Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Buddy System: Rock/animation spectacle at WonderRoot

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2009 at 6:33 PM

Horse Mountain from Lauren Gregg on Vimeo.

According to its MySpace page, the Buddy System snatches the audience "by the scruff of its collective neck and throws it into a strange, colorful world where cats can fly and bunnies divide asexually like amoebas."

Rock bands are, of course, prone to hyperbolic self-aggrandizement, but in this case, the claim comes close to the truth. For each song produced, the band also creates an original animated short, which is then fully integrated into its live performance (and in some cases manipulated in real-time). The result isn't so much a music video as it is a kind of performance tool for creating hybrid video soundscapes of cartoon psychedelia.

The foursome played a cozy but enthusiastic show at WonderRoot this Saturday, beginning with the curiously named "Rap Music" (a song without lyrics, whose animated counterpart features cutesy animal MCs) and climaxing with a live rendition of "Return to Horse Mountain," the demented Western-fantasy-plus-synthesizers spectacle posted above. Wait for the two-minute mark: That chick gets supremely pissed.

Buddy System members Lauren Gregg (bass) and Craig Sheldon (keyboard) have formal training in graphic design; the two first met as art school students. After living in NYC and creating their own animation business, Kangaroo Alliance, they relocated to Athens, Ga. and teamed with Mat and Ryan Lewis (drums and lead guitar) in an unlikely crossroads of distinct but complimentary talents.

As Sheldon explained to Red and Black early this year,

[We wanted] something that tied in closer together than bands that just project things behind them while they play. Our songs sync up with the cartoons, and vice versa … The visuals take a lot of work…it's at least a solid two weeks of work for each song.

Musically, the Buddy System cites a range of influences, from the Rentals to Shonen Knife and Stereolab. During its warm up, it even cued a sound byte from Nintendo's now-classic Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which, along with cartoons such as SpongeBob SquarePants, rounds out the strange alchemy of visual inspirations apparent in the band's animation. "Return to Horse Mountain," for instance, begins like a low-tech Jonny Quest adventure (mixed with the more sinister moments of The Last Unicorn) but eventually incorporates the visual language of video game beat-'em-ups and the absurd, stylized violence of Kill Bill.

In the live show, however, "Return to Horse Mountain" tends to overwhelm, a flaw the Buddy System seems to rectify in its other song/cartoon collaborations where neither the music nor the animation overshadows the other.

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