Family Tree follows the various projects that splinter from a band or collaboration. Today, we explore the projects that led up to Death From Above 1979 and the ones that kept them busy until their recent revival.
The turn of the last century saw an unprecedented outpouring of creativity from Toronto's music scene. After years of toiling in the underground, dozens of the city's musicians started finding success at both the national and international level. Broken Social Scene, Paper Bag Records and adopted favourites Constantines all helped lay the groundwork that would have many hailing the scene as one of the best in the world.
Hunkered down in the city's west end were Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger who, together as Death From Above (later appending the 1979 after threats of legal action from James Murphy's label, DFA) carved out their own raucous hybrid of punk, noise and dance. The band’s star burned bright, but after a single full-length album, 2004’s You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine on Last Gang Records, DFA 1979 called it quits in 2006. Now reunited, fans are hailing the return of the duo to active duty.
But Death From Above 1979 weren't created in a vacuum, and they haven't stopped making music the hiatus years. Keeler in particular already had a long musical resume when he met Grainger (the details of which the duo have purposely obfuscated for years). They both sprang from and helped build their own community of like-minded artists, bands and projects whose influence continues to resonate across genres. And they returned to that well in their post-DFA projects, some of which, by all reports, will continue now that the band is reunited. But let's get back to them after the sales numbers come in for The Physical World.
Jesse F. Keeler
Black Cat #13
Black Cat #13 was formed after former Standing 8 members Keeler and Robin Young teamed with Spiral Hill members Lindsay Gillard and Mark McLean. The quartet blended elements of noise rock, dance, electronics and punk into an abrasive wall of sound with Gillard screaming overtop. Keeler played drums. Perhaps due to their music’s confrontational nature the group never released a full-length. Rather their songs appeared on a smattering of singles and EPs released on a variety of labels including legendary San Diego noise label Three One G.
Formed by Keeler and Black Cat #13 keyboard player Young before that band’s demise, Femme Fatale continued the noisy abrasiveness of the group’s previous band but features more of the elements that would be emphasized in Death From Above, including slinky bass work and experimental audio samples. Femme Fatale recorded a pair of 12-inch EPs, including one for Ache Records, who would go on to release Death From Above’s debut EP, Heads Up (Ache Records head honcho, Andy Dixon also played guitar in the band’s touring incarnation). Their EP From The Abundance of the Heart, The Mouth Speaks was re-released by Last Gang in 2004.
When Black Cat #13 split, quite literally in half, the resulting two bands laid bare the contributions each member had brought to the group. Where Keeler and Young composed the rhythmic bottom end that held the band’s chaos together, Gillard and bass player McLean were the band’s untethered id. Let loose as The Sick Lipstick, the quartet bridged the gap between screamo and dance music. Perhaps their only true peers were Vancouver’s like-minded the Red Light Sting, whose Andy Dixon ran Ache Records. Nevertheless, the group rode the periphery of the early 2000s dance-punk wave and released one full-length, an EP, and a split with XBXRX.
Although he played in Spiral Hill and produced records Black Cat #13, The Sick Lipstick and Death From Above 1979, Al-P (a.k.a. Alex Puodziukas) hewed closer to the melodic side of the tracks when it came to his own material. The group, rounded out by Daniel Zabawa and David Regan blended indie rock with dance music back when such a notion was still somewhat novel. Their second and final full-length, Earlynorthamerican, was released on Upper Class Recordings, home to the similarly-minded Russian Futurists.
DFA 1979’s split must have been doubly painful for Grainger. Not only did the group break up, but his former bandmate ran away with their producer. As with Black Cat #13, the projects that emerged from Keeler and Grainger’s split saw each member emphasizing an aspect of DFA 1979’s sound. MSTRKRFT found Keeler and Al-P diving head first into dance and electronic music, creating robot rock heavily influenced by Daft Punk and electro house on a pair of full-lengths and dozens of remixes for acts as varied as Justice, Metric and Katy Perry. A new record is promised but no word yet on a street date.
The Rhythm Method
Although he played on at least one Femme Fatale record, Grainger’s pre-DFA 1979 activities went largely unnoticed (and un-recorded). He made up for lost time since the duo’s 2006 split. Along with contributing drums and/or vocals to recordings from artists like K-OS, Broken Social Scene (including this live performance on Letterman) and Fucked Up, he made a number of synth-pop influenced indie rock tracks as The Rhythm Method, eventually releasing a seven-inch and EP under the name.
Solo and with The Mountains
After the low-key Rhythm Method releases, Grainger had something of a coming out party in 2008, releasing his debut solo album, Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains, on Saddle Creek. Working with local musicians Leon Taheny, Nick Sewell and Metric’s James Shaw the album found Grainger in full-on indie rock mode. Last year’s Yours To Discover (credited to Grainger solo) embraced an even poppier sound that he'd later bring to his vocals in DFA’s Physical World.
After releasing his first solo album, Grainger retreated to the comfort of a collaborative project with Tangiers’ Josh Reichmann. Mixing indie, heavy garage rock and some electronic flourishes, Bat Tits’ lone EP, 2010’s Garbage Night on Hand Drawn Dracula, was as confounding as it was alluring. The band wisely changed their name to Deserts, but there seems to be no plan for the two musicians to re-team any time soon.