Hoodslam: This is Real!

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Photo Credit: Marina Swanson

Audience members pass blunts and pipes in the dark, taking sips on cold beers from the bar. The atmosphere is dark, loud and smoky; it feels like a punk rock show, with only the ring to remind you that this is a wrestling event.

Hundreds of fans shuffle in and immediately crowd the ring in the standing-room only venue, cheering and pounding their fists, chanting “This is real! This is real! F–k the fans!” This is the scene at “Boys in the Hoodslam, the 37th Chamber,” the latest in an independent wrestling event held first on Fridays at the Oakland Metro Operahouse.

Hoodslam is a unique independently owned and operated wrestling league featuring crazy costumes, thrilling action and an atmosphere like no other entertainment event. The event has been gaining momentum, press and recently some unwanted attention from the Sacramento Police.

On June 22, a scheduled Hoodslam event in Sacramento was shut down before doors opened by Sacramento P.D., who claimed the event coordinators did not have proper permits for a “live for-profit entertainment event.”  According to fans, the Sacramento P.D. sent approximately six cop cars to stop the event.

“They shut us down an hour before doors opened,” explained event commentator, Hoodslam wrestler Broseph Joe Brody and former WWE Tough Enough contestant A.J. Kirsch. “It’s kind of silly, if you think about it; if you look up the public record for that night, there were burglaries and assaults reported all over Sacramento but, they sent that many cars for Hoodslam?”

With a full bar, live band and matches featuring characters like Dan and Ken from Street Fighter, the feel in the room is electrifying. The wrestling itself is high flying, dynamic and extremely physical, often spilling out of the ring and into the crowd, sending the startled audience into a frenzy. Wrestlers are regularly thrown and slammed from the top of the ropes in remarkably technical displays of athleticism.

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Photo Credit: Marina Swanson

Brainchild of a group of friends and pro wrestlers and event founder Sam Khandaghabadi, the event has been steadily gaining popularity since 2010.

“The first show was put on by about 12 people, in a warehouse rented by the guys that would become the Hoodslam band. They were small shows for a few dozen people, and it was free. It was just something for our friends, something for us” said Hoodslam wrestler and co-founder Johnny “Drinko” Butabi.“Most wrestling is so sterile, we just wanted to do something different and we wanted to be able to smoke and drink and do it our way,” said Butabi, who declined to disclose his actual name.

“I remember Sam [Khandaghabadi], like literally while passing a blunt, mentioning this idea for a show that was wrestling but totally different,” explained event commentator Kevin Gill with a grin. “I knew I wanted to be involved immediately, and here we are three years later.”

The production has grown to a crew of dozens to facilitate the smooth operation each first Friday.

“I think it’s about word of mouth, you trust your friends saying ‘dude you’ve got to check this out!’ that does more than any flier or post on a webpage” said Kirsch, referring to the event’s increasing popularity. Hoodslam productions typically average seven hundred spectators.

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Photo: T. Bircher

Before the wrestling even begins, commentator A.J. Kirsch as Broseph Joe Brody circles the ring with a bottle, pouring huge shots of whiskey into fan’s mouths.

“I’ll go around the ring with a bottle of liquor until it’s completely empty; we’re always thinking, how do I get them to say ‘and then this happened, and this happened!’” exclaimed Kirsch.

What truly makes Hoodslam different is the characters; each has a back story and elaborate costume design. Some characters, like Sub-Zero and Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, or infamous gangster Jessie James are lifted straight from pop culture, while others are original creations.

“The characters, Drugz Bunny, Otis the Gimp from Pulp Fiction–when these things work, you have something people can get behind,” explained Kirsch. “We want people to suspend their disbelief and get lost in it.”

According to Kirsch, the event’s costumes and sets are homemade by the Hoodslam staff and performers in a labor of love and finding inexpensive ways to add nuances that make the experience feel real.

When people say ‘This is real,’ it’s kind of funny, because it’s wrestling, so of course it’s not, everyone knows it’s not,” laughs Kirsch. “We’ve had ridiculous moments, some of them you wouldn’t believe unless you saw it, but there’s such a special aura. So much dedication and connection around it that more than anything, that is what’s real.”

Hoodslam will return to the Oakland Metro Operahouse on Friday August 2 for “Battle Royal of Supremacy: Daze of Future Past.”  Admittance at the door is $15 and all events are 21+.

 

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Big Amps, Big Headaches: Save your back, your hearing and still get great tone

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Slayer’s Kerry King may look B.A. with a wall of Marshall 1960A’s, but you better believe he’s not loading them in himself.

We’ve all been there: just started gigging, or maybe have a few years of playing out under our belts, and feeling that our live sound leaves something to be desired. If you’re anything like me, you started out with a solid-state combo amp with overdrive that sounds a hornet’s nest and always had your eye on that half stack or big bass rig. And why shouldn’t we gravitate towards big amps in search of big sound?

All our heroes, emblazoned in the pages of guitar rags and music videos, live performances, always stood in front of a wall of Marshall 4×12 cabinets with dimed JCMs, or a vintage tube SVT into an 8×10. Amp manufacturers are always rolling out their new flagship quadruple rectifying, five channel, two hundred watt monster heads with lights, gauges and doo-dads that always seem infinitely more useful in the advertisements than on stage.

Thing is, rock stars and bands embarking on worldwide tours are NOT everyday Joes like you and I. First of all, signed artists either have the money to pay for pro level, custom (or vintage) gear, or have the industry clout to get gear for free through endorsement or promotion.

People like Angus and Malcolm Young or Kerry King have paid roadies who move, maintain and set up all that sonic weaponry. What’s more, many of the huge back lines you see at shows are rented locally to save loading and transporting walls of speaker cabinets to every date. Do you think Geddy Lee moves all those washing machines himself? Think again.

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AC-DC makes even the ridiculous seem tame, as evidenced by this live rig for just ONE guitarist

The truth is, big amps can be a big pain in the ass. They cut into cargo space in the band’s van or trailer, can be problematic in awkward or small venues, particularly if you’ll be dealing with stair cases. Imagine moving an Ampeg SVT 8×10 cab up stairs by yourself. It sucks. Trust me. Even with lighter, neodymium magnet speakers and casters, speaker cabinets are just awkward to move around, and we all know band mates can be less than helpful when it comes to the heavy lifting

Another misconception is that you need a big amp to get usable gigging volume. What many people don’t know is that tube watt’s relationship to output volume is not exactly intuitive. For example, a 100 watt amp is not twice as loud as a 50 watt amp; wattage must increase exponentially to double volume, so a 100 watt tube amp is actually twice as loud as a 10 watt amp (through the same speaker load at nominal impedance). 30 to 50 watts in a tube guitar amp is plenty for most rehearsal situations, and keep in mind that most venues mic up guitar cabs right into the board. You’ll also notice that turning up 20 watt amp like a small Fender or Vox combo to get power tube grind is much more realistic and yields great tone at usable volumes.

Another problem with big amps is that most tube amps need to be turned up a bit in order to get some power tube saturation. Many amps simply don’t sound good at bedroom or practice levels because so much of the characteristic sound of the amp comes from that power tube gain. Turning up a 100 watt tube amp to power tube overdrive through a 4×12 cabinet is really, really, really LOUD. So loud that it can make getting “your sound” while rehearsing or in the studio problematic or just plain unpleasant.

I know, I know. “Big amps look coooool, man, don’t you wanna be cool?” Sure, but I’d also like to save my back, my hearing and my relationship with my band mates who don’t want every rehearsal to be a volume war. I’d recommend going with a medium power combo, or at least a 2×12 cabinet for guitar instead of a full half stack. 4×10’s are ample for most live bass needs, and again, most sound guys will take your balanced DI out from your amp and run it straight to the board.

So don’t let the big amp crowd peer pressure you into gigging with something the size of the Monolith. Grab something with tone that you dig, that you can realistically afford, move and maintain.

That Heavy Bass sound: The Precision Bass Special

Refused Bassist Magnus Flagge Fender Precision Bass Special

Refused Bassist Magnus Flagge brings the low end with his     modified Precision Bass

The Precision Bass has always been a go-to for rock tones. It’s characteristic low-end thump has always attracted players and the instrument’s light weight and simplicity made it a natural on the stage. The split pickup sounds great and cancels hum, and there’s only two knobs to contend with when making quick adjustments. The strength of the P is just how many sounds you can get with just one pickup, two knobs and right hand technique. If anyone were to fault the trusty old P, it would be that (the dry signal) lacks a little high end bite. An increasingly popular solution has been to add a single-coil Jazz Bass pickup in the bridge position of the bass to add the high-end growl and attack of the classic P-Bass sound.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t exactly a new trick. Fender has offered the P-J combination in a number of models, most notably the Mexican-made Precision Bass Special available first in a passive configuration which Fender has decided to abandon in favor of an active circuit. Other P-J Fender offerings include the JP-90, P Bass Lyte, P Bass Plus, American Deluxe Precision Bass, Jazz Bass Special, Aerodyne Jazz Bass, Reggie Hamilton Jazz Bass and the “Cowpoke Bass,” to name a few, as well as numerous Squier offerings. Ibanez has been putting the P-J pickup combo on basses since the late 70’s, especially the popular Soundgear (SR800) series. G&L’s SB-2 is an American made P-J bass that holds its own against American Fenders.

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The Mars Volta’s Juan Alderete wields his fretless P-Special on the cover of Bass Player Magazine

What is intriguing about the P-J pickup combo is it’s tendency to show up in heavy, aggressive music, particularly hardcore, metal and post-hardcore. The P Bass Special is a natural in heavy rock settings with it’s heavy low end and midrange growl, but perhaps it’s most desirable trait in this setting is how great it sounds with overdrive. The P-J pickup combo excels where a Jazz or Precision lose composure. The P special has a sound that compliments overdrive perfectly and sounds huge without dominating the mix (Refused’s “The Shape of Punk to Come” is an example).

The P-J combo has been used by Jaun Alderete of The Mars Volta, Manny Carrero and Dave Allen of Glassjaw, Magnus Flagge of Refused, late Deftones bassist Chi Cheng and Mike Sadis of The Rivalry and North Korea. The P-Special’s ability to play well with high gain and retain definition has made it the staple in the heavy music.

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Manny Carrero and Daryl Palumbo of Glassjaw on stage with Carrero’s early-90’s Fender Precision Plus.

Long Island hardcore pioneers Glassjaw have used this very sound to define their music for over a decade. Current bassist Manny Carrero plays a late-90’s Fender Precision Plus, affectionately known as the “boner bass,” due to it’s distinct upper horn. This bass was used on the band’s debut full-length, “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence,” “Coloring Book,” and “Our Color Green.” Dave Allen, who was Glassjaw’s bassist during the “Worship and Tribute” era of the band’s career, played a Hot Rodded Precision Special, and I’d speculate this U.S.-made instrument was used to record their seminal second record, “Worship and Tribute.” Both of these basses feature pickup spacing which places the bridge Jazz pickup noticeably closer to the neck than Mexican-made Fenders. This sound has set the precedent for heavy, overdriven bass in an aggressive rock setting.

Just as a note: To those wanting to get this sound, I would recommend purchasing (or building) a bass with this pickup configuration already rather than modifying your P-Bass or Jazz Bass. Unless you have decided that you abs0lutely must modify an existing instrument, it’s just a lot less headaches and saves devaluing your instrument, not to mention the labor and tools involved with routing a new pickup cavity. You’re an experienced luthier/tech/roadie/good with tools? Okay maybe, but unless you know what you’re doing and have a knack for these kinds of things, I’d opt for a bass already built with this config, as plenty are available. So get your fridge cabinet, P special and an OD pedal and feel what that post hardcore sound is all about.