Southern Diplo-macy

by John Dugan


 [I profiled Diplo for Time Out Chicago back in 2005 or so in advance of a visit to Sonotheque, which ended up being Sonotheque's biggest night up until that point. It was bananas.]

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Diplo dabbles in doc film and daydreams of retirement  

Diplo, real name Wesley Pentz, is the main American proponent of Rio's favela-rooted funk carioca/baile-funk culture, which we at Time Out Chicago can't seem to shut up about. So it's only natural that he's joining baile-funk king DJ Marlboro for the MCA's TropicÁlia: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture festival.

With various mix-CDs from his Philly label/collective Hollertronix, his production on M.I.A.'sArular album and new stature as a remixer to Beck, Gwen Stefani and Bloc Party, Diplo has brought the Miami bass–derived homegrown dance music of Rio into the hipster solar system. But he has more music coursing through him, including a new, jaw-droppingly good Fabric mix-CD, slated to be released by the label wing of the London club where, incidentally, Diplo fatefully met M.I.A.

"Basically it's about me growing up in Florida," Diplo says of his latest, as he chats with us on his cell phone while runningerrands in Manhattan. The disc sums up his influences without regard for geography. "All that techno stuff on there, I kinda felt like that was Miami bass until I found out it was from Detroit a couple of years ago," he laughs. On the disc, he jumps from Detroit electro to Rio funk to booty bass back to ghetto tech, then sprinkles indie snippets like Cat Power and Le Tigre.

He plans to release (through Turntable Lab) a live set from an upcoming Brazilian festival, to show his love for pop, his solo creations and Brazilian street music. Tomorrow, he's jetting to Rio, so today he's getting a camera, film, dropping off original tracks for a new 12-inch at Turntable Lab...and ordering a pineapple roll for lunch in Chinatown. "I might hire a cinematographer when I get there," he says.

Just as Diplo is poised to hop from cult figure to star status, he changes mediums. The DJ plans to spend the next few months filming a documentary on Rio de Janeiro's baile-funk scene. "I don't want it to be seen just as a trend," he says. "I want to make sure that people see the energy level as well, not just the drugs and the gun culture around it. It's like kids making a whole music industry out of nothing."

The road to Rio has been indirect. Diplo grew up near Daytona Beach, where he turned on to the rave scene. "I'm talking about the big pants, the glow sticks," he says of the fairground gatherings of his youth. Diplo soaked up Orlando's budding club scene and he picked up a love for "fun, bouncey shit" before Disney dominance and curfews crushed it. The first chance he had, he set off to Philadelphia, where he enrolled in Temple University's film program. He then dropped out of the program to become a schoolteacher, but soon quit "because I was making more money deejaying and I got caught up in the bureaucracy at the school," he says. A teaching-assistant stint in Japan taught him where not to be. "I need spontaneity and it's not spontaneous there," he says. "In Philly, there's always a stolen car running into a stop sign or something."

Establishing himself in the gritty city wasn't easy. "Three or four years ago when I first started getting up there, kids didn't like me," he says. "I couldn't get my own night; they didn't like my style. That's why I started Hollertronix. Now I think I represent what the kids want, so all the young kids like me."

This year, Diplo's southern hemispheric sensibility has come into vogue. Rather than cash-in personally, he wants to inspire a grassroots scene: more white labels and more kids doing club nights. "I think that Chicago is probably one of the only cities that has a real underground, that has different DJs and different followers...but that's about it," he says. "Club culture is dead everywhere else in America." But he doesn't see himself a part of that culture at 40. "I want a life where I can raise kids, catch shrimp and live off the land."

 


Calvin Harris, Alter Ego

by John Dugan


Back in 2008, I sat down with Calvin Harris in Miami before taking in a modestly attended live band set. In 2012, Harris pulled in $42 million dollars as a DJ. 

Time Out Chicago, 2008. 

One of our missions at this year’s Winter Music Conference was to meet Calvin Harris in between the live sets he and his band played in Miami. The Scottish singer’s I Created Disco was our favorite crossover record of 2007—full of pop hooks, party-boy attitude and banging beats on tunes like “Acceptable in the ’80s” and “Colours”—in which the singer advises ladies against a monochrome palette. We figured that when we found Harris—who recently recorded with Kylie Minogue—surely we would be buried in an avalanche of babes, bottles and controlled substances.Instead, we ended up in a swag room in a hotel penthouse chatting with a polite young guy who likes the Sugababes. Could this really bethe Calvin Harris? Read on.

Time Out Chicago: There’s a sense of humor on your record—do you think the album will translate in the U.S.?
Calvin Harris: There’s two reasons I don’t think it translates. The album is not very focused; it’s all over the place and people like something that’s concise.… Also, I haven’t been here much. I haven’t had a chance to speak to anyone at great length. Hopefully I’ll right the wrongs with the second album.

TOC: You seem to have come out of nowhere. How were you discovered?
Calvin Harris: After many years of sending demo CDs and stuff, I gave up sending demo CDs. It was pretty much on MySpace—trying to meet a guy that wrote a song that I liked by the Sugababes. I was into [reaching out to] people that were in the music industry and making them my private showbiz friends, to get me on to people’s records and stuff.

TOC: Were you taking that approach as a songwriter?
Calvin Harris: I was thinking of myself then as a producer. It was only once I got signed to a record deal that things became a bit confused. When I got signed, I was a producer making backing tracks. So I added this guy, who works for EMI publishing—which was ideal—and he liked it, so that’s how it all started. They set about getting me a record deal and they did that with Sony and now they think I’m a artist. Within months, I was starting a band and being a frontman, trying to learn those skills.

TOC: So, this wasn’t your life dream?
Calvin Harris: Far from it. I was singing on the songs because I couldn’t find anyone else to sing on them. I guess it’s quite obvious why they would see me as a singer. It kind of got out of control.

TOC: Maybe what you do stands out because you weren’t intending for it to be the final product?
Calvin Harris: There’s no showboating; there’s no sort of Mariah Carey vocal gymnastics or anything like that.

TOC: You could do actual gymnastics…
Calvin Harris: That’s incredible, like Pink. She does that! I saw a video of her at Wembley Arena— she was up in the sky upside down singing on a trapeze.

TOC: Is there an autobiographical quality to the album?
Calvin Harris: It’s all made-up stuff. I’ve not done or thought any of those things on the album. It’s kinda funny.

TOC: What inspires your songs?
Calvin Harris: I try not to write funny songs, or things that are ironic, but I think they kind of are. Which is strange, because it’s not what I intended. I think my default method is to try and adopt somebody else’s outlook on life so that I don’t get found out. And nobody really knows who or what I am, which is bad, because I end up acting like a fucking idiot and people think I’m an absolute prat.

TOC: Can you give an example?
Calvin Harris: With the song “The Girls,” I thought it was so clearly made up and clearly not the case, you know. It just seemed obvious. I guess people who saw the video or heard the song thought, Who the fuck does this guy think he is? There are whole album reviews based around that one song. [They said] “He thought he could do this and this and this, mix it and produce it and it would still be good, well it’s not, it’s a one out of ten,” stuff like that.

TOC: Did you consider using a different name?
Calvin Harris: It isn’t my real name. I could tell you my real name, but I don’t see the point. It’s Adam.

I Created Disco 

is out now on Almost Gold.

 


Christiane Amanpour on her new doc, Generation Islam

by John Dugan


TOC: One thing that you didn’t touch on, and I was sort of interested in was the kind of dollar figures you’re talking about. Because really, to build a school in some of these smaller places is probably on the order of the cost of a couple of laser-guided bombs.


CA: 

Oh, much less, and your point is precisely correct that it costs very little comparatively to build a school and the reward is exponentially huge, and that’s why it’s such an amazing thing

Read More

Jamie Lidell | Interview

by John Dugan


I chatted with my old buddy Jamie Lidell for TIme Out Chicago, roughly 7 years after I first wrote about him.

The U.K. electro-soul crooner calls Nashville home now, but he hasn’t gone country.

We’ve followed Jamie Lidell from his days as a Berlin-based beatboxer to more recent turns with a full-blown soul band. Now, the U.K. native is back with a self-titled album of aggressively funky tunes recalling early ’80s R&B in the best way. We caught up with Lidell via Skype as he toured his new one-man show in Belgium.

After moving around you’ve settled in Nashville.
It was like a Sun Ra move, you know? Space is the place. We realized, my wife and I, that we just couldn’t afford to stay in Manhattan and grow as artists and a couple. A few people told me to check out Nashville—one of them was Beck, the other was Pat Sansone from Wilco. We’ve got a great place and we spend most of our time at home.

You record at home?
[The new album] was entirely recorded and mixed at home. I never left the house for any of it, which is something I’m pretty proud of because I think I got a decent sound for a home recording. It was a pretty serious undertaking. I don’t think it’s for everyone, working out of home, but it’s definitely for me. The empowerment is something that can’t be underestimated. It’s ridiculous.

The album recalls early ’80s funk and boogie. Is that what you were going for?
Living in Nashville, we got addicted to this radio station called 92Q. Michael Baisden puts on this amazing show, it’s become a huge thing for us, they play these amazing jams. It reminded me of these hidden gems that I grew up loving and listening to that I’d put to the back of my mind. Drum-machine funk. And, because I made a lot of this music on my own, starting with a drum machine made a lot of sense. That immediately put me back in the ’80s in a sense.

Did you have a crisis being pegged as part of a wave of soul revivalists?
When I did Multiply and Jim, I was heading down the road of the blue-eyed soul crooner. To sing like I did on those two albums, I’m proud of all that stuff. When I made Jim, to try to follow with what I thought people wanted me to be, some part of me was a bit dead when I did that. It felt like I was chasing the money. There’s some great music on that record, and I don’t regret doing it. It’s an interesting challenge to stay relevant, stay popular enough to tour and stay true to the music you want to make. You’re always going to shake people off if you take a heavy turn.

What can you tell us about your current tour?
It’s a one-man show, so sonically I’m presenting new material and old material in a made-over fashion. I’m taking people back to the early house days, which always seemed a good setting for my voice, my horn of a voice. I’ve been tapping into my inner diva. I’m just belting it out over house music at the end. I get everything lathered up and at the end we have a wash down. That’s why they call it a rinse. You check your troubles at the door and rinse it out.

Published April 4, 2013

Jamie Lidell

Jamie Lidell


The unpredictable life of Flosstradamus

by John Dugan


Spend a night with the young DJ duo whose name will soon be on everyone's lips-and everyone's playlists. By John Dugan

Photos by Marzena Abrahamik

Photos by Marzena Abrahamik

Chicago DJ duo Flosstradamus (Josh Young/J2K and Curt Cameruci/Autobot) has only been around since Fall of 2005, but the stars (or perhaps the beats) have aligned to make 2007 the group’s national breakout year. With three turntables and the skills to blend a club tempo playlist that treats everything from indie to crunk as fair game, Floss has gone from creating chaos at a non-descript Boystown bar to banging the hippest parties nationwide. Flosstradamus is at the center of the city’s emergent underground dance-party scene, where the covers are low; the beats are fast; and the rappers, DJs and partiers are particularly chummy. We tagged along for a night out with Floss and entourage when the boys made their triumphant return to a monthly residency in Wicker Park. We were not, at any point, disappointed.

7pm, St. Ben’s 
We knock on the door at Flosstradamus HQ, a compact single-family home in St. Ben’s. Inside, J2K sits around with New York–based Fader editor and DJ Nick (Catchdubs) Barat trading music files from laptops while MTV Jams screens a Swizz Beatz video. The conversation revolves around music and fashion. “Whoa, he’s still got ski goggles; he’s still keeping it alive,” says J2K about Swizz’s “uncle” style.

7:30pm, Floss studios (upstairs)
A narrow wood-paneled stairway leads upstairs to Autobot’s bedroom, which is filled with piles of clothes and a neatly arranged ball-cap collection. A remix session is in progress, and Autobot shows us how he puts the Floss touch on a familiar tune, the Who’s anthem “Baba O’Riley”: He throws a steady bass drum, hand claps and some tambourine underneath, then winds it up to a bumpin’ tempo. He wants to use the mutated track as an intro to tonight’s set, the duo’s monthly residency at Subterranean. He spends the next ten minutes tinkering while J2K hunts for his laptop’s power cord. We chat about Floss and where the duo is headed. Indisputably, the star-making moment for the local DJ outfit is right now. The group built its name at loft parties, a monthly session at the Town Hall Pub in Boystown called Get Outta the Hood and eventually regular slots at forward-thinking clubs like Sonotheque.

In March, Floss turned up the volume at numerous gigs at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas. “We seriously made a noise,” Autobot says. An URB cover story and a DJ mix they crafted for Vice Records further amped up the Floss buzz well beyond Chicago.

The duo has largely set aside remixing and producing to hit the road. “We’re striking while the iron is hot and getting our tour on,” Autobot says. The boys recently went to Europe, supporting Craze and A-Trak, though taking an opening slot was “weird” for a duo accustomed to bringing down the house with its three-turntable sets. “We had to learn a bit. It was kind of humbling,” Autobot says. A few minutes later, with turntables packed in the trunk, the group heads for Wicker Park.

9pm, Subterranean, upstairs
J2K’s sister Melissa arrives. Together, they make up the rap duo Kid Sister: quick rhymes with a South Side drawl from the lady, who J2K eggs on. Melissa, radiating star quality, tells us she’s recording one-offs to build hype for her debut album, due this summer. She recently sang on a U.K. house track “about beepers” and joined Floss at the Coachella festival in late April.

9:30pm, backstage
Clubbers start to show up as Autobot spins a warm-up detour into soul and reggae before he turns over the tables to Catchdubs. Kid Sister talks about Tarantino’s flick Grindhouseand graphic designer Dust La Rock. It’s decided that J2K’s tee “is just too crazy” so he turns it inside out, while Melissa’s put-together ensemble (neutrals, jewelry) is a winner. “I’m tired of this hipster stuff, I wanna look like a woman,” she says.

J2K also explains why Floss aren’t the mash-up artists they’re often made out to be: He says  they simply create traditional hip-hop “blends” that “involve putting two tracks on top of each other,” and they usually work live.  Some of those blends include Floss-created samples they dial up with additional beats and rhythms before dropping them into their sets. Some of the tunes they’ve reworked like this include the Beatles’ “Twist & Shout” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

11:15pm
The band area is filling. Chicago rappers the Cool Kids take the stage—or a slice of it, as there’s a growing entourage around the decks.

12:15am, onstage
Just as Autobot is about to step up to the mixer, he’s accosted by a lady who sounds like a feisty ex. He evades her, hits the turntables and works in OutKast’s “B.O.B.” and Green Velvet’s “Shake and Pop” as spazzy local MC Hollywood Holt commands the crowd to “juke,” then get their “hands up.” Melissa tells the crowd it’s her “first sober show” as she takes the microphone and bangs out a set of her animated odes to fabulous living (including “Pro Nails” and “Telephone”) with J2K chiming in.

12:45am, upstairs
After dramatic dead air, Floss comes on, with Autobot’s “Baba” intro working. The stage is crazy, the joint is sticky and a few tracks into the set, folks are asked to make some space just before the duo launches into an updated version of hip-hop staple “Apache,” complete with a blistering synth bass line. A kid in a fedora and white tie boogies a few feet from a girl at the edge of the stage in a classy charcoal frock. Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” comes on at 1am, as bits of Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch” weave in and out.

1:20am
Floss crams in more crowd-pleasers, including versions of “This Is Why I’m Hot” and the group’s ravey “Act a Fool” remix. Peter Björn and John’s “Young Folks” closes out the set as the room lights turn on and security kicks everyone out. The guys have gigs in Orlando the next night, Chicago on Friday, Atlanta on Sunday and New York on Wednesday. They’re running ragged and seem eager for June to come around, so they can hunker down, do remixes and start working on something to call their own, something that lasts longer than a damn good party.


Pete Townshend | Interview

by John Dugan


The Who guitarist chats about his new memoir and touring Quadrophenia.
By John Dugan Published: November 29, 2012 in Time Out Chicago.

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Pete Townshend may have finally answered the question posed by his iconic band, “Who are you?,” in Who I Am, his recent autobiography. In the brutally honest tome, Townshend takes us from his rough-around-the-edges upbringing all the way through the rise of the loudest rock band ever, interspersed with dramatic rock-star ups-and-downs—especially downs, namely drugs and infidelity. It’s cut with a dry humor, but Townshend’s memoir is serious and thoughtful.

We reached the Who guitarist-songwriter on the road as he and Roger Daltrey tour their 1973 rock opera, Quadrophenia. Chatty, funny and deadly honest, the 67-year-old rocker seemed to relish taking the long view of his life and work.

You write about schoolyard gangs in your book, and you’re back in a band again. Do you find comfort there?
With the Who, I feel comfortable. I think you’re right, I feel this is an extension of the gang. I think people love it when at the end of a show, Roger and I, who have allegedly hated each other all of our lives, hug. It’s ‘Ahhh, look, they’ve overcome their obstacles.’ It’s like fucking On Golden Pond or something. We take great stock in the fact that we’ve been working together such a long time and there’s so much that can be left unsaid that goes back to the neighborhood. The fact that the Who were a gang at one point did give me a sense of continuum. After Chinese Eyes, I did try to create a gang—I hired a bunch of people and tried to create a band. It felt as futile as when Bowie did the Tin Machine thing, it really wasn’t a band at all.

You also write about having a spiritual enlightenment at a Holiday Inn in Rolling Meadows.
Yeah, it was one of those kind of sublime moments. The only reason I know it was Rolling Meadows was I wrote about it on a piece of Holiday Inn notepaper. There it was with a little drawing of the nation’s innkeeper.

Rolling Stone ran a cover story of yours titled “In Love with Meher Baba.” Where are you now in terms of seeking spiritual satisfaction?
In order to have faith, or follow any other organized religion, I’d have to suspend a degree of disbelief. In a sense, the god we trust politically is a slightly different god than the one we bring into the fray when we enter a rock concert. One of the things I can say with absolute conviction is that I worship that god. I think that when a crowd is at a really great music event and they start to lose themselves, they find themselves in a crowd and because it is physical and mental and looking for something uplifting and life enhancing…. I think when people gather together in large numbers to do that, there’s a sense of congregation, and I’m happy to be a part of that.

What have you got in store for us with the Quadrophenia tour?
Well, I haven’t had a lot to do with it. I was worrying Roger for the last five years to try to bring Quadrophenia back out again, and he has insisted that he has complete control of it. So I first saw his video presentation a couple of few weeks ago when we were rehearsing it. It’s a story about life in the U.K. and our neighborhood, rather than the story ofQuadrophenia—it’s almost like a biopic in some ways. It’s Roger and I performingQuadrophenia in a very pure way. At the end, we play some old hits and say good-bye and crowds seem to like it. We’re getting reasonably good reviews but it’s early days yet. I can’t see what’s on the screens behind me, but I get a feeling from the crowd that it’s working.

The Who plays Allstate Arena Thursday 29 and Friday 30. Who I Am is out now.


David Johansen of the New York Dolls | Interview

by John Dugan


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David Johansen of the New York Dolls chats about the band’s comeback glam wonder Dancing Backwards in High Heels. Yes, and Buster Poindexter.

By John Dugan Published: March 9, 2011

Punk precursors alongside the Stooges, New York Dolls are perhaps the most influential band people have never really heard. Both the Sex Pistols and KISS built on the Dolls’ gritty glitter and street-gang sleaze. But more shocking than their history is their future—even with just two original members remaining. The new Dolls album, Dancing Backward in High Heels, is glam-rock perfection, swirling a syrup of R&B, doo-wop and punk in a tongue-in-cheek milkshake. We spoke with lead singer David Johansen about the sucker punch of a comeback.

The Dolls’ second act has lasted longer than the first. How did that happen? 
The first time around if certain things had been different we probably would’ve not broken up. [Guitarist] Syl [Sylvain] and I still wanted to play. I think that was a lot of impetuousness of youth. Maybe we needed somebody watching us who could say, “Go to your mutual corners and come back in a month and we’ll talk about it.” As opposed to, “Well, fuck you. Oh, yeah? Well, fuck you.”

Why did you decide to record this album in England? 
It’s nice to go some place different to make a record. But of course I’m saying that in retrospect, because there’s this company in England that had been pursuing us to make a record in their studio so they could put it out in the U.K. So, that was the most… let me think of a good word… fiduciary [Laughs] responsible way to make the record.

I hear a lot of ’50s pop music in the new record. 
Oh, yeah, there’s so many little quotes in there. Which has always been like a Dolls kind of trademark. Some of them I don’t want to say because I don’t want to wind up in plagiarism prison.

Do you find it difficult to write? 
I don’t know that I’d write a song unless it was at gunpoint. It comes time to make a record and we write a bunch of songs. Otherwise, if left to my own devices, I’ll write two songs a year.

After the Dolls broke up, you scored a huge hit as Buster Poindexter. Do you feel you have to explain some of your pop-culture past sometimes? 
I had a lot of fun doing the Buster Poindexter thing. It started in this little bar in my neighborhood. I was going to do on Mondays, like, a little cabaret of jump blues and stuff like that, and it just mushroomed. I started doing weekends and I could walk to work and I was 
making a nice living.

Are you still associated with that character? 
It’s got that “Hot Hot Hot” curse. People go “Oh, Buster Poindexter. ‘Hot Hot Hot.’ ” I think Buster Poindexter, I think [1940s bandleader] Jimmy Liggins and songs of that sort. It’s just selective memory in my case.

The Dolls were famous for looking fabulous onstage and causing a reaction. Do you still try to re-create that or is that a thing of the past? 
Well, I’ve always been chic like a motherfucker, what can I tell you? [Laughs]

Dancing Backward in High Heels 

is out this week on 429 Records.


Rory Phillips | Interview

by John Dugan


One of dance-punk’s key insurgents reveals what he learned from John Peel. By John Dugan Published: January 17, 2013

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A decade ago, dance punk was preparing to storm the gates of big clubs and dance charts. In London, on the street level, the revolution was stoked by a wide-ranging, punk-spirited club night called Trash run by Erol Alkan and Rory Phillips. With Phillips headed to Berlin’s Stardust party, it seemed natural to ask him about the era and what he’s gotten into since.

What made Trash different?
It was a special time, fueled by youth and passion—just a collective playing records they loved but didn’t hear in the clubs elsewhere, to a community that got it.

It was a Monday night success story, correct?
I had a day job for the first few years, so I felt the pain of everyone that had to then go to work till Friday. Totally worth it.

We met in Miami at the Winter Music Conference. Do you still go every year?
There was a very exciting time out there back around 2003–4, with bands like LCD Soundsystem playing alongside the new breed of DJs, but we’ve gone back to the bad old days of the superstar DJ. That said, I have started going over the last few years as there’s always a lot of fun to be had. The Fixed party is fantastic every year. You just have to look beyond the headliners and stay on the outside.

Is there anything like Trash in London now?
I’m a resident at Durrr, which was Trash’s successor on Monday nights until our venue closed down. Now we just do big, irregular parties around London as well as my bimonthly disco party, Say Yes. Residents are a dying breed as weekly and even monthly clubs are practically nonexistent now.

You were on the forefront of the dance punk scene. What’s your current passion in terms of DJ sets?
There’s a lot of disco and a lot of music informed by disco, like house, postpunk and the like. It’s different from night to night, I play a wide range of stuff, really. I like to join the dots.

Is it tough to make things like krautrock work in the clubs?
We’ve done a fair bit of that at our Say Yes parties; krautrock is so rhythm-based that it makes sense. I’ve seen Can records destroy a dance floor.

You’re releasing a series of 12" records (Mixed Fortunes). Do you still believe in vinyl as the medium of the DJ?
I don’t deejay with vinyl anymore outside of London, as I grew tired of lugging huge boxes around only to find the club’s turntables were neglected or badly placed. But the cliché is true: Nothing sounds like it at home or in the club. Not so much the warmth, more the thump. I’d say it’s more the medium of the music lover than the DJ.

I know you love John Peel. What about his approach do you keep in mind when deejaying?
If it works it doesn’t matter if it’s at the same tempo. Oh, and when playing vinyl always remember to play songs at the right speed.


Django Django and Night Moves at the Metro | Photos and review

by John Dugan


Posted in Time Out's Audio File blog by John Dugan on Mar 18, 2013 at 11:03am

To mitigate any jealousy I might feel about colleagues and friends hitting Austin to gorge on potential buzz bands, aging Top 40 acts shoring up their cred, cold Lone Stars and tacos from trucks, I usually try to hit one of the "SXSW tours" coming through town in March. U.K. band Django Django is not an unproven act, rather one championed by NME since 2009. It had a very big 2012 with a Mercury Prize–nominated album. But this year, "Default," a 2011 single from the band's debut, has wormed its way onto FM radio in Chicago, a format which might be discounted in this day and age, but usually means commercial viability—thus 2013 is Django's year in Chicago. And yet, the band is far from overexposed in the States, and a SXSW trip was clearly arranged to change that.

At Django Django's way-sold-out early show at the Metro (it played Austin before and after Chicago, which just goes to show how nutty SXSW has become), the band proved it is as unique as it is genius in translating its abstract, distant, '80s-derived sound into something with the freshness of the next wave, not new wave rehashed.

But first, Night Moves, a Minneapolis band with a debut album on Domino Records, took the stage. The band's Colored Emotions is one of my favorite albums of 2013 so far. It recalls the psychedelic side of T. Rex and Syd Barrett, but embeds it in a light funk feel and adds echoplexy guitar jams. Live, it lives up to the promise of the album. Singer John Pelant (who told us he works at a bakery) achieves an effortless organic dynamic on the microphone, he voice rising and falling and following notes in ways that recall the spine-tingling Jeff Buckley. At the same time, the band (playing as a quartet tonight with two guitars) plays a bit rough around the edges; some endings seemed a bit untied. Guest drummer Jared Isabella, however, has the chops of a pro, producing tight and subtly funky beats at mid-tempo or employing mallets to keep the trip soft and cushy. The only real complaint one could have was the shortness and promptness of the set, which was over and done by 9:30.

While Night Moves might have ticked off my classic-rock-vibe boxes, Django Django satisfies my postpunk hunger, even as its contemporary touches (a video wall with noir images, matching shirts) are meant to be of the current moment.

The band might look like a rock band with bass, guitar, banks of analog synths (one of which, a Roland, would fail during "Skies Over Cairo" and be replaced during the set), but it operates much more like a programmed music application like Ableton Live where rhythm and atmosphere create the backbone of the music. Drummer and producer David Maclean (cousin of Beta Band's John Maclean) is obscured by toms and pads, which he plays almost incessantly in engaging, rolling patterns. Singer Vinny Neff and bassist Jimmy Dixon's cryptic, layered vocals are the focus in their tunes—which have a kind of impersonal, almost militaristic delivery over Maclean's precision machinations. 

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While the songs might be stripped of emotional histrionics, the band members humanized the experience between songs. Neff took the time to explain that he'd visited Wrigleyville before, and lo and behold, he's actually an Irishman from Derry, not Scottish—a big plus in drunken St. Patrick's weekend Chicago. While not sounding much like them, the band of former Edinburgh art school kids has the mannerisms and haircuts of another trailblazing Scottish indie act, Franz Ferdinand, which was oddly comforting.

The band's recognizable, modern sound shows room for some rock detours. "Firewater" has a westernish bassline and it picks up elements of early rock & roll, echo-drenched Link Wray guitars on "Life's A Beach" and spooky updates on Bo Diddley jams (which the band completes with woodblocks and extra tom-tom thumping).

With only one album to draw on, it was over in a flash of a strobe, but Django Django held up. And there are few bands out there with such an unusual, almost progressive, sound that can also compete on the big-money airwaves. The band's fervent following is clear evidence that slightly challenging music has a wider audience. And there are fewer bands presenting the slightly weird with this kind of warmth.