Not familiar with the term outsider music?
Well, it's an acquired taste and an oddball genre made up of unlikely performers that include singing psychics, autistic children, certifiable karaoke maniacs, and fervent do-gooders with life lessons for dyslexics. In short it's full of artists who make you wonder how or why they ever got their hands on recording equipment in the first place.
At best, outsider music comes together like a bold Robert Rauschenberg composition, a clash of raw materials that somehow forms a discordant yet honest harmony. At worst, it's a tasteless, crude, and utterly pointless cultural car wreck. Yet obscure groups like Girls With Attitude and Atari are collecting legions of acolytes in small Internet communities. They could just bring pop music to a new low.
GWA's haunting and cultish "Nothing in My Dreams" is formulaic enough. The content of their lyrics is sufficiently empty-headed to impress any pop-minded fan. But the revolutionary factor that gives the group its progressive edge is a raw quality that is truly an affront to glossy high-tech production values. It sounds as if the only instrumentation on the track is a 1989 model of a Casio keyboard and a Mr. Microphone toy set. The song's beat is created through repetitive electronic farts laced with corny Tinkerbell chime accents. Meanwhile the voice of what sounds like a five-year-old girl on Quaaludes vacuously mumbles about empty dreams and lost thoughts.
"There is nothing in my dream that I can think of," she drones in overdubbed loops. "I was reading a fairy tale on my bed, when suddenly the bedroom door opened and there you were sitting on the bed, but there was nothing to think of in my dream."
There is something pedophilic about the song. It drips bargain-basement kiddie porn shot in front of warped wood-paneled walls. But considering America's fascination with teen goddesses/sex starlets à la Britney Spears, it's only a matter of time before well-known producers start experimenting with the more dangerous outsider sound.
In the meantime there's tag-team spastics Brian Hunker and Natalia Gorshenina, who host three hours of weird ditties on the University of Miami's student-run radio station, WVUM-FM (90.5). Their show, which is called The Outhouse, intersperses strange recordings from unknown acts with no real commercial outlet (Girls With Attitude) with overtly obnoxious arias (Chick Boyd's anthem "You Best Be Douching") and satirical sendups of popular hits (Y2KHAI's version of Eminem's "Stan," featuring a slurry-voiced and heavily accented Colombian guy reading a letter about herpes, marijuana, and pregnant ex-girlfriends over contemporary popster Dido's sampled vocalizations).
On a recent show late last fall, Gorshenina kicked things off, speaking in a lyrical Russian accent that made her sound like a spaced-out Björk. "You're listening to The Outhouse," she greeted listeners, many of them students cramming for finals. "Maybe the music we play will encourage you to do well." With the push of a button, she threw on a rousing and rambling tune. "It's a cow party!" a brisk voice hollered before the Bonanza theme took over. When the song was done she cued up a track from Mother Goose Songs for Jewish Children. As the music played she and Hunker sang along, breaking into guffaws and laughing at the corniness of it all.
"When we proposed the show [the station's program directors] thought we were going to play three hours of bad music," Hunker explained, not actually discounting that theory. "They were kind of worried." But during the fall the duo developed their on-air style and a flair for choosing only the best in bad music. They spiced up their audio goulash with historic speeches, National Geographic nature recordings, and Fifties instructional records that offered tips for properly applying makeup. An apocalyptic rant about UFOs, for example, is played over a Soviet-era military march. They admittedly don't do much planning for each Outhouse. Instead they come to the station armed with kitschy nuggets downloaded from Internet sites such as www.otisfodder.com.
"We search for stuff on our own," Gorshenina explained. "We don't know what each other has found."
"We used to go to MP3.com," Hunker added. "But the music was too mediocre -- we wanted something worse." As a result the pair surprise each other by slamming down campy recordings like "My Bathroom Is a Private Kind of Place" and then howling in the studio as the record plays.
By 11:00 p.m. the phones were ringing with Outhouse fans asking where they could find the music being played that night. Gorshenina happily gave them the names of artists and Websites. She and her partner said there is no dearth of material for future shows, since technology has enabled every warped sap with a karaoke machine to post his music online. "There is so much of this stuff out there," Hunker said in a foreboding tone. "I had no idea."