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"Making Soundwaves"

When Absynth, a South Lake Tahoe band, recently opened for Native Root at the Green Room, they lined up at the front of the stage. The music started when Adam Northway, the drummer, unceremoniously started beating the crap out of his drums. Dustin Johnson, the guitar player, triggered some samples off his Oxygen mini-keyboard. Jim Cooke, the bass player, hit off a few notes. By the time Johnson was back to his guitar, a monstrous wall of sound filled the room.

It didn't sound like a regular verse-chorus-verse song. It was more like a giant wave of sound. It was not crucial to hear individual notes soaring above others because each of the musicians was shredding at their station. The sound was loud and monumental.

Absynth is most easily labeled an electronic jam band. It's a misnomer, according to the band. It may be the easiest description of their sound, but the music they make doesn't exactly evoke their favorite influences: the Grateful Dead, Phish, and electronic music like K&D, DJ Shadow and regulars on the Ninja Tunes record label. For now, it's probably most accurate to say they make Absynth music.

The band had its first show in the fall of 2003--not that they can easily agree about which show was, exactly, their first. They've played Berkeley, Sacramento, the Sierras, Humboldt and now Reno. Native Root heard them at the Liquid Lounge in early November and invited them to fill in when they found themselves in need of an opening band.

Over the course of the Green Room show, Johnson and Cooke took turns working their respective laptops, prepping and triggering the samples for each song. (A lot of their samples are their own live recordings.) An ambient sound or loop would fill the room, and the shredding and pounding would begin.

But Absynth's sound was not the stark and feral noise of a punk band. It was more like the aggressive, insistent playing of an East Village experimental jazz trio.

Northway calls it playing "improv over structure." Their live songs usually last twice as long as the rehearsed version. The room and audience factor in immensely, and each musician is constantly checking in with the others. Northway couldn't do his best sitting at the back of the stage just "[looking] at their backs."

The sounds they make stick together and move as a unit. Absynth exists to showcase all the players, but you won't hear any solos here. Their sound is rooted in the rock staples of drum, bass and guitar, but it rides the beats and rhythms of dance music. Absynth sounds like one musician with six arms. As Northway notes, "We're three guys competing with the sound of 8- to 10 people bands."

Still, towards the end of the show, a few new musicians jumped in. Native Root's sax player and organist, who hadn't even heard Absynth play before, started jamming with them. Still no solos, but the wall of noise got bigger and louder. The crowd moved and danced. Matt Burke, Native Root's singer/MC, started rapping. There was magic in the moment. But for now, Absynth will probably remain a trio. Given how hard it can be to find the right players and personalities, at least one member "can't imagine bringing someone into our insanity."

By Jason Vagner - Reno News and Review

"Liquid Groove"

Absynth, the bell tolls for thee.
The South Lake Tahoe band often is
confused with Absinthe, a drink from
Europe which inspired and appeared in
the works of Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso
and Ernest Hemingway, when he
wrote “For Whom The Bell Tolls.”
But when you hear the band, the last
thing you would want to do would be to
copy Vincent Van Gogh, who cut off his
ear after drinking the juice also called
“Green Fairies.”
Formed in April 2004, the “livetronic”
band Absynth this month enjoyed a
surge of popularity.
“We had more shows in September
than we did in all of 2004,” said drummer
Adam Northway, who came up
with the name concocted from “Analog
Based Synthesizers.”
Nevertheless, nightclub patrons are
known for wanting to buy shots of
absinthe for the bandmembers, natives
of the East Coast.
Northway and guitar-keyboard-synthesizer
player Dustin Johnson moved
together in 1999 from Providence, R.I.
to South Lake Tahoe, primarily to
snowboard. Bass-keyboard-sythesizer
player Jim Cooke relocated from Connecticut.
Cooke and Johnson met when
they both worked at Sierra-at-Tahoe.
All three are college educated but
Cooke is the only one of the trio who
studied professionally. He played bass
in a punk rock band and took jazz
classes at Berklee College of Music and
the University of Massachusetts.
Johnson and Northway are selftaught,
although music runs in Johnson’s
family — his great-grandfather
played in the New York Philharmonic
and his grandfather is still playing as a
jazz drummer.
As a youth, Johnson didn’t appreciate
“music being shoved down my
throat.” At the age of 18, however, he
became interested in learning to play
“Once I decided I wanted to do it, it
all became easy,” he said.
Northway learned the basics of
drumming from listening and imitating
Weezer’s blue album. He joined his
first band when he was in the ninth
grade. Years later, he became fascinated
with how technology could advance the
style of music he liked.
“The first time I saw the electronic
drumming that was faster and more
diverse, I knew it was my calling,” he
He said his taste in music mirrored
that of this new friend, Cooke. “We
were on the same musical path,” Northway
said. “We both liked Guns N’
Roses and Nirvana and the Red Hot
Chili Peppers, then after we got in high
school we were into Phish, and that
opened our eyes to so many different
types of music out there.”
The trio began playing together at
parties. You could call them a house
band, but you would never call them
They had their first real show at
Divided Sky in Meyers. The bandmembers
made sure the venue would be
packed and they did not disappoint.
“It went over well,” said owner Brian
Levy. “Being locals, they had a good
following of friends.”
Absynth went on to become regulars
at Divided Sky, and Northway remembers
thinking “Wow, we can do this.”
Absynth plays all originals with an
emphasis on improvisation. Cooke said
the band has 23 songs, the best of
which will be on an independent album
to be released before the end of the
Their music is featured on the snowboard
movie, “The Art of the Ride,”
which was included at the Tahoe/Reno
International Film Festival.
“They have an interesting mix with
Dustin playing his noodley, hippie guitar
along with Adam and Jim’s electronic
passion,” Levy said.
There are no vocals. “We try to give
melodies to hum along with,” Johnson
said. “We want you to hum it when you
Because the music is unique, the
band is challenged at each show
because the crowd doesn’t know what
to expect.
“We start with a blank slate every
time,” Northway said. “We have to win
over the fans every night.”
Through a mutual acquaintance in
San Francisco, Absynth teamed up
another livetronic group on a national
tour. The Buffalo, N.Y. band Lazlo Hollyfeld
and Absynth toured the region in
September, playing San Francisco,
Sacramento, Reno and Truckee. They
would alternate being the headline
band, although it hardly mattered. Both
groups would jam together at the end of
each show. “The most fun thing about the tour
was the improvisation, all the time
playing on the fly,” Northway said. “To
me that’s what the music is about —
keeping it fresh.”

By Tim Parsons - Lake Tahoe Action


Live At The Lake - 2007



Absynth incorporates elements of house, drum & bass, ambient, indie rock, jazz, big beat, hip hop, alternative, and jam rock, combining them all to make one incomparable sound. The Reno News and Review describes their music as, "like the aggressive, insistent playing of an East Village experimental jazz trio, but riding the beats and rhythms of dance music."

Absynth is the product of three diversely influenced musicians; Adam Northway, Dustin Johnson, and James Cooke. Formed behind the scenic backdrop of Lake Tahoe in 2004, what began as a musical experiment rapidly blossomed into a distinguished live experience.

The band quickly caught the attention of the Northern California music scene and in has shared the stage with such acts as Garaj Mahal, Meltone, Karl Denson, The Motet, The Glitch Mob, Pnuma, Zilla, Sporque, Chris Berry & Pangea featuring Michael Kang, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Papa Mali, On the One, Blue Turtle Seduction, Blu Sirkut, and The John Popper Project featuring DJ Logic.

2007 proved to be another great year for Absynth, touring up and down the west coast and playing many amazing festivals including the Symbiosis Music and Eco Festival, Bobolink Music Festival, and the Lake of the Sky Music, Art, and Eco Festival.

Absynth has been featured in all aspects of the media including, The Resort Sports Network, Fox News Reno, 100.1 Reno, 100.3 KHGQ Quincy, Reno News & Review, South Lake Tahoe Tribune, North Lake Tahoe Action and Lake Tahoe Weekly. The trio's music is also highlighted in such films as Plutonomy Design's "Art of the Ride" and Deep Roots Media's "Fire on the Mountain."

Fans of Absynth can look forward to continued touring and the long awaited release of their first studio album as well as exclusive live recordings.