Captured by Robots

Generator, oscillator: Make a circuit with me!

Friday night, 12:30 a.m.

I wish Optimus Prime were here. From up onstage at the Turf Club, Skoal Kodiak are sending out metallic pulses of mind-control waves that turn all the humans into blissed-out, pogoing cyberzombies. I bet to an Autobot, though, this spectacle would seem like a normal night at the scrapyard disco. For hulks of steel who want to boogie down before the next battle with the Decepticons, this counts as party music.

Markus Lunkenheimer is calling out to the crowd through his Clorox bleach-bottle microphone, which he's used since his days in art-noise outfit Quad Muth. There's a repurposed electronic kiddie toy inside it, and its damaged-voltage special effects make the singer seem possessed by an A.I. from an alien galaxy. I was a big Neuromancer fan, and I sorta want one of my own.

Fortunately, the Bent Festival—three days of circuit-twisting concerts, workshops, and art exhibits—is coming to town in a few weeks. For those pry-the-lid-off-and-see-its-innards types, there is a free circuit-bending how-to session at Intermedia Arts on Saturday, April 21, that promises to help you unlock the squalling inner voice of whatever battery-operated children's toy you bring in. So go ahead—let loose the demon in your See 'n Say.

Friday night, 1:30 a.m.

It would be tough for a meteor shower to follow Skoal Kodiak, but Clip'd Beaks give it a shot. They moved from St. Paul to Oakland, California, a few years ago, and it looks like singer Nick Barbeln hasn't had a decent meal since then. Or maybe it's just his high metabolic rate—as he begins to shiver and shriek, howling into two microphones, his leg twitches like something recently pulled off an arachnid.

He chants and shakes his tambourine in a feverish, often unintelligible spasm. If the audience has thinned a bit, they still bounce with rapturous, electric abandon. On the floor, a drunk man in a pinstriped blazer crawls between people's feet, facedown.

The quartet spins out circles of echoing, hooting distortion, becoming more intense with every lap around the decayed decibels at their core. The bass player starts beating on a pillar with drumsticks, and guitarist Greg Pritchard launches himself onto the surface of the crowd. As he quickly sinks into a sea of bodies, I notice the drunk floor-crawler is back on his own feet, his face pressed to the lips of a hapless young lady. They make out for the duration of the set, two floor-spawners oblivious to the ice being pelted at them.

Saturday night, 12:30 a.m.

At South by Southwest last month, every mention of Chi-town dance-party DJs Flosstradamus brought forth the exclamation "bananas!" Accompanied by MC Kid Sister (the real-life sibling of Flosstradamus's Josh Young, a.k.a. DJ J2K), the duo even made the cover of this month's issue of Urb magazine. The boys leave sis at home when they play a set at the Foundation, although judging by the dearth of hipsters in attendance, their buzz hasn't yet spread this far north.

In the subterranean club, the DJs lean with blue-white faces over their laptops. In between hitting refresh on Cuteoverload.com and checking stock prices, they pull bass lines and beats out of one song and splice them with the vocals from another, creating mash-up tracks that sound endearingly familiar but newly invigorated. Weaving Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" with Tag Team's "Whoomp! There It Is," they create a dance-floor filling chimera.

As Kelis rubs shoulders with the Jackson 5 and Lil' Jon, hands go up in the air, lips form well-known words, and the pair that pack underground shows 600 miles to the southeast gain some fans in the bowels of the Lumber Exchange Building.

 
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