Ever since the birth of disco, rockers have been fighting to keep dance music unpredictable. Rather than capitalising on boring processed beats and irritating tweaky effects, bands such as The Killers, The Rapture and Franz Ferdinand bridge the gap between rock-out stadium tunes and club-pleasing tracks. For the record, JUICE believes the roots of modern dance stretch all the way back to Elvis Presley, “The Twist” sensation and Rock N Roll, despite all those people who think ABBA was the first dance-band.
VHS or Beta is one of those bands that are diminishing the line between dance and rock. Formed in 1997 in the fried chicken heaven of Louisville, Kentucky (home to indie legends Squirrel Bait and Slint), the band’s core members are guitarist/vocalist Craig Pfunder, bassist Mark Palgy, and drummer Mark Guidry.
Initially, the band had an obsession with indie-noise acts like Arab On Radar, U.S. Maple, Japanese noise-core Melt Banana and Sonic Youth. But from exposure through the Internet and from going to parties and raves, VHS or Beta soon mutated its sonics towards an electronic/organic groove hybrid. When they released their first EP Le Funk in 2002, critics called it “Kraftwerk meets Gang of Four”. Frontman Pfunder notes, “Every band sounds like that now.”
Le Funk was ahead of its time with Daft-Punk style French Disco-house channelled via live instruments. Their 2004 follow-up Night On Fire infused club rhythms with 80s chorus-hooks ala Echo and the Bunnymen and Depeche Mode before anyone had ever heard of The Killers. “We’re always either a few years ahead of the curve for trends, or too late,” Pfunder jokes.
Their latest outing Bring on the Comets, however, sees VHS or Beta arriving just on time. Focused songwriting has paid-off with the band rediscovering its sound through pop sensibilities. The first single, ‘Can’t Believe A Single Word’ is a piano-driven mini-epic with Pfunder’s vocal soaring dramatically. Elsewhere on the album, ‘Love in my Pocket’ is a power-pop Beatlesque ditty and ‘Burn It All Down’ thunders brashly with a punk-inspired chorus (We’ll burn the flags / Burn the house / Burn the churches / Burn it all down).
Adding to the album’s charm are the subtle yet crucial guest contributions of all members of Louisville darlings My Morning Jacket. Comets… has gained VHS or Beta a loyal following and numerous tours supporting the likes of the Scissor Sisters, the Bravery and Duran Duran, as well as festival spots from Lollapalooza to Reading. Third time lucky as they say, you can bet that VHS or Beta will be carrying the dance-rock banner into clubs and stadiums for a while.
Rock the dance floor with VHS or Beta at Heineken Green Room on 28 March at Orange Dance Club, KL. Get a meteor shower and sample of Bring on the Comets at www.myspace.com/vhsorbeta