FOREWORD: Brooklyn’s !!! are an investigative ‘post-no wave’ dance rock collective. Though their name is perfectly abstract in print, its three unpronounceable exclamation points are now, as of ’09, interpreted as ‘chk chik chick.’ !!! guitarist Mario Andreoni truly loves all types of music. I could’ve spoke to him for days on end about experimental music but only had one hour. But I’ve got to give a major shout out to him for inviting my wife and I (and a hundred others) on a Paddlewheel Queen boat ride around Manhattan to promote ‘04s stimulating Louden Up Now. They did a short set and drinks were free. ‘07s challengingly abstract Myth Takes got the heads up from fans. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
With a strangely exclamatory name like !!! (pronounced clik clik clik, pow pow pow, or as any thrice repeated one-syllable word), you’ve got to be good! And this artful Brooklyn-via-Sacramento octet certainly seems worthy, reaching back to Latino soul, ‘70s disco, and ‘80s no wave eccentricities for vitality, encouragement, and motivation.
Though !!! guitarist Mario Andreoni and saxophonist Allan Wilson remain steadfast in California’s tree-lined capitol, the admirably affable contingent’s contagious dance jams have reinvigorated New York City’s chronic club scene alongside better-known brethren The Rapture, Radio 4, and A.R.E. Weapons.
One year before recording their ’01 self-titled full length debut, !!! made a roughhewn ramshackle half-live lo-fi eight-track split single with post-rock experimentalists Out Hud, whose excellent ’02 entrée, S.T.R.E.E.T.D.A.D. deconstructed techno-electronic instrumentals. Sharing members Nic Offer, guitarist Tyler Pope, and bassist Justin VanDerVolgen, both defiant combos affirm that deep-grooved rhythms retain utmost importance.
During the ‘90s, Andreoni’s former band, The Popesmashers, which relied on Clash-like dub and abrasive Sonic Youth noise, joined forces with contemporary locals, Yah Mos, a Nation Of Ulysses-Motown punk-R&B hybrid, to concoct the variegated !!!
Preliminarily motivated by house music and a shared love for premier Jazz icons John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Charlie Hayden, these admitted vinyl fanatics concurrently developed a sweet tooth for ‘70s funk kings Chic, rock-soul legends Sly & The Family Stone, and West End disco mainstay Taana Gardner.
Adreoni, a pre-teen Jackson 5 and Kiss obsessive, was introduced to hard rockers Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin through his older brother thereafter. He soon discovered many ageless pop classics and estimable abandoned junk in one-dollar thrift store buns. Partaking in the same bargain hunting, fellow percussive partners Dan Gorman, Jason Racine, and John Pugh now keep the tidy tempos hot for the up-front Offer-Hope-Andreoni vocal-guitar barrage.
On’04s astonishingly funky Louden Up Now, !!! step ahead with multifarious fare such as the nifty squiggly ditty, “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Karazzee,” the chiming electroclash banger, “Pardon My Freedom,” and the penetrating bass-throbbed bongo-laden horn-blurted exasperation, “Hello, Is This Thing On?”
Thrillingly seductive 10-minute medley, “Me & Giuliani Down By The Schoolyard (A True Story),” originally released on a fascinating butt-shaking EP, drifts from buoyant espionage motif to delusional hallucinatory insinuation, cultivating a scurried scuttlebutt reprisal targeting its mayoral figurehead.
An attractive sanctuary for foot-shuffling jitterbugs, Louden Up Now not only toils in modern dance culture, but keenly rejuvenates celebratory antecedents as far removed as ‘80s dub pub slugs Gang Of Four and sundry ‘70s kraut-rock schemers.
“The goal is to live up to your art,” Andreoni daringly declares.
How has your band improved since its ’01 full-length debut?
MARIO: We’re continually learning how we want to write music. The newness of playing music is apparent on the first album. Louden Up Now is a bit more comfortable groove-based live-like dance music.
Your band is being credited with stimulating the whole no wave Brooklyn scene – which includes Radio 4 and The Rapture.
MARIO: I’d never think we started this, but whenever we toured early on, there were very small audiences – a real DIY scene. We definitely stuck out. From that perspective within that small niche, we resurrected live bands playing dance music without having a hardcore political agenda. Rapture are more popular so people think we copied them. Bands we were influenced by – Can and Kraftwerk – we never looked at it as being much different from what they were doing. We just put our own spin on it. The logistics of the band being seven people with vast record collections… we’re all music fanatics.
Several early L.A. punk bands emanated from Sacramento. There’s some recognition due your hometown.
MARIO: Tales Of Terror were one of the better known bands with Sacramento roots. They were small compared to Black Flag, whom I saw in ’86. The punk scene was really on the fringe back then. It was weirder than what hardcore became in the ‘90s when it was regimented, loud, riff-y, scream-o shit. I was into metal back then.
Just as Fugazi and Minor Threat were East Coast radical punks snuffing DC politics, there were several Sacramento bands snubbing former California governor Ronald Reagan and his conservative ilk.
MARIO: That’s a good observation. The scene we came out of was politically charged. People would have critical mass rallies. Downtown Sacramento is like a grid with tons of trees and incredible beauty. So the youth that came out of the Loft scene were politically active or at least aware. Because it’s the state capitol, access to government archives was possible. Then again, Sacramento is a sleepy town and people get fucked up in the sun. So there’s balance of drunken politics. But the Sacramento scene had been dead for awhile. So maybe as years go by, having Arnold in office will allow a new strain of punk as a result.
Though you somewhat discount your bands’ political notions, the mega-dance saga, “Me & Guiliani Down By The Schoolyard” offhandedly snubs the former New York mayor.
MARIO: Moving to New York and then realizing this is where disco was created, thrived, and had a stranglehold on Latins, Cubans, and African-Americans, crossing so many barriers, it’s hard to believe Guiliani resurrected the cabaret law (restricting dancing to only licensed clubs). That’s made us think that as many props as he gets for saving New York City, he’s also done backhanded things. None of us are Z magazine Noam Chomsky disciples, but we’re aware of what’s going on in the world. Taking a jab like that fits. We can’t take ourselves too seriously with politics. But we enjoy introducing people to subversive politics while they have a good time listening to the band. We don’t want to be super-overtly political.
Yet your political dalliances are formidable. On the loose defecation, “Shit, Schiesse, Merde,” singer Nic Offer interjects, “What did Bush say when he met Tony Blair? Shit!’ That could relate to 9-11 or Iraqi insurgence.
MARIO: Nowadays, there’s this huge mindless retro-rock thing. Bands want to play like the Rolling Stones or Kinks and bring it back. But within our limited capacity, we like to bring things up that are wrong with the world and remind people to be aware of their surroundings.
And like an old !!! song title states, “There’s No Fuckin’ Rules, Dude,” is “Dear Can” in homage to the German Jazz-rock experimentalists Can?
MARIO: It’s really bombastic, rhythmically, influenced by dancehall, but syncopated like Can’s music. Damo Suzuki’s lyrics were so random. You weren’t sure what he was saying but it fit with the music well. We took that theme and ran with it. While it’s more modern sounding than Can, we’ve always been influenced by their strong rhythms.
Back to “Shit.” It reminds me of Pigbag, an ‘80s British dance outfit using spare rhythms that became huge in England after American no wavers Liquid Liquid, DNA, and ESG retired.
MARIO: Exactly. A lot of those bands we found out about after we started the band. Initially we were Jazz fans… like Don Cherry. As for Pigbag, “Rip Rig & Panic,” I think, was very adventurous. Those bands that existed on the fringe were important. There is a kinship. But they were ignored in the canon of alternative music history. I’ve been dying to see Jazz artists when I come to New York.
There are many fine Jazz artists that can’t get 100 people at a show while the Rolling Stones sell out stadiums doing oldies for $200 a ticket.
MARIO: Why would you go see some lame interpretation of the Stones and pay so much money for half-ass versions of their songs. I know (Jazz pioneer) Pharoah Sanders lives outside Sacramento as a born again Christian, but I’d jump at the opportunity to see what he’s up to. It’s sad how living in the right place at the right time is important. I’m humbled by the fact that bands I respect didn’t get the attention we get. That’s a reflection of our times. One of my favorite records is Curtis Mayfield’s Live At The Bitter End. There’s a small audience. Back then, he was really struggling after making timeless Impressions records and a small selling debut (prior to the mega-selling breakthrough Superfly soundtrack). It’s the most uplifting record. But there can’t be more than 100 people at the show.
What inspired the expletive ‘suck my fuckin’ dick/ like I give a fuck!’ “Pardon My Freedom”?
MARIO: The FCC did. Nic didn’t want to feel any limitations singing. I had apprehensions when he sang it live. It’s about people being too uptight.