Does Dan “the Automator” Nakamura ever sleep?

Paul Wong

Probably not. He’s too busy being one of the most consistently inventive and acclaimed producers working today and an in demand remixer for assorted acts like the Beastie Boys, Herbie Handcock, Stereolab and Depeche Mode. The man’s resume is more impressive than most record collections, reading like a hot list of forward-thinking style.

Classically trained as a violinist, the Automator built a reputation by masterminding the groundbreaking “Dr. Octagon” records for rapper Kool Keith and moonlighting with fellow hip-hop innovator Prince Paul as the Co-Deans of the brilliant Handsome Boy Modeling School. Last year he finally hit some long overdue pay dirt by producing the Gorillaz’s self-titled debut for Damon Albarn and company. With the substantial success of that album on both sides of the Atlantic, you wouldn’t blame Dan if he’d laid back and enjoy the fruits of his labors. Fat bloody chance for a guy who’s made a career of never standing still.

Wanna Buy a Monkey? – A Mixtape Session is the latest testimony to the Automator’s workaholic tendencies. Reflecting Nakamura’s trademark bizarre sense of humor, the name of the album combines Gorillaz’s primate theme with Handsome Boy’s oddball celebration of comedian Chris Elliott (Handsome Boy borrowed its name and a string of samples from an episode of Elliott’s extremely short-lived Fox sitcom, Get a Life. “Wanna buy a monkey?” was an infamous line uttered by David Letterman during a rare cinematic cameo in Elliott’s hilarious debacle, Cabin Boy.)

Building on that, this record shares the same eclectic “anything goes” feel of Gorillaz and Handsome Boy. A seamless mix of 16 handpicked tracks from the Automator’s numerous side-projects and favorite artists, Monkey effortlessly blends alternative hip-hop, electronica and atmospheric indie rock. Logically these artist shouldn’t be on the same record, but in the Automator’s fractured genius, rappers Brand Nubian belong with laidback French neo-loungers Air, pre-Bad Boy Black Rob with the experimental rock of Tortoise, RZA of Wu-Tang’s Bobby Digital persona with the ambient techno of Britain’s Zero 7.

But its not just placing these diverse artists next to one another that takes Nakamura’s genre-bending to a whole new level, it’s the ceaseless flowing of every track into the next, creating a true long-play mix that you could actually imagine the Automator creating at his own incredibly hip party. The effect is coherence and continuity that is essential to pulling off Monkey, proving that good music transcends all the petty sub-classifications and labels that we force on it these days.

While lacking the blast of big beat acts like Chemical Brothers and Paul Oakenfold or the scratching finesse of underground DJs like Mixmaster Mike and Kid Koala (who helps out with a couple tracks here), the Automator manages to hold his own as a DJ through his careful selection of choice material and his usual flair for reworking beats.

Unsurprisingly, veterans of other Automator side-projects, De La Soul and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, both tragically underrated, are standouts here, as is Handsome Boy offshoot Lovage’s funky “Stroker Ace.” Up-and-comers Dilated Peoples and X-ecutioners, both currently enjoying some breakthrough success, also help round out the party – proving that Nakamura’s truly got an ear for tomorrow’s trends.

The problem, if there is one, is that there isn’t any brand new material and as with all compilations there’s the possibility of overlap in your collection. But for those new to the Automator and his particular brand non-pretentious ultra-hip tunes – make Monkey your personal primer in ahead-of-the-curve trendiness.

What’s next for the tireless super-producer? The Automator is allegedly back in the studio working on Handsome Boy’s second record, collaborating on a project called “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” with Prince Paul and Dust Brother Mike Simpson and producing tracks for fellow genre-bender Beck’s follow-up to Midnight Vultures. No rest for the wicked.

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