Beats Antique: Psycho Las Vegas Preview

Curveballs, outliers, anomalies, non-genre … whatever you choose to call them, at least a few bands that aren’t categorized as “heavy rock” slip onto the bill at the annual Psycho Las Vegas. Recent years featured performances by indisputably non-metal artists like Monophonics, Polyrhythmics, Thievery Corporation and GZA, for example.

This year’s Psycho installment, happening August 19-21 — or August 18-21, if you count Thursday’s pre-event pool party — will be no different. Next to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and various members of Wu-Tang Clan, the biggest out-of-the-box artist is probably Beats Antique, an Oakland outfit entrenched in experimental world fusion.

Founded in 2007, the trio stir together hip-hop, live electronic music, tribal fusion dance and performance art — with a teaspoon of Gypsy jazz and a pinch of Balkan beat-box to give their sound a certain je ne sais quoi. Beats Antique are vets, but Psycho fest will mark the first time they’re on a lineup with heavy-metal heavy-hitters as Mercyful Fate, Paradise Lost, High on Fire, Amenra and Monolord.

That won’t happen again, at least not when Beats Antique play a handful of other August festivals prior to Psycho: Ozora Festival in Hungary, Ancient Trance Festival in Germany, and then three events in the U.K.: Boomtown Fair, the One Love Festival and Hootananny.

When The Bad Penny caught up with Beats Antique’ co-founder/drummer and beat-maker, Sidecar Tommy, he freely admitted that he knew “literally nothing” about Psycho. And yet, the festival is the one he is most excited to play. How come, you ask? Read on …

Love that nickname, man. How did you get it?

SIDECAR TOMMY: It’s kinda funny. I have epilepsy, so for a while, I couldn’t drive. My buddy with my old band, he and I thought of doing a California tour on motorcycles. But then he was like, “You can’t go.” My other bandmate said, “No, no, it’s Sidecar Tommy, he can go anywhere!” [Laughs.]

So the nickname stuck with you, huh?

TOMMY: Yeah. I don’t drive motorcycles and I don’t drink alcohol, so I have no other relationship with that name.

Diving right in, were you familiar with Psycho before you got booked to play?

TOMMY: I had heard of it, but I was pretty shocked when we got the offer. We actually asked our manager when he told us about it if he was sure it was the right festival [for us]. It’s a metal festival. I called one of our buddies … and was like, “What’s up at Psycho fest?” And he said, “Oh, it’s fucking awesome.” Then we heard from the promoter, who said they always try to add a few artists who are outside the box. He said the folks who go really enjoy that. So I’m stoked, for sure.

Given the character of your band, I’d assume you’d like to play out-of-the-box festivals from time to time.

TOMMY: Oh, definitely. Some work better than others. [Laughs.] We’ve had many experiences where we’ve felt like fish out of water — but then the people bring water for us. But then there are the other times where we’re just tossed in there.

I look forward to [Psycho]. The sounds we use are really powerful, so with the sub-basses there, there will be an energy similarity even if there isn’t one musically or genre-wise. I’m really curious to see what’s going to happen. [Laughs.]

Do you think you’ll adapt your set in any way to increase your potential appeal to the Psycho audience?

TOMMY: Yeah, we’ve definitely talked about it. We’re about to get together to head out for some shows in Europe. So we’re going to formulate an idea and come back in about a week. We’re gonna figure it out and see. We talked about doing some of the songs that have a different [sensibility]. We haven’t gotten it down completely yet, but I think there will be a couple of changes. And I’ll definitely be playing heavier, that’s for sure. We’re going to try to up our game to meet the occasion.

Well, you’ll be happy to know that the Psycho audience tends to be very open-minded. Are you buddies with any of the bands that are also on the bill, or especially excited for any of the performances?

TOMMY: We’ve played tons of festivals with The Gaslamp Killer. We go way back. But with most of the bands, honest, I have no idea what to expect. It’s refreshing. All too often, we’re stuck in these lanes or boxes that we put on ourselves as a creative force. But the simple act of the promoter reaching out to us shows that people want different things than they always get. And that’s good for someone like me and a band like us. Our world is created by many different genres, some of them opposing. That [Psycho fest] makes sense from an energetic level is really cool.

What do you mean by “opposing”?

TOMMY: The name of our band is two things that are opposing each other: “Beats,” which is more modern, and “Antique,” which is obviously describing something old. We craft our sound through the collaboration of those two worlds. So we’ll have a super-acoustic-ey instrument next to something really electric and powerful. We see the opposition of things and try to figure out how to balance them.

As musicians, we’re always thinking about ticket sales, how many likes our [social-media] posts get, how many people like our music — all this data that brings you down on the creative side. So when you’re creating, you’re bombarded by these thoughts of, “Is this gonna fit?” Any opportunity to break free from those borders is actually really exciting. It gives me hope.

Does your ability to experiment chart a middle course between diametrically opposing forces?

TOMMY: If I’m understanding you correctly, there are these two things … the path to getting between them is actually discovering what’s in between. That’s where the nuance is, where the subtleties come. Also, perception can be shown and then erased. There’s a lot in between. When you’re expressing yourself, it’s those places in between where you can define yourself. And it’s different every time. Within that, there’s always a plethora of never-ending ideas.

That approach must grant you a considerable amount of leeway in taking yourselves wherever you feel called to go. I’m very curious about the phrase “The New Era” that you occasionally drop on social media and in interviews. Does that suggest you want to go somewhere new with the band?

TOMMY: Yeah, it does. But it also is just a recognition of how long it’s been for us as a creativity entity. The three of us have been through a lot. [Producer and bellydancer] Zoe [Jakes] had a baby about a year ago. There are a lot of things that have shifted and are continuing to shift.

The biggest difference is we’re not going out on two-month bus tours. It’s cool because we’re in a mode of embracing it. That’s what that call-out was: for us to embrace it — and for others too. Like, what are we as a people living through? There seems to be a new era for those who were conscious the past four or five years. 

It’s hard, because politics is something we try to steer of, because there’s so much of it out there. Huge humanitarian [crises] aren’t political — but they can be perceived that way. So it’s really about how we redefine how we talk to people. Me, I’ve found at every show, when I want to talk to the audience and say hello, I generally tell them to love each other. Part of this era includes us forgetting what love is. We’re forgetting how to appreciate someone who is different than you, how to approach someone you don’t know. Maybe start by asking their name. This new era is defining that in us, and we’re all searching for it.

Well said. Do you typically say hi to the audience at the beginning or end of a show?

TOMMY: Nah, I usually talk somewhere in the middle. It’s funny, I used to have it in the setlist: “Tommy talks.” [Laughs.] But it always happens in this one moment when [multi-instrumentalist] David [Satori]’s changing an instrument and some energy is needed. Or there’s silence, and we’re like, “Oh shit, I gotta say something, or it’s gonna get awkward!” It shows that I’m still not satisfied with the amount of love we, as people, give to each other.

Well, you’ll be able to spread that message to a lot of people soon, given that you’re playing five other festivals in August prior to Psycho.

TOMMY: This is the most exciting one because I’ll hardly know anyone there. I don’t have any idea if any of my friends are going to be there, other than a few. And those people are super-stoked that we’re playing it. Whenever anyone has asked me what I’m most excited about, I say “Psycho fest, it’s gonna be really cool.” They’re usually like, “Really, you’re playing that?” I haven’t gotten any negative reactions other than me wondering if we’re going to get booed offstage. I’m joking.

I can guarantee you won’t get booed offstage. I haven’t seen that happen to a single band in the five times I’ve attended the festival.

TOMMY: [Laughs.] In a sense, it would be kinda cool, I guess. Something to acknowledge too is that our audience has a lot of bellydancers who are more into industrial music and metal and different genres. They find us through the dance scene. Our shows often attract the boyfriends of bellydancers. My goal as a drummer is to get them into it. If I can get them to move to what we’re playing, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Or at least to get them to smile or get their attention. I don’t know if anyone else in the band knows that is one of my goals.

For example, when you play Coachella, Lollapalooza or a festival like that, no one knows who you are either. So you’re going there and rolling the dice on what set to do. But ultimately, only a fraction of the people who are there are your friends. So you’re really shooting raw. The difference with Psycho is that it’s a concentrated subsection of music.

This is also the festival that a lot of our crew are most excited to be a part of. That just shows me that, regardless of the size of it, it’s exciting.

Probably won’t be many other bands at Psycho with bellydancers onstage!

TOMMY: The performance element is the thread to other music that’s different than us but attracts the same people. That’s a really neat thing. When we travel overseas, we’ll be at a hardcore trance festival and think, “This has nothing to do with us!” Or we’ll play folk festivals in Canada where we’re the heaviest electronic thing there. But they love it, because we’re also playing instruments and performing.

When was the last time you played Vegas, in 2011?

TOMMY: Hmm … it’s been a while since we’ve played a full-blown show there.

Tell me something that was supposed to stay in Vegas.

TOMMY: Well, if I tell it to you, I’ll be telling it to the world! So I guess what I’ll say is: If you’re ever asked to open a new venue there — like, we played on the opening weekend of the Cosmopolitan — say yes. And then remember not to talk about any of it, because when you do, someone thinks you’re really weird. We opened that place with a DJ set featuring Zoe and a whole dance troupe. It was pretty amazing. And we were basically assigned to this one bar all weekend. We got free everything, it was ridiculous. I don’t drink, so part of it was weird for me, but everyone else … oh my God. It was really fun and also absolutely hilarious. I appreciate my friends in a different way in Vegas than I do elsewhere. [Laughs.]

How does it feel to have a new “member” of the band?

TOMMY: You mean a baby?

Yup, you beat me to the punchline!

TOMMY: Luna is a special human. She was in the womb while we were onstage. When she first born, our music would play, and she would stop crying. So there’s this connection to the vibration of it that really soothes her, and it’s pretty curious.

As she’s gotten older, she’s gotten onstage a couple of times. Now, she’s at the point where she’s getting upset if she’s not onstage. She climbs over everything to get up there. It’s been a joy to support Zoe in that. And to have her be pregnant while performing inspired people all over the place.

[Luna] really grounded us. We have this beautiful little human running around, who can be annoying as hell, but more importantly, she’s awesome and makes us laugh and reminds us of things we forget all the time. I try to support my best friend and her kid any way that I can.

My parents were both musicians, and they put me in front of everyone to play. So I never thought twice about it — and never thought I was that special at it.

Well, you’ll probably feel special at Psycho, given that none of the other bands on the bill sound at all like you.

TOMMY: No matter where you’re playing, as long as there are other musicians there, you always have one thing in common: You’re all doing this. That one thing is enough to get you through the whole day. And probably most of the night. And probably into the next day — if you let it. So it’ll be fun to be there with a lot of musicians I don’t know.

Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself playing roulette alongside King Diamond.

TOMMY: Oh, I’d probably know that! [Laughs.]

For more Psycho Las Vegas 2022 features, check out the Bad Penny’s new profiles on Witch MountainYakuzaThe Gaslamp Killer and Church of the Cosmic Skull.

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