Author Archives: jakemanson
One of the weirdest music and art venues in the world is in, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona. There, the self-described “world’s oldest gay Canadian rapper,” Space Alien Donald, does shows and hosts art exhibits in a little house near the airport called Funny World. We hope to visit soon, because it sounds like the kind of place that The Man could shut down at any moment. Especially in a place like Arizona, where anyone suspected of being an alien is just one broken taillight away from getting deported.
Actually, when Space Alien Donald bought Funny World in 2011, he was apparently told by the city that it would be torn down in six months to make way for a parking lot. But three years later, it’s still there. Even in Arizona, the weirdos are winning.
How did a 70-something gay Canadian rapper wind up hosting semi-legal punk shows in his house in Phoenix? We’re a little hazy on the specifics, but according to this article in something called the Downtown Devil, the man born Donald Roth moved to the U.S. from Ontario in the ’60s to work in electronics. After working in Silicon Valley, where he faked his school records to get jobs, he eventually settled in Prescott, a small city north of Phoenix, where he began developing his sci-fi inspired alter ego, Space Alien Donald.
Donald calls himself a rapper, but that’s not quite accurate. He really just kind of sing-speaks lyrics about science, astronomy, aliens and one of his favorite topics, a hypothetical particle called the tachyon that, like many things in Space Alien Donald songs, may be legit science or may be a bunch of pseudo-scientific hooey. He does this over synth backing tracks that sometimes are just the preset beats and chord progressions built into cheap electronic keyboards. So basically, he’s like nerdcore meets Mission Man meets a less schizophrenic Wesley Willis. Only older and more Canadian.
Donald just released his latest album, Must Be Funny, on Related Records. It’s got songs about how aliens built the moon and it has penises on the cover and it’s awesome. You can stream the whole thing over on Bandcamp and buy it for five bucks if you’re awesome, too. Here’s one of our favorite tracks:
To get more of the full Space Alien Donald story, this documentary, made by one of the residents of Funny World (yeah, people live there, too), tells you all you need to know:
Big thanks to Kai of Toxic Chicken for introducing us to Space Alien Donald’s weirdness.
Polish hip-hop duo Donatan and Cleo went back down to the farm for their latest single/video, “BRAĆ,” and you know what that means: More high-sterical combinations of Polish rural life and hip-hop video clichés. Sexy vixens washing an old tractor like it’s a Bentley? Check! Old Polish dudes doing vodka shots like they’re sipping Cristal in the club? Check! Roosters wandering around for no reason? Checkity-check-check, baby. Slavschool in full effect!
The new video also features a new collaborator: A Polish/Ukrainian band called Enej, who bring the requisite Slavic folk flavor to the proceedings by way of a little gypsy-punk accordion and horns. Here’s what they usually sound like, so we gotta say, Donatan does a good job recasting them in a hip-hop context.
So our last Weird Band Poll™ got a little…contentious, let’s say. In the end, L.A.Drones! won by a pretty wide margin, but not before freaking out and accusing this week’s weird band, Shibboleth, of cheating. To which we say: Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. We’re not high-tech enough to track every last vote. We believe in the honor system.
But however they got all their votes, Shibboleth deserve an “A” for effort and a belated, runner-up shout-out as our Weird Band of the Week. In most months, they would’ve won the poll. Not because our polls are that easy to game…more just because it doesn’t take all that many votes to win one.
So who or what is Shibboleth? Actually, we’re still not sure. We know they’re from Ireland, there seems to be three of them, and one of them is named Jonathan. We know one of them plays a banjo. We know they like to wear masks and weird sunglasses. We know they have a four-song EP called Farewell and they followed that up just a few weeks ago with a new song called “Crooked Frame.” We think the other two guys might be named John and Joshua. And that’s about it, really. Like a lot of good weird bands that haven’t been around long, they’re a bit shrouded in mystery.
Musically, Shibboleth veer between creepy, ambient doom-rock and full-blown, guitar-bashing noise. Throw in that banjo and some backwards vocals and they’re like a Celtic bluegrass version of Sun O))).
Here’s the video for their song, “The Cannibal’s Standpoint”:
And here’s their video response to the Great Weirdest Band Cheating Scandal of 2014, which we’re pretty sure is the first time any band has made a video specifically in response to something that happened on this blog:
After we saw that, how we could not make them Weird Band of the Week?
Some of my best friends are Christians. Some of my best friends are also heathens and Satanists, so cocktail party conversation at my place can get pretty interesting. But to my Christian friends, I just want to say: When I proceed to make fun of the video I’m about to show you, I’m not making fun of all Christians. Just the ones with bad pitch and dorky breakdance moves.
This video is from a New Agey Christian ministry based in Ohio called The Way International. On YouTube, it’s marked copyright 2007, so I really hope it was actually made in 2007, because that would make it even more awesome. As it is, it seems like the kind of thing that was probably done in the early ’90s when white people from Ohio were just discovering synthesizers and breakdancing, but who knows? Maybe the folks at The Way International took a bit longer to catch on to such innovations.
Actually, you know what? I’m not even gonna make fun of this video. I’m just going to show it to you, because it’s the kind of thing that speaks for itself. And speaks for itself with a really dramatic echo effect.
Another Weird Band Poll is in the books here at Weird Band HQ, and the band poppin’ bottles this time is from right here in our hometown of Los Angeles. So give an imaginary high-five to L.A.Drones! I wasn’t shouting, by the way…their name has an exclamation point at the end. Just thought I’d clear that up.
L.A.Drones! (not shouting, I swear) are a synth duo who perform wearing black bandit masks because one version of their name, “ladrones,” means “thieves” in Spanish. And because, as they told us, “we steal samples from the music we like.” I thought that was pretty much every synth band these days, but maybe L.A.Drones! are more thievish than most.
In another version of their name, it means “Los Angeles drones,” which could be a reference to the droning sound of their music, or the fact that we Angelenos increasingly live in a police surveillance state. Seriously, the cops here have drones. Which are supposedly not in use at the moment, but if there’s one thing every halfway intelligent American just learned in the wake of all that shit that went down in Ferguson, it’s that we should not trust our local police forces with all their new high-tech gadgets. You may as well give a box of fireworks to a bunch of 10-year-old boys and say, “Now you be sure to find a grown-up and get permission before you light these.”
Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. L.A.Drones! So far, the duo of Vulcanito and Tormentas Gonzalez has only released one track, an ass-shaking little jam called “Horrible Dreams,” which you can watch in the performance clip below and also buy on Bandcamp for less than a cup of gas station coffee.
When we asked if they had any other songs, Vulcanito explained that L.A.Drones! really has to be experienced live. “Horrible Dreams” is just the first part of a 45-minute “capsule” of music called “The Dreamlike World of the Midnight Walker,” which they never perform the same way twice, and any versions of it they release online will just be recorded live in the studio. They’re working on other “capsules” of music, each of which will be played at a different BPM. “Midnight Walker” is at 127 BPM, apparently.
Here’s a live clip of the second part of “The Dreamlike World of the Midnight Walker,” which is called “Give Up.” Musically, they’re not the weirdest band we’ve ever featured, maybe. But I do dig that their music is kind of freeform and dancey at the same time, and the whole concept of an electronic act that never plays anything the same way twice. Some of the “live” dance music acts Andy’s dragged me to over the years should really take a page from that playbook.
So congrats again to L.A.Drones! for winning the poll. I believe that makes them the first L.A. band ever to win a Weird Band Poll. About damn time somebody represented!
September Weird Band Poll: Vote for The Artsy Chicks, Can Can Heads, L.A.Drones!, Shibboleth, The Velveteen, or WE
This is our biggest Weird Band Poll™ yet, people! No, it literally is. We usually only have four or five bands and this month we’ve got six. We like to keep you on your toes.
Here’s the dealio (don’t you hate when people say “dealio”?): Voting ends midnight Pacific time on Sunday, Sept. 14. The winner of the poll will be named our Weird Band of the Week starting on Wednesday, Sept. 17. Don’t cheat and vote multiple times, for fuck’s sake. It’s not like there’s some cash prize at stake. Save your cheating for more important shit, like marriage and taxes.
[Sorry, this poll has closed. Check back here Wednesday, when the winner will be revealed. And bookmark this page to partake of future polls. We do a new one every month(ish).]
For more on this month’s bands, read on:
The Artsy Chicks
There are zero chicks in the Artsy Chicks, so the name is kinda false advertising. But their music is pretty freaky, so we’ll let it slide. They’re a five-piece from Montreal and they do everything from free-form jazz-rock experimentation to finger-poppin’ surf rock. Here’s a link to the weirder of their two albums, Kwoto Zeetrus, and here’s their less weird album, which is more surf-inspired but still has some nice, skronky sax.
Can Can Heads
Another crazy quintet with some wailing sax, this time from Finland. Can Can Heads describe themselves as “violent music with a gentle heart.” If that’s a little too vague for you, they also say they’re “heavily influenced by No Wave, Skronk, Free Jazz, Hardcore Punk, all things noisy.” Most of their songs seem to be under two minutes long, except one seven-minute joint called “The Great Depression,” which makes sense, because that actual Great Depression lasted for-fucking-ever, as my granddaddy was fond of pointing out. Here’s a link to their latest album, Butter Life, and here’s something that looks like an agriculture instructional video but is actually a clip for their song “Breakdiscodance.”
L.A.Drones are a duo from right here in Los Angeles, which probably explains the exclamation point in their name. Us L.A. folks tend to get very excited about ourselves. Their name is a play on the Spanish word “Ladrones,” which means “thieves,” because much of their music is made up of samples stolen from other songs. Not that my Spanish is that good…pretty much all I know how to say is “Mas cerveza, por favor,” but that’s what L.A.Drones! tell us their name means. Being thieves, they wear masks. They list their influences as “Electro, KrautRock, Dub, Acid, Space, Noise.” Here’s their Facebook page and here’s a live video of them performing the song “Horrible Dreams.”
Shibboleth are a trio from Ireland that call their music “experimental dark-ambient,” which sounds about right. Sometimes it almost sounds like doom metal, other times it’s like weird, lo-fi Goth rock with banjos. We don’t know much else about them…they just emailed us with a few links and said, “We think we’re pretty weird.” Agreed, fellas. Here’s their EP Farewell on Bandcamp and here’s a zero-budget but pretty creepy video for their song “The Cannibal’s Standpoint.”
The Velveteen are also from right here in Southern California, but up the road a ways in Ventura, which is like a sleepier version of L.A. with less movie stars and more surfers. They’re a four-piece, assuming you count their puppet Fum, which you totally should because he’s the lead singer. They’re named after their guitarist/trumpet-playing rabbit, Baron Von Velveteen, who also plays bass in another weird band called Cirque Noir, and also have a keyboard/melodica player named Professor Z and a drummer named Christopher Coyle, who really needs to step up his game and come up with a wacky alter ego if he’s gonna be part of this band. Oh, and I guess they just added another puppet named Foe, so maybe they’re a five-piece now. They’re pretty new on the scene, having just played their first gig this past May. Here’s a live clip, and here’s their website.
You might call England’s WE a high-concept band. They take famous pop songs and do robotic electro-pop covers on them in which they replace the word “I” with the word “We.” That’s it. That’s literally the only thing they do. According to their website, “WE translate the monstrous, violent, and traumatic, revolutionary process of the abolition of identity into pluralized pop.” If you say so, dudes! Get in on all the pluralized pop action on their SoundCloud page, where you can hear such “We”-ified classics as “WE Want to Hold Your Hand,” “WE Kissed a Girl” and “(WE Will Be Your) Father Figure.”
So there you have it. Remember to cast your vote before midnight Sunday, Sept. 14, and may the weirdest band win.