By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
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By Emily Weiss
Stereotypes be damned, it's hard to overlook the gayness of Gay Beast. The harder you try, the more you realize you're not supposed to. There's the chatter in lead singer Dan Luedtke's apartment about extravagant stage costumes involving burlap, neon, and "long, tonguelike appendages"; the way the band tackles gender politics with songs such as "Cock"; and the fact that two-thirds of the members are queer. There are also drama-queen anecdotes from Luedtke, who, after arriving late for the interview, says, "My dad said, 'You're not going to make it,' and I was like, 'No, you're not taking this away from me! Not like you took away my childhood!' And then I burst into a Kathleen Hanna song."
Luedtke's tardiness is forgivable. He's just hauled his piano from Chicago to the West Bank apartment. The six-hour trek is a familiar one for him; he's lived in Chicago the last five months, commuting to gigs in the Twin Cities every few weeks.
"I decided to move [to Chicago] after going to this queer media conference called Pilot TV," says Luedtke. "I met a lot of really amazing queer artists. But by the time I actually moved, tons of things were changing and people were leaving. I guess that's the nature of any sort of scene."
Luedtke's return marks a new beginning for the nine-month-old band. Back in March, Angela Gerend was drumming for Eufio, and was getting bored with straightforward punk rhythms. Luedtke had his participation with electroclashers Oh! Operator stunted by his bandmates' busy schedules. The two went out for drinks one night and, three beers later, decided to form a queer math rock band. Initially, they looked for a female guitarist to complete the trio. "Which I just found out a couple weeks ago," says guitarist Isaac Rotto. "It was kind of a shock."
"I had some kind of Erase Erata model in my head, where I was going to be just another girl," explains Luedtke.
With all three members available for impromptu rehearsals and last-minute shows, Gay Beast can once again be a normal band--as normal as Gay Beast gets, anyway. The musicians proudly point out that queer doesn't just refer to sexual orientation; they're queer as in "weird." Math rock, with its gratuitous shifts in time signature, is a misleading descriptor, as Gay Beast strive for danceable, if harried, riffs. Their five-song EP is driven by chintzy, noise-geek keyboards and brittle Voidoid guitar. Luedtke's distant and distorted vocals allow only the occasional demand, such as "Stop thinking with your cock," to reach the speakers intact. Elsewhere, a girl sobbing into an answering machine and blips from 8-bit video games are thrown in. All the disjointed pieces are held in line by Gerend's intricate timekeeping. The drummer shrugs off any compliments, claiming a couple of years in grade-school jazz band as her only experience, and resumes twisting a strand of wire into coils with a pair of pliers.
Despite missing out on a fleeting scene in Chicago, Luedtke may have a second chance with a similar community in the Twin Cities. The band recently played a benefit for District 202, an organization that offers support to gay youths. The GLBT-infused bill hinted at a possible resurgence of homocore, the mid-'90s Midwest scene that spawned bands like Punky Bruiser and Fagatron. Helping teens become comfortable with themselves is a cause Luedtke and Gerend can relate to, having grown up under the judgmental eye of their respective small towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin. When teased about his lack of childhood horror stories, the heterosexual Rotto deadpans, "I think people left me alone because I was tall."
Despite the members' personal experiences, Gay Beast isn't a band with an agenda, and even if it were, Luedtke's vocals are so fucked up, the message is indecipherable anyway. "You can hardly hear vocals to begin with, and they're always taken the wrong way," he says. "It's like they're taken from you."
"Did we include the lyrics with the CD?" asks Rotto.