In music there are those who make history, those doomed to repeat it, and the lucky few who seem to exist outside it. Psychedelic punk-funksters !!! ("chk chk chk") began mining discofied clamor more than a dozen years ago -- long before the arrival of electroclash, which threatened to bridge the distance between the indie club and the dancefloor. But for a moment the fledgling genre defined !!!, before disappearing quicker than hair metal in the wake of Nirvana.
The band has soldiered on regardless, quite comfortable as outsiders. It's a role they've known since the early 1990s, when singer Nic Offer and guitarist Tyler Pope -- rail-hopping punks from Sacramento -- played in a basement-bound DIY act, the Yah-mos. Its dissolution led to !!!, whose funky dance undercurrent was a lot more revolutionary and leftfield than punk by that point.
"We liked the open-mindedness of punk, the throw-everything-in-the-bag kind of punk. We never tried to do the whole play-three-chords-fast," Offer explains. "We were already listening to James Brown and Stereolab. It was more of an open palette for us. We kept that idea."
It took five years for them to release their 2001 self-titled debut, but the timing couldn't have been better, as the jagged, clattering pulse shared rock vibrancy with the suddenly burgeoning electroclash scene. "We were always just doing what we wanted to do, and it was cool to see that it became fashionable," Offer says. "But it also made you realize, we were doing this before everyone came along, and we'[ll] probably still be doing it afterwards, so I guess we're cool now, but we're going to have to become uncool."
The electroclash fever had already broken when !!! released its 2004 follow-up, Louden Up Now. While some hailed its ass-heavy fusion of dance and rock, others found the beat too prevalent and predictable, with more groove than fresh ideas. Offer says he is constantly confronted by fans who claim the albums fail to match the intensity of their performances, where they're known to jump into the audience and break that rock-show "fourth wall."
"When we started there wasn't that fourth wall. People were crowding all around you in a basement, you know? So it's kind of like you were in the audience," he says. "As you start living up to bigger gigs and that wall's been put up between you, it's like 'What's this wall doing there?'"
!!! succeeds in capturing more of that live energy on its latest album, last year's Myth Takes. It was recorded at a rented house in Nashville, where the group jammed every morning, using those sessions as gristle for the songs. There's a grittier warmth, and broader expanse of sounds to Myth Takes, without sacrificing the deep-seated grooves. This is no dry riverbed, but a fast-flowing current overgrown with funky nuance along the shore.
"It's got a lot of jam loops and parts in there that are the first times the riffs were ever played. We jammed straight into the computer, and we'd take that straight. We were like, 'We know we make this chaos happen, let's trap it,'" says Offer.
Meanwhile, acts inspired by electroclash have emerged -- such as Klaxons, Justice, and Does It Offend You, Yeah? -- threatening to make !!! standard-bearers again.
"Seeing a band like Klaxons come along was great because they definitely were inspired by those things, but they pushed it further," Offer says. "A few years ago you could put out a record, steal a Gang of Four riff, and people would think you were revolutionary. You can't do that now, and I think that's great."
With the departure of founding drummer John Pugh to concentrate on his band Free Blood, the band called Pittsburgh drummer Paul Quattrone, of Modey Lemon, Midnite Snake and Italian Ice. They'd never heard Modey Lemon and he'd never heard them, but they asked him to audition, and they hit it off.
"We loved him. He just did a tour with us and he was the best. He seems pretty busy, but I hope he's in the band," Offer says with a chuckle. "We're psyched to have a piece of Pittsburgh in the band. It's an interesting place, and he breaks it down for us."
So at least they'll be prepared.
!!! with Italian Ice and Icy Demons. 7:30 p.m. Tue., July 22. Rex Theatre, 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. $13 ($15 day of show). All Ages. 412-381-6811 or www.rextheatre.com
- Cut it out: !!!