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Amon Tobin's gorgeous, genre-mashing electronica

Wednesday, Oct 23 2002
A while back, it seemed like electronic music pundits couldn't invent subgenres fast enough. You had trip hop, techstep, breakbeat, broken beat, illbient, ambient, drill 'n' bass, IDM, and a dozen other obtuse terms seemingly designed to keep you, your parents, and any other curious genre-hoppers forever mystified. Then came artists like Amon Tobin, who eventually forced the use of the blanket term "electronica" since it was impossible to pin down exactly where his music fit in.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Tobin was raised on Brazilian music as well as jazz and early hip hop. He moved to Brighton, England, in his early teens; there, he was exposed to the burgeoning drum 'n' bass scene, before heading off to Portugal to dabble in street performance for three years. In 1994 he returned to England and started work on a photography degree, while simultaneously pursuing a musical vision that incorporated elements from the sounds of his youth. When two record labels, Ninebar and Ninja Tune, heard what he was doing, they convinced Tobin to drop out of school and pursue music full time. He's since delivered a string of gorgeous albums, including Bricolage, Supermodified, Permutation, and his latest release, Out From Out Where.

As with his other records, Tobin's new songs are collages of thousands of breakbeats and samples, meticulously layered with a speed freak's attention to detail. He'll whip up a tornado of sound featuring a bar of samba, a jazzy trumpet, and a classical guitar part, then slam on the brakes by splicing in a lilting swatch of drums and a tiptoeing bass line -- which can either build back into a frenzy or lull you into a trance.

If anything, Out From Out Where finds Tobin working more recognizable territory. "Verbal," with its tweaky vocal, throbbing beat, and mutilated acoustic guitar, almost sounds like a mash-up of electronic superstars Fatboy Slim and Squarepusher, and the caffeinated assault of "Tripal Science" bears a distinct resemblance to the breakbeat techno works of µ-ziq. Perhaps, after a decade of innovation, Amon Tobin's electronic experiments are finally becoming the norm. He's not catching up; the rest of the world is.

About The Author

Garrett Kamps


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