By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
If, as the saying goes, image is everything, then the satanic-disco duo of Darktown Strutters has everything firmly planted on the prongs of its pitchforks. The terribly talented twosome's oft-discordant dissonance can be blatantly diabolical at times. And while the sinister songs and soundscapes the pair creates certainly won't suit everyone's tastes, seeing Darktown Strutters' spellbinding live performances will stop most people in their tracks.
It's all but impossible to not be transfixed the first time you hear vocalist Kara Jean chanting her mostly macabre, monotone mantras into her microphone as she slowly, methodically moves her fingers along the keyboard of her Yamaha Electone MR-500 organ. Sitting a few feet away, Wes Darrin will be coolly hammering away on his Roland Sampling Drum Pad, while Jean sings phrases like "Lucifer Rising" or quotes from Church of Satan's founder Anton LaVey, like ritualistic incantations meant to evoke the "demons of disco."
But all the devils the band conjures are mostly—and intentionally—of the campy variety. And they're merely the result of Jean's lifelong fascination with the occult and with old horror and exploitation movies. In fact, the band's name is lifted directly from the title of a '70s blaxploitation flick.
"It's possibly the single most bizarre movie I've ever seen," Darrin says. "No explanation can explain it."
And, like Darktown Strutters the film, the band is kind of hard to pigeonhole or explain—not that some haven't tried.
"People always compared us to bands like Beach House or Fight Bite; I guess it's because we're a duo," Jean says. "But we're more Dario Argento than Beach House."
It's a fitting allusion because the pair's sound does come closer to the haunted synth-and-drum-machine-laden soundtracks that the Italian prog-rock band Goblin scored for Argento's films like Suspiria and Deep Red. It's also fitting because films like those have inspired most of Darktown Strutters' songs, sonically as well as lyrically: "Almost every song we've written is based on a movie," Jean says.
And those haunting organ sounds came about providentially. The organ had originally belonged to Darrin's grandmother. Says Jean: "I just started messing around with the organ one night, just toying with the sounds and eventually started making little ditties. And we thought, 'People are gonna hate this stuff!' But we really liked it, and we decided that it didn't matter if no one else liked it."
But that wasn't something the duo had to worry much about. Darktown Strutters has gained an unflinching following, and the duo's 12-inch album is scheduled to be released "soon" on We Shot J.R. Records. —Daniel Rodrigue