-- by Joe D'Angelo, with additional reporting by Steve Schlueter
Jesper Mortensen and Jeppe Laursen are both Danish and their first names begin with the letter J. Scant as that might be, the similarities between the two principals of dance-pop group Junior Senior end there.
Mortensen, a.k.a. Junior, is thin; Laursen, a.k.a. Senior, is chubby. While Junior likes girls, Senior fancies boys. Junior has a baby face; Senior is mustachioed. Despite opposing points of view of its members, this musical equivalent of an imported Odd Couple seamlessly jells to make for a sonic smorgasbord that's cute, kitschy and incredibly infectious.
"It's a mixture of a lot of things," Laursen said of his modular music. "You could say '50s rock and roll, '60s soul, '70s punk, '80s old-school rap, hip-hop. But it's a lot more than that."
What he left out was the catalyst that ignites it all: Junior Senior's sense of fun. It's not all silly abandon, however. "Move Your Feet," off their debut album, D-D-Don't Stop the Beat, has roots in the sound Michael Jackson perfected on his 1979 dance masterpiece, Off the Wall, complete with a bobbing bassline and scratchy/squeaky vocals. Bells, samples and a stuttering chorus are expertly placed for poignant effect. The combination works equally well at the roller rink and hipster loft party.
Other songs on the album, such as "Chicks and Dicks," "Go Junior, Go Senior" and "Dynamite," also expertly fit swatches of surf guitars, found sounds, disco beats and doo-wop elements together like so many pieces of one groovy puzzle.
Junior Senior's big splash in the U.S. is expected to occur near the August 5 release of D-D-Don't Stop the Beat, though the group has already swept through the U.K. DJ Fatboy Slim gave most folks outside Junior Senior's native Denmark their first taste of the group at the 2002 Winter Music Conference in Miami.
The following months saw "Move Your Feet" climb the British singles chart for a nine-week reign in the top 10. This quirky troupe from the home of Hamlet, Carlsberg beer and a Legoland theme park was suddenly sharing the airwaves with the big boys. "We beat Eminem and Justin and Nelly and stuff like that," Laursen said. 'It was like, 'Whoa.' "
"Move Your Feet" then crossed the Atlantic, getting some spins on Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM just before Junior Senior staged a label showcase at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin (see "Hot Hot Heat, Junior Senior Get Rock Scribes Dancing At SXSW").
"We never imagined this would happen," Mortensen added. "You know, we come from little Denmark ... and just watching TV and dreaming about New York and London, how great they must be. So yeah ... it's little bit like living a dream."
Not a bad opening for a couple of guys who eight years ago were struggling in an indie-rock band in Copenhagen. Their group eventually broke up, freeing Mortensen and Laursen from rock constraints and allowing them to make music from their hearts, regardless of genre or whether it was perceived as cool.
"We don't come from a certain musical background," said Laursen. "So we're quite anarchistic and look at music in an anarchistic way. We do a lot of things that people wouldn't normally think of doing."
"If you play in a rock and roll band, it's kind of embarrassing to have some kind of Michael Jackson elements or some Prince stuff," Mortensen added. "They're so well made. We really like the essence of it, but we don't want to do it that way. We just vibe off the energy."
Of all the things Junior Senior are, one of them is not retro, despite their time-tested influences. And calling the duo that would be a misnomer, given their postmodern songwriting practice of stitching the past together to come up with something entirely new.
"We would hate to be sort of retro in any way," Laursen said. "Like goth, or rock and roll or whatever. That really turns us off. We want to look forward, mix it up and just make it fresh."
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