SSION, WILL MUNRO at Wrongbar (1279 Queen West), Friday (June 27). $15, advance $12. 416-516-8677. Rating: NNNNN
Kansas City may not be the first place you think of when it comes to campy gay electro-punk, but Ssion’s (pronouced ‘shun’) Cody Critcheloe is happy to call the sleepy Midwest city home, at least for the time being.
“It works out because it’s so cheap to live here,” says Critcheloe. “When you don’t have to work as much, you can invest time in doing ridiculous things like this. I’m not opposed to moving again, but right now I can make all this stuff.”
The “stuff” Critcheloe spends his time on in lieu of working 24/7 to afford a tiny NYC apartment is far more ambitious than your typical laptop and dayglo synth-punk show. Ssion, coming from an art background, are an over-the-top multimedia extravaganza featuring synchronized video projections, edgy theatrical performances, crazy costumes and an upcoming full-length movie to accompany their recent album, Fool’s Gold (Sleazetone).
Critcheloe started the band as a teenager in Kentucky as a Germs-style punk group, then moved toward a more theatrical version using pre-recorded electro-rock as a backdrop to video-heavy out-there performances when he got to art school.
Unlike the earlier versions of the band, Fool’s Gold sees Critcheloe wholeheartedly embracing a synthetic disco-pop aesthetic instead of the electro-clash and guitar-based sound on which previous incarnations were based. Most members of earlier versions of the band weren’t interested in going that route, so Critcheloe ignored thousands of drummer jokes and teamed up with stick-handler J. Ashley Miller to craft his sleazy sex-pop extravaganza.
“The drummer in the punk version of Ssion was very interested in doing a pop album, because he’d been writing radio jingles on his own time. No one else in the band was interested in doing that stuff, so he and I started working on some songs, and that gradually became the album. I wanted to make a straight-up pop record, but I feel like the attitude around it still embodies punk.”
One of Ssion’s previous incarnations spent a bunch of time on tour with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs after Critcheloe designed the cover to their debut album. While this exposed them to a large number of new listeners, Ssion’s theatrical aspect and the style of day meant they tended to get lumped in with the electroclash fad and trashed by rockist music critics.
Luckily, the new version managed to bypass some of that rep through the blog buzz they received from the slo-mo dark disco remix of Clown, by Glass Candy. The reframing of his vision through their ears convinced many who’d discounted it as too silly and campy.
“I think at that point we needed it so people would take us seriously and pay attention to the record.”