My weekend truly began upon entering Rough Trade in Williamsburg on Friday evening. I was overly excited to see the record store based venue, and even more excited to see and hear some great music. Do you ever go to a show expecting one thing and end up experiencing something completely different? That’s probably the most accurate description of my evening, as I was totally taken by surprise in the greatest way possible. I knew a few of Cultfever’s songs beforehand and I admired their craft; the way they infuse electronics into their music to create sounds that you’ve probably never heard before, and using those sounds to propel their melodies. The melodies are incredibly well thought-out and from a technical standpoint, you can hear, very obviously, that they have great musical minds. Knowing this, alone, had me looking forward to the evening, but they proved to be so much more than their recordings in a live setting. Cultfever’s Tamara Jafar and Joe Durniak know how to deliver an upbeat and lively set, while keeping the music genuine and on point.
Cultfever took on a high-energy, slightly Americana, rock ‘n’ roll vibe on stage with Joe’s guitar playing being pronounced and energized, accompanied by Tamara’s charismatic excellence. One of the highlights from their set was “Chicken”, which was playful and fun. Joe played a funky riff that made you want to dance; it was so tight, adding to the sheer quality of the sound in the room. At one point, Tamara crouched to the floor as she sang the more subdued verse. She used these dramatic moments to keep the suspense high and to fuel the energy of the booming chorus. As the set went on, it was clear that these guys could write and deliver great hooks. I found myself wanting to sing along to the tracks I have never heard. There were moments in the songs that were anthem-like – where the builds were so beautifully done, and the releases of the hooks were absolutely satisfying. Another highlight from the set would definitely be “Knewyouwell.” The beginning of the song was met with thunderous cheers from the audience. Tamara and Joe’s vocal harmonies, along with the synthesizer, created a rather airy feel. Tamara used the entire stage in a multitude of ways as she kept the audience engaged and feeling like a part of the community experience. Joe was absolutely tearing it up in his guitar solo, as they constantly added various elements to their set, keeping us wanting more. Their use of stripped down moments interwoven with their bigger, more upbeat moments kept things extremely dynamic and entertaining.
A cool moment of the evening was when Cultfever played a brand new song for us. The track is called “Youth,” and its upbeat nature continued to energize the room. For the first time of the evening, Joe temporarily took the vocal lead, which was a cool change of pace. His vibrato was a great addition to the complete sound. The drums added to the driving force of the rhythm as they played. The vocal harmonies were, once again spot on, and the electronics from the synthesizer allowed the melody to soar. This was a really enjoyable song to hear for the first time, live in concert. I am very excited that we are actually premiering “Youth,” here at Pancakes and Whiskey today! The song reflects a nostalgic feeling for our youthful days, when things were simpler, and how now we are faced with an all-encompassing worry. The lyrics “Sweet smell of the summer/When we were younger/And all we had to do was run with each other” really say it all. We yearn for that simplicity, and Cultfever brings that notion to life in “Youth.” I hope you enjoy the track as much as I do!
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One of the best parts about Cultfever is that not only have they proved to be great musicians who put on a great show, but they also proved to be epic human beings, as I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down for an interview with the duo. After meeting here in New York, Tamara and Joe began an immediate friendship. They ended up becoming roommates, relatively quickly with an agreement that the living room would be studio space. As often happens when musicians are in close quarters, the duo started making music together. What was a little more atypical was the ease at which it all happened. It’s almost as if they found their musical counterparts in each other. Joe calls it “effortless.” Tamara says, “now that we can speak from the glory of retrospect, I think we both intuitively felt that something was right, we went with it, and it just kind of worked out.”
Besides joking around and having an excellent time getting to know Tamara and Joe, I was curious about the differences between their recorded music and their live show. I knew a few songs going into Friday night’s show, and as I mentioned earlier, was surprised how much more rock ‘n’ roll-esque they sounded as opposed to the more electronic based recordings. Joe spoke about the recordings and how he composes much of the overall soundscape. I really enjoyed listening to the two of them speak about their music as a soundscape because it’s more than just a formalized song structure; it’s about the listening experience and appreciating what you hear. He elaborated by talking about how he hears sounds anywhere and everywhere, and he thinks about how he can create that sound to use with their melodies. They both take on several roles when they create music together. When they record and collaborate, Tamara says, “it feels more than a space with roles. It’s more like a space where we both use the tools we have to imagine a collective vision or picture.” Joe adds that he has “never written so well with somebody before, and that’s our strongest suit.” He loves working with Tamara’s voice because that’s an instrument he doesn’t play. After that comment, Tamara might have come up with the best metaphor of all time by saying, “it’s kind of like the relationship between Ursula and Ariel in the Little Mermaid (where she takes Ariel’s voice), but in this case, it’s consensual.” In regards to the way the recorded music translates to the stage, Joe talks about the conscious decision to keep the guitar sound up with the drums. Tamara mentioned that while they love a good show where you can totally trance out, that’s not their style as live performers. They want to bring energy to the stage. Tamara says they prefer sitting in the rock vein because “there’s a dynamic spectrum of emotion that we want to go through, and that we want the audience to go through with us during a show. If we can succeed in creating that range in a show, we feel good at the end of it.”
Joe sets up the synth to be triggered by the drummer and the sound engineer, enhancing the quality of the sound by bringing some of the original album sounds into the set. This allows each song to have different synth sounds. It’s also programmed so the synth sounds can automatically change within songs as well. Joe takes complete control of the soundscape in the studio and on the stage. He says it comes down to the question of: “where’s your voice, where’s my voice, and how do they work the best together?” There are moments on the upcoming album when their voices combine and Joe says, “It moves me.” Tamara says there are moments when she hears a recording of them singing together in the alto and tenor ranges when she can’t tell who, between them, is actually singing. She says, “I think we’re both curious to explore that kind of androgyny with singing.” We discussed the builds in many of the songs, which are gorgeously done. Tamara relates this idea to “writing a convincing story.” If the story calls for a big moment, they will adequately build the sound up to reach that point. Joe adds that it shouldn’t feel forced. They want to serve the overall piece.
When I commented on their songs being somewhat anthem-like as performed live, Tamara said, “Go big or go home,” and that’s exactly how Cultfever lives it up. Lastly, Cultefever has just set up a hotline! They want you to call and leave them voicemails; anonymously telling them secrets, stories, memories, or whatever else comes to mind. Joe says, “We want anyone to call us!” If you leave a number, they might even call you back. Tamara says if you tell them something good, they might use it in a song. So feel free to call Cultfever’s hotline at 818 YOCULT1; or for those of you who no longer have letters on your keypads, it’s 818-962-8581. Call away!
Article: Alex Feigin