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Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2010

AUTOMatic Pushes Hip-Hop in Unlikely Directions

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As A.P.R.I.M.E. and Trellmatic of the Milwaukee-based experimental hip-hop duo AUTOMatic performed at the 37th Annual Zulu Nation Anniversary in New York City, A.P.R.I.M.E. noticed that one of hip-hop’s luminaries was listening to their music. It was Afrika Bambaataa. “Just to be around all that history, and just to have him give us the head-nod like he approved of what we’re doing, was probably one of the greatest feelings ever,” A.P.R.I.M.E. recalls.

The New York experience was a positive one for the duo, where the audience and industry figures alike were impressed with the pair. As A.P.R.I.M.E. explains, “We were actually able to meet people who want to help us further our careers.” That’s not to say that AUTOMatic is aiming for massive popular success, though. They seem content to grow their audience organically through musical craftsmanship and the singular vision that their music can give voice to the silenced.

As Trellmatic puts it, “We still work our nine-to-fives, so we have our everyday struggles like everybody else, and we’re still affected by the things going on in this economy.” He cites the social awareness of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield as a prime influence, and even samples their beats for political effect.

The loftier concerns of presidential politics or world affairs, while still important, aren’t as critical to their vision as issues closer to home. A.P.R.I.M.E.’s keen to point that out.

“My interests lie within things that directly affect the common man,” he says. “In my line of work I see a lot of things that a lot of people don’t actually see. I feel that in that state a lot of people are voiceless, and I believe I should be the mouthpiece to voice the struggle.”

For AUTOMatic, the everyday struggle of people putting food on the table for their family is just as worthy of musical and lyrical poetry as the implosion of Haiti following the earthquake. They look for the spaces in between—to speak for the forgotten.

And though their social conscience is manifest, the duo understands that the message must be delivered in an attractive package. Like John Lennon did decades ago, the duo wraps important messages inside catchy compositions. Thus it is no surprise that AUTOMatic’s latest album, Transistor, shows its ties to the golden era of hip-hop by way of groups like Souls of Mischief. It was also influenced by a sonic palette that includes The Beatles, James Brown, New Wave and Steely Dan.

“It’s weird: Even though we do hip-hop, we are not extremely influenced by hip-hop,” A.P.R.I.M.E. says.

Trellmatic notes the duo’s desire to experiment. Their first album, Audiology, he says, “was different from Transistor, and the stuff we’re working on now is different from both. So, we’re always trying to push the limits of what we do.”

The group is working on new material, including one song they are teasing as particularly groundbreaking. “I think when we drop this song it’s definitely going to open up some people’s eyes,” Trellmatic says. “We’re going to take you somewhere else with this track.”

AUTOMatic performs at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society on Dec. 26 as part of its Kwanzaa ceremony, and at the Cactus Club on New Year’s Eve with KingHellBastard.
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