Unpacking 'Cave Music,' A Style As Funky As It Is Unlikely The trio Moon Hooch got its start on the subway platforms of New York City, trying to recreate the sounds and energy of dance club music with two horns and a drum set.

Moon Hooch's 'Cave Music,' As Funky As It Is Unlikely

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Now let me introduce you to something called cave music.


RATH: The band is Moon Hooch. They started out busking on subway platforms in Brooklyn and attracting crowds with their weirdly irresistible jazzy, funky, klezmery jams. Actually, they were trying to replicate some of the sounds they heard in dance clubs, making acoustic versions of electronic dance music - hence cave music.

JAMES MUSCHLER: It's like house music, but it's more jagged, wild, more free and more natural to live in.

RATH: That's James Muschler, the drummer for Moon Hooch. Along with reed players Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen, they've found a way to produce the most extreme sounds of electronic dance music, using instruments you can find in a big orchestra, like on this song, "Contra Dubstep."

MUSCHLER: The most notably dubstep element of that song is Wenzl's contrabass clarinet, which is the lowest clarinet of the clarinet family. And it gets all the way down to the low C on the piano. And with this instrument, with a contact mic on the reed going through the subwoofer, it really emulates the sound of dubstep music. It gets that, like, (mimicking bass beats).

RATH: It's so low, you almost feel it more than hear it.

MUSCHLER: (Laughter) Yeah.


MUSCHLER: You know, he moves his tongue and his mouth in a way where he can kind of manipulate what's going on with the vibration of the reed. And he can get that kind of womp and lots of cool electronic effects.

RATH: It's kind of funny because obviously a lot of - a lot of dance music and hip-hop samples jazz. And you guys are kind of inverting that, flipping it on its head.

MUSCHLER: Right, right.


RATH: What kind of music do you guys listen to for inspiration? I mean, are you listening to electronic dance music or jazz or...?

MUSCHLER: Yeah, we all listen to electronic music. We all listen to jazz. I'd say recently in the last few years, my biggest influence has been Hindustani Indian classical music.

RATH: You're a drummer. Those Hindustani rhythms - they're pretty complicated.

MUSCHLER: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

RATH: Does any of that work its way into your music or your sound?

MUSCHLER: Oh yeah, absolutely, pretty much all over the place. I was - I guess I've been studying tabla about four years now? Actually, I just had a lesson with my guruji. And for four years, I've tried to sort of transpose this tabla repertoire for the drum set.

RATH: Well, see tablas are the Indian - the hand drums that you play with your fingers and the palms of your hand. And the virtuosic Indian tabla players, it's like every finger is pretty much independent.

MUSCHLER: Oh yeah. I heard somewhere that there's 64 different types of sounds you can create on the tabla, each stroke corresponding to a different sound. And I only know about 20 of them I think (laughter). But I've sort of assigned these very specific sounds on tabla to very specific sounds on the drum set in order to translate that material.

So you might have a phrase that's like (mimicking tabla beats) and then din has its own sound. Dah has its own sound. Geh has its own sound. Neh has its own sound. Different combinations of drums, different combinations of symbols that I feel, like, emulates those very specific sounds on tabla.

And it's really hard to practice in the beginning. I have to start slow to work my way up to make this pretty awkward rhythm sound like something that's fluid on the drum set. But after practicing a lot, it ends up sounding really, really cool.


MUSCHLER: There's this one element of Hindustani Indian classical music, and most of Indian music for that matter, it's called a tihai. And basically what it is, it's a rhythm that's repeated three times. And the last note of that rhythm lands on the downbeat of the next phrase. So if you have a phrase like 1-2-3-4 (mimicking tabla beats), so that last tah is the next beat of the downbeat phrase. So if I'm playing house groove, you know, (beat boxing) it's cool. It's fun to experiment with.


RATH: James Muschler plays drums in the band Moon Hooch. Their new album is called "This Is Cave Music." James Muschler, thanks so much.

MUSCHLER: Thank you, Arun. Thank you so much.


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