Death From Above 1979 were, without a doubt, one of the best things to ever be exported from Canada. Their nasty electropunk heaviness was a welcome change in an era where lame FM radio rock and overproduced r&b ruled MuchMusic, where I had to go for most of my new music happenings. The rawness they somehow harnessed is one that’s exceedingly difficult to capture, and the energy bleeds through every track.
And they’re still doing interesting things, even after the group that made them famous has broken up. That was off of Grainger’s first release after DFA broke up–and yeah, it’s shockingly good. Even if the video is only shockingly THERE.
Death From Above formed in 2001 or 2002 and managed to release precisely 1 LP, 1 EP and 2 remix albums (1 LP and 1 EP) as well as a few singles before they broke up in 2006. Needless to say, that’s not a lot of content. Over the years, I’ve amassed just about all their product, across digital, disc and vinyl. I was even able to see them live, just once opening up for Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails at the ACC. Though the set was a little overwhelmed by the venue—a two-piece against the ACC and a crowd of thirsty people filing in, knowing they’re 2 still a long hours away from seeing Trent Reznor? Who do you think’s gonna win? I mean, that second opener slot at the ACC has to be one of the worst spots to ever get booked—anyway, that show remains one of the best bills I’ve ever seen.
I’ve actually run into the guys from DFA a few times downtown—the first time, memorably, I was actually wearing a Death From Above t-shirt walking down Queen Street when my friends and I noticed them having dinner with k-Os in front of the Horseshoe or Gorilla Monsoon or one of the others in that string of bars there by Spadina. I believe my exact words were, “Holy shit!” as I stopped dead in my tracks, and I distinctly remember one of them looking over, seeing the shirt, then shaking his head ruefully as if to say, “So. That’s the sort of idiot that likes what I do. What has this world come to?”
I realize that part probably only existed in my head, but needless to say, I was kind of heartbroken. I mean—
OH! I found a photo of me in the shirt. Here. Check it. Check the scrawniness.
As Luke Doucet says, “127 wet-dog pounds of skinny white boy love.” I’d be embarrassed if I was them too. Though I still wear that shirt.
Anyway, it’s really rare to find a band that continues to create interesting music once its component musicians are broken apart, but these guys have managed to do it. After calling it quits with DFA in ’06, Grainger put together a backing band called The Mountain and wrote a record that sounds like the song I put second from the top. It’s a really interesting record, layers of folk sensibilities under synth, heavy guitar and a very strong feeling that the listener has been transported back to the 1980’s… sort of like Neil Young from that same era, I guess. But, y’know, with a Burt Reynolds moustache.
Keeler, on the other hand, got together with the producer of You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, and started MSTRKRFT. And yes. They kick ass, too.
Death From Above broke up under somewhat acrimonious circumstances, with each member basically acknowledging they simply had nothing to say to the other, and hadn’t for years. That’s not shocking. What has been shocking has been the continued sort of underground interest in their work I’ve seen, and the somewhat recent reunion Keeler and Grainger are sharing with the rest of the world.
Normally the press is a lot more ADD than that. Anyway, the band reunited for a few shows, namely Coachella and SXSW–at, which, by the way, they caused a riot last week–and, as this is happening AS WE SPEAK, the music press is still somewhat agog. Hopefully it’ll turn into a real tour–two Canadian electropunk pioneers going cross country to bring dirt and dance to the masses–but I’d settle for a live DVD, I think.
The issue that we run into now is whether or not this reunion is simply a cash grab. When they weren’t together, the group was in no danger of being co-opted; their merch site was still active, but only barely, and really the only people to still listen to them were music nerds and Toronto punk musicians–but now, they’re back! Let’s rerelease the back catalogue, crank out some new merch, and sell, sell, sell!
Only time will tell, I guess. But there’s a part of me that believes that these guys are doing this for the right reasons: to bring their music back to people like me, who loved what they did the first time they heard it, and haven’t stopped loving it since. But I leave it up to them to prove me wrong. Here’s Grainger in an interview. You tell me.