Extreme Animals' 2005 record, I Gotta Be Me, featured two versions of "Garf's Nightmare," a pulsing, minimal number. Given the ready-made remix-and-repackage culture we live in, two takes of one track sharing a record isn't so surprising.
But this alternate take was performed with MIDI technology, the early digital interface that allowed computers, instruments and people to interact and was used to make the blippy music of early arcade games. With all its tweaked cartoon-like notes, the MIDI version of "Garf's Nightmare," found on a vinyl EP released by Chapel Hill imprint FrequeNC, is enough to make you think you're seeing sound.
Extreme Animals acts like the kids we were warned we might become from playing too much Galaga, but that's not entirely why it's embraced making new music with old MIDI technology. "We got into MIDI through the desire to collaborate and simply through the available technology," said the Animals, David Wightman and Jacob Ciocci, before beginning a weekend of concerts in New York last week. "That is what is really amazing about MIDI: not the 'general MIDI sound,' but simply that it was a language that everyone agreed on for about 15 years even though there were many more powerful opportunities."
When digital production is the norm, using this dated technology seems like the wannabe musician who gets a cheap guitar from Wal-Mart instead of the expensive number at the local guitar shop. Neither Wightman nor Ciocci claim those games as touchstones of their rainbow-colored music. "While we both played a little bit of Mario or Zelda at one time or another, we never really thought of our music being related to video games," they said.
Wightman and Ciocci use those basic blips as a launching point, eventually mixing in their own processed vocals, feedback and live drums. Since they live in different cities—San Diego and Pittsburgh, respectively—it works as an easy collaborative template.
Wightman and Ciocci started making noise together at Chapel Hill High School: "Dave's Videodrome was all the rage. We tried to figure out his TRASH zine ... and listened to WXYC. They blew our mind with free jazz and Polvo," they say, referencing several early '90s Chapel Hill cultural landmarks that led them to their creative endeavors. "We had to have our parents call ahead to the Cat's Cradle if we wanted to go to a show." The two attended separate colleges but started Extreme Animals on a break at home in Chapel Hill in 2002 before graduate school began. They got down their chops, released a few CDRs and hit the road.
At an Extreme Animals show, Wightman and Ciocci are often embedded among a forest of multicolored wires, computers, keyboards and a drum set, surrounded on all sides by revved-up fans who want something strange to happen as much as the performers. It's that anticipation, the what'll-they-come-up-with-next factor, that leads the band's persona, tempered with a saucy wit.
"Life is our biggest inspiration," they say. "Have you seen that new BBC story about the monk in the heavy metal band? He is not doing it for the church or Christ or even metal, but for life, 'to encourage young people to live.'"
Extreme Animals' tantalizing music dices up that cracked electronics sound. They seem to be having way too much fun doing it. Their slightly crazed gaze asserts that old gamer quandary of wondering if the current stage may be the kill screen, when the feeble game's memory overloads.
Extreme Animals plays Nightlight Monday, Aug. 4, with Fortress of Amplitude, Secret Boyfriend and DJ Nasty Boots. The show starts at 9:30 p.m.