The documentation of Austin’s underground beat scene will likely lead towards its ability to blow up. The film [Beat]en Senseless follows three producers (BoomBaptist, Butcher Bear, Lo-Phi) and three collectives (Exploded Drawing, Applied Pressure, LNS) that exemplify the scene’s focus on talent, variety, and community.
The idea for the film originally began as a short for a class. Four advertising undergrads at the University of Texas collaborated on a project that only scratched the surface of what they all knew was something bigger.
One of the film’s producers is Karan Sethi. He’s a Dallas native with a double major and co-founding stake in the production company, Join The Studio. He met with me to talk about the film, the effort to get it funded (which you can learn more about here), and the music that inspired the urge to showcase this fledgling culture in a city like Austin.
John Parsons: Did you guys just finish midterms?
Karan Sethi: Yeah, we’re actually in the process right now. I just turned in a paper today and we have projects due next week. We just got a take home test dropped on us in our statistics class so Bianca (another producer of the film) and I are both kind of swamped right now.
JP: What’s your major?
KS: Both of us are advertising—actually all four of us are advertising majors, and then I’m doing a double major in English. One of the other producers is doing a double major in psychology.
JP: How did the idea for the film originally come together?
KS: It started as a project for a creative advertising class. That’s actually how we all met. Our teacher told us to go document creativity anywhere in Austin, and I had already been following the scene since June. My business partner had attended Exploded Drawing and he was actually a performer there, so I just kept going back and kept hanging out with everyone and then when it came time for the project it was just like, let me find three random people and do the project real quick because I already had all the footage. But then they were actually so interested in it that I took them and they got immersed in the culture as well.
BoomBaptist (Photo provided by Karan Sethi)
From there it just took off. We posted the five minute version and it got 500 views in a day without any kind of promotion. We sent it to our friends and they reposted it. It was kind of cool that people are that excited about something like this happening. And when I looked at the views on our Vimeo, there were views not only America or Texas specifically, but all across the United States. We had a couple in India, which I’m assuming is my family, but still, it’s really cool. We even had a couple in South Africa. It’s crazy to think that this five minute little video about a local scene in Austin has blown up to the point where we’re making a full-on documentary now.
JP: You say you’ve been following the whole scene since June through being introduced by your business partner. What kind of business do you have?
KS: We are the ones who’ve been documenting what’s been going on here. Giving them video content, giving them photos, we just want to be involved as much as possible because we think it’s really cool and we didn’t know anything like this was happening in our backyard.
And now it’s moved to bigger scales, we’re having interviews with Brainfeeder artists, having interviews with Stones Throw artists. We got to interview Jonti outside of North Door. We sat in on the Gaslamp Killer RBMA interview that they did, that Andrew (Boombaptist) actually did at Dub Academy. It’s just been growing more and more, and it’s been nice that we’ve been dragged along for the ride.
Butcher Bear (Photo provided by Karan Sethi)
We’re originally from Dallas and we just assumed that Texas was a wasteland when it came to electronic music, but we’ve been proven wrong again and again. Not only with artists from Houston, but even in Austin where we have artists like Lo Phi, Butcher Bear, BoomBaptist, and ABT (A Better Tomorrow), who’s one of the oldest beatmakers in the scene, making classic, old school hip hop beats; he’s still on his game more than half these people are.
JP: Sounds like you’ve been getting a lot of good exposure from not just within the city of Austin but from around the country as well. Have people been reaching out to you from media outlets or labels that you’re excited about?
KS: See, that’s the weird thing. Stones Throw has been the only label that’s constantly reached out to the scene, and not me specifically or Join The Studio, but Exploded Drawing. And actually, AKAI, who makes a lot of the controllers for what these guys perform on, they’ve reached out and started sponsoring Exploded Drawing. That’s just amazing to me because of the little five minute video I put up of one of our friends sitting in his kitchen just making beats. AKAI picked it up and was like this is awesome they reposted it on their page, they started posting about the documentary , they’ve just been really helpful. But in terms of media, no one’s really hit us up which surprises me because I think something like this shows how creative Austin is. It surprises me that no one wants to document what’s so creative; they just want to keep going back to the same indie bands like the Octopus Project and Spoon. I mean, I love those bands but it’s time we hear about something else, you know? We can’t just hear about the same things over and over again.
JP: Do you think it could eventually get to the point where the beat scene could overtake that current mold? Where Austin would adopt it as its main sound?
Exploded Drawing (Photo provided by Karan Sethi)
KS: I don’t think Austin should adopt any one sound as representative of what’s coming from here. What makes Austin cool is that there is such a ridiculous influence from all genres—you have blues, you have country, you have indie, you now have hip hop starting to take off, and now electronic music is coming up. I think it just serves as another gem in the crown that is Austin and it’s music scene.
And I think this electronic scene especially, when you compare it to L.A. or New York; it’s completely different. There are similarities and similar influences, but it’s not the same style. It’s not the same vibe and it’s not the same crowd.
JP: I’m not going to ask you to describe the sound because everything I’ve heard is very different and eclectic. I saw Boombaptist playing the other night at Flamingo Cantina with the hip hop group Crew54, and since it was a hip hop show, he was catering to a hip hop crowd, which is different than if he were playing at Exploded Drawing. It’s great because a lot of this music ends up being more malleable that way.
KS: Yeah, which makes it unique. What makes electronic music really different is that it can be hip hop because it will appeal to hip hop heads, but it can also be very technical for geeks like me. I geek out when I look at people play, like, I’m not staring at them, I’m staring at the controller. And that’s what’s cool. You can be a nerd and enjoy it or you can be a hip hop head and enjoy it at the same time.
JP: Since you’re friends with these guys, do you want to continue documenting them throughout their careers?
KS: Definitely! I’d like to follow this as much as I possibly can. Everyone I’ve met in it has a completely different story, and each one is really weird and interesting. Take, for example, the three people we’re covering in the documentary: Justin, he came from Houston and he wasn’t actually supposed to live in Austin. He randomly met the guy who runs Insect Records (Butcher Bear) and Andrew (Boombaptist) and from there, they all just kept hanging out and started connected through music. Then there’s Andrew who came from New Mexico, then went to Colorado for college, and then came to Austin. Like why did he come to Austin when he could have gone to L.A. to make beats? And then you have Butcher Bear; he’s lived in Austin his entire life, played in these punk bands, played in every genre of music possible, and now he’s this guy in a bear-suit just raging during Exploded Drawing, just running everything. So there’s a weird mesh of stories of how everyone ended up here.
HoboD and BoomBaptist (Photo provided by Karan Sethi)
JP: What do you plan on doing with the documentary when it’s done?
KS: Festivals for a while, and then basically just down every avenue we can possibly think of to get it out on a national scale. I want people to understand that this music isn’t weird, it’s just music you have to be open to listen to. A lot of people that I know weren’t into this music at all and they look at me like I’m crazy when I played stuff like Flying Lotus, Tokimonsta, Boombaptist. But recently they’ve started coming to shows with me and realized it wasn’t as weird as they thought. Like, it’s just a normal party and not all indie kids in short shorts or girls in neon colors raving. That’s not it. It’s just a chill party where you go, hang out, and listen to good music with people. That’s what I want people to get from it. Not only is it a movement, but an open, family environment as well. Just because you’re into a certain thing that’s different from everyone else doesn’t mean that you’ll be rejected. It’s open to everyone.
If you’re interested in supporting the movement, visit the documentary’s Kickstarter campaign here.
– Submitted by John Parsons, Music Design