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Pop Quizzical 

U.K. electro outfit Hot Chip confounds as it funks

Wednesday, Jul 26 2006
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Pop music isn't exactly subtle. If it can't boil down to a three-second hook and a junior high-level sentiment, there really isn't much room for it on the airwaves. And while you probably won't be hearing Hot Chip on KMEL anytime soon, the U.K. five-piece plays the kind of bubbly, synth-and-sampler electro funk that nods toward pop-hop bling and bounce. But thankfully, there's a clever twist.

"We wanted to kind of confuse people a little bit when we made Coming on Strong," says Hot Chip's Joe Goddard, one of the band's two main vocalists and its primary producer. "The album just veers from these really silly jokes to songs that are quite heartfelt in a weird way."

Released last year in the U.S. to rave reviews in the underground press, 2005's Coming on Strong was Hot Chip's proper introduction to Stateside listeners. Its sharp songwriting, lo-fi aesthetic, and blippy Casiotone backdrop hit a funky nerve for indie rockers and electronica fans. But Goddard's speak-sung raps, which shrug softly against Alexis Taylor's Cockney falsetto, trilling "Give up all you suckas we the tightest motherfuckas and you never seen this typa shit before now" — these aren't so easy to reconcile.

"Often things are far too simple," Goddard says. "It's so obvious from the start what emotion someone's trying to portray in a song. We wanted to mix things up a little bit, make things more difficult for people to pick apart."

That thematic incongruence — homemade beats, casual boasts, occasional poignancy — can cause confusion. Like, these guys are hilarious, but are they for real? Or are they just taking the piss?

"Coming on Strong was kind of our comment on hip hop, and our love for it came through in a very strange way," Goddard says. "We weren't trying to suggest that we're black American kids making hip hop. We were just being who we are, growing up in a suburb of London, being very far removed from the whole thing. There's a genuine love for that stuff in it; it's not us making fun."

This June, Hot Chip followed up with The Warning, released on hipster dance music label DFA. Though it was also recorded in Goddard's bedroom studio, The Warning comes across bolder and beefier. "We were learning a lot more about what we were doing," Goddard says of the recording process.

Additionally, The Warning gets nicely riled up at times. "Over and Over" is no doubt the cow bell/handclap/fuzz-guitar dancefloor jam of the summer, while "Careful" crunks along over a Basement Jaxxlike hard house beat. "The second album is a lot more influenced by house and techno and disco than the other album," Goddard explains, "so it's higher tempo and more energetic."

Still, compared to the downtempo funk on disc, Hot Chip's live show is a megawatt jolt. The band tends to freak the fuck out, all five guys pogoing behind their keyboards, shred-soloing in front of them, clapping hands, and smashing tambourines.

"Al [Doyle, guitarist] made a promise after the last American tour to never take his shirt off onstage again, and he just broke it in Lisbon," Goddard says with a laugh. "It was the hottest gig we've ever played. [Our] sweat dripped into two of our keyboards and short-circuited them halfway through the gig. And Felix [Martin, drum machine maestro] kept getting electric shocks off his drum machines because sweat had seeped into them."

So on that point Hot Chip is unequivocal. The band is laid back in the studio, but on stage it's party time. "That's what gets me, is like when I look up and I see people going for it in the crowd," Goddard says. "Then I can't stop myself. I just love it."

About The Author

Jonathan Zwickel

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