Sometimes when we do our monthly Weird Band Poll, a band gets robbed. Any other month, they would have crushed it, but they had the bad luck to be up against someone super-popular, super-weird or possibly just super-unethical when it comes to repeat voting. (We try to prevent it, but let’s face it, this is the Internet we’re talking about. Most of you could probably use Bitcoin to buy blow and download a thousand Prince bootlegs right now if you weren’t such fine, upstanding citizens.) Such a band is Toxic Chicken, who narrowly lost out last month to Well Worn Boot. And while WWB totally deserved the win, TC gave them a run worthy of a belated Weird Band of the Week shout-out.
Toxic Chicken is the work of a Dutch guy named Kai Nobuko, who currently resides in Bangkok. When pressed for details on his backstory, Mr. Chicken obliged us with a rambling and highly entertaining bio, which we’ll attempt to condense here. Long story short: Like a lot of weird bands, the whole thing started as sort of a joke and now it’s his main gig. (Not unlike the story of this very blog, actually. But that’s a tale for another time.)
Kai wrote his first Toxic Chicken track as a joke submission for a music contest in the Netherlands. “It was a track I made by using the phonebook and calling random numbers,” he recalls. “Unfortunately the contest people liked it.” As a finalist, he had to come in and perform, so he hired a metal band and had them just stand around while he played a tape and made sandwiches for the audience.
After that, every Toxic Chicken performance was a little different, but always featured food in some way. Someone stole his synths early on so he mostly just performed on a laptop, occasionally making chicken noises into a megaphone “as that feels so good to get things out of the system.”
His only regret from that era? “I regret playing too much with chocolate because it is a pain to remove it between the tiny gaps of the keys of the craptop.” Preachin’ to the choir, buddy!
Here’s a sample track from those early days, called “You are my dog.” Yes, it’s a love song addressed to a dog. Try not to read too much into, OK? The guy in the song just really loves his dog. That’s all. Probably.
Eventually Toxic Chicken moved to London where, inspired by a punk-rock show, he decided to trash his laptop as part of a performance. “It was satisfying at the time but regretted it later because I lost a lot of music,” he admits now. These days he uses cheap laptops and backs up his files.
He also occasionally does songs with his sister under the name Jointriders, which are, if anything, even crazier than his Toxic Chicken stuff. Here’s a sample:
“Basically every gig was one disaster after another,” is how The Toxic One describes this period. Our favorite story from this phase involves a show in Belgium where he got a “nice guy called Hamtaro” to dress up in a chicken costume and perform his entire set “so I could hang at the bar and perhaps dance to show that it’s possible.”
Sometime after that, Toxic Chicken got heavily into the “lobit” scene, in which electronic musicians deliberately compress their music to make it easier to stream and download—and, if you’re into the bright, tinny quality of compressed music, sound better, too. “It makes everything sound better,” TC insists. “Even terrible noise sounds like pretty ambient in a lobit rate.” Lobit artists tend to post their music for free on sites like Archive.org and Toxic Chicken is no exception. Here’s an EP from 2010 called GIFKIP ORCHESTRA that’s actually quite lovely. I have to admit I was skeptical about the whole “things sound better in lobit” argument, but it’s really true that by compressing his synths, Kai’s able to make them sound more convincingly like a chamber orchestra than any Prophet or Roland synth I’ve ever heard on a major-label release.
When lobit artists release physical product, they tend to prefer “obsolete” technologies like cassettes and floppy discs. Toxic Chicken went one better in this department when he released an EP called Baby Boom Disk that came on a floppy disc wrapped in a dirty diaper. (For the squeamish among you, you can now listen to the EP poop-free on Bandcamp.) He also claims to have released a “floppy compilation” encased in recycled elephant shit and a project called Flop-Pee that’s just field recordings of his musician friends pissing. Those sound kind of made-up to us but with this guy, who knows?
Toxic Chicken’s crowning achievement in the lobit scene may have been when he and his sometime partner-in-crime Graham (who runs a label called Wrieuw Recordings, which just put out the latest TC release, an EP called My Cat) organized a lobit music festival that took place entirely online, even though all the festival info said it was taking place in Lobith, the Netherlands. Sure enough, some unwitting souls actually showed in Lobith looking for the music, not realizing that Kai and Graham were just broadcasting the whole thing from a hair salon in England.
We’ll leave you with one Toxic Chicken classic and one of his more recent works. First, the recent stuff: This is a track from the My Cat EP, another touching love song called “If you are my cat I will be your chicken.” As the kids used to say: It’s got a great beat and you can dance to it.
And finally, one of Toxic Chicken’s crowning achievements, from way back in 2007: “Biscuits With Jesus,” the best video you will ever see that features Hitler doing a puppet show.
Today’s weirdness comes to us from reader GeeEs and the year 2007. Back then, a dude from Portland named Charlie Salas-Humara (that’s him on the left) made an album of awkward hipster lo-fi disco under the name Panther called Secret Lawns. He later added a drummer, Joe Kelly (that’s him on the right), and signed to indie label Kill Rock Stars, but he only managed one more album of Panther stuff before putting the project on ice. He now does psychedelic synth-rock under the name Grapefruit.
Panther didn’t leave much of a web footprint, but the project did produce at least one video that’s kind of genius: “You Don’t Want Your Nails Done.” This takes dancing around your room with a hairbrush pretending to be Justin Timberlake to a whole new level. Enjoy.
Here’s the Panther catalog on Amazon.com.
I’m probably a bachelor for life at this point, but on the off chance I ever do meet “The One,” she’s going to have to accept that at the wedding reception, we’re just going to play “Groove Is in the Heart” on continuous loop for three hours. This little nugget of 1990 disco goodness is not just a great dance party track…it is the only dance party track in history that doesn’t totally suck. Well, that and “Give Up the Funk,” but when white people play P-Funk at a wedding reception, it’s just embarrassing.
Well, my hypothetical bride-to-be is in luck. We can now alternate between the Deee-Lite version and this sweet cover by our friends Chimney Crow. So yeah, I’m pretty much going to have the most awesome wedding ever.
You seriously still don’t own a copy of DEVO’s “The Complete Truth About De-Evolution”? That’s OK, they’re reissuing it again next month.
Although they’re still mostly remembered for “Whip It,” DEVO made some of the greatest and strangest music videos of the MTV era, beginning with early avant-garde classics like “Jocko Homo” and culminating in eye-popping performance clips like “Peek-a-Boo” and “Time Out for Fun.” Most of these videos were first collected in 1993 on The Complete Truth About De-Evolution, released exclusively in the ill-fated Laserdisc format. The collection was later reissued on DVD in 2003 by Rhino Records, but that set went out of print. Maybe third time’s the charm?
On Feb. 11th, MVD Entertainment will release the latest incarnation of The Complete Truth About De-Evolution on DVD. As near as we can tell, it’s the same material that was included on the Rhino release, which is to say that the band’s 1984 cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are U Experienced?” still doesn’t make the cut (apparently the Hendrix estate really didn’t like DEVO’s take) but a bunch of cool bonus materials do, including some early live footage and Bruce Conner’s short film version of “Mongoloid.” There’s also commentary by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale, which is the worth the price of admission alone.
No details yet on where you can find the newest version of The Complete Truth About De-Evolution but most MVD Entertainment releases are pretty easy to track down via Amazon.com and elsewhere. If we can get our hands on a copy, we’ll post a longer review of the full package soon.
Let’s play this post out with some classic DEVO eye candy from the 1981 New Traditionalists era, aka that time when the guys all wore fake plastic Reagan hair for a year. This is “Through Being Cool,” which I’m tempted to say is the weirdest video they ever did, except they’re all pretty weird in their own ways. I do believe, however, that this is the only DEVO video to feature some sweet breakdancing spin moves. [Update: Nope. Turns out this one does, too. We apologize for the oversight. We also blame the Hendrix estate.]
So it seems that while the rest of us were unwrapping presents and/or going out for dim sum this past Dec. 25th, the folks over at weirdo label Electric Phantom were hard at work. They released two Christmas Day videos from their top artists, Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin and Chimney Crow—but they also threw in a twist: Petunia does a Chimney Crow song, and the Chimney Crow does a MacPumpkin song! It’s like that Peter Gabriel Scratch My Back project, except that it’s actually worth listening to.
If you want the full story of how this little project came about, watch this video and all will be revealed. (You’ll also find out which member of Chimney Crow is obsessed with The Residents—I would’ve assumed they all were, but it turns out the other guys are more into horses and stuff.)
But let’s get right to the good bits. Here’s Petunia turning Chimney Crow’s “Teddybear and His Bullet” into a spooky, skeletal hymn:
And here’s Chimney Crow sneaking a nifty little dance groove in under the funhouse nursery rhymes of P.L. MacP’s “Houseplants.” With audio-visual aids, no less!
So thanks for these little surprise Christmas presents, Electric Phantom. We look forward to more of your inimitable weirdness in 2014.
Here’s a fun little thing we recently ran across on ClubDevo.com: a Polish film student named Natalia Brożyńska recently completed a short stop-action animated film called “Searching for Devo,” featuring (with the band’s blessing) the demo version of “Blockhead.” The whole thing is beautifully shot and looks like it probably took more hours to do than we’ve spent on this entire blog in four years. Here’s what Gerald Casale had to say about it: “This sincere, labor-intensive, retro stop-action animation piece from a young girl in Poland is the latest proof that music is indeed the universal language. I felt like Devo were anthropomorphized bacteria performing sonic surgery in a Blockhead’s colon.”
We’ve really been slacking on catching the uncategorizable duo Sparks on their “Two Hands, One Mouth” tour. Not only did we skip seeing them at Coachella—a move I don’t regret at all, I might add, because seeing one of your favorite bands at Coachella is like kissing your biggest high school crush through a T-shirt soaked in other people’s sweat—we also totally missed the boat on seeing them perform at the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which is a gorgeous venue and way less sweaty. (We saw Matmos there earlier this year and it was awesome.) Fortunately, Sparks have decided to be kind to us slackers and return to North America this fall for another round of tour dates.
This time, Ron and Russell Mael have redubbed their “Two Hands, One Mouth” tour and are calling it “The Revenge of Two Hands, One Mouth”—on account of that terrible thing you people did to Sparks on the first “Two Hands, One Mouth” tour. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about.
Whatever you want to call it, “Two Hands, One Mouth” is just that: Ron Mael’s two hands on keyboards, and Russell Mael’s mouth on vocals. No band, no computers, no pre-recorded backing tracks. Just one of the weirdest and most eclectic catalogs in pop history, whittled down to its bare essentials. Here’s a taste of the format from that Masonic Lodge show we missed; full tour dates after the clip.
The Revenge of Two Hands One Mouth Tour Dates:
10/23: Atlanta, GA @ The Variety Playhouse
10/25: Asheville, NC @ Mountain Oasis Festival
10/27: Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
10/28: New York, NY @ Webster Hall
10/30: Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
11/1: Montreal, QC @ Le National
11/2: Toronto, ON @Lee’s Palace
11/4: Detroit/Pontiac, MI @ Crofoot Ballroom
11/6: Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
11/7: Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
11/8-11/10: Austin, TX @ Fun Fun Fun Fest
11/11: Los Angeles, CA @ Fonda Theatre
I really hope we get to take the people over at Aggronautix out for beers someday, because those guys are frickin’ awesome. Their Throbblehead series sometimes seems like it’s ripped from the pages of this blog: GG Allin, Mojo Nixon, Roky Erickson (OK, Roky’s not on the Weird List yet, but he probably should be). If they come out with an Anklepants Throbblehead, we’ll take that as proof that they’re mining our Weird List for likely candidates to immortalize in polyresin.
The latest entry in Aggronautix’s growing pantheon of weirdo Throbbleheads is none other than DEVO. Based on the classic look from the band’s 1980 “Freedom of Choice” tour, the seven-inch figure sports a bitchin’ keytar and a red Energy Dome hat—which bobbles! To the best of our knowledge, the keytar doesn’t work—but it still looks bitchin’.
The DEVO Throbblehead figures ship in September and only 2,000 are being made, so pre-order yours now. And as if you needed any more convincing, here’s a video starring Gerry Casale and, uh, some other dude, touting the Throbblehead’s many virtues.
We’ve had a rough couple of weeks here at Weird Band HQ, so we were in dire need of some cheering up. And what better way to cheer up than with a little candy-colored, hyper-caffeinated J-pop? In J-Pop-Land, no one ever gets stuck in traffic, the serotonin flows like tap water and fluorescent is the new black. You know your favorite adorable kitten video on YouTube? Cram all five minutes of it down into a three-second animated GIF and you have the perfect visual accompaniment to most J-pop.
All J-pop looks and sounds pretty strange to us Westerners, but the genre’s most freshly minted superstar, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, takes things to a whole new level. She’s sometimes described as Japan’s answer to Lady Gaga, but it would probably be more fair to describe her as the majokko lovechild of Katy Perry and Psy. Like those two, her music tends to be polarizing (you either think it’s adorably catchy pop or annoyingly repetitive drivel), her dance moves tend to be varying degrees of ridiculous, and most importantly, her costumes and music videos tend to be garish eye candy explosions in which the cute, the comical and the grotesque intermingle in all sorts of head-scratchingly unexpected ways. You may prefer to watch Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s videos with the sound turned down, but I bet you’ll watch them all the way through.
Kyary, who’s only 20, got her start as a fashion blogger and model associated with Harajuku, the youthful Japanese clothing style known for its bright colors and obsession with all things “kawaii” (cute). Kyary’s unique spin on Harajuku has always been to inject it with a touch of the bizarre: a rubber shark hat, a demonic painted-on mouth, hair clips with eyeballs on them. “I love grotesque things,” she told one interviewer. “There are so many ‘just cute’ things in the world, so I add grotesque, scary and even shocking materials like eyeballs and brains to balance out the cuteness.”
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a bona fide superstar in Japan; her first video, “PONPONPON,” has racked up over 50 million views on YouTube, which I’m pretty sure makes her the most popular artist we’ve ever blogged about (sorry, Flaming Lips; you had a good run). But popularity and weirdness are not mutually exclusive; over the course of “PONPONPON,” Kyary dances with a giant floating eyeball, pterodactyls and what appears to be a fat dude in blackface and a pink princess dress. And “PONPONPON” is probably her least eccentric video. In her most recent clip, “Ninjya Re Bang Bang,” she rides a giant carp, dances with cartoon robot mice and vanquishes an evil floating head by turning her arm into a laser cannon, all while wearing what we’re gonna describe as ninja sleepwear. Here, check it out, but be warned: This song will lodge itself in your head for days.
We’ll leave you with “Invader Invader,” which both visually and sonically gets our vote Kyary’s for greatest and weirdest achievement to date. The finger-mustache dance moves, the breakdancing fur monsters, the TV-headed DJ, the completely gratuitous and totally awesome dubstep breakdown…why can’t American pop music be this much fun?
Kyary’s latest album, Nanda Collection—which features “Ninjya Re Bang Bang” and “Invader Invader”—just came out in Japan and the States (not sure about the rest of the world). You can buy the digital U.S. version here.
Sad news from the weird music world this week: Alan Myers, drummer for DEVO during their classic 1976-1985 period, died of brain cancer on Monday at the age of 58. Although DEVO has gone through many drummers over the years—Myers was their third, replacing Jim Mothersbaugh—he’s probably the one you’re thinking of when you picture the band in their signature Energy Dome hats, belting out offbeat New Wave hits like “Whip It” and “Girl U Want.”
We’re late to this wake: A zillion other publications have already published obits and tributes, of which the one from the LA Times’ Randall Roberts is probably our favorite. Current DEVO drummer Josh Freese also summed up Myers’ career quite neatly in a single tweet: “1 of my all time favs. An underrated/brilliant drummer. Such an honor playing his parts w/Devo. Godspeed Human Metronome.”
Myers left DEVO in 1985 after the release of the heavily programmed Shout, saying the band’s increasing use of Fairlights and electronic drums left him feeling uninspired. In the years that followed, he was a regular presence around the L.A. music scene, particularly with Skyline Electric, the band he founded with his wife Christine in 2005. They were actually scheduled to play a show in Chinatown this Friday, but presumably that show has been canceled.
We’ll leave you with a classic DEVO live performance from 1980: “Uncontrollable Urge.” People like to call Alan Myers the “Human Metronome,” but no mere metronome could have rocked this hard through this track’s stop-start rhythms. His precise, propulsive drum patterns were as much a part of the band’s sound as Mark Mothersbaugh’s yelping vocals. When DEVO finally get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—and let’s be optimistic and assume they will be—there should be an empty seat at the table in remembrance of Alan Myers.