Bumbershoot: Dance Fever

For fans of U.S.E., it's not uncool to be happy.

United State of Electronica is a huge fucking practical joke. Or it started as one, anyway. When five Seattle Pacific University graduates scored a gig opening for GusGus at the now defunct I-Spy seven years ago, they made an impromptu decision to ditch their true identities and set list."We wore masks and said we were an electronic act from Mannheim, Germany," drummer Jon e. Rock recalls, laughing. "We thought it was a great idea. Unfortunately, nobody else thought it was that funny. "The crowd didn't get the gag, but they liked what they heard. By swapping their indie-rock sound for disco that evening, Rock and his friends discovered that the city was desperate for more let-your-hair-down dance music with surging, four-on-the-floor beats."We'd been so absorbed in the music scene that we didn't notice a lack of fun and dancing at shows until then," Rock says. "Once we felt the energy and excitement, it was so infectious that our ultimate goal became to keep making people dance."So Rock and his bandmates—Noah Star Weaver, Peter Sali, Jason Holstrom, and Derek Chan—enlisted friends Amanda Khanjian and Carly Nicklaus to form U.S.E. In 2006, the band released an eponymous debut album that sounded like a fantastic lovemaking session between the Bee Gees and Daft Punk. Festive disco-pop numbers suitable for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack were crammed with vocoderized vocals, crashing cymbals, and cheeky hooks."We're all about having a good time," Rock says regarding the band's sound. "From Beethoven to Bach to Morrissey to grunge...people have always gravitated toward darker music. It almost seems uncool to admit that you're happy. But unless you're absolutely brokenhearted, music is meant to be entertaining."The band is as well known for their live performances as their danceable songs. Their funky outfits get drenched in sweat as they power through sets that often end with audience members climbing onstage to join the party. As Rock aptly puts it, it's "an energetic petting zoo mixed with a Peter Frampton live show."The new album Loveworld is full of material that translates into an engaging live set. It's less disco-y and knob-tweaky than U.S.E.'s self-titled debut, and a lot more sleek and shiny Europop."The first album was like a demo—albeit a demo we were proud of—but it was primitive caveman stuff," Rock acknowledges. "Back then, we only knew how to create one beat on the drum machine, and were throwing in dancey guitar rifts for good measure. Loveworld took three years to record. We spent a lot more time on development, production, and post-production."Their efforts show on the album's standout tracks, such as "All the World" and "K.I.S.S.I.N.G.", which sound like songs a squeaky-clean British pop band created by Simon Fuller might release—if they snorted Adderall beforehand. The tracks are currently downloadable via the band's Web site (usemusic.com), and the complete album will be available in stores October 20.With a solid sophomore effort under their belts and a West Coast tour to follow their Bumbershoot performance, U.S.E. has run further with a practical joke than they ever anticipated. Ironically, lighthearted electro music is something that dance fans love and don't take as a joke."[The fans'] reaction was what helped us discover the true essence of the music we wanted to play," Rock says. "It may have started as a hoax, but once we realized that people liked what we were doing, we knew we had to turn it into something real."ehobart@seattleweekly.com

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