Movits! - Remember that name. The band is what would result if Benny Goodman bred with the Beastie Boys, and the resulting children received regular “Mambo No. 5” exposure, or if Charlie Chaplin had been a b-boy and breakdanced his way through his piano-scored silent films, or if James Bond decided to quit MI6 to be a jazz musician on the Def Jam label.
I emphasize the word “if” because Movits! are something entirely unclassifiable; something new, something fresh. Hailing from Luleå, Sweden, the four-piece band arrived in Wisconsin Friday to play the 2012 Madison World Music Festival, bringing with them their indelible and entirely unique blend of hip-hop and swing music.
At 5 p.m., the band leaped onto the Terrace stage, dressed in skinny black pants, Converse, tube socks, suit jackets and black bowties. “Hello, Madison, Wisconsin! Straight outta Sweden!” shouted lead vocalist Johan “Jivin’” Rensfeldt, before launching into an infectiously funky opening jam. With precise coordination, Johan laid down soulful rap lines in a sing-song Swedish delivery as DJ Anders Rensfeldt pounded out punctual beats on his electric drum machine and Joakim “One-Take” Nilsson wailed on his sax, showcasing his collage of flashy dance moves. This energetic introduction to the band surprised the audience.
A group of alumni in the crowd wasn’t sure whether to mock the flamboyant band or to sheepishly bob their heads to the music. But as the hour-long set progressed, a growing number of people approached the head of the stage, unable to suppress their mounting desire to dance. Halfway through, a 20 person dance floor had formed. Then 30, then 40 and, as the show neared its close, 50 people were busting moves. Memorial Terrace had turned into a lakeshore discotheque.
Anyone who wasn’t dancing was either too sober or too American to handle the hardcore Swedishness that Movits! had unleashed upon them. But what made the show so smile-inducing was not only the band’s infectious basslines, sax/trombone solos and precise Beastie Boys-esque delivery, but the hilarious irony of four Swedish guys in suits and designer glasses striving for a hard, thuggish image, and doing so with the utmost confidence. The performance was riddled with memorably tongue-in-cheek quotes. “Since this is our first time in Madison ever,” said Johan, “we must play you a love song. This one’s called ‘Shoot Me in the Head.’” When explaining the location of their hometown, Joakim struggled to explain, in English, Luleå’s location. “It’s up north, by the polar circle…with ice bears and stuff.”
Even when Movits! injected topical messages into their songs, they provoked laughter. “I feel like there are a lot of economical problems,” pronounced Johan in a weary tone. “The bankers get away with too much. This song is about that.” Following this somber observation, the band jumped into a funky, Latin-tinged banger and the four Swedes broke into uninhibited dance — sidesplittingly unexpected.
Movits! are a band that cannot be ignored. I’d love to see their brand of hip-hop swing music gain recognition. They received a bump in popularity in the Comedy Central-viewing demographic after an acclaimed 2009 appearance on The Colbert Report, but in a perfect world, Movits! would be a household name. We Americans need an excuse to dance. Movits! are the perfect excuse.