The Chips are not down, they are well and truly on course for shellsuit-and-silly-spectacle-clad world domination
It’s about a lot of things, but CMJ isn’t really about dancing. Over five nights across New York’s five boroughs, thousands of bands have gathered from all around the world to chase that elusive record contract, schmooze A&R men or, if all else fails, get drunk at any number of free parties. Most of them, though, seem to be worthy-but-dull American indie types in chequered shirts and faded denim that are probably great for pounding Coronas to, but who offer few opportunities to break loose and cut a rug.
Wherever you go at CMJ though, there’s one song that never fails to get a dancefloor heaving. It’s the record that the DJ at the Nylon Halloween bash pulled out to revive some of the party spirit yesterday after Faris from The Horrors was beaten up onstage: it’s a song by Hot Chip and it goes: “Over and over and over and over and over/Like a monkey with a miniature cymbal”.
It’s no surprise, then, that with a bona fide underground dance-pop smash on their hands, Hot Chip’s second date of a 15-stop US tour is such a hot ticket. Tonight’s gig at the eerie 1,000 capacity Victorian theatre Webster Hall (hung with fake cobwebs that look like they’ve actually been there for 125 years) sold out a month ago and ticketless punters mill around forlornly outside. Because, while Britain was relatively slow to realise what a special band the south London school friends are, Hot Chip were constantly touring the States, being remixed by DFA, playing at Lollapalooza, scaling Billboard’s electronic music chart and building up serious credit card bills raiding record shops for vintage disco and hip-hop vinyl. Their show at South By Southwest in April was one of that week’s industry buzz tips – although the band responded to the 500-metre queues outside the venue by playing shirtless with deadpan looks on their faces, their old keyboards (most of them salvaged from charity shops) lined up in a row at the front of the stage. They looked less like most industry buzz tips than a nudist Kraftwerk filing out their income tax returns.
Still, ridicule is clearly something that Hot Chip have never been scared of. Early gigs saw singer Alexis Taylor dressed in a silver shell suit singing pseudo hip-hop songs about driving around Putney with the top of his Peugeot down, listening to Yo La Tengo. Today Taylor has teamed fluoro-green Timmy Mallet specs and shoes that look like they’re made from dead Japanese cartoon characters. A reluctant frontman and a gentle soul, you can’t help wishing that more pop stars were like him.
But Hot Chip do anything but make things easy for themselves as opener ‘Keep Fallin’’, from their first album, is followed by supple new songs ‘Hold On’ and ‘Shake A Fist’. During the first number pulled from ‘The Warning’ – the sleek techno-gospel of ‘Boy From School’ the floor starts to shudder as New York’s assembled hipsters, initially appearing to be in the grip of a collective seizure, slowly begin to dance. Being joined onstage by LCD Soundsystem drummer Pat Mahoney and Dennis Young of early-’80s New York disco-punk legends Liquid Liquid means that at one time there are up to five percussionists pounding away, and it’s almost impossible not to be carried along with the waves of rhythm. New song ‘Graceland’ could be a lost rave classic, were it not for its Who-style powerchords, while the canny way that ‘Careful’ incorporates a brief snatch of New Order’s ‘Temptation’ almost causes a riot in the front row.
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And then, as a breakbeat maelstrom gives way to the song that everyone’s been waiting for – ‘Over And Over’ is now almost three years old, but the thrill hasn’t faded. It’s the most potent summation of Hot Chip’s humane, heartfelt electro-pop. All wonky harmonies and primary school orchestra percussion, it’s also totally irresistible. Hot Chip are taking America, one dancefloor at a time – and if they carry on like this they’ll be unstoppable.