I've often heard the drum-electronics-and-voice stylings of local duo Dat'r referred to as dance music. But while the music is loop-based—and though I've witnessed the group transform a humble Southeast Portland backyard into the staging ground for a Rio-style baile funk explosion—"dance music" doesn't quite strike me as accurate. Rather, I think of Dat'r as a band that makes music to move fast to. This is music to listen to while being chased down alleys by gunmen, or while jumping across rapidly parting drawbridges and dodging rocket fire. Really, any action-movie scenario will do, provided velocity and a strong sense of physical peril are involved.
It's no surprise, then, that the gentlemen of Dat'r, Paul Alcott and Matt Dabrowiak, have amassed a fair bit of acclaim around town for their live shows since forming a few years ago. The common criticism of electronic music concerts as glorified karaoke does not apply here, as Alcott's timbale-tinged drumming, and Dabrowiak's yelping incantations—the rhythmic core of the band—are both in live, enthusiastic play. In spite of the lyrical darkness and musical sense of foreboding, Dat'r shows are playful affairs. The twosome have a great rapport with one another (they've been making music together for years as two-thirds of the indierock outfit Binary Dolls), playing the role of tag-team emcees with gusto, and notoriously controlling their guitar, bass, and who-knows-what samples in real-time with joysticks via a tailor-made computer program called Chickenbonez. The audience is brought into the fun(k) as well, invited to play along on an assortment of percussion instruments. In fact, Hush Records honcho, Chad Crouch, fell in love with the group while pounding the night away on a cowbell, a musical partnership culminating on Saturday, March 17, at Holocene in the release of Dat'r's (check it out: double apostrophes!) debut album, Turn Up the Ghosts.
The record is utterly relentless over the course of nine tracks and 43 minutes, and what it lacks in the way of the live band's joyousness, it makes up for with intensity and focus. It recalls mid-'90s electronica, as well as contemporary dance hybridizers MIA and !!!. Turn Up the Ghosts feels like experiencing an exorcism, complete with sensations of regret, struggle, repentance, and release. While a little worse for wear, you come out of it feeling cleansed, glad to have run the gauntlet, and ready to do so again as soon as you catch your breath.
If you're feeling particularly energetic, I also recommend Holocene on Thursday (March 15) for inscrutable vocal-manipulation maven OH's record-release party, and celebrating the third birthday of Portland's music-and-culture variety show Live Wire! at the Aladdin on Friday (March 16), with guests the Blow.