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About this time last year, word began circulating through the local DJ/party community that some Asian kid from Osseo calling himself DJ Slanty-Eyed Art Fuck was the best young turntablist in the nation--or, at least, the weirdest. Few people had actually seen him spin. And most of them had done so by inviting him over to their homes, where he would set up his turntables and launch into furious and agile cut 'n' paste frenzies that evoked Grandmaster Flash channeling the spirit of Ornette Coleman's Dancing in Your Head. Legend escalated, but when one local hipster dogged him for a mix-tape, Art Fuck responded with a 20-minute cassette recording of rape victims describing their experiences set to a background of perfunctory ambient drone.
Logic would suggest that any DJ who has assumed aliases such as Slanty-Eyed Art Fuck or Mechanically Separated Chicken Parts (he now goes by Ts) might be a bit freakish, even intimidating, in person. But in the Nicollet Mall restaurant where we meet, the 21-year-old Asian American seems benign, even sweet, sipping green tea as we talk. This calm despite the fact that in a week he's scheduled to begin serving 20 days in the Dakota County workhouse for possessing 2 pounds of pot.
With his floppy, bowl-cut hair, baggy jeans, and white hooded sweater, Thisaphone Sothiphakahak (pronounced Tees-a-phon So-peedth-a-hoc) seems to be a goofy, friendly latter-day suburban b-boy, and an all-around normal guy. Looks, however, are deceiving: In a mere 15 months, his few performances have inspired unabashed awe among normally reserved local electronicats. "He puts together things you normally wouldn't hear being played out," says Nina K. Wrayge, promoter for the Red Sea's monthly DJ night, New Atlantis.
"The first time I heard him, I thought he was fucking amazing," echoes Wrayge's husband and Electric Polar Bear Club co-founder Rod Smith. "He was going from style to style, but rather than just stringing these elements together, he folded them back on themselves, creating an entity larger than the parts, something that reflected the culture that created them."
"The Electric Polar Bear Club," says Smith's partner, Dave Lofquist, "is not about creating a place to come and dance. But Ts came a couple months ago, and he did have people dancing--but each for completely different reasons. He was challenging them, and it was great to watch."
Ts's polyglot sound-clashes incorporate everything: Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Frank Sinatra, Black Sabbath, Afrika Bambaataa, hardcore techno, Poison, Turkish singer Simone Shaheen, '70s Italian B-movie soundtracks, found-sound samples recorded on minidisc. As one anonymous scenester put it, "This is what DJ Spooky would be if he lived up to his own hype."
Born in Bangkok, Ts was just 3 years old when his father, an officer in the Thai army, moved the family to California and then to Minnesota. A loner as a child, Ts became a Poison fan before getting into death-metal in junior high at the urging of the local pastor's kids--naturally, the only other death-metal fans in Osseo. "I hung out with them because they had a graveyard in their backyard," Ts remembers. "They lived next to a 200-year-old church. We used to bring a boom box back there, listen to Cannibal Corpse, and get drunk."
At age 16, Ts found his maturing angst and acid-tweaked imagination leading him to the experimental fringe of the doom-noise continuum. "I found a used copy of Nurse with Wound's Soliloquy for Lilith at Northern Lights. I thought it was an ambient death-metal thing, but it was this weird, droning music I'd never heard before. I was like, 'Wow, this is really cool.' I started seeking out more music like that."
After graduating from Park Center High in 1995, Ts moved to Dinkytown and began experimenting with sound, intentionally aggravating the jocks from the frat house next door by simultaneously playing four tape decks through an effects pedal. ("They were always pissing next to my window," Ts explains. "I had to do something.") But becoming a full-fledged DJ didn't occur to him until two years later, when a friend moved to California and left Ts with some records, two "really crappy" turntables, and a mixer. "I got my first record at this garage sale," Ts says. "There was a box of free records, and the one I kept was Connie Francis, When the Boys Meet the Girls. For some reason, that record blew my mind--it was so alluring to me.... [T]hat's what really got me into DJing--Connie Francis. Everybody was trying to bring out techno music, but nobody was playing Connie Francis."
Live, Francis fits perfectly into a melting-pot messthetic that's perfectly suited to hip-hop kids with Sega-stunted attention spans. "Basically, what I'm trying to achieve is to be my own radio station for people with attention deficit disorder," says Ts, looking over a record of 500 sample-ready "locked grooves" he's just purchased. "What I do is completely spontaneous. If I'm gonna play at, say, a house party, I'll do an opener of weird, atmospheric sounds, then cut it to more traditional DJing, just to get people in the mood. You have to massage people before you beat them," he says with a laugh.
At press time, Ts is waiting for his short jail term to end, so he can get back to work on his first single, something called "Jerry Springer Breakbeat," based on "samples of his famous lines and lines from his guests." Will it sell? "I hope so. It's pretty interesting. I call it 'drum 'n' bass for the trailer parks.'"