"Hardcore supergroup Praxis bring the noise, but guitarist Buckethead is freaking me out," was the reaction from VH1's Scott Lapatine, and he wasn't alone; other music critics and fans alike were equally blown away by the "mind-twistingly manic" and "almost unbelievable" sounds emanating from the wall of amplifiers onstage. Many in the crowd had already heard of Buckethead through his much-publicized break with Axl Rose and Guns 'N Roses, while Brain was equally well known for his stint with Les Claypool's Primus and other groups on the Bay Area punk-funk scene. Laswell, for his part, has enjoyed a devout fanbase simply for the sheer quantity of albums he has produced, for artists ranging from Herbie Hancock to Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, George Clinton and beyond. But any feeling of familiarity at Bonnaroo was quickly dashed by the group's futuristic blend of industrial noise, avant-rock, dub, funk and hip-hopall of which taken together created, for most in attendance that night, an entirely alien but somehow weirdly compelling experience.
Although Bonnaroo was billed as their "American premiere," the truth is Praxis have played to numerous small audiences in the states going back to the mid-1990s. Their larger festival dates in Europe and Japan have become quasi-legendary, spawning a brisk bootleg market and raising a clamor among underground disciples in search of "official" live CDs. The latest Innerhythmic release Zurich joins the small crop of live Praxis recordings that have been sanctioned, overseen and produced by Bill Laswell himself.
To grasp more of the conceptual exegesis behind the group, a bit of history is in order. The name Praxis has been applied over the years to a number of loose configurations of musicians either fronted or produced by Bill Laswell, going back to an experimental 12-inch in the early '80s on the infamous Celluloid label that consisted of shortwave noise over drum machine beats. Since then, a revolving army of innovators from Bootsy Collins to John Zorn to Bernie Worrell have contributed to Praxis projects, particularly Transmutation (Axiom, 1992) and Sacrifist (Subharmonic, 1994). The last true studio album to feature the current trio was Metatron (Subharmonic, 1995).
When asked about the current mission of Praxis, Laswell's take is unusually nonchalanta laid-back air he brings to just about any live project he gets involved in personally. "It's not really something we had set out to develop all that much," he says, "so it's still based in what it was, which is a very volume-oriented, loud sound with guitars, dub bass and a rock rhythm section. The response we've received has been kind of surprising, which I guess is partly why we've kept at it off and on. There's not much else to say, other than that I plan to develop a lot of stuff with Buckethead in the future. Still, it's gonna be rock improvisation. It will never be free jazz or avant garde or some of the other things I've been involved with, because it will always have a rock foundation."