At the risk of sounding like James Murphy, I was there. All the elements were in place; party-starting jams that worship at the altar of Shaun Ryder and Kraftwerk, singer with an authentic British accent, over-the-top stage antics, perfectly themed costumes, & a live baby on the drum kit. After months quietly wrecking intimate gatherings for vegan bike messengers, this mysteriously exciting new duo set its sights on warmer shores. Mara, our den mother, & her team of gorgeous ladies play hostess to the most legendary get-togethers in town (read: hot gals, huge manicured gardens, shrimp boils, DIY mojito & mint julep bar, 2 Porto potties, etc.) As the sun set on an afternoon of pedestrian neo-folk, Judi Chicago take the stage and never let go. A dance party erupts into a sweaty mob of shaking tambourines as our heroes are still getting into character: karate suits, a kimono, & a 2 year-old baby on drums! I caught up with Ben and Travis at The Local to talk about the past, present, and future of Atlanta’s new favorite sons. I still owe Travis a burger.
Ben Coleman, the voice of Judi Chicago, has an easy disarming charm that works in contrast to his vicious English wit. Try to imagine a tougher, straighter Morrissey. Recalling the early days, “I met Travis while I was waiting for my green card. I couldn’t have a job and I was going insane sitting indoors day and night, and my wife had mentioned something about Travis wanting to do some electronic music with me. He hosted an electronic show on Georgia Tech’s radio at the time and my wife was the GM. We both loved Faust, Can, and the early Chicago house scene.” Travis, the sonic architect & Richards to Coleman’s Jagger, remembers their noisier beginnings, “When we started it was all about circuit bent toys & gigs at the Eyedrum. We lit something on fire one time; that was fun.” From their humble origins they have refined the Judi Chicago sound template into a beautiful mess of kitchen sink samples, cheap pounding beat machines, skating rink jams, and absurdist fast food humor. It’s a twenty-car pile up with Beck, Kraftwerk, Happy Mondays, Faust, Mark E. Smith, ESG, Moroder, and Ronald McDonald being rushed to the ER.
As Atlanta’s unofficial house party band, they bear the responsibility of pulling off the craziest gigs without a safety net. Travis reasons, “House parties are so in your face and that’s what we’re all about: Getting in the audience and being right up on everybody. Being in the crowd, ya know, like hanging out.” Part of their mystique is the refusal to rely on standard methods, preferring instead to bring their own homemade sub-woofer box, known as The Doghouse, and making it the centerpiece of their stage set-up, where a lead singer or maybe a drummer would usually go. It leaves Ben free to swing like a monkey from your bookshelf or wrap himself in your mom’s drapes while busting out lyrical gems like, “Dope me up and take me dancing!” or “Let’s get bumper to bumper, beat me up & leave me in a dumpster!” This childlike wanderlust is what brings the energy of the house party to a club gig. When someone sings, “George Bush is a lizard,” while crawling the filthy floor at Lenny’s, it drives their point straight home (without the awkward goodnight kiss.) This spontaneous renegade behavior is so effortless it begs the question: What’s going through your head up there? “We’re trying to show everyone that the usual boundaries aren’t there,” Travis reckons. “I just hope that people aren’t self conscious. The stage exists because it holds up some speakers and our gear. We’re there in very little clothing. It’s supposed to be ridiculous and the point it to have fun.” “It’s the messy way that we operate. The whole idea of the group was always to vomit out data. Trying to push it to that point is quite exhausting, really; trying to give so much of your own energy to it so that some of it carries over into the crowd,” offers Ben. “It works really, really nicely when it does happen, whether it’s because everyone’s on free Colt 45 or because you’ve done it til you’re actually bleeding out of your legs. Once you’ve reached critical mass, it’s fantastic!”
Riding high off the heels of their highly anticipated debut, JUDI CHICAGO x 1,000,000, the group’s been making time opening up for the likes of Gravy Train, Bonde De Role, Black Moth Super Rainbow, as well as traveling to their namesake city for even bigger club parties. By all accounts, the Dance Party Magic/Chicago gigs were mental, opening the door for more choice party invites. The future looks bright for the duo including more traveling, a remix series, some wacky international gigs (Ben performing in the UK simultaneously with Travis in Atlanta?!), guest DJ spots, even plans for a Judi Chicago burger. Guys, what’s on a Judi Chicago burger? “Skyline chili, a spandex sausage, licorice all-sorts, and pubic hair.” I seem to have forgotten my wallet; next time the burgers are on me.
- ©2007 Adrian A. Barrera