The clock hasn't struck 11 on a rainy Thursday night in the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle hip-hop group Champagne Champagne is already causing trouble.
The trio of hip-hop musicians - Pearl Dragon, Thomas Gray, and Mark Gajadhar -- are inside a club downing tallboys of Pabst Blue Ribbon at a lightning pace, and are livelier at the back of the bar than touring act Sebastien Grainger is onstage. While Gajadhar, who also plays drums in local post-punk outfit Past Lives and is a famed Blood Brothers alum, mostly keeps his cool, Gray, with his scraggly beard and highly animated demeanor, looks like he could have starred in Fraggle Rap if such a show had ever existed. He's bouncing all over the place and beaming from ear to ear, while Dragon, who was drinking Jameson for free earlier at a bar down the street, heads to the back of the club to see what food he can pilfer from the green room.
Based on attitude alone, they're just as much hip-hop as they are punk rock, but if you even try to squeeze them into a single genre category, they laugh. "We just want to make good music," Dragon says, as if people keep missing the point. "It's not just hip-hop or rock or whatever. We make music that feels good to us, and that can be anything."
Indeed, their self-titled debut album, released in 2009, has songs that run the gamut from '80s new wave ("Cover Girls") and art rock ("Tropical Trina") to experimental disco ("What's Your Fantasy") and emo ("Molly Ringwald"), all layered under surging hip-hop vocals. It's a singular sound not comparable to anything nationally or locallyalthough critics are constantly, and quite lazily, throwing them into the hipster-hop category due to their friendship with Mad Rad. While they've got lots of love for their lighter-skinned counterparts, and the two acts hang together frequently, Champagne Champagne doesn't want to be associated with the hipster-hop movement at all.
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"It sounds like a dying genre already, even though it's barely even been successful," Dragon says. "We don't want any part of it. I'm definitely not a hipster myself. I've come in the lineage of Bad Brains or Prince or Arthur Lee, black dudes that did their own thing. Besides, I can't be a hipster, man; I don't wear bright-enough colors."
The group is aware that people don't know how to accurately categorize their oddball brand of hip-hop, but typically that works in their favor. Knob tweakers, street rappers, and, yes, even hipsters know they can come out to a Champagne Champagne show and hear something they can relate to. At the end of the day, it's all party music, and nobody in the city is better at mashing it together into one cohesive sound than these guys. They were booked to play the Sasquatch Festival in 2009, as well as that year's raucous SXSW.
If anything, it's the group's inability to blend in with contemporary artists that gives them more luster. "Molly Ringwald" was played on England's Radio One a week after they returned from Texas, and it gives them hope that they'll be able toperform internationally in the future as well. Says Gajadhar: "A year from now, we'd like to be in Europe playing those festivals like Reading and Leeds, but it takes a lot of planning, it doesn't just happen overnight."
Wed., Jan. 12, 9 p.m., 2011