Tale of the Tape

Razi Mesinai LP jacket (Cargo UK, 2015)

Raz Mesinai garnered international attention in the early ‘90s as half of the duo Sub Dub, in the context of Brooklyn’s so-called “Illbient” scene. But by that time, the Jerusalem-born composer and audio libertine already had over a decade behind him as a bedroom producer, at first busting out b-boy beats for break-dancers before starting to cross more experimental circuits.

Coated in the familiar ferric fuzz of demo-tape mystique, the bombastic tracks on Mesinai’s anthology How to Kill a Boombox: Underground Cassette Productions 1989-92 comprise a snapshot of a dub-noise master getting first grips on a deeper sonic ethos that will shape his future endeavors.

With How to Kill…, we zoom in on the twentysomething Mesinai in Dinkins-era New York, a city pulsing with tensions borne from race riots in Crown Heights and the Disneyfication of the previously desperate Times Square. Beating up on a keyboard, sampler, turntable, and other instruments with a Multivox Tape Echo, Mesinai cranks out some rude explorations under five different guises that clue us in to his range of imagination.

Raz Mesinai at The RV. Lower East Side. mid-1990s.
Raz Mesinai at The RV. Lower East Side. mid-1990s.

As Psy Co., Mesinai generates 1990’s “Smash Up The System,” a saturated, stripped-down beat-and-echo jaunt that evokes On-U Sound electro experiments. On the next year’s “Screamer,” he winds crash cymbals and synth-noise around a tenacious, cracked-out snare rhythm. And in his X-On mask, Mesinai laces his driving noise-funk with Scarface on “Wrecktify,” while his “MultiVox FX Series” bring on dark, alienating proto-techno that recalls Greater Than One.

Mesinai’s tracks as The Bedouin clue us in most on what’s to come from his later Badawi guise. These futurist dub cuts trade in slushy basslines, wafting synth melodies, chunky rhythm patterns and jagged fragments of reggae vocals. But it’s “Lions Den”—with its mournful, echo-drenched string melody loops over a late-‘70s-Lee Perry-style machine beat—that exemplifies the moody other-dubwise praxis that Mesinai will rinse into the late-‘90s and beyond.

Raz Mesinai, today.
Mesinai, today.

Bookended by tracks as DJ Tab that are either rudely distorted (“Battle Stance”) or randy (“Acid Jack”), How to Kill… gives us an idea of what discontented rhythmic noise could come from an avid, alienated futurist with a dearth of equipment. It also lets us know how good that noise sounds on 30-year-old magnetic tape. Most importantly, it gives us a lesson on how to tear a small hole in the sheen of this digital age, which is worth the sacrifice of a boombox or two.

Photographs courtesy of Raz Mesinai and Max Glazer.