BUSAN, South Korea — Bouncy, streaky digi-pop that makes your brain sizzle. Created almost solely on an electronic relic: a Commodore Amiga (one of the first pc computers sold to the public), Max Tundra’s music is a conundrum of sounds and sensory stimulation. As Pitchfork magazine says of his second album Mastered by Guy at The Exchange (MBGE): “So many synths, beeps, beats, glitches, horns, hooks, voices. It shouldn't work. But it does. Perfectly.”
MBGE, released in 2002 by Ben Jacobs, a Londoner better known as Max Tundra, really shouldn’t work on paper, but even after just one listen the skittish meta pop makes absurd sense. There are traces of glitch, prog rock and even R&B, swirling together at a dizzying pace to create a spiral wheel of sound that evokes sugary head rushes and exultant highs. As Jacobs himself says “Music that takes risks can also be fun”. It seems that these risks have paid off for Max Tundra.
Jacobs got interested in music while still in school, taking piano lessons, and trying to imitate the theme songs he heard on TV. He then moved on to trying to create his own sounds on analogue tape players – using to tape decks to splice and record different sounds, speeding up the pace and singing over whatever new tracks he happened to create. Apparently that training served him well, because tastemakers have feted his music, which comprises of a crazy mash of electronic sounds under his own singing across the world.
Surprisingly though his attitude to making such frenetic music is surprisingly low-key. He describes himself as a ‘bedroom electronic musician, who hates electronic music’ and admitted to spending most of the 6 year break between MBGE, and his third album Parallex Error Beheads You, going out for sushi dinners and playing scraboulous online. His mission however, is to conquer all the ‘boring music out there’, rebelling against the status quo of flimsy monotonous chart hits and fillers, and this he does with aplomb.
Yet, he still manages to fulfill another goal: to create music that’s “for singing and whistling along to.” As he says he’d like “to walk past a building site and hear builders whistling a song of mine which they’ve heard on Radio 1” Both Mastered by Guy at The Exchange (aptly titled, after a bloke called Guy, who mastered the record at London studio The Exchange), and Parallex Error Beheads You, attempt to push sonic boundaries, and succeed remarkably. MBGE received no less than a score of 9.3 out of 10 by the notorious reviewers at pitchfork, and Parallex did similarly well across the spectrum of listeners, bloggers and reviewers.
With some of his songs being described as ‘trance music for children’, and a sound that’s smartly saccharine, yet still gurgles with a dancey zest its clear that Max Tundra knows how to mesh words and music texturally. To Ben Jacobs, words are just another musical instrument, one that he’s quite adept at playing – spinning stories that span from everyday romance and infatuation (Will Get Fooled Again) to what it must feel like to be a boring student film maker (The Entertainers).
It’s this unique take on life that shows up so vividly in his manic soundscapes, and unusual method of production. And its not only limited to his recorded albums released on the famed Domino Records, but also at his live shows which he’s performed alongside the likes of Junior Boys and Hot Chip, and his remixes of artists like Franz Ferdinand, Brandy and The Pet Shop Boys. Max Tundra flexes his multi instrumentalist chops on stage, darting amongst keyboards, percussion, and computer, while stretching his vocal chords (His singing is said to be inspired by Mariah Carey and Destiny’s Child) at the same time. It’s quite telling that Max Tundra shares a birthday with both Prince and Tom Jones – and that he likes to imagine himself as some sort of experimental combination of both of them!
Super Color Super is bringing Max Tundra to Korea. He will be playing in Busan on 10.14 at FABRIC. Tickets are KRW 10 000 Advance and KRW 18 000 at the door and doors open at 10 pm. Max Tundra will also be performing in Gwangju, Daegu and Seoul from the 12th – 15th. For more information visit supercolorsuper.com
You can check out Max Tundra's site here.