Listen, Then Dance

Ratatat takes in global influences to create their own blend of electronic and rock

Some critics have written that the New York City duo Ratatat blurs the line between electronic music and rock. But member Evan Mast doesn't think there should even be a line to be blurred.

"Probably, if there is a line that separates the two styles of music, it comes from journalists and other people who tag it that way. Music in general is just a blob anyway, and whatever you create sort of comes from that," Mast said in a recent phone interview from the road.

"I would say we're not even straddling a line. There are elements of the two kinds of music in many of our songs, and in some, they are more rock or electronic, but it's all just music," said Mast, who plays keyboards and produces. His partner in crime is guitarist Mike Stroud.

Ratatat's latest tour will bring it back to Tucson to perform Saturday night, Sept. 13, at Club Congress, with opening act Panther.

On Ratatat's third CD, the recently released LP3, the duo has built on the meld of riffing guitars and luxurious keyboards present on its first two albums to incorporate a palette of culturally diverse sounds: rhythms and melodies from Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa.

The result is a well-rounded album of instrumental pop music that is rich and deeper than one might imagine, not unlike those groovy records Talking Heads made in the late 1970s and early '80s with producer Brian Eno.

But Mast is quick to point out that Ratatat is hardly striving to concoct a self-conscious vision of world music--they just play what they dig.

"I think that just comes from whatever we've been listening to lately," Mast said. "There's a lot of music out there that you wouldn't get exposed to if you didn't look for it, and we love to look for it. Whenever we are in different parts of the world, we listen to what is there, and we find inspiration in it."

In addition to playing in Japan, touring Australia and New Zealand twice, and gigging extensively in Western Europe, the pair also has played in some unlikely locations, such as Turkey, Estonia and Mexico, Mast said.

"I'd also like to see us play in places where bands like ours don't normally tour, such as India and parts of South America. We'll see."

Mast and Stroud both attended Skidmore College in the late 1990s, and they were acquainted with each other while in school, but they didn't begin playing music together until 2001.

"I knew he did music, and he knew I did, so we went home one night and made this really ridiculous dance song--it was basically a joke--but we were having fun with it and kept making tracks until eventually, they didn't seem that stupid anymore."

Ratatat wrote and recorded their 2004 debut album in Mast's Brooklyn apartment, all on Stroud's PowerBook. Their second album, Classics, was released in 2006.

The onomatopoeic name of the band originally derived, as you might guess, from the sound of a machine gun, but the music of Mast and Stroud is the last thing you'd associate with violence. They just happened to be listening to a lot of hip-hop music at the time they chose the name, and they liked the image of a scattershot musical assault.

"There are a bunch of Dr. Dre songs, and some by other rappers, where he uses the word 'ratatat' and sometimes that sound effect."

Mast said he and Stroud were influenced early on by the omnivorous nature of hip-hop to assimilate other forms of music and recombine them into new sounds. Ratatat's music no longer bears much resemblance to rap, though, especially because it features no vocals.

Hip-hop showed Mast and Stroud that there should be no boundaries to making music, neither technological nor cultural. He's less enthusiastic about hip-hop in 2008, however.

"In the past few years, what passes for hip-hop doesn't really teach us anything new, and there's nothing I can think of that is very groundbreaking. I guess the biggest hit was Kanye West playing against a Daft Punk hit from five years ago."

Far more interesting is LP3, with music that aims for the feet, the mind, the soul and the groin.

Asked if he'd rather people dance to Ratatat's music or listen intently to it, Mast said he'd like to have that cake and eat it, too.

"Why can't they do both at the same time? I guess I would prefer that for the first time, they listen intently, then the second time, they dance."

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