Tag Archives: Ratatat

January in singles: Not-so-new names for a new year

TV on the RadioWe might have a fresh, shiny new year on our hands, but there was a distinct lack of fresh, shiny new talent among the pile of plastic I had to review for my monthly singles column in The Skinny magazine. That’s not to say it was one big ear assault though…

Travis have moved on from the traditional method of singing pop songs for other people. Now they sing a Song To Self (**, 5 Jan). Like much of their output since The Man Who, it’s inoffensive and melodious but largely forgettable, so just as well no-one’s listening.

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Ratatat @ Cabaret Voltaire, 1 Aug

Ratatat @ Cabaret Voltaire, photographed by myself

Rating: 4/5

A post-gig Google of the name of the support act I’ve been provided with (Dead Boy Robotics anyone?) returns no MySpace, but maybe it’s better that this emo-tronica duo remain anonymous. Their oh-so-ironic yelping and synth-prodding wankery is head-splitting to say the least.

So how especially welcome it is to see the professionals arrive on stage in the skinny, excessively hairy forms of Brooklyn trio Ratatat. A tightly crammed Cab Vol crowd is soon nodding as one in appreciation of the thumping drum loops and outlandish guitar solos, and the excited reaction reaches a peak in the awesome ‘Lex’. Ratatat really are a band who belie their electronica tag in a live setting, and even unassuming tracks from the recent LP3 like ‘Mi Viejo’ and ‘Bird Priest’ are transformed into propulsive, hypnotic attention-grabbers, thanks largely to Mike Stroud’s singular slide guitar.

A tired two-song encore is probably unnecessary, but – to be fair – if they hadn’t appeased the baying one-more-tune mob, the euphoria may have soured.

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Interview: Ratatat

Stroud (left) and Mast

Ratatat may still be a lesser-known name on this side of the Atlantic, but it’s a name you’re unlikely to forget after a first introduction. That introduction may have arrived via a whimsical purchase of their 2004 self-titled debut, or 2006’s superior follow-up Classics, or their warm-up show for CSS at last year’s Triptych. Perhaps this is your introduction, as they’re set to release LP3 (that’ll be their third album then). Wherever your starting point though, it’s difficult to harness exactly what it is that makes their music so infectious. Their distinctive blend of pumping electro, multi-layered slide guitar and programmed beats defies genre-fication, but I asked Evan Mast, the producer/synth half of the Brooklyn band, to define it anyway. Predictably, all he gave me was this: “We don’t define it. We just make the music that we want to hear.”

Despite the perceived reticence, Mast is brimming with pride over LP3 – which expands the Ratatat formula yet further with more textured beats, more stylistic pilfering, a harpsichord here, a mellotron there – as he recalls its creation: “The process of making the record was such a great experience. We were in this big house full of instruments for 40 days and 40 nights just making tons of music, discovering so many new sounds and exploring so many different ideas. We’d make songs all day and then cook these amazing dinners and drink some beer and listen to the tracks at night. All the songs are attached to good memories, so it makes me happy to listen to them.”

Despite often being tagged as an electronic act, Mast and his Ratatat partner Mike Stroud are first and foremost instrumental musicians, and parts of LP3 come across like some post-modern rock concerto. It’s tempting to surmise the kind of classical education that fellow New Yorkers like Vampire Weekend have been touting, but Mast reveals that his teaching wasn’t quite so: “I took guitar lessons for about two years when I was around 11 or 12. My teacher was an old blues guitarist by the name of Robert Reese. He was a big guy with greasy Jerri Curled hair and his day job was working at the Ford car factory. He played a big hollow-bodied guitar and he mainly taught me how to improvise blues stuff. Occasionally I read up on music theory but I don’t have much patience for it.”

Mast doesn’t have much patience for lyrics either. The only words on Ratatat’s first album came in the fleeting form of rap samples [both Mast and Stroud are big hip hop fans, as you can hear on their two official mixtapes, available as free downloads from their website]. On Classics the verbal input was reduced to a cat’s howl on ‘Wildcat’, and LP3 is entirely instrumental. “I don’t have much of a voice and I find that words are often a very clumsy medium for communication. I don’t think I was ever really happy with the music I was making until I realized that I could do it without words.”

Ratatat playing at Summercase in 2007, photographed by meHaving witnessed Ratatat live once so far, I can guarantee that nothing you hear on record will prepare you for just how good they are live. Stroud is a wickedly talented guitarist, and partial to shameless Hendrix-style showboating; Mast grooves away on bass, while extra member Jacob Morris on keyboards pulls focus by headbanging a truly astounding afro. Do people often react with surprise to Ratatat shows? “We get all kinds of reactions when we play live but yes, some people seem to expect us to just do a DJ set or something like that. We just try to keep ourselves entertained and hope the audience will follow suit.”

With an opening night set at The Edge Festival on the horizon, I tell Mast that the venue, Cabaret Voltaire, is a small, sweaty, subterranean club.

“Sounds perfect,” he says.

A version of this article appears in this month’s Skinny.

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Ratatat – LP3

Ratatat - LP3

Rating: 4/5

During their four-year-old recording career, Ratatat have proven themselves true explorers; not always striking gold, but taking risks nonetheless. For the creation of LP3, the intrepid duo decamped from their native Brooklyn to the Old Soul studio in the Catskill Mountains, a dusty musical playground of Wurlitzers and harpsichords. It’s unsurprising then, that LP3 is their most ambitious album so far: Schiller raises the curtain with a radioactive haze of synth, before a haunting lullaby takes effect and Mike Stroud’s trademark pomp-rock guitar slinks in; Falcon Jab reclaims the bravado of 2006’s Classics, with added vocoder and organic beats; Mi Viejo adds Indian Tabla drums into the mix; while Mirando is salsa-meets-Pacman insanity – and that’s just the first four tracks. LP3 is both far-reaching and doggedly individual: any track may have elements of reggae or Bhangra or hip hop, but it’s still distinctively ‘Ratatat’. It’s a mean feat, and one that confirms they have the talent to back up the exploration.

LP3 is out on XL Recordings from 7 July.

Check back for an interview with Evan from Ratatat next week.

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Triptych, R.I.P.

Ratatat, photographed by myself

There are perhaps more serious things to lament than the death of a mere music festival, but then Triptych is/was no mere music festival. This weekend it bows out with a typically diverse barrage of gigs across Scotland, and I at least plan to attend the Clinic show, with Errors and RememberRemember in support, at Cabaret Voltaire on Sunday night.

The thing about Triptych which distinguished it from other festivals was that even if you didn’t know the names on the bill, you’d probably trust the organisers enough to go off and look them up, and learn a whole host of new artists every year. Last year I discovered one of my favourite electro bands, Ratatat (pictured), thanks to the open-minded programmers.

[By the way, if you’re reading this thinking, eh? Triptych? what’s the frick’s he on about – and shame on you – then read a handy pocket-sized history of the festival which I wrote for The Skinny.]

The demise of this truly intrepid event ties in with a general murmuring that the popularity of festivals has peaked and is now headed for a trough, what with Glastonbury failing to sell out in ten nanoseconds, etc etc.

Tennent’s have announced, as a rather damp conciliatory PR exercise, that a replacement festival called The Tennent’s Mutual is to be launched next year. The lager company says that “it will offer music fans the chance to shape Scotland’s live music landscape”. I can’t help but react with scepticism. Can we really rely on the general public to create an event that was as eye-opening, esoteric and exciting as Triptych? I wouldn’t even trust myself to curate a line-up as well as they did for eight years.

See: www.triptychfestival.com

Stay tuned for an interview with Errors on this here blog…

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