So it’s been nearly a month since the opening of Union Transfer, Philadelphia’s “hottest” new “indie” mega-venue for bands that aren’t-quite-hipster-secrets but, aren’t-exactly-embarrassing-to-admit-you-like-to-a-cute-girl-reading-Vice-magazine… and I am yet to make my first trip to the venue. Yet, that will all change this Friday night. I could say “I was waiting for the perfect event to pop my Union Transfer cherry,” but that’s not exactly true. Honestly, it’s really more of an issue of nothing catching my fancy on a night when I’m not already booked. However, I am quite excited for my first trip to the venue… for a triple-bill of ALL-CAPS, abrasive electro androgyny… CSS, MEN, and EMA (I’m actually curious if the ALL-CAPS thing was intentional).
CSS are certainly the undisputed headliners of the evening. And why shouldn’t they be? I’ve been hailing them as “The Stooges as a dance band,” for years (I’m not sure that I’ve ever even been that complimentary to someone I was dating.) And EMA has certainly had the most buzz surrounding her in recent indie news. And why shouldn’t she? The former cult heroine of noise folk has transformed herself into… well, a cult heroine of anti-pop, for her stunning solo debut, Past Life Martyred Saints, which dropped earlier this year. But, it is MEN who I’m banking on being the highlight of the night.
In just four years (I guess I shouldn’t say just. Many of history’s greatest bands didn’t last nearly that long.) MEN have undergone monstrous transformations. The band began with JD Samson and Johanna Fateman after the demise of genius Underground Electro-Feminist Performance Artists, Le Tigre. When the two first hit the road, their fans were as unaware of what exactly MEN was as you can be of something and still be willing to pay money for it. For their earliest performances, the duo took to the stage, behind their laptops, donning shirts that proclaimed “MEN ARE DJS”… that was definitive. Jo then got pregnant and couldn’t tour, JD decided to combine MEN with her other project, Hirsute (which started as just some friends jamming), bringing Michael O’Neill and Ginger Brooks Takahashi into the mix. Since then, Takahashi has been replaced by Tami Hart (Who’s taken part in at least half a dozen amazing musical projects, most recently Making Friends. Check out what she had to say to me about the project back in June: http://blog.philthy.us/blog/?p=3499). I recently chatted to JD (As she was in a van driving through the mountains… which always seems to be the case… no, really… ask any music journalist.) about MEN’s relatively major transformation over a relatively short period of time and I was happy to hear that Jo is still involved in the process of MEN (in terms of production ideas and some writing), even if she can’t currently be in the band: “I mean, she has a salon and a kid,” JD says.
MEN are currently touring their debut LP, Talk About Body (which was released this February), although new music is in the works. “We are writing a new record,” JD tells me, before clarifying “Well, we’re writing a group of songs, but we’re not sure how we’re going to release that… I think that we might just do singles, since that seems to be the way things are going.” As far as MEN’s relationship with CSS, JD tells me that they’ve been pals for a while now and have hung out at festivals and remixed each other, although she tells me that she didn’t realize the full extent of their awesomeness until joining them on tour: “They’re really super punk rockers, which I didn’t really realize before this tour. It’s great to see that they’re so popular, while being so punk.”
Beyond her influence on the world of music, JD has had a tremendous impact on contemporary gender identities (possibly more so than any one individual of the past several decades). In her recent documentary, Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour (check out my review: http://blog.philthy.us/blog/?p=3428), Kerthy Fix documents the phenomena of JD’s gender performance. Johanna describes JD as “The secret Justin Timberlake of the band.” JD describes “The world kind of accepted this new image of female masculinity that they hadn’t really like talked about before.” “This shifting sexual object that JD was… She was lots of different things to lots of different people and it was endlessly fascinating,” Jo explains, to which JD replies (in the form of cutting together a doc) “Being desired by everyone has been a bit of a headfuck… Before I was in this band I just never considered myself to be very desirable.” When I ask JD about this, she’s surprisingly casual and unemotional (I couldn’t say the same about myself.) in manner: “I mean, literally, I think I was just being myself and I was in the right place at the right time… I wouldn’t say I really did anything. Kathleen and Jo invited me into the band and gave me a platform.”