The Lesser of Two Evils

Somewhere between twisted electronica and cacophonic noise lies the challenging work of J Lesser

On a recent European tour, electronica provocateur J Lesser experienced a phenomenon he's unaccustomed to: fans. "I've never had people at shows say, "I just bought your new record and it's good,'" remarks the San Francisco resident. "Usually it's more like, "Who the fuck are you?'" Lesser's recent CD on Matador Europe, Gearhound, has gotten attention from leading British music publications like The Wire (positive) and New Musical Express ("If they'd given me a good review, I would have had to hang it all up," Lesser jokes). Some reviewers have gone so far as to hail Gearhoundas a groundbreaking work on the cutting edge of electronica. Others have been less laudatory: The Stanford Daily called it "horrible" and "a detriment to humanity."

After sonically challenging both himself and his listeners for over a decade, Lesser finds the sudden surge of attention amusingly surreal. "I guess I just don't take myself all that seriously," chortles the man with the mustache during a recent interview at his Richmond District apartment. "I'm glad that people are listening to it, but I don't really see myself as being the kind of "band' that people become real fans of. It's too reflexive, and I'm sort of giving you shit for listening to the record in the first place."

Lesser crafts his heady tracks in his home studio -- a veritable electronic toy store of classic keyboards, vintage drum machines, CD players, homemade noisemakers, and Macintosh computers. While his instruments of choice often get him lumped into the techno scene, Lesser's music is more in line with such Bay Area experimentalists as Kid 606, Blectum From Blechdom, and Matmos (in which he sometimes performs). Refusing to put limits on his musical efforts, Lesser's skittering digital decompositions and absurd piss-takes have been described as post-electronica or avant-noise. You could also call them the unholy spawn of punk rock and drum 'n' bass.

Ross Van Horn
Ross Van Horn


Saturday, Feb. 24, at 9 p.m. Kid 606, Electric Company, Blectum From Blechdom, DJ Aneurysm, and Gold Chains open. Tickets are $6; call 621-9850.

Sample of J Lesser's "Soonerorlaterweallslipup," from the CD Gearhound. Click the "play" icon in the control console below.

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Lesser, aka J Döerck, got his musical start lurking around the San Diego rock scene, playing with future members of A Minor Forest, Crash Worship, and Thingy. He launched his solo recording project in 1990, taking a name that was a half-in-jest commentary on himself and his music. The first Lesser release was I Hate Me -- a claustrophobic cassette of morose indie-rock and experimental noise that came packaged with a razor blade and fake blotter acid. "It all started off because the band I was in broke up, so I just started recording stuff with a drum machine and a guitar," he says of the I Hate Meperiod. "I was really pushed into it because this whole relationship I was in exploded, and I had a lot of free time and a burgeoning alcohol problem. It provided a good release."

Soon, Lesser began foisting his peculiar brand of guerrilla noise onto crowds outside San Diego rock shows; he would set up a generator and start playing guitar and drum machine until he was chased away. "I enjoyed being the jackass who would piss off everyone with what I was playing," he recalls. "There was no way to be more punk in San Diego than to be playing electronic music. There was no way to play music that people hated more." Gradually he shifted away from rock composition. "I was just no longer interested in what I could do with a guitar," says the former metalhead. "I had a hunger for sounds that I hadn't really heard before."

Relocating to San Francisco in late 1994, Lesser continued to pursue his electronic interests while playing sporadically in Creeping Death, a Metallica cover band. "There's nothing like playing Gilman Street and [seeing] people doing stage dives," Lesser reminisces about the ad hoc group's ridiculously popular gigs. "I can't imagine any other band that I would play in eliciting a response close to that."

Meanwhile, Lesser was gaining notoriety with each of his releases on San Diego's Vinyl Communications label. The 1997 Lesser CD Welcome to the American Experience ruffled some feathers with its mail-order bride cover and the title of one track, "Markus Popp Can Kiss My Redneck Ass." Supposedly, the aforementioned German electronic musician remained pissed off enough to cancel his scheduled appearance with Lesser three years later. For his part, Lesser -- who says he has nothing but respect for Popp's work -- was looking forward to the show as a chance to explain the title. On an earlier European tour with Matmos, Lesser dined and traveled with Popp, but couldn't find the right moment to tell him it was all just a big goof on the hegemony of European electronica. "I wanted to say, "I'm the guy who did that song, and it has nothing to do with you.' But he's not the kind of guy you could just tell, "Hey, I was just joking! Ain't nuthin', it's cool.' He never figured it out, because I was just "J, the guy in Matmos.'"

Lesser -- who also spins records under the names LSR, 157, and DJ 40-Year-Old Woman, among others -- still carries the spirit of punk confrontation in his often-unpredictable solo performances. "I definitely vacillate between [thinking], "The audience is there for you to fuck with' and "I want people to like this; I want them to get into it.' Because I know I hate it when I go to see a band and someone's just trying to screw with me. Yet that's what I do. It's pretty hypocritical."

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