Ben There, Done That

Ben Wa throws caution -- and its dub following -- to the wind with its new electro offering

The record starts with "Bad Robot," in which a vocodered voice admonishes a naughty electronic pet as sexy Dirty Mind-era Prince keyboards pulse seductively. The tune's sweaty overtones and wah-wahed guitar bits reappear throughout the album, adding a counterpoint of organicness to the computerized mix.

According to House, that contrast between natural and artificial -- between noises created by humans and those created by a machine -- plays an intentionally central role in Disciples of Retro-Tech.

"I'm interested in evolutionary psychology, the mechanism of what a human being is," he explains. "What its development is, and how it is we come to think and believe certain things -- the programming of the human machine."

Dr. Ware sets an empty beer bottle on the table. House looks over and laughs. "I mean we don't actually sit around and talk about things like that, but I think it's always something that's there. In a kitschy way, it comes through in our music."

While there is plenty of '80s kitsch on Disciples of Retro-Tech (check out the cartoonish synthesizer break on "Binary Mary" or the Kraftwerky computer melodies underneath "Krylon Warrior"), Ben Wa is too talented to opt for nostalgia's easy payoff. Some of the best songs on the album -- "Shrödinger's Cock," "Sinthesize," "Destroy All Lines" -- speed things up to a Chemical Brothers frenzy, using dynamics of build/climax/resolve that electro's pioneers never bothered with.

The variety of the styles, melodies, and beats -- from funk to house to hip hop -- sets Disciples of Retro-Tech apart from most of its one-trick competitors in the electronica world. For House, it's just a matter of keeping things interesting for the listeners. "What pleases one booty and keeps it rockin' till the break of dawn may leave another booty wandering lonely as a cloud. We wanted to make a record for the vast ecumenical booty masses, one which would bring divergent booty ideologies together."

The "anything goes" approach reflects the kind of omnivorous spirit that will likely keep the musicians on the periphery of the scene forever, which is fine by them. "Electronic music is one of the more staid genres I've ever tinkered around in," says House. "You go and hang out, and people are really serious about ... stuff. About what exactly, I'm not sure."

The genre's conservatism was something the group witnessed close up while attending the electronic music industry's annual Miami Winter Music Conference this year. Ben Wa had flown in to play a showcase, but the more time the act spent around the conference hotel and swimming pool, the less interest it had in the whole affair.

"They had these three idiot pundits up on the stage," House recalls, shifting agitatedly in his seat, "and people would come up and play their CDs on the soundboard. Pretty much hands down, they'd tell everybody who did anything original or slightly interesting that it wasn't commercial enough and that they should change the beat to be four on the floor! Nobody threw a single beer bottle at them!"

And with that, House pulls on his bottle and offers the last word from electronica's exhilaratingly unfashionable frontier. "I guess I was guilty too," he says, grinning. "I should have fucking pegged those fuckers."

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