By Kendah El-Ali; photo by Piper Ferguson on July 30, 2013
Sometimes the simplest plan is the most successful. More than 16 years ago, some young men from Sacramento dreamed of a simple future. Fueled by old friendships and a few hits of LSD, the idea was to make strange, high-energy dance music, using live instrumentation rather than machines. Five albums later, the once-novelty band called !!! (Chk Chk Chk) has managed to become a staple in the arts scene.
“We didn’t start playing this because it was trendy, we just played this way because it was what we wanted to do. At first it was like, ‘OK, great—there are more models backstage,’” says singer Nic Offer over a coffee in New York’s Bryant Park. “And then we figured it would taper off and we would be considered uncool, and that definitely happened, but we weathered that. Through all of it, though, this was our sound. We were just doing what we liked.”
Led by Offer’s charismatic stage presence—not to mention his ability to pogo around onstage for an entire set, nonstop—!!! are now more known for their sweaty dance parties than the curiosity of their moniker. And though the formula might seem strangely uncomplicated, it never fails to be not only fun but also a solid musical performance.
Caught in the tide of the dance-punk scene that evolved in the early 2000s, !!! were able to ride a fairly simple wave to success. Their first break came during a party at Miami’s Winter Music Conference in 2003. At first, the most compelling part of the act was Offer’s then-curly mop, as a sizeable chunk of performances that March sounded remarkably the same. But the game changed when a building alarm went off, and the band somehow managed to make it a part of their set.
“I remember someone opened the backdoor while we were on stage and it set off an alarm. We just thought it was a part of the jam and kept going with it,” says Offer.
The crowd went from drunk-and-dancing to thrashing in minutes. And in terms of “making it,” !!!’s experience following that show was similar. Everyone knew how to pronounce the band’s name afterwards.
“We were all, ‘Holy shit, we’re in Miami!’ at first,’” smiles Offer. “And I was in some fashion blog after that. And all our friends from back home in Sacramento were shocked. That was when our moment definitely began.”
!!! recently kicked off a tour to support their new release, THR!!!ER. The album brings heavy doses of what the band have always promised to deliver: good times, oodles of sweat and the occasional sonic curveball. “Slyd” sticks out as an odd disco gem, oozing with sexuality, while opener “Even When the Water’s Cold” almost sounds like a danceable folk song. A secret ingredient in the band’s success formula is this penchant for variety, which is no doubt sprung from Offer’s own inquisitive mind, not to mention his genuine, deep love for all types of music.
“Everything I do, though, every book I read, I hope that it just changes a little something inside me so I write a better song,” he says. “I’m good at music because I love it and I’m obsessed with it.
“Whenever I travel, I carry a transistor radio with me to see what’s happening. The radio recently led me on a journey in West Africa. I ended up in a studio in Sierra Leone, recording with these guys completely randomly by just following the music and asking them what was up. And next thing you know, I’m there.”
Behind this hyperactive front man, the group of friends from Sacramento will continue to dance on—through sirens, West Africa and beyond. F
Nic Offer picks 3 !!! RELEASES you should already own
Out Hud/!!! [split 12-inch]
We were pretty proud of this when it came out and I think it stands as a testament to where both bands were at that moment. I swear it was radical at the time. Indie bands didn’t use drum machines or a “disco” kick drum, but none of that matters if it doesn’t sound good now... And maybe the first half where I sing isn’t so hot, but when Justin turns the second half of the song into a disco dub mix, it gets pretty good. He did that in two takes and we all sat there and watched. Would’ve been longer if the tape hadn’t run out.
Our first album and made just before we left Sacramento for New York. Sometimes when I hear songs off this album, I’m mystified as to why there are, say, four verses and one chorus in a song, but whatever. We were trying to break all the rules.
If THR!!!ER is our “classic” album then the one that rivals it is definitely this one. They’re comparable, I suppose, in that they were probably the two records that were the funnest to make, and both times there was a real feeling in the band like we had something to prove. I’m sure there are those who will say this is better, but I like THR!!!ER more. But what do I know? Don’t the Rolling Stones always try to convince you the latest piece of shit is as good as Sticky Fingers?
This article is from FILTER Issue 52