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He Knows What Funk Is

Getting schooled by Ohio mixmaster Ruckus Roboticus

By Ryan Mclendon · September 25th, 2008 · Cover Story


Once upon a time, my best friend’s mother toured briefly with Marilyn Manson. This was around 1994, after their first studio album was released but before “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” hit airwaves and Alternative Nation (remember Kennedy?), prompting the band’s meteoric rise and subsequently embarrassing fashion movement.

Before the public adoration of narcotics. Before the high-profile relationships with B-list actresses. Before his festive, ornithological stage apparel.

Manson was described as being well mannered and easy to talk to. He and the rest of the band were respectful and courteous.

They ostensibly didn’t know what to make of the positive attention they were getting from their music and stage performances, but they didn’t appear affected by them either.

When reading interview transcripts with Manson during that period and contrasting them with today, he is decidedly more accommodating to the interviewer while being poised, candid and infinitely entertaining, even in print. Now, however, his interviews often reflect his current countenance: aged, surly and worn down. When speaking with Dan Haug, the 26-year-old Dayton, Ohio, ingénue behind the mash-up sensation, Ruckus Roboticus, one gets a sense of the quiet dignity blended with subtle genius that makes certain artists — like Manson in his heyday — so intriguing. He is a meek, sounding as if he couldn’t shout if he wanted to. But in the dulcet charm of his voice lies an intelligence and an uncanny ability to convey to a stranger why he is a musician.

“I’m an artist at heart, “ Haug says. “I like making things and being creative and I try to make statements.” Ruckus Roboticus has been Haug’s project for nearly a decade.

He began making music in 1998 while he was still in middle school.

“I just got really interested in editing audio and some basic computer programs that allow you to make your own beats,” he says. The fledgling producer soon added a set of turntables to his computer-beat arsenal in order to add a more organic scratching element to his tracks.

“I kind of asked myself what instrument could I learn to add to this audio and music thing I was exploring. For some reason turntables came to mind,” Haug says. “I never really learned how to play the piano or guitar or drums. (Turntables) just seemed like something I could learn without studying for years.” “Thus began my exploration of DJing,” Haug says with a smile in his voice.

After Haug graduated from Ohio University in Audio Production, Ruckus Roboticus released Playing with Scratches, his debut album, in January. Scratches is an incendiary collection of mash-up tracks that could give Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk, long said to be the dark prince of mash-up, a slight heart arrhythmia.

With precise yet cryptic beats and samplings from old children’s and instructional records, Robiticus’ sound is most entertaining, almost to the point of obscenity. Girl Talk’s method of paring Pop tracks one after another (allowing the listener understand that the track is composed of hundreds of other tracks) is eclipsed by Roboticus’ deft ability to simply reinvent tracks and make them his own, revealing the new evolution of mash-up.

“My aim is to put (samples) together in a way where it sounds like a band of a finished piece of music rather than sounding like a collage,” Haug says. “I describe my song as an audio collage where I create my music with hundreds of little snippets of sounds and then cut and paste and layer and rearrange and manipulate these samples into — at the risk of sounding corny — a tapestry.”

Haug’s officially sanctioned remix of Bloc Party’s “Hunting for Witches” is a stunning example of his craft. He veritably transmogrifies a sugary, staccato, guitar-heavy track and realizes its true funk. The song morphs from controlled, quick and angry to completely danceable, making it difficult to see how you never moved your feet to its honeyed charm to begin with. On other tracks, like “Lesson 7 What’s Funk,” Haug blends Motown-sounding drum, bass and horns with plastic, fantastic-era instructional video samples, creating a dialogue ostensibly between James Brown and the academic narrator that attempts to describe the logistics of Funk to a non-Funk audience. Punctuated throughout by audacious voices chiming “I know what Funk is,” the track is a blatant summation of Ruckus Roboticus’ fun-filled credo.

Haug started performing original music in May and has performed primarily in Ohio. He will debut his original work in Cincinnati for the first time this weekend at the Midpoint Music Festival.

“This is like the first (time) in my career that I have played live performances of my original music,” Haug says. He hopes his performance at MidPoint will bring him into contact with other performers that share his special brand of sonic zeal, allowing him to further spread his musical contagions. It’s also an opportunity for him to see a gaggle of other talents.

“I like to keep up on the latest and greatest music being made,” he says, “so I’ll be a fan in the crowd a lot of the weekend.”

RUCKUS ROBOTICUS (ruckusroboticus.com) plays MidPoint Music Festival’s Opening Night finale party Thursday at midnight at The Lodge Bar.



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