While electronic music has received a childlike makeover from artists like Kid606, Mouse on Mars and Blectum From Blechdom, Dat Politics is coming of age. Grafting wide-eyed pop tones to clicks and twerps has been the Lille, France, laptop trio's signature sound since forming in 1998 (and even earlier, in the group Tone Rec). But all cybernetic organisms must grow, and Dat Politics is no exception.
The group's fourth release, Plugs Plus (Chicks on Speed Records), adds dramatic layers to its already "maximalist" and "playful" sound, and features its first significant attempt at bringing vocals into the mix. These modifications serve as major steps forward in the group's natural evolutionary growth, but for Claude Pailliot, Ga'tan Collet and Vincent Thierion -- the triumvirate governing Dat Politics' music -- growing up and evolving are two completely different things.
By way of the group's own Ski-pp Records, as well as labels like Oakland, Cali's Tigerbeat6, K'ln, Germany's A-Musik, and most recently the German-based Chicks on Speed Records, Dat Politics has churned out a body of work that swaggers between squirming melodies and mutant mechanical beats. Throughout its first three recordings, Tracto Flirt, Sous Hit and Villiger, the crux of the group's sound has consisted of abstract, instrumental arrangements. Decaying melodies are consumed by arching, plastic sounds that sputter to life and fizz away before fully taking shape.
The vocals in Plugs Plus add a resourceful new element, but rather than change the direction of the music, they flow seamlessly into the deluge of synthetic sounds. As the opening blips of "Dat Politics" roll over into the crunching and naive chaos of "Re-folk" nothing seems out of place, at least for a Dat Politics recording. But as the adolescent rhythms and rapid percussions of "Pie" unfold, a human voice rises from the mix; albeit a heavily disguised one. A host of others follow soon after, but instead of leading the songs, the vocals add rhythmic texture.
"Vocals are something we've wanted to work with for a long time," says Pailliot. "Pop music has a big place in our background too, and we came to it spontaneously. It started with our 7-inch, Pâta Jet, on which we were already singing some 'la-la-la's.' We chased it with a track on the first Ski-pp Records comp, [on which the Chicago/Vienna-based artists] Massimo and Uli Troyer were singing. We wanted to go further and had the feeling that [vocals] were missing on some of the tracks [we had done in the past]."
Pailliot continues. "It was all sounding very fresh to us. It was funny to discover some other point of view about our music. We felt more confident in working with vocals, but with [someone else's] voices." Though Pailliot, Collet and Thierion do utilize their own voices from time to time, the group enlisted its American cohorts, Kid606, Blectum From Blechdom and Felix Kubin (aka Lesser) to round out the vocal accompaniments to the music.
For now the lyrical content remains ornamental, and whether it will grow to play a larger role in the music is yet to be determined. "Who knows what will happen?" Pailliot muses. "At the moment, we're really enjoying playing with it, but we're still into doing instrumental tracks too. Of course using vocals brings up some questions about songwriting and meaning, but we're working on it."
In the course of discussing aspects of the group's dynamic, it's clear that for Pailliot, the only female member of Dat Politics, the evolving gender roles in electronic music are a concern. "As the female part of DAT Politics, I'm not sure that the music would be different if I was a boy," she says. "Of course, it's very important that girls like Kevin Blectum or Chicks on Speed are showing up on stage, they're bringing some fresh air and fresh points of view, but unfortunately, [we play] many festivals where I am the only girl on stage."
Historically speaking, electronic music has traditionally been a male-dominated genre. Over the years, women like Pauline Oliveros and, more recently, acts like Adult, Chicks on Speed, LeTigre and Blectum From Blechdom have brought a female presence to electronic and experimental music, but the male-to-female ratio is still off.
"It's harder to start a project as a girl, because you will be considered not only for your music but also for your appearance," says Pailliot. "I've been in audiences that don't respect women at all. I've seen it happen at Chicks on Speed or LeTigre shows [both are entirely female acts], where people will yell out things like 'Show me your tits.' It can be gross sometimes, and it would be good of me to say something grand about it, but I'm not here to tell boys how to behave."
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