As political statements go, Dirtwire’s newly released Showdown is as sneakily subversive as it is powerful, starting with the album’s title.
“It’s us trying to take some action,” says the San Francisco electro collective’s cofounder David Satori, on the line from nearby Oakland. “This is a time in history where everything is a showdown thanks to different political views. Our overarching message is that we’re for an all-inclusive global culture—one where we are able to celebrate each other’s beauty.”
Fittingly, then, Showdown is a record that’s all about building bridges. Dirtwire—which includes Satori’s fellow multi-instrumentalists Evan Fraser and Mark Reveley—bills itself as a band that “sits on the front porch of Americana’s future”. And to truly understand the sentiment behind that, start with Showdown’s radical reimagining of “Lost Highway”, which was made famous in 1951 by pioneering country legend Hank Williams.
Starting out with one dusty boot in Krautrock Berlin and the other in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, Dirtwire’s take on the classic is about a million miles removed from the world of Gilfillan tube radios and 78rpm records. But not satisfied with pushing Americana forward there, the trio pull a radical U-turn halfway through the proceedings, riding exotic and haunting Middle Eastern strings across the finish line.
“In that song we’re actually singing in an East African melodic scale with ‘Now you’re rolling down the losssst highwayyyyy.’ And that’s not how Hank Williams would have done it,” Satori says with a laugh.
And, whether the members of Dirtwire are embracing their inner beatmakers or breaking out world-music instruments like the mbira, cümbüş, or kalimba, the mixing of different worlds doesn’t stop there. Showdown starts out in territory that will be familiar to most Americana fans, with the guitars in the big-beat blues explosion “Struttin’ ” authentic enough for Black Betty and the harmonica-honking “Shishkabob” coming on like Wolfman Jack doing trailer-park funk.
But halfway through the record there’s a shift, with “Mueve Mueve” built around tribal vocals that sound straight outta Africa, and the sung-in-Spanish “Viento” lighting out for the sun-parched Mexican border.
The sonic exploring is rooted in Dirtwire’s belief that—sorry, Donald Trump—it’s multiculturalism that has really made America great.
“I’m from Vermont, but I always had an affinity for Berkeley and the Bay Area because of the San Francisco music scene from the ’60s and ’70s,” Satori says. “I was a big fan of that music growing up, and still am. When I first came here I really loved the diversity—it’s one of the most diverse places in the whole country with all kinds of different ethnicities and cultures mixed together, especially in the East Bay, where we live. I’m a big fan of musics from around the world, so being able to go see gamelan music and then West African music, and then amazing Indian music and then Middle Eastern music—all within a couple of blocks—is really special.”
Once upon a time, the United States was the kind of place that welcomed immigrants, with other cultures changing not just the country’s social fabric, but also its artistic landscape. Dirtwire is determined to bring back that embracing of others, and not just in the studio. Consider the band’s favoured stage attire, which, quite intentionally, makes a brilliantly subversive statement.
“Any time you celebrate a culture that’s being ostracized, especially right now in America, that’s a good thing,” Satori says. “We wear mariachi pants on-stage as part of our look because we’re celebrating the music. We feel like we come from Mexicali—we’re in a place that’s just as much Mexico as it is California. So when we play, we dedicate songs to our brothers and sisters south of the border. We’re so not for the wall that we’re even talking about trying to do an antiwall show in Tijuana. So, yeah, a lot of what we do is a lot of political statement, but not where we’re being super-direct.”
Dirtwire plays the Rickshaw next Wednesday (March 15).