|The sound of X|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
One o'clock in the afternoon in mid-May and San Antonio is already almost too hot to bear. The air weighs on you, squirrels its way into your lungs and holds you down like a sadistic older brother, daring you to move.
The cabbie says it hasn't rained for weeks. He's whispering, barely turning the wheel.
Outside, old folks spare their leather skin in the shade beneath trees and mothers blow shallow breaths on their babies' brows.
I arrive at the Alamo Dome in a silent stupor and shuffle through the door with nary a light on in my head.
But passing over the threshold is like plunging into water. All the hot stifle and silence of the city disappears in a splash of cool air, of flying bodies and bikes, and most of all, of music.
Alien Ant Farm's cover of "Smooth Criminal" is coming out of speakers everywhere. It doesn't even have a source, it's just always already there. Bike stunt rider Dave Mirra is in the air and on the vert track and in the air again. And like the closing scene in "Ocean's Eleven," when the Bellagio fountain dances in time with DeBussy's "Clair de Lune," Mirra and "Criminal" are a kind of duet, cutting edges and taking jumps together.
That's X -- not just the spectacular look of guys high and twisting in the air, but the soundtrack that accompanies that look, the music that turns it into a feeling, a vibe, an environment. It's body and mind, it's a sweet, sweaty thing the Godfather called soul.
I stand at the edge of the track, watch and listen as Mirra swings his rear wheel wide, and just like that the mid-day air has lifted up off of me and my synapses are firing giddy little bottle-rocket thoughts about rhythm and reach.
Molly McDonald and DJ Adverse are the ones who make the music happen here at Global X.
"We do our best to get athlete music requests before the competition starts," McDonald says. "We keep a library and try to add to it all the time with the new stuff they say they want to hear."
For practices, Adverse explains, "if there are, say, 20 premier bike park riders, then we'll take a whole range of songs from all their tastes and put it on to one CD so it will go from punk to hip-hop to hard-core -- we're trying to cater to all of the riders in that group."
The scene in the Dome is filled with what the Beasties might call the sounds of science. No random collisions of boarder or biker and song. Tunes are chosen to match up with the athletes and their events.
Mood. Orchestration. Synergy. Flow.
"Adverse knows the sports," McDonald says. "She knows the athletes and knows what they like to hear. She knows what's good during a bike practice as opposed to a competition."
"We try to cater to their styles and personalities," Adverse says. "And their personalities go with their disciplines. The bike park guys are different than the bike vert guys, for example. Flatland bike guys tend to like hip-hop, house or jungle. Bike park guys like anything from hard-core to old-school rock, but not much hip-hop. And with the vert guys, it's a lot of old punk, like Social Distortion or whatever."
Tuning. Athletes are working to get their bodies and minds in tune with their equipment and with the tracks that they move across and above. Meanwhile -- or, more to the point, simultaneously -- Molly and Adverse are making sure the space and time in which they move is in tune as well.
It's wild to learn that the music is as calculated and crafted as it is. In the hall, at the foot of the vert or alongside the rail of the skate park, the marriage between music and motion feels organic. It's not something I have to think about so much as just experience. The path from the speakers through the athletes' ears and into my own seems clear, straight and inevitable.
Connecting with it as I do, taking the refuge I take in it from the dulling heat and silent light of the outdoors, I assume, in the way you do when you're swept up in sound, that the music is for me. I assume when I'm Groovin' to the Black Eyed Peas that they're playing because their sound represents a general X-ish vibe, because it fits the moment, the method and the madness of the events, and because on some basic level it's intended for the fans, it's meant to set our hearts and minds to a certain beat and key.
Adverse says the fans are important, but not the way I'd imagined.
"Actually, what I try to do is set the music and mood to the rider so the crowd can get to know the rider. In between runs, we might cater to the crowds, but when the competition is going on, it's about trying to identify the rider and their personality and introduce them to the fans."
It's a very different kind of DJing. "You have to walk into this scenario and not even think about yourself at all," Adverse says.
The riders are expressing themselves with their moves and imagination. DJ Adverse collaborates with them by providing a familiar and inspirational backbeat for what they're doing.
"There's a chance to rock the crowd," she says, "but it's always first and foremost about what the riders are into and what they're going for."
She says she's including more old-school and underground hip-hop these days, because it's become popular with a lot of riders: "We're trying to get more into some of the obscure stuff that will identify and validate us with some of the more hard-core riders and extreme riders."
Vert biker Ryan Nyquist says the tunes help get him ready: "I think a lot of guys think of it as an advantage to have music you like, to get your blood pumping. For myself, I hear it most before I drop in. It's the motivation right at the beginning of my run."
What Nyquist likes is the variety of music he hears during the competition, and the way each rider makes his sound come alive. "It's every and any kind of music for whatever kind of guy," he says. "It could be rap, it could be heavy metal, it could be R&B, it could be country."
Adverse agrees: "There are common things, but it's also all very relative to each rider. Every person is individual. Some moto-cross riders like Slayer, some like really easy, mellow hip-hop, and some like house music. It's very relative."
Watching the riders mid-flight, I think about expression, about the way horn players tease a song out of themselves.
Dave Mirra says the way he thinks of it, the music is something that insinuates itself into a rider's head, something that pushes him to express himself through his moves on the bike: "Music to me is when I'm up there getting ready to roll in. It's something that sets a tone in my mind; if things are going good I'll be listening to it and get motivated and psyched to really finish out my run."
MTV used to say "too much is never enough," but Adverse says the relationship between rider and tune can be pretty potent, even dangerous. "Some of the riders don't want to ride to faster music because it gets them way too pumped up and they like go really big and hurt themselves."
In the end, it's about finding the balance, the groove.
"When the riders are into it, and you see them nod their heads and get into the music before they drop in," Adverse says, "I feel like we've done our job. I think working here at the X Games has taught me more about music than anything else in my life. It's always a constant exchange between me and the athletes. It's a give and take."
Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.