POLYSICS with the TALK at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), tonight (Thursday, September 22). $10.50. 416-870-8000, 416-777-1777.
In an age when smiling Stepford spouses Swiffer their floors to the robotic strains of Whip It during prime-time ads and Mark Mothersbaugh's recent credits include scoring not one, but two Lindsay Lohan vehicles (Herbie: Fully Loaded and Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen), it's easy to forget that at one time Devo were synth-rock revolutionaries. These were the guys whose videos and danceable anthems, using art-school chutzpah, brought an ideology of cautionary anti-consumerism and anti-conformity to the mainstream.
Currently, the band's true legacy lives on miles away from Akron, Ohio, in the heart of Japan. As last year's Devo: Live In The Land Of The Rising Sun DVD demonstrated, Japanese kids still can't get enough of nerdy dudes critiquing late capitalism in yellow suits.
More amazing still is the fact that Polysics, the cult synth-punk crew founded by Hiroyuki Hayashi in 1997 that began as a cheeky Devo homage, have blossomed into a phenomenon in Japan and beyond.
Even if you couldn't tell from his band's jerky techno-rock spazz-outs and penchant for performing with poker faces in matching suits, Hayashi's effusive discussion of how much Devo have influenced Polysics and rock music in general on the Rising Sun DVD should tip you off to the fact that you're dealing with a super-fan.
"It's almost like I'm crazy about them," he explains through a translator. It's 7:30 am in California, but Hayashi is remarkably upbeat. "Before I met Devo, the message from rock 'n' roll music was always "No future' or "Fuck the world.' I was not into it.
"With Devo, I saw the costumes were very unique and eye-catching, and I liked their sense of humour. But as I started watching them more, I liked even more that they had tension, that there was a message wrapped around their sense of humour."
While the more ominous aspects of de-evolution may have been lost in translation, Hayashi and his bandmates have appropriated Devo's aesthetic with freewheeling abandon, slapping together squelching techno synth belches with sped-up, spastic punk rock guitars that suggest a cartoon version of the Ramones or the Buzzcocks.
And although Polysics have peacefully existed as stars inside Japan and cult heroes elsewhere, the recent release of their Polysics Or Die!!!! disc, which compiles new recordings and some of the best material from previous albums, on California-based Tofu Records should bring them to a whole new fan base.
That's exactly what Tofu is aiming for, says Yaz Noya, executive VP and founder of the label, who happens to double as the translator during my interview with Hayashi.
"It doesn't matter what genre it is we just want Americans to be able to listen to music from Japan. Our message is that music is a universal language."
Noya claims it became her "personal mission" to sign Polysics after seeing one of their infamous live shows (during which Hayashi and his bandmates perform a wacky dance they've dubbed the "technosaur") when they were signed to the smaller and also California-based Asian Man Records.
Though it seems quite clever to big up a Devo-inspired band in the context of the music scene's current nostalgic fixation on the 80s, Noya insists that Polysics are more than just mere revivalists.
"It's important to recognize that Polysics are not Devo and not Kraftwerk; they translate those ideas from the 80s to the present."
Similarly, she says, people should think of Polysics not as just a Japanese band but a global one, because they translate all nationalities and cultures to their own peculiar brand of nuttiness.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on their version of My Sharona, which originally appeared on 2002's For Young Electric Pop disc and is also included on Polysics Or Die!!!! In Polysics' hands, the Knack's urgent ode to teenage lust becomes a hiccupping synth pop mosh, driven by ridiculously rad vocodered robo-vocals.
According to Hayashi, that cover almost didn't get made.
"There's no really deep meaning in it," he says, giggling uncontrollably. "I really wanted to do some cover songs to connect with all the international people who come to the summer festivals in Japan. Our choices were either My Sharona or Hotel California."
Yikes. Don Henley goes Japanese? I think they made the right call.
"I think so, too."