Summer Music: The DIY Chaos Of Skrapez
With manipulated synthesizers or homemade electronic instruments, the San Diego-based experimental duo Skrapez makes curious, creative and chaotic walls of sound.
Raw expression and artistic freedom is rare in this world where everything from music to social media is monetized. Music untouched by the gears of capitalism left to the purest form of creativity is hard to find...but if you did find it, what would that sound like? In the latest installment of the KPBS Summer Music Series, San Diego group Skrapez tries to answer just that.
Skrapez is a legendary experimental electronic duo who create on their own terms.You can’t find their music on traditional streaming platforms, and they don’t play traditional instruments. Their live shows are a chaotic explosion of chopped breakbeats and alien noise that push the speakers within an inch of their life.
Behind Skrapez is Tenshun (Jon Calzo) and Psychopop (David Lampley). The two met in high school through mutual friends.
"David was actually at the time producing hip-hop stuff and rapping, and I was DJing and I did some scratches for his album," Calzo said. "We just basically kind of connected through music and had the same wavelength of creating crazy sounds and chaos stuff."
That wavelength — and their ability to improvise — is a foundation of their process and sound.
"It's just all freestyle, jamming out. Like free jazz, basically," Lampley said. "We kind of just surf. Surf the sounds."
That jazz ethos often shines through in melodies and phrasings, serving up glimpses of a sort of beauty amidst the chaos.
Skrapez uses a mixture of synthesizers and samplers; sampling sounds like film recordings, old records, found noises, and even just their own music. They also add "circuit bending" to the mix.
"Circuit bending is just taking any instrument, toy, anything that makes sound that's battery powered or electronic powered, but usually battery powered. I just open it up and poke around inside of it and see if it alters the sound, makes anything sound crazy. And if it does, then that's like a cool little patch. That's circuit bending. You're just bending the circuit to sound different and destroy the original sound," Calzo said.
Calzo also builds a lot of the instruments he uses himself, using old electronics to make something new.
"I have a drawer that's just full of, like, non-working stuff," Calzo said.
"He's like the kid from Goonies. You always got a crazy little idea going," Lampley said.
Lampley plays on a synthesizer that has its own DIY backstory. According to Lampley, on one overseas tour, the airline opened their luggage and disassembled his Korg MS2000 synth.
"It was kind of done for. So we had an idea, and we chopped it up. We chopped the circuits out of it, and we Midi'd it up to another keyboard. We chopped the metal up — of the keyboard — and we threw it in a box, and we've been using it since. It doesn't look very pretty, but it sounds crazy," Lampley said.
'A big wall of sound'
One thing is certain for their live shows. "Usually, it's just like a big wall of sound going on the whole time," Calzo said.
"Yeah, we just make a wall of sound until something breaks through," Lampley agreed. "Then we go off of it."
San Diego musician Gonjasufi, a friend of theirs, described their sound as scaring somebody, then giving them a hug, said Lampley.
Otherwise, each show varies, whether it's the way the band is dealing with the surroundings or the particular configuration of instruments, patches and electronics.
"Sometimes we'll use a tape loop on a reel-to-reel — anything," said Lampley. "I have a machine that's to take a hearing test, and it makes all these crazy sounds out of it. We'll throw some delay and distortion on it.'
Calzo added that sometimes they even use radios, a Speak & Spell or a Game Boy. "Everything is different every time we perform," he said.
Plus, they eventually began bringing their own amplifiers and equipment to control their own sound, not depending on the house system or sound engineer.
"We always had problems with sound men in the past, so that's what led us to purchase amplifiers so we can control our own sound. So even if they turn down the main house system, we can just turn up our amplifier to make it louder," Calzo said.
Some venues, of course, are more progressive and better suited for experimental sound. "If it's more of an artistic venue that has a lot of the similar type of style music, then they'll kind of understand the frequencies that are going on. But if it's more of a venue that's catered to pop music, they wouldn't understand what we're doing. So that's when the problem with the sound happens," Calzo said. "There's only two of us, and we're trying to make it sound like there's 15 of us up there."
DIY freedom, start to finish
Skrapez takes the DIY approach to the next level — not just in instrumentation or in performance, but they also release their music on their own terms — often on lathe-cut records or tapes, with limited streaming platforms. No labels, no release dates, no quotas.
This feeling of freedom extends to the stage, too.
"It's kind of free. Maybe there's a little bit of pressure," Calzo said. "We don't really have an expectation. We just want to get loud and kind of abrasive and hear some heavy drums, and we're just kind of locked in the zone."
Working together for over two decades, the creative process — and the music — keeps them coming back for more.
"I guess it just never gets old," Lampley said. "I feel like we're just artists. Like we'll make our own t-shirts, our own record covers, our own tapes, our own flyers… book our own shows, be our own tour managers. So we just have control over every part of the process."
The band recently recorded a video with Hidden San Diego, set at an eerie, abandoned amusement park in east San Diego County.
"I think our music kind of suits the vibe of the location. It's really messed up, and it's probably traumatizing to people's ears," mused Calzo.
Skrapez's new album, Witchcraft 2 is out now and available to stream on Bandcamp.