or Beta: Lighting Up the Night
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: Dec. 8, 2004
VHS or Beta
w/Statistics, Race for Titles, and New Roman Times
Dec. 11, 9 p.m.
13th & Martha
The guys in the past-meets-present
dance-rock band VHS or Beta really only have one goal in mind with
their live show: to get you dancing. But if you don't wanna, that's
"We're not going to be mad if you're not dancing," said
guitarist Craig Pfunder from a van somewhere south of Jackson, Mississippi,
en route to the band's next gig. "We like it when they do,
but we know not all audiences are filled with the dancing type."
Night on Fire, the band's recently released debut on Astralwerks,
is an homage of sorts to '80s fashion dance bands like Duran Duran
and The Cure, combining elements of club music with edgy, full-throttle
rock, complete with gleaming guitar licks. Unlike the slick, black-plastic
post-punk dance sound of acts like The Rapture or Radio 4, VHS or
Beta is dedicated to the traditional song structures of the bands
you grew up bouncing to, that is if you're in your late 30s. Forget
the usual eight minutes of droning synth jams, here's a mighty chorus
or sexy guitar solo instead.
"Some of the kids who hear us may think we're not post-punk
enough," Pfunder said. "We don't have those classic Gang
of Four riffs."
It wasn't always disco beats for these
four Louisville, Kentucky, natives. They started out in 1997 as
a noise-punk act that bowed down to bands like Sonic Youth and My
Bloody Valentine. But they quickly left behind the noise for the
thud-thud-thud of disco, self-releasing their 2002 debut, Le
Funk, an homage to mid-'90s French dance music influenced by
electronic acts like Daft Punk and Dimitri From Paris. "That
record is probably more relevant now than it was when it was released,"
After Le Funk, the dance fiends at Astralwerks (Chemical
Brothers, Basement Jaxx, Fatboy Slim) took notice and signed the
band. Pfunder and company changed directions again for Night on
Fire, putting away the French stuff for the dance music they grew
"I still have a collection of 12-inches from the '80s -- drawn-out
dance mixes of songs by Madonna and Echo and the Bunnymen that were
created for DJs for the sole purpose of dancing," Pfunder said.
"Club music is a style that we all respect a lot. We're definitely
trying to blend that house mentality into our music."
Anyone over 30 will immediately recognize the obvious '80s dance
music references blended throughout Night on Fire -- from
Echo and the Bunnymen to Duran Duran -- and will go out of their
way to tell you so when they hear it. Ironically, a sizable portion
of VHS or Beta fans are probably too young to know what's going
on behind their backs.
of the kids who hear us may think we're not post-punk enough.
We don't have those classic Gang of Four riffs"
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learned about bands like The Velvet Underground and Wire by
listening to R.E.M. That's part of what any band does, and
"We didn't intend to introduce
kids to Duran Duran," Pfunder said. "We went on tour with
the Von Bondies and there were 14-year-olds getting dropped off
at the curb in mini-vans. We were used to playing in clubs and punk-rock
bars, and I was thinking there's no way that these kids will know
the majority of what we reference, whether it's acid house or Italian
disco or '80s New Wave."
But Pfunder doesn't mind introducing vintage styles to a whole
new generation of dancing youth. "I learned about bands like
The Velvet Underground and Wire by listening to R.E.M.," he
said. "That's part of what any band does, and it's cool."
Will VHS or Beta continue to mine dance styles on their next CD?
Pfunder says the band is wary of repeating itself.
"We were a noise rock band on our first record. The next was
rock meets house with a French approach to dance; and the last one
was the result of having grown up with rock," he said. "It's
important that we not repeat ourselves, but still maintain recognizable
themes. That's what I like about bands with longevity -- it's interesting
to hear their early stuff and see how they've changed. Our next
CD will sound different, but when you hear it, you'll still say.
'That's VHS or Beta.'"
Published in The Omaha Reader Dec, 8, 2004.
Copyright © 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.