Any musician who uses computer software can try to pull off sprinkling pastel-colored pop bits onto mashed-up electronic beats and beautiful dance-oriented numbers, but the members of the French electronic music trio DAT Politics bring a special dry wit and razor-sharp editorial mastery to the process. The group reduces their sources to the tiniest grains of sound, like digital dust. Often the bits are so minute, they are initially unrecognizable; but a listener’s subconscious mind knows them, however deeply they may be buried, and reacts to them. DAT Politics’ choice of cheesy Casio keyboards and little chunks of pop culture like Nintendo game soundtracks, acoustic folk music and animal sounds, lend their music a keen sense of humor that is rare in computer music. Mais oui! Viva la visionaires!
Despite DAT Politics’ focus on computer-generated and instrumental sounds, two members of the group, Claude Pailliot and Gaetan Collet, describe how they have also been incorporating vocals into their music. “We’ve been great fans of pop music for a long time,” they explained by e-mail, “and vocals are something we’ve been working with for a while, even if the result was not really something we could name a ‘song.’” Somewhat similarly to the duo Matmos, who worked on Bjork’s last album, Vespertine, DAT Politics utilizes singing in effective, even provocative ways. The group’s most recent record, Plugs Plus, on Chicks on Speed Records (a label they share with folks such as feminist electro-punk group Le Tigre), is full of guest vocalists inserted like plastic pegs into the trio’s sparkling Lite Brite collages.
The music of DAT Politics speaks to deeper issues in our culture. Computer music and sound continues its steady creep into our lives. It does so largely as white noise–the chimes and whistles your machine emits after receiving an e-mail or the miniature melodies you hear in video games. DAT Politics takes these bright, childlike game sounds, along with acoustic recordings of their own and a myriad other samples, and spackles them into the cracks of minimal electronica’s jagged beats and clicks. In fact, one of their primary pieces of software is Sound Club, a German program initially created to make soundtracks for video games in the ’80s.
But DAT Politics’ attitude is more playful than professorial, going against the cliche of academic laptop artists deep-freezing any warmth in their music and alienating any remaining audience in the process. It’s as if these three French pranksters are snooping about, pinching the rears of would-be PowerBook composers. And all the while, the trio’s own music is often superior in concept and button-pushing effectiveness than the usual academic aesthetes manning the keyboards.
The threesome that comprises DAT Politics–Pailliot, Collet and Vincent Thierion–hail from the town of Lille, France, a small industrial area in the north. Together, they cut their teeth in a post-rock outfit called Tone Rec. Their exuberant, do-it-yourself take on making noise that was fed into a blender of improvisation led to a number of early, off-the-cuff recordings. Now, moving increasingly into the world of electronic production, each member of the ensemble works independently on the various sources that comprise their music: hooky song bits, sound effect scrambles and squeaks, self-recorded acoustic pieces, field recordings and the like–all using what they lovingly refer to as “cheap electronics.” Once they have broken down the key elements, they incorporate them in a way that almost fools conscious thought-processes. So when you listen to what you think sounds like a whoopee-cushion, it might in fact be a squished sample of a person’s laugh.
DAT Politics’ application of technology to music is refreshingly primitive; the trio prefers live, real-time interaction between themselves and their machines, eschewing sequencing equipment like MIDI on recordings and in their frenetic live performances. “Our laptops are not linked together,” Pailliot and Collet explain. “We have to listen to the others. It’s usual for us now, and it’s much more fun because we have to do signs and we can easily make some errors!”
These “errors” are key to DAT Politics’ musical philosophy and the sounds they make, which ignore the boundary between silly and serious. I asked Pailliot and Collet about their wide-eyed approach. “It’s not because it’s playful that we can’t do it seriously.” In effect, the group makes music whose seeming naivete is accompanied by a devotion to the serious application of often adolescent sounds. “Sometimes, we hear from people that it’s regressive music,” Pailliot and Collet remark, but as for their own opinion, the two “think it can be radical and fun!” And asked about outside interests, and how various hobbies might influence their music, Pailliot and Collet joke a bit: “We like film and cartoon soundtracks, video games, minimalism … Is that really serious? I don’t know, but it’s just our way to do our stuff!”
Apparently, their name has never explicitly referred to any political content, but nonetheless, since I’m here in Carrboro, where we just celebrated the famous “French Trade Month,” I feel obliged to ask Pailliot and Collet the obvious question about their moniker. Their response is less about the politics of digital technology than about the fried potatoes of Lille. “Ooh yes!” they exclaim. “The ‘freedom fries’ story! It’s funny because we’re actually from the area where we’re cooking the best fries in the world! So we took it personally! Anyway, we were surprised by this kind of extreme reaction! It’s like American flags everywhere and no possible contestation. It’s not really democratic.”
Seemingly unrelated to music, this last comment suggests how the trio’s art-making matters for the larger world. DAT Politics possesses a democratic openness to music that demonstrates their belief in the convergence of every style and every piece of audio-cultural detritus as it shoots through a multi-hued prism only made possible by the all-encompassing umbrella of “modern technology.” Perhaps Pailliot, Collet and Thierion are as puzzled as any of us about today’s headlines, and they may be just as awed by the technologies that continue to engulf us, but with a creative click of the mouse (and a healthy does of squished-sample laughter), they are able to sustain the idea that we just might be able to sample, mix and dance our way out of this mess.
A note on the show: Be sure to get there early for Extreme Animals, a left-field rock band who brings along a slew of films to screen with their performance, and ist/DAD, a new local electro-and-guitar duo.
For more info: 933-5550 or dyss.net.