We Are the World

Cutting and pasting electro-pop with I Am the World Trade Center

Accused of insensitivity, a soul as sensitive as Dan Gellar's would be expected to shy away from controversy and cave in when the PC brigade comes rallying 'round. After all, the twee music Gellar champions -- both as cofounder of the influential indie label Kindercore and leader of the electro-pop duo I Am the World Trade Center -- is friendly and often featherweight. But Gellar, an affable twentysomething with a perpetual smile, didn't crumble when, in the aftermath of September 11, the chosen name for his musical project was often criticized as the apotheosis of bad taste. Several e-mails said the group must surely epitomize the worst of America's power and greed.

Instead of abandoning the name, Gellar recalled a vital truism that allowed him to ride out the storm: The world's memory is short.

"For the first three months, the overwhelming sense was we were going to have to change our name," the perennially upbeat Gellar says from his home base of Athens, Georgia. "Of course, while it was happening and I was watching it, our name was the last thing I was thinking of. The environment was negative as far as keeping the name, but when the new year came up, three months later it was a unanimous feeling that it would be more offensive to lose it than to keep it. Which made us happy. We planned on keeping it the whole time anyway."

Dan Gellar and Amy Dykes of I Am the World Trade Center: "I don't ever want to use the word joke again with that name."
Dan Gellar and Amy Dykes of I Am the World Trade Center: "I don't ever want to use the word joke again with that name."

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Like much of the fare offered by the venerable Kindercore, the music of I Am the World Trade Center is about as nonthreatening as a declawed stuffed kitty. Gellar and his girlfriend, Amy Dykes, thought up the name while living in Brooklyn. "Every morning when we'd get up and look outside, there were the towers, a part of our everyday environment. And Amy and I are two individuals standing for one thing, and our lives are so integrated. It kind of made sense. There was no question that was going to be the name of whatever we did."

The name began in jest as Gellar toyed with the silly notion of a one-man laptop band, saddled with a geographical place-name like Kansas or Chicago, introducing himself. Today, since the name has taken on additional significance, he stops short of characterizing it as a joke.

"I prefer lighthearted," he says, still with a giggle at the back of his throat. "I don't ever want to use the word joke again with that name. It was a lighthearted attempt to come up with something that would be funny and cool and interesting. Obviously, it doesn't have that same connotation anymore."

Lighthearteddescribes Gellar's music too. Dykes's cider-sweet voice seductively narrates each piece on Out of the Loop, IATWTC's superb debut record, released in 2001. Blondie and St. Etienne -- two of her primary touchstones -- are readily apparent. Eminently danceable throughout, Out of the Loop traffics in bioengineered beats that swing with almost hip-hop swagger, though Gellar chalks it up to his love of the late '80s "Madchester" movement, particularly the baggy-pantsed Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. These manifold sources combine on the geeky, unbridled fun of "Look Around You," where Dykes seems to swoon as Gellar constructs a rich sonic palette typified by shimmering sequencers, keyboards, and all manner of uncredited samples, up-the-neck bass riffs, and squiggly guitar. Snares, marimbas, and a loping bass trudge through the Arctic landscape of "Aurora Borealis," Dykes's voice softening like melting snow.

But when the band makes its South Florida debut next week, a synthesizer will be the only "real" instrument on stage. "You're not coming to our show for the musicianship," cautions Gellar. "You're coming to be entertained."

The album's title actually contains a clue relating to Gellar's construction technique. He created the album entirely on a Gateway laptop using programs like FruityLoops and ACID, splicing together funky beats, his own nimble but simple bass and guitar lines, all sorts of keyboards, and volumes of samples. The applications allow users to bring in samples from any source, loop them, add effects and sounds, and even stretch the samples in time -- effectively turning a PC into a portable multitrack studio with an infinite number of instruments at one's disposal.

"I've been waiting my whole life for this software to be developed," Gellar enthuses. "ACID especially. FruityLoops is just icing on the cake, but ACID is the program that helped me realize the sounds that had been bouncing around in my head for years and years that I wanted to make."

Gellar first began producing the sounds in the conventional way, playing guitar in a band, Kincaid, with his friend Ryan Lewis. In 1997, the two began Kindercore, centered on the unchecked pop scene in Athens. The label now includes Dressy Bessy, Vermont, Masters of the Hemisphere, and Japancakes. Patterning Kindercore on the like-minded Teen Beat and Merge ethic made it successful enough to keep Gellar from falling back on his other career, the one he went to school for. With a master's degree in biological engineering, he could go to work dethroning fossil fuels in favor of plant-based biodiesel.

During a stint of freelance alt-fuel work in Idaho, Gellar brought along his new laptop, which replaced the old Gateway Pentium 2. With most of the music that will make up the second IATWTC album (due in July) contained on it, Gellar left it in the trunk of his rental car while visiting job sites. That evening, back in his hotel, condensation rendered it temporarily inoperable, panicking Gellar considerably.

"I was working so hard on the album, I didn't have time to back anything up," he says, adding soberly, "but it is [backed up] now."

 
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