By Dylan Peterson
October 1, 2008
Heat vision video images, massive explosions, machinegun fire and sparks align to the beat of Ratatat’s latest video for “Mirando.” The images used for the video come from none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 80’s hit, Predator. Brooklyn’s electronic dance pop duo have been inspired to make a music video created entirely out of Predator clips for “Mirando.” “Kindergarten Cop is next. Or maybe that one where Arnold gets pregnant” jokes Ratatat’s guitarist, Mike Stroud.
Electronic music has come a long way since Kraftwerk. There are hardly any musicians that concentrate entirely on synthesizers anymore. Ratatat’s synths often take center stage, but the band is not interested in fitting in to a genre.
“We usually don’t need to categorize it,” explains Evan Mast, Ratatat’s producer and other guitarist. “Even our stuff isn’t really that electronic. It’s more organic layering.” While first impressions might say otherwise, Ratatat is unarguably a unique band. There isn’t a drum kit, but there are percussion instruments. There aren’t any vocals, but the music is catchier than any top 40 hit on the charts today.
LP3, Ratatat’s latest full-length, (their third… ) catches hold of its listener quickly. A brightness of sounds flutter in stereo, like a merry-go-round of paint palettes. Stroud explains their production style as, “Finding new sounds. I think that’s what the people that are making interesting music are doing. It’s not like you’re going to find a new color that should be added to the rainbow, something we can’t even imagine. I think it’s more about fine details on a specific spectrum that’s already there. Mixing sounds” But at their rate, a new sound might not be far off.
Ratatat began with Mast and Stroud just playing together in college. They made music because it was fun, not assuming that they would eventually be opening for Daft Punk just a few years later. But as is the case with most successful Electronic bands, the remix culture helped provoke the band’s success. “[Remixes] help get your name out,” Mast explains, “we got into remixes fairly early on. We got asked to do a couple, and then did some hip hop remixes. But it’s fun to do; we don’t have to take it as seriously as our records. You don’t get so attached to the songs since they’re somebody else’s songs.” Bjork, The Knife, and Shout Out Louds are just a few of the artists who have asked Ratatat to remix their songs. “It’s a way to really quickly get ideas out.” Stroud adds, “The bulk of electronic music is so tied in with production. Remixes help show off a group’s production style.” He doesn’t see remixes as entirely necessary to a band’s success though, “If people are making good songs on their own they don’t have to make remixes. But people do it because it’s an easy way to get listened to early on, borrow somebody else’s name.” If any electronic band can stand on their own musical merit, it is Ratatat.
From here, the band embraced the file-sharing trend. Stroud admits that he doesn’t see a problem with people downloading their music without paying, “I think file sharing has helped us more than it’s hurt. It’s helped us get our name out. We’ve never been a band who has been really hyped up and gotten a lot of press. Most of our promotion has been word of mouth, swapping mp3s on blogs.” After about seven years of dedication to originality and party-starting beats, Ratatat has become one of the premiere electronic acts in North America.
Their live show is part dance-club energy, part arena rock triumph, and all-around fun. With smoke machines chugging out the goods, Stroud and Mast often take up guitars together to slay out the sorts of harmonies that would make Iron Maiden jealous. Always rocking over a tight beat, Ratatat’s primary goal is their crowd. Stroud says, “We just want the people in the crowd to have a good time. If people are crying, or end up on the floor and if some are laughing, we’ve accomplished our goal.”
They recall their craziest show being in Sweden, but don’t discount the American crowds. Even the Christians. “We played at a Christian College (Calvin). It was in a seated auditorium, and I thought it was going to be real mellow and weird. But it was probably the craziest show on the tour so far. You could feel the floor just shaking” Stroud remembers.
It’s an example of music’s power of unification. When people of different faiths come together for a common goal, there is no need for religious prejudice. “If people are reacting to the music, that’s what we really care about. We’re not really thinking about people’s religion up there, we’re thinking ‘okay, what’s the next chord? And are people into it?” says Mast. It’s also a testament to the hope that is out there for a Christian community to break out of the dreaded “Christian bubble,” bringing in different ideas to a campus of dedicated believers without fear of abominable dirtiness or contagious sinfulness. Why would Christians want to be uptight anyway? Why not have fun? “The only thing that was uptight was that we weren’t allowed to have alcohol at all. But it really didn’t matter.”
It doesn’t matter. Ratatat’s music is instrumental, so it’s not clear whether or not this band could be considered “Christian” because they don’t have any lyrics about loving Jesus (or opposing him). But really, it’s a question that shouldn’t have to be asked. Music is made and enjoyed by people of all faiths. The proof of this is Ratatat’s “craziest show” of their North American tour at Calvin College. It’s about a community celebrating music together. There’s no need for preaching, there’s no need for alcohol… but eventually Stroud admits, “…we snuck some in anyway.” Oh, Ratatat. “But it seemed like everyone in the crowd was totally drunk!”
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