Meanderthals: Trip the Light Fantastic

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London legends Idjut Boys and Norway’s Rune Lindbaek wander across musical genres as Meanderthals.

Urban Dictionary defines the term “meanderthal” as one who adopts “a weirdfunky sort of ‘non-linear’ and integral approach in day-to-day routine; to the outside observer [their movements appear to happen in] a randomly chaotic, somewhat disjointed fashion. The great productivity achieved thru this process by its skilled practitioners may often seem antithetical to the methodology of it.” In other words, whereas most folks would merely walk a straight line, the meanderthal dawdles, weaves, and disrupts everyday patterns, but still gets the job done.

Disjointed yet productive, chaotic but methodical: The Idjut Boys embody this paradox. For well over a decade now, sonic pranksters Dan Tyler and Conrad McDonnell have embraced the meanderthal aesthetic, weaving inspired and kinked skeins together of leftfield dance music at a swift rate. The London duo has pushed its sound to the outer limits of sanity, adding a psychedelic spin to ’90s house music, lager-soaked dance jams, and the disco-not-disco revival. The 12-inches they’ve smeared their finger grease on appear under a variety of absurd, just-under-the-radar aliases: Phantom Slasher, Head Arse Fusion Band, Pastrami Man, Vitesse Nayway, Phantoms.

Add to that list of disguises Meanderthals, a studio project that sees the Boys holing up in the Oslo, Norway studio of space-disco purveyor Rune Lindbaek—and Lindbaek flying to London to do the same. The seven long tracks that comprise the trio’s debut, Desire Lines, turn smooth-listening adjectives like “fusion,” “West Coast psychedelia,” and “nu-disco” on their noggins, suspending them in an extended keg stand ’til they’re woozy, gassy, and a tad tipsy. The record hangs together even as it sounds amoebic, anthropomorphic, and genre-less. Its trace glimmers of dub, country, both lite and dark jazz, psychedelic space rock, soundtrack noir, and funk, are all propelled by twinkling steel drums, cavernous house meters, and dark electronic throbs. The sunbeams and jangly guitars of “Kunst or Ars” are almost textbook Balearic, though the song title hints at a tongue planted, if not in the cheek, then somewhere else. Dribbles of hand percussion open up the title track, and a gentle nylon-string-plucked melody wafts past, with Bitches Brew-style keyboards and a wah-wah guitar solo that burns like a dormant volcano over a canyon-deep dub. The sun-baked steel guitar on “Collective Fetish” sounds like Ry Cooder in Jimmy Buffet’s hammock it not for the massive bass drones. And by the time you’ve reached the piano-laced closer “Bugges Room,” you’re watching the sunrise, and desperately in need of another coconut drink. 

Getting Bent
“We met in Cambridge through mutual friends, going to the same parties in peoples’ houses,” the duo says via an email that makes it impossible to parse the individual voice of either Tyler or McDonnell. “Weekends involved the going-out ritual: filling the flat with people and listening to music whilst blitzkreiged, just going out dancing to varied soundtracks in various states. We used to go to a lot of the clubs and one-off things occurring at that time, [and] enjoyed the ambience of acid house as a relaxing pastime.”

Reminiscing about legendary sets by Tonka Sound System’s DJ Harvey, François K., and Larry Levan—whom they saw at Harvey’s Moist party at the Gardening Club in 1991—led the two to a major realization: “We dug out some of the music mixed by the likes of François and the other guys [from] that era and realized that… well, bent is better than straight-up.”

The pair set up its own U-Star label in 1995, casting a mischievous gauntlet into the U.K.’s stuffy house scene with their first 12-inch, “Jazz Fook.” Already their absurd sense of humor was evident, and they even went so far as to give a 1999 record made with producer Quakerman the title Life, The Shoeing You Deserve. “We just like to precede being laughed at by laughing at ourselves first,” they write. “Seriousness comes too close to head-arse fusion.”

Casting the Runes
The Idjut sensibility didn’t just set off alarms in Blighty; their music quickly resounded almost all the way to the Arctic Circle. “I bought ‘Jazz Fook’ and it blew my head away,” Rune Lindbaek tells me from Berlin, his excitement still audible a decade later. “I went, ‘Wow! My God!’ They used to be in Oslo all the time, at a place called Skansen—an old toilet of a venue voted the world’s third best club by The Face, after Body & Soul and Basement Jaxx—a legendary place. The Idjuts were big Oslo heroes, long before the rest of the world discovered them.”

Around 2001, the Idjuts floated the idea of working together with Lindbaek on a studio project. “He was over in our studio so we asked him to speak in Norske on ‘Laisn,’ to lend it that real soul slow-jam, drop-your-pants moment,” the duo recalls of its first collaborative track, a tune that inexplicably injected a Muddy Waters/Johnny Winter snippet into woozy and spacious deep house. Of course, it took years for the trio to follow up. “Just them asking was a massive compliment,” Lindbaek states. “I mean, they’re such big heroes of mine, as well as good close friends, but we’re not very organized people.”

Seven years would pass before the three finally slotted time to work together, only to have their plans suddenly derailed by a disastrous bike accident. “I was in Vilnius, Lithuania where my girlfriend was working on a Norwegian film, and four or five days before we were going to meet up and start the album, I got a call that Conrad was bicycling and had been hit by a truck,” recalls Lindbaek. McDonell spent the next seven months convalescing, undergoing surgery on his hips and shoulder. The Idjuts sum it up cavalierly (“He was knocked off his bike. It hurt a lot. He’s better now.”), but Lindbaek says it was fairly serious. “He was very badly hurt. At first we only hoped he would survive but… he has a very strong build. He even did work a bit as a bouncer back in the days in Sunderland—a rough place he comes from—and that’s what saved him. Luckily, Conrad is completely back and even jogging again. So, [Desire Lines] was a recording on life and death.”

Slowly, work on Meanderthals re-convened. “I’m a melody man, I have to have melodies,” Lindbaek explains about what each party brought to the sessions. “What they put in their music—the delay, the really cool sound—[it ’s] truly three-dimensional… They’re masters at it, with their sexy synths and old compressors.” 

“[The Idjuts] are two of the most friendly and kind persons on the planet,” Lindbaek continues. “They have morphed into the super-organism of music geniuses [that contains] the legacies of Lee 'Scratch' Perry and François Kevorkian and the souls of the best records in the world all rolled into one.” 

Meandering Towards Gomorrah
The Idjuts are similarly stoked on having worked with Lindbaek. “Rune opened the door to some great musicians in Oslo,” the Boys recollect. “The process was most definitely random. We even worked with Rune’s studio neighbors, Lenny and Jo, for percussion, bass, and guitar, and Per Martinsen and his mate Anders on the Steinway. We just tried to remember to press the big red record button when something good was occurring.” They also hint at a more club-friendly version of the album to come, provided it’s “undressed suitably and interfered with in the right places.”

In a way, the Meanderthals project completes the circle. It’s easy to hear the influence of the Idjuts—that dosing of disco-inflected rhythms with toxic levels of delay and reverb—echoed in the work of the present crop of Scandinavian disco all-stars (Hans-Peter Lindstrøm, Prins Thomas, Todd Terje, and Lindbaek himself). Of course, the Idjuts shrug off the notion that they helped foster Norway’s space-disco scene: “We obviously taught them nothing except the drink-till-you-barf fitness regime. They are Vikings, so it’s a sport they took to with ease.”

With Desire Lines, both the Idjut Boys and Lindbaek could be poised for fame outside blurry DJ sets and dark clubs, but they’re comfortable enough with being outsiders. “Obviously we want to be really hip and make piles of money and indulge in a mirage of warped fantasies whilst having rightfully claimed to have invented hip-hop,’ they quip. “But that doesn't fit with the no-strategy walk.”