Sound Tribe Sector Nine goes for the groove



By Steve Newton

I don’t normally condone drug use, but if you’re the type of person who enjoys a wee puff before a concert, have I got a gig for you. California’s Sound Tribe Sector Nine specializes in dreamy, multilayered, mind-tweaking deep-groove sounds in which samplers and computers get equal billing with guitars, bass, and drums.

“Songs shift and blur like sand dunes,” states the jam-band bible Relix of the group’s new Artifact CD, “rising into gorgeously curved drifts, then softly crumbling into their ghostly components.” It’s cosmic stuff, dude. One critic recently noted that the Santa Cruz quintet’s new disc “ranks up there with feed-your-head classics from Floyd and Radiohead”.

But even if a sizeable portion of the audience turns up buzzed when the Tribe invades Richard’s on Richards on Sunday (April 24), one thing’s for sure: the band won’t be. “We’re sober on stage,” claims the group’s Jeffree Lerner, calling from a San Diego tour stop. “We don’t partake in any of those kinds of things. So we’ve always tried to be an example of that clarity, and try to encourage our fans to come sober to experience that.”For those who scoff at Lerner’s idea of seeing his band without any homegrown help, yet like having the option of hearing the same gig later-totally straight-the group records each show and offers it for download at That way you don’t miss any of the subtle nuances of the band’s live performance, which incorporates Lerner’s Brian Eno-style field recordings.”I walk around with a little minidisc recorder and record everything from kids on a playground to a train goin’ by,” says the percussionist. “I grab those sounds and manipulate ’em in the computer and turn them into other things.” The band’s first studio album in five years, Artifact-which debuted on Billboard‘s electronic chart at #12-was recorded, according to the CD credits, “at home and on tour in bedrooms, hotels, moving vehicles, and parking garages”.

Beyond the aural contents, the CD artwork is most impressive, including photos taken by various members. Hunter Brown-who handles guitar, samples, sequences, arrangements, and edits-took one of a smashed-up old gas- guzzler that’s been transformed into a piece of found art through psychedelic graffiti. Lerner’s photographic contributions include a shot of intricate carvings done on a desert rock face.

“I was taking a motorcycle ride from Colorado to California,” he explains, “and I made a little pit stop and found this petroglyph wall made by the Fremont people. And it just kinda goes along with the artifact theme, you know.”

According to its bio, STS9 has made it to number 31 on Pollstar‘s list of North America’s top 50 touring acts, so people are obviously not staying away in droves-even if there are no lyrics to sing along to. “I think without words it allows people to have a less guided experience,” relates Lerner, “more of an independent, individual experience.”

Ooo yeah. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Toke, anyone?

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