American Contraband: Alternative Rock and American Experimental Music

American Contraband: Alternative Rock and American Experimental Music

RealAudio Sound Sample

Djam Karet, a 16-year-old quartet from Los Angeles, CA, plays “progressive rock” in the classic sense of the term: wedding rock instrumentation to well-defined musical structures that don’t adhere to the classic pop song format, adding to this a sense of improvisational freedom borrowed from jazz and psychedelia. Elements of electronic music and non-Western ethnic musics also lend variety to Djam Karet’s music. But the band neatly manages to avoid the cliché-ed self-indulgence with which progressive rock became associated in the late ’70s, instead creating a body of work that is both intellectually compelling and viscerally stimulating.

The members of Djam Karet – guitarist/keyboardist Gayle Ellett, guitarist Mike Henderson, bassist Henry J. Osborne and drummer/keyboardist Chuck Oken, Jr. – were initially drawn together by a desire to play improvisational music. But by 1986 the band recognized a group voice emerging, a voice for which all four members share compositional credit. That voice is comprised of equal parts muscular, athletic rock firepower and dreamy, atmospheric electronic soundscapes.

Normally these elements are combined in Djam Karet’s compositions and recordings. But in 1991 the band released a pair of albums, Burning the Hard City and Suspension & Displacement, each of which focused on one or the other side of the band’s music: the former aggressive rock, the latter moody and occasionally dark electronica. (Both have recently been reissued on the Cuneiform label, America’s leading progressive rock label.) The records could not be more different, but, as Oken explains, “The polarity of ambience and progressive elements in DK music is nothing but complementary! It is the tension, the space, and the movement between these musical enviroments which are a major part of our sound.”

Despite the lack of hit singles and lyrics, Oken firmly states that Djam Karet “is unquestionably a rock band. We choose not to use vocals and let our listeners form their own ‘pictures in their head’ instead of having song lyrics lead them in a particular direction.” A rock band they are, then, but one which expects a more active engagement on the part of listeners than do most bands playing rock music, and through their recordings, the internet and word of mouth they have developed a dedicated following willing to meet their demands.

From American Contraband: Alternative Rock and American Experimental Music
By Jason Gross and Steve Smith
© 2000 NewMusicBox

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.