- Beat happening: Junior Senior's freewheeling debut is one of the most infectious records of the year.
With the ostentatious sweep of a Louis Vuitton ensemble, the five tastemakers of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy have simultaneously popularized and pigeonholed gay culture. Queer Eye's fabulous fashion, food, and furniture choices gave many in the mainstream their first glimpses into the lives of real! live! gay! people! But the way the quintet's swish and sass is portrayed -- Kyan, attacking bad groomers with a hairbrush; Carson, vanquishing outdated wardrobes with an overheated credit card -- often seems more demeaning than supportive. They're like the gay Power Rangers.
The same sort of homosexuality-as-a-gimmick attitude has unfairly dominated much of the U.S. press on the Danish duo Junior Senior -- i.e., gangly, sandy-haired, straight-heartthrob Junior (aka Jesper Mortensen) and the scruffy-beard-wearing gay-teddy-bear Senior (Jeppe Laursen). Even before writers describe their music, readers know exactly where their sexuality stands. The Rolling Stone review of their debut, D-d-don't Don't Stop the Beat, began, "Junior is straight. Senior is gay," and Entertainment Weekly's IT List named Junior Senior this year's "IT Gay/Straight Alliance."
"It's a big part of who we are and our personalities, and why our music sounds like it does," the easygoing Laursen explains. "But it's not a big deal, no. People [say], 'So, wow, why did you choose to come out in the band?' I was like 'Uh, that's not a choice, it's just a fact.' It's funny: Over here, people like to make a big deal out of it, apparently."
A bigger deal should be Junior Senior's tunes, which are shake-your-ass dance parties mashing together Motown, new wave, '60s garage, and electronica. "C'Mon" sounds like Fatboy Slim's "Rockafeller Skank" doing the Watusi, while the slow guitar fuzz of "Boy Meets Girl" is Stonesian sleaze without the leer, and "Shake Your Coconuts" is punk-funk going hot rodding with piña colada-fueled percussion. Beat's lyrics are just as lighthearted, ranging from self-congratulatory props during the twist-and-shout surf licks of "Dynamite" ("Junior Senior's dynamite, dynamite!") to addressing their sexual proclivities with cheeky panache on "Chicks and Dicks" ("What ya gonna do-do after dark? Who ya gonna do-do after dark? Uh, gimme girls girls girls, gimme boys!").
"Yeah, you like to categorize over here," Senior says of American attempts to classify Junior Senior. "[The] songs [on Beat] have been written over a long period of time -- we started up in '98 and recorded the album nearly two years ago, so it must have been, I guess, three or four years of just writing songs. The diversity of the songs on the album is part of that. But I think it's also just us; the different inspirations [are] just the fact that we like a lot of different music, and we try and combine it."
The danger is that the band, saddled with their yin-yang sexual preferences and appearance, might be mistaken for nothing more than a novelty act. Their most recognizable song so far, the funk pop and roll of "Move Your Feet," definitely possesses the quirky pedigree of a one-hit wonder. Honoring the almighty beat, "Feet" bounces like a four-year-old overdosing on Halloween candy, boomeranging around peppy horns, disco riffs, and Junior's raspy chorus, "Everybody, move your feet and feel united, oh oh." Add in its memorable computer-animated video -- reminiscent of 8-bit Nintendo and featuring a squirrel pounding shots, dancing burnt toast, and pixilated versions of Junior and Senior -- and it's an anthem worthy of even that icon of amped-up obscurities, Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping."
Yet Senior has close to a decade of band experience under his belt, gaining notoriety in the 1990s with the synthesized Ludo X -- the high school band that he had with the current JS touring bass player -- which recorded for the Danish indie label Record Music Denmark. Much like Junior Senior, his former group flaunted its individuality with impunity.
"We won this stupid competition, but it was a really big one in Denmark at the time, called Championship of Rock," Senior says. "The band that won the year before was, like, really grunge -- that was '94, and grunge was really big in Denmark at that point. We had all these British influences and loved bands like Pulp and Blur and stuff, so people thought we sounded really weird."
Needing a rhythm guitarist, Senior eventually hooked up with Ludo fan Mortensen -- "We weren't that big, though; I think he was the only fan we had," Senior laughs -- and the duo started working together in 1998, after Ludo X eventually split. A deal with indie label Crunchy Frog, which also houses countrymen the Raveonettes, followed, as did a licensing deal in the U.S. with Atlantic earlier this year. Remaining on an indie label while enjoying the publicity of being on a major is a luxury for which Senior is decidedly thankful.
"Everything about the music and artwork is under Crunchy Frog, and we have complete freedom, in terms of what we want to do," he says. "It's a really good setup in that sense. We've managed to be . . . [on an indie label] all the way, rather than starting on a huge major label and they drop you because you don't live up to their expectations or whatever."
In fact, about the only place that Junior Senior does uphold traditional roles is in its live setup, the typical drums/bass/guitar/vocalist/backup-vocalists configuration. But in a way, it's fitting that the band conjures up wild-eyed diversity with such a vanilla lineup. They're not homosexual icons imbued with flamboyant superpowers, but a group that values the more traditional Middle English definition of gayness, which is much more integral to their music than whomever they're hitting on.
"It's very individual, what you want from music -- if you just want a good beat or if you want to get in a good mood, or if you really like listening to all the details of the music," Senior says. "But I have to say that I really just like it if people just get really happy to listen to [my records]. It seems like they do -- or just really appreciate it. That makes you happy, and it makes it worthwhile."