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Sunday, Sept. 19, 2004

Chaos theory you can dance to

Special to The Japan Times

Things are looking good for Grandadbob. The quirky house music duo of Dave Johnson and Vanessa Robinson released their debut album, "Waltzes for Weirdos," on Fatboy Slim's Southern Fried label to rave reviews in Britain last year and are about to tour Japan with the wild and crazy DJ himself. Now that success is in hand, will Grandadbob get serious?

News photo
Grandadbob's Vanessa Robinson and Dave Johnson

"Well, we're getting ready to make a new album," says Johnson over the phone from Sheffield, an industrial city in the north of England. "And that's totally different because you actually have to sit down and come up with something, whereas before we were just knocking things off, seeing what happened. It's a different sort of intensity. It can be frustrating."

Johnson, however, hardly sounds frustrated, and Robinson, who seems to be sitting behind him, occasionally interjects something incomprehensible, or laughs giddily.

"We don't have a methodology," he says, explaining the madcap atmosphere of "Waltzes." "It's totally random. Chaos. We just spew out loads of bits and hope that some things stick together."

This sticking-together is what makes Grandadbob's music difficult to pin down. Though everything adheres to mix-and-match electro-dance music principles, the cuts are more willfully wacky, and less likely to remain in their grooves if a more forceful idea suddenly rears its woolly head.

"The track that took the longest to make was 'Mmmnn,' wasn't it?" he asked Robinson. "It was a different song before we added the vocals, and once we did the whole thing changed and then the vocals changed and it turned into a real single."

It's the lead single, as a matter of fact, a misty, melancholic, mid-tempo house track that sounds like nothing on the rest of the record. But, then, nothing on the record sounds like the rest of the record. "Mmmnn" is followed with startling insolence by "Your Mama," which features helium-processed vocals over a super-funky guitar line.

The fact that Johnson and Robinson live together has a lot to do with their sound. Whenever inspiration strikes they can immediately get an idea down and start batting it back and forth. "Before we lived together, Vanessa had a job," says Johnson. "Even though we were working musically as a team we didn't have much time. She'd come over in the evenings, stay a couple of hours, and then go home."

Johnson is the better cook, and from somewhere in the ether Robinson says he makes great risotto.

Robinson, however, is the better musician; or, at least, the trained one, having actually studied voice. She's worked as a big-band singer and even a circus clown, while Johnson came to music the old-fashioned way, as a teenage raver. "There were always lots of guitars laying around my house," he elaborates, "and a piano. I was the kind of person who just picked things up. I'm not particularly good. I can play enough so that I can record and play with it and screw it up a bit." He also admits he's not much of a dancer. "More of a bobber." Robinson cracks up.

Asked to provide a preview of their live set, Johnson says, "It's structured more like a DJ show." But he points out they're rehearsing for Japan. "We know these songs inside out, but we like to rehearse them because they're such good fun," he says, adding after a pause, "Besides, it's a break from working on the second album."

Grandadbob opens for Fatboy Slim: Sept. 22 & 24 at 11 p.m., Studio Coast, Shin-Kiba, Tokyo, 6,000 yen (Kyodo Tokyo, [03] 3498-9999); Sept. 23 at 10 p.m., Space Lab Yellow, Tokyo, 7,000 yen (Smash, [03] 3444-6751); Sept. 27 & 28 at 7 p.m., Under Lounge, Osaka, 6,000 yen (Smash West, [06] 6535-5569). They will also play at Asagiri Jam, Oct. 2-3. For more information see smash-jpn.com/asagiri

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