Issue Number 57 - 07-08-04
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by Ron Garmon

The Mutaytor’s techno-circus detonates butt-shaking bombs from the desert to the Strip

I call on the great hipster directorate controlling every facet of the L.A. music scene to finally admit it. You’ve failed. Since lending ink and performance space to every conceivable stripe of hustler, gloombat, faux thug, and fucker of this-or-that corpse, all you’ve done is create one of the most sullen urban audiences in pop history.

Yet, even in this oppressive atmosphere, an unsigned band headlining the Avalon a couple of Saturdays ago drew a crowd that flooded Vine Street out to Hollywood Boulevard. Of course, the Mutaytor isn’t just any unsigned band. Born on the playa at the great desert art/music/community festival Burning Man, nurtured on BM’s larfs ’n’ sex vibe, and grown to freakish size, the 32-unit ensemble is a weapon of mass confunktion quick-shuffling elements of rock, soul, hip-hop, techno, fusion jazz, world music, disco, and much else into a live production that’s half cyber-erotic revue and half Hellzapoppin’ vaudeville. Democratic theory on the playa promotes the dangerous heresy that the audience (yes, the shiftless, smelly proles who buy tix) is part of the show and needs only one blast of heavy sonic therapy to evolve into something Else. The Mutaytor’s motto: “Changing Civilians Into Rock Stars.”

Such ambition as needs must come to artists humping their own equipment to remote spots in the great western desert and, often as not, paying their own admission. I’ve watched the Mutaytor team load in, conduct safety and fire inspections, suit up, group hug, and go on to play a two-hour set with less fuss and ego than what’s needed to mike a pedal-steel at Spaceland. The members confront hellish logistical problems with the psychic organization a swarm of Argentine ants brings to a meadow of dead llama.

Fire-poi spinners, circus artistes, and dancers of the sexiest sway and wriggle aren’t simply a backdrop – they are the show. Dr. MegaVolt in his Marvel supervillian suit, strutting around inside the eight-and-a-half-foot Tesla coil he made in Berkeley, not only adds multiple flashes of big-top surrealism but is proof of the band’s mutative capacity. Pixie-boy dancer Karis’s writhings inside a hula-hoop have given many straight males their first homoerotic twinges in delicious public. Rev/Kate, Little Bit, Kalamitee, and many more are no ordinary sexbomb hoofers, but playa legends whose quirks become song.

The music requires a taste for many different genres and a dislike of standing still. Outside of teen-punk epiphenomena like Static-X or AFI, I’ve never seen any act set a crowd to so much frenetic movement. Funk physicists can calculate multiple permutations of the band’s 50 drums to the last seismic mammary bobble, but none can project whatever change results in Hollywood from detonation of these mutant funk bombs.

Matty Nash is the founding Mutaynt. A drummer in various metal and grunge acts, he spent most of the ’90s doing the old up-and-down-Sunset. After the ’96 Burning Man, Matty “decided to reinvent as musician and artist” by building an act with “this kind of tribal-meets-techno” free association of audience-as-creator. “The goal when we do a performance is to convert the time and space and place into a whole different dimension of reality,” he says. “I wanted to get away from heavy lead guitars and big rock lyrics, and wanted something very drum-heavy. At the same time, I became curious about electronica and the trance music that was starting in techno. I heard the matching of big drum attack with these electronic grooves creating a synergy for dancing and a template for visual expression.”

In 2001, Nash met Buck Downs and Adam Smith, who became the backbone of the Mutaytor’s electronic sound. They improvise on the fly with various vocal samples, as well as world-music guitar and drum samples.

“It’s kind of a jam-band aesthetic, since it’s not all planned out in advance,” Nash says. “The drumming is different types of styles I like with players that fit the mold. I like that junkyard/sheet-metal urban thing, so we’ve got this industrial drummer named Brady who plays everything and the kitchen sink.”

Among the participants in this vast percussion section are Hambone, who’s worked with Dave Alvin and Steve Jones; Steve Reid, a founding member of the Rippingtons who’s played with Miles Davis and Supertramp; and conga-man Lazlo, who has toured with Frank Zappa and Jean-Luc Ponty.

Indeed, every Mutaynt I’ve spoken to has some demanding day job, ranging from costume design to law to unrelated reaches of showbiz, and all bent my ears with professional arcana. These are loving, generous folk, eager to answer my questions while escorting me into the Borg. Everyone praised and cherished each step I’d made along the road to forced evolution since they’d seen me last.

Besotted cynicism finally gags, and I jabber to Nash over coffee, “Why bother? Eh? I mean, why even bother taking this magical playa karass to the benighted world outside?” He smiles, gentle as the Church Militant. “Our goal wasn’t to bring Burning Man art to the world,” he says. “It’s just that a lot of our inspiration comes from being Burners. It’s a place where anyone can fully realize whatever creative potential’s inside of you, to explore any crazy dream you have. Mutaytor wants not just to entertain but to inspire and ignite people.”

I get this line from every new crop of O.C. punks, but the Mutaytor can actually manage the trick. “We call ourselves a family in our internal workings, and all of our fans and friends are an extended family,” Nash says. True dat, but what of money and ego? “This is the basis for our business model and artistic relationship, values like respect, equality, and humanity,” he says. “A lot of us have worked on a long list of show-business projects, but we all call the Mutaytor our home away from home. When it comes to fireplay and stunt work, we are literally laying our lives in each other’s hands. I’d liken it to the extended family that surrounded the Grateful Dead in the ’80s and ’90s.”

Well, I was never much of a Deadhead, but nevertheless hefted tent and backpack and headed to the San Diego desert last weekend for the L.A. Burning Man Pre-Compression Party. The idea of dumping the cream of the L.A. party set into a plumbing-inhibited kill zone somewhere east of Poway was irresistible. The Mutaytor did two shows, with Saturday night given over to surefire alkaloid-frenzy such as “MegaVolt’s Theme” (a tribute to their own refugee from the Legion of Doom, recalling Grandmaster Flash, Silver Apples, and the Dickies all at once) and “Drop the Laundry” (the most effective call to an orgy ever recorded, and also an instant dance classic with one fewer word of lyrics than “Pick Up the Pieces”).

Independence Day saw U.S. flags covering some fetching bottoms. An oversize car sticker reading “America – Great Country, Lousy Empire” admirably summed up the group patriotic sentiment. Once a ferocious chill set in after sundown, the community booty got another workout with a set of new material as shamelessly, theatrically head-warped as later P-Funk. Behind the subtle champagne-tickle and driving hip-hug-her of the Mutaytor’s music is a plain Thomas Paine appeal to love your queerly dressed neighbor as yourself. So, each in our own way, we did.

The Mutaytor performs Sat., July 31, at the Key Club, 9039 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, at 11 p.m. (310) 274-5800. $10. Info:

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