March 19 2014 02:45 PM

Psychopop and Tenshun deliver hip-hop terror

Psychopop (left) and Tenshun create hip-hop noise as Skrapez.

Albert Camus once wrote that a rebel is a man who says no. By that rubric, Skrapez is without a doubt the most rebellious hip-hop group in San Diego. DIY almost to a fault, the duo doesn’t do the normal things most local acts do, like maintain a Facebook page, record studio albums or curry favor with movers and shakers behind the San Diego Music Awards. Instead, they forge their own, distinctly hellish path, terrorizing unsuspecting audiences with brash soundscapes, clanging breakbeats and vicious turntable scratches.

Understandably, the group’s gained more notoriety than fans, as plenty of concertgoers have been put off by their merciless approach. And yet their dedication to craft has earned them a rabid cult following, along with the respect of some of San Diego’s best-known hip-hop heads.

“They’re dope,” says DJ Artistic, a fixture in the city’s nightclub scene. “They’re extremely progressive, and they’ve been committed and dedicated for over a decade, and that’s probably why they’re getting some of the respect and attention that they’re getting.”

Formed in the early ’00s, the duo—Jon Calzo, aka Tenshun, 33, and David Lampley, aka Psychopop, 34—is essentially the missing link between San Diego’s two noisiest punk and rap movements. On one hand, they’re aligned with Masters of the Universe, the hip-hop crew famed for its rawness and innovation. On the other hand, they have a spiritual kinship with Three One G Records, home to such uncompromising acts as The Locust.

If anything, though, the duo is like a next-millennium noise-jazz combo out of a William Gibson novel, reveling in the atonal textures and earsplitting glitches of live improvisation.

“We’ve only practiced probably three times in, like, 15 years,” Psychopop says, speaking by phone from Los Angeles, where he relocated a year-and-a-half ago. “That’s pretty much my brother. I can just look at him and know what’s about to happen. I think we just ate a bunch of mushrooms together so many times that we could just feel it out.”

Though they’re well-known for their live shows, Skrapez have never released a full-length album. Ruthlessly analog, they limit their recorded output to cassettes and records, the latter of which Tenshun presses himself on a portable lathe in his bedroom. To give the productions a gritty, lo-fi finish—and save money—he cuts the tracks directly from his MPC sampler onto plastic picnic plates cut in the shape of 7-inches, instead of genuine vinyl.

“We just wanna keep stuff on the small-run-type steez,” Tenshun explains, lounging on a sectional sofa in his house in Stockton, a southeastern San Diego neighborhood, on a recent Saturday afternoon. “I kind of like it limited. For me, it kind of narrows it down. I can see who’s buying my stuff out there.”

Rocking black-framed glasses and a T- shirt bearing the image of a wise old mountain goat, Tenshun emits a humble, almost nervous vibe—more curious audiophile than noise terrorist. But it seems there’s a lot of angst boiling beneath his calm demeanor, and that’s what draws him to music.

“It’s really therapeutic for me,” he says. “I’ll be at work just thinking about stuff, and I’ll come home and that’s my way of expressing, ‘Man, fuck this job.’ I’ll make a song called ‘Kill Your Boss’ or something: Make it all angry and stuff. Play something out on my bass guitar. Try finding some hard drums that matches it. I just see it as my way of releasing frustration and anger— feelings in general.”

On top of playing in Skrapez, he and Psychopop have both worked on solo material and collaborated with other artists. They first met in the late ’90s, bonding over the trip-hop beats of DJ Shadow and nextlevel abstractions of L.A.’s Living Legends. Sometimes joined by their friend Sumach Ecks, aka the Warp-signed singer and rapper Gonjasufi, they loved to while away the hours jamming, creating a soundtrack for troublemaking.

“We were just trying to make music to just not give a fuck,” Psychopop recalls. “Like, some felony music, pretty much. Music to start a riot to or some shit.”

Things got heavy in 2006, when Tenshun was caught doing graffiti at the train yards in Logan Heights. Already on probation for previous graffiti charges, he was arrested and sent to the Descanso Detention Facility in Alpine, where he spent his days watering trees and maintaining the grounds of a medium-security work camp. Held in a dorm-style compound, he had plenty of time to plot his next move.

“When I came out, I was just super hungry to make music. I had all these ideas. I was writing them down on paper—like, album-title names, or ideas [for] how I can compose a certain track,” he says.

In the years since, Skrapez—who’ll play at The Bancroft (9143 Campo Road in Spring Valley) on Saturday, March 22— have continued to roll hard, exploring the nuances of their dirty sound. Meanwhile, they’ve gotten a little more attention from the wider world: In 2012, they went on U.S. and European tours with Gonjasufi, doubling as his opening act and backing band. And even with these prominent gigs, they refused to soften their approach.

“If someone tells me not to do something, then I’m going to do it,” Psychopop says, summing up the duo’s rebellious ethos. Somewhere up there, Albert Camus must be nodding with approval. 

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