Martyn Bennett

I’d like to dedicate this week’s post to our good friend, Crabby (not his real name…or is it?), who introduced us to this week’s weird artiste. Martyn Bennett is pretty much Crabby’s hero, because he played bagpipes over electronic dance music. And Crabby is the only person we know who plays the bagpipes and has been to Burning Man. So you can see where there’s some kindred spirit action happening there.

Sadly, Crabby will never get to meet Bennett, who passed away in 2005 from Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 33. But he left behind a body of work that still has folks in Celtic and world music circles in a bit of a tizzy. Fusing traditional Celtic melodies and instrumentation to the looped beats of electronic music—especially the late ’90s hard stuff, like breakbeat, drum ‘n’ bass and Prodigy-style U.K. hardcore—Bennett created a sound that still tends to leave people either scratching their heads or doing a gleeful jig.

I have some turkey to consume shortly, so I’ll keep this post short and sweet and just leave you with a couple of clips that showcase Bennett in all his Celtic/breakbeat/fusion/mashup glory. Enjoy your Thanksgiving (if that’s your thing), and we’ll be posting more just as soon as we’ve emerged from our tryptophan-induced comas.

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Delhi 2 Dublin

Mixing music styles is a tricky business. Do it well, and you can inspire entire new genres, i.e. Celtic punk (thank you, Pogues), ska-punk (nice one, Specials), and rap-metal (we forgive you, Rage Against the Machine). Do it badly, and you can sound like an unholy train wreck. Do it badly with world music, and…well, usually the results wind up sounding like something that plays in the background while you shop for dream-catchers and bath salts.

To their credit, no one would ever mistake Delhi 2 Dublin for New Age gift shop background music. That being said, we still can’t decide if they’re actually good or not. Let’s put it this way: They get an “A” for effort, and an “A+” for originality. It would be wacky enough if they just fused traditional Celtic music with Bhangra, a style of folk music from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. But no! These crazy kids—who are from Vancouver, of all places—decided to throw a little hip-hop, rock, reggae, dub and electronica into the mix, too. The results sound sort of the “Lord of the Dance” soundtrack as performed by Asian Dub Foundation and remixed by Fatboy Slim. Did that last sentence make any sense to you at all? Then we may have just found you your new favorite band!

Believe it or not, Delhi 2 Dublin actually isn’t the first band to do this sort of Celtic-flavored, pan-global hodge-podge. Afro Celt Sound System, among others, having been doing something similiar since at least the mid-’90s. But Dehli 2 Dublin earns a spot on our Weird List because there’s something about the way they approach their music that’s equal parts dorky and awesome. The video below, for example, is just crying out for an SNL Digital Short, don’t you think? And we mean that in a good way. They’re like the T-Pain of world music fusion.

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Arrington de Dionyso Malaikat dan Singa

Hi, kids! How was your summer? Ours was pretty darn rad, I gotta say. We found lots of weird music, made some new friends (hi, Emotron!), launched our online store, and spent just enough of it drunk to take the edge off this whole recession thing. Also, Weirdest Band in the World celebrated its one-year anniversary…did you get us anything? No? That’s okay…your presence is our present. (Don’t you hate when people say that?)

Anyway, Jake and I are tan, rested, and ready to bring you another year of really weird bands. First up: a new project from a lunatic named Arrington de Dionyso. Arrington’s main gig is serving as lead singer of Pacific Northwest noise-punks Old Time Relijun. We’ve known about OTR for awhile, and although they’re kinda weird, we never really considered them TWBITW-worthy. They throw in the occasional touches of free-jazz skronk, but still—our minds weren’t blown.

But this Malaikat dan Singa project is pretty off-the-charts, for a number of reasons. First, de Dionyso sings all the band’s songs in Indonesian. Why? Well, according to one official bio, “the Indonesian language allows de Dionyso to communicate on levels more deeply subliminal than those accessible in his native English.”  Not sure we buy that, but yes, it does give the songs an added layer of weirdness.

Second, de Dionyso occasionally incorporates Tuvan throat singing into his vocals, which gives the songs an added element of Far Eastern mystical juju and—because he puts his own punk-rock spin on throat singing’s eerie, inhuman tones—a vibe that could probably best be described as acid-rock for zombies. Seriously, it’s ugly, creepy, but occasionally trance-inducing stuff. In fact, de Dionyso apparently calls it “trance-punk.” Which is as good a description as any.

Oh, and some of the lyrics are apparently Indonesian translations of William Blake poems. Hey, why not?

Malaikat dan Singa’s self-titled debut is out now on K Records, and you can stream the whole thing on their website. [Update: You can no longer stream the whole thing on their website. You snooze, you lose!] Check it out and tell us de Dionyso isn’t the loopiest rock vocalist this side of Mike Patton. (He also seems to share Patton’s restless spirit—besides Old Time Relijun and Malaikat dan Singa, he also fronts a free-jazz group called The Naked Future and paints a lot.)

Malaikat’s live shows don’t seem to translate real well to video—de Dionyso is always a compelling figure, but the rest of the band is pretty much just up there chopping wood and giving him a steady groove to freak out on top of. But this animated video, done by a guy named Ben Wolfinsohn for his My Odd Days project, captures the band’s unhinged spirit pretty well. We especially like that he chose to make de Dionyso look like a guy who just wandered in from an office Christmas party.

UPDATE: Shortly after we posted this, we were contacted by Arrington himself (we’re not worthy!) who pointed us to a cool feature on him on this art ‘n culture site called The Black Harbor. We especially recommend checking out the second of the three videos on that page, where he demonstrates how he uses an antique record lathe and plastic picnic plates to make homemade records that he then sometimes incorporates into his shows. Very nifty stuff.

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Tinariwen

Ever since Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel started raiding Africa for new musical ideas, it’s been well-known that the so-called “Dark Continent” is fertile ground when it comes to cool new/old sounds. In any number of African nations, traditional folk music has been cross-bred with Western instruments and playing styles (many of which, like blues, funk and even rock, descended from African music in the first place) to produce all kinds of nifty results: Congolese soukous, Senegalese mbalax, South African mbaqanga and township jive. Now Fela Kuti is the subject of a Broadway musical and even Jake owns a djembe that he occasionally hauls down to the Venice beach drum circle in hopes of meeting hippie chicks. African music has pretty much been demystified and commercialized. Right?

Well, not so fast. Even though they’ve played everywhere from the Hollywood Bowl to the World Cup opening ceremonies, Tinariwen remains something of an enigma: a group of nationless Tuareg nomads with electric guitars, still plying their trance-like, otherworldly music on portable generators out in the Sahara Desert somewhere in Mali, or Algeria, or possibly Niger. They’ve been at since the late ’70s and have been reaching Western audiences for nearly a decade, but even now, the typical response from anyone hearing their music for the first time is: “Holy shit! What is this stuff?”

The band’s story is a long and fascinating one, and the full version can be read on their MySpace page, so we won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that Tinariwen is a collective of like-minded musicians, poets and freedom fighters (in the ’80s, most of the band took a break from music to receive military training in Libya, then used their newfound fighting skills to take part in a Tuareg uprising against the Mali government in the early ’90s). For years, their music was the soundtrack of the Tuareg rebellion, and the musicians had to keep their identities secret, shrouding their faces behind cheches at performances and circulating their music on bootlegged cassette tapes. After the rebellion finally ended, Tinariwen came out of hiding and eventually caught the ear of some French world musicians called Lo’Jo, who invited them to perform in Europe—and pretty soon, word about the electric nomads and their dusty “desert blues” was out.

These days, Tinariwen is still led by the group’s founder, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, along with a core group of singers and musicians who sport fanciful nicknames like “Le Lion du Desert” and “Japanois” (French being the official language of Mali and Niger, it’s the unofficial second language of the Tuareg). But in the words of one chronicler of the band’s history, “They are more of a social movement than a desert rock ‘n’ roll band.” It is said that so many of the Tuareg have jammed with Tinariwen at one time or another that on any given night in the southern Sahara, half a dozen Tinariwen concerts are probably taking place—even while Ag Alhabib and some incarnation of the band is off touring the European festival circuit.

If you extend the notion that anyone who has played with Tinariwen is essentially a member of Tinariwen, their circle gets even larger: at this point, the band has performed with everyone from Carlos Santana to Robert Plant to one of our favorites here at TWBITW, the very Tinariwen-inspired Fool’s Gold. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Tinariwen has gotten around a lot over the last five years or so—these guys are nomads, after all.

One last detail, and then we’ll leave you with this clip from a documentary about the band. Tinariwen literally translates to “The Deserts,” which is what the Tuareg call the land they live on (they see the Sahara as several discreet deserts, not just one large one). And the style of music they play is often called “assouf,” a word that connotes loneliness, homesickness, and heartache—what American musicians might call “the blues.” It’s a great word to describe an amazing, haunting, truly unique form of music—the kind of music only Africa could have invented, but which speaks to all of us. (We don’t often wax grandiose here at TWBITW, but these guys do that to us.)

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Fool’s Gold

FoolsGold1byEmilyShur_EV

Sometimes the weirdest ideas can actually lead to some pretty beautiful music. That’s certainly the case with Fool’s Gold, a massive L.A. collective (they seem to have anywhere from eight to twelve members, based on the photos I’ve seen) who play Afro-pop-inspired tunes with lots of loping percussion and call-and-response vocals. I know…hipsters playing Afro-pop…yawn, right? Wake me up when Vampire Weekend breaks up. But wait, here’s the kicker: lead singer Luke Top sings in Hebrew. No, that’s not even the kicker. The kicker is that it totally works. Close your eyes and you’d swear you’re hearing some lost Jewish tribe from Ethiopia, jamming it out in the wilderness with some homemade amps and a smoky generator while their camels stop at a desert oasis to refuel. Or something like that.

Anyway, here’s a stream of the band’s first single, “Surprise Hotel”, courtesy of the folks at Stereogum. Stay with it till the 1:30 mark when the Hebrew vocals kick in; that’s when things really start to get interesting.

(Update: Since we first wrote about Fool’s Good, they’ve shot a couple videos, including this really nifty and fairly bizarre one for “Surprise Hotel.” Enjoy.)

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