Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
The last time I saw the dudes from avant-garde pop group Miike Snow, we were all crouched in the combo leaky basement/green room at the Mercury Lounge. The band had released their self-titled debut album and but were still playing regularly in masks so as to disguise their identities. I figured that because smartypants frontman Andrew Wyatt plus Swedish producers Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg were letting me see their actual faces I was about to find out who they really were, but I was wrong. Conversing with these guys involved Wyatt spouting provocative quips like, “Have you every had a really tart Valencia grape? The inventor of Kool Aid was probably from Valencia,” while the Swedes watched on with amusement. I left that interview more baffled by Miike Snow than I was before I met them, and I’ve been fascinated by them ever since.
“The vibe of the evening was like an electro Woodstock, a blend of free love and fluorescent noise.”
That was three years ago, and the band has transformed from an odd pairing of session musician, songwriter-for-hire and general New York rock scenester (Wyatt) with Britney Spears collaborators (as Bloodshy & Avant, Karlsson and Winnberg are the Grammy nominated producers behind “Toxic”) to a veritable musical force, commanding audiences in the thousands, and this week selling out three nights at Terminal 5. But they’re still weird. Watching the band direct a totally madcap, ecstatic rock show onstage last night was like seeing the Wizard of Oz not bother with the curtain — they’ve managed to evolve into a splashy, spectacle-producing electro rock act all while hiding their identities in plain sight.
Like recently risen power players of electro music Deadmau5 or Skrillex Miike Snow are more mascots for their music than purveyors of image, but their sound has a melancholic warmth that distinguishes them from other synthetic music artists. And their live show reflects that; the vibe of the evening was like an electro Woodstock, a blend of free love and fluorescent noise. Sweaty kids lost their shit in unison, vintage rave style, to the intricate throb of newer songs like “Devil’s Work” and “Paddling Out,” but it was the band’s first and biggest hit “Animal” that really defined the night. It also defines their unique sonic blend of anodyne electro professionalism with messy, human sentimentality. “Animal” sounds like the hippest of all techno slow jams but with lyrics that could have been culled from Veronica Sawyer’s diary in Heathers: “There was a time when my world was filled with darkness/ Then I stopped dreaming and now I’m supposed to fill it up with something.”
I’d spent the earlier part of the evening at a dinner with well-heeled grown-ups, but after Miike Snow were done with me I felt like I had been transformed into a sixteen-year-old version of myself, dizzy with an ecstasy contact high contracted simply from inhaling and exhaling for an hour in the presence of this band and their fans. As I stumbled out into the night air and prepared to enter the “Lord of the Flies” cab crab that always follows a T5 show, I noticed a little trail of neon green dots on the sidewalk. It was glow stick juice, lighting the path out of the Miike Snow realm and back to reality. “Are we really band members or just actors hired to play them?” Wyatt had rhetorically asked me when I brought up their obsession with anonymity. “You’ll never know.” I hope not.
Watch Miike Snow explain “Animal” below. Miike Snow play The Late Show With David Letterman tomorrow, April 27.