We’re back! Sorry we’ve been away for so long. It’s coming up on six years since we’ve been doing this blog and I’m not gonna lie to you: There was awhile there when we were both seriously considering calling it quits. I mean, how many more weird bands can there really be out there? A shit-ton, I’m sure, but we’ve officially reached the point where 99.9% of the emails and comments we get are for shit that’s fucking awful and/or not that weird. So separating the cream from the curdle has actually gotten more difficult as our audience has grown. I know, I know…boo-fucking-hoo, right? At least our audience has grown, so we must be doing something right. Right?
Anyway, starting this week, I solemnly swear that I will post a new weird band every week again, just like the good old days. Andy will pitch in too, sometimes, but he’s got a fancy new job that pays him to go hang out at Coachella and shit, so he won’t be around as much. But your old Uncle Jake here is gonna start driving this blog like a stolen Ferrari again…at least on the weekends.
So to get us back in the swing of things, I figured some good party music was in order. So allow me to present to you Nozinja, inventor of a whole new genre of music called Shangaan electro that is like dance music for hummingbirds. Seriously, I’m winded just listening to this stuff.
Nozinja, whose real name is Richard Mthetwa, is from a part of South Africa called Limpopo, which is a long-ass way from Cape Town, home base of our other favorite South African oddballs, Die Antwoord. Limpopo is in the far northeast of South Africa, next to Botswana and Zimbabwe, and it’s mostly rural and dirt-poor. Among the many native peoples living there is a group called the Shangaans, who are known for the xibelani dance, an insanely fast dance that kind of looks like a cross between a hula dance and twerking. Shangaan electro, pioneered by Nozinja and other local musicians, basically took the rhythms of the xibelani dance, sped them up even more, and replaced traditional drums and other instruments with lo-fi synths and drum machines. And presto! A crazy new dance music genre was born.
Shangaan electro is so great, it probably would’ve gone worldwide eventually. But Nozinja sure helped jump-start that process. Using the money he’d earned from running a chain of cell phone repair shops, the budding Dr. Dre of Limpopo went all-in on a home recording studio and began cranking this stuff out. He even made a few goofy, low-budget videos that are all the more awesome because, against all the screen-saver graphics and random shots of backup singers dancing in what we assume is his front yard, Nozinja’s still sporting his cell phone repair shop owner wardrobe. He looks like he wandered in from a Ross Dress for Less ad, but he’s still got more swag that a thousand shitty gangsta rappers.
Such brilliance couldn’t remain undiscovered for long…and sure enough, Nozinja signed to Warped fuckin’ Records in 2014. Yes, that Warp Records, home to Flying Lotus and Aphex Twin. Not surprisingly, in his first video for Warp, “Tsekeleke,” he’s sporting a much more stylin’ wardrobe.
Nozinja’s debut full-length album, Nozinja Lodge, comes out on Warp on June 2nd. We cannot fucking wait. We’re gonna strap on our xibelani skirts and dance to that shit like hummingbirds.
Do clowns freak you out a little? Yeah, me too. Which is why seeing Puddles Pity Party, starring a hulking, unspeaking clown named Puddles, definitely made me uneasy. But I powered through. I’m just glad I wasn’t one of the several audience members he tormented throughout the show—including one guy in particular who was clearly freaked out by clowns. Man, Puddles really went for the jugular with that poor bastard. He’s like a cat who picks out the most allergic person in the room and curls up in their lap, purring happily.
Puddles is the creation of a six-foot-eight singer from Atlanta named Michael Geier, who used to be part of an all-clown band called Greasepaint. When Greasepaint went their separate ways, he took Puddles solo, rebranding himself as the “Sad Clown With the Golden Voice,” singing covers of pop songs in a mock-operatic style that contrasted sharply with his white facepaint and hulking frame. His most famous song is a cover of Lorde’s “Royals” that you’ve probably seen by now:
But that track just scratches the surface of Puddles’ repertoire. He also does a mean Leonard Cohen:
And here, perhaps most impressively, he mashes up Celine Dion and Metallica:
That’s his assistant, Monkey Zuma, in that last video. For some reason, when I saw Puddles here in L.A. at the Troubadour, Zuma was not in attendance. Maybe she got sick of being paid in bananas.
Anyway, if you’re not too scared of clowns, I highly recommend treating yourself to the epic sing-a-thon that is Puddles Pity Party. Just be warned: This is one clown that likes to get into the faces of his audience. Especially the ones who look like they might be scared of clowns.
If there was any justice in the world, Toronto’s Spookey Ruben would’ve become a weirdo superstar in the mid-’90s, around the same time it was actually still possible for eccentric bands like Primus and Ween to sell millions of records and gain some mainstream recognition for their offbeat brilliance. Ruben came on the scene with a similarly brilliant debut album in 1995 called Modes of Transportation Vol. 1 that should’ve achieved Chocolate and Cheese-level notoriety. But the album came out on the crap-tastic TVT Records, a label that has screwed up the careers of everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Lil Jon over the years, and that was apparently no less kind to Ruben. For reasons we haven’t been able to discern, they decided to release his second album, Modes of Transportation Vol. 2, only in Japan, which had the not surprisingly effect of causing him to drop off most folks’ radar everywhere except Japan. Well-played, TVT.
Fortunately, Ruben has persisted, continuing to release new music through his own label, Hi-Hat Recordings. He even managed to get back the rights to all (or at least most) of his old TVT material, and has plans to do a 20th anniversary reissue of Modes Vol. 1 later this year, along with a new album called Modes III that he just successfully funded via Indiegogo.
Ruben got his start playing guitar in D.C. area punk and metal bands as a teenager, before moving to Toronto to go to film school. His hardcore roots occasionally surface in his solo stuff, especially when he lets rip on the occasional shred-tastic guitar solo, but mostly his music exists on a folk/pop/psych-rock axis somewhere between Ween and XTC. It’s catchy and polished, but always takes unexpected twists and turns, either with goofy lyrics, cartoon sound effects, unexpected stylistic shifts, or even just in the way Ruben’s melodies often cut against the grain of his chord progressions, making tunes that are at once bright and oddly dissonant, like Beach Boys songs heard from a passing train.
Last year, Ruben took time out from his solo work to front a power-pop band called AAA Battery. They did a song called “Jenna” that’s not really that weird, but the video is fun.
He’s also been putting that film school experience to good use with Spookey Ruben’s Dizzy Playground, a comedic short film series that has guest-starred folks like Ariel Pink and Feist. They’re all pretty hysterical, but our personal favorite is “Natural Born Grannies.”
We’ll leave you with two videos from Modes of Transportation Vol. 1. First up: his catchy, keytar-fueled ode to fast food, “Wendy McDonald.” Bet this is Zayde Buti’s favorite Spookey Ruben song. Don’t stop watching before the xylophone solo or you’ll miss out.
Next: The song and video that’s probably Ruben’s masterpiece, “These Days Are Old.” Remember, before you judge: Everybody in the mid-’90s had bad hair.
Many thanks to Sarah Dukakis at Hi-Hat for sharing Spookey with us.
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.
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?
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!