IMAGE: Ingrid Renan
WHO: Josh Hodges, Ryan Biornstad, Shawn Glassford.
WHAT: Analog-heavy dance punk.
SOUNDS LIKE: Stuffed animals playing percussion-heavy analog techno in a squeal-infested underworld.
YEAR FORMED: 2006
MOST LIKELY TO BE FOUND: Dressed in drag in Northeast Portland.
VOTER QUOTE: “The first time I heard Josh’s music I freaked out and called him. ‘Where are you from? How old are you? How long have you been doing music?’ His music instantly made an impression on me. Sometimes when I’m walking around town I hear Starfucker songs in my head, and it’s nice.” —Hank Failing, Failing Records founder/Old Town Music manager
Starfucker goes on in 15 minutes, and no one at Southeast Portland’s Holocene has seen the dance-pop outfit’s founding member, Josh Hodges. His bandmates, Ryan Biornstad and Shawn Glassford, don’t seem particularly worried, though each can occasionally be seen checking their cell phones for the time or stepping outside to make calls.
Lateness aside, Hodges doesn’t seem like the kind of guy you’d entrust with the responsibility of whipping a packed room into a dance-pop frenzy. The 29-year-old longtime Portlander is low-key in conversation, smiling and laughing quietly from behind the brim of a cap or his shaggy bangs. A week before the Holocene show—from a corner booth at Suki’s, a sometime-karaoke joint in the basement of a Southwest Portland Travelodge—Hodges seems as surprised as anyone. “I dance more now than I’ve ever danced in my life,” he says.
Three years ago, Hodges was one of Portland’s most promising young singer-songwriters. His ’04 debut, Sexton Blake: The Explosive Motion Picture Soundtrack, was a revelation: a mix of Pinback’s catchy funk-pop and Elliott Smith’s descriptive songwriting and sparse arrangements. But those characteristics seldom came across in the live setting—Hodges, as if embarrassed by his songs, was always lost behind his band, also named after British comic-strip detective Blake. Shouts of “more vocals” were as commonplace as applause. “I think we all kind of felt awkward,” Hodges says. “It wasn’t fun. It was all wrong.” For band and crowd, the best part of a Sexton Blake show often came at the finale, when Hodges would swap his guitar for the drumset—and the whole band would go totally apeshit. Which is, more or less, how Starfucker was born.
“Starfucker just started out of wanting to have fun,” Hodges says. “It’s what I did when I was alone in my basement: fuck around with a loop machine and play drums.” Despite the project’s easygoing nature, Hodges’ ear for melody and song structure remained intact, as does the mystery in his (now condensed) lyrics. From the beginning, Starfucker was more ELO than IDM.
Word of Hodges’ equally explosive and melodic solo performances as Starfucker—he whales on the drums while simultaneously playing keyboards, controlling a drum machine and singing (with a backup vocal track to help the volume level)—spread fast upon the project’s start in late 2006, making him a regular on the house show circuit. But Starfucker, Hodges contends, was never supposed to be about him. To that end, the group gained members unceremoniously, adding Glassford and Biornstad (the designated “freak-out” guy from Sexton Blake) as multi-instrumentalists. The latter is also somewhat of a mascot. “I grew up dancing,” Biornstad says. “It’s a lot more gratifying than freaking out.” Starfucker signed to Portland’s Badman Recording Company in early 2008, and is planning its first full-band release later this year.
Back at Holocene, Starfucker begins its set—a series of two-minute dance anthems punctuated by blasts of noise and random madness. Hodges and company are decked out like DayGlo gangstas—and they’re surrounded by turntables, keyboards, two drum sets and a long string of Christmas lights. At the onset, half the crowd is dancing while the other half looks totally confused. It’s not until the infectious closer, “Rawnold Gregory Erickson II” (a candy-coated love song on which Hodges sings, “All my life/ There you go/ Oh please stay/ Just this once/ Anyway”), that they win the whole audience.
Seeing Starfucker on a high stage, after all, is a bit different from seeing them in a sweaty basement. But damn if the stages don’t keep getting higher.
Starfucker in a basement:
"German Love": [audio:http://localcut.wweek.com/mp3/germanlove.mp3]
SEE IT: Starfucker plays WW’s Best New Band showcase Saturday, May 10, at Berbati’s. 9 pm. Free. 21+. Website: myspace.com/starfuckerss