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Fantasy Land 

Blectum From Blechdom's fractured electronic universe comes back together -- with a little help from the Olsen twins

Wednesday, Feb 20 2002
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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 House to 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 Mallards and De Snaunted Haus -- plus a couple of new tunes. The songs from Snauses are 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.

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.

The pair initially joined forces by accident at a 1998 Halloween party at Mills, at which Erickson was scheduled to perform after Kelley. Instead, she synced her computerized sequences with Kelley's sampler sounds, and Blectum From Blechdom was born. (BFB recorded Snauses and Mallards the next day, but didn't release it until 2000.) There was never a formal discussion as to what the group would become, so the concept grew organically from the women's personal relationship.

"Blectum From Blechdom is a reflection of us as people," says Erickson. "There's a blurred line between where our creative process begins and where our friendship begins. That's probably why we get into lots of fights, but it also makes it a really powerful thing. Hanging out is part of Blectum From Blechdom."

Like any intense relationship, though, the BFB partnership has had its rough spots. In June 2001, the pair split acrimoniously, with neither member speaking to the other. "We needed a break," says Erickson. "We were best friends, spending all our time together and touring together, and we were totally dependent on each other for our well-being and success. But we were also hiding our emotions, and that led to deceit and disrespect. So we had to break free from each other -- it felt like breaking up with your girlfriend or something -- to hopefully come back healthier and be able to keep our heads together."

The women's different styles were also part of the friction in BFB. "Before we broke up, we were doing very different things and trying to fit them together," admits Erickson, whose first solo release as Kevin Blechdom, The Inside Story, came out on 3-inch CD last September. "It was getting to the point where we were almost alternating songs."

When a botched booking in December 2001 at a warehouse in Oakland paired the artists together instead of promoting Kelley's solo show, Kelley invited her former partner to perform with her again. Since then they've rekindled their creative partnership and friendship, while still concentrating on independent projects. Kelley's first solo album, Talon Slalom, due in March on Deluxe Records, is a lo-fi collage of chopped-up samples, echoing beats, and white noise. Erickson's second solo effort, a pop album called Bitches Without Britches that's partially inspired by Britney Spears, will be released this summer by Munich's Chicks on Speed. As a team, though, Erickson and Kelley are focusing on a very different pair of inseparable females: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

"We've been fixating on Mary-Kate and Ashley because they're trapped in their own world and we're kinda like that too," says Erickson. "They tell jokes to each other, make stuff up, and they're very exaggerated with their expressions. The way we communicate with each other is also very exaggerated."

A chance viewing of one of the Olsens' movies last year led to BFB's obsession with the twins' empire -- a hellaciously rosy world of films, cartoons, music videos, magazines, books, and lifestyle products. The twins' bizarre milieu led to an investigation of corporate girl-culture at large, including board games like Girl Talk and Dateline that are aimed at young females.

"Musically, I think our philosophy now is to take material from as many different places and processes at once," says Erickson. "We're trying to keep it overstimulating, packing way too much information into the shortest amount of time possible."

BFB promises that its upcoming show at the Bottom of the Hill will showcase the first melding of the Blechies and the Olsens, although the masterminds want to keep the exact details a secret. As for the future, Erickson says, Blechtum From Blechdom might even open up to include more creatures from the human world -- if it can find the right people. "My goal is to have a larger troupe," she says. "The kind of thing where Bevin and I find more people to spread the circle larger, so we all could focus on one project for six months and then take it on the road. Everyone would be working on their own characters, so it could all become a big musical rock opera. That's what I want to do -- just make one giant Blechdom."

What Is That Thing?

Blectum From Blechdom's world is made up of fantastical creatures and concepts. Here's a sampling of a few, as explained by the Blechies or taken from their online Blectionary at www.kevyb.com.

Bitchole

The one hole through which a snaus performs all of its functions -- breathing, eating, excreting, screwing, giving birth, throwing up, and sneezing.

Blectum From Blechdom

A combination of Kristin Erickson's old solo name, "Dr. Sphectum," and Bevin Kelley's nickname, Blevin.

Boob-a-que

A party where boobs are cooked on the grill.

Exterminators

While they claim to rid communities of dangerous snauses, exterminators are rumored to really be selling the critters to the snausage factory.

Mallard

A perverted ducklike bird often seen with a hard-on, known to capture snauses and experiment on them by mutating extra holes.

Snaunted

To be haunted by undead snauses.

Snaus

A small, black, rubbery rat with only one hole, found in toilets because it likes its food fresh, hunted for value in the snausage industry, known to bite human toes for reproductive purposes. "When someone gets bitten by a snaus, they get sweaty and sexually perverse. If you see someone who's acting out, not really being themselves, and doing weird stuff with their sex stuff, then they may have been bitten by a snaus and they're having delirium before the snaus babies are born," says Erickson.

Snausages

A dog treat made from snauses.

Spargle

The uncontrollable sounds emitted from a living creature when experiencing an intense lightness of being.

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz

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