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In Profile: RATATAT

Evan "E*Vax" Mast and Mike Stroud are RATATAT – the two-piece electronic and instrumental duo who are headlining the third edition of Magnetic Fields Festival.

There was a point in time - somewhere between LP3 and LP4 (we were a bit late to the game) when RATATAT would be playing in the background of every house party in our bigger cities. When India was still in that awkward crossover phase between cover bands and bedrooms producers/DJs, RATATAT’s sound came in like a heady gust of wind - a bridge that successfully communicated fresh, modern electronic and instrumental music better to audiences who still hankered for the comforting nostalgia of 60s and 70s classic rock.

Stroud and Mast met as students at Skidmore College, recording several songs under the name ‘Cherry’. They released their first single ‘Seventeen Years’ via Audio Dregs, subsequently touring with Interpol in the following year. They’ve released five studio albums since then, the most recent – ‘Magnifique’ - releasing earlier this year via XL to positive reviews.

They’ve consistently delivered their distinct (though regrettably nicknamed) ‘rocktronica’ sound album after album, performed live all over the world and kept their loyal following very happy. RATATAT generated more noise than any other acts at Magnetic Fields this year and we’re very proud to be bringing them down to India for the pre-party at The Humming Tree in Bangalore and the festival. We got in touch with Evan Mast during RATATAT’s North America and Europe tour for a little interview before they hit Rajasthan.

RATATAT’S Magnetic Fields trip will be their first to India, and Mast tells us that they’ve been eager to visit for a while – “I’m really excited. I’ve been wanting to come to India for a long time now. I am staying back for a week after the festival and plan to travel around a bit.”

In a 2009 interview with the AV club, the duo had stated that RATATAT came about of a common disinterest of lyrics – “Mike and I both made music back in high school with different bands. We would always leave the lyrics for the end, that part of the process was the most difficult for both of us. We never felt good about it and didn't really want to share the music if it had lyrics in them. It got to a point where we just decided to make instrumental music. It's definitely more interesting and it was a bigger leap for us.”

Apart from their original productions, RATATAT has also released two great remix volumes of hip-hop (Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Missy Elliott, 50 Cent's G Unit, a host of Wu alumni and Dizzee Rascal). But it isn’t a genre that one wouldn’t immediately associate with the duo – “We've always been a big fan of hip-hop. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at hip-hop production so it was a fun thing to do. We were like, let’s see what rap acapellas we can get a hold of and then make something new. The idea of producing rap records is really appealing, and I started building up new beats under the vocals. I loved the music and ended up producing this mixtape. I probably won't do it again.”

Their fifth studio album ‘Magnifique’ is named (slightly tongue in cheek) after an experience Evan had in France – “I was at a used bookstore in a flea market in France and picked up a book of panoramic photographs of the Alps, asked how much it was (it was really expensive), but instead of answering, the shop owner opened up this enormous panorama four pages long and said, “magnifique.” It was quite expensive but his "magnifique" sold me the album. So I just decided to call the album Magnifique.”

The album’s visual elements, largely created by Evan Mast, were a big part of the album’s identity. RATATAT considers the visual an integral part of the experience –
“I had made an electronic music record on my own and I had been to shows where this guy was playing off a laptop and it was so boring to watch because you couldn't really tell what he was doing. When we started playing together, we made it a priority to make the show a little bit more physical and as interesting to watch as possible. I watch a lot of movies, and go to a lot of art shows and live in New York. Influences are all over the place.”

Influences were scattered all over Brooklyn. Growing up within the music (and art) scene in New York shaped what they’ve become today - “We were surrounded by this music scene in New York which has been edgy with big bands like The Strokes, Ramones but stylistically I think we’ve always been very different from everybody else. We were making electronic music - we weren't a straightforward rock band. It's just easier to meet people in New York and that probably wouldn't have happened if we lived anywhere else.”

RATATAT is known for their extravagant live performances (check out their epic live show at Primavera in barcelona above), and while they enjoy the experience of playing live, nothing really beats the joy of being the studio - “It's a lot of fun to get feedback from people, particularly when they get a concept and really exciting and rewarding to see people react to your music at a show. But recording a new song is like the BEST. THING. EVER. (sic.)”

RATATAT tore The Humming Tree a new hold last night in Bangalore and are all set to play at Magnetic Fields Festival onSaturday evening (full lineup here). Follow the festival event for updates and RATATAT on Facebook for updates.

Image credit (main and thumb); Kyle Dean Reinford

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16 December 2015

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