Fri Jan 31
& Sat Feb 1
As more bands experiment and evolve with dance beats and art-punk, inevitably, there's going to be some homogenization. Especially within the underground/indie/punk contingent--which has been obsessed with undiscovered '70s and '80s No Wave for oh about a year and a half now, by the clock on my iBook. While the merging of dance culture with punk aesthetic and ideology is possibly one of the greatest musical developments I've witnessed in my lifetime, when half the shit sounds like either ESG or Gang of Four, it starts to get a little tired.
So when a buoyant, danceable band comes along that is neither fashion- nor NYC-obsessed, and merges unique styles and influences with a punk background, it sounds like the greatest thing in the world. And right now Spooky Dance Band, who have a devastatingly accurate name, sound like the greatest thing in the world to me. They turn playfully haunting, subtle, and beautiful melodies into an all-out dance party that is somehow intellectual yet totally inclusive (mainly because it doesn't make a conscious effort to be marginal). Their Farfisa organ can sound like the rickety highway rambling of The Munsters' hearse, or it can sound like a big, fat contemplative bass line. Swathes of viola make curlicue melodies over the beats (which, unlike the currently popular style of dance drumming, don't just wank on the high-hat and call it enough to hype a room). Add breathy, wistful boy vocals, and you end up with a really peculiar type of pop music that's utterly fulfilling.
Spooky Dance Band formed in Bellingham, WA, more than two years ago, and consists of Caroline Buchalter (viola), Jason Sands (drums), and Orion Satushek on vocals and Farfisa (the latter two have also played for years in bent art-rock band Reeks & the Wrecks). They relocated to Portland about six months ago, vetoing Seattle because of its overall stronger focus on commerce. "People here are more willing to do their art no matter what it is, and they'll collaborate here, rather than going the whole other route," explains Buchalter. "People in Portland are more willing to do it and just love it, without worrying about their money."
The band, which played its first show on Halloween (that's how they got their moniker), used to play longer party "jams," but lately, they've been venturing more into a catchier vein of songwriting--reining in their considerable talents to make simpler pop songs. "I'd never done vocals before, so it's kind of a weird step for me, and I'm still not really that secure with it," notes Satushek. "It makes you think more about the song and composition; because of it, we've grown into a more song-oriented band. We all come from an improvised background; Caroline plays in all these improv bands, and the Reeks and the Wrecks and various other projects we're in, all have a sense of openness and lack of structure."
"We do really simple music, stuff that anybody can play. To me, the simplest stuff sometimes just sounds the best," says Buchalter.
Whittling away for the sake of more subconscious, gut music has bade well for Spooky Dance Band. Says Satushek, "It's easy to get caught up in being a technical musician, but I think you can lose some feeling that way. I don't want our music to be super-exclusive; I can appreciate that, but for this band one of the coolest things is that a girl we know gave our CD to her sister, who's a preschool teacher. And these preschool kids love it. That is totally motivational that little kids ask for our record by name."