WHATEVER YOU WANT Big Digits (Mac Machine, left, and TD) were liberated by the thought that “musically, you can eat cookies in bed.”
Like most good things in life, my first Big Digits experience was in an Allston basement. This one during the summer of 2008. Casio-style synth tones flooded the room over blown-out backbeats pumped from a laptop through the house PA while the two MCs, Mac Machine and TD, spasm'd in highly irregular patterns of frenetic dance. They screamed and spat a style of call-response hip-hop that cut above the beat and through the assembled punks. So when I rolled up to Big Digits' Somerville practice space before their show at Union Square DIY spot Starlab on August 24, I wasn't expecting TD to open the door on crutches, victim of a torn Achilles tendon.
"I was playing basketball," he tells me while I hold his beer and he hobbles back in through the door. "Tonight is sort of an experiment, to see how I do."
By now, Big Digits feel like an institution in the Boston music scene. Over the years, which began with burned-CD releases and 2007 debut Smoke Machines in Lazervision on Dan Shea's Bodies of Water/Arts And Crafts, they've fleshed out their two live crew with the addition of revolving DJs Mark E. Moon and Mikey Lee (known around town as Coralcola). Because, frankly, spitting over backbeats didn't cut it anymore. For years, they were the band you could count on seeing every weekend in basements and other venues, which likely accounts for the four-year gap between records. That drought ends September 6 with the release of the group's second record, Know Tomorrow (Anchor Brain). It's a glitched-out pastiche of genre and tone slapped over driving backbeats and under fluid, alternating rhyme, and it gets the proper release party treatment the following night at Middlesex Lounge.
"We're really good at playing shows, but we're really bad at recording records," says TD outside Starlab, standing next to a dumpster in the parking lot. "I feel like every band has this in the back of their head — the fear that, at some point people just stop asking you to play shows — and it took us a while to get over it, so we just played everything."
The Big Digits vibe is overwhelmingly positive, both lyrically and in conversation, and TD traces their founding philosophy to some graffiti at a DIY house they stayed at while passing through San Diego on tour, a story that evokes the origin of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," when Kathleen Hanna tagged "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on Cobain's wall. At this San Diego house, someone had scrawled "No parents, no rules" and, though a seemingly innocuous phrase, it had deep repercussions for the band.
"You grow up and your parents are with you, but at some point you're living your own life," says TD. "And once that happens you can do whatever you want. The music you're making isn't defined by any sort of convention, you can make weird rap music, you can make . . . harp . . . rave music."
"Musically, you can eat cookies in bed," adds Moon.