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.
I think we can all agree that when it comes to cool instruments, the recorder is pretty low on the list. Not to say the little flute-like rascals aren’t delightful, especially when played by small children or wandering minstrels. But no one ever piped out an old folk tune on a recorder and thought to themselves, “This is totally gonna get me laid.”
Maybe that’s why, when French electronic music label Ed Banger Records released a video last December from a mysterious artist named Vladimir Cauchemar that featured a middle-aged man in a red turtleneck rocking a recorder to a sneakily infectious house beat, it got shared more widely than a Netflix password. As of this writing, the video for “Aulos” is closing in on 4 million views, which might be 3.9 million more times than anyone has watched anyone do anything with a recorder — unless “recorder porn” is a thing and no, we are definitely not Googling the words “recorder porn” to find out.
No one really knew anything about the identity of the artist behind “Aulos” when it first came out, and seven months later, that’s still pretty much true. The bio on his Ed Banger page simply reads, “Vladimir Cauchemar is an enigma to all of us.” The images on his Facebook page show a man DJing and posing in various industrial spaces wearing a skull mask. The only interview he’s given so far is in Japanese. Thanks to Google translator, we were able to decipher some of that interview, which appears to reveal that the man in the “Aulos” video is Vladimir’s music teacher (a guy named Eric) and that he himself is a self-described producer of “medieval house music” (the medieval part, presumably, is the recorder) based in France. And that’s about as much as we were able to glean. If he wishes to remain an enigma, he’s definitely succeeding.
Since the release of “Aulos,” Vladimir has put out a couple remixes, both featuring more of his trademark recorder. We’ll leave you with “Basik Yellow,” his rework of Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” Actually, you know what? I was wrong about the recorder. After this track came out, I bet Vladimir Cauchemar got laid a lot.
I hope we didn’t scare you, gentle readers, by going silent for a few weeks there. You might even say we went “Oh So Quiet.” Why? Because we were agonizing over what artist would be worthy enough to be the 300th (300th! Christ, we’re old) addition to our Weird List.
Then, with the force of an erupting Icelandic volcano, it hit us: Somehow, 299 weird acts into this thing, we’d never written about Björk.
Usually with this blog, we’re so busy looking under rocks and in the darkest corners of the internet for the most obscure, esoteric shit that it’s easy for us to overlook an artist of Björk’s stature. She’s sold millions of albums and headlined countless major festivals — including Coachella twice, which was two more times than any female solo artist had ever done it until they finally booked Lady Gaga and Beyoncé these past two years. She’s been the subject of a Museum of Modern Art exhibition and been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by that 145th most influential magazine in the world, Time. She performed at the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics wearing a 10,000-square-foot dress — and somehow, that’s only the second most famous dress she’s ever appeared in.
But make no mistake — as famous and widely beloved as she is, Björk is goddamn weird. Over the course of her solo career, she’s released nine studio albums — not counting a self-titled release from 1977, made when she was 11 — that have gotten progressively more arty and abstract. Starting with 2001’s Vespertine (which featured contributions from our favorite weird electronic/musique concrète Baltimore duo, Matmos), each Björk album has existed in its own little universe, occasionally recalling previous Björk albums but really sounding unlike anything else — despite the fact that, at this point, there are literally thousands of artists out there who would love nothing more than to be compared favorably to Björk.
Most English-speaking audiences didn’t become aware of Björk Guðmundsdóttir until 1987, when her band The Sugarcubes scored a U.K. hit with “Birthday,” a quirky bit of Cure-like, moody yet danceable post-punk that was mostly distinguished by Björk’s astonishing vocals. The video, in which a tangle of emotions cascade across her elfin features with every shriek and growl, made Björk a star in a way that the rest of her band never quite caught up to — so it wasn’t a shock when they split up in 1992, paving the way for her solo career.
On her first album, Debut, it’s still Björk’s voice that commands the most attention — which isn’t a knock on her early music (or The Sugarcubes’ for that matter); it’s just extremely hard to write or arrange songs in a way that’s half as compelling as a full-throated Björk high note. Someone had the brilliant idea around this time to shoot a music video that’s literally just her dancing around the back of a flatbed truck as it slowly drives through the streets of New York. The camera never moves, but it’s one of the most iconic videos of the MTV era, because her performance is that passionate and kinetic. Music seems to possess Björk in a way us mere mortals never get to experience it.
If she’d continued to make songs like “Big Time Sensuality” — a bouncy piece of early ’90s electronic pop now forever known to more casual fans as the “dancing around on the back of a truck song” — Björk probably could’ve become the next Madonna. Heck, with her voice, she could’ve been bigger than Madonna if she’d been so inclined. But even on Debut, her experimental streak was already firmly in place — especially in other music videos like “Human Behaviour,” her first collaboration with the great Michel Gondry, later of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame. Imagine seeing this on MTV in 1993 and thinking, “Wait, is that the Sugarcubes girl? Is that a claymation hedgehog? What the fuck is going on?”
Over her next two albums, Post and Homogenic, Björk developed a reputation for sonic shapeshifting, tackling everything from industrial (“Army of Me”) to trip-hop (“Enjoy”) to chamber-pop (“Joga”) to big-band jazz (“It’s Oh So Quiet,” an old Betty Hutton chestnut taken into bonkers territory by Björk’s shrieks). She also cranked out a remarkable string of groundbreaking videos with some of the top directors of the ’90s, including Gondry (“Hyperballad,” “Bachelorette”) Spike Jonze (“It’s Oh So Quiet”) and Paul White (“Hunter”).
I’m tempted to just post like 10 of Björk’s ’90s videos here because they’re all so great, but if I had to pick just one (well, two, since I already posted “Human Behaviour”) to represent how awesome and weird Björk’s work was in this period, it would have to be “All Is Full of Love,” a spooky ballad co-produced by ambient/trip-hop artist Howie B with a video by Chris Cunningham, one of the all-time music video greats (also responsible for Aphex Twin‘s “Windowlicker” and “Come to Daddy” clips). The robots-in-love video is beautiful and sexy and still kinda disturbing even 20 years later, which considering how acclimated we’ve all gotten to this kind of CGI is a pretty remarkable achievement.
As weird as Björk’s music videos could get in the ’90s, her music remained, for the most part, pretty accessible until 1997’s Homogenic, when she abandoned any overt pop elements in favor of a more dramatic, cinematic sound — lots of strings, slowly unfolding melodies and poetic lyrics that were evocative but oblique to the point of impenetrability (“I’m a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl,” from “Bachelorette,” being the most famous and striking example). She doubled down on that sound with 2001’s Vespertine, on which she took the very cagey extra step of deliberately selecting only instruments that maintain their integrity, relatively speaking, when digitally compressed — celestas, harps, clavichords and “microbeats” made from found sounds, a technique also used by some of her collaborators, including the aforementioned Matmos and another musique concrète master, Matthew Herbert. (If you’re not familiar with Herbert’s amazing work, go watch this mini-documentary about his 2011 album One Pig right now. We’ll wait.)
A word about Björk’s collaborators, because she’s had a lot of interesting ones (Tricky of Massive Attack and Graham Massey of 808 State among them) and they inevitably get brought it up in any discussion of her music, including this one: That’s just what they are, collaborators. She’s fully in control of her own music and has been for most of her career — certainly since Vespertine, on which she’s credited as the sole producer on 10 of the album’s 12 tracks. But since she’s a woman and since of most of her best-known collaborators are men, they tend to get credit for her sound in a way that doesn’t happen with male artists — a double standard Björk herself has called out repeatedly in interviews. “With the last album [Kanye West] did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn’t even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second,” she told Pitchfork in 2015. “I did 80% of the beats on Vespertine and it took me three years to work on that album, because it was all microbeats — it was like doing a huge embroidery piece. Matmos came in the last two weeks and added percussion on top of the songs, but they didn’t do any of the main parts, and they are credited everywhere as having done the whole album.” So let’s be clear: Yes, Björk chooses interesting collaborators to work with and they have some impact on her sound. But at the end of the day, most of that weird shit you’re hearing on her records is all her.
Since Vespertine, Björk’s albums have tended to be highly conceptual in nature. Medulla used lots of layered vocals (including some from Mike Patton, various beatboxers, and Inuit throat singer Tanya Gillis) to express something about the human body: “I wanted the record to be like muscle, blood, flesh,” she told one interviewer. Her next, Volta, was more percussive, featuring contributions from hip-hop producers Danja and Timbaland (yes, that Timbaland — who is now the answer to the trivia question, “What do Björk and Justin Timberlake have in common?”).
Her 2011 album Biophilia was arguably her strangest and most ambitious project to date — not just an album but a whole multimedia art project, with different apps for each track, and themes built around natural phenomena as metaphors for the human condition. She also experimented with various unusual and custom-made instruments — including a Tesla coil on “Thunderbolt” and something called a gravity harp on “Solstice” — as well as odd time signatures. Three of its tracks are in 17/8 time, which sounds like a music-school dare but does actually give tunes like “Crystalline” a pleasantly off-kilter, elliptical feel.
Biophilia also features what may be my all-time favorite Björk video, for the track “Mutual Core,” which is all about how human relationships are like plate tectonics, or something. Directed by a genius visual artist named Andrew Thomas Huang, it uses CGI animation effects to make what appears sand, rock and yarn perform an elaborate mating ritual.
Björk’s two most recent albums, Vulnicura and Utopia, were co-produced by a Venezuelan electronic artist called Arca who’s pretty amazing and weird in his own right; check out this video (warning: seizure-inducing strobes for days) for proof. His involvement seems to have pushed Björk into some of her darkest and most experimental territory yet. Here’s an especially far-out track from Vulnicura, “Family,” which also features production work from U.K. ambient/drone artist The Haxan Cloak. Creeping doom Björk is my favorite kind of Björk — though it takes a delightful, unexpected twist around the 3:08 mark.
Vulnicura was a breakup album, which could account for its dark tone. Utopia, released last year, is warmer and more hopeful (Björk called it, slyly, her “dating record”). But its music, which features a shit-ton of flutes, is just as bonkers. And its videos are, if anything, some of her weirdest yet. If you’re both repulsed and oddly turned on by this clip for “Arisen My Senses” (directed by frequent Arca collaborator Jesse Kanda, who specializes in creating misshapen, organic forms), don’t worry — you’re not alone. No? It’s just me who’s oddly turned on? OK, I can live with that.
I’ve seen Björk live twice — once at Coachella in 2007, where I remember her playing a massive light-up keyboard that I can’t seem to find any video of, and once here in L.A. at a festival called FYF last year. I found both performances to be a little underwhelming — but to be honest, I didn’t really “get” Björk in 2007, and even since coming to her appreciate her music more, I find it hard to connect with at festivals, where many of its subtleties get lost, in my opinion. Not that my opinion matters — at both shows, thousands of fans around were eating up her every move. And anyway, it’s not the job of an avant-garde artist like Björk to be a crowd-pleaser. She’s always defied expectations, both with her music and how she presents it — and if sometimes punters like me don’t “get it,” that’s par for the course.
Maybe I would have felt differently about her FYF performance if it had featured the woodland creature flute army she brought with her to a recent appearance on Later … With Jools Holland. It was her first TV performance in eight years and a great reminder that, no matter how high she ascends into the pantheon of contemporary musical artists, Björk remains weird as fuck.
If you were a fan of the Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, you’re probably familiar with this week’s weird artist. But what you might not realize is that David Liebe Hart, with his puppets and quirky lo-fi songs about aliens and insect women and staying in school, was not some surreal creation of that most surreal of late-night comedy shows. David Liebe Hart is a real live person, and to this day he’s still making his wonderfully weird music and even weirder music videos.
An actor originally from the Chicago area (where, he says, he was abducted by aliens as a child) and now based in Los Angeles, Hart had a few small television roles early in his career on shows like Good Times, What’s Happening and Golden Girls. But he became best-known in the L.A. area in the 1990s for his musical puppet act, which he performed around town as a street busker and on a local cable access TV called The Junior Christian Teaching Bible Lesson Program. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you can still watch some of Hart’s early cable-access performances, which are fantastic.
So Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim didn’t exactly pluck Hart out of obscurity when they put him on the first season of their Awesome Show in 2007; he was already a cult figure around L.A., on par with other eccentric Hollywood fixtures like Known Actor Dennis Woodruff and Thai Elvis. But they were smart enough to just point a camera at him and let him do his thing, showcasing his menagerie of puppets, his slightly out-of-control baritone bray of a singing voice, and some of his most outlandish songs. He’s probably still most famous for “Salame,” the tune with which he made his Awesome Show debut (accompanied by his most famous puppet, Jason the Cat), but for our money, Tim & Eric scored Peak DLH with “I’m in Love With an Insect Woman.”
“Insect Woman” is amazing for a lot of reasons, but my favorite thing about it is probably how clearly Hart is in on the joke. Though some Tim & Eric fans seemed to react with alarm upon learning that his act existed outside the show (sample YouTube comment: “The realization that Tim and Eric met a crazy man and put him in front of a camera makes you a little sad”), I think part of David Liebe Hart’s genius, if you can call it that, lies in his ability to simultaneously embrace the absurd elements of his act and also fully commit to his underlying messages. He doesn’t really care whether you take him seriously or not; he just wants you to believe the aliens are out there — and to stay in school. It’s like Wesley Willis meets Space Alien Donald meets Sesame Street.
Since the sad demise of the Awesome Show, DLH has been keeping busy. He’s released numerous albums, written a book of poetry, played the mayor of Chicago in a B-movie called White Cop, launched his own podcast (“Adventures With David”), and done a national tour fronting a punk band. Since 2014, he’s teamed up with a new musical collaborator, Jonah Mociun, who’s given his songs a more fully produced, jaunty electro-pop sound. He’s also continued to embrace his silly, self-deprecating side; songs of his most recent album, Space Ranger, include “I Caught My Pecker in My Zipper,” “No Sex Since ’94” and “I’m Not a Hoarder.” (And we have it on good authority that, yes, that really is his apartment in the video for the latter track.)
But to this day, it’s when Hart sings about aliens and outer space this his weird light burns brightest. We’ll leave you with the totally cosmic video to another track from Space Ranger, “Space Train,” which features a fellow eccentric by the name of Tennessee Luke. According to Mociun, who wrote to us recently to share some of DLH’s latest stuff, Luke “believes he controls the weather with his mind.” Needless to say, we’re already fans.
Our readers submit a lot of marching bands as possible entrants on the Weird List. Usually, we don’t pay them much attention, because the whole concept of extreme/alternative/punk-rock marching bands is nothing especially new at this point. You got your Extra Action Marching Band, your Mucca Pazza, your Rude Mechanical Orchestra and so on. But something about this week’s band, Itchy-O, stands out from the pack of tattooed punks bashing away at quad toms.
A 30-plus-piece ensemble from Denver, the Itchy-O Marching Band (IOMB) typically begins their performance by entering the venue from the street. Drums dominate, but there are also synths, vocalists, dancers, guitar and bass, and a prominently featured Theremin. Many of the performers wear amps like backpacks, so they can move freely around the venue during the show. There’s usually a giant, dancing Chinese dragon. There are several of those massive, Japanese taiko drums, which are basically the Steinway pianos of the drum world, both in terms of sound and in terms of how much it must suck to haul them around on tour. They wear black balaclavas and often giant sombreros, which makes them look a little like a gang of anarchist mariachis. It all makes for what looks like a pretty insane, sensory overload live show (though we have yet to experience it first-hand ourselves).
With their emphasis on drums, dancers and audience interaction, Itchy-O are clearly indebted to San Diego neo-tribal performance troupe Crash Worship, although their shows are, by all accounts, relatively tame compared CW’s, which famously featured lots of fire and nudity and fluids, bodily and otherwise. To the credit of the group’s founder, Scott Banning, he acknowledges the debt, telling Denver publication Westword that, while living in the Bay Area, he became friends with Crash Worship’s Simon Cheffins, and toured with both CW and Cheffins’ later band, Extra Action Marching Band, though he’s careful to say, “I was never in Crash Worship.”
Banning, a percussionist by trade, initially started Itchy-O as a studio project; his first release under that name, in 2005, he described as “an ambient project made from the layered tracks of animal heartbeats found on vinyl from a veterinarian school.” But as he started organizing Itchy-O live shows, the project grew into a full-fledged band, evolving into its marching-band incarnation by 2010.
Following a 2011 EP, Inferno, the band released its first full-length album, Burn the Navigator, on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles in 2014. Usually, bands built so strongly around live spectacle don’t really measure up in the studio, but tracks like “Dance of the Annunaki” (which appears on both Inferno and Burn the Navigator) are a really cool mix of heavy, syncopated percussion, squelchy electronics and weird ambient noises and vocals — in this case, random bird and jungle sounds.
At other times, Itchy-O go for a sort of tribal black metal vibe, like on “The Merkabah,” which sounds like a bhangra remix of Mayhem.
Pretty cool, right? Still, it’s clearly in a live setting where Itchy-O’s particular brand of percussive mayhem is its most powerful. So we’ll leave you with a live clip from a show they did in 2014 right here in Los Angeles — which we missed, because we are bad at our jobs. Hopefully they’ll be back soon, although touring with 36 people and a hundred or so drums can’t be easy.
We had a feeling that after their last video, the Yo Gabba Gabba-esque “Public Enemy,” Russian rap-ravers Little Big were going to return to the dark side. And boy did they ever. “Dead Unicorn,” their latest, combines child rape, skin suspension, human centipedes and the Saw movies with, well, unicorns. Dead ones. It’s hard to watch and you won’t be able to look away.
Sorry you can’t unsee that.
On the brighter side: Little Big have promised some European tour dates in February and March, culminating in an appearance at the Paaspop Festival in the Netherlands April 3-5. Given the current shitty state of affairs between Russia and the U.S., we’re not holding our breath for any Stateside dates, but maybe—like a magical, non-sewn-together-from-dead-bodies unicorn—they’ll pleasantly surprise us.
One of the weirdest music and art venues in the world is in, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona. There, the self-described “world’s oldest gay Canadian rapper,” Space Alien Donald, does shows and hosts art exhibits in a little house near the airport called Funny World. We hope to visit soon, because it sounds like the kind of place that The Man could shut down at any moment. Especially in a place like Arizona, where anyone suspected of being an alien is just one broken taillight away from getting deported.
Actually, when Space Alien Donald bought Funny World in 2011, he was apparently told by the city that it would be torn down in six months to make way for a parking lot. But three years later, it’s still there. Even in Arizona, the weirdos are winning.
How did a 70-something gay Canadian rapper wind up hosting semi-legal punk shows in his house in Phoenix? We’re a little hazy on the specifics, but according to this article in something called the Downtown Devil, the man born Donald Roth moved to the U.S. from Ontario in the ’60s to work in electronics. After working in Silicon Valley, where he faked his school records to get jobs, he eventually settled in Prescott, a small city north of Phoenix, where he began developing his sci-fi inspired alter ego, Space Alien Donald.
Donald calls himself a rapper, but that’s not quite accurate. He really just kind of sing-speaks lyrics about science, astronomy, aliens and one of his favorite topics, a hypothetical particle called the tachyon that, like many things in Space Alien Donald songs, may be legit science or may be a bunch of pseudo-scientific hooey. He does this over synth backing tracks that sometimes are just the preset beats and chord progressions built into cheap electronic keyboards. So basically, he’s like nerdcore meets Mission Man meets a less schizophrenic Wesley Willis. Only older and more Canadian.
Donald just released his latest album, Must Be Funny, on Related Records. It’s got songs about how aliens built the moon and it has penises on the cover and it’s awesome. You can stream the whole thing over on Bandcamp and buy it for five bucks if you’re awesome, too. Here’s one of our favorite tracks:
To get more of the full Space Alien Donald story, this documentary, made by one of the residents of Funny World (yeah, people live there, too), tells you all you need to know:
Big thanks to Kai of Toxic Chicken for introducing us to Space Alien Donald’s weirdness.