Caliph8 – SVBKVLT Beat Tape – Derelict Features of the Domain


I think I first saw Caliph8 play at a party in Quezon City in 2005. The party was pretty boring until suddenly out of nowhere this cat set up his equipment and dropped abstract hip-hop grooves while yelling out about Sun Ra. On  a screen behind him somebody was projecting footage of the same cat running through some kind of warehouse while wearing 70s clothes and a crazy afro wig. That’s the way I remember it at least. The cat was Caliph8 and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing.

The stuff was so good that I couldn’t control my fanboy impulses. I think that I did something embarrassing like approach him afterwards to mumble that he reminded me of Labtekwon. A few days later I actually got his number so I could call him up to rant more about how good his beats were and enquire if he had any releases I could buy. Sadly, there were none.

Our paths crossed a few times over the following years, including a great evening of sitting around listening to our favourite tunes in Hong Kong. But still there was no Caliph8 release to file away in my collection.

That situation has finally been rectified by Drunk Monk’s new cassette label SVBKVLT. Drunk Monk deserves the greatest respect for putting his time and money into something as positive as SVBKVLT, and there’ll be a short interview setting out the Drunk Monk story on this blog very soon. But for now, let’s stick to this review of the Caliph8 tape.

It’s hard to believe that this is the debut release from somebody who’s been active in the Asian beats scene for around two decades, but what you have here is a debut from somebody who’s spent 20 years honing his craft to a deadly precision. Those familiar with Caliph8 will know that while he comes from a street hip-hop and graffiti background that spans Manila and L.A., he’s built up a reputation over the last few years playing live film scores at various cultural events, such as this:

With this background and his  legendary MPC skills, “Derelict Features” almost plays like some kind of hybrid of Pierre Henry with the Arkestra or the Art Ensemble of Chicago. This is very far out ahead of any straightforward hip-hop beat tape. No obvious bangers, the whole thing really demands to be listened to as a single piece from start to finish. Trite as it may be to say, his time doing live film scores has led to the production of a true example of that oft-abused concept the “imaginary soundtrack”. Musique Concrete elements, dissonant horns, dub effects and drones collide with intelligent and non-cliched breaks over two sides of the tape.  I really can’t describe it better than that and highly recommend that you listen to it yourself. Caliph8 is pretty far out on his own with this one, but if I had to try and file it with something else happening in the music scene today, I might try to slot it next to the abstract beats and electronics end of what Young Echo are doing.

But without wishing to seem too hyperbolic, the comparison which most springs to my mind is a kind of Asian version of Rammellzee, due to Caliph8’s ability to naturally bridge the worlds of the street and modern art (Rammellzee being somebody who bridged the street and modern art without any of the posing of that notorious fool Basquiat).

Derelict features of the Domain can be streamed for free and downloaded for a fee here, though if you know what’s good for you’ll grab a copy of the limited cassette:

Posted by Gunter Sacks