People like to dance. This is a simple coda and one that permeates all facets of music, from Hip Hop to Pop to Rock. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that Indie Rock, a musical tradition known primarily for shoegazing and head bobbing, would soon follow suit. Granted, there are a lot more black-rimmed glasses and cowboy shirts, but the idea remains the same — people can’t wait to hit the dancefloor and get their groove on.
Enter Passion Pit, the next in the line of Indie Rock party starters with synth-heavy grooves, crazy live shows and that one certain something to eschew them from the mainstream. In this case, lead singer and primary songwriter Michael Angelakos’ vocals are so over-the-top falsetto that Alvin and the Chipmunks would be jealous. Even with that grating voice ringing through the air, the songs from the band’s debut Chunk of Change EP are dangerously infectious. Their hit Internet single, “Sleepyhead” combines a slinky synthesizer line with a Kanye West-inspired sample and hand claps to create dance-floor heaven.
Chunk of Change was originally planned as nothing more than a Valentine’s Day gift for Angelakos’ then-girlfriend. When friends of Angelakos heard the recordings, they knew there was more potential in the songs. Recruiting a group of like-minded, music-loving friends, Angelakos formed the current lineup of Passion Pit to flesh out live performances of the new material. Now, a year and a half after their formation, the Boston-based quintet finds themselves in a whirlwind of international attention and anticipation. They have been dubbed a buzz band by Internet tastemakers such as Pitchfork and Stereogum, as well as a band to watch by Paste and Spin magazines. That is not to mention being a semi-finalist for British music magazine NME’s “Sound of 2009” award (past recipients include Keane, 50 Cent and fellow dance-floor sensation, Mika).
So, how is the band reacting to all of this newfound attention?
I had the opportunity to discuss this with samples/synth player Ayad Al Adhamy and his reaction was not unexpected.
“We’ve just been really surprised by it all,” he says. “We all enjoy making music, going out on the road, and having fun. We’re kind of dorky like that. The rest is kind of on the periphery and we really haven’t even noticed a whole lot of it.”
That is, until they had to.
“I grew up in London and have been on a school Visa (in the U.S.) up until this point,” Al Adhamy says.
“So it wasn’t until I started putting a work Visa together, compiling all of the stuff that’s been written about us, that we realized exactly what has been taking shape since September. Needless to say, we all had the same reaction: ‘Wow!’ ”
Passion Pit was tested for the first time in September at New York’s annual CMJ Festival, a breaking-out party of sorts. There, they played a grueling series of shows and were thrust, ready or not, onto the national music scene. MTV followed the band, creating a documentary of the CMJ Festival through the eyes of what they deemed “this year’s breakout act of CMJ.” Three months and countless press interviews later, the band is putting the final touches on their as-yet-unnamed debut album (due tentatively in May from Frenchkiss Records) and embarking on their first headlining national tour.
When asked how the album compared to their previously released work, Al Adhamy was hesitant.
“Mike (Angelakos) really recorded all of (Chunk of Change) by himself,” he says. “The full-length was written with the knowledge that a full band would be playing around him. It’s definitely still fun and energetic, it’s just a little more fleshed out than the EP.”
Speaking of fun and energetic, the Passion Pit live show has begun to take on a life of its own, according to Al Adhamy.
“We played a show on New Year’s Eve at Great Scott (in Boston),” he recalls, “and that was the first time that the audience actually got on stage with us, which was kind of crazy.”
It is not surprising that the audience would want to experience Passion Pit’s live performance in physical proximity to the band, as they are known to be sweaty and exhausted themselves after leaving the stage.
“It’s hard for us not to have energy when we’re performing, not only because of the nature of the music, but because we’re all hyperactive people,” Al Adhamy says. “And the more the crowd gets into it, the easier it is for us. We really feed off of that.”
If the size of the audiences they are playing to is any indication, the reverse is true as well. Passion Pit sold out their Bowery Ballroom date this February, weeks in advance, and is poised to take full control of the UK on their winter tour. These five young men are tapping into the beats and booties of many a music lover, and winning hearts and heads along the way.
People like to dance. And Passion Pit is bringing them to the floor.
PASSION PIT plays Northside Tavern Thursday. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.