Boy Eats Drum Machine
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Boy Eats Drum Machine

Portland, Oregon, United States | INDIE

Portland, Oregon, United States | INDIE
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"Boy Eats Drum Machine: Jon Ragel's one-man band"

The choir is Dutch, laid over a dance beat that gives way to a pure Dr. Dre-inspired, gangster-smooth groove -- like the best of Dre's early '90s work or his recent Dr. Pepper commercial.

"That's what I was going for," Jon Ragel says, standing in his basement lair, flanked by a pair of mannequins (one wearing a classic '70s Trail Blazers T-shirt) and below a thought bubble that reads, "Sax Solo."

This is Boy Eats Drum Machine's world, where keyboards pile up next to organs and guitars. Where the cat can play the turntables. Where the "Empire Strikes Back" lunchbox is in near-mint condition, but Darth Vader's batteries are dead. Where there's a kazoo near the Pac-Man coffee mug. Where the Dutch choir is sampled.

"You can't just go into your basement and get a Dutch choir together," Ragel says.

You can, however, sample, and compose the beats and the bass, the sparkling guitars, catchy melodies and punchy sax runs that light up "Hoop+Wire," Ragel's fourth Boy Eats Drum Machine record. Ragel also did the album artwork, the T-shirt art, and, as a bonus to fans who buy vinyl, he reappropriates old album covers and turns them into even more Boy Eats Drum Machine art.

Ragel spends a lot of time in that basement.

"I'll come home from work and say, 'Hon, have you eaten anything today? You need to eat. Food's important,'" says his wife, Beth. "He's an early riser and he gets so engrossed in that he'll go for hours on end."

If you have to spend your day in the basement working, it helps to have a basement like Jon Ragel’s. “It’s not dark and damp, and he’s got his mannequins to keep him company,” his wife, Beth, says. And toy soldiers and a lot of instruments, toy and otherwise, that all find their way, in spirit or sound, onto Boy Eats Drum Machine records. The one-man band is a tricky task. On the one hand, you'll never split over creative differences. On the other, it can easily trend toward slick, soulless and overproduced. There might be something pretty for the ear, but there's nothing for the listener to hold to.

"He's definitely more of a band than a DJ," says Benjamin Meader, who's quick to note there's nothing wrong with a good DJ. They're just different.

Meader edited "Brutal Beauty," the Chip Mabry-directed documentary about the Rose City Rollers. By the time they were done, four Boy Eats Drum Machine tunes were in the film and Meader did the roller derby-themed video for "ABQ," the tune from the new record that features that Dre-like beat.

Boy Eats Drum Machine is danceable, humable, singable, driveable, relatable and at times relentlessly catchy. There are tunes on "Hoop+Wire" that will lodge in your brain and won't be annoying. These are melodies that take work.

"I do fear for him when he's driving," his wife says. "I'll look over and I can tell. I'll say, 'You're thinking about music, aren't you?' He's never gotten in a wreck, and he's not a threat to society, but he's constantly thinking about music. It's the way he's wired."

Ragel says growing up he'd walk around the house humming a melody and then hear a sibling humming it later in the day. His family always thought he should write jingles.

"Remember the Meow Mix ad?" Ragel says. "I always thought that was pretty awesome, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to write poetry."

He played in bands that did some touring, and a lot of recording. Five years ago, he released the first Boy Eats Drum Machine record. It's one thing to make the music. Technology being what it is, you can do a lot in a basement. Playing live is an entirely different challenge.

Last summer, when the Trail Blazers were auditioning bands to play the team's television theme song, Ragel -- who's a huge Blazers fan -- arrived with kazoos for the entire room. The kazoo chorus didn't quite go as he'd planned, but it was a nice effort. Eventually the Blazers liked what Ragel did but weren't sure how the performance would translate to television.

The key to the Boy Eats Drum Machine show is physicality -- and it's hard to imagine until you see it. He has the turntable, a drum and the saxophone. The drum gets kicked over, because people like that. He bounces back and forth, dances around, runs the performance right to the edge. Beth Ragel remembers fondly, and with admiration, the time Jon made the leap from the stage at Berbati's to the bar and back. Jon sees himself as part performance artist, part DJ.

"Part of the fun of my shows is sometimes I'm freaked out up there," he says. "It's terror. I'm tripping over things. I've noticed people really enjoy that. I figure laughing at you is almost as good as laughing with you."

A decided lack of pretension helps, too. "Hoop+Wire" has love songs, and pop songs and songs that drop down into Morphine territory. Ragel often mentions Italian composer Ennio Morricone. But more than any one element, the songs and the record are fun.

As you'd expect from a guy who really did (kind of) teach his cat to play the turntables, while sampling a Dutch choir, over a rap beat.

-- Ryan White






Related topics: boy eats drum machine, dj, jon ragel, one-man band, turntable, video

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shanmugamr
shanmugam February 27, 2010 at 6:24AM
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Entertainment in music gives pleasure to our mind. It helps us to promote our desire. Many good things may be happen. Thanks for this guys ... Giving this
BY
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redaem
Rachel February 27, 2010 at 9:52AM
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This is a fantastic article about BEDM! It really gives the atmosphere surrounding Jon's creative process. Two clarifications: Benjamin Meader directed the "ABQ" video, not Chip Mabry. He also had been listening to BEDM for years before receiving that compilation CD. He's appreciated Jon's artistry for a long time and jumped at the chance to use his music in Brutal Beauty.
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rwhite
Ryan White, The Oregonian February 27, 2010 at 10:03AM
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Cleaned up. ABQ was the result of two sentences being poorly edited by me. The second ... miscommunication. Anyhow, thanks.
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redaem
Rachel February 27, 2010 at 10:16AM
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Thanks for that, Ryan! It is really a great article.
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disagreement
disagreement February 27, 2010 at 2:48PM
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There is way too much civility in these blog comments. People should be attacking each other over such a good feature.
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rwhite
Ryan White, The Oregonian February 27, 2010 at 3:43PM
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Especially since the writer is such a bias looser socialist sheep who owns a commie bike who's promoting a PRO music agenda. Or so I've heard. I can't prove any of that.
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bethragel
prettyirene February 28, 2010 at 12:47PM
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The show was absolutely EPIC.
Mr. Jon Ragel brought his A-game, the place was packed and very enthusiastic.
I suggest catching BEDM in a smaller venue while you still can!
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Discography

20 Beats (2010)
Hoop and Wire (2010)
Booomboxxx (2008)
Two Ghosts (2007)
Pleasure (2005)

Photos

Bio

Boy Eats Drum Machine is a singular figure of the West. He does things his own way, thank you very much, and does those things well enough to run his own one-man gang.  Sometimes his voice is low and dry like the great Oregon deserts. Other
times it resonates warmly, as though reflecting off the hills. He's a turntablist's turntablist, robbing breaks and sound textures from vinyl even after most of his contemporaries switched to laptops. He often mixes together twangy guitars, soulful blasts of tenor saxophone, and bassy, soundtrack worthy, analog synth. He's an artist-outlaw.

His shows feature a mixture of multi-instrumental-turntable-wizardry and performance art, as he moves effortlessly from sax, to drum, to dj station. BEDM audiences are comprised of wiggling bodies, curious onlookers, and shining faces nodding in time to expertly placed beats. His songs are succinct, interesting, and strut into jammy terrain only on such occasions that call for it. Though Boy Eats Drum Machine has his finger on the sample button, his sound remains distinctively organic. His home-spun compositions set a cozy table, with tales of escape nibbling at your heart strings.

Boy Eats Drum Machine had an incredible year: He released two full length albums, played over 60 out-of-town shows, appeared at several festivals, was featured on the PDX Pop Now! compilation, had stop-motion AND yo-yo trick videos made for his song "Hoop and Wire", and set a Portland record for breakfast tacos consumed during SXSW.

“BEDM sounds like a jazz-electronic fusion on record and looks like a well-synchronized dance on stage.”
Seattle Weekly

“Boy Eats Drum Machine is danceable, humable, singable, driveable, relatable and at times relentlessly catchy. There are tunes on “Hoop+Wire” that will lodge in your brain and won’t be annoying. These are melodies that take work.”
The Oregonian

“a one-man circus, freakishly talented at playing every instrument you thought you could play, at the same time.”
Localcut

“a sight to behold.”
Livepdx