Believe it or not, kids, there once was a time before random shuffle and mash-up remixes where music tended to stay in its distinct categories and within specific genre contours. Typically people liked one kind of music or another, and that was about it.
The Beastie Boys and Beck's fast folk of the early '90s eventually gave the idea of sample-based cross pollinating some steam, but it was 4-track bedroom lo-fi "Casiocore" artists like Land of the Loops and Minneapolis's Sukpatch who really put it all in a blender and ultimately created something totally new and unique.[jump]
As Twin Cities transplants in 1995, Sukpatch -- then the trio of Stephen Hermann, Steve Cruze and Chris Heidman -- all came to town and caught everyone off guard, releasing a handful of 7-inches on a variety of labels including Seattle's Slabco, London's Moshi Moshi and Japan's Motorway Records while ultimately landing a deal with the Beastie's Grand Royal.
Still calling Minneapolis home, where he cuts commercials and runs a small record label as Squirrel on the Moon production house, Heidman breaks down the band's genesis. "We started off in Colorado," he says. "They were really into the Dead and I was from Iowa and was so insecure I sort of just played along. The first question they asked me was 'So how many hours do you have?,' referring to their bootleg collections."
"We started as a guitar band but we always used beats because none of us could play drums for shit. Getting beats going and playing guitars to that became our thing and then at one point we sold all our guitars and got pocket MS-1 samplers and turntables."
Like every college kid in those days, they'd get turned onto De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest and discovered their love for hip hop. "It was the beginning days of quirky tracks like Timbaland was producing for SWV, the beats he was using were unbelievable and stuff like 'The Return of the Mack' by Mark Morrison and all these terrible R&B songs that had these outrageous beat productions," Heidman explains, unpacking the influences that would define Sukpatch.
With a growing following on college radio and lo-fi tape collectors very much into Sukpatch's original sound of multi-layered samples and hushed vocals, the band started getting offers from all over the place.
Leading up to the release of "Ides" on Japanese Motorway Records, Heidman talks about how Sukpatch started blazing a trail for themselves.
"We were putting out tapes on Slabco and they were getting around and Japanese kids were just eating it up," he says. "This guy from Japan sent me a letter from out of nowhere and said he wanted to put it out and we were like 'My god this is the biggest deal ever!' We sent him the songs and a year later we had this single."
At their new home in Minneapolis, Sukpatch set up camp as graduate students in Art at the University of Minnesota. "Our first day at the U, Stephen Hermann went into this broom closet next to where Guy Baldwin would teach his clay class and there was this plastic sheeting over this Tascam analog half-inch 8-track just sitting there that had never been used," Heidman says. "They were like go ahead and take it home so we recorded everything for like three years on that and once we graduated we brought it back. Then we switched to A-Dat tapes because that became the thing."
"Hermann made the cover. He always had these 1950's craft magazines laying around and we used the rub on gothic font letters but it actually turned a lot of people off because they thought we were a metal band." Heidman laughs. "'Broken Facility' might have a Rusted Root or some hippy band sample on it. Stephen would go home for the summer and he'd go to like 10 Grateful Dead shows and sampling all this stuff and not tell us."
Eventually Hermann would leave the group and they'd continued on as a duo. Preferring Cruze's voice to his own, Heidman wanted to focus more on production and making beats. "Steve Cruze and I would sample the most obscure stuff we could find. On 'Ides' it's a bunch of cut ups from weird Southern dirtbag rock albums."
Signing with Grand Royal, Sukpatch would release one EP with the esteemed label in 1999, Tie Down that Shiny Wave. When the time came to put out a full length that was going to bring the band to the next level, the label unfortunately went kaput. Finally, the band would have one more record out on their own in 2006 before going their separate ways.
Chris Heidman still does music with Ultrachorus and works with bands like Total Babe and Howler on his Squirrel on the Moon label. "Steve Hermann now is in New York doing studio production for commercials. Steve Cruze is in Ohio, he's married. He's got high def TV and works on music of his own. We actually plan on doing another batch of songs together as Sukpatch some time very soon."
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