Today’s weirdness comes from reader MyaIsDead, who belatedly brought to our attention the so-insanely-gross-you-can’t-stop-watching video for Flying Lotus’ “Ready Err Not.” FlyLo’s work here in Los Angeles is hard to escape; he more or less single-handedly invented the experimental fusion of hip-hop and glitchy electronica called “beat music” and was the most famous product of Low End Theory, the long-running Northeast L.A. club night that just ended last month. And I knew he had made some crazy videos, as well as a 2017 feature-length film called Kuso that some have called “the grossest movie ever made.”
But somehow I missed the video for “Ready Err Not,” which came out way back in 2014 — though I’m kinda glad I did, because even just having read descriptions of Kuso without actually watching it, David Firth’s cutout animation of “Ready Err Not” now seems almost quaint by comparison. If Clive Barker had been the seventh member of Monty Python, maybe their cartoons would have featured dismembered babies and in-bred eyeball-eaters, too.
Of all the internet goldmines for weird music — and they are legion — my favorite is probably Bandcamp. Something about its simple format and tagging system seems to make it an especially inviting playground for freaks from around the globe who want to label their music “experimental,” “art sound” or, in the case of Can’t Hold Waffles, “hélicon deep video game polka.”
Can’t Hold Waffles has two EPs on Bandcamp, both released last month. Studies for Piano and Burning Kitchen Appliances is as delightful as its name implies (especially a dancefloor banger called “Healthy as a Pumpkin”) but I have to give Spare Change Chicken Incident the nod as the weirder and more intriguing of the two. The reader who brought it to our attention, Frank Bähr, describes it as “gamelan composed through algorithms and performed by preschool escapees.” I’d say it reminds me more of what fellow Bandcamp prankster Buttress O’Kneel might put together if you said, “Write a bunch of 30-second loops that sound like Four Tet having a nervous breakdown and give them titles like ‘Robotic Weather Processor Device’ and ‘It Was Getting Late and the Dental Hygienists Weren’t There Yet.'”
So who’s behind Can’t Hold Waffles? Hell if we know. Allegedly it’s one of the 5,000 people who live in the fishing village of Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia — which, come to think of it, is probably true, because anyone making up a fake hometown for this project probably would’ve chosen one of Sheet Harbour’s more colorfully named neighboring communities, like (I swear these are real) Sober Island or Mushaboom. Their bio lists Francis Bacon and Wittgenstein as influences and explains, “Our songs explore the relationship between oral hygiene and multimedia experiences.” Does this mean Can’t Hold Waffles’ music sounds better if you listen to it while brushing your teeth? I’ll try that tonight and report back.
We’ve always had a thing for Mykki Blanco, the rapper who reinvents his sound and image with seemingly every new song and video. Most recently, he put on whiteface to talk about race and privilege in America; before that, he was the Juliet (or the Romeo? in Blanco’s work, gender roles are often up for grabs) in a modern-day tale of star-crossed interracial lovers pursued by white supremacists. In between those projects, in late 2016, he released the below video for “Loner,” a track from his debut album Mykki, via an unexpected outlet: Pornhub.
There’s nothing overtly pornographic about the clip for “Loner,” although judging from the way everyone’s writhing around, the folks wearing VR goggles are getting off on something freaky. Still, it’s a showcase not for naked bodies, but for amazing, surreal costumes (I kinda want that silver Mylar ensemble), the electric blue lips of guest vocalist Jean Deaux, and plush digital animation that resembles a bunch of Jeff Koons sculptures having an orgy.
As far as we can tell, Blanco hasn’t commented on why he decided to partner with a porn site for “Loner.” Hopefully it’s just because they gave him a ton of money and creative freedom, and not because porn sites are, in a culture where everyone’s increasingly terrified of offending one another, the last refuge for a queer hip-hop artist who likes to confront our assumptions about race, sex and gender. But hey, either way, points to Pornhub for supporting an artist as out-there as Mykki Blanco.
Lately we’ve been getting a ton of bands sent to the site whose origin and identities are shrouded in mystery. From Aussie MIDI mashup artist Buttress O’Kneel to portable toilet terrorists Clown Core, more and more weird bands these days seem to prefer to remain anonymous.
Is this a reaction against the private-sector surveillance state of Facebook, Google and Twitter? A rejection of the music press’ increasing obsession with celebrity-style artist “profiles” that tell you their shoe size but not what kind of music they play? A sign of the impending collapse of the music PR machine, as fewer bands can afford fancy publicists to help them craft their “story”? Are they all secretly famous actors and pop musicians who don’t want us to blow up their experimental side project? Is Mandek Penha really Hugh Jackman? Is Vladimir Cauchemar actually one of the guys from Daft Punk? Probably not, but the fact that we’re even having this conversation (feel free to chime in anytime) is evidence that, in our information-overloaded times, being enigmatic is actually a pretty great marketing strategy.
Our latest enigmatic Weird Band of the Week comes to us from … uh, actually, we’re not sure where they’re from. They apparently played a show in Indianapolis last year, but it’s not clear whether that’s their hometown — or even whether or not the show actually took place, since their website describes is thusly: “They played 3 songs dressed as the scheduled headliner band before anyone noticed that they were not the actual band. They managed to get through 3 more songs before being removed from the stage by security.”
We’re also not sure who’s in the band or how many members they have. The guy who contacted us about them, Josh Spurling, sent us a brief bio saying the band has “between 1 and 13 [members] of European, Asian, and/or Arabic descent.” It further noted: “They are said to possess an arsenal of instruments ranging from electric guitars to an old kitchen sink. Their impromptu performances range from 30 seconds to 13 hours and are performed with various disguises and under alternate band names. These shows are rarely announced, often in remote areas, and occasionally even without an audience. No one knows why.” (Spurling described his role with the band as “facilitator,” which is one of those fancy-sounding words like “utilize” that sounds specific but means almost nothing. I utilize various techniques to facilitate feeding my cats, but does that mean I’m usually the one scooping food into their bowls? Nah, I’m just on the couch going, “Honey, have you fed the cats yet?”)
I’m not even sure how to describe Shamalamamonkey’s music, despite the fact that I’ve been listening to it for a good hour or so now. They’ve only released two songs, “Gussle the Golfer” and “Gussle Tied to Trouble.” Who or what is Gussle and why is he/she/it a recurring subject of every Shamalamamonkey song? No one knows. Each song is about 11 minutes long and cycles through a bewildering array of sounds and styles, from cow-punk to jazz to punk-funk to avant-garde noise to bluegrass. I’d say they sound like Primus and The Residents squaring off at a battle of the bands in a semi-abandoned jazz club in an early Jim Jarmusch movie, but that’s only the first two minutes of “Gussle Tied to Trouble.”
Oh I almost forgot to mention: They also, for some reason, set both their songs to clips from old silent movies. I’m not sure the movies actually have anything to do with the music, but they do give the whole thing an appealingly slapsticky feel.
So who are Shamalamamonkey? We may never know for sure. Although I do suspect they have something to do with an earlier group called The One Band, because that’s the only other group with a track posted to Josh Spurling’s YouTube channel. That One Band has an old website, on which Spurling, aka That One Guy (not to be confused with that other That 1 Guy), is described as the group’s founder, leader and main instrumentalist. Is he also the brains behind Shamalamamonkey? Who cares? Whoever’s making these tunes, they’re a demented genius — and if that genius prefers to remain anonymous, well, to steal a phrase back from Bobby Brown (possibly the only person I can say with some certainty is not part of Shamalamamonkey): That’s their prerogative.
This week’s weird band was suggested to us by a reader called Major A, who describes them as “rhythmic and melodic, modern and primitive, simply rich and beautiful.” And I gotta say, Major A, you nailed it. Indonesian duo Senyawa make some of the most powerful, original music I’ve heard in a very long time — and they do it all with just a voice and a homemade bamboo instrument called a bambuwukir. I’m not even going to attempt to describe what they sound like — just listen and watch for yourself:
Amazing, right? What singer Rully Shabara does with his voice is unlike anything I’ve heard. It reminds me a little of a cross between Tuvan throat singing and Mike Patton at his most unhinged, but even that doesn’t really do it justice. And the sounds Wukir Suryadi gets out of his instrument are equally mind-blowing, as he uses it play microtonal drones, screeching leads and percussive fills, sometimes all at once.
Senyawa have been around since 2011 and achieved some international success. In 2012, French filmmaker Vincent Moon made a short documentary about them called Calling the New Gods, and in 2016 they did a split EP with Japanese noise band Melt Banana. But in a Vice Indonesia clip from 2016, they noted that in their hometown of Yogyakarta in central Java, most people still don’t know who they are. “Lots of people in Yogya still haven’t seen us play,” says Shabara. “For some reason, Indonesians who have not seen us perform live tend to assume that our music leans towards traditional music. This is wrong and it makes me so irritated.”
Admittedly, my knowledge of Indonesian music begins and ends with the gamelan and Rich Brian, but I’m pretty sure there’s not much traditional about performances like the one below, taken from something called the Radio Asia Festival in Warsaw, Poland in December of 2017. I get why people sometimes describe their stuff as metal, even though that doesn’t really capture what they do either. I say we dispense with genre terms and just say Senyawa are amazing. Agreed?
Alexandra Drewchin is based in New York City, but she grew up on a horse farm in rural Pennsylvania. It feels important to mention this up front in describing the music she makes under the name Eartheater, and not just because horses figure prominently in the project’s iconography, including the striking cover of her latest album, IRISIRI. Even though much of what she does is programmed and electronic, there’s something very equine and pastoral about it. The rhythms canter and gallop; the sounds flex and ripple with muscular grace; her vocals, though sometimes harsh and processed, more often float over the mix like they’re echoing from a great distance, panning and Dopplering as if sung by someone in constant motion.
There’s also an alien quality to Drewchin’s Eartheater work — ironically, it sounds more not-of-this-world than her other project, a psych/noise-rock band she does with drummer Greg Fox that’s actually called Guardian Alien. As Eartheater, she shares with artists like Matmos and Amon Tobin a gift for blurring the lines between organic and electronic. Synthesizers breathe and sigh like animals; acoustic instruments and field recordings contort into jagged, mechanical shapes. A track title from her first album, Metalepsis, is telling: “The Internet Is Handmade.” You might think it’s a piss-take on all the bespoke this and artisanal that infesting the hipster communities of Brooklyn and Queens, where she’s based. But actually, it’s her way of pointing out that technology, which we always think of as somehow removed from humanity, is actually just another expression of it. “I’m all about seeing the nature in the motherboard — honoring the metals that make [our] computers run,” she once told an interviewer.
Here’s her latest video, “Peripheral,” in which she takes a blowtorch to an ice sculpture and performs acupuncture on a massage chair.
Her live performances are already the stuff on New York art nerd legend. At one, described by a Vice writer, she wore angel wings and wielded a chainsaw. At another, she danced in a trenchcoat and performed contortionist backbends illuminated only by a pair of flashlights. “I find the ouroboric-like shape of a deep back bend to be uniquely altering,” she said in another interview. “I prescribe this shape to myself and find it’s really helpful to unlock deep emotions while performing.” (For someone who has just shy of 4,300 Facebook likes as I write this, Eartheater has done a lot of interviews — which I think says more about the ouroboric nature of the New York music press than it does about her.)
Speaking of contortions, here’s another Eartheater video that features lots of them, courtesy of Drewchin and fellow dancer Gina Chiappetta. Contortionism is another good visual metaphor for Eartheater’s music; she twists her vocals and instruments as dramatically as she twists her limbs. There’s something both powerful and vulnerable about it — she looks strong and fierce, but also at certain moments like her neck’s about to break.
We started with horses and that’s where we’ll finish, with the video for “Inclined,” another track off IRISIRI, Eartheater’s third album, which was just released in June on PAN Records. The video itself is, by Drewchin’s standards, pretty straightforward: She rides a horse around a bay at low tide, dressed like a steampunk bride in leather and a white veil, and — well, that’s it, really. (Oh, and all the lyrics are subtitled in Russian — a nod to her father, perhaps, who is Russian.) But the track itself is supremely weird in a way that I love. It’s like someone badly described hip-hop to a fan of The Slits and Philip Glass — “it’s aggro vocals that are kinda chanted over loops and shit” — who then attempted their version of a hip-hop track. “I like to customize my style/You can’t buy this — suck my bile,” is my favorite lyric of 2018 so far.
P.S. Thanks again to our anonymous friend at Interweb Megalink, who introduced us to Buttress O’Kneel and also succeeded where the New York press failed in turning us on to Eartheater. Thanks for helping us customize our style, Mr. and/or Ms. Megalink.
Psychofon Records, the current label for this week’s weird band, compares them to The Residents, Nurse With Wound and Can. Which sounds like they’re casting way too wide of a net — until you listen to the surreal, percussive soundscapes of Déficit Des Années Antérieures (DDAA) and realize that yeah, that’s actually pretty spot-on.
Formed in 1977 by three students from the School of Beaux Arts in Caen, France, DDAA’s music encompasses everything from eerie tape loop experiments to tribal percussion to minimalist post-punk anthems that make Suicide sound like Wham! by comparison. Until 1992, they were wildly prolific, releasing somewhere around 15 albums and various EPs and singles, many of which were available only on cassette. They resurfaced with another pair of albums around 2000, took another hiatus, and then have been pretty active since 2011, picking up right where they left off with releases like Ne regarde pas par la fenêtre (Do not look out the window), a four-song EP of dadaist hymns set to industrial throbs and foreboding electronic music.
Amazingly, despite their prodigious output, Jean-Luc André, Sylvie Martineau-Fée and Jean-Philippe Fée — the three musicians who have formed the core of DDAA for the band’s entire existence — appear to remain virtually unknown outside of France. (And maybe Germany, too — shout-out to German reader Sebastian, who turned us onto them.) There is very little information about them available in English so I don’t know their full backstory, or what other projects, if any, they’ve been associated with. It does appear that “Fée” is a stage name, since the Psychofon website translates it and identifies them as Sylvie Martineau-Fairy and Jean-Philippe Fairy. Or maybe they just have a particularly apt surname for their otherworldly music and they didn’t want all us non-Francophone folks to miss out on properly appreciating it.
Did France have MTV in the early ’80s? Maybe that explains the existence of several DDAA music videos from around that era, which are just as delightfully bizarre as their music. Here’s “25 pièces sont vides” from their 1984 album La Familie des Saltimbanques. The sound quality is kinda crappy, so you might want to turn it up.
Amazing, right? Both totally avant-garde and totally ’80s. Most of their tracks, especially from this era, have very assertive, atmospheric bass lines, which appear to be courtesy of Jean-Philippe Fée. Here’s another music video from the same year but a different album (told you they were prolific): Les Ambulants‘ “The Riddle’s Standard.” I especially love the vocals on this one, which somehow manage to sound both strangled and incantatory, like a priest delivering a sermon while chugging sacramental wine out of a paper bag.
Nearly 40 years later, they’re still at it, performing live shows that are basically slow-moving storm fronts of aural unease, and releasing new music that continues to defy categorization. I’ll leave you with a track from their 2015 album Hazy World called “Pirouette” that sounds like a symphony for idling lawnmowers, or maybe the world’s largest moth swarm flapping their wings against the windows of a screened-in porch. France’s answer to The Residents? Sort of — but it’s probably more accurate to say that DDAA don’t sound like anyone else.