Art school has a way of producing great artists by frustrating them until they turn into musicians. So it was with the Talking Heads at the Rhode Island School of Design in the early '70s, and so it was with !!! in the mid-'90s, whose members came together on the dance floor at a frat party while attending the Sacramento Art Institute Kollege. (Their name, !!!, is pronounced by saying any three repetitive sounds in a row.) Their common disdain for the art school setting and growing affection for music with "all sorts of rhythms happening--a lot of bass-driven, percussion-heavy Brazilian, Latin, and obscure disco" was fuel enough to start playing together in 1996, says guitarist Mario Andreoni. "Old disco, not like 'YMCA,'" he quickly clarifies.
Hanging out less and less at hardcore shows--the scene in which many of them were a part in the early '90s--and more in nightclubs, Boink Boink Boink found their inspiration and honed their skills playing to friends around town. Their deep rhythms proving undeniable back home on the basement circuit, the band decided to hit the road, hoping to feel the love all over the map. But wouldn't the majority of the heavily starched indierock scene of the late '90s resist even the catchiest, funkiest beats, resolved to their arms-folded, pole-up-the-ass posture? "Oh yeah," says Mario. "Especially when we first started. There were a lot of shows where nobody really knew what to make of it. We still get no reaction sometimes."
Nonplussed, Hunka Hunka Hunka carried on, collecting converts slowly but steadily on tour as audience members realized how fun it can be to go crazy at shows and help in creating an inclusive environment in which to do so. "The first couple of tours that we did, I think what made it so fun was that there would be a few places where people would catch on to what was going on and really let themselves go," says Mario. "Those shows always stuck out to us. There's a lot of that scene bullshit that a lot of punk and indie kids are still hung up on," he says of the largely self-conscious audiences they play to. "I try to not even think about that shit. It's more about how can we make ourselves better, how can we move ourselves and then in turn everybody else?"
And the people ARE moving. It's not unheard of to see a lengthy conga line at a Plink Plink Plink show, or audience members commandeering tables and chairs to dance on once the band hits their stride. "A lot of times we'll start off with improvisation, so it's interesting to find out if we can build it up between ourselves to make it pretty hot and then see how everyone reacts to it," says Mario. The band--eight deep and obviously having a ball--encourages you to drop your inhibitions, and coming from jubilant singer Nic Offer, it's an easy vibe to get swept up in. "It definitely helps if the venues we play are dark," Mario laughs. "More like a club. You go to a club, it usually takes a pretty special person to just bust out right away. Slowly you get into it and the heat and the beat just gets you moving."
Pulling a lot of their energy out of crowd participation and having shows that end up looking like goodtime free-for-alls with band and audience alike crowding the stage, some skeptics have tried to write Thump Thump Thump off as a lightweight party band, a criticism Mario doesn't understand. "When I think of a party band I think of a band that's just playing cover songs or you're playing a wedding or something. We're much more serious and we spend a lot of time and agony trying to write our songs." Explaining ______ ______ ______ 's [your turn to fill in the name!] goals and methodology, he adds, "It's much more about trying to tap into something you might not have experienced before and might make you want to check out other types of music that make you feel that way. We all listen to all kinds of music. It's about trying to incorporate a lot of different things and getting as many people as you can to just bust loose."