Need a burst of energy to enliven your late Saturday afternoons and/or early Saturday evenings? You’d better tune in to KCSB soon, because the hosts of That’s Kablamo will skip the country mere months from now. Since last spring, the deejays known on-air as “Ray” and “Eli” have carefully refined their fast-paced indie mixes, but they plan to put it all on hold until 2012 while they spend a little time in Russia and Japan, respectively. When I sat in on their show, Ray and Eli let slip that they’ve hand-picked a replacement to hold things down while they’re abroad, but they only revealed one piece of information about this substitute: It’s a man.
But surely, those who’ve never heard the program will ask, that bespeaks no particular departure from a couple of deejays named Ray and Eli? Allow me to spoil one of the show’s surprises: these two not-quite-deceptive radio names conceal the identities of Raisa Monroe-Yavneh and Elizabeth Mitropoulos, the ladies behind That’s Kablamo. The title occurred to them only after long, seemingly fruitless brainstorming sessions. “We had this huge list of terrible names,” said Monroe-Yavneh, “like … ‘Helmet.’” (“Eventually we just got down to single words we liked,” explained Mitropoulos.) At the eleventh hour, inspiration struck in the form of the memory of a rap video from comedy troupe The Lonely Island: “That’s Ka-Blamo!”
The show’s original mandate dedicated each broadcast to a particular mood: happy, sad, sexy, over-the-top. “But eventually you run out of moods,” said Monroe-Yavneh. First debuting on KCSB’s schedule at 3 a.m., they settled on what seemed like the only logical principle of musical selection: to play the most upbeat possible tracks at the time of greatest tiredness for everyone, themselves included. This sensibility has held strong ever since, and you can hear it distinctly in the realm of eclectic indie rock they explore each week.
But what realm do they explore, specifically? Terms like “eclectic,” “indie,” and especially “rock” provide only the vaguest coordinates on the musical map. Like most UCSB students who, their high school years freshly complete, head straight to KCSB’s doors, they’ve shaken off an old musical bias or two and gained a greater awareness of all the sounds waiting to be spun. “My idea of the mainstream was less clear back then,” Monroe-Yavneh remembered, “I thought bands like Vampire Weekend and Passion Pit were far out of it. In community radio, ideas of what’s mainstream have shifted. The majority of what we play can be clumped under ‘indie,’ but ‘indie’ itself has shifted, and it can be a cliché.”
“I don’t want to call it ‘indie,’” said Mitropoulos. “Everyone has a preconceived notion of “indie.’ It sounds run-of-the-mill.” “We’re a ‘good indie’ show,” clarified Monroe-Yavneh. Which bands represent the That’s Kablamo brand of “good indie”? When I demanded names, they proved ready with a few: The Wombats, The Growlers, Hunks and His Punx, The Fresh & Onlys, LAKE, and AgesandAges. Clearly, Ray and Eli do a show of today; I could hardly imagine hearing the combined sound of all these groups even a decade ago. The sonic result eludes easy description, but perhaps, for our purposes, a rhetorical question from Mitropoulos encapsulates it best: “How often do you mix electronic with surf rock? I had eclectic taste, but KCSB opened up these niches I didn’t know.”
Mitropoulos has surely gotten to know even more niches in her job booking bands to play live shows at Isla Vista’s Biko Co-op, where both she and Monroe-Yavneh live. If you tune in to their program and hear more electronic music, you’re probably hearing one of Eli’s playlists; if you hear more of the surf rock, you’re probably hearing one of Ray’s. Each week, one of them programs the show’s first hour, and the other programs its second, and despite any of the specific subgeneric divergences in their tastes, duplicates inevitably pop up in the slates of songs they’ve individually prepared. This comes as part of the very nature of work toward a common goal: “We like to keep the show fast and danceable,” said Monroe-Yavneh. “We want to put people in a good mood,” said Mitropolous. “We like to keep things explosive,” added Monroe-Yavneh.
Hosting live bands seems like the next step forward in Eli and Ray’s grand quest to keep That’s Kablamo’s energy level up, but this art takes time to perfect. Mitropoulos remembered one incident with a keyboard-heavy group whose cables turned out to be incompatible with the usual live-studio jacks: “We all crammed right here into the control room.” (“It was actually more fun!” Monroe-Yavneh said.) And improvisational interviewing skills need cultivation right alongside those improvisational technical skills, as demonstrated when they brought in Los Angeles’ Handshakes. “Ray said I had to ask them something,” Mitropoulos remembered, “so I asked them, if they were a food, what food would they be?” The move paid off, leading to a fruitful conversation about burritos, music, and the relationship between the two. “It was a very kablamo thing do to.”
That’s Kablamo airs every Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. on KCSB, 91.9 FM.