Not since the heyday of Miami Vice has it been so cool to wear your '80s influences on the sleeve of your white sports jacket.
Ask any number of bands currently working the guitar/synth combo and they'll gladly pledge their allegiance to the United
States of Duran Duran. But before you sign up the members of Richmond's VCR for the next "I Love the '80s" panel,
let Chad Middleton set a few things straight.
"It's so easy for people to lump stuff together because they want to believe that they have a complete grasp on something.
But the truth is that it is so mixed and harder to explain then simply saying '80s," said the singer/keyboardist. "I
mean, yes, there is music from the '80s that inspired us. But I know that the dance influence also largely comes from a much
more modern dance aesthetic, like house music or drum-n-bass. '80s shit sounds lightweight to us when we want the new hard
stuff. Fuck the '80s!"
So, one can assume this band won't be offering to play retro night at the local indie dance club. The members of VCR,
who claim influences ranging from punk rock to classical composers, tend to shy away from attachments to any established scene,
often claiming to belong to any number of self-created genres. Most recently they've been using the term "adventure
funcore" to describe their combination of synth-driven melody and hardcore intensity. Said Chad, "It means that
we are willing to allow any and all influence in our sound, hence the 'adventure.' And we are in pursuit of having a good
time with our shows, hoping to play with a variety of bands and not be locked into really specific scenes. That is what 'fun'
is to us."
VCR began their pursuit of happiness in 2002 when Chad joined up with fellow Richmond denizens Mya Anitai and Christian
Newby. Originally a drum-n-keyboard project with both Chad and Christian on the sticks, the band existed as a trio for a
short while, but soon decided they wanted a bigger sound. After recruiting keyboardist Casey Tomlin and bassist Steve Smith,
along with moving Chad onto a keyboard as well, VCR began to take shape as a full on synth assault. Three keyboards, no guitars,
The band quickly began to earn a reputation in their hometown for dynamic -- and chaotic -- live performances. "Nowhere
has matched up to the Richmond shows yet," said Chad. "It's our home, so of course people go the most bonkers there."
And though we aren't quite talking a GWAR level of destruction, the band has been known to get the crowd a little messy.
"We throw anything cheap and funny. Cereal was an idea because it doesn't make a crucial mess. One time we went overboard
with glitter and confetti and had to pay for clean up. Still though, it's never stuff that can't be swept up. It's never things
like paint, or stuff on fire. If only we could do stuff like that."
Stuff like that might not have actually been all that far-fetched for some of the bills they've been on. Having played
alongside bands like Strike Anywhere and Municipal Waste, VCR has become well familiar with the punk scene. But how do the
punk kids react to the keyboard crew? Chad describes a mixed bag of experiences, "It depends on the vibe of the show
we play. Sometimes we have not fit in with certain hardcore bills, but we still aren't total wuss-dance or all shitty gimmicks.
We can throw down alright enough live to get some respect from the punks."
"For me personally, I loved going to DC almost every weekend for punk shows. Having access to that scene was the
best thing to happen to me in high school," adds the vocalist. "It allowed so much freedom, and that's what it
represents to me. Not a particular sound or look, but being able to like what you like and do what you want. Hopefully, [VCR]
inspires others to open their minds and not be so strict and desperate to rely on an exact, fundamental way of thinking. Variety
Though it is this side of the punk ethos Chad would like to maintain in his band, it's another punk tradition that VCR
has unfortunately encountered: police presence at shows. One such gig turned disastrous when tear gas was used to control
an unruly crowd. "We had already finished playing, but the Minor Threat cover band, Minor Treat, was going strong,"
Chad remembers. "That is until the police threw a tear gas fogger indoors. Those things are meant for outdoor use only.
Not only was the fogger used, but people got sprayed point blank in the face. Kids broke windows to get air and get out, since
there was only one narrow exit. It was an extreme event."
The band found a more relaxed environment when they traveled to Amsterdam to record the full-length follow-up to their self-titled
EP, currently available on SideOneDummy. Aside from recording, VCR played a few shows overseas, which despite not always
drawing the biggest crowds, Chad describes as "fun for one reason or another." With mixing and final revisions
yet to be done on the Amsterdam sessions, it will be some time before VCR's full-length is released. However, Chad hopes
to have another release in the meantime -- "a seven inch, a ten inch, a split. Something. That EP is two years old to
us, even if the world is really just hearing it now."
For the time being, Chad just hopes that the world hears something they like in VCR. Though he's aware of the multitude
of synth-driven bands at the moment, he'd like his band to avoid being viewed as jumping on a Spin-created bandwagon. "I
sometimes fear that when I see hip magazines putting tons of emphasis on bands with keyboards, claiming that it is the new
hot thing. But then I think about all of the garage-type guitar bands out there, and all the punk bands I've ever seen forever,
and I see that nothing is really that new or original. We are all doing the same thing essentially; it just depends on being
real about it. If you are trying to just straight up copy something, I think that people see through it. If you have the
right intentions though, you could stand apart from the pre-determined crap."
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