Glendale isn't normally considered the center of modern electronic music, but for one of the genre's legendary acts, the Crystal Method, the area has been home for nearly two decades.
When Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan, two Vegas-based DJs, moved to Los Angeles in the early '90s to be central to the thriving rave scene, they rented a house in La Crescenta that housed an abandoned bomb shelter on its front lawn. In honor of the Cold War relic, the duo built their first studio on the property, which they dubbed the Bomb Shelter.
“It was right on the 210 Freeway. You could stay up all night and play music. Nothing was louder than an 18-wheeler driving past at 2 a.m.,” says Kirkland. “No air conditioning, a makeshift dry wall, no natural light. You could be working on this big beefy track, walk out in the morning to this very suburban, family-oriented neighborhood with kids playing and neighbors walking their dogs. It was the most ridiculous thing, but we made three albums there.”
The studio was their creative home until 2006, recording such landmark dance-electronic albums as “Vegas” and “Tweekend,” before moving on to build their state-of-the-art studio, Crystalwerks, in North Hollywood.
While Jordan moved to Encino, Kirkland has remained in Glendale, where he has lived since 1996. “I guess System of the Down are famously from Glendale, but I don't think people consider this a hotbed of music,” says Kirkland, who has a son, 6, and a daughter, 3. “But this is a great place to raise a family.”
While the Crystal Method are still an in-demand act touring the world, these days Kirkland would rather be home sipping margaritas with his wife at local favorite La Cabanita or watching movies plush-style in the nearby IPIC (formerly Gold Class) cinema in Pasadena. “I had many years of doing the crazy rave Hollywood thing, so I like being away from that,” he says.
Earning their place in the forefront of American electronic music, the Crystal Method were one of the first artists called on to participate in “Re:Generation Music Project,” a documentary directed by Amir Bar-Lev (“The Tillman Story” and “My Kid Could Paint That”) and produced in association with the Grammys.
The idea for the project, as documented by the film, is to marry different genres with electronic music producers and DJs. Some of the most interesting collaborations include 24-year-old Californian hot-shot de jour Skrillex collaborating with Doors members Ray Manzarek, John Densmore and Robby Krieger. English producer Mark Ronson teams with New Orleans music legends Trombone Shorty and Zigaboo Modeliste, and rapper Mos Def and singer Erykah Badu.
With influences of R&B and funk in their own music, the Crystal Method teamed with Motown legend Martha Reeves in her hometown of Detroit.
“We've worked with many different people over the years, from hip-hop to rock, so we have always liked collaborating with musicians who wouldn't normally be associated with our sound,” says Kirkland.
The film portrays an honest behind-the-curtain view of the collaborative creative process that can often be a pressure cooker of tension and clashing egos.
Kirkland and Jordan traveled to Detroit for two days to meet and record with Reeves. The first day was spent touring the once-thriving neighborhoods of the singer's past. One poignant scene shows Reeves, who for four years served on the Detroit City Council, witnessing the demolition of the historic Ford Theater, where she once performed with her group the Vandellas.
“We shot for an entire day, but by the end of it Martha was saying, ‘This is depressing. Let's go and get a drink.' We had oysters and Guinness and talked about some of the amazing people she knew, like Elvis and Marvin Gaye. She was like this encyclopedia of musical history,” Kirkland recalls.
It was this experience with the R&B icon that formed the basis of the track they would set out to record the next day, with Reeves and the Funk Brothers, the longtime Motown house band, a song called “I'm Not Leaving.”
“We already had the structure for the track — a funky, aggressive beat, and we wanted the lyrics to not only reflect her life story but what was going on in Detroit,” says Kirkland.
But once Reeves was in the studio, tensions mounted as her old-school style of recording married warily with their intense techno approach.
“You could see she was clearly uncomfortable. She was very particular about the lyrics, and I was having trouble conveying to her what we wanted. I don't think I am very good at delegating; that's probably why we are two guys in a band that do everything ourselves,” admits Kirkland. “But there was no coming back. We had that one day to do it. She had her reputation and wanted to make sure we got it right, and we wanted to make it right as well.”
Despite the artistic differences, “I'm Not Leaving” is a big, ballsy funk hybrid with Reeves' bluesy vocals soaring above the manic backbeats. “It was a leap of faith we took, but all said and done, it turned out to be a great experience,” says Kirkland.
The five resulting collaborative tracks from “Re:Generation Music Project” are available for free download, and the movie will have one-off event screenings this month in 170 theaters nationwide.
“I think it will give people a new appreciation of where we are coming from. I don't think electronic artists get an appreciation as being musicians, which is still at the heart of what we do,” says Kirkland. “It's not like I was infused with a Nintendo when I was young and now I make electronic music. I love music from all genres.”
KATHERINE TULICH writes about film and pop culture for Marquee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times