WHAT is it with European dance music acts and masks?
First came the Parisian future shock beat-meisters in Daft Punk, seldom seen performing without their robot helmets (and who require confidentiality waivers from those who see them out of costume). Belgian mash-up duo 2 Many DJ's became semi-famous for wearing brown paper bags on their heads.
And now, enter the Teddybears, the Stockholm dancehall reggae/punk rock/hip-hop/electronica trio whose promo photos and album art depict the members wearing oversized, sinister-but-cute bear masks.
With their fangs and red-rimmed eye sockets and their "read anything you want into it" vagueness, the masks are appropriate signifiers for the group's wildly hybridized musical style, influenced by Public Enemy, Kraftwerk, Bad Brains and Kraut Rock.
The Teddybears' Stateside debut, "Soft Machine" -- which features guest appearances by Jamaican MC Elephant Man, Scandinavian electro-pop chanteuse Annie and Ebbot Lundberg from the Swedish rock group the Soundtrack of Our Lives, among others -- comes out this month on Big Beat/Atlantic Records.
"It's a mash-up culture, a mash-up time," says the Teddybears' Jocke Ahlund. "That reflects in our music. We take all the good parts out of different genres and don't discriminate."
Fitting also, then, that the group started out not as a dance music act at all but as a grind-core band calling itself Skull when it formed a decade ago. "We were listening to KRS-One and the Dead Kennedys back then, but our means of expression were very primitive," explains Ahlund, who also is lead singer-songwriter for garage rock outfit the Caesars (its song "Jerk It Out" became a hit after its use in a 2005 iPod TV commercial). "The more we played, our spectrum became broader."
And with a new sound came a new name in 1998. "If you're familiar with the Swedish or Norwegian black metal scene, you know back then every band was called things like 'Corpse Grinder From Hell,' " he continues. "So we called ourselves the Teddybears as an 'anti' thing. We were the hardest rocking [band] in Sweden and we're calling ourselves the Teddybears."
The group enlisted Iggy Pop to sing on the song "Punkrocker" and dancehall toaster Mad Cobra to spit lyrics on the album's infectious first single, "Cobrastyle."
"It's a pretty safe bet," Ahlund says, laughing, "that we're the only record in the world to have Iggy Pop, Mad Cobra and Neneh Cherry on it."
Now for a little pro-Hezbollah rap
EGYPTIAN pop singer Shaaban Abdel Rahim first tipped his political leanings with his 2001 folk-rap song "I Hate Israel" and its follow-up single, the anti-American "Hitting Iraq." Now he is releasing a pro-Hezbollah rap song criticizing Israel's recent attacks on Lebanon.
"Only Two Soldiers" -- the title refers to the flash point that sparked the current conflict, Hezbollah's kidnapping of two Israelis -- reflects an anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian sentiment now brimming over in the Middle East.
Rahim rap-sings: "Because of two soldiers, they make a big fuss. They forget the massacres and the millions of prisoners. I feel sad for Lebanon and its people who were attacked and also for Palestine."
"Oh Arab men, wake up," Rahim urges in the song.
Audioslave as island nation
IF you're Audioslave -- a metal band with a pronounced progressive political slant that has never been shy about raging against the proverbial machine -- how do you express your dissatisfaction with the current presidential administration?
Perform on a tour called Rock Against Bush? Check.
Speak out against the president? Check.
Start your own sovereign nation? As of this month, check.
According to www.audioslave.com-- which also, incidentally, mentions that Audioslave's new Brendan O'Brien-produced album, "Revelations," is now set to drop Sept. 5 -- "The utopian island of AUDIOSLAVE
NATION is located in the Indian Ocean between South America and New Zealand at approximately 42° longitude and --137° latitude."
At the site, using the Google Earth program, fans will be able to preview the group's album art.
In online hookup, band meets a mate
IN an era when websites
such as match.com and JDate.com are making love connections between Web-connected romantics and Internet job post lists have become highly effective want ads, it's no surprise to hear that a pop group found its frontman through the Net.
That's what happened earlier this year when '80s hit-maker Culture Club put a posting online for a new vocalist. It was answered by an unknown mono-monikered singer-songwriter named Sam, who sent the band a note with a photo and went on to land the gig as Boy George's replacement.
"I have never seen the film 'A Star Is Born,' but I think that gig was what it must have been like," Sam recently told the Times of London after his first performance with the band. "I'm like a kid in a candy store."
Dolls' search goes the reality route
LOOKS like the lingerie-clad prefab pop sensation the Pussycat Dolls is hoping to cash in on the reality-TV ratings bonanza. The CW network has announced that an eight-episode unscripted drama tentatively titled "The Search for the Next Pussycat Doll" will begin airing during the 2006-07 season. Drama will center on the multiplatinum-selling, chart-topping all-female sextet as it launches a nationwide talent hunt for a seventh member.
According to a press release, "this show goes beyond just finding a new Pussycat Doll; it's about female empowerment, self-discovery and personal transformation." And Victoria's Secret is a health club.