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Editor Review on
“Instrumental hip-hop” usually means a Roots-style blend of smart rhymes and live beatmaking. Here it’s a cross of Birkin-esque crooning, trip-hoppy rhythms, and Pac-Northwest indie rock. But it’s understandable that Plan B had to pick an approximate descriptor: their sound isn’t like anyone else’s. – editor review

by Dave Segal

For the last 20 months, heads had a low-key, cool space at Deep Down Lounge to experience high-quality electronic music in an intimate basement setting, courtesy of the Fourthcity clique. But Fourthcity leader Zach Huntting & Co. are shutting down the popular Monday-night event August 2; they’ve accomplished everything they set out to do in this format. You can still catch some Fourthcity DJ action Tuesday nights at Lo_Fi and at occasional one-off events. Now they intend to focus on their members’ recording projects and the nascent Fourthcity label. A new compilation titled Fourthcity has just entered the marketplace, providing a vivid, if not thorough, snapshot of Seattle laptop talent circa now.

Many of the disc’s 18 tracks lean heavily on downtempo funk and hiphop, often recalling Mo’ Wax and Ninja Tune’s ’90s heydays, but without slavishly imitating those seminal British labels’ output. “We didn’t receive as many techno or IDM submissions as we thought we would,” says Huntting, who records as Zapan. “I think everybody just assumed that hiphop’s what we’d be looking for.”
Actually, Huntting and his mates were seeking “timelessness.” He remarks, “A lot of the new electronic stuff coming out seems to be about testing the limits of the artists’ gear and not about composition; we wanted this compilation to be as enjoyable five years from now as it is today. All the tracks have a distinct emotional direction, too, which made the ordering of the tracks a lot of fun.”

Scape sets the CD’s tone with a beautiful, orchestral triphop composition, while Former Selv (AKA Jerry Abstract) takes things into grittier territory with pile-driving electro/IDM featuring girthful bass and metallic percussion. Other highlights include Zapan’s brazen, swinging glitchhop à la Dabrye, Variform’s heavy, solemn funk (think prime Krush and Vadim material), and Kris Moon’s deep, Chain Reaction-esque tech-dub reminiscent of Monolake and Rhythm & Sound.
Overall, Fourthcity boasts a high hit-to-miss ratio, lending the impression that Seattle’s electronic-music scene appears to be healthy. Huntting agrees.

“I’d say Seattle’s in the midst of a boom for electronic music; all the genres are cross-pollinating, and a lot of newer producers are coming out of their bedrooms and beginning to mingle. People are realizing that electronic music doesn’t necessarily mean dance music, and can either be one person with a computer, or a band like FCS North or United State of Electronica.”

Fourthcity’s next release will be a mix CD by hiphop turntablists Hideki, Kamui, and Bumblebee. “We’re pressing a few dubplates of previously unheard stuff by the crew for that,” Huntting says, “and it’ll also feature tracks from extant records by Plan B, FCS North, Deceptikon, and others, as well as some stuff off the comp. We’re also putting the finishing touches on the Laptop Battle DVD.” With Huntting’s mailbox bulging with excellent demos, you can expect more hometown electronica to be tickling your gray matter in the coming months. DAVE SEGAL

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The Seattle Weekly, May 2005
Plan B is nominated for the 3rd Annual Seattle Weekly Music Awards in the Electronica Category. Showcase on May 1st. James van Leuven, aka Plan B, is an underrated figure in the Seattle—not to mention international—music scene. Through his approach at self-described “electronic indie pop,” Van Leuven creates languorous and buoyant soundscapes. Live performances find him behind his laptop, remixing tracks on which he’s played any number of traditional instruments. Fresh off a brief European tour, during which he produced the music for the break-dance theater production
Kopf und Tuch, Van Leuven will surely have some new ideas to share. Electronica. 11 p.m.s

THE STRANGER, Jan 29 – Feb 4, 2004

A dozen bands were chosen out of Seattle’s local music scene to represent The Stranger, EMP, One Reel, NARAS, the Mayor’s Office of Film and Music, and the Capital Hill Block Party. 2 bands are voted the best of the best and win a Sponsored showcase in Seattle on Friday, March 5th, $2000.00, and a Sponsored showcase in Austin’s SXSW Music Conference on Friday, March 19th.

PLAN B makes instrumental hiphop that desconstructs the genre with ingenuity and humor. B-Boy mastermind James van Leuven is one of those multitalented cats who ought to be much better known than he is(he plays drums, guitar, and bass, and breakdances better than you do). The 2002 gem Like A Ship Sailing drew comparisons to DJs Shadow and Krush with its noirish melodies, suspenseful cinematic atmospheres, and tripnotically funky beats.

The Seattle Weekly, May 2003

The Seattle Times Top Ten Local Artists of 2002
The envelope, please … for the top 10 local music highlights
Seattle Times: Entertainment & the Arts: Friday, December 20, 2002
By Tom Scanlon

As this palindromic year speeds to a close like a drum solo,here’s a look at the top 10 highlights in local music, 2002:

8. Plan B. One of the pleasant, out-of-nowhere surprises of the year, this is the side project of Automaton drummer James van Leuven. “Like a Ship Sailing,” his Plan B debut, was a lively, creative collection of samples, loops and beats — and he quickly became a club favorite, mixing his laptop-beats with live musicians.

The Stranger Weekly Newspaper, Feb 15, 2006
Plan B and Parskid Play Laser Tag
And Hope You’ll Join Them

We spaced out at the Laser Dome with Grizzly Bear back in August, when the band coupled some of its new emotive barrage pop with light-show technician Ivan’s masterly visuals. Now Plan B is ready to floor you. Seriously—there’s room to lie down in the Laser Dome. James van Leuven (laptop and live drumming) brings his posse of Seattle-ish musical innovators to the dome to offer some of their chill beats and mellifluous instrumentation for those who have the ears to hear: John Paul Scesniak (Origami Ghosts) on guitar/vocals, Adam Swan (Foscil) on bass/laptop/keyboards, Julian Garcia (Scientific American) as laptop scratch DJ, Bill Jones (Boogie Brown Band) on trumpet, and M. Evans working voice manipulation and the melodica. Half of the show will feature young MC L. P. Reklaw, with whom van Leuven is working on a hiphop record.

For the eyes, van Leuven has enlisted the help of local artist Parskid, whose humor ‘n’ horror illustration style will be converted into lasers and stylized live by Ivan. There couldn’t be a more ideal pairing. Parskid has several series of paintings with titles like Pleasant Monstrosities, Bright Death, and Floral Derangement, all of which feature his signature character—a sort of bundled-up gremlin who, like so many of our readership, manages to be cute when angry.
I’d like to second Plan B’s MySpace profile comment, “SHIT WILL BE SURREAL. TAKE DRUGS,” but Big Bubba is probably watching. NICK SCHOLL
Bumbershoot Guide
Saturday, September 4, 2004

Seattle native and Luckyhorse recording artist James van Leuven is conductor, producer, drummer, drum machinist and break dancer in this eclectic down tempo/indie hip-hop quintet. He’s accompanied by standup bass, trumpet, (violin, cello), and a female vocalist.
Underground hiphop’s hardest-working DJ, Vadim–along with his amazing turntablist sidekick First Rate–always presents history lessons you can dance your ass off to, so don’t sleep. Seattle multi-instrumentalist Plan B returns home to offer his ingenious take on Shadow-esque sampladelia and espionage-thriller jazz funk. Chop Suey, 1325 E Madison St, 324-8000, 9 pm-2 am, 21+, $10 adv.
S.F. brings in the Noise
By Bill Picture,
Published on Tuesday, February 24, 2004

On his own, Luckyhorse Industries recording artist James van Leuven, former drummer for Pacific Northwest indie rock outfit Automaton, frolics in the vast expanse between the beat-driven juggernaut of hip-hop and the as-yet undefined boundaries of experimental electronica. Inspired equally by the dreamy downbeat concertos of NorCal trip-hopper DJ Shadow and the to-the-left-of-left-field dalliances of Bjork, the Seattle-based musician/DJ/producer fuses live and laptop, using software to manipulate found samples and recordings of himself playing drums, bass and guitar and combining his precision-tweaked output with live trumpet and stand-up bass. Oh, and this kid can breakdance like nobody’s business.
February 16, 2003
PLAN B with Sole(Anticon) and Grand Buffet(Pitts, PA, USA)
at The Rythm Factory, London, UK

Plan B open proceedings. They are a duo of a nob-twiddling laptop guy and a guy that plucks an upright bass. Tonight is all about electric string instruments! They produce an electronic hiphop sound that’s minimalist, reminiscent of Beneath Autumn Sky and Boards Of Canada. When behind their instruments, they are mellow, jazzy and fairly diverting. But then, unexpectedly, the laptop guy jumps out from behind his gear, and onto the Rhythm Factory’s still sparse dancefloor. He walks around in an intentful circle, before leaping into some complicated (and often painful-looking) spins. This guy is b-boying to his own, jazzy, downbeat tunes, and the crowd is suddenly unexpectedly animated. Everybody’s cheering like we’re back in Brixton! Now that’s a showman. He says some funny stuff too, like ‘I’m in my thirties! I shouldn’t be doing this!’. He also says that the floor is open, so if ‘any other b-boys in the house’ want to have a go… Sadly, nobody volunteers. But we are, undoubtedly, thrilled. Plan B then, a cool show, but I can imagine that it looses something of a limb, when on record…

Sep 25 – Oct 2 2003

After touring through Europe forever, opening for Radio 4 in the UK, and starring in the new DJ Spooky video, Plan B returned to Seattle, if only to cool their heels for a couple shows. I saw the duo perform last week at SAM, where the marbled lobby was a perfect backdrop for their eclectic electronic hybrids. They mixed live instrumentation (standup bass, a small synthesizer that has a mouthpiece and sounds like a bagpipe) with samples and beats from a PowerBook. The music ranged from cinematic, ambient downtempo with breathy female vocals to jazzy, chopped-up hiphop, and James van Leuven showed off some of his signature breakdancing skills for the crowd. Their next gig is at Chop Suey on October 9 with DJ Vadim, and I recommend catching them again before they return to the road.

The Stranger: Some Candy Talking: Kathleen Wilson(Gossip Column)
April 5th, 2004

Coming up is a benefit show for some great people–the members of Plan B and DJ Griesse–that will feature performances by great bands such as IQU, the Dalmations, Scape, NKO, Sientific American, and Parskid. But it’s all because of some really shitty people: lame-ass jerks in San Francisco who stole every lick of Plan B’s and DJ Mat Griesse’s equipment out of their van on the last night of their tour. And along with all the equipment that’s now gone comes extra heartache: the loss of James van Leuven’s backup hard drive with all the Plan B songs he’d ever made to date on it, as well as the new, unreleased ones. Plan B’s Leigh Gable lost a borrowed digital camera and five cassettes containing the band’s film/video that had taken a month to shoot at various locations around Seattle. Among software, client info, and expensive drawing pens, B’s Michael Evans lost irreplaceable drawings. And Griesse’s super-rare collection of funk and soul 45s is gone, too. Nothing has
turned up, and Plan B and Griesse estimate that their total loss, not including the masses of intellectual property, is at least $10,000. And this might just be the most heartbreaking passage I’ve ever read, written to me in an e-mail from Gable: “In a sea of fools’ errands, this last Plan B tour was more doomed than most.

Our tour van came shuddering out of a wrecking yard the day before we left, we were all broke, and if it hadn’t been for the SXSW showcase we wouldn’t have had the gas money anyway.” Ugh. And another came from Griesse: “I lost a few hundy in tools but I could really give a fuck about them. My records were my babies and I really want them back. I have been a compulsive 45 junkie for over 10 years and that box represented thecream of the crop–thousands of hours flipping through dusty sleeves and thousands of dollars spent… gone.

” Ugh. So come out to CoCA (410 Dexter Ave N) on Friday, April 16, and see the aforementioned as well as the desolated Plan B Mini Orchestra (live drums, cello, violin, trumpet, and keys) while NKO and Parskid create live murals. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., show starts at 8:00 p.m., and admission is $10. Aptly stated by Gable in that woeful e-mail, “We must have passed that patch of broken glass on the sidewalk 10 times. To borrow a phrase from our friend Pedro Beas in Tijuana, ‘It’s the most anti-poetic thing you’ll ever see.'” Let’s all pause and cry a little for that.