By Ashley Zimmerman
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The term space porn may evoke images of alien life forms fornicating in zero gravity. But for the members of L.A.-based Particle, it's a fan's apt description of their music. "I think a lot of our music is very ethereal and electronically based," drummer Darren Pujalet explains. "It gives it more of that spacey kind of feel. When you listen back to traditional '70s funk, sometimes people call it 'porno style,' so really it just means funk music, dance funk, with more of a spacey twist to it."
Particle's mixture of electronica, funk, and rock 'n' roll inspires audiences to dance with reckless abandon for hours on end. At this summer's Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee, the band was given a late-night time slot that ran from 3 to 8 a.m. "We probably exhausted about half of our material," Pujalet says. "I think for us as a band, within us, it's spiritually challenging and musically challenging to play with that kind of endurance and creativity for five hours and 15 minutes; it was an amazing challenge."
Without the ability to overcome challenges, Particle would not exist today. Dave Simmons, the band's original guitarist, died of diabetes complications soon after the first show. Rather than call it quits, the remaining band members -- Pujalet, keyboardist Steve Molitz, and bassist Eric Gould -- placed a musician-wanted ad in the paper and found guitarist Charlie Hitchcock. "I came in on, like, a Thursday to jam with them, and I think we played a gig two days later," Hitchcock remembers. "It was a pretty heavy situation to walk in on, though."
The group soon hit the road, opting to tour heavily and wait to spend time in the studio recording an album. "Normally, you have an album and put it out and put a bunch of money into marketing and then do the touring. We did the touring first, and the album came after that," remarks Hitchcock, referring to Launchpad, the band's unreleased first studio effort. "It's kinda bassackwards from the way people normally do it," he laughs. But this approach seemed to work, as word of mouth propelled the band into ever-larger venues and onto the lineup of a wide array of events including California's "Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival," where it was co-billed with an eclectic lineup including DJ Felix da Housecat, socially conscious MC Talib Kweli, and electro-clash revival poster boys the Rapture.
In a little more than three years, Particle has played over 400 gigs across the country and beyond. But the shocking growth in popularity was neither planned nor expected. "A lot of philosophers say that luck is the crossroads between opportunity and preparedness," Pujalet explains, "and I think what happened was that Particle has been prepared for every opportunity that we've been given, and we haven't had to turn things down."
This includes a brief jaunt to Japan last spring to test the international appeal of the music on a virgin audience. The band was happily surprised when it was greeted warmly by the crowd. "I thought it was gonna be reserved, like, you play a song and it would be totally silent and everybody would clap type of thing," Hitchcock says. "But when we went over there, the people were just going crazy and dancing. It was awesome; they really loved us."
A large part of Particle's success is the result of being lumped into the oft-misrepresented jam-band genre. "I think it's really helped us in a lot of ways," Pujalet says, "because the jam-band community is something that you can start on a more grassroots level and build, because it is built solely on live shows."
Despite its reputation as a jam band, Particle is actually representative of a new cross-pollination of genres. These artists aim to appeal to fans of two different forms of "underground" music: improvisational, solo-based jam rock and cyclically composed, persistently peaking dance music.
"I think the jam-band thing is kind of a weird label," Hitchcock says. "I definitely want to branch out and be more than a jam band. I want to reach all kinds of different styles and people. I definitely think the raver kids would dig our stuff a lot."
Pujalet continues: "The jam-band community has some of the best fans in the world. They're die-hard; they're demanding, but they're very loyal, and they really support music itself more than just buying albums and going to see people for their looks. They're there for the music."
The band hopes that these fans will also be there to buy their debut album, produced by Tom Rothrock, when it is released early next year. Rothrock, who has worked with Moby, Beck, and Coldplay, lent his ears and years of experience to the recording process while still allowing the band to steer the album's direction. The result captures the intensity of Particle's live shows while offering a change of pace. "I think it's a different side and element of Particle that people are going to get to experience," Pujalet says excitedly, "so I'm looking forward to seeing the reaction to it."