The Death Set, from Baltimore to Brooklyn and back again
Front man Johnny Siera on the new album, 'Michel Poiccard,' and Beau Velasco's death
The Death Set performs Saturday at the Windup Space. (Brock Fetch, Handout photo / May 24, 2011)
But Johnny Siera, the group's other founder, still pressed ahead. In March, the Death Set released a new album, "Michel Poiccard," that was inspired by Velasco's death.
"It's trying to celebrate his presence and his life rather than mourn it," said Siera, who performs two shows Saturday at the Windup Space with drummer Jahphet Landis and guitarist Dan Walker.
"Michel Poiccard" is as explosive as the warehouse-spun songs that brought the band to prominence, but — produced by Baltimore's XXXChange, and featuring cameos by Diplo and another Baltimore native, Spank Rock — it plays like a Molotov cocktail made with top-shelf ingredients.
Siera and Velasco, who met in Australia, released their first EPs and first album, "Worldwide," in the two years they spent in Baltimore, where they napalmed the Petri dish that is the city's DIY music scene with their anarchic performances.
The success of the album got them booked at venues across the world, and opening gigs for Girl Talk and Spank Rock, among others.
"We went on tour and we just never returned," Siera said. "It was time. I think living in a city for more than two years is plenty."
Velasco had stopped touring with Siera after the "Worldwide" release in 2008, which had moved Siera to Philadelphia and then finally to Brooklyn. But Siera said they had plans to start working on what would become "Poiccard" before Velasco's death in September.
Siera started working on the new album in Brooklyn two months later, and didn't stop for at least six months. He then took it to XXXChange, who produced it in three weeks.
Siera said the album is not a love letter to his band mate, but, inevitably, Velasco's presence is all over "Poiccard." Some of the songs — "I Been Searching For This Song Called Fashion" and "7 p.m. Woke Up An Hour Ago" — started out as sketches in 2006. "Fashion" and another song, "Is that a French Dog?" sample Velasco's voice, while other songs, like the opening track, "I Miss you Beau Velasco," were inspired by Siera's band mate.
"It felt it was important to have Beau's input on the record, to, whatever happened, realize his ideas," Siera said. "It was important for us to have his spirit on the record."
"Poiccard," named for Jean Paul Belmondo's character in "Breathless," is as frenetic as Jean-Luc Godard's jump-cuts.
Their time here forged their aesthetic then, and, continues to influence them today. When Siera moved to the United States, it was his new producer who put him up first.
"When we were writing 'Worldwide,' we were around Dan Deacon and Ponytail, and it was about the weirdness of what might be called art rock, or art-influenced rock," Siera said. "The crowds were all young art students and so that's what the album was about."
But, "Poiccard" is also an attempt to move beyond that category, which Siera feels has become "saturated."
The new album is not just more "polished" than anything they've done before, he said, but also more musically diverse.
The goal was to make an album featuring live instrumentation — drums and synths, in this case — but have it produced by an electronic producer, Siera said, and in the process, blend electronic music, punk rock and hip hop.
""[XXXChange] brought along that genius electronic producer mentality to what is essentially a punk record. But who knows, it may not be a punk record. There are songs that aren't punk rock," Siera said. "It's a fusion of what we like, rather just electronic music."
Siera also wanted their second studio album to reflect a more profound change — the trippy trajectory the band's had in such a short amount of time.
"We've gone from playing warehouses to touring the world," he said.
If you go
The Death Set perform at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday at the Windup Space, 12 W. North Ave. Tickets are $10. Call 410-783-7888 or go to sonar.thundertix.com.