By Adam Lovinus
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"I always liked really noisy shit, like the Unsane and Jesus Lizard," says the Go! Team's Ian Parton, which is bizarre because he makes records that sound like Up With People produced by the Bomb Squad.
In other words, between the pep-rally vocals, marching-band breakbeats, screamingly upbeat horns and sashaying '70s pop strings, the Go! Team are most definitely not Unsane or Jesus Lizard—not even Love Battery or Hater. But they are phenomenal; imagine the Beastie Boys' circa Paul's Boutique as the funnest mash-up of every music you ever liked, but were afraid to admit it. Like that scene in Ghostbusters in which a monster will manifest from whatever is in everyone's unconscious, and it winds up being the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man: That's the kind of sense the Go! Team makes. Like how you listened to Sonic Youth because it was all important and cool, but you really loved "Jam on It."
Before the Team was a team, it was a him, Parton going to his parents' house in Brighton, U.K., after his day gig producing documentaries and tinkering with samples. "It basically came out of frustration," he says of applying hip-hop sampling techniques to indie rock. "Indie's stuck in its own little world; I just wanted to ram things together."
Early efforts such as "Ladyflash" were the musical equivalent of a yearbook dot-dot page, every sound and sweeping breakbeat a reference to something you vaguely recognized and smiled at. "'The Number Song' by DJ Shadow, that was kind of the blueprint," Parton explains.
Eventually, he had a whole album, 2004's Thunder, Lightning, Strike. Fine, until he had to clear the samples, which the tiny Memphis Industries label couldn't do. "It was a bit of a pain in the ass," he says. "But that's what happens when you do things illegally. On a little label, you think, 'No hit, no problem.'"
Well, the album was a hit. Parton's kitchen-table project had made him a mascot for the ruling dance-rock hipsters of 2004, and Franz Ferdinand asked him to bring his band to Sweden for a gig. He, of course, didn't have a band but was happy to get one.
"I never imagined what kind of band it would be, just that it would be kind of trashy," he explains. He wound up with a saucy MC named Ninja, two Japanese female expats and another couple of indie-rock nerds. The result was bizarrely electrifying: Everybody literally plays everything—guitar, drums, samplers, glockenspiel, harmonica, and, of course, more guitar, drums and samplers. "I've always been a fan of bands where people run around and play a lot of instruments, like the Beta Band."
So did the rest of the planet, and the Go! Team became the best live band the indie world had to offer, if only because they were so un-indie; more like Fatboy Slim fronting a band playing mash-ups live, references that make Parton cringe. "Mash-up's just a little two-years-ago, and Fatboy Slim . . . " he pauses, being a fellow Brighton-ite. "He's just not very well-liked in England."
Okay, so a British-Japanese Chinese fire drill, then. Which was perfect because when it came time to release Thunder in the U.S., some of the samples had to be replayed and re-rapped by a live band.
But from the sounds of their new Proof of Youth (Sub Pop), being the best non-indie band in indie is more of a job than an adventure these days. The horn blasts and chase-scene segues feel more predictable. The cameos on Proof are perfect, though: Marina from Brazil's Bonde De Role, the Double Dutch Divas (jump-rope rappers who are now a bunch of 50-year-olds), even Public Enemy's Chuck D, but it all kind of blurs together like a more frenetic version of Thunder. "I wanted it to sound like Public Enemy in their heyday, very fitty and dense," Parton offers, and it does, which is why it can sound like it's trying so hard not to be the rappers-at-a-halftime show as it is.
"My sensitivity to 'Is this too bubblegum?' is very high. We're treading the line," he admits, "but we're the trashier side of pop. The production grates a bit. It's not as digestible that way. If anything, I wanted to push the ideas of black and white music, like putting the Double Dutch Divas over a song with heavy guitar."
In that sense, Proof of Youth works famously, even if it's so full-on one minute and fey the next it can sound contrived (the glockenspiel is the cowbell of '07). But as northern soul re-cast as Fraggle Rock and hip-hopfor people who don't like hip-hop, the Go! Team live are still the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man of indie rock.