By Emily Eveland
By Sarah Stanley-Ayre
By CP Staff
By Zach McCormick
By Jack Spencer
By Sarah Stanley-Ayre
By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
James Brooks and Josh Clancy technically reside in northeast Minneapolis, but their musical project, Elite Gymnastics, is much better known among a geographically diffuse network of bloggers than local bookers. This is no accident. "There used to be other people in the band who were primarily interested in making [Elite Gymnastics] more solid as a live act," explains Brooks. "But all Josh and I wanted to do was make the music." Certainly, the apartment Brooks and Clancy share bears all the telltale signs of artists obsessed with the act of creating: Dirty pots are stacked high in the kitchen sink, the cat's litter box is in desperate need of a refill, and musical equipment crowds Brooks's bedroom.
The long-delayed first fruits of their labor were released this past April on an EP titled Real Friends. Posted online, the virtual cover featured two scantily clad female surfers. Brooks admits the cover was a bit of a ruse, albeit an effective one. Fans of the tongue-in-cheek blog Hipster Runoff, Brooks and Clancy positioned themselves as the latest chillwave sensations, typing "chillwave millionaires" into the bio section on their Twitter feed. Brooks shrewdly figured that blogs, eager to seize upon anything even remotely associated with the internet-hyped movement of '09, would gladly spread the word about Elite Gymnastics. Indeed, the band received fawning write-ups from Big Stereo ("the perfect end cap to the past five years"), Pretty Much Amazing ("the summer-jam potential of their music cannot be denied"), and others.
The only problem, of course, was that apart from the beachy cover art and their self-servingly named virtual imprint, Psychedelic Surf Club, the EP had very little to do with chillwave proper or '80s nostalgia in general. While Elite Gymnastics certainly fall under the umbrella of electronic pop, Brooks concedes that hitching the band to chillwave was a shortcut, a way to tap into an existing audience. That said, he's hardly apologetic, insisting that those who download Real Friends expecting "a chillwave record like the new Neon Indian will like the ideas we're giving them instead."
Unlike Washed Out, Millionyoung, and the rest of chillwave's leading practitioners who create music with a naive, childlike sensibility, Elite Gymnastics write songs that are unabashedly complex—a clever yet messy amalgam of industrial, house, and, most prominently, hip hop. It's when discussing this last influence that Brooks and Clancy really light up. "It's weird living in Minneapolis because there's a big hip-hop community that likes the exact opposite [of the] stuff we do," says Brooks. "They like the more conscious backpack rap, and we like UGK and Young Jeezy." Like many contemporary hip-hop acts, Brooks not only samples freely and often—check out the Final Fantasy VIII rip on "Is This on Me?"—but regularly avails himself of Auto-Tune, lending his vocals a distant yet distinct vibrato.
Yet the duo's reverence for hip hop extends well beyond the present-day stuff. Brooks and Clancy also greatly admire mid-tempo rap from the early '90s, and the influence of these early, if somewhat unfashionable, pioneers—from Naughty by Nature to Wreckx-N-Effect—is made even more explicit on their soon-to-be-released second EP, Neu! '92. The piano rolls and breakbeats recall hip hop's golden era even if Brooks and Clancy's incorporation of outside elements effectively keeps nostalgia at bay. True to its title, the EP is forward-looking like the seminal krautrock band, yet able to find fresh inspiration in the past. In the end, it's this balance combined with Brooks's more modest lyrical approach that gives Elite Gymnastics its unique identity. "We're writing songs about our lives," he concedes, taking a moment to survey his unkempt surroundings. "So, obviously, it's not about wreckin' decks and gettin' sex."
ELITE GYMNASTICS play with Claps (EP-release show), Gospel Gossip, and Blue Sky Blackout on FRIDAY, JULY 16, at SAUCE SPIRITS & SOUNDBAR; 612.822.6000