Talking Fact (and Probable Fiction) with the Foundling Circus Guild


Everyone at the Music Hall of Williamsburg for the Voice‘s Siren Festival after-party last month was enraptured with the deliciously over-the-top Apes & Androids rock spectacle happening onstage. I was pretty enraptured too, but my drink was empty, so I slipped downstairs for another Greyhound and ruined what would otherwise have been an incredibly fun surprise addition: a crew of tribal dancers outfitted in neon leotards, angular masks, fluorescent fishnets, and candy-striped staffs. They were waiting single file, preparing to launch an aesthetic assault on what was already one of the most visually arresting shows I’d been to in months, what with the confetti guns and the glowsticks and the black lights and, you know, the band. Apes & Androids don’t exactly fly under the radar.

And then their small army began to snake through the crowd, pounding and twisting their bodies from the back of the theater to the front of the stage. Somewhere in the middle, one of the dancers was dangling from an actual spit, like a goddamn roasted pig. They climbed up to join the band for a couple songs, shaking their fists and contorting their bodies into shapes I didn’t know were possible. Then they were gone.

But not for long, because a week later they showed up again, this time at P.S.1’s July 26 Warm Up Party, featuring James Murphy and Pat Mahoney. They took over a nearby rooftop, again masked and writhing around in the same swaths of neon fabric, encircling a white, hirsute creature on stilts. I asked around until someone could tell me the name of this merry band of firestarters: the Foundling Circus Guild.

I tracked down two of them, William Oberlin and Kat Mareck, while they were vacationing in South Korea, ideally to find out who they are, what they’re doing, and when we can see them again. Turns out straight answers aren’t so easy for a group committed to preserving this strange mythology they’ve created.

Here, an excerpt from our e-mail exchange:

How did Foundling Circus Guild get its start? Several of us were raised by wolves and monkeys in the wild. Others simply ran away from home. We found each other on the streets stilting, acrobating, and fire-spinning for fish heads, which we saved to make stew.

How would you describe the group’s mission? If you look around and can’t see us, we want you worrying about which direction we’re coming at you next.

How did you get hooked up with Apes & Androids? Or with Warm Up? David Tobias of A&A contacted us and, in what can only be described as a leap of uncommon faith, asked us to create a spectacle for their Bowery Ballroom show [on May 30]. He heard of us through a mutual friend but had little understanding of who we are, or what we do. After two or three napkin-sketch meetings with David and Brian Jacobs, we began crafting monsters and android ladies, which the band never really saw until the performance. The process was practically the same for the Siren Festival after-party at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Warm Up was an unsanctioned attack— the performance equivalent of a car bomb. We are pretty sure that P.S.1 is still scratching their heads about it. We do a lot of surprise events like this.

Will you continue to collaborate with members of Brooklyn’s music scene? Have you anything specific coming up? We will collaborate with anyone who can withstand our smell, but we shy away from events in which we have little creative input. We like working with Apes & Androids and will continue to do their bidding for as long as they will allow. We have some handshake deals with a few people right now. If we are not careful, some of these gigs could catapult us to a condition of unforeseen legitimacy.

Other plans for the near future? We are working in secret to produce the “Guerrilla Circus,” a curious event of questionable legality that will happen in the fall.

I have a feeling that by the end of the summer I’ll be sampled and synthed out, a little bit tired of high voices and joyful exuberance. But I’m not there yet, which is good, since Passion Pit’s three-week residency at Pianos kicks off Wednesday, August 13. The Boston-based five-piece, founded and fronted by Michael Angelakos, has been opening shows for Girl Talk and Death Cab for Cutie and collecting comparisons to MGMT (of course), but to me they sound more like a warbly Sigur Rós sped up and layered over twinkly electro twinges and pulses. The band’s musical intentions are clear from the onset of “Sleepyhead,” arguably Passion Pit’s most popular song (and a bonus track on the band’s Chunk of Change EP), which opens with a snippet from one of Jack Kerouac’s spoken-word albums, repeated three times: “Everything’s going to the beat.” Hopefully, the crowd at Pianos will at least bob their heads.

Frenchkiss Records, home to the Dodos, the Hold Steady, and Les Savy Fav, signed Passion Pit and will reissue Chunk of Change this fall, with a debut full-length to follow in early 2009. As the story goes, the EP started as a mixtape of Angelakos’s personal recordings, handed out to friends and fellow students at Emerson College, but only after his girlfriend suggested that he do so, since the mixtape had originally been created as a Valentine’s Day present for her. Some girls have all the luck.

Passion Pit plays Pianos August 13 with You Can Be a Wesley and the Toothaches; additional shows take place August 20 and August 27