I don’t always party in Hollywood, but when I do, it’s because something dope is happening at the King King. It’s hard to believe that such a place exists in the belly of the beast. Sandwiched between cheesy souvenir shops and ostentatious bottle-service-and-dress-code nightclubs, the King King’s modest façade and back door entrance makes it easy to miss. A former Chinese restaurant turned 300-person capacity venue, the King King is an intimate, unpretentious haven for underground electronic music fans. It makes perfect sense that LA-based art collective/party entrepreneurs the Do LaB would choose this place to house their events. December 8th was a special night. Celebrated hip-hop instrumentalist producer Blockhead was being flown in for a one-off DJ set.
When I met up with Blockhead (a.k.a. Tony Simon) for a quick interview, he asked me what type of crowd to anticipate during his show. Why are there people dressed up in costumes? He had never heard of the Do LaB before they booked him for this show, so I tried explaining: “Oh it’s a real exuberant vibe. Do LaB is affiliated with Burning Man, so it’s that type of crowd. There are definitely people hula hooping and dancing with lights in there.” I replied. He seemed amused by that. Dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap, he was just as unassuming as the venue. Never did he think that his music would be associated with this scene. It was only 11 p.m., but the venue was almost at capacity.
The name Blockhead was conceived during the golden era of hip-hop. Young Tony was an aspiring MC and was looking for an alias that would encompass his name, but absolutely everything was taken. This was a time where self-deprecating emcee names were the norm, so he took a cue from Fat Lip (of Pharcyde) and analyzed his appearance. His face was quite square, he supposed. So there it was: Blockhead. However, his rapping career was short-lived when he realized that his real talent was in beat making. A serendipitous crossing of paths with rapper Aesop Rock during the end of his freshman year at Boston University solidified this. “We were both hip hop nerds and saw each other at the same shows all the time. We became friends after the fact,” he said. Blockhead ended up teaming up with the Aesop and producing many of the tracks on two albums entitled “Float” and “Labor Days” released in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Both artists were put on the proverbial map after that.
Blockhead released his own break beat album shortly thereafter entitled “Blockhead’s Broke Beats.” He continued in this vein and collaborated with a cornucopia of other famous MCs until 2004, when he released the lush, emotional instrumental album “Music by Cavelight” on UK-based Ninja Tune records. Since then, four more instrumental albums have been released, the most recent being “Interludes After Midnight” in April 2012. Despite his large followings in both the hip-hop and electronic music communities, Blockhead doesn’t like to commit to any label. “I make music. It’s kind of hip hop and it’s kind of instrumental but really, it’s just beats to me.” Needless to say, he’s not exactly preoccupied with being in the “scene.” When asked if he will ever take his music in a more dance-friendly direction, he staunchly said no. “I speed up the beats during my sets because I want people to dance at my shows, but I don’t believe in catering to what’s trendy. You’ll never see me put out a trap album.”Check out this visual commentary on the “scene.” Incredible animation and direction by Anthony F. Schepperd.
Appropriately, the theme of his latest album “Interludes After Midnight” is nostalgia. The goal was not to replicate the music of his youth, but rather, to capture how he felt growing up in New York City during the early 90s. “I spent my time watching inappropriate television like Robin Byrd, running around the city with my friends and just enjoyed being young without any real responsibilities,” he explained. The title of the album is from one of the aforementioned “inappropriate television” shows. “It was porn-based,” he said bluntly, “and featured this old naked hairy guy interviewing porn stars.“ Back then, “public access” meant just that – anybody could sign up for a show. Blockhead and his friends had one that featured sketch and improv comedy called “The Baby Show.” Aesop Rock and Adrian Grenier were amongst the roost of friends who participated in the antics. One of the more memorable sketches was turned into a comedy album in 2003, the Party Fun Action Committee. “It about a b-boy battle, and somebody was wearing a FUBU sweatshirt with the letters PFAC on it. We were messing around and coming up with potential team names with the acronym, and that was the funniest one.” Would he ever re-convene the committee? “I would if I had more time. That was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
And what will the future bring? Blockhead has many ongoing projects, but one that he is particularly excited about is being being 1/4th of a band called The Mighty Jones. With a live singer (Joanna Erdos from The Midnight Show), guitarist, and bassist, this is different from any other Blockhead collaboration. But he is quick to say that it’s not really a “live band”, per se. “There are no drums. I provide the beats.” The project is still in its early stages, but judging from their rough-cut video, it sounds promising. The sound is very distinctively Blockhead. As the packed dance floor full of loyal fans at the King King demonstrates, the key to longevity in this fickle industry is simply to be true to yourself.