If you saw J.J. Abraham’s stomach-churning camcorder blockbuster Cloverfield, you’re already familiar with the Brooklyn-based electronic post-techno duo Ratatat. Before the monster emerged from the Hudson River with Godzilla-like rage and began bashing iconic Manhattan landmarks into smithereens, Ratatat’s post-techno instrumental grooves reverberated through the background of a fashionable loft party in gentrified Greenwich Village.
Ratatat’s Evan Mast, aka E*vax, laughed when asked about the song being worked into the soundtrack of the doomsday movie: “There was so much secrecy around the entire project. They just told us who the director was. They wouldn’t show us clips or give us a brief description. It was a real leap of faith for us.” Mast continued, “It was cool how the song echoed through the scene, like it was recorded in that room. But the movie sucked.”
I talked to Mast before the group’s free March 27th gig at the base of Ajax, next to the Snow Queen Gondola.
Ratatat has never played Aspen before. “For some reason, I picture us playing outside on top of a mountain.” During the chat, Mast and guitarist Mike Stroud were somewhere in the Mid-West, at the daunting beginning of a 30-some date tour that continues to grow tentacles as dates and cities are added. Mast admitted, “I don’t even know how many places we’re playing.” The tour takes the group abroad to Australia and New Zealand, as well as into brave new territory like China and Vietnam. “I’ve heard the crowd there is very receptive to new types of music, particularly American electronic music, though I doubt they’ll be familiar with us.”
If you’ve never heard Ratatat’s musical wizardry, try to envision the soundtrack for a futuristic Sci-Fi movie where astronauts flirt, wallow, and strip from their space suits, getting naked in zero-gravity to make passionate love while astrally tripping on the type of mind-altering drugs only found in Aldous Huxley novels. The electro guitar duo produces dreamy, ambient synth-driven pop. Don’t expect lyrics or cheesy sing-a-longs - just pulsing beats, urban grooves, and catchy samples. Occasionally the duet cold fuses periodic elements of Bhangra and Reggae into their sound, resulting in an electro-symphonic cacophony that pushes the aural envelope - like Brian Eno chugging a Red Bull while MCing and spinning vinyl at an orgy in an abandoned Lower Manhattan parking garage. It is haunting, yet party-friendly, music that could rattle the bejeebus out of your eardrums if you’re in the habit of stuffing in iPod ear buds and expecting to trance out.
Mast is lukewarm about touring: “It has its up and downs. Playing overseas and abroad is great. It is much less of a production than it is here in the US. The crowds are smaller and mellow.” Mast describes a show in Lyons, France that almost resulted in a near riot: “It was really cool, in a strange way.” Nonetheless, the group’s funky, hip-shaking shows have managed to capture the attention of popular performers like Bjork, Daft Punk, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, The Faint, and The Killers – all of whom have invited the duo to open for concerts and tours. Occasionally the duo invites extra musicians to perform during their live sets, including DJs, drummers, and keyboardists. In the future, Mast hopes to incorporate a string quartet into the spectacle.
“Really, I prefer recording. It’s just the two of us in the studio, writing and recording.” It isn’t hard to understand why. Ratatat’s July 2008 album LP3 was filled with ethnic soundscapes and intense, supercharged beats from an orchestration of soaring guitars atop clanging drums. LP3 stands out as an obvious evolution from the group’s 2004 self-titled debut – which was recorded on an Apple PowerBook in a Brooklyn apartment - and the critically acclaimed 2006 album, Classics. Ratatat has self-released two albums of exclusive remixes with the help of Audio Dregs, a label founded by Mast’s brother, E*Rock. The songs on the remixed album are by household hip-hop names like Jay-Z, Ghostface Killah, and Kanye West. Currently, the group doesn’t have any plans for logging studio time in the near future, but they are searching for a new environment to record in after their successful session in the Catskills for LP3. Mast added, “We’re thinking about going out of the country to record at some point in time.”
Evan and Mike have come a long way since listening to “normal college music” like Modest Mouse and Pavement at Skidmore College’s student radio station. Revelers can expect celestial visuals, a sweaty free-for-all, and highly combustible beats on the snow before the season melts away into spring.
What: Free concert of instrumental electro-pop-post-techno
Where: Next to the Snow Queen Gondola
When: Friday, March 27th, Time TBA (assumable 8 – 11pm)
Why: Because it is time to rage. Free music on Friday nights in downtown Aspen is enough reason to celebrate!