Joe Natoli’s career path was cut and dry. He was going to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and become an accountant and he also would help in his father’s organic produce importing business.
But when the Brooklyn, N.Y., native bought his first drum machine in 1990, he was a goner.
“I realized I didn’t want to push a pencil anymore,” Natoli said recently. “I’m 28 now, and when I was about 11, I began playing the guitar. Just the feeling I got from that, nothing else really mattered. I tried all the sports, but this is what I wanted to do. I was about three years into an accounting degree and I realized it could be lucrative and if I did things right, that could be my job, but I dropped out of college and transferred to a music college.
“I took out all the loans and lost almost all my credits, so I had to start all over from scratch. Then I started a record label out of my parents’ basement and tried to get gigs, and before I knew it, I took it seriously and treated it like a job. There was an incentive to work harder, because if it happens, it happens.”
It certainly happened for Natoli, who hooked up with original partner Jason Arzberger to form Atomic Babies, a pioneering underground techno unit. Arzberger has since become a graphic artist and was replaced by Patrick Messinetti. Atomic Babies, a veteran of 12-inch singles and several choice cuts on electronic-dance compilations, made its X-Sight/Cold Front/K-tel debut on Aug. 25 with its full-length album, “Breuklen Heightz.” The first single, “Get Up,” already is making the rounds of techno clubs.
“Breuklen Heightz” isn’t electronica and it’s not ambient. Natoli said it’s more of a fusion between techno and “breaks,” a genre of electronic music.
“In jazz, there’s smooth jazz, Chicago jazz, New Orleans, New York jazz,” Natoli said. “It’s the same for breaks. There’s Florida breaks, there’s West Coast-San Fran breaks and New York breaks, and each one has a different feel to it. Generally speaking, break beats are not your four-on-the-floor dance music, like techno and house music. What’s added to the music depends on the area. Ours is a fusion of those.”
Electronic music is bigger than ever, making mainstream waves with The Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and The Crystal Method. It’s not underground anymore.
“It’s not as popular as say hip-hop is yet,” Natoli said, “but it’s bubbling under to fully crossover and I’m seeing it in the shows, especially on the West Coast.
“Most of the kids who like it, there’s a sense of rebellion going on, just like when rock ‘n’ roll first started. And there’s really no rules. If you look at even hip-hop, standards, pop and ballads, your intros, your chorus, your hook, with electronic music, there’s no rules. It doesn’t have to be vocals; there usually isn’t. The chorus could repeat or not repeat; there could be random sounds happening and at any moment.
“It’s not like there’s a band onstage singing and stopping between songs. The lights are off, the strobe lights are on and there’s tones and beats and kids are able to be themselves and do what teens do amongst themselves, feel free and uninhibited. You combine that with hip beats and stuff they can dance to, there you have it.”
Teens, though, already are growing leery of electronic music’s mainstream appeal, Natoli said. Many view, for example, the Gap’s use of The Crystal Method’s “Busy Child” in TV commercials as an affront.
“Who knows, maybe even next year I’ll be a sellout commercial group,” Natoli said, with a laugh, “but the difference between me is that I thrive on the underground. I’m totally aware of what’s going on. I do solo projects and I play in these warehouse parties. If you don’t do that, you’re going to fossilize yourself and you’ll be a one-hit wonder.
“You have to constantly reinvent yourself. If you take elements of what’s happening at the moment and fuse that with your style, that makes longevity for an electronic artist. That’s the key.”
After sharing the stage with Run-D.M.C. and the Chemical Brothers in Jerusalem on Aug. 27, Atomic Babies opened a 40-city U.S. tour on Aug. 29.
BWF (before we forget): Cradle the Atomic Babies on the Web @ www.bmlentertainment.com.
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc