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Game Killer of The Pussycat Dolls
By Alison Meeder
Jonathan Snipes is standing on stage. Shirtless and stoic in acid washed jeans, the Captain Ahab frontman has got that ‘Don’t touch me little people, I’m Dave Navarro and you’re not’ look in his eye. Over a hammering techno beat, he’s singing about dirty sex with dirty people. In the crowd below is the Los Angeles duo’s other half, Jim Merson. Wearing tennis shoes and tighty whities, he’s running towards you with a frothy determination that makes you wonder if you can still get a rabies vaccination at this time of night. Merson doesn’t know you but he humps your leg nonetheless, covers you in sweat, and moves on to his next victim. Phrases like “restraining order” and “pregnancy test” flash through your mind, but you get yourself under control. Looking around, you see the audience – many of whom have also stripped down to their underwear – dancing as shamelessly as of a bunch of eight-year-old girls at a wedding reception. They seem to be having the time of their lives and by the end of the night, you will be too.
This is the way with most of Captain Ahab’s fans: terminal bewilderment giving way to complete adoration. Rightfully so, since Ahab’s hypersexual vibe can be a little overwhelming on the first pass. Not that sexuality in pop music is anything new; most rock songs, from the Stones to Spank Rock, usually contain some variation on the male libido. These days someone’s bending over to the front and touching their toes or it’s not a party. Ahab songs, however, are often written from a female perspective, and Snipes’ protagonist is usually vapid, underage, and out to get low – or else. It’s funny, but a little scary too. You wonder if you should really laugh at something so… wrong. When Snipes is asked if he might be unwittingly spreading misogyny, he’s quickly dismissive. “I don’t have an agenda,” he maintains, adding, “All responsibility in art is on the viewer.”
Possibly, but are songs about teenage girls huffing paint really art? Maybe. Snipes began writing his dirty anthems as Captain Ahab in 1997. As a high school student he produced D.I.Y. Casio beats and lyrics about robot sex. He met Merson, and after watching his caveman-on-Viagra antics at Ahab performances, incorporated his friend as an ultimate Hype Man. It all seems like a stupid good time. But songs such as “Girls Gone Wild,” found on the group’s 2006 debut full-length After the Rain My Heart Still Dreams, are too dark to be purely for laughs. Snipes as a coked-out sorority girl demands, “Everybody look at me! I deserve attention!” Fine, you think, show me your boobs but just don’t hurt me. Even if Ahab isn’t art, it’s an awesome bitch slap at female objectification in mainstream pop. Compared to Ahab’s girlie creations, Top 40 female hits like “Don’t Cha (Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?)” come off as half-assed begging.
If Ahab’s barely legal lyrics don’t make you blush, then the techno soundtrack behind all that T&A just might. If a cheap thrill can be coaxed from a drum machine or synthesizer, then it can be found on an Ahab album. Happy hardcore, booty bass, Miami Vice chase-sequence hooks: everything is fair game, sometimes all in the same song. The duo has dubbed their style “ravesploitation,” and Snipes also refers to it as “mash-ups without samples.” Either way, it’s the kind of unsubtle, unironic dance music you haven’t copped to liking since the ecstasy wore off in 1999. “I say it’s post-ironic,” says Snipes. “For the longest time I wanted to be Aphex Twin, but I finally realized I was listening to my bad records more than my good ones,” he confesses. “I figured maybe they weren’t really bad.”
Likewise to Captain Ahab. Snipes and Merson may not be Aphex Twin but they’re pure pop brilliance, and the word is getting around. An original Ahab song titled “Snakes on the Brain” made its way into the Snakes on a Plane ending credits after the group won an online competition. After the Rain My Heart Still Dreams is getting heavy play on college radio, and an army of potty-brained fans is growing daily. You may even have an Ahab record hidden behind that Squarepusher one you pretend to listen to. Surely, you’ll be waiting to see what kind of debauchery will be coming up next. “I know people expect dirty songs from me,” says Snipes. “So I think I’ll switch it up by writing something clean. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ll let you know if I ever do.”