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High-concept LA band YACHT takes on traffic, technology and the future

by Kevin Ferguson | Off-Ramp®

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Claire Evans and Jona Bechtolt of YACHT Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

If you're a fan of electronic pop band YACHT — headed by Claire Evans and Jona Bechtolt — think back to when you first discovered them.  

Maybe it was one of their high concept/high production videos, like 2009's Psychic City:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MI6xNf4tMcs

Or maybe it's the Los Angeles events app the two designed. Or the KPCC produced podcast hosted by Evans and collaborator Zac Pennington. 

Your point of entry could easily have been non-musical, and that's not an accident. Originally the work of just Bechtolt—YACHT is technically an acronym, standing for "Young Americans Challenging High Technology." And the term works on a couple levels.

YACHT uses high technology in their music—midi controllers, synthesizers, MacBooks, etc. Evans and Bechtolt both have a graphic design background, which shows up on their sleek website. The band's reachable and engaged on almost every new web platform out there—Instagram, Periscope,  Buzzfeed. They've even annotated their own songs on Genius, the lyric website.

But YACHT goes beyond just using technology; it challenges it in lyrics and in concept. Their new record is called "I Thought the Future Would be Cooler" — out October 16 on Downtown Records — and its lyrics critique all of the above platforms and more: Facebook, crowdfunding, smart phones, virtual reality.

One of independent music's most futuristic, tech-savvy bands just made an album critiquing the very mediums they use. Why?

"We think it's interesting, and maybe it's a goal of ours—to be the first band to use technology to critique itself," says Bechtolt. "There's something there about that that seems interesting to us. And, like, all of these new platforms are mostly dumb and humor is a big part of our band, too."

YACHT's also a Los Angeles band. They've lived here for five years, having grown up and started in Portland, Oregon. When asked about how Los Angeles informs the band's music, you get a rush of answers.

"We're very sensitive to place," says Evans. "And we chose to live in Los Angeles because it's a city that's in a constant state of transition and change."

"It's our favorite city," Bechtolt adds. "There's no way to see everything. There's no way to do everything on a daily basis."

For the new record, YACHT recorded a song calls "L.A. Plays Itself." The title, a reference to a documentary of the same name produced by CalArts professor Thom Andersen. Both the song and the documentary look at Los Angeles and its sense of place in TV and film.

"When you live in Los Angeles, you're constantly surrounded by kind of ghosting and trailing visions of the city's representation in film and television throughout history," says Evans. "Even if you're new here, there's still this sensation that things are a bit familiar just because the light is familiar, and the city itself is familiar."

The band made a website for the song where you can watch the video. In it, the band uses film location signs like these:

...to spell out the song lyrics.

But the website has a catch: the video is only made available when demand is so high for Uber that the car transit service raises its rates. "We wanted to tie it directly to pulse of L.A. traffic," says Evans. "So a really useful metric for that is the Uber API, which — among other things — indicates when traffic is peaking through surge pricing."

Literally, Evans said, Los Angeles becomes the play button to the song and YACHT again challenges technology, and their audience, to think more about the world we live in. What could be cooler than that?

YACHT's new album "I Thought the Future would be Cooler" is out October 16 on Downtown Records. The band plays the Teragram Ballroom in downtown Los Angeles on October 22.

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