By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Atop a mountain of smoldering guitars—reminders of commercial pop's recent decimation of rock—a new breed of artist scavenges the remains. A patchwork of buzzing circuitry and discarded sonic limbs, this new being thrives in the spaces between this and that. It is organic. It is artificial. And in numbers, it thrives.
Students of yesterday's music and harbingers of tomorrow's, local trio Estate bridge the gap between traditional live rock and the electronica of yore. Combining the DNA of Daft Punk with the soul of bands like the Cars and Guided By Voices, Estate produce a funky musical cross-breed that will surprise fans of either genre.
Founding members Josh Johnson and Dan Kramer met in 2002 and began making music together shortly after. "We needed a van to move a couch," says Kramer. "Josh had one, and he played some of his stuff on the cassette player." The two became a recording duo, gigging and writing for the next several years. Recently, drummer Jessie Lesmeister was added to the mix.
"We're doing more improvisation now," says Johnson. "For the first time we're comfortable improvising as a trio."
Music fans don't typically associate improvisation—especially live—with electronic acts. For many audiophiles, the gearhead-behind-a-mixer stereotype does not translate into an exciting live experience. Estate recognize the problem and strive to counteract it. "We all come from idolizing Daft Punk, and they're probably up there emailing people on stage," says Johnson.
Still, Estate's aural brand does require a great deal of tech savvy and patience. Songs aren't written in a traditional sense; instead they're diced, chopped, and pasted together over time.
"Our old way would be to use a multi-track recorder," says Kramer. "We'd hook stuff up and jam to a drum loop. Drums, bass, guitar, vocals—whatever you feel compelled to grab. Some call it 'edit pop,' where tunes come alive in the edit, in creating weird loops and timing you'd never play live."
"When you're writing as a rock band you just move forward. It is a democracy, which sometimes hurts the song," adds Johnson. "With this, you come up with the best stuff at the oddest moments."
Estate's latest release, The Vacation, is proof the formula works. Tracks like "Let Her Know" and "Don't Be Frumpy" are laid-back, hooky head-bobbers that would be equally at home in a club or a Target commercial.
"We've been called the best dance music and the best dinner music," says Johnson. "It's a wide appeal."
Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was the unlikely breeding ground for Nobot, one of Minneapolis's most unique electronic acts. The group's two members, Kyle Vande Slunt and Adam Tucker, met there while studying music and recording at the local university. Vande Slunt ran a DIY music site, a precursor to the web 2.0 scene.
"It was a site where you'd sign up and post your own reviews—a backlash to MTV and Top 40 radio," says Vande Slunt. "I approached Adam to write reviews and then never gave him any assignments."
The pair's musical philosophies gelled, though their backgrounds were dissimilar—Tucker studied piano, Vande Slunt trombone. Their tastes in recorded music also differed. "Adam comes from a balls-out, sci-fi-metal-drum-machine background," explains Vande Slunt. "I grew up listening to the Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails, which led to Aphex Twin and Squarepusher."
Upon moving to Minneapolis, Nobot began searching for the heart of their digital sound. The process took over a year; the result was a retaliation against electronic musicians—some of the band's heroes among them—who stand on stage and simply turn knobs. "We've seen artists sitting behind computers, not doing much," says Vande Slunt. "We've seen worse acts that are literally just pushing play. As a fan of electronic music, it pisses you off."
Far from slothful knob-twiddling, Nobot's live shows are feverish. Their setup includes live bass, guitar, and heavily vocoded vocals backed by keyboards, effect manipulation, and massive pre-sequenced computer sessions.
While they excel live, Nobot don't lose much flavor in the recorded realm. Tracks like "Drinking Progress" ("We're drinking progress and we're getting fucked up") and "This Perfect Day" blend sweet cyborg melodies with sharp riffs and bruising backbeats. In trailblazing fashion, the pair has sworn off albums in favor of releasing one new track per month, free via MySpace.
"The great thing about month-to-month releases is you watch the artist grow over time," says Vande Slunt. "If we sink everything into one song a month, we always have a clean slate the next month."
Nobot don't hide their enthusiasm for Estate, the duo's local electro-pop brethren. The two acts met by chance last year and have since co-headlined multiple shows, often employing the services of the storied DJ Bach, known for his ability to get any crowd grooving, between sets.
The two artists even play each other's songs. "We came up with the idea to remix each other's tunes," says Tucker. "We did 'Let Her Know,' and Estate did 'Ukefalls.'" The result was a sonic gravy that inspired this weekend's Project, Project gig at the Kitty Cat Klub.