Top ten lists are a staple around this time of year. What they lack in shades of grey they make up for with enthusiasm. I could read them all day. My favorite top tens come from trusted sources, so when I cracked this month’s Artforum I went straight to Devo lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh’s list of his 2011 top ten moments in music. Mothersbaugh avoids listing albums only. On his list, he includes a weird message on an answering machine cassette found in a Palm Springs thrift store as well as a cover band he saw play in a Tijuana restaurant. What really surprised me was his number five: the self-released album Bone Up from the Orlando-based electronic duo Yip-Yip. As Mothersbaugh says, “I’m a million years old, and I’ve heard a lot of music, but I’m always happy to be pleasantly surprised. Yip-Yip did that for me.”
Yip-Yip had already been performing live for a year when I moved to Orlando from my hometown in 2003. In the absence of a local artist-run gallery circuit like Chicago’s, live music filled the city’s niche for experimental culture. Playing in mutant black-and-white costumes behind pyramids of synthesizers, Yip-Yip was the closest thing to contemporary art I laid my eyes on in Orlando. They introduced me to the possibility that experimentation derived from the character of and in constant conversation with a specific place might breed something fantastic.
Yip-Yip, Live in Orlando, September 2011.
As media decentralizes, kingmakers like Artforum are no longer primary fountains of validation. That the magazine’s globalized gaze had turned to a commited local group like Yip-Yip was not what surprised and impressed me about Mothersbaugh’s top ten. Here’s what really knocked my socks off: Yip-Yip are always have been massive Devo fans. In a place like Central Florida, without widespread institutional support for things like experimental music, a pop group like Devo might be the only model to work from. Seeing one of Yip-Yip’s idols list them among his favorite things about music this year renews my faith in the stalwarts of local culture. Like Mothersbaugh, I’m pleasantly surprised.