Bad Dagger: a new electronic project

Cameron Reel greeted me at the door of his home a few weeks ago. I was there to discuss Bad Dagger, his new electronic project. First, though, we discussed the preceding night’s Twin Cats show the at Cubby Bear in Chicago (“I like it!” he said of the venue) and shared the feedback that was already rolling in from mutual friends who had attended the previous night’s Papadosio concert in Bloomington. When discussion transitioned into Bad Dagger my first questions revolved around how the music is made.

A laptop was plugged in next to the couch, accompanied by an Ableton controller that looked similar to the grid of illuminated pads on a Lights Out game. Cameron reached for the computer, pulled up some programs, and I suddenly found myself in the midst of a personal demonstration. He showed me how individual sounds (a snare drum, a synthesizer, etc.) are assigned a rhythm that he writes. Multiple lines of instrumental rhythms are then grouped together to create a loop. He then cues the loops in the Ableton Live software and uses the controller to activate the loops at different intervals and in various groupings. Knobs and sliders on the controller board act as the proverbial bells and whistles to the equipment, enabling Cameron to manipulate the sounds on the fly and add various effects according to crowd reaction.

Cameron’s experience as a producer dates back almost 15 years ago; he dabbled here and there with electronic music in previous bands San Zion and The Fuse before honing his skillset as a bass player with The Twin Cats. “I got the Ableton software about six or seven months ago and the controller about two months ago,” he tells me. “I never really got into turntables. This is so much more simplistic.”

“Yet, so much more complex!” I added, still overwhelmed by the attention and organization required to make a successful live track with the computer programs.

Cam smiled and nodded in agreement. “Yep. It’s like the Crayola 128 master box of crayons.”

Cameron cites electronica as his first real musical love, even before he connected with the jam band scene through the Twin Cats. He credits his mother for a heavy Beatles influence on his upbringing while his dad leaned towards old rock-n-roll from the likes of Johnny Horton and Buddy Holly. When I ask about his own electronic inspirations for Bad Dagger, Cam first mentions 1997’s Homework album by Daft Punk. “That album completely changed me forever,” he said. Other mentions include Pretty Lights, The Chemical Brothers, Propellerheads, Crystal Method, and Deadmau5- who, according to Cameron, utilizes the internet-based broadcasting program USTREAM while producing in his studio, allowing fans to literally watch him work.

As far as concerns about Bad Dagger’s existence interfering with The Twin Cats, Cameron foresees an effective coexistence. “As Bad Dagger progresses, it will be easier to have the relationship. We can get smart about the booking and schedule Bad Dagger sets around the Twin Cats schedule. The other band members have even offered to go across the street with me before or after a show and run lights and sound for a Bad Dagger set.”

“After your debut, what’s next? What can we expect to see from Bad Dagger in the future?”

“First I’ve got to get through this Vogue show. The debut gig transpired a lot sooner than I expected, but that really motivated me to get Bad Dagger ready for the public. Long term, I’d like to cut an album, book more shows, and get some festival sets.”

BoomBox, B!tch Please, and Bad Dagger play The Vogue Thursday, February 10.