IN THE REALM of dance music with an electronic bent, a dexterous band that can channel the genre’s energy and aural acrobatics with live instrumentation has a rare gift. Lemonade, a Brooklyn-based trio, accomplishes this by melding an ever-shifting array of tropical beats and rave sensibilities with punk tactics into a smooth sound that’s packed clubs on both coasts.
Though Callan Clendenin, Alex Pasternak and Ben Steidel met in high school playing in scream-y San Francisco punk bands, they eventually transferred their efforts from the political angst of punk to complex musical experiments, uniting under the influences of Liquid Liquid’s post-disco, A Certain Ratio’s punk-funk and a load of dub reggae.
“Ben was the only other guy we knew who… was into dance music, and knew more about it than Alex and I did, and also knew experimental noise,” says singer Clendenin at the Williamsburg loft apartment that doubles as Pasternak’s home and Lemonade’s production studio. “That was what we were listening to simultaneously. He was literally the only other person in the Bay Area that was a musician that had those exact tastes at the exact same time. So it was fateful, I suppose.”
When the trio formed in 2005, the Bay Area was filled with harsh, moody No Wavecentric guitar bands, Clendenin explains, and Lemonade’s “rave-y elements” were not in line with that aesthetic.
“The total enemy of the punk scene and the hip sort of art scene was a rave or techno sound, especially in San Francisco,” he adds. “That was by far, at the time, the most taboo sound to use.”
But Lemonade’s ecstatic fusion of samples, tweaked synth noises, heavy bass and throbbing beats transcended boundaries, and soon the three were performing at events across the underground music scene, from world music nights to hipster dance parties to techno warehouse throwdowns.
Three successful years into what Steidel (Lemonade’s bassist) describes as an attempt to incorporate dance music into San Francisco’s noise scene, the group packed up and moved to New York. Lemonade released its exuberant self-titled debut last summer, and a slew of accolades, as well as remixes from Delorean and C.L.A.W.S., among others, ensued.
But while the record’s rapid-fire beats sound perfectly suited to a club, its follow-up, the forthcoming Pure Moods EP (due out Mar. 9), comes off like a rowdy street carnival, its tropical polyrhythms defining what
Lemonade calls its “Caribbean record.” Cheekily named after the series of ambient, world music-influenced “New Age” compilations released in the 1990s with tracks from Deep Forest and The Orb (both of which Lemonade readily admits are influences), the EP begins with “Banana Republic,” a bouncy, steel drum-punctuated anthem about living in a loft (much like Lemonade’s production studio) whose main portal to the outside world is a skylight.The first single from the EP, “Lifted,” follows, and it too is peppered with sweet steel drums intermingled with a sample of a girl’s echoing laughter and Clendenin’s warm, at times breathy, croon. The only steel drum-less song on the new EP, “Underwater Sonics,” includes drum and bass elements and tinges of chiptune (Clendenin references Sonic the Hedgehog as an inspiration for the track). Inspired by everything from Soca to R&B to Balearic beat, Lemonade defies easy categorization, which suits the band just fine, even though it means Lemonade has few comrades in its style of cross-pollination.
“We’re creating from so many different influences… it’s really hard to fit into some scene,” says Pasternak, the band’s percussionist. “People don’t recognize a lot of the places we’re getting our ideas from.”
Though they reference their compatriots in Tanlines and These Are Powers, two Brooklyn bands with post-punk tendencies and constantly morphing approaches to dance music, as sharing some of their musical interests, ultimately, the three prefer the open-endedness of a singular vision that they can reconfigure as the mood strikes them.
“Every time there’s any sort of scene that might make sense to be a part of, we kind of push.We don’t push the scene away, we just push away from that, because our influences keep changing,” Clendenin says. “We’re still doing exactly what we want, which just so happens to be not what people would expect from us.”
Feb. 18, Glasslands, 289 Kent Ave. (at S. 2nd St.), Brooklyn, 718-599-1450; 9, $10.