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Artist to Watch: Visionary Beatmaker Clams Casino

New Jersey producer brings atmospheric sound to tracks by Soulja Boy and Lil B

June 16, 2011 12:35 PM ET
Artist to Watch: Visionary Beatmaker Clams Casino
Chris Leung

Who: Best known for the emotive, hypnotic, hard-hitting beats he's whipped up for Soulja Boy ("All I Need") and Berkeley oddball Lil B ("Motivation"), 24-year-old Clams Casino got his break when he contacted B on MySpace and sent him some instrumentals. In March, in the face of mounting requests for MC-free versions of his tracks, he released Instrumental Mixtape, where the richly textured, poignant sound stood entirely on its own. This summer, Clams – whose real name is Mike Volpe – will release the lovely Rainforest EP and play his first-ever live show, opening for the anarchic noise act Black Dice at New York's P.S. 1 Museum.

Drummer Boy: Clams began playing drums in his native New Jersey when he was six years old, eventually "messing around with friends' bands and stuff" before trying his hand at hip-hop production in high school. A fan of Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Mobb Deep and the Diplomats-affiliated Heatmakerz production crew, he used a "cheap little Yamaha sampler" to teach himself how to make beats. Today he uses the computer program Acid Pro, often chopping up and tweaking a single sample for use in several different songs.

Emotional Investment: Many of Clams' beats feature melancholy, gorgeously distorted vocal samples from singular chanteuses like Adele, Bjork and Imogen Heap. "I don't know why I'm attracted to female voices – I never really thought of it," he says. His best beats, meanwhile, offset moody melodies with cathartic crescendos. "It's not my feelings coming across. If I'm feeling bad or something, it's not like I'll go make a sad beat," he says. "I just want people to remember my songs. I think making them really emotional is the best way to do that." 

Reluctantly Avant-Garde: "People say your music sounds like this and this, and I'm like, 'I don't know who you're talking about,'" Clams, an avowed hip-hop fan, says of the fact that his music has been lumped in with the outré experimentalism of the bands like Washed Out or Ariel Pink. "It caught me off guard at first. But I'm glad I'm getting to reach a whole different crowd."

Body Work: Clams, who lives with his mother, a first-grade teacher, is studying physical therapy. "I got a long way to go. I just finished a shorter program and I've got a few more years if I want to finish the whole thing," he says. "I love doing music but I never saw myself doing it full time. Maybe that will change."

Clams Casino - Instrumental Mixtape

LAST WEEK: Foster the People's Pumped-Up Psych-Pop

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