Featured Music: Wednesday, June 12, 2003
Sub Oslo\r\nTonight (Thu) at the Wreck Room, 3208 W 7th St, FW. 817-348-8303. Sat at J&J’s Pizza on the Square, 118 W Oak, Denton. 940-382-7769.
The Rite Time

The dub masters of Sub Oslo have managed to set aside other projects to push a new c.d.


Last New Year’s Eve, a couple hundred celebrants joined Denton-based musical magicians Sub Oslo at the Wreck Room as the band ushered in 2003 with a trance-inducing set of swirling dub mystery. Visual artist Paul Baker used the stage as a canvas for his amorphous array of pulsing colors and shifting shapes. The band’s core — guitarist Frank Cervantez, bassist Miguel Veliz, and drummer Quincy Holloway — locked in a deep, pulsing groove, while Alan Uribe triggered samples and contributed shimmering synth washes and the ghostly snippets of melodica that floated in and out of the mix. Throughout the performance, engineer John Nuckels continually altered the music’s balance and added atmospheric effects. Overall, it made for an auspicious start to the new year.

Since then, Sub Oslo has been conspicuously absent from Metroplex stages — but that’s about to change. The band is marking the release of its second full-length c.d., The Rites of Dub, with a run of shows that began last Saturday at Austin’s Mercury Lounge and continues this week with shows at the Wreck Room and J&J’s Pizza on the Square in Denton (formerly Gatti’s, site of the group’s initial 1997 gigs). Then the musicians plan to venture outside their usual turf to test the waters in San Antonio, Houston, Louisiana, and West Texas. (A Dallas c.d. release show is still in the works.)

Considering how infrequently they perform and the fact that they have no singer, it’s noteworthy that Sub Oslo continues to be highly regarded among Fort Worth musicians and fans. Musos of every stripe hail the dub outfit as “the best band in the Metroplex,” and Fort Worth Weekly readers recently voted Sub Oslo the Best Avant-Garde/Experimental band in our 2003 music poll (the band won the same award last year). Their inactivity over the past few months stems from “a lot of personal things,” said Cervantez, during a break in a recent Denton rehearsal. He didn’t go into detail.

Another reason for their dearth of gigs is geography: Several of the band’s nine members — Uribe (clavinet/synthesizer/melodica), Moses Mayo (percussion/melodica), Brandon Uribe (flute/percussion/piano), and Ben Viguerie (Fender Rhodes piano/synthesizer/percussion) — live outside North Texas, as far away as Austin and San Francisco. Extensive rehearsals aren’t necessary, though; Sub Oslo’s songs don’t rely on the kind of conventional structures most rock bands employ, and the players are all familiar enough with one another’s styles to make onstage communication near-telepathic.

Another contributing factor to the low level of activity could be various members’ involvement in outside projects. Bassist Veliz, for example, has toured with metal band Sourvein and currently plays in the metallic bass-and-drums duo Solomon. Ex-Sivad drummer and former Fort Worth art gallery impresario Holloway, on the other hand, still fronts Denton garage-rockers the Gospel Swingers and is soon to be a proud papa. And Nuckels was in the Sueño All-Stars, a project featuring Brandon Uribe and Moses Mayo that opened some Sub Oslo shows.

The band never pre-plans a set list, and performances are about equally divided between composition and spontaneous creation. Two of the tracks on The Rites of Dub were recorded as they evolved in the studio, including one made during a live broadcast on California station KFJC/98.7-FM. While most of the pieces on the new c.d. are shorter than those on its 2000 predecessor, Dubs in the Key of Life, they retain the flow of a live performance (particularly “Sub Oslo vs. Bookshelf Speakers” and “Dark and Lovely,” which both approach the 10-minute mark). The disc also includes an MPEG-1 video, playable on PC or Mac, by Baker. It’s a 1998 show segment from Trees in Dallas, to give home listeners a glimpse of the band’s live visuals.

While they chose to release The Rites of Dub on their own Sueño Recordings label, the band members hope to interest an independent U.S. label. However, they’re somewhat leery of the American record biz after a negative experience with local indie Two Ohm Hop. As a result of the label’s going under, Dubs in the Key of Life is now unavailable in this country, although copies can still be obtained through a pair of overseas labels (Glitterhouse in Germany and P-Vine in Japan). Glitterhouse plans to release The Rites of Dub this fall, while discussions with P-Vine are ongoing. This summer should also see the release of a 12-inch vinyl e.p. and a Sub Oslo DVD — both probably on the band’s label. “We’re shopping for a label,” said Veliz, “but we don’t want to have to wait.”

Their participation in a couple of 2002 dub compilations — USA in Dub (Babylon is Ours) on Select Cuts and Dub Life on Shadow Records — made Sub Oslo aware of kindred stateside spirits like Portland, Ore.’s Systemwide and Mark Pistel’s Electronic Dub Collective. They also provided some music for the recently released Xbox game Brute Force. “I saw a kid playing the game, and I told him we did some of the music for it,” said Cervantez. “He said ‘Yeah?’” (Here the guitarist mimed the fixed stare and active thumbs of an avid gamer). Brute Force’s developers, Austin-based Digital Anvil, had contacted the band after catching a show. “Now you can listen to Sub Oslo and kill people,” said Holloway, ruefully.

While they’re friendly with local experimental outfits like Yeti, Mandarin, Garuda, and Stumptone, the members of Sub Oslo admit that the Denton avant-garde scene has largely given way to garage-rockers like the Riverboat Gamblers and Faceless Werewolves. Undaunted, Sub Oslo continues to follow its own unique musical direction. “We play the way we feel,” said Holloway, “which is usually pretty good.”

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