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The Shamen: With heavy beats and filigreed synthesizer lines, Lost at Last plays for tribal effect.

Lost and Found

Trance-techno collective Lost at Last finds a way to bridge digital and tribal culture

By Rob Pratt

LOST AT LAST is a hard band to pin down. Never mind that its sound--a vibrant pairing of techno-trance with tribal chanting and drumming--defies easy categorization. Just locating the band members is hard enough.

For now, explains Om, the group's synthesizer and programming wizard, they've set up their studio far up North Branciforte Drive, just outside the city limits. The three founders of Lost at Last--Om, instrumentalist Deva Priyo and singer Jaya Lakshmi--live there in a musical-spiritual commune of sorts.

Since forming in Maui three years ago, the band members have bounced back and forth between the islands and Northern California, performing, recording and searching for enlightenment through music. Home for the next few months is Santa Cruz, Om adds--then it's back to Hawaii in early spring to record a new album.

"We got down to doing the first album, really, before we had played any concerts," Om says of the band's 1997 self-titled debut. "One thing we really want to do is to record some of that stuff with more percussion--our live stuff has much more. But we have about two albums' worth of new songs that we want to press ahead on first."

On record, Lost at Last delivers a classic goa trance sound, a hypnotic mix of Om's filigreed synthesizer bleeps, Priyo's textural strings and Lakshmi's ethereal, otherworldly chanting. Like most trance, it has a simple rhythmic undercarriage and little boom factor in the bass.

The band's live show is a different thing altogether. With set and hand drummers, Lost at Last plays for ritualistic effect, heavy on beats and building tension and cooling down the way a rave DJ spins records to keep up with the ebb and flow of the crowd.

Part of the genius of Lost at Last is that the group makes computer-driven techno sequences work within the context of a dynamic live band with a penchant for improvisation. Most techno bands playing live treat their set lists and song arrangements as fixed phenomena, having live instruments play along with computer-driven synthesizers (or even just a DAT tape) or dispensing with performers altogether and simply taking the stage to make minor tweaks to the gear as songs play out.

With a laptop wired to his keyboards, drum machines and samplers, Om leads live shows in much the same way as early swing-band leaders handled arrangements on the fly. He uses prearranged riffs and loops running on his sequencer, cueing the band part by part.

Lost at Last's mix of techno music and a jam-band sensibility made the band a hit almost from the moment it left Maui for the mainland. With a long-standing hippie-raver underground, the Bay Area was a natural second home for the group.

"We decided to take a chance and take our equipment to Burning Man," Om says. "Right after that, they invited us to play the decompression party at Maritime Hall."

Lost at Last's first Santa Cruz date came only a couple months later, a packed Palookaville show that drew an eclectic crowd of Deadheads, ravers and world-music enthusiasts. After a two-hour set, Lost at Last led everyone in the house in a minutes-long chant of "Om."

"It's like one big, giant prayer the whole gig," Om explains, "and that 'Om' at the end really brings everybody's energy together. When we bring it to an end, there's a moment of silence that's really amazing."

Lost at Last plays Saturday (Dec. 11) at 9pm at Palookaville, 1133 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12 adv./$14 door; all ages. (454.0600)

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From the December 8-15, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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