While you read this article, listen to the first song on Hey Champ’s Soundcloud, “Dominoes." It’s the title track on their first EP since 2011, “Anything at All,” and it’s perfect to set the tone for the genre meandering that’s about to go down here.
Jumping into the glitch beat of the intro, I was reminded of my favorite concert so far this summer: a 3D performance by Kraftwerk, a legendary electronic music group that paved the way for an evolution of dance, pop, rock and disco in the late 1960s. It was amazingly epic, and got me thinking about all the new sounds we hear today that somehow find a way to stand out in the airwaves. But Hey Champ…. these guys have something interesting brewing so far, and it smells dancetastically funky.
The list of sounds that stand out anymore is pretty short - especially with all the cutting, mashing and remastering of Mr. Potato Head EPs that seem to mutate faster than popcorn composers can press the “switch track” button. But as two musically-inclined dudes with stomping grounds in Rockford just outside Chicago, Saam Hagshenas (vocals, guitar) and Jonathan Marks (drums) have a great backdrop for a new sound.
Hey Champ has an undertone that draws directly from the Kraftwerk era, with both bands being heavily influenced by Giorgio Moroder. You probably know Moroder without knowing him; he’s behind hits by Blondie, Japan, Donna Summer, the score for Scarface, and most recently Daft Punk’s newest album, Random Access Memories. Hey Champ spans the ages in the same way Moroder has, as musical cornucopias of Europop, Eurodance, Synthpop and Disco genres that seep “Let’s dance forever” pheromones beckoning you to the party. But back to the track at hand.
What’s really cool about “Dominoes” is that they wrote it for Lupe Fiasco, who originally discovered the duo. They did a brief stint on his tour, but after he didn’t run with the song they remastered it with new eyes. The vocal style is almost reminiscent of Europop boy band icons (re: Backstreet Boys), but adds a synth-driven, new-age party anthem with a soaring chorus in a similar way that newer tracks like “Glad You Came” by The Wanted have. At the same time, the bubblegum dance influence carries the same energy as classic songs like “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. But their vibes go much deeper and broader than that. Just when we think we understand what they’re putting down, they throw us for a loop with a different track.
Take their song “Cliche” for example. The initial beats will take you back to the days of Flock of Seagulls, Phil Collins and Duran Duran, all of which popularized the synthesizer in mainstream pop music through the 1980s. The song builds slowly through a dramatic intro before transitioning quick, high-energy rise that erupts into a full-scale funk party that artists like Chromeo are championing at festivals around the world right now. It’s might be more trans-generational movement than your dance moves can even handle.
As Hey Champ leads their own path down the Synthpop resurgence, look at Daft Punk, La Roux and Air as some of the only other acts doing it well. The only issue is, those guys don’t tour much in the states - let alone Ohio - and tickets to their shows are hard to come by.
Lucky for you, Hey Champ is having a dance party right in your backyard this weekend.
Gonna get down with it?