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DJ Trip (Keith Rosenberg) and DJ Subliminal (Danny Brown) were once so immersed with creating techno-bass and booty tracks, they didn't even have time to cruise the clubs at night or listen to the radio, where their own music could often be heard. Nowadays, the spinning busybodies have a better gauge of their reach. Even so, Trip and Subliminal still spend much of their time making dance records or traveling to promote them. In fact, the duo known as Trip Theory -- who've known each other for ten years, palling around with the same group of friends -- is catching a flight to Atlanta at 7 a.m. tomorrow to perform its 200-somethingth show.
Their DJ roots go back to days growing up in New York City. After moving to South Florida when he was 5, Trip returned to NYC every summer, where he learned to breakdance. He brought his skills south, winning several b-boy competitions.
"Everybody who breakdanced eventually became a DJ," remembers Trip, who ended up in North Miami Beach and, with his partner, now rocks chain necklaces, Hilfiger shirts, and hiply groomed facial hair. "It was just something new to battle somebody with. I started DJing, [and] not only that, I also started rapping, because I had a lot of people in my face trying to compete with that."
Subliminal packed his bags and headed to Fort Lauderdale, he says, after his mom sent him to live with his dad to "straighten me out." Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" spoke his language, so he aligned with electronica early on. He took up guitar at 14 and keyboards at 15 and began DJing at 16.
"Maybe I'm a control freak," Subliminal quips in an accent thicker than cheesecake. "But I like controlling people with my music -- you take 'em up, you take 'em down. I love it. That's my drug."
Trip Theory, which began in 1996 as Trip's one-man project, displays a fondness for pharmaceuticals as well: Trip Theory's first CD, released the following year, is called Trip on X. 1998's follow-up, Something for Your Mind, was also a solitary affair; Subliminal, vice president of local minilabel Inner Vision Music, didn't check in until 1999.
Something for Your Mind produced a rave anthem for the ages, "The Roll Song," the impact of which is currently off the cult-status chart. The tongue-in-cheek use of druggy catch phrases ("Blow up, wait a minute, put another roll in it") in Trip Theory's tunes paid off in popularity. The two remain unconcerned about touting rave/drug culture -- because that's exactly their point.
"I didn't see anybody really exploiting as much as we did," Trip says. "I just wanted to live on the edge with this first album. I took a crack at it. In a way, it backfired, because it wasn't in Wal-Mart. But still, underground, word-of-mouth-wise, it really did very well for us."
That high profile continues -- Trip's old Miami-booty-bass rap records are still being played on Power 96, and Trip Theory tunes have been included on MTV's Making the Video, Road Rules, and Undressed.
Their live antics help uphold this grassroots success. For a finale, Trip Theory has been known to roll out "The Roll Song" three times in a row. "When I do a song, I don't want it to just move my feet. I want it to make my mind think," Subliminal muses. "We come and break it down and have a 32-bar snare roll, building up... you can feel the hair standing up on the back of your neck. All of a sudden, boom!"
Trip's right there with him.
"You see the crowd, they start jumping up and down and screaming," he says. "When I used to do the rap music, I got that same type of response. I never thought by playing instrumental music I would get people jumping up and down and screaming without even saying a word on the microphone."
But the two turntablists do work the mic to inject some personality into the performance. They always introduce themselves prior to playing -- far from standard practice at electronica shows. They've turned shows into downright booty-shake contests by inviting a bunch of girls up on stage to dance.
"We don't have a big light show," Trip notes. "So what we bring is us. We're the show. Not just the music."
Concerned about becoming too overplayed on their own turf, they've avoided area clubs of late, instead taking the live show everywhere from Seattle to Puerto Rico. Yet while on the road, they're eager to get back home to their families. Trip and his wife just welcomed a new baby in June (they also have an 8-year-old daughter) while Subliminal dotes on his toddler, Olivia.
When they are home, much of the Theoretical studies take place in their bedrooms.
"We used to pay $150 an hour for studio time, and basically we can make it sound just as good as that studio in our bedrooms now," Trip explains. "You can wake up in the middle of the night and start a song when you've got an idea. We don't have to book studio time and wait and get over there and pay all that money."
Trip Theory always includes a lot of new jams at their shows, to gauge the crowd's reaction. If the audience seems to be feeling it, the duo will press it up. This year, they released the 12-inch single "Acid in Your System," which Subliminal reports has sold 4,000 units nationally. The pair is working on an album for the Bass Mekanik Records label, which caters to the super-low-bass car-stereo crowd. "It's pretty much a Trip Theory album just with a lot more bass," Trip explains. "I'd say too much bass for a club. That's the difference."
An upcoming 12-inch single, "To Those DJs"/"Acid People," will preface another album, delayed while Trip and Subliminal wait until the across-the-board sales climate is more favorable. With the record industry in recession, they're afraid the yet-to-be titled disc might tank.
"I just don't want that to happen," Trip worries. "I want the album to be in a lot more people's hands. I don't want it to be just all about the shows. The shows come anyway."