The last time Cellular Chaos performed at Charlie’s, my friend Amber looked at me after the incendiary set and said, quite matter-of-factly, “That was a religious experience.” Intellectually, I suppose that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it wasn’t entirely untrue. Depending on your spirituality, I guess.
“If it’s transcendental for anyone in the audience, it’s because they’re part of it,” the band’s vocalist, Admiral Grey, tells me, “They’re making that happen. So it is like church. It’s the church that we all have. It’s the church of misfits. It’s the church of humanity. That’s what we try to bring to the table every night. Even if there’s only one person in the audience, we never dial it back.”
Brooklyn’s Cellular Chaos has a storied history steeped in musical legacy and impressive resumes. Guitarist/founder Weasel Walter’s discography alone would exceed any reasonable word count. As long as I’ve been nerding out over “outsider music”, Weasel has been a permanent fixture in my tape collections, most notably as a member of The Flying Luttenbachers and more recently as the musical director for Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus. Since the early 90s, Weasel has had a hand in most of the interesting things happening in music in some capacity or another.
Admiral Gray was recruited into the fold in 2012 through a Facebook post. An accomplished and celebrated musician in her own right, she joined Cellular Chaos because she wanted to focus on solely being a singer (in previous projects, she deliberately avoided the trope of the “female front”) and to find out who “this asshole” thought he was.
Weasel remembers the post in a Facebook forum roughly as: No one wants to be a singer in this band?! Are you kidding me?! What is wrong with you people?! (I took liberties with those interrobangs, they’re assumptions on my part.)
Weasel wasn’t having the best time finding the right fit for Cellular Chaos – which was an instrumental band up until this point – and Admiral’s project at the time, Glass Lamborghini, was coming to an end and she (for whatever reason) was intrigued by this post.
“I had no idea who he was,” she tells me, “I didn’t know his reputation or legacy or anything. It was just like ‘alright, jerk, let’s hear this music.’”
So the jerk sent his music and Admiral found it to be “incredible, super smart music” and started writing with the band immediately.
There have been a few members in (and out) of Cellular Chaos since its inception. The current line-up with Chad Raines lends itself to the most interesting variation of the band’s unique sound and style.
“We pulled in Chad at first to handle the drum machine and electronic beats,” Admiral says, “because we thought it’d be cool to have somebody managing them on stage.”
Chad is a composer, multi-instrumentalist and professional sound designer best known (probably) for his synth-punk band The Simple Pleasure and as the guitarist for Amanda Palmer’s Grand Theft Orchestra. While was originally asked by Cellular Chaos to help out with live sound design and to work his magic with electronic beats on stage, it just made sense to have him playing acoustic drums as well. Not long after Chad’s inclusion, the band found themselves in need of a bass player so, naturally, Chad now manages the synth bass also.
“Because we have a lot of separate, loose moving parts in the music,” Admiral explains, “it [the partially electronic element] actually kind of keeps some of it nailed to the floor. I think it makes us really powerful live now in a way that we haven’t been.”
Weasel’s explanation of the band’s evolution is a bit more succinct: “It’s just a continuation of the art the band was pursuing the whole time. It’s just the latest incarnation.”
This latest incarnation, however it came together, delivers an energetic and wildly dynamic live performance that you have to experience to really grasp.
“Our job as performers is to enter a room and transform it because people need that inspiration,” Weasel tells me. “We have a lot of energy and we wanna share it. And we wanna show that life can be extraordinary just because you have the ideas and have the energy.”
That’s a start, but there’s more to a Cellular Chaos show than the unbridled energy.
“We’re articulating insanity to some degree,” he continues, “because I think everyone’s somewhat insane. Some of us just hide it a little better. So I hope our performance is a release for people because we let them know it’s okay to be kinda crazy. (And) that it can be constructive as opposed to destructive.”
“We’re trying to harness the chaos and tragedy and despair and beauty of existence for all of us,” Admiral adds, “and turn that into something horrific and beautiful. And we’re expressing it for everyone. It’s not us performing at the audience. We are, but we’re also like ‘this is you. This is all of us. We all made this music. We all are a part of this beautiful terrible chaos.’”
“It’s about trying to summon everyone’s energy and make something better happen,” Weasel says, “Because I think a lot of people are kind of beaten down right now and we just have so much energy and we wanna share it with people and create something special. Even if it’s just for one night.”
As verbose and eloquent as this band is and as much admiration as I have for them, words aren’t going to do justice to the experience. You’ll just have to come and see for yourself. Bring your energy, bring your psychodrama and bring all of that baggage you’ve been carrying with you. You’ll be a part of this show and you’ll be able to let all of that go, even just for one night. Try not to bring too much rationale, though.
“It’s black humor.” Weasel warns. “We’re surrealists.”
The Show is Tuesday, April 25th at Charlie’s with vv, XeitgeistXerox and Reptile Tile. Here it is on Facebook.