(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!
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!
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:
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.
(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.)
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”?
(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.
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 most 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!