Earsand Assesare Ready
The kids don't wanna dance anymore—at least the cool ones don't. Maybe it's those oh-so-tight pants, but your stereotypical indie rockers aren't gonna jump around much, unless it's while trying to dig a thrumming cell phone out of their even-tighter pockets. But Olympia, Washington, duo C.O.C.O. is going to re-inject a little movement into this corpse-stiff youth movement, in which standing around looking cool isn't just a pose—it's a philosophy.
"People like to analyze bands a lot up here, but a lot more people are moving, learning how to dance, just being able to let loose and party more," says drummer Chris Sutton, who, with bassist/vocalist Olivia Ness, has been rumbling floorboards up and down the Pacific Northwest for about a year now. "There was this really beautiful period of time during the early '80s when all these punk bands were listening to dub and dance music and working on their own thing. That was a really great idea—on top of being multicultural and multiracial, which hasn't happened very often. But there's a kind of dance-music thing happening around here now. It seems like ears are a little ready."
So the kids are learning. Along with C.O.C.O., Olympia has developed a whole host of more groove-oriented acts. There's the bristly blues-stomp of the Gossip; the plinky-plonk, new wave-ish bounce of Gene Defcon; and maybe even the horns-and-hellfire dyke-metal of the Need (if you still consider headbanging dancing). But those bands—and even Sutton's other project, the Dub Narcotic Sound System (with K Records honcho extraordinaire Calvin Johnson caterwauling up front)—are about big, loud, panoramic sounds. C.O.C.O. is all about what's in between those sounds, says Sutton, the breaths and pauses and vacuums that two-piece bands usually try to overcome.
"The point of our band is the gaps," Sutton says. "We aren't trying to fill out that space; we're trying to create it. With louder music, the sound is more forward; you don't have to try—it comes to you. With two people, you have to pay more attention. It's so much more simplistic, and you have to immerse yourself in the music more."
The duet structure lends itself to that sort of intimate dynamic, says Sutton, which is why he and Ness have never propositioned a guitarist. Instead, C.O.C.O. draw on that dub and dancehall tradition as well as mine perpetually fertile territory such as, '80s new wave, disco and funk; re-introduce it to that punkish energy; and crank out rippling, pared-to-the-bone, bass-driven rhythms. Call it garage funk—a refreshing bridge between vapid (if bootylicious) dance music and oh-God-I'm-so-artistic! indie rock.
"We're coming from a lot of different areas with our music, so we get a lot of different types of people who listen to it," Sutton says. He and Ness were once just two roommates with bizarrely eclectic musical tastes—the Gories, the Flips, the B-52's —and, just as important, a basement full of musical instruments. When other local bands weren't practicing down there, they'd quietly start assembling their own sinewy songs—at first just as something to kill a rainy Pacific Northwest afternoon. And then they hauled their equipment upstairs to someone else's house, thus earning the status of "party band." Then Johnson asked them to do an album, and the legendary Sleater-Kinney took them on tour, and hordes of screaming-on-the-inside fans watched, learned and actually started dancing. And this was before they'd even been a band for a year. No wonder all the starry-eyed hipsters with indie-rock dreams move to Olympia: it's where things happen to people. But Sutton is modest.
"To be able to make some heads turn in the middle of all that grandeur was really cool," he says. "We work really hard, and people have been really supportive. I was kind of worried about it at first, but if you come across honestly and play music straight from the heart, you really can't fail."
It's the kind of infectiously optimistic thing you'd like to believe, even if a closetful of mopey records about loss and squandered opportunity claims differently. But maybe that's why you don't want to dance much anymore, either. And maybe that's why you should let C.O.C.O. loosen you up.
C.O.C.O. performs with Mates of State, Fonda, Parlor Maids and Katie the Pest at Koo's Art Cafe, 1505 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 648-0937; www.koos.org. Sat., 7:30 p.m. $5. All ages.
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