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Who's got the beat?

Rock 'n' roll is about reinvention. It's about constantly changing, trying new sounds and styles in an effort to find different ways to tell a story.

Rock 'n' roll is about reinvention. It's about constantly changing, trying new sounds and styles in an effort to find different ways to tell a story.

Sometimes artists seek change, and sometime change seeks out the artist.

When DJ Lyfe saw Incubus in the mid '90s, the band had already made a name for themselves on the club circuit around the Calabasas, Calif., home.

What Lyfe saw was a rock band that might be interested in experimenting with hip hop beats.

"It fit right away," remembers drummer José Pasillas. "Lyfe was something we kind of stumbled across. It was cool and we went with it."


While the personality match didn't last long (Lyfe was kicked out shortly after for being difficult both professionally and personally) the musical merger took root.

After a brief interval the band hooked up with a new DJ, Chris Kilmore, who gelled with the band immediately.

This new, improved version of Incubus will roll into town next Tuesday night to play a show Fargodome.

Incubus isn't the only, or even the first, rock act to add a DJ and sampled beats to pump up their sound. They do, however, reflect a trend of more rock bands experimenting with non-traditional instrumentation.

"It's like having a keyboard player in the band and he can play all these different sounds," explains Pasillas. "We've got a DJ who can play all those sounds right there."

Adding just one DJ allowed the quartet to expand its sound exponentially. In addition to the traditional drum/guitar/vocal rock line-up, it gives the band new inroads into rap rhythms and funk grooves.

"He's just the coolest cat in the world," Pasillas says of Kilmore. "He's throwing in everything. We just let him do his thing."

The result of the band's collaborative effort is last year's album "Morning View." Kilmore's presence adds texture, atmosphere and flavor to the disc. It also elevates the band above some acts mired down in the rap/rock genre.


"The kind of stuff he's doing is really more of an art form," says Casey Borchert. "If someone is DJing along with a band they have to be more creative, because they're not just matching beats."

Borchert performs as Man From Disco, a one-man electronic band featuring a revolving door of guest musicians.

On Saturday night, Borchert and DJ David Sol will open up a show for Iffy at the Plains Art Museum.

The quartet exploded from Minneapolis last year with their debut release, "Biota Bondo."

Iffy started as a project between lead singer Kirk Johnson and two friends, swapping computer-generated MP3s they'd created, each adding to or subtracting from the mix. When they felt comfortable with the creation they took it into the studios and layered additional instrumentation over the original tracks.

"Before the record we could play however we wanted to do the songs, so it could be very loose," says Johnson. "But once the record came out we had to figure out what gear to use to get that sound come across live."

For their live shows, the band implements a series of pre-recorded samples and loops, which drummer Pete Anderson can trigger with the drop of a beat. With Anderson acting as DJ/conductor, the rest of the band follows his lead.

This formation allows for a freedom in how they play. For smaller shows the band will perform a stripped down set taking leads off a computer playing tracks, but for larger shows they'll ask other musicians to sit in with them.


Most notable have been a handful of shows with Twin City turntablist, DJ Woody McBride. Though Johnson says there are no plans to add a full-time DJ, he would welcome the opportunity to perform with McBride again.

Iffy represents a musical evolution of sorts for Johnson who fronted the legendary Run Westy Run. A five-piece rock band with roots in punk, funk and soul, the Westies were praised for their explosive live shows.

Just as the Westies were extremely combustible, Iffy comes across like a high voltage charge, the music acting as a pulsating current no listener can shake. Johnson and his new outfit are channeling the funk of Prince with the soul of Curtis Mayfield and '60s era soul and energy of modern dance.

The singer doesn't have to look too hard to be reminded of his days among the Westies. Onstage he's flanked by his former bandmates, guitar-playing brother, Kraig Johnson and bassist Tom Merkl.

"You're gonna do different things with different people," Johnson says. "With the Westies we were very live, very improv. This started out as a recording. That was then and it was a blast, but I never compared the two. This is just really refreshing.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

If you go

What: Iffy with Man From Disco and DJ David Sol


When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Plains Art Museum

Other information: This is an 18 & up show with a $6 cover. (701) 232-3821.

If you go

What: Incubus with Hometown Hero

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Fargodome

Other information: Tickets are $25 through Ticketmaster. (701) 235-7171.

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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