When I catch up with Vancouver, B.C. punk duo Nü Sensae, they're in Southern California, making some tour purchases at Wal-Mart while their van is being serviced. "Hang on," says drummer Daniel Pitout. "I'm buying a Barbie doll."
Nü Sensae are such a relentlessly hardcore band that them copping to buying something as bland and synthetic as a Barbie doll seems almost completely out of the realm of possibility. And yet, the music made by Pitout and bandmate Andrea Lukic, while intense, isn't totally without allusions to visions of peroxide-soaked beauty: their self-titled 2008 12" opens with an excerpt from a news report on the death of '50s sex icon Jayne Mansfield (in an appropriately brutal touch, the report cites decapitation as Mansfield's cause of death - a falsity that persists to this day as urban legend).
The song titles on Nü Sensae's latest - TV, Death And The Devil - are often enclosed within parentheses, as if to suggest the songs themselves are somehow more implicit than explicit. This conceit stands in contrast to the ear-flooding, high-voltage overload of Nü Sensae's music. The suggestion of unspoken significance and imploded, J.G. Ballard-esque realms of "inner space" is more fitting, however, than you might initially expect. There are shades of nuance and depth in Nü Sensae's searing, post-nuclear clatter that reveal themselves only after multiple immersions into their roiling, turbulent soundscapes. Imagine the badass-ery of Sonic Youth (when the seminal group was at their most aggressive, adolescent-appeasing and snottily militant) turned up to eleven. Then multiply that one hundred times.
Nü Sensae are skull-crackingly loud and utterly ferocious-sounding - something that's all the more impressive when you realize they sculpt their gruesome creations with nothing more than drums, bass, and vocals. Pitout explains that it's a challenge having so few instruments to work with, but the minimalism can be liberating, as well. "It took awhile for us to figure out how to make it sound less empty. We had a guitarist in the band for one show (Nikki Never, of Vancouver's Terror Bird), and we realized that we liked the dynamic better with just Andrea and I."
While Nü Sensae didn't deliberately set out to be a two-person operation following in the footsteps of other formative, sludgy drum-n-bass duos, they're definitely not alone in their approach. Their set-up and overall heaviness makes them markedly similar to Seattle's The Last Slice of Butter. Incidentally, the two bands have gigged together before, at one of Seattle's dankest underground venues. The bands share another common bond: they're fortunate enough to hail from thriving DIY music scenes.
"A lot of the people play in each other's bands and record together (in Vancouver)," Lukic says. "It's very close-knit."
Nü Sensae's tour-mates, Shearing Pinx, come from the same lively Vancouver DIY scene (many of the other notable B.C. underground acts appear on Nominal Records' way-solid Emergency Room, Vol. 1 comp). Shearing Pinx, who will join Nü Sensae at The Northern on Saturday, specialize in crazy, gain-saturated delirium. Their music's nearly as crushing as Nü Sensae's, but much gnarlier and unhinged. Pitout reveals why the bands - who have known each other for years - make such an apt pairing: "We have different things going on musically, but we complement each other well. We've always liked their music, so it was an easy choice."
Nü Sensae apply their DIY ethos to virtually all aspects of their project. Lukic designed the eye-catching cover of the 2008 12", the design for which was repurposed on a popular t-shirt (the band has sold over 500 shirts, and each one was individually screen-printed by Pitout and Lukic).
"For a very long time, we did everything ourselves," Pitout says. "We've always booked our tours. This tour is the first time we've had help from a booking agent."
Despite the expansive plans on their horizon (the West Coast again, maybe the East Coast, maybe Europe), Washingtonians can rest assured that Nü Sensae won't forget about their fans in the Pacific Northwest - they've got a soft spot for Olympia. "We always try to eat Old School (Pizzeria) on tour," Pitout says.
with Shearing Pinx and Broken Water
Saturday, June 26, 9 p.m., all ages, cover TBA
Northern, 321 Fourth Ave., Olympia