“It’s fitting that a band that uses joysticks onstage (click here to read this week’s profile) would yield a big pile of electronic stuff for you to check out while you’re spinning around in The trusty ol’ Blender. Scroll on, then, for all the Dat’r data you’re likely to want to ingest during your coffee break and/or late-night insomniac web browsing session. If you like what you download and you’re into less virtual kinds of reality as well, do click that link to the article above (or this one) for the particulars on Dat’r’s upcoming Bend show. Long live Atari!”
“A few weeks ago, I sat down with Paul Alcott and Matt Dabrowiak, the duo behind our sixth place Best New Band, Datâ€™r for a long chat about their history in Portland staple Binary Dolls, and their progression into the much loved indie-crossover dance project they are now. Catch the short version of the Datâ€™r tale in this weekâ€™s Willamette Week or at wweek.com. Hereâ€™s the long version, in their own words.
How did Datâ€™r start?
Paul: It started on a Roland V stationâ€¦like all mediocre bands. No. (laughs). It was Mattâ€™s concept…”
Who: Matt Dabrowiak and Paul Alcott
What: Pop-fueled electronic funk
Sounds like: !!! for the coffeeshopâ€”or, in the band’s own words, “a high-kick contest on Sparks.”
Voter quote: “I remember leaning against a wall, listening to Dat’r play to a sweaty, sweaty dancing crowd and thinking, ‘When the hell did these guys get so good?’ They had seemed to jump from some raw basement party electro band to this refined, internationally viable techno band overnight. Or maybe I just don’t go out enough.” â€”Scott McLean, Holocene Music
In a year of hyperactive evolution for electronic musicâ€”from the Blow exploding with ’06’s Paper Television to the rare reunion of Project Perfect and Valet’s stellar debutâ€”Dat’r is the only techno-based project that made WW’s Best New Band Top 10 this year. Surprising, considering that Copy, a solo laptop dance project, took last year’s top honors. But it still makes sense: This year’s is a pop-friendly list, and Dat’r is a pop-friendly band. The electro-funk duo of Matt Dabrowiak and Paul Alcott lies just at the fringe of the indie-techno crossover scene, teetering between the more song-based dance pop of its weeks-old Hush Records debut, Turn Up the Ghosts, and the frenetic, drumsticks-bouncing-off-the-walls energy of a Dat’r live show.
But Dat’r’s intense attention to songwriting detail and reliance on live, irregular percussion is exactly what sets it apart. It’s also what keeps the crossover outfit from falling under the strict dance-techno label (read: There’s more than long mixes and consistently heavy, machine-produced beats here). Keep in mind, Dat’r is made of up of two-thirds of much-beloved math-rock project Binary Dolls (now on indefinite hiatus). Songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Dabrowiak credits Dolls frontman (and solo artist) Nick Jaina as a direct influence: “Nick is just a fantastic songwriter, so we build around that [with Dat'r].”
Playing with Binary Dolls is also where Alcott honed his drumming skills, though the elaborate mania of his Dat’r work has been a grow-as-he-goes affair. Perhaps Portland, historically a rock town, still isn’t quite readyâ€”in the mainstream senseâ€”for the usually performance-lacking straight techno scene. But if Dat’r is enough to bring a sweaty throng onto the dance floor for 40 minutes, it might be the next ideal step. MICHAEL BYRNE.
I’ve often heard the drum-electronics-and-voice stylings of local duo Dat’r referred to as dance music. But while the music is loop-basedâ€”and though I’ve witnessed the group transform a humble Southeast Portland backyard into the staging ground for a Rio-style baile funk explosionâ€””dance music” doesn’t quite strike me as accurate. Rather, I think of Dat’r as a band that makes music to move fast to. This is music to listen to while being chased down alleys by gunmen, or while jumping across rapidly parting drawbridges and dodging rocket fire. Really, any action-movie scenario will do, provided velocity and a strong sense of physical peril are involved.
It’s no surprise, then, that the gentlemen of Dat’r, Paul Alcott and Matt Dabrowiak, have amassed a fair bit of acclaim around town for their live shows since forming a few years ago. The common criticism of electronic music concerts as glorified karaoke does not apply here, as Alcott’s timbale-tinged drumming, and Dabrowiak’s yelping incantationsâ€”the rhythmic core of the bandâ€”are both in live, enthusiastic play. In spite of the lyrical darkness and musical sense of foreboding, Dat’r shows are playful affairs. The twosome have a great rapport with one another (they’ve been making music together for years as two-thirds of the indierock outfit Binary Dolls), playing the role of tag-team emcees with gusto, and notoriously controlling their guitar, bass, and who-knows-what samples in real-time with joysticks via a tailor-made computer program called Chickenbonez. The audience is brought into the fun(k) as well, invited to play along on an assortment of percussion instruments. In fact, Hush Records honcho, Chad Crouch, fell in love with the group while pounding the night away on a cowbell, a musical partnership culminating on Saturday, March 17, at Holocene in the release of Dat’r’s (check it out: double apostrophes!) debut album, Turn Up the Ghosts.
The record is utterly relentless over the course of nine tracks and 43 minutes, and what it lacks in the way of the live band’s joyousness, it makes up for with intensity and focus. It recalls mid-’90s electronica, as well as contemporary dance hybridizers MIA and !!!. Turn Up the Ghosts feels like experiencing an exorcism, complete with sensations of regret, struggle, repentance, and release. While a little worse for wear, you come out of it feeling cleansed, glad to have run the gauntlet, and ready to do so again as soon as you catch your breath.
[ART POP] Turn Up the Ghosts, the debut LP of Paul Alcott and Matt Dabrowiak’s Dat’r, is odd on a couple of fronts: First, it’s being released by the generally unassuming pop-folk-centric Hush Recordsâ€”birthplace of the Decemberists and home to shy-sounding artists like Laura Gibson and Blanket Music. Dat’r is nothing like shy; it’s an excitable indie crossover band born of (currently hibernating) math-pop outfit Binary Dolls, itself a sparse project that counters Dat’r’s stylish and warm, party-friendly offerings.
Secondâ€”and quite unlike Dat’r’s live showâ€”Turn Up the Ghosts is more precocious than pretentious. Onstage, Dat’r is known for lots of “look what I can do” hopping around, switching setups, and that damn playing-drumsticks-on-the-wall shtick. But Ghosts is a catchy, alarmingly intelligent pop album that nods (perhaps gratuitously) toward dancefloor rhythm and sampled electronic skronk and squiggleâ€”like a musically stripped-down, innocent version of !!!.
Much of Turn Up the Ghosts’ appeal is in Dabrowiak’s vocals, which are smooth, all over the register and tipped with notes of desperation, breathlessness and snarl. And, at its polished and produced best (on “The Bloody Lump”), Dabrowiak’s voice is among Portland’s most distinctive in recent memory. We could probably do without the brief falsetto that appears on “Silica,” howeverâ€”an otherwise interesting track whose maelstrom of synth, static and an odd electro-funk outburst sounds straight off the Beastie Boys’ The In Sound from Way Out!
Being a big fan of the “Get the Indie Folk Dancing” movement of the past few years, I find Datâ€™Râ€™s overall project quite endearing. Their debut, Turn Up the Ghosts, has all the hallmarks of a great underground dance record with live funky drumming, twinkling synth accents, and smooth basslines. So why is it that I canâ€™t quite get my mind to be free (so as to have my ass follow)? What keeps me from reaching that blissful point of release that would get me to throw this party-starting platter on for the stimulation of bodily gyrations?
The answers come largely in the vocal elements of the album. Matt Dabrowiakâ€™s chosen mode of intoning is what I would describe as a nasal whine, which as he climbs up in register intensifies in its chafery. Another problem is that as the musical energy climbs, the voice seems to get more detached in tone, killing the potential liberatory effects of a crescendo. Compare this with another whining dancerocker, The Raptureâ€™s Luke Jenner. His Robert Smith-esque approach cracks and trembles as it rises, making one feel that a song could teeter off the tracks into an orgiastic abyss. In contrast, Dabrowiak mostly sounds like heâ€™s being forced to fulfill his vocal obligations, pushing himself past his comfort zone, not because heâ€™s caught up in the frenzy but because the song demands it.
At other times, when Dabrowiak takes a more subdued/hushed approach, as in “Choice Cuts in Sauce,” the vocal tone works much better. Itâ€™s more of a trip hop-vibe, and the whine settles into a concerned whisper that works nicely with the music. Thereâ€™s a real sense of tension, like something sinister is going on just beneath the surface. As the album closer, this track at least leaves me optimistic about Datâ€™râ€™s future. The music is fairly solid, if a bit too reliant on lengthy repetitive passages, and with a little work, I could easily imagine them churning out a record that could get some serious dancefloor workouts going.
Portlandâ€™s Datâ€™r is a band of contradictions â€“ or duality, if you like. They are a duo, after all.
First, both members of the act â€“ 32-year-old Matt Dabrowiak and 29-year-old Paul Alcott â€“ work in relatively-unhip IT jobs by day. By night, though â€“ as Datâ€™r â€“ theyâ€™re among Portlandâ€™s hippest working musicians.
Datâ€™r is essentially a dance music act, though both members come from rock backgrounds (both are also members of Portlandâ€™s moody, subtly electronified pop-rock trio, Binary Dolls). Similarly, Datâ€™râ€™s sound is undeniably rhythm-driven and techno-slathered, yet a sneaky molecule of damaged/jaded punk rock attitude invariably pushes its way into the mix. (The supremely contradictory â€œdance punkâ€ label is apt, if youâ€™re looking for a quick category under which to file the Datâ€™r sound.)
The duoâ€™s drumbeats and guitar lines, unlike those of so many dance music acts, come from real drums and guitars â€“ they lay them down analog/manual style in the studio, then play them back and manipulate them onstage.
â€œPaul and I both share a dislike of really fake sounds,â€ said Dabrowiak, answering questions by e-mail for the Source Weekly. â€œWe like analog keyboards put through amps with dirty effects pedals and real dirty drums that bleed and smear.â€
They use an old Atari joystick and three other video game controllers to manipulate beats, vocals and samples onstage, but theyâ€™re not game-heads.
â€œWe really are quite the opposite of video game geeks,â€ Dabrowiak said. â€œBoth of us checked out post-Tetris.â€
Datâ€™râ€™s debut album, Turn Up the Ghosts, is a 43-minute, nine-track affair published on Portlandâ€™s Hush Records. Most of the mathematical craziness of Datâ€™r live show can be found in the studio product, but youâ€™re compelled to pay more attention to the lyrics â€“ along with the subtleties of Dabrowiakâ€™s David Byrne-meets-Clap Your Hands Say Yeah vocal style.
The songs are strange, somewhat complex psychological trips, again belying their dancefloor infectiousness. â€œYellow Cakeâ€ is the chronicle of a low-level, probably-non-Islamic terrorist group, according to Dabrowiak; â€œTurn Up the Ghosts Part Iâ€ is a reflection on the Northridge earthquake of January 1994, and â€œThe Bloody Lumpâ€ is a song â€œsort ofâ€ about Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. governmentâ€™s insufficient response to the disaster.
Like Datâ€™râ€™s live show, Turn Up the Ghosts is quite rocking from end to end. Still, youâ€™re never sure if you should be pumping your fist and shaking your booty, or stroking your chin in deep thought while playing Tetris. Maybe all four. Itâ€™s the age of multitasking, after all.
Turn Up the Ghosts, the debut album from Datâ€™R, starts off deceptively. Opener â€œTurn Up the Ghosts Part 1â€ seems to be the work of a drum-happy indie rock band. There are samples in there, and the electronics come through, but the song is mostly drums and vocals, and wouldnâ€™t be too out of place on, say, the latest Menomena record. But this ruse doesnâ€™t last long. By the second track, â€œTurn Up the Ghosts Part 2â€, it is clear that Datâ€™R doesnâ€™t want that â€œrockâ€ moniker, they want to make you dance.
And they succeed with Turn Up the Ghosts. The electronics and blips and samples are meshed together seamlessly to create intricate soundscapes that are sometimes electro-pop, sometimes ambient techno music, sometimes downright funk. What brings all these elements together is the stand-out percussion on the album. Paul Alcottâ€™s live percussion meshes with the electric bumps and bass and elevates it all to shake-your-ass greatness. â€œYellow Cakeâ€ is perhaps the best track here, and features Alcottâ€™s drums thudding at breakneck speed under some angular sampling and synth work. Think â€œDaft Punk Is Playing at My Houseâ€ sped up a little, complete with the smug lyric repetition (“They said â€˜okayâ€™, so we got the okay”).
The album works best when it avoids the pitfalls of the dangerous ground that is dance music. There are influences to be found here, for sure, in new wave, in European electro-pop, in mash-up, and even a touch of hip-hop. But where so much new music has sought to retread these grounds, Datâ€™R use their influences as tools to craft their own, unique work. Alcott and partner Matt Dabrowiak use their time in straightforward indie band Binary Dolls to add an organic element that makes these tunes pop. The funk-chk of guitar in â€œInnercom/Inner Calmâ€, the off-kilter drums in â€œTurn Up the Ghosts Part 1â€, the crunchy, wah-drenched riffs in â€œ!Um !Hotâ€â€”these are all elements of a band confident in their craft, and also the sort of surprising moments that keep the album fresh…
…Itâ€™s also worth noting that Datâ€™R know how to put an album together. Turn Up the Ghosts thumps the floorboards for nearly forty minutes, until closer â€œChoice Cuts in Sauceâ€ arrives, a slower, more restrainedâ€”though not much quieterâ€”song to wean listeners off all the funk and drums and bass of the previous eight tracks. At almost 43 minutes, the album concludes at the right moment, where Datâ€™R would rather leave us wanting more than wearing out their welcome. Turn Up the Ghosts is a well-executed, fun-as-hell album from an exciting new band. Put on your dancing shoes, and your protective helmet, and bust a move as hard as you can. Ass-shakers, meet Datâ€™R. Datâ€™R, meet the ass-shakers. I think you guys will get along just fine.
Dat’r is a Portland-based duo who got their start in the indie-rock band Binary Dolls and have since moved onto dance music with their debut Turn Up The Ghosts. With beats culled from a traditional kit, the group spit out electronic pop music that’s heavy on new wave groove, with a vocal style that falls somewhere in between LCD Soundsystem and Duran Duran.
With the help of a friend and MIT student, the duo actually controls parts of their songs in a live environment with video game controllers. It seems like sort of a gimmick, and yet it fits their loop-based, freewheeling music pretty well. Two-part opening track “Turn Up The Ghosts” sets the tone with thick bass warbles, sharp snare-cracked beats, and indie-rock tinged vocals from Matt Dabrowiak. The first two songs flirt with dance music, but never quite launch into it full on, but the rest of the album pretty much picks up the torch from there and runs with it.
Starting with “Yellow Cake,” the group slams into a breakbeat-heavy bunch of songs that rolls with funk-fueled basslines and more semi-whiney vocals from Dabrowiak. With cycling, tweaked-out electronics and a fuzzed-out analogue bass, the track is easily one of the best on the album. In places (like the bursting-at-the-seams “Steam Room”), the duo hits on all cylinders, with tight rhythms that have tightly-coiled vocals and chirpy electronics that pull their hustling bits into a cohesive whole that blisters.
In other places, though, the album gets stuck into overly-long tracks that rumble through the same electro-glint for far too long. Both lyrically and musically, “!Um !Hot” cycles through very slight variations on the same theme and runs out of steam about halfway through, while “The Bloody Lump” churns through six and a half minutes of the same snare-blistered, low-end heavy sounds that inhabit a majority of the album (although the wacka-chicka guitars in the song are a nice touch). There are definitely some fine moments, but as a whole Turn Up The Ghosts is the sort of debut that sounds like it’s still a work in progress. Based on reports of their fun live shows, it’s probably a matter of the group finding which parts translate best to an album setting while leaving out some of the more indulgent (and repetitive) parts of their dual-joystick attack.
Going into Turn Up The Ghosts having no clue who Datâ€™r are is a lot like getting punched in the face. Regardless of the circumstance, fault, chance, or reasoning a sting wells up that stuns you as much as it puts your brain on the static channel for a few moments. Luckily for you Datâ€™r is worth coming back for more.
Paul Alcott and Matt Dabrowiak make music in an alternate universe that is located somewhere between a dusty funk 45 and “Dance, Dance Revolution.” With more electronics than a Best Buy grand opening these two Binary Dolls tap into everything from your standard synth / lap top config to converted video game controllers. And itâ€™s good stuff. Their combination of break-neck beats (played on kit by Alcott) and lyrical quirk work with the BPM-fest of 0â€™s and 1â€™s whizzing by in every direction.
Turn Up The Ghosts is packed with beats and grooves that are only possible in that rare case were live instruments and a butt-load of electronics synch up and extend into something beyond formula. Each track buzzes with an acoustic motor and electric accelerator that never lack in horsepower. The vocals approach sound system diction and feature clever lines when their phrases arenâ€™t stuck on repeat. In essence this is a fun side project for two guys whose band has a throng of hometown fans and a few albums under their belt, but this is an effort that could survive fully upon itsâ€™ own momentum. If Datâ€™r happened in the 90â€™s theyâ€™d have been gods for the last decade, but in the scope of new millennial dance music they fit into frame just fine. They have a robotic pulse, but a beating heart and dance floors the world over should be able to connect with that instantly.
“…The beats sound electronic but apparently consist of looped samples of acoustic drums, played by member Paul Alcott. Other member Matt Dabrowiak and Alcott played in the more rock outfit Binary Dolls, so it’s no surprise that the pair would opt for real drums — or at least real drum sounds. “Steam Room” sounds like an energetic indie-rock band, in fact, with the addition of some warped synths piled on top. The tracks that succeed the most in this area would be “Yellow Cake” — owing to its sheer energy — and “Silica.” The latter has a funk element and a drum breakdown that proves that Dat’r know how to groove. Because I’m not big into dance stuff, I found “Choice Cuts in Sauce” to be the most satisfying track. Its odd synth melody repeats at odd time to the shuffling, hushed beat. Like Grand National and Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, this track spreads out into a hazy space that hints at but never commits to full-on dance or electronica. “Choice Cuts” closes the album, which makes me think that maybe Dat’r didn’t think it fit with the other songs. Or maybe it’s meant to provide a respite for those who danced through the rest of the album. Either way, it’s a great track that makes me want to hear more like it from the band. By the way, the CD packaging is unusually inventive. The typical liner-notes insert has been replaced by a series of cards that feature retro-futuristic images on the front and song lyrics on the back. Each card has more than one song’s lyrics printed on it, with lines from different songs alternating down the page. I wonder whether Hush will pick up other bands like this….
Dat’r is the Portland based duo consisting of one Matt Dabrowiak and one Paul Alcott.
I first heard about these guys through my friend Alex Williams, founder of Podcast Hotel. I got to see them live at his conference and they have so much raw energy. It doesn’t even occur to you that there are only two guys. They’ve got all the sounds and energy covered.
“…By dark, electro-funk two-piece Dat’r led four or five dozen sandaled and bare feet into literally dancing up a dust cloud while a fog machine covered the band in the back yard. Occasional old-school instruments like live cymbals kept the performance raw, as did Paul Alcott’s ability to vocally match an extremely high-pitched, electronically generated squeal, breaking away from his gadgets to shake a leg with a mic whenever possible. – Jason Simms, Willamette Week
“See some of Portland’s most marketable exports…openers Dat’r, whose music is appealingly infectious and air headed, like a high-kick contest fueled by Sparks” – Portland Mercury