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Man Man

With Man Man, there was a “before” and an “after”, a Side A and a Side B of their Take Away Show. Side A was all smoothness, nonchalance, and little bits of happiness spread under a dim sun. Side B was the exact counterpoint.

In Antoine’s apartment, when Man Man decided they were going to play “Van Helsim Boombox”, Side A was coming to an end. “Boombox” is that wobbly, wonky ballad that twists my spine every time I hear it. Its honky-tonk rhythm and melancholic melody support Ryan’s voice, scratched to the bone.

We left these beautiful melodies behind in the apartment. The band knows how to twist and change these sweet songs into something darker, more vicious. Without knowing it, we hurtled towards a conclusion that was far beyond our hopes.

The shift from Side A to Side B took place when the first part gave way to a telluric blast: a flood of decibels, of cries and metallic percussion, right in the heart of Paris.

The Parisian pavement was literally vibrating and the walls transmitted the clamor up to the highest roofs of the street. It was tribal and invigorating. Man Man is not the first to theorize a flood of sound as a type of musical sharing experience. Volcano (among others) had already shown it to us. But the wild dudes of Philly pushed the jamming impulse way beyond, with the enthusiastic help of kids who were wandering in the neighborhood. What the camera didn’t record is the onlookers who gathered little by little, the neighbors who came to their windows, and us, happy and laughing because of what was happening.

Mere minutes before, though, I had been a little disappointed with this Take Away Show. Of course, there had been the moment where Sergeï got his hair cut while the rest of the band sang “Everyone Says I Love You” by the Marx Brothers. They clearly understood the concept of this project well, and they suggested that we film in that salon.

A few weeks before, in Brussels, Man Man told me about a cover they were working on. Tom Waits? Britney Spears? No, “something better”. It wouldn’t disappoint.

The Marx Brothers: seemingly so far from Man Man’s musical sphere. But in fact– whether they were on the terrace of a café, in Antoine’s bedroom, on St. Maur street, or trying to negotiate the price of a Tuareg bracelet–Man Man was always funny and delightfully odd.

Toys, voices, getups: the band could easily make a record for kids. Tim Burton and Bill Plympton would surely be its godfathers.

As we were walking with them, I remembered the debt I owe to music storage media like CDs. If Man Man had appeared on my computer as a MP3 file, none of this would have happened. When I ordered their first record four years ago–at the impetus of only one track that was as intriguing as it was twisted–I would have never imagined the enthusiastic relationship I currently have with their music. The album spent some time on a shelf after a first (and not very convincing) listen. Then, one day, I put the record in my player, out of curiosity. It was a shock: I discovered their record. It was absolutely astounding. Without the CD, it would have been, Delete –> Empty Recycle Bin.

On the way back, the saxophone, driven into a corner, triggered everything. Everyone started to bang on trash cans and fences, making noise with every single object they could find. Black Mission Goggles’s poum tchak kept going until Belleville Boulevard, among neighborhood kids. We never had to ask these kids to join– they understood immediately.

It was music as it comes , alive and freed from all constraints.

A few hours later, the finale of a terrific show was transformed into a risk-taking moment. The distance with the audience had been given a pounding. This was yet another piece of evidence that this band is big, very big.

Translation by Nora