PRE-MILLENNIUM TENSION got you down? Does the philosophical chasm between irony and earnestness still plague your psyche? Are your soul and booty still torn between the rock camp and the dance faction? If you answered yes to any or all of the above, go find musical rejuvenation in Stereo Total (pronounced Tow-TAHL), who'll be more than happy to shine a pan-globalist ray of light into your confused and weary heart.
Crocodile, Tuesday, October 26
A Berlin-based quartet that in its French, German, and Italian membership loosely mirrors the new borderless European Community, Stereo Total are traffic cops at a weird musical crossroads. It's an intersection of the hippest neighborhood in the global village, where the lounge-pop jet set Austin Martins of Pizzicato 5 or Arling & Cameron and the lo-fi garage-roll dragsters of the Golden Lemons meet on their own boulevard of late 20th-century junk-pop. Add one hit of liquid Beatlemania and a half-carafe of vintage Gainsbourg, consume these intoxicants in an art caf頷here the overconceptualized minimalism of the Flying Lizards makes a racket in the background, and you basically have the cheekily titled My Melody (Bobsled), Stereo Total's fourth proper LP and a good reason to forget all of the societal navel-gazing and party like its . . . well, you know how that goes.
This pretty much explains Stereo Total's modus operandi, and leaves clues as to how the band's conceptual brain trust, Francoise Cactus, the drum-beating multilingual chanteuse, and Brezel Goring, the analog keyboard-doting, bar chord-faking Serge soundalike, have come to occupy this particular space and time.
Living in the same Berlin neighborhood in the early '90s, Cactus and Goring would flirt as they shopped in the same supermarket, before learning that each was playing in a band—Goring with the artsy experimentalists Sigmund Freud Experience, Cactus with French garage-rockers Lolitas. Which doesn't exactly mean that Stereo Total pop mosaic came together naturally. The desire definitely superseded any ability or concept.
"It was a misunderstanding," Goring says of their initial musical experience, a few hours before kicking off the band's latest tour in New Jersey.
"We were both trying to do what the other had been doing," adds Cactus. "I was trying to make experimental music and Brezel was trying to make garage rock and roll, instead of doing what we like to do and seeing how we could do it together."
The seeds of their collaboration and the common ground that became Stereo Total were found in their overlapping record collections. "French music from the '60s like Serge Gainsbourg and Francoise Hardy," recounts Goring. "We both liked '70s disco records and some electronic stuff, and the idea came to make the kind of music we liked to listen to."
"We have all these ingredients that we take from several places," Cactus adds, "and we cook a little Stereo Total dish out of them."
SOME HAVE ARGUED that Stereo Total's borrowing of ingredients is musical thievery as blatant as Puff Daddy's. For amongst mercilessly recontextualized covers of Salt'N'Pepa's "Push It" (as a 90-second long garage-rock stomp), KC and the Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight" (as a funk-rock jaunt that features Alex Chilton on guitar), and the Fab Four's "Baby You Can Drive My Car" (in German!) are numerous elements and melodies that could make the copyright lawyers for everyone from Giorgio Moroder to the Seeds salivate. How can one justify the validity of one's own creations in a cut 'n' paste culture?
"I think this music is like a mirrored room," Goring answers. "It has endless reflections where you don't know if it is actually something real or not. For me, it is expressing myself in other things, things that don't necessarily belong to you."
Even the Stereo Total live experience is a walk through a musical funhouse. The sheer glee of the moment and the concept of pop as a shared joke with punchlines even the biggest square knows triumphs heartily over any sort of aggrandizing professionalism. At Maxwell's in Hoboken, in front of an adoring and well-informed crowd, Francoise reads her lyrics from a notebook, the cherubic San Reimo sports a strap-on keyboard straight outta Howard Jones' locker, tiny vixen Angie Reed moves from toy megaphone to bass to keyboard without playing more than four notes on any, and Brezel bounces around like a disco guy who's had too much coffee.
In short, the show combines the in-front-of-the-mirror, karaoke-and-air-guitar performances of every kid who's ever been seduced by post-Elvis pop culture and the rummaging through a millennial garage sale where the dilapidated memorabilia of that culture lies strewn on the dirty concrete. It is a pose-conscious wink at everything pop kids have learned to be over the last 40 years. It seems perfectly suited for this major event in time, which Goring says he's looking forward to.
"I'm glad that it happens in three or four months," Goring says, "because no one will talk of '60s or '70s or '80s music anymore, only music of the late 20th century. No one will differentiate, which may allow people to come up with something completely different."