This year marks the 21st birthday of !!!. That means 21 years of confused looks, 21 years of awkwardly asking how to pronounce the name (the most common is “chk chk chk”) and 21 years of raving unto the joy fantastic. From their mid-’90s beginnings to their mid-2000s boom and their continued work into the 2010s, !!! are still going strong, dropping excellent, danceable record after excellent, danceable record.
They don’t show any signs of slowing down either. Most of 2017 has seen the band on the road in support of album number seven, the punky and anthemic Shake The Shudder, and it’s been quite the birthday party – as every 21st should be, after all. “It’s been a lot of fun,” says Nic Offer, the band’s frontman and founding member.
I put everything into this band and this music.
“This is our first year touring with our new drummer, a guy named Chris Egan. We’re also currently going between two different female vocalists, depending on where we’re touring. Lili is used whenever we go over to the UK and to Europe, and in the States we perform with Mia Pace. They both sing on Shake The Shudder, and they both bring really different elements to the performance side of things. It’s great to have them both on board – I’m really lucky that we get to go between the two of them.”
Shake The Shudder, released back in May, arrived some 18 months after their last LP, As If. For those that don’t understand the album title, it’s essentially a turn of phrase that means ‘dance your cares away’; a suggestion that if the world’s getting you down, simply shake the shudder – get on the dancefloor and show the world what you’re working with. It’s something Offer takes to heart – even after all these years in the game, !!! is still his top priority. “I put everything into this band and this music,” he says.
“Everything I do is focused on the group. Any book I read, any album I listen to, any film I see… I channel it all and use it to get better at what I do, and put that into the music. Even after all these years, it’s still the main thing that’s on my mind. Honestly, whenever we set out to write something, it’s always in the pursuit of doing something new. A lot of the time, it comes back to just making great dance-punk songs – and, even then, that’s us pushing against the limits of our sound.”
!!! are commonly referred to as one of the pioneers of dance-punk as we know it – a catch-all term that refers to music that incorporates club elements into live instrumentation. Disco beats, big synthesizers and dynamite grooves are the business of the genre – and business is good. Acts such as LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture have long had the tag associated with them, and !!! have certainly done their fair share of work in regards to keeping the sound alive long after the hype of the blogosphere (and, indeed, much of the blogosphere itself) died away.
“I always use glam-rock as an example,” says Offer. “T-Rex just made the same record over and over again because it worked for them, but there were always artists within that genre that pushed the sound to its extremes. Look at people like David Bowie, like Roxy Music, like Sparks. That’s what they were able to do, and I’ve always wanted to do the same for dance-punk or disco-punk or whatever people want to call it. I don’t want to see the limitations. I want to push it out there.”
One of the singles from the album – and perhaps a succinct anthem for the band itself – is ‘Dancing Is The Best Revenge’. Its music video, shot in Los Angeles, features drag queens with incredible names such as Kamryn Moore-Fierce and Phoebe Monroe DeLa Strawberry, and was inspired after Offer developed an alter ego to account for pitched-up vocals on the record, which he dubbed Nicole Fayu.
“It was a really fun video to shoot,” he says. “When I was working on the groove of that song in the studio, I envisioned it as a real strut. It really reminded me of the kind of drag clubs I’d go to, and you’d see so many people just walking it out on the dancefloor. There’s a real ballroom element to it. I felt like I was really adapting a persona by using a different voice on the track – the whole thing just came together really, really naturally. Making the video felt like I was really following through on finding a character through this song.”
You may also notice that all recent videos of !!! performing feature Offer in a distinctive royal blue suit jacket and matching short-shorts. This has become his de facto uniform for the Shake The Shudder tour – and it’s not coming off anytime soon. “The guys tend to just wear street clothes, but I’ve been rocking the suit,” he says.
“I started wearing shorts on stage a few years ago – first because of practical reasons, and then I just kept doing it. I think the turning point actually came after a show that we did in Paris a few years ago. Full disclosure, it absolutely sucked. It was horrible. Afterwards, all of these people came up to me – but not to complain about the set. They were asking, ‘Why didn’t you wear the shorts?’ I took that as a sign to go with them from then on.”
Chk Chk Chk play the Oxford Art Factory on Thursday December 14.