Friday, September 23, 2005

Q And Not U - Y Plus White Girl

Tonight, on the other side of the planet, before a capacity crowd at the Black Cat in Washington, DC, Q And Not U will play their final show. After a solid six months of not missing the Midatlantic (and frequently finding new reasons never to return), I suddenly really, really wish I was there.

Q And Not U are a band by which I measure my post-millenial musical life: their artistic arc mirrors my own maturation. Moving back to Baltimore from Toronto, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the critical blitzkrieg heralding the Return of Rock that had crowned puscilanimous pretenders like the Strokes and the White Stripes. It was then, as I searched for bands with sharper teeth and sharper minds, that I (like many) discovered the trio via the Dischord anniversary boxset. My sceptical, knee-jerk reaction was to be suspicious of these young lads who'd landed on the label of Rites of Spring, Fugazi, and Lungfish - alongside such illustrious company, what made these cats so special?

It took about twenty listens, but eventually I was completely sold. Under the superficial same-ness stamped upon every Dischord act - angular guitars, sing-scream vocals, quasi-political poetry - lay the Je Ne Sais Quoi, the fire, the mutant gene that seperates icons like Nation Of Ulysses from anemic also-rans like Hoover. The songs were fast, fun, a furious euphoria of guitar martial artistry, all wrapped in melodies that grew on you like earwax. None of this even begins to describe the intensity of the live show. I'm a faithless man, but the first time I saw QANU perform at the Talking Head was nigh on a religious experience. I still feel my nerves crackle at the thought of that night.

But to stay glued to guitar-driven post-hardcore is to think that Music ends at the release of Repeater. As QANU shed a bassist and I opted for a drum machine over a human being, both the band I loved and the band I played in were redefining our ideas of Rock, transforming our shortcomings in personnel into idiosyncratic strengths. While I spliced some Devo into my band's DNA, QANU released the harmonically spare, percussively explosive Different Damage (2002). The album was the arguably the greatest variation on the harDCore template in almost a decade, eschewing the same ol' Slash-'N'-Burn for more melody and delicacy.

The next two years saw the underground harden into a culture as demographically and economically controlled as the MSM. The internet became the Alpha and Omega of information, as everybody and their dropout roomie started a music blog and certain websites ruled like Rolling Stone in the '60s. Everybody was now a worldly, well-read music geek armed with more trivial minutae than an armchair quarterback. Unless a band wanted to engage in a reductionist race down the evolutionary ladder and play it bone-stick-stone stupid, their Sound had to be a chunky gumbo of every conceivable obscure sonic curio to oblige the One-Upsmanship in their listeners' interest.

Expanding their palette and blending influences with a grace unseen since the Dismemberment Plan, QANU dropped Power in October of 2004. Oh, there was many a danceable track, but this was no concession to the coy "Dance-Punk" craze that was already dying. This was the true sound of Punks Dancing. This was no-bullshit, funky, head-nod shit that owed as much to Prince as to PiL, but performed by awkwardly earnest white kids. Even better, none of the in-concert flailing and wailing had disappeared, though another, less desirable element had surfaced at shows: The Scene. Faux-hawks and white belts, snotty art students speaking loudly throughout the set, appearing to be seen... indeed, these are signs of new popularity and commercial promise for a band, but they also signal the moment when certain folks start pining for the purity of the Old Days back at the Talking Head.

Perhaps Q And Not U saw this and wanted to bolt before they bloated. They've described the dissolution as utterly amicable and appropriate given how much they've accomplished over their career. What better way to break up?

But I'm still going to miss them. They never failed to stun and elate at every date I saw them, and put out three of the finest rock records of my post-high school period. I realize choosing "Y Plus White Girl" (from their debut No Kill No Beep Beep) isn't terribly reflective of their current incarnation, but this song became a mental sedative when I was working a phenomenally shitty job back in 2003. My friend and I would e-mail each other anecdotes about the latest bullshit from our respective infernal employers, frequently quoting the rant from the song's bridge:

Type and file, I'm not paid to understand
That this position was always in demand

More inspiring, though, were the song's opening lines:

Since we breathe clock and telephone
Basement fires keep us so alive

Whenever I started to feel another piece of my soul slipping away in the employ of those assholes, I began playing that song over in my head, to remind myself that soon, very soon, I would be away from that office, playing and shouting and dancing and cheering in some dank, dark room, utterly elated by music that I truly loved. That'll always be what keeps me alive.

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