Death By Orchestration: The Wicked Beats of Infinity Gauntlet

Photo: Aaron Eudaley Peter Holslin re-watched Dr. Giggles in research for this post. In the world of Marvel Comics, the Infinity Gauntlet is perhaps the most powerful weapon a bad guy could wield. A...
By    November 20, 2013

infinitygauntletPhoto: Aaron Eudaley

Peter Holslin re-watched Dr. Giggles in research for this post.

In the world of Marvel Comics, the Infinity Gauntlet is perhaps the most powerful weapon a bad guy could wield. A golden glove festooned with six shining “Infinity Gems”—representing power, space, time, mind, soul and reality—it gives the person wearing it complete control over the universe. Put it on, for example, and you’ll be able to eradicate 50 percent of the world’s populace with a simple snap of the fingers, just as the evil Thanos does in The Infinity Gauntlet, a six-part comic book series published in 1991.

It’s understandable, then, that San Diego beat-maker Michael Quiñones also goes by the name Infinity Gauntlet. A member of the local crew Red Lotus Klan, he wields the MPC and Pro Tools with the deadly power of Thanos himself. Basking in the pleasures of tension and horror, he works snares and hi-hats like he’s sharpening knives on a stone, juxtaposing angular, organic rhythms against slow-moving orchestral and jazz samples that would sound right at home in a ’70s slasher flick.

While they have vastly different approaches, Infinity Gauntlet’s aesthetics aren’t too far removed from those of the L.A. producer Adrian Younge: Both of them prize back-alley breaks over dancefloor-friendly 808s, and both mine film scores for inspiration, creating something that feels familiar and eerily off-balance at the same time. But if Younge is an aesthete par excellence, running a salon/vinyl record store on the side, Infinity Gauntlet is more of a scrappy street rapper, spending his weekends licking acid tabs and hanging out in sketchy graffiti pits.

His latest beat tape, simply titled ??, is an exquisitely off-the-cuff affair. I recently picked up a CD-R copy of it at Access Music in San Diego, and the liner notes didn’t even include a track list, let alone a link to his Bandcamp page or an email address. When I looked it up online, I found that one track on ?? is titled “Rent Money”—and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the reason he decided to put this thing out in the first place. Still, while it’s a bit hit-or-miss, the CD has plenty of enthralling moments and intriguing ideas.

For a guy who loves getting dark and filthy, ??’s best moments are the quietest. In “Spanish Inquisition,” he cycles through an intricate beat over a solemn piano figure, continuously making changes to the rhythmic pattern until it feels like you’re about to trip over the drums and fall into a trap. Later, he conjures a thick layer of synth sparkles and chorus-y drones on “Velvet Knives”; it’s not clear if the listener should feel wonderstruck or terrified, but this instrumental would certainly sound lethal if it were paired with the rhymes of a chilling rapper like Vince Staples.

Infinity Gauntlet also raps, and when he’s on the mic he operates under the name Scatter Brain the Acid Atheist. Though his workmanlike flow is nothing fancy, he has a flair for wicked imagery: “Thanos couldn’t touch me on this Dirty Harry shit, ’cause I’m riding through the sky in a burning chariot,” he spits in “Dr. Giggles” (so named for the obscure 1992 slasher flick), over a tense sample lifted from the famed crime thriller starring Clint Eastwood.

It’s tempting to think of this obsession with darkness and evil as just a bit of fun—the musical version of Hollywood’s delightfully morbid Museum of Death. And that definitely seems to be the point, at least some of the time. But Infinity Gauntlet’s beats and rhymes also have deep roots in San Diego’s hip-hop underground, which has long offered a reflection on the darker, more neglected parts of this relentlessly sunny city.

Infinity Gauntlet/Scatter Brain, 30, grew up in Paradise Hills, a suburban neighborhood located in the southeastern part of the city—a 24-minute drive, and two-hour bus ride, from the nearest SeaWorld. His brother, Odessa Kane, is one of the city’s most well-respected rappers, and when Brain was still in high school, his bro was making lo-fi music with the Masters of the Universe, a hip-hop crew that also included locals like Orko Eloheim and Gonjasufi.

As Quan Vu wrote in San Diego CityBeat last year, Infinity Gauntlet got into production in the early 2000s, banging out beats on the Playstation 2 while telling everybody he was actually using the MPC. Later, he teamed up with fellow producers Tenshun, Psychopop and Gonjasufi (then known as Sumach) to start a crew of beat-makers called Kilowattz.

Abusive break-beats, wrist-slitting turntable scratches and grisly ambient samples abound in Kilowattz’s output, as the crew did all it could to scrape samples raw. This sheer brutality helped spawn Infinity Gauntlet, as well. When I recently met up with him for an interview, he told me that his original idea for his name had nothing to do with Thanos and the Infinity Gems. In fact, he was thinking of a different kind of gauntlet altogether, one more resonant of medieval punishments and old-school gang initiations.

“I was just looking at it like being in a gauntlet for infinity. You know what I’m saying? There’s a gang of fools beating your ass, and you gotta get through it,” he says, noting that the word is a play on the Ultramagnetic MCs album Critical Beatdown. “They call that a gauntlet. So I was just like, ‘Damn, imagine having to endlessly run through that.’”

“I didn’t even know there was a comic book of that,” he adds. “It was just a play on words… like an endless beatdown, instead of a critical beatdown. Then I heard about that comic book and I was like, ‘Damn, that’s sick.’”

Even so, with his most recent batch of beats, the fearsome Infinity Gauntlet shows a steady hand. Whether he’s making beats for himself, or working with local MCs on a project, he knows when to streamline, to hold back—to let the ominous murmurs of a John Carpenter-style synth do the talking. Sometimes, as Thanos will attest, the simplest movements are infinitely more powerful than a hail of bullets.

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