Wed July 21, Chop Suey, 9 pm, $8.
With his lanky frame, grad student glasses, and penchant for tweed jackets and scarves, Montrealer Dave Macklovitch could be mistaken for another indie rock boy who needs a hug and a nice warm meal. But in this case, looks are definitely deceiving--Macklovitch, true to his name, is a mack. He's one of Canada's best-known hiphop producers, a French literature grad student at NYC's Columbia University, and an impresario who, since 1997, has run rap label Audio Research with his younger brother, scratch champion A-Trak. In between all those things, Macklovitch found time to team up with high-school friend Pee Thug and form Chromeo, whose mission is to update Zapp & Roger-era funk, '80s freestyle, and '90s R&B for millennial dance floors.
Chromeo's debut, She's in Control, is an ode to girl problems that's set in a synthetic roller disco where Cameo deejays while a sea of ice-cream-colored hot pants skate by. It's a hard record not to love, with its sing-along lyrics, its feel-good funk bass lines, and Pee Thug making the most out of a gaggle of vintage vocal and synth effects. This is the anti-electroclash--it references the halcyon neon '80s of gummi bracelets and laser lights, rather than romancing a time of dark eyeliner and goth drama. And although She's in Control is a serious paean to groups like Timex Social Club and Hall & Oates, Chromeo would prefer that you not take the record so seriously.
"I got all the profound messages I need out of school," muses Macklovitch, on the phone from outside his Harlem apartment. "When it comes to [Chromeo], I just want to do some New Edition shit!"
Funny enough, it's not that easy to be the new New Edition in 2004.
"There's not a scene for our kind of music," Macklovitch explains. "We're one of the only bands doing this style, so every time it's a new challenge. You've got to convert the audience and make them understand what you do." Never was Chromeo's work more cut out for them than on opening dates for fellow Montreal band the Unicorns, whose psychedelic, Frank Zappa-esque rock quirks couldn't be further from Dave and Pee's steez. "That's that whole indie rock shit," explains Macklovitch. "I don't disrespect it--it's all good--but it's a little too highbrow, too artsy-fartsy. A lot of the people that do that music, they're real shy dudes. It's really geeky. It's cool, though, but we approach it more like rappers. I look the way I look, but aesthetically we approach it more like you're here to see a display of machismo."
And apparently, machismo is exactly what the rock kids need right now. "The indie rock crowds have been really good to us," he continues. "[Whenever we play a show, it feels like] they're discovering what dancing is and it's a revelation for them. I've been dancing since I was a kid. I was a wigger my whole time in high school so I had to learn that shit. I was like on some MC Serch shit, but for them it's brand new. And at the same time [our show] is more hype. When we get on it's not like [adopts sulky band-guy voice], 'Hello, we're the something something. This is a song 'cause life is death.' We'll get up there and our attitude is Funkmaster Flex style and they love it. And we love them because they're funky."
Of course, Macklovitch and Thug can act like they're macking on stage, but offstage and on record Chromeo's goofy, shy side is just as charming as their braggadocio. When I ask Macklovitch for crazy tour stories, he becomes surprisingly bashful. He tells me about his and Thug's posh hotel in London, where they roamed the halls in bathrobes and slippers looking for girls to talk to. I inquire whether he's getting a lot more groupie action and he demurs, stuttering, "Girls puzzle me very much." Seeking some salaciousness, I finally ask this chrome Romeo if he's ever had sex to his own music.
"No, I haven't," he laughs. "I wouldn't be able to concentrate. I'd be like, 'Oh, I like that part!' and then stop or something. I'm more of like a no-music dude, if you really want to know. Humans make great noises--we make good music ourselves, you know? You don't need a record."