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Forcefield - Roggabogga

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Artist: Forcefield

Album: Roggabogga

Label: Load

Review date: Dec. 8, 2002

Fours Feeled

Forcefield, the Providence, R.I. quartet of Patootie Lobe, Meerk Puffy, Gorgon Radeo and Le Geef, is probably not best described by the term “band.” Perhaps most well known for their amazing neon knit-costumes and gallery installations, their music is often an accompaniment, a compliment to the vivid visuals. Roggabogga, released on the Providence bread-and-butter label Load Records, collects the soundtracks to their Biennial exhibit at Whitney. The pieces shift freely from booty-shaking, broken-ass analog electronics, to UHF / AM radio static and tone clusters to full-on ear drum annihilating white noise. Even without the visual counterpart of the art itself (the liner notes provide extensive photographs of pieces from the installation) the music is still compelling.

It’s hard to describe the Forcefield aesthetic, but it is comprised mainly of very carefully crafted, knitted homemade-looking fluorescent full body suits and little cartoonish alien creatures. Anonymous and imposing, and similarly clever and funny might be the best characterization. Musically, Roggabogga traces a similar lineage, at times ominous and others playful.

Scattered throughout the album are the droning drum machine beats of the various “Program to Repeat” tracks—“Bass GNM2”, “BassGNM”, “Hodowm”, “Radio Puebla Metallica ‘Vagina Music’” and “Assassins RMX ‘Assassabogga” which all share the subtitle “(Program to Repeat)”. I tested these directions under controlled conditions at home and found the results intoxicating. Listening to the selected tracks on repeat provided some insight into the ideas guiding the Forcefield philosophy, primarily, visual and auditory saturation and overload, unity through repetition and an ability to embrace and deconstruct contemporary culture at the same time. “Radio Puebla Metallica ‘Vagina Music’” plods along with a tabla and flute-sounding melody which suggests an Indian theme while at the same time poking fun at the co-opting of cultural / national ideals for shallow repurposing as “hip” (think DJ Shadow or Fatboy Slim). “Assassins RMX” does the same, perhaps more straight forwardly, as a drum and bass track. But, despite any critical intentions or associations, the music is catchy and enjoyable all the same.

Other great points on Roggabogga are the chaotic and epic “Field Recording of 3rd Annual Roggabogga” which has touches on R2D2 sounding electronics, human coughing and piercing synthesized blasts. “Zitomer Pharmacy Doorman” sounds like several cut-up radio announcements strung haphazardly together, cut at points to evidence a consistent scratchy pulse. On “3rd Annual Roggabogga Motion Picture Soundtrack” a swelling, hypnotizing gurgle is undercut by radar sounding interludes. The listener cannot decide if they are in a digital wind tunnel or at the panel of an air traffic controllers’ tower. It’s a surreal interloping of reality and imagination.

What opens up these social and artistic commentaries so easily is the fact that most of the Forcefield oeuvre is, however tenuously, based on real-life objects, ideas and situations. Their costumes are extremely vivid, creative and ostentatious, but not so much so that one could see people adopting elements of them and wearing them everyday. Musically they have a bit more leeway—none of this would ever be top 40, but it will be well situated in the experimental canon. They succeed in both music and art by presenting a uniquely stylized vision of reality, but one that mingles in the realm of the possible and probable. In this sense they have achieved a true level of populism: the work is self-contained, without pretension and can be understood by anyone. Forccefield have struck a delicate balance that allows them to be subject and object simultaneously.

Seeing them live is great: the quartet plays in full costume gear. At a recent show, with beats thumping, four black-hooded and fake-white-beard-wearing characters burst into the audience to get everyone shaking. It did the trick: everyone started jumping up and down, and eventually you could only catch glimpses of the band over all the popping heads.

We can only hope that a Forcefield interactive CD-ROM is in the works. Until then, pick up Roggabogga and look at some of these pictures collected online:



By Marc Gilman

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