Particle defies conventions of time and music

Contributing Music WriterApril 20, 2014 

Throughout its lifespan, Particle has been promoting a new sound fashioned from two seemingly opposing camps: heavily produced and programmed electronica and more organically driven jam band grooves.

But finding a common ground for such music hasn't been half as tricky as keeping the Los Angeles group operating with a roster that lasts long enough to maintain a sturdy sense of band spirit.

As it takes to the road this spring, Particle will exist as an act with a 14-year history but with a lineup that has been performing for less than a month. It's no wonder its music always seems so new.

"It feels like this lineup has been playing together for years even though we've probably only played 25 shows," said Particle keyboardist and co-founder Steve Molitz. "But time is so relative in the arts. If the chemistry is there, it's not bound by normal laws of time in the way other work relationships might be in different fields. Within the arts — and music, especially — if things are clicking, then you can really accomplish a lot in a little bit of time. I feel like this lineup is a perfect example.

"It's such a well-rounded bunch of people. The musicians come from several different backgrounds. Brandon (Draper), the drummer, has a lot of world music and jazz influences. Clay (Parnell, Particle's bassist) has played a lot of different kinds of electronic dance music. Then there is Ben Combe (the band's longstanding guitarist) and his rock background, I feel like we have so many colors in our palette that we're using on a nightly basis. I think if people come out to see this show, they would be amazed that this band is really only a few weeks old."

That new recruits Draper and Parnell have taken so readily to being in Particle speaks highly of their instrumental ingenuity, as the band's music isn't something an unsuspecting player would pick up at a rehearsal or two.

"It's not like a singer-songwriter situation where I just handed over a songbook to them and said, 'Here's the catalogue. Play these chords and the songs will play themselves,'" Molitz said. "There is a lot of room in the music for individuals to put their stamp on it, both tonally and harmonically. So it's been pretty exciting. Fans of this genre on a macro level, and Particle on a micro level, sense that, I think, and appreciate the process."

The genre, in this case, has been dubbed "livetronica" — so named for its preference for using the kind of synthesized colors and beats normally associated with studio-created dance music in a live setting built around the improvisational savvy of jam bands. The mix has won Particle some high-profile pals. Grateful Dead alumni Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart, guitar stars Joe Satriani and Robby Krieger, and hip-hop stylists Blackalicious and DJ Logic are among those who have collaborated with the band through the years.

"There are some bands playing livetronica that are approaching it from much more of a purist, DJ/ producer standpoint," Molitz said. "That's really never been Particle's approach. We definitely incorporate elements of that in terms of live looping and using samples and that kind of stuff. But we don't want to get into a situation where we're just sort of painting by numbers and following a routine with some predictable, robotic dance track. We're much more interested in using the electronic dance element as one of the spices we serve up.

"Even within some of the electronic elements, we've found ways to make them very flexible so we adjust tempos on the spot or change the song structure depending on the vibe in the room. We just try to be in the moment, react to the moment and have fun."

Walter Tunis is a Lexington-based writer and critic.

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