With the release of over 150 classic and unreleased cuts on The Vaults of Mictlan Compilation, the Los Angeles bassbin legend known as R.A.W./6Blocc offers a rare glimpse into the dark and often twisted soundscapes that served as the backbone of the Los Angeles underground between the years of 1993–2001.
From grimy warehouses to abandoned lofts to impromptu desert parties and proto-raves, the compilation also serves as a reminder of the oft-forgotten history of a culture where techno, hardcore and jungle were rinsed across the board, often in the same set from a single DJ, with almost no concern for the perceived limitations of genre or scene. From his own roots in hip-hop turntablism battling heads like Joe Cooley, Tony A. and JRocc, and representing on KDAY, L.A.’s hip-hop radio station at the time, on through to his masterful incorporation of the sounds of UK hardcore and jungle into his own unique productions and style on the decks, R.A.W. continues to be a name synonymous with the very best of the L.A. underground.
It seems only fitting, then, as he cracks open the vaults in his own audio archive, that we take a trip back to a time when there were no cell phones, controllers or CDJs, where hoodies, baggy pants and vinyl ruled, and the relentless pounding of the bass and beats would carry you through the night and into a new day.
Let’s head back to 1993. What was the Los Angeles underground music scene looking like in those days?
It was a spontaneous movement that came from the streets and from the club scene that didn’t want to be clubby, but a little more grimy and very “anti”: anti-club, anti-cologne, anti-dress-up. My friend from high school, Nazario, was the first one to play techno at warehouse parties in Carson, where I grew up. If it weren’t for him, I probably would have never played techno.
Then, record stores like Music Plus and Warehouse began to stock import records, and that’s when it really took off. After I began buying import records at Warehouse, I found out about Street Sounds and Prime Cuts in Hollywood. I would have my mom take me up there to buy records. I would tell my mom, “Hey, can we go for a record hunt?” That was code for, “Can you buy me some records?” Imports then were only $8.99!
It was out of this space that Mictlan emerged. First off, for those who don’t know, explain what Mictlan is/was historically, and how that Aztec mythology inspired you to create an underground music label of the same name.
Mictlan is the Nahuatl name of a place where a person’s spirit goes between lives on earth. Modern archaeologists say it means “place of the dead” or “underworld,” but to me, it’s most likely a mystery place, a place that only shamans know of and experienced through their secret rituals. I learned of this word in my Art History of Mexico class I took at El Camino College and was drawn to it because at that time, LSD played a big part in the imagination of rave music. It was less about hallucinating and instead opening one’s mind to a world within our own reality that exists but is cut off because of our limited senses.
So at the time, I thought to myself, this underground movement is much like the Aztec “underworld,” in that it is a place where we disappear from society (life). My first release on Mictlan was “Afterlife,” due to the theory that after the spirit goes to Mictlan, it returns to a new body.
So in many ways, the label was born out of a new understanding of what I was in America. It made me see myself as a person who could choose to forget the past and just be another generic consumer American, or a person who represents those who deserve my respect and to live my life as if I was an Aztec reborn 500 years later to bring back customs, names, ideas, art, and music of the Nahuatl people.
It’s a very “anti” stance, but it went hand-in-hand with the underground electronic scene.
As you were putting this compilation together, were the memories bubbling up?
Yeah. I thought about how I would just let my tracks happen very organic, without thinking about what exactly I was going to do. I didn’t plan anything. I just sat down and let whatever happen, happen. What’s funny is that because I did that, the songs really represented where I was in life.
If I had made music trying to sound like DJ SS or what was coming out on Reinforced Records, then the songs wouldn’t have the sound that they do. They would instead sound like UK jungle. I like the fact that they sound cheap and homemade. It’s the real thing—from me to the world, without any pre-planned motives.
Each moniker you were using back in the day seems to have almost existed as a comic book character version of yourself. Break down each one for us, and what kind of music or vibe you associated with each one when you put on that persona in the studio.
R.A.W.: Hardcore, dirty, underground, street-level, demonic.
B-Boy 3000: Future hip-hop turntablism, ragga soundclashing, rudebwoy biznizz.
Illegal Alien: Mystical, subconscious, esoteric.
Sorix: Black magick, subversive mind control.
At the center of your studio in those days was the EMU Emax II sampler. Give us a quick lesson in what it took to create with that old-school beast!
That sampler was a full keyboard sampler with only 28 seconds sample time, but I would put the unit in mono to get to 50 seconds. I would make synth sounds by sampling a fraction of a second, then loop it so it was a smooth loop that I could then filter out the pops and clicks.
In those days, I also used a Digitech effects processor. The union of those two units was all I needed to get some crazy subs and sounds in my early tracks. I also used a Yamaha analog echo box for the dubby, dirty echos. I used cheap PC computers running Nuendo for my sequencer. Very budget and ghetto!
Are there any chances of Mictlan being reborn in the near future?
Unfortunately, no, but I do have my Mictlan Bandcamp going!
The Vaults of Mictlan compilation is available now on 2GB USB stick. Hit us with the details and where the heads can snag a copy. I understand a lot of these were transferred over from old-school DAT masters you had in the archives!
I went through tons of DAT tapes, cassettes and CDs and then remastered and EQed all the selections! The real Mictlan sound is captured on this USB release, and even though it was a lot of work, I’m excited to share it, if only to remember where we’ve come from.
This article originally appeared on Insomniac.com.