Monday, August 26

Loop Guru’s schizophrenic soundscapes defy classification


Co-leader Salaam waxes psychedelic on drugs, spirituality, sound collages

By Kristin Fiore

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

With a recording band, a separate live band and music samples
collected from every creed and corner of the earth, it’s no wonder
Loop Guru’s co-mastermind Salmaan has an identity crisis.

"Some people say we’re global fusion, but I really don’t know
what we are. We’re a dance band. But we’re not. We’re also an
ambient band. I mean tonight, it’s probably going to be a little
bit punk rock, I think."

Salmaan toys with his earring as he weeds through every
conflicting genre music has to offer, finally settling on an
unlikely prospect for their Aug. 30 show at Spaceland.

"I’ve got a plain feeling – small little venue, the PA’s a bit
funny, tiny little stage, it’s going to be hot and sweaty – it’s
going to be a punk rock gig. So it kind of changes from day to day,
really, as to what we are."

One can only guess what form Loop Guru will take tonight at the
American Legion Hall, where they will open for Meat Beat
Manifesto.

The band may falter when trying to pigeonhole their sound, but
after letting Salmaan bend your ear on everything from Buddhism to
sweet corn and LSD (you’d be surprised how much they have in
common), it becomes clear that any inability to express the essence
of Loop Guru lies more in the restrictive labeling frenzy of the
music industry than in the band itself.

Though the band manages to meld its diverse styles and moods
into a fluent sound and philosophy, their scattered origins do seem
almost schizophrenic. Much of this is due to the eclectic and
comprehensive musical backgrounds that Salmaan and Jamuud, the
other mainstay of Loop Guru, draw from.

"I’ve got a ridiculous record collection, tape collection, CD
collection; they’re just enormous. And I reincorporate what we
listen to into what we do, and alter it to a point that I don’t
think you can pinpoint what we do." Salmaan says.

Unlike other bands that sample entire riffs or sections of
songs, Loop Guru uses random, unrecognizable snippets of music or
even pure sound.

"Sometimes it’s just listening to a record and you just hear
something, and you think, ‘Oh, that little bit there is beautiful.’
So you use it and you loop it. It becomes its own little beast. …
All we’re doing is collaging. It’s like Dada."

Loop Guru also shares the whimsical attitude the Dadaists often
had toward their work, even if the playful process yields serious
results.

"Sometimes we do work randomly; we actually turn our backs, take
a chance and just pull cassettes out, put them on, and wherever the
cassettes are, we’ll just take a sample and manipulate it; and if
it doesn’t work, we’ll do it backwards and just play with sound,"
he says. "Quite often the original sample doesn’t even get in on
the track. It’s like the track will take on its own life, and we
just steer it around; it’s like energy flowing through you. We sit
around and giggle about how sometimes things just fall into place
so easily."

Despite all this sampling, the music has a remarkably primitive,
organic feel to it. This is most evident in the band’s live shows,
which incorporate many instruments and voices and an orchestra of
percussion. The live energy is thrown back and forth between the
band and an increasingly ecstatic audience. At times, the entire
experience resembles a religious celebration more than a concert, a
concept Salmaan backs wholeheartedly.

"Every now and again at a gig, people come up to us after the
gig and say, ‘I was just dancing there, and I was transcending.’
And we’re going, ‘Wow, great. That’s the idea.’ … Dance is a form
of meditation, anyway, that goes back thousands and thousands of
years – and uses rhythms as well. Using samples, it becomes like a
mantra … We’re a bit like a Zen koan (in Buddhism, an unsolvable
riddle or concept), which is like a punch in the face by your
teacher and all of a sudden you see."

Loop Guru has always been intensely spiritual through both its
members and the unfolding of its music, though they have never
championed the idea of a specific religion.

"I don’t think that being Buddhist or Hindu or Christian
particularly is a good thing to do. They’re like little pointers in
certain directions to certain spiritual traits. I think ultimately,
everything you need is inside you anyway. You just have to cut out
the bullshit."

One bullshit-prone area the band has formerly cut out is lyrics.
Most of the songs do have vocals, but they are used more like
abstract instruments, void of literal content that might distract
listeners from the music and the way the vocals wind themselves
into it so seamlessly.

"I love the non-verbal bit, because words get in the way of a
lot of the messages. Just like religion and politics get in the way
of truth and people having a good time. Words can kind of spoil
things … I think for a while it was a conscious decision not to
use words, but I think that’s something we’re actually going
against now."

Even though Loop Guru are breaking their no-lyric policy, they
do so in a way that confounds every traditional reason for having
lyrics. They don’t make "sense" and don’t offer the usual focal
point for the song – again, because it can detract from the
song.

"Some of the lyrics are things like, ‘I’ve got a goat. And I’m
going to milk my goat.’ Things like that, and they’re in other
languages. So when you actually work out what the words are,
they’re quite bizarre."

So don’t go in like it’s R.E.M. and look for the meaning of life
- it isn’t there. Well, it may be, but it’s coded in sound and not
letters.

Another way of cutting through the red tape of the conscious,
analytical mind is, of course, psychedelic drugs, a subject which
always seems to rear its head with bands of Loop Guru’s ilk.

"Do you want me to expand on that?" Salmaan asks, as though
being spied upon by a worried parent overseas. "I think
psychedelics are a good thing, as meditation is a good thing. …
It’s just another way of opening yourself up, I suppose."

With his Hare Krishna bald head, body piercings, band and
attitude toward spiritual transcendence, Salmaan would inspire in
your average Ward and June Cleaver a stereotyped fear of
drug-friendliness. However, he speaks more intelligently and
honestly than most on the subject.

"I don’t think everyone should go out there and take
psychedelics, and nobody should go out there and take heroin (a bit
late there, Salmaan). I think drugs are something that you have to
use wisely … There’s this big campaign in England saying, ‘Just
Say No.’ I don’t know if you have that here. But Timothy Leary
said, ‘Just say know,’ but it was spelled ‘know’ as in
knowledge."

Again, it all comes back to knowledge of yourself and of what is
around you. Religion and drugs, he muses, are both potential
addictions that can be positive, with the right knowledge, or
disastrous. While there is much information about drugs to be
gleaned from the outside, much of what you need to know – about
drugs and everything else – is already inside you. Rather
convenient, except getting to it can be quite a bitch.

"The other day I was eating a sweet corn," he recalls. "All you
plant is that one little yellow thing. And that one little thing
has got all the knowledge that will make this 8-foot-tall plant
with all the leaves and everything like that. It’s exactly the same
as a human being. All the knowledge of the whole universe is within
you, so all you’ve got to do is sow the seed and work on it and
find it. There are little roots and messages along the way, but if
it was easy – hey, everyone would know," he says.

This sort of self-awareness is tough to come by, especially when
you’re playing 70 or 100 shows a year, as Salmaan notes.

"By the end of last year I was getting decidedly flaky … When
you’re touring for that long, you’re away for five weeks, you have
one week off, then you’re away for another four or something. You
start to not know who you are after a while. You’re on the bus, you
wake up and you’re outside the venue, you go in and do the sound
check and the gig and then you party all night, then you wake up
and it’s three o’clock in the afternoon again and you’re outside
the next venue," Salmaan says.

"It just goes on and on … like having jet lag all the time.
You get very fluffy in the head, but that’s OK. It’s good for the
soul to be fluffy in the head quite a lot."

Although this grueling schedule and lack of breathing room has
its price, it’s been well worth it for Salmaan and the band.

"We’re quite blessed, actually, to be doing the music that we
love. This is it. This is your living. I’m sure 90 percent of the
people in the world are working in stuff they don’t really want to
do. … We get paid to party, really. Every now and again you have
to get up and play, and that’s the best bit!"

CONCERT: Loop Guru plays with Meat Beat
Manifesto at the American Legion Hall tonight and at Magic
Wednesdays at The Hollywood Grand (7070 Hollywood Blvd.) Oct. 9.
Doors open at 10 p.m. and all tickets are $10.

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