Throw Down Your Laptops Books on Tape

Cover art: Doug A Jones

Some years back, a certain British vegetarian pop superstar dourly urged us to “Hang the blessed DJ!” Poor dear, he didn’t think that the music they played in the discos and on the radio had any relevance to his (too sheltered) life.

That may still be, but luckily for us, indie-electronica up-and-comers Books on Tape—the brainchild of Todd Books (aka Todd Drootin) of Los Angeles—has heaps of relevance to our frenetic modern lives. And given its plenitude of head-bobbing, homemade beats you’ll likely to be hearing it everywhere from Manchester to Manitoba and everywhere beyond, courtesy of Books on Tape’s full-length beatpunk debut, Throw Down Your Laptops, on Deathbomb Arc. With a call-to-arms title like that gracing such a propulsive collection of tracks, there’s just no way you won’t!

For Throw Down Your Laptops, Books on Tape recorded each track in a single take to 24-track tape, capturing the immediacy and energy of a live show with the pristine sound of a studio recording. Nothing was edited in the computer. What you hear is what they did. Better listen up!

Featuring Todd Drootin, Kerri Kirchheimer (Dewey Decimator), Bob Reich (Slowcoach), Brian Miller & Grace Lee (Rose For Bohdan), Stefanie Drootin (Bright Eyes), Todd Berry and Chaki. Recorded and mixed by John Lyons.

Throw Down Your Laptops

Books on Tape

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In the press

  • Greg Clow, Grooves, May 1, 2003
    … it won’t sound like anything else in your collection…
  • Tobias C van Veen, e/i magazine, no. 1, March 31, 2003
    … broken beats with plenty of pianos and guitars, injected with meticulous and miniscule sampledelia.
  • Wendy Gilmartin, LA Weekly, March 14, 2003
    Some call its sound “beat punk” — a tightly wound ruckus that’s composed completely on a wired box.
  • Michael D Edwards, Exclaim!, March 4, 2003
    … one of those albums that is fun to delve into…
  • Andrew Lee, Daily Bruin, January 22, 2003
    Drootin’s approach may be wildly unconventional, but it has the spirit of rock and roll.
  • Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2003

Review

Greg Clow, Grooves, May 1, 2003

After a couple of years of building up an impressive catalog of MP3 and CD-R releases, Todd Drootin of Books on Tape has really pulled out the stops for his first official full-length album. Recording live in the studio to 24-track tape using a set-up based almost exclusively around oid school sound gear, and inviting in a slew of guests including Kerri Kirchheimer on drums and his sister Stefanie Drootin of Bright Eyes on keyboard and vocals, Drootin has put together an exciting and dynamic set that wonderfully meshes his punk and indie-rock roots with his current proclivities for knob twiddling and key pressing.

The material on Throw Down Your Laptops sounds unlike pretty much any other record I’ve heard in quite some time, which is an achievement in a genre that is strewn with so many sound-alikes. Drootin throws down a strong base of thick electro melodies and beefy beats that range from downtempo cool to a jackhammer frenzy. These elements are often left alone to happily co-mingle, but Drootin is also generous with his guests, allowing them to have a strong influence, especially on tracks like The Contenders, a short but sweet collaboration with electro-noise-rock trio Rose For Bohdan. So while Throw Down Your Laptops may not be a record that will change your life, you can at least be guaranteed that it won’t sound like anything else in your collection, and when it comes to today’s electronic music scene, that’s really saying something.

… it won’t sound like anything else in your collection…

Off the Spine

Tobias C van Veen, e/i magazine, no. 1, March 31, 2003

Cowboy techno? Acoustic breakbeats with a country twang? Y’all better throw down dem’ laptops, y’hear? While I think Todd Drootin’s call for laptop performers to “return to live gear performances” is a regressive and reactive solution if taken seriously, his playful acoustic jam-sessions play the South of electronic music & launch a critique reminiscent of — or at least the spirit of — Kid606’s Down With The Scene. Energetic ‘organic’ broken beats with plenty of pianos and guitars, injected with meticulous and miniscule sampledelia. Where Books on Tape excels is in the arrangement and composition of each track — a shot from a six-shooter, some bullets a dive into inventive indie d’n’b: hick Gold Chains? Effects and sounds are used with introduction, precision, and care, yet every confinement has its prisoners and here the live, gearbased performance risks an overdetermined audio palette for the potential multitude of animals in this vibrant jungle. Given the handcuffs, the restraints nevertheless provide a medium for experiencing pleasure, a stripped sonic canvas: Gear without Laptop (GwL). Whip me over that barstool in this forgotten backwater saloon filled with DVD pirates high on nanodrugs — some twisted William Gibson novel gone horribly awry in a Western timewarp — but Drootin is not John Wayne: he’s the sharp shootin’ fourth amigo missing from the trilogy of electronic music: gear, digital, and electroacoustic. A new cyborg from the T-series plant? What sounds will breed from this huevos rancheros hybridity? Whereas the melodrama and quirkiness of each track bodes well, the vocals on Sporty But Sensible Car don’t. The practical dada voicing on The Contenders spanks me better: it cries indielectro. (A spark in the naming engine?) As ‘acoustic’ as it is, this disc is experimental simulacra, each track a forensic foray attempting to breathe vitriol into a wired world through a sonic mirror. Its success depends on whether you like American dualisms.

… broken beats with plenty of pianos and guitars, injected with meticulous and miniscule sampledelia.

Crossed Wires

Wendy Gilmartin, LA Weekly, March 14, 2003

Northridge-born and still a Valley dude, electronic manipulator Todd Drootin drinks a lot of coffee, smiles easily, and swivels his attention between L.A.’s charms and its cons, disparaging our pitiful radio selection, praising Claremont’s KSPC, then musing about the dearth of decent live venues. “I had a gig at the Bar Marmont, and they stopped me after three songs and were, like, ‘Uh, that’s good enough, thanks.’”

Drootin’s musical incarnation, Books on Tape, can be heard more regularly ricocheting inside the Smell’s slimy walls downtown. BoT might look like a one-guy outfit onstage; really it’s a duo: a give-and-take between Drootin and his sampler. But where other electronic artists revel in that self-reflexive world of glitches, blips and buzzes, Books on Tape wants you to think it’s a band. Some call its sound “beat punk” — a tightly wound ruckus that’s composed completely on a wired box.

“If people want to call it beat punk, that’s fine; to me it’s just music I made on a sampler,” says Drootin. “As long as things remain interesting, I have no need to be consistent.”

Audiences seem to have a fairly immediate grasp of the 25-year-old Drootin’s noise now, in contrast to his wobbly first show alone at a straight-edge punk festival in Florida three years ago. “I was really thrown in the fire. Those guys didn’t know what to think of me, but in the end I got a pretty good reaction.”

Now comes a souped-up, full-length CD excursion, Throw Down Your Laptops (Deathbomb Arc), recorded and produced by Drootin and Brian Miller via samples of generated and found sounds. One or two seconds of zooming guitar, run backward through the sampler, might serve as the beat of a song, while another two or three layers of amp hiss chop out a melody you’ll hum for days. Simultaneously electronic dance and sloppy punk, BoT submits warm & fuzzy bits of sound to mechanical bondage for its DIY-meets-DOS feel.

Drootin’s last band — during his college days in Santa Cruz — played too loud for their practice space, and Drootin and his collaborator eventually pooled their cash for a sampler to generate beats. “He wanted to have his hands in everything, and so did I, so we stopped working with each other. That’s when I started going it alone.”

Santa Cruz was also where Books on Tape’s amalgamative style originated. “I used to live up in the mountains. There was this one spot where all the radio stations would just bleed onto each other, and that was the best part of my ride home. I was such a spaz in my car for two minutes, just hearing all the combinations, like Spanish and jazz and this and that. I’d never heard indie and electronic, and I said, ‘There it is.’ It was the crossings of all these kinds of music that got me the idea of that sort of peanut-butter-and-chocolate mix. I thought, ‘Hey, what’s my Reese’s melody?’”

The tastes in Drootin’s larder are not that simple a mash; they’re blended with great discrimination, as becomes apparent on a stroll through Amoeba Music. “I like Jim O’Rourke, but he’s not the savior of the world,” he says. Others who arouse polite uncertainty are Hot Hot Heat (“It’s all the same”), Missy Elliot (“I wanted to like it so bad”), Beck, Fischerspooner, and Dntel (“But there are good ideas on that album”). The positives are more varied: Watts Prophets, Daedelus, Foghat, Negativland, Scarnella, Derek Bailey and Jay Z.

“Jay Z is a guy who knows the image he wants to put out, and there’s something very valid about that, even if it’s not always listenable. I appreciate that in bands, like with Sun Ra — he stuck with his story. I have Jay Z and Sun Ra fairly close together on my record shelf.”

Drootin says he was thinking about that kind of unified approach more with Throw Down Your Laptops than he did with his previous releases. “Now I have to do my Todd’s United Front — which seems riddled with holes to me, but maybe someone else doesn’t know that.” The title is a direct reference to the cut-and-paste genre of IDM dudes like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin, though it’s not exactly a gauntlet thrown in challenge. Drootin says he’s not trying to start a cultural revolution: “I love MC5 and Kick Out the Jams — antagonistic, but playfully so.”

He hesitates and sips his coffee. “I don’t want to end up in the ‘unusually experimental’ section at Amoeba with $160 box sets.” Then he smiles. “Well, maybe someday.”

Some call its sound “beat punk” — a tightly wound ruckus that’s composed completely on a wired box.

Review

Michael D Edwards, Exclaim!, March 4, 2003

Books on Tape, one of the pseudonyms of Todd Books (which is in itself is a pseudonym of Todd Drootin), have made their mark up to now providing background music for MTV’s reality TV shows and providing the online community with quality MP3s that could best be described as indie-electronica. The neat thing about Throw Down Your Laptops is that it doesn’t follow the usual pathway that home-made dance music does. Books doesn’t rely on computers, preferring to layer beats, blips and beeps with guitars and other instruments to make some old-fashioned electronica performed live in the studio. Naturally, he had some help along the way, including members of Bright Eyes and Slowcoach, helping to keep that indie-rock philosophy. Throw Down Your Laptops is one of those albums that is fun to delve into, but it is exhausting to listen to the full album is one sitting. Some of that has to do with the growled vocals on some songs that really break up the flow because they seem out of place with the far superior music. Perhaps more care when picking collaborators next time round would help.

… one of those albums that is fun to delve into…

Drootin throws down electrifying debut album

Andrew Lee, Daily Bruin, January 22, 2003

About two years ago, Todd Drootin was sitting at his home in Encino, surfing on Napster and trading his music with other tech-happy, independent artists. While online, a man who went by the name Infoslut told Drootin about his mp3 label No Type.

“I’d never heard of it,” Drootin said. “The entire concept of an mp3 label was just out there to me. But he told me it was a cool thing, just a community that can get a lot of attention.”

Drootin, who releases and performs music under the moniker Books on Tape, released an EP on the label and received a respectable fan response, but more importantly, No Type planted the seed for his own label Subverseco, which now serves as a home for several other experimental artists. Drootin, a prototypical and self-described beat punk, was raised playing piano, drums and guitar, but the tech-age has turned him into more than just a rock musician.

“It’s certainly been an exciting time for music right now,” Drootin said. “The indie rockers are finally unafraid to be electronic.”

Drootin’s debut album, Throw Down Your Laptops - released just over a month ago - isn’t your typical electronic release; it was recorded live, which led to a distinct big-arena rock sound. But its frenetic sound, propelled by obscure samples and sequencers, signals a new direction for So Cal independent music.

Drootin’s break from traditional rock started about four years ago when he moved from a house to an apartment. He soon realized that he didn’t have room to put his drum kit. He bought a recording device, a sort of digital workstation, to play around on with a friend.

“We started to explore the possibilities of it, but we couldn’t just sit there and do this all day; we needed to be looping and stuff like that. He was a guitar player, I was a drummer, so those were crazy concepts for us back then,” Drootin said.

Ever the inquisitive musician, Drootin soon started to get into Los Angeles’ underground-hip hop scene.

“Eventually, we went in with a sampler, and the idea was that we were going to make hip-hop beats,” he said. “But it just so happened that two white kids from Santa Cruz didn’t have a shot in hell at making hip-hop beats for anybody but themselves.”

Turning to his own brand of spastic knob-twiddling, his live show gave him the recognition he needed, notably from his current non-mp3-based label Deathbomb Arc records. They were disappointed in Drootin’s first recordings and convinced him that the live atmosphere reflects the essence of his music’s charm.

As a result, a few of his tracks have been picked up by MTV’s “Real World.” Still, his particular approach to electronic music isn’t the kind that purists would fawn over.

“It keeps coming back to me that the people really taking interest in what I’m doing are people who are into more eclectic stuff, into rock and jazz and dub,” he said. “When I walk into Amoeba and I go to the techno section, those are not the people listening to my albums. I think it reflects the fact that I didn’t grow up listening to electronic music.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t have something to offer the so-called purists; Drootin’s approach may be wildly unconventional, but it has the spirit of rock and roll.

“You’ll see them - laptop users - lean over each other’s shoulders and go ‘check out this trick.’ Then they’ll hit Control+F or something. I don’t see the music in that,” he said. “When I (see) people taking their samplers and completely battering them and doing something totally wrong, that’s when my eyes light up.”

Books on Tape performs regularly in Southern California, check http://www.deathbombarc.com/ for recent dates.

Drootin’s approach may be wildly unconventional, but it has the spirit of rock and roll.

This may (or may not) compute

Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2003

One of these days, Todd Drootin says of his atypically frenetic electronic stage show, “I’ll probably fall and hurt myself”. But those are the risks for the harried knob-twiddler who titled his album Throw Down Your Laptops because, he says, “I don’t think a laptop is a way to do a live show.” Drootin, who performs under the name Books on Tape, brings his pedal-pushing, dial-spinning show downtown to the Smell on Jan. 11. If Throw Down Your Laptops is any indication, expect a melange of sequencers, effects and digi-beats, all stirred into an edgy froth the L.A. artist describes as “beatpunk.” His music, with influences ranging from underground hip-hop to “really quirky rock with a lot of character,” has been used on MTV’s The Real World and Road Rules.

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