Ab & Fase

Rating: NNNNNimage counts for everything. that's what a lot of artists think anyway, so they throw wads of cash at.

Rating: NNNNN

image counts for everything. that’s what a lot of artists think anyway, so they throw wads of cash at agents, stylists, publicists, radio consultants and market analysts in hopes of reaching an audience.No so the T-dot hiphop tag team of MC Andy “Abdominal” Bernstein and DJ Fraser “Fase” Wendt. They caused a stir in the summer of 2000 without spending more than it cost to press five copies of their white-label 12-inch debut single, The Vinyl Frontier (Tune Up). Now, although the mention of their names inspires more quizzical stares in Toronto than did the Swollen Members’ at last year’s Juno Awards ceremony, they have a serious buzz going in London, Tokyo and, lately, Sydney, Australia.

Abdominal’s casual, free-flowing rhymes set to DJ Fase’s head-nodding bump were a welcome return to a good-time De La/Tribe vibe at a time when everyone else was busy fussin’ and flossin’. But really, the only thing old school about Abs & Fase is their willingness to show a sense of humour, and that accounts for much of their gobal appeal.

The tricky part was getting their music heard. So how did they swing it? They gave their friend Fisher Nice from Circle Research five copies to take with him to England. You could call it a stab in the dark.

“We told him to put them in the Mr. Bongo record shop in London, hoping that somehow they might get into the right hands,” grins Fase, slurping down a Coke.

“Right after he dropped them off, influential DJ Russ Dewbury came in looking for some new hiphop, and the guy at the counter says, “You gotta check this, it’s from Toronto and it’s really rare — there are only five copies in the country!’ So he listened to it and I guess he liked it enough to start playing it in clubs.”

In fact, UK jazz-dance don Dewbury was so enamoured of it, he not only started spinning it regularly but also added it to his chart in Straight No Chaser magazine. The playlisting stamp of approval from Dewbury is a very big deal — it’s a career-maker.

“There was something immediately appealing about that Abs & Fase record,” Dewbury recalled while kicking back on a Queen West patio during a swing through T.O just after the record’s release. “It had a nice jazzy feel that was very different from the indie hiphop coming out of New York at the time. And as much as I like hiphop, a lot of it simply doesn’t work in clubs. But Abs & Fase went over really well from the first spin.”

Soon, other British DJs started picking up on it, namely London’s Scratch posse, who added the Abs & Fase track Fly Antics to their Scratch Vol. 1 (Rawkus) hiphop comp, and demand for the 12-inch soared. Mr. Bongo ordered 300 more right away, and Abs & Fase eventually wound up shifting 1,000 units of their self-produced debut in London alone.

Their hot streak didn’t end there. A few months later they started getting frantic calls from record store managers in Tokyo trying to track down copies of the elusive Vinyl Frontier single.

“It was the same kind of thing,” chuckles Fase shaking his head. “We managed to get a couple copies of the 12-inch into one small store outside Tokyo, where this DJ found it and put our song Fly Antics on his mix tape.

“We sold 500 copies of our single in Japan. And since a member of the Scratch crew, DJ Matt Smooth, went to spin in Australia, we’ve been getting calls and e-mails from people there asking for our record, too.”

“That tells me the best way to attract attention is by making great music,” concludes Abs. “If you put out dope shit, people will hear it. We’re saving our promotion money for ribs and chicken wings.”

The irony is that while Abs & Fase could turn up in London — where the single Ill Culinary Behaviour! (PIAS) that Abs cut with DJ Format is now breaking — and get the full-on star treatment, they’ll probably need to flash picture ID to make it past the Revival bouncers for their Flowtation Device (Tune Up) album release party tonight (Thursday, March 21).

The self-produced Flowtation Device is an impressive album that reveals a depth, specifically in the candour with which it confronts complex relationship issues, that wasn’t previously apparent.

More significantly, Abs & Fase have made an important contribution to Canuck hiphop, but it may take a while for people across the country to find out about it. Thus far, each of their applications for VideoFACT funding has been turned down flat, so there won’t be any Abs & Fase video clips on television in the immediate future.

Not that they’re complaining. Abs & Fase have come to accept the cold shoulder at home.

“It would be nice to have a little more support here,” shrugs Abs, “but as long as some people are enjoying our music, that’s great.”

“Sometimes I wonder why certain things are happening,” continues Fase, “but we’re already way ahead of where I expected we would be right now. If all we ever get from the music we make is some overseas travel, that would be wonderful.” timp@nowtoronto.com

Keeping it real

Ever since Abs & Fase’s funky joint Fly Antics started appearing on the playlists of celebrity DJs from England and Japan, some strange rumours have been circulating locally about the suddenly hot Toronto twosome. So in the interest of keepin’ it real, Abs & Fase clarify some popular misconceptions about the reality of being Toronto hiphop artists.

Myth: They drive, expensive European sports cars.

Fact: Fase drives his mom’s leased Buick Regal — when she doesn’t need it. Abs doesn’t have a driver’s licence, so he rides on the passenger side of Fase’s mom’s car (when she doesn’t need it).

Myth: They sip cognac from snifters.

Fact: They sip Sleeman’s Honey Brown Ale straight out the bottle very slowly until the drink tickets run out.

Myth: They party with different groupies every night.

Fact: After three years of living with the same woman, Elizabeth, and dogs Clovis and Beau, Abs is the very image of domesticity, while Fase and his partner Jerako recently purchased their first home.

Myth: Their work consists exclusively of writing rhymes and making beats.

Fact: When Abs isn’t racing up and down hilly Montreal streets as a bike courier, he’s hustling freelance illustration. Meanwhile, when Fase isn’t at home washing dishes and dusting, he’s out spreading flyers for gigs or spinning records on college radio stations or in Toronto clubs.

Myth: They’ve suddenly begun gesturing with their hands during conversations and punctuating each statement with Ya kno’ whad’im sayin?

Fact: Abs and Fase still believe what they say can be understood.

ABDOMINAL AND DJ FASE with D-SISIVE, DJ HANGMAN and PAUL E. LOPES tonight (Thursday, March 21) at Revival (783 College). $10. 416-535-7888. www.tuneupmusic.com

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