Cyborg Funk: Yak Attack’s Six Million Dollar Sound
“It would have been possible,” says Dave Dernovsek, of Portland livetronica band, Yak Attack, who will play at Milagro’s Fresh Mexican’s after-hours danceparty on Sat., January 23. “but it wouldn’t have been able to exist on its own.”
The “it” Dernovsek is referencing is Yak Attack’s sound: thickly-layered electronic style compositions, performed not with laptops and samplers, but good old-fashioned live instruments, augmented by live-looping technology, which records sounds made on the fly, and then plays them back for an instrumentalist to play over or add to.
“That sound would have required a giant band before,” says Rowann Cobb, Yak Attack’s keyboard player. “Looping is really conducive to that sound, and experimenting with the textures we have.”
Cobb and Dernovsek especially like looping’s ability for the band to implement slow build’s to giant dance floor peaks, a hallmark of electronic dance music, and a welcome addition to the blend of jam and funk that forms much of Yak Attack’s musical background.
“We like being able to both fit in a groove and let it cook, and still let it be danceable at the same time,” says Cobb.
But looping isn’t the only technology that factors into Yak Attack’s, ahem, attack. In addition to his kit, drummer Nick Werth plays a xylosynth, a digital MIDI controller that abandons the piano key interface for that of a xylophone.
“It feels like you’re playing a natural mallet instrument like a vibraphone or marimba,” says Werth. “But it’s all digital, so it’s unlimited what you can do with it.”
Werth picked up the xylosynth during his time teaching marching bands, which sometimes use the instrument to cut through the din of a stadium.
“I had the idea of combining my melodic abilities with my percussion abilities,” he says. “I wanted to put it all together into one instrument.”
But even though Yak Attack’s down-tempo electro-lounge sound couldn’t be done without the tech, the band feels its real hook is the live approach.
“It takes paying attention to realize you’re hearing more than just what’s being played in that moment,” says Dernovsek. “It gives it that live band fullness.”
Dernovsek also likes that the live band approach means that the sound is not dependent on the house sound system, an achilles heel for electronic acts everywhere.
“With the live setup, our drummer’s kick is going to kick regardless. Our bass amp is going to thump regardless,” he says. “That’s kind of liberating.”
9 pm, Sat., January 23
Milagro’s Fresh Mexican, 1465 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland