Here's a fascinating question for all innovative indie artists on the cutting edge: do sociopolitical historical commentary and cool trip-hop grooves mix? For the compelling answer, check out Indochina, the latest instrumental project by The Reel Banditos. In the spirit of synth wizard Paul Hardcastle's #1 1985 smash 19, the dynamic German based studio duo create a fascinating swirl of keyboards, orchestral flavors and massive trip-hop percussion textures to convey the real life history of The Vietnam War in an expansive musical landscape. Stark but compelling black and white videos for the tracks the title track, Hueyâ and the bonus track (not included on the album) Viet Namâ have been watched thousands of times on the internet (www.myspace.com/reelbanditos, www.youtube.com, www.revver.com or www.vuze.com).
Conveying many different aspects of the controversial war over the course of 14 tracks, The Reel Banditos, aka Ernesto Diablo (producer, guitar, keyboards, percussion) and Butch Loco (drum set, percussion, timpani, taiko drums, china gongs and cymbals, Tibetan gongs, cittern and keyboard), take a 180 degree turn from their cheerily titled 2006 debut Raspberry Ripples. The duo, which formed in Hamburg in 2001 after meeting at a recording session for the band Sir Shree, recorded their first project after a series of remixing adventures for Sir Shree and ElbonalPercussion. While Indochina keeps their mix of trip-hop, funk, electronic and cinematic themes intact, by design it features more of an organic live sound with live drums, percussion and bass and tracks featuring longer single takes. The collection was recorded at Ernesto's Hamburg studio dubbed The Shack as well as Great Britain, Spain, Italy and Turkey.
Deciding that building music around a narrative theme would make for a much more compelling and provocative project, The Reel Banditos make each song on Indochina like a chapter in the conflict, leaving it to the listeners imagination to come to their own conclusions. "It's sort of a soundtrack to a film that exists in people's minds, says Ernesto." The subjects deal with secret service activities, jungle warfare, young Marines (Grunt), helicopter missions (Huey), the buzzing and chaotic life in Saigon (the classical flavored The Fall of Saigon) and even the dramatic massacre of the village of My Lai. The opening song Indochina begins with an atmosphere of innocence before military drums fade in; the track builds to a crescendo of dense drums, percussion and marimba. Both musically and visually, the images of Huey represent a unique duality: destruction and doom to the Vietnamese and hope to Americans praying for rescue. Throughout the tracking, the duo alternates Asian sound collages with groove oriented tracks until the album comes to a climax with the use of a full orchestra. Although the subject may seem grim, the Banditos have managed to accomplish their opus, after a full year of production, with pleasant results.
How does a tandem go from rippling raspberries to tackling one of the most controversial wars of the past century? Simple: the realization that one of the primary purposes of art is to provoke, educate and inspire contemplation of deeper issues. Ernesto says, "If you look at what's happening in Iraq now, you can't help but think that not much was learned from the disaster in Vietnam. Indochina is about war in general and the tragedy, mayhem and madness it invokes." Interestingly, despite the duos success in bringing the complex history of the war into an entertaining spotlight, they donâ't plan to become musical activists. The possibilities for their future projects are wide open and endless.