Cartoon Heroes- FLIPP
"LIVING IN THE UNITED STATES DOES NOT SUCK!" screams Brynn Arens from the back of a flatbed truck. It's easy to see why he feels that way: His band Flipp is throwing a most unique CD release party at the downtown U.S. Post Office's expense. It's 10 p.m. on April 15--Black Tuesday--and as TV news crews and last-minute tax filers leave the monolithic government building, the Flipp "Mobile Unit" pulls up. At least 100 Flipp devotees flood First Street as the band tears into a rambunctious set that doesn't draw the police until partway through the third song. Miraculously, the expected arrest never comes, and Arens even invites one of the cops up on stage. The shutdown finally comes when a local condo dweller clips the wires to their generator.
That kind of calculated media stunt is Flipp in a nutshell: contrived, fearless, electrifying, unapologetically ridiculous. The kind of group we all need once in a while. Meeting Brynn under less flamboyant circumstances for lunch, I expect a jaded intellectual rock vet. Instead, he sweeps in on the wings of a morning pot of coffee and joint, sits down, and promptly orders a vodka cranberry. A thirtysomething Johnny Rotten doppelgänger with a manic teenager in his eyes, he speaks with excitement and animation. "Bands are the same thing as the people in this lunchroom," he says. "Some are going to be inhibited from going out on a limb--out of fear of embarrassment, out of fear of rejection, out of fear of... maybe succeeding."
The group's major label debut, Flipp--a hedonist/nihilist glam-rock encyclopedia--entertains no such fears. It's a record about lust for stardom and rock & roll fantasy--desperation for it, even. (I mean, the first song is called "I Wish I Was a Planet," if you need a theme.)
But Flipp isn't waiting to go triple platinum before living said fantasy; they're acting it out already. You know how some bands end their shows with a big dramatic rock & roll ending? Flipp starts their rock & roll ending 10 minutes into the show and draw it out it for an hour. They'll halt a song midway for a '70s pop/metal medley, then resume the song 10 minutes later. At their latest Edgefest performance, Flipp paid out of their own pockets for a helicopter to fly over the crowd and dump a deluge of Froot Loops over the masses.
In the same vein, each member of the band is a costumed rock & roll archetype complete with cheesy stage name. Brynn, the leisure-suited, sneering, snarling Lydon, confronts every single audience member with his mad gaze, spitting beer and spouting locker-room blather. Bassist "Cherry Forever" is the resident rock-boy cross-dresser, a throwback to everyone from the New York Dolls to Skid Row. Drummer Kilo Bale (get it?) is the band's pothead Packer-backer. Kii "Chia Karaoke" Arens, the baldie graphic designer and little brother/sidekick to Brynn, is the class clown, as if this crew needs one.
Compounding the growing Flipp Myth is their now quasi-legendary rise from unemployed hard rockers to corporate punks. Their 1995 coming-out party was a video for their stoned cover of "My Generation," which cost them $5 to produce and won them instant MTV exposure along with a top-dollar contract with Hollywood Records. ("My Generation" was deleted from the final version of Flipp at the behest of the song's publisher, who apparently objected to lyric revisions such as "I think it's time to kill this song!") Flipp is also the one local band that has received overwhelming support from the outset from 93.7 The Edge. This is not surprising: The Edge thrives on the kind of prefab, cartoonlike teen rebellion that is Flipp's specialty. But while they may be prefab, at least they're responsible for their own prefabrication--not unlike, say, KISS. There's power in that--being a step ahead of the major-label marketing process from square one, fearlessly endeavoring to exploit the record biz before it exploits them back.
All of which explains why Minneapolis hipsters tend to seethe at any mention of Flipp, and why this writer took a long time to admit his admiration. To be fame- and image-conscious in Twin Cities rock is still a major taboo, as old-school arbiters of punk-rock authenticity die hard. But lest we forget: Even the good ol' Replacements had a love of '70s pop-metal bubblegum, and had a suits-and-hairspray phase of their own. Then again, the 'Mats were all about their own fears and insecurities--themes the boys of Flipp are either too well-adjusted or too naive to share. On Flipp, we get a rock & roll history of cosmic slop and cheap tricks, Def Lep cowbells, good power ballads, and some decent rock & roll filler. It's all unashamedly spewed up by a band that, by Brynn's admission, fears nothing.
Well, almost. "I got death threats recently when we were down south, because of the way I look," Brynn says. "On the road, I usually just wear pajamas, and our road manager would overhear people in truck stops wanting to shoot me. Now that scares me. I mean, it's not like I'm on Hale-Bopp or anything."
Flipp performs June 14 in a garage somewhere. See Flipp Central for more info.
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