SONIC REDUCER Everyone knows sex sells. But who knew, so many years ago, when hip-hop was still reporting from the streets and dance music revolved round the love and stardust thrown off those glittering mirrored balls, that overt consumption itself would sell just as well? So much of today's mainstream pop and hip-hop continues to hobble along on the crutch of an all-glam, imagination-free, Benjamin-flaunting, daydream-stoking, showroom/showoff mentality, which masquerades as genuine energy and originality. Check, for instance, T.I.'s Cinderella-fantasy "Whatever You Like" video. Still, is Britney Spears ushering in a recession-era pop backlash against gimme-gimme materialism with her recent "Womanizer" clip? Its up-to-the-millisecond, dashed-off put-down of Wall Street traders 'n' traitors is delivered nekkid from a detoxing, rehab-ready sauna.
And you know the East Bay's dance-pop provocateur Wallpaper is on that tip with his own ironic-hip-cat zazu. The Wallpaper project itself, says mastermind Eric Frederic, is "a device to critique pop music but also popular culture, and I think things are getting exponentially worse as far as consumer culture, cell phone culture, the culture of me goes. Even for those of us who think we understand it and are separate from it."
Take, for example, texting my least favorite thing to watch in a dark movie theater and the subject of Wallpaper's "Txt Me Yr Love" off its T Rex EP (Eenie Meenie). "That song is obviously a knock on text-obsessed people," Frederic continues. "But I probably send 100 text messages a day. I do it way more than I want to and way more than I'm comfortable with, and that represents, again, an inner struggle with this kind of stuff."
Fighting, thought-provoking words from a sharp, very funny mind. I first caught Wallpaper a while back at Bottom of the Hill, and Frederic's uncanny pop hooks and cheesy-hilarious way of styling his performance delivered in character, from a vinyl La-Z-Boy, as the egocentric would-be-superstar Ricky Reed, alongside drummer Arjun Singh made me bookmark him for better or worse. Whether you catch the two live or Frederic in one of his wittily clueless video blog entries, you'll find that Wallpaper brings that sense of humor so sorely missing from local pop, dance, and indie rock scenes.
And rest assured, the tousled-haired songwriter, who just graduated with a degree in composition from UC Berkeley, is nothing like his satirical persona.
"The character is a real jerk, and I don't want to be anything like him or embody him in my daily life at all," says the Bay Area native while tackling a turkey sandwich at Brainwash Cafe. "He's arrogant, and he's chauvinistic, and he's material-obsessed. He just represents everything that bums me out." Frederic laughs. "He's not very bright. He doesn't really get it, and he doesn't realize that the joke's on him half the time." Hence the surprised reactions from fans apparently Wallpaper blew minds during their '08 Brooklyn and Philadelphia shows when they approach Frederic. "Usually the first response is, 'I didn't think you were going to be so nice to me!'"
He's nice and hard-working apparently: Frederic toiled on the EP, played alongside party-starters like Dan Deacon, and did some requisite remixes while completing work on his degree, and now he's deep into making an album, a form that he's studying intently.
"It's definitely hard because with today's music culture or climate, you have to do remixes and video blogs and stuff just to keep people's attention. Making a really intensive, really smart full-length record while doing all that stuff with a short period of time is really challenging," he says.