What sets Ann Arbors Ground EFX apart from other area bands is how unrock the outfit is. Scaling the limits of dub reggae, dancehall, even jungle, the quartet fearlessly looks outside of rock n roll for the perfect beat. And its working. In only a handful of shows since its forming three months ago, Ground EFX managed to rock in the move-the-crowd sense of the word every party its played, opening last month for reggae legends the Abyssinians and regularly turning it out every other Tuesday at Ann Arbors Bird of Paradise.
Formed from the ashes of the disco-dub Butterfly, Ground EFX is as much postrock exploration as prerock groove-building, a reminder of what less-is-more funk was before every tie-dyed yahoo with a hemp hat and a hacky sack discovered the "funky drummer" beat and decided reggae was something for Deadheads to do in the offseason.
"Where Butterfly was striking a lot of middle ground, with Ground EFX were looking more into the roots of dance music, African styles, electronic music, everything," says guitarist Neil Dixon Smith. "Its more broadly abstract and flexible. Theres a lot less sense of formalism. Were going for a broader sense of style and texture."
Live, Smith sticks to deceptively simple guitar phrases for the better part of a song; keyboardist Kendall Babl tastefully dubs out vintage synth melodies; while guest horns, percussion and dancehall MCs flow in and out. Though GEFX gets its share of Phish types at its shows, the real draw and sign that theyre hitting is that people actually dance. And these days, when ravers dont even dance, thats saying something.
The key, again, may be in how unrock its members are, too. Drummer Will Osler is an accomplished jazz drummer and former member of avant-gardeners Larval, while bassist Billy Noah is a noted dancehall reggae DJ. The result, as Smith puts it, is "dance music played live."