Entering the Dirty Art Club is like letting an encyclopedic sample curator soundtrack a vibrant psychedelic cartoon dream. Conceived in North Carolina, fragments of sun-kissed soul and dusty psyche-rock sounds are stitched together and intertwined with live instrumentation recorded in a home studio setup to convey a woozy and soulful experience. It’s a blend that’s been refined on Dirty Art Club’s latest album, Basement Seance, which is themed around sampling rare “old songs and records that barely anybody’s heard” and reanimating them into a new life.
Dirty Art Club was founded in 2011 after a fixture in the North Carolina music scene was looking for a local musician to create a beat tape to accompany an art book called Heavy Starch. The tape became Dirty Art Club’s debut album.
Heavy Starch took off quickly. Created from “a bunch of old beats and some new ones,” the vibe was embraced in other cities, other states and other countries. One of the songs included on the album, “Just A Memory,” quickly clocked up over one million Spotify streams.
Beyond the metrics, Heavy Starch’s sonic fabric of dreamy samples and clipped vocal snippets established a template that was refined on 2012’s Hexes EP and the following year’s Vermilion project.
The genesis of Dirty Art Club’s nuanced approach to production was inspired by RZA’s mystical beat work for Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse,” from the rapper’s classic 1995 album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. The way the melody sample “was cartoonish and weird but also soulful” and the impression “the loop has someone saying something but you can’t really tell what they’re saying” helped form the Dirty Art Club template. This idea of utilizing “strangely placed vocal clips” carries through to Dirty Art Club’s compositions, where truncated phrases from rare songs are skillfully layered into tracks to enhance wistful, nostalgic and carefree vibes.
Embracing a recording environment that usually involves sitting on the floor in a dark room, the Dirty Art Club production style is anchored around the technique of creating a sonic texture based on multiple sources: The fruits of vinyl digging trips are combined with layers of live instrumentation and embellished with field recordings and atmospheric effects. These component parts are skillfully mixed so that they “sound like one sample.” It’s a trick that creates a unity of sound where songs segue together while moving the emotional narrative along.
This emotional resonance is what elevates Dirty Art Club’s music from being a simple hip-hop beat tape. It’s a feat made more remarkable by the fact that during the two year recording process of Basement Seance, its chief protagonist was overcoming a battle with the medical condition anhedonia as a symptom of a larger unspecified health issue. It left him temporarily “losing the innate feelings that govern how I identify with and perceive music.” This was after a lifetime of feeling “music-inspired emotion” more than any other source.
“I’d lost all hope in my ability to inject something more essential than drums, effects, and supplemental noise into samples,” confesses the man behind Dirty Art Club, before summing up his personal recovery and philosophy towards creating compositions. “If music really has something magical about it-as I’ve always believed it has-then the loss I was experiencing would somehow embed itself in the songs and be felt in lieu of my absence.” Consider that the true essence of a basement seance. ~ Phillip Mlynar