Track Work: Micah Vellian, ‘Crystal Clear’

By Tim Regan

Arlington producer Micah Vellian clears his throat on a new club-friendly track, "Crystal Clear."
Arlington producer Micah Vellian clears his throat on a new club-friendly track, "Crystal Clear." Maggie Famiglietti

After a few years in D.C. house trio Volta Bureau, Miguel Lacsamana and his bandmates decided it was time to focus on other projects, at least temporarily. Co-producer Will Eastman has since dug back into remixing, and Bernard Farley is diligently plugging away on Outputmessage, his longtime solo act. These days Lacsamana is doing his own thing, too—though he talks about his current work like it’s a bodily function.

“I just need to get these things out,” says Lacsamana, 38, who has been posting his new output on Soundcloud. (Lacsamana has also worked on Bandwidth videos with his friends at Wilderness Bureau.) The latest spans just two tracks: “Never Gonna Get It” and “Crystal Clear”—but it represents a playful period of experimentation for the producer and his self-described “party persona.” He calls the new tunes a “weird hybrid” of house, indie dance and nu-disco.

“It’s dancey stuff…part pop and part weird electronic stuff,” Lacsamana says. “It’s not necessarily something that I’m completely invested in.”

Still, for something he’s not invested in, Lacsamana spent a lot of time remixing and editing the tracks with precision. Named after Crystal City, “Crystal Clear” uses the famous hook from DJ Kool’s sample-driven “Let Me Clear My Throat“—and it wasn’t as simple to make as it may sound. Instead of borrowing the track wholesale, Lacsamana deconstructed the three main elements of Kool’s pastiche: the introductory horns from Kool and the Gang’s “Hollywood Swinging,” the funky sax loop first constructed by 45 King and DJ Kool’s original vocals. The resulting samples came out cleaner and more malleable. “I basically tried to recreate what DJ Kool had done,” he says, but in a different, poppier context.

Doing things differently is a kind of mantra for the Arlington-based artist, who first broke into D.C.’s electronic music scene in the mid-1990s. While other DJs spent time honing their skills, Lacsamana was partying and trying to find himself. “I was kind of a late bloomer,” he says.

As a college student in 1996, Lacsamana had his first epiphany after dropping acid in the parking lot of the now-defunct D.C. nightclub Tracks. “I listened to Daft Punk’s Homework. It was a mind[freak],” he says. While tripping, he realized that he felt drawn to making music. “I was like, ‘Hey, I think this is what I want to do,'” he says.

Skip ahead to this year, and Lacsamana, who swore off drugs and alcohol in June, isn’t done discovering himself. That’s what this solo project is for. He’s not sure he’ll release more music under the Micah Vellian name, but even if he doesn’t, he says, it was worth the effort.

“I had to push through my ego,” Lacsamana says. “That’s what these [songs] are. Sort of the detritus of that journey.”