!!! have always had something of an identity crisis. There's that name for a start – we've gone with chk chk chk, as seems to have become standard – while their role in the dance-punk movement during the Millenium's opening gambit secured one of the most open-ended genre titles of all time.
But it seems that's how they like it. New album 'As If' positively revels in contradiction, resolutely thrives in twisting and turning upon itself, like a moebius strip comprised of shards of rock, house, disco and more. It's a record informed by an innate sense of groove, for sure, but also by an attitude, by a willingness to throw open the curtains, to prise open the windows and let the clear light of day pour through.
Continuing refreshing themselves, !!! opted to take a rather severe approach to this new material: they switched operating systems. “We get a new drum machine every time we do a new record,” jokes frontman Nic Offer. “At the beginning of this record a couple of us learned Ableton. That was our joke - this will be our Ableton album. That's kind of what Prince would do – each new record he would have the newest Linn drum or whatever. I feel like that you should start with a fresh set.”
“The technology developed,” he asserts. “It wasn't really around when we started and that wasn't really what we were interested in. Ableton seemed like a good one because it seemed like a lot of the music we were listening to was made on it. There are things on the last record – a song like 'Slide' – that are very much, like, Logic songs. If we'd made that song in Ableton it would have been completely different.”
- - -
- - -
A subtle yet commanding change, this movement from Logic to Ableton has resulted in material that ranks amongst the most striking, fluid and dexterous that !!! have ever laid down. “You can't get away from it, once you've begun to look at it visually. It was definitely a uniquely manipulable tool to use, that certainly leant itself to other ways that wouldn't normally have happened.”
With the varied members spread across the United States, the tracks on 'As If' evolved slowly from distinct parts. “It was done a bit piecemeal. I write a lot with Raphael, who's in New York. So we go to each other's house, like Lennon and McCartney or something like that,” the singer explains. “Then we do a bit of, like, the band jams and then we take it and cut it all up. There are hours and hours of jamming that we have sorted through and cut into little loops, so we can play with those.”
“That was like a really fun thing, as far as Ableton goes,” he continues. “There were so many things that were old disco loops that are sampled and manipulated. Our philosophy was: well, we're a pretty kick ass little disco band at this point in our career, so if we're cutting up those, we could save a little money by just cutting up ourselves and hopefully get something that's a little more unique and bit more us.”
'As If' feels like a record that could only be made by !!!, that could only be spawned by their wit, age and experience. “I go out more than most Americans my age, that's for sure. There's still something there for me, y'know? And maybe I'm not as fucked up as I was back then so maybe I'm getting more from it, but I mean I still like to hear a record loud at a club and I still like to go dancing. That's still a big part for me. But certainly it changes, and I'd be lying if I said it was completely different but it's still exciting to me. I think that's reflected in the record, I think that's why it doesn't sound like a Will Oldham record, or something.”
“It changes just in that the focus is following what fascinates you,” he says. “And so luckily, I find that dance music and electronic music is something that is always pushing forward and always looking for something new so it's kind of an easier thing to follow in contemporary music than rock is. It is always changing and it's always exciting, so that's kind of remains the process. It's finding something new in that. As soon as dance music is out, it's dated – it's dated a year after it's out. So there's always something new and fascinating about it, to me.”
- - -
The purists can suck my dick!
- - -
Somewhat oddly for someone so connected with club culture, Nic Offer admits a perverse fondness for the lurid, grotesque nature of EDM. “I mean, really, it's where dance music should be,” he insists. “The originals are like Chuck Berry and now it's like Van Halen. Chuck Berry and Van Halen are very far from each other. I don't care that the roots are obscured, the purists are there and the purists will make purists music and it's more for people my age. The level of aggression and sugar that is involved in EDM is going to appeal to 15 year olds on drugs more. And it's for them. It's not for me. And it's certainly not for me to judge it. Van Halen was total garbage but now years later they seem brilliant, in a way. I'm sure that this music will one day seem brilliant, in a way. But probably never really to me.”
The track 'Bam City' takes !!! to the UK – it was directly inspired by Night Slugs cohort Jam City and his bombastic future-funk. “We often name the beats we're working on after whatever is going on at that moment. I was listening to Jam City a lot when I made this beat, so I named it 'Bam City'. When I make up vocals, I often start with "doo doo da da" whatever type of first thing that comes to mind sort of stuff, so "Bam City" just kinda fell out. I meant to change it, but it sounded cool, so I just left it. The beat sounds pretty far from Jam City at this point, but really that's the most that you can hope for when you're inspired by another artist.”
Renowned as a live act, !!! recently visited Bilbao and began soaking up some of Caribou's recent remixes. “Rafael and I took some mushrooms and listened to them while sitting around waiting for them to kick in,” he reminisces. “We were absolutely knocked out by this tune. We went to the Guggenheim and afterwards walked around plotting the next record. We headed back to the hotel to listen to it again to get the most out of the remaining residual effects. We sat smoking in the hotel and as each band member showed up to join the party we'd play it again for them.”
Which isn't to suggest that all !!! do on a daily basis is absorb drugs and listen to underground dance music - during our conversation Nic name-checks both Tom Waits - “he's deep within me” - and even Sheffield metal legends Judas Priest, saying only: “I've loved them since I was 10 and still do.”
“I'm not a purist,” the singer says bluntly. “Certainly, I know that a lot of purists would be really fucking pissed at me. But to me, I never view music in those boxes or with those rules. Especially with dance-punk - I saw it as something that was beautiful and open and without rules and as soon as it became a fashion it got closed into this box and that I found really kind of boring. So I view myself as somebody who is completely against that sort of thing. The purists can suck my dick!”
It could well be this rebellious attitude, this desire to irk the purists, that he seen !!! remain so vital, so creatively virile. “I mean, that is my hope,” he admits. “Whether we're successful at that or not, I won't know until long after the band has gone. But I certainly think that. Because, to me, that was what was the promise of any genre, when it's new and it happens is that it should feel boundless. To us, remaining true to that style of music meant leaving it open, meant making it boundless. And I hope that's what has propelled us. I hope it is.”
Casting his gaze towards 'As If', Nic admits that the record finds !!! moving in two distinct directions. “This is kind of an interesting record,” he says, “in that we hope that it's all over the place because there are two separate things at work here. We were using Ableton and building club type tracks, but at the same time there was definitely a bit of a live thing happening.”
“I felt like especially with the last album we had built the songs completely up in the studio and when we finished the album we were like: I guess we should learn this one song. It doesn't really seem like a live song but then that came to be almost the centre-point of the set. Playing this more traditionally club type track and having to play it live really brought the set alive and took us to a new place. Anything that we do club-wise and in the studio we figure will work out live and take the set to a new point. I think hopefully that's what separates us from a regular, boring rock band, just strumming their guitars.”
It's an apt point – amid their myriad identities, their collage of sounds and mosiac of influences, !!! could never be mistaken for a regular, boring rock band.
- - -
- - -
'As If' is out now. Catch !!! live at London's Oslo venue tonight and, indeed, tomorrow (October 23rd and 24th).