Exploring staged improvisation with Javelin

Ping-pong sounds
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  February 21, 2012

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In the spicy euphoria following a Valentine's Day dinner date last week (real-deal bibimbap), Javelin's Tom Van Buskirk and his date tried to hold their own in a Los Angeles Korean table-tennis club. For anyone familiar with the work of the recently bi-coastal Javelin (Van Buskirk is a new LA transplant while Javelin's other-half, George Langford, remains in Brooklyn), that kind of romantic evening makes perfect sense: super-fun, eclectic, and participatory. No gondolas please.

From the chirpy, disposable party-go-round of their 2010 Luaka Bop debut No Más to the old-world pictorial permutations of last year's Candy Canyon EP, the Providence-to-Brooklyn underground success of Javelin has been a story of bold fun made possible through cousins Van Buskirk and Langford's tremendous musical ESP. On a late-night phone call from his new home in Los Angeles, the charmingly goofy and upbeat Van Buskirk relays some brief family history of the globally geared musical collage artists whose sonic scraps include everything from Brazilian pop to R&B to indie pop and old Gene Autry records.

While Van Buskirk (30) and Langford (32) were coming of age as young musicians in separate branches of the family in separate parts of New England (Providence and Wellesley, respectively), they were simultaneously developing what would become the Javelin way — a non-standard, almost anti-songwriting technique whereby music is created not so much by scripting the parts of all the instruments and rehearsing them live, but more by sounds being patched together on tape with a combination of live instruments and sampled sources. It's a technique somewhere between hip-hop, dancehall, and the indie underground. In 2005 the two teamed up in Providence and put Javelin together in an effort to create, as Van Buskirk puts it, "a band that didn't exist."

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"Our inspiration came from dancehall DJs who would be producing records and then show up at a show with their own records or sometimes use the multi-track tapes," says Van Buskirk. "We sort of came to that process very naturally." Although Javelin's earliest tracks were available online, fans would have to come to shows to hear the versions with vocals. The band also wanted to dispel the kind of formal stand-around passivity that often characterizes audiences for experimental music. Shows would often include improvised vocals over pre-recorded tracks (currently Van Buskirk also plays bass and Langford plays electric drums) and noise-making hijinks such as boombox experiments that would keep the audience engaged and out of the dreaded arms-folded posture.

"Coming out of Providence, there were a lot of really brilliant musicians who were also artists," says Van Buskirk, citing outfits like Lucky Dragons and Lightning Bolt (not to mention one-time RISD student and Luaka Bop founder David Byrne) as critical in helping show Javelin both what was possible in terms of non-traditional live performance as well as the surprising accessibility of the avant-garde art scene. It might just be the lack of snobbishness they encountered that gave Javelin the courage to be occasionally silly — an edge that a lot of other experimental bands are sorely missing.

"It's almost like being a kid on a sleep-over," says Van Bursick. "You made something, and you wake up the next morning, and you say, 'Wow, we really made it to a strange place, and it's on record now!' "^

JAVELIN + AMIL BYLECKIE BAND + STEREO TELESCOPE | T. T. the Bear's Place, 10 Brookline St, Cambridge | February 23 @ 9:30 pm | $12 | 18+ | 617.492.0082 or ttthebears.com

  Topics: Music Features , T.T. The Bear's Place, Javelin, Javelin,  More more >
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