On the subject of his home town, Baltimore, the film director John Waters (long time ‘pope of trash’ and creator of such unforgettable mondo moments as Divine’s notorious close encounter with dog doo in the infamous Pink Flamingos) once said, “You can look far and wide, but you’ll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It’s as if every eccentric in the South decided to move North, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay.” The city was also the childhood home of the members of Animal Collective who’s freak folk contributions to “the new weird America” seem to bear out Waters’ description of the city.
The Collective’s core members, now long since relocated to New York and in the case of Panda Bear, Lisbon, are – Avey Tar, Geologist, Deakin, and the aforementioned Mr Bear – the respective pseudonyms of David Portner, Brian Weitz, Josh Dibb and Noah Lennox. Over the last seven years, through extensive collaborations, solo projects and their record label, Paw Tracks the collective have forged a distinctive sound, a weird hybrid of folky lofi improvisation, full on pyschedelia, electronic noise and dance music that has wowed both critics and audiences with its originality and restless reinvention. Constantly experimental in their approach, Collective and solo projects have featured carefully detuned pianos, entire tracks released in reverse and at double speed, field recordings and joint projects with a diverse range of musicians as well as surreal and cryptic lyrics.
Festaal Kreuzberg was packed to capacity with an expectant crowd waiting to see what lay in store. Support was provided by Kuupuu (the Finnish musician, Jonna Karanka) a slight figure in a blue hoody who, with the aid of a digital delay, whistles and an Indian drum set up a fluttering dreamscape of feedback that bore a passing resemblance to bird song. Thomas Mahmoud, of the Oliver Twist Kooperation, was to be seen in the audience nodding appreciatively.
Slyly acknowledging their debt to early Eno with a remix of Baby’s on Fire heralding their arrival on stage, the Collective, sans Deakin, busied themselves tweaking weird sounds out of a table full of electronics and a couple of keyboards. Geologist and Panda Bear worked together, the former concentrating on a pile of patch cables and electronic gizmos, the latter stalking around the stage, shoulders hunched like a boxer preparing for a fight.
Panda Bear emitted odd squawks and random outbursts of growling and screams which fed back through electronic relays and eventually formed loops to which Tar contributed some hurdy gurdy circus keyboard which mutated into a sequance of arpeggios situated somewhere between Koyaanisqatsi era Philip Glass and the cheesiest excess of Chicago house.
The sound seemed built layer by layer, sampled but also something that insisted on careful live reconstruction. The tentative and slightly noodling intros sounded at times peculiarly proggy, the falsetto register of Panda Bear’s voice occasional reminiscent of Peter Gabriel. As Tar began to harmonise a series of beach-boyesque pet sounds gave way to a whomping acid house bass beat and the stage was suddenly illuminated by a bank of digital strobes.
Though each song took a similar shape, unusual time signatures and strange off kilter keys, as well as the occasional addition of processed guitar, thrashed cymbals and drums kept over-familiarity at bay. The energy level remained constant throughout their hour long set in which the Collective seemed to be determinedly trying to invent a strange new dance hybrid, a kind of acid calypso. A proposition weird enough to surely make John Waters proud.
Strawberry Jam, the Animal Collective’s latest album, is out now on Domino.