Belly Dancing To The Beats

There’s something happening here. And this time, it’s pretty clear. Bay Area trio Beats Antique is blowing up. With four albums in as many years, their mix of old-world sounds and vintage instruments – all played through a contemporary sound system - is hitting its creative stride and resonating with a constantly expanding audience.

But what sets this threesome apart from all the others mining the past and giving it a facelift is Zoe Jakes. The classically trained belly dancer adds a stunning visual component to the show and raises the bar for everyone, and everything, around her. And make no mistake, the most intriguing and mysterious component of Beats Antique is anything but mere eye candy. Jakes is an integral creative member of the one-time performance art troupe, contributing to production, arrangements, and designing all of the costuming and choreography for their visually engaging performances.

Before their sold-out show at The Belly Up Thursday night, I talked with the Beats Antique producer and dancer about everything from keeping up with the band’s growing popularity to being seen as more than the girl in the crazy costumes.

Scott McDonald: How’s it going?
Zoe Jakes: Very good. Glad to be somewhere warm. We all live in Oakland, so I’m home on one of the few days I actually get to be home. It’s awesome and I love it here. Way back, I’m from Canada, but I’ve been here for over 15 years now.

SM: I’ve interviewed the boys before, but am glad to speak with you this time. You’re a very unique component to this band and, really, to music in general.
ZJ: Yeah, there’s not very many of me out there.

SM: There’s really not. Have you always been a dancer?
ZJ: My mom put me in ballet when I was 3. I was not much of a ballerina, but I did stick with it until I was 16. My sister was actually the main dancer at the Company. I got to watch my sister be a pro for a long time and I was kind of the ugly duckling, which now is pretty funny. But I never really meshed with ballet, tap, jazz, or anything contemporary. It just wasn’t my favorite thing. But I discovered belly dancing when I was 19 and became completely obsessed with it. And somehow, I found myself doing it professionally 6 years later – birthday parties, weddings, crazy corporate gigs, on stilts, with fire – all kinds of weird stuff. It’s been quite the funny zigzag path I’ve been on to get to the point that I’m at now.

SM: But you do far more than dance in this band, right?
ZJ: Well, it’s kind of a funny line that I walk. But since the beginning, I’ve been part of the production. All three of us produce the music, and while David and Tommy definitely do most of it, there have been tracks that are mine and they’ve helped me out with. And I definitely do a lot of arranging and create a lot of soundscapes for this band. You’ll see me playing an instrument up there sometimes as well. That comes from me being a musician and having a desire to play some of the music on stage that I helped create. But it’s all fun to me – every part of it. Playing is so much different than dancing. I mean, it’s equally crazy, but just so different. I love it and want to do it all. That’s just my personality.

SM: You guys have been cranking out an album each year since you started. Are you coming up with all new dances and costuming at the same pace?
ZJ: As prolific as the band is, I am forced to be just as prolific with the dances and everything that comes with it. Each time we go out, the likelihood that we’re going to play more new songs than old is always there, so I really have no choice. We also share the same brain in that we’re all three incredibly excited by new things. I’m always making new costumes and always designing new props. I think one of the reasons we change so much, and that our sound is continually changing, is that we always continue to push. We want to try new elements, new storylines, and new sounds. And as an established band, which in the last few years I feel like we’ve become, we don’t feel the same pressure to continue the things that people have responded to the way we once did. We want to try to continue to expand and try different things.

SM: Seems like it would be daunting for you to keep pace.
ZJ: It definitely feels that way sometimes. That pressure is there for sure. But I like it. It can be overwhelming, but it’s just part of it, you know?

SM: You guys have gone from Burning Man novelty act to full-fledged national touring act. How has that transformation been?
ZJ: One of the wonderful things about everything that’s happened has been that the timing of it all has been perfect. David, Tommy, and I had all been in free-form performance art groups before this. We were all just barely getting by for a while. But more than anything, I think we were all really craving more control, more production, and more ability to sit down and plan something great that we could all execute and improve on a regular basis. After so many years of the opposite, we were all really ready for it.

SM: Well, it’s obviously working.
ZJ: I think it is. But even if people weren’t reacting the way they are, I think we’d still be doing what we’re doing. We’re just having too much fun.

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