Justin Boreta has always been one to explore — from pre-Internet computer networks to the hills and bluffs that surround his Goleta childhood home to the creative trails blazed in musical territory seldom trodden in the world of electronic music. “I was always a creative kid growing up,” said Boreta via Internet phone call. “I had a computer at a very young age. My grandfather had bought me an Apple IIe, and I would constantly tinker around or play with it until I thought I figured it out.”
Boreta is one-third of The Glitch Mob, a group formed in 2006 from a deejay collective and born of the Los Angeles electronic music scene. Though the group has found success in West Coast states and around the world, their turn at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday, May 30, will be the first time The Glitch Mob has performed in Boreta’s hometown. The date is one stop on a tour that will take them from Vancouver to Reno to Romania to Chicago (though not in that order).
International shows and custom sounds weren’t always in the cards for The Glitch Mob. In 2010, after the departure of founding member Kraddy (given name Matthew Kratz) due to creative differences, the remaining members made a stylistic musical shift away from their previous drum-and-bass deejaying roots, a transformation capped by their debut album, Drink the Sea, which split their still-burgeoning fan base. “When we played Coachella in 2010, no one had heard our record yet,” Boreta explained. “Not even our manager or agent. … So when we played Coachella, we didn’t play a lot of our old stuff. We only played new stuff. Everybody was like, “’What the fuck is this?’”
Despite crowd bewilderment, Drink the Sea is acknowledged as a very good album. But it does sound noticeably unique — not just as a departure for The Glitch Mob’s reasonably developed creative direction but for any band within the genre at the time. The songs on Drink the Sea are structured more traditionally — that is to say, like actual songs and with less audible bass-breakdown stuttering. There is also discernible thought and musical cohesiveness about the album. “The first Drink the Sea tour was super, super rough for us,” recalled Boreta. “The record also wasn’t out. So we were playing these songs that no one had heard, and everyone was just really, really confused.”
Following the release of Drink the Sea, The Glitch Mob audience rallied back, as the record made it’s way through the Internet. “We didn’t understand this at the time, but there is an art form to the way that you bring people along on a journey with you. You need to build a ramp; otherwise, you’re going to lose people.”
The Glitch Mob, insofar as any group can be adventurous within a given genre, have retained that same creative boldness, despite some harsh reactions in the past. The persistence with which the group remains musically dynamic has become one of its defining features, audible throughout Love Death Immortality, the sophomore full-length released in February 2014.
It’s clear that Boreta himself is imbued with persistence. A voracious reader, the native Goletan’s journey into The Glitch Mob was one largely defined by his will to follow his curiosity and “figure things out.” “The resources at the time were limited for tech stuff,” Boreta said. “My grandfather would always buy me new books or educational materials.” Even if the subject remained mysterious to his family (as computer science was for most in the early to mid-’90s), it wasn’t the material that mattered. “[Grandfather] didn’t even really care what my sister and I were reading, so long as we were reading. My grandma owned a bookstore [in Northern California]; I was always surrounded by books. I think he knew how important technology would be, but none of them ultimately understood what I was learning. They just saw my curiosity.”
It was his technological inquisitiveness that ultimately put Boreta in a prime position to explore electronic music in the early 1990s through a bulletin board system (BBS), a computer server that, among other things, allowed users to upload and download software and play online games with each other. The Santa Barbara BBS was called “Stonehenge,” and Boreta made contact with fellow music fans via the network while competing over games likes of Quake, Doom, and Doom 2.
Stonehenge would eventually be surpassed by Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which is where Boreta discovered new and different sounds at a furious pace in various music-specific channels. “I was really just sort of messing around. I had a mom who was cool enough to get me my own phone line. I think a lot of lucky kids had their own phone lines so they could chat with their friends all day without giving a busy signal to everything else,” Boreta recalled. “At that time, it was dial-up, so I had my little modem, and I would download MP3s. At that time, it would take all night.”
Scrounging online for iterations of the beats and bass sounds he heard in hip-hop songs, Boreta downloaded an MP3 that would turn out to be a prime introduction to the world of electronic music — a track called “Digeridoo” by Aphex Twin, a Grammy-winning artist (real name Richard James) considered one of the most influential people in contemporary electronica. “I didn’t know what it was. It was just called “Digeridoo.mp3” or something. But yeah, I scored. ”
From there, Boreta began to focus primarily on electronic music, finding sounds similar to groups like Nine Inch Nails or KMFDM, with driving, bass-heavy beats. As his tastes refined, he followed his ears into dance subgenres, specifically drum-and-bass and jungle types of dance music, which were becoming wildly popular in Europe and the U.K.“I remember there was one channel where … people would set up these little file server systems where you could go into their computer and download music. There was one guy from the U.K. who had probably 50 of these drum-and-bass songs, and I went and downloaded every single one,” Boreta laughed. “It probably took about a month, to be honest. I was just eating this stuff up.”
As the Internet expanded, so did Boreta’s musical appetite. Once on AOL, a group of chat room friends introduced him to electronic-music-specific record shops in L.A., as well as drum-and-bass deejays and raves. Before too long, Boreta decided he wanted to learn how to deejay. “I went on craigslist, and I found a guy in Hesperia, California. Do you know where that is? It is in the middle of nowhere, but he was the only guy selling Technics 1200s [turntables].”
To deejay in a pre-CDJ-and-Traktor Pro world, one needed not only turntables but also records. “At the time, I could only afford two records,” said Boreta. “I went and bought these two records and took them back to my mom’s house and practiced by hooking the turntables up to her Bose home stereo system,” Boreta recalled fondly. “She was always really supportive, always let me practice.”
For all of his ambition, though, Boreta had a hard time finding an audience in Santa Barbara, at least while still a Dos Pueblos High School student. “I remember I deejayed at one of the talent shows at Dos Pueblos in the cafeteria,” said Boreta. “Some girl finished her baton routine, and then I got up there and started playing this … U.K. drum-and-bass stuff.” His eventual departure to UC Santa Cruz helped Boreta find the creative community that he craved, starting with a roommate who shared his passion for music. “From there, it just sort of blossomed,” Boreta said.
Boreta continued to explore music, planning parties and even taking electronic music production courses — more focused on techniques than actual songwriting — all while majoring in film production at the university. “Music just didn’t seem like something I could make a living doing,” he said, when asked what prevented him from doing music full-time.
The weekly deejay parties he and friends organized further entrenched Boreta into the (momentarily) robust Santa Cruz electronic scene. “I would deejay, I would haul the speakers and set everything up. I would even volunteer to pick up the deejays we booked from the airport so I could pick their brains.”
Eventually, Boreta left Santa Cruz for neighboring San Francisco, gaining employment at a creative agency as a jack-of-all-technical-trades ranging from film production to web development to programming, all the while deejaying on the weekends.
Ultimately, Boreta was let go from the job, no doubt partly because he was spread so thin between working and an increasingly demanding deejaying schedule. “Getting fired was one of the best things that’s happened to me, honestly,” he chuckled. With no day job holding him back, Boreta decided to make the fateful move to Los Angeles. “It felt like a big risk, but at that point, it was like, ‘Why not?’”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Chromeo and The Glitch Mob play Saturday, May 30, at the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.). For tickets, visit sbbowl.com.