Twas the Monday after Christmas and all through Echo Park, not that much music was stirring except at Pehrspace. The dark parking lot was like a school yard where all the children sat on broken glass beneath a smoky haze. There were so many people, it seemed half of them were there to listen to the puddles dry and would not even make it inside, which was packed shoulder to shoulder by an array of youngsters and strange looking oldsters (guy in leopard print suit and hat, other guy with all the piercings and dreads that’s often at DIY things, a few streetwalker looking ladies, and someone’s mom). All kinds of fashions, from prep to goth, transcending certain rules about matching music and people. Nicole Kidman and Captain Ahab can appear on the same bill and the same crowd will happily receive John Barba’s sobbing suicidal guitar songs, then thrash and bounce to Captain Ahab’s hardcore club bangers. I brought my 14 year old brother from Florida to see this show, to open his mind. He’d never heard the term DIY before. We stood on the side by the speaker, and he was as blown over by the music as he was by the audience. Where he lives, things are more separate. He listens to metal you can buy at the mall. It’s a small town where the only thing you really encounter is mainstream, at least at his age. He’s never seen anything like Nicole Kidman. “He sounds like he’s crying,” my brother whispered. I could see that push and pull in his eyes that one experiences the first time encountering this fella with the high, quivering voice, who wears his heart on his keyboard’s presets. You want to give him audience because you’re afraid he’ll shatter, then his personal brand of DIY folk punk seeps in and you suddenly begin feeling purged by his sadness. It’s like a confessional where listening to the sinner’s darkest fears makes you feel absolved. I was really excited to see my bro’s reaction to Captain Ahab. They were the first act I saw play at the Smell when I moved here in 2005. The setup has certainly advanced. Jonathan Snipes now has multiple computers and knob consoles, mixing beats and video on a fancy screen. His curses rode pretty melodies into the face of hard thrashing beats. I knew that once Jim’s clothes came off and the crowd moshed their way to happy hardcore oblivion, my sibling’s horizons would be stretched ever so much wider. The people went nuts. The gig was being recorded for a live album and I hope you can hear his jaw drop. While everyone is just dancing like maniacs, to an outsider it looks like choreographed chaos, something you have to learn to be a part of. My bro said next time he’d go in “there,” but this time he needed to observe. He had never moshed to anything but metal, and where he lives, club beats are usually met by grinding. All in all, the experience was awesome for us both. It’s nice to shape young minds. Captain Ahab should be doing it worldwide. My brother says all the kids like Deadmau5. I think Captain Ahab can maybe be their salvation from the connotations of the rave scene. While Deadmau5 packs the Palladium, Captain Ahab packs this little room in a shopping plaza, and it’s perhaps more powerful and important and rebellious that the latter exists. The children need to know you can go clubbin’ in a different way. Captain Ahab has the technology to fit on a Hard Fest lineup. When and if they go there, they’ll probably change the world, one hug at a time.
Leaning into Discomfort With Captain Ahab
by Samantha Cornwell
Yay! There’s a big article with an awesome picture about us in the new issue of Skyscraper – available everywhere! hooray!
The article’s by Alison Meeder (who also wrote the Boozeismymama article), and is (dare I say) EVEN BETTER than that one!!! HOORAY!! here’s the text:
Game Killer of The Pussycat Dolls
By Alison Meeder
Jonathan Snipes is standing on stage. Shirtless and stoic in acid washed jeans, the Captain Ahab frontman has got that ‘Don’t touch me little people, I’m Dave Navarro and you’re not’ look in his eye. Over a hammering techno beat, he’s singing about dirty sex with dirty people. In the crowd below is the Los Angeles duo’s other half, Jim Merson. Wearing tennis shoes and tighty whities, he’s running towards you with a frothy determination that makes you wonder if you can still get a rabies vaccination at this time of night. Merson doesn’t know you but he humps your leg nonetheless, covers you in sweat, and moves on to his next victim. Phrases like “restraining order” and “pregnancy test” flash through your mind, but you get yourself under control. Looking around, you see the audience – many of whom have also stripped down to their underwear – dancing as shamelessly as of a bunch of eight-year-old girls at a wedding reception. They seem to be having the time of their lives and by the end of the night, you will be too.
This is the way with most of Captain Ahab’s fans: terminal bewilderment giving way to complete adoration. Rightfully so, since Ahab’s hypersexual vibe can be a little overwhelming on the first pass. Not that sexuality in pop music is anything new; most rock songs, from the Stones to Spank Rock, usually contain some variation on the male libido. These days someone’s bending over to the front and touching their toes or it’s not a party. Ahab songs, however, are often written from a female perspective, and Snipes’ protagonist is usually vapid, underage, and out to get low – or else. It’s funny, but a little scary too. You wonder if you should really laugh at something so… wrong. When Snipes is asked if he might be unwittingly spreading misogyny, he’s quickly dismissive. “I don’t have an agenda,” he maintains, adding, “All responsibility in art is on the viewer.”
Possibly, but are songs about teenage girls huffing paint really art? Maybe. Snipes began writing his dirty anthems as Captain Ahab in 1997. As a high school student he produced D.I.Y. Casio beats and lyrics about robot sex. He met Merson, and after watching his caveman-on-Viagra antics at Ahab performances, incorporated his friend as an ultimate Hype Man. It all seems like a stupid good time. But songs such as “Girls Gone Wild,” found on the group’s 2006 debut full-length After the Rain My Heart Still Dreams, are too dark to be purely for laughs. Snipes as a coked-out sorority girl demands, “Everybody look at me! I deserve attention!” Fine, you think, show me your boobs but just don’t hurt me. Even if Ahab isn’t art, it’s an awesome bitch slap at female objectification in mainstream pop. Compared to Ahab’s girlie creations, Top 40 female hits like “Don’t Cha (Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?)” come off as half-assed begging.
If Ahab’s barely legal lyrics don’t make you blush, then the techno soundtrack behind all that T&A just might. If a cheap thrill can be coaxed from a drum machine or synthesizer, then it can be found on an Ahab album. Happy hardcore, booty bass, Miami Vice chase-sequence hooks: everything is fair game, sometimes all in the same song. The duo has dubbed their style “ravesploitation,” and Snipes also refers to it as “mash-ups without samples.” Either way, it’s the kind of unsubtle, unironic dance music you haven’t copped to liking since the ecstasy wore off in 1999. “I say it’s post-ironic,” says Snipes. “For the longest time I wanted to be Aphex Twin, but I finally realized I was listening to my bad records more than my good ones,” he confesses. “I figured maybe they weren’t really bad.”
Likewise to Captain Ahab. Snipes and Merson may not be Aphex Twin but they’re pure pop brilliance, and the word is getting around. An original Ahab song titled “Snakes on the Brain” made its way into the Snakes on a Plane ending credits after the group won an online competition. After the Rain My Heart Still Dreams is getting heavy play on college radio, and an army of potty-brained fans is growing daily. You may even have an Ahab record hidden behind that Squarepusher one you pretend to listen to. Surely, you’ll be waiting to see what kind of debauchery will be coming up next. “I know people expect dirty songs from me,” says Snipes. “So I think I’ll switch it up by writing something clean. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ll let you know if I ever do.”
Snakes on the Brain (CDEP, Deathbomb Arc, 2006)
After the Rain My Heart Still Dreams (CD, Deathbomb Arc, 2006)