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More than a name : The Advent of Fartbarf

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Fartbarf performs Saturday at the Lopa Lopa vintage clothing store at 1409 Hermosa Ave., at 9 p.m.

Three freaky ape men donning orange NASA jumpsuits, singing in robotic voices and jamming intensely unique waves of sound on complex electronic equipment – this is what erupts from the stage during a Fartbarf experience.

Yes, they’re called Fartbarf. They wear grotesque ape masks and usually sport NASA jumpsuits with the occasional jet-pack, though they sometimes substitute heavy denim or white formal attire. Their stage looks like a Chia Pet of electronic equipment and wires, with drums. Similarly, to how Peter Frampton sang through the strings of his guitar when he asked if you felt like he did, they manipulate the sound of their voices through their keyboards to sound like robots. Fartbarf’s music might make you feel like you’re battling your way through an O.G. Nintendo videogame on acid, with help from Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog, who’s teamed up with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters to defeat you in a dance-off.

Somehow the whole experiment works, magically.

With their infectious presence and fun electro-dance-rock music, unsuspecting crowds have been hopelessly sucked in like The Millennium Falcon caught in The Death Star’s tractor beam. Music lovers of all walks find themselves seduced by the spectacle. Even those who initially aren’t into this type of music have run to join Fartbarf’s followers. Fartbarf is a social experiment in paradox. While they exude a refined intellectualism, they fume a drunken hilarity. Their music says we’re serious, their name says we don’t give a shit. While their songs are catchy, they push progressive sound to the limit.

Fartbarf’s Josh McLeod and Dan Burley, both Redondo Union High grads, were traveling throughout Northern California when the name came to them.

Josh explains: “We stopped in this little town and it smelled like, wow…it smelled like a fartbarf actually…it smelled terrible. We stopped for a bathroom break because that’s the only reason to stop in this crap-hole town…and there was a label [in the bathroom] from a label maker that some kid or someone had wrote fartbarf with. Many months later Dan and I started jamming and we needed a name for the collaboration, and Fartbarf was there.”

Their name may be funny (it most certainly is funny, many cannot hear it or say it without laughing, including the band members), maybe even downright offensive, but they’re no joke. They take their music seriously even if they don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re breaking unprecedented ground, producing a sound this area has not heard or seen before.

“Whenever you tell somebody that you’re in a band and they say ‘Oh wow, that’s awesome, what’s the name of the band?’ and you say Fartbarf, they’re like ‘What?’ They just get instantly turned off by it,” admits Dan.

“No one wants to put us on a marquee anywhere. We were supposed to play with E-40 and they wouldn’t play with us, just based on our name. I think it’s just people being weird and way too freakin’ PC these days. It’s definitely our biggest handicap. But we’re not changing the name.”

Even the hip hop scene is PC these days. They were supposed to open for E-40 at the Anaheim Grove and had actually prepared a dance troupe, but were cancelled last minute because of their name. Suzy’s in Hermosa Beach changed their name a couple of times for their marquee. “What’s weird to me is once people hear us and they’re talking about it, they’re almost more comfortable saying it than I am,” says Brian Brunac, the third member of the band.

Classical gas

What makes them so humorously classic is their willingness to perform anywhere and with anyone. Whether it’s a Brixton heavy metal show, pretentious bars, dive bars, shops off the beaten path, festivals, your backyard, or some little Vietnamese girl’s birthday party, Fartbarf is down to play. The first time I saw Fartbarf was at a backyard Halloween house party in Torrance. Their fun-spirited nature and energetic presence has helped their experimental sound reach a surprisingly diverse audience. They’ve been invited to perform in two music festivals in Scotland this summer. They blew the roof off of Ohio’s Devo-fest last year and have been asked to return for the DEVOtional 2010 this summer as well.

Fartbarf has also enjoyed airplay on KXLU, and most recently, they’ve received an artist endorsement deal through Tom Oberhiem and Oberhiem SEM’s. (Oberhiem is a synthesizer-building pioneer like Robert Moog).

“Getting shows without having an EP done is kind of a strange thing,” Josh says.

Brian adds, “Getting to Scotland without a record done is a strange thing.”

“Yeah, we screen our own shirts, and we have no music other than videos in local bars in Redondo Beach and we’re going to Scotland? I don’t know, there’s something weird going on,” Dan agrees.

Those who like them really get them, but those who don’t really don’t.

“There’s almost nothing that I like about Fartbarf,” says local musician Jason Flentye.

When asked if he wanted to go to a Fartbarf show, Dan G. of Manhattan Beach simply replied, “Not really.”

Laurel of Redondo Beach decides, “Umm, not a fan. I think it was interesting for one song, but I absolutely couldn’t stand to listen to them all night long.”

It’s difficult to describe what Fartbarf sounds like. Perhaps experimental-electro-progressive-pop-rock-dance-fusion? Their music is quickly pegged as being electronic, which by today’s standards implies computer generated music. Part of their appeal is that they are not a computer band at all. They use predominately analog equipment, live drums to layer over pre-made drum machine sequences, and a kaleidoscope of homemade pedals and devices.

“99 percent of electronic musicians today should be considered computer musicians,” says Fartbarf. “We are a group that consists of 66.6 percent analog synthesizers and 33.3 percent live drums. This leaves 0.1 percent mystery, and a multitude of genres, which are tangled together to create the sonic resolutions put forth by us.”

Fartbarf’s Josh McLeod and Dan Burley are Redondo High grads. Brian Brunac is from San Pedro

They are like photographers loading rolls of film, shooting photos, advancing the frames, unloading the film, processing the rolls, and manually manipulating the images in the darkroom.

Nerd bent

Their ridiculously long equipment list includes the Minimoog Voyager Synthesizer, Korg VC-10 Vocoder, Doepfer A-100 Modular Synthesizer System, Electro Harmonix Vocoder, circuit bent Speak & Math with Nintendo controller break out box, and custom built circuit bent Fartbarf signature effects pedals that turn incoming signals into a square wave with LFO. Yeah, like very many of us have any idea what on earth that’s all about. And will someone tell me what’s the deal with circuit bending?

“You take old kids toys or any sort of electronic thing that was made in the ‘90s or before, where the circuit boards are large and clunky, and you solder certain points and add switches and buttons and knobs, and you basically short circuit the toy to make it sound like a drunk robot,” Josh explains.

“I had no idea that was the aim,” chuckles Brian.

“That was the aim,” Josh insists.

Josh began nerding out on circuit bending 13 years ago, by accident. A failed attempt at repairing a broken Speak & Read resulted in the toy bleeping out weird sounds. Since those early days, the morbid science has taken leaps and bounds, manifesting a type of subculture, including circuit bending festivals. Josh was at the forefront of the modern circuit bending movement. He even gave one of his Speak & Spells to Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo.

“I don’t know if he ever used it on an album. He said that he was going to,” says Josh. “I circuit bent Brian’s old Casio…basically I just added a knob that controls the battery level and how much voltage is coming into it.”

Dan puts in, “So if you turn the battery voltage way down it makes it sound all weird and stupid, like it’s dying and it’s hurting.”

Sounding board
Applying such moribund effects to their equipment allows Fartbarf to push beyond the conventional uses of their instruments. With a lot of circuit bending in the studio and homemade circuit bent pedals and equipment used on stage, Fartbarf is able to create their own unique sound. They are masters of warping and manipulating their instruments to alter sounds without running them through a computer.

“This is one of our first bands that we’ve pursued, but not to get a record deal. It’s strictly done just to have a good time,” Josh says.

“Basically, Josh and I get drunk, we play music, and then make shit happen,” Dan continues.

A lot of people don’t like a lot of good music unless they’re told to. If KROQ, MTV, and Hollywood we’re telling us right now that Fartbarf is good, they’d already be huge — name and all.

Fartbarf will be performing at Lopa Lopa vintage store in Hermosa Beach at 9 p.m. on Saturday, and Kilkenny’s on Redondo Beach Pier May 30, before taking off to appear for the two music festivals in Scotland and the DEVOtional 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio.

To learn more about Fartbarf and to listen to their music, visit www.DirtyHippieRadio.com. To follow Fartbarf and become a Throng Member, go to www.myspace.com/fartbarf. ER


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2 Responses to More than a name : The Advent of Fartbarf

  1. rev. toth wilder May 29, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    This is a great article. I witnessed the FARTBARF show at DEVOtional in 2009, and I am going to see them again at DEVOtional this year. FARTBARF BLEW ME AWAY! FARTBARF IS AWESOME LIVE! I’m hoping they put out more recorded material, because I am/will always be, a FARTBARF fan.

  2. Jeff Vincent June 2, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Right on Rev. While we are all waiting for that EP to come out be sure to get your fill of Fartbarf on http://www.DirtyHippieRadio.com.
    -Rev. Jeff Vincent (yes I’m ordained)

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