Disco punks on the dance floor

XDS takes over the scene

Jesse Hall and Shoko Horikawa, the husband/wife duo behind XDS.

Jesse Hall and Shoko Horikawa, the husband/wife duo behind XDS.

Photo courtesy of XDS

XDS plays Friday, Sept. 1, 7:30 p.m., at the Maltese with Ice Cream (S.F.), Sunny Acres and False Face Society.
Cost: $8
Maltese Bar & Taproom 1600 Park Ave.

It might seem that Chico’s XDS is way better than any new local band has a right to be, but there’s more to the story. Even though it was only last year that Jesse Hall and Shoko Horikawa moved to town with their infectious noise-fueled dance rock, the husband/wife duo has been playing music together for the better part of the last 19 years. Before coming to Chico, XDS (formerly known as Experimental Dental School) played all over the world, from Europe to Japan, toured with like-minded noisemakers Deerhoof and made a name for itself in the music scenes of both Oakland and Portland, Ore. It’s no accident that the duo came ready to play.

This alien creature that’s landed in the middle our the music scene has captured imaginations with a colorful stage setup—featuring a hodgepodge of Christmas and other lights, copious electronic effects and a precariously balanced stack of homemade white suitcase amplifiers—and an energetic commitment to twisted dance music. The band even won the 2017 CAMMIES award for Best Live Act after only a few months in town.

“It has been amazing. Chico seems so open to new ideas and people here want to par-tay,” said Hall. Notions of “new ideas” and “par-tay” are a good place to start when trying to describe Hall’s approach to band-leading. Added to the all the loops, electronics and sound effects is the guitar Hall custom-built, complete with a flat-wound E bass string used to hold down the crazy rhythms he dances along with.

“I never really identified as a guitarist—more as a sounds maker. In the end, I couldn’t decide on guitar or bass … or even keyboards or sampler, so I just worked them all in.”

The origins of XDS go way back to Chico in the late-1990s when drummer Nik Abodeely (now fronting SF’s psyche band Zodiac Death Valley) provided the wildly inventive percussive support to Japan-transplant Horikawa (then on keys/electronics) and Chico-raised Hall’s boundary-shattering art rock circus act known as MeYow. The trio’s Casio-fueled spastic trips provided the leaping-off point for Experimental Dental School, which the couple started when they moved to Oakland in 2002.

After going through a couple of drummers and relocating to Portland in 2008, the band moved from a trio to a two-piece, with Horikawa taking on the drum kit, and Hall embracing his “sounds maker” identity and mastering playing keyboard sound effects and noise loops simultaneously with his vocal and guitar duties.

While in Portland, though, Horikawa quit drumming after a particularly grueling tour. Hall continued with a new drummer, and soon after, the couple began having children—first a daughter, then a son—and their energies shifted toward raising the kids. Shortly after their son was born, Hall had a health scare that would change how he approached his music.

“I had a surgery two years ago that really put me down for a while. [It] put me closer to death than I ever imagined I could have been. After recovering, things changed. I took an honest look at the music we were making and didn’t really like it. I didn’t like my voice either, so I spent the last year really working on basics like vocal intonation,” Hall explained. “Having Shoko back in the band has been amazing. She is such a sensitive, creative drummer. I think sensitivity is a very undervalued trait in a drummer.”

“We learned to use our time effectively and also really appreciate that we can still do music,” Horikawa said about returning to the band. She also expressed gratitude to Hall’s family, who live in Chico and have helped out with their two kids since they moved back. But that’s not to say the kids are kept separate from their parents’ musical endeavors.

“Our kids definitely love [the] music and dancing to it,” Horikawa said, to which Hall added: “For me, the kids are not only a direct influence and inspiration, but at times even songwriting partners. They come up with some of the most unique and honest dance moves—which I try to emulate. … Also having kids changed me, made me more open, more open to fun and happiness. In some ways, I think we kind of sucked before.”