Miike Snow’s Not Playing Any Games

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You can’t really categorize the band that is Miike Snow. When three eclectic musician-producers come together, the results, which can be heard on last year’s Miike Snow, range from house to techno to pop to rock, all with a mellow, yet danceable beat. Fresh off their first stint at SxSw and now onto a hectic touring schedule, American singer Andrew Wyatt and the Swedish production team of Pontus Winnberg and Christian Karlsson (the pair is also known as Bloodshy & Avant. They have worked with Madonna, J-Lo and Britney, among others, penning the latter’s “Toxic.”) took a break to chat with us over a few drinks about the haze of touring, the nature of the contemporary pop machine, and the organic evolution of their own tour dynamic. They also discussed dancing, more of which Miike Snow hopes to inspire in their fans in the future.

Miike Snow has really developed a following. What do you attribute the growth to? Andrew: Well, we’re actually paying more people to come to our shows.

Oh, so that’s what it. Andrew: It’s getting expensive, but we’re having fun. Pontus: I think it’s just happening the old-fashioned way. We just do one show, and those people go tell their friends, they bring their friends, and so on. It’s definitely not on the back of any huge campaign. We’ve only been touring one year. It’s happening slowly. Andrew: I think it is all happening by word of mouth.

Your fan base seemed different at this past weekend’s show versus at your performances last fall. This time, people were really into dancing, to the extent it felt almost like a rave. Christian: We like when people are dancing.

Describe “Miike Snow.” What are you? A dance act? A pop act? Christian: I don’t think that we are either. Andrew: We don’t try to have one type of sound. We like a lot of things a lot. We try to incorporate a lot of different sounds into our songs. Pontus: I think there is actually a huge difference in the perception of dance music between Europe and the US. Music is completely different over there. Maybe it’s starting to change a bit now. But it felt like for a while in the U.S., if you had a kick drum you were immediately called “dance,” more or less, whereas in Europe I guess you have to push it more, to provoke that response [like wanting to get up and dance]. We think it has to sound more like proper house music.

Is your sound now going to head in that direction? Pontus: We don’t see the changes in our music, because we do so many shows. And that sort of thing gradually changes. But that is probably true. Christian: We also have more slow songs now than we did before, both with “Cult Logic” and “A Horse Is Not a Home.” Pontus: One thing that it definitely could be is the bigger sound system, because you can hear the kick drum and everything. It helps make it more bass-y.

Your music sounds like dance music, but lyrically more akin to rock music. Do you agree? Is that something you work towards? Christian: I think there is something in what you are saying. I don’t think it’s that common that you are dancing to the lyrics that we have.

The lyrics are about funerals, among other things. Christina: Yeah, I think we’re pretty fresh in that sense. Pontus: There is the whole musicianship side of the band, in the sense that we play everything. We have some sequences, but nothing is pre-recorded. Everything is changeable, and we mess with all the sounds. It’s unlike a lot of dance acts these days that are DJ’ing and they are brining laptops and calling it dance music.

What other pop acts are out there that you like? Or maybe more importantly, any that are any good? Pontus: It depends on what you mean by pop I guess. To me, the whole aspect of pop has been pushed into something more, than it has been in the past because of the blogs and everyone can access all the music they want. A band like Beach House or any of the new pop-y bands that would have been considered too weird or psychedelic a few years ago are now considered pop. The borders of pop have been pushed quite far. It could mean anything. The Bloody Beetroots can be pop. It can be because it has that appeal, even though their songs are not are structured like a traditional pop song. Andrew: Yeah, it really depends on what you mean by pop. Like in the seventies for example, you didn’t have the phenomenon of artists that were totally built from soup to nuts by a record label. Management companies or labels make the artist. Then you have bands like the Beach House or the xx, which reaches a lot of people. Their music is great, I think. It’s not really happening inside of the major label structure. In the seventies, you also had a lot of different types of music on major labels. All the labels care about now is what they can put on Top 40 radio, for example, the Lady Gaga’s or the Beyonce’s. What has changed is that pop music didn’t ever just mean those kinds of artists. I think that now everyone else has to groove through the indie channels and the internet. Christian: A lot of new acts are getting closer to the indie scene, like La Roux and The XX have the same audience. Actually I think La Roux is a pop act. The XX maybe are pop music, but are more of an indie band. But, they both definitely have the same audience. Andrew: We had the best time at the the xx’s show at SxSw.

How was the SxSw experience for you? This was the first time you guys were down in Austin together. Christian: It’s kind of weird because you’re basically being thrown up on stage without really knowing if anything works or how it sounds or where the audience is going to be or anything. It was interesting. You don’t really feel like you can perform at your best, it’s more like you just have to make it work.

Did you have fun down in Texas? Christian: I was shocked because the party basically ends at 2:00 a.m. or something. After that, it’s really hard to find anywhere to go. There are so many people there and everyone’s going crazy one minute, and then it’s just all of a sudden empty and stops.

What’s the best part about touring and the worst? Andrew: The worst part is what it does to your body, you’re so banged up from living on a bus in a room smaller than what someone in prison gets. And the best part of it is the mental haze that you are in. Christian: You’re kind of like upside down, you don’t have to really care about anything but the sound check and the show.

There must be a lot of people telling you what to do. Pontus: Especially in the states, touring is like machinery. On tour, it’s just the same thing over and over again. You show up at the venue and everyone knows exactly what they do which is kind of nice, as opposed to touring in Europe. Christian: We like having the bus, because it becomes your home, especially when you have the bus always outside the venue, cause if you don’t have that you’re wind up just sitting in shitty backrooms. It’s kind of sad.

What is touring in Europe like? How is it different from touring in the U.S.? Pontus: It’s more like everything is a constant change, you go to completely different places and stay in different rooms. In the U.S. it feels like everything is more standardized. You’ll have your 300 capacity venues, and then the 600 capacity venues and the 1,200 venues. All of those venues are built kind of the same way, which is kind of cool because everyone knows where to go and what to do, and we know our way around better. In Europe they just throw you up there and the stage can be in a corner somewhere, or the next time it can be in the middle of the room. It’s just a very different flow. Christian: And you’re going from different country to country, everything is changing. You never have the right money. Whenever you walk out of the bus, you’re like “oh shit!” Everything is a little bit more complicated.

So what’s next for Miike Snow? Andrew: We’re going to start recording again this summer, and we should be done by September.

What will the sound be like? Andrew: I think we’re going to bring more stuff in from our live experiences.

More high energy? Christian: More of everything.

Photo by Sean Hennessey.

Shepard Fairey’s Lost DJ Playlist

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Artist Shepard Fairey of Obey Giant and Obama poster fame tells us what’s in his headphones, why he thinks art and music are the same, and what he would have done at a museum party at the ICA thrown in his honor (if he hadn’t been getting arrested instead).

You were supposed to be going to your own party and DJ’ing at it, right? That’s right.

What type of music were you going to play? No one got to hear it. Can you tell me what you were going to spin? I wish I had my playlist on me, but I know there was some Public Enemy, The Clash, Gang of Four. Let’s see what else is in there … I think some Tone Loc, some Slits, and some Go-Go’s.

This is from your everyday playlist? Well yeah, I really think that music, when I’m DJing, is the same as making art. It has to appeal at a gut level. People have to feel good. If it’s a Clash song like “The Magnificent Seven” that has these Marxist lyrics, but it’s to a disco beat, then awesome. My favorite bands like Black Flag, Public Enemy, and The Clash have music that I really liked that gets me amped up. But they also have really provocative lyrics that I think have a great point of view.

That’s my next question — what’s more important, music or lyrics? And how can you relate this to what you create? They are equally important. With art, the idea of making a really dazzling, provocative, engaging graphic first, and cut through all the clutter of the visual noise that’s out there and get someone to even care what the next aspect of the communication is, is crucial. Then, having something to say is great. Art is different than an editorial newspaper, where there may be some latitude for interpretation, but at least for my art, I think that having a point of view is really important.

Are you pissed you missed your own party? I was super pissed. My favorite DJ and good friend DJ Z-Tip was a headliner. I was going to open for him. I have not had a chance to really cut loose, and I was doing very formal interviews and discussion with people from Harvard and things like that. It was going to be my opportunity to get drunk and rock out.

What’s in store next from you and Obey? What are we going to see next on the streets? I did a lot of work on the street while I was in Boston. I am always going to be active. But you know, the things I’m focusing on right now is the environment, and I recently did some artwork for Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong campaign. Most of the art I’m going to be doing next will be based on how things go with Obama. I’m going to play it by ear. I’m going to take it day by day. I have a bit of time between shows. I’m actually going to see what the most important issues to address in the coming months and go there.

Photo: Peter Foley