Today’s Moogfest performer needs no introduction, but I’ll do one anyway: Kraftwerk, unarguably the most influential electronic musicians of all time. Without their pioneering, all-synths version of krautrock, it’s fair to say that most of today’s strains of electronic music wouldn’t exist.
To this day, Kraftwerk live shows operate on two levels: as a purist expression of button-pushing electronica at its most mechanical, and as a sly commentary of the increasingly mechanical, button-pushing nature of modern life in general. I’m not sure if they’re still trotting out their robot doppelgangers for “We Are the Robots” these days, but I do know they’ve got some crazy 3D projections and are digging pretty deep into their catalog, playing classic albums like Autobahn and Trans-Europe Express in their entirety.
Kraftwerk plays three shows at Moogfest, one on Thursday, Apr. 24th and two on Friday, Apr. 25th. Visit the official Moogfest site for more details.
Next up on our countdown to Moogfest (Apr. 23-27 in the bucolic mountains of North Carolina): Baltimore synth ninja Dan Deacon. Deacon first gained attention in the mid-’00s with a sound and performance style that married the raw energy of punk with the danceable, programmed beats of techno and synth-pop. He probably also helped make giant glasses and beards popular with hipsters, but try not to hold that against him.
On more recent albums like 2012′s America, Deacon’s been incorporating more live instrumentation; he even toured with a 14-piece band for 2009′s Bromst. But he remains best-known for synth freakouts like this seizure inducer from 2007′s Spiderman of the Rings. (Apologies for the poor quality; YouTube was a primitive place in 2007.)
Dan Deacon plays Moogfest on Thursday, Apr. 24th. For more info, visit the official Moogfest site.
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.