Monthly Archives: July 2010
Well, kids, it’s happened again–for the second time ever, a band posted on our Submit/Vote page has been voted onto The Weird List by you, our shiftless, dope-smoking readers. So give it up for Tumbleweave, people! They join Richard There as the only democratically elected members of The Weird List.
Tumbleweave is a drums/synths duo from Florida and they’re pretty new at this whole band thing. When they first wrote to us, they admitted they’d only been at it for about two months. Well, they’ve now been at it for a whole three months, and we’re happy to report that all that extra practice time has done nothing to make their music any less spazzy or unpolished. They still basically sound like somebody stuffed a few angry kittens, some old Sega Genesis consoles, and one of the guys from Yip-Yip into a sack and set it on fire. So as you might imagine, they’re a bit of an acquired taste.
We were positive that we were gonna be trend-setters and be the first blog to write about these guys, but no–this fucker called Buddha Khan totally beat us to it. Khaaaaannnnnn!!!!! (That was us channelling William Shatner, btw. In case you weren’t sure.)
Still, we’re pretty sure we’re the first blog to embed this YouTube video of a recent Tumbleweave gig. So we’ve got that going for us at least.
(Photo by Carl Saytor)
Today’s TWBITW entry was suggested to us by one of our readers, Marc Blazel*, who turned us on to the fabulously bizarre gypsy/punk/folk/beatbox stylings of one Sxip Shirey. Sxip (we still have no idea how to pronounce that) is one of those guys who uses everyday objects as instruments and instruments as, well, objects—not necessarily a weird or original idea in and of itself, but the music he conjures up with that approach definitely exists in its own little universe.
His bio page, which also features a nifty little short film about the man and his madcap music, mentions such contraptions as “Industrial Flutes, Bullhorn Harmonicas, Regurgitated Music Box, Triple Extended Pennywhistls [sic], Miniature Hand Bell Choir, Obnoxiophone.” All of which might sound totally random and made up, but we’re pretty sure those are all actual Shirey “instruments.” We can vouch for the existence of the Industrial Flute and the Bullhorn Harmonica, at least. (We’ll get back to the Bullhorn Harmonica in a sec.)
Beyond that, we haven’t been able to suss out much about Shirey, except that he’s based in New York, has worked some with folks like author Neil Gaiman and singer-songwriter Jason Webley (one-half of another TWBITW favorite, Evelyn Evelyn), and he’s also part of a band called Luminescent Orchestrii, which as near as we can tell is sort of a Gogol Bordello for the Fringe Festival crowd. He also has a new album out called Sonic New York, which is great. Among other things, it includes a spooky Portishead-meets-Regina Spektor cover of that old disco song “Ring My Bell.” We know that sounds terrible, but trust us, it actually kinda works.
Oh, about that Bullhorn Harmonica. It’s featured, along with beatboxing and some very funky tuba, on this song called “I Live in New York City,” which as far as we’re concerned should replace that fucking played-to-death “Empire State of Mind” monstrosity as the official Big Apple anthem immediately.
*Yes, we actually have readers—and what’s even more amazing, we do sometimes take suggestions from them. Email us at weirdestbandintheworld(at)gmail.com is you have a favorite weird band you’d like to see on The Weird List. But be prepared to be mocked ruthlessly if your idea of weird is, we dunno, Bowling for Soup or some shit.
Ever since Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel started raiding Africa for new musical ideas, it’s been well-known that the so-called “Dark Continent” is fertile ground when it comes to cool new/old sounds. In any number of African nations, traditional folk music has been cross-bred with Western instruments and playing styles (many of which, like blues, funk and even rock, descended from African music in the first place) to produce all kinds of nifty results: Congolese soukous, Senegalese mbalax, South African mbaqanga and township jive. Now Fela Kuti is the subject of a Broadway musical and even Jake owns a djembe that he occasionally hauls down to the Venice beach drum circle in hopes of meeting hippie chicks. African music has pretty much been demystified and commercialized. Right?
Well, not so fast. Even though they’ve played everywhere from the Hollywood Bowl to the World Cup opening ceremonies, Tinariwen remains something of an enigma: a group of nationless Tuareg nomads with electric guitars, still plying their trance-like, otherworldly music on portable generators out in the Sahara Desert somewhere in Mali, or Algeria, or possibly Niger. They’ve been at since the late ’70s and have been reaching Western audiences for nearly a decade, but even now, the typical response from anyone hearing their music for the first time is: “Holy shit! What is this stuff?”
The band’s story is a long and fascinating one, and the full version can be read on their MySpace page, so we won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that Tinariwen is a collective of like-minded musicians, poets and freedom fighters (in the ’80s, most of the band took a break from music to receive military training in Libya, then used their newfound fighting skills to take part in a Tuareg uprising against the Mali government in the early ’90s). For years, their music was the soundtrack of the Tuareg rebellion, and the musicians had to keep their identities secret, shrouding their faces behind cheches at performances and circulating their music on bootlegged cassette tapes. After the rebellion finally ended, Tinariwen came out of hiding and eventually caught the ear of some French world musicians called Lo’Jo, who invited them to perform in Europe—and pretty soon, word about the electric nomads and their dusty “desert blues” was out.
These days, Tinariwen is still led by the group’s founder, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, along with a core group of singers and musicians who sport fanciful nicknames like “Le Lion du Desert” and “Japanois” (French being the official language of Mali and Niger, it’s the unofficial second language of the Tuareg). But in the words of one chronicler of the band’s history, “They are more of a social movement than a desert rock ‘n’ roll band.” It is said that so many of the Tuareg have jammed with Tinariwen at one time or another that on any given night in the southern Sahara, half a dozen Tinariwen concerts are probably taking place—even while Ag Alhabib and some incarnation of the band is off touring the European festival circuit.
If you extend the notion that anyone who has played with Tinariwen is essentially a member of Tinariwen, their circle gets even larger: at this point, the band has performed with everyone from Carlos Santana to Robert Plant to one of our favorites here at TWBITW, the very Tinariwen-inspired Fool’s Gold. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Tinariwen has gotten around a lot over the last five years or so—these guys are nomads, after all.
One last detail, and then we’ll leave you with this clip from a documentary about the band. Tinariwen literally translates to “The Deserts,” which is what the Tuareg call the land they live on (they see the Sahara as several discreet deserts, not just one large one). And the style of music they play is often called “assouf,” a word that connotes loneliness, homesickness, and heartache—what American musicians might call “the blues.” It’s a great word to describe an amazing, haunting, truly unique form of music—the kind of music only Africa could have invented, but which speaks to all of us. (We don’t often wax grandiose here at TWBITW, but these guys do that to us.)
Not many bands can claim to have invented an entire genre of music, but Negativland actually goes one better than that: They invented an entire art form, a technique called culture jamming, that is now such an accepted part of consumerist, mass media culture that it’s hard to imagine anyone having to invent it. From Adbusters to Banksy to self-aware Sprite commercials to fake BP Twitter accounts, the basic concepts of culture jamming are part of our everyday vernacular at this point. But yep, Negativland coined the term back in 1984. Before that, it was hard to know what to call the band’s mix of intercepted CB-radio conversations, sampled radio announcers and commercial jingles, krautrock, processed guitars, and ambient noise. Except really, really weird.
Negativland was started all the way back in 1979 by Mark Hosler and Richard Lyons, who were then still going to high school in the East Bay. Early on, they recruited a reclusive cable TV repairman named David “The Weatherman” Wills to join the group; his homemade devices, like cellphone scanners and a sampler/oscillator called The Booper, really helped the group perfect their sound collage approach to making music.
The group’s 1987 album Escape From Noise got them a little attention, but what really put Negativland on the map was their 1991 U2 EP, which famously featured a spoof of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” accompanied by a profanity-laced, anti-U2 rant by Top 40 radio DJ Casey Kasem. The track earned Negativland its first lawsuit, from U2′s label, Island Records. After a four-year legal battle, chronicled in a book called Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2, the two parties settled—Island dropped their suit, and Negativland stopped distributing the U2 EP (although they later reissued it as a “bootleg” under the fairly awesome title—quoted from part of Kasem’s anti-U2 rant—These Guys Are From England and Who Gives a Shit).
Thirty years later, Negativland are still at it: They’ve got a new project called It’s All in Your Head FM v2.0 due out later this year, along with a handful of reissues, and band member Don Joyce continues to host a public radio “audio collage” show called Over the Edge on Berkeley’s KPFA. And hey, kids—you can book one of two totally different Negativland shows in your local planetarium, art gallery, or high school auditorium! Take your choice between either a “two-hour-long, action-packed look at monotheism” or “a wordless wall of electronic sound.” Either way, you’re bound to impress all your snooty art friends and vastly increase your chances of scoring with girls whose panties drop at words like “semiotics” and “Noam Chomsky.” [Update: That link is now dead, so apparently they're not playing planetariums anymore. Sorry.]
We’ll leave you with a classic Negativland video from their 1989 opus No Other Possibility. The cigarettes are probably a metaphor for something, but we prefer not to dig too deep on this one and just appreciate it for its delightfully Pythonesque silliness.
There’s certainly no shortage of artists known for building their music around found sounds, field recordings, manipulated bits of conversation and the like. But something about the way The Books do it is definitely unique and, we think, weird enough to deserve a shout-out.
Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong have been making their special flavor of sound collage music for nearly a decade, but they still manage to fly pretty far under the radar—maybe because they didn’t start touring until 2005, maybe because their name is virtually un-Google-able, or maybe because their music lacks the beats and synthesizers of more hipster-friendly sample-happy acts like Lemon Jelly and Boards of Canada. That might change, however, with the release of the duo’s fourth full-length album, The Way Out, later this year (2010). Early tracks “Beautiful People” and “A Cold Freezin’ Night” are as good or better than anything they’ve ever done, and “Freezin’ Night” has what Zammuto himself calls a “pseudo-techno-dance” beat to it. By Books standards, it’s a jam for the ladies!
The even cooler part of “A Cold Freezin’ Night” is how Zammuto and de Jong assembled the sampled children’s voices that, more than the pseudo-techno beat, are the track’s main attraction. Always on the lookout for new sources of obscure recordings to add to their vast library, The Books have been scouring the thrift stores in search of Talkboys, an oddball recording device introduced in the early ’90s as a tie-in with Home Alone 2. (Macaulay Culkin used one in the movie apparently, although we’re not sure how—we’ve never been able to sit through more than five minutes of that celluloid turkey.) And, well—just check out the video for “Freezin’ Night” below, which was spliced together from old home movie clips also collected by the Books boys. Kids are dark.
By the way, in case you need any further proof that The Books are in fact Weirdest Band material, consider the following: They once created music specifically to be played inside an elevator for the French Ministry of Culture, and one of them plays the cello. We rest our case!