Miike Snow are the International Men of Mystery of the electro-pop scene. Whether disguising their faces behind ghostly white masks or hiding behind their Jackolope logo, there is something coolly enigmatic about them. Swedish producers Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg were famous behind the scenes, crafting pop hits for Madonna and Britney Spears (the duo won a Grammy for their work on Spears’ Toxic) before recruiting American musician Andrew Wyatt to form Miike Snow. Their 2009 eponymous debut is a smooth hybrid of throwback soul, ‘80s synth, and electro anthems, with just the right amount of sex appeal and songwriting chops to attract the ladies and discerning hipsters alike. Finally getting to meet the men behind the masks, I sat down with Miike Snow before their sold-out, April 5th appearance at Chicago’s Metro Theater.
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Few artists get to a stage where they need to release an album to dismantle people’s perceptions. In many cases, these types of albums are known as “career suicide” albums. Think Faith No More’s Angel Dust or Nirvana’s In Utero as a reaction to people’s perceptions of the band based on hearing only one of their songs. Think Kiss’ The Elder as their bid to be taken seriously. Or think Garth Brooks’ excursion as Chris Gaines as his reaction to…something.
In terms of hip-hop, De La Soul was one of the pioneers of the genre, so it was appropriate that the band released one of the first perceived “career suicide” albums in hip-hop. De La Soul is Dead was released in 1991 as gangsta rap was still the dominant force in rap. Before Dr. Dre’s The Chronic made gangsta rap more palatable to suburbia, bands like N.W.A. and the Geto Boys as well as Ice Cube’s solo work participated in a one-upsmanship in terms of their hardness. This left De La Soul even more out of the mainstream than when they released their classic debut album Three Feet High and Rising. In addition to competing with gangsta rap on the radio, De La Soul was dealing with the stresses of releasing a follow-up album to an instant classic, a mass of hangers-on begging them to listen to their demo and the label of being “the hippies of hip-hop.”
“Consequently”—Kid Creole and the Coconuts
Written by August Darnell
From You Shoulda Told Me You Were… (Sony, 1991)
Although R&B/world music visionary Kid Creole (née August Darnell) is superficially known for his colorful suits, a culturally vibrant stage-dandy persona, and funny-story lyrics, I’ve actually always felt that he is one of the most subversive voices in pop music, ever. His lyrical content has its share of frivolity, but his best stuff is highly nuanced, meticulously crafted, and thoroughly encoded with sophisticated explorations of both historical and contemporary issues, as well as scathing societal critiques. He’s like a street-wise Cole Porter, this guy—the wit, the clever turn, the smirk…. but with the biting edge of a man whose observant eyes have seen some trouble, big and small.
“Consequently” does a number on your brain in a few ways. First, the musical stew Darnell cooked up for this track is quintessential Kid Creole—all mixed up, and all the better for it. The initial vocal hook has roots in his beloved NYC doo-wop, but it then morphs into a keyboard figure with a vaguely Asian feel. The relentless (electronic) drums and live percussion ground the song in Africa and Latin America, as well. This sets the stage for the story he wants to tell, which he does through his homegirl, Cory Daye. She starts by singing:
In a CNN interview recently, David Byrne opens with a remark how he doesn’t listen to radio much anymore. A certified tastemaker as a solo artist after leading the Talking Heads, it seemed funny from a guy who posts his personal playlist on iTunes as Radio David Byrne. I’m a huge fan, but it was just not what I wanted to hear as I’m finding my best source of new music by listening to radio programs online.
I have always been on the musical hunt for something new and American radio has provided me with the soundtrack for every decade of my life. From WPLJ in the ‘70s, to WLIR in the ‘80s and WHFS in the ‘90s and beyond, I’ve tuned into radio frequencies for inspiration. However, right as WHFS was calling it a day, I heard that a station I loved listening to during trips to LA was accessible online. The music producer Nic Hardcourt’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” on KCRW was streaming over the internet with new tunes daily. The novel concept of listening live or on demand anytime meant radio could continue to be my salvation, feeding me upcoming bands with tunes for my own personal playlists. With some decent speakers attached to my laptop, I’ve been in new music heaven ever since. I even have copy of Nic’s book Music Lust signed by him during a New York City appearance a few years back, finally having a name for this attraction.
In the eyes of countless punk rock enthusiasts, Malcolm McLaren has always been seen as a villain, with injecting the urban glam of the New York Dolls with a red patent leather and clumsy politics sheen and being portrayed as an artless svengali by the Sex Pistols in their documentary, The Filth and the Fury, chief among his crimes.
But McLaren, who reportedly died of mesothelioma in New York City this week, was more than just the guy behind the guys. Through a string of genre-hopping musical explorations, he was at best a visionary, at worst a journalist in thrall to the sights and sounds of the streets, whether those found in the Bronx or Johannesburg or Vienna.