By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Tony Ware
By Emma Silvers
While Kristin Erickson and Bevin Kelley may live in Oakland, the pair's musical personas exist far from the reaches of the BART tracks. For the past four years, Erickson (Kevin Blechdom) and Kelley (Blevin Blectum) have inhabited a land usually reserved for psychics, psychotics, and siblings: the kingdom of the mind. But they don't live there alone. Their creatively constructed world, Blectum From Blechdom, is populated with toe-biting rubber rats ("snauses"), horny mallards, and fancy torture chambers. But six months ago the world of Blectum grew too small for Erickson and Kelley, and they dissolved their partnership, choosing to pursue new frontiers as solo artists. Now, the women have reunited, sealing their cracks with some very unlikely glue -- a fascination with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the blond twins who went from television's Full Houseto a Blectumlike fantasy empire of their own.
From its beginnings, Blectum From Blechdom's planet has revolved around the sounds and stories Erickson and Kelley created using PowerBooks, samplers, and effects pedals. The duo stacks sexually violent tales of snauses and mallards alongside gaseous blips and bleeps, sampled video-game jingles, toy squeals, jackhammer beats, and warped pop melodies, crafting tracks that hover on the fringes of the electronic avant-garde. "It took me awhile to get it, but it creeps up on you," says Drew Daniel from the local experimental-techno duo Matmos. "Everybody has a map of music, and Blectum is sort of a lost continent."
The band's most recent release, 2001's Haus de Snaus, is a collection of two earlier out-of-print EPs -- Snauses and Mallardsand De Snaunted Haus -- plus a couple of new tunes. The songs from Snausesare mostly exaggerated mechanical noises that sound like a Willy Wonka factory gone mad, with skipping robotic beats, frenzied computerized chimes, and underwater birdlike chirps. The occasional distorted animal cry hints at the outright eeriness of the second EP's tracks, which follow the story of a deranged mother and child's bloody fight with a mallard and a snaus. This is definitely not your typical nightclub-style electronica.
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Erickson calls BFB's music alternately "fucked-up electronic shit with some singing" and "rock-hop pop with some sampladelphonia," while Kelley uses Blectum-speak to label it "laptronic shplarghle."
"It came out of the dance clubs and rock clubs and art schools, and it's where they all meet," Erickson says of their new genre. "I like to call it pre-cool. It's the prequel to cool."
Matmos' Daniel claims there's a lot of lip service in the laptop set about not caring for standards of musicality or hipness. "It's sort of mandatory to say that's how you feel, but [BFB's] music really does exhibit that. It's probably the most "fuck it' music going right now. The funny thing with [Erickson and Kelley] is that technically they're very capable people. It's not like this is art brut made by people that don't know any better. And the fact that they're able to conceal or set aside how technically capable they really are is really smart."
While downing a slice of pizza at San Francisco's Atlas Cafe, the Blectum girls admit they have no patience for the pretensions of the overly polished electronic world. "We're anti-slick," says Erickson. "I think it's great if you play [our records] on a stereo, and it just blows the shit up."
Erickson admits that their unorthodox methods lead some critics to call them "sloppy." "We get that all the time," she shrugs, "but that's the risk we're willing to take." In fact, BFB is releasing an album in April called Fishin' in Front of People: The Early Years 1998-2000 that highlights only the band's mistakes from live shows. "We're accentuating our bad points," Erickson grins. "It's like, if you use wonderful foods to make your dishes, it's too easy. But if all the components are wrong, like if you try and make the best food you possibly can with the worst ingredients, and you really put your heart into it, will it taste good? It's more of a challenge."
It helps that there's often a humorous air to BFB's shows, whether it's performing live "operations" on snauses, discussing interspecies dating, or wearing what it calls "the musical fart" (a piece of stretchy material that connects the members' behinds). For its efforts, the duo has gained a large local following in the laptop and indie scenes, as well as one of three top prizes at the prestigious Ars Electronica award ceremony in Austria last year.
Erickson says she's surprised that a project that began for fun has received so much attention, but she also admits she's always been interested in pushing beyond music's constricting walls. The Florida-born 23-year-old was raised by a painter and an author of dirty greeting cards. As a kid, she took piano lessons and dreamed of writing musicals like George Gershwin, but as she got older, she became restless with the staid routines of her recitals. Realizing that many of her favorite avant-garde composers such as Pauline Oliveros and Steve Reich recorded at Oakland's Mills College, she enrolled at the prestigious school in 1997.
It was at Mills that Erickson met Kelley, a Sebastopol native who's seven years her senior and who went from studying violin at Oberlin College to doing graduate work in electronic music at Mills in 1998. Kelley grew up on the sound effects and stories of radio-plays and children's records, both of which continue to color her work.