February 17, 2006
BY JASON SONGE
Who was that middle-aged hippie dancing to The Buttons at The Circle Bar Friday night? That was Ray(a popular name among hyper-music enthusiasts), who cavorted close to Mike Mayfield and Joe Keppel's synthesizers the whole night. At first, I thought maybe he was making fun of the music with his over-pronounced movements, but Mayfield later told me he's harmless and The Buttons' biggest fan. The best moment of the concert came when Mayfield let Ray create sounds with his thremin. By the way, Mayfield was a thermin bad-ass Friday night, making all kinds of swift slices through the air.
Gist: the Buttons is a local electronic duo that mixes the accessibility and hooks of pop with the mystery and repetition of kraut rock. Trans Am without the rock. The music is created completely by keyboard synthesizers and laptops. The analog synthesizer in the middle of their set-up looks real and cool, but it's actually fake. Take a good look at it next time. It's quite a creation just for show.
The band sets the beat off, and then they create melodies above and around keyboard and laptop pre-sets. Mayfield was operating off a cheatsheet of pre-set codes because the band hadn't played since before the hurricane. They did pretty well, considering. The living room was full, and it seemed like people were having a good time dancing to the cold music.
Cold, but not in a bad way. That's why it's a little dark and mysterious, because it's grey, surgical, and robotic. Look no further than Mayfield's Kraftwerky, distorted vocals for the robo proof. Don't get the wrong idea, though. These guys would not be at home on Sprockets. Warmth springs from their peppy melodies every once and a while.
I'm not well-versed in electronic music, so I feel weird criticizing The Buttons. The only thing I have to say is that the music can be a bit repetitive and that the songs start to bleed together after a while. The differences between the songs are subtle in live performance. I have a feeling they're more obvious on record.
If you're averse to electronic music, maybe because you're more of a rock person, sit at the bar for a little while and let the music soak in. Even if, in the end, you're not tempted to dance, I'm sure you'll appreciate and understand why others do. What the hell am I talking about? Get out there! There's a smoke machine brewing. This is your disco electro-pop moment.