THE GO! TEAM at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (July 13), $13.50. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Austin - forget about raising the roof; the Go! Team are all about shaking the foundations.
Cue up their brilliant Thunder, Lightning, Strike (Memphis Industries) debut and you're catapulted along a head-spinning go-kart derby where pint-sized soul sisters chirp harmonies beside kicky Peanuts-style piano licks, where dirty funk horns wage musical battles with schoolyard recorder choruses, where snippets of elevator Muzak coexist peacefully with tumbling breakbeats, surf guitars and righteous rap-sodies.
It's a gleefully postmodern hodgepodge that pays homage to the last half-century of pop music without committing to a single genre or era. And in a year saturated with UK-import nu-wave punters with Gang of Four hard-ons, the Brighton Team are a Technicolor blast of fresh air.
Right now, though, I'm just worried about the floor.
It's a sultry spring night during Austin's South By Southwest fest, and throngs of sorry sods are queued up outside the multi-storey Buffalo Billiards club on the West 6th main drag.
Inside, the Go! Team's powerhouse frontwoman, Ninja, who could be Li'l Kim's sweeter cheerleading baby sister, busts out her best Running Man while goading the wall-to-wall crowd into a frenzy. As her five Teammates build shimmering walls of sound around the Bollywood hook of Ladyflash, I swear every single ass in the room is shaking. So are the club's wooden floorboards, which heave under the weight of hundreds of ecstatic dancers.
Nearly causing the collapse of an Austin institution? Not bad, considering that a year earlier nobody had even heard of the Go! Team.
"Actually, we didn't even exist a year ago," corrects Team leader and founder Ian Parton several months later. It's mid-June, and he's chatting with me from a green room somewhere in the wilds of Birmingham, England, where the Go! Team are gearing up to open for Basement Jaxx.
"I liked that show and the massive queue outside the club, but the funniest part of South By Southwest was all the meetings our label had set up with pretty much every major label you can imagine. We'd be with Motown Records one minute and meet the man who discovered Madonna the next.
"I don't get fazed by that sort of thing, cuz I have a healthy suspicion of the music industry, especially the American industry - all those people trying to have lunch meetings with us. I'm more into trusting the fans, the people who really like our music."
In contrast to the childlike exuberance of his music, the pragmatic Parton tends to approach everything with a healthy dose of cynicism. The Basement Jaxx opening spot? Pfft - the Go! Team kinda like playing solo shows, although he doesn't mind playing for dance music punters instead of the Team's typical indie crowd.
As we speak, his band's in the process of signing a potentially lucrative North American licensing deal (Thunder, Lightning, Strike! is currently only available as a European import), but he won't discuss the details except to emphasize that he's retaining all creative control. Ask him about the Go! Team's newly inked publishing deal with EMI and he grumbles, "We'll see if they start trying to force me into things now."
Parton's the sort of dryly British record geekboy who could've crawled from the pages of a Nick Hornby novel, a restless early-30-something who came of age in the 80s and 90s and worships at the distortion-heavy altar of Thurston Moore. He trumpets the virtues of "maintaining credibility" like the basement recording savant he is.
That's the weirdest part: though the Go! Team's live performances epitomize the freewheeling collective energy their name suggests, Parton initially conceived of the band as a solo bedroom project.
"I've been working on this stuff for a while now, and for a year I wondered how the fuck I was gonna get my dreams and hopes for the sound to the stage," he admits.
"The key was to mix the samples with the live stuff and have lots of ideas all the time, that sort of schizophrenia. You know, like one minute lots of thrashy guitars and the next minute a Bloc Party thing. Because all of us in the band are such different people, it becomes much more interesting, say, than bands who get together and say they want to sound like the Cars or Oasis or something. Not that we're amazing or anything, but at least we have an idea of doing something different."
Drawing on his eclectic record collection for inspiration, Parton assembled the vivid cut-and-paste collages that form the foundation of the Go! Team's sound, "dirtied the tracks up a bit" in production and gradually recruited friends to form the band.
Onstage, the six-piece come off as an amusing odds-and-sods outfit, divided evenly along gender lines, and with the kind of racial diversity and - as Parton tells it - character quirks that seem tailor-made for an S-Club-7-meets-the-Monkees musical reality series. Oooh, I bet he'd hate to hear that.
There's Ninja, who at 23 has done time in various R&B and rap crews and is "a handful. She's just bursting with energy, but she can be shy, too." Guitarist Sam Dook is terribly musical, has a ukulele in his hand all the time and is always up for a jam session. Jamie Bell, the bassist, is the comical one, and mixes things up quite easily, while Parton describes po-faced Silke Steidinger as "the German multi-instrumentalist girl who's great to have around." Japanese drummer/multi-instrumentalist Chi Fukami married an English dude and now lives in England, and she's apparently very studious.
Despite the collective vibe, Parton unselfconsciously insists that "at the end of the day, a lot of the Go! Team sound is my taste and my ideas and stuff. I kinda sorta want to put a stamp on it."
Er, okay. His hinting at a Go! Team ethos makes sense, but it's a bit curious in the context of his caustic indictments of the major-label marketing he feels is contributing to the decline of the music industry. Parton snorts at the memories of majors who tried to seduce the Team by pushing their "brand."
"It seems the music industry is getting lamer and lamer, doesn't it? MTV never plays fucking music, it's all this R&B booty-shaking mainstream hiphop crap, where they're just trying to sell things. It's all just about capitalism and imperialism.
"I don't want to romanticize the past, but I do feel a kinship with the old-school hiphop years when people were experimenting more.
"I mean, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with major labels as long as they leave you alone," he quickly adds, ruefully noting his band's impending deal. "They should just be silent partners and let you do what you're doing. As long as they don't get us dressed up in low-riders and have us shaking our arses, which are some of the terms American labels have given us."
Any U.S. major that wants to take on the Team is clearly gonna have its hands full, especially since Thunder, Lightning, Strike is largely an illegal album.
Apparently, copyright laws are a bit different in the UK than they are in the States. So while Parton's laid-back approach to clearing samples (i.e., wait to see if anyone notices he's used them) is cool on that side of the pond, he's finding himself royally fucked when it comes to the disc's official North American release.
"I've actually had denials for some samples, which is too bad, cuz it means we'll probably have to get rid of them and use other things. The North American record will be really different, which is a bit of a heartbreaker.
"I'd almost rather take my chances, but once you get involved with these big companies that are interested in legalities and business, they won't let you go on that way," he sighs. "I suppose I shouldn't be talking about how illegal the album is in North America, should I?"
Message to record collectors: stock up now.
Although Parton's grudgingly rejigging and remixing the record to avoid litigation on American turf, he's determined to avoid any further compromises. So, no, you won't find him and his cartoonish crew shilling for Levi's low-riders or singing about how much they're "lovin'" Mickey D's.
Parton chuckles when I ask him if the band actually turned down an offer from McDonald's, as rumoured.
"Oh yes. That McDonald's thing is sort of half true, though by now the label has turned down all sorts of other offers. If we'd said yes to some of the things we'd turned down, I'd probably literally have enough money to buy half a house by now. And all these things happen without anyone knowing about them, cuz nobody knows when you say no. You lose credibility if you say yes, though, don't you?"
He trails off.
"I really don't want that. If someone gave me the option of being either a stadium band or the sort of band that's a nice smallish size and people still have a soft spot for, I'd always choose the latter."