- Quentin Allen calls himself Intrigue when he plays house music.
Several years ago, DJ/producer Quentin Allen played in Rare Species, a hip-hop group that he says was "kinda like the Roots." It featured two rappers, a saxophonist, and other musicians on an array of instruments. In 1995, it released one maxi-single ("What Can You Do With the Rhyme?") on the Toledo-based label Sin Klub Entertainment before imploding. Looking back on it, Allen says the group was slightly ahead of its time -- but when the group opened for Kid Rock in Toledo, Allen was inspired to keep mixing hip-hop with other forms of music.
"The rapper from Euclid was good, but he wanted to make Rare Species more hardcore," says Allen over coffee, taking a lunch break from the auto detailing business he runs with his mother. "I had heard Portishead and Tricky, and I wanted to take those kind of beats, blend that with jazz, and put that out. Some people weren't ready for that. Now, you hear all kind of hip-hop with all kinda weird stuff in it. But when I saw Kid Rock have a national record a few years later, I knew I had to get on the ball. It was just a wake-up call. I thought, this guy got out there, and I'm in the same position he's in, so I need to get out there."
By late 1998, Allen had put together a 10-song demo of electronic, hip-hop, and jazz fusion that he shopped to record labels. He also recorded "Headtripper," a 30-minute, four-song EP of "abstract music" that he passed out at local shows. Eventually, he found a taker. And while only a handful of songs from the 10-song demo made the final version of his debut, Next Level Fusion (which will be released on Shadow Records in March), the exercise in experimenting with different styles on the demo helped Allen refine his skills.
"I try to make it so that the people who really like drum 'n' bass will also want to educate themselves with songs that aren't so typical of that sound," Allen says of Next Level Fusion. "Instead of having a whole album that's intelligent or a whole album that's jazzy or a whole album that's hard, you reel the listeners in like fish and attack them with more knowledge. Any instrument you hear in my music is all played. I play everything. If you hear a synth, I'm playing it. I might break up some samples for drums, but it's still me playing. Everything is original."
Allen, who grew up in the Lee-Harvard area and attended high school in Solon, learned to play a variety of instruments when he was just a kid. Every Christmas, he would ask for a different instrument, and he eventually accumulated enough gear to start composing songs. In high school and college (he attended the University of Toledo, where he was a business major), he started listening to jazz and classical.
"A lot of my chord structuring is influenced by classical and jazz, rather than blues and rock," he explains. "With the electronic music, ever since I heard Kraftwerk when I was five, I was hooked. It was different, but I liked it. I also liked R&B and funk, but not as much as listening to a good jazz or hip-hop record. All that has been an influence in my music today. Without the Art of Noise and Kraftwerk, I might have taken a different route."
As Illform, Allen has released only the "Headtripper" demo and a single ("Specials") for a Shadow compilation called Revenge of the Abstract Groove that came out last year. In addition, he's got two singles ("Voices From Cellar X" and "Combustion Chamber") coming out on the new Hard Sessions compilation. He and Akron's Hanna, who also has a record out on Shadow, have remixed each other's singles for forthcoming 12-inch releases.
Next Level Fusion opens with steady breakbeats that Allen complicates by adding synthesizer, piano, and even vocals. On "Specials," for example, he takes a bit of dialogue from what he says is "an early '90s weird psychological thriller" and intersperses it with rattling drumbeats and piano loops. The track "View to a Fortress" starts with the sound of Eastern-tinged percussion and then develops into something that sounds like a cross between jazz guitarist Pat Metheny and drum 'n' bass guru Roni Size. Although Allen, who spins house and techno under the moniker Intrigue and downtempo and trip-hop as DJ Carew, isn't widely recognized in Cleveland (even in DJ circles), his jazz-influenced style of drum 'n' bass sounds like nothing else on the scene.
"I think there are a lot of people in Cleveland that, like myself, want to produce or spin good quality dance music, whether it be trip-hop, house, or techno," he says. "I think there sometimes is a problem here with how some of the promoters promote the shows. I think they need to look at how other cities promote shows and take some lessons. That way they can put Cleveland on the map. Because the city has potential, but we need to work on less division and more people working together. A lot of people hate on each other, and they don't try to support each other. Cleveland is small, and if more people support each other and have love for each other, we can all make it happen. I'm trying to get some more support from Cleveland -- I haven't lost faith in the city yet."