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VHS 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.
Sokol Underground
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 OK, too.

"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," Pfunder said.

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 up with.

"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.







"Some of the kids who hear us may think we're not post-punk enough. We don't have those classic Gang of Four riffs"




"I learned about bands like The Velvet Underground and Wire by listening to R.E.M. That's part of what any band does, and it's cool."



"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.'"

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Published in The Omaha Reader Dec, 8, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.