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
With all eight members of Ménage Quad gathered at their rehearsal space, Crucible Studios in Uptown, an interview feels more like a small party. Built and operated by Ménage member Kudo and his frequent solo collaborator Ackronem, it's a laid-back living space, with a few dogs and cats walking around, and a recording area in the basement. In conversation, the Minneapolis electro-swing collective's convivial vibe carries over from their hybrid music.
"We naturally gel because all we do is goof off and make party music that people like to hear," says rapper Panash, who finds common ground with three other vocalists — Poison IV, Kudo, and J Rhymes — through fast-raps, sung hooks, and positive energy. "It's good vibes; you've never heard a negative message coming from us."
Although this dance-floor-ready music — you could loosely categorize it as EDM — utilizes a menagerie of genres, Ménage Quad's sound has classic swing and jazz at its core, and rapped verses at the forefront. The combination of an electronic pulse with samples nodding to the Great Gatsby era poses a challenge, but all manage to cohere in the wide-range production provided by Poison IV, a.k.a. Megan Hamilton.
Ménage Quad play an album pre-release show on Friday, September 6, at the Cabooze; 612-338-6425
"It comes down to what mood I'm in when I make a beat," she says. "It's all over the place. I get so enthralled with a certain song or genre for a short period of time."
The visual aspect of the group comes across in the video for breakout single "Listen to the Music," which features frenetic public freestyle dance routines in various Minneapolis locations, like head shops and amid downtown rush hour traffic. The video quickly went viral, and caught the attention of CBS and YouTube's Twitter account. Before the group finished recording the album, even prior to their first live show, people were taking notice.
"It was all super exciting," says bassist Alex Platt. "Everyone kind of turned it on from there, it inspired everyone. You can hear these joyous vibes from it in the studio, you just felt this happiness, it just sealed the deal." The resulting self-titled EP, released as a pay-what-you-want download, keeps a consistent upbeat tone and sets a template, but the group say their upcoming record, Swing Soirée, pushes even further, firing off in more directions while amplifying the swing element.
"It touches on glitch-hop, deep house, tech house, moombahton, prog-house, dubstep, and trap. We've hit all my favorite genres of EDM within the group," says Hamilton. "The swing aspect of it is crisp and clean, then it drops into something nice and heavy," adds J Rhymes, indicating that the group's foundational sound will only get stronger as they branch out.
Within the Quad format, each member gets equal time to showcase themselves, and there's a surprisingly egalitarian approach considering how many people are involved. The band has more presence on the new record, as samples collide with the live instrumentation that initially only accompanied performances. Drums and horns join the assertive rapping and DJ spins, making the Ménage Quad live set its own beast.
"We try to put on the aesthetic of an EDM show with the vibes of an underground hip-hop show. It's a well-oiled machine. It comes across as a classy, chill-ass party," says Hamilton; Panash quickly adds "...that you sweat balls at."
Ménage Quad are a party in and of themselves. It's a raucous show that simultaneously evokes raves and costume balls. The occasional onstage scat contest will break out among the rappers, a subconscious reflection of the progression of rhythmic voicing through time. Whether it's the beats or the swingin' samples, the celebratory sounds will win you over.
"Not only are you having to fold what you do into an asymmetrical box, but you also have to meld it with the other people that are in the band," Panash says. "It's always a melting pot on every song."