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Gold Chains Wants You To Dance And Think

Gold Chains is tough to figure out. He's a blinding contradiction of old school hip-hop, socially conscious punk and dirty disco — three styles of music that don't exactly go hand-in-hand. He wants to see you shake your ass on the dance floor to his music, but he also wants you to think about the social commentary expressed in his words. His blend of "I wanna freak you up" lyrics and energetic beats tackles the hedonistic side of the task with silky double entendres. But he also takes a shot at exposing consumer culture in some of his songs.

The gravelly-voiced, San Francisco-based tech-punk rapper, whose much-anticipated debut album, Young Miss America (PIAS), is due out June 3, isn't trying to bash you over the head with a message. He said he just writes about what he sees and shades his visions in digitized beats.

"The album has two things. One is sort of this booty-whatever club-type shit. But underneath that, if you look at a lot of the lyrics, it's pretty much just a subtle social commentary about shit that I see in my everyday life," Gold Chains said via cell phone while driving through New York's Holland Tunnel. "I only write about stuff that I know about. People are like 'Oh, this is some fantasy-type thing.' But it's more like 'Dude, look at the fucking words. This shit ain't no fantasy."

With Young Miss America, Gold Chains (né Topher LaFata) blurs the genre line and stirs elements of punk, hip-hop, dancehall, and the curiously titled IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) together. The result is funky and funny at times, if not a little ambiguous. He doesn't directly indict institutions, but he definitely thinks there's something wrong with the way we live. He's smart without trying too hard.

On the pounding single "Nada," G.C. gets right to his point. "You could still end up with nada/ Diamonds slit the hands and wrist when you accumulate mad dollars/ What is life when there's no one there to love you/ Even if you can afford to wrap that Cali ass in Prada."

In case you were wondering, Gold Chains is white. It's no big deal. He's not the San Fran Eminem or anything. And despite the fact that he named himself after a classic image of old-school hip-hop, G.C.'s music doesn't really sound like hip-hop. Sure he's rhyming and relating, but the sonic backdrops, which are deeply rooted in early house and late disco music with a tinge of melty guitar chords, are vastly different from the bass-heavy bravado of today's hip-hop.

Growing up in Reading, Pa., LaFata formed his first band when he was 14. They did Joy Division covers. He found himself interested in hardcore punk and skateboarding. He later played in a two-piece crew heavily influenced by Front 242 and Laibach. The convergence of electro and punk is apparent.

After getting a degree in Cognitive Neuroscience, LaFata became interested in recording, using a four-track, guitar and some bass, samplers and synthesizers. In 1995, he moved out to San Francisco and taught himself computer programming to pay the bills. Three years later LaFata recorded "Gold Chains — Music for a Higher Society" and the persona was born. After stints on Orthlong Musork and a 12-inch single on Kid 606's Tigerbeat6 label, G.C. signed on with PIAS for his first full-length LP.

Producing each track on the album using a computer loaded with Emagic Logic Audio software in his home in San Francisco, G.C. worked with longtime production partner Joshua Kit Clayton to create what is essentially a mixed bag, both ideologically and musically.

The cover art for Young Miss America is a surreal collage of a young woman. A black stripe covers her eyes; she's wearing a large diamond necklace and white go-go boots and grasping a hundred-dollar bill. G.C. insists he's not dissing her. "I don't think I'm saying anything that bad about the girl," he said. "It's just like 'This exists. This is how we are. Look at us.'"

G.C. has had success in Europe, touring with Kid606, but he hasn't yet hit it in the States. Gold Chains and PIAS have run into some problems trying to promote him because he's so hard to categorize, stylistically. PIAS is currently marketing him as "The punk rock MC," a dubious and constricting title.

"We're trying to figure out how to sell the record. Because it's not just a hip-hop record and it's not just a punk record and it's not just a disco record," he said. "When I set out to make the LP I wanted to make a really progressive record. For me that [the fact that the album doesn't fit easily into a category] says I'm successful. When I listen to it I can't attach it to anything because it's not anything traditional."

G.C. hopes that Young Miss America will establish him in the U.S., but as long as he can keep making his music and pay the bills, he's happy. "I've been making music for a long time, and this is kind of what I do to exorcise my demons," he said. "That's my thing, I like making music and I'll always make music. It's not necessarily fun for me. It's much more serious, but it's not a bad way to make a living, if you can." — Sean Fennessey [Monday, May 5, 2003]

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