Vincent Vendetta, frontman of the Midnight Juggernauts, is still jetlagged. They’ve just returned from touring Uncanny Valley, their latest album of psychedelic dance music, in South America and then Europe, where they spent a month.
“Maybe there were 15 shows?” he tries to remember. “And every show’s in a different country.” Visiting that many countries one after the other gave Vendetta a good opportunity to measure the relative warmth of different audiences like he was shopping for a hot water bottle, and he says there’s truth in the idea that cooler climates breed chillier and more distant crowds. “Maybe they just came in from the cold. As the night went on it got steamier and steamier, then it gets loose. Then we play other shows like this festival in Corsica, on the beach, where people probably were drinking on the beach all day and so it was kind of a party atmosphere.”
Although Uncanny Valley is full of proggy synth and cosmic vibes it is definitely a “party atmosphere” kind of album, with ‘Systematic’ in particular the kind of song I’d rather be listening to in the middle of a dancing crowd than alone in an empty living room. “That’s a fun song,” says Vendetta, “it’s like an ELO pop tune. It’s good to have a song which people can sing along to, so maybe we need to disperse some lyric sheets or have a video with the dancing ball over the lyrics at the bottom of the screen. We’ve been trying that song out; it’s been getting a good response.” It’s not the only new song to get a positive reaction, he continues, with the singles also going down well. “I suppose when there’s a song that’s been accompanied by videos there’s that sense of recognition. It’s good when you feel that connection when you’re playing a song like ‘Memorium’ or ‘Ballad of the War Machine’ in a foreign place like Colombia or Argentina or Rome as we did in the last month, and getting this sense people know it and connect with it.”
‘Ballad of the War Machine’ had an excellent video filmed guerrilla-style while the band was in Russia, playing with props and dancing in the streets in soldiers’ uniforms. ‘Memorium’ has a much more serious video, befitting a song about lost memories that ends with a kind of funeral waltz. To accompany it, they put together a nostalgic mini-documentary about the early days of computer graphics, showing the progression from the basic wireframes and lines of the 1950s through to the environmental models of the 1980s. “Reading through CGI message boards and seeing all these computer programmers who were involved in some of the productions discussing it, it’s been good to see that it connects with a lot of the people who were actually involved in the original works. It’s funny – three or four weeks after the video came out, Miley Cyrus put out a video which used one of the talking headshots as found footage. I was thinking, ‘I wonder if our video influenced the director in her clip?’ I hope that’s the case!”
It’s fascinating to watch early abstract creations become re-creations of human limbs and faces, before suddenly the scope widens into full-blown landscapes. That’s the point where the Juggernauts chose to end their examination of the pioneer days of CGI. “I think people were wondering, ‘Why doesn’t it continue on beyond the ’80s into the ’90s and today?’ But I think the era we’re in now people are familiar with the signposts of, like, after the mid-’80s. Up until then it was all computer trials in computer labs but [after that] it was all showcased in Hollywood blockbusters. I don’t think the clip would have been the same showing a scene from Terminator 2 and then a scene from Avatar. We kept it more conceptual, where it’s first attempts at human likeness and first attempts at emotion in that wireframe skeletal world.”
At the end of the video, digital approximations of reality are replaced by the reverse – footage of the Juggernauts captured using the Kinect motion controls on a hacked Xbox that turns them into digital models. “We like the idea that it was harking back to the wireframe footage from the beginning, but it’s a totally new approach where it’s all created in real time with the motion sensor. It’s not some programmer who’s been processing for six months in his basement on some old computer; it was us at a friend’s house on a Saturday morning just recording that in an hour or so and then that looks beautiful and amazing. That’s computer technology today. We put down the year ‘2013’ because it’ll probably look quite primitive in years to come.”
Now that the band are back home they’re finally getting ready for their Australian tour. They’ll be joined on the road by guests including Kirin J Callinan, whose new album Embracism they released on their indie label Siberia, as they did Uncanny Valley. “It’s really interesting to see people’s response to it,” Vendetta says of his friend’s album. “I think he’s an amazing artist and he’ll definitely go out there and test himself and test his audiences and it’s good to see the response he gets. Some people love it and some people hate it, but that’s what makes a great album I think. We’re definitely looking forward to touring with him.”
BY JODY MACGREGOR