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In the months leading up to the release of Miike Snow’s debut album last year, indie-pop fans weren’t quite sure who was behind the music. Up until then, the band had banked on anonymity. They’d garnered a slice of Internet buzz remixing songs by genre darlings Vampire Weekend and Passion Pit—in addition to putting out their own round of textured synth-pop. Still, save for the ubiquitous photo they’d stamp their creations with—a mythical rabbit with antlers—details about the band were sparse.
Fans wondered: Who was Miike Snow?
As it turns out, they’re a trio: Swedish DJs Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg, plus native New Yorker Andrew Wyatt. On paper, they make for an unlikely combination: Karlsson and Winnberg were the producing duo behind glossy hits for Madonna and Britney Spears; they’d snagged a Grammy for Spears’ “Toxic.” Wyatt was the front man for New York prog-rockers Fires of Rome.
But the group—who met when Wyatt was visiting a friend in Sweden—hit it off immediately. As for the moniker? Wyatt says the band received an e-mail from a friend named Mike Snow, added an extra letter for the Japanese spelling and ran with it.
The band members tossed around collaborative efforts for more than a year before recording their eponymous debut. The album drew back the curtain on Miike Snow: Wyatt’s shape-shifting, shoe-gazing falsetto set against Karlsson and Winnberg’s electro-laden backdrops. “Animal,” the most accessible song on the disc, is a four-minute exercise in shiny, sing-song pop. It’s a formula that Wyatt says the trio use to balance out their sound—binding together Miike Snow’s more unconventional arrangements by always circling back to a hook.
“As an artist, I don’t think you ever want to move away from hooks entirely,” Wyatt says. “You can be as out-there as you want, but your most important job is still to grab the listener.”
Next up for Miike Snow is a round of touring, which kicked off this month in the U.K. and includes a handful of sold-out dates in Orange County and Los Angeles in June. This will mark their first trip to Southern California since playing Coachella in April—an experience Wyatt admits was equally nerve-wracking and gratifying.
“We went on right after Julian Casablancas, so I remember being really nervous beforehand,” said Wyatt. “But once we all started, I felt really calm. Coachella had an incredible energy.”
The trio took full advantage of the festival circuit this year, lining up gigs at South By Southwest and the upcoming Bonnaroo and Glastonbury. For a band best-known for their intimate club shows, this is new territory—complete with two evident challenges.
The first: translating elements of their album (including all of the electro-tricks you’d expect from the pair responsible for detoxifying Britney) into a live stage show.
The second: doing all of this without a single computer.
Despite the record’s reliance on electronic sound, the band don’t use laptops or pre-recorded backing tracks during live shows. Instead, Miike Snow opt for instruments, increasing their band roster from three to six. Things don’t always go as planned, and certain songs are practically unrecognizable when compared to their studio counterparts. Still, the result—they hope—is equal parts ambitious and authentic, if not slightly unorthodox.
“We get to build our sound from scratch every night, and that’s still exciting for us,” says Wyatt. “I think our music almost sounds better in these larger venues anyway, like the festivals. The sound lends itself to the space.”
While on the road, the group continue to hash out ideas for their sophomore album, though Wyatt is quick to emphasize it’s only in its earliest stages. To tide fans over, in July, they’ll release a deluxe edition of their debut—complete with a slew of remixes and a new single, “Rabbit,” which Wyatt says they’ve only tested by playing live a few times.
Are all the kinks worked out yet?
“Never,” he says, laughing. “But that’s the best part.”
Miike Snow perform with Canon Blue at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Fri., 7 p.m. Sold out. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "So Very Disco, Miike Snow: Let’s get one thing clear: Miike Snow are three guys making dance music that hipsters love."