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Push Beats gets experimental with hip-hop

Replacing the MC, the six-man Push Beats crew brings its abstract beat flavor to Wicker Park.
Photograph: Max Herman Raj Mahal, Push Beats
By Joshua P. Ferguson |

What kind of music do you make? For the six guys behind Push Beats, it’s a hard question to answer. “Aw, fuck that question,” says Zain Khan, 24, the experimental beat crew’s youngest member. “Beats,” he continues, engaging himself in a hypothetical conversation. “‘What kind of beats?’ I don’t know dude. Let’s not have this conversation.” Khan, who records as “Zainghis,” is seated alongside producers-in-arms Adam “Abyss” Bowsman (the Push Beats founder), Jack “Doc Ill” Hill, Raj “Raj Mahal” Malosh, Brandon “Illiac” Murphy and Marcos “Cos” Rivera during a recent installment of their weekly Tuesday party at LOKaL Lounge in Wicker Park to help dissect the music they make and the scene they navigate. Here’s what they had to say.

Sound off
“All of us have come from an appreciation of hip-hop and how the producer has moved into the forefront, even more than the MC,” says Malosh, 35, the group’s senior producer. “The experimental element that’s woven into the beats is what we all gel on.”

Starting in the ’90s, hip-hop producers like Madlib and labels like Ninja Tune started removing rappers from the equation to let the music do the talking and this so called experimental hip-hop scene has been snowballing ever since. Currently the movement is strongest on the West Coast, where young producers flock to Flying Lotus and his Brainfeeder label. The Push guys also single out strong Midwest talents like Michigan sound tinkerers Samiyam and Shigeto.

The music incorporates hip-hop’s boom bap, but it quickly branches out from there with 8-bit video game melodies, dusty soul loops, the clatter of experimental glitch music and the fat low end wobble of drum ’n’ bass and dubstep. “Any genre you can think of has had an impact on it,” Malosh continues. “That comes from sample culture. It just kinda grew and the producers took it a lot further.”

Come together
Each member points to music-hosting site Soundcloud as an essential tool in propelling the movement. Whether separate or in tandem, the guys are constantly uploading the fruits of late-night recording sessions to their individual pages. The portal is also how they discover most new artists.

“You find stuff you probably otherwise wouldn’t ever find—people from Budapest or Russia,” says Bowsman. “Most of them are bedroom producers just like us.” On the local level, Push prides itself on finding these talents. “The whole focus on the night initially is A) being more experimental, B) live performance and C) really bringing the people out in the city who already do this shit in their bedrooms whose names we don’t know and we want to know because they’re making incredible shit,” says Murphy.

Push it
While there are other nights in town that focus on these underground sounds, the aspect that sets Push Beat apart is that the crew considers themselves artists first and foremost, not DJs. On a given night, the compact DJ booth at LOKaL is a maze of equipment and configurations. When these guys perform they focus on original material. Push nights become makeshift live sessions where studio tracks are remixed, modified and improvised live.

“We all play instruments,” explains Rivera, who comes from a jazz background thanks to a musician father. “We can bring our equipment over to each other’s houses and just play live, like in the traditional sense.” This spontaneity extends to their weekly night. “Cut some samba in the mix, something super jazzy, cut some funk in, anything,” says Hill. “It’s limitless,” Khan concludes. “Almost too limitless.”

Push Beats calls LOKaL Lounge home every Tuesday night.

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