In 2008, New Yorkers Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser unhinged the mystical Door to Kukundu. Dressed in matching technicolour dreamcoats, the pair better known as MGMT ushered in a wave of new sound that could be heard everywhere from Cape Town to Japan. “How are you guys going to party now that you’ve got this award?” a journalist asked VanWyngarden at the NME Awards USA show in April last year, just after MGMT won Best Breakthrough Track for ‘Time To Pretend’. “Probably smoke a little bit of pot and drink a couple drinks” he replied nonchalantly. Goldwasser and Kelly Osbourne giggled to his right.
MGMT have been described as “space cadets,” “a sugary feast for the senses,” “a charming mess” and of course, “psychedelic”. In most media appearances they look and sound mashed out of their skulls. And yet there’s a naïvety about them, an anachronistic playfulness that carries through to their futuristic, atmospheric synthesised pop music. They’re like neo-hippy Lost Boys, future gazing with the spiders from Mars and a retro sense of cool.
The year 2008 was big for them. No, it was huge. Interviewed backstage before MGMT’s slot at Glastonbury 2008, VanWyngarden described the year ahead: “We’re playing and then we’re leaving tonight and we’re going to Manchester to play with Radiohead and Bat For Lashes. This year we’re playing Reading, Leeds, T in the Park, Oxygen, Roskilde, Summer Sonic in Japan. Then we’re going on tour with Beck, we’re going to Brazil, we’re going to Mexico, Australia, Japan…”
But Oracular Spectacular didn’t just happen overnight. Well, not quite – more like over-fortnight. Van Wyngarden and Goldwasser shared a dorm at Wesleyan University in Connecticut in 2002. First known as The Management, they released the EP We (Don’t) Care, which featured an early version of their latest single ‘Kids’ in 2004. In early 2005, still known as The Management, they released the ten track collection of demos entitled Climbing to New Lows that featured a six minute ‘Afterschool Dance Megamix’ version of ‘Kids’.
Later in 2005, VanWyngarden and Goldwasser released the EP Time to Pretend, featuring both ‘Time to Pretend’ and ‘Kids’, on the small independent New York label, Cantora Records, now under the name MGMT. “There was another band using the name, but we actually like MGMT better. So that’s fine,” is Goldwasser’s zen response to the debacle.
In 2006, after touring with American indie pop band Of Montreal, MGMT signed to Columbia Records/SonyBMG and started recording their debut full length Oracular Spectacular with producer Dave Fridmann (who has worked with The Flaming Lips, Sleater Kinney, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Mogwai). Now, I can only speculate, but the lyrics to ‘The Handshake’ seem somewhat autobiographical in light of their transition to a major: “I just shook the handshake, I just sealed the deal, I’ll try not to let them take everything they can steal. People always told me, said don’t forget your roots, I know I can feel them underneath my leather boots.”
January 2008 was the beginning of the MGMT avalanche. Sony began an all-out offensive that saw the pair appear on everything from Letterman and Conan O’Brien to teen TV serials like 90210, Survivors and Gossip Girl. Their psychomelodic synth-grunge sound has even been adopted by the latest generation of video games. Thanks to FIFA 09 and Shaun White Snowboarding, I knew MGMT before I’d heard of MGMT. And thanks to all the rest, ‘Kids’ is playing out of all four doors down the corridor right now.
Only time will tell if MGMT can sustain the hype and write another hit record or, like the title of their hypnotising 8-bit indie anthem, they’re just fated to pretend.
Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but what else can we do? Get jobs and offices and wake up for the morning commute?
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