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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

An interview with JD Samson of Brooklyn-based band and art/performance collective MEN

Funky electonica/disco-rock for the socially and politically conscious

Written by Kat Phan


(Left: Michael O’Neill, centre: JD Samson, dosage right: Ginger Brooks Takahashi)

Take two-parts infectious electro-disco rock, capsule add an ounce of social politics, a splash of über cool haircuts, and a few generous handfuls of electrifying live performances and blend… è voila, you have MEN!

It’s not the first time we’ve featured MEN in Amelia’s Magazine but in case you missed our exclusive interview with the trio back in February, here’s a quick overview: MEN are a Brooklyn-based band and art/performance collective (by their own definition) focusing on the radical potential of dance music and the energy of live performance.

Formed in 2007 by the DJ/production/remix team of feminist electro-punk Le Tigre members, JD Samson and Johanna Fateman, and decidedly left-wing, the band deliver politically-motivated tunes, with an emphasis on issues ranging from wartime economies to the demand for liberties via hypnotic disco beats and creative, high energy stage shows.

With Le Tigre on hiatus, Samson and Fateman have teamed up with Michael O’Neill and Ginger Brooks Takahashi of Hirsute (a band of which Samson also fronts) to form the core of MEN, with Fateman taking on the role of writer, consultant and producer with artist Emily Roysdon.

Although the marriage of music and activism is no longer revelatory in today’s contempory music scene, what makes MEN worth checking out is that beyond the belligerent “rad image” and the “I ain’t nobody’s bitch” attitude, their tunes are pretty damn good and are likely to get you attempting robot moves on a beer-smeared dancefloor, even if the lyrical content may occasionally draw a few raised eyebrows (e.g. check out “Credit Card Babie$” where Samson exclaims “how expensive it is if you have a baby when you’re queer” over funky looped electronic intrumentals and slinky guitar riffs).

Having previously toured with the likes of the Gossip and Peaches, it is to no surprise that the fashionable threesome are being labelled as a “punk/disco/electoclash” band. In truth, their radio-friendly synth-driven sound makes them better placed next to New Young Pony Club, CSS and Ladytron in your record collection, which is certainly no crime at all in my book.  

Fresh from closing a set of UK tour dates, Amelia’s Magazine takes some time out to talk with JD Samson about MEN’s creative direction, the merging of diverse musical minds and how he’ll be spending the festive season…

You’ve just completed a set of tour dates in the UK - how did you find playing to a UK audience compared to a US one?
I’ve noticed over a long time with touring that the audiences change mostly city to city, or even venue to venue, instead of country by country. Some towns can be super responsive and engaged and freaking out, whereas in other places, some can seem a little depressed or inquisitive. We had a great tour with lots of great audiences that seemed to really care about what we are doing and feel very grateful to have experienced it. 

Your have been described as an act who ‘speaks to issues such as trans awareness, wartime economies, sexual compromise, and demanding liberties through lyrical content and an exciting stage show’ – was this always the creative angle you wanted to take as MEN or did this happen organically?
I think it is important to us not to adhere to any preconceived notions of what an electronic music band is. We don’t want to fit inside a box. We want to be fluid beings that move from one genre to another and one area of content to another. We want to be able to push ourselves out of a label and be able to discuss things that bewilder us with new adventures in music production. 

You all come from different backgrounds (JD Samson is from Le Tigre, Michael O’Neill is from Ladybug Transistor and Ginger Brooks Takahashi is from LTTR) – did you find it relatively easy to merge your musical styles?
We all have very different music styles actually and are psyched to be able to merge them together. We are constantly inspired by each other, making mix CDs for each other and drawing from so many different areas of music. 

Your live shows have been cited as one of your most enticing features as a band - how would you describe your shows to MEN gig virgins?
We go for it and give the crowd the energy so that they can give it back. It’s that exchange that pushes us through the set. 

What’s the most unusual gig you’ve played to date?
Hmm, well we played at a friend’s wedding at a poolside in the south of France. That was cool. 

What have been the most euphoric moments of being in the band so far?
Just getting our record finished and being able to tour without a press release or anything. Also realising how many rad fans we have. 

Which bands excite you at the moment and why?
Midnight Magic because I love her voice and I love disco. Kim Ann Foxman because she is rad, deeply cool, a friend and I love her. 

Who would you most like to collaborate with?
David Byrne and Joan Armatrading

Can you describe your new album (due for release in January 2011) in three words?
Body, money, power. 

How will MEN be spending their Christmas this year?
I can’t speak for the others but I will be in Australia with my girlfriend’s family. 

And finally, if there were a tagline for MEN, what would it be?
Humans can be whatever the fuck they want.

MEN’s debut album “Talk About Body” is released on IAMSOUND on Monday 31st January 2011.  

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