STRFKR at the 9:30 Club

Portland, Oregon's electro-pop band STRFKR performs at the 9:30 Club in DC. Photo: STRFKR

WASHINGTON, September 23, 2013 — The most imposing aspect of STRFKR’s show at the 9:30 Club was the jumbotron-like video screen looming behind the band. The images flashing on the screen escaped any semblance of modernity, instead recalling attendance at an arena sporting event in the 1980s. As the band played, the screen cycled through a series of low-resolution, pixelated images that seemed to underline STRFKR’s style-over-substance approach to music.

The imagery could easy be mistaken as a distraction from what the band was playing, detracting from their overall performance. But it so totally matches this band’s mindset that the imagery seemed to enhance and reinforce everything STRFKR did. That’s not an implication that this band lacks depth. But the flash and pop to the band’s sound is so terribly important to their overall audience appeal that the underlying meaning of it all materializes later, after everything has been absorbed and the audience has adjusted.

Still, having a giant video screen in background that’s constantly rolling a continuous loop of images can seem a bit distracting, if only because it completely dominates the visuals. Yet it’s also so joyously retro that it fits STRFKR’s sound output perfectly. 

On the surface, STRFKR is a band that’s on the forefront of the electronic scene, and their approach to pop music is definitely modern, while mixing indie pop with synthesized dance beats. They’re one of many bands that are picking up a trend that’s becoming increasingly popular in pop music in general. Yet while the band feels absolutely modern, there’s definitely something definitively retro about STRFKR.

The Portland, Oregon band started off as a solo project for front man Joshua Hodges, whose goal was to create especially danceable pop music. The stylized version of their band’s name, STRFKR (which is an abbreviation of the full name “Starf___er”), strengthens the point Hodges was trying to make by stressing the heightened surface flair that lies at the heart of the best pop music.

Over time, as the band has become more integrated, Hodges – while remaining its primary voice – was no longer the lone creative voice, and STRFKR evolved into more of a collaborative effort.

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Their recent show at the 9:30 Club primarily focused on their most recent full length album, “Miracle Mile,” which is also the band’s strongest work thus far. The songs still mostly embody Hodges’ general vision while extending it to embrace the timeless pop sensibilities picked up effortlessly by the rest of the band.

So it really isn’t a coincidence that the video screen cranking away behind the band during their set looks to be intentionally and at times amazingly out-of-date. That’s because STRFKR’s music has absorbed countless influences ranging across the pop spectrum. Hodges’ vocals and song writing feel like the best of ‘60se-ra saccharine pop, particularly in his high-pitched vocal styling and easy delivery. 

Shawn Glassford on bass consistently gets into a nice groove as well. But he really shines when the band picks up the pace and shows off some interesting Disco era-style bass lines. The whole nine yards is then deftly funneled through the very ‘80s hum of their keyboards.

Bands are constantly trying to create something new and different. Yet oftentimes, the easiest way to accomplish that objective is something that STRFKR has already figured out. A band’s sound can frequently feel fresh and even innovative without reinventing anything at all, while instead appropriating key signatures from previous pop movements into a package with a defiantly modern spin. This is the kind of show STRFKR put on at the 9:30 Club. When it all came together, it was mesmerizing.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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