The trio should be familiar to those who follow the local electronic music scene and the happenings at its hub, U Street Music Hall, the new sound capital of D.C. All three have spent plenty of time in the DJ booth at U Hall and have collaborated with each other enough that this union seemed inevitable. Eastman and Vellian partnered on the recent single “No Sleep.” Outputmessage and Vellian work together as Dmerit . Eastman has remixed Outputmessage.
“I guess we all realized we were all working towards similar ends at the same spot and so it made sense for us to partner together,” says Eastman.
When I talked to the group’s three members at a coffee shop last week, it was easy to see how they complement each other. Eastman is the unofficial spokesman, with very clear and specific visions of all facets of the group. Lacsamana is the excitable pinball, bouncing from one idea to another. Farley is the mostly silent one with the technical expertise. “[He’s] kind of a whiz with synths,” Lacsamana says of Farley. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, can you make that sound?’ And he’ll go (pantomimes messing with a synth) Whirrrr. And that’s how it happens. He doesn’t even speak.”
Over the last few months, the band’s sound has evolved into “a cosmic, hypnotic, somewhat psychedelic take on house/techno/disco,” says Eastman. Starting in May, the group released original tracks on its Soundcloud page, with official releases to follow. And there will also be live performances from the group, not just DJ gigs, starting later this summer.
The guys are tight-lipped as to what that may entail. At least most of them are. “Are we allowed to divulge? Can I say a general, like a multimedia experience?” Lacsamana asks his bandmates.
Eastman pauses for a second. “It will be live,” he says with a smile.
Read more about how the group, the role U Street Music Hall plays and how Volta Bureau is punk rock, after the jump.
You guys aren’t exactly lacking for creative pursuits, so why — and how — did this one come about?
Eastman: We had all been working, more or less, out of the same studio and had been working on similar types of music, in a similar scene. We had done remixes for one another. I had done a remix for Bernard. Dmerit did a remix for me. I did a remix for Dmerit. I guess we realized we were all working towards similar ends at the same spot and so it made sense for us to partner together.
That’s where the Volta Bureau name comes from. It’s a name that I remembered from my previous life when I worked as a historian of technology at the Smithsonian. And the Volta Bureau was basically a lab that Alexander Graham Bell set up to create audio inventions for deaf people here in D.C. And I really liked the concept of us being fellow scientists working in this lab. That’s kind of what our studio is like. There’s lots of checks and balances in terms of somebody bringing something, other people commenting on it, helping make it better. Sort of like the peer review process in science where you publish a paper and people talk about it and the whole thing gets pushed forward by people providing input.
U Street Music Hall really seems to be serving as an incubator for the local electronic music scene. Is it accurate to say that Volta Bureau is something of a product of the club ?
Eastman: U Hall has given us a home base, a bonding point. We’ve had a chance to DJ with people we may not have otherwise. And it’s been a huge influence on us — DJing with people at the club, meeting them, talking with them. Again, it’s this sort of peer review thing where you get a chance to meet and interact with people. As DJs, I think we have a bit of an advantage in that we can test out the tracks we make in the lab.
Lacasamana: The soundsystem plays a really big part in our personal sound as well as the collective sound. Once we realized you can make those frequencies just really thick ... we kind of shifted the way we approach our producing. To fit the system.
When people who have lots of projects going start a new one, it’s easy for it to be labeled a side project. Is that what this is, just a fun thing to do with friends? Or something more?
Farley: I have a picture in my head — this is really nerdy — you know how the Power Rangers are their own creatures and then they combine...
Lacasamana: Kind of like Voltron...
Farley: That’s kind of like Volta Bureau. It’s its own creature.
Eastman: From my perspective, Volta Bureau is not a side project. Volta Bureau is the main music focus for me, for the foreseeable future. Each of us has our own names and produces music under our own names and we’ll keep doing that, but I think Volta Bureau is a case where the sum is more than the parts. When we put it together there’s just something amazing that we can do that none of us on our own can. Because otherwise one of us would have done it already. But it’s just building on one another’s feedback and expertise in various areas.
Lots of people from different musical backgrounds, particularly punk and indie rock, have ended up in the electronic music scene. What do you think it is?
Lacasamana: It’s funny you mention that because it’s something we always talk about. Lots of producers around here are like that.
Eastman: I grew up in the hardcore punk scene — playing in bands, promoting shows, I had a fanzine. I listened to Dischord music when I was in high school. I was really influenced by the whole scene even though I didn’t live in D.C. I lived in Wisconsin. And to me, what we’re doing now — making dance music, playing it at our own dance parties, releasing it on our own label, promoting it through our own Web sites. It feels right. It feels pretty punk to me.