Tomorrow, we’re hosting the Incubate DIY Conference in Midi Theatre Tilburg. The keynote speech will be given by Michael Azerrad, author of Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991. This week, Azerrad is spending time in the city catching the bands at the festival. Here wrote down his thoughts on the acts he saw Tuesday:
Here’s how I spent my Tuesday night at Incubate.
Rainbow Arabia singer Tiffany Preston affected such a wide range of accents that the only way I could tell where the band was from was by keyboardist Danny Preston’s porkpie hat, the tell-tale fashion tic of the American. Turns out they’re from Los Angeles but they seem to borrow heavily from New York — specifically, percussion-centric early ’80s New York bands like Liquid Liquid, Konk, and ESG as well as the more recent Santigold. I think the drummer was Butchy Fuego, who’s played with MIA, Pit Er Pat and the Boredoms and he was great. The music centered around his hyperactive, downright catchy beats, quasi-melodic patterns played on roto-toms and cowbells. Everything else — the simple wah-wah guitar lines, the rudimentary synth chords, and even Tiffany Preston’s vocals — was drapery.
Late in their set, Tiffany broke the band’s mildly beguiling bellydance spell by announcing, “We love playing in Belgium.” Scattered groans erupted through the audience as she realized her fauxpas. The best she could manage was “Well, we’re confused because we had Belgian waffles for breakfast today.” Which is about the lamest comeback I have heard in all my years of concert-going. Still, she put it behind her and the band finished the set in the same incantatory fashion they’d laid down from the start.
Rainbow Arabia make slight music — there’s just not much to it besides the beats and the tunes aren’t too memorable — but I’d have them play a house party anytime, people would dance up a storm.
Next was the unfortunately named Rape Blossom. They pretty slavishly mined the Public Image Limited/Gang of Four end of post-punk, to middling effect. They have a certain muscularity to their sound, but lack the funky propulsion of Gang of Four, the delicious dissonance of Public Image, and the sing-song catchiness and compelling frontman of either band. Perhaps reviving this style of music is intriguing to people who were unable to experience post-punk when it existed, but history and music are so intense right now; why not make music that responds to the present moment?
Next up at Kleine Zaal was Health. This is a band that responds to the moment. Yes, Health’s music does hail back to post-punk and disco, but it’s funneled through a distinctly contemporary 21st century vision, a heart of darkness complicated and redeemed by a dance groove that is both sexy and vaguely homicidal. They trick out B.J. Miller’s powerful, kinetic disco drum beats with layers of noises, either rhythmic or not, made with synths and a feeding-back microphone sent through an array of effects pedals, skronky guitar and Jake Duzsik’s chanted vocal melodies that sound like a bewildered child lost in a riot.
I can’t say enough about the physicality of the band’s live show too. Bassist John Famiglietti in particular rocks like he’s playing anthems to a stadium full of believers, swinging his long hair and throwing his lanky body around the stage with wild abandon, and the passion is contagious. The whole band hurls their bodies into their instruments and the instruments hurl the sound right back. It’s a good cue that this isn’t just dance music but something even more intense.
Health is from Los Angeles, but they’re about the dark side of Los Angeles. And in a sunny place like L.A., the darkness is very dark indeed. I don’t think they’re doomy and apocalyptic though — the music is too fun to dance to, and dancing is redemptive. Health’s brutalism, dissonance and noise aren’t meant to pummel you into submission — it’s more like pummeling you into awareness. It’s bracing, exciting music. Since the band’s inchoate beginnings, their melodies have gotten clearer and their grooves deeper. Health is clearly reaching for something original and it’s thrilling.