti-Theft Device is a testament to the record's complexity. Like all masterworks -- and Anti-Theft Device is surely a masterwork of its genre -- it only gets better the more you listen to it, revealing the intricacy of what German cultural critic Walter Benjamin -- himself a master of the cut-and-paste job -- would have called a "Passagenwerk," meaning both a work made out of passages from other works and a work which reveals passageways between those works.
What's the link between the retro farce Austin Powers and the mass suicide at the Heaven's Gate compound? There isn't one, on the surface. But the more you listen to Anti-Theft Device, with its ingenious sampling of both the spacey ranting of the Heaven's Gate cult leader and Dr. Evil's marble-mouthed "Welcome to my underground lair," the more you perceive a connection between them. Both testify, although in radically different ways, to the promise and peril of hat most American of dreams, the idea that you can leave your past behind and start over somewhere else, whether underground or in outer space.
I don't know how much intention lies behind this particular connection -- it's the nature of any work, particularly a Passagenwerk, to make connections of which its creator is unaware -- but it sure seems like a self-reflexive commentary on Mixmaster Mike's own situation as someone who, while not turning his back on the DJ underground where he got his start, has not been afraid to crawl out into the light, both with this solo effort and as a member of the Beastie Boys' team.
If the remixes and three new tracks on the recent Suprize Packidge EP are any indication, Mixmaster Mike has no intention of forgetting what brought him to this point in his career -- his kinship ties to the DJ community, a willingness to experiment, and a sense of humor that is all too sorely lacking in the No Limit world. In light of my impression of Anti-Theft Device, it's interesting that the Automator's two remixes on this release transform the it's-all-background collage aesthetic of the album into something more immediate and car stereo-friendly. Maybe this is the direction that Mixmaster Mike himself will pursue in his quest for mainstream success.
I've grown more fond of these records with each listening. When I started writing this review I was thinking that, if I had to make a choice -- picking my "Desert Island Discs" --I'd probably opt for vintage Public Enemy over Mixmaster Mike. But now I'm not so sure. And that's saying a lot.
Anti-Theft Device and Suprize Packidge are available from Asphodel Records