I Watched Simian Mobile Disco Record an Album in the Desert
By: Jemayel Khawaja
Simian Mobile Disco have been at the cutting edge of dance music since they rose to prominence as part of the proto-EDM wave of electro that hit American shores in 2007. The Justice vs. Simian track "We Are Your Friends" is one of the most definitive tracks of that whole era.
Since then, members James Ford and Jas Shaw have carved a niche for themselves by moving against trends in dance music. The duo utilize analogue equipment when performing their tech-house beats live. That is to say, they're actually playing instruments. That's why they're an act that so readily appeals across the spectrum to hipsters, ravers and music nerds alike.
When I heard that Simian Mobile Disco were going to record their upcoming album live at Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown, and that drone rock trailblazers and early Sub Pop luminaries Earth were opening, it presented such a counterintuitive mishmash of vibes that I had to check it out.
Pappy and Harriet's is a honky-tonk barbecue joint planted deep in the Palm Desert. It's set in a faux-western ghost town named Pioneertown that was built by Gene Autry and Roy Rogers in 1946 to use as a set for Western-themed movies. It is the last place you'd expect to find forward-facing electronic music.
Still, nothing could have prepared me for the cultural clusterfuck that I stumbled upon out in the desert.
The venue appeared in the night as an oasis of light as I walked up after miles and miles of dusty nothing. The place was already overwhelmed with people and Earth were chugging their way through the quietest drone set I'd ever heard on a stage out back. The heavy dose of distorted sludge coming out of their amps got a little monotonous after a while.
Drone rock and techno aren't exactly a natural combo. But the mesh of crusty rock dads, intrepid hipsters and dance-o-phile party kids huddled around crowded heat lamps was pretty hilarious.
Inside, Pappy's staff and the locals seemed incredulous at the amount of traffic passing through the restaurant. A bartender/ Lisa Loeb look-a-like was noticeably flustered, taking five orders at a time and barely managing to keep it together. Clusters of frontier regulars lined the walls, looking on in a state of bemusement at the torrent of city slickers squeezing through their local drinking hole.
By the time Simian Mobile Disco took the stage, the crowd outside had swelled to capacity in a frigid anticipation.The duo patiently built tension with swells of sound that gave me Kid A flashbacks and the crowd was so rapt that when a beat finally dropped, the whole place lit up.