Live-beat performer BIONIK: 'I'm not a DJ'



This Friday, Minneapolis producer BIONIK brings a different kind of hip-hop show to Icehouse. Not to be confused with a typical producer-spinning-records night, BIONIK is building all of his own productions for a live-beat performance — an increasingly popular type of hip-hop event on the West Coast. The party will signal a new frontier in the local rap/trap/hip-hop scene. We spoke to BIONIK about returning to Minneapolis after living in Los Angeles and Chicago, collaborating with legends like Aceyalone, and how he got music in two Fast and Furious movies.

What originally lead you out west in the early 2000s?

I moved from Minneapolis to Chicago after finishing high school and worked at the Chicago Recording Company, doing assistant engineering, getting my teeth for production there. Then, I moved to Boston for a few years and played in a reggae backing band for artists who come from Jamaica who pick-up bands and need to have reggae standards; that was a whole learning process on its own. The problem was there wasn’t a lot of action in Boston for the music I was trying to do, a crossover over dancehall and hip-hop.

I visited L.A. and saw there was a much more diverse pallet going on there, so my wife and I decided to move there and we spent almost eight years there. While there, I ended up meetings all of these artists like Aceyalone, Black Silver and all those people. It was me developing this sound I was thinking about, doing all these records with west coasters.

The two songs you first got established within Los Angeles were Far East Movements’ “You’ve Got a Friend” with Baby Bash and Lil Rob, as well as the Aceyalone track “Do Unto Others” off of the Project Blowed 10th Anniversary compilation. After their release and success, did you hear much from people back home?

The Far East Movement connection was more about establishing licensing and notoriety. It got radio play, but they were kind of a hometown group, so not so much. But the Aceyalone song I heard about from people in Minnesota and Chicago who said “that’s crazy!” I actually hadn’t much of a context for Ace before meeting him; I didn’t realize how deeply rooted he was in the west coast underground scene. But then I heard from people in the Midwest who said, “How did you get hooked up with Aceyalone? He’s a vet!”

You’ve been doing a lot of work with Aceyalone in the decade since, most notably the experimental cross-genre concept releases that have been very dancehall or '50s doo-wop influenced. Do you find because of these outside-the-box concept records, other MCs approach you to collaborate with experimental visions?

I think that really depends on the artist. Aceyalone is really adventurous. The dancehall thing was an impulse from me and we had a common strand there. Acey was influenced by all those things, but I find that each artist is able to transport themselves in different ways into different genres. Somebody like Ace is really versatile and some might say that being that eclectic and diverse with Ace was risky. But, in my opinion, Ace is a big-picture artist who goes into a lot of evolutions with different records. Those are things that we were able to accomplish. But with different artists you get different ideas for different sounds for the picture you want to paint around them.

How would you describe your show Friday at Icehouse?

I just want to make this distinction: I’m not a DJ. When I do a show, I do live production, arrangement, and beatmaking on stage. I only do my own music. I do a bunch of different genres of shows, but this evolution I’ve been working on is creating a scene for bass music in Minneapolis. When I went to L.A. and performed at Low End Theory last year, which was fantastic, I really felt at home around a lot of great producers. Daddy Kev, who put it on, is such a visionary guy. I thought, there’s a hole in the Midwest for this live original production and performing. You got to Low End Theory, you have 10-15 producers doing sets, and the place is packed every week to watch experimental bass music and it keeps growing and growing. Icehouse has given me nights over the next few months to try to develop something. There’s no playing records — it’s a studio on the stage, that’s what I’m trying to do.

You had a song on Fast & Furious 6 soundtrack.

I had a song in two of the movies. In Tokyo Drift I had a song in the movie with Far East Movement. We didn’t make the soundtrack for Tokyo Drift, we were just in the movie. In Fast and Furious 6 we had a song with Jin on the soundtrack, and what’s interesting is that that song is a decade old. Me and Kev Nish produced a whole record for Jin that was only released in China so we got a lot of pub and awards in China for doing an album that was all Cantonese. He made a mark overseas and one of the music supervisors wanted the international flavor of the music to play all over the world. Daniel Wu, one of the actors, is actually on the song. Those sorts of placements are fantastic and hard to come by.