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Sample Track 1:
"The Antidote" from Shine Your Face
Sample Track 2:
"Only the Maker" from Shine Your Face
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Mr. Something Something, Spring 2010 Tour Twenty Bike Pedals and a Microphone: The Polyrhythmic Spree and Dancefloor Activism of Mr. Something Something Comes to the States in April

On a late September day—International Car Free Day, to be precise—something went terribly, terribly right. A crowd of usually staid citizens broke into an impromptu dance party on the major thoroughfare of downtown Toronto’s Queen Street. The force behind the unexpected outbreak of joy: Mr. Something Something.

Spontaneous parties lie at the heart of the band’s music and message, whether they are parading, saxophones and shekeres blazing, through the audience to the stage, or rattling off witty off-the-cuff exhortations, or pumping out infectious polyrhythmic grooves. The high-energy dancefloor pioneers artfully combine green free thinking, a global pulse, and a profoundly humanist spirit on their latest album, Shine Your Face. Their potent mix of pedal-powered philosophy and sustainable funk is coming to cities across the U.S. this April, in performances that are never the same twice.

That crazy Car Free Day, Mr. Something Something paid for a few parking spaces and set up their bike-powered sound system, the Sound Cycle. Drummer and percussionist Larry Graves set the pace, laying down the time with rhythms he’d learned from long hours of study and exploration in Ghana. Then, charismatic Swedish frontman Johan Hultqvist launched into his on-the-fly soul, while John MacLean, the band’s horn and audio guru, directed the ever-shifting arrangements.

The music grew louder as passersby grabbed seats on the bikes powering the band’s speakers and amps. People literally jumped to participate, not just by shaking a tail feather, but by pumping away at the pedals.

Powered in a unique way, the Toronto-based band’s raw and wonderfully quirky performances defy classification. At least, they did until MacLean convinced the organizers at annual World Music conference WOMEX to create a new genre for Mr. Something Something: Dancefloor Activism.

Yet Mr. Something Something does more than just talk about transformation. They want to be it. Their dancefloor activism and innovations like the Sound Cycle are no gimmicks.

“There is a greater idea behind getting people dancing,” explains Hultqvist, “I see it all the time: the dancefloor is empty until one or two generous, joyful souls get out there, changing the whole atmosphere in the club. Someone's got to get the party started. The same is true for civic engagement, be it for social justice or sustainability. All great change starts with a good idea and a small group of people.”

Mr. Something Something is able to capture people’s hearts and enthusiasm so readily because they have spent years developing their own connections, cultivating their skills as musicians in unexpected ways, and exploring the world. The project that became Mr. Something Something started seven years ago when childhood friends, MacLean and Graves reunited to play music.

Growing up in Ottawa, they had seen each other through all kinds of awkward musical stages. “Back when we were kids, Larry played the trombone. He looked and felt ridiculous,” MacLean laughs. “But then he got his hands on some drumsticks and it all started coming together.”

The teenage duo first formed a Dixieland band to play at weddings ,old folks homes, and at welcome home parties for Olympic athletes, but soon found themselves moving into soul, with more horns, amplifiers and complexity. “We got a taste for something that was a little more challenging,” MacLean recalls, Though they parted ways as young adults, both musicians spent time in West Africa, where they gained a deep feel and respect for the forms powering Mr. Something Something’s music.

Both MacLean and Graves continue to visit Nigeria and Ghana regularly, and continue to learn. “I disrupt my comfort zone,” MacLean reflects. “When you see how everyone there, despite their challenges, can have so much joy, every little thing gets turned over and changes you as a writer. There’s a perfect thing that happens in West Africa: People get up and dance at the drop of a hat. I bring that spirit into the studio when I write.”

Several years later, after teaming up again and moving to Toronto, they met Johan at a musicians’ house. “He heard what we were up to through the walls, and came dancing into the rehearsal room,” MacLean smiles. “We knew we had found the right guy.”

Even without the Sound Cycle—unfortunately the Western hemisphere’s first pedal-powered sound system won’t be leaving Canada this time around—Mr. Something Something’s music is all about action and connection, be it with festival goers, commuters on the street, or a school gym filled with skeptical kids. Western African music, both traditional genres and the Afrobeat movement of Fela Kuti, has inspired the structure of Mr. Something Something’s songs. Hultqvist gets the audience in on the action with call and response, while the band shapes its music on the spot, improvising and adjusting what they play to find the sweet spot where fun turns to joy.

“We can turn on a dime,” MacLean smiles. “Every tune we play, I quarterback the arrangements on stage, with a glance or signal. It changes every show because Johan will be doing something cool and will get someone from the audience reacting. That’s his real gift, if something’s working we’ll do it again or make it longer. Every tune at every show is in the spirit of improvisation.”

This mix of form and flexibility taps into the natural energy that lights up the audience. The music is technically complex, but it doesn’t feel like it. “Our song, ‘Make Your Mind,’ is in an odd time signature (5/4), but we’ve worked to make it feel totally natural,” MacLean explains. “Our music is clever if you want it to be clever. You can feel out the complexities, or you can just close your eyes and dance.”

But you can also open your eyes and think. More than just a party, Mr. Something Something’s shows call for greater personal and social engagement, for a spiritual and energetic response. After a particularly exhilarating show, an audience member rushed up, eager to talk to MacLean. “She was all wide-eyed and smiling,” he reflects, “and she mentioned ‘Make Your Mind.’ She said that listening to that song was like going to Mecca, like a religious pilgrimage. It totally nourished her. She got it. That’s what we’re really hoping people bring away from our shows, that joy.”