Oh, the Inhumanity!
The Juan Maclean’s Robot-Rock
The Juan Maclean
w/DJ FITS, the Long Ranger, Daylight Basement
Chop Suey, Wed Aug 31, 9 pm, $10 adv, 21+.
The dirty little secret about red-hot label DFA Records is that it's populated with grumpy, semi-old men rather than the expected youthful, trucker-hatted hipsters. DFA honcho/LCD Soundsystem leader James Murphy is infamously irascible (and funny as hell, too), but his old buddy John Maclean (AKA the Juan Maclean) may have him beat in both categories.
Before he españoled his first name, Maclean pored his ample supply of bile into Six Finger Satellite, a Providence, Rhode Island, aggregate that foreshadowed much of the dance-oriented post-punk-saluting that's transpired this decade. Over five albums for Sub Pop from 1993–'98, 6FS laid down rough guitar riffage buttressed by stoically aggressive grooves—sort of the natural progression of bands like Chrome, DAF, and Big Black.
Following 6FS's late-'90s demise, Maclean entered a period of stunted creativity due to his worsening drug addiction. But with the fledgling DFA up and running, Maclean cleaned up enough to record some stunning 12-inch singles, including "By the Time I Get to Venus," a bold electro-disco strut for straight dudes; "I Robot," a percolating electro cruiser à la Harmonia; and Maclean's best track, the supple electro funk of "Less Than Human."
After a long gestation, Maclean's debut full-length, Less Than Human, finally surfaced in 2005. This critic found it less inspirational than the preceding singles; Maclean sounds more festive on the bulk of the disc's nine tracks, but perhaps higher dosages of crankiness would've added crucial friction. Maclean claims he made Less Than Human to function as an album "in the classic sense. It's an experience over time; no one track is meant to blow you over like 'By the Time I Get to Venus.' I always think of it as, 12s are like smoking crack: an immediate rush that takes over everything—you always know it's gonna be great when you put it on. Albums are like shooting cocaine on top of a nice heroin high: You get a slower rise to the top, maybe you have to keep doing it to get to where you know it could be amazing, you might have to work at it a bit."
I wonder if Maclean conceived Less Than Human with a utilitarian goal in mind? "The goal was to create an album," Maclean says, "as opposed to a collection of music containing one hit single that is available for download on iTunes, and a whole bunch of tracks that are nothing more than a waste of 1s and 0s. Also, for sex. I think in terms of sequencing, sex is the best template to follow. Start off with a minimal intro that eases you into it, let's you know something great is coming, build up in intensity for few tracks, drop a real burner three-quarters of the way through, and end with something you can listen to while pretending to cuddle."
But titling your album Less Than Human suggests a desire to remove or diminish "soul" or "emotion" from your music. Perhaps?
"It is not my intention to diminish or do away with completely the idea of soul," Maclean retorts. "In fact, it is the opposite—I have a belief system that is more expansive in terms of what 'soul' is. For example, I think there is soul in machines, machines that require energy. What is the human soul, or consciousness, actually made up of? Matter, energy? I contend that what makes up the human soul also makes up the mystery of machines. This is why I do not use software synthesizers; there is no energy."
There'll be plenty of energy generated for the Juan Maclean live experience. "We actually play the songs by hand, sing the songs with our mouths, all that," Maclean says. "The show can be pretty straight in terms of blasting the songs out in pretty much the way they are presented on the album. Or, if it's a dance-type crowd willing to swing the glow-sticks around, we launch into extended four-on-the-floor rave-ups during breakdowns in songs, taking the [music] up and down like a DJ set. Sometimes it is pure chaos. Whether that is appealing to you is of course dependent upon whether you think [acid-house innovators] Phuture crossed with [space-rock pioneers] Hawkwind sounds like something worth skipping the night's television for."