Weird and wired

A small band of electronic music acts take on a rock ’n’ roll city  
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  June 3, 2009

triangle main

IT’S ELECTRIC Martin O’Connor, Brendan Britton, and Benjamin Britton of Triangle Forest bring synth to the city .

 It is, of course, difficult to attach a single sound to a city. And Providence is no exception.

There is hip-hop, here. Metal, too. And the city’s most prominent act at the moment, Deer Tick, is a sort of drunken, gravelly take on alt-country.

But this is, at bottom, a rock ’n’ roll metropolis.

Name by Llove [mp3]

Spanish Eyes by Triangle Forest 

Robot Sings For the Master (Llove remix) by Triangle Forest [mp3]

Tame by <tfo> [mp3]

Providence is guitars and bass and drums. Distorted, perhaps. Played by the costumed and the crazed, from time to time. But engaged, nonetheless, in the rock.

So there is something intriguing about the emergence, in recent years, of an alternative to all the shoe-gazing and head-banging: a small band of electronic music acts — touched by the fury of the city’s noise scene, to be sure, but just as interested in ’80s schlock, gold chains, and dancing.

Lots of dancing.

The city’s most prominent electronic acts — MAHIMAHI, Triangle Forest, Llove, <tfo>, the Awesome Brothers, and Kokomo among them — do not attract the crowds that flock to Providence hard rockers like White Mice and Megasus.
And their sound does not quite play to Rhode Island’s dark moment (the soundtrack of the unemployed is light on synthesizers).

But the electronic scene, whatever its limitations, seems to be reaching a critical mass of sorts. There are more bands than in recent memory. An all-digital label with a heavy focus on electronica has sprouted here. Two of the city’s leading acts — Spanish Dancer and makeupbreakup — have just finished small national tours.

And local bands are hooking up, on the Internet or on double bills, with like-minded souls in New England and beyond — acts like Big Digits in Boston, Electrocute in Los Angeles, and Chairlift, a Boulder-turned-Brooklyn outfit that landed a song on an iPod commercial, signed with Columbia Records, and is touring with the Killers.

“Things have opened up,” said Timothy O’Keefe, sitting in his Jewelry District loft on a recent morning, surrounded by keyboards, a computer, and a disturbingly large collection of throwback video game consoles.

O’Keefe, the principal force behind <tfo> and Cozy Music, the digital label, is the closest thing Rhode Island has to a godfather of the electronic scene.

Now 35, he grew up in North Kingstown in thrall of Depeche Mode and New Order. And after graduating from high school, he joined with a few partners to throw what may have been the city’s first full-scale rave — Michelangelo, named after a computer virus that surfaced in New Zealand in April 1991.

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Related: A bug in your ear, Practice makes precious, Photos: Deer Tick + Jenny Lewis at House of Blues, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Hip-Hop and Rap, Kokomo,  More more >
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