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Brownout at The Ritz

In Music
BROWN BY LAW: They may look fatigued, but they're not brown for the count.

BROWN BY LAW: They may look fatigued, but they're not brown for the count.

It’s easy enough to read meaning into the name of Beto Martinez’s band. The 10 members of Austin-based Brownout clearly draw upon their Latin roots—blending funk and rock music with a south-of-the-border flair. But the inspiration for the band’s name was also quite literal.

Around the time Brownout were coalescing back in 2003, there was a massive blackout in New York, and they decided to incorporate the idea with the fact that everyone in the group was of Latino descent.

“We couldn’t be ‘Whiteout’, we couldn’t be ‘Blackout’, so we were just Brownout,” Martinez says.

Formed as an offshoot of the larger collective of musicians known as Grupo Fantasma, many members of Brownout—Martinez included—fondly remember their time working with Prince. Back in the mid-2000s, Groupo Fantasma regularly shared the stage with The Purple One as his backing band.

“That experience was very meaningful,” Martinez says. “It taught us a lot about showmanship and professionalism.”

While very capable of penning original tunes, Brownout has found success paying tribute to other artists—notably Black Sabbath. Now, Brownout is showing love to political hip-hop pioneers Chuck D and Flavor Flav.

On their latest album, Fear of a Brown Planet, Brownout takes on the seminal Public Enemy record Fear of a Black Planet—reinterpreting the raging, socially conscious set as a riotous and funky instrumental album.

Often, the original material serves merely as a jumping off point for the Brownout tribute, which doesn’t attempt to faithfully recreate Fear of a Black Planet track for track.

For example, Brownout’s rendition of “911 Is A Joke” takes the original’s opening James Brown sample and funky bassline as its guiding star, but ultimately fills out the rest of the track with scratchy guitar, beefy horns and wah-wah flourishes.

“Just the way that the Public Enemy songs were originally put together, it’s very frantic and kind of makes you uneasy,” Martinez says, explaining how Brownout sought to capture the energy of Fear. “Then you couple that with the message of awareness of social injustices, it definitely can come across as angry and rightfully so.”

Considering that Public Enemy’s original take of “911 Is A Joke” called out the ineffectual deployment of emergency responders in black neighborhoods—and that Brownout’s arrangement has the feel of a police car chase in some forgotten blaxploitation flick—it would seem that Brownout managed to hit their mark.

Jun 21, 8pm, $13+
The Ritz, San Jose

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