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Weekend music

Tucson sounds: Alter Der Ruine's genre-defying, artful synth rock

In the early days, keyboard-based rock and roll was easy enough to categorize. First you had the basics, rock and roll with bonus piano, à la Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and the like. Later on, things got a bit more interesting as classical and jazz players entered the pop and rock fray and Baroque pop, prog and organ-heavy psych and garage bands upping pop music's keyboard game. And then, well, art rock happened.

Blame Brian Eno and his ilk.

Once synthesizer-based rock got truly and popularly convoluted, the whole categorization game began to get a bit difficult to sort out. In the present era, it's even more complicated as the DNA of multiple music genres and pop lineages combine in an ever-evolving palette of synth and electronic rock, pop, hip hop and beyond. It can be hard for a band to define its sound and find a solid listener base, much less gain a name and reputation beyond its local origins. Some groups manage to do it and do it well, however, like the once and future electronic industrial ensemble known as Alter Der Ruine. The Tucson based band returns from a long hiatus this weekend for a show at Cans — their first Tucson gig in a couple of years.

Michael Treveloni (Alter Der Ruine vocalist/frontman): "The band started (in a bar) as a knife fight and a bad translation. But (the origins of the band) started long before that when the future members of the band heard groups like Ministry and ‪Killing Joke and stumbled over a genre called Powernoize and thought, 'yup, I can tap a toe to that.' Down the line we shed a bit of our sonic chaos in exchange for some kind of mutant electronic junk funk techno only to replace that with synthpop only to replace that with whatever sounds chewed our ear drums over the years."

"We're as current as we are ancient in our approach to writing which makes ADR a solid contender for a band that album to album makes little sense but overall does. Our unifying sound is that it is expected that we'll be all over the place. We dwell in surprise and try not to half-ass anything. We want to make the music we want to hear and play a show we would want to see. Fortunately we've found many people who share our enthusiasm and have a decade plus of twisting and touring around the world to draw from."

TucsonSentinel.com: You sort of defy categorizing by strictly defined genre. But what terms would best describe the band's style and sound?

M.T.: "Our individual formative years were steeped in thick waves of punk, metal, and industrial/electronic music. We grew up listening to bands on the musical fringes and enjoyed the sense of calamity that could occupy those genres. For composing our own material the rolodex of inspiration wasn't short of entries. When writing we tried to counter a bit of what was going on in our scenes. At that point, 2004 to 2005-ish, other band's themes were a dystopian kaleidoscope of anger, violence and misogyny. That wasn't so much our bag!"

"We wanted to have fun, even if the music was 170-plus BPMs and designed to induce tinnitus. We figured if we could do it and believe it ourselves then the rest would work itself out."

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"That translated to our live shows and we were able to get thousands of people moving to a song about mustache rides. Also we failed with certain commentaries as songs intended to be jokes required a deep sense of industrial/EBM history that may have escaped the average listener and instead lumped us into the tropes we were lampooning. That's when we shelved a bit of what we did, added more vocals and shifted gears entirely."

TS: Who makes up the current lineup of ADR?

M.T.: "Our current core line-up is Mike Jenney (drums and stuff),Tamara Jenney (synths and stuff), and me (Mike T.) on vocals and dancing and sweating."

"We're also thrilled to be joined by Randall of the Shift, Ensphere and Swindy, on a gauntlet of other instruments. When it comes to other projects we have a laundry list. If you have time here's some digging: The Shift, I AM DRUGS, DJ Plastic Disease, Fake With Braces, Dust is Noise, Pony Plans. Also the club nights Ritual and Club Sanctuary."

TS: How did you all fall in love with music? Favorite bands and musicians of all time?

MT: "Music was/is the gap between everything else. It fills spaces in conversation, underscores a drive, provides context for escape and empowerment. It's ‪the Beach Boys‬ as much as it is a white noise loop or wind in a forest. You experience it before you can define it. That is the love of sound and music."

"Some of our personal favorite artists / bands of ALL TIME include: ‪Leonard Cohen‬, LARD, ‪Ulver, the Faint, Depeche Mode, Alice In Chains, the Cure, Nine Inch Nails, the Pixies and, more currently, ‪Timber Timbre‬ , Metric, TR/ST, Tigercub, Still Corners, Gojira, Night Versus, the Black Queen, Umwelt, Creepoid, and Battletapes."

"There are also a ton of local bands we love like Sur Bloc, the Rifle, Body of Light, and Suicide Forest."

TS: Electronica is growing and morphing as a field of music but there are huge differences in what that can mean. There are huge differences between say darkwave and synthpop music vs. say EDM and synth-based hip hop. Do you find more community with rock bands that share your aesthetic or with other electronic musicians or both? Would you say that we're moving into a more digitized age of music overall?

MT: "Attitude is everything. We try not to pigeon-hole what people are doing and to appreciate what they are accomplishing. That brings a lot of perspective and wonder to what is happening with the music and communities around you. It's how we've been able to play on metal bills, punk shows, ambient showcases and even some country shindigs."

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"Musicians eventually overlap in processes at some point and recognizing the similarities is what brings us together, even when we're polar opposites sound and style-wise. So yeah, we find common aesthetic constantly, but it comes from different areas of application. We're definitely in a digitized age of music. But then time destroys all. Who knows what is in the pipeline?"

TS: Alter Der Ruine has survived many active periods and hiatuses over the years. Is this latest performance just another temporary reunion or are there solid plans for the future of the band?

MT: "We're still figuring out what ADR is. We've had pretty solid stretches where we knew what we were up to and how to accomplish things. We've also met some pretty brutal walls."

"To define the band and its trajectory is a maddening labor at this point. It's best to leave it all in the dark and pull the surprises as they come. We won't lie though, getting together after two years and jamming on these songs has brought a new life and energy to the band and ourselves. Usually when we stir those conditions other things happen."

TS: Thoughts about the state of music as a whole and of local music in particular?

MT: "Music is amazing and vibrant and completely at your consumption if you are willing to venture out. You have to want to find something new. Discovery is the reward. Effort is the gasoline. Start logging miles and you'll have stores to tell and interests you never knew you had."

TS: Favorite venues past and present, local and far flung?

MT: "Asylum Nightclub (RIP). Without that space and the amazing people we met there we would not exist. It was an Arizona treasure for many reasons but a pivotal one for ADR as it was where we were given our first shot. That place grew to become our family and home."

"Some other shoutouts also go to Plush/Flycatcher (RIP), ‪Surly Wench‬, ‪Club‬ Congress, QXTs in New Jersey, Jewel's Catch One / Das Bunker in L.A., an all black painted theater space we played in Aarhus, Denmark. Dickens in Calgary, AB, Corporation in Sheffield, England. Also we cannot thank enough our sister scene in Phoenix and all the Sadisco crew that took us in for their amazing, absolutely insane parties."

TS: Bonus question...what is the strangest or most remarkable gig you ever played?

MT: "Three live shows we played especially stand out on the surreal side."

"First was being able to tour with Haujobb. Without them there would be no ADR! Second was having Claus Larsen of Leæther Strip broadcast that we put on the best show he'd ever seen. Without him there would be no ADR! He's seen a lot of shows since then so that proclamation may not hold true today."

"Third was getting to play our song 'Relax and Ride It' with ‪Velvet‬ ‪Acid Christ only to be joined by Rodney Anonymous of the Dead Milkmen.‬ Without those folks...you guessed it, there would be no ADR."

"To meet the people who inspired us to do what we do and have them turn from inspiration into friends is a remarkable thing. We never thought it would turn that way but that's how this band goes. Expect the unexpected and it will deliver every time."

TS: Tell us about the gig!

MT: "It is one night only. The goal is to melt faces and move bones."

"We've enlisted the help of Trees Speak, NOT BREATHING, and DJ Mijito to help us curate an event to remember. One night of heavy synths, dancing and visuals that will alter your hours and fever up some memories for good times down the road. Bring a smile because you'll be wearing it when the doors close."

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Alter Der Ruine plays Cans on Friday, Dec. 7, with Trees Speak and Not Breathing. Show starts at 9 p.m.

We have it on good Authority

One of the ongoing, behind the scenes labors of love that your hardworking local music writer endures on your behalf is sorting through press releases. Every week a handful of local or national announcements from bands with pro PR firms crosses ye old inbox and every week I promptly archive a lot of them for crimes of irrelevance, redundancy or crass commercial marketing subterfuge.

With that said, I often come across some interesting news in spite of all that, including this week's announcement of a new release from Arizona skate punk legends Authority Zero.The band's newest release, "Persona Non Grata," hits record stores and the web Friday and is the band's first self-released record in 17 years.

While summer tour dates will be announced soon, in the meantime, local punk fans can head up to Tempe for a pair of rare appearances by the band, including a free in-store acoustic set at the Tempe outpost of Zia records on Friday night, and an official album release set at Tempe's Marquee Theater.

Authority Zero plays the Marquee Theater in Tempe on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 6 p.m. with support from Good Boy Daisy, Nomada, Madd Dog Tannen, and Torn At The Seam.

Goodbyes Can(s)break your heart

Earlier this year, as Tucson music fans began to recover from the punch in the gut news that local institution the Flycatcher was marked for closure, one of the few potential silver linings was the announcement of the opening of Cans Deli. An NYC-inspired fast casual deli by day and live music venue by night, the new venture sounded incredibly promising, boasting the same attention to sound and presentation that Flycatcher was known for, not to mention impressive touring and local band lineups.

After a few bumps in the road, including a pivot in restaurant concept and some minor public relations hiccups in the early days of the venue, Cans had seemed to be finding its stride, achieving a delicate balance between stellar live rock shows, DJ nights and major events such as Night of the Living Fest and the Great Cover Up, and regular monthly local comedy, burlesque and electronic music showcases.

The restaurant and entertainment industry can be a volatile business field, though, and with increasingly high Fourth Avenue rents and heavy competition from the many other watering holes, live DJ nights and other music venues in and around Downtown and the University area, the team of partners/investors behind Cans found it increasingly difficult to pay the bills while executing the concept they had dreamed of.

According to an announcement on the venue's Facebook this week, Cans plans to close its doors permanently by the end of the year. It's now up to other bars, venues and spaces for live music and local talent to begin to pick up some of the slack and fill the Flycatcher-shaped hole in the Downtown music and arts scene.

While the gentrifying of UA-adjacent real estate and the shift by younger bar patrons to dance and DJ nights in lieu of live music shows no signs of abating, new spaces continue to pop up on the outskirts of Downtown, like the MSA Annex, District Eatz and the now venerable in comparison Saint Charles Tavern. It's up to folks like you and me to show up and let them know that live local music still matters. So get thee to a show.

Ever fallen in love, in love with some band, ever fallen in love?

While usually your humble music reporter sticks to local music obits - and has had to write far more of them this year than she would ever wish for — the death of Buzzcock's frontman Pete Shelley is a loss that hits home in its own way.

There's always been a contingent of Tucson bands that have embraced the singularly catchy, upbeat angst-pop sound that the Buzzcocks more or less invented and for many, the band's hook-laden, early punk anthems were something of a gateway drug to the "harder stuff" from the Sex Pistols to the Dead Kennedys.

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News of Shelley's passing at the age of 63, reportedly due to a heart attack, spread quickly through Tucson's music community on Thursday, spurring dozens of heartfelt remembrances and links to the band's best loved songs. The loss is still a recent one and the memories keep on coming, so stay tuned for next week's column, for a few of the better eulogies.

Check your local listings…

Each week this column compiles a choice selection of live gigs in and around Tucson with the help of good venue and band event announcements and other resources.

If you've got a gig coming up and you'd like your event listed in this space (or if your local band has a major announcement or a new release) drop me a line at arts@tucsonsentinel.com.

Friday, Dec. 7

  • Alter Der Ruine, Not Breathing, Trees Speak - 9 p.m. Cans
  • Moontrax, Stranger Touch - 9 p.m. Passe
  • Birds and Arrows - 9 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • First Friday Burlesque - 9 p.m. Surly Wench
  • White Buffalo, Louise Le Hir - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Phoenix Hooker Cops, Earacher, Psycloptopus - 9 p.m. District Eatz
  • Anna Worr and Giant Blue - 8 p.m. House of Bards
  • Still Life Telescope, Eric Underwood Band, The Time Being - 8 p.m. Sky Bar

Saturday, Dec. 8

  • Tom Walbank - 3 p.m. Che's Lounge Patio
  • Taco Sauce - 10 p.m. Che's Lounge
  • Vamp Brunch Show - 12 p.m. Cans
  • Pushing Buttons Producer Showcase - 9 p.m. Cans
  • Ryanhood - 7 p.m. Fox
  • Still Life Telescope, Smallvox, Millers Planet - 8:30 p.m. Saint Charles Tavern
  • Tucson Libertine League - 9 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Motive, Atoll, Guardians, Evasion - 6 p.m. House of Bards

Sunday, Dec. 9

  • Al Foul - 3 p.m. Che's Lounge Patio
  • Swamp Meet - 2 p.m. Cans
  • Fineline Revisited - 9 p.m. Surly Wench

Monday, Dec. 10

  • Year End Comedy at the Wench 7 p.m. Surly Wench

Tuesday, Dec. 11

  • Ramirez, Young Davon, Ray Coalfaxx - 8 p.m. 191 Toole
  • Golden Boots - 8:30 p.m. Tap and Bottle
  • Old Firm Casuals, Grade 2, Thug Riot, The Galoshes - 8 p.m. House of Bards
  • Tom Walbank, Steff Koeppen - 6:30 p.m. Sky Bar

Wednesday, Dec. 12

  • FST - 7 p.m. Cans
  • Downtown Brown, Divy, Demonyms - 9 p.m. Cans

Stay tuned next week for more music news and listings!

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Courtesy Alter Der Ruine via Bandcamp.com

Alter Der Ruine

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