DIY fever is raging right now, racing across bridges like a maddening epidemic here in the Bay. It's so damn thick that I can feel it leeching onto the back of my throat and sticking there like the unpleasant stench of some urine-soaked thrash pad where 20-odd squatters, each with a dog, are hiding out. But times are tough, as the Bay Area underground music community discovered earlier this month when 21 Grand, the Oakland grassroots platform for experimental art and music, shuttered its doors. It was a shocking blow proving, after the closures of Mission Records and Balazo 18 Art Gallery before it, that the outlook continues to be challenging when it comes to maintaining an all-ages performance space without the unfriendly rap on the window.
The members of Didimao three San Francisco transplants from different parts of the globe make up a minute fraction of those mourning the perhaps temporary loss of the East Bay arts hub. In fact, they seemed somewhat reluctant to talk about their two-year-old project, instead filling in the spaces left by my questions by glorifying the old Mission punk scene or changing the subject and plugging away at their favorite local band at the moment.
During our two-hour conversation at the Inner Richmond ice cream shop where bassist Matt Chandler works, the trio continuously stressed the impact outfits such as Dory Tourette and the Skirt Heads, Curse of the Birthmark, and TSA have had on Didimao. Guitarist-vocalist Sergey Yashenko must have name-dropped Stripmall Seizures a group Chandler plays with at least 15 times and at one point even proclaimed that the Seizures are the best band in the country.
As our discussion unfolded, however, at least one thing became pretty clear: Didimao simply aspire to share their music, which works an unconventional vein similar to that of their predecessors yet feels out of touch with the current Bay Area music scene. "Scenes get so specialized in this city. If you go to a noise show, it'll be strictly noise. If you go to a free jazz show, it's only free jazz," Chandler said. "There's so much shit going on that it almost acts against itself. I come from a small town in Indiana, and all the people who make noise or who are in a weird rock band are forced to hang out together and influence each other. Here it seems like people who are into noise are into nothing else. And they're fascist about it."
Noise at maximum abrasiveness and volume nonetheless happens to be the key ingredient in Didimao's repertoire. On its self-titled debut on the Cococonk label, the group heavily recalls the Butthole Surfers at their most acid damaged, mixing cow-punk riffs with improvised moments of dark, tripped-out electronics and pummeling tumult. Yashenko's guitar buzz-saws harshly with loose, Middle Easterninspired arrangements and feedbacked clatter, while his buried Slavic yodel sounds as animalistic as a howling dog. Chandler musters hasty, fuzz-prone bass lines to match the breakneck tempos of drummer Miguel Serra, and the two of them fluctuate from slam-dance explosiveness to free-rock noodlings to western rhythms and back again.
Serra clued me in that Didimao's songwriting process is informed by both their limitations and how they'd like to sound. "I feel like a lot of our songs right now are dictated by what we don't want to sound like as much as what we do want to sound like," he explained. "None of us are virtuosos by any means, so it's kind of hard to have an idea of what you want to sound like and just pull it off.
"We come up with something and try and make it as acceptable to our standards as possible," Serra continued.
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