Chromeo with DJs DMT and BUTROS BUTROS GALI at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West), Friday (October 8). $10. 416-531-4635. Rating: NNNNN
After seeing the video for Chromeo's velvet-smooth Needy Girl single, which shows members Dave 1 and Pee Thug draped in white (Pee wearing the finest of silk doo-rags), surrounded by ivory mannequins, playing their slap-bass-infused ode in a white room while sipping sugar-sweetened milk from martini glasses and indulging in a round of indoor croquet, it's hella easy to dismiss Chromeo as a joke.
Many have done just that, writing the duo off as a novelty 80s revival act, nothing more than a winking reference to early Prince, Cameo, Zapp & Roger - the stuff ironic-themed dance parties are made of.
They might have a sense of humour honed during days as Montreal b-boys doing break routines at house parties, but when it comes to writing keyboard melodies you could hear once and be humming in supermarkets for the next 25 years, or penning a lyric that sums up the entire zeitgeist of modern love in six words, Chromeo are dead fucking serious.
"It's not a spoof or anything," insists former Bran Van 3000 beatmaker Dave 1, aka DJ A-Trak's older brother David Macklovitch, from his Harlem crib where he's currently finishing his PhD in French literature at Columbia University.
"Sometimes during shows I might say some funny stuff or Pee will wear a suit that might bring a smile to people's faces, and we're not gonna prevent anyone from laughing. Still, we put a lot of serious work into our album, and you can probably hear it."
You really can. The album is a dynamic cavalcade of drum-machine-harvested drums, subterranean bass, saxophone solos, block-party-era scratches and, perhaps the jewel in Chromeo's crown, Pee Thug on the talkbox (aka vocoder), that bizarre instrument that can make a regular human sound like the Marvin Gaye of robots - but only after years of gruelling work.
"I got into the talkbox when I was 14 or 15," says Pee (who doubles as Montreal accountant Patrick Gemayel) from his place in Montreal while a George Benson disc plays in the background. "I first heard it on Roger Troutman's More Bounce To The Ounce, and since that day I wanted one."
Training himself on the "only talkbox left in Montreal," he spent years with an instrument that requires you to hold the controller in your mouth and learn how to shape words through it, which can cause severe headaches and worse.
"I've been electrocuted many times," confesses Pee. "Trust me, after 10 years of talkbox, it's not a joke any more."
Nor is Chromeo's overseas success. As they've discovered on their European tours, they're much bigger in Sweden, the UK and Spain than here, and will be more so when their upcoming compilation of cleared obscure 80s funk, on Belgian hipster label Eskimo Recordings, drops.
Yet while they've played for thousands on other continents, they're looking forward to their stripped-down Friday show at the intimate Gladstone, where they're sure to encounter people who truly get it.
"It's a hard thing to get cuz there's really nothing else out there like this," says Dave. "If you're into one indie group, then you're probably gonna be into all the indie groups that are part of a scene. With us it's different - we're in our own little category. So when I meet people who made the effort to get into the fucking zone, it really makes me happy."