Lately I’ve been in the blessed position of meeting artists I admire who are also fans of my own work. The most recent example took place at a music festival in Poland. Despite their being based one state over from me in nearby New Jersey, it was my first time hearing my favorite new heavy band: Dillinger Escape plan.
A couple of the guys told me they were very familiar with my metal and jazz work and said I represent the type of musician they relate to. That’s quite an honor and the respect is mutual.
DEP’s music is completely different, unique and a bit scary. It’s not for everyone. Watching them from the side of the stage, I hear many different sounds and textures, and it’s never clear what they’re going to do next. One minute there is a creepy, sonic loop playing on it’s own evoking the mood of an Alfred Hitchcock film. The next minute, ferocious blast beats in odd time with screaming vocals. From there, a hypnotic groove riff, then a weird, prog rock like clean rhythm and back to odd time chaos.
At times I’m reminded of avant garde jazz sax player (and ‘Mr. Bungle’ producer) John Zorn. There are shades of Zorn’s project “Naked City” which featured jazz artist Bill Frisell thrashing and wailing his guitar to Japanese psycho art vocalist Yamatsuka Eye of ‘The Boredoms.’ Other times, I’m reminded of the band that played immediately after DEP, Sweden’s Meshuggah, who I’m also a big fan of. These two bands are at the forefront of a movement known as ‘math metal.’
Then there is DEP’s stage show. Put simply, they go absolutely fucking mad. Running to and from the stage monitors, jumping on the speaker cabinets, knocking them over, and kicking road cases off the side of the stage. As bystanders, we have to be careful where we stand, for there is a sense of danger, as if anything could happen at any second.
It is clear that this band feels the music and is not acting. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time. But much as I’d like to stay, we’re on next and I need to warm up, so I head back to our dressing room next to the stage, where one of our crew members is in there setting up some equipment. The music bleeds through with a fury as he yells out to me:
“What’s the deal with this band?”
“They’re awsome!” I say. ” Did you check ’em out?”
“Yeah. Not getting it at all.”
“They’re really good. It’s just challenging listening. You have to pay close attention for it to makes sense.”
“Whatever! I don’t get it.” he says in a tone of voice which implies that the band can’t be any good because he doesn’t think they’re good.
You don’t deserve to get it. I think to myself.
He leaves the room just as the spouse of one of our band members comes in and says “Didya hear them? They’re kinda playin’ the same thing over and over.”
“They’re really not.” I say. “You just have to listen closely. It’s not like other music. You have to pay attention”
“I don’t know.” she says as if posing a question. “It’s just sounds all ‘duh-duh-duh-duh-duh’ to me.”
I say nothing more. I’m done with futile attempts at enlightenment. I’ve run out of energy and patience. Besides I have a show to do.
I’m reminded of the story of Igor Stravinksy debuting his masterpiece “The Rite Of Spring.” Audiences are said to have booed and walked out in protest. I’m also reminded of an essay by Frank Zappa, where he defends the modern conductor/composer Pierre Boulez, whom audiences, including prominent figures in the classical music world, have dismissed and walked out on.”C’mon people.” he says of Boulez in his book.* “This is one of the REAL guys.”
Fortunately, enough people are taking their heads out of their proverbial asses and listening to something different for a change. There is an audience out there in the hall and in the public that is ‘getting’ Dillinger Escape Plan, enough to enable them to tour steadily to a large crowds of rabid fans.
Thinking about it later, I’m kind of glad most in my touring camp don’t get it. Here’s a band I can claim as my own as a fan. Usually everyone else is fawning over music just doesn’t interest me. Now others are scratching their heads and walking away perplexed, while I’m on the side of the stage smiling, banging my head and cheering. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
*The Real Frank Zappa Book (Fireside)