Unless you're friends with puppets or you know the ice cream man, you won't find a more enjoyably inconsequential way to spend your Friday night this week than with Louisville, Kentucky's VHS or Beta, a quartet of disco survivalists determined to fill a darkening world with the brightest, most day-glo bonhomie possible. On its debut album, Le Funk, the group asks what Daft Punk would sound like if it really was punk: With cellophane guitars, rocksteady bass, and a real live drummer who wouldn't quit if you asked him to, it revs up a pounding glitterball of sound that packs whole weekends at Studio 54 into rock-fan-friendly morsels of abandon. The grooves are legitimate enough to convince you that Kentucky's gotten a bad rap, and the whole thing's done so guilelessly you'd swear the place had never heard of grad school. And yet like so many new-millennium disco fetishists, VHS or Beta did, once upon a time, fake the funk -- as a baby band in the late Nineties, it sought to deepen the route Louisville indie-rock bands had been creating between home and Chicago for years, playing a variation on the no-wave/post-rock formulation favorite sons Slint and Rodan invented.
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"We played like that for about a year and a half," guitarist Craig Pfunder explains, "but then we decided that too many bands sounded like that, so we opted to do something different. We all sort of fell in love with electronic music at the same time. But the thing was, we didn't really want to ditch our instruments, so we changed the mindset but kept the instruments and just approached it a little differently."
If you've heard a Slint or Rodan record, you might say a lot differently. Unlike the qualified pleasures of the slow build or the impressive arpeggio, Le Funk is an irrepressibly, almost improperly, joyous listen, as unconflicted about musical hedonism as any indie-identified band this side of the Replacements on a (really) drunk night. If VHS or Beta's tunes are ludicrously lightweight compositions, they're also a middle finger to the ironic guitar solo. Which could be trouble.
"We definitely lost a few of those indie-rock people when we changed," Pfunder admits. "But where we used to draw maybe 50 or 60 people to our shows, now we can get 800 or 1000 in Louisville." And that's a far-flung 800 to 1000. "It's all over the board," the guitarist says of the band's audience, "from indie-rock kids in black glasses to ravers to, you know, your average showgoers. It's kind of a weird scene, but it's very comforting to draw from different scenes; no one group is being represented to exclude anyone else." Not even those guys from around Monday morning's water cooler.
"You gotta understand, one of the only things there really is to do in Louisville is go out to nice restaurants," Pfunder laughs. "So one of the strangest things is when you're at dinner and this dude in a suit and tie walks up and goes, 'Great show, man.'"