Ratatat: Electronic Music’s First Guitar Hero


While waiting an hour for Ratatat to take the stage, I overheard a foursome of dudes no older than 21 who drove 14 hours to catch a rare glimpse of the Brooklyn based outfit. As they talked about their plans on Wednesday (which included a visit to the Shake Shack in Manhattan), one of them kept reminding his buddies how fortunate they were to have obtained tickets to the show that sold out in mere hours. (Indeed, ticketless fans hoping for a miracle milled about all night on N. 6th Street.) But the band kept everyone waiting for some unknown reason (maybe bar sales were low?), and the dudes, probably thinking that this is what people do in New York, began chanting Ratat-suck!

Ratatat soon took the stage and the boys’ jeers morphed into cheers. Performing as a trio, the first thing you notice is their drummer-less setup. There’s also no need for vocals, because guitarist Mike Stroud’s axe is the band’s voice, fueled by electronic beats, samples and patches. And what a sound it is. While Ratatat’s notorious underground remash called “Party & Bullshit” relied on a crafty Notorious B.I.G. sample and riff as wide as the Great Wall of China, newer tracks from the newly released LP3 find Stroud in full on guitar hero mode, something he seems almost entirely comfortable with.

Stroud wailed with the soul of master players like Jeff Beck (he played with the same emotion heard on Beck’s “Cause We Ended As Lovers”) and the technical perfection of Yngwie Malmsteen (sans the blazing speed), often bending back like a limbo dancer and putting one foot on the monitor while shredding his digitally doubled guitar phrases. But tonight wasn’t all about the riff. On “Mi Viejo” Shroud offered delicate baroque style chord progressions that built into a percussive and drum solo accomplished with bassist Evan Mast.

Amid a backdrop of interesting movie clips and visuals (“Flynn” featured a rather bizarre video remix of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”), Stroud was in the zone throughout the show. Though he couldn’t get his amp loud enough early on, by mid-show he was at the point Eddie Van Halen refers to as “the brown sound,” a place where everything sounds perfect. Strangely enough, the crescendo of the night was the understated “Shiller,” a far more restrained song that builds on gorgeous synth washes and crafty samples.

When Ratatat took a second to catch its breath, Shroud picked up a bottle of what might’ve been whiskey and chugged it a la Keith Richards, much to the the Midwest boys’ delight. It was more like a celebratory metaphor because someone had finally succeeded in marrying rock with electronic music.

review & images by Darren Ressler