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Under the Influence of Ratatat

I was already a fan of Ratatat when I saw them perform at 1st Avenue (Minneapolis) in late September of 2008. However, seeing them live was hearing their music on a whole new level, and afterwards my interest in them increased tremendously. They created an electric aura that radiated to and mesmorized each member of the audience, giving them much more than they had expected to experience. These are observations of my account.

I will always remember the first time I heard a Ratatat song, as it transformed my regular day into an extraordinaire. Their techno tunes, so rich with signature electric beats, instantly grip a listener and become impossible to forget about until they are heard again. Ratatat’s ample vocabulary of melodies forms from well-crafted, expressive patterns of a synthesizer, guitar, and electric drums. The ways in which they utilize them are so eloquent and passionate that a listener can never get quite enough. Ratatat’s success, and essentially existence, is due to the members’ incredible ability to evoke all sorts of emotions, all without the presence of lyrics. With a hint of indie flavor, their sound truly improves techno’s reputation, inviting a new listener to explore other bands in the field as well.
If Ratatat’s recordings are beyond this world, then seeing a live performance is like experiencing a new dimension. Catching onto this notion, I knew I had to seize the opportunity to attend their concert held at First Avenue on September 19th. The two unfortunate opening bands lined up before them, E*Rock and Panther, were all but forgotten the moment they stepped off stage – impatience swept over the audience anxious to see Ratatat. The people streaming the floor were literally colorful; men and women of various races greatly differed in the way they dressed, but not according to their race. No one was afraid to make a statement about their individuality. All in all, the soon-to-be mob was a collection of indie hipsters, high school punks, intoxicated twenty-year olds, and some in-betweens.
A chant soon emerged among the crowd, “Ra-ta-tat!? Waiting out on the opening artists was somewhat unnerving seeing as they were barely tolerable, and the anticipation I felt made it difficult to enjoy another act. Had they performed without Ratatat, they may have received more attention. Although E*Rock happens to be the brother of a member of Ratatat, the gene to impress crowds did not carry on. Meanwhile, his act was a bit perplexing because he did very little other than dance around a lap-top, giving way to my speculation that the DJ-ing was pre-recorded. Panther’s performance raised even more questions – how did this duo make it to a techno concert? What were they trying to accomplish? The vocalist screamed nonsensical lyrics over prerecorded guitar riffs (there was no guitarist) to an accompanist drummer of respectable talent. Even though Panther lists Ratatat as an influence, I saw no obvious similarities. This punk was attempting to entertain the wrong crowd.
When the three young men of Ratatat finally strutted onstage, they appeared to be nothing more than a few grungy hipsters wearing v-neck t-shirts. Once the first chord was strummed, however, they instantly unified into a symphonic trio. The unfed hunger for what could only be described as orgasmic harmony was sated, provoking impulsive body movements (not necessarily to be classified as dance) in the concert-goers.
The accompanying rage which spawned from excitement immediately reached dangerous levels in the crowd. This viciousness immediately struck me as immensely brutal and nearly inhumane. Standing within twenty feet of the stage meant dooming oneself to be suffocated, to say the least. Fans in this vicinity unexpectedly transformed into barbarians who would stop at nothing to slide an inch closer to the stage. Discharging sweat oozed from every pore of their bodies as they jumped, danced, grinded, etc. The source of this energy - the music - radiated through the sardine-packed bodies, unable to handle their excited states. This scene looked spectacular to anyone located on the upper balcony and not bombarded by the violent effects of musical pleasure. Here was a less sweaty atmosphere filled with people who came to relax and simply sink it all in. I found myself able to relate to this niche a lot better. Meanwhile, heads bobbed in synchronization while hands swarmed above them on the floor below. The fact that everyone in that thick mass of individuals disregarded daily courtesies and lacked general consideration toward others testifies to Ratatat’s hypnotizing ability to place a listener completely inside their own mind, or possibly elsewhere as well.
It is a common misconception that the biggest of fans are always at the front during a concert. However, the ones who choose to enjoy the show from the balcony are no less faithful than the screaming fanatics down below. Ratatat followers come from different musical backgrounds, some of them more ‘chill’ than others. While there are plenty of hardcore electronica and techno listeners, plenty of others are indie-based. This is largely due to the fact that Ratatat’s music contains recurring themes from other genres of music. They keep programmed beats and electronic tones to a limit, leaving room for other instruments such as acoustic piano and percussion. However, it would be interesting to hear more organic sounds, perhaps a mandolin or a trombone? The extremes the melodies touch on (slow and melancholy vs. fast and ecstatic) even out to create a balance within the whole composition. Techno sometimes puts forth too much effort into one thing, resulting in an excess, calling to mind the saying that everything is best when kept in moderation. Ratatat’s exploitation of rap is proclaimed by two whole albums entitled Ratatat Remixes Vol. 1 and 2 that are dedicated to feeding rap the beats it really lacks. These faceted progressions obviously attract rap fans, who are in turn attracted to Ratatat’s other material.
Ratatat’s tendency to attract such a broad spectrum of listeners is due to the inevitable beauty of their melodies. Impulsive, grinding beats become infused with smooth guitar undertones that continuously trace and enforce the rhythm, keeping a listener interested despite the lack of lyrics. A song’s contour is always well-defined, structured and organized. It drives the listener to extreme emotions and urges, magnifies mood, and gives a sense of being in another state of mind.
This brings me to another notable point: a show with Ratatat needs no substance abuse. The power of any hallucinogen can easily be overridden by the band’s mesmerizing influence. Listeners are removed from day-to-day life and taken to a place of perfectly synthesized harmony, so intense and beautifully ornamented that it compels an audience to feel and listen to the needs of their body. Such a disconnected and bewitching frame of mind would only confuse an already intoxicated attendant and possibly result in a ghastly trip. What could best be described as A Wrinkle in Time-like experience is in itself an ambiguous portrayal of the world Ratatat creates. Time was forgotten, as was matter and the existence of most things in general. The show seemed to be one of those dreams that one receives during a night of deep sleep and wakes up what only feels like moments after having gone to bed. This dream was no fantasy, however. Everyone was devoted and ached for more, willing to worship, cheer, or anything else that would carry on this fantasy.
Each song was like a separate chapter of a story, or better yet, a new emotion the artists wished to evoke. It was their way of chronicling life and sharing it. Each member of the audience was free to interpret it in their own way and apply whatever they wanted to their accounts. “Loud Pipes? segued from slow, light fragments to dense and forceful phrases of enthusiasm, pausing in between so the listener can catch back up. Compelling and rigid, it was at the same time smooth and alleviating, like an internal struggle of self-control. Another favorite, “Seventeen Years,? was occupied by two separate ongoing melodies that harmonized in moments of spectacular bliss during the chorus, only to split up again. Its steady, enticing beat reminds us of the gratitude we feel when we are ecstatic (or maybe on ecstasy). “One? featured trills played on the piano that never ceased to tease the ears. A ‘conversation’ between these trills and synthesized swells emerged from time to time, resonating and echoing with each side’s rebuttal. The climactic “Lex? was an ongoing battle between crescendos that transitioned from impulsive tremors of anxiety to soothing bits of repose, eventually giving way to a conclusive medium.
With their inevitable talent, Ratatat’s live performance won over their strictest critics. Crowds love to see artists stray from recordings to exaggerate a specific part of a song, which is exactly what Ratatat did. Augmentation or a solo on an already highly acclaimed piece set off bursts of cheers. When eccentric, boppy music such as this is played live, encompassing one from all corners, the only thing left to do is indulge in oneself and dance the night away. But any form of dance will not do, for Ratatat forces a listener to dance like never before – theatrically, yet carefree – and therefore, experience a new state of being.
One side effect of the Ratatat experience is the onset of a post-partum longing and physical addiction to any and all of their music. Like a little kid pleading, “Do it again, do it again!? the concert goer wishes to see Ratatat live another time, no matter the cost. Listening to them after a concert is hearing the music on a deeper level, understanding it better. However, there is nothing in particular to be understood. Through the process of being a Ratatat fan, multiple interpretations arise, and it is through these interpretations that meanings grow. Now, someone who has no fixation on the band may argue that all their songs sound the same. It is then clear that that someone has not yet attached meaning to the songs nor let the meanings come to them. Or, Ratatat is simply not meant for them.
The show flew by me faster than I could have fathomed. I have no recollection of its duration, simply the feeling of contentment and togetherness that encompassed me. For all I know, it could have lasted twenty minutes, but an estimate of one hour sounds more plausible. Without doubt one of the best concerts I have attended, it gave me a deeper insight and appreciation for music than before. Ratatat’s strong hold over me has permeated into other aspects of my life, giving me the extra inspiration and persistence when I need it. Which is more than I can ask of any band.