It was one of those November Reykjavik nights that makes you want to crank up the heat, crawl into a fetal position, cover yourself with a comforter, and hide inside until morning. Pitch dark outside, the temperature hovering around 40 degrees, the wind blowing like a pissed off banshee, and the rain… god the rain… drops the size of nickels coming at you from 45 degree angles and soaking your pants before you can even make sure the apartment door closed behind you. It was the kind of night where you always tried to keep your back to the wind no matter what direction you were walking purely out of an instinct to at least keep your face dry. Unfortunately the north Atlantic winds are shifty and no matter which way you turned, it was the wrong one. But we were on a mission. And while we arrived at our final destination Dillon four blocks later completely soaked, we were there in time to get a beer, go to the upstairs room, and see Revenge of Calculon.
Revenge of Calculon is hard to describe but I’ll give it a shot. Take doses of Detroit techno and James Brown and Godzilla and Logan’s Run and cheap scotch and Thin Lizzy and ham radio frequencies and robots that can shoot laser beams out of their eyes and Sun Ra and Parliament Funkadelic, mix it all up in a blender, shock it a few times with a car battery, then serve it in a tumbler with a light coating of crystal meth on the rim. Drink while wearing track suits and luchador masks.
Even the rain couldn’t stop Revenge of Calculon from extracting its pound of ear flesh from the audience. You see, the roof at Dillon leaks a bit, anvil-sized drops of water falling seemingly at random, sometimes onto the floor, sometimes into your $10 beer, and once right smack-dab onto Sonic Abuser’s magical electro-board, shorting it out and stopping the sound with the suddenness of a stolen car hitting a brick wall. But a quick un-plug-re-plug and they were back in business, picking up as if nothing at all had happened. Fuck you, Reykjavik winter. Revenge of Calculon has a show to do.
What Revenge of Calculon looks like
What Revenge of Calculon FEELS like
I was excited to hear that the duo had a new 7″ coming out this year, then doubly so when I found out they’d be releasing a pair of singles at the same time. So I reached out to Rob, a.k.a. Sonic Abuser (the other half of Revenge of Calculon is bassist JC9000) to get the low-down.
Revenge of Calculon is dropping a pair of brand new filthy 7” singles at the same time. Why did you you guys decide to give us the double dose of funk at once?
We’re not into LPs or 12”s so when we realised we had too many tracks to fit on a 7” it was an obvious choice to make. I kinda like the idea of bringing out a double (mainly because hardly anyone does it, so it makes us look cool), and it’s interesting to match up the two singles to compliment each other in style rather than just two stand alone 7”s.
For “Sci-Funk” we went down with the P-funk vibe of constant driving groove with a classic vocoder riff going on and this track pairs up nicely with “Juicy Lucha” which is on the B-side of the other 7”. “Electric Soup” is slightly more stand alone because it’s our second collaboration with our hip-hop hippie rapper Motormouf. It’s probably the first time we’ve come anywhere near to what you’d call a ‘song’ rather than just pure funkatronics. I seem to remember watching a lot of old cop shows and reading about the legend of ‘electric soup’ which was the nickname given to an illegal booze drank in Scotland in the early 1900s. “hey, that’s a grand idea for a song”.
What are the inspirations that drive Revenge of Calculon? I assume the go beyond musical…
Now your talking! To be honest, me and bassist JC had just come out of another musical project and wanted to have a complete break from the whole ‘band’ thing, so I was just messing around with ideas for an imaginary band. The visual concept and whole mythology behind the masked duo definitely came first, the music just morphed out of it. Musical inspirations are whatever has been mashed up in the back of my brain over the years, some on a production level and others that are more visceral. I guess if I had to throw down a bunch of influences it be Frank Zappa, Beatsie Boys, Sly and the Family Stone, Primus, Public Enemy along with more soundtrack-based stuff like Bebe & Louis Barron, Bob Crewe, Lalo Schifrin and Wendy Carlos. Big fan of Delia Derbyshire who was a pioneer of electronic music working for the BBC Radiophonic workshop in the 1960s.
The video for “Electric Soup” is amazing. I believe you reached out to some of your friends and fans and asked them to send in video clips of nighttime driving in their cities, right? How was the response? What cities do we see in the background?
Yeah, we really got lucky with our mates on that one. We wanted to act like players for the shoot, so what could be better than driving a big assed white Cadillac around, right? But lets face it, UK streets don’t quite make the grade for a 70’s copshow style video. We didn’t want to go down the green screen CGI route because it had to look very obviously fake to give it that Starsky and Hutch/Kojak vibe. So we went back to using traditional projectors live on set.
Our director checked out a load of stock footage from all the 70’s shows and it was gonna be either New York or San Francisco, but it turns out that 1970’s stock footage is insanely expensive to licence so we had to come up with another plan. Hang on, we have a bunch of mates living in these towns and they have camera phones right? So we reached out to a few people and in the end we got our mates Marssy and Lyman who live in San Francisco to do some drive-bys. Would have loved to have been there to see Marssy hanging out of the door of a moving car trying to shoot footage of liquor stores and strip joints!
The two records have a similar overall style, but each have their own flavor. What differentiates the two in your mind?
I guess the obvious difference would be that “Electric Soup” features legendary rapper Motormouf laying down riffs about dealing illegal alcohol and “Sci-Funk” is more of a dance floor funk thing. The “Sci-Funk” 7” is actually a double A-side with the track “Lightning Bugs” which is by a band called Honey In The Swamp. Turns out they’re actually just some weird old dude with a bunch of crappy guitars and drums who got bored of producing electro-funk.
What are you listening to and getting inspiration from right now? Who are some of the new artists you’re into?
There’s so much tasty music around at the moment, I reckon everything I listen to influences me in some way. Really into BCUC’s LP Emakhosini at the moment, Icelandic duo Kiasmos are always a fave and I’ve been rediscovering King Tubby.
I picked up a couple of singles (and a luchador mask – true story) from the guys at that Dillon show, and later ordered the other two from their web store. And man let me tell you, it is some filthy funky stuff. So when my copies of “Sci-Funk” and “Electric Soup” arrived I wasted no time getting them onto the turntable.
“Sci-Funk” / “Lightning Bugs”
As Rob mentioned, this is a split release with Honey In the Swamp. The Calculon track is called “Sci-Funk”, a jam that conjures up image of Battlestar Galactica cylons (not the new smooth ones; the old-school blocky monsters from the original series that looked metal pyramids on top of legs wearing rubber pants) dancing on Soul Train, all smooth low end and angular high end, their red-dot eyes kind of fuzzed out from drinking too much anti-freeze and staying awake for three days conquering the universe. It’s groovy. It’s sleazy. It’s good for your soul and bad for your liver. “Lightning Bugs” is more a lo-fi Americana experience, the guitar work and grooves and coffee-can-mic vocals still giving it a similar feel to “Sci-Funk” but coming at you from a completely different angle, one down on the bayou with dangerous crawling things all around. Two disparate performers on one 7″, but they still fit together in a curious way – if you’d told me that “Lightning Bugs” was a Calculon track I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Pressed on blue vinyl.
“Electric Soup” / “Juicy Lucha”
“Electric Soup” is, quite frankly, the jam. Let me clarify with capital letters. The. Jam. It’s one of the best two or three new songs I’ve heard all year. Calculon’s brand of electro-funk acts as the base for Motormouf’s rap, a song about consuming and being consumed by the concoction known as electric soup (…mixing milk with cheap speed…), which sounds like it will both keep you up for a week straight and likely result in you waking up in a basement with no pants on, wearing a luchador mask, and surrounded by the remnants of burned candles and chicken blood. And the video? The video! Check it out below and prepare to play it about a half dozen times straight as you get your funk on (and check out JC9000’s smooth moves!). The B side, “Juicy Lucha”, is like the soundtrack to a 70s blaxploitation film about a cop with a hard edge who protects his old neighborhood, all strutting polyester funk with a hint of danger, the synths putting a bounce in his step as his eagle-eyes scope out the streets like a predator. Pressed on orange vinyl.
You can find these gems, as well as Revenge of Calculon’s other four 7″ records, over at their online shop HERE. At £5 each you should definitely pick up at least a couple, because if you’re going to have a package sent from the UK adding an extra 7″ or two isn’t going to increase the postage. I believe they’ll be at Iceland Airwaves again this year, so you might be able to grab some copies then as well. And make sure to look for me at their shows… I’ll be packing my luchador mask, so I should be easy to spot in the crowd…