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The Music of We Plants Are Happy Plants — Pulsing with the Rhythm of Life

October 4, 2010

To anyone who says, “I don’t like electronic/dance music because it’s cold and remote and mechanical, because it has no soul,” I offer the eminently warm, lush romanticism of We Plants Are Happy Plants as the first piece of evidence in my argument to the contrary.

Peter Bergmann, AKA We Plants Are Happy Plants

We Plants Are Happy Plants (WPAHP) is the musical effort of Peter Bergmann, a 22-year-old denizen of Budapest, Hungary. He’s been doing his thing and getting some degree of music-blog attention for at least a couple of years, but I hadn’t encountered WPAHP until this summer, through his remix of the National’s “Afraid of Everyone.” Ardent National fans who don’t tend to favor dance music might disagree with this take, but I was immediately intrigued and impressed by WPAHP’s treatment of the disquieting stunner from the National’s 2010 masterwork, High Violet. Bergmann’s buzzy synths, sweeping strings, and yes, banging 4/4 beat bring the claustrophobic original out of its shell a bit, but not so far as to entirely remove the air of menacing paranoia.

To me, Bergmann’s simple act of choosing “Afraid of Everyone” indicates that he sees old boundaries between dance/remix culture and the indie-rock sphere as being irrelevant. Then his execution—a true reinterpretation that remains recognizable but isn’t merely a big, mindless beat lazily shoved underneath a formerly undanceable song—shows that he has the chops to make good on the challenges he lays out for himself through his unorthodox choices.

Remixes can’t be innovative? Through We Plants Are Happy Plants, Peter Bergmann is here to defeat that tired notion once and for all. In addition to “Afraid of Everyone,” I’d point you to his radical revision…and improvement, if you ask me…of “Nude,” a languid crawler from Radiohead’s 2007 album In Rainbows. The WPAHP treatment of “Nude” wakes Thom Yorke from his bored stupefaction and adds some much-needed heft and impact to one of In Rainbows’ more forgettable cuts.

Lest you think Bergmann is strictly a cut-and-paste remixer, I must mention some of his original tracks, many of which are striking, dynamic, larger-than-life epics. Chief among them is “Apollo,” which opens with meditative dialogue from the 2007 science fiction film The Man From Earth. As echoing voices reflect on the illusory qualities of the human experience of time (“Time is that seductive sense of becoming what we are, instead of what we were a nanosecond ago”), Bergmann’s twinkling, looping synth figures and faux-handclap beat slowly emerge and grow in volume and intensity. He fades the voices out and then adds layer upon layer of complementary beats and synth patterns. The full beat kicks in at the 2:50 mark, and a new, rich melody comes in a half minute later and starts soaring above the rest. Two more minutes of blissed-out euphoria is the payoff after the prolonged, tense, emotional buildup. Put simply, it’s devastatingly beautiful.

It’s been my experience that the full import of some of life’s most meaningful moments becomes clear only in retrospect. Said another way, sometimes I’m too busy living the moment to realize, in that moment itself, that it’s one I’ll never forget. But there are rare and blessed times when I recognize the moment for what it is while I’m living it, which in a way adds an extra level of depth to the experience. Every time I listen to WPAHP’s “Apollo,” I hear it as the musical equivalent of that keen sense of fully aware connection and wholeness. If life’s best, most profound moments could have a soundtrack, “Apollo” just might be it for me. Not too bad for so-called “soulless” dance music.

Up in the Clouds, billed by Bergmann as “a collection of tracks from the early years of WPAHP,” is available on iTunes and Amazon. No single track quite matches up to “Apollo,” but it’s a wonderful collection nonetheless. There are some huge club-ready bangers, of course, but there are also a few slower, quieter, tracks that end up flirting with an early Tangerine Dream, proggy, New Age-y aesthetic. It all works.

WPAHP’s take on Hans Zimmer’s score music from Inception has also gotten a good bit of attention lately. It’s definitely worth a listen, though I find it a little less inspired and inspiring than much of Bergmann’s other work. Still, if “Time” is what brings WPAHP to the attention of wider audiences in Europe and the States, that’s fine by me.

Bergmann’s is a musical voice that needs to be heard, and I can’t wait for what comes next.

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