Q-Burning Down the House

Ancient Chinese esoteric disciplines are rarely associated with electronic music, but Orlando, Florida's Q-Burns (a.k.a. Michael Donaldson) uses them precisely to define the sonic landscapes he manufactures under the moniker Q-Burns Abstract Message. He defines his constructs as aural Feng Shui, a concept he describes as "utilitarian art, where every bit and piece has its purpose, meticulously placed for reasons other than aesthetic."

Q-Burns will be gracing Tempe on Thursday, October 8, DJing at Pompeii as part of his support tour for the recently released full-length CD Feng Shui. Though "the Qubes" shares a label (Astralwerks) with some of electronica's biggest names--Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and Photek--don't expect your run-of-the-mill rock style Big Beat soundz.

Q-Burns likes to get feely with his funky side, as he told the British rag The Face. "A lot of the Big Beat stuff is missing that. It's very macho. To me, funk makes it more female. Making women dance is the whole reason that I DJ."

Recorded in part in Iceland at Reykjavik beat-mongers Gusgus' studio and mostly at his own 8th Dimension studio in Orlando with a "ragtag group of musical equipment, held together with masking tape and some hope," Feng Shui is a 70-minute show of warm 'n' fuzzy acid jazz and chilled psychedelia--defined songs (as opposed to hourlong mix-melds) that exude poppy atmospherics through gentle synths and muted breakbeats.

Q-Burns (whose name is a reference to the wear and tear that occurs on the most cued area of a record) describes his work as "electronic soul based in funk and deep house," a general explanation that fails to encompass the truly out-there aspects of his record, such as the whispered skatting over skittish synthesizers and a bouncing bass line on the track "Feng Shui" and the softly murmured (by Gusgus' vocalist Daniel Agust) "a.s.t." that features Icelandic vocals over subliminal jungle beats.

Besides Q-Burns Abstract Message's tour and freshman album, you'll soon be hearing Mr. Donaldson's compositions in some unlikely places. Levi Strauss is using Q-Burns' track "Enter/Other" in a radio ad for its khakis (similar to labelmate Fatboy Slim's "Rockafeller Skank" vehicle, in Levi's ads seen every 10 minutes on MTV). The same track is included on the soundtrack for MTV's home workout video, "Daily Burn."

Gap and Guess? stores are playing his "Touchin' on Something" track off an in-store dance compilation. And Q-Burns had the privilege of reworking James Brown's "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" on a recently released tribute record to the Godfather.

Exactly what Q-Burns' live set will consist of remains an enigma at present. It's guaranteed that he'll be spinning records, but whether he'll step behind the keyboards and exhibit his other tech skills is a mystery. It's rather curious that he's performing live at all. This is a guy who told URB Magazine last year, "I'm pretty adamant about keeping the Q-Burns project in the recorded world. Electronic music experimentation is, to me, about shaking rock 'n' roll conventions, and trying to play electronic music live always falls into a rock 'n' roll trap. The best electronic music is about scenery in the headspace, and that is only fully accomplished in a studio."

Q-Burns Abstract Message will be the special guest at Kind, the weekly event at Pompeii featuring live and electronic music for positive open minds, along with L.A. DJ Tom Chasteen, local superstar DJ Emile and live elektracousticfunk outfit Groovetribe.

--Brendan Kelley

Kind happens at 10:30 p.m. Thursday, October 8, at Pompeii, located at the southeast corner of Rural and Apache in Tempe. Admission is $7, 18 and over, bar with ID. Call 720-KIND (5463) for more information.

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Brendan Joel Kelley