On ODDfellows, Information Society builds a firm representation of their career
When John Lydon told Tom Snyder on the Tomorrow Show, “We ain’t no band, we’re a company simple”—Lydon snarling at Snyder about his band PIL—some kids from Minneapolis took note. Information Society originally viewed their identity not so much as a band but as a creative collective. The group formulated artistic merit by incorporating a DIY punk-like ethic filled with visual artists and musicians wrapped around the goal of making innovative and futuristic dance music. This mantra was fostered by a heavy degree of internal and external corporate-mimicked marketing. “If you got to believe in something, believe in us ‘cause we make it easy,” sings Kurt Harlan Larson from the song, “Peace and Love, Inc.”
And now as the band journeys further into their second career wave—a stretch that has lasted longer than their ‘80s and ‘90s moment—the band could not be more in tune with their identity and further from the product marketing they were originally immersed in. Yet, it all still revolves around the same DIY spirit that guides them into their latest release, ODDfellows.
“I do feel like it’s a digest of all our different strands into what makes us tick,” exclaims Paul Robb about the songs that go into the album. “Anything from booty bass to goth industrial flavors, it’s all there.” Like Larson, Robb is one of the founding members of the band; as synth musician, producer, and songwriter, he is a critical part to the aural aesthetic of the group.
A Closer Look at ODDfellows
ODDfellows was collected from a grouping of songs written in the past few years and released as they wrote them. Each single was designed to be in the moment with the overall idea to eventually put them all into an album experience. The pandemic romanticized the idea, but also stalled the release.
“I like the idea of a group of songs that an artist puts together, and they want you to experience it as a complete experience. It includes the order that the songs are listed down to the artwork. But we did not want that goal to stop us from pushing things out as we were creating them.
ODDfellows is a lens of what’s happening right now. It’s not Hack or Peace and Love, Inc. It’s not even Synthesizer which seems very recent to me, but even that was fourteen years ago. We are not trying to make some great cultural statements or be science fiction or cyberpunk. Somebody made an observation that we used to be this band that was almost a William Gibson-like creation and our whole thing was about futurism. That used to seem very exciting to us. Then the future came, and it ended up being Facebook and Paypal. Turns out the future was really boring.”
ODDfellows album teaser
A Brief History of Information Society
Like many science fiction writers from the 1970s, Information Society saw the future as a glowing enigma of possibilities. Those aspects were glamourized from a data bank of now legendary sounds that haunt pop music culture to this day. Songs like “Walking Away” and “Running” helped shape how dance music was presented. Their music took us from the ‘80s and into the ‘90s.
“There were a lot of bands like us in 1990. By 1992 there weren’t very many bands like us anymore because it was all about Jane’s Addiction and the Seattle bands. Our peers had to make a decision on how to respond to this change in the public taste. Some bands like Depeche Mode jumped on the rock bandwagon and started posing with guitars and wearing cowboy hats. Other bands like Erasure went straight back to their roots and club culture. We were halfway between those things. We were not a legit industrial band. We weren’t Skinny Puppy. And yet, we also weren’t only a club-based band like Erasure.
“There was one review of Peace and Love, Inc. a couple years after the fact where someone said, ‘It’s an interesting document of all the places electronic music could have gone but did not.’ That’s actually pretty accurate. Listening back, we threw our hat in the ring and these are the places we could have gone, and we did not go there. We went with DJ culture instead and techno. We could not give up singing. We wanted to write songs.”
However, personal lives caught up to the band’s futuristic dance iconography. When they left New York and went their separate ways, the band never officially broke up. Robb had children and got married. Eight years later Larson also got married and had children. Even though Larson released an Information Society record on his own in 1997 (Don’t Be Afraid) and the band recorded Synthesizer in 2006 with Larson performing on only two of the songs, the band did not fully return to form until their children were grown.
“When we started talking about doing another record in 2007/2008, it was because we were all re-oriented in our new lives, and our kids had progressed enough to where we could start paying attention to doing what used to be our profession. Now it’s an allocation.”
When the band began working on Synthesizer, Robb was worried that people would think that it did not sound like an Information Society album. But after its release, reviews began pouring in and exclaiming just how much it sounds like an Information Society album.
Information Society finally regrouped fully with the classic lineup on 2014’s _hello world, an album where songs like “Jonestown” and “Land of the Blind” easily nestled into setlists. They also appropriately recorded a cover of Devo’s “Beautiful World,” taking one synth legend’s music and putting it into another’s legendary aesthetic.
“I realized there’s no use in fighting your internal aesthetic compass,” he said. “This is a lesson I learned from George Harrison. Remember in the early days of MTV, George Harrison had a bunch of hits? And they were kind of lame and old fashioned sounding? He’s making these hits because people think that is what George Harrison should sound like. He hasn’t tried to reinvent himself or become modern. The people who love him, that’s what they want to hear and that was great. The other side of that same coin, in 1992 or 1993, Billy Idol released an album called Cyberpunk. It was such an embarrassment. It was a textbook example of what not to do. Similarly for us, even when we’ve tried to diverge from what we really do best, it has not worked because we have always been pulled back to our creative core. I think even when we try to delve far afield it always sounds like Information Society.”
And that is why ODDfellows is everything an Information Society album should be. When the band released their debut Information Society album and mega-hits like “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” and “Walking Away,” they were using those songs to experiment with fringe technology by introducing the songs to CD+G technology through the Sega console.
Now with ODDfellows, the band is the first to release the album in THXⓇ Spatial Audio. Generally used with gaming platforms, the technology immerses the listener into the songs and makes it feel like you are in the room surrounded by the musicians. It’s a way the band is still looking at forward-thinking ways to bring futuristic technology into dance culture.
The album opens up with one of Robb’s most revered songs, “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.” The song harks back to the kind of song that pushed them to the forefront of pop culture and moods reminiscent to Hack, which is pairing a solid groove with samples overlaid for an enunciation of motive.
Another adventurous experimentation is “Grups.” In this scenario, the band pieced together found lyrics sourced from a series of quotes from an episode of Star Trek. This concept points back to the band using a sample of Leonard Nimoy as Spock saying “pure energy,” the most telltale sample of their career.
“The Mymble’s Daughter” ends the album with a melancholy love song, a side of the band they rarely show. Their synthpop elegance shines through as if a humble punctuation to an album that is filled with momentum. “You make me feel perfect,” Larson sings.
“We don’t write love songs very often and when we do, they have to be couched in code,” Robb said.
This stage of the band’s career, they are not looking to reinvent the wheel, nor are they looking to create something entirely new. “We are just trying to keep in communion with the people that like us and like our music and scratch our own creative itches to make our own music.”