You can’t deny the musical accomplishments of Mike Gao. The L.A. beat producer holds a PhD in Music Technology, has put releases out on labels such as Plug Research and Galapagos4 and develops VST instruments and iOS apps—his most recent being Vocal Beater, where you beatbox into your iPhone, then leave the app to convert it into a MIDI file with real snares, kicks and hi-hats. But we’re not reviewing apps, we’re reviewing Gao’s new six-track EP Beta World Peace, his first offering since his 2011 debut, Sun Shadows, and the latest string to be added to his bow.
Don’t be fooled by the intro you first hear; the soothing synths are only a façade that hides the demented chaos within this 22-minute EP. Once the synths fade out, a booming, squelching bass-line coupled with equally rackety drums hit you straight in the face. Oh wait, now there’s a sample of a little kid saying “ooo la la”; oh, and now the beat goes exotic and there’s bongo drums and some Indian-sounding vocals; what is this huge 808 doing here!? This will more-or-less be the thought process of an average human being while listening to opener “Vamos”, and it doesn’t get any less challenging from there on. The track that follows, “Comin’ Off That High”, sounds like a footwork track for the first few seconds before transforming into a techno-influenced 808 banger, while the fifth track, “Precipice Precipate”, sounds like TNGHT’s “Bugg’n” if it had been put through a blender and left to soak up the Los Angeles sun.
The wealth of ideas on show throughout this the relatively short Beta World Peace is admirable to say the least, but this frequently results in overly complex and cluttered songs. There are many great moments–such as the beginning of “Precipice Precipate” and the middle section of “Vamos”–that disappear before you’ve even had a chance to take in their beauty and appreciate them fully. There are also tracks such as “Udon Quixote” and “Withdrawn”, which despite their lush production, fail to stray away far enough from the fabled beat music that has been coming out of Los Angeles for years now. “Udon Quixote” in particular seems to copy the crunchy, hefty bass sounds that made Samiyam’s Sam Baker’s Album so great.
You normally know what to expect as soon as the words ‘L.A. beat producer’ are mentioned, but not when it comes to Mike Gao. There are undoubtedly elements of classic L.A. beat music throughout Beta World Peace, but there’s also so much more here; house, techno, even the odd Brazilian sample (“Udon Quixote”). The problem is that each track is so layered and moves at such a rapid pace that it’s a struggle to keep up with the millions of ideas Gao tries to put across. Or perhaps we all have to obtain Music Technology PhDs before we truly “get” it. Either way, if he can pinpoint the highlights of his productions and squeeze the best out of them, Gao will have some truly fantastic music on the horizon.