Legendary Organic Trip-Hop Ensemble OTO Reunites Tonight in Downtown Phoenix
Renewal is the absolute lifeblood of this time of year. As we roll into spring, damn near everything starts growing, everyone's energy tends to pick up, and it feels like there's some cosmic reboot going on. So when long-defunct Phoenix act OTO picked this weekend to reunite and stage its first performance in more than a decade, it seemed downright apropos.
Lokey Foto The members of OTO back in 2001.
The live trip-hop/drum 'n' bass sextet, which broke up back in 2001, may have become an relatively obscure footnote in local music history (having produced only one album and starred in less than a dozen gigs), but were a relatively big deal during their heyday way back when. Their reunion tonight, which takes place during an off-the-radar First Friday affair promoted by downtown party guru Quincy Ross, should be equally as big.
If you were knocking around the Valley music scene at the dawn of the early Aughts, then you probably heard a thing or two about OTO. Generating an organic downtempo pastiche of funk, broken beat, Jamaican dub, acid jazz, and trip-hop created instrumentally, they went wild during packed and crazy gigs at old school venue's like Nita's Hideaway and Bash on Ash, frequently collaborated with the likes of Z-Trip and DJ Radar, got a bit of radio play at the time, and earned themselves a legion of fans.
Thanks to their unique mix and the trippy and dreamy vocal work of their ultra-colorful and pixie-ish Japanese-born frontwoman Coppé (pronounced "co-pay"), the ensemble's hybridizations were unlike most other sound produced locally in that era, outside of tracks spun at the time by such old school DJs as Jimmy the Mantis Claw.
However, the difference between the sort of grooves coming from the turntables of that era and the sounds being produced by OTO, says keyboardist Micah Huerta, was that they did their shit live.
"Instead of being very electronic and club-oriented like all those guys pushing drum 'n' bass at the time, we brought a whole kind of organic, improvisational thing, which is where the acid jazz factor comes in, using analog instruments," Huerta says. "We had a live drummer, no click track, an upright bass player, and Rhodes electronic piano."
And they even had a trombone to boot, which he puffed into during and in-between working the keys of a Fender Rhodes Eighty-Eight stage piano. Huerta also played the 'bone in bygone ska act Kongo Shock along with upright bassist Barton Applewhite. They weren't the only musicians in OTO (which Huerta jokes was "a side project of a side project") starring in multiple bands at once.