[SUPER MARIO BROS. GRUNGE ROCK] When's the last time someone's cell phone blurted some jagged, half-identifiable, Nintendo-y rendition of "Baby Got Back" or the theme music from 2001: A Space Odyssey, causing you to grit your teeth and dream of throwing said phone out the bus window? Well, the Pittsburgh-born duo of Christopher Doulgeris and Peter Burr, a.k.a. Hooliganship, would rather you didn't. They're Portland's neon-clad archangels of hyper-digitized cell-phone music—but they prefer to call it "grunge."
Grunge and Hooliganship's cell-phone music share the same basic aesthetic: As distortion (grunge's No. 1 tool) increases, sounds are broken into larger and larger parts—sharp blocks of sound information. Run the chorus of "Lithium" through a cell phone and you won't lose much in the translation. Apply that same musical mincing to bright, heavily layered, intricately textured bursts of harmonious glee, and you have another genre. You have Hooliganship (not to mention artists like Paper Rad, E*Rock, the Advantage and Copy). It's alluringly primitive, something beyond typical twentysomethings' Nintendo nostalgia. Doulgeris explains: "It reduces culture into the few stereotypes that '80s technology is capable of representing."
Like people who still shoot black-and-white film for reasons other than being old-school, Hooliganship credits its music's basic qualities to self-imposed technical limitations. The duo relies on and embraces the crude tools at its disposal: simple computer-mixing software, distortion and a stripped-down rock arsenal of bass and keys. Despite (or perhaps because of) its musical simplicity, Hooliganship is also an A/V band, performing to dizzyingly patterned videos and blocky Flash animations. The video element doesn't just mimic the duo's sound; it lends coherency to Hooliganship's otherwise short, isolated tracks (my Hooliganship ringtone is an entire song). Doulgeris compares it to Italo Calvino's collections of microfiction—Cosmicomics or Invisible Cities—short pieces that are incoherent without some larger idea to bind them.
In Hooliganship's case, the current glue is visual stories, which forces the band to release its music in DVD form, mostly in comic book stores (the duo toured last fall on its latest, Cartune Xprez). Yet, Doulgeris and Burr's first full-length music-only release—which they describe as an "epic adventure"—is in the works, and they claim it's meant to be heard with eyes closed. That is, of course, excluding those times when I glance at my cell in response to its new grunge ringtone.