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Sly & The Family Drone

Photo swiped from ATTN:Magazine

Photo swiped from ATTN:Magazine

Like a mono outbreak on prom night, democracy has struck again here Weird Band HQ, and a new Weird Band of the Week has infested our tender, nubile pages. Did that last sentence totally creep you out? Well, this band might, too.  Meet Sly & The Family Drone, a British crew whose only resemblance to Sly & The Family Stone is that their leader has spent at least a few years living in a van. Possibly. Or not. What do you want from us, research?

Led by a gentleman called (duh) Sly, S&TFD started out in 2010 or thereabouts as a drums and tape effects noise ensemble, sort of a cross between Crash Worship, Wolf Eyes, Whitehouse and that sound my old Gorilla amp used to make when I would get really stoned and just drag my Mexicaster fretboard back and forth across the face of it for hours. They’ve released some studio recordings, including an EP that just came out this past month called Unnecessary Woe, which is the only kind of woe in a world that has bourbon and bands that sound like Crash Worship.

But they’re best known for their live shows, which involve a shit-ton of drums and lots of shirtless dudes crawling around manipulating effects pedals and oscillators and audience members banging on cymbals and just the kind of general, participatory mayhem that makes any good live show more than the sum of its racket. They also sometimes throw some harmonica in there, just to give it a little of that homeless-guy-busking-at-the-bus-station pizzazz. You probably have to be there to fully appreciate the whole thing, but here’s a video clip, anyway. Don’t worry, you don’t have to watch all 51 minutes to get to the weird stuff. It gets weird right out of the gate.

Best line from their official bio: “There is no place for guitars within this band.” It’s about time someone took a stand against all these fucking guitars! Goddamn things are everywhere.

Here’s a track from Unnecessary Woe called “Grey Meat,” which like their live shows was totally improvised. I’m pretty sure you can dance to this one, or at least break stuff.

So congrats on winning our Weird Band Poll, S&TFD! Hopefully this catapults you to enough fame and fortune that you can come wreck some drum kits here in America.

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P.S. After we join our fellow Americans in stuffing our faces with turkey and trampling fellow shoppers in a stampede for the new iPads, we’re taking a little vacation time. But don’t worry, this break will be much shorter than our last one. We’ll be back with more weird bands in a couple weeks. Y’all try to stay out of trouble till then, OK?

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Pan

Pan

Meet our latest Weird Band Poll winners: Pan! These guys just moved last year from sunny Los Angeles to cold, desperate Detroit, so you know they’re weirdos.

Pan’s music kinda sounds like post-economic-meltdown Detroit, too: Junky, spooky, broken down but not without its charms. John, one half of the duo, describes their music as “musique-concrete folk,” which sounds about right. There are lots of weird, ambient noises and out-of-tune guitars that sound like they’re being played with kitchen utensils. It’s not for nothing that when John told us about Pan’s music, he put the word “music” in quotation marks.

So far Pan have released just two records: a self-titled 2011 EP and a 2012 full-length called Pan 2. Both are available on Bandcamp here and here. For maximum weirdness, start with the EP, which makes me feel like I’m watching the Deliverance sodomy scene over and over again after one too many Vicodins.

John and his partner, Dithyramb, run a label called Homotown Records, which has a Facebook page but not much else.  They haven’t shot any videos for Pan or posted any Pan tunes on YouTube, but here’s a Soundcloud for a non-album track called “Dithy” that should give you an idea of why they pretty much crushed it in this month’s poll.

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Watch “A Day With Nick Zammuto” mini-doc

(Photo swiped from BoingBoing.net)

Anticipation really seems to be building for the debut album from Zammuto, the new band/solo project from Nick Zammuto, one-half of sound collage mavericks The Books. Just today, Pitchfork gave a “Best New Track” shout-out to “F U C-3PO,” an almost proggy jam with robot vocals and distortion pedals set to stun. And last week, director Matthew Day debuted a short documentary called “A Day With Nick Zammuto” that shows the musician hard at work on his new music and chilling in his amazing self-built house with his wife and ridiculously cute children. We’ve embedded the YouTube version of the film below, or you can watch the original on Day’s website, Naked Musicians.

Zammuto will be making their live debut on Feb. 3 at Mass Moca in North Adams, Massachusetts. If anyone goes, give us a report!

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The Vegetable Orchestra

Doing this blog really is a gift that keeps on giving. You’d think by our third year of operation, bands like Austria’s Vegetable Orchestra would be old hat to us. But truth be told, we only just recently discovered that these guys existed. Apparently, we’re not very good at our jobs.

The Vegetable Orchestra (also known as the First Viennese Vegetable Orchestra, or Das erste Wiener Gemüseorchester in their native tongue) was founded in 1998 by a group of college students who were interested in exploring the acoustic properties of, well, vegetables. Initially they created vegetable-based instruments that closely resembled their wood and metal counterparts: drums made of pumpkins and celery roots, flutes made of carrots, a “cucumberphone” made from a hollowed-out cucumber with a bell pepper at one end and a carrot doubling as a reed at the other. Since then, their instruments have gotten increasingly bizarre, often with the aid of electronics; how the hell the “leek violin” works, to give just one example, we have no idea.

When performing live, the VO buys fresh, organic produce that day and assembles it into instruments just hours before showtime. At the end of each performance, they use the vegetables to make soup, which they then serve to the audience. Fresh veggies in a warm broth of Austrian saliva–yummers!

The Vegetable Orchestra have released three albums over the course of their 14-year existence. Their latest, Onionoise, is a mix of techno, tribal, ambient, industrial and avant-garde sounds that would be pretty darned weird even if it wasn’t being mostly produced on produce.

Here’s a 2007 promotional video of the Orchestra in action. Apparently they had to disable comments on YouTube because some people were attacking them for wasting perfectly good vegetables in the face of world hunger. To which we say: Come to a Vegetable Orchestra show and have some soup, you darned crankypantses!

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Vocal Trash

What do you get when you cross Stomp, Rockapella, and the kind of highly enthusiastic but somewhat amateurish cover bands you see at B-list state fairs in places like Iowa and Delaware? You get Vocal Trash, a band that combines a cappella, found-object percussion, tap dancing, trumpet solos and, oh, let’s just throw a little break-dancing in there, shall we? I mean, why the hell not?

Vocal Trash was started about 10 years by a guy from West Texas named Steve Linder, who judging from the amount of eyeliner he wears probably did not fit in with the other kids in the Lone Star State. The group was originally pretty much just a cross between show choir and banging on trash cans—”Glee with a kick!” as the press materials proclaim. There was something goofy and white-trash but undeniably awesome about them, especially when they unleashed their junkyard swag on the confused but obviously entranced masses on the state and county fair circuit:

More recently, the band has slicked up its stage show by adding more instruments, choreographed dance moves and a very Stomp-like stage set—all of which can seen in this somewhat depressing promotional video. Apparently they do lots of corporate events and theme parks and such these days, which explains the snazzier production values and the inclusion of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” in their set list.

And hey, we get it—they’ve been doing this for 10 years, and at a certain point, if the quirky junkyard show band shtick isn’t landing you those major corporate gigs, you lose the fat dude with the biker mustache and bring in the break-dancers. But we still shed a tear for the demise of the rag-tag group in this no-budget video, which looks like it was shot in haste before they were chased off by the scrapyard Rottweilers:

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Ghedalia Tazartes

One of the hazards of doing a blog like TWBITW is that you tend to get pretty jaded. Jake and I sift through so much oddball music that after awhile, we start to get a little hung up on the dog and pony aspect of the whole thing. It’s like—yeah, okay, you guys sound kinda weird, but do you wear goofy costumes or claim to be from another planet? No? Next!

But every so often, someone introduces us to a piece of music that’s just so downright bizarre, so totally unlike anything we’ve ever heard, it really doesn’t need any kind of wacky backstory or WTF visual accompaniment. Such was the case with French musician-composer Ghédalia Tazartès and his 1979 masterpiece, Diasporas.

We got wind of this completely wackadoodle album thanks to a cool little reissue label called Dais Records, who have only been around since 2007 but have already rescued a shit-ton of weird music from the scrapheap. Apparently it’s not quite available yet—we’re not sure what the release date is—but we got an email with a download of the track “Un Amour Si Grand Qu’il Nie Son Objet” and it pretty much knocked us on our asses. You can hear the whole sighing, moaning, nine-minute monstrosity in the YouTube clip below. [Update: No, you can't. And the Diasporas reissue is sold out. Read more below.] Trust us: Don’t listen to it alone after dark or in an altered state of consciousness. Actually, listening to this will probably alter your consciousness all by itself.

We haven’t been able to find out too much else about Tazartès. We do know that he still occasionally does concerts (and he and his music are as bizarre as ever) and, according to his French Wikipedia page, he still releases music. He also apparently operates out of a home studio in Paris that looks like something out of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie. He was interviewed in the September 2008 issue of Wire but as far as we can tell, the interview’s not available online. The only other English-language article we could find on him is this unreadably pretentious mess. So he remains a bit of enigma, at least to us poor Americans. Hopefully the Dais reissue will help to change that.

We could attempt to describe Tazartès’ music–French avant-garde gypsy trance minimalism?–but really, there’s not much point. You just have to hear it. This guy is attuned to some other frequencies, for real.

P.S. We originally embedded a YouTube clip of this track from a YouTube channel called Undergroundedful, but the whole channel has since been taken down due to copyright claims. While we totally recognize the right of copyright owners to protect their work, we also think it’s a bummer when obscure and hard-to-find music gets taken off the Internet and put further out of the reach of potential new audiences. Anyhow, hopefully the above YouTube video stays up a while longer.

P.P.S. Okay, so the second YouTube clip was also removed due to copyright claims. Apparently Mr. Tazartes, or one of his representatives, really doesn’t want the Internet to know he exists. But hey, third time’s a charm, maybe?

P.P.P.S. A kindly reader provided a Soundcloud link to “Un Amour Si Grand Qu’il Nie Son Objet” in the comments, but we decided to delete it because, unfortunately, we have to be careful about such things. If anyone knows of any authorized Tazartes music available online, let us know about it, please! We’d like our readers to hear more of his weirdly beautiful stuff for themselves.

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Einsturzende Neubauten

(Photo copyright Thomas Rabsch)

It’s been awhile since we blogged about an oldie but goodie here on TWBITW, so we thought it was high time we give a shout-out to Einstürzende Neubauten. While these German art punks didn’t actually invent industrial music, they probably influenced its development as much as earlier acts like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire–maybe more, actually. Guys like Trent Reznor and Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy definitely took a few style tips from Neubauten’s tormented, black-clad frontman, Blixa Bargeld.

Einstürzende Neubauten–whose name means “Collapsing New Buildings”–started in Berlin in 1980, and right away, they brought a scary intensity to their music and their live act that made the British industrial acts seems almost polite by comparison. Blixa and his co-conspirators, N.U. Unruh and Alexander Hacke (the most constant members in a rotating cast), liked using power tools and found objects as percussion, and they sometimes took their use of such objects to some pretty wild extremes. Early Neubauten shows tended to look more like construction sites than rock concerts: band members would drill holes in the stage, set fires, swing huge oil drums suspended on chains out over the audience, maybe do a little arc welding–oh and play some distorted, detuned guitar and yell a lot, too.

Eventually, Einstürzende Neubauten’s sound became a little less chaotic and by the mid ’90s, they were producing records like Ende Neu that employed actual recognizable melodies and instruments–though always with plenty of weird noises created on specially made instruments (like the “bassfeder,” a giant steel spring struck with sticks to create a twangy, bass-like sound) and always with Blixa’s distinctive, cadaverous vocals. But it’s those crazy early live shows and wildly experimental, almost unlistenable albums like 1981′s Kollaps that earn them a spot on The Weird List.

Speaking of Kollaps: here’s a video from that album for the Kollaps song “Sehnsucht” from a 1986 film called Halber Mensch, shot while the band was in Japan, that pretty neatly sums up the early Neubauten vibe. (Thanks to reader “tertius” for pointing out the source of this video…our research dept. was clearly falling down on the job when we originally posted it.)

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The Cycologists

It recently came to our attention that a site called Oddee.com posted an article called “10 Weirdest Bands” that not only mentioned three bands we’ve featured here on TWBITW—it actually lifted my copy on Rudely Interrupted and Barnes & Barnes verbatim. The nerve of these people! At first we were going to sic our lawyers on them, but then we remembered: a.) we don’t have lawyers, and b.) we only noticed this in the first place because we got a massive spike of referral traffic from Oddee.com, who were at least nice enough to give us a link back in return for swiping my sparkling prose. So fine, we’ll let it pass. But we do think Gracie Murano’s Twitter bio should be amended to read, “Trolling the Internet for other people’s work and loving it!” “Copy+Paste” does not equal “Writing,” Gracie. Just saying. [Update: She's since changed her name to Grace Murano and apparently been promoted to Editor-in-Chief at Oddee.com. No bad deed goes unrewarded, it would seem.]

But hey, turnabout is fair play, right? So I figured I should take this opportunity to tell you, our loyal readers, about a band we learned about from reading Gracie’s “10 Weirdest Bands” article. (I won’t actually steal her copy, though…if it is her copy. I have my limits.) The band is called The Cycologists (say it out loud, you’ll get it) and it’s the creation of one Linsey Pollak, a kooky Australian dude (yes, another one—wonder if he knows Justice Yeldham?) who makes musical instruments out of bicycle parts. Sometimes he performs with two other musician/cyclists, doing spontaneous outdoor performances like the one in this video that was posted in the Oddee.com article. Other times he performs solo onstage, under the fairly awesome alias of Professor Squealy Deetbum, manipulating various parts of the bike to make percussion, woodwinds, strings and all sorts of other unexpected sounds. It’s all pretty goofy, but the effect can be really cool—especially when he uses spinning spokes and a loop pedal to create a skittering backbeat, which you can check out in the video below.

It’s worth noting that The Cycologists is just one of Pollak’s many projects, and a lot of them are just as weird. He also makes instruments out of other everyday objects like vegetables and condoms, and has a band called Brides of Groove that consists of three guys and a girl wearing wedding dresses and playing woodwinds over cheesy electro beats. I could go on, but really you should just visit the guy’s website, click on the “Current Projects” link, and curse yourself for what a lazy bastard you are. I mean, when was the last time you said to yourself, “You know, six bands just isn’t enough—I think I’ll start a fake Albanian “Balkan kaoss pad electrodance” duo, too”?

Justice Yeldham

Today’s weird (one-man) band comes from a reader in Australia named David. Yes, apparently, we have readers in Australia. Worldwide, baby!

Anyway, David introduced to the bizarre stylings of a fella named Lucas Abela, aka Justice Yeldham. Abela is a self-described “live audio artist” with an abiding interest in creating bizarre new sounds out of various non-musical objects. Past projects, recorded and/or performed under names like DJ Smallcock and Peeled Hearts Paste, have involved things like “amplified samurai swords” and “high powered turntables constructed from sewing machine motors” (don’t ask us, we’re just quoting from the official bio, folks).

In 2003, Abela discovered that he enjoyed using his various vocal and electronic amplification techniques on large sheets of glass, and his Justice Yeldham act was born.

A Yeldham performance–and really, the only way to experience his “music” is to see him perform it live–typically begins with Abela squeezing a tube of KY jelly into his mouth and then slowly spewing it all over a large sheet of glass that’s been rigged up to various effects boxes that he wears on a toolbelt. The jelly forms a seal around his lips and allows him to make what are basically those farty noises you probably made into your hands and elbows a lot as a kid, but vibrated through the whole sheet of glass, distorted, and amplified into what kind of sounds like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, only scarier. And yes, since it’s glass–and since he occasionally not only blows on it, but also licks it, bites it, and smashes it over his head–there’s very often blood mixed in with the KY. Sometimes a lot of blood. (Warning: Do not watch the video in that link past the 1:45 mark unless you’re really, really not squeamish.) Not for nothing does his MySpace page say, “Crossing the line between music and bloodsport.”

Below is an interview with Abela and a video of one his less bloody–but no less astonishing–performances. He actually seems like a really sweet guy. “I like that idea that I can heighten people’s mood,” he says at one point. I guess biting off chunks of glass and spitting them at the audience is Australian for “heightening people’s mood.”

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Sxip Shirey

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(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.

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