PROFESSOR MURDER with NASTY NAV at the Social (1100 Queen West), Wednesday (August 22). www.myspace.com/random_play. Rating: NNNNN
It seemed like everyone forgot about dance punk last year and moved on to the next hyped-up sound of the minute. (Is it still Baltimore club, or is there something else we're supposed to like now?)
Nevertheless, distorted bass guitar and sloppy cowbell still sound good, and Brooklyn's Professor Murder have managed to put a new enough spin on white punks getting funky that you can't accuse them of ripping off early 80s no-wave.
Speaking to keyboardist/percussionist Jesse Cohen, I discover that their inspirations come just as much from hiphop and dancehall as from punk funk. Listening from that perspective, suddenly the synth squiggles reveal their debt to gangsta rap rather than new wave, although dubbed-out melodica bits sound more like the Clash than actual reggae dancehall smashers.
"I don't think anyone listening to us would say that it actually sounds anything like reggae or hiphop. It's more about taking some ideas from them in terms of how the songs are built up and how the sounds are layered. For instance, some of the vocal things that Mike does are based on the types of things reggae vocalists do."
The band is still evolving and experimenting, having so far only released one EP, Professor Murder Rides The Subway (Kanine Records). They've garnered some significant attention from that release and will be following it up with a 12-inch single over the next couple of months. As strong as the recordings have been, they come across more as documents of a good live band, and you don't really get the sense that they're using the studio as an instrument (or as a crutch) -- or at least not the way you hear in the urban music that inspires them.
"We haven't actually done that much recording so far with this band, so it's only on the most recent stuff that we've been able to get into writing in the studio and experimenting that way. I'd like for us to be able to do more of that -- try a bunch of things and worry about how to play it live later on."
Since their vocalist, Michael Bell-Smith, is currently living in Philadelphia, they may end up becoming more of a studio band whether they like it or not, simply due to the constraints of geography. In the meantime, though, he's been travelling back and forth often enough to keep them a solid live unit, and one well worth checking out if you like your funk with a healthy dose of punk.