Just when you thought belly dancing couldn't be any cooler, now we have Beats Antique.
The San Francisco trio — David Satori, Zoe Jakes and Tommy Cappel —formed in 2007 originally as a studio-only project to accompany Jakes' belly dance routine. She had been touring as part of Bellydance Superstars, a dance company produced by Miles Copeland, when Jakes approached Copeland with the idea of creating an album. Copeland gave it the green light and Tribal Derivations was released.
The three of them had intended to go their separate ways afterward, but then the album started to sell. And then sell some more. Then even more. Tribal Derivations was so popular that Satori, Jakes and Cappel decided to keep riding the momentum.
"People just wanted more and more, so we decided to do a second album," Cappel says on the phone from Trinidad, California. "We never meant to perform it live. From its inception, it was just a recording project."
As they evolved, they started DJing the tracks and eventually started incorporating live instrumentation into the sets. By 2009, they had found their groove, mashing elements of bass and belly dance music, afro-beat and jazz.
"We've never said anything like, 'This is what we want to do or this is how we want to do it.' We just sort of go with it with the songs and the albums just keep coming out. We just keep going with it. It just keeps evolving," Cappel says.
The studio recordings are complex, weaving multiple instruments that they layer over top of each other, creating orchestral soundscapes. The effect is a collision of traditional and avant-garde, of the new and old. Hence the name: Beats Antique.
"(Writing songs) is different every time," Cappel says. "It's an open book, you know. Because of the instrumentation that we have, or that is possible, we don't have any sort of way of doing it. It just happens. We just sort of go with it."
He says it's a matter of not throwing too many elements into a song.
"We approach it more like electronic music in that sense, where we build it up and add different things, maybe change up the rhythm a bit."
On stage, the effect is more difficult to pull off. They'll remix the studio tracks, subtracting the elements that Satori, Cappel and whoever else will be playing along with them will be playing live and playing base track on stage. Satori and Cappel play multiple instruments on stage, and will often feature instrumental passages spur of the moment, building on the recorded version of the song, evolving the song before the crowd.
"We do change it up for the live show because not all the time does it actually translate live," Cappel says.