Congrats to Starfucker for signing to one of this fine nation's best labels, Polyvinyl. In fact, congrats to Starfucker on a lot of stuff. The Portland electroacoustic dance-pop outfit, in their own words, "wised up and took the power back." It has dropped some management, dropped the silly Pyramiddd name, and now it's dropping this bomb, "Julius," from a forthcoming Polyvinyl disc. Whatever didn't kill Starfucker would appear to have made it stronger, and hot damn does it feel good to have Starfucker back.
Seeing as how LocalCut has been pushing Starfucker pretty relentlessly for the past three years (it always seems like the one group we all agree on); and seeing as how most of our most intimate memories of the band involve dirty basements, tiny clubs and less-than-legit dance parties—this group is pretty close to our hearts. Hearing "Julius"—recorded at the Dandy Warhols' Odditorium with equipment that probably costs more than everything I own—is a little bit of a letting go process. Our first recorded exposure to Starfucker was hearing the low-fi, clunky-but-space-aged Portland classic, "German Love,"
a far cry from the towering, multi-layered synths of this new single. And while we had ample evidence that Starfucker was en route to a complete transformation from basement electro-pop outfit to full-on dance machine, "Julius" is the strongest evidence yet to support that case.
In the time between "German Love" and "Julius," Starfucker has expanded from a solo project to a quartet, gained acceptance from dance music freaks and party kids on a national level and had some near brushes with fame (hence the devil's bargain: "If you'd only change your name, you could be huge!"). Starfucker has helped pioneer a new generation of dance groups that mix live instrumentation with pre-programmed beats and melodies; locally, the impact has been pretty huge. It is no longer acceptable to show-goers for an artist to stand in front of a laptop, press play and maybe yell into a microphone (and yes, that was the norm not long ago). Performance is now paramount in Portland's "indie dance scene" (in quotes because I'm pretty sure I hate all three of those words), and songwriting is important, too. Blame Starfucker.
Starfucker's new material, then, is held to a pretty damn high standard. It not only has to sound awesome (which "Julius" does), it has to get us moving (which "Julius" does), and it has to sound like a real song. That last one we're going to have to talk about.
"Julius" isn't a song that'll inspire many weepy acoustic guitar cover versions. It is
some very pretty dancefloor candy with some sweet sentiment behind it.
I'm okay with that. And I'm okay with that because of Starfucker.
In the four years of Starfucker's existence, Josh Hodges and company have become more and more enamored by pure dance music. More importantly, they have come to love the power in getting people to dance—sometimes people who never
dance—in a live setting. And as the band's sound stretches its legs further into that territory, it has successfully pulled fans (like myself) along with it. It may have been novelty that grabbed us (the first time I saw Josh Hodges behind a drumset, I was fascinated. I had never seen anything like Starfucker.), or the emotional majesty of the music ("Rawnald Gregory Erickson" doesn't just make me want to dance, it makes me want to sob—I can't think of another song that has accomplished that feat). But long after the thrill was gone, it was the beat that kept us coming back. Slowly but surely, guys like me—guys who never
dance—started dancing to it. Starfucker, in other words, has created a dance scene in Portland that didn't exist before it.
None of which is to say that Portland lacked in dance music before Starfucker—there was a thriving community of laptop wizards, DJs and live musicians (some of whom were and remain amazing; some of whom are probably a little bitter about Starfucker's success) long before the band got its start. But Starfucker hooked people who had never been hooked by this type of music before, inspiring young bands to fuck with the rules of indie rock. In the process, it became the centerpiece of a new Portland musical ecosystem.
So, where do you go from there? Starfucker has a responsibility to keep moving, because it has taken us this far and it can't just linger on catchy dance-pop. To me, the band has clearly fulfilled that responsibility—it has become a more dynamic, overpowering live act by transforming into a "real band," and it's diving deeper into the roots of dance music; into the concept of blissing people out with overwhelming soundscapes that almost lose pop structure in the clutter of blips, bleeps, repetitive pulsing beats and affected vocals. There's a critical mass of pleasure that this band is approaching: Its live shows already feel more like raves than traditional concerts (despite the fact that Starfucker is genuinely fun to watch); and its music is, more than ever, suitable for taking drugs to. If anything, a song like "Julius" (which, suitably, can reference the Roman general or the icy drink you buy at the mall) is awkward because it seems to be a product of an awkward middle phase. Hodges has always been known for brevity in his songwriting, back to the Sexton Blake days, and it's a concept his bandmates seem just as comfortable with. But I want this song to go on for a half an hour, like something from the Fela Kuti catalogue. I want Starfucker to blow up everything I know about music. Again.
I don't think that's too much to ask.
Starfucker on Polyvinyl
(new 7-inch out October 12).
A high school English class doing the story of Caeser
in 4 minutes.
The history of the Orange Julius
Image courtesy of Polyvinyl and Starfucker. Casey Jarman is working on his own issues with brevity.