Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Revenge of the Star Wars Nerds

Larvae’s Empire Pays Homage to the Darkside


Matthew Jeanes huffs an emphatic “yes!” when asked if he’s a fan of Revenge of the Sith, the latest and final installment to George Lucas’ Star Wars saga. But as the gravity of his response takes hold he cautiously follows with a disclaimer: “There’s two ways to look at it. As someone who watches and thinks about a lot of cinema it has some obvious problems. But for someone who was in the theater when he was 5 years-old watching The Empire Strike Back it’s great!” he adds with childlike gusto.

It’s this guarded enthusiasm for Star Wars --and apprehension over its “problems” -- that serves as the force behind Larvae’s Empire 12” EP.

As the principle knob-twiddler behind the Atlanta-based dark-ambient/drum-and-bass outfit, Jeanes’ looming stature, bold features and catalogue of murky and foreboding beats could easily place him on the side of Darth Vader. But in person his pleasant demeanor and self-effacing tone are a far cry from the menacing Sith lords of Star Wars. “I know it’s kind of a geeky thing to do and I’m walking a fine line between looking like I’m cashing in on Star Wars and doing what I want to do,” he admits. “But this is my love letter to the Star Wars universe.”

Together with fellow programmer Chris Burnett and the group’s resident film maker Bryan Meng, the trio’s brand of bombastic post-industrial sights and sounds has landed Larvae on stages around the world. Performing with likeminded European artists, Scorn and Panacea and churning out remixes for Dälek and Enduser; while issuing recordings on the Berlin-based Ad Noiseam Records, Larvae has bored into the global electronic music community. But for this outing, Jeanes went it alone. “Chris is kind of into Star Wars and Bryan could take it or leave it, so this was sort of my own effort,” Jeanes adds.

The group’s 2003 Monster Music debut EP was a half-joking and loosely conceptual recording built around themes of Godzilla, or as Jeanes describes, “guys in big rubber suits stomping on a city.” With Empire he wanted to move in a similar direction by creating heavy-handed soundscapes that maintain a vast and brooding sensibility, but are also embedded with a sense of humor. Finding balance between creating a schmaltzy Star Wars-themed record and crafting something that can stand on its own merits was the challenge.

Beyond the title track, any and all overt Star Wars references are kept to a minimum. “Empire” is littered with samples from The Empire Strikes Back's film score interwoven with video game and read-along-with-the record sound bytes. The rest of the songs are inspired by Star Wars, but aren’t based on any concrete links to the films or its franchises.

Later numbers, like “Solo Shoots First” and “Hayden’s Ghost” find Jeanes’ feeling the power of the darkside over Lucas’ additions to the original trilogy as a lattice of massive beats, bass swells and digital skronks unfurl.

The record was officially released on May 19th, the same day Revenge of the Sith hit theaters in the U.S. Since January Larvae’s website has hosted a Star Wars blog site used to promote the record’s impending arrival. The Atlanta record release party takes place at Lenny’s on Monday, June 13 as part of the Kirkwood Ballers Club open mic. night. Around midnight Larvae will play a 45-minute set amidst the usual 10-minute rounds of experimental jazz, noise, punk and indie rock.

Though there’s no word from the Lucas camp yet, without licensing the samples from Star Wars that are used throughout the record, receiving a Cease and Desist order is a definite possibility, but is somewhat unlikely.

“On the scale we’re working, the money it would take to pay a law firm to pursue this would cost way more than they could ever make off of the small run of 12”s we have,” Jeanes says. “But it is, without a doubt, infringing upon some copyrights.”

Let's just say he hopes to avoid any imperial entanglements.

Originally published by Creative Loafing, Atlanta (06/08/05).