Dance Disaster Movement proves true to its name


By Aileen Torres

Long Beach-based band performed heavy beats and hardcore drama

Seeing Dance Disaster Movement, or DDM, live is undoubtedly an experience of sorts. Those who attended their headlining show at Rothko on Friday, July 29, witnessed more than just two 20-somethings playing their music on stage. What they were privy to was a performance to rival any avant-garde theater show also happening in town that night.

Kevin Litrow, who plays the synthesizers and guitar and does the loops and vocals in this hard-hitting experimental rock duo, earned the designated moniker of frontman by acting out his take on all three nouns in DDM’s name: There was dance, disaster and movement in spades, particularly of the tripped-out, robotic-esque variety, featuring Litrow extending his arms through space as obtrusively and stiffly as possible. He did get even more loose on occasion, peppering the android act with more than a few operatic flourishes of arm-sweeping gestures, manic waving and wild gesticulations. There were also a couple of Elvis-like kung-fu moves thrown in, some orangutan-esque strutting and a little bit of Baryshnikov-gone-ballistic action to go with the (most likely subconscious) febrile nods to Puccini. All performed, mind you, with the idea of disaster throughout.

For the final act—or, during the final song—Litrow dropped down and played his guitar while thrashing around with his back on the floor. He then jumped off stage and channeled his inner preacher man, laying hands dramatically upon the forehead of an audience member who happened to be standing in the front row. Surprised he was, but the chosen one was also visibly amused at being singled out to receive this anointing from Litrow, whose cup of raw energy was running over profusely, right through the very end of the show.

Matt Howze, the drummer, who additionally plays trash can, maraccas, synthesizers and loops in DDM, was a distinct presence on stage in his own right. The intensity of his drumming, which borders on a trip-hop sound at times, was made manifest as he played with his arms pounding about his drum kit so rapid-fire-like he looked to have more than two arms.

All kind of surprising, given the duo are generally very casual, laid-back, down-to-earth individuals.

Howze and Litrow met in their home town in California “through a strange telepathic connection,” as the story on their website goes. It was 1999, and they were in the waiting room of a dream specialist. Litrow was there because of a dream he had had a few nights previously, which involved the words “brain beat” morphing into “body beat.” Howze was there because he was deeply disturbed by a dream of drones attacking him. There was a lot of chain-smoking involved—courtesy of Howze—while waiting to see the specialist, and Litrow was outside of his own head enough to notice Howze in the room. The two were dressed similarly in very casual garb, so Litrow intuited the possibility they may have been on the same wavelength. He introduced himself to Howze, and they got to talking.

“We’re from the same town, so he actually knew people that I knew,” said Litrow. “And I had seen him around before, like, at shows and stuff. He looked familiar. We had mutual friends that we didn’t even know [we had]. And we just talked about music. I had seen his old band, and he had seen my old band before, too.”

The Long-Beach-based duo has been together since 2000. Their first album, “we are from nowhere,” was released in 2001. Their latest album, “Snow on the TV” has just been released. “It’s more progressive than our last album,” described Litrow.

As for the band’s songwriting process, “It’s definitely mutual,” said Howze. “He’ll [Litrow will] have an idea, or I’ll have a drumbeat, and we’ll kind of go off on that. It usually starts with a riff, and we expound on that. But we do that together. It’s a lot of trial by error. It takes us a while to write a song, ‘cause both of us write, and we have different personalities, so it kind of takes us a while to find that next part or next thing. But once we find it, it works.”

“There’s definitely intellectual lyrical content,” said Litrow of DDM’s songs, for which he is the sole lyric writer. “Some of it’s poetic. Some of it’s straight up. Most of the stuff I write, it pretty much comes out of what I feel. But it’s almost, like, subliminal, almost symbolic.”

The two members have different personalities—“I’m all about instinct,” said Litrow. “He’s [Howze is] very mathematical,” which creates a dynamic of balanced tension. There may be a lot of arguing involved in the process, but the end result is solid. “We come out writing good songs, with good song structure,” said Howze. “Instead of just bullshit improv jammed-out noise, which a lot of bands end up doing. But there’s a lot of impulse, too.”

The band does ensure that each song has a core logic, but, as Howze said, they also allow for a lot of improvisation in the studio, in keeping with the more intuitive bent of Litrow, which Howze tempers by occasionally stepping in to check his band mate’s impulses. For example, as Howze said, “One song, we pretty much wrote it in the studio and just jammed it out. It turned out good. That’s kind of how we started together, too. We kind of jammed together, so we’ve gotten used to that.

“With the Moog pedal we use, it’s kind of hard to jam, but we try to do it as much as we can. It’s such a weird way to write music. There’s never been anything we’ve had to think out so much. It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together from one change to the other without it completely losing anything. What helps is buying equipment. The local music stores love us because we’re constantly buying crazy equipment. For one of the songs, we did it in the studio, and we kind of had it written out, and we figured out I needed a Moog pedal for my electronic drums, so that’s what I’ve been using now.”

DDM is definitely not afraid of using technology to enhance their sound. In fact, they’re constantly engaged in experimenting with all types of gadgets and gizmos. Howze plays a trashcan on stage, and there was a Radio Flyer wagon, as well as drills and doors, incorporated into the soundscape of the last album.

The band will be touring through the summer, and they are in the midst of writing songs for their first full-length album, to be recorded in a few months.