Kick out the jams

By the time the String Cheese Incident broke up in 2007, the band had reached the upper echelons of jam-band fame, established a successful, self-sustaining business model and emerged as the victor in a legal battle with Ticketmaster. Still, the breakup of the band itself didn’t come as a surprise to percussionist Jason Hann, a late-term addition to the group.

More like a DJ than a band: Former String Cheesers EOTO dial up house, drum’n’bass, dubstep, psy-hop and trance – and do it all live. Photo by Ankur Malhotra.

“I think one of the reasons for me getting in the band in the first place was that they were looking to change things up and do something that would give them a shot in the arm,” says Hann.

Simultaneously, Hann and fellow String Cheese alum Michael Travis were starting to change things up on their own after rehearsals. At first, what eventually grew into EOTO, the all-live dance outfit that has become the pair’s primary focus, began as nothing more than an effort to amuse themselves. Hann, who lives in Los Angeles, was staying over at Travis’ house (which lies outside Denver and didn’t allow Hann ready access to the main part of the city). For the informal recording and jam sessions, Travis relinquished the drum seat he occupied in String Cheese in favor of playing melodic instruments like bass, guitar and keyboards. Hann, meanwhile, moved over to the drum set.

Hann recalls that the music started out in fusion territory but eventually veered into dance-based forms. Hann, a highly active session player and sideman who, among his many credits, worked on a session (uncredited) for Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and was until recently a member of Isaac Hayes’ live band, had been contributing to DJ-oriented projects since the ‘90s. Hann turned Travis on to several electronic and dance artists, but Travis had also developed a taste of his own after visiting the Burning Man festival, where DJ culture has become a prominent fixture within the festival’s New Age/futurist aesthetic.

“With both of us being into electronic music we thought ‘Oh, let’s try a techno or house groove,’” Hann says. “It seemed to lend itself to that, and that’s when it felt like it clicked, so we jumped in with both feet.”

Of course, it’s been years since the first jam-band musicians began experimenting with electronic and computer-based instrumentation, and groups like Lotus and Sound Tribe Sector 9 have achieved considerable success with hybrid approaches. But, as Hann sees it, it is EOTO’s total, unequivocating immersion into dance music that separates the duo from standard “jamtronica” fare.

“We’re straight-up emulating guys like DJ Dave Tipper and Bassnectar,” he says. “We have a couple of tracks that are sort of guitar-oriented, and we even do a Phish cover, but we’re not making any bones about trying to recreate the whole DJ vibe. Hopefully we’re doing it so that it sounds more like a DJ than a band.”

Indeed, on any given night—without relying on any preconceived song structures whatsoever—Travis and Hann will dial up house, drum ‘n’ bass, dubstep, psy-hop, trance, electro and various other subgenres that fall under the now vastly varied dance/electronic umbrella. And, although the music is completely constructed out of live instrumentation (the group adamantly stresses that it uses no prerecorded loops or tracks, but rather creates the loops and mixes them in real time in a style reminiscent of vintage Jamaican dub), Hann has enough confidence in its integrity that he is willing to wager that true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool dance fans will be able to relate to it “100 percent.” In fact, he points to a recent show to prove it.

“We played in St. Louis earlier this year,” he recalls, “and it was a rave promoter putting it on. It was like a 1,500-person theater, sold out and we headlined. Most of those kids probably hadn’t heard of us before. They were all ravers with their glow-in-the-dark pacifiers and big pants, and they got down so hard to it.”

And how much of a challenge does Hann anticipate in reaching String Cheese fans?

“In some ways, it’s the ultimate jam experience,” he says. “It’s just not the kind where you follow a band and know all their songs and write down the set lists. It’s more like your mind is completely open to letting anything sink in.”

who: EOTO
what: electronica jam
where: The Rocket Club
when: Friday, March 20 ($15/$20. www.myspace/eotomusic)

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