"People were dressed up like Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon. It was like playing for a cartoon!" says Simon Young, bassist for self-styled Chinatown dance-rock troupe the Slants. He's talking about the band's recent gig playing at Kumoricon, an annual anime convention held in Vancouver, Wash.
"It was amazing!" continues frontman Aron Moxley. "These kids are full-blown into Japanese culture—lotta Asian, lotta art. Everyone's totally dressed up and having a great time. When we start playing and everyone explodes, you could cut the tension in the room with a fucking hacksaw."
"Most of 'em didn't really know who we were," Young adds, speaking of the 800 screaming fans at the Kumoricon show. "But they were jumping up and down and trying to sing along. There were 3,000 kids at this convention, and they wouldn't allow more in to see us because it was against the fire code, so [the kids] stood outside and lined the hallways. We finished the album Friday [Aug. 31] and sold 200 albums [by] Sunday night. No band does that, really."
Nor do most bands play for such big crowds after only a handful of shows (the following weekend, the band rocked a mere Reed College house party), but the Slants' Kumoricon success has led to offers from conventions in New York, Texas, Kentucky, Budapest, even Australia—all before the proper release of its first album.
That debut, Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts , which was self-recorded in a hastily constructed garage studio dubbed House of the Rising Sun, expands upon infectious '80s synth-pop floor-fillers with narratives immersed in Hong Kong pulp cinema—like, say, the Killers meet The Killer .
"Aron and myself come from hardcore bands," says Young (referring to Evening at the Black House and the Stivs, respectively). But he says he grew up listening to New Order and Erasure. "Recording, we're electronic," he explains, "but live, we're straight up rock 'n' roll. We're not afraid to break things or kick people. Aron blows fireballs. He broke his foot going into the crowd at Kumoricon and kept jumping around. Pretty much every show, at least one of us walks away bleeding."
A series of YouTube videos illustrates the live abandon: Moxley—equal parts punk dynamo, Triad boss and timeless showman—roams the stage amid backup dancers, Young's tumescent bass lines and an electroclash fusillade of keyboard trills. More than just referencing Woo and Wong Kar-wai, the Slants assume the sonic equivalent of Chow Yun-Fat effortlessly wielding two pistols as he sails across the room. It's the sound of balletic violence, propulsive aggression rendered weightless and fundamentally danceable.
"We built the Slants around not just anime," says Moxley, "but celebrating Asian culture, Asian cinema, bringing it to the forefront. Seems like most Asians only listen to Canto-pop and karaoke and classical piano and cello. We wanna be in your face, and then we're gonna talk about what's happening with Asian culture."
"And," Young adds, "keep on melting people's faces with rock 'n' roll."
Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts