By Reyan Ali
4:35 PM EST, March 6, 2013
w/ Excision and Vaski. $25. 8 p.m., Mar. 13. Oakdale Theatre, 95 S. Turnpike Road, Wallingford, oakdale.com
A single origami formation holds tremendous significance for Alex Botwin, a Boulder, Colo.-based beatsmith professionally known as Paper Diamond. It takes minimal brain power to figure out which design is his darling since his alias is doing a pretty bad job of hiding it. "If you think about a piece of paper and you make it into your diamond shape or whatever that is, whether it's simple or it's complex, it's your form of self-expression. As far as music and artwork is concerned, one brushstroke versus a million or 500 layers versus a snare drum, a kick and some interesting tone, no matter what it is, it's all art," Botwin explains. "So basically, Paper Diamond to me is just a representation of art and being able to express yourself."
Starting around the mid-2000s, the DJ/producer used Alex B as a sobriquet and then long contemplated a nickname change. Paper Diamond finally came to life circa October 2010, and Botwin had his first show under the new moniker the following Dec. 31 opening for zeitgeisty electronic heavyweight Bassnectar. Paper Diamond's sound taps into multiple DJ archetypes: His colorful, roomy beats are willing to both go all percussive and dubstep-wobbly and shine dreamy ambient glows, depending on the occasion.
Botwin's music history is similarly colorful and roomy. The product of a musically inclined family, he played violin starting at age four, began guitar lessons and scratching around 13, and had a music teacher who taught him reel-to-reel recording at a relatively early age. He attended Phish and Green Day shows for his earliest concerts, but he also voices his interest in '90s rap (Dr. Dre, Westside Connection) and grunge (Nirvana, Soundgarden). "Even to this day, it's interesting to me [that] some people don't know anything about rap music or dubstep or rock 'n' roll. For me, I like to have my finger on the pulse of all of that stuff. I want to know what's going on with just music in general," he says. "My sound has been forged through an amalgamation of everything. I'm just like a big sponge. I'm super sensitive to what I hear and stuff that catches me in a certain way."
As a performer, Botwin (who is originally from Kansas City) cut his teeth as a member of Pnuma Trio, a chilled-out electronica-focused jam band. The group toured consistently for four years but eventually parted ways because, as Botwin says, Ben Hazlegrove and Lane Shaw wanted to take the band in a poppier direction whereas Botwin wanted to go "just my own way." The more experimental sounds of Alex B initially constituted a side hustle for Botwin; nowadays, Paper Diamond is his musical focus.
2011's Levitate, Botwin's first EP under his current handle, displays a range of generally mid-paced sounds that make good on his talk of amalgamation. "Snowfall" houses pillowy, Air-like sonics, "Levitate" has a kinetic shimmer to it, "So Precise" has funky undercurrents at play and "From Now Till....." tinkers with reggae. The tunes on Levitate aren't particularly decisive or demanding, but you get the sense that that's the way Botwin likes his music. His brand of dance floor comes off as a pretty friendly and open-minded place.
Botwin operates his live sets using as an iPad as a primary tool. He stores almost every song he's ever written in any project within one giant file on a laptop. Using the iPad to control the laptop, Botwin picks and chooses from the playlist, runs the computer's sounds into a mixing console and sends a MIDI signal to a second laptop — the latter of which supervises a LED panel for visual ambiance.
Botwin, who is currently assembling a new record due at an indeterminate time, is working in electronic music in America at an optimum time, especially in light of dubstep's massive drawing power. How much juice does he see in electronic music's foreseeable future? A lot, he emphasizes, using the long-term viability of the genre in Europe as precedent. "It's still in its infancy in America. I think it's exciting. I don't know where it's gonna go or what's gonna become of it, but it's probably gonna continue to morph and shape and change itself throughout the upcoming years and decade," Botwin says. "As far as electronic music goes, it's not goin' anywhere. It's just gonna get crazier and more interesting."
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