Club d’Elf Turns 15

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15th Anniversary Poster by A. Minor

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Hypnosonics, Middle East, Cambridge, MA. Circa late 80s. Photo by Wayne Valdez

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D’Elf circa 2002. DJ C, Brahim Fribgane, Erik Kerr, Randy Roos, Micro, Alain Mallet. Photo by Mark Wilson

On a Thursday night in early February 1998, a rag-tag group of musicians gathered together at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the first “ceremony” in a residency that now spans 15 years. Club d’Elf was born, and while the band has traveled as far afield as Japan, it is at the Lizard where the sonic alchemy that the band is interested in most fully comes to fruition. That night 15 years ago saw a line-up mostly comprised of Mark Sandman‘s “secret band”, Hypnosonics: Sandman on guitar & vocals, your humble narrator on bass, Dana Colley & Russ Gershon on saxes, Tom Halter on trumpet and J. Hilt on drums. Duke Levine (guitar),  Jerry Leake (tablas), Jere Faison (sampler) & John Dirac (guitar) rounded out the personnel, and the music drew primarily from the Hypnosonics songbook, along w/ tunes that Jerry, Jere and I had been workshopping.  It was Sandman who lit a fire under my ass and got me to start the thing, tired as he was of my continued complaining of him not booking enough Hypnos gigs, and he who approved of the name (“Period Zipple”, a reference to an underground cassette that musician friends passed around, was another contender, fortunately nixed).

Billy Beard was booking the joint, and i pitched to him the idea of a house band doing dubbed-out trance grooves with a rotating schedule of special guests, and he liked the idea and gave me a few dates to see how it would go. I had been listening to a lot of Bill Laswell‘s Axiom label experiments, along with Portishead, Soul Coughing and early drum’n’bass, and was interested in combining these influences with the Indian and West African music i had been playing in another band (that also featured Leake on tablas), Natraj. There were a lot of such things going on in NYC, but not so much in Boston, and the music found an audience hungry for a scene of this sort. A favorable review in the Boston Globe helped generate interest, and without really understanding what was happening, the entity that would become my life’s obsession and eventually lead me into near-financial ruin, destroy my mariage, drive me insane, while simultaneously providing the fullest forum for my musical & spiritual interests, licked the afterbirth off of itself and grinned at the world.

Its been an amazing ride, with all the highs and lows one would expect of something so drenched in energies alien and occult, and involving the participation of over 125 musicians over the course of its life, each bringing with him or her (sadly, mostly hims) a unique perspective on what the thing was all about. It was never a solo project for me or a forum for ego-based bass excursions, and my hope has always been to recreate D’Elf for every show and make guests feel as at home as they would fronting their own band. Sometimes successful, sometimes not.

If I had to name a favorite moment this one comes to mind: the first time we played in Japan at the Hotaka Mountain festival in August 2001, just before the world changed. Brahim Fribgane had joined the band in ’99 and initiated us into the wonderful world of Moroccan trance music. Alas, having a Moroccan passport put him low on the totem pole w/ the Japanese authorities and we could not get him a visa by the time of our departure. Alain Mallet, Randy Roos, Jake Trussell (aka DJ C) and Adam Deitch (subbing for our drummer Erik Kerr who could not make the tour) left without Brahim, praying that his visa would arrive and he would join us later. A world where cell phones and the internet were mostly absent left us in the dark as to his status, and hours before our set time he had still not appeared, though we heard that he had made it into the country and was on his way through the countryside to the sea of mud that was the festival. We were in the midst of being interviewed by a Japanese TV crew when an hour before the set he appeared, exhausted from over 24 hours of straight travel. I don’t think i’ve ever gone into a gig with such happiness.

Oh, and then there was the time when one of the guys in the band had a divorce summons delivered to him onstage at the Lizard, only he wasn’t on the gig and it was given to another band member by mistake. Good times.

One of my regrets is that i never had a photograph taken of each band, for it was different for every show. That would be a most interesting slide show, and maybe there’s a universe somewhere where that happened. To have had so many incredible musicians come in and  play – most of whom were my friends – and have a forum for us to create and share a musical language (equal parts Gnawa, jazz, hip hop, drum’n’bass, dub, rock, you name it)…well, its been pretty gratifying. People have come and gone, and some even left this world. We lost Sandman and then Joe Maneri, and i feel their loss immensely. Erik Kerr departed for Pittsburgh in ’06 and Dean Johnston came aboard. But its a family and once you’re in, you’re pretty much in, even when you wish to pull a Scarface. Other figures who have played (and continue to do so) a big part in the band’s history include John Medeski, Mat Maneri, Dave Tronzo, Tom Hall, Paul Schultheis, Mister Rourke..each of whom has left a big imprint.

15 years seems like a long time for a band, but then again this is a band that breaks up at the end of every show and then reunites again for the next one, so its not typical. I have no idea where the future lies, and while i had hopes (and still do) of taking this circus out to the peoples all over the world, the realities of the music business, compounded by economic woes and various other obstacles have stood in the way of that becoming a reality, but who knows? Going to Morocco would be nice especially, and we are still working on that particular fantasy. Stay tuned.

Oh, and we got some love from the Boston Globe & Boston Herald, with the Globe also putting up some video.

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~ by delfblog on February 15, 2013.

3 Responses to “Club d’Elf Turns 15”

  1. Thank you all for spinning dem golden vibes from yer fingertips!

  2. Many thanks for what you do. You music has helped me through some hard times and continues to be my favorite method of therepy. God bless.

  3. 15 years of serious micro magic, take some credit, will ya’, and keep at it for another 50

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